NBA Sunday: Keep An Eye on July


Is it time for the Chicago Bulls to trade Derrick Rose? Can the Cleveland Cavaliers win with Kevin Love? Should Doc Rivers consider trading Blake Griffin? Will the Houston Rockets re-sign Dwight Howard?

Typically, during the season, we pay very close attention to the February trade deadline, as it is the final chance for a fringe contender to make a move that puts themselves over the top. However, with all that we are seeing unfold before our very eyes, this summer may be one of unprecedented movement. There are a number of teams that have a lot at stake and may opt to make a move or two, depending on how things shake out.

And in the end, that is one of the greatest things about the National Basketball Association: you simply have to watch. The same can be said for all professional sports, of course, but before the 2015-16 season began, if someone were willing to bet you that not one of the Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls would make the playoffs, how quickly would you have taken the bet?

If one were to tell you that the Los Angeles Clippers would have proven to be a pretty good team even without Blake Griffin or that LeBron James would have told the public that he would rather be playing with Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade as opposed to Love and Kyrie Irving, would you have believed that?

How did we even get here?

And more importantly, where do we go now?

Dwight Howard

When Dwight Howard decided to take his talents to Houston during the summer of 2013, he did so with the expectation that Kevin McHale, James Harden and Hakeem Olajuwon would help him get to the next level in his career. Howard’s decision to sign a four-year, $88 million contract with the Rockets saw him leave about $30 million in guaranteed money on the table. At the time, the thought was that Howard would sign his four-year contract with an opt-out clause after the third year. With his Bird rights fully vested, the hope was that Howard would re-sign a new five-year, maximum contract with the Rockets when he was eligible.

Today, that seems like a long shot. Earlier this season, rumors and reports surfaced that Howard and the Rockets were not exactly seeing eye-to-eye, and it was well documented and chronicled that he was being shopped at the deadline.

With free agency approaching for Howard and a rising salary cap, it is possible that he is nearing the end of his Rockets career. At this point, what the Rockets need to determine is what exactly they feel Howard is worth and whether or not he can still be a key contributor to a championship team. Objectively speaking, it certainly appears as though his better days are behind him, but who knows what a fresh start may bring. Remember: we once said the same thing about Pau Gasol and Rajon Rondo.

Blake Griffin

The Los Angeles Clippers have been deemed a legitimate contender for the past few years and seemed to have gotten an infusion of talent and leadership this season. Unfortunately, Blake Griffin hasn’t exactly shown that he has grown to the point where he can be fully depended on.

Heading into this season, there were some around the Clippers organization that felt that if the existing core wasn’t able to get over the hump this season, that Doc Rivers would look to make drastic changes. Chris Paul has proven to be more durable than many thought he would be at this point in his career, but as he closes in on his 31st birthday, Rivers needs to—and probably does—understand that Paul isn’t getting any younger.

As it relates to Griffin, there are some that feel that he is still one of the top power forwards in the game, while there are others that feel that his lack of a post-up game may be fatal to the Clippers’ odds of overthrowing the Golden State Warriors atop the Western Conference.

There probably isn’t a team more eager to begin the postseason than the Clippers, and there isn’t anyone more eager to see what Rivers opts to do with his franchise if they don’t end up walking away with some evidence of progression.

The Chicago Bulls

There’s a thin line between dynasty and dud, and the Bulls have slowly but surely learned that. After sending Tom Thibodeau on his way, and years after the cast of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Omer Asik had the team in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals and doing battle with the Miami HEAT, fans of the Bulls can only ask themselves what went wrong since then.

Now, as the 2016 NBA Playoffs are set to begin and the Bulls have, surprisingly, not secured a spot, the only question that matters now is where the franchise goes from here.

We have heard of some passing rumors surrounding both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. The bottom line for this team is that they are not closer to winning than they were five years ago, and although Rose has shown some signs of improvement over the past few years, he is still nowhere near the player he was when he became the youngest MVP in league history.

If the Bulls fail to make the playoffs this season, it will be obvious that some drastic changes are needed in Chicago. I would expect the front office to reassess their commitment to Fred Hoiberg and then follow suit with Rose.

LeBron James

Truth be told, LeBron James probably enjoys being the center of attention. A simple maneuver such as unfollowing the Cavaliers franchise on social media caused an unnecessary stir, but James did little to help quiet the speculation. Because James has traditionally kept his moves and his thoughts to himself, it has caused those of us in the media to have to read tea leaves to try to figure out his mindset.

With the Cavaliers closing in on their second straight regular season Eastern Conference title and James attempting to reach the NBA Finals for a sixth consecutive year, he added a bit more flame to the fire by suggesting that he wanted to play with Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony is currently under contract with the New York Knicks, but with that team facing question about its future, it’s quite possible that Anthony could seek a trade this summer.

What makes this situation even more intriguing, though, is the fact that James will likely opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent this summer. In doing so, James has the ability to structure his next contract in a way that is beneficial to the Cavaliers, ask for a five-year, maximum contract, or go to a new team all together.

That’s the beauty of following LeBron James—you simply never know what he’s thinking. Everything is always seemingly in play.

* * * * * *

With the way this season has played out, it is difficult to imagine anyone other than the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs winning the championship. And with teams like the Rockets and Knicks seemingly regressing since adding Howard and Anthony, respectively, we may be on the precipice of a summer that is marked by blockbuster moves and high-profile acquisitions.

In the end, as we approach the 2016 NBA Playoffs with the Warriors proving that they are head and shoulders above the rest of the league, we may end up witnessing more drama unfold this summer than we will leading up to it.

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About Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and international basketball.