NBA Trade Deadline Watch: Southwest Division

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For most NBA teams, the trade deadline presents one of the best opportunities to alter the trajectory of a franchise. For fringe contenders, the deadline could see the acquisition of one of the final few pieces to a championship puzzle. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers added Channing Frye, who has since become an important part of their team. Way back in 2004, it was the Detroit Pistons who succeeded in adding Rasheed Wallace to their core.

Some teams find themselves looking to divest of assets, while others see the deadline as an opportunity to acquire some players that can help improve the future fortunes of the team. That’s why, along with the NBA Draft, the deadline is one of the most important dates during the NBA season. Traditionally the Thursday following the conclusion of All-Star Weekend, general managers across the league will have until February 23 to put up or shut up.

Down in the NBA’s Southwest Division, we are likely to see most teams standing pat, but there is bound to be a surprise or two.

San Antonio Spurs (1st in Southwest, 39-12)

Aside from winning basketball games, the other constant with the San Antonio Spurs is their ability to fly under the radar and avoid unwanted attention. Some things never change.

All things considered, the Spurs are doing quite well for themselves this season, despite having been without Pau Gasol since mid-January. What the injury to the Spaniard reminds the franchise of, though, is that you are only as good as your health allows you to be. The Spurs are obviously in the market for another big body, and as we saw previously with George Hill and Cory Joseph, the franchise is gifted when it comes to finding players that other teams covet.

From David Lee to Kyle Anderson to Jonathan Simmons, the Spurs have a number of valuable players on reasonable contracts, and could unquestionably find a trade partner if the franchise deemed it necessary. However, lovers of continuity and those that possess “corporate knowledge,” the Spurs aren’t likely to rock the boat this deadline season. That rings even truer when one considers that they sit atop the Southwest Division and appear to have an inside track to the second overall seed in the tough Western Conference.

Houston Rockets (2nd in Southwest, 38-17)

All season long, the question most commonly posed as it relates to the Houston Rockets is whether or not the team is “for real.” In the past, we have seen Mike D’Antoni teams excel in the regular season, only to falter and fall short when the games really count.

General manager Daryl Morey, despite his team’s early success, isn’t one to traditionally take things for granted. Even he admits, though, that making substantial changes to a team that has played so well is a risky proposition. For that reason, Morey went on record with the Houston Chronicle, assuring the public that his streak of making deadline deals was over.

In all likelihood Morey won’t be able to help himself, but anything that the Rockets do won’t rock their foundation. D’Antoni has earned a reputation for being a very loyal coach, both to his system and to his players. The team that the Rockets have assembled plays to his strengths, and there isn’t much reason to entertain the notion of a shakeup. According to Calvin Watkins of ESPN, the Rockets do have some interest in Serge Ibaka, however. With free agency on the horizon, the Congolese big man could find himself with a new address by the deadline. In many ways, Ibaka could make some sense for the Rockets, but the Magic is a team that is on the fence as it relates to fire selling some of its current assets of making a push for a run at the playoffs.

In the spirit of never saying never, Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer are each regarded as hard-working players who impact both sides of the floor. Each will stand to earn a total of $15 million combined for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, meaning that they are valuable trade commodities. The Rockets also have youngsters in K.J. McDaniels, Tyler Ennis, Sam Dekker, Clint Cappella and Montrezl Harrell, all of whom have low salary commitments and high perceived value.

For the Rockets, they could potentially package a few pieces to make a run at a bigger named player, so Serge Ibaka is worth watching. That is, of course, assuming Morey can’t help but to make a splash.

Memphis Grizzlies (3rd in Southwest, 32-22)

For as long as we can all remember, the Grizzlies have been a team that has seemingly been stuck in the middle. Good enough to make the playoffs and throw a scare into a good team, but ultimately not good enough to win the conference. It seems that, despite an infusion of some younger and more talented pieces, that’s where the Grizzlies are once again.

Many fans lose sight of the fact that consummating a trade at the NBA level requires two teams making a deal, and both teams want to win. It has to be symbiotic. For the Grizzlies, then, there are two questions. First is whether they have pieces that other teams would actually want, and second is whether what they fetch in return would actually help improve the team’s odds of improving their standing as the third-best team in the Southwest Division.

