Most NBA teams have done their heavy offseason lifting by August, but there are still a handful of players who could be on the move as potential trade targets or free-agent signings.
The Sacramento Kings may trade veteran Rudy Gay, the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t finalized their roster yet and Emeka Okafor could serve as a late-season addition for a contender.
The league-altering rumors of early summer (see: Kevin Durant or Al Horford) have died down, but players such as Gay or J.R. Smith can swing a postseason chase with hot shooting and timely scoring. With that in mind, here is the latest speculation from around the Association.
Kings Reportedly Shopping Rudy Gay
The Kings already made a major change this offseason when they added head coach Dave Joerger after he led the Memphis Grizzlies to the postseason three straight years.
According to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, the team is now “active in the trade market trying not only to trade out awkward fitting pieces, but also trying to right the ship in terms of personalities that may not be totally bought into the plan.”
As a result, Gay’s name has popped up in trade rumors “for weeks,” even though he can be an unrestricted free agent following the 2016-17 season, per Kyler.
However, Kyler cautioned that there are some obstacles impacting any hypothetical trade involving Gay, including the fact the Kings would likely have to eat some of the $13.3 million he is owed next season. What’s more, the value is a question mark because any team that traded for Gay would essentially be landing a one-year rental.
While there may be chemistry and value concerns with Gay at this point of his career, the 29-year-old is a dangerous scorer who can stretch the floor and create openings for teammates.
He averaged 17.2 points per game last season and a career-high 21.1 a night in 2014-15, and he is a career 34.4 percent shooter from three-point range. Gay is also fairly consistent and scored in double figures in each of the last nine seasons.
Gay has played in only seven postseason games (all in 2011-12 with the Grizzlies), but he averaged 19 points per night in those contests. The Kings appear to be heading in a different direction, but Gay could be an offensive asset for a potential contender looking for another scorer in its title pursuit.
Even if it is as a rental player.
Cavaliers Still Working on Deal for J.R. Smith
The Cavaliers will enter the 2016-17 season as the defending champions, but they still haven’t settled on a deal with one of their critical pieces from the title run.
According to Kyler, Smith will likely be a Cavalier this year despite the fact he still hasn’t signed a new contract. Kyler said “there is a continued sense from league and Cavalier insiders that a new agreement is going to happen” and noted Smith’s camp wasn’t particularly concerned.
Kyler cited league sources who said there was “a belief that the Cavs have put a multiyear offer in the $10 million per year neighborhood. … Smith and his advisors have been looking for a slightly bigger offer and that waiting things out was simply about leverage.”
What’s more, signing Smith and LeBron James will lock Cleveland into the luxury tax and limit future roster moves. Kyler wrote, “It just might not happen until closer to camp once the Cavaliers are sure there isn’t another roster move to be made.”
Smith previously played for the then-New Orleans Hornets, Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks but appeared to find a home in Cleveland last season. Given Kyler’s update and Smith’s overall production, it would be surprising if he donned any other uniform in 2016-17.
Smith averaged 12.4 points per game and shot 40 percent from three-point range last season. He bolstered that long-range percentage to 43 in the postseason as he took advantage of openings created by James and Kyrie Irving. He and the Cavaliers have to finalize what appears to be an inevitable deal before he does that again in defense of the title.
Emeka Okafor Eyes a Contender
According to Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.com, Okafor “has decided to attempt a comeback with an eye toward joining a ‘contending team’ in December or January. … League sources said last season he spoke with Cleveland, Miami and Golden State before deciding to delay his return.”
Okafor’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, said Okafor is “probably five or six months away” and is “working hard rehabbing,” per MacMullan.
Okafor hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since the 2012-13 campaign with the Washington Wizards. MacMullan said he suffered a herniated disk in his neck and also had back surgery in college.
The health concerns are prevalent, but Okafor has an impressive resume that is sure to catch the eye of a contender if and when he is ready to return. He entered the league as the No. 2 pick in 2004 after an impressive collegiate career at Connecticut as a consensus First Team All-American and national champion.
He won the 2004-05 Rookie of the Year award and a bronze medal as part of the 2004 United States Olympic team, and he was a two-way force in his prime. Okafor averaged double-figure scoring totals in each of his first seven seasons and double-digit rebounds in each of his first five. What’s more, he sports a career mark of 1.7 blocks per game.
Okafor will be 34 years old this season and averaged a career-low 9.7 points per game in 2012-13. He wouldn’t be the same impact player he once was in any comeback. However, the 6’10” veteran could be a defensive presence with his shot-blocking ability and rebounding skills.
He also wouldn’t be asked to carry the load as a primary scorer on a contending team and could serve as a valuable piece off the bench for a squad like the Warriors (who lost Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights from the frontcourt this offseason).
Okafor could be just the piece a contender needs to push toward the postseason in the second half.