After a lackluster extension deadline that saw very little action, it's time to turn our attention to the trade deadline that looms in the distance.
While teams usually don't pull the trigger on deals this early in the season, the groundwork for big moves is often laid nice and early. The first few weeks of the season can often provide some clarity and help establish the real, on-court needs of each team. This is the time for intel gathering.
Early results can drastically a change a team's direction as well, particularly if a team with a "win-now" mentality isn't, well, winning now. Here's looking at you, Washington Wizards.
Which early-season rumors swirling around the league should you put stock in? Let's explore.
The Rumor: Lance Stephenson says he's staying with the Indiana Pacers.
Buy or Sell: Buy
Indiana Pacers team president Larry Bird has said he'll do whatever he can to keep Lance Stephenson in a Pacers uniform. Stephenson, who has a strong relationship with Bird, has emphatically said he'll be with the Pacers next year. What's not to buy here?
Well, the roadblock isn't about interest, it's about money. If the Pacers weren't treating the luxury-tax line like lava, there likely wouldn't be much of an issue here. Plenty of development hours have been spent forming Stephenson into the player he is, and his explosiveness is a nice fit with the steady hand of George Hill in the backcourt.
Indiana is already over the projected salary cap for next season by a few million (so long as Luis Scola's contract becomes guaranteed), but there is roughly $11 million in room under the tax for the Pacers to retain Stephenson.
That should almost certainly be enough by itself, but factoring in roster cap holds and any exceptions the Pacers planned on using, it might come awfully close given how good Stephenson looks early on.
The choice of where to play will belong solely to the former second-round pick, as he'll be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Even with the tax concerns, it would be surprising if Stephenson doesn't come back to Indiana next year, considering the strong mutual interest between both parties and the title contender status of the Pacers.
The Rumor: Anyone on Toronto's roster except Jonas Valanciunas is available for trade.
Buy or Sell: Buy
History tends to repeat itself, and for Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, that means dealing away overpriced talent for future assets.
While this probably won't be an aggressive rebuild along the lines of what the Philadelphia 76ers or Phoenix Suns have done, it's easy to see the Raptors moving Rudy Gay while he can still bring back something in return. Remember, Gay has a player option on his contract next season, and we've seen plenty of players in their primes decline those in order to pull down long-term deals.
It's hard to imagine Ujiri making commitments to Kyle Lowry (expiring) or Amir Johnson (expiring next year) without having any real stars to build around other than Jonas Valanciunas, who we still can't be sure about because he gets the ball so infrequently.
It would make sense that the Raptors would deem Valanciunas untouchable, as productive big men on rookie deals don't grow on trees. What might be more interesting, though, is the role Terrence Ross will play in all of this.
If Ross shows improvements in his sophomore campaign, perhaps that will push DeMar DeRozan and/or Gay out of the way so Ross can earn more playing time.
Regardless, I'm buying everyone not named Jonas being available for trade. Ujiri is a mover and a shaker, and even the most optimistic evaluation of this current group wouldn't dare put them anywhere near title contention. It's time to sell.
The Rumor: Kendrick Perkins may want a change of scenery.
Buy or Sell: Sell
Look, there's nothing I hate more than trying to decipher cryptic tweets or status updates. It just begs for wild assumptions, and when professional athletes do it, everyone always wants to relate it to sports. It's a stupid exercise on both sides.
I have no idea what Kendrick Perkins is talking about, and neither do you. Is it a little weird that he deleted a tweet saying, "I'm sitting here thinking and it might be time for a change" after playing 16 minutes in his last game? Maybe, but he could be talking about literally anything here. A relationship. His seat on the team plane. A song lyric. We can guess, but we don't know.
But if I have to, I'll play along. If Perkins thinks he can get 20 minutes a night from another title-contending team, he's wrong. If he thinks Scott Brooks isn't doing him any favors with his rotations, he's really wrong. And if he thinks demanding a trade is smart or will even work, well, you get the point.
Perkins might be unhappy, and maybe he had a moment when he said something he shouldn't have or realized how it would be viewed and then rectified it. Maybe it had nothing to do with anything at all. Until we hear Perkins address any potential frustrations with playing time or his role or anything else, though, I'm selling cryptic athlete tweets forever and always.
The Rumor: Steve Nash may be traded this year.
Buy or Sell: Sell
Here's what I do buy.
I do think the Los Angeles Lakers wouldn't balk at the chance to shed Steve Nash's $9.3 million salary for the 2014-15 season. Cap space this offseason is a priority for the Lakers, and D'Antoni's fondness for Nash probably wouldn't be enough to keep him in Los Angeles if a great offer came along.
But where is that great offer coming from? What team is willing to take on an expensive, soon-to-be 40-year-old point guard in exchange for an expiring contract? And how exactly would Kobe Bryant feel about a trade that would weaken the Lakers from a talent standpoint? There are just too many roadblocks here.
The latest rumor has Toronto being floated as a landing spot for Nash, but I explained here why that's extremely unlikely.
There just aren't any viable suitors for Nash at this point, and until someone shows me a team with incentive to trade for Nash and his contract, I'm holding firm that Nash will remain with the Lakers for the rest of this season.
The Rumor: Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman may be the first coach fired this year.
Buy or Sell: Buy
Wittman's seat was hot to start the season, and that was before the Wizards went all in on this year by trading a draft pick for Marcin Gortat. That was also before the Wizards lost three straight games to start the season.
Wittman did a nice job building one of the league's most surprising defenses last season, but his early failures to maximize John Wall and Bradley Beal's abilities offensively while keeping the defensive intact are a little troubling. It's very early, but Washington can't afford to be too patient here.
Sam Smith of Bulls.com has Wittman pegged as the "Mike Brown Early Departure" winner, and I have to agree. With a guy like George Karl sitting around and a potential superstar on the roster in Wall, the Wizards shouldn't have a hard time recruiting a great coach if they let go of Wittman.
There is still plenty of time to turn this around, but if the Wizards don't start playing at least .500 ball within the next two weeks, Wittman will probably be out of a job.