As the NBA season gets under way, there are already names we know will come up when the February trade deadline approaches. At that point, we will start seeing trade rumors fill our Twitter timelines and RSS feeds.
When dealing with impending free agents, more and more teams are proactively shopping players early rather than running the risk of losing them to free agency.
Here's a look at some players who are priced to move:
Al Jefferson | C | 2013 UFA | 2012-13 salary: $15 million
Paul Millsap | PF | 2013 UFA | 2012-13 salary: $8.6 million
While the Utah Jazz aren't projected to be a taxpayer, as a small market team it has to exercise extreme caution and be more proactive in shaping its future. With two promising big men in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, it would not be prudent to lock into long-term, lucrative deals with players who play the same position, particularly with more than $35 million in projected cap space that could be used to address more glaring needs in the backcourt.
Millsap is the more versatile of the two; Utah's best producing plus-minus lineups feature Millsap at small forward. He is the face of the Jazz, a blue-collar worker who sets the tone in the locker room and has improved his skill level steadily since entering the league in 2006. High motor and good lateral mobility make him a good defender in the pick-and-roll. On the flip side, he is undersized as a power forward and a below-average defensive rebounder. Although a much-improved perimeter shooter, his range is still inconsistent at the 3-point line.
Jefferson is a bruising post presence with an array of exaggerated shot fakes and unorthodox shot release points around the rim, good footwork and touch. He is an outstanding defensive rebounder and decent shot-blocker, but that's where the praise ends for him on the defensive end. He is often slow on rotations and lacks awareness on the weak side. It also bears mentioning that although Jefferson has been the franchise player on his team for much of his eight-year career, he has been to the playoffs just twice. For a guy looking to get paid as a franchise player, winning has to factor into the price tag.
Both players are looking to be paid handsomely, particularly Millsap, who can legitimately claim to be one of the few players who have been underpaid on two contracts. If Utah had to choose one to keep, it would probably be Millsap for his ability to slide to small forward and the culture-setting he brings, but that's what makes him a more attractive trade piece in terms of getting value back. If they don't move one of the two, there's a huge chance they won't be able to retain them in free agency, because there will be suitors.
Josh Smith | PF | 2013 UFA | 2012-13 salary: $13.2 million
Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry's aggressive overhaul of Atlanta's roster has set the Hawks up with extreme cap flexibility moving forward. With only Al Horford, Lou Williams and John Jenkins with guaranteed salaries on the books, Ferry can potentially clear almost $40 million of cap space for summer 2013, giving him the liberty to craft his roster in any style he wants.
In a league progressively moving toward having power forwards play center and small forwards play power forward, Smith is an ideal fit next to Horford. He has been a tremendous rebounder, particularly on the defensive end, and is annually among the league leaders in blocks and steals. Smith is an excellent finisher with his elite length and above-the-rim athleticism.
Those perks come with questionable shot selection, though, as he has become the king of the most inefficient shot in basketball, the long (17-plus feet) 2-pointer. In 2009-10, he took 8 FGA/game at the rim versus 3.2 from long 2-point range; by 2011-12, that ratio inverted to 5.5 FGA/game at the rim versus 6.5 from long 2-point range -- one of the highest number of such attempts in the league. ESPN's Joe Kaiser detailed just how inefficient Smith has become.
The reward in moving Smith is that Atlanta can potentially net some useful assets in the form of young players and draft picks to aid in the rebuilding effort while simultaneously avoiding the long-term commitment Smith will undoubtedly seek. The risk is that the Hawks never replace his talent. The question is, what's that talent worth? Looking at a comparable talent from last summer, Andrei Kirilenko signed a two-year, $20 million deal after being absent from the NBA for a year. Ideally, Ferry can lock Smith into a flat deal (e.g., $40 million over three years with a fourth-year player option), but due diligence dictates exploring his trade value.
