Both Al Jefferson and Pau Gasol could be trade targets in coming weeks
The halfway point of the NBA season has passed and every front office is looking at the current state of their team and where they are in their respective conference.
Some teams, like the Heat, Thunder and Spurs find themselves safely atop the standings and are preparing for a long playoff run.
Most teams don't have that luxury.
For everyone else, the first three weeks of February is a time to decide whether to buy or sell, to stay the course or start over.
Will February 21 pass with just minor trades, or will a team make a move that changes the entire landscape of the league?
Here are the big names most likely to be traded.
The Los Angeles Lakers are 20-25, have fired a head coach and have had chemistry issues seemingly all season. The team has struggled to implement a new system and several new players and starts four players over 30 years old.
One of the biggest issues for the Lakers this season has been Pau Gasol's offensive struggles. He is averaging career lows in points, 12.7 per game and field-goal percentage, 44.7 percent. Gasol has never averaged less than 17.4 points per game in a season during his career.
There have been a variety of factors contributing to his struggles. First, he has struggled to stay healthy—missing 13 games—which has hurt his ability to get into a rhythm with his teammates.
This biggest issue Gasol has had is finding a place in Mike D'Antoni's offensive system. The system is fast-paced and pick-and-roll heavy while featuring very few low-post looks, Gasol's biggest strength. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard also excel on the block, so there is always a shortage of looks for Gasol. Often he is forced to the perimeter where he is left open and forced to shoot long jump shots.
In an ideal world, the Lakers could trade Gasol for multiple players to add depth and shooting to the roster while not taking on any long-term contracts. With his age and salary, over $19 million next season according to HoopsHype, finding a trade partner to meet those requirements will be nearly impossible.
Even though Gasol may not be happy in Los Angeles and the Lakers could stand to get younger and deeper, Gasol's value has probably dropped too much this season to get fair value in a trade. The Lakers would be best suited to keep Gasol and try to take advantage of their dominating post play to make a playoff push.
Every winter it feels like Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith is involved in trade rumors. This season is no exception.
Hawks GM Danny Ferry shook up the roster this summer, trading Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets and Marvin Williams to the Utah Jazz. Smith may be next to go, with the Hawks in sixth in the East and the team not expected to compete for a title this season.
Smith's suspension earlier this month, reported by ESPN, may hurt his chances of staying in Atlanta.
If he is not in Atlanta's future plans, the team can either trade him before the deadline or risk losing him for nothing this summer.
The problem is that any team with cap space this summer can wait until free agency and pursue Smith then without having to give up any assets. With this in mind, Smith's likeliest suitors will be teams close to or above the salary cap. However, there may not be a large market for a temperamental, not-quite All-Star who can leave after only a few months.
Al Jefferson leads his team in points, rebounds and minutes per game, and he has the highest player efficiency rating (PER).
Why would the Jazz look to trade him?
The Utah Jazz have a surplus of frontcourt talent. Jefferson and fellow veteran Paul Millsap are playing well—both have a PER above 20—but the Jazz cannot continue to play them both more than 30 minutes per game while developing former top-five picks Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
Jefferson has an expiring contract, and the Jazz will likely have plenty of offers for his services. The Jazz are seventh in the West and were swept in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, so there is no reason to believe they will contend for a title this spring.
The Jazz may run into the same issue that the Hawks will see with Smith; any team that can sign Jefferson with cap space this summer may choose to wait in their pursuit of the big man rather than give up assets in a trade. If this is the case, it is likely only playoff teams without cap room will be involved in a trade.
The Memphis Grizzlies made a salary-dumping trade last week by trading three players to the Cleveland Cavaliers that gets them under the luxury tax line, according to ESPN.com. They may not be done dealing.
The team has been rumored to be in trade talks with many teams about forward Rudy Gay. Yahoo! Sports's latest report says that the Grizzlies and Raptors are looking for a third team to facilitate a deal that would send Gay to Toronto.
The Memphis Commercial Appeal also linked the Lakers, Suns, Warriors and Wizards to Gay.
The Grizzlies are currently fourth in the West and look poised to potentially make a playoff run with a healthy Gay and Zach Randolph together for the first time.
New management is looking into trading Gay because of his contract—he is owed $38 million over the next two seasons according to HoopsHype—and his inefficient play. Although he averages over 17 points per game, Gay is currently posting a PER of 14.39, under the league average of 15.
John Hollinger, a former ESPN writer and analyst who created the PER statistic, became the VP of Basketball Operations for the Grizzlies in December.
Trading Gay would likely hurt the Grizzlies in the short run, but unloading his sizable contract would create cap flexibility for the team over the next two seasons. The Grizzlies will look at any deal that offers a combination of young players and expiring contracts.