Welcome to the official beginning of the NBA trade season. While the Raptors-Kings swap for Rudy Gay got things started a little earlier than expected, the next three months are going to be a rat race of asset trading.
With Dec. 15 having come and gone, players who signed over the summer are now eligible to be traded. There's no telling how many of those guys will be jettisoned out of their new digs, but the theoretical availability of those pieces typically starts the part of the year when real trade talks can go down.
It's very likely that we're only mere hours away from our next blockbuster. Omer Asik's days as a Houston Rocket are widely expected to end before the end of the week, though we're all combing through sources and trying to figure out what Daryl Morey has up his sleeve.
But Asik is far from the only name who could be on the move sooner than later. With desperate teams in two of New York City's five boroughs, the Western Conference boasting 13 teams competing for eight playoff spots and almost the entire East trying to be Sorry For Jabari, there should be a flurry of deals between now and February.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at a few of the most notable names on the block.
Celtics, Sixers in Lead on Omer Asik Deal?
The Rockets are trading Asik by Dec. 19. We've known this for weeks now, and the only questions left remaining are to where and for whom. Asik has been miserable since Houston yanked the rug underneath his starting spot with the Dwight Howard signing, and Thursday is the final day teams can acquire players who could then be flipped at the deadline.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey likes flexibility; he isn't going to let that chance pass him by. So Asik moves, Howard becomes an even more vital piece of the franchise and a new team gets an elite defensive stopper—and all by Thursday.
ESPN's Marc Stein has the latest on the situation, and it seems two favorites have emerged as Asik's most likely landing spots: Philadelphia and Boston.
The Sixers have been expected all season long to be among the league's most active teams, with their obvious rebuilding effort clashing with the still-youngish pieces from the previous rebuilding effort. Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes are widely believed to be available for the right price, and each player would fit a relative need for Houston.
Turner is considered a potentially solid wing defender, even if his numbers this season don't back up that claim. The former No. 2 overall pick is allowing opposing players to score 1.106 points per possession on plays where he's the primary defender, ranking in the league's bottom-five percentile, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).
Hawes is an interesting big body who can stretch beyond the three-point arc. It's easy to see lineups where Hawes plays big at the 4 to stretch the floor with Howard, though those units would probably hemorrhage points defensively.
Young, however, could fit the best of both worlds. He's probably the Sixers' best defender, a strong athlete who can move between either forward spot depending on the situation. He's quick enough to handle pick-and-roll coverage both on the ball and off it, and Young is a willing teammate who calls out help—something that cannot go unnoticed on the utterly calamitous Sixers defense.
While still at his best around the rim, Young has progressed into a solid enough three-point shooter. His mid-range numbers are pretty dreadful, but I'm encouraged enough think there wouldn't be massive spacing complaints with a Young-Howard front line.
Boston's player assets, presumably Brandon Bass or Jeff Green, aren't as enticing as Young, but Danny Ainge could sweeten any Asik pot with a first-round pick. The Celtics' fleecing of the Nets in the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce swap leaves them with a treasure trove of swaps over the next half-decade or so, meaning they might be willing to give up a top choice of their own for a rim protector.
It seems highly unlikely that Morey will move off his desire to land at least one future first-round pick in any deal. With Philly and Boston both having something that could help the Rockets, one has to wonder whether they've engaged both sides in a potential three-way deal.
Bulls Not Considering Luol Deng Move Yet?
The Bulls are 3-9 since Derrick Rose's injury. Add the last two games where Rose played to that total, and Chicago is 3-11 over what amounts to about a month of games. During that time, they've essentially been a bottom-five offense without Rose and a surprisingly bad defensive team.
#Hottake alert: If you are bad at offense and defense, it is typically more difficult to win basketball games.
As the Bulls' struggles have piled up, the murmurs of what comes next are starting to get louder. This was a roster constructed to win this season—all the eggs were in the basket. Jerry Reinsdorf allowed payroll to go over the luxury-tax threshold for just the second time in team history, and multiple contractual threads were tied to how the team fared in the postseason.
