Predicting the Biggest NBA Stars Who Will Wind Up on the Trade Block

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2012

Predicting the Biggest NBA Stars Who Will Wind Up on the Trade Block

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    The 2013 NBA trade deadline is two months away, but the picture of who will and won't be dealt is already starting to take shape. Many star players have expiring contracts that their teams would love to unload, while other teams have already given up on the season and are exploring deals involving some of their best. Based on how the season has taken shape thus far, one thing is certain: trade season is going to be epic.

    To raise one question, what's going to happen to Pau Gasol? The Los Angeles Lakers' seven-footer has struggled in new coach Mike D'Antoni's system, and team management has reportedly given him an ultimatum: adapt or be traded.

    Not too far from Los Angeles, in Utah, Jazz GM Ted Lindsey has to decide what he's going to do with his two expiring contracts in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Will he move one or both of them?

    Regardless of what Lindsey and every other GM decides to do by the deadline, 2013 trade season is going to be a busy time. As much as some fans may hate to admit it, some of their favorite stars will have new homes once the dust settles.

No. 7: Rip Hamilton, Chicago Bulls

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    The Bulls' backcourt situation is an interesting one, particularly since star point guard Derrick Rose is still out recovering from ACL surgery. Kirk Hinrich has been a disappointment running the point, while Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli have been solid shooters off the bench. Rookie Marquis Teague has been a non-factor.

    The team also has veteran Rip Hamilton, who is currently out with a foot injury. He has averaged 13.9 points on 38 percent three-point shooting this season, but could potentially be moved by the deadline.

    According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, trading Hamilton may be a better idea than cutting Robinson before January 10, when his contract becomes guaranteed. Hamilton's contract contains a $1 million buyout for next season, essentially making him an expiring contract.

    It will be hard for Bulls GM Gar Forman to move Hamilton, who has been injury prone throughout his career and is no spring chicken at age 34. Still, it is possible to sell the former UConn Husky as a viable shooter who can provide a spark off the bench when healthy.

    Given how well Belinelli has played in Hamilton's absence, this is an avenue worth exploring.

Nos. 6 & 5: Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz

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    The Jazz are about to come to a crossroads in the very near future. Star big men Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson will both hit unrestricted free agency this summer, so GM Dennis Lindsey has a decision to make. Should he trade one, both or neither of them?

    Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated tackled that very issue, and came to the same conclusion: bet the farm on Millsap and try to trade Jefferson, since he is the more expensive of the two and has essentially hit his peak already.

    However, what about Utah's two fine backup bigs in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter? Favors has already established himself as a budding shot blocker, and Kanter is an explosive center just waiting to break out. If just one of Millsap or Jefferson is traded, one of these two young players gets stuck on the bench.

    The Jazz have looked decent this season and could easily make a strong push for a playoff spot, but the sad truth is that at least one of their star big men is going to be moved. It would be more effective for Lindsey to try and get something for one of them rather than risk losing both for nothing this summer.

    ESPN's Tom Haberstroh suggested a deal with the Lakers involving Millsap and Pau Gasol, but that is just speculation at this point. It's still too early to determine which of Utah's twin towers will be moved, but it's going to be a story to watch over the next couple of months.

No. 4: Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Jennings' free agency is an interesting case. He is a restricted free agent, which means that the Bucks can match any offer he receives from another team, per the Gilbert Arenas Rule of the current CBA.

    However, as he told ESPN's Chris Broussard last season, Jennings seems to have his heart set on leaving Milwaukee, as he has been "doing homework" on big-market teams. Unfortunately for the 23-year-old point guard, he may be with the Bucks for quite a few more years.

    As reported by Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, Bucks management has told Jennings that they will match any offer sheet he receives this summer. This bodes well for the team, as Jennings is a phenomenally talented point guard who could lead them into a bright future, but the idea of possibly trading him should not be written off.

    First of all, it seems pretty clear that Jennings wants to play elsewhere. Why make such a grand effort to keep a player if he's going to be unhappy, regardless of talent?

