Ranking the Likelihood of Top NBA Stars on the Move This Season
On a year-to-year basis, blockbuster trades keep NBA fans on their toes. But is there a strong likelihood that top NBA stars could be on the move at some point during the 2013-14 year?
At a moment’s notice, the entire landscape of the league can change in a blink when front offices strike a deal—like when the Brooklyn Nets acquired Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in a fire sale from the Boston Celtics. That prominent swap greatly improved the Nets’ chances at winning a title, while conceivably dropping the Celts out of the playoff picture.
Fans don’t always see such dramatic changes within the NBA, but the 2013-14 season should see plenty of marquee names in the rumor mill at one point or another.
Whether players are poor fits due to their play style, their contract situation or their overall standing in a team’s direction, sometimes the best move a franchise can make is moving on from a big name.
Note: Although players on this list are numbered for your convenience, they are not in any particular order.
10. Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers
As awkward as it sounds, Danny Granger’s knee injuries actually turned out to be blessings in disguise for the Indiana Pacers last season. Granger played just five games for Indiana due to the knee issues, which opened up an opportunity for Paul George to blossom into a star.
George was named the league’s Most Improved Player in 2013 as he averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game (all career highs). He also led the NBA with 6.3 defensive win shares, according to Basketball Reference. That was nearly a full defensive win share better than second-place Marc Gasol (5.4).
Although Indiana struggled offensively without Granger, ranking 23rd in points per game (94.7), George embraced a bigger role, and the Pacers became arguably the best defensive team in the NBA.
If Granger returns to full health next season, the Pacers will add a much-needed scoring threat. However, there’s a chance that bringing him back to the playing rotation could hinder team chemistry.
The question is whether or not the Pacers decide to trade Granger at some point this season. The decision to move him makes sense for two reasons.
First, Frank Vogel’s team has already proven the ability to compete without Granger. The Pacers came within one win of making the NBA Finals last season, so they’re already aware of what they can accomplish without him in the lineup.
Second, Granger is entering the final year of his current contract. He’s owed slightly more than $14 million in 2013-14 and could be seen as an attractive trade chip because his deal is set to expire and free up cap space.
Before Indiana makes that decision, however, it needs to re-evaluate Lance Stephenson on the offensive end of the floor. If he makes improvements—specifically from beyond the arc, where he shot 33 percent last season—moving on from Granger is an easier pill to swallow.
Of course, Granger may wind up being the missing piece to the puzzle in Indy. If he fits in seamlessly as a dynamic offensive threat, the Pacers may have no choice but to keep him.
Odds of Getting Traded: 50 percent
Potential Destinations: Charlotte Bobcats, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers
9. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
The LaMarcus Aldridge saga has become one of the most bizarre story lines of the 2013 NBA offseason.
Back in June, Jason Quick of The Oregonian wrote a column stating that Aldridge wanted out of Portland. That proved to be baseless speculation, as The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman wrote an article three days later quoting Aldridge as saying in an email, “I haven’t demanded a trade.”
The Quick column generated a lot of trade buzz, but it doesn’t appear as if Aldridge genuinely wants to be moved.
Now that the Portland Trail Blazers have completely revamped their league-worst bench from last season, Aldridge and Co. could be thinking of a playoff berth, even in the loaded Western Conference.
Additions of Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Robin Lopez—who will likely start and move Meyers Leonard to the bench—will be huge. The Trail Blazers were completely dependent upon their starters last season. Now they have plenty of depth for a balanced attack.
If all those additions can come together and create a winning product, Portland likely won’t even entertain the idea of moving Aldridge. The All-Star power forward is under contract through the 2014-15 season, so the fear of losing him in free agency isn’t there yet.
Look for Aldridge and Damian Lillard to continue their dynamic one-two punch. Now that Portland actually has a viable second unit, those two stars likely won’t burn out at the end of the regular season (like when they ended 2013 with a 13-game losing streak).
Odds of Getting Traded: 20 percent
Potential Destinations: Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets
8. Omer Asik, Houston Rockets
Following a breakout season in which Omer Asik started all 82 regular season games and all six postseason games in his first full season with the Houston Rockets, the Turkish center was understandably upset when Houston signed Dwight Howard this summer.
