With just two weeks remaining until the NBA shuts its doors on player movement in the 2012-13 season, the league's rumor mill is churning out plenty of speculation on its top stars.
Though it's mostly been a sea of unwarranted speculation, the Toronto Raptors' acquisition of Rudy Gay should set off a wave of actual movement. There are plenty of star players being dangled by their current squads, and nearly as many teams looking to turn themselves into a championship contender with one big move.
Who are the biggest names on the block? Guys like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have been bandied about since Rajon Rondo's injury, but we're going to pass on those names for now. The Boston Celtics stars have been talked about, but that speculation was shot down pretty heavily by Doc Rivers.
While it can be a fool's errand to take teams at their word in February, it's hard to call a player "on the block" when people involved with the organization are categorically denying it.
With that caveat out of the way, here is a look at the biggest names most likely to be moved before the Feb. 21 deadline, and what the future holds for them.
Josh Smith (PF, Atlanta Hawks)
The latest news has him back on the trade block. NBA.com reported that the Hawks are not interested in giving Smith a max contract and are currently shopping him around.
The Hawks met with Smith's representatives this week and reiterated that they would be willing to give Smith a three-year deal for around $47 million, according to sources.
Smith turned down the offer, however, saying he preferred to play out his existing contract and get a longer deal this summer.
Smith made it clear to the Atlanta Journal Constitution he wants a max contract.
“I feel like I’m a max player,” Smith said Friday. “I feel I bring a lot to the table. I have a lot of versatility. For what I do and what I give this ball club, I feel like I’m worth it.”
Atlanta fueled trade suspicion by suspending Smith for a game back in January, but nothing really came of that—until recently.
Still, the NBA.com report makes it clear that even though the Hawks are shopping Smith, they haven't formally made a decision on whether to dela him or not.
On the surface, Atlanta trading Smith makes sense. He seems highly unlikely to stay with the Hawks during the offseason, isn't having all that great of a campaign and could net a solid young piece in return.
The Hawks are also stuck in neutral, sixth in the East. With their biggest offseason acquisition Lou Williams out for the year, they have little chance of making an extended playoff run.
The problems with a potential Smith trade are two-fold. First and foremost, Hawks general manager Danny Ferry does not want to add any significant salary that could hinder his chances at making a run at Dwight Howard in the offseason. Atlanta has worked its way into an extremely flexible cap position, and squandering it would be foolish.
And that's a problem for potential suitors, most of whom would be hesitant to give anything of significance up for Smith when he could walk in July. Even though he's a top-shelf talent, Smith won't shift the NBA championship paradigm unless he drastically makes the changes to his game (bye-bye, long two-point shots) that the Hawks have wanted for years.
For those reasons, I'm going to take the unpopular position that Smith will not be traded in the next two weeks. Atlanta will either pull the unthinkable and re-sign him, or Ferry will make a sign-and-trade and acquire a couple of first-round picks.
Al Jefferson (PF/C, Utah Jazz)
One, if not both, of the elder big men will get sent packing in February, and signs are starting to point toward Jefferson being a goner. According to Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com, the San Antonio Spurs have even taken the clubhouse lead as Jefferson's likeliest suitor:
Here is the latest they are telling me: The San Antonio Spurs are the front-runners to land Al Jefferson in a trade with the Utah Jazz—and they are frontrunners like Secretariat was in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
Basketball-wise, San Antonio and Jefferson would be an interesting match. Jefferson excels in half-court offensive sets, and the Spurs actually play the sixth-highest pace in the NBA, per HoopData.
He would be going from a team that runs an offense catered to his strengths—Utah's offense runs at a pace just below the league average—to one on the complete opposite spectrum.
A similarly skilled player—albeit on a lower level—in DeJuan Blair has continually struggled to gain trust in Gregg Popovich's up-tempo sets. Would Jefferson share Blair's fate? That's wholly possible. Even so, his presence would undoubtedly make the Spurs a more dynamic offensive team.
Utah scores five points more per 100 possessions when Jefferson is on the floor, per NBA.com, and he's one of the league's most talented post players. Pair him with Tim Duncan, and San Antonio would present an untenable matchup down low for just about any Western Conference team.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Spurs would still have to find a workable trade and not have their offer topped by another desperate contender.
Whether or not Jefferson winds up in San Antonio, one thing is for certain: The big man's time in Utah will end within the next two weeks.
Danny Granger (SF, Indiana Pacers)
Paul George, who plays Granger's position, has also emerged as a star. He made the All-Star team this season, is a little more than seven years younger than Granger and fits better with Indiana's defense-first emphasis.
All of that adds up to a once-untouchable talent being among the most likely stars to be moved this February. According to HOOPSWORLD's Bill Ingram, the Pacers have begun exploring whether or not to trade Granger while he still has value:
Internally, the Pacers have some doubts about the condition of Granger’s knee, and whether or not he will ever be able to sustain a high level of play for 82 games plus the playoffs. That, together with George’s phenomenal play, have them pondering whether it might not be best to cash Granger in now and turn the team over to George.
Some would point toward Granger's knee injuries, his age (29) and the fact that Indiana has succeeded without him, and wonder whether the Pacers could even bring in a noteworthy haul.
Who is the likeliest player to be dealt by the deadline?
The problem will be finding a team that is willing to buy in on Granger within the next two weeks. He just began full-contact drills last week and is unlikely to spend significant time on the floor before the deadline.
Look for Granger to stick around for the 2012-13 season before being moved during the summer.