Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Above the Rim: NBA Trade Deadline Preview

With the NBA trade deadline just a few weeks away, teams are researching about how they can make their teams better and set them up for a playoff run or their long-term future. Some may need that one last piece to compete for a title, while others may just want to rid themselves of long-term salary commitments and rebuild with young players and draft picks. The first ball has already dropped with Rudy Gay going to the Toronto Raptors in a 3-team trade. Who could be next?

Boston Celtics

The Celtics are in a difficult predicament. With star point guard Rajon Rondo and promising big man Jared Sullinger both out for the rest of the season, the team needs to figure out if they want to continue with their current core of players. Somewhat contrary to popular opinion, the Celtics have actually improved since Rondo tore his ACL, winning four straight games in the past week. However, his injury does illuminate the team's obvious situation. Besides Rondo, Avery Bradley, and the inconsistent but promising Jeff Green, the Celtics' roster features several aging stars who still have a lot of money on the books. Should they blow it up and rebuild with their young core or stick it out until Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce retire/leave for free agency? That's the question Danny Ainge and company must answer sooner rather than later. 

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers looked great at the beginning of the season, but have taken a step back of sorts in recent weeks without Chris Paul. Undoubtedly his absence has hurt the team overall, but their play has created speculation that they're not ready to go deep in the playoffs. Accompanying this speculation is a recent trade rumor that sends Kevin Garnett to the Clippers from the Celtics in exchange for Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler/DeAndre Jordan (Lindrit Shkodra broke this down yesterday). I don't really agree with this trade from the Clippers point of view considering Chris Paul is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Until the Clippers can sign Paul to an extension, I can't see them trading Bledsoe. He's their point guard of the future if Paul signs elsewhere this summer. From the Celtics perspective, this trade would give them as close to equal value it gets for KG at this point in his career. Bledsoe is an incredibly promising talent who the Celtics could try to keep long term. The problem lies in the long jam that would occur in Boston's backcourt with Rondo, Bledsoe, Courney Lee, Avery Bradley, and Jason Terry all signed beyond this season. The Celtics would have to make some decisions about who they want to keep. Bledsoe is also coming to the end of his rookie contract and is sure to attract big money in the open market. It would be difficult to compete with the type of salary that other teams may want to give him in free agency. Both Butler and Jordan are solid starters, but they also mean filling long term cap space that the Celtics wouldn't really want for rebuilding unless they really like either of them (most likely Jordan). The Clippers could certainly use more frontcourt depth and I think they'll be very active around the deadline to procure that extra big man off regardless of whether KG is a viable option. 

Los Angeles Lakers

It's not secret that the Lakers have had an incredibly underwhelming season despite all of the talent they've accumulated. I can't even turn on the TV without some analyst or another dissecting what could have possibly happened to this team. The crux of their problems lie with Mike D'Antoni and Pau Gasol. Dwight Howard has also underperformed to a certain degree, but I'm blaming that on his lingering back injuries for now. Gasol hasn't really fit in with D'Antoni's new system, which emphasizes a lot of fast breaks, quick shots, and outside threes. Pau really hasn't played well under this new style of play, but it still remains unclear if it's the system or Gasol himself, who seems to have regressed with age the past two seasons. Unfortunately, the team remains in a difficult position because they can't realistically fire D'Antoni, which would make two fired coaches this season (and two salaries that go with them). They also can't trade Pau without getting a good big man in return because, like the Clippers and Chris Paul, Dwight Howard is an unrestricted free agent this summer and the Lakers haven't signed him to an extension. Regardless of this problem, the team is still falling well below their expectations, so I'd be surprised if they didn't make some sort of move before the deadline. 

Other Teams/Players That May Be Talked about before the Deadline:

Utah Jazz: Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson
Orlando Magic: J.J. Redick
Atlanta Hawks: Josh Smith
Brooklyn Nets: MarShon Brooks
Golden State Warriors: In the market for a big man
Miami Heat: In the market for a big man/rebounding help
Minnesota Timberwolves: Nikola Pekovic (for salary cap reasons)
New Orleans Hornets: Ryan Anderson
San Antonio Spurs: DeJuan Blair
Toronto Raptors: Andrea Bargnani
Washington Wizards: Jordan Crawford

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