7 Players on the Trade Bubble Ahead of 2015 NBA Training Camp
Training camp is a tricky time for every NBA player.
If you're a rookie, it's about proving you belong. If you're a veteran, it's about showing you can still hold your own against the young bucks. If you were invited to camp without a guaranteed contract, it's about fighting for every inch (and every dollar), with the hope that your effort not only won't go unnoticed but will also yield a surefire paycheck.
Even guys with precious guarantees can be faced with uncertainty. At the very least, there are always challengers gunning for their roles and their minutes. And if the competition proves superior...well, the threat of obsolescence and redundancy can land an otherwise comfortable contributor on the trade block.
For some, the fact that the summer's free agents can't be traded until Dec. 15 can be a saving grace. For others, there may be no stopping the inevitable grind of the business machine that the NBA has become.
Either way, these seven players could be switching jerseys soon, perhaps before the opening tip of the 2015-16 regular season in late October.
Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves
There's a youth movement afoot in Minnesota, but Ricky Rubio, once hailed as a potential franchise savior for the Timberwolves, might not be around to lead it. According to Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher (see video above), the Wolves are ready to shop Rubio, whose recurring injury concerns and bricky jump shot have held back his development. As ESPN.com's Bradford Doolittle explained:
For all he does well, Rubio just can't find a consistent peg in the shooting realm. He's not just an inconsistent jump shooter -- he's annually one of the worst finishers in the league, ranking in the 6th percentile at worst in the restricted area for three straight seasons, per nba.com/stats. Last season, he shot 31.7 percent at the rim. During the 3-point era, there have been 420 instances in which a qualifying player has recorded six-plus assists per game with an effective field-goal percentage under break-even. Rubio owns the two worst league-adjusted rates and three of the bottom five.
So why would any team trade for Rubio? For one, with the proper training and commitment to the work needed, a broken jumper can be fixed—even one that's yet to yield a season of better than 40 percent shooting.
Rubio turns 25 in late October, so there's reason to believe his game still has room to grow. And with a four-year, $55 million extension set to kick in this coming season, his salary is under control for the foreseeable future and should look more and more reasonable as the incoming national TV money inflates the league's salary cap.
In the meantime, Rubio is still one of the NBA's most magnificent passers, one whose court vision has helped him to become a thrifty defender on the other end.
Rubio, for his part, thinks his days in Minnesota aren't yet numbered.
"I have confidence that the team wants me but you know in this league anybody can get traded," he told Gulf News' Jamie Goodwin. "You don’t listen to the rumours. You just live day-by-day and that’s it."
With Andre Miller in the fold and youngsters like Zach LaVine and Tyus Jones waiting in the wings, day-by-day may be the best way for Rubio to go about his business for the time being.
Anthony Bennett, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
As many cooks as there are in Minnesota's backcourt kitchen, the T-Wolves' corps of bigs may be even more crowded.
In February, the team traded for former franchise face Kevin Garnett and Michigan State rookie Adreian Payne. In June, the Wolves drafted Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns with the No. 1 overall pick. This summer, they brought 6'10" Serbian star Nemanja Bjelica across the pond.
With each arrival, Anthony Bennett's prospects of finding proper playing time in Minneapolis continue to dwindle. Two years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the basketball world when they made the UNLV product the No. 1 pick in the draft. His rookie season was one of the worst on record: a toxic combination of injuries, poor conditioning and a lack of a defined role on a terrible team.
In August 2014, the Cavs used Bennett to sweeten the pot for a Kevin Love trade. Where Bennett might've otherwise found a fresh start in Minnesota, he was plagued by problems similar to those he found in Cleveland: injuries, depth-chart inundation, an uncertain role on the league's worst team.
To his credit, Bennett has done plenty to rehabilitate his reputation this summer. He was the star of Canada's silver-medal squad at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto and has settled in nicely as a key cog for his national club at the FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico City.
Perhaps Bennett's productive turn will pique the interest of potential suitors that, to this point, haven't bitten on Minnesota's trade bait, per the Associated Press' Jon Krawczynski. At this point, all that's certain is that Bennett will have to blow the Wolves away in training camp if he's to carve out some breathing room among Minnesota's frontcourt crunch.
Taj Gibson, PF, Chicago Bulls
The T-Wolves aren't the only team in the Midwest with tight squeezes up front. The Chicago Bulls will soon have to deal with arguably an even bigger crunch.
Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah haven't fit well together, especially defensively, but the Bulls would be hard-pressed to part ways with either All-Star. Meanwhile, Nikola Mirotic forced his way into the rotation as a rookie last season, and Arkansas' Bobby Portis could do the same in 2015-16.
All of that looks less than promising for Taj Gibson's future in the Windy City. The 30-year-old Brooklyn native has become the Bulls' odd man up front in recent years, by no fault of his own.
When Carlos Boozer arrived in Chicago in 2010, Gibson, who started 70 games as a rookie, got bumped to the bench. The Bulls' decision to cut Boozer last summer seemed to open up the spot at power forward that Gibson had long sought to reclaim...until Gasol came in to nab it for himself.
It didn't take long after that for Gibson's name to start popping up in trade rumors again. He hasn't been heard from much this summer—and probably won't be for another few weeks—on account of a procedure on his left ankle that's likely to keep him out of action until October.
The Bulls, under new head coach Fred Hoiberg, should have a better handle on their frontcourt rotation by the time Gibson is fit to play. If it turns out there's no room for him, Chicago shouldn't have much trouble finding someone willing to take on a hard-nosed, two-way forward who's owed less than $9 million per season over the next two.