    On top of that, look at where the Bucks stand right now. They are currently the No. 5 team in the Eastern Conference, but there is no guarantee they will maintain their current pace. In reality, the Bucks' lack of frontcourt consistency and their overly relying on Jennings and Monta Ellis for offense makes them a ticking time bomb, and it's just a matter of time before the system falls apart.

    That could all change if Ersan Ilyasova starts heating up and rookie John Henson gets more playing time, but the circumstances say it all. Jennings wants out of Milwaukee and if the Bucks free-fall out of the playoff race, GM John Hammond would be wise to at least listen to offers for his talented point guard.

No. 3: Monta Ellis, Milwaukee Bucks

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    As profitable as a trade involving Jennings could potentially be, it's unlikely that the Bucks will look to move him. He is far too important to the future of the franchise, and team management would likely have to be blown away in order to pull the trigger on such a deal.

    However, the Bucks still have a great trade chip in guard Monta Ellis, who has been Jennings' partner in crime in the scoring department.

    Steve Kyler of Hoopsworld states how Ellis is definitely a better man to put on the trading block than Jennings, particularly because he can opt out of his contract at the end of the season. Playoff teams looking for an extra push on offense would definitely be interested in his services, and the financial burden would be minimal given how he would likely hit free agency during the summer.

    At the same time, assuming that Milwaukee makes the playoffs, the team can probably offer him and Jennings some attractive deals to get them to stay. It's a bit early to tell, but definitely keep an eye on Ellis if the Bucks start stumbling.

    He is a dynamic scorer who can distribute and play defense with great finesse, and teams will be clogging all of GM John Hammond's phone lines should he become available.

No. 2: Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers

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    The 2012-13 season has been one to forget for Gasol. Not only has he missed time with knee tendinitis, but he has also not been a good fit in coach Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun system.

    It's gotten so bad to the point where, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, team management has given Gasol an ultimatum—either adjust to the system, or they find someone who will.

    Unfortunately, that's easier said than done. Gasol has two years remaining on his deal, plus about $38 million. Any team that trades for him will have to take that on.

    Steve Kyler of Hoopsworld, however, has an interesting take on the situation. He believes that while it is "inevitable" that the Lakers trade their Spanish seven-footer, there isn't really much of a demand for his services. The man is 32 years old, his knees are starting to go, and he has not performed well this season, so the Lakers aren't going to receive any mind-blowing offers for him.

    Just the same, Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times discussed some scenarios that could work out.

    Again, it's still way too early to be discussing the possibility of Gasol or any NBA star being traded. For all we know, his production could go up the moment point guard Steve Nash is back from his injury.

    Until some improvement is seen, however, GM Mitch Kupchak must assume that Gasol will not be a Laker by season's end, and thus start listening to offers.

No. 1: Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Anderson Varejao is having a career season, averaging 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, his Cleveland Cavaliers are 5-22 and hanging onto him is an expensive choice. With $27.3 million due to him over the next three seasons and rookie Tyler Zeller waiting in the wings, trading him and dumping some salary seems like the best idea.

    Varejao would also bring a significant return in talent, so it makes perfect sense for team management to listen to offers.

    However, according to David Aldridge of TNT, the Cavaliers have been "asking for the moon" when it comes to trading their Brazilian big man. One league executive even told Aldridge that he didn't even think the Cavaliers would even trade Varejao since they could use him in 2014 as a way to try and lure LeBron James (who can opt out of his current deal then) back to Cleveland.

    The rumors surrounding him are getting a bit crazy, but the facts are simple. If Cleveland wants any type of future, they need to trade Varejao. Zeller was drafted and subsequently traded to Cleveland for a reason: Dan Gilbert clearly sees potential in the former Tar Heel.

    More importantly, Zeller was able to score 20 points against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night, a game Varejao missed with a sore knee. The rookie still has a lot to learn on the defensive end, but his potential is there.

    Varejao would bring in some experienced veterans who could help get the Cavaliers back on track, and owner Dan Gilbert should at least listen to offers for him.