The Sports Xchange, Published February 18 2014
Timberwolves face upcoming trade deadline, but don't expect major move
The trade deadline is Thursday, and numerous players figure to change teams as contenders look to bolster their rosters and pretenders turn their sights to the future.
The Sports Xchange asked its NBA correspondents for their projections as the trade deadline approaches. Here are the team-by-team responses:
The Wolves enter the post-break portion of the schedule in a tenuous position. Three games under .500, they are not out of playoff contention, but realistically don't have a great chance either. One thing is certain: president of basketball operations Flip Saunders is not going to make a major move at the trade deadline. None of the Big Three - forward Kevin Love, center Nikola Pekovic and point guard Ricky Rubio - is going anywhere, at least not now. Indeed, if a trade is made, the most likely pieces to go would be backup forward Dante Cunningham and backup point guard J.J. Barea. Cunningham has an expiring contract and is able to defend at both the 4 and 5 positions. Barea could be useful to a playoff-bound team looking for scoring off the bench.
The Celtics hit the trade deadline as a rebuilding team, which means anything is possible. This is a roster that seemingly has no one labeled as untouchable. Point guard Rajon Rondo was named team captain, but that likely does not mean a thing. The Atlanta Hawks were said to be hot after forward Jeff Green, and veterans like swingman Gerald Wallace and forward Kris Humphries could be attractive to a contender. General manager Danny Ainge will be busy on the phone, and the roster could look a lot different after Feb. 20.
Due to the combination of playing much better after the turn of the new year (14-5 in 2014) and being handcuffed by a $101 million cap hit, the Nets are highly unlikely to make a move at the trade deadline. Even though center Brook Lopez is out for the remainder of the season with a foot injury, the current Nets will probably be the same veteran team vying for home-court advantage in the postseason.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Even though the Knicks underachieved in the first half of the season, they are still in the hunt for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Still, they are nowhere near championship contenders, leaving them in a bit of an in-between area when it comes to buying or selling. Forward Carmelo Anthony will be a free agent this summer, and the thinking is he is not going anywhere. He will wait for a rich, long-term offer from the Knicks. Guard Iman Shumpert is the most likely Knick to be shipped out. His game regressed since he earned all-rookie first-team honors in 2011-12.
The Sixers are expected to be sellers at the Feb. 20 deadline, and the veteran most likely to be dealt is guard/forward Evan Turner, the team's leading scorer at 17.5 points a game. ESPN.com recently reported that the Bobcats are the most likely suitor, and Charlotte might be willing to part with the first-round draft pick the 76ers crave. Other teams reportedly are in the mix for Turner, too, and there figures to be interest in center Spencer Hawes and forward Thaddeus Young as well.
A team that supposedly went in the tank by trading forward Rudy Gay in December made itself a playoff contender by going 21-12 since the deal. And that is the problem. Do the Raptors risk disrupting the strong team chemistry that developed during the recent run by making a deal for a needed big man, or do they leave things alone and let the young group continue to develop? A deal at this stage likely would be a minor one, a tweak for a team that is still a work in progress.
The Bulls have a plan to retool the roster, but none of it involves making a trade at the deadline. First of all, they are trying to stay below the luxury tax and have a small cushion of roughly $600,000, so they are not likely to take on any salary. They also do not have many spare parts. The Bulls conceivably could dump a player like forward Mike Dunleavy, but he is signed through next season at $3 million, a relative bargain. It makes more sense to keep Dunleavy around for what they hope is a more successful return of point guard Derrick Rose. Look for the Bulls to stick with the plan of using the amnesty clause on forward Carlos Boozer this summer to open cap room. Maybe New York Knocks small forward Carmelo Anthony becomes a target, but the more likely addition is 6-foot-10 Real Madrid sharpshooter Nikola Mirotic, whose rights they acquired on draft night in 2011.
Cavaliers acting general manager David Griffin promises to be a buyer and not a seller at the trade deadline. The roster could use some tinkering if Cleveland, currently three games out of a playoff position, is to make a push in 2014. A couple of players who might be on the move are point guard Jarrett Jack and forward Luol Deng. An unrestricted free agent after the season, Deng was acquired from the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 7. He doesn't appear to be interested in signing an extension with the Cavaliers.
