Despite all the rumors of infighting, supposedly imminent moves and departure requests that have floated around the NBA already this season, we're still a couple weeks before you need to start spending any serious time on the trade machine.
Historically, teams don't seriously begin discussing deals during the regular season until Dec. 15, the arbitrary date the NBA sets allowing free agents signed over the previous summer to be dealt. The idea behind the rule is to prevent teams from circumventing the salary cap, agreeing to behind-closed-doors sign-and-trades that the CBA prevents.
So, pretty much, it wants NBA executives to avoid doing what we all do in NBA 2K. Fair enough.
Once the season begins, though, that Dec. 15 date looms behind every trade discussion. Those players are like an imaginary treasure chest for general managers desperate to deal, so they often twiddle their thumbs for the first quarter of the season waiting for the chips to fall.
That said, we're starting to get a pretty good idea of who the principal trade chips will be this season. There are always surprises under general managers' sleeves—like last year when they completely pulled the trade rug out from under us—but the trade winds are strong enough with a couple veterans that it seems inevitable that they move.
These guys aren't necessarily offseason signees, but their respective general managers could target guys like Paul Millsap and similarly dealable players. With that in mind, let's check in on a few of the biggest names and examine why they're on the market.
Omer Asik (C, Houston Rockets)
We've been in this state of inertia for months. Since the moment Dwight Howard announced his intention to sign with the Rockets in July, it's only seemed inevitable that the Turkish big man would be on the move. The "Twin Towers" concept is novel, but in an era where teams are emphasizing spacing more than ever—and that's especially the case for the analytics-heavy Rockets organization—the pairing seemed doomed from the start.
Memphis was often cited as a best-case scenario, but that narrative ignored the fact that Marc Gasol plays an overwhelming amount of time at the elbow, where he can either pop the mid-range jumper or pass out. Indiana is another team that plays big, but David West can stretch out to 18 feet. Neither Howard nor Asik possess the passing acumen or the outside shooting to make it work.
And, despite the best efforts of Kevin McHale, it didn't. The Rockets abandoned the Howard-Asik pairing after only eight games, inserting Terrence Jones into the starting lineup and pushing Asik into a role he was all too familiar with and didn't want to return to: backup center.
You know the rest. Asik requested a trade for the second time in a couple month span, got sent to the end of the bench and everyone wondered what would come next. McHale essentially benched him for four games (three Houston wins) before the parties kissed, made up and realized it's best for both sides to put out a united front.
That doesn't mean the situation is changing anytime soon. Asik is still very much available. The Rockets have been Utah-levels of horrible when Asik and Howard have shared the floor this season, and D12 certainly isn't going to be the one that leaves town. Asik is one of the best half-dozen interior defenders in the league, a guy who tries hard and uses his length well. While he's essentially only able to create offense when others do it for him, the Pacers sure seem satisfied with Roy Hibbert, who has returned to about his career averages offensively while murdering everyone on the other end.
But Daryl Morey has seemingly set a high price. Alan Hahn of MSG Network reported this week that the Rockets general manager is asking for two first-round picks in exchange for Asik, a haul that is in not any way realistic. Teams—well at least the ones outside New York City—have more than ever gravitated toward hanging onto their picks, as a combination of cheap labor and asset collection. Plus, with Asik due a balloon payment of $15 million next season, that's an awfully steep price to pay.
I imagine—OK, I pretty much know—that Morey will move away from that demand at some point. Maybe a wing defender will come available that strikes the Rockets' fancy, or a team will give up a mid-round 2014 draft pick. Either way, Asik will be moved—mostly because he has to be for Houston to take the next step.
Dion Waiters (SG, Cleveland Cavaliers)
I was in Cleveland for last week's Cavs-Heat game, and from the moment you stepped in the building it felt almost like any other NBA experience I've had. There was a palpable combination of tension, fear and excitement in the Q. The type when you lean in for your first kiss in adolescence, or drop down on one knee to propose marriage.