According to ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, Asik formally requested to be traded in wake of the signing. However, the Rockets appear to have no intention of trading the defensive-minded big man moving forward.
According to Windhorst’s article, Rockets coach Kevin McHale said, “With Omer, he had a great year for us last year and really became one of the top centers in the league. It’s just when you have an opportunity to get Dwight, it’s hard not to. I’m sure Omer right now is a little down in the dumps, but we’ll pick him up.”
I’m intrigued with the idea of playing Asik and Howard simultaneously, thus creating a dominant two-headed defensive monster protecting the rim. Unfortunately, that lineup also leaves Houston hopelessly incapable of spreading the floor on offense. The Rockets would also be vulnerable to opposing power forwards who can spread the floor with outside shooting.
The most popular Asik trade that has been speculated is a straight-up swap of Asik for Ryan Anderson of the New Orleans Pelicans that makes sense for both sides.
The Rockets get a power forward that can spread the floor by shooting the three-ball. The Pelicans add a dominant defensive center that can move Anthony Davis and his slender frame to the power forward spot.
Despite being a logical trade on paper, it doesn’t appear as if the Rockets front office has any intention of trading Asik at this juncture.
Odds of Getting Traded: 25 percent
Potential Destinations: New Orleans Pelicans, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers
7. Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls
Although Carlos Boozer has been a reliable offensive power forward for the Chicago Bulls, an argument can be made that he’s not even the best power forward on his own team.
Boozer: 18.1 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.4 blocks, 47.7 percent field goal shooting.
Gibson: 12.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 2.2 blocks, 48.5 percent field goal shooting.
Boozer averages more points, rebounds and assists when compared with Gibson, but the key difference comes on the defensive end.
In addition to averaging far more blocks per game (2.2 compared to 0.4), Gibson’s on court/off court defensive numbers are clearly more favorable.
When he was on the court for the Bulls, the offensive rating of opponents was 100.9 points per 100 possessions on 46.5 percent from the floor. When he was off the court, opponents had an offensive rating of 104.5 points per 100 possessions on 48.4 percent shooting.
By contrast, when Boozer was on the court, the offensive rating of opponents was 104.7 points per 100 possessions on 48.5 percent shooting. When he went to the bench, that offensive rating dropped to 100.5 points per 100 possessions on 46.2 percent shooting.
To put it simply, Chicago was a more efficient defensive team when Boozer was on the bench and Gibson was on the court.
Trading Boozer makes sense for the Bulls moving forward to further embrace their defensive identity with Gibson. Moving the $32.1 million Boozer is owed over the next two seasons, however, will not be an easy task.
The main reason why a Boozer trade isn’t all that likely is due to his contract situation and the fact that he’s a prime candidate for the amnesty clause. Other NBA teams aren’t going to give up assets to acquire that much money on the books.
Nevertheless, the Bulls may have another prime trade candidate during the 2013-14 season.
Odds of Getting Traded: 5 percent
Potential Destinations: Portland Trail Blazers, Charlotte Bobcats
6. Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls
The two-year, $32.1 million figure remaining on Carlos Boozer’s contract isn't exactly favorable for trade partners around the league. The expiring contract of All-Star forward Luol Deng, though, is much easier to stomach.
Deng is owed more than $14 million this season. Because his deal is set to expire in 2014, the Chicago Bulls should at least entertain the idea of moving him before losing the All-Star for nothing in free agency.
The problem is that, unlike the Boozer situation with Taj Gibson, Chicago doesn’t have a viable backup small forward to fill in for Deng.
Jimmy Butler can play the position, but head coach Tom Thibodeau has already pegged him as the Bulls’ starting shooting guard, according to an article by K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.
Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton are no longer around to provide backcourt depth. So unless the Bulls get immediate assets for Deng that can reliably fill the small forward or shooting guard spots, trading him is a net negative for the 2013-14 campaign.
