Trudging through the NBA trade rumor mill is always at once an exercise in wild imagination and cautious skepticism. Sure, we'd all love to see a Wild Wild West February in which every player remotely linked to trade rumors winds up heading elsewhere.
Then again, I'm sure we all cognitively know how stupid that would be. If these players were actually dealt like Pokemon cards in the 1990s, it would cheapen the reaction for when a big deal actually goes down. We love the rumor mill because it makes us wonder "what if," but don't think for a second the rumors-to-deals ratio needs to move an inch.
The current 0.0004 percent success rate on the rumor mill is just fine, thank you. Anything more and we'll be entering a period of NBA anarchy.
So with Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Andrew Bynum and quite a few others having already been on the move with a month still remaining before the Feb. 20 deadline, it's fair to wonder what could possibly remain. Explorations are always ongoing in NBA front offices, but consummation can lead to skittishness.
Remember last year? When Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, et al. were supposed to move? And J.J. Redick instead proved the high watermark of deals?
Yeah, that's probably not going to happen again, but it could. The names being floated around are big, but that only means the prices will be high. Danny Ainge sure as hell ain't trading Rajon Rondo for John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes, though it seems that those four players are the key to creating the best team in the Eastern Conference.
What would Ainge trade Rondo for? Well, that seems like a perfect time to transition into the latest rumors from across the Association.
Rondo for Picks by June's Draft?
We all had to know this was coming. Rondo's return to the Celtics lineup on Friday against the Lakers, scoring eight points and dishing four assists in 19 minutes. In two games since being back, he's been a nightly 7-4-4 while showing the exact type of rust you'd expect from someone who took nearly an entire year off.
But the point is Rondo is back—and how long he'll remain in Boston now seems like the more pertinent story. Since the moment Danny Ainge pressed the detonator on his Ubuntu crew over the summer, Rondo by extension has always been the next logical ouster. Nearing age 28 and playing on a team two or three years away from any serious contention, throwing a long-term agreement Rondo's way flies in the face of a true rebuild.
As such, you get reports like the one from Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News, which indicates most general managers expect Rondo to be on the move sooner rather than later. Ainge is hoarding assets in the form of draft picks and young players, and Rondo is arguably the last player on this roster who would fetch a possible lottery pick in return.
Lawrence indicates most expect Rondo to either move by February's deadline or June's draft—not after. I'm sure you've heard enough about this upcoming draft class to realize why one might want a pick or six lying around.
More interesting here is the two Western Conference playoff contenders floated as possibilities: Houston and Phoenix.
The Houston Rockets are bound to add a third "superstar" to their stable sometime within the next year. Their poison pill, Omer Asik, and Jeremy Lin contracts end after next season, and with Chandler Parsons due for a raise, Daryl Morey will need to pull the trigger before his financial wiggle room becomes nonexistent. It would be a shock to see Houston stand pat with its current roster—especially considering the contentious relationship with Asik, who has wanted out since July.
Phoenix, however, has to be the more intriguing team for Boston. The surprising Suns could have as many as four first-round picks this June, and though it will probably "only" be three, no team wants to integrate that many rookies. Considering Ryan McDonough's relationship with Ainge—he spent a decade as a scout and assistant GM in Boston—it seems like a natural fit.
Right until you remember that Phoenix already has two borderline All-Star-caliber guards in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. And while Rondo would be an upgrade over either, he's still older than most of this team's core and doesn't fit the basketball logistics part of proceedings.
If you're looking for a Western Conference team, start in Sacramento. The Kings have a young piece in Isaiah Thomas and a desire from new ownership to continue making splashes. I don't necessarily love the fit from a Sacramento perspective, but NBA history tells us that it's almost always a good idea to trade with a new owner.
Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon on the Block in New Orleans?
Speaking of new ownership, the 2013-14 season hasn't exactly allowed for Tom Benson's win-now edict to come to fruition. Injuries to Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis have left the team's five best players—those three plus Evans and Gordon—to play exactly 90 minutes together all season. Those 90 minutes have produced an obscene 123.5 points per 100 possessions, but the Pellies have also allowed 119.8 points in those minutes.
