Trade winds have been unseasonably quiet with less than a week remaining before the Feb. 20 deadline. The midseason moves of Rudy Gay, Luol Deng and other high-profile players have lessened the desperation around the NBA considerably, with two of the biggest candidates for win-now moves (Cleveland and Sacramento) already adding their big piece.
Luckily, the NBA has a built-in igniter of all trade fodder in All-Star weekend. With Thursday's slate of games putting a pause on the regular season for the next four days as nearly everyone associated with the Association (#wordplay) heads to New Orleans, the break will give executives a chance to take a long, hard look at their rosters.
The mass convening in New Orleans will also, more importantly, put these people in the same rooms. No matter whether they're talking dinner plans or blockbuster trades, some rumor will come out of nearly every hushed conversation between league executives.
Nearly every deal between now and the deadline will be berthed in its infancy at All-Star weekend. There may even be trades consummated during All-Star weekend, though that's typically frowned upon as the league wants to devote as much time as possible to the players.
Either way, get ready for the biggest deluge of rumors this side of July 1. As you prepare to fake-trade in your head and scoff at the deals that actually get done, here is a look at a few storylines worth monitoring before next Thursday.
Which Western Conference Contender Makes a Win-Now Move?
Because it's coming. Kevin Durant's bonkers run to his first MVP has established the Thunder as pretty clear favorites out West, and that chasm will only grow when Russell Westbrook returns from his knee injury. (No, Westbrook haters, Oklahoma City is not better without Westbrook. Stop being stupid.)
That by no means guarantees Oklahoma City an NBA Finals berth. The West is a muddied conference with six teams that legitimately feel they have a title shot. The Thunder are the best of those teams and have two of the best eight players in basketball, but each of those other five teams feels it is one move away from standing on Oklahoma City's level—or even being better.
The Phoenix Suns are the likeliest Western Conference team to make a move, but they would have to make a foundational, James Harden-level move to actually contend. A Pau Gasol move wouldn't move the needle much—even if it would likely guarantee a playoff berth. Phoenix has the young assets and possibly four 2014 first-round draft picks to work with, so inertia would be a major surprise. It's just not fair to lump this team in with the others yet.
Sam Amico of Fox Sports reported the Spurs are actively looking to upgrade their roster, but history tells us to gross them off. Gregg Popovich is notoriously particular about the personalities he adds to his locker room, and not even Father Time creeping in on his roster will change that.
If R.C. Buford and Popovich find a deal for a player they already know they like or a veteran with a great reputation, then it's a possibility. Otherwise, expect more Shannon Brown-level moves as Pop tinkers toward the end of the regular season.
Realistically, though, there are four potential title contenders to watch: Houston, Golden State, Portland and the Clippers. Each of their rosters has screamed "one move away" since the beginning of the season, and little has changed over the first few months.
Historical clues would say the Rockets will be involved in some deal. Daryl Morey is typically the most aggressive deadline dealer in the league, either via facilitating trades for other teams or shuffling his own deck chairs. Omer Asik returned to the lineup last week after a lengthy absence, and we all know how he feels about being in Houston.
Still, the deadline Morey set to trade Asik has passed, and teams are still wary of his $15 million balloon payment for next season. For the first time in a while, it's looking like Houston might just roll the dice on standing pat.
Morey told USA Today's Sam Amick:
I think (the time between now and the deadline) is going to be quiet. Of course a year ago, if you would've said, 'James Harden – what about him?' I would've said, 'No way. They won't trade him.' You never know. You stay opportunistic. But I would guess that this trade deadline is going to be quiet.
Given Asik is still an elite rim protector, holding firm might prove prudent. The other three teams have more glaringly obvious needs.
Despite Doc Rivers' seeming obsession with aging wings (Hedo Turkoglu, Stephen Jackson, et al.), the Clippers are still in desperate need of a defense-first big behind DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. The Jordan-Griffin duo (and Griffin in particular) has mostly eliminated the perception they aren't a championship-level front line, but the depth behind them is anything but.
Ryan Hollins tries, but he's a defensive sieve. Byron Mullens might be the worst defensive 7-footer in league history. Antawn Jamison is actively decomposing on the bench. While Rivers has found a little success moving Turkoglu or Matt Barnes into the 4 in certain lineups, the same weaknesses that existed a year ago persist. Big, physical teams are going to obliterate the Clippers' second unit without an additional move.
Adding Lamar Odom might be a late-season possibility, but the complete silence that fell over those talks after initial rumors is telling. Jason Collins is a solid on-paper fit, given his relationship with Rivers from Boston and his combination of toughness, big body and veteran leadership. Again, league-wide silence is telling on that front.
If they choose to hit the trade market, ESPN's Marc Stein reported the Clippers are eager to move forward Jared Dudley. Dudley's had a down season, but he's a great locker room guy and a very good shooter on the wings. Maybe a Dudley-for-Semi-Expensive Big X will get the job done.
The Blazers find themselves in almost an eerily similar situation. Joel Freeland's MCL sprain is expected to keep him out four to eight weeks, meaning Portland will have to dust off Meyers Leonard and rely more heavily on Thomas Robinson for minutes behind Robin Lopez. For a team already hemorrhaging points defensively to the point it's not a serious title contender, anything involving the words "Meyers Leonard" is very, very bad.
Portland is an ideal fit for Asik, but we're not living in a dream world. These teams aren't trading with one another, no matter how advanced Morey's thinking is. Don't be surprised if Neil Olshey looks to scrape the bargain bin for a big.