Unfortunately, in either instance, the answer is probably no. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are as close to unmovable as can be. The former two are the team’s best players, while the latter, along with Tony Allen, give the Grizzlies the tough mindset the team had used as its blueprint. Reminiscent of the way the Indiana Pacers fell apart without Roy Hibbert, David West and Frank Vogel, similar things would happen to the Grizzlies without any of the four aforementioned players.

Toward the end of the bench, rookie Wade Baldwin has had his fair share of high moments this season, while Andrew Harrison, JaMychal Green and Deyonta Davis continue to have value, as well. But none of those players are thought to have superstar potential, and unless the Grizzlies can find a way to nab a true difference maker who finds himself on the trade market—think Serge Ibaka, Carmelo Anthony or DeMarcus Cousins—any trade they find themselves making this deadline season will likely be one that is inconsequential in the grand scheme.

Dallas Mavericks (4th in Southwest, 20-32)

Without question, the Mavericks are thinking about life after Dirk Nowitzki. Truly a franchise pillar, the sun is setting on one of the greatest careers we have ever witnessed. Now, what the future holds for Mark Cuban’s team is tied directly to the strides that Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews can make in their personal games.

Having recently signed upstart Yogi Ferrell, the Mavericks are continuing their youth movement, which does make Andrew Bogut somewhat of an odd fit. Bogut, despite his injury concerns, is a valued commodity. He can still serve a valuable role for a team that needs a defensive-minded center off the bench who can control the paint and grab some rebounds during some key moments down the stretch of a tight playoff game. What makes Bogut even more appealing is that he is playing in the final year of his contract; he doesn’t require a hefty investment.

Knowing that the days of playoff contention are behind them, the Mavericks would likely require some minuscule form of compensation for Bogut; heavily protected picks would probably get it done. Both Deron Williams and Devin Harris would have similar appeal, as well. According to Sam Amick of USA Today, the Cavaliers did have some interest in Deron Williams in the not so distant past, though many believe the team will address their point guard and depth issues via buyout candidates. They typically show up after the deadline.

Never the type to not answer their phones during trade season, the Mavericks will likely entertain bids for some of their aging players. This time around, however, the trade deadline will be more about divesting assets than trading for pieces and players that can assist with a playoff run. Those days appear over for the Mavs, at least for now.

As it currently stands, the Mavs have just one pick credit—a 2019 second rounder from the Golden State Warriors. They would be best served by trying to improve the depth of their coffers.

New Orleans Pelicans (5th in Southwest, 20-32)

Teams that are struggling tend to be open to the idea of mixing things up. And “struggling” is a word that can be used to describe the Pelicans quite well. Since being ousted by the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 playoffs, the Pelicans have regressed badly as Anthony Davis has struggled to remain healthy over the course of an entire season. Last season, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon had trouble staying on the court and this season, things got off to a rocky start because of Jrue Holiday’s extended absence. The end result is a team that many feel is underachieving, and those are the teams that typically shake things up.

It’s probably safe to assume that Anthony Davis remains the team’s franchise player. Despite his health concerns, his appreciable upside makes him among the most valuable players in the league. Rookie Buddy Hield has shown flashes over the course of the young season, and indications coming out of New Orleans are that he continues to have the support of the organization.

The Pelicans were recently linked to the Philadelphia 76ers, who have an obvious logjam in their frontcourt. The rumored trade would see Jahlil Okafor sent to New Orleans for Alexis Ajinca and a first round pick. With the Sixers most interested in the pick, the Pelicans may substitute another player. It’s fluid, but what is obvious is that general manager Dell Demps needs to upgrade the talent on the roster – and doing it with Okafor would make a lot of sense, so long as the Pelicans don’t have to sacrifice one of their core players.

Tyreke Evans is worth keeping an eye on in the final year of a contract paying him a reasonable $10.2 million, while rookie guard Tim Frazier has played up his value tremendously while filling in for the injury-riddled team.

Of all teams in the Southwest, the Pelicans appear most likely to make a groundbreaking trade, which really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering the franchise’s recent struggles.

For many years, the Southwest Division was thought to be the best in basketball. Times have changed a bit, but with the Spurs, Rockets and Grizzlies all vying for supremacy, the Pelicans and Mavericks are stuck in the cellar. Whether it be one of the teams up top trying to improve their stock or the Pelicans and Mavs trying to change their fortunes, the odds of the division experiencing some sort of shake up, in some way, seem fairly high.

Stay tuned.