It's that time of year again.
Teams are firmly deciding whether they're contenders or pretenders, then they're figuring out whether they want to buy or sell before the trading deadline hits. It might seem like it's far off in the future, but 3 p.m. ET on Feb. 20 is going to be here before you know it.
Fortunately, there are plenty of attractive players out there for teams in search of that final piece to the puzzle. Maybe it's another star scorer who can push the squad over the top. Maybe it's a role player who fills in the last hole.
Regardless, any contender is going to be able to find an attractive trade target.
These 10 players stand out as the most attractive options in the NBA right now, though it's important to take in a trio of factors:
- Need isn't taken into account. Maybe no contenders need a defensive center (hypothetically), but that won't keep one off the list.
- The players have to be on teams that are willing to sell rather than buy, unless they're unnecessarily extraneous parts of a contending team.
- They have to be expendable pieces. The Philadelphia 76ers might be sellers, but they sure won't be selling Michael Carter-Williams.
There's no way all of these guys will change hands. In fact, only two or three of them might end up swapping teams before the deadline.
But they'll all be targets.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference and are current as of Jan. 7.
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 4.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.4 blocks, 10.6 PER
Omer Asik hasn't exactly enjoyed the most successful season with the Houston Rockets.
Sidelined for a lengthy portion of the 2013-14 campaign with a thigh contusion, the big man has been on the trading block for what seems like the entire year. And by that, I don't mean calendar year, since that wouldn't be very long at all.
Asik isn't particularly happy playing with Dwight Howard, as the Twin Tower approach didn't work and sitting on the bench while D12 goes to work isn't very fun. But that disgruntled nature can't hide how much he brings to a team when playing inspired basketball.
The 27-year-old Turkish center is one of the best rim-protectors in basketball, and that's a tremendously valuable aspect for any title-contending team. According to NBA.com's SportVU data, Asik has held opponents to 40.7 percent shooting at the rim while facing 5.1 attempts per game.
Those are elite numbers. In fact, among all players who have gone up against at least five shots per contest, Chris Kaman, Larry Sanders, Bismack Biyombo and Brook Lopez are the only four allowing a lower percentage.
All Asik needs is another chance to shine.
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.5 blocks, 17.7 PER
Not only does Pau Gasol boast an expiring contract, but he can still provide value this season.
The Los Angeles Lakers big man is having the worst season of his career. There's an argument to be made for last year as the campaign deserving of that unfortunate honor, but Gasol is shooting a career-low 44.9 percent from the field and failing to make as much of an impact with his passing.
Despite that last paragraph, he's still valuable.
The Spanish center is an elite rebounder, and he's such a versatile big man that he can provide floor spacing, score in the post and facilitate for an offense from either the block or the elbow. If a coach asks Gasol to do something, he's typically going to be able to do it.
Unfortunately, Gasol has had to carry the Lakers for much of the season, as Kobe Bryant's injuries have kept him off the court for all but six games. At this stage of his career, it's not in his best interest to have that type of offensive responsibility, and he'd benefit rather dramatically from a change in scenery.
Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 8.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 11.7 PER
The Indiana Pacers don't need Danny Granger.
He's a nice luxury on the roster, but with Lance Stephenson breaking out and Paul George emerging as a premier MVP candidate, Granger is just gravy on top of the already delicious biscuit that is this Eastern Conference contender.
Although he's had plenty of injury problems over the last few years, Granger is still only 30 years old. And he's finally healthy.
When playing at full strength, the Indiana small forward is a tremendous two-way player deserving of All-Star consideration. It's unlikely he reaches that level again, but the combination of his wing defense and shooting ability from beyond the arc makes him quite attractive to a contending team.
Chances are, the injuries have devalued Granger to the point that Indiana would part with him without receiving too many assets in a row.
And chances are, that's a chance worth taking.
Team: Toronto Raptors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 19.5 PER
Kyle Lowry has been straight-up balling ever since Rudy Gay last suited up for the Toronto Raptors against the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 6.
During the 14 games since then, the 27-year-old point guard has averaged 17.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.1 blocks per game while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 39.8 percent beyond the arc.
Anyone else think it's time to sell high?
Masai Ujiri isn't going to be content to sit back in his general manager's office and watch the Raptors advance to the postseason, win one series and then flop against one of the Eastern Conference's elite teams. This isn't the roster he built, and he's surely not done making changes to it.
Lowry is the most attractive trade asset he has (at least that he has and is willing to part with), especially because point guards are so valuable in today's NBA. Best to deal him now before he cools off, just as he's done throughout his career whenever getting even remotely hot.
Team: Atlanta Hawks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.1 blocks, 19.9 PER
The Atlanta Hawks' season is going nowhere.
With Al Horford in the lineup, the team was poised to earn the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and possessed a minuscule shot at upsetting one of the powerhouses and advancing deeper than expected. But since the torn pectoral forced him out for the season, competing is a hopeless endeavor.
