So close yet so far is the sentiment surrounding the NBA trade market at the moment, whether it’s regarding Dec. 15 or the teams who feel they’re one piece away.
Dec. 15 marks the first day franchises are able to make trades involving players signed as free agents in the previous summer of that cap year, which opens up a whole bunch of combinations in trades that were previously off limits.
This season, the hottest name under that umbrella is 33-year-old veteran Trevor Ariza—currently with the Suns on a one-year, $15 million deal signed in July.
Here's the latest buzz on Ariza as well as rumors swirling around J.R. Smith and the Pelicans' increased activity.
Will Ariza become LeBron's latest piece?
To start this week, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Los Angeles Lakers were trying to acquire Ariza from the Suns and eyeing a third team to bring into the agreement to take on 25-year-old guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
"Caldwell-Pope has veto power on a trade, but the Lakers have shown an ability to work with his agent, Rich Paul, if there's a deal that might increase his role and possibly get him signed to a deal this summer with a new team, league sources said. Caldwell-Pope is on a one-year, $12 million contract."
Caldwell-Pope is off limits until Saturday, like Ariza. As the week has progressed, varying reports have emerged about the imminence of a deal involving Ariza and Caldwell-Pope. On Wednesday, new layers emerged for both Ariza and Caldwell-Pope's markets—linked and apart.
Lakers reporter Brad Turner tweeted that the team will not make Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma or Josh Hart available to the Suns in exchange for Ariza. The tweet also said that the Suns have turned down a three-team proposal, and the Houston Rockets are another team who have checked in on Caldwell-Pope.
Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium backed up Turner by reporting on his own that the Rockets are "emerging as a suitor" for Caldwell-Pope. Both Charania and Turner stated that no deal is imminent for either player.
Ariza is recognised for his defense, which makes the Lakers an interesting suitor seeing as they are ranked a respectable eighth overall in defensive rating. That said, LeBron has made L.A. a sweet spot for hodgepodge, and an extra capable body to substitute in when he needs rest is appealing in itself.
Caldwell-Pope has only started in three games this season—appearing in 27—and is averaging 21.6 minutes per game while shooting 2.3 rebounds and 8.6 points per game. While Ariza has started and appeared in 25 games this season, his offensive numbers aren't much better: 3.3 rebounds and 9.8 points per game on 37 percent shooting from the field.
Ultimately, Ariza's reliability and proven stability over a 14-year NBA career gives him a significant edge over an underperforming Caldwell-Pope—the No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Come Saturday, it seems safe to assume both of these players will be on the move, even if it's not totally clear where.
Not for nothing: Ariza was a Laker from from 2007-08 and again in the 2008-09 season, when he won his only NBA championship.
Pelicans trying to keep The Brow happy
The upcoming free agent class is the most vastly star-studded in recent memory, and it includes Pelicans All-Star big man Anthony Davis. It would make sense, then, that the franchise is reported to be active in the trade market in order to keep their franchise player happy in New Orleans.
ESPN's Brian Windhorst has reported the Pelicans as one of a few teams "calling around for ways to upgrade their rosters," explaining further:
"The Pelicans, who put in an offer for Jimmy Butler, are feeling the pressure to convince Anthony Davis to sign an extension next summer. They own their first-round pick, and general manager Dell Demps has routinely been willing to trade firsts for instant help in the past. That alone gives them a good chance to get an impact player for the second half if they're so inclined."
New Orleans sits at an even 15-15 on the season with Davis leading the team in blocks per game (2.2), points per game (27.4) and rebounds per game (12.2). Outside of Davis, point guard Jrue Holiday has been a highlight.
Injuries have bugged the Pelicans, with Elfrid Payton out and Nikola Mirotic day-to-day. Even healthy, though, one can't expect Davis to be inclined to stay in New Orleans as currently constructed—especially with Rich Paul as his agent, regardless of early denial that his choice in agent means anything.
J.R. Smith linked to the Rockets
On the surface, this makes no sense. The Rockets are a poor defensive team trying to unload Carmelo Anthony—a pure shooter—and are now linked to J.R. Smith, another pure shooter.
Marc Stein of The New York Times has reported that the Rockets' interest is just "exploratory," and The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor noted that the Pelicans have also expressed interest.
Kevin O'Connor @KevinOConnorNBA
Nice forward-thinking move for the Bucks. They clear $19.1M in cap (Hill's salary is guaranteed for just $1M), which creates cap flexibility in 2019—a variable amount dependent on what happens with Middleton. They must add talent to maximize this core with Giannis. Now they can. https://t.co/8CGz6Ya7u0
As Windhorst reported:
"It's well known the Cleveland Cavs are in sell mode, having already dealt Kyle Korver and George Hill. They're also trying their best to find someone to take JR Smith. There's a decent chance Rodney Hood and Alec Burks, whom the Cavs got for Korver, could also end up moving. They lead the sellers list."
As for the Rockets, head coach Mike D'Antoni expressed last month his concern over his team's lack of depth. If nothing else, Smith provides that.
But ESPN Insider Bobby Marks, appearing on The Woj Pod in late November, suggested everyone pump the brakes on Smith trades:
"I think he's got more value after the season, if you are team looking to move money to clear cap space, because he has a partial (guarantee for 2019-20). He's making $15 million right now. There's not that many $15 million guys that, if you're Cleveland, do you want to take on money next year?"
Only one thing is certain: in a world where Nick "Swaggy P" Young is now happily a Denver Nugget, anything is possible.