NBA

NBA AM: Almost Trade Season In The NBA

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Almost Trade Season:  As the NBA enters the quarter mark of the season, several NBA teams are starting to ponder the direction they are headed and some teams have already started sniffing around the trade market. The problem with trades at this point in the season is that a large chunk of NBA rosters are still under trade restrictions involving the players signed as free agents this summer. However, on December 15 – roughly two weeks from now – those restrictions will be lifted and the unofficial trade season in the NBA will begin.

Here are some of the situations to watch over the next couple weeks:

Houston Rockets

The Rockets pulled the trigger on firing head coach Kevin McHale, but after firing their coach things really have not changed in a meaningful way. The Rockets have lost seven of their last 10 games and rank 24th in point differential, losing by an average of 6.1 points per game and have yet to find the defensive presence the coaching change was supposed to help restore.

During the offseason, the Rockets pulled the trigger on a deal bringing in point guard Ty Lawson, who at the time was believed to be the missing piece for a Rockets championship run. However, Lawson has been a shell of himself on the court and is now coming off the bench in favor of 38-year-old Jason Terry.

The Rockets have been sniffing around the league for deals and there is a belief among other teams that Lawson could be had in trade, and had cheaply. Lawson is owed $12.4 million this season with the final $13.21 million of his deal being fully non-guaranteed.

As the Rockets search for ways to change, there is a belief that Lawson could be the first Rocket player moved. But given how poorly Lawson has played in Houston and his troublesome off-the-court history, it’s hard to imagine that Lawson alone is going to yield much in return. But as teams start to get desperate, Lawson does have a career assist average of more than 6.5 assists per game and averaged 9.6 per game last season for the Nuggets. Lawson’s salary could return an asset or two and given the rut the Rockets find themselves in, they seem to be a bit more motivated to deal than normal.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks were the darling of the NBA this time last year with a swarming and effective defense that has all but evaporated this year. The Bucks added forward Greg Monroe and traded for guard Greivis Vasquez this summer to complement their deadline trade for Michael Carter-Williams last year. The addition of those three players has yet to yield a lot of positive results, and one of the NBA’s best defensive units has devolved into one of the worst. Add in the fact that the Bucks’ offense has been sputtering, to say the least, and the Bucks find themselves sitting outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture, with very little light at the end of the tunnel.

Surprisingly, league sources say the Bucks are not being overly aggressive in looking for trades. However, it seems like a matter of time before the Bucks have to decide who they’d part with to the get the ship turned around.

The Bucks are sitting on a couple of compelling contracts, namely the $8 million ending contract on reserve guard O.J. Mayo and the $3 million ending deal for guard Jerryd Bayless. Both are proven NBA veterans and are prime rental-type pieces for teams looking to bolster their roster.

While both players are key leaders for a very young Bucks team, the clock on the season isn’t slowing down.

The Bucks have lost seven of their last 10 games, and have the Pistons, Knicks and Raptors on their schedule before Christmas. Falling further behind in the East may change how the Bucks approach the trade market, especially if their defense continues to struggle.

L.A. Clippers

The Clippers are not ready to blow things up, but there is a growing sense that the Clippers are willing to make a deal and that move may involve the ending contract of swingman Jamal Crawford.

The Clippers have been up and down all season and have lost five of their last 10 games. Amid reports of infighting in the locker room, it seems the Clippers may be open to a splashy move if one surfaces.

Sources close to the situation continue to say the Clippers are being opportunistic – saying if a solid player becomes available they’d do a deal – however, league sources say the Clippers may be more desperate than they’ll admit, sensing that a major change is needed.

The Clippers have won their last three games and are still above the line in differential, but with losses to the Jazz, Blazers and Warriors still lingering, the next group of games could go a long way toward quieting the rumbling or fast tracking the process. The Clippers have the Pacers and Magic at home this week before heading out on five-game east coast trip next week.

The Clippers should know a lot more about themselves after the trip, which happens to line up with the December 15 trade restriction deadline being lifted for most of the players signed this past summer.

