Stretch run to the NBA trading deadline

While the names that have most been speculated about for the past few months generally are the least likely to be traded, Sam Smith takes a look at some lesser heralded players who might be changing uniforms.

This is the stretch run to the NBA trading deadline, which is Feb. 20, the Thursday following this weekend’s All-Star game in New Orleans. The names that have most been speculated about for the past few months generally are the least likely to be traded. They’ve basically been Omer Asik, Andre Miller, Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Eric Gordon, Greg Monroe, Arron Afflalo, Evan Turner, Kyle Lowry, Rajon Rondo, Dion Waiters, and Pau Gasol. Carmelo Anthony’s name even has come up lately with the logic he could leave the Knicks as a free agent. Not happening.

Probably not a lot happens given in midseason there are too many teams not looking to get better. So they are not adding players. With the new labor agreement that provides harsh salary penalties and teams still analyzing how it will play out, many teams are reluctant to take on high salaries. Plus, the new rules have made draft picks more valuable with locked in salaries. So teams are reluctant to trade any No. 1 picks, especially in this year’s draft. Plus other than in a few cases a lot of positioning is set after 50 games. You tend to see even more movement after the deadline when players pursue buyouts and can sign with top teams for the playoffs.

So it’s not common when there will be a major deal with a big name at the trading deadline. But here’s a look at some lesser heralded players who might be changing uniforms.

Jimmer Fredette: The popular point guard will be a free agent and though he has played more of late and better, he doesn’t seem in their long term plans and might be a nice shooting bench addition.

Brandon Bass: He’s got one season left after this at about $7 million and not much place in Boston. He’s a forward who can make a shot.

Jarrett Jack: Not a lot has worked out with the Cavs as hoped. He may have too long a contract with three years and about $19 million after this season. But he seems to have been brought down by the toxic internal atmosphere. Though, yes, they also may finally have had enough of Waiters no matter the return.

Jerryd Bayless: Boston likes to make moves, though it would be a surprise to see it being Rondo despite all the speculation. He’s another free agent who may be worth a short term look.

Carl Landry: Perhaps the one team you can see taking on Asik’s $15 million payment for next season is the Kings, whose owner has been spending freely. Many believe DeMarcus Cousins would benefit playing with a blue collar rebounder like LaMarcus Aldridge has with Robin Lopez in Portland. Maybe Houston would bring back an old fan favorite in Carl Landry, now back from injury, with a long deal and now less needed with the Kings.

Spencer Hawes: He is having his best season as a free agent and his name has been one mentioned frequently with Turner and Thaddeus Young, the latter, though, with a lot of money still owed. A big man for a stretch run is inviting and the 76ers know where they are heading this season.

Luke Ridnour: The backup point guard in Milwaukee is a free agent and a player who can fit in many places for insurance and can make threes.

Iman Shumpert: A big name only because New York supersizes its small stuff. They need buzz there and maybe an addition by subtraction to get Tim Hardaway Jr. into the lineup and give Shumpert a pardon so he can return to being a player.

Chris Kaman: The Lakers want to get something for Pau Gasol, but they probably won’t as now he’s also out again hurt. Kaman’s been playing surprisingly little all season until lately. And 27 points against the Bulls on national TV may have awakened some. Big men always are worth a late look for a playoff team.

Thomas Robinson: Isn’t it about time for him to be traded again?

Ibaka turning heads in Oklahoma City

-- If you had to choose, and the Thunder had to, for financial reasons, then they probably made the right choice even though you can make the case they gave up a chance to win a title two years ago by trading James Harden. But it’s becoming more difficult to make the case to not have paid Serge Ibaka, especially with no other rim protector on the roster (Kendrick Perkins does, but on eight foot rims). The Thunder remain among the top defensive teams and that’s a lot to do with Ibaka, who also is coming on strong offensively. He is averaging career highs of 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds and also adds 2.5 blocks, second in the league. Over the past 15 games, Ibaka is averaging 18.6 points, shooting 60 percent with 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. The Thunder is 13-2 over that span. “I'm proud because when I first got into the league nobody knew me,” Ibaka told the Oklahoman. “People just mentioned my name like a big guy who runs the floor and blocks shots. That's it. And right now, it's just amazing, man. People are saying my name (like) an almost All-Star. I've come a long way.” As an aside, one of my favorite moments was in Ibaka’s rookie year when he blocked about five Chris Kaman shots. Kaman stopped one time and turned Ibaka around to see the name on his jersey. Yes, who is that guy?

Could LeBron be eying the West?

-- They call them schedule losses in the NBA with those four in five nights against a rested team. Or in the case of the Heat in Salt Lake City Saturday, three days in Los Angeles after the Heat defeated the Clippers. It’s just Miami understanding the third straight run requires considerable rest ... One interesting LeBron James speculation of late is of James asking the Heat to trade him to the Clippers. It’s sort of the thank you from Miami that LeBron did his part and now he’d like to move on given that with a declining Dwyane Wade, Miami isn’t a high level contender anymore. You wouldn’t hear any complaints from the Pacers or Bulls. The theory goes LeBron would want to join close buddy Chris Paul. If you are the Clippers and you don’t get to the Finals this season, can you afford to not trade Blake Griffin, who has moved into at least top five MVP consideration in his best season as a pro? They’d still have their big defensive guy in DeAndre Jordan. After all, James could leave the Heat with nothing as a free agent. Where exactly he could go would be the question, however. Cleveland? Don’t think so. Maybe the Clippers in the sign and trade add a draft pick or a player like J.J. Redick. It will be a conversation this summer depending on how the playoffs develop, though you assume the Heat basically comes up with a LeBron plan going forward that persuades him to stay.

