Being a team with championship aspirations in a major market is interesting to say the least. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers may have built a roster worthy of championship contention, but they have an inherent excuse built into the NBA system if they fail.
Not enough money.
There are no excuses in major markets. Fair or foul (mostly fair), these teams are viewed as money-printing factories that can throw money at any leaky faucet. When the money is spent well, you get a Big Three that goes to three straight NBA finals. When the money is spent poorly, you get whatever the hell is going on in Brooklyn right now.
But the money is there. Major markets make it rain—or at least they're expected to. Jerry Reinsdorf has undergone mass scorn in Chicago for his continued unwillingness to pay the luxury tax, a pledge he broke this season but will probably work his way out of after Derrick Rose's regular-season-ending injury.
Even as the NBA has implemented more punitive penalties for excess spending, high-profile teams have found ways to finagle key additions on the cheap. Michael Beasley has been a surprise revelation in Miami, Andrei Kirilenko likely will be in Brooklyn once he returns from injury and Mitch Kupchak probably fist-bumps a mirror every time he thinks of the Lakers' current construction.
Free-agency bargains are boundless. Once the season starts, though, teams are often consigned to negotiating with their brethren to make roster additions. It's only so rare that a midseason signee comes in and has a noticeable impact.
However, we've seen multiple trades in the past swing the entire championship hierarchy. With that in mind, let's check in on a few high-profile teams and see what the trade rumor mill is saying about their prospects.
Knicks Not Trading Carmelo Anthony—Not Even If He Tries Making Them?
The above little teaser headline shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The Knicks (read: James Dolan) have been in bed with Carmelo since the meddlesome owner forced his front office to sell the farm for the enigmatic forward a few years ago.
There are any number of reasons we could get into as to why that trade didn't make all that much sense—namely 'Melo was due for free agency, the Knicks could have signed him outright and the Nuggets were desperate to make a deal—but that doesn't change the reality.
The reality is that New York is tied to Mr. Anthony and his whims—for better or for worse. If that means acquiescing every last one of the team's major decisions to Creative Arts Agency, which represents Carmelo, J.R. Smith and houses the ever-influential Worldwide Wes as a consultant, then so be it. After all, it's not like the Knicks could have spent their 15th guaranteed roster spot on anyone better than Chris Smith, right?
We're all aware of what's happened this season. The comfy king-size bed of CAA has suddenly started feeling like a twin, as the Knicks have started 5-13, seen complete defensive incompetency across the roster and failed to reestablish the identity that led them to 54 wins a season ago.
It's been a mess. An over-covered, sometimes amusing, incredulousness-inducing mess.
Knicks fans are also well aware of the looming specter of Melo's impending free agency. As ESPN's Brian Windhorst points out, there's no one inside or outside the organization who expects Anthony to do anything else than what's best for himself.
In a way, that stance paints Melo with the same "selfish" brush he's faced his whole career. Windhorst suggests that Anthony might, for the second time in four seasons, attempt to force a midseason trade should he think about the possibility of playing five seasons alongside Andrea Bargnani and hit the "pass" button.
You could take that any number of ways. I'd prefer to look at it this way: What would you do if you were Anthony? The organization may have bent to your will in some situations, but management left you with a creaky, deeply flawed supporting cast and attempted to cover it up with short-term spraypaint. Would you want to stick around with a completely incompetent boss who insists on slipping tickets to his jazz show into your coat pockets?
I would think not.
No matter, because Mr. Dolan is nothing if not stubborn enough to stick with a plan to the bitter end. Windhorst's report makes it clear that the Knicks have no intention of moving their All-Star—even he makes it clear he'd rather be elsewhere. New York's plan is to hope the $30 million or so extra it can offer in free agency is enough to lure Anthony back into the fold.
It's a risky bet, but it's one all Knick fans have known was coming for years now. It's 'Melo or bust in Manhattan.
Rockets Trading Omer Asik by Dec. 19?