Chicago already had "exploratory discussions" with the Washington Wizards in an attempt to trade Deng for the third-overall pick in the 2013 draft, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. Trading for an immediate draft pick was the best deal Chicago was likely to get, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Deng play out the season in a Bulls uniform.
The best plan of action at this point is to keep Deng and embrace a championship run with a healthy Derrick Rose back at the helm.
Odds of Getting Traded: 30 percent
Potential Destinations: Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz
5. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
Following the trade that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets, Rajon Rondo is the last remnant from the 2008 Boston Celtics team that won an NBA championship.
Because of that, it’s logical to believe that the Celtics organization will move forward with Rondo as the franchise centerpiece. Nevertheless, Rondo’s name has been floated in trade rumors repeatedly during the offseason.
The Detroit Pistons have shown interest in Rondo and could be one of many teams aiming to acquire him once he returns from injury. Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe wrote the following with regards to the star point guard:
Just because the Pistons acquired Brandon Jennings in a sign-and-trade deal with the (Milwaukee Bucks) doesn’t mean they’ve lost interest in Rajon Rondo. In fact, they could eventually use Jennings as a trade chip and seek to acquire Rondo. There are going to be several interested parties in Rondo, and that number could increase when he shows he’s fully recovered from anterior cruciate ligament surgery.
Regardless of which team tries to acquire Rondo’s services, it would likely take a Godfather-like offer to entice the Celtics front office.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said earlier this offseason, “I always listen to calls and listen to what (other teams) ideas are, but we have no intentions of moving Rajon,” per Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston.
Unless Rondo fails to step up as the new face of the franchise through his leadership on and off the court, I simply can’t envision Boston severing ties with the star point guard.
Considering that Garnett has reportedly been mentoring Rondo to make him a better leader, according to Jay King of MassLive.com, he should be able to make an easy transition leading a young supporting cast. That is, of course, if he doesn't clash with new coach Brad Stevens.
But again, if Detroit makes an offer along the lines of Jennings, Greg Monroe and multiple draft picks, Boston may be tempted.
Odds of Getting Traded: 10 percent
Potential Destinations: Detroit Pistons, Utah Jazz
4. Marcin Gortat/Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
As a bonus to this list, we have a potential package deal coming out of the desert.
Of all of the teams in full-blown rebuilding mode, the Phoenix Suns are one of the most obvious. Since general manager Ryan McDonough took over, the Suns have stockpiled draft picks (they have three first-rounders in 2014 alone), traded away veterans (Jared Dudley, Luis Scola and Caron Butler are all gone) and acquired youth (bringing in Alex Len, Archie Goodwin and Eric Bledsoe).
With that in mind, there’s still more Phoenix can do to better its chances for the No. 1 overall pick in 2014. Namely, trading Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat.
The majority of Suns fans would say that Dragic and Gortat are the Suns two best players. Of course, Phoenix now has Bledsoe (a point guard) and Len (a center) waiting in the wings. Logically speaking, those two young guys are the future of Phoenix Suns basketball.
Does that automatically mean Gortat and Dragic should be packing their lockers? Not necessarily, but the direction the Suns are going in certainly hints that it could be a possibility.
Of the two players, Gortat is more likely to be moved because he’s entering the final year of his current contract. McDonough’s modus operandi thus far has been acquiring assets, so it would be surprising if he didn’t stick to the same formula with regards to the Polish big man.
A Dragic/Bledsoe backcourt, meanwhile, has the potential to be a successful and viable option moving forward. So there’s an outside chance that Dragic will stay put (something Suns fans would likely welcome).
The Suns are looking at a long road to rebuilding, so there’s a good chance neither Gortat nor Dragic will be around when they return to prominence anyway.
Odds of Getting Traded: 80 percent (Gortat) 50 percent (Dragic)
Potential Destinations: Portland Trail Blazers, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic
3. Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors
The $37.2 million owed to Rudy Gay over the next two seasons (if he decides to pick up his player option in 2014-15) makes him the highest paid player on the Toronto Raptors by far.
With a salary of more than $17.8 million this season, his salary nearly doubles that of the next highest paid player on the roster (DeMar DeRozan at $9.5 million).
