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Big names on the block as the trade deadline approaches

Talks between teams will increase in the coming weeks with this season’s NBA trading deadline on March 15. Among the stars most likely to be dealt? Pau Gasol, Rajon Rondo, Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson, writes Sam Smith.
"Gasol probably has the best chance of being traded among the current and former All-Star players," writes Sam Smith. "The Lakers are woefully short in the backcourt and with depth and athleticism. He was in that aborted preseason deal to the Rockets, and their interest is said to remain the most significant."
(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

With the NBA All-Star game concluded, it usually means the unofficial opening of the trading season. That’s because the trade deadline usually is the Thursday after the All-Star game. But because of the 66-game compressed season, the trading deadline has been extended to March 15. Additionally, the final day for playoff eligibility is the following week, which is when teams generally will do buyouts.

The general sense around the NBA, according to several team executives, is it’s slow on the trade front thus far. One major reason is teams are trying to trade long term, large contracts to avoid the more penal phases of the luxury tax and labor deal in the next few seasons, which is why there hasn’t been much major to occur yet. But as it gets closer to the deadline, which is only about a month from the end of the season with teams seeing a chance to make a move, the chances of something developing will increase, in addition to the lingering questions surrounding Orlando’s Dwight Howard.

So the chance remains for something major. Here’s a look at the major moves that are likely to be considered:

Pau Gasol: He probably has the best chance of being traded among the current and former All-Star players. The Lakers are woefully short in the backcourt and with depth and athleticism. He was in that aborted preseason deal to the Rockets, and their interest is said to remain the most significant. The deal that’s been most speculated is Gasol for Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry. The Rockets are said to be high on Goran Dragic and Jonny Flynn to replace Lowry, and the Lakers desperately need a point guard under Mike Brown’s system. This is a deal, denied for now, that benefits both teams and seems likely to be made.

Chances of Gasol being dealt: 75 percent.

Dwight Howard: He’s the biggest name and seemingly the most likely to be dealt. But none of his supposed preferred destinations, at least New Jersey and Dallas, have anything worth taking for Orlando. Although the conventional wisdom is the Magic cannot afford to lose him for nothing like with Shaq in 1996, since then Orlando has proven to be a destination for free agents. So it makes sense to ride it out with Howard and see if he’ll wear the black hat and walk out on the team and for less money in free agency. I suspect the Magic is betting he won’t. If it were me, I’d take Andrew Bynum from the Lakers. But they seem determined to keep him and trade Pau and Howard hasn’t given any indication he’ll extend to stay with the Lakers.

Chances of Howard being traded: 25 percent.

Rajon Rondo: The Celtics are playing just bad enough that GM Danny Ainge will not have any problems breaking up his old gang. There’s not much to get for the likes of Kevin Garnett, but Rondo is the guy. Even since they traded Kendrick Perkins you get the sense he’s checked out mentally, if not with his play. More the feeling that the organization doesn’t have his back. There have been Rondo for Pau rumors and I thought they should have tried to trade him for Russell Westbrook. Portland’s got a bunch of young players and is going nowhere, so perhaps something there. His contract is reasonable for an All-Star and long, so he’s desirable. And the Celtics don’t want to be caught in that early 90’s fall without trading someone.

Chances of Rondo being traded: 60 percent.

Deron Williams: The Nets know he’s out the door if they can’t get Dwight Howard. The chances of getting Howard are slim by March 15, though the Nets believe they can accommodate Howard in free agency and thus keep Williams. But if Howard were to send a signal he’s not coming or resigning in Orlando would they try to get something for Williams before he jumped, presumably back to his native Dallas as they are looking for a replacement for Jason Kidd? It’s a tough decision to make. It’s maybe Orlando’s biggest mistake—among many—to continue to go for it and not have the pieces to make a trade for someone like Williams.

Chances of Williams being traded: 10 percent.

Michael Beasley: He’s hardly in the class of the above major players and there have been numerous rumors about a trade with the Lakers. You’d assume Minnesota would do it if they also took Martell Webster to get rid of the goofy guy factor. Beasley’s been coming off the bench and less productive of late, and you’d hardly want to pair him with Metta World, you’d think. Sort of the questionable decision to bring together Howard and Big Baby Davis, two guys a bit too fun loving.

