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NBA Trade Watch: The Central Division

Spencer Davies takes a look at what teams in the Central Division are going to busy in the trade market.

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Basketball Insiders continues its division-by-division trade watch series with the Central Division.

Between the top and bottom, it’s expected that those organizations will be busy in the trade market as the deadline approaches.

Here’s a look at the group of five and what teams are expected to be the most involved in the Central.

Note:
*Player Option
**Qualifying Offer
***Team Option

Cleveland Cavaliers (26-14)

The Cavaliers have lost six out of their last eight games, but they still sit atop the division. They’re a team full of ups and downs due to injuries and re-implementing players into rotations, like what’s most recently gone on with Isaiah Thomas and Tristan Thompson. Soon they’ll have to do the same with Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert.

Regardless of that, Cleveland is a team in need of some type of move. Not only are they an older roster, but their defense has been sub-par to put it politely. A trade doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, but just enough to fill a need, or in this case, needs.

Notable Ending Contracts:

LeBron James* — $33,285,709

Isaiah Thomas — $6,261,395

Iman Shumpert* — $10,337,079

Channing Frye — $7,420,912

Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Jeff Green — $1,471, 382

Names Worth Talking About:

It’s no secret that the Cavaliers have contemplated trading Tristan Thompson in an effort to move his heavy contract. Iman Shumpert is another player who’s been rumored to be in discussions with other teams for the past two years now.

Thompson would likely net more of a return for Cleveland, but considering his representation is the same as James’ and the fact he’s slowly developed a rapport with Thomas in the pick-and-roll game, it’s probably not going to happen. On the other hand, Shumpert has had a tough time staying healthy this year and his role with the team might suffer due to the abundance of guards on the roster, so he could be on his way out if the Cavs find a taker for his salary.

Based on lack of production on both ends of the floor, J.R. Smith should also be a candidate worth discussing, but Tyronn Lue is known to stick with his guys through thick and thin, so chances are a trade wouldn’t be in the cards.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Defense. Cleveland has had little to no resistance in many areas on that end of the floor. Two types of players would be welcomed—a perimeter defender that can shoot and a rim-protecting big that at the very least can alter shots in the restricted area.

It’s widely known by now that they have kicked the rocks on Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, but that price tag may be too steep. If the Cavs want a rental, there multiple potential targets. Nerlens Noel has a thumb injury at the moment, but if he’s healthy by deadline time it’d be a no-brainer for the sheer fact that he’s no longer used by the Dallas Mavericks at all. Another big from the same team who actually gets some playing time, Salah Mejri, could also be had for a lesser return. It wouldn’t be bad idea to explore the availability of Robin Lopez in Chicago, either.

As far the two-way guard is concerned, the perfect target is Courtney Lee. He’s been sensational from both a leadership and production standpoint for the New York Knicks and has plenty of experience. Slot him into the Cavs’ starting lineup and watch the energy level increase. Other options could include Tyreke Evans, who is having a career year with the Memphis Grizzlies, and Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore, whom Mike Zavagno of Fear The Sword suggested this past week.

Milwaukee Bucks (22-18)

Over the last week and a half, the Bucks have been on a seesaw. They’ve been on a win-loss, win-loss, win-loss pattern since the New Year came about. There has to be some semblance of consistency shown in the near future.

Milwaukee needs to start taking (and making) more threes. With Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell on the outside, that should be a dependable trio to knock those three-balls down. Crashing the boards has been an issue that’s held this team back in the past and is affecting them right now, but we’ll get into that more in-depth.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Jabari Parker** — $6,782,392

Names Worth Talking About:

The Bucks already made their blockbuster deal in November when they acquired Eric Bledsoe from the Phoenix Suns. Greg Monroe was whom they sent out, and other than him, there really are no players to pay attention to that may get shipped away.

What Milwaukee is waiting on is the impending return of Jabari Parker, which will pretty much act as a mid-season acquisition when he rejoins the team.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Rebounding. It’s been what’s held the Bucks back this year from being a true contender. It doesn’t help that they lost their best big man in the deal for Bledsoe, but it was a splash where the pros outweighed the cons. Still, Milwaukee’s dependence on John Henson is the X-factor of how far they can go.

Reports suggested Milwaukee threw their name in the hat in the DeAndre Jordan sweepstakes, but similar to the Cavs situation, the return L.A. is asking for may not be worth it. If the Bucks are involved in the deadline talks though, it should be for a big.

Detroit Pistons (22-18)

To the surprise of many, though not including this writer, the Pistons are a real player in the East. Unfortunately, injuries have restricted them from achieving their true potential, but the growth of Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris has really put this team in a great position.

