And So It Begins: As the always excellent Bobby Marks, former executive with the Brooklyn Nets, pointed out last night on Twitter, 378 NBA players became eligible to be traded at midnight last night – marking the opening of the 2015-2016 NBA Trade Season.
While teams have had the ability to consummate trade all season, last night marked the moment when the bulk of players who signed contracts this summer could be traded. There are still some 26 players that cannot be traded until January 16th, as they signed deals 20 percent above their previous salary using Early Bird and Full Bird cap exceptions, which allowed their teams to exceed the salary cap to retain them.
While teams have been talking for several weeks, there is a sense that trade activity is going to increase over the next few days, as teams attempt to consummate an early trade and preserve the ability to re-trade those players before the February 18 NBA trade deadline. In order to re-trade a player, a deal would need to be completed in advance of December 18.
There are several names that we have talked about in this space, but given the availability of more players, here a few more guys to watch:
Al Horford – Atlanta Hawks
The odds that the Hawks explore Horford trades are pretty low, but given his pending unrestricted free agency there is a risk that the Hawks could lose him to free agency for nothing in return. League sources peg Horford as a player teams will call about all the way up to the trade deadline, but the stance from the Hawks has him as somewhat untouchable. That could change as the deadline and the risk of losing him gets closer, but given how the Hawks have handled pending free agents under the current leadership, there is a sense the Hawks will offer Horford a full max offer in July, so unless his camp indicates otherwise the Hawks seem poised to hang on to Horford.
David Lee – Boston Celtics
Lee chose the Celtics this past summer when he and his agent requested a trade from the Warriors. The belief at the time was Boston offered the best opportunity for Lee to get playing time and secure himself a new contract next summer. In 22 games for the Celtics, Lee is averaging roughly 15 minutes per game and posting reasonable numbers in those limited minutes. Given that Lee’s objective in getting out of Golden State was to play a bigger role, he becomes an interesting name to watch as the trade season gets underway. Celtic sources say they are very happy with what Lee has brought to the team, however, his ending contract could return something of value to the Celtics, especially given his $15.493 million contract.
Jarrett Jack – Brooklyn Nets
The Nets are going nowhere fast and there is an increasing sense around the league that the Nets may look to blow things up before the trade deadline, if only to show ownership that there is something worth sticking with this summer when current general manager Billy King and current head coach Lionel Hollins could be replaced. Nets guard Joe Johnson might be the most attractive player available from Brooklyn, but his enormous $24.894 million contract would be very hard to move under the cap rules. Jack on the other hand has an incredibly team friendly deal. Jack is owed $6.4 million this year and only has $500,000 guaranteed next year assuming he is released before June 30. There is a belief that when the Nets start pulling this roster apart, Jack is one of the guys likely to be moved.
Al Jefferson – Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets have been surging as of late, winning seven of their last ten games and doing most of it without center Al Jefferson, who is currently serving a suspension for violation of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug policy while also nursing a strained calf. There has been a growing sense that the Hornets might actually be a better team without Jefferson, however, Hornets sources say moving Jefferson isn’t currently in the plans despite evidence to support he may not be needed. Jefferson is an ending contract, and if things continue to progress forward it seems hard to believe the Hornets wouldn’t explore Jefferson’s value, especially if young guys like Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky can show they can handle the workload. Jefferson is expected to command a big contract number this summer, so the Hornets seem like they have some decisions to make, even if their current stance is to hang on to Jefferson.
Joakim Noah – Chicago Bulls
Bulls sources have been pretty adamant that trading Joakim Noah is not on their radar, but the writing is on the wall. Noah is posting some of his worst numbers of his career. He has been wildly inconsistent, especially defensively and it’s clear that’s he’s not an ideal fit with the Fred Hoiberg era Bulls. Add in his ending contract and the Bulls have to make a choice – overpay Noah to stay, and there is no guarantee that he will, or cash him out before he walks in July. The problem with trading Noah is that he may not return much given his production and contract status. What is a rental player truly worth in trade? If history is an indicator, not as much as you’d think, which is likely why the Bulls are saying they are keeping Noah. There is something to be said about obtaining Noah’s Bird Rights, especially for a team that would be willing to put max money on the table for Noah. As things stand today, Noah does not look like an early trade candidate, but as the Bulls continue to find their identity, making a deal involving Noah may not be out of the question, especially if the right offer is put on the table.
Brandon Jennings – Detroit Pistons
Jennings has yet to play this year as he recovers from a torn Achilles, however, his name is being floated around in connection with a couple of teams — most notably the New York Knicks. Jennings is in the final year of his deal, so playing a big role is something his camp will want to see once he returns to action. In the short term, Jennings has said he’d gladly embrace a role as the leader of the second unit coming off the bench. Time will tell if the Pistons hang on to Jennings for depth and a post-season push. However, if Jennings can prove that the Achilles tear hasn’t hampered his game and ability to explode to the basket, his value might return more for the Pistons than they need from him. Piston sources labeled anything involving Jennings as really premature and preliminary, but there is an understanding that Jennings could be a good trade asset closer to the deadline, especially if he comes back strong.
Terrence Jones – Houston Rockets
While Ty Lawson’s name gets mentioned a lot, it does not seem like the Rockets are overly interested in trading Lawson and have indicated as much to him. However, the Rockets have kicked the tires on a number of scenarios involving names like Phoenix’s Markieff Morris and New Orleans forward Ryan Anderson. Neither player seems likely in a deal at this point, but it has become clear that the names Houston is shopping include forward Terrence Jones and forward K.J. McDaniels. Rockets sources labeled their calls to teams as routine due diligence, pledging that there is no urgency to make a deal and that moving Jones would have to radically improve the team to get serious consideration. The Rockets have started to make some progress on the season, so a deal in the short term is not overly likely. However, Houston has always been one of the teams mindful of the deadlines associated with trades, so the December 18th deadline to re-trade a player could move things along, but Rockets sources said the team was not close to anything, although that can always change with a single phone call.
There are also some teams to keep an eye on.
There is a growing belief in NBA circles that the Denver Nuggets could be on the verge of a major sell-off of talent. While names like Danilo Gallinari get fans excited, the truth is that the big names in Denver may not be going anywhere, unless it’s in a blockbuster franchise changing deal. However, guys like J.J. Hickson and Randy Foye are said to be available.
The Washington Wizards are also a team mentioned a lot in terms of a willingness to blow things up to some extent. The Wizards do have their eye on cap space next summer, so taking on a long term deal might not be of interest, however, they do have guys like Nene, Jared Dudley and Alan Anderson they’d be willing to part with to jump start their ho-hum season. All three are ending contracts.
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