A majority of that came because the fans were hoping to prove their love for LeBron James, as he likely heads into free agency next summer. More specifically, Cavs fans were desperately trying to convince LeBron to save them from the team they have to watch on a nightly basis. After coming into the season with playoff hopes, Cleveland has been nothing but a combination of bad defense and abhorrent offense. If it weren't for the saving grace of the basketball wasteland known as the Eastern Conference, the Cavs' playoff hopes would already be dead.
That brings us to Dion Waiters, the second-year guard whom everyone seems ready to blame for these failures. We've all heard about the supposed dustup between Waiters and teammates during a players-only meeting, during which Waiters seemed to throw shade at Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson.
That comes along with all the criticism of Waiters for not being the player Cleveland fans were promised. They were fed Dwyane Wade comparisons and somehow ended up with Rodney Stuckey. Not exactly the best way to ingratiate yourself to fans, even if it was management's fault in the first place they drafted a player who mixed with Irving like pickles and peanut butter.
But, alas, we're here. Dustup + disappointment = trade rumors. In his recent trade-rumor roundup, CBS Sports' Ken Berger noted he expects Cleveland to be busy on the trade market, and for Waiters to be the first piece they offer in return.
While the locker-room blowup would seemingly quell Waiters' value much in the same way it has for Asik, the former Syracuse standout has instead played like he's auditioning for a new part. He was often the Cavs' best player on the floor against Miami, a game that's started a string of three straight contests with 20 or more points.
If Waiters' ceiling is, as I expect, an explosive sixth man who can score in bunches, this is a pretty good test run for his new team.
It'll be interesting to see how willing Cleveland is to trade Waiters, though. He's still only 21 years old, the Cavs passed on Victor Oladipo to take on the cratering Anthony Bennett in June, and it might be better to just allow this young core to grow rather than make a short-term decision.
That falls on Dan Gilbert. If Mr. Gilbert's past patience is any indication, if I'm the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland is the first call I'm making for a Luol Deng swap centered on Waiters.
Luol Deng (SF, Chicago Bulls)
Wow. Talk about perfect timing. It's almost like I planned it that way. It's almost like of Sporting News reported that the Cavs made overtures to Chicago over the summer, only to be rebuffed, but those talks could reopen after Derrick Rose's season-ending knee injury.
High-five for total coincidences, you guys.
As for whether a deal could get pulled off, the two sides actually seem like a good match. Chicago and Cleveland both have assets current and future out the wazoo, ones that could be attractive to the other side. The Cavs would center a trade around Waiters and Anderson Varejao straight up for Deng, which theoretically could solve the desires of both sides.
Cleveland gets a short-term contributor on an expiring deal, one who could re-sign with the club should its pursuit of LeBron prove fruitless. And although Waiters plus Varejao might make a few Cavs fans recoil, there are some real-life benefits to this potential deal. Varejao is a fun, energetic player who has been wildly productive when on the floor the past few seasons, but he's also a 31-year-old walking infirmary. A trade would allow Chris Grant to recoup value before his inevitable trip to Jos. A. Bank for their latest 6-for-1 suit special and get out of his $4 million buyout for 2013-14.
The swing vote here really comes from Chicago, which has not really given much indication on where its future stands. The Rose injury was devastating for more than one reason. Not only did the Bulls lose their franchise player again, they're again left with the hollow feeling of a championship core being unable to compete due to injury.
Could the Rose-Deng-Joakim Noah-Carlos Boozer core compete for a title? Who the hell knows because we never got a chance to try.
But, minus Rose and shooting guard Jimmy Butler, this is a core already pushing the edge of their primes. Does Chicago really think a 32-year-old Deng (assuming a four-year contract) will be a championship contributor? Or would the Bulls be better off landing a ball-handler like Waiters, who could help Butler move back to the 3 and give them insurance against another Rose injury?
It's an interesting and unfortunate conundrum. With Tom Thibodeau and Co. scuffling since Rose's injury, however, I'm much more in the latter camp than the former.
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