As always, the Hawks are at a crossroads. But this time, they have a general manager willing to shake things up and trade a prominent piece—a piece like Paul Millsap.
The undersized power forward has been fantastic during his first season in Atlanta, and the most impressive part has been the development of his three-point shot.
Millsap had never attempted more than 0.5 triples per game during the Utah portion of his career. This year, he's taking 2.6 per contest and drilling them at a rate of 40.4 percent.
Stretch 4s are quite valuable in the NBA, and that's exactly what Millsap is. But this year, he can stretch it out beyond the arc, not just into the mid-range portion of the half-court set.
Team: Denver Nuggets
Age: 57 37
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.0 PER
Andre Miller isn't going to spend too much more time in the Mile High City. As Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post wrote, "The Nuggets are actively trying to trade Miller, according to a league source."
It all started when Miller was suspended for his behavior on the sidelines during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Upset about falling out of the rotation and failing to continue his consecutive-games-played streak, Miller took out his frustration on Brian Shaw.
The suspension was later rescinded, but Miller still doesn't have a future on this team.
Fortunately, he'll be able to find a home elsewhere.
B/R's Grant Hughes suggested that the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets should all pursue him, but he also noted that they aren't the only ones: "With that in mind, now seems like a good time to look around the league at which teams should make a play for Miller. As a caveat, the short answer is almost all of them."
Even though he's old and frustrated, Miller is still a great backup floor general who belongs on a contending team.
Team: Brooklyn Nets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 13.8 PER
This season hasn't gone as planned for Paul Pierce.
Not only are the Brooklyn Nets struggling to remain afloat in the weak Eastern Conference, but The Truth is also struggling to remain relevant now that he's turned 36 years old and is no longer surrounded by the comfort provided to him by Boston.
Pierce is shooting only 39.8 percent from the field this season, and he's failed to develop into the spot-up shooter he was supposed to be. According to NBA.com's SportVU data, the small forward is shooting only 35.9 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
That said, it's hard to believe Pierce is washed-up, especially coming off a solid season like his 2012-13 campaign. He just needs a smaller role, one that allows him to focus almost solely on shooting and playing perimeter defense.
I'm sure plenty of teams would be happy to oblige.
Team: Detroit Pistons
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.4 blocks, 14.1 PER
The Josh Smith experiment needs to end quickly.
Because the Detroit Pistons insist on playing him alongside both Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, Smoove has gotten it into his head that he's a floor-spacing small forward.
Newsflash: He's not.
Smith is hitting only a quarter of his three-point attempts. That would be fine if he'd finally stopped taking those ill-advised jumpers, but nothing could be further from the truth. The 28-year-old forward is attempting a career-high 3.9 triples per game.
Let me put it another way.
According to Basketball-Reference, 61 players in the NBA are shooting more three-pointers per contest than Smith. Problem is, 122 are making more each game.
It's clear that the former Atlanta Hawk needs another change of scenery. He needs a disciplined team that will hold him accountable for his mistakes, poor decisions and proclivity for firing away when the rim is waiting to reject his shot.
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.1 blocks, 14.6 PER
If any player has enjoyed the struggles the Philadelphia 76ers have endured this year, it's Evan Turner. He's used the opportunity to prove that it's too soon to call him a draft bust.
Playing with heretofore-unseen confidence, Turner has handled the ball a lot and been in a constant state of aggression. Although his three-point shot is still a work in progress and he turns the ball over far too often for anyone's liking, the signs are there.
Turner has the ability to develop into a valuable secondary piece, especially because he's still only 25 years old. As he's an expiring contract, he doesn't seem to have much of a future in Philly, so that only adds to the allure of trading for him.
An expiring deal is a nice contingency plan. If he doesn't work out, c'est la vie.
Thing is, Turner probably will work out. He's taken that many strides during his fourth professional season.
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks, 19.5 PER
Thaddeus Young was once-rumored to be on the block, but those rumors never came to fruition.
Now, according to The News Journal, Young is citing the rumors and negative discussion as motivation, sparking him on to an even more impressive season and a selection as the Eastern Conference Player of the Week:
There's always motivation. Anytime somebody has said anything negative or tried to put a block in front of me, my mindset is always either to crush that block or go through it. And I think that's the biggest thing, just be motivated and ready to go out there and play each and every game.
But using rumors as fuel doesn't mean they're going to stop coming.
Young plays for a team that is in unabashed tanking mode, and he's a player who could draw in plenty of future assets for the Sixers. Plus, he's quite valuable to a contender, especially a team like the Houston Rockets that could use an upgrade at power forward.
Young's three-point shooting, much as is the case with Paul Millsap, increases his value and adds to his versatility. Now he can act like more than a homing missile with a course set for the rim, as he's shown time and time again for the Sixers.