Recently, Detroit pummeled the Nets in Brooklyn, but they’ve still dropped three out of five. They’re combating missing pieces and giving young guys like Luke Kennard and Dwight Buycks significant playing time while they wait for others to get healthy. That’s a reason they’ll be heavily involved come deadline time.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Avery Bradley — $8,808,989

Names Worth Talking About:

Despite having a solid season, Reggie Jackson is always somebody to pay attention to when it comes to trade chatter. Whether it’s because of his trouble staying on the court or his hefty contract, the Pistons have floated him around in deal discussions for the past two years. Luke Kennard’s flashes of talent in his rookie season have reportedly made him an interesting target for teams, but it will depend on what direction the organization wants to go. The same goes for Stanley Johnson.

It’s very unlikely, but the expiring deal of Avery Bradley makes him an attractive option for teams in need of a starting guard. Anthony Tolliver could also make for an intriguing rotational player and has a cheap expiring contract.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Depth. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Detroit has been “one of the most aggressive” players on the market looking for talent. Injuries have sidelined Jackson and Jon Leuer, so those positions could use either an upgrade or some extra bodies.

So what names have the Pistons been linked to? Earlier this season, Orlando Magic swingman Evan Fournier was apparently in the mix. Chicago Bulls power forward Nikola Mirotic and Brooklyn Nets wing DeMarre Carroll are two names that have come up in rumblings as well.

Indiana Pacers (21-20)

Remember when people were laughing at the Pacers for trading Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis? Those people are awfully silent right now. Outside of a rough end to December, the supposedly rebuilding squad is above .500 and in a real conversation to make the postseason.

Defense is still an area of concern for Indiana, but their dynamite offensive onslaughts are overpowering enough to beat some teams. We’ll see if it can sustain throughout the season, and if it does, Nate McMillan will have quite the case for a Coach of The Year argument.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Thaddeus Young* — $14,796,348

Glenn Robinson III — 1,525,305

Cory Joseph* — $7,630,000

Lance Stephenson*** — $4,180,000

Names Worth Talking About:

Not too many. The Pacers are in good shape and really don’t need to ship anybody out necessarily.

Maybe with the return of Glenn Robinson III from injury, there may be less playing time for somebody, but it’s not necessarily enough of a change to make a move. If they weren’t contending for a potential postseason appearance, it’d make sense to try and find a deal for Thaddeus Young and Darren Collison, but they’ve been paramount to the team’s success.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

One more superstar. If Indiana chooses to make a move at the deadline, why not go for a home run? Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post cooked up an interesting thought about chasing Kemba Walker away from the struggling Charlotte Hornets. While point guard is a position set at the moment, you can’t equate to the production that an All-Star could potentially give you. It’s a grand idea and could make what was intended to be a rebuild into a contending season.

That might be the key to sending this Pacers team over the top as a real threat in the Eastern Conference, but it could also mess with the current flow they have right now with Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis leading the charge. Only time will tell if they attempt something that drastic, but it could pay dividends if they try.

Chicago Bulls (15-27)

It hasn’t been pretty, but it’s been a lot prettier than most of us expected. After a 3-20 start, the Bulls are scratching and clawing with 15 wins already. The development of Kris Dunn as a legitimate starting point guard has been promising. Lauri Markannen is doing everything in his power to prove he’s a future star in this league. Nikola Mirotic is having a career year. Zach LaVine is coming back on Saturday.

Chicago’s probably going to finish in the bottom half of the conference, but it might not be as far deep as some predicted before the season started. They’ll definitely be players in the trade market to get their younger talent some more chances to develop.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Nikola Mirotic*** — $12,500,000

Zach LaVine** — $3,202,218

Names Worth Talking About:

Nikola Mirotic wants out of the Windy City. Regardless of how well the Bulls have competed over the last few weeks, he has no desire to stay for multiple reasons. Reports say that the 26-year-old has interest in the Utah Jazz to play under Quin Snyder. Outside of his personal preferences, the Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, and Portland Trail Blazers have had discussions with Chicago. The asking price for Mirotic is a first-round pick. He can be shipped out as soon as January 15, so expect talks to pick up fast.

Another player to keep an eye on is Robin Lopez, who is a veteran center lost on a team going towards a youth movement. With Cristiano Felicio recently earning a payday and getting so little time on the court, that could ultimately push management to make a trade. Lopez could probably yield a decent return, too.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Size and youth. Say Chicago does get rid of Mirotic or Lopez, or even both—they’re left with one center and no bigs to back up Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen. Some guards on their roster should be expendable when Zach LaVine returns from his injury on Saturday, so maybe start there.

One rumored deal for Mirotic includes Derrick Favors in exchange, so they’re on the right track.

The trade deadline is shaping up to be a busy one for a lot of teams. Expect the Central Division to be on the phones when it comes to improving their respective rosters.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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