Red Light, Green Light: Evaluating the NBA's Latest Rumors

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2016

Jan 25, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) dribbles the ball up court in the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA trade winds have been unseasonably quiet.

Despite sitting mere weeks away from the Feb. 18 trade deadline, few notable names have swept through the rumor mill. With minimal separation in most of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket and such a minuscule margin for error in the top-heavy West, front offices are finding little incentive to become buyers or sellers.

But as season projections continue clearing up, basketball's swap shop could buzz to life in a flash. It's already seen a few juicy tidbits recently come across the wire.

Sacramento Kings Dealing Rudy Gay?

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 9: Rudy Gay #8 of the Sacramento Kings looks on during the game against the Golden State Warriors on January 9, 2016 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

It wouldn't be a trade season without Rudy Gay involved, would it?

The scoring forward was moved twice during the 2013 calendar year, first from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Toronto Raptors, then Toronto to the Sacramento Kings. Is it time for him to start filling out another change of address form?

It's possible, sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

"The Sacramento Kings are indeed willing to trade Rudy Gay, sources say, after fairly frequent speculation on that topic in recent weeks," Stein wrote. "However ... it's conditional willingness."

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Basically, the Kings want something in return for Gay, which makes perfect sense considering he's a full-time starter and their second-leading scorer (18.0 points per game).

But it's also understandable that Sacramento would be willing to talk shop.

The 29-year-old is having his worst scoring season since his rookie year. He can get tunnel vision on the offensive end, which explains his unsightly 8.1 assist percentageseventh-lowest among the 69 guards and forwards averaging at least 30 minutes.

That the Kings have fared 1.5 points better per 100 possessions when he's not on the floor only further explains their rationale for fielding offers.

Gay currently has the third-lowest player efficiency rating (16.4) among the 38 players averaging 17-plus points.
Gay currently has the third-lowest player efficiency rating (16.4) among the 38 players averaging 17-plus points.Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

But Stein said the price has to be right, and that's where a trade can get tricky.

The Kings would love to snap their nine-year playoff drought. With the league's best big man in DeMarcus Cousins and a resurgent Rajon Rondo, they're only a game back of the No. 8 seed. And the two clubs directly in front of them—the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers—don't have a talent like Cousins.

Sacramento, Stein wrote, wants "a quality young player" in return and reportedly declined a New Orleans Pelicans offer of Eric Gordon and Alonzo Gee. 

"If that's representative of the value Gay holds around the league at this moment, expecting him to fetch a young player or a pick seems like wishful thinking," wrote SB Nation's Jesus Gomez. "If that's the case, the Kings are better off keeping him."

The Kings owe the Chicago Bulls a top-10 protected pick, per RealGM, so Sacramento's motivation to finish the season strong extends beyond pride. It's tough to imagine anyone yielding something that presently helps more than Gay already is.

Verdict: Red Light

Atlanta Hawks Shopping Jeff Teague?

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 7:  Jeff Teague #0 and Dennis Schroder #17 of the Atlanta Hawks shake hands during the game against the Phoenix Suns on April 7, 2015 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks have one point guard ranked among the position's top 40 in ESPN.com's real plus-minus—and it's not longtime starter Jeff Teague.

Reserve Dennis Schroder sits 14th with a 0.95, ahead of the likes of Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo and Goran Dragic. Teague is down at No. 44 (minus-1.77), nestled in between Utah Jazz rookie Raul Neto and Brooklyn Nets journeyman Shane Larkin.

That may sound surprising to some, but frankly, it shouldn't. The Hawks have performed noticeably better at both ends of the floor when Schroder is at the helm.

With two capable creators and a lack of perimeter depth around them, Atlanta may need to deal from a position of strength to help shore up a weakness. That means choosing between Teague and Schroder. And, according to what sources told Yahoo Sports' Chris Mannix, it seems that decision may have already been made:

Chris Mannix @ChrisMannixYS

Hawks had been soliciting offers for Teague or Dennis Schroder, per rival execs. Though recently they have focused more on Teague.

Teague was an All-Star last season and the primary quarterback of a 60-win team. He's never quite been a great player, but he has a trustworthy track record of being a good one: 15.5 points on 44.5 percent shooting and 6.7 assists per game since the start of 2012-13.