Timofey Mozgov | C | 2013 RFA | 2012-13 salary: $3.1 million
Due to the recent extension of Ty Lawson ($48 million over four years), Denver will be pushing right up against the tax threshold in 2013-14. With so little breathing room, it is almost certain that Masai Ujiri and the Nuggets will not be able to afford the services of Mozgov. They already have two rotation-caliber centers under contract in JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos and won't be able to offer an upgrade in playing time or pay for Mozgov.
Mozgov is a true 7-footer who changes ends well, can knock down the 15-footer with enough consistency to space the court and keep the defense honest and sets solid screens, both in the pick-and-roll and off the ball. He is an active offensive rebounder, with a big body that demands box-out attention when shots go up. Defensively, he is a good rim protector and post defender and has improved on the defensive glass since coming to Denver. He has bad footwork and bad hands, though, which can limit his effectiveness around the rim.
Robin Lopez, a decent comparable from last summer, signed a deal for $15 million over three years, and some feel that might have been a discount. Mozgov will probably command at least $6 million a year in the open market, so it would serve Ujiri well to proactively seek a trade partner.
Tony Allen | SG | 2013 UFA | 2012-13 salary: $3.3 million
Being a taxpayer in today's NBA is no longer a case of just paying a hefty check -- which in and of itself is no laughing matter for small-market Memphis -- and going about your business. The severe punitive measures in the collective bargaining agreement restrict taxpayers' ability to improve the team: a smaller midlevel exception (both in years and salary), loss of the biannual exception, a tighter window for salary-matching in trades and, perhaps most devastatingly of all starting in 2013-14, the inability to add talent via sign-and-trade. The Grizzlies are projected to be taxpayers, this season and next, and will probably flirt with the tax in 2014-15, so they are staring at an extremely untenable cap situation.
Since coming to Memphis, Allen has really elevated himself into the national consciousness as an elite perimeter defensive player. The Grizzlies gave up more than five extra points per 100 possessions on the defensive end without him on the floor. He routinely guards the best perimeter player and holds him to below average production. According to 82games.com, opposing shooting guards posted a 14.1 PER and opponent small forwards 11.4.
Offensively, however, if it's not a dunk or a layup, Allen is abysmal. His role is to provide energy, toughness, and defense and little else outside of that.
Still, he has created a brand name for himself, proved by his back-to-back appearances on the All-Defensive team, and he will be looking to capitalize on that with a larger salary. Allen's agent will likely point to players like Jared Dudley, Danny Green and Gerald Green, who all signed for $3.5-4.25M per year deals, and state that none of them bring the accolades Allen brings to the table. Chris Wallace will have to decide to move Allen or risk letting him walk for nothing.
If you look at the Grizzlies roster, you can see they have:
• a high-level starting caliber PG (Mike Conley)
• an all-defensive caliber perimeter stopper (Tony Allen)
• a near All-Star caliber perimeter scorer (Rudy Gay)
• two All-Star caliber bigs (Randolph and Marc Gasol)
Based on Memphis' salary situation, the obvious target for elimination, due to duplication, would be one of the two bigs. When you factor in that Gasol is younger, bigger, a better passer/playmaker and a better defender, it's easy to see Randolph is the clear choice for trade. It doesn't help that Randolph will always have the ghosts of transgressions past following him (legal troubles, injuries, effort issues).
On the other hand, he is an excellent rebounder and has one of the best pair of hands in the NBA. His earth-bound post game doesn't rely on lift or athleticism, rather guile and power. There might be a market for his services, perhaps from an under-the-cap team like Phoenix, which, like Houston, has tried and failed to acquire big-name talent in free agency.
The Blue Jays-Marlins trade, pending physicals, is a five-for-seven swap that sees the Jays getting Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck in exchange for prospects Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani and big leaguers Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis, Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria. It's a huge deal in numbers and in its potential to impact the standings of two divisions in 2013, with the Jays poised to be the most relevant they've been in 20 years while the Marlins live down to the reputation the franchise acquired in 1997-98 and has deserved ever since.