Jamal Crawford, G, Los Angeles Clippers
It seems like only yesterday that Jamal Crawford was, for all intents and purposes, the Los Angeles Clippers' bench incarnate. The Seattle native averaged 15.8 points per game, while not a single other member of L.A.'s second unit so much as sniffed double-digit scoring on a consistent basis.
That probably won't be the case for the Clippers this coming season. Head coach Doc Rivers spent much of his summer restocking the team's reserves with game-changers and playmakers, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith chief among them.
Thus, the news of Crawford's availability, courtesy of the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn, came as more of a "when" than an "if":
The Clippers are dangling former Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford but want the right return. Crawford’s shooting dropped off last season and he missed a significant amount of time with a calf injury. But at age 35, Crawford could still help a contending team. He is still among the league’s more prolific scorers.
Crawford could draw more than passing interest from a number of top-tier teams. But with the work Rivers has done to bolster his roster, the Clippers aren't exactly clamoring for upgrades at any one spot. Thus, they can sit back and wait for the offers to roll in.
And if none suit them, they can proceed with their stacked squad without so much as breaking a sweat.
Mario Chalmers, G, Miami Heat
If you happen to be a team in need of a backup guard with championship credentials and a cheap contract to boot, you'd have a hard time finding a better fit than Mario Chalmers.
Once LeBron James' chief whipping boy with the Miami Heat, Chalmers, like the rest of his teammates, found life without the game's best player to be more difficult. He spent much of the 2014-15 season straddling between a starting role and a spot as Miami's scoring sixth man before Goran Dragic's arrival sealed his fate.
Dragic's contract might have more to do with Chalmers' future than the Slovenian's overlapping skills. According to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, the Heat are looking to offload salary so as to lighten their bill from the league's dreaded repeater penalty assessed to serial luxury tax teams. To do so, Miami has attempted to move both Chalmers and Chris Andersen, per Grantland's Zach Lowe, albeit to no avail thus far.
Chalmers would probably be the easier of the two to deal. At 29, the former Kansas standout is nearly eight years younger than Birdman, and comes equipped with a smaller salary, a more versatile skill set and fewer health concerns.
As Jackson wrote, the Heat won't have any problems carrying Chalmers through training camp and into the regular season. That approach might be more sensible, given Miami's lack of reliable depth at the moment.
But if some of their younger reserves emerge, and another team comes calling, Chalmers could quickly be bidding adieu to the only NBA team he's ever known.
Markieff Morris, PF, Phoenix Suns
According to Grantland's Zach Lowe, Morris has wanted out of Phoenix since the Suns sent his twin brother, Marcus, to the Detroit Pistons in July during an apparent attempt to clear cap space for LaMarcus Aldridge. Last year, the Morrises agreed to discounted extensions with the Suns, with the understanding that they'd get to be teammates for the foreseeable future.
"I'm a grown man," Marcus Morris explained to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. "I can stand on my own. I play on my own. It's just the disrespectful side. What we did for the Suns, the pay cuts we took and for them to trade me without consent is what made me more disappointed and is what made me more upset."
The Suns, for their part, aren't inclined to trade Markieff, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein. With Aldridge in San Antonio, Phoenix needs Morris now more than ever. Head coach Jeff Hornacek seems to understand how important Morris is to the team.
"I know Markieff," he told local reporters, per Arizona Sports' Craig Grialou. "I know that when he gets here and starts playing, he’s a competitor and he’s going to try to win. Hopefully, he can get whatever he has off his chest with us and get back to business and help this team win."
And if Markieff can't? The Suns shouldn't have too much trouble finding another team to take on a skilled, 6'10" forward whose relative youth (he just turned 26) and ultra-reasonable contract (four years, $32 million) could, under the right circumstances, outweigh his suspect defense and off-court concerns.
Carmelo Anthony, SF, New York Knicks
Tucked within Zach Lowe's piece for Grantland on Markieff Morris' future was this potentially crucial nugget on what's in store for the New York Knicks:
"The Kings and Knicks should take a look, even though neither has movable assets that would interest Phoenix — unless the Knicks are ready to engage in Carmelo Anthony trade talks. (They’re not there, yet. But they’re getting closer.)"
How close is difficult to say. New York won't likely field many offers for Anthony until he's had a chance to show the league how healthy his knee is following season-ending surgery.
The Knicks have their own good reasons for approaching any Melo-centric trade proposals with caution. For one, they'd be hard-pressed to step out of the bog into which they fell last season, when they went 17-65, if they were to part ways with their best and most productive player.
That, in turn, could deal a blow to their prospects of rebuilding via free agency. Kevin Durant, by far the biggest fish in next summer's sea of free agents, isn't likely to leave Oklahoma City for a squad that's still stuck in the mud.
Even less so if Anthony, his close friend, isn't around to recruit him.
"I know for a fact that Carmelo Anthony has been and will continue to recruit Kevin Durant until the cows come home," ESPN's Stephen A. Smith recently revealed (h/t Pro Basketball Talk's Dan Feldman). "I’m also hearing that Kevin Durant is giving the New York Knicks consideration."
That being said, there's no guarantee Durant would head to the Big Apple even if Anthony were to drag the Knicks back to respectability in 2015-16. Should the upcoming season go south in a hurry and another team throw a "Godfather" offer New York's way, the Knicks may have little choice but to do a hard reset by sending Anthony on his way.
Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.