The NBA trade deadline is this coming Thursday, Feb. 20, so buzz on the rumor mill will only continue to increase as the day draws closer.
Whether they concerns contenders attempting to position themselves for a post-All-Star break push, lackluster teams seeking to build for the future or squads that seem to be in that awkward gray area, there are several notable storylines to follow in the coming days.
A quick release of shocking information can date the latest speculation in an instant, but for now there are some interesting tidbits to ponder.
Let's take a look at the top chatter circulating around the Association.
Luol Deng to Be Traded Again?
Yes, it's reportedly possible that Deng leaves the calamitous Cleveland Cavaliers, according to BasketballInsiders.com's Alex Kennedy, who has spoken to rival executives about the situation:
Deng’s name hasn’t come up very much in trade rumors recently, but that’s likely to change in the days to come. As [general manager David] Griffin tries to put his own fingerprints on the Cavaliers, rival executives believe that his best move would be trading away the team’s veterans and trying to land a top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
There aren't all that many veterans on the Cavs roster, with the exception of Deng, whose expiring contract and status as an exceptional all-around player make him the team's most viable trade chip.
I think we're going to get to a point where guys understand we've just got to find a way to win. When we get to that point, we'll have more wins like (the one against Detroit). It's changing a little bit. Guys are starting to enjoy it, they can't wait for the next game. That's what happens when you win. You just can't wait to play your next opponent.
Kennedy implies that the team isn't going anywhere this season, but is that true? The Eastern Conference is terrible, and the Cavs are on a four-game winning streak, trailing the Charlotte Bobcats by just three games for the eighth seed in the conference.
If Cleveland does indeed want a pick in the highly touted 2014 draft, Deng might be the best fit to make that a reality. However, with at least some young pieces in place in Cleveland, there's also a chance Deng could serve as a key mentor and become part of the Cavaliers' turnaround.
Head coach Mike Brown has been criticized throughout the 2013-14 campaign, and general manager Chris Grant has been fired, yet Cleveland still has a shot at the postseason.
The Cavs are on the fence between contention and self-imposed implosion. Deng is at the epicenter of it all, and his recent arrival is complicating the complexion of the ongoing effort to build a consistent winner.
Philadelphia 76ers Selling Hard
Another team rumored to be eying the upcoming draft is Philadelphia, but this has been the Sixers' plan all along. What is interesting is that GM Sam Hinkie is apparently considering moving major assets, such as Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes.
All three of those players have excelled at a high level and could be part of the nucleus that eventually transforms the team into a perennial playoff contender. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer has the latest:
The 76ers' focus in the days leading up to Thursday's NBA trade deadline is acquiring draft picks, according to an Eastern Conference executive. The franchise wants to gain future compensation in exchange for Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, and Thaddeus Young, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
If the 76ers trade only one player, who should it be?
Young is valuable at both ends of the court and should remain in Philadelphia. Considering the general lack of productive centers in the guard-driven league, it stands to reason that Hawes is safe from the block, too.
That leaves Turner, the former No. 2-overall pick who is blossoming but has an unaesthetic game which involves frequent over-dribbling, turnovers, an inconsistent jumper and an undefined true position. He requires a lot of work with the ball, and though he's gotten better working off of it, Turner can stagnate an offense.
Scoring shouldn't be the problem for the Sixers moving forward, especially with Michael Carter-Williams running the point. The rookie's length at the position also makes him a stellar defender, and fellow first-year player Nerlens Noel has yet to take to the hardwood as a pro. Noel will undoubtedly play a huge role in helping to improve the league's worst scoring defense next season.
A future core featuring Carter-Williams, Noel, Young, Hawes, a top-flight prospect from the 2014 draft class and a more flexible piece from a potential Turner trade is a sound rebuilding strategy. It's one that could even see Philadelphia make a big leap next season.
Thunder Seeking Swingman
Kevin Durant has been dominant for Oklahoma City this season—even without his typical sidekick and the team's super athletic point guard Russell Westbrook for most of the year.
Standing pat would still give the Thunder a good shot at hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy this year thanks to Durant's elevated game. The complementary players who have logged key minutes to fill the void in Westbrook's absence should also benefit OKC in the playoffs.
However, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the front office is mulling the possibility of acquiring a two-way player, preferably of the sharp-shooting variety:
Armed with trade exceptions, OKC has been active in search for a shooter to fortify them for title run, league sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 13, 2014
To be exact, the Thunder are shopping more for a two-way wing player than simply a shooter.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 14, 2014
Further helping the cause is that Westbrook is reportedly returning Thursday when the Thunder take on the Miami Heat, per Wojnarowski's colleague Marc J. Spears:
From last night: Yahoo Sports source: Thunder optimistic Russell Westbrook will return from injury Thursday vs Heat. http://t.co/LQjk3P4z3V— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) February 16, 2014
Perimeter shooting would help the team's spacing and also alleviate Durant and Westbrook from predictable one-on-one isolation situations in crunch time. It's not that they aren't capable of being successful in such situations, but Oklahoma City could use one more three-point threat.
Veteran point guard Derek Fisher has been one of the only three-point shooting assets the Thunder have had this season besides Durant. Fisher is nearing the end of his long career, though, and he and his teammates realize they have the makings of a championship-caliber squad, per the Oklahoman's Anthony Slater:
Derek Fisher on the Thunder: "We're starting to develop the mentality that now is our time."— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 16, 2014
Thus, the win-now mentality makes sense, and Sam Presti hasn't been afraid to roll the dice in the past with high-profile trades. Sometimes, it's to a fault—a la the trade of James Harden—but the savvy GM often makes the right call.
As mentioned in the above video featuring B/R's Adam Lefkoe and Carson Cunningham of KOCO 5 Sports, Mike Dunleavy of the Bulls makes a lot of sense in a trade involving Thabo Sefolosha. However, the Orlando Magic's Arron Afflalo would come at too great a cost in terms of chemistry and future Thunder assets, especially if Jeremy Lamb and a first-round pick were to be involved.
While other teams are confused as to whether or not they can threaten for an NBA title and may suffer from not being in the draft lottery, there's no question the Thunder are elite. The dilemma in risking a move is getting better in the short term but realizing that a move to disrupt the current chemistry could backfire and actually make matters worse.