Schroder, on the other hand, is far less predictable.

He's only in his third NBA season and just his second as a rotation regular. He's yet to prove himself as a shooter from the field (career 41.6 percent) or long distance (32.5), and he was recently benched for two straight games without explanation. On his off nights, he's erratic with both his shot selection and decision-making.

But the numbers are hard to ignore. Not only is Schroder having a greater on-court impact, but his per-36-minute marks are also almost identical to—and in some cases better thanTeague'sHe's younger (22 to 27), far cheaper ($2.7 million salary next season to Teague's $8 million) and constantly improving. Teague could be plateauing at a level that Schroder has possibly already reached.

The Per-36-Minute Production of ATL's Point Guards
CategoryJeff TeagueDennis Schroder
Source: Basketball-Reference.com

The Hawks don't have to make a deal. Among Eastern Conference teams, they're tied for fourth in winning percentage (.563) and fifth in net efficiency (plus-2.6 points per 100 possessions). Should the Cleveland Cavaliers stumble on their way to the NBA Finals, Atlanta is entrenched among the handful of teams poised to take advantage.

But, as ESPN.com's Zach Lowe put it, "it's starting to feel like the Jeff Teague-Dennis Schroder partnership is approaching its breaking point."

The Hawks could proactively address that issue while getting younger and more athletic at point and deeper at a different position. At the least, Atlanta has to examine all angles of this option.

Verdict: Green Light

Movement on Memphis Grizzlies' Wings?

MEMPHIS, TN - DECEMBER 14: Jeff Green #32 and Courtney Lee #5 of the Memphis Grizzlies during the game against the Washington Wizards on December 14, 2015 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by d
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Even as the workloads of franchise stables Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are reduced, the Memphis Grizzlies can still be basketball bullies. But their Groundhog Day-style run also includes the same problems that have plagued them in the past: inconsistent offense and team-wide shooting woes.

The Grizz, currently 27-20, are sporting bottom-third rankings in offensive efficiency (101.1, 24th), scoring (96.9, 26th), three-point makes (5.8, 27th) and long-range accuracy (33.3, 25th). An elite defense might overcome those deficiencies, but Memphis doesn't have one this season (15th in efficiency).

This team needs an offensive jolt. And it could try to scratch that itch by dangling a few of its perimeter players.

Stein explained:

Much like the Atlanta Hawks are doing with point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder, Memphis is doing the same with free agents-to-be Jeff Green and Courtney Lee.

Which is to say: not flat-out shopping them, but taking the temperature of the market for both players, because that's what you're supposed to do with players like Green and Lee, who can leave Memphis without compensation in a matter of months.

Lee has already been traded four times and donned five different jerseys during his eight-year career. He's good enough to help a contender but not skilled to the point of being untouchable. He should have some suitors but probably wouldn't fetch a substantial haul with his three ball having gone from good (40.2 percent last season) to mediocre (35.2).

Green's case is more interesting.

The No. 5 pick in 2007, Jeff Green has failed to sustain his brief glimpses of stardom.
The No. 5 pick in 2007, Jeff Green has failed to sustain his brief glimpses of stardom.Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

He's a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde kind of hooper. An explosive athlete, he can be an ignitable scorer and lights-out sniper. But he swings back and forth between good outings and quiet ones like a trapeze artist. To wit, he's had six games this season of 20-plus points and another seven where he failed to clear five.

Green's inconsistency has some different diagnoses. Some have questioned his aggressiveness. The same goes for his fit with some Grizzlies personnel. But the most damning of all reportedly came from inside Memphis' locker room.

"I was told, point blank, by a guy in that locker room who matters that Jeff doesn't care," Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal said in a recent podcast, via NBC Sports' Dan Feldman.

Would something like that sabotage Green's trade value? It certainly wouldn't help, but the damage shouldn't go that far. He still has an intriguing skill set and might be had for cheap as a short-term rental.

The question, then, becomes whether the fifth seed in the West could find a good enough return to justify dealing one (or two) key rotation players. We'll buy this rumor if the Grizzlies have reasonable expectations, sell it if they're asking for the moon.

Verdict: Yellow Light

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and current through games played Jan. 29. Contract information obtained via Basketball Insiders.

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