The Blue Jays get a lot of impact talent in this deal, making them contenders (at least for the moment) in 2013 without substantially damaging their chances to contend in future years. Johnson is an ace when healthy, which he seldom is; he finished the year looking strong, back to 93-97 with a plus curveball and above-average slider again, and if he looks like that all year he could be worth 5 wins above replacement to a Jays team that hasn't had that guy since it traded Roy Halladay.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum
Jose Reyes is a major upgrade for the Jays.
Johnson tops the rotation ahead of Brandon Morrow, behind whom the Jays will slot Buehrle, a reliable innings-eater who reached 200 innings for the 12th straight season, but whose below-average fastball isn't an ideal fit for Toronto's homer-friendly home park. Even if he dips to just below league-average, the Jays desperately need the innings he'll provide, given the elbow plague that infected their rotation in 2012. If Johnson is healthy and Ricky Romero gets back to his old form, this will be one of the league's best rotations in 2013, although the probability of both of those things happening in one calendar year is not that high.
Reyes becomes the Jays' everyday shortstop, the best one they've had since Tony Fernandez left after the 1999 season. His 2011 walk year was built on a batting average he wasn't likely to see again, but the remainder of his skill set -- average defense at short, above-average running, good plate coverage, modest pop -- remains intact, and at shortstop that's going to be worth 4 to 6 wins over replacement, and a quick upgrade of about 3 over what the Jays got out of shortstop this past season.
They'll also get value from having Bonifacio as a supersub, a plus runner who can play six spots on the diamond, five of them well enough to handle on a part-time basis. Buck is a $6 million backup catcher, adding to Toronto's pile of catching while the Marlins get to dump a contract that was dumb the day that they gave it to him and looks just as bad now. He might be headed on to a third team, or could make it easier for the Jays to deal J.P. Arencibia and make room for catcher-of-the-future Travis d'Arnaud.
The lone negative for Jays fans is that the team has acquired a substantial amount of money owed, with Buehrle and Reyes both under contract beyond this year and possibly limiting the team's ability to make further moves this offseason or next. Buehrle is the biggest risk of the three major names coming back to fail to produce up to the level of his salary, although he happens to give the club the healthy/durable starter it desperately needed and might have had to overpay to get in free agency.
I'd offer my condolences to the Marlins' fans if only I could find them. Of all the players Miami got in return, only two stand out as guys the Blue Jays might someday miss, outfielder Marisnick and left-hander Nicolino.
Marisnick was the highest-rated Jays prospect coming into the 2012 season and had a solid first half in high Class A before struggling with his approach after a midseason promotion to Double-A. The tools are still there -- above-average runner, above-average arm, plenty of range for center, more raw power than in-game -- but that approach is becoming a greater concern as he gets older and it doesn't improve, especially when he's beatable both on breaking stuff and on hard stuff up or in. I also worry about the power not playing in games because he has virtually no load, so he doesn't get extended well enough before making contact, although that's something that could be tweaked. He's a strong prospect, but not as exciting as he looked 10 months ago.
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Escobar's antics have now gotten him run out of Atlanta and Toronto.
Nicolino's stat line is a little misleading, as he's not a power pitcher but a finesse left-hander with an average fastball that touches 93 mph and a plus changeup. He can flat-out pitch, with poise and approach that belie his age, and an easy, repeatable delivery. He may not miss as many bats as he moves up the ladder and doesn't offer any projection, but lefties with feel and a good change can pitch toward the middle of a rotation for a long time.
Henderson Alvarez had a plus fastball and plus changeup when he was coming up in the Jays' system, but the fastball has backed off a little and he has been unable to keep his changeup down in the zone, while he has never developed an average breaking ball, all of which has dropped his outlook from potential No. 2 starter to probable reliever. The Marlins can and should give Alvarez another year or so in the rotation to see if any of those issues resolves with experience or a new coaching staff, but as it stands now he doesn't miss enough bats to be a major league starter.
