All eyes may be laser-focused on Houston for this weekend's NBA All-Star Game festivities, but the most interesting takeaways may not be decided on the court whatsoever.
While the players and coaches descending to the great state of Texas will be using their weekends for some rest and relaxation, NBA general managers will be doing quite the opposite. With just about anyone who is anyone in town for the All-Star game, focus will quickly shift away from the latest James White dunk into whether guys like Josh Smith may be finding new teammates.
But before talks get serious down in Houston, teams have to lay the groundwork. As much as fans like to think trades are just one cell phone call away between general managers, there is a ton of front office wrangling that needs to be done before a deal can even be considered.
First and foremost, GMs have to identify which players they are actually willing to move at a reasonable cost. Luckily, we're starting to get a crystal-clear picture of who those stars could be.
With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of all the latest player-related rumblings from across the Association.
Nets Unlikely to Land Josh Smith, Spurs Interested?
I'm unsure what the point of no return is for NBA stars and being on the trade block, but Josh Smith is nearing that apex as we get close to All-Star Weekend. His name has been the one firmly planted atop the block, with just about every team linked to him in some way, shape or form.
But as of yet, there has been no smoke to the fire surrounding the embattled Atlanta Hawks forward. It's just a never-ending stream of teams kicking the tires, only to realize Smith's asking price (a max contract this summer) is too high and that the Hawks won't just give him away.
One of those teams that kicked the hardest, the Brooklyn Nets, have already come grips with the fact they won't be landing Smith, per the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence:
According to league sources familiar with the Nets thinking, they're still searching to add a big man, but don't believe that they are going to wind up with Smith or Gordon, despite having recent trade talks with Atlanta and Charlotte.
For anyone who actually pays attention, Brooklyn was never a serious suitor unless it found a third party. The Hawks (understandably) had no interest in taking on Kris Humphries' contract for next season, and the Nets have a dearth of young, attractive trade chips.
Luckily, it seems another suitor has tried to grasp the clubhouse lead. According to Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears, the San Antonio Spurs have let their interest in Smith be known:
The Spurs are among the teams with interest in Hawks forward Josh Smith, a source told Yahoo! Sports. Keep in mind, Hawks general manager Danny Ferry was previously with the Spurs.
The Spurs make sense in a multitude of ways. They're not scared off by Smith a maximum contract because it's highly unlikely they want him past this season. He would be a rental item for a team whose championship window dwindles exponentially with each calendar year.
Smith would fit two huge needs (athleticism and size) and would probably mature by a decade-and-a-half simply by being around the omnipresent Tim Duncan.
The problem is what San Antonio gives up in return. Stephen Jackson's expiring contract is an obvious piece for cap reasons, but the Spurs aren't flush with exciting young prospects and Kawhi Leonard is basically an untouchable—especially in this situation. Tiago Splitter is a solid center and his salary fits the cap parameters of a potential deal, but he's older than Smith already and has an expiring contract.
So while it's fun and games to talk about a Smith trade, actually executing one seems illogical barring a third team. It's possible that Danny Ferry gets fed up enough with this situation to take a Splitter-Jackson combo meal, but it's far more likely at this point that Smith stays in Atlanta, much to the dismay of just about everyone involved.
Al Jefferson More Likely to Stay in Utah than Paul Millsap?
Speaking of players linked to the Spurs, the logjam in the Utah Jazz's frontcourt is almost assuredly going to be solved by the end of this month. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are both on expiring contracts, and with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter sitting on their hands waiting for an opportunity, at least one of the elder statesmen will be traded.
For most of the season, it's seemed like Jefferson was the likelier departee. He's the bigger name and has the type of offensive interior presence that so many teams crave, but will also certainly command a bigger price than Millsap.
Well it looks like the Jazz are preparing to make Jefferson a very rich man. According to CSN Bay Area's Ric Bucher, league sources have said Millsap is actually the likelier player to be on the move:
Latest word on Utah Jazz and who they'll keep vs. deal between Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap: Jefferson is the likeliest to stay right now, according to several opposing team executives. Consensus is the Jazz can't afford to keep both with Gordon Hayward soon to be eligible for an extension and the belief that Hayward is in the team's long-term plans.
The paper stat-lines would point toward keeping Jefferson being the prudent basketball decision. He's averaging more points, rebounds and blocks per game while shooting a higher field-goal percentage, with the minute differential being rather negligible. Jefferson is also a more physically imposing offensive force, who would provide a pretty solid contrast to the uber-athletic Favors.
When taking a look at the underlying numbers, though, one has to wonder whether the understated Millsap is actually a better long-term fit. The Jazz give up eight points per 100 possessions more with Jefferson on the floor than when he's on the bench, per NBA.com, and their offensive rebound rates skyrocket without the hulking center.
Millsap is no peach defensively, either, but Utah isn't as exponentially worse with him on the floor, though.
It may just be that the Jazz view Jefferson as the closest thing they can possibly get to a superstar at this juncture and are afraid to move him. That's understandable. But the chasm between Millsap and Jefferson is not as large as the paper stats make it seem.
Mavericks Going After Brandon Jennings?
For what seems to be the kajillionth time in his short NBA career, the Milwaukee Bucks face a conundrum with point guard Brandon Jennings. His play has taken a steep nosedive during the month of February, where he's shot an embarrassing 31.2 percent from the field in six games thus far, including a 3-of-17 night against Washington on Monday.
That isn't exactly the type of play that screams "max contract" like the one Jennings desires. Neither does a career 39.3 percent field-goal percentage at a position where there is a wealth of talent across the league. Jennings isn't a seven-footer with otherworldly athleticism. He's a six-foot guard who doesn't take high-percentage shots and fancies himself a volume shooter.
However, the small flashes of ascendant greatness Jennings has shown continues to inflate his value. It's far easier to remember Jennings dropping 35 on the Bulls or 34 on the Pacers than it is to see the seven versus Cleveland.
For that reason, there has been an increasing fervor about teams coming after Jennings prior to the deadline. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, one of those teams is apparently the Dallas Mavericks:
Marc Stein @ESPNSteinLine
Mavs, I'm told, do have interest in Brandon Jennings and will be in mix for him if Bucks opt to make RFA-to-be available b4 Feb. 21 deadline2/13/2013, 5:07:22 AM
I'm going to sound like a broken record at this point, but what does Dallas have that Milwaukee wants? The "bank of Cuban" has been open most of the season, but there has (unsurprisingly) been a select few nibbles for any Mavericks players.
Vince Carter and Shawn Marion are solid veteran pieces, but if the Bucks are trading Jennings, there's little point in acquiring either player. The only (yes, only) reason Milwaukee would trade Jennings is if the team plans on tanking the remainder of the season and begin a full rebuild mode this summer.
If that's the case, then Chris Kaman and Rodrigue Beaubois for Jennings and Drew Gooden could work for both sides. The Mavericks could land a player they covet, while the Bucks could get out from under the $13.36 million remaining on Gooden's contract.
Then again, is Dallas willing to take on Gooden's wretched contract for Jennings, who could be signed in the offseason? That likely depends on just how open Cuban's bank truly is.