L.A. Lakers

With the formal announcement that Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will call it a career after this season, there continues to be talk that the Lakers will ultimately look at selling off some of their veteran players as the NBA trade deadline gets closer. The two players to watch are forward Brandon Bass and center Roy Hibbert.

Bass signed a two-year, $6.135 million deal in July and could return a reasonable asset for the Lakers. Hibbert, on the other hand, waived part of the trade kicker in his contract to get out of Indiana and there is a sense the Lakers might want to re-sign him in the offseason if he is agreeable to a lower-dollar deal. If the Laker decide Hibbert isn’t an answer in the long-term, they are not restricted from moving Hibbert – they simply need to find a taker for his $15.592 million deal. At the trade deadline, the Lakers will have paid roughly 70 percent of that cash value.

The Lakers have no shortage of value priced veterans to peddle if they so desire. Guard Lou Williams is set to earn $7 million over the next three years, while Nick Young is scheduled to earn $5.219 million this season and roughly $11 million more over the following two seasons.

None of the Lakers’ veterans are likely to return unprotected draft picks, but there is a sense the Lakers could turn one or two of the veterans they have into rookie-scale contract players, especially from some of the teams looking to cash out a little youth in exchange for a playoff push.

Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards have struggled as of late, with some questioning if the team has started to tune out head coach Randy Wittman, who is in the first year of a three-year contract extension, while others wonder if it’s simply a case of the team not having enough bench punch to compete in what’s becoming a much tougher Eastern Conference.

The Wizards are planning to waive injured forward Martell Webster, which will open up a roster spot that could be used to add an additional player or open up room for a two-for-one trade at some point in the near future.

Wizards sources labeled replacing Wittman as a last resort – one that’s not being actively considered. However, making a roster move is deemed more likely, even if it’s grabbing a free agent or one of the promising veterans from the D-League.

The Wizards have no shortage of tradable players on ending contracts including Nene, Jared Dudley, Kris Humphries, Alan Anderson, Ramon Sessions and Gary Neal.

The Wizards are not open to absorbing any long-term contract money since they have eyes for a max-level free agent offer this July, but there is a sense that to be the attractive free agency destination they want to be viewed as they have to turn things around.

Its seems the Wizards are looking at changes, the question becomes will it be a cosmetic change with their open roster spot or will they try to shake up the bench?

New Orleans Pelicans

It’s easy to blame the Pelicans’ lackluster start on early injuries. That’s a fair and valid excuse. However, with 13 losses and not a lot going their way, there is an increasing sense that the Pelicans may have no choice but to look at a significant trade sooner than later.

The Pelican player whose name surfaces the most among league sources is sharp shooting forward Ryan Anderson, but sources close to the team say that Anderson is incredibly valued inside the organization and it would take a monster offer for the Pelicans to consider moving him. Anderson is in the final year of his deal and will be an unrestricted free agent in July, so the Pelicans may have to explore his value despite how the organization feels about him as a player and leader in the locker room.

The Pelicans don’t have a lot of attractive contracts to shop. Shooting guard Eric Gordon is at the end of his deal, but is owed $15.5 million, which may be tough to trade given his injury history.

Center Omer Asik is owed roughly $60 million and might be the least attractive contract on the roster.

With few avenues to influence change, the Pelicans may have to explore moving pieces they’d like to keep if they want to salvage this season. And considering this year was billed as the season they make a leap up the standings and compete in the playoffs, waiting for the roster to get healthy might be too little too late, especially with the losses already on the ledger.

NBA teams are not restricted from making trades at this point in the season, the only limitations in making a deal are the willingness of teams to pull the trigger at this point and those players who signed contracts this summer.

In two weeks, most of those players become trade eligible and that’s when most of the teams searching for immediate change will start getting serious about trade talk.

The 2015-16 NBA trade deadline is 3 p.m. EST on February 18, which is roughly 79 days from today.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.