In particular, Luol Deng's long-term status with the franchise. Deng's contract expires after the season, and after the two sides were unable to agree to an extension over the summer, it's become quite clear the Bulls have a lower valuation of Deng than he does of himself. Couple that with some leftover resentment from Deng's scary spinal-tap fiasco last season, and the picture clarifies.
If there's someone who is going to go before February's trade deadline, it's Deng.
Only it seems like the Bulls are still preparing to ratify the fort with Rose out rather than take any drastic measures. Citing sources close to the situation, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that general manager Gar Forman hasn't even approached other teams about a potential deal. The internal hope at the moment is that the downturn is only temporary and that the Bulls can turn things around for a potential playoff run.
‘‘I’m definitely confident,’’ Deng said. ‘‘We’re going through it right now, up and down, guys getting hurt. We’ve had seasons where everybody was healthy, and at the end of the year people got hurt. Hopefully, it’s the other way around this year."
Putting up a public bluster is one thing; actually executing this plan is another. There is no angle where keeping Deng makes sense if the Bulls aren't preparing to pay him long term. Chicago isn't winning the championship—regardless of whether Rose rides his white horse into town for the postseason. Indiana and Miami are too good, and Rose didn't engender much confidence with the way he looked pre-injury.
Allowing Deng to walk would give the Bulls some financial flexibility this summer, but it's not exactly difficult to demand an expiring contract in return. A young asset plus $8-10 million in expiring salary seems like a reasonable offer for someone of Deng's value. But if the Bulls are truly looking to hamstring their future for a short-term playoff run, perhaps New York wouldn't be all that big of a step down for Tom Thibodeau.
Everybody Loves Kyle Lowry?
Suggestion for Masai Ujiri: act fast, and definitely act before the NBA All-Star Game. With the way Ujiri has fleeced opposing general managers during his stops in Denver and now Toronto, he's one more major coup away from the other 29 decision-makers convening to blackball him for good. Ujiri will be Michael Jordan and every other GM will play the role of Isiah Thomas.
Luckily, it seems Ujiri has one more asset folks want before the fix is in. With a rash of point guard injuries making teams desperate to find assets at the league's deepest position, Kyle Lowry has become a coveted asset. The Knicks and Nets were seemingly engaging in an arms race last week to land the enigmatic guard, but those rumblings have quieted—mostly over both boroughs' reluctance to give up first-round picks or young assets.
The rest of the league, however, seems ready to succumb to Masai's witchcraft. Marc Berman of the New York Post has heard from league sources that "several" teams have now reached out to the Raptors in an effort to land Lowry. The Knicks are now seen as long shots not too long after many expected a deal to go down.
Lowry's appeal to contenders is pretty easy to spot. He's on a cheap expiring contract ($6.2 million), meaning his cap hold won't even be all that prohibitive this summer for a team looking to keep his Bird Rights. Even if Lowry will probably be a rental wherever he goes, keeping that flexibility could allow a team to flip him via a sign-and-trade during the summer.
Plus, despite being known as a bit of a prickly personality around the league, Lowry is also a pretty darn good player. He's a plus three-point shooter while taking a majority of them off the dribble, one of the most active passers in the league and is mostly a fine defender. Although he has been a starter for this entire season, Lowry is also plenty experienced coming off the bench—and some would argue even better.
Lowry will get dealt eventually. But unlike the Raptors' Rudy Gay trade, they're not looking to merely salary dump an unwanted asset. Toronto sees the same things the rest of the league does in Lowry, and it isn't going to hand him off to a contender for a tussle of the hair and an "attaboy." Asking for a young asset and a future first-round pick is probably a little steep, but you could probably get Ujiri to bite with one of the former and a couple second-rounders.
When (or if, I guess) any team will pay that price is anyone's guess.
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