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NBA PM: The Western Conference Arms Race

The West’s playoff teams are making moves and the arms race is almost as entertaining as the on-court product.

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The Western Conference Arms Race

While it’s been awfully fun to watch the Western Conference teams face off on the court this season, it’s been almost as interesting to follow the intensifying arms race that’s taking place off the court.

With how stacked the West is this season, each contender in the conference is looking for ways to bolster their roster in preparation for an insanely competitive postseason.

In recent weeks, more and more West teams have made significant additions – with the Dallas Mavericks landing Rajon Rondo, the Oklahoma City Thunder acquiring Dion Waiters, the Memphis Grizzlies adding Jeff Green, the Houston Rockets acquiring Corey Brewer and Josh Smith, the Phoenix Suns bringing in Brandan Wright and the Los Angeles Clippers trading for Austin Rivers.

That’s obviously a lot of movement, especially considering it’s not even February yet, but more moves are likely to come very soon. Here are the latest rumors surrounding some teams out West:

Dallas Mavericks: Dallas already made their biggest move when they traded for Rajon Rondo, but immediately after that deal was completeled, it became clear that they needed to add a big man to give them some frontcourt depth and replace Wright, who was really thriving in the role. Now, it appears they’re nearing a deal with Jermaine O’Neal, which isn’t a big surprise since he lives in the area and wanted to remain close to his family. They are expecting to sign him, and the only reason this move hasn’t already happened is because three weeks ago O’Neal traveled to Germany to have Orthokine treatment on his knee and it takes about five-to-six weeks for players to recover from that. O’Neal posted a picture of himself getting the treatment on his Instagram account three weeks ago, along with a message hinting that he’d be playing this season. This treatment is something that O’Neal swears by, as he believes it played a big role in his resurgence in Phoenix and Golden State (after having a miserable two-year stint in Boston). Once O’Neal has recovered from the Orthokine, he’s expected to join the Mavericks and help their frontcourt.

Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers tried to trade for Jeff Green, but didn’t have the assets to land him so Green landed with the Memphis Grizzlies instead. They recently added Austin Rivers, but it seems they aren’t done making moves. Doc Rivers has hinted that the team may add two free agents with their open roster spots – possibly Nate Robinson (who badly wants to play for the Clippers) and perhaps another player who gets bought out (such as a veteran wing like Tayshaun Prince or Andrei Kirilenko). Ray Allen is obviously a possibility as well, as he previously played for Doc Rivers in Boston and may like the idea of playing in Los Angeles, but Allen still hasn’t given any indication that he’s going to play this season. And if he does decide to suit up, just about every playoff team will be blowing up his phone trying to sign him so the Clippers will have plenty of competition if they pursue the veteran sharpshooter.

Houston Rockets: The Rockets have already made two midseason moves, but they have still been working the phones. League sources say they have been dangling Jason Terry’s $5,850,313 expiring contract in trade talks, and it seems they’re open to packaging it with picks or prospects in order to complete a deal. Expiring contracts aren’t as valuable in today’s NBA, but certain teams do have interest in ending or non-guaranteed deals. Take the New York Knicks, for example, as they recently gave away Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith in a cap-clearing move. If Houston can’t pull off a larger trade that lands them a big-name player like Goran Dragic (who they’re pursuing), adding a player like Jose Calderon from New York for Terry’s expiring deal could be a back-up plan for Rockets GM Daryl Morey. It’s important to note that this Terry-for-Calderon scenario hasn’t come from a source and is just speculation (unlike other rumors mentioned throughout this piece), but the swap could make sense for both teams. New York wants to move Calderon’s contract since he is owed over $7 million in each of the next two years and they want to have as much cap space as possible entering the summer. The deal could help Houston too, as the 33-year-old is an experienced, pass-first point guard who can knock down open shots (and, most importantly, is someone they could obtain without having to give up much at all). The only issue would be that it would limit Houston’s cap flexibility going forward, which may throw a wrench in the deal. Still, Morey is known for making moves at the trade deadline – he’s active just about every season – and don’t expect this year to be an exception.

Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder are another team to keep an eye on as the deadline approaches. Once they traded for Dion Waiters, many people thought they would stand pat, but multiple executives have said that they continue to be aggressive and are still looking at trade opportunities. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams are untouchable, but “everyone else could be moved” for the right price, said one rival executive. OKC has been linked to players like Brook Lopez and Wilson Chandler among others, so it’s clear they’re looking to make a significant addition if possible. Reggie Jackson seems to be the player to watch between now and Feb. 19. The vibe that rival executives get from the Thunder is that they’re on the fence about moving Jackson before the deadline. On one hand, they’re in the luxury tax and may not be able to afford Jackson this summer when he hits restricted free agency. He also hasn’t had the best attitude since the Waiters move, especially since his minutes have been down (which is the exact opposite of what he wanted entering this season). There have even been rumors circulating that he’s had some issues with teammates, which further complicates things for the Thunder. With all of that said, some within the Thunder organization believe they should keep Jackson because they realize it would be hard to replace the production they get from him at the back-up point guard position and because there’s the belief that Jackson and Waiters could form a nice one-two punch if they’re able to get on the same page and eventually develop some chemistry. A Jackson trade could certainly happen, but league sources don’t characterize it as inevitable since the Thunder are still weighing the pros and cons of such a move.

Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies recently signed Tyrus Thomas to a 10-day contract, but they’ve had their eye on a number of other veterans throughout the season as well. They won’t hesitate to go in another direction if Thomas doesn’t produce during this contract or they feel like there’s a better option for them on the market. They could let Thomas walk after these 10 days (or after a second 10-day deal expires) and try to bring in a different veteran free agent if the Tyrus experiment fails. However, it does seem Memphis wants to give Thomas a fair shot since they worked him out earlier this season and they were impressed by his performance in the D-League Showcase, where he played with their affiliate Iowa Energy.

While the teams currently in the playoff race are making the most headlines, the teams just outside of it are also actively searching for moves.

New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans are buyers, as they want to put some better pieces around Anthony Davis and sneak into the postseason this year. This team is determined to win now after trading away their last three first-round draft picks to land veterans Jrue Holiday and Omer Asik. The league-wide perception is that Dell Demps and Monty Williams are on thin ice right now, so there’s an even stronger sense of urgency to bolster the roster and win this season. If the team continues to struggle, they could make a change at both positions – and the rumor of owner Tom Benson being very close to Joe Dumars and interested in hiring him as the team’s next general manager is true (and has been floating around since last year).

Sacramento Kings: The Kings are also buyers as the deadline approaches. They’ve been linked to a ton of different players, from Rajon Rondo (before he was dealt to Dallas) to Josh Smith (before he was waived) to Deron Williams. They’re clearly in win-now mode, as evidenced by their decision to fire Mike Malone because they felt he wasn’t meeting expectations (even though the team was doing better than just about anyone expected). Sacramento has been extremely aggressive under Vivek Ranadive and Pete D’Alessandro and that will continue this year. They have plenty of assets including young players like Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Derrick Williams and Ray McCallum and veterans such as Darren Collison, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Ramon Sessions and Reggie Evans – making them an attractive trade partner for both rebuilding teams and win-now teams. League sources say they have been shopping Derrick Williams, but Stauskas was recently reported to be available as well. When there’s a team that is aggressively looking to make a trade and has attractive assets to pull one off, usually that means a deal will happen before the deadline. Keep an eye on the Kings.

Denver Nuggets: One seller to watch is the Denver Nuggets, as they have already started removing veterans from their team such as Timofey Mozgov and Nate Robinson since their goal of making the playoffs went up in flames awhile ago. It seems unlikely that Ty Lawson or Kenneth Faried will be dealt, but they still have veterans like Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, J.J. Hickson, Randy Foye, Darrell Arthur, JaVale McGee and Jameer Nelson who could be poached by other teams that are looking to win now and feel they’re just a piece or two away.

Minnesota Timberwolves: The Wolves find themselves in a similar situation as the Nuggets. They entered the season (naively) hoping to be a playoff team, but instead they have the worst record in the league. Don’t be surprised if they decide to have a fire sale and move veterans like Thaddeus Young, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Mo Williams and Chase Budinger. They already dealt Corey Brewer to Houston after he reportedly asked Flip Saunders to be traded, so similar moves could be coming.

Los Angeles Lakers: Finally, there’s the Lakers, who also could be sellers at the deadline. L.A. sits at the bottom of the standings in the West and must land a top five pick in order to keep their lottery selection (otherwise it goes to the Phoenix Suns from the Steve Nash trade). This season has been a disaster, and now it just got even worse with Kobe Bryant out for the season due to a torn rotator cuff. Trading away veterans like Jordan Hill and Ed Davis among others could be beneficial for a number of reasons. First of all, it could return some young players or draft picks that help L.A. as they rebuild. Secondly, it would free up minutes for some of the younger players on the roster and give them a chance to develop. Finally, it would likely lead to some more losses, which would increase the Lakers’ odds of keeping their pick and landing a stud in the 2015 NBA Draft (which is shaping up to be very good, especially at the top). Davis seems like the biggest no-brainer to trade, since he can (and likely will) opt out of his contract after this season and become an unrestricted free agent, so getting some kind of compensation in return for him (even if it isn’t much) would be smart rather than maybe losing him for nothing this summer.

The NBA’s trade deadline is on Feb. 19 and Basketball Insiders will keep you updated on all of the latest rumors and news between now and then. Be sure to bookmark our news section and check back throughout the day for reports and analysis from our team.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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