In other words, it's a work in progress. No one can be sure if the defensive issues can be fixed, nor if the offensive excellence is replicable over a larger sample. It's all frustrating and difficult and unbecoming—especially with New Orleans due to convey its first-round pick to the Sixers if it's a lottery pick that lands outside the top five.
With eight straight losses coming into Monday, New Orleans is 7.5 games out of a playoff spot but has only the ninth-worst record in basketball. There is no good answer here—this is literally the worst-case scenario playing itself out. Davis is a monster and probably the fourth-most valuable long-term piece in the league behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul George.
That's the good. The bad is that the front office has built an unstable foundation, one that they're already seemingly willing to move on from. Per Lawrence, New Orleans is willing to consider moving Gordon or Evans in an effort to solidify the core.
Here is where we cue our "no way" South Park gifs. The Evans-Gordon fit always felt weird, with the Pellies paying right around $26 million for two guards with inherent flaws. Evans is in his fourth straight regressive statistical year after his rookie season—a historically brilliant campaign that doesn't get enough credit.
Did playing in Sacramento ruin him or has he just not put in enough effort as a shooter to get better? Yes.
He's shooting just 41.1 percent from the field this season. He's hitting 14.8 percent of his jump shots. That is historically abysmal. Like...so bad that it makes you wonder whether he's left-handed or something. And he's being paid $11 million this season. So, good luck with that one, Dell Demps.
As for Gordon, his knee injuries combined with a mostly one-dimensional game make him a difficult trade piece. He's a great three-point shooter and solid scorer overall, but he doesn't create shots for teammates or play defense that engenders anything beyond shrugs. That's the profile of a usable NBA player, not one cashing $15 million-per-year checks.
The Pelicans' desire to cut bait is understandable, but it might not be realistic. Their best option, should they actually want to make the playoffs in the next couple seasons, may be to just ride out this core and hope they can get an extended look without injuries.
All Aboard the Tank Train, Says Herb Kohl
The Milwaukee Bucks are bad at professional basketball. So bad that I had to double-check the roster to make sure Evans wasn't moonlighting as their shooting coach. So incredibly bad that fans are hanging their happiness on the nightly stat lines of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 19-year-old forward who wasn't even in Greece's top professional division last season.
And the saddest part is that Milwaukee had zero plans on being bad this year. General manager John Hammond spent money throughout the summer—he just did so with some world-class incompetency. O.J. Mayo, signed for $8 million per season, is shooting under 40 percent. Zaza Pachulia, signed for $5.2 million per season, is shooting 36.2 percent. Larry Sanders' $44 million extension doesn't kick in until next season but already looks like a dumpster fire.
At 7-33, everything that could have gone wrong has. Mayo, who, again, has been a mess this season, essentially called out coach Larry Drew over the weekend.
"It's hard to get a rhythm when you don't know what's going to happen for you night in and night out," Mayo said, per of the Journal Sentinel. "You may get 6 minutes, 30 minutes. There's no staple to what we're doing. You can hang in there, compete and keep it close."
So bad have things gotten that the notoriously tanking-averse Kohl has begun coming around to the fact his team can't compete this season. Per ESPN's Chad Ford, Kohl has indicated to Bucks management he's "on board" with building for the future and that may mean Milwaukee will look to move some of its veterans for younger pieces.
ESPN's Marc Stein reported this month that Gary Neal is almost certain to be moved. Neal has only appeared in nine games since the beginning of December and has been in the rotation exactly once since Jan. 4. Neal is only due a little over $3.2 million for 2014-15, so he could be an interesting piece for a contender, as he was for San Antonio last season.
But this team doesn't need just one deal; it needs a stick of Acme TNT strapped to its side. Deals for everyone not named John Henson or Giannis Antetokounmpo should be explored—and that includes Sanders, whose extension was almost universally praised when it was signed. Sanders has exhibited minimal maturity and regressed in nearly every facet from his breakout campaign last year.
Kohl is 78 years old and probably doesn't love the idea of a five-year plan. But with Milwaukee looking to "broaden" the ownership base, having real-life basketball players might help engender some excitement from prospective buyers.
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