In the days leading up to the February 23 trade deadline, Hoops Rumors will be taking a closer look at each of the NBA’s 30 teams, by division. We’ll be identifying each team as a buyer, seller, or something in between, and discussing which teams and players are most likely to be involved in deals this month. We’ve already covered the Atlantic, Northwest, Southeast, and Pacific. Today, we’re examining the Central.
The Cavaliers (39-16) started buying last month when they sent a first-round pick to Atlanta in a deal for Kyle Korver. Since then, however, Cleveland’s on-court performance has been up and down, and LeBron James has called for the team to add a “playmaker.” Derrick Williams‘ play has been encouraging so far, but the Cavs could still use a ball-handler and a big man, particularly with J.R. Smith and Kevin Love on the shelf. The club’s luxury tax bill will continue to rise exponentially if team salary goes up though, so GM David Griffin likely won’t be taking on any big contracts.
No other team in the Central division is within 10 games of the Cavs, but the Pacers (29-28) are in playoff position and are interested in adding to their roster. Although there is reportedly some reluctance within the organization to part with the team’s 2017 first-round pick, that selection appears to be available in the right deal as Indiana seeks an established wing or big man. Paul George will have the opportunity to opt out of his contract in 2018, so the Pacers are running out of time to prove to him that their roster is capable of seriously contending — adding an impact player this week could help.
The Bucks (25-30) are currently the ninth place team in the Eastern Conference, just one game behind Detroit for the No. 8 seed. As such, it’s possible they won’t be sellers at all, though in the wake of Jabari Parker‘s devastating ACL injury, that’s the route that makes the most sense for the club. Slipping down the standings to secure a top-10 pick would allow the Bucks to add another promising young player to their core of Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker, and Malcolm Brogdon. The team’s most obvious trade candidate is Greg Monroe, who has perhaps regained some value with a solid season in Milwaukee — his overall numbers are down due to his decreased role, but his per-minute numbers and shooting percentages are among the best of his career.
Somewhere in between:
The Bulls (28-29) confused fans and observers with a series of unusual offseason moves, and have the potential to do so again at the deadline, depending on what approach they take. Retooling the roster around Jimmy Butler makes sense to me, and that could mean moving a few of their veterans this week for draft picks or younger players. However, it also wouldn’t be a surprise if the team hangs on to guys like Rajon Rondo, Taj Gibson, and Nikola Mirotic and continues to push for a playoff spot instead. It wouldn’t even be a total shock if the club decides to trade Butler for a package of assets, though that seems unlikely at this point.
As for the Pistons (27-30), they’re clinging to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and have had chemistry issues for much of the season. A full-fledged rebuild doesn’t look like a realistic outcome in Detroit, and the team also doesn’t really have the pieces to make a run at a star. A minor move or two is more likely, but if the club gets an offer it likes for Reggie Jackson, he could be on the move. Zach Lowe’s recent piece on the Pistons at ESPN.com didn’t exactly paint the veteran point guard as untouchable.
Team most likely to make a move:
The Cavaliers are a good bet to add another player to their roster at some point, but they could end up delving into the buyout market rather than pulling off another trade. The Bulls and Pistons may also be active, though the direction for those two teams is trickier to discern. The Pacers, who are looking to add talent to their roster in the hopes of making a playoff run and enticing Paul George to stay in Indiana for the long term, have a clearer objective, and I expect them to follow through on it within the next three days. They’re my pick for the Central team most likely to make a deal.
Player(s) most likely to be moved:
There’s no shortage of players in the Central who have been the subject of trade rumors and speculation this season. Several of them are Bulls players, with Rajon Rondo, Taj Gibson, Michael Carter-Williams, Robin Lopez, and Doug McDermott among the potential candidates to be moved. Greg Monroe was once considered one of the most likely players in the NBA to be dealt, and fellow big man Al Jefferson is also believed to be available. If the Cavs do make a deal, Iman Shumpert and Jordan McRae are trade candidates.
Any of those players would be a fine choice in this category, but I’ll roll the dice and name Reggie Jackson as the player most likely to be traded. The Pistons may ultimately decide to hang onto their point guard and potentially revisit a deal down the road in the hopes that his value will rebound. But recent reports and quotes from out of Detroit suggest that the Pistons wouldn’t mind getting out from under Jackson’s long-term deal if they could get a decent offer for him.
Under-the-radar trade candidate(s):
It’s been a rough season for Reggie Bullock, who was sidelined early on by back and hip problems, and then suffered a torn meniscus. Bullock is healthy enough to play now, but isn’t in Detroit’s regular rotation, and he’s headed for restricted free agency this summer. If he isn’t a part of the Pistons’ future plans, it makes sense for the team to see if it can get something for him on the trade market. Bullock still has some promise as a defensive-minded wing, and if there’s a team out there that likes him, it might be a good idea to acquire him now in order to secure matching rights for when he becomes an RFA.
What do you think is in store for the Central teams over the next three days? Which teams are most likely to make a deal? Which players will be on the move?
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.