Mailbag: Will Deng trade trigger busy deadline?
Do you see this year's trade deadline being more eventful than years past?
There is a chance the biggest deal of the season happened Monday night when the Bulls sent Luol Deng to Cleveland for draft picks and the tax relief of Andrew Bynum's waived contract. This was a stunning pickup for the Cavaliers as Deng now gives Kyrie Irving a better co-star than LeBron James ever had in Cleveland. Deng is a team-first All-Star who will solidify the Cavs at both ends of the floor while exhibiting the hard work that coach Mike Brown has been preaching to his young team.
I thought that the Bulls would ultimately re-sign Deng, who is in the last year of his contract. They wanted to keep him, and this trade is a bottom-line admission that his salary didn't fit with their long-term planning, which has been influenced by Derrick Rose's knee injuries. If the Bulls had kept Deng as a free agent at his high asking price, then that would have signaled an intention to pursue a championship as soon as Rose returned next season. In that sense, they're taking the immediate pressure off Rose, who is only 25, after all. They'll investigate the potential of rookie Tony Snell as he takes on Deng's minutes for the remainder of this season, and by next season they could be finding out whether 22-year-old Nikola Mirotic (currently at Real Madrid) is capable of replacing Carlos Boozer, who reportedly could be the Bulls' next casualty via amnesty.
Waiving Bynum's shadow contract enables the Bulls to escape the luxury tax this season; as for basketball pieces, they received a protected first-round pick belonging to Sacramento and two second-rounders, which is not a lot in exchange for Deng, but the Bulls had little choice as the reality of rebuilding dawned on them.
This deal is another example of talent being redistributed around the league by way of the harsher taxes of the new collective bargaining agreement. In this case, Deng went from a big-market team to the smaller market of Cleveland. Despite this trend, I remain skeptical that we'll see significant movement at the Feb. 20 deadline when you consider the names (and their circumstances) that could be on the market next month:
Rajon Rondo, Celtics: If a market is going to develop for Rondo, it probably isn't going to happen until he is back on the court demonstrating his health and reminding suitors of his talent. The question then becomes whether Rondo will return from knee surgery in time to audition himself. It makes little sense for Boston to consider moving its best player until his value is peaking.
The Bulls were paying the tax on a losing team, and they needed to trade Deng before he became a free agent this summer. Those issues don't apply to the Celtics, as Rondo won't be free until 2015. Put it all together and an offer the Celtics can't refuse is unlikely to emerge next month.
Pau Gasol, Lakers: I understand that moving Gasol by the deadline could spare the Lakers repeater tax penalties down the road, but the franchise's priority is to win titles, and he's their second-best player. That mandate does not allow them to dump such a talent for tax relief when the pressure is on Jerry Buss' kids to live up to his championship legacy. It will be very difficult to find a trade partner willing to provide the Lakers with future assets in exchange for Gasol's huge, expiring $19.3 million salary. Gasol can still have value this summer in a sign-and-trade or by remaining with the Lakers on a cheaper deal.
Omer Asik, Rockets: Much unconsummated trade speculation has been generated by Asik, a non-All-Star who has an expensive contract next season. The last time this came up, the best offer appeared to involve Celtics forward Brandon Bass and a pick. Unless the market changes drastically, a blockbuster trade for Asik is unlikely to unfold.
I'll leave you with this reminder: Last year the trade deadline netted very little of consequence after months of speculation that Josh Smith and others would be moved -- a solid sign that expiring contracts aren't as valuable as they used to be.
Who is the best team in the West right now and who will finish the season No. 1?
-- Fred P.
The best right now is the Spurs, who rank among the West's most effective teams at both ends of the court. The No. 1 team by the end of the year will be the Thunder, after Russell Westbrook has returned. The Trail Blazers are having a breakout year, but their next step will be to improve defensively.
What's the Sacramento Kings' next move?
They need leadership. They have young talent, but they need to blend their rotation with one or two older players to help the others find their way. There is no second coming of David West out there for them, but it wouldn't hurt Sacramento to look into acquiring Nelson as a steadying backup point guard with NBA Finals experience.
Bayless is not afraid to take big shots, but Lee is more versatile. Lee has not been able to establish himself -- this is his fifth team in six years -- but the Grizzlies are right to see potential in him. Can they find consistency and value in him where other teams have not?
Can the Clippers win without Chris Paul or will they be doomed until he returns?
-- Michael A., Los Angeles
Doom is too strong a prediction. They'll struggle at times, but there is still a lot of talent on their roster. One of the Clippers' early issues has been their reliance on Paul to provide their identity. Blake Griffin and others have an opportunity here to define themselves and their role on the team. If they show progress while making a stand, then the Clippers will have a chance to be improved around Paul after his return late next month.
Which NBA coach is on the hottest seat right now?
-- Dominic, New Jersey
Doesn't it have to be Jason Kidd? The Nets (13-21) have won three in a row, but their next three games are against the hot Warriors, the champion Heat and on the road against the emerging Raptors.