Amick reported the Warriors are looking to use one of their two trade exceptions for bench help. Golden State is quietly hanging around the league average in offensive efficiency and turns into a cluster you-know-what of bad isolation jumpers and stagnation whenever Stephen Curry sits. The problem here is Bob Myers has literally zilch to offer beyond financial relief. Utah owns the Warriors' draft life for the foreseeable future, and not even the tankiest of takers will just give away their talent.
Of course, this all changes the moment Myers opens the floor for Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson offers.
Where, Oh, Where Will All the Philly Pieces Go?
I'll be honest: I have no earthly idea how or why Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young are still in Philly. Young's contract is a bit prohibitive, Hawes isn't a great defender, and Turner's numbers are wildly inflated by opportunity, but these are all young, solid pieces who could move to contenders or even rebuilding teams and fit in. All three were born in 1988 (making them 25) and have discernible NBA skills.
Young was excellent to start the season, and though his three-point shot in particular has declined, he's a solid modern 4 in today's game. He is athletic enough to guard small forwards on the wing and only gets bullied down low by the biggest power forwards.
While Young will never be a Nowitzkian-level mid-range shooter, defenses cannot ignore him entirely on the wing. Per SportVU data released by the NBA, Young hits 33.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities, a below-average but not crippling number.
Don't be surprised if the Suns start dangling Emeka Okafor's expiring contract and a pick to get Philly to bite. The Sixers have enough cap space to make the deal work without sending extra salary back, and Young would be a win-now piece for Phoenix who doesn't alter its long-term plans.
If recent reports are to be believed, Michael Jordan apparently scrawls "MJ + ET = love" on the side of every tree he sees. Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer notes the perpetual doormats are so excited by their progress under Steve Clifford—they are the East's No. 8 seed at the All-Star break—that they've begun exploring ways to improve now for a playoff push.
Sorensen notes the front office has taken a liking to Turner and floats Ben Gordon's expiring contract and a first-round choice as a possible trade scenario. While the Bobcats are interested in Turner, the deal already would have been done if Charlotte offered that package. Turner is a restricted free agent this summer, and while he's setting career highs across the board, it's more a result of opportunity than actual improvement.
The 2010 No. 2 pick has yet to show any real progress as an outside shooter. He's shooting only 24.4 percent on jump shots this season and still isn't the lockdown defender Philly hoped he'd be coming out of college. If the Bobcats are offering a first-round pick in return—especially one in 2014—laugh all the way to the podium, Sam Hinkie.
Which Sixers trade piece would you most want?
Hawes hits unrestricted free agency this summer, making him arguably Hinkie's top priority to ship elsewhere before Thursday. He isn't a terribly difficult match at a $6.6 million cap figure, is a solid rebounder and shoots 40.3 percent from distance. Philly shouldn't have much trouble here if it actually wants to make a move.
Who knows? Maybe Hinkie likes what he brings as a stretch 4 next to center-in-waiting Nerlens Noel. Hawes is one of just five players listed at 6'10" or taller knocking down 40 percent of his threes this season, per Basketball-Reference. Keeping him around would be far from the worst thing in the world.
Odds are, at least one member of this trio gets moved but not all three. If I had to bet, Turner and Hawes are more likely than Young.
Which Big Name Will Be on the Move? Or, More Realistically, Will Any?
Spencer Hawes. Evan Turner. Thaddeus Young. Andre Miller. Beno Udrih. These are the types of names we've heard thus far and are likely to hear in an even louder chorus going into the weekend. If you've noticed, none of these fellas are All-Stars—or frankly even all that close. They're the muck in the middle, the replacement-level players and guys slightly above that level who can swing a championship for a contender but not move the needle an inch for other teams.
The actual stars? Radio silence. Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Raptors are planning to keep point guard Kyle Lowry, who a couple months ago was all but sending in his measurements for a Knicks jersey. The Celtics have undoubtedly been fielding calls since Rajon Rondo returned from his knee injury, but Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling noted Boston's current plan is to keep Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green.
And stop dreaming. The Knicks aren't moving Carmelo Anthony, no matter if it'd be prudent long term. Same goes for anyone you might want on the Cleveland Cavaliers; Dan Gilbert isn't allowing an interim general manager to blow up his core.
Last season, fans came into deadline day with dreams of Josh Smith being shipped from Atlanta and Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson ending their Salt Lake City runs a couple months early. None of that came. J.J. Redick was the biggest name moved at the deadline, a trade Bucks management probably wakes up with night terrors about now.
Sorry, Patrick Patterson and Thomas Robinson. You're not exactly moving the excitement needle. The deadline came and went with a thunderous dud, and the tea leaves are pointing in that direction again in 2014.
The Sixers will be active, and a couple Western Conference contenders will make small deals, but Redick-level trades might become the February norm. Teams aren't as beholden to the February date in years past, and the new collective bargaining agreement has had a somewhat intended effect of stumping midseason deals.
With the prohibitive luxury tax weighing on everyone's mind, teams are more willing to allow expiring contracts to expire rather than dump them off for long-term money. Cheap talent in the form of draft picks has also become a commodity, even for the league's top tier.
It's possible a team like Sacramento comes and sweeps Boston off its feet with a Rondo deal. Maybe Lowry, the East's best point guard this season, has priced himself out of Toronto.
Just do yourself a favor: Don't sit around waiting for a call to the league office that probably won't ever come.
All stats via NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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