The Pistons made it clear throughout the summer they were determined to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09. That goal was reinforced Feb. 7 when coach Mo Cheeks was fired after just 50 games. Detroit has a glaring deficiency -- outside shooting. It ranks last in 3-point shooting, which has created major spacing problems. The club resisted overtures for power forward Greg Monroe, a restricted free agent, and would need to a minor miracle to shed forward Josh Smith's four-year, $54 million deal. The most likely scenario is trading forward Charlie Villanueva's expiring contract for a perimeter shooter.
The East-leading Pacers already picked up one player -- center Andrew Bynum -- who could give their bench a completely different offensive dimension with his post play. However, Indiana remains willing to pursue something else. With reserves Danny Granger and C.J. Watson struggling from outside, the missing piece to Indiana's championship aspirations could be a long-range sniper who doesn't demand a lot of touches. Kyle Lowry, enjoying a career year in Toronto, has been mentioned in conjunction with the Pacers, although he is much more than a shooter. A team more desperate than Indiana for Lowry's point guard skills is likely to make the winning offer. As for Granger, the question marks surrounding his future -- his contract is up after the season -- make it difficult to deal him now. Also, Granger's salary is big enough to make matching contracts difficult, especially if the Pacers want value in return.
The Bucks are almost guaranteed to finish with the worst record in the NBA this season, but general manager John Hammond still faces some tough decisions as the deadline approaches. Without a doubt, Hammond would love to deal reserve guard Gary Neal, who signed a two-year guaranteed contract worth about $6 million over the summer but has played sparingly this season. Veteran forward Caron Butler was limited by injury, but he and his expiring contract could be of value to a contender. Center Larry Sanders, a non-factor since signing a $44 million deal last summer, might draw some interest, but the Bucks aren't ready to pull the plug just yet. Forward Ersan Ilyasova, in the second year of a five-year, $40 million deal, is enduring an up-and-down season. He, too, could draw some interest for teams looking for frontcourt help.
The Hawks aren't looking to move point guard Jeff Teague, but it is a possibility if they get a strong offer. Atlanta matched a four-year offer that Teague received from the Milwaukee Bucks last summer, but management has been less-than-sold by his lack of consistency. Example: He scored two against the Miami Heat on Jan. 20 and had 23 against the Orlando Magic on Jan. 22. Teague, who averages 15.7 points and 7.3 assists, was yanked late in the third quarter against the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 4 and did not return. In the seven games since Jan. 24, Teague scored more than 12 points only once. However, unless Atlanta gets a point guard in return, the team would be dependent on Shelvin Mack and rookie Dennis Schroder should Teague be moved, hardly an enviable scenario.
Coach Steve Clifford insists that the Bobcats are always looking for ways to improve the team, and the club has a history of making minor deals at the trade deadline. However, don't expect any major transactions. Charlotte has a game plan for building piece by piece, so the next moves would come with the selection of three first-round draft picks next summer. The Bobcats gladly would part with guard Ben Gordon to any team that needs a veteran scorer, and they could use some perimeter scoring punch in return. The nucleus of center Al Jefferson, point guard Kemba Walker, shooting guard Gerald Henderson, forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and center Cody Zeller will remain intact, and several of the role players, particularly forwards Josh McRoberts and Anthony Tolliver, are playing too well for Charlotte to consider dealing them.
The Heat already made a slight roster adjustment, acquiring backup combo guard Toney Douglas in a three-way trade last month that sent center Joel Anthony to the Boston Celtics. The move saved Miami a significant amount of money on the luxury tax. Never put any further moves past team president Pat Riley, but the sense is that he is satisfied with the roster -- the Heat are the two-time defending NBA champions after all. In addition to the Douglas move, oft-injured center Greg Oden can be viewed as a deadline-day acquisition. The talented 7-footer was acquired in August but did not make his debut until Jan. 15. He is a player the Heat are being very careful with, and Miami's hope is that he will be ready when it needs him -- in an Eastern Conference showdown with the Indiana Pacers and their 7-footer, Roy Hibbert.
In the early stages of their rebuilding process, the Magic will be listening closely to anyone interested in veterans like guard Jameer Nelson, center Glen Davis and forward Arron Afflalo. They made no secret of their desire to land more draft picks and create more salary-cap room for this summer and next. Afflalo, who is having his best NBA season, is catching the attention of several teams vying for playoff position.
