Deron Williams and Joe Johnson
"Reports linked the Nets to a potential “housecleaning” that might include everything but the Ebbets Field historical marker."
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

The NBA rumor mill starts up

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By Sam Smith | 12.15.2014 | 9:18 a.m. CT

Something seems to be going on around the NBA. Let’s see. There was a “sourced” report last week Carmelo Anthony may or may not want to be traded with the Knicks losing; though in New York patience remains a term used only in hospitals. But there was more. Magic Johnson suggested his beloved Lakers should be losing games, not exactly in line with Kobe Bryant’s goals. Reports linked the Nets to a potential “housecleaning” that might include everything but the Ebbets Field historical marker. Minnesota coach/executive Flip Saunders raised the dreaded “rebuilding” theme a few years after it seemed they were already doing that. What it all portends, though, is Monday, one of the big days on the NBA calendar. It’s basically the date just about all the summer free agents become eligible to be traded, but also the first quarter mark of the season when teams know pretty much what they have and where they can go.

It thus begins the time when teams seriously begin considering trade propositions to better prepare themselves for the future—or draft as Magic suggests—or for that run to the playoffs or a title.

The categories become:

Teams that need perhaps one more piece for serious contention: Rockets, Clippers, Mavericks;

Teams with a chance for the playoffs: Suns, Pelicans, Magic, Heat.

Teams with higher goals who have to reconsider: Nets, Kings, Nuggets.

Teams not interested in this season: Lakers, Knicks, Timberwolves, Pistons. The 76ers, of course, are in a different category. There are teams that will pursue the same course, though not so blatantly and at least after trying to find out if they had a chance to be competitive.

The reason why there generally aren’t many deals is the players teams most want to trade are those making so much money it’s difficult to find matching salaries or teams willing to take on the financial liabilities.

Players like Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Josh Smith, David Lee, Larry Sanders and Nikola Pekovic.

So there’ll be plenty more rumors than deals that will occur, especially with a growing return to the philosophy of using draft picks to build or as value in deals. Because most of the major free agency pursuits, like with the Knicks and Nets, did not succeed. But once hunting season opens there become plenty of targets.

Also, teams follow what works and one of the best recent examples is last December’s Toronto trade of Rudy Gay. After taking the month to see they weren’t serious enough, the Raptors traded Gay with the idea of either making a move up or shedding more contracts to avoid the dreaded middle. Close to also moving Kyle Lowry, they took off and now are an Eastern contender. So big names could again be available.

Could the Rockets make a run at Deron Williams again? They still badly need a point guard as a presumed final piece. But it hardly seems likely given the matching salaries and the cost to Houston of too many players, including Trevor Ariza. Or Rajon Rondo now that the Celtics have Marcus Smart back from injury and probably their future point guard. Jeff Green, too. Actually, the best place for Williams might be Utah, where the young team needs a point guard and they’re below the cap with contracts to spare. But could they bring him back after all that? The Heat is desperate for a point guard and Norris Cole won’t get them much.

To paraphrase Henny Youngman, “Take my wife, please. And Brandon Jennings.”

Will the Cavs make a move for a big man with their weak defense and lack of a rim protector? They probably have enough disposable contracts and there are a bunch of big guys, though with flaws like Brook Lopez, JaVale McGee and Pekovic injury issues. What about Roy Hibbert? With just one season after this the Pacers may be looking for that new direction.

Can the Clippers get that wing defender? Lance Stephenson. He’s got the size and can make plays and maybe already has worn out his welcome, though that seems a bit overstated. Given the Clippers are hard capped they’d have to match exactly, but with a package around J.J. Redick that might work. Yahoo added reports over the weekend suggesting a Stephenson return to Indiana, whose larger deal he rejected. Larry Bird believed in Stephenson more than anyone, but players always believe the grass is greener. So do a lot of other folks, though. And will anyone let Gerald Wallace out of Boston purgatory?

So who else to watch?

Kevin Garnett with a year and $12 million. He could make a difference in short minutes for a playoff team.

Greg Monroe. With the Pistons going nowhere and him unrestricted it seems unlikely he’d want to stay.

Luol Deng. Might be worth a run at a big man or a point guard as, not surprisingly, they’re having trouble fitting in this unique pro.

Andre Iguodala. With future signings coming up for players like Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes he’s probably too valuable to come off the bench in limited playing time.

Jameer Nelson, et al. Lots of point guards and needing some size and toughness; similarly with the Suns and Isaiah Thomas. Goran Dragic can opt out after this season and maybe they need to clean up their guard logjam first.

Nuggets and Kings. A lot of pieces which open up myriad possibilities. Now with a new coach in Sacramento and do they really still need Wilson Chandler and Arron Afflalo in Denver?

Thaddeus Young. C’mon, give the guy a chance with someone who’s in competition after Philadelphia and now Minnesota.

J.R., Shumpert, Hardway? Probably time to try to collect some more draft picks. And Kobe to New York? Even I’m finally done with that one.


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