Red Light, Green Light: Evaluating NBA Trade Rumors at Season's Midway Point

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2016

Dec 7, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) and guard Michael Carter-Williams (5) celebrate following a basket during the fourth quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at BMO Harris Bradley Center.  Milwaukee won 90-88.  Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Even with less than one month remaining until Feb. 18's NBA trade deadline, the rumor mill hasn't heated up to a scalding temperature. No organizations are floating true superstars, and it feels as if few squads have emerged as definitive sellers. 

The L.A. Clippers giving away Josh Smith to the Houston Rockets notwithstanding, the jam-packed Eastern Conference and downward spiral of some in the West means nearly every team is holding out hope to stumble upon success late in the season. Until more front offices accept their outlooks this year aren't so sterling, little can happen.

But that hasn't prevented a few rumors from emerging. 

Markieff Morris Staying Put? 

Jan 17, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) catches a pass in the first quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

During the offseason, the Phoenix Suns power forward made his feelings perfectly clear in the aftermath of the desert-based organization trading his twin brother to the Detroit Pistons. 

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"One thing for sure, I am not going to be there," he explained after a workout in the middle of August, per Philly.com's Keith Pompey. "If you want to put that out there, you can put that out. I don't give a [freak]. I am not going to be there at all. That's just what it is."

Slightly over five months after the fact, Morris is still playing for the Suns. He's thrown towels at head coach Jeff Hornacek and subsequently apologized for his actions and the two-game suspension that ensued. He's also fallen in and out of the lineup and has generally served as a leading topic of conversation for a team that has backslid in dramatic fashion.

Now, it seems as if all the trade speculation could be for naught. After countless reports from various sources indicating plenty of teams have reached out to talk about acquiring this Morris twin, Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders reveals the Suns aren't going to trade their power forward for peanuts:

There continues to be talk that the Phoenix Suns could move off forward Markieff Morris if they really wanted to, but there is a growing sense that what comes back in a Morris deal may not be very attractive to the Suns in both the short-term and the long-term.

Sources close to the Suns say that they are not going to make a bad deal just to force Morris off the roster...

Phoenix's season is already all but lost, given Eric Bledsoe's decision to undergo knee surgery that improves his long-term prospects but knocks him out for the year. Without the dynamic point guard, there's just not enough talent on the roster, and the team is already six games back of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. 

Now would be the time to give young players extra run for developmental purposes, not to allow potentially disgruntled veterans back into the starting lineup. Except prior to leaving Tuesday night's game against the Indiana Pacers with a right shoulder strain, Morris had started each of the last three contests. 

Jan 17, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett (21) guards Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) in the first quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix is surely trying to boost his value before the deadline, knowing full well it will deal him for even the most meager return but desperately trying to drum up its trading prospects. Even Kyler qualifies his own rumor by noting "as the deadline gets closer there is an increasing sense around the league that Phoenix might blink on a deal just to remove the problem from its equation."

Addition by subtraction is a real concept in the Association, and Morris' removal from the roster for nothing more than a second-round selection could still be a positive. That void would open up more minutes for T.J. Warren and Devin Booker in small-ball lineups while letting Jon Leuer work his way back into the starting five. 

Ultimately, the efforts to trade Morris won't be as unsuccessful as one of his latest dunk attempts. It would still be shocking if he were wearing the same uniform during the second half of the season. 

Verdict: Red light

Milwaukee Bucks Laughing About Greg Monroe

Jan 5, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) works against Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) during the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

They're not poking fun at his performance. That's actually been fantastic, as he's giving a struggling Milwaukee Bucks team some hope behind his 15.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game on 51.2 percent shooting from the field.

Instead, they're chuckling—maybe even laughing uproariously—at the thought of trading him. After all, Milwaukee's net rating has been 11 points better per 100 possessions when the big man is on the floor. 

Kyler wrote: "Bucks sources found the idea of moving Monroe laughable, but when you consider that Milwaukee is 18-25 on the season and about five games out of the eighth seed in the East, could Monroe return the best value?"

Were he made available, Monroe would indeed return quite a bit of value. Despite his defensive shortcomings and the old-school nature of his around-the-hoop game, he's still a beneficial commodity who can alter the fortunes of a struggling offense. 

But that doesn't mean he's on the block. 

Before diving into potential trade scenarios and noting Monroe can opt out of his contract following the 2016-17 season, ESPN.com's Zach Lowe reported that the Bucks most assuredly have not made the big man available at this stage of the season. Though there's still plenty of time for that to change before the trade deadline, it's more likely the Bucks look into an offseason swap or a deal that takes place next campaign. 

