Things are about to get interesting in the NBA with the February 19 trade deadline rapidly approaching. Trade chatter is most definitely in the air. Some teams have made noises already, and you can be sure many team executives will be talking during the upcoming All-Star Weekend events in New York. By now, teams have identified strengths and weaknesses of their roster with a careful eye pointed toward the postseason. This is the time of the season to address those flaws that could be exposed in the playoffs.
Basketball Insiders began a new series this week that focuses on each division and what those teams may do by the trade deadline. Today we look at the Southwest Division, which currently has four teams poised to enter the playoff race, with the other one not too far behind. We’ll explore if these teams are more likely to stand pat or more likely to pull the trigger on any deals. Listed under each team are players on expiring deals, potential expiring deals and players who could be shopped.
Expiring deals: Marc Gasol and Kosta Koufos.
Potential expiring deals: Beno Udrih, Jon Leuer, Russ Smith and Nick Calathes (Qualifying Offer).
Could be shopped: Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer, Russ Smith and Nick Calathes.
The Grizzlies are one of those teams who made a surprise early move. After identifying a critical need for more offensive firepower, they secured multi-positional Jeff Green, along with Russ Smith and a traded player exception, in a three-team deal and gave up forwards Tayshaun Prince and Quincy Pondexter. Luol Deng was on their radar, but Green fit the bill just as well and was easier to acquire. It appears to have been a solid move as the Grizzlies have won ten of their last 11 games since adding Green, who is averaging 12.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and an astounding 95.8 percent shooting at the foul line. While still working on a successful integration of Green, Memphis is using him in ways previously occupied by small forward Rudy Gay.
Memphis, with a current record of 35-12 and a second-place standing in the Western Conference, is quietly and confidently marching toward the postseason. They recently signed 6’10 Tyrus Thomas (the league’s fourth overall pick in 2006) to a ten-day contract to add depth on the frontline. Further, the Grizzlies just lost a valuable veteran voice and contributor in Vince Carter, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury.
As our own Lang Green of Basketball Insiders explained, Kosta Koufos will soon be faced with a decision to either remain in Memphis in a reserve role or pursue a different opportunity in free agency with a team that will give him more minutes. Of course, Memphis could move him by the trade deadline rather than risk netting nothing in return. Smith has yet to log a single minute on the court, and Jon Leuer failed to impress when given increased minutes while Randolph was sidelined. Calathes had fallen out of rotation earlier in the season, but has seen more playing time and improved numbers of late.
The Grizzlies have every intention of re-signing their leading scorer, Marc Gasol, this summer. Of particular note, Gasol is the first player to represent the Grizzlies as a starter in the All-Star Game.
Expiring deals: Jason Terry and Josh Smith.
Potential expiring deals: Isaiah Canaan, Kostas Papanikolaou (Team Option), Alexey Shved (Qualifying Offer) and Patrick Beverley (Qualifying Offer).
Could be shopped: Jason Terry, Alexey Shved, Kostas Papanikolaou, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Clint Capela.
History has proven the Rockets are an organization unafraid to pull off trade deadline moves, and there’s no reason to think this year will be any different. The rumors have been fairly strong in various packaging of traded and acquired players. Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders recently reported that league sources indicate the Rockets have been dangling Jason Terry’s expiring contract in trade discussions and may even include picks to seal a deal. Houston has long been eyeing Phoenix Suns’ guard Goran Dragic and most recently, Brooklyn Nets’ Brook Lopez. Dragic, who had a breakout season in Houston in 2011-12, would be an offensive upgrade over starting point guard Patrick Beverley, which is evidently what they desire as they were previously in the running for Rajon Rondo. It appears Deron Williams is also on the Rockets’ radar. The abundance of expiring contracts and potential expiring deals mean Houston could package an attractive deal to land either Dragic or Lopez.
Houston has already been active with the December pickups of Corey Brewer and Alexey Shved and the recent acquisition of ex-Detroit Pistons Josh Smith, who is fitting in well off the bench. Smith is comfortable with his new team and may sign a contract extension this summer.
The team is enjoying a 33-15 record and is currently ranked third in their conference. As for concerns down the stretch, Dwight Howard suffered a knee injury and no timetable for return has been given. He could be sidelined for weeks versus days. The over-reliance on James Harden, who is having a head-turning season – even an MVP-like season – cannot be dismissed.
