With the trade deadline less than 24 hours away, let’s look at the top 5 players most likely to be changing jerseys – starting with the likeliest.
1. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
Josh Smith has been rumored in trade talks for years now. However, with his free agency status pending, he is a virtual lock to go elsewhere. And why not? He has put his time in with the team, helping the Hawks go from cellar-dweller status to a respectable playoff team. He was suspended earlier this season for conduct detrimental to the team. The one reason to try to keep him is to use him as a lure for Dwight Howard to come to his hometown of Atlanta. However, if Dwight didn’t put the Hawks on his wish-list last year, why would he go there now? And if Dwight is unlikely to come, why hold on to Smith?
2. Eric Bledsoe, LA Clippers
Eric Bledsoe has really set himself up for a huge paycheck for next year and beyond. The question is, where is it going to be? Certainly not in Clipper land, where Chris Paul will presumably sign a long-term deal and run Lob City for years to come. With his trade value very high, Bledsoe should garner a lot of interest from other teams looking for a solid point guard to build their team around.
3. Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz
With a crowded but talented front court, Utah is not going to be able to hang on to all their bigs. As a small-market team, we have seen precedence that holding on to more than 2-3 stars is just not feasible (e.g. James Harden in OKC, Rudy Gay in Memphis). Trading Millsap makes the most sense, as the Jazz will want to give more minutes to their new talented bigs in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. At the same time, they can keep their contender status with Al Jefferson manning the middle. To me, trading Millsap to the Clippers for Bledsoe makes the most sense for both teams.
4. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
I’m going out on a limb here: while GM Danny Ainge has been adamant about not trading Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce, he remains mum about his newest superstar. Obviously, tearing his ACL kind of sets back Rondo’s trade value, but teams would still love to have him. Also, it’s not like this would be the first time Rondo would be shopped around. The team rattled off eight straight wins in his absence, which may reinforce Rondo’s expendability. Although a shakeup is due soon, I think Ainge, deep down, does not want to build around the volatile young point guard.
5. Kris Humphries, Brooklyn Nets
Humphries is being actively shopped by the aggressive Nets, most conspicuously in an effort to get Josh Smith from Atlanta. While that particular exchange seems unlikely, I think Humphries has become the odd man out of Brooklyn in PJ Carlisemo’s playbook. Besides, Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche have proven to be far more valuable role players. There’s many teams that could get his hands on him in the next 24 hours, and I suspect that the Nets aren’t going to be it.
Of all the players rumored to be in trade talks, I’ll tell you who’s not getting traded, also.
1. Dwight Howard and 2. Pau Gasol, LA Lakers
Despite the growing speculation that Howard is a lock to leave LA so long as coach Mike D’Antoni and golden boy Kobe Bryant stick around, I highly doubt that Mitch Kupchak will come to his senses and trade Howard. The team has made it clear that it wants Howard to be the centerpiece of its future. Problem is, I don’t think Dwight will want to suck it up for another year or two under the tutelage of Kobe and D’Antoni. It would be equally asinine for the Lakers to keep Howard as it would have been for the Magic to keep him last year. Be that as it may, don’t expect Howard to leave LA until July 1st.
As for Gasol, don’t expect him to go anywhere, either. His foot injury has not only quieted trade talks surrounding him, but also subsided the other troubling subplot of the season: D’Antoni has NO CLUE how to play his two star bigs together. None. The team is about a million times better featuring Gasol in the post rather than Howard, but now that is a moot point. Lakers will want to keep him in case they make a run at the playoffs – which, by the way, is still a possibility, given the Golden State Warriors’ impending slide in the standings.
3. Kevin Garnett and 4. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
Since Rondo went down, the media-driven trade talks surrounding the two current Celtics icons gained some steam. However, Danny Ainge has been very clear that he does not expect either Garnett or Pierce to get traded. Garnett has a no-trade clause that he has absolutely no intention of waiving, and Pierce cannot leave Boston for the same reason that Kobe can’t leave Los Angeles, and Tim Duncan can’t leave San Antonio: you just cannot get rid of your long-standing franchise player. That’s a big no-no.
5. Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls
Yes, he is overpaid. And yes, he has been largely disappointing, other than a few stretches of good games this season. But I think with Derrick Rose presumably coming back soon, the Bulls will want to see one more go-around with the Rose-Boozer-Noah core and make another playoff push. If Boozer disappoints again, I think he will be shopped heavily over the summer. But for now, expect him to stay put.