Anthony DeSclafani is definitely a reliever, where he'll touch 95 but needs to get more consistent tilt on his slider; he's a strike-thrower who did get to refine his off-speed stuff somewhat this year as a starter in low-A.
Jeff Mathis has a career .256 OBP in more than1,500 plate appearances and is probably best not discussed any further.
Yunel Escobar is probably better known for his bad makeup than he is for his on-field skills and has now run himself out of two cities; he doesn't walk or hit for power and his only offensive production in Toronto came at home in the first half of 2011, but he makes enough contact and adds value with his glove to make him a 2-win player.
Adeiny Hechavarria is a 70 defender at shortstop (on the 20-80 scouting scale) both in glove and arm, and is never going to hit -- but replacement level at short right now is low enough that he could be a 2-win player, although one of these two guys has to move off short. Both were born in Cuba and may, in theory, appeal to Cuban-American Marlins fans who aren't thoroughly disgusted by the way the team's owners are running the franchise back into the subterranean hole out of which they originally crawled.
Those limicolous owners are the greatest joke of all in this deal, rooking Florida taxpayers for a publicly funded stadium, only to make one half-hearted attempt to fill it with a contending team, then surrendering after the season to return to their old business model, playing a skeleton-crew lineup while pocketing all of their revenue-sharing money. This isn't a bad baseball deal for Miami; it's not a baseball deal at all -- it's a boondoggle, perpetrated by owners who have pulled one stunt like this after another, with the implicit approval of the commissioner's office. It's time for baseball to rid itself of Jeff Loria and David Samson by any means possible. Miami, the state of Florida, and the sport in general will be better off without them.
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You linked the mobile site. Grr.
In general, about 5-10 percent of NBA players would play productively for any coach, in any system. Another 5-10 percent will barely make an impact no matter where they are.
So that fat middle, maybe 80 percent of the league, is deeply impacted by variables such as coaching, system, teammates, etc. And the range of what those players can become is wide, as players can potentially move from "solid" to "spectacular" when everything clicks. And when these players finally fulfill their potential, spectacular can eventually mean perennial All-Star status.
Here are five guys who are proving this point this season by finally living up to the huge expectations heaped upon them when they first entered the league.
O.J. Mayo | 25 years old | SG | Dallas Mavericks Growing up, Mayo was the best player in the country for his age group. Think about that. To be widely considered the top player in America for a particular age is an incredible accomplishment. When that player also has the requisite size for the position he plays, it typically translates into an NBA career (as opposed to a 13-year-old who's simply tall for his age and stops growing).
Mayo has been good in the NBA, and that's about it. Despite his stellar pedigree, he has proved to be willing to take fewer shots, run some point guard and become a grind-it-out kind of guy, and thus never elevated his game beyond "very solid" in Memphis.
However, Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has a long history of helping players reach their potential. In fact, that's a big reason why owner Mark Cuban hired Carlisle to coach his team. One thing Carlisle has done to help Mayo is let him have a full green light to shoot, especially early in possessions. Mayo has rewarded Carlisle's faith with a blistering start to the season, shooting a career-high 59 percent from 3-point range.
This is a direct reflection of his confidence to shoot the ball whenever he feels he can make the shot. Not second guessing what a good shot is helps a shooter immensely, and Mayo is taking more shots than he has since his rookie season in 2008-09. We shouldn't expect him to finish with a rate better than 50 percent from 3-point range, but he should end up in the mid-40 percent range while scoring more than 20 points a game (helped in no small part to his career-best four made free throws a game). That will put him among the top 8-10 shooting guards in the game.
Brook Lopez | 24 years old | C | Brooklyn Nets Over the years, I have placed a low Division I college player on the court with NBA players and seen that young college kid shine like never before. Then, with players his own age next to him, he goes back to looking like what he really is -- a young player who makes mistake after mistake. In a sense, we're seeing this now with Lopez.
Always gifted as a scorer, but not always locked in the way his team would hope he would be game after game, Lopez is now playing next to real pros. Men. Veterans who have huge ambition, and expect to play for things like titles and rings for their new franchise.