Speculation swirls around the Big Apple

-- It sounded like a concession speech from Knicks coach Mike Woodson on New York radio last week when he said: “This year has been, for me, it’s been kind of a disaster from a coaching standpoint in trying to get players to compete and play at a high level. That’s the frustrating part about it, because I know we’re better than what we’ve shown and we’ve still got a chance.” The latest was Woodson to be fired during All-Star break, which is about the 10th such prediction. It’s been said Woodson has clashed the most with Tyson Chandler. Woodson runs a defense in which the big man often has to chase out, taking Chandler away from the basket where he won Defensive Player of the Year basically because of Mike D’Antoni’s system. Yes, D’Antoni. Chandler has been a critic of Woodson’s system. But Woodson is expected to finish the season ... He’s back, too. Omer Asik was scoreless in 11 minutes with five rebounds in the Rockets Saturday win over the Bucks. Dwight Howard isn’t everybody’s favorite. But he’s looking like he did pre back surgery, averaging 29 point and 11 rebounds the last three as the Rockets have won eight of 10 ... That was a short tenure for what surely will be Mo Cheeks’ last head coaching job. The Chicago native is one of the true great guys in the NBA. But the Pistons probably lose their first round pick this season to Charlotte and are pushing hard for the playoffs after the Josh Smith spending spree. It was general manager Joe Dumars’ eighth coach in 14 years and perhaps his final choice. The Bulls remain down an assistant and tried to add Cheeks to the staff two years ago. The Thunder wouldn’t let him go. Perhaps he returns to Chicago next season. There are some big former head coach names still looking to get back in like Lionel Hollins, George Karl and Mike Dunleavy. And don’t forget Scott Skiles, who was a Michigan State star and remains popular in the state. With so many offseason coaching changes last summer, there won’t be that many jobs open. Though playoffs will likely determine if Randy Wittman hangs on in Washington. Others who could be on the hot seat include Mike Brown, Larry Drew and Ty Corbin.

NBA news & notes

-- The Bobcats continue to hang onto that last Eastern playoff spot with Al Jefferson playing as well as anyone in the conference. OK, not LeBron. But good. Though the Bobcats lost down the stretch Saturday to the Spurs, Jefferson so befuddled Tim Duncan, the Spurs went with other defenders. Duncan still had yet another double/double, his middle name. The Bobcats are coming off a 3-1 Western trip as Jefferson scored at least 30 in all three wins and has scored at least 20 points in 13 of his last 14 games, averaging 26.8 in that stretch. And taking out a 10-point off night on the road in Phoenix, Jefferson is averaging 32.6 the other five games back to the loss in the United Center Jan. 25 ... It still doesn’t look like Andre Miller is coming back with the Nuggets even as now Ty Lawson was hurt Saturday in yet another blowout loss. Nate Robinson is out for the season with an ACL injury, though insiders say Miller was unusually abusive and critical of the team and management in his outbursts for being benched. He was sent home in late December but still is being paid ... With non All-Star Goran Dragic with 34 points outperforming Stephen Curry Saturday, the Suns stayed ahead of the Warriors and 2-1 in the season series as the Warriors continue to be closer to missing the playoffs than most figured. They are two losses ahead of ninth place Memphis in the Western Conference. The Nuggets and Timberwolves seem to be slipping out of it ... Wonder if the Rockets wish they hadn’t let Dragic go as a free agent in the summer of 2012. Dragic wanted to stay, but the Rockets in their pursuit of Jeremy Lin wouldn’t guarantee Dragic would be a starter ... The Pistons Will Bynum hadn’t played the last two games after a heated sideline confrontation with coach Maurice Cheeks. Not that Bynum won, but he’s still there and Cheeks isn’t. The Pistons have scored a season high two straight games with Kyle Singler moving into the starting lineup at shooting guard over rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The two biggest shooting guard rookies, Caldwell-Pope and Ben McLemore have both been demoted this season. The Pistons are a half game behind Charlotte for the last playoff spot ... With the Cavs 5-10 in the games Luol Deng has played with them since the trade, there is speculation in Cleveland with the upheaval and firing of the general manager and perhaps falling out of the playoff race perhaps they should trade Deng. As a traded player, Deng can only be traded straight up and not combined in a deal. So it seems unlikely. He will be a free agent after the season. He is averaging 12 points and six rebounds his last eight games with the Cavs 2-6 in that stretch. It also turns out the Cavs still have not won a title before LeBron James. They have the league’s poorest record since he left. The Cavs, desperately seeking shooting, made larger offers to Kyle Korver and Mike Dunleavy than what they signed for with the Hawks and Bulls. But No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett is showing a bit, averaging nine points and 4.8 rebounds the last six games in about 22 minutes per game before just two points in six minutes Sunday ... Though the Wizards fell back under .500 in the weirdest watch of all, John Wall avoided, by 10 games, the Joe Smith record of most games, 241, under .500 to start a career by a No. 1 overall pick.

Bulls all-time record safe again

-- Should we be paying attention to the Magic with back to back wins over the Thunder and Indiana Pacers? But that Magic victory over Indiana Sunday was significant. The Bulls’ 72-10 best record ever season is safe for another year as Indiana became the last team to lose an 11th game. Jason Caffey is drinking a toast somewhere. We assume Dennis Rodman is as well.