Expiring deals: Tyson Chandler, Rajon Rondo, Greg Smith, Charlie Villanueva, Richard Jefferson and J.J. Barea.
Potential expiring deals: Ricky Ledo and Dwight Powell.
Could be shopped: Charlie Villanueva and Richard Jefferson.
Dallas already pulled off one of the biggest pre-deadline moves yet this season when they landed Rajon Rondo (with Dwight Powell) for Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright and Jameer Nelson along with two draft picks and a trade exception. It’s taking time to integrate Rondo into the system and to find a balance with teammate Monta Ellis. The team is 13-9 since Rondo joined, and the point guard is logging the lowest average assists per game (6.5) in years. Note – he just suffered what looks to be a serious in-game head injury, and the prognosis is unknown at this time. The loss of Wright has been difficult to overcome and rotations have been a struggle, plus the bench play is not exactly reliable.
Reports indicate 36-year-old center Jermaine O’Neal will sign with the Mavericks prior to the All-Star Break to lend some much-needed frontcourt depth. They’ve held a roster spot open specifically for him while continuing to eye players who are looking for a return to the NBA after their seasons end in China.
The Mavericks are in sixth place in the Western Conference with a record of 32-17. Bench upgrades at the expense of the many potential expiring deals to aging veterans (perhaps Charlie Villanueva and Richard Jefferson) could happen by the trade deadline to make that push in the postseason.
San Antonio Spurs
Expiring deals: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, Jeff Ayres and Matt Bonner.
Potential expiring deals: Kawhi Leonard, Aron Baynes and Cory Joseph (all Qualifying Offers).
Could be shopped: Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres.
It’s been an unusual season for the Spurs (30-18) thus far with their seventh place standing in the Western Conference. The primary factor at play here are injuries. The 18-game loss of Kawhi Leonard has exposed the team’s lack of depth in perimeter defense. Tiago Splitter missing 23 games revealed interior problems. With the way this roster is constructed, the Spurs were able to overcome the missed games of Tony Parker, Patty Mills and Cory Joseph, but not so much the loss of Leonard and Splitter. Players who excel in ball-stopping seem to be the primary need.
It might behoove San Antonio to pull the trigger on a player they’ve been rumored to favor for some time, which is the Charlotte Hornets’ Marvin Williams. A player like Williams coming off the bench for wing depth behind Leonard makes sense. Spurs’ players such as Jeff Ayres and Marco Belinelli – maybe add a second-round pick – could be used a trade bait by the deadline.
The window appears to be closing on the Spurs after this season, so a right-now move may ensure another NBA Finals bid. Such action is not the typical Spurs move, but it’s worth considering. As mentioned lately, they may pursue huge names like Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency, but that doesn’t address their needs for this season.
New Orleans Pelicans
Expiring deals: Omer Asik, John Salmons, Luke Babbitt, Alexis Ajinca, Jimmer Fredette, Dante Cunningham
Potential expiring deals: Jeff Withey (Qualifying Offer)
Could be shopped: John Salmons, Jeff Withey
The Pelicans are the only team in the Western Conference not in playoff contention at this moment. They are close though, with a ninth ranking in the West and a record of 25-22. The Oklahoma City Thunder would dearly love to jump past the Pelicans and bump the Phoenix Suns out of their eighth spot. So what can the Pelicans do to make sure they are the ones taking over that last spot?
It doesn’t help that starting point guard and third leading scorer, Jrue Holiday, is out for an extended time due to a stress reaction in his lower leg. They had been making small moves by signing power forward Dante Cunningham and trading Austin Rivers and Russ Smith for Quincy Pondexter, who played for New Orleans in his rookie year. After the Holiday incident, they signed Nate Wolters to two ten-day deals.
The Pelicans are in win-now mode and focused on building around star Anthony Davis. The fact that Holiday is the only true point guard, save for the perhaps temporary Wolters, suggests the Pelicans may go shopping by the deadline. The aging Salmons and little-used Withey may be moved. A package involving Eric Gordon – maybe pairing him with Tyreke Evans – could yield something special.
With the pre-trade deadline roster changes in the Southwest Division, it’s evident that Dallas, Houston and Memphis are aiming for a title run this year. San Antonio and New Orleans see their division rivals adding big-name players like Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith and Jeff Green, and it’s rather apparent they must do something significant too. In less than three weeks’ time, we’ll know where they stand.
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