NBA AM: Some Teams Are Searching For A Star


Looking For A Star

The biggest challenge for an NBA team is finding a transcendent star, someone who can change the game in an enormous way. Most teams hope to find one in the draft, some dream of landing one in free agency, while others try to collect enough viable assets to trade for one. With the 2016 NBA Trade Deadline just two weeks away, more and more teams are trying to pry away a difference maker, even though most of them may not be going anywhere.

Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics have been linked to virtually every significant name in the trade field including Atlanta’s Al Horford, Houston’s Dwight Howard and Los Angeles’ Blake Griffin.

The Celtics are actively looking at deals, understanding that they have a ton of duplication and that while they have some good players, moving off a guy or two along with a draft pick could land them someone to build around – not only for a postseason run this year, but going forward as well.

The Celtics have assets and seem willing to deal; the problem is that what the Celtics are swinging for usually does not take shape at the deadline, but that’s not going to stop them from trying to make a deal.

Forward David Lee, big man Tyler Zeller and some of their underachieving rookie-scale players are said to be available. The Celtics are not open to trading the Brooklyn Nets pick they obtained in their Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade, but it is believed that Boston would listen to deals involving their other draft picks, especially if they can land the kind of notable player they desire.

Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic continue to struggle, especially in tight games. Last night’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder marked their 14th loss in 16 games. While the Magic are among the youngest teams in the NBA, with an average age of 24.9 years old, there was an expectation from management that not only would this be the year that the Magic win more games (and technically they have), they would also be in the hunt for a playoff spot.

The Magic, for most of December, were turning away offers on their roster. But over the last three weeks sources close to the situation say that trade conversations have taken a turn and there is an increasing sense that this roster as constructed may require significant change.

The Magic are one of the teams listening to the big idea offers; however, they seem unwilling to part with their young core, especially the players who were high level draft picks.

It’s believed Orlando has several suitors for veteran big man Channing Frye, but it’s unclear if Orlando will pull the trigger on a cosmetic change or if they will hold the line for a significant upgrade.

The Magic seem like a team willing to pull the trigger on a trade. But can Orlando find a difference maker to salvage this season? And if they can, at what cost?

Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings want to make a deal, but they are not looking to trade for the sake of making a trade. Word is the Kings have explored a number of options, including moving forward Rudy Gay and point guard Darren Collison.

The problem in obtaining either guy is that Sacramento wants a sizable return on either guy. League sources say it will take a combination of assets to pry Gay out of Sacramento including a rookie-scale player with upside and someone who can impact the team right away.

There are a couple of teams that continue to be linked to Sacramento, with the Los Angeles Clippers believed to be the biggest suitor for Rudy Gay. Meanwhile, the Kings may be the team that pulls the trigger on a Kevin Martin trade with Minnesota, if he will opt in to his contract.

The Kings are not swinging for the fences in a transaction, rather it seems they would like to exchange some of their duplication for more options.

Kings sources have been pretty adamant that a deal involving any of their guys would have to return substance, so it’s very possible that the Kings could be the center piece to the 2016 NBA Trade Deadline, as they have some of the most productive players said to be available.

Durant and The Rumors

By now you have likely seen the story from Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks, suggesting that the Golden State Warriors could be a serious threat to land Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant in free agency and how they could re-shape their roster to create the cap space to go after him.

The problem with this and some stories that are following it is that it’s all based on the same premise: Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, and that is far from decided.

It’s important to note that Wojnarowski did write, “Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said.”

However, others have taken the Warriors narrative and run with it. Woj’s voice is among the loudest in basketball, so he creates conversations and other voices start talking about the situation too.

What gets missed in the narrative of free agency is that historically, many of the teams that get listed in February as the front-runner for a player very rarely end up landing that player. Think about all the players that were linked to the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers this time last year. It’s pretty safe to say Roy Hibbert to the Lakers and Robin Lopez to the Knicks were not the names talked about last February.

If Durant decides to take meetings, and there is a sense that how this season ends in Oklahoma City will influence that greatly, he is going to have a big pool of teams that log interest and want to meet.

While the Warriors are certainly one of the teams that would trip over themselves to land Durant, they are not alone. The Miami HEAT, Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers will all be waiting with baited breath.

The other part of the Warriors narrative that gets easily ignored or dismissed is that it would take a lot of cap maneuvering and significant moves for them to create the space required to sign a player like Durant. It can be done; we’ve seen teams mortgage their future draft picks to create space before. The Warriors did it to land Andre Iguodala. The Miami HEAT leveraged virtually everything they had to get LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami in 2010. As they say, if there is a will, there is a way. But some things are easier to achieve than others. This Warriors team is already historically good, so other teams may be very hesitant to help them add Durant and form what could potentially become a dynasty.

As Wojnarowski said, there still is no sense that Durant is ready to leave Oklahoma City. He is extremely fond of the market. He has personal and deep connections to the team and he is incredibly loyal.

The sense from around the Thunder is that Durant really is not at all focused on free agency. He turns away conversations from teammates about it. He does not engage in the speculation even privately, and he’s told those in his life not to bring it up until this season is over.

The prevailing thought is that assuming the Thunder finish the season strong, Durant may very well sign a one-and-one deal, giving him one fully guaranteed year at the new NBA maximum and give him a player option on a second year allowing him to cash in again in 2017.

This would allow Durant to tie his own future to teammate Russell Westbrook, who has the ability to be an unrestricted free agent in 2017.

Going the one-and-one route affords Durant the same luxury LeBron James has in Cleveland. He can stay for as long as he is comfortable without a long-term deal. If Westbrook opts to leave in 2017, Durant could too.

While talking about Durant’s possible landing spots is not going to go away, the belief is still that his real future gets decided this post-season. If the Thunder are one of the last teams standing, reaching the Conference Finals or NBA Finals, the odds Durant remains where he is are pretty high. If the Thunder struggle, getting eliminated early or looking over-matched in the playoffs, things could change dramatically.

The Thunder have a strong understanding of where they stand with Durant. The know their future with Durant is tied to the ability to compete right now for an NBA title. They have the known quantity factor in their favor.

Speculation of where a free agent ultimately lands is part of the NBA news cycle. That’s never going to change, but to predict that any one team is a front-runner in the Durant race overlooks a lot of the process that still has to play out to get there.

If free agent history has taught any lessons, it’s that predicting in February who the front-runners for a free agent are is a crap shoot at best.

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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.

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