The Nets don't need Lopez to accomplish anything special, and he is responding. He's getting far more shots inside than he did two seasons ago thanks to smarter teammates who are better passers and who know how to give him room to operate inside. He's getting more shots earlier in possessions instead of as the shot clock is expiring. So his looks are cleaner, and he is finishing them better than he ever has. This has inspired him on the defensive end, evidenced in part by his career-best 2.8 blocks per game, a full block more than his previous career high.
Nicolas Batum | 23 years old | SF | Portland Trail Blazers It's not my place to recommend holiday gift ideas to ballplayers, but there can be little doubt that Batum will be spending some serious time looking for the perfect present for his new coach, Terry Stotts.
Why? How about the fact Batum leads the NBA in 3-pointers made while shooting a career-high 7.6 per game, a full three more attempts per contest than his previous high set last season. And like Mayo, he's also getting them earlier in possessions due in part to the arrival of rookie point guard Damian Lillard. Indeed, 78 percent of Batum's looks are coming in the first 15 seconds of the shot clock. They are better looks, and Stotts wants him to fire away.
When a coach says "shoot," and a player gets open a lot, his confidence soars. Good results only deepen those feelings. Batum is basically Portland's best player thus far, and as Lillard matures, that combination next to LaMarcus Aldridge gives the Blazers a potential homegrown "Big 3" that can be very potent on both ends of the court, as Batum has the chance to be a special defensive player, too.
J.R. Smith | 27 years old | SG | New York Knicks Rebounds come in different categories. "In area, no contest"-type rebounds look good on the stat line, but they have no value in terms of helping to see how one player can help a team more than another. "In area-contested" rebounds, however, are tougher to come by, and when guards can come up with them it greatly helps out a team.
Naturally, "out-of-area" rebounds are in a class by themselves, as are "out-of-area-contested" rebounds, which is how the elite rebounders make their living.
But why are we mentioning rebounds with a previously shoot-happy guard such as J.R. Smith? Simply because he's finally focusing his immense talent and doing grunt work like he never has before. He has been the best defensive-rebounding shooting guard this season not named Andre Iguodala. And the only reason why Smith is second to Iguodala is because Iguodala defends small and power forwards far more often than Smith does, which means he's closer to the rim more often and thus is closer to more rebounding opportunities.
Smith has more or less stopped thinking about racing down the floor for an electrifying dunk after an opponent shoots the ball and instead flows nicely to smart rebounding zones, where he can pounce on the ball should it land nearby. This focus surely starts with his defense, and he might be New York's most effective perimeter defender -- heady stuff for a top-five defense. He has always been an amazing shooter and athlete, but the complete player he has become is a big reason why the Knicks are off to such a great start.
DeAndre Jordan | 24 years old | C | Los Angeles Clippers There is a simple reason why most athletes develop their craft -- whatever it is they are currently doing is just not good enough. Michael Jordan added an incredibly reliable jump shot because he had to in order to counter the kinds of defenses he faced nightly. Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant did the same, adding low-post games, just as Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook improved their outside shots.
For DeAndre Jordan, who shares with Denver Nuggets center JaVale McGee the title for "most athletic 7-footer in the NBA," developing a strong low-post game wasn't all that necessary to be an NBA player. Size alone was enough to do pedestrian work. But it is necessary to help anchor a contending team, and Jordan has answered the challenge this season.
He moves robotically down in the post, but he's pretty steady, too, looking to bang his man down for an easy jump hook that he can make with either hand. The Clippers don't need it much, at least not yet, but they are feeding their big man a few times per game and he is delivering at a solid rate, more than he has in previous seasons.
Incredibly, he is getting fewer dunks and yet has improved his shooting percentages thanks to making every dunk he has attempted this season (he made 73 percent last season). As a legitimate low-post threat, he is now an integral part of the Clippers' half-court sets. So when combined with his efforts in transition and on the glass, he is an active part of their entire offense for the first time in his career.