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NBA AM: Trade Rumblings Getting Louder

Players who signed as free agents last summer are eligible to be traded on December 15. Here are some names to watch.

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The NBA season is at the quarter mark and executives are beginning the annual tradition of evaluating just where their respective teams stand in the league’s hierarchy. Typically after that evaluation some teams will become buyers looking to add assets for their playoff run and others will opt to become sellers looking to unload players for financial flexibility or future positioning.

Trade season is coming. Players who signed as free agents this past summer will be eligible to be traded beginning next Monday (December 15). While the amount of players who recently signed deals being traded may be few, this is generally recognized as the start of the NBA’s trading season. There are numerous situations to watch around the league from now until the trade deadline in February.

Let’s take a look at who around the league may be busy working the lines looking for a deal to kick off trade season.

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors (16-6) currently sit at the top of the Eastern Conference, but are they content with their current roster? Toronto is playing without All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan and have suffered two losses in the past week to the surging Cleveland Cavaliers.

Toronto is strongly positioned to make some noise on the trade front. The team has six players accounting for close to $30 million in expiring deals with Amir Johnson ($7m),  Landry Fields ($6.3m), Chuck Hayes ($6m), Lou Williams ($5.5m), Tyler Hansbrough ($3.3m) and Greg Steimsma (915k) scheduled to come off the books at season’s end.

However, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri doesn’t seem to be in a rush to make a move.

“We’ve got young players,” Ujiri said according to Michael Grange of Sports Net Canada. “When you take a job, you have to assess the guys you need and the guys you don’t. Some of that we did right away and some of it we waited.

“But now we’re at the stage where we let the players grow. You need to let your players grow. We will continue to look at our team, but the key is we have young players and they players will hopefully continue to get better and continue to grow.”

Ujiri is currently preaching the tone of patience, but the veteran league executive has been known to make moves quietely, so keep an eye on what’s happening in Toronto.

Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves (4-16) sit last in the Western Conference standings and are undoubtedly in the midst of a rebuilding project in their first year without All-Star forward Kevin Love. It doesn’t help matters that two of the team’s starters, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic,  are currently on the shelf due to injury.

Veteran forward Corey Brewer is on the books for $4.7 million this season and has a player option worth $4.9 million on the books for the 2015-16 campaign.  Brewer could be an excellent addition to a team in the playoff chase and is an asset the Timberwolves could get value for without touching their young core.

Brewer is averaging 10.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.1 steals in 20 games this season.

Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons

While no one was predicting a championship parade in Detroit this season, there’s no doubt the Pistons (3-19) have performed far below expectations to start the campaign. The team is currently in the midst of a 13 game losing streak and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of a turnaround with the current unit.

Stan Van Gundy was hired as the president of basketball operations and the team’s head coach during the offseason. He was very active in free agency this past summer, bringing in additional wing help in order to free up space for the Pistons’ talented frontcourt. But the expected lift hasn’t arrived.

Van Gundy isn’t panicking publicly, but says he will continue to evaluate all of his options.

“Obviously, we haven’t gotten to the point where we’ve done anything different,” Van Gundy told David Mayo of MLive.com. “But the deeper you go, certainly, I think you’re always evaluating your approach — not just in terms of front office, but in terms of do we play other guys, do we sit certain guys?

“I’m not a real quick-trigger guy but … you’re at a quarter of the season. It’s been bad. I think you have to evaluate where you’re going, and what you want to do, and what your objectives are, and all of that, and we’ve certainly talked about that, yes.”

Most people point toward trying to move forward Josh Smith, but the veteran is owed $27 million after this season and hasn’t lived up to expectations since arriving in Detroit. The team also have Greg Monroe ($5.5 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4.5 million) and Joel Anthony ($3.8 million) to dangle as expiring contracts. Veteran forward Caron Butler’s deal worth $4.5 million next season is non-guaranteed.

Cavaliers interested in Grizzlies’ Kosta Koufos?

The Cavaliers are riding a wave of momentum after a slow start, but the team may not be content to rely on the current roster as assembled.

According to Marc Stein of ESPN, the Cavaliers are seeking some additional depth in the frontcourt and want a defensive presence able to protect the rim – enter Memphis Grizzlies center Kosta Koufos.

Sources say that the Cavs are well aware landing a quality big man likely depends on selling on potential trade partners to take back polarizing shooting guard Dion Waiters. Cleveland rates Waiters’ talent highly, but sources maintain that the Cavs have let a number of teams know they are prepared to surrender him if they can acquire a difference-making center in return.

And Koufos, regarded as one of the league’s more underrated interior defenders thanks to the limited minutes he gets behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, would certainly qualify.

Keep in mind here that the Grizzlies are 17-4 and sit comfortably in the competitive Western Conference. There’s little reason for the team to tamper with their strong locker room chemistry at the moment. But Memphis has been known to struggle scoring and the prospect of adding a guy like Waiters, who can light it up offensively, might be something their executives look deeper into.

These are just a few scenarios to keep an eye on over the next few weeks. Be sure to continue checking back with the Basketball Insiders team for the latest.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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