The trade deadline is approaching rapidly, and unlike in years past, the San Antonio Spurs seem to be right in the middle of it.
Normally a quiet team, the Spurs have found their name in the rumor mill numerous times in recent weeks, whether it be discussing Al Jefferson or Josh Smith, two stars with expiring contracts.
The aforementioned have drawn interest from other teams too, but the Spurs—who enter the second half of the year eyeing a fifth title—may look to swing a deal for one or the other, with the hopes of securing enough talent to capitalize on a strong regular season.
Though their rank as the league's top team may indicate a quiet deadline, the Spurs have run into issues in years past when attempting to carry regular-season success into the postseason, and acquiring the following role players or stars may be necessary should the team finally close in on ring No. 5.
San Antonio Spurs receive: Jermaine O'Neal
Phoenix Suns receive: DeJuan Blair
The first trade is pretty straightforward, with the potential deal being a straight-up swap between two big men, each bringing something different to their respective teams.
DeJuan Blair is a talented young player, but has watched his playing time fluctuate greatly, and now—after several twists and turns—finds himself spending the majority of his minutes on the bench.
When given the opportunity, Blair has proven to be extremely productive, showcased by his past two seasons, in which his averages of 8.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds are certainly respectable—especially when considering his mere 21 minutes per game.
This season, the undersized center has averaged a paltry 13 minutes but has shown flashes of talent in the few games in which he was used.
At 23 years of age, Blair could be a nice piece for the Phoenix Suns as they begin to rebuild in the post-Steve Nash era.
In return for Blair's talents, San Antonio would receive tenured veteran Jermaine O'Neal, who—despite being just a shadow of his former self—can help the team in numerous ways. At 6'11'', his height can help the Spurs in ways that Blair cannot.
He is a proven competitor and certainly knows how to score. At 34, he provides the Suns with little value considering their position as a lottery team, but in San Antonio, his talent and size could be of better use.
He isn't going to win the team a championship, but Blair's talents have been simply rotting away on the bench, and it would be wise for the Spurs to flip it for some veteran talent as they prepare to make a deep postseason run.
San Antonio Spurs receive: J.J. Hickson, Jonas Jerebko, Khris Middleton
Portland Trail Blazers receive: DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal, Will Bynum
Detroit Pistons receive: Stephen Jackson
Like the Suns, the Portland Trail Blazers are a team on the rise with no chances at making a title run anytime soon. That said, the team has plenty of assets, namely All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and Rookie of the Year favorite Damian Lillard. Nicolas Batum has also shown flashes of stardom, and center J.J. Hickson has been a valuable contributor.
Despite the talent in the starting unit, the team remains a lottery-bound squad, mainly due to their complete lack of depth.
With Meyers Leonard being their only bench player with a double-digit PER, the team is a few moves away until they can be considered worthy of playoff contention.
Hickson is in the final year of his contract, has the potential to leave the Blazers following the season's end and, with this option in the air, Portland general manager Neil Oshley would be smart to get something in return as to ensure that they don't lose him for nothing.
The Spurs always need help in the frontcourt, and another emerging star like Hickson could be the missing component to a fifth title. He is one of the league's top rebounders and gives the Spurs a stronger option on defense than Blair. They would also receive Jonas Jerebko from the Detroit Pistons, who has gone to waste on the Detroit bench, but with youth and size on his side, could help the Spurs in numerous ways.
In return for Hickson, the Blazers would acquire some solutions to their depth issue, namely sharpshooter Gary Neal to provide the second unit with an offensive spark, while the emerging Will Bynum gives them a solid backup to Lillard.
Blair, who according to ESPN's Chris Broussard has drawn interest from the Blazers already, offers the team a strong rebounding option to replace Hickson, while the Pistons acquire an expiring contract in Jackson, who—should they choose to re-sign—would provide them with veteran leadership as well as a serviceable starter.
San Antonio Spurs receive: Al Jefferson
Utah Jazz receive: Stephen Jackson, Marreese Speights, Patrick Mills
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair
Last but not least—the Al Jefferson drama:
Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops broke the news about a potential deal between the Spurs and the Utah Jazz, in which San Antonio would acquire center Al Jefferson, as the Jazz attempt to deal the big man prior to the expiration of his contract.
In Sheridan's report, in which he labeled the Spurs as "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," Sheridan proposed a deal in which the Spurs would send Stephen Jackson, Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills for Jefferson.
The inclusion of Splitter's name drew immediate backlash from the San Antonio community, which was unwilling to consider parting with their newest frontcourt starter.
Though including Splitter may at first seem like the only way to interest Utah, adding a third team to the mix would certainly add to the possibilities.
Marreese Speights was recently sent from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he has been excellent.
Despite his production, his time in Cleveland may be short-lived, as another deal involving the big man may be developing, per Marc Stein of ESPN:
Don't be shocked if the Cavaliers decide to move Speights on again before the Feb. 21 deadline.
The Cavs obviously aren't in the playoff hunt and word is they're already receiving interest in Speights, who possesses a $4.5 million player option for next season. The Cavs are also armed with $12 million in expiring contracts and roughly $4 million in leftover cap space for the summer, which means they've got the tools to continue to be active before this deadline.
In return for Speights, the Spurs could send the Cavaliers Gary Neal to assist with their bench production, as well as DeJuan Blair—should Cleveland ask for him too, in order to fill the hole in the frontcourt.
Speights, who has proven to be just as talented as Splitter at times while also being younger and more affordable, should draw the attention of the Jazz, who would also receive Jackson and Mills, both of whom were included in Sheridan's original trade.
If needed, future picks could be included, as might a European prospect. With a rising star in Speights, a point guard to fill the void in Utah's offense as well as a valuable veteran who also possesses an extremely attractive expiring deal, it would be hard to imagine the Jazz not even considering parting ways with their soon-to-be free agent.
The Spurs would have to bid farewell to an abundance of players, but they would be acquiring Al Jefferson in the process without having to include Splitter.
Jefferson, like Hickson, would give the Spurs another big man to help them go deep into the playoffs, while also providing them with a valuable asset for the future.