The focus of NBA fans may be in Houston for All-Star weekend, but the foundation of the Association likely lies on the back pages of your local newspaper or front page of your favorite website.
See, while All-Star Weekend is providing a welcomed midseason distraction, it's the behind-the-scenes wrangling of the NBA rumor mill that's most noteworthy. With less than a week remaining before the Feb. 21 trade deadline, team executives are working feverishly to unload a malcontent star or add the final piece to a championship puzzle.
At this point, there are so many rumors going across the hot stove that it's almost impossible to keep up. General managers are having conversations almost on an hourly basis down in Houston, and nearly all of those supposedly private conversations somehow always end up on public record.
Funny how that happens.
But with all of the leaks of information happening in such rapid form, it's tough to know which noteworthy rumblings are worthwhile.
With that in mind, here is a complete look at all the latest notable rumors coming out of All-Star Weekend.
Dwight Howard Still Wants to Be a Net, Lakers Have No Plans on Trading Him
Just when you thought the drama surrounding Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard was over—just kidding, we all knew it wasn't over. Though the embattled big man remains publicly non-committal about where he will go as a free agent this summer, there continues to be rumblings about his private desires.
More specifically, it seems Howard still very badly wants to join the Brooklyn Nets. NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith appeared on ESPN Radio to discuss some rumblings he had heard about the Lakers' big man. According to Smith, Howard "still believes" he will be playing for the Nets come opening night of the 2013-14 season.
To call this a revelation would be an insult to anyone who has followed the NBA for more than 90 seconds. Brooklyn was always Howard's first choice, and being belittled regularly by Kobe Bryant and criticized publicly by Steve Nash isn't exactly the way to quell his desire.
Now, Howard's belief may have devolved into the delusion zone. The Nets are cap-strapped through the 2015-16 season barring a major roster overhaul, and they don't exactly have a ton of assets. Brook Lopez has emerged as one of the best young centers in the game, and would be a necessary addition to any trade for Howard, but that scenario involves the Lakers wanting to take on his contract.
In fact, any possible Howard trade to Brooklyn involves full cooperation from his current organization. And according to the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy, that cooperation will not be coming prior to the trade deadline:
Stefan Bondy @SBondyNYDN
Dwight Howard says Mitch Kupchak told him he wasnt going to trade him.2013-2-15 18:46:21
Again, not revolutionary information.
The Lakers desperately want to retain Howard, who essentially holds the key to their next half-decade of championship contention. They also know a potential deal with the Nets will always be on the table, whether on Feb. 21 or this summer.
It isn't necessarily a risk for the Lakers to hold onto Howard because they have an extra $30 million hanging over his head. Even if Howard wants to leave, there is about a two percent chance he leaves that money sitting on the table.
By holding onto Howard now, the Lakers simply bide themselves time. Whether Howard's departure remains an inevitability remains to be seen.
Josh Smith Trade Reaching Virtual Certainty Status
Howard may have been informed he's firmly off the block, but the second biggest name being bandied about all season has likely been informed the opposite. Josh Smith has spent all season vacillating on and off the trade block, as the Atlanta Hawks seemingly cannot decide whether or not they value cap space over getting something in return for their star.
We're far past the point where there is even a remote chance Smith will stay in Atlanta this summer. The team has already informed him that he won't be receiving a max contract extension and history tells us that some team will (wrongly) value Smith at that level and make him a very rich man.
It just won't be Atlanta.
But with time running out to make a deal, general manager Danny Ferry will have to make a decision soon. According to Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico, Ferry is leaning very heavily toward trading Smith before next Thursday's deadline:
FOX Sports Ohio sources all but guarantee Atlanta forward Josh Smith will be moved. No one is quite sure where he might go, although Brooklyn, Dallas and Phoenix are mentioned most as possible destinations.
Based on what we know about Atlanta's desires, none of the three teams mentioned make all that much sense. Ferry is known to want a quality young center in return for Smith, a scarce asset only possessed by the Nets. And (spoiler alert) Brooklyn isn't trading Brook Lopez to any team without getting Dwight Howard in return.
Marcin Gortat is a quality center, but he's already 28 years old and there is probably a better chance of Smith signing with Ringling Brothers than Phoenix this offseason.
That's always been the problem with any potential Smith trade. Not enough teams have the assets Atlanta wants, and Ferry isn't going to tie up the team's cap space to simply avoid criticism of allowing Smith to walk away for nothing.
If one of the rumored squads finds a third team to take on some contracts, then a deal is possible. But to classify it as a "guarantee" ignores the very real and unresolved complications of Smith's exile from his hometown team.
Bulls Still Dangling a Boozer-for-Bargnani Package to Raptors?
While most eyes in the Windy City remain intently focused on the status of point guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls' front office is stuck with the job of prioritizing the players actually on the floor. Rose will eventually return, whether this or next season, but the guys surrounding him may be on the precipice of another massive chance.
Last offseason, the Bulls forewent re-signing Omer Asik and most of the team's vaunted "bench mob" in favor of cheaper options on short contracts. That's led to a precipitous dip in bench production, though Tom Thibodeau's increasing reliance on his starting lineup has helped mitigate that effect.
It seems if the Bulls had their way, the bench wouldn't be the only thing changing. According to the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson, the Bulls have a standing offer to trade Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson to the Toronto Raptors for Andrea Bargnani and John Lucas III:
Of course, that might not happen if the Bulls make a move by Thursday's trade deadline. League sources said last week the Raptors were told the Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson deal for Andrea Bargnani and John Lucas III was available whenever they wanted it.
Some form of that trade had been rumored previously, but the talks had been presumed dead. Although it seems like Chicago is the aggressor in this situation, it might be better for the team if it stayed that way.
Look, I'm not the biggest Boozer fan in the world. He's slow, a defensive liability and hasn't sustained top-shelf performances for more than a month since arriving in Chicago. Bargnani, though offensively gifted, is in the midst of his worst professional season since 2007-08 and has long been an atrocious defender. Boozer isn't Dikembe Mutombo reincarnated either, but he tries on every possession and understands Thibodeau's complex defensive rotations.
Bargnani has been so lackadaisical defensively throughout his career, there is very little reason to think he'd pick up the scheme or put in the requisite effort to do so.
The only reason to trade for Bargnani is superficial. It would be an empty selling point. Change simply for the sake of saying they tried something. And if headlines are all the Bulls are after, they are better off waiting an amnestying Boozer this offseason than acquiring Bargnani's albatross contract.