As the NBA season approaches the halfway point, teams are beginning to crystallize as playoff contenders or lottery-bound pretenders. Thus, the rumor mill is starting to heat up, with squads either all-in on the present or looking toward the future.
The trade deadline is still roughly a month away, but we're already seeing signs that movement may be imminent. Some of the whispers have persisted for months now, but there are also new developments.
Below are the latest rumors and news surrounding a few notable NBA stars.
Shipping out of Boston
Rajon Rondo has supposedly been on the trade block ever since the final vestiges of the Big Three were broken up. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has never been afraid to trade away his stars, and count Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News among those who believe Rondo's departure is imminent:
Rajon Rondo is finally back for the Celtics, and now the question becomes how long will he stay in Boston.
Rondo is the last blue chip from the 2008 championship team and 2010 Finals team that Celtics president Danny Ainge can convert into assets as he rebuilds the franchise. More than a few GMs around the league expect Rondo to be on the move, if not at the trading deadline next month, then maybe in June at draft time.
In terms of possible destinations, we can likely rule out Eastern Conference squads (sorry, Knicks). It appears that if Ainge pulls the trigger on a Rondo trade, the All-Star point guard would be headed out West:
Rajon Rondo currently the biggest name on the trade block & is expected to be dealt to a team in the West - Details - http://t.co/j8BbJkl89o— Lakers Nation (@LakersNation) January 19, 2014
That also appears to squash some whispers, courtesy of MLive.com's David Mayo, that the Pistons may have been interested. Either way, Boston probably would have sought a young cost-controlled talent (i.e, Andre Drummond) and draft picks, something the Pistons were unlikely to pay.
At the moment, the teams most strongly connected to Rondo are the Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns.
NBA Trade Rumors: Boston Celtics could trade Rajon Rondo to Timberwolves ... - FanSided http://t.co/UYWxyqMLTb— Boston Celtics nw (@BostonCelticsnw) January 20, 2014
Report: Rajon Rondo On Trade Block; Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns Interested http://t.co/TXv9dtpxkx— NESN (@NESN) January 20, 2014
It's unclear what the Celtics would get back for Rondo in any of those scenarios.
Boston seems likely to ask for Eric Bledsoe from Phoenix, Omer Asik plus picks from Houston and perhaps some sort of Kevin Love megadeal from the T-Wolves. The Celtics would likely have to throw in picks in the latter scenario, as well as receive insurance that Love would extend his contract, so that's probably a bit far-fetched at the moment.
Of the three, the Rockets are easily the most intriguing destination.
Houston has gone with Patrick Beverley as the starting point guard when healthy, as Jeremy Lin's scoring is a better fit with the bench unit.
Beverley is certainly not a bad fit with the starting unit. He's part of the Rockets' most-used lineup, one that is plus-4.1 per game and shoots three-pointers frequently and well. Beverley himself has the best assist-to-turnover ratio among the Rockets' rotation players, and he generally fulfills his role as the first-unit distributor.
Of course, Rondo is arguably the best passer in the league when healthy, and he could be especially deadly in Houston's uptempo offensive system. Rondo is still knocking the rust off, and legitimate questions would arise about whether the Rockets could weather the defensive downgrade.
But for a team still trying to break into the top tier of the Western Conference, adding someone like Rondo would alter the complexion of the conference's playoff picture.
Mr. Monroe Goes to Washington
The Detroit Pistons have disappointed this season, and the three-bigs lineup has come under scrutiny as a result. It does not help that coach Maurice Cheeks seems incapable of settling upon a decisive rotation, but in fairness, none of the permutations has worked out in Detroit's favor.
There's a growing belief that one of the three will have to go.
Andre Drummond is a franchise building block, and the Pistons just handed Josh Smith a mammoth contract, so that could make Greg Monroe as the odd man out. And according to Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, Monroe might have a suitor in the Washington Wizards:
One player who has been mentioned in trade rumors throughout this season is Greg Monroe, the young power forward who will be a restricted free agent this offseason since he couldn’t agree on an extension with the Pistons. It’s no secret that Josh Smith is better at the four, and it’s possible that Detroit moves the valuable Monroe to upgrade another position and slide Smith over to power forward.
One team that is interested in Monroe is the Washington Wizards, according to multiple league sources. It’s becoming clear that Washington is planning to pursue Monroe, either through trade or free agency.
The Pistons' most frequent lineup of the three bigs plus Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a disastrous minus-8.1 net rating, a byproduct of a suffocated offense that totally lacks spacing. That particular five-man lineup has also somehow compiled a putrid 29.6 percent offensive rebounding percentage, so it's not as if the size advantage has resulted in putback opportunities.
Monroe will be a restricted free agent this summer. The Wizards currently have just a shade under $44 million in salary commitments for next season, per ShamSports.com, and could afford the near-max contract that Monroe might command. That especially holds true if they renounce Marcin Gortat's rights, as his presence might be redundant with Monroe in place.
Of course, there is still one problem:
Washington is interested in Greg Monroe http://t.co/s4HdSWewGP Of course, don't mean they have anything Detroit would want— Adam McGinnis (@adammcginnis) January 21, 2014
John Wall and Bradley Beal are likely untouchable, and a bundle of underwhelming first-rounder Otto Porter Jr. and picks seems unlikely to entice the Pistons. The Wizards might get Phoenix's top-12 protected pick, though they do not have their own to offer this year.
If they could somehow cobble together a workable package (likely involving a third team), the Wizards could use Monroe to upgrade an offense that is one of the league's 10 worst per 100 possessions. Washington ranges from mediocre to bad in the post and restricted area. Adding a capable post scorer like Monroe would likely solidify a playoff berth for the Wizards.
Miami Cooling on Bynum
Since his buyout from Chicago, Andrew Bynum-to-Miami has seemed like an inevitability. After the Heat dumped Joel Anthony to the Celtics, speculation arose that they were freeing up a spot in the big-man rotation for Bynum:
Does trading Joel Anthony mean Heat are going after Andrew Bynum? Maybe. http://t.co/Eyq9piVnXZ— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) January 16, 2014
However, ESPN's Tom Haberstroh recently diffused the Bynum rumors, relaying a message from Pat Riley that nothing was imminent:
As for free agent Andrew Bynum, Riley commented on the speculation that the Heat might be a landing spot for the center, who was waived by the Chicago Bulls recently.
"It's all speculation," Riley said. "That's all it is. There will be a tremendous amount of research (on free agents). There's nothing going at all. There's nothing happening at all with that situation."
Bynum's creaky knees and general aloofness raise question marks as to whether he could be a viable rotation piece for a team with championship aspirations. But the Heat have an established locker room and front office, and with a recent culture of winning, it seems doubtful Bynum could sabotage Miami's big-picture outlook.
The reason for a potential Bynum signing is obvious: The Heat have no one to match up with Roy Hibbert in a potential Eastern Conference Finals clash.
The Pacers center was a monster against Miami in last year's postseason series, shooting 56 percent from the field and gobbling up over 10 rebounds per game. He hasn't wreaked as much havoc this year, but that does not change the fact that Miami is perilously small against teams that play two bigs at all times in their lineups.
Still, Bynum hardly seems like a solution to that problem, especially given how unlikely it is that he could provide more than 10 or 15 minutes in a game. The Heat are already conducting a reclamation experiment with Greg Oden to unspectacular results.
The Heat will likely try to add more size at some point. Just do not expect Bynum to emerge as a suddenly important ingredient in Miami's quest for a three-peat.
*All stats courtesy NBA.com.