With the Association rapidly blowing past the season's midpoint and barreling toward All-Star Weekend, it's about time for the trade rumor mill to recall its workers from layoff and begin churning out product.
For the second straight season, NBA teams got to work early rather than waiting for the arbitrary February stopdate. Rudy Gay, Luol Deng, Andrew Bynum and more have already been on the move, greatly paring down the deadline fodder and creating a market currently in flux.
There remain plenty of teams and players that could make a move. All it takes is one injury—knock on wood, considering the league's current infirmary—to change the shape of the playoff race. Or even force a team to take a one-way ticket to Tanksville.
Either way, it's unlikely we see another deadline go by where J.J. Redick is the only functional NBA player sent elsewhere. Redick is a solid, underrated player and is having a good first season with the Clippers, but players of his ilk being traded are not going to cause a league-wide meltdown. And it's frankly unlikely that any player, barring a change of heart from the Knicks, will make folks have to pick up their slacked jaw.
It's more about the volume of the moment than the content of said players. There are enough teams currently wading in the murky middle—either one move away from true contention or being freed to Bleed for Embiid—that the roster shuffle should be more pronounced in 2014.
But alas, the trade waters are still relatively calm at the moment. Here's a quick look around the league at what constitutes as a rumor at the moment.
Pistons Looking to Deal?
You're never going to believe this, but it's starting to look increasingly like Joe Dumars made a poor personnel decision that threatens the Pistons' long-term cap situation. While not anywhere close to as egregious as his Charlie Villanueva-Ben Gordon pu pu platter, star-signing Josh Smith is evolving into "Josh Smith's contract."
Smith is in the midst of arguably his worst season since his rookie year. Which happened when he was 18 years old. Smith is averaging 15.4 points per game, his worst since his second NBA season, on a career-low 40.9 percent shooting. His rebound rate is the worst it's ever been, and his career-low 1.4 blocks per game might be a sign of someone losing a half-step from his once prodigious athleticism.
Or it could all merely be a sign that Dumars again irresponsibly spent money without regard to his roster composition. The Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond front line can only nicely be described as a failure. Detroit is allowing 108.9 points per 100 possessions when those three share the floor, which would be about a point less than Utah's league-worst mark. While spacing was expected to be a work in progress on offense, the fact that Detroit is better defensively with two bigs rather than all three speaks to a more permanent problem.
It should not come as a shock, then, that the Pistons are currently on the outside of the playoff race in the dreadful Eastern Conference. They've dropped three straight and are 4-12 since moving to 13-14 on Dec. 8. The entire offseason plan to make the playoffs has backfired, from Smith to Brandon Jennings to head coach Maurice Cheeks. Cheeks in particular deserves blame for his rotations that vary from night to night and at times delve into the nonsensical.
Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe reported over the weekend that Dumars and Co. are starting to consider making moves. Whether that's to shore up the current core for a playoff push or blow it up is unclear. But with Monroe hitting restricted free agency this summer, one has to venture a guess that either he or Smith are the likeliest movers.
The simple answer here is to try to trade the older guy, but Smith comes with more complications. His career-worst splits have already been mentioned, and it almost goes without saying that teams are wary of his locker-room presence. It also doesn't help that Smith has shown a total unwillingness to eliminate the long jumper from his game, despite being probably the worst high-usage jump shooter in the league.
The theory in some circles goes that trading Monroe and moving Smith to the 4 would solve that. I'm not buying it. Smith did the same nonsense in Atlanta when he played the 4; he's just not changing.
Monroe is the more interesting value play, but, again, he's about to hit restricted free agency. Those players either: A) tend to stay where they're at or B) get wildly overpaid. If some team goes out and offers Monroe a max deal—not out of the question—we're looking at column B. In a vacuum, both Monroe and Smith have value.
I'm just not so sure that value is out on the trade market over the next month.
Kings Want to Move Marcus Thornton?
So far, so good for the Vivek Ranadive initiative in Sacramento (at least personnel wise).
DeMarcus Cousins has proven himself worth every bit of the maximum contract extension handed to him this fall, the Rudy Gay deal has reinvigorated his career, and the front office is looking awfully smart for allowing Tyreke Evans to walk.
