Mid-February is universally beloved as it houses the holiday of love. Valentine’s Day, a day of flowers, chocolate and smooches is great for those who have someone to celebrate with and a great excuse to hide in your room with the shades drawn shut if you don’t. But whether or not you have a V-Day partner, Valentine’s Day marks the one week deadline of what is thought of by many people in and around basketball to be the most exciting time of the year: the trade deadline.
The beauty of the trade deadline is it forces all 30 NBA teams to take a hard look in the mirror and decide if they are buyers or sellers, if they think they are a move away from a championship push or a playoff birth, or if they should begin to focus on the future.
The tricky part of the deadline is that, as detailed beautifully in Zach Lowe’s column this week, teams are less willing to make huge deals under the current collective bargaining agreement. First round picks, long used as sweeteners to move deals along, are now the most coveted resources teams have. Expiring contracts, long seen as the key piece to moving big money talent around, are no longer the trade chips they once were with contract lengths being cut down to four years maximum (for the most part) in the current CBA.
That being said, there are certainly going to be moves made in the next couple of days. Here, I will attempt to guess at what those moves may be.
Luol Deng to the Houston Rockets, Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer to the Cleveland Cavaliers
If at first glance you are scratching your head wondering why the Cavs would ship out a player they just acquired via trade from Chicago, I’ve got some things to tell you. Since being shipped out to Cleveland, Deng’s numbers are down across the board. Most notably, Lu’s shooting percentage is at a cover-your-eyes 41% from the field. With Deng on the court, the Cavaliers are -7 points per possession, a startling number considering he was +2.3 with the struggling Bulls. Deng’s issues in Cleveland have a lot to do with Mike Brown’s “coaching” and not with some sudden skill depletion from the Sudanese veteran.
The trade to acquire Deng was supposed to propel Cleveland into the playoffs (where they would have been slaughtered in the first round anyway). The Cavs, riding a four game win streak, are still sitting at 11th place in the decrepit Eastern Conference. There is no chance that Deng, who will be a free agent this summer, is trying to stick around this disastrous Cavs squad, which is exactly why Cleveland should be looking to move the two time All-Star.
The Rockets are one of those teams that are without a doubt buyers this February. Currently sitting with the third best record in the West heading into the break. the Rockets know that this is a team capable of making a deep run in the postseason. Houston, who has been one of the most potent offensive teams in the league, has been so-so on the defensive end, despite having former DPOY Dwight Howard patrolling the paint. Houston’s defensive rating of 102 points/100 possessions is just not going to cut it against the top competition in the league.
With a proven rim protector in Howard, the Rockets are badly missing a player who can match up with the other teams’ top wing attacker. The Heat have Lebron, the Pacers have Paul George, the Warriors have Iggy, the Spurs have Kawhi, and the Thunder have Thabo. Throwing Deng on the Rockets gives Houston the type of wing defender they are badly in need of.
Evan Turner to the Charlotte Bobcats, Ben Gordon to the 76ers
This isn’t exactly the sexy deal that gets casual fans excited, but it’s one that many plugged in NBA guys believe will happen. The Bobcats, playing spectacular defense under first year coach Steve Clifford, are trying to hang on to a playoff spot in the East. While squeaking into the 8th seed for the right to be destroyed by the Pacers or Heat doesn’t seem like a great achievement, to the pathetic Bobcats a playoff birth would mark the start of something.
While Turner’s 17.5 points a game may seem appealing on the surface, it’s important to take his stats with a grain of salt. The Sixers are playing at the fastest pace in the NBA and Turner is being encouraged to shoot whenever he pleases. His inflated scoring numbers don’t reflect an improvement in his game (although he has been a bit more reliable in shooting from the corners this season), but rather just how awful and goofy this Philly team is.
But the Bobcats will take anything to improve their roster. Charlotte has almost nothing on the team in terms of outside shooting (sorry McBob but you don’t count) and would gladly take a flier on the former number two pick in the draft.
Meanwhile, Philly would LOVE to snag Ben Gordon’s expiring contract. This deal would move the 76ers closer to the salary floor (which they are currently below) AND would let them become even WORSE which, uh, is better (man I hope the wheel is a real thing).
Mike Dunleavy to the Thunder, Hasheem Thabeet and Derick Fisher and Dallas Mavericks future first round pick
The Thunder, according to Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski, are looking around for some extra shooting to bolster their squad. Enter Mike Dunleavy, who is pretty good at shooting basketballs.
I love this trade on so many different levels, first and foremost being that the trade rewards Dunleavy for trying to win. When Mike Dunleavy joined the Bulls this summer as a free agent, he signed a 2 year/$6 million dollar deal that, according to some reports, was less than what other teams were offering the veteran shooter. Dunleavy has been around the NBA for over a decade and came to Chicago with the dream of playing for a championship contender. When Rose went down for the season, so did the Bulls’ title hopes. Dunleavy, who did what many guys in the league would never consider doing, seemingly was being punished for his good will.
The Thunder can afford to part with the ancient Derek Fisher and the rarely used Hasheem Thabeet. While Fisher has seen some extended run in Russell Westbrook’s absence this season, the hope in OKC is that health will be restored to the dynamic point guard and Fishers minutes will become Reggie Jackson’s minutes. Picking up Dunleavy gives the Thunder a much needed outside threat that can play in the OKC second unit.
The big prize for the Bulls is the future first round pick. While the pick is top twenty protected for the next couple of seasons, it becomes unprotected in 2018. And who knows what the Mavs, likely entering the post-Dirk era will look like. That pick could potentially become a valuable player for the future of the Bulls franchise.
Taj Gibson to the Suns, Emeka Okafor to the Bulls
(I must admit that this is the only deal that does not work in the ESPN Trade Machine, but I think that with Okafor’s contract being paid by insurance and the Bulls having a trade exception from the Deng and Teague deals, that this should work out.)
This deal happens on one condition and one condition only: Chicago having insider knowledge that Carmelo is coming to the Bulls if they can offer him a max contract. The Bulls, as they stand today, are just a hair under the luxury tax line. But everyone and their grandma knows that the Bulls are going to Amnesty Boozer at the end of the season, a move that would give the Bulls enough space to make a run at a guy like Lance Stephenson.
But if the Bulls can move Taj for an expiring deal, then the doors are open for a maximum offer for Carmelo. Yesterday, Geo took a peak at a trade rumor involving Anthony and the Bulls. I personally don’t think Knicks owner James Dolan would ever sign off on such a deal, as he seems to firmly believe that the Knicks need a “superstar” and in the hypothetical package addressed in Geo’s article, no such big ticket player is returned to New York.
But as everyone knows, Melo plans to opt out of the final year of his contract this summer to test the waters of free agency. The Knicks know that, and they also know that they can offer an extra year and about $30 million more than any other team can offer. They may not have much of a roster, or a first round pick until my unborn child’s bar mitzvah, but they’ve got that extra thirty mill that they can dangle over Melo’s head.
Tough decisions lye ahead for the former NCAA champion, as he must choose between the Big Apple (the city where his wife reportedly prefers to live in) and competitive basketball. A foundation of Rose, Melo, Noah and Butler isn’t exactly going to have Miami and Indy quaking in their boots, but its a far better core than what the Knicks have surrounded Anthony with.
Such backroom talk is well outside of the rules of the league, but there’s no doubt that free agent tampering is something that many teams practice in the NBA today. Obviously, if the Bulls don’t think Carmelo is serious about joining the Bulls then they would never give away their prized power forward for nothing.
But if Melo can be had, moves must be made.