Throw out all of your preseason expectations for this NBA season, no one in the Eastern or Western Conferences should be feeling all that comfortable about making it to the Finals this year.
The result has been a very good market for players that could – stress could – have an impact on the final standings and provide a team the edge once the postseason rolls around. Highly coveted first round draft picks are becoming the grease that moves deals along to completion. The future is now once again.
In the East, it was supposed to be the Cavaliers (currently in 5th place) fighting it out with the Bulls (currently in 4th place) for the right to represent their conference and all the hype streaming from NBATV and ESPN doesn’t change the fact that three other teams just might be better.
The Cavaliers weren’t shy about using their future-oriented assets this summer to create a roster that could compete for a title and with mediocre results through +30 games, they pulled the trigger hard again in January.
It’s a tough sale to believe J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert make the Cavs significantly better than Dion Waiters, but the Thunder greased this deal with a 1st round draft pick to make stage two of the Cavaliers plans happen.
The Cavs then – talk about greasing a deal – sent two 1st round draft picks to Denver for center Timofey Mosgov. Sure Cleveland was badly in need of a true 7′ center, but when did a career 6.4 point 4.9 rebound backup suddenly become worth two first round draft picks? At least the Cavs have a reasonable team option on Mozgov’s services for next season.
The real panic this season started out West when the Grizzlies and the Warriors started out hotter than hot and left teams like the Clippers, Mavericks and injury-hit Thunder and Spurs in their dust. The dust has begun to settle, but Celtics took advantage of some desperation in Dallas to start setting the in-season market for players high in mid-December.
It was hard to see how Rajon Rondo and his expiring $12.9 million contract fit into the very young Celtics plans – he didn’t, but President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge wasn’t about to part with his former All-Star without adding to his very deep collection of young players and 1st round draft picks. Dallas complied.
Ainge got everything he could have hoped for in return for a player he could have lost for nothing in July. Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, a 1st and a 2nd round draft pick.
Ainge then flipped Wright and his expiring deal for another 1st round pick to the Suns.
Rondo is a legit starting point guard and could become an All-Star again if he stays healthy, but this could end up as a rental for Dallas – that was a steep price. Similarly, the Suns gave up a lot for a backup forward/center that could walk away in July.
Ainge is once again taking advantage of the opportunities and desperation in the Western Conference with a pending deal to send Jeff Green to Memphis that will net him yet another 1st round draft pick. If the deal goes down as described By Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Ainge will pick up a 2nd round draft pick as well by flipping trade ballast Austin Rivers to the Clippers.
Green has a player option for next season and could walk away as a free agent in July. The steep price for rent-a-players remains high.
It has become a scary trade market for teams hoping to bolster their rosters for a postseason run. Potential impact players on expiring deals are commanding 1st round draft picks or more. This will have set the price high for other players that could be available on non-playoff bound teams and actually encourage general managers to test waters they might not have previously thought were worth dipping a toe into.
Orlando, Denver, Lakers, Minnesota and other teams are sitting on assets that could have a significant impact on their team’s future. Plus there are five teams in the East and up to 10 teams in the West that could be looking hard to find the deal that could take their team to the next level. This NBA trade season is shaping up to be exciting and expensive.