The NBA's in store for a wild trade season. There are multiple teams in the mix of a rebuild, who won't hesitate to make themselves worse in order to get a better shot at the top pick in the draft (I'm looking at you, Suns and Sixers). The middle-of-the-pack teams that start the season trying to win could change their tune midway through as reality sets in and they fall in the standings.
None of this is unique or unprecedented, but it all seems heightened by the changes to the CBA along with the belief that there are at least a couple of franchise-altering prospects coming into the league next season. It all conspires to create very volatile trade scenario brewing and that should scare the few legitimate contenders out there.
The fire sales solidify contenders
Throughout the offseason there were multiple trades that either created or strengthened contenders. The Celtics finally blew it up and that caused the Nets to appear as a legitimate threat in the East. The Suns went further into tank mode and disposed of Luis Scola, who should provide a nice scoring punch to the Pacers bench. They also surrendered a solid role-player in Jared Dudley while simultaneously facilitating the trade for J.J. Redick, which brought an unprecedented depth to the Clippers at the wing. Teams will absolutely bottom out on purpose, giving no regard to strengthening direct rivals because their timelines don't match.
The Suns were the first to liquidate their assets for pennies on the dollar, and many other teams might follow suit as the season progresses. That means that good players could likely be had for very, very little, especially if they fit the description of role guy on a mid-seized contract . Let's use the Magic as an example. They have no use for Glen Davis, Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson and they are surely aware that there won't be great offers for them. That means that a late first-rounder along with an expiring or a younger player makes for a great haul. The Sixers could even surrender a great young player like Thadeus Young simply because he's expensive and, at 25, doesn't fit their timeline.
Meanwhile, most of the contenders and fringe contenders seem to have that exact type of tradable assets. Losing a non-core player on an expiring contract (Matt Bonner, Jerryd Bayless, Kirk Hinrich, Shane Battier, etc.) and a late first-rounder to gain a rotation-level player is a no-brainer for teams on the contention bubble. Even better players from middle-of-the-pack teams could be had using young players with potential like Lance Stephenson, Reggie Jackson or Ed Davis as trade bait. If a team feels they're one piece away from contention, they could use such assets to take advantage of the fire sales going on among non-contenders without having to surrender much or take a huge risk.
The waiver wire could bring reinforcements
Contenders are built in the off-season but the impact of in-season additions cannot be overstated. Of the teams that reached the semifinals in either conference, four featured players on their regular playoff rotation that they acquired during the season. The Grizzlies traded Gay for Prince, and by most metrics were better for it. The Heat and Knicks added much needed size by bringing in free agents Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin, respectively. The Thunder added Derek Fisher. And a season before, the Spurs added Boris Diaw, which significantly improved their big-man rotation. Fisher joined the Thunder. Ramon Sessions joined the Lakers.
You'll notice most of those additions came to be either via free agency or the waiver wire. Some veterans decide against joining a team in the off-season, taking a chance that they'll catch on for a playoff push. Others sleepwalk through the season on expiring contracts, waiting to be traded or released after the trade deadline. While there are not a lot of quality vets out of contract at this point (unless you're counting Stephen Jackson and, after last season, I'm not), there could be an influx of free agents after the trade deadline.
The recent Okafor-Gortat trade is a great example. At this point, the Suns have no use for Okafor so they traded him for the pick and the cap relief that. Finding a suitable trade will probably be impossible, as no team was prepared to surrender much for an injured Okafor because of how large his salary is. The Suns don't want to take on long-term salary as they look to rebuild, so it's likely Phoenix will waive him at some point. If sitting for a couple of months means Okafor is healthy enough to suit up, he could really help a contender. Imagine the Clippers, who are paper-thin up front, suddenly having Okafor to back up Deandre Jordan.
This is not a unique situation. Let's assume the Mavs decide to shake things up to make a playoff push, or decide to get a bit younger and are willing to send Shawn Marion or Vince Carter out on a trade. The second the deal gets through, Marion and Carter are released to become free agents. Whoever signs them for the minimum will be a better team. This is true for any veteran on an expiring contract that's expendable. Trevor Ariza, Ben Gordon, Kris Humphries, Caron Butler -- all apply here. Their teams could make sizable deals for players on smaller contracts and they could be released to join contenders.
Why this is dangerous for the Spurs
Obviously, the Spurs would be in the running to either use Bonner's expiring contract to swing a trade, or convince a waived player to join them. Upgrading at any position would be a huge boost to their chances of winning the title and I'm sure they will explore any option that presents itself. At the same time, the Spurs shouldn't and probably won't try to aggressively shake things up, as they are already built to win it all. Any change, unless it's an undeniable home run, probably involves more risk than it's worth as it could affect team chemistry and require a change in the rotation. Unless things go wrong early, I doubt PATFO will be working the phones like other teams will.
But not every contender has as much to lose by shaking their roster up. As previously mentioned, the Clippers have only two undeniably good big men -- neither of which can shoot free throws. But it seems there will be ample chance for them to fill that hole with a quality player once the season is underway, and for Doc River's squad the potential chemistry issues are a small price to pay. The Grizzlies desperately need a shooter and could find it either by flipping Ed Davis for someone like Afflalo or Brandon Rush, or waiting until the Bobcats inevitably waive Ben Gordon. The surprisingly thin Thunder have a mid-sized trade exception that would fit either Glen Davis or Louis Williams. They also have a few young players, as well as the Mavs pick they could package for a veteran like Vince Carter. That's not counting the huge expiring contracts of Danny Granger, Paul Pierce and Luol Deng back east, or what are likely the two prime trade targets in the west: Omer Asik and Harrison Barnes.
There seems to be a perfect storm of trade potential that could reshape the contending landscape. I would be surprised if most contenders finish the season with the same roster they started with and that unpredictability is scary for teams that would be heavy favorites if the status quo is maintained.
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- Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 5: The Pacers and Cavaliers
- Spurs sign - and then waive - Josh Howard
- 30 preseason predictions: Los Angeles Lakers
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