Sitting sixth in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards are on track to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. There is a move or two out there to keep them on course if not pick up the pace, though they probably would be relatively minor tweaks. The Wizards previously shipped a first-round pick for center Marcin Gortat, while the strong performance of forward Trevor Ariza, a potential trade asset, is making it impossible to send him elsewhere. Picking up an additional backcourt ball-handler would be helpful, as would acquiring a "stretch 4" in case injured Al Harrington cannot return to full strength.
The Mavericks don't have particularly strong trade assets in terms of players or a 2014 first-round draft pick to deal, so they are not going to be buyers, at least not for an impact player who could give them a power boost into the top four of the Western Conference. Team officials remain adamant that they are not interested in dealing veteran forward Shawn Marion or swingman Vince Carter as long as they are in contention for a playoff spot. Marion is a valuable jack-of-all trades, and Carter is the Mavericks' best scoring threat off the bench.
With the Rockets seemingly committed to keeping center Omer Asik through the end of the season despite his reluctance to serve as the backup to Dwight Howard, their most likely target at the trade deadline is a two-way wing player. Forward Omri Casspi and swingman Francisco Garcia haven't provided exceptional 3-point shooting, hitting 35.5 and 34.4 percent from behind the arc, respectively, leaving the Rockets craving additional bench scoring. Someone who could shoot from the perimeter and also attack the rim while providing decent defense would be a boon to the Rockets' postseason hopes.
If the Grizzlies were going to make some sort of deal before the trade deadline, they probably would have considered parting with backup center Kosta Koufos or reserve forward Ed Davis. But starting center Marc Gasol re-injured his left knee in the last game before the All-Star break, and an earlier MCL injury already cost Gasol 23 games. Gasol was due to get an MRI over the break, so Memphis won't want to part with any frontline players. It still would be nice have more insurance at point guard, but starter Mike Conley (sprained right ankle) is expected to be ready for the second half, and rookie Nick Calathes played surprisingly well in his place after struggling earlier in the season. The Grizzlies pulled the trigger on a deal for shooting guard Courtney Lee in January, and Lee is providing perimeter scoring punch and solid defense.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
With the preseason acquisitions of point guard Jrue Holiday and shooting guard Tyreke Evans and the expected improvement of power forward Anthony Davis, the Pelicans hoped to be a borderline playoff team in the West. An avalanche of injuries squashed those hopes, but at least they provided shooting guard Eric Gordon more minutes to shop his wares. Gordon probably won't be dealt before the trade deadline, but he might be moved in the offseason because the Pelicans do not have a 2014 draft pick -- unless they luck into a protected top-5 spot in the lottery, which would prevent that pick going to the 76ers in this year's draft.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The Big Three -- forward Tim Duncan and guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili -- tie up most of the salary cap, limiting the Spurs' maneuverability. In addition, Ginobili (left hamstring), Parker (right shin), center Tiago Spliter (sprained right shoulder), guard Danny Green (fractured finger), forward Kawhi Leonard (non-displaced foot fracture) and forward Matt Bonner (nasal fracture) all were sidelined a period of time this season, forcing the Spurs to go with 23 different starting lineups in 53 games. Despite all the injuries, the Spurs own a 38-15 record at the break, second best in the West. For San Antonio, the goal is to get players out of the training room and onto the court -- not onto the trade market.