Chances of Beasley being traded: 80 percent.

Al Jefferson: With the Jazz losing 13 of their last 19 after a surprisingly good start, the time may be right to begin that youth movement as they look less and less like a playoff team. They have young bigs who need some time and if you can’t get Howard or Pau, suddenly Jefferson would look awfully good. He’s not the athletic runner he might have been before his nee injury, but he’s a reliable scorer inside who can average 20. The Jazz is the sort of team you hear little from and then they move, like with Deron Williams last season. Jefferson is the odd man out.

Chances of Jefferson being traded: 50 percent.

Steve Nash: He’s not one of those caught up in chasing someone else’s championship. He’d probably stay in Phoenix if they paid him, though the thinking always has been he’d finish his career back in his native Canada. If the Raptors would give up maybe DeMar DeRozan, perhaps.

Chances of Nash being traded: 10 percent.

Monta Ellis: The high scoring Warriors guard is always the man to go who doesn’t go. You’d think it’s about time. It’s ever more clear the backcourt won’t work with Stephen Curry and now in Klay Thomson they have a young guy to work in. Plus, new high profile ownership is anxious to make a splash and get some notice. Would they do something with Boston for Rondo? They have been seeking a big. Jefferson? Utah has needed a two guard since Hornacek.

Chances of Ellis being traded: 60 percent.

Kevin Martin: The Rockets guard is among the unfortunate three to have to go back after the aborted Hornets deal and Martin, Scola and Odom all are having off seasons. Martin denied internet reports he wanted out and was unhappy, though Houston always is looking to do something major as well.

Chances of Martin being traded: 20 percent.

Ray Felton/Wesley Matthews: The Portland backcourt of the future is back on the bench, replaced by Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum. The play of Felton in New York versus now and Jeremy Lin enhances Mike D’Antoni’s standing again. They are not the sort of players you’d get that much for. But they are guys with value who can fill roles with a contending team. Portland’s stuck in a tough spot as a perennial likely first round playoff victim. So you wonder if they’ll look at a shakeup.

Chances of Felton or Matthews being traded: 20 percent.

50th anniversary of Wilt’s 100

-- There are certain days in your life you never forget where you were. For this generation, it’s 9/11. For an earlier generation, it was Nov. 22, 1963, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. From a basketball perspective for me, it was March 2, 1962, when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in an NBA game. This week is the 50th anniversary. In my view, it’s the greatest single sports achievement, surpassing DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams’ .406 in the modern era.

No one, of course, really saw the game in the barnstorming days of the NBA with the game famously played in Hershey, Pa. It was a Friday. I remembered because Saturday the New York World Telegram was a morning newspaper. I delivered the paper, which was afternoons otherwise, after school. The papers had just come in—there basically was no TV or radio sports news then—and I read the sports (only) before delivering. And here was the story of Wilt’s game. We were not shocked. It was toward the end of the most amazing scoring season in NBA history when Wilt averaged 50.4 points per game and never sat out one second of one game, and actually averaged more than 48 minutes with five overtime games. Wilt even played every minute of an overtime game the last game of the season. He’d been getting 60-point games regularly and had a 78-pointer back in December against Elgin Baylor, who’d had the previous record. It seemed he could do anything. He was the most dominant player in his era in any sport ever. So we weren’t that shocked because who knew what Wilt could do. As it happened, the game before Wilt scored the 100, Feb. 28, he was in Chicago to play the old Packers. Wilt scored 61 points and got 28 rebounds (in his 100-point game he had 25 rebounds and had 43 in a game earlier in the season against the Lakers).

Bob “Slick” Leonard, who went on to be a famous ABA coach and longtime Indiana Pacers broadcaster, played in that game for the Packers. I asked him about it last week.

