There are names guaranteed to change teams by the Thursday NBA trade deadline and they are: Ulysses Grant, Abe Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson and the ever-in-demand G-Wash.
The deadline is more about moving dead presidents than living players. It's a money game, especially with the restrictive rules of the salary cap set to kick in this summer. Almost everyone is trying to dump old money in order to afford new money and avoid paying the big money, as in luxury tax penalties.
For sure, a handful of teams will attempt to make deals to actually improve themselves on the floor. Sounds strange, I know. But unless a team is looking for a missing piece to gain an advantage for the playoffs, or a young up-and-comer to help push the restart button and aim for next season, Thursday will amount to a financial shell game, with everyone moving contracts and trying to gain fiscal leverage.
That said … plenty of discussion between now and 3 p.m. EST Thursday will focus on the following:
He's the hottest commodity on the market because he's good and young and cheap and the Clippers are willing and able to move him. That's an ideal combination. Bledsoe was unintentionally showcased the last few weeks when Chris Paul rested a sore knee and the bidding began. In 12 games as a starter Bledsoe averaged 14.2 points, 5.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds and a pair of steals. He's got a high gear and is freakishy athletic for someone 6-1. More good news: He's 23 and makes $1.7 million, a blue-chip bargain. Even though point guard is a stacked position right now in the league, he could start for a handful of teams or reprise the role he has with the Clippers as a quality, change-of-pace backup. The Clippers have Chauncey Billups to help at the point so Bledsoe is available, but only if they get a shooter or functional big man in return.
Spurred in San Antonio
Will the conservative Spurs pull a surprise to distance themselves from the other West contenders? By sitting Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili for generous stretches this season, Gregg Popovich showcased a few players and watched their value soar. Danny Green, in particular. The Spurs could package Green's salary with Stephen Jackson's and get front-line help. Remember, although the Spurs' bench is deep, teams tighten the rotation in the playoffs and so maybe those players lose value to the Spurs when April rolls in. Of course, when it's time to pull the trigger, Gregg Popovich could suddenly feel secure with the status quo and move on.
Big Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap?
The Jazz need to free up minutes for Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, so they'll move Jefferson or Millsap, whoever fetches the highest return. Both are big men with skills who can fit in most systems, and both are unrestricted free agents this summer. Obviously, anyone who wants either player must strongly believe they'll be able to re-sign him. That puts any suitor in a tough spot. When you make deals for pending free agents, you give them the sledgehammer in negotiations, because if you don't sign him, you're left with nothing to show for the trade. That's what happened to the Nets when they gave a No. 1 pick to the Blazers for Gerald Wallace at last year's deadline. They were forced to give Wallace a four-year, $40 million deal, even though his best years are clearly behind him. Oh, and that No. 1 pick turned out to be Damian Lillard.
The Mavericks and Bucks have decent players on the last year of their deals, which makes for attractive trade bait, and therefore these teams could be busy. Monta Ellis has an option next season for $11 million and Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent who's made it clear he'd like to play in a bigger market. In Dallas, Chris Kaman and O.J. Mayo are approaching free agency, while Vince Carter ($3 million next year) would represent a cheap pickup for someone. It all depends what direction Dallas and Milwaukee want to go. If the goal is to keep their caps as light as possible to buy a free agent this summer -- and it's not an attractive market -- then they'll pass.
He's a multi-skilled hybrid forward who can make you cheer one minute, curse the next. And as a free agent this summer, he believes he should get a max contract or close enough. It presents a dilemma: Do you grab Smith and push your payroll to the limit? Or pass on a player who'd upgrade your team considerably? Smith is still in his prime but one GM expressed an interesting fear about Smith, saying once his athletic ability starts to fade, he'll have to beat you with his brain. Bottom line is Smith is in demand and the Hawks, who are trying to gain even more cap flexibility and rebuild on the fly, aren't hanging up the phone. It wouldn't be a big surprise to see Hawks GM Danny Ferry trade Al Horford instead. Horford is owed three years and $36 million and his trade value will only drop from here. If Horford is traded the Hawks will have only have $6 million of committed salary next season and could position themselves to pay Smith and make a run at another hometown kid, Dwight Howard.
A winning streak in the wake of Rajon Rondo's knee injury has seemingly put to rest any notion of the Celtics trading Paul Pierce and/or Kevin Garnett. Danny Ainge, the GM, said he doesn't anticipate anything happening by Thursday, which means teams have offered next to nothing for Boston's two aging but proud stars. Besides, the Celtics are probably better off keeping them at least in the short term. They're climbing in the weak East and could avoid seeing Miami in the first round. It appears if Ainge does anything, it'll be a minor deal to enhance the backcourt with Leandro Barbosa also gone for the year.
Mitch Kupchak said Tuesday the Lakers are most likely sitting this one out. The only way they make a major deal is if Dwight Howard tells them at the 11th hour he won't sign this summer. The New York Post gossip page reported Howard mocked Kobe Bryant to other members of the West team at the All-Star Game. If there's truly a rift then Dwight will get kicked off the ship. Their relationship bears watching in the next 24 hours. Otherwise, the Lakers seem willing to roll the dice and keep the nucleus intact in order to make a playoff push. Pau Gasol would be likely trade bait because he's not a favorite of Mike D'Antoni. But he can't help another team until mid-April at the earliest because of his foot injury, and he's owed $19 million next season and not many teams can swallow that.
Another man's trash
The Bobcats want to dump Ben Gordon. Nobody wants Ben Gordon. That's a problem for Charlotte. In order to get another team to take a disgruntled, miserable and unloved player with declining skills and a $12 million contract for next season off their hands, they must take "trash" in return. Maybe in the form of a longer contract. Same goes for the Pistons and Charlie Villanueva ($8.5 million), the Raptors and Andrea Bargnani (two more years, $23 million) and the Heat and Joel Anthony (two years, $7.5 million) and Mike Miller (two years, $12.8 million). Unless those teams are willing to sweeten the pot in the form of a No. 1 pick or a young and cheap talent, they're probably stuck.
He's an unrestricted free agent this summer and again, without him giving assurances that he'll re-sign with anyone interested in him, it's a risk. But Redick might be the best value on the market after Bledsoe. He's only 28, a solid shooter who can either start or be a sixth man, and probably won't break the bank this summer. He can be an asset to a rebuilding team or a contender right now. Orlando is too busy trying to shed payroll to spend money in 2014 and hasn't shown a great interest in tying up Redick.
Derrick in demand?
Once again the Timberwolves have a high lottery pick who doesn't fit. They'd better move Derrick Williams now or else he could wind up as worthless to them as Wes Johnson, who was given away last summer. Williams hasn't shown much of a comfort level at either forward spot, and the more his flaws show, the less he'll fetch in a trade. That's why the situation is urgent for Minnesota. Now is the time because he's still young and cheap, and in today's NBA when it comes to trades, that's valuable.