This will be among the few NBA trade deadlines where teams are trying to find ways not to make a trade, instead of actively seeking trades.
The whole purpose of making a trade is to improve, right? Well, in the Year of the Tank, so many teams actually want to get worse. All of the old rules about finding a "missing piece" don't necessarily apply in a league where too many teams need more than one piece and aren't willing to sacrifice their most valuable asset -- a lottery pick -- to get it.
Will a few contending teams go on a raid and try to fish a decent player from among the teams in the tank next Thursday at the deadline? Yes, absolutely. Maybe the slumping Warriors or the Heat or the Blazers go this route. But if that means sending back a player with a big contract to a rebuilding team, that could be a deal-breaker.
There are three dates in every NBA year that qualify as talent grab-bags: trade deadline, draft, free agent signing period. This year, the trade deadline should involve the least amount of activity, as teams brace for a rich draft and a free agent summer that includes LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony among others.
Still, there will be movement next Thursday regardless, even if it's mild compared to trade deadlines in the past. Here, then, are 10 names and teams that could be trending at the deadline:
Joe Dumars. Feeling heat from above, Dumars whacked coach Maurice Cheeks after four months on the job, the eighth time since 2000 that Dumars fired a coach. But hiring Cheeks wasn't Dumars' most questionable move last summer; putting Josh Smith with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond was. That front line clashes like polka dots and stripes. Smith is being asked to play the role of small forward, which is exactly the position you least want him to fill, because he'll lapse into long-distance shooting. Yes, the front line is a mess from a chemistry standpoint. A clever and strong leader at point guard would be a big help, but the Pistons have Brandon Jennings.
So what's Dumars to do in order to make the playoffs? Trading Smith less than a year after giving him $54 million would reflect poorly on Dumars, so the more likely goner is Monroe, a restricted free agent this summer. Or maybe Pistons owner Tom Gores will ban Dumars from making any moves and replace the GM this summer. We'll see by the end of next week.
Pau Gasol. The tricky part about dealing Gasol is he makes $19 million and the Lakers must get a big salary in return. Why would the Lakers burden themselves and their salary cap with a clunker of a contract, even if the incoming player is fairly decent? Only Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash will have significant money on the books next season, so the smart move for the Lakers in order to maintain cap flexibility is to keep Gasol and let him walk this summer, unless someone offers expiring contracts and picks.
Rudy Gay. Doesn't it make sense to dump Rudy Gay from your team because your team instantly gets better? Hasn't history agreed with this? Didn't the Grizzlies figure this out and then the Raptors? So what are the Kings waiting for? Once they trade Rudy, making the playoffs is a cinch. That's how it works, right?
Maybe the Kings, who are no better off with Gay than they were without him -- just look at the record -- added him to destroy the confidence of first-round pick Ben McLemore. Because, you know, it's working.
Eric Gordon. He was trade bait the moment the Pelicans (foolishly) matched the $56 million offer sheet from Phoenix two years ago, and remains trade bait now. The problem is nobody in the NBA is desperate for a guard who's often injured, doesn't appear to have a true position and disappears for long stretches. Gordon would be perfect at $8 million a season, not $13 million.
So what do the Pelicans do? Well, rather than get a bad contract in return, or sweeten any Gordon deal with a throw-in (draft pick, young player), it's best to sit tight once again and write this one off as a loss. After giving Tyreke Evans a big deal last summer, only to see him get lost in the shuffle, the Pelicans are becoming experts at over-valuing players.
Jeff Green. Aside from Rajon Rondo, who doesn't appear to be on the block, Green is the Celtic with the best trade value, which isn't saying much. There could be some interest in Green, a player who's making a reasonable salary ($8 million) and can occasionally look solid on both ends of the floor.
But what do the Celtics need at this point? Danny Ainge has managed to stockpile draft picks from the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett deal with Brooklyn, and nobody will give away a promising young player of any substance for Green. It makes no sense for Boston to trade Jeff Green and get a Jeff Green-like player in return.
Daryl Morey. He's the general manager most likely to make a deal, not because the Rockets are in dire need of anything, but because dealing is just in his blood. He's made at least one deal either at the trade deadline or the draft every year he's been on the job.
Actually, the Rockets do have someone they'd rather jettison, but does anyone really want Omer Asik? Finally healthy after missing most of the season, but still emotionally bruised by the Dwight Howard addition, Asik wants a new address but Morey won't just give away a 7-footer who rebounds and occasionally plays good defense.
If Morey can find an even swap (Asik for JaVale McGee, Anderson Varejao, Nik Pekovic or someone like them), maybe a deal gets done if only to get rid of the Asik attitude. The player Morey wants is Paul Millsap from the Hawks. Danny Ferry, call on Line One.
The Sixers. Of all the teams in tank mode, Philly has the best chance to totally bottom out, because the Sixers can trade Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and/or Thad Young and it would be the right thing to do, provided the price is right.
Hawes is a functional, low-risk center who'd be a solid backup on a contender and is also an unrestricted free agent this summer. Turner is on the last year of his rookie deal, and the Sixers, who didn't extend him a contract offer at the deadline, don't appear inclined to keep him (although they do have an option year). If either player can fetch something decent in return, the Sixers will be all ears.
Young is a tougher call, because he's still needed in Philly, but hasn't had a breakout year yet, and the Sixers are wondering if he ever will.
Masai Ujiri. He dumped Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay, the Raptors' two most problematic players, in about five minutes after taking the GM job. So don't put anything past the reigning executive of the year.
Ujiri will have to think long and hard about this trade deadline, though. With the Raptors gunning for a rare playoff spot, even if it's in the dreadful East, does he dare break up the good times? The only reason to do that is to join the Tankapalooza party, but the Raptors at this point are too far gone in the standings for that. So it appears Kyle Lowry is safe. But check back Thursday, just to be sure.
Dion Waiters. Whether the friction between Waiters and Kyrie Irving is more fiction than real, there's no question he's the reason the Cavs took a pass on Victor Oladipo in the draft and took Anthony Bennett instead. Waiters showed lots of moxie as a rookie, and the Cavs, somewhat understandably, figured they were set in the backcourt for the near future at least. But then something happened and, for whatever reason, Waiters took on a diva-like personality.
If the Cavs aren't feeling the Waiters-Irving relationship, they could cut the cord now, although Waiters does have intriguing talent and the Cavs would regret it if they didn't get equal value in return.
The Warriors. They went from Everybody's Darling last spring in the playoffs to Everyone's Underachiever (at least in the West) over the past month. Owner Joe Lacob told the San Jose Mercury News that coach Mark Jackson should feel a little pressure, if only to get the troops back on the fast track. That said, maybe the personnel is the problem. Are the Warriors built to last, or do they need a tweaking?
When they added Andre Iguodala, it came at the expense of Harrison Barnes, who saw his playing time and importance to the rotation affected. The Warriors would find a robust market for Barnes, a young and cheap player who, in the right setting, could be a solid small forward. But nobody will surrender a dynamic player for him, obviously, and a pick that falls into the middle of the first round might not be enough for the Warriors.
A year ago the Warriors were taking calls for David Lee and his large ($13 million per) contract but, without depth on the front line, their price tag for Lee is probably too high at this point.