The broken rib point guard Ty Lawson suffered Feb. 7 showed once again the Nuggets are thin at point guard -- and short of players. Denver was blown out in each of the four games leading up to the All-Star break, allowing an average of 119.7 points. Despite the dearth of point guards, the Nuggets need to move estranged point guard Andre Miller, who hasn't been around the team since his sideline tirade on Jan. 1. Denver is a seller at this point and needs to find a way to resolve the Miller dilemma and add some depth to the bench. That could mean throwing someone else in the deal, like forwards Quincy Miller or Jordan Hamilton, to get something done. With forward Danilo Gallinari out for the year and center JaVale McGee unlikely to be effective when and if he comes back, Denver's front office could shake up the roster for the final stretch.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Thunder seem pretty set with their lineup. They took the best record in the NBA into the All-Star break despite not having their second-best player for the majority of the season. Even so, Oklahoma City could use some roster reinforcements, and it possesses some money to spend under the luxury tax. If there is one area the Thunder might look to improve, it is a consistent outside shooter off the bench, but it is doubtful that player will arrive via trade this month.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Portland's prime backup at the 4 and 5 positions, Joel Freeland, will be lost for four to six weeks with an MCL sprain of his right knee suffered in Tuesday night's 98-95 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. That leaves second-year pros Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson as the principal reserves at forward and center. General manager Neil Olshey surely would love to bolster a bench that reaps the fewest points in the NBA (albeit with the fewest minutes). Problem is, the Blazers don't have a draft pick this year to trade (both were moved), and NBA rules prohibit trading a first-round pick in successive years, so next year's No. 1 pick is out, too. Perhaps the 7-foot-1 Leonard could be a centerpiece in a deal, though his stock certainly didn't rise with his play this year. The Blazers desperately need a veteran big who can defend and score a little.
"Flexibility" is a word Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey invokes quite often. Heading into the trade deadline and the next offseason, that will be the mantra he uses while trying to acquire assets to bolster the team's future. Utah has nearly $32 million tied up in forwards Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams, center Andris Biedrins and guard Brandon Rush, and it would be plausible for the Jazz's wheeling-and-dealing to focus around their expiring deals. Utah picked up two future first-round picks last summer from the Golden State Warriors, and those selections could be packaged to bring in a piece to fit with the Jazz's young cornerstone players, point guards Trey Burke, shooting guards Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks, and centers Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. One thing is for sure: Lindsey's phone will be ringing off its charger leading up to the deadline.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
When the Warriors traded quantity (players, expiring contracts and draft picks) for quality (swingman Andre Iguodala) in the offseason, they did so with the postseason in mind. They are not about to make a significant move at the trade deadline just because the regular season was predictably a bit rocky. Having added Iguodala to a lineup that already was good enough to make the final four in the West last season, Warriors coach Mark Jackson believes his starting five is as good as any in the league. He looks forward to testing that belief in the playoffs, where stars shine and benches shrink. Could the Warriors use more depth to pave a smoother path to the postseason? Sure. Would they deal a frontline player in order to get deeper, thus basically reversing the logic of the Iguodala acquisition? That makes no sense.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Clippers toyed with the idea of adding center Andrew Bynum before the Indiana Pacers scooped him up. As much as they could use a big man off the bench, they may just have to settle for Ryan Hollins to fill the bill since the pickings are slim on the free agent market. Hollins isn't an idea replacement when center DeAndre Jordan needs a blow, but he is a better alternative than Byron Mullens, a bust who rarely gets off the bench.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The Lakers could help themselves by dealing forward Pau Gasol or risk losing him as a free agent at season's end and receive nothing. The Phoenix Suns seemed like an idea trading partner, but the Suns believed Lakers' management wanted too much, refusing to take a late first-round pick for the 7-footer. The fact that Gasol missed the final five games before the All-Star break did nothing to help his trade value. Before getting hurt, he scored at least 20 points and grabbed at least nine rebounds in 10 consecutive games.
The Suns have $5 million in cap space and the $14.4 million expiring contract of injured center Emeka Okafor -- which is also covered by insurance to the tune of $5.7 million to any team that owns it at the trade deadline. Phoenix would like to pick up an inside player who is good defensively around the basket and offensively in the half court. They kicked the tires on forward Pau Gasol but want someone early in his career who can grow with their young nucleus. If they can't land someone the caliber of forward Kevin Love, they will go with what they have, save the money on Okafor themselves and try their luck in the playoffs since they didn't expect to be anywhere near the postseason this year.
The Kings are going nowhere fast in the Western Conference, but they are making strides. Coach Michael Malone continues his assault on establishing a defensive culture in the locker room, meaning that pretty much anyone can be had in a deal, as long as the return creates financial flexibility and builds toward that end. Center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Rudy Gay -- the latter acquired in a seven-player December trade with the Toronto Raptors -- likely aren't going anywhere. Guard Jimmer Fredette is a crowd favorite and playing his best ball -- he scored a career-high 24 points Wednesday at Madison Square Garden -- so a few clubs might inquire. A franchise always conscious of keeping its fan-base happy would have an interesting decision to make should it receive a big offer for Fredette.