“What I remember,” said Leonard, “is he fell on me. He lay there and I kept trying to push him off. He was so strong. Benched pressed more than 400 pounds. He’d pick you off the floor with one hand. When Elgin scored 71 points, I thought that was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. It’s an unbelievable feat, 100 points in a 48-minute game. You’d see Wilt run the middle with the ball on a fast break. We’d sag in on him and he’d just hold you off. I remember we’d go into game and say we were conceding him 50 points. The only place I saw any problems was the free throw line. I saw him shoot overhand, underhand, move over to the opposite side of the circle. He tried everything and was just terrible. But he could do everything else.”

New arena could keep Kings in Sacramento

-- NBA commissioner David Stern’s state of the league All-Star media conference Saturday was dominated by questions about the future of a new arena in Sacramento, which will determine whether the team stays. Last season, owners tried to move to Los Angeles and Seattle is now trying to build an arena to attract a team. But there’s an interesting Chicago connection to the Sacramento financing discussions, which face a crucial vote this week. The city is looking into privatizing parking to raise money for a new arena. It is saying it has studied the issue, uses as an example Chicago, and insists it won’t make the mistakes Chicago did as meter rates went up and machines malfunctioned. When Los Angeles put strict limits on raising rates that Chicago didn’t, it couldn’t make a deal. The Chicago deal, according to Sacramento officials, is the model for what not to do. In Chicago, there was very little public review," assistant city manager John Dangberg told the Sacramento Bee. "Our process will be very different. It already is very different."

NBA news and notes

-- We know such stats don’t mean everything and Doc Rivers denies it’s an issue, but the Celtics are 2-4 when Rajon Rondo scores at least 20 points. “As Rondo is getting better, my role kind of changes into more of a slasher and spot-up shooter and a screener, things of that nature,” said Paul Pierce. Rajon Rondo, scorer? ... With Jeremy Lin asked to do so much media during All-Star weekend, the league relented and asked that he be held under 10 minutes in the Friday rookie/sophomore game. … The Bulls face Miami three times in the last six weeks and twice in the last two weeks, the games which could decide top seed in the Eastern Conference. The next Miami game for the Bulls is the day before the March 15 trade deadline. Will one of the teams decide after that game they have to pull the trigger on a deal? ... The Raptors are anxious to move the contract of Leandro Barbosa to make a big offer to restricted free agent Wilson Chandler. … With JaVale McGee spiking a ball 50 feet into the crowd for show and Nick Young missing a layup trying to pirouette, Wizards interim Randy Wittman is seeing why Flip Saunders had no chance: “I know the term has been used, style over substance,” Wittman told reporters. “We got a guy going in for a layup and does a reverse 360 and missed the whole thing. Crowd ‘ooohed’ and ‘aahed.’ We didn’t get any points out of it. Until we’re committed to making winning basketball plays, the whole game, it’s going to look like that.”

-- It was a quiet All-Star weekend for Miami’s stars as the team came flying in with 19 wins in their last 22. The weekend stories were Dwight Howard, Jeremy Lin, Kobe and the Lakers and much different from last season. "We just know there are a lot of other better story lines going on in the league," said a relaxed LeBron James. "We just go out and just play the game. We'll let everybody else get all the headlines." It seems to make them even more dangerous, though scouts say they continue to have issues with zones. … One of the highlights of the All-Star weekend is the Sunday morning Legends Brunch where you found the likes of Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Gervin and David Robinson. Longtime league executive Pat Williams and Chicago native and Magic ambassador Nick Anderson were among those honored, Anderson for his extensive charity work. “Growing up on the South Side of Chicago and going to play ball, I thought that would be it,” said Anderson, a hugely popular figure in Orlando. Also honored was former Bull center Artis Gilmore with the Lifetime Achievement award, Penny Hardaway, Dominique Wilkins and Magic Johnson. … I heard quite a story in Orlando about Dwight Howard. It seems it was earlier this month when the Magic was losing games. As an aside, one of the season’s more impressive stories has been Stan Van Gundy holding the team together and winning despite Howard’s trade request and constantly, at least until lately, mentioning other players he’d prefer over his teammates. Anyway, the Magic is returning from a game and Howard goes on the airplane intercom and broadcasts a stinging comedy routine basically mimicking Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith. Yes, you can see that as a mood breaker after a tough stretch. After all, it’s just games. But at the same time it’s one of the issues you face with Howard. It’s not like in the tenuous position the Magic is in with recruiting Howard that anyone could say anything. But it had to be an uncomfortable moment with Howard not exactly respecting the senior executives of the franchise.

