Finally entering the point in the season where patience is running thinner than filament, the NBA is on the precipice of embarking on the best ramping up to the trade deadline in recent memory.
Where in previous seasons (*cough* last year *cough*) the swaps would mostly prove disappointing, 2013-14 has already been met with a surprising amount of moves. Rudy Gay, the biggest piece of last season, already has a new team. And while Omer Asik wound up staying put in Houston, the speculation surrounding his name took on a trade deadline-level of intrigue.
With the Cleveland Cavaliers' desperate pursuit of a feasible Andrew Bynum trade currently ongoing, it seems every week there's a new rumor or piece of speculation to go with every morning cup of coffee. Hell, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard even floated the possibility of a Carmelo Anthony-Blake Griffin swap—though that sent both the Knicks and Clippers howling into the night.
Player movement isn't just limited to trade talks, though. The Los Angeles Lakers' signing of Kendall Marshall and his sudden ascent to competent NBA starting point guard play shined a light back on the remaining free-agent pool. With enough injuries to elite players to create an entire All-Star starting lineup out of absent stars, teams are continually monitoring the D-League and other avenues to scout players on the open market.
Because, hey, anytime you can scour the earth for the next Toure Murry, you have to do it, right?
Alas, with the player movement getting ready for its February fever pitch, you can only imagine the gossip being tossed around the NBA schoolyard. Here's a look at a couple of the latest rumors of interest.
Andre Miller Drawing Trade Interest, Definitely on the Move?
If you like basketball, you love Andre Miller. There is no other opinion to have. His unique combination of top-level court vision, off-the-charts basketball IQ and YMCA shot profile is one of the few nightly joys of watching the Denver Nuggets—especially with JaVale McGee and his nightly brand of unintentional comedy out of the lineup.
It seems with the Nuggets scuffling of late, though, head coach Brian Shaw found a problem he'd like to eradicate: Andre Miller. Shaw scrubbed Miller from his rotation in Denver's 114-112 loss to the Sixers, which went about as well as expected. The 37-year-old point guard was seen on the bench yelling at the Nuggets coach, obviously upset about the situation.
The team initially suspended Miller for two games but later rescinded that. Instead, Miller got to spend a long weekend on "personal leave," which is just a nice way of saying the Nuggets were paying him to please, please go away for a bit.
Odds are, Miller may be going away permanently in the not-too-distant future. Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post is reporting that the team plans on ramping up trade efforts as Miller prepares for a Monday return. The relationship between Shaw and Miller isn't entirely unsalvageable by any means, but the season has gotten to a point where Miller's age and the team's trajectory just don't line up.
The great thing about having someone so uniquely gifted is that there shouldn't be much trouble finding suitors. The Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings have already expressed interest, per Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports. Golden State's offense has cratered with Stephen Curry on the bench this season, and Miller would be an immediate upgrade over Toney Douglas. Sacramento? Umm, that team pretty much just wants to swap players like it's a fantasy league, it seems.
Either way, Miller's time with Denver is coming to a close soon. He's a valuable veteran commodity with playoff experience who is somehow yet to reach the Derek Fisher zone of being a human tire fire whenever he's on the floor. A deal will get done by the end of this month—the only question is to where and for what.
Public Bluster Aside, Luol Deng is a Goner in Chicago?
The Bulls are winners of two straight and five of their last seven games. Only one of those wins came against teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, Tom Thibodeau's on-the-fly recalibration is starting to take shape.
Chicago has returned to elite-level defense in this run, allowing only 93.5 points per 100 possessions. The offense is still a glacial eyesore, without ball-handling, shooting or any real trait that befits a component NBA unit. I watched the Bulls play a fun Toronto team on New Year's Eve and turn that game into a program so lacking in entertainment value that it felt masochistic to continue watching. (I did.)
And that's fine. That's the way these Bulls have to play at this point. Thibodeau is doing the only thing he knows how—lacing up the bootstraps and hoping his players come out looking like they're wearing fatigues.
It's just becoming obvious that this roster was built on an unsustainable ecosystem. Derrick Rose's knee injury and the semi-mediocrity that came before it was a wake-up call. This core of players is not good enough to compete for an NBA championship unless Rose is playing at a 2011 MVP caliber every single night. The ecosystem isn't as flawed as the one the Cavaliers built around LeBron James, but it's one still in need of a major overhaul nonetheless.
Meet Luol Deng, the likely scapegoat. Deng's expiring contract and the Bulls' plans for his future have been an underrated subplot throughout the season, one that almost certainly will see more ink spilled heading into February. The 28-year-old forward is still playing Luol Deng basketball to the T. He's playing rock-solid perimeter defense, scoring 19 points per game and even taking on a more integral role as a ball-handler.
Yet with the two sides having an obviously different view of his long-term value, signs are beginning to point toward a divorce. Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News noted the Bulls are expected to increase their efforts to trade Deng before the Feb. 20 trade deadline.
It's unclear what Chicago will be seeking, though the old "draft picks and a young asset" is a good starting space. He was linked to a possible Andrew Bynum deal before K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune nixed that initial report, and Chicago always has the opportunity to sign-and-trade Deng over the summer if his price gets too high.
That said, with so many teams desperate to make a midseason splash, Chicago would be remiss if it didn't.
Heat Interested if Andrew Bynum Hits Open Market?
Try, try as they might, it's looking increasingly unlikely that the Cavaliers will be able to move Bynum's non-guaranteed contract. Since putting the seven-footer on paid leave, general manager Chris Grant has engaged multiple teams—with the Lakers in particular getting the most attention—as he dangles the $6.25 million of Bynum's deal that could be wiped off the books on Jan. 7.
The Lakers and Cavaliers were deep in negotiations for a potential Bynum-for-Pau Gasol swap, but with that midseason deadline fast approaching, it seems unlikely a deal will get done. Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported that the two sides were unable to reach a common ground, with Los Angeles requesting a young asset in addition to cap savings offered by Bynum.
It's possible that a deal could be struck Monday, but that seems unlikely. Neither team would have an opportunity to give a full physical to the player they acquire in time for Tuesday's deadline and league approval of the trade, making negotiations even more tense than they were prior.
Cleveland is currently weighing a couple options in lieu of a Monday trade. Cutting Bynum on Tuesday will give the Cavaliers their own multimillion-dollar payout, which isn't too shabby considering the team is less likely than ever to make a postseason run. Grant could also convince owner Dan Gilbert that guaranteeing Bynum's contract for the rest of the season would be the prudent move, with the impetus on moving him at February's deadline or over the summer.
If the Cavs choose the former, Bynum should have an array of suitors. Though his attitude issues have been well-documented, he's shown flashes of his former All-Star self in Cleveland and could help out any number of contenders. One such contender, as pointed out by Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld, could be the defending champs:
If Andrew Bynum hits free agent market, the Miami Heat would almost certainly be interested. Pat Riley may get another bargain contributor.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) January 5, 2014
The Heat can only afford to pay Bynum a prorated version of the veteran's minimum, but it seems unlikely he would command much more. Other teams, like the Los Angeles Clippers, are in need of a big man and could also reach out to the 26-year-old center.
Bynum would be an interesting fit in Miami, as the team already has a big-man reclamation project in the works with Greg Oden. The impetus on the Oden move was always to have him available against Roy Hibbert and other bigs for the postseason, but we're yet to see the 2007 No. 1 overall pick on the floor all year, and chemistry is at a premium in the Heat's system. Bynum, with his slow feet and propensity for mental errors, might not be an ideal big, but he's at least been on the floor this season.
Plus, with the way this team has revived Michael Beasley's career, there may be no better situation for a knucklehead in search of a championship.
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