Now that Luol Deng is a Cavalier and Andrew Bynum is hanging out on the unemployment line, it's at least fair to wonder whether the NBA trade season shot its wad with more than a month to go before the actual deadline.
While that may seem far-fetched, it wouldn't be out of line with recent history. The Raptors' acquisition of Rudy Gay happened in July, and then the biggest name to get moved in February turned out to be J.J. Redick—a solid player but not the Josh Smith sundae we were all promised.
And this year the movement has already been fervent. Gay was jettisoned to Sacramento in December, Deng about a month later and even Bynum moves the proverbial needle even if his play doesn't back up the intrigue. Hell, while we were all aflutter about the blockbuster at our feet, we forgot almost entirely about the three-team swap that landed Courtney Lee in Memphis and Jerryd Bayless in Boston.
It's not that the deal needed an overlong breakdown—it's that teams aren't waiting for some arbitrary date on the calendar this year. If they see a deal they like, they're taking it rather than sitting on their hands. Inertia is death in today's NBA, and the league's general managers are alive and well.
Although we might not have any superstars on the market (for now), there are still quite a few players at the Lee and Bayless level being shopped around. They're not the ones who create headlines or change the trajectory of an entire franchise, but how many times do role players have to step up in June before we realize they matter?
With that in mind, here is a look at a few of the latest buzzworthy notes from across the Association.
Gary Neal's Welcome Already Worn Out in Milwaukee?
I feel like former Spurs should come with a warning label: "Played under Gregg Popovich, who is a better coach than whomever you employ." Or something with a cool acronym. Or we could just say the players have been Pop'd.
Whatever. Something to warn general managers that, rare George Hill-for-Kawhi Leonard trades aside, a statistical atrophy is only natural when a player is moving on from the best-run organization in basketball.
Such is the case with Gary Neal, a deeply flawed player under Popovich who really hasn't been discernibly worse than he was in San Antonio.
Neal is averaging a career-high 10.4 points per game, and though he's shooting a career-worst 39.4 percent, a good deal of that is offset by his well above-average shooting from long range. (Strange aside: Neal is shooting 41.9 percent from three-point range, the third time in four seasons he's hit that exact rate. Weird.)
Nevertheless, much like just about everything in Milwaukee this season, the Neal signing hasn't worked as planned. He's moved almost entirely out of the rotation over the past month, with coach Larry Drew working to develop younger players in a lost season. The internal frustration boiled over on Jan. 4, when Neal and center Larry Sanders got into an altercation in the locker room.
With Neal not playing and obviously not getting along with at least one of his teammates, it should come as no surprise that the Bucks have been shopping him around, per ESPN's Marc Stein.
No suitors have been identified, but Neal's contract isn't by any means unmovable. His deal calls for $3.25 million salaries this year and next, which is just fine for someone who can space the floor consistently and can get hot for a big night every once in a while.
Neal isn't going to help much defensively. He's prone to the same mental lapses and gambles that are prevalent in his offensive game. At age 29, Neal is a wholly replacement-level bench guard who some expect more from because we once saw him score 24 points and ball out against LeBron James in an NBA Finals.
Bye-Bye Donatas Motiejunas?
Remember that time when Motiejunas started 14 games and looked like the most promising of the Houston Rockets' long-term options at the 4? Well, umm, about that. The Lithuanian seven-footer's second NBA season is almost halfway through and is almost completely lost. Motiejunas has played in only 17 games thus far, seeing precipitous drops in every statistical category.
Terrence Jones has stepped into the starting lineup and proven a worthy counterpart to Dwight Howard, though Houston would prefer a better shooter from outside.
Motiejunas certainly hasn't been that, knocking down only 35.4 percent of his shots. And even if he had improved his shot, it's not like he would be getting much of a chance. Kevin McHale has played Howard and Motiejunas only 11 minutes together all season.
As one might expect, this situation isn't exactly pleasing to a 23-year-old kid who came stateside receiving comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki. It's true that Nowitzki, like Motiejunas, wasn't a world-beater as a rookie—but he sure as hell wasn't backing up Terrence Jones as a sophomore.
With Motiejunas expressing displeasure with his spot in the rotation, the Rockets have begun attempting to find him a new team, per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
Houston's been calling teams, trying to assist forward Donatas Motiejunas in finding a new team, sources tell Yahoo. He wants playing time.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) January 8, 2014
Somewhere Omer Asik snickers. General manager Daryl Morey isn't one to negotiate from a position of weakness, and there are few weaker assets he has right now than Motiejunas.
I couldn't see teams giving up much more than a future second-round draft choice at this point, but considering this was the dude Morey once evaluated higher than Nikola Mirotic (WHOOPS), it will be interesting to see how stubborn he's going to be in negotiations.
As for the interested teams, numerous squads should reach out and try to buy low. Motiejunas is still just 23 years old, and again, he was receiving Nowitzki comparisons less than 24 months ago. Sure, he's looked more like a well-jelled deer in the headlights during his actual NBA career but...Dirk! Kind of!
These are role players here, so it's tough to get all that excited. Motiejunas is just one of a few who have the potential to be more than that at some point.
Ben Gordon and His Huge Contract Heading for a New Home?
Mercifully, Gordon's contract expires after this season. The five-year, $55 million deal Gordon signed with the Detroit Pistons wasn't single-handedly responsible for the NBA lockout, but it's contracts like his that caused owners to put the governor on their stupidity meter.
Detroit's president of basketball operations, Joe Dumars, paid $11 million per season for a pretty good sixth man who provided almost nothing of value other than scoring ability.
It went about as well as you'd guess, as Gordon struggled under his new spotlight, became reviled in Detroit and was eventually shipped off to Charlotte in a deal that netted the Bobcats a future first-round pick just for taking him off the Pistons' hands.
So, yeah. Not a good deal. And now, instead of five-year deals at $11 million per season, teams are now only allowed to give the Tyreke Evanses of the world $11 million per season over four years. Wahoo for progress!
And because the NBA is a totally nonsensical business, Gordon's contract has transformed from totally toxic into an asset. Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld reported that Charlotte is actively engaging teams in trade conversations about Gordon, likely in exchange for an unwanted long-term contract or other asset that helps the team on a playoff push.
The Bobcats are sitting at a surprising 15-21 thus far, good for the No. 7 seed in the dreadful Eastern Conference. They remain sixth in defensive efficiency after finishing dead last by a wide margin over the two previous seasons, and there's an impetus to compete for a postseason berth with the franchise rebranding to the Hornets in 2014-15.
What Charlotte can get for Gordon is questionable. Teams aren't as eager to give up future first-round picks for expirings as they were in the past, and there aren't too many instant contributors who would make sense as a fit.
Pau Gasol obviously comes to mind any time we're talking big-money swaps, but the Lakers won't be as motivated to move the seven-footer without the $20 million luxury-tax savings they could have reaped in a Bynum deal.
The Bobcats would likely have to part with at least one future first-round pick and maybe another asset or two just to get Los Angeles to pick up. There just aren't enough contracts available to make anything seem feasible at this point.
If something gets done, it will have to be part of a much larger deal.
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