NBA

NBA AM: More Early Season Trade Talk

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There are three ways for a franchise to improve in the NBA – the draft, free agency and trades. With the draft and free agency period now fading long in the rearview mirror, the only option left for teams over the next few months is rummaging through the trade market.

As we approach trade season, there are a couple of dates worthy of note.

December 15 marks the day when the NBA trading season truly opens up. This is because players that sign with a team as a free agent cannot be traded for up to three months after signing, or until December 15 – whichever is later. With the majority of free agency around the league taking place in July and August, there will be plenty of guys that become available to be dealt. Most league executives wait for this type of flexibility, as it gives them added wiggle room to be creative in sculpting out potential moves.

Another date to remember is the annual trade deadline. This season it is February 23 at 3 p.m. ET.

So even though we’re just under three months away from the actual deadline, we’re only three weeks away from when the doors of trade season truly open.

As expected up until this point, there has been little movement, but here are some situations around the association worth keeping an eye on.

Is Tom Thibodeau Growing Impatient In Minnesota?

The Minnesota Timberwolves have one of the most intriguing young cores in the league spearheaded by former No. 1 overall picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The team hired veteran head coach Tom Thibodeau during the offseason to provide their youth movement with an experienced sideline general who has previous success in the playoffs.

While there were some that picked the Timberwolves as a trendy potential playoff team this season, the reality is young NBA cores take time to develop and win at a high level. The Timberwolves (4-10) are currently 13th in the Western Conference, but only three games outside of a playoff berth if the season were to end today.

According to Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report, Thibodeau has already grown impatient with the team’s losing and is considering trading one of his young players, not named Towns or Wiggins, for an experienced veteran to help them win now.

More from Bucher’s report:

“Tom Thibodeau is not exactly a paragon of patience, which is why league sources expect that he is only a few more losses away from dealing one of his young stars for a veteran who can help him win now. His first look will be for a player he already knows and trusts because he’s already had that player in his system. Would the Lakers consider advancing their youth movement and dealing former Bull Luol Deng? Would the Bulls consider parting with Jimmy Butler or Taj Gibson? Where Thibs looks is not certain, nor is who he’d be willing to move. But those in the league who know his hunger to win and win now are convinced he will begin calling around soon, if he hasn’t already.”

While the Timberwolves have a nice collection of talent, there’s no guarantee that young promising cores ever will develop enough to match expectations. When dealing with players under 25, maturity, focus, money, ego and a host of other potential pitfalls can stunt development. NBA history is littered with once-promising young cores that ultimately didn’t develop.

There were numerous reports this past summer about Minnesota’s interest in All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, but both sides refused to admit any advanced talks. In regards to Luol Deng, while he hasn’t looked good on the court, word is the veteran’s presence around the Los Angeles Lakers’ young collection of talent has been an added benefit.

The Timberwolves may ultimately make a move here, but after just 14 games under Thibodeau any movement will likely come closer to the trade deadline than the December 15 opening stanza.

Are the Knicks Already Having Buyer’s Remorse on Joakim Noah?

There was an interesting bit of news from Marc Berman of the New York Post earlier this week. According to Berman, there are some beginning to believe the four-year, $72 million contract team president Phil Jackson inked Noah to this past summer may become a haunting one if the veteran center’s productivity doesn’t increase.

At 31 years old, there have been numerous signs of Noah’s decline over the past few seasons and his inability to remain healthy scared off a few teams in free agency. With an Amnesty clause provision not likely to be included in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Knicks could have an immovable piece on their hands if early returns hold consistent.

The Always-Changing Climate Surrounding DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento

Here’s the deal: The Sacramento Kings have a big decision to make regarding their talented All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and his future with the organization. Cousins will become an unrestricted free agent during the summer of 2018.

There are many who believe the Kings will have no shot at re-signing him once he hits the open market – despite being able to offer him more cash. But trading away arguably the best center in the game, in his prime, is a tough pill to swallow for an organization that hasn’t had luck luring elite talent to town. In fact, the unsteady relationship between Cousins and the Kings actually diminishes what Sacramento could demand in a deal. This is because teams around the league know full well the franchise’s unsteady ground and could play a bit of hardball.

According to Zach Lowe of ESPN, the Kings are reportedly growing weary of the Cousins era.

“I’ve had a couple of guys from other teams tell me they’re hearing the Kings are starting to get sick of Cousins,” Lowe said. “Whatever that means. I mean, no one knows who’s making the decisions from the ownership level, not who’s making the decisions, but there’s just so many voices among ownership. They have a million minority owners, Vlade [Divac] and Ken Catanella.”

Trade winds have been swirling around Cousins for years now, so this isn’t exactly a new development. However, with the Kings (6-9) trending toward another season under .500 and Cousins’ free agency looming, more than ever it may be time to tune into the state of the Kings.

The Status of Brandon Knight in Phoenix

Last season, Brandon Knight averaged 19.6 points, 5.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds over 52 games in an injury-shortened campaign. The guard averaged 36 minutes per contest in the process. This season, the Phoenix Suns have relegated Knight to the bench in favor of their youth movement – namely Devin Booker and T.J. Warren. To date, Knight is currently averaging 12.4 points, 3.2 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 16 appearances (three starts) in just 25 minutes per game.

Knight is under contract through the 2020 campaign so any team seeking his services would have to assume the long-term financial obligation ($43 million over the next three seasons, $55 million total). While Knight has freely admitted to struggling while adjusting in his new bench role, the front office hasn’t wavered with their public support and consistently reiterate his importance to their rebuilding plan.

“We’re certainly not looking to move Brandon, we haven’t been close to trading Brandon,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough told the Burns and Gambo show. “I think he’d love to be starting, we understand that. He’s accepted the role very well. I think you guys will see him go on a run here. As you know, watching him play the last couple years, he has the ability to get hot and put up a lot of points in a hurry and take over stretches of games — he hasn’t done that yet for us consistently but I think it’s coming.”

Booker currently leads the Suns in scoring, but has struggled with his shot to start the campaign with declines in overall field goal and three-point percentages compared to his rookie season. Warren has missed a few games due to injury. The presence of Knight on the roster is like a security blanket for a team trying to see how their young guys mesh.

But as we approach the trade deadline, don’t be surprised to hear Knight’s name mentioned more often. Then it will be interesting to see if McDonough, faced with lucrative assets, can remain firm in his plans not to deal the talented guard.

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About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last eight seasons

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