You never know when a deal will materialize. Whether it's before the season starts or before the trade deadline, talks are always taking place.
It's unlikely that we'll see a trade that even approaches the magnitude of last year's deal that sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for a smaller blockbuster this year.
The following six potential blockbuster trades focus on big talents but also on the reasoning and motivation for these teams to make a deal.
Boston Celtics Needs: Draft picks, cap space, cheap young talent.
Milwaukee Bucks Needs: A true point guard, a legitimate star to get off the eight-seed treadmill.
Why it makes sense: Trading Rajon Rondo is difficult for multiple reasons. He's the only Boston player left who will sell tickets, he's coming off a torn-ACL, and the majority of NBA teams are all set at point guard.
Milwaukee, however, is one of the few teams without a true point guard. New acquisition Brandon Knight was in the bottom five of starting point guards in nearly every passing category (assist rate, turnover rate, assist-to-turnover ratio) last season. He seems better suited for a sixth man role.
Milwaukee is one of the rare teams who would appeal to Boston in a Rondo trade as well. John Henson is a tremendous talent that is currently blocked from playing time, but in Boston, he could hold down the center spot and be a rebounding and shot-blocking menace.
A future draft pick from Milwaukee, a team that's always seemingly in the middle of the pack, would be attractive as well.
Financial implications: Boston would clear roughly $16 million off the books next season thanks to the expiring deals of Butler and Ridnour. Ekpe Udoh is also expiring, but if he impressed, the Celtics would be able to match in restricted free agency.
It will take quite some time before Milwaukee is a prime free-agent destination, so using expiring cap space to nab a star like Rondo would be a smart use of assets. Given how much Rondo hates to lose and the clear rebuilding path of the Celtics, the mercurial point guard may welcome a trade to a team where he has talent around him but is still the clear-cut star.
Cleveland Cavaliers Needs: Durable players, three-point shooting, defensive potential.
Los Angeles Clippers Needs: A defensive and rebounding anchor, a better offensive frontcourt match for Blake Griffin, a legitimate third big man.
Why it makes sense: The Clippers and Cavaliers reportedly discussed a similar swap last year, although the asking price for Anderson Varejao seemed awfully high given his injury history. There's no question Varejao is the better all-around player, and he'd likely blend much better with Griffin as well.
If Varejao re-establishes his value early in the season and can stay on the floor without trouble, the Cavs could sell high and move him while he's still upright. Jordan would have to struggle in Rivers' system to motivate the Clippers to move on, but that certainly seems possible.
The dip in production from Varejao to Jordan for the Cavs might be worth the increased dependability, as Jordan has missed only two games in the last three years. The inclusion of Reggie Bullock would also give the Cavs a very good spot-up shooter with the potential to be a legitimate three-and-D guy with the size to play either wing spot.
This would obviously be a huge risk for the Clippers, but Tyler Zeller's inclusion would provide some insurance and a much-needed legitimate big man off the bench. Varejao's heady play on both ends could put the Clippers over the top.
Financial implications: Since both Varejao and Jordan have two years left on their contracts at similar dollar amounts, the finances don't play a significant role.
New Orleans Needs: Low-usage supporting players, a small forward, three-and-D.
Charlotte Bobcats Needs: More star-power, a big scorer who can also help defensively, lottery tickets.
Why it makes sense: Eric Gordon's tenure in New Orleans has been a nightmare. The free-agency fiasco on top of all the injuries and the heavy decline in production all point to a need for a change of scenery. With Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday on board, Gordon's high-usage scoring no longer fits, and his big contract doesn't allow the Pelicans to add a piece that does.
Enter the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats should be going after boom-or-bust candidates like Gordon whenever they can. If Gordon can stay healthy and recapture his promise as one of the best young shooting guards in the game? Great. If he can't stay healthy? The rebuilding process continues. That's why the signing of the always steady, predictable Al Jefferson was a little baffling.
Gordon could give the Bobcats a young, high-scoring wing to pair with Kemba Walker to form a dynamite backcourt. Gerald Henderson could either play in small-ball lineups at the 3, or become a super sixth man. A healthy Gordon might even be enough to help the Bobcats get to the playoffs, believe it or not. When he's right, he's that good.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, get a young up-and-coming wing in Jeff Taylor who can play off the ball and defend the best perimeter player every night. He's a glue guy with room to grow.