There's still no reason to cut ties with him so soon, especially now that the team is beginning to trend in a positive direction. The Milwaukee coaching staff has figured out how to balance Monroe and John Henson during the fourth quarter of close competitions, often alternating between the two as the team strives for offensive and defensive excellence on different possessions. 

The Bucks find themselves sitting well outside the playoff picture in an improved Eastern Conference, but they've resembled something closer to the 2014-15 version of themselves in recent outings. They've won each of their last three games—and five of their past seven—while posting underlying metrics that are beginning to look stronger:

Milwaukee still has an uphill climb ahead of them, but it's not like this team expected to be a true contender in 2015-16. Even slight improvement that hints toward future success is advantageous, and the burgeoning levels of chemistry are more than enough reason to keep Monroe around for a while longer.

NBA.com's statistical databases show a offensive and defensive ratings of 104.2 and 105.9, respectively, when Monroe has been on the floor this season. But over the last 10 games, those numbers have risen to 106.9 and 106.8, which finally gives the Bucks a positive net rating. Over the last five, they're scoring 109.3 points per 100 possessions and allowing only 105.0 when he's on the floor.

Jan 16, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets forward Marvin Williams (2) has his shot blocked by Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) during the second half at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Bucks defeated the Hornets 105-92. Mandatory Credit: Jer
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The market for him won't just evaporate if Milwaukee decides not to push trade scenarios until the offseason, and it's not like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker will suddenly see all their potential dissipate in a cloud of smoke. Dealing Monroe wouldn't be nonsensical, especially if the return were significant. But the timing is just off. 

Verdict: Green light

New Orleans Pelicans Looking at Buying, Not Selling

Jan 19, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) shoots over Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett (21) during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

General manager Dell Demps wants to help Anthony Davis' team make a playoff push in 2015-16, even if it means looking to the trade market for help. Making a rare media appearance, he went on the Black and Blue Report to share those sentiments, as transcribed by ESPN.com's Justin Verrier:

We're not pleased at where we are right now. I thought at the end of the season last year, we're gonna bring this group back and have something to build on to try and take that next step. And right now, we haven't done that. And so we're looking at any and everything. When you're in this position, you've got to look at any and everything. ...

We will do what's needed to get this team on track. Obviously we dug ourselves a deep hole. And it's going to be tough for us to fight back into it this year. But we're always looking for the long term as well as the short term. We haven't given up on the season.

Fans of the New Orleans Pelicans should be squirming. 

After suffering a first-round sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors in 2015, this team was expected to make the proverbial leap and draw closer to the true contenders in the Western Conference. Instead, a rash of injuries has struck down plenty of key players, resulting in one loss after another. 

Even with Davis' improving play helping the Pelicans grow more competitive after a putrid start to the year, January has still seen the bayou representatives post a sub-.500 record—they are winners of just four in nine attempts to open the 2016 calendar.

The hole is too deep for last year's No. 8 seed to claw its way out. NOLA remains four games back of holding down the final postseason berth for the second consecutive campaign, but even that wouldn't represent progress.

If improvement is the goal, the team has to avoid a first-round matchup with the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder, and that means landing no lower than No. 5 in the West. 

Good luck with that. The Dallas Mavericks sit at No. 5, and they're 9.5 games clear of the Pelicans. 

Jan 18, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson (33) dribbles as Memphis Grizzlies forward Jeff Green (32) defends at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN.com's BPI gives New Orleans a 9.5 percent chance of advancing to the playoffs this season, and that might actually be an optimistic take. Basketball-Reference.com's Playoff Probabilities Report puts the chances at 3.7 percent, and none of its 7,500 simulations has the Pelicans winning more than 43 games. 

Potentially mortgaging the future for a small forward capable of pushing this team into the playoff hunt doesn't make sense. Even dealing Ryan Anderson's expiring contract for immediate help would be nonsensical, since the Pelicans are better off trying to build an actual contender around their perennial MVP candidate.

A playoff berth in 2016 would be nothing more than fool's gold. Following the path previously traveled down by the Brooklyn Nets—one that involves risking everything in the hope of current progress—is a recipe for disaster and too many wasted years of a prime Davis. 

Instead of looking for a short-term solution, it would behoove the Pelicans to shop Anderson, Jrue Holiday, Omer Asik and virtually everyone else on the roster with the intention of acquiring more high-upside players, better odds in the Ben Simmons sweepstakes and additional draft picks. 

Verdict: Red light

Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are from Basketball-Reference.com or Adam's own databases and are current heading into games on Jan. 21.


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