LOS ANGELES — If NBA franchises spend the first few months of the season getting a feel for where they stand in Act I, we're currently in Act II as teams reach out to see what's available on the trade market. They're negotiating, but rarely to a deal.
Too many clubs remain close enough to a playoff berth that the true buyers and sellers are unclear. The Memphis Grizzlies (16-22) were supposed to be a postseason afterthought, but Ja Morant (presumptive Rookie of the Year) has his squad in ninth place in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, only six teams in the East have winning records.
Still, the deadline creeps closer and closer, and the denouement will come in Act III on Feb. 6. Decisions that have yet to be made will need to come before long, and inklings of what might take place have begun to leak.
While the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers recently swapped point guards (Dante Exum for Jordan Clarkson), most trades don't go through until right before the deadline. For now, teams are posturing and poking around to see how to best improve—unreasonably so.
"Everybody is always searching for picks," one Western Conference executive said. "The asking price for anyone right now is too high."
If Act II starts out with high expectations, Act III crescendos with teams rushing to get the best possible deal done.
Boston: Is It Gordon Hayward or Marcus Smart?
The Boston Celtics (25-10) are one of the top teams in the league, but in December, one executive acknowledged they face a size gap, especially when matched up against the Milwaukee Bucks (33-6), Philadelphia 76ers (24-14) and, ideally (to Boston), the Los Angeles Lakers (30-7).
Earlier in the month, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Detroit Pistons were shopping Andre Drummond. Soon after, Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill added the Celtics were one of the teams with interest in the All-Star center:
While Danilo Gallinari of the Oklahoma City Thunder isn't a power player, he's a legitimate scorer at 6'10", and he's another guy Boston has monitored, per an NBA source.
It's unclear if the Celtics are going to trigger a deal, but Drummond and Gallinari are not inexpensive players, and Boston isn't likely to afford both when landing one will take significant outgoing salary. Drummond is earning $27.1 million this season and has an 8 percent trade bonus in his contract (which he can waive). While he is technically under contract next season at $28.8 million, he's widely expected to opt out of his deal to either re-sign with the Pistons or explore free agency.
Gallinari is being pursued by several teams, including the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors. He's in the final year of his contract at $22.6 million, and Boston would need to send out at least $17.6 million to match Gallinari's salary. The C's would need to trade out at least $21.6 million to land Drummond.
That's not easy, especially if you believe they're not willing to trade Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown or Kemba Walker.
But what about Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart?
Boston can't get to the Gallinari number with its next four highest-paid players combined (Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, Romeo Langford and Vincent Poirier). And Drummond? Not anywhere in the ballpark.
Hayward could work for either one, though the Pistons have an internal mandate not to go over the luxury-tax line, and they're too close to absorb the difference between Drummond and Hayward's $32.8 million contract. Like Drummond, Hayward can also opt out before the 2020-21 season.
Boston would have to include other considerations—draft pick(s) and/or young players—and Detroit would need to include someone else on its roster to stay under the tax. Would it be Derrick Rose?
Rose, formerly represented by Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem, isn't likely to be moved unless he specifically requested a trade internally. To date, there's no sense Rose is looking to make a change, despite the Pistons losing Blake Griffin (knee) for what could be the season.
A deal for Drummond built around Smart's $12.1 million salary this season wouldn't be easy for Boston. The Celtics would need to add another $10 million in salary, which would probably have to start with either Theis or Kanter (along with other young players).
For the Thunder, Hayward could be problematic financially, given he earns over $10 million more than Gallinari. They will be paying repeater taxes this season if they can't get below the $132.6 million luxury-tax line, and they're unlikely to take on Hayward without including an injured Andre Roberson (knee).
Smart (and other player(s) earning just over $5 million) for Gallinari is easier to fashion, but do the Thunder want to invest long term in another guard when they already have Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder?
The Celtics are media-savvy—they're likely to downplay any potential moves to protect their players—but looking at the math along with the Drummond and Gallinari buzz, Hayward appears to be the bait if Boston does make that type of move.
Pacers May Have a Guard Available
With Victor Oladipo ready to make a return near the end of the month and Malcolm Brogdon one of the offseason's greatest acquisitions, more than one competing executive believes the Indiana Pacers will put one of their two backup point guards on the market: TJ McConnell or Aaron Holiday.
Both are regulars in the rotation, playing 23.8 (Holiday) and 18.8 (McConnell) minutes per game, but with Oladipo in the lineup, that depth may be a luxury. McConnell is under contract for this season and next at $3.5 million each, although next year's salary is only $1 million guaranteed. Holiday is in the second year of his rookie-scale contract at $2.2 million.
Buzz on Davis Bertans, Teams Seeking to Shed Salary
- Several teams would like Davis Bertans, but the Washington Wizards are very fond of him—not just as a shooter but as a veteran and even as a defender.
- Teams to keep a close eye on at the deadline include the New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks and Thunder.
- The Portland Trail Blazers, Miami Heat, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and Thunder are all in the tax, and history shows teams will do what they can to get under via trade. The Rockets may be able to get under with Nene missing out on his contract incentives.
- Other teams say Miami would like to get under by moving Dion Waiters and James Johnson, but neither is a desirable acquisition.
Lakers Called the Kings, or the Kings Called the Lakers?
The recent Kyle Kuzma-for-Bogdan Bogdanovic rumor is a stark example of conflicting information hitting the media. Hall of Famer Marc Stein of the New York Times tweeted:
Meanwhile, another excellent journalist, Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times, soon after wrote, "Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka initiated a call with Sacramento to gauge the Kings' interest in Kuzma."
While those statements are not mutually exclusive, Stein's report suggests the Kings are the aggressors, while Ganguli's intimates it's the Lakers.
Which slant is more accurate? That's an important question with the deadline less than a month away.
Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.