Welcome to our latest installment of Turkish Trade Theatre. In this episode, the disgruntled big man plays the good soldier for a couple weeks, returning to a backup center role behind the villainous Superman Savior and even cracks a half-smile or two. We all know that our hero is empty inside, waiting for the vast salvation that comes with a departure from his Texas-sized hell.
And then, lo and behold, semi-salvation comes in the form of a thigh injury. Omer Asik doesn't need to pretend to want to play anymore, because the Houston training staff has acknowledged he's too injured to do so.
Never mind the conspicuous timing of the injury or anything. While the Rockets are playing short-handed without Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, Asik's injury—expected to keep him out at least a week—comes not too long before Dec. 15, also known as the arbitrary date the NBA sets on when players signed this summer can be traded.
That date is often seen as the unofficial beginning of the real basketball hot stove. It's the unlocked treasure trove of players who can be unlocked, even if those players don't actually wind up in the trades.
Arbitrary dates in the NBA are fun. For example: ESPN's Marc Stein reports that our Turkish center will almost certainly be on the move by Dec. 19—and likely in the short window between the Dec. 15 beginning of Trade Season and that Thursday:
Getting a deal done by Dec. 19 is vital because it allows the Rockets to stay flexible with their assets. The NBA trade deadline this season is set for Feb. 20. The NBA collective bargaining agreement also prevents teams from repackaging the assets acquired in such a deal—one where the Rockets would likely acquire two or three pieces in exchange—for three months.
I hope I don't need to do the math for you on that one.
An Asik deal has been inevitable since Dwight Howard came to Houston. Asik, general manager Daryl Morey and everyone in the Houston locker room knew as much. While it's possible that Morey winds up pushing back his plans if opposing teams don't offer enough assets in return, getting a deal done within the next couple weeks makes sense for all parties.
Asik's new team gets the most contractual bang for its buck with his $15 million balloon payment looming next season. The Rockets rid themselves of a major distraction and keep flexibility—a major coup for Morey. Now all that's left is figuring out which team is willing to pony up enough to make the deal happen.
Heat Looking to Add a Guard to Cope With Dwyane Wade Absences?
At the moment, I'd say I'm about 95 percent sure LeBron James will re-sign a long-term deal with the Heat this offseason. The other possible suitors—Lakers and Cavaliers being the most regularly mentioned—have either hamstrung themselves with dumb legacy contracts (right, Kobe?) or been just plain dumb (Andre Drummond-Victor Oladipo would like to have a word, Chris Grant).
The only real worry here is how Miami will surround LeBron long term. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are also able to opt out of their contracts and hit free agency this summer. The Heat already had to make moves to cut their luxury-tax costs this offseason. Can they afford to keep all three?
Wade in particular stands out, in large part because most assume he's a member of the Heat for life. Each of the past two seasons has seen Wade's body break down. His knee issues are a chronic problem at this point, and he'll be 32 in January. That doesn't sound like a dude around whom you can build and win championships with three, four years down the line.
Miami has already taken advantage of its repeat leeway this year, sitting Wade on back-to-backs and giving him less responsibility than ever offensively. Wade has been brilliantly efficient in his new role, but the reality is that Erik Spoelstra is relying far too much on a shaky guard rotation to get the job done.
Sorry, guys, but James Jones and Roger Mason Jr. just aren't NBA starters at this point or, really, at any point in their careers.
Shocker alert: The Heat aren't satisfied with that scenario either. ESPN's Brian Windhorst has reported that Miami is already gauging the interest of other teams looking for guard help, floating seldom-used center Joel Anthony as trade bait.
Side note: Can you believe we once criticized LeBron James for not winning a championship when his team started Joel Anthony? Yeesh.
With 15 players on their roster, the Heat would have to make a trade to add any players. So while free agents like Shannon Brown would seemingly be a perfect fit, Miami's roster situation makes that impossible.
Unfortunately, it's unclear whether anyone wants to take on Anthony. He's a 31-year-old undersized center whose NBA existence has almost entirely been based on his defensive effort; he's about as broken an offensive player as you can find. The Heat have played him 30 minutes more than they've played Greg Oden this season.
Not exactly the best trade resume on the market.
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