The appeal of a future first-round pick from the Bobcats requires little explanation.
Financial implications: Ben Gordon's expiring deal would allow the Pelicans to be a major factor in free agency. Since the Bobcats can't attract premium talent in free agency (without grossly overpaying, at least), Gordon might be the most skilled, available player out there. As an added bonus, Gordon's salary expires in the same offseason ('15-16) as Jefferson's, so it won't be hard to hit the reset button down the line if it doesn't work out.
Toronto Raptors Needs: Floor-spacing, cap flexibility, direction.
Sacramento Kings Needs: A small forward, a second scorer, athleticism.
Why it makes sense: New Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has a history of being able to swing deals like these. The trades of Nene, Arron Afflalo and Andrea Bargnani seem to show that Ujiri isn't comfortable having players on big long-term contracts on his ledger.
Rudy Gay may only have two years left on his max deal, but Toronto might want to see if it can cash him in for a few lottery tickets. Gay is just too similar to DeMar DeRozan in style of play (both are post-oriented wings), and Jonas Valanciunas will need his touches as well. Gay is talented, but he's a bad fit.
In Sacramento, however, Gay could be a perfect match with Ben McLemore on the wing. McLemore is better playing off the ball and attacking as the opportunities come his way, and Gay and Cousins could draw plenty of attention on either block to free him up for open shots.
With two capable point guards in Isaiah Thomas and Greivis Vasquez, Sacramento could instantly become one of the best transition teams in basketball, provided it could get stops on the other end.
For Toronto, Marcus Thornton could provide better floor-spacing with his shooting and become one of the premier sixth men in basketball. Second-year player Terrence Ross would have a clean path to playing time at the 3, and Jimmer Fredette could get a fresh start and more minutes after showing some decent promise late last year. Most importantly, Toronto could really develop and build around a young, cheap roster while pocketing another draft pick in the process.
Financial implications: John Salmons has a team-option on the second year of his deal, which Toronto would certainly decline to free up cap space. Sacramento could hope that sacrificing one year of cap space for Gay could lead to him re-signing at a much, much cheaper price once that albatross of a contract expires.
Orlando Magic Needs: A point guard, young talent, cap space and draft picks.
Houston Rockets Needs: Perimeter defense, three-point shooting, a better backcourt fit for James Harden.
Why it makes sense: The first season of the Lin-Harden backcourt had its ups and downs, but defensively it's easy to see that the Rockets will be challenged with that pairing. Because Lin isn't a spot-up shooter and needs the ball in his hands, he's certainly not an optimal offensive pairing for Harden, either.
When Lin went down with an injury in the playoffs, Patrick Beverley stepped up big time and put up impressive numbers in his place. Beverley is a great defender and athlete, and he's a good enough stand-still shooter to work more effectively next to Harden. He's ready for a bigger role.
Surrounding Dwight Howard with perimeter shooting offensively has worked in the past. If Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu can play power forward, so can Chandler Parsons. He played there in smaller lineups last season, and the Rockets wouldn't have to sacrifice their mentality or production by plugging Parsons in at the 4.
Afflalo, a 38.3 percent career three-point shooter, would give the Rockets a defender capable of grabbing the toughest wing assignment every night to spare Harden's energy. Engaged on a contender and in the right role, Afflalo could become the league's premier three-and-D player.
The Rockets would be very small with Beverley, Harden, Afflalo and Parsons all on the court together, but they'd be incredibly deadly offensively.
Orlando, meanwhile, would get a free shot at reviving Linsanity by upping Lin's usage rate and giving him the keys. Victor Oladipo would be allowed to slide into the 2-spot for good, where he would mesh nicely with Lin's abilities and shortcomings.
Financial implications: Even if gambling on Lin doesn't work out, Orlando would shave an extra year of what would have been Afflalo's salary off the books. That means virtually every significant, non-rookie contract on the team would then be set to expire after the 2014-15 season, providing Orlando with room for two max contracts in one offseason down the line.