-- Bravest guy may be Joel Przybilla (so much for all the wanting to win stuff) for bypassing the Bulls and Heat to resign with the stumbling Trail Blazers where centers go to be seriously injured. … How far has Josh Childress fallen? Everyone knew it was a bad contract (three years left at about $21 million), but the Suns had to take him back out of the rotation after another pair of games without a point or rebound. … The Suns’ Shannon Brown rushed out last week to the funeral of Whitney Houston. Brown’s wife Monica, a singer, was mentored by Houston and often collaborated with Houston. … It’s been interesting to see Mike Brown standing up of late after Metta World Peace called him a stat geek and Andrew Bynum said he practiced him too much and sat out at the wrong time in games. The larger issue, as it’s always been for Brown, is to be firmer with the guys taking all the shots. … I’ve run into some European coaches and country sports officials and the thinking (hope?) is the USA Basketball team will be vulnerable this summer in London because of the shortened NBA season and additional fatigue from squeezing in so many games. … Kevin Durant, who was in the three-point contest, tweeted it after the Saturday night contests, and he’s right: The stars need to participate. Fans would rather see LeBron James make half the dunk of someone like Jeremy Evans. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Dr. J. understood in the 1980’s that the better the league did the better they did. Like not selfishly getting numbers to help your team. The NBA is their team, the Saturday night contest draw big TV ratings, and it’s time the game’s stars think a little more about the game.

-- One of the more underrated moves has been Memphis’ pickup of the 76ers Marreese Speights, averaging 14.5 points and nine rebounds the last five games with a win over the 76ers before the break. … It’s not my choice, but I have the highest regard for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and it’s not like he hasn’t done it before. He always does, not just this short season. The Spurs on an 11-game winning streak rested Tony Parker and Tim Duncan and were blown out in Portland. Said Popovich to the San Antonio Express: “We’ve had the same goal for 15 years: To be the best team we can possibly be come playoff time. We’ve never ever talked about what our record should be, whether we are going to win a championship, or not. Never. It’s never come up in any practice or game for 15 years. We just try to get better every day, and whatever happens, happens. We’ve been going and going and going, and if we don’t do it (rest) now, I think we’re asking for trouble later.” It’s difficult to argue with Popovich, who again is a top coach of the year candidate for the Spurs rise even without Manu Ginobili much of the season. And basically without Richard Jefferson, who is in the running for league’s Most Unimproved player with three double digit games in the last 12 and averaging 9.6 on the season, almost half his career average. The Bulls are in San Antonio Wednesday on a tough back to back as it’s the Spurs’ first game after the break. … Another of the surprise teams and with even less attention is the Rockets, six over .500, 3-2 against the first-place teams they have played and 15-10 against teams with .500 or better records even with 3-7 start. “They’re buying into the fact we’re going to have to sometimes win ugly,” coach Kevin McHale told the Houston Chronicle as McHale also is a top coach candidate. “We’re getting the feeling we can win different games different ways.” McHale has gotten a lot out of unlikely contributors like Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson and adds: “That’s all we talk about, to try to become a team that can win when you can’t throw it in the ocean. Can you just fight the other team. I tell them all, ‘How big is your heart?’ I tell them all the time, ‘The blind guy in the last row of the arena knows when you are 19 for 20. He hears you name quite a bit over the PA. Everybody knows that guy is playing good.’ Can you help your team win when the ball is not going in? Can you do other things? The guys are getting better at that. We have a long way to go, but I’m proud of the guys. They went from a group that was really, really, really hard for me to coach to a group I’m starting to enjoy.”… Also doing a very nice job is the Hornets’ Monty Williams as despite all the ownership turmoil and numerous injuries, the team remains disciplined and came into the break winning four of their last six. … Before Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook did it last week, the last two teammates to score at least 40 in a game were Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in 1996. … Bonehead of the week was Minnesota’s Martell Webster, who stole an inbounds pass down three with 1.3 seconds left and drove in to dunk to end the game losing by one. Do I see the next Washington Wizard?

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