In addition to being the highest paid guy on the team, he shot 41.6 percent from the field and 32.3 percent from three-point range last season. That’s a tough pill to swallow for Raptors fans. He could improve his shooting efficiency after offseason eye surgery, but the fact that fans in Toronto are leaning on that excuse is a concern in and of itself.
Gay is arguably the best player on Toronto’s roster. He's put up solid numbers over a six-year time frame. But are the Raptors championship contenders with Gay leading the way? Not even close.
In fact, they’ll probably be considered overachievers if they sneak into the Eastern Conference playoff picture in 2014.
New general manager Masai Ujiri made an immediate impact by trading away failed No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, but there’s still plenty of work to do.
Perhaps that work starts with finding a suitor for Gay. However, Jeff Simmons of SportsNet.ca reported in July that Ujiri doesn’t expect to trade the small forward. Ujiri said, “We need to see the team before we know the direction we’re going to take.”
If the Raptors aren’t in the playoff hunt at the trade deadline, trading Gay for some expiring contracts or draft picks makes a ton of sense for a fringe playoff team.
Odds of Getting Traded: 45 percent
Potential Destinations: Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats, Utah Jazz
2. Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers
Admittedly, it’s tough to envision Pau Gasol leaving the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kobe Bryant said in December of last year, “I love Pau like a brother,” according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. He also posted a photo of himself and his teammate of four-plus years on Instagram following Dwight Howard’s decision to sign with the Houston Rockets.
Despite openly grilling Gasol through the media in the past, it’s clear that Bryant cares about the Spaniard. Ultimately, he may decide to veto any Gasol trade that could arise.
Nevertheless, the Lakers (and Gasol) struggled mightily a season ago.
We may see an addition-by-subtraction improvement with D12 gone now that Gasol can return to the post where he’s most comfortable and effective. However, Mike D’Antoni’s coaching system certainly hasn’t favored the scuffling big man to this point.
Lakerland may decide to go in a different direction now that Gasol is entering a contract year. If the Lakers can acquire athletic three-point shooters to place around Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, they could form a makeshift version of D’Antoni’s run-and-gun Phoenix Suns teams.
All they have to do is get into the playoffs. From there, if D’Antoni has the right pieces for his system, Bryant could carry the Lakers. That is, of course, if he’s healthy following an Achilles tear.
Odds of Getting Traded: 33 percent
Potential Destinations: Memphis Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks
1. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
We’re now entering the fourth year of the DeMarcus Cousins era in Sacramento. In three years with Boogie, the Sacramento Kings have won just 32 percent of their games.
In year four, they’ve lost Tyreke Evans while adding Greivis Vasquez, Ben McLemore and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Does that offseason hint that the Kings are going to win more than 28 games next season? If McLemore’s Summer League performance is any indication, the answer to that question is no.
So where does Sacramento go from here? Cousins is undoubtedly the franchise centerpiece and a great offensive talent, but he’s had plenty of maturity issues and his defense has been abysmal (read this column by Grantland’s Zach Lowe for all the gory details).
Still, the Kentucky product is just 22 years old. There’s plenty of time to salvage his maturity problems, as well as his poor defensive execution.
However, we still don’t know what type of supporting cast Cousins needs to create a winning product.
If they add a defensive-minded center (think Omer Asik), the Kings can move Cousins to power forward. But that decision would clog the interior on offense and let shooting power forwards feast on Cousins’ defense.
If they add a sharpshooting power forward (think Ryan Anderson), they can spread the floor around Boogie, who is an above-average passer out of double-teams. But this would leave the Kings completely helpless on the defensive end.
I’m not yet convinced that the Cousins era in Sac-Town is ending. With that said, Cousins is inching his way toward restricted free agency, and the Kings haven’t shown much of a plan in terms of improving around the young big man.
Should they trade him for a platter of future draft picks, or keep him and continue to build through the draft and free agency?
That decision is up in the air, but if Cousins hits the trade block, you can be sure that there will be plenty of suitors.
Odds of Getting Traded: 35 percent
Potential Destinations: Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, Denver Nuggets