Typically in the early days of June, the trade chatter dies down to a murmur as teams around the NBA allow the league's concentration to focus on the two teams in the finals. The discussions are kept to a relative minimum, and most of the rumors around the league involve smokescreens about draft picks or free agents.
That hasn't been the case this year. The Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics' negotiations for a possible Kevin Garnett blockbuster sent reporters and columnists scurrying to their laptops with a mid-July fever.
While it's unclear whether or not that deal will be consummated, it's made one thing clear without equivocation: The 2013 offseason will be one of rapid-fire movement, as non-contenting teams look to shed themselves of dead-weight salary while the nuclear arms race atop the NBA continues to build.
It's become clear that championship contenders are built in today's NBA through a few great players and role players surrounding them. The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat both proved that this year, as has history for that matter. But as the league's collective-bargaining agreement continues to put more and more punitive taxes on high-spending teams, how those dollars are allotted becomes almost as important.
With those penalties kicking in next season, you'll see plenty of teams scurrying to get under the luxury tax and non-tax teams trying to find value in taking on slightly overpriced talent. The Toronto Raptors' trade for Rudy Gay during the regular season will become something of a norm over these next couple years.
With draft season—always an interesting time for trade talks—just about a week away, let's take a look at a few of the names most likely to be dealt before next Thursday.
(Note: The word "likely." Not the word "will." Just putting that out there for clarity's sake.)
Kevin Garnett (PF-C, Boston Celtics)
Let's start with the most obvious name on the market. It's well known that the Clippers and Celtics were working on the framework of a deal that would send Garnett to Los Angeles along with coach Doc Rivers in exchange for a package for DeAndre Jordan and draft picks. The deal was within inches of getting done on Monday, with the principles mostly agreed to and just a few odds and ends to clear up.
ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and other outlets reported that the Clippers pulled out of the deal on Tuesday, unwilling to part with a second first-round pick in exchange for Boston's letting Rivers out of his contract. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge spoke with Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe and confirmed the sides were no longer talking.
So...deal's dead, right? Garnett stays?
Let's not jump too far and completely cross Garnett off the Clippers' wish list.
This deal seems to boil down to almost the most pathetic NBA asset known to man—a last first-round pick.
Because Boston's not asking for a lottery-guaranteed selection like the one given to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the James Harden trade, it's more than a little strange to see Los Angeles back out over something so minuscule. An NBA draft pick between 26-30, a reasonably expected selection should the Clippers acquire Garnett, is about the equivalent to a fourth-rounder in the NFL draft, per research done by Wages of Wins.
At the very best, you're hoping for a mid-rotational player who does one thing really well. History tells us that superstars—a few exceptions granted—are not found late in the NBA draft. Basketball is inherently better at selecting which players are the best, merely because it's the most predictable sport overall.
This deal isn't completely dead. The Celtics were confused by the Clippers' decision to pull out, according to USA Today's Sam Amick, and one quick phone call could solve this whole thing.
What's more, depending on how the whole Rivers situation plays out in Boston—and his return is a massive question mark, Clippers deal or not—Garnett might wind up coming to Los Angeles without the Celtics coach. Without Doc and with Paul Pierce's situation up in the air, Garnett could be amenable to a switch to Los Angeles.
Remember: The draft picks were compensation for Rivers, not Garnett. So with that in mind, this Garnett situation is still very much in play.
Note: DeAndre Jordan deserves mention in this space merely for his place within the Garnett trade.
Eric Bledsoe (PG, Los Angeles Clippers)
The other huge shoe to drop for the Clippers is Bledsoe, who will almost certainly be playing elsewhere next season should Chris Paul re-up in Los Angeles. Whether that will come before the draft is ultimately unclear, but Los Angeles has an impetus to move the burgeoning young guard.
The reasoning is simple. Once Paul gets locked up to a long-term maximum contract—the Clippers can offer their superstar guard a five-year deal worth $108 million, which is about $28 million more than any other team—Los Angeles' money is all but tied up in its current core. Between the Blake Griffin-Chris Paul-DeAndre Jordan (or Kevin Garnett) trio, there's enough money on the books for little flexibility.
Bledsoe, along with other assets like Caron Butler's expiring deal, represents the Clippers' biggest bargaining chip for them to get better now. He's also going to be prohibitively expensive and see a ton of interest on the open market should the Clippers allow him to hit restricted free-agency next summer—interest that would put Bledsoe out of the team's price range.
If CP3 returns, Bledsoe leaves. Whether the Clippers get any indication from Paul before the draft and make a move is another question.
It's clear they've already been in talks with multiple teams and made their interest in moving Bledsoe well known around the league. ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported that the Clippers and Orlando Magic have already had preliminary discussions about a Bledsoe-for-Arron Afflalo deal, though it's unclear how far along those talks are.
Afflalo would represent a massive upgrade at the starting 2 spot for Los Angeles, which spent the entirety of last season trying to wake up the ghost of Chauncey Billups. The former UCLA star would also help give the Clippers floor spacing, a need that became readily apparent against the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs.
What's more, one of the more interesting rumors around Bledsoe's name—even if it was quickly shot down—involved the prospect of he and Blake Griffin being sent to the Lakers for Dwight Howard. ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne reported on the possible deal, which would have probably caused the entire city of Los Angeles to combust.
It's not happening, so there's no use in discussing it further. But Bledsoe will be playing elsewhere, and the deal could get done soon if the Clippers get antsy to impress CP3 with their returning roster.
Derrick Williams (PF, Minnesota Timberwolves)
Suffice it to say, Derrick Williams' first two NBA seasons have gone far differently than anyone expected when he was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft. The former Arizona standout has struggled mightily to find his place within Minnesota's rotation, floating in and out of the starting lineup with such a consistency that it would leave any young player frustrated.
Certainly, at least part of that was Williams' doing. He's been lost on the defensive end of the floor for the most part on rotations, and he's a complete nonentity when it comes to rim protection. Always a bit of a tweener, Williams hasn't developed well enough as a back-to-the-basket player to be an effective 4 in the post, nor has his outside shot improved enough to make him a viable pick-and-pop threat.
It's also become quite apparent he doesn't have the foot speed to cover 3s. With Nikola Pekovic (a restricted free agent this summer) and Kevin Love likely comprising Minnesota's long term and short term, it's no surprise that Williams' name has been up for trade consideration.
According to a report by the Pioneer Press' Charley Walters, the Timberwolves will look to move Williams on draft night along with the No. 9 overall pick to move upward in the draft:
Walters noted later in the Pioneer Press that Minnesota's main target is Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo, a fast-rising name up many draft boards this year. Oladipo, a defensive menace whose offensive game is still in need of work, is one of only a few players in this class who has a chance for long-term stardom. His explosive leaping ability would make him a jaw-dropping pairing with Ricky Rubio in the backcourt, though Minnesota's shooting problems would still exist.
It's unclear, though, just how much teams value Williams at this point. He's obviously been underserved by the Minnesota coaching staff over these past two years, with minutes that have varied wildly and roles that have been in a constant state of flux.
The question is whether Minnesota would be able to trade high enough to land Oladipo. The Orlando Magic are expected to give Oladipo consideration as high as No. 2, and he won't get past the Phoenix Suns at No. 5. Making a deal with the Charlotte Bobcats, who will at least kick the tires on trading down, could work.
But all of that very much depends on how Charlotte feels about Williams. Either way, he'll be gone by Halloween.
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