And still, being inert does not seem like an option. The Kings are batted around in nearly every trade discussion, either as a facilitator or a club looking to make a long-term splash. It's speculative, of course, but there may be no better fit for the Celtics if they decide to change course and deal Rajon Rondo by February.
In the meantime, the Kings are looking to un-muck their own roster by ridding mistakes of years past. Steve Kyler of the newly formed Basketball Insiders (formerly Hoopsworld) noted that Sacramento has redoubled its trade efforts for guard Marcus Thornton:
.@GetBucketzz24_7: what are your thoughts on a possible marcus thornton for omer asik trade? ---> I know Sacramento wants to move Marcus— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) January 24, 2014
News of Thornton being on the block is nothing new. Earlier this month, CBS Sports' Ken Berger reported the Kings were trying to pry disgruntled veteran Andre Miller from the Denver Nuggets in a package headed by Thornton, though those trade talks seemingly never gained traction.
Thornton is coming off a 42-point game against the Pacers on Friday, but his season has largely been lost under Mike Malone. The shoot-first guard is down to a career-low 8.6 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting, and nearly all of his splits hit a downward trajectory. A plus attacker and solid shooter for most of his time in the Association, Thornton is hitting just 28.6 percent of his jump shots on the season.
Without much of a reputation defensively, Thornton has essentially been getting minutes because Malone has few other options. Plus, if the Kings are trying to trade him, burying him on the bench isn't the way to drum up interest. Thornton is under contract for next season at $8.57 million. That is not a small amount of money for someone with Thornton's skill set and declining statistical profile.
So, sure. The Kings probably want to trade him. Good luck doing so without adding more long-term money to the books.
Thaddeus Young's Contract Giving GMs Pause?
They're not Milwaukee bad, but the Sixers' preseason rebuilding plans are starting to take shape. They have lost two straight games and eight of their last 10, but also play an entertaining (if horrible) brand of basketball. If you're going to be bad, at least be fun bad—and that's how Brett Brown and his uptempo group of youngsters have kept themselves watchable all year.
It also doesn't hurt if you're trying to inflate the stats of players who might not be around for the rest of the rebuilding effort. Speculation has surrounded guys like Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young since the season began. Although they're still young, each of those players is from a previous regime and have long-term contract questions that cloud their future.
Well, except for Young. He's the only one under guaranteed contract beyond 2013-14, and he could hold two years of team control if he chooses to opt into his nearly $10 million salary for 2015-16. Coming into the season, that deal looked like a borderline albatross. The type of cap-siphoning contract that wouldn't be bad in a vacuum, except for the fact that the NBA only allots so much salary you're allowed to spend.
Young has turned that reputation on its head a bit this season. He's averaging a career-high 17.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while playing his typically solid defense and being a versatile forward who can switch between 3 and 4. In a league where "hybrid" players are being valued instead of denigrated, you're looking at someone who would probably fetch at least $8 million per season on the open market.
While he's been in a really bad slump the past two weeks—he's 3-of-26 since Jan. 11—Young's early-season hot streak showed that there is some reason to think he can develop consistent long range. It's been so good that it'd be hard to argue against Philly moving Young now in order to recoup all it can out of his value.
"There is not a GM in the league who wouldn't want Thaddeus Young on their team," an NBA executive told Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News.
The one "caveat" that executive had was the aforementioned contract. While Young could probably be a piece to a contender, that's what he is: a piece. More fiscally conservative teams are going to balk at paying almost eight figures for the fourth-best player on a championship roster. It would have to be a deep-pocketed club with aspirations of winning now and a hole at the 4.
Houston and Phoenix both stick out as potential partners. The Rockets would like an upgrade from Terrence Jones, even though he's been on a tear in January. Young fits their ideal mold of a 4 to pair with Dwight Howard—both athletic enough to run uptempo but solid enough from deep to stretch the defense.
Same goes for the Suns, who would be able to integrate the 25-year-old Young into their young core without sacrificing the future. They could have up to four first-round picks in June's draft, and no one wants to add four rookies—even in this elite class.
Stats via NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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