This is where I like to be at this time of year:
Covered in oil, screaming at Ciarán Hinds (Danny Chau), plastering my walls with Woj and Shams tweets, monitoring Instagram likes, and reading too much into on-court body language and off-court quotes. This should be the not-so-quiet before the storm; the moment when the murmurs become shouts and we start hearing about this team making a solidifying move for a postseason run, or that team selling off dysfunctional parts of its whole.
Instead, all we have are the sounds of silence. There have been some far-out theories, and some squint-and-you-see-it hypotheticals, but for the most part, this seems like a league that’s still recovering from a volcanic offseason of movement, and preparing for another one in the summer.
I blame the Warriors. They are 33-8, with two of the best four players in the league, the best offense, and a top-three defense. And I’m not even halfway convinced they’ve played their best basketball yet this season. The Rockets have looked special at times, the Cavs have LeBron, Boston hunts like raptors, and the Raptors look elite when they’re healthy and not getting in fights. Hell, there are moments when the Thunder feel like a team that could challenge anyone in a seven-game series. But are any of those teams a Player X away from beating Golden State? And would they sacrifice their mid- to long-term stability to bring that player in? I don’t think so. There’s raising your risk profile, and then there’s lighting your portfolio on fire.
Remember when the Sixers picked up Dikembe Mutombo to anchor their defense in 2001? Or when the Pistons added Rasheed Wallace before their improbable title run in 2004? That ain’t happening this season. As one general manager told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, “It is pretty slow so far. Nobody seems desperate to get into the playoffs. The tankers are sellers, but asking prices are too high.” With the Warriors so far out in front, their closest competition still bedding in players acquired over the summer, and a class of free agents that features All-NBA talents (LeBron, Paul George) and intriguing younger players on the horizon, I can’t see anyone breaking the bank just to get almost there.
That being said, people will talk. And there’s been some interesting chatter heading into the midseason trade deadline. Let’s put our ear to the tracks and see if we hear anything.
The Death Star and Anthony Davis
Perhaps the most salacious trade rumor of the season is a deal that has absolutely zero chance of happening right now. It might not be a trade at all. I am referring to the rumor in Tim Kawakami’s column in The Athletic suggesting that Davis could be the next big target for the Golden State Warriors. Just the fact that it’s out there is worth noting.
According to Kawakami, the Brow is the “prime object of hope and desire.” Putting aside whether Prime Object of Hope and Desire is my favorite Nabokov novel, Davis’s deal with New Orleans runs through 2021, though he has an opt-out for the summer of 2020. If, for some reason, the Pelicans decide to trade the best player in franchise history not named Chris Paul, and they opt to deal him to the Bay Area Basketball Empire, they could, as Kawakami notes, ask for Draymond Green and Klay Thompson in return.
This story is not a story, except it’s a story. Here’s why:
One, it’s the first time since the proposed 2014 Kevin Love deal that I’ve seen Thompson’s name in a trade rumor, and the very first time I’ve seen Draymond’s in one. This was bound to happen at some point, but it’s still worth noting. It’s hard to imagine the Warriors without these guys, but it’s probably going to happen at some point.
Two, this is very Real Madrid of Golden State. Picking up Davis would be quite a Galácticos move, and starting the drum beat, seasons before Davis is technically available, through the media, is a classic soccer transfer gambit. Major soccer clubs look at their rosters in terms of cycles or projects—you always hear them described this way by executives and managers at Barcelona or Bayern Munich. While it might be unfathomable to think of a Warriors team without Green and Thompson, it may, at some point down the line, be exactly what the Warriors need to refresh the mix, to start another cycle, as it were.
Maybe this Kawakami nugget comes from inside the Warriors franchise, maybe it doesn’t, but it’s out there now, and people are digging up quotes of Davis saying he has a fondness for the Warriors’ colors and arena. Last month, Woj wrote about Davis asking Pelicans GM Dell Demps about the Celtics calling for him. It’s going to be a fun two years.
What Does DeMarcus Cousins Have a Fondness For?
By all accounts, the Pelicans aren’t picking up the phone on any Boogie calls. If anything, they want to add shooters, but have only bad contracts and bad players to send out in exchange. So here we are. They want to re-sign Boogie, which you can’t knock them for: He’s averaging 25 points and 12 boards a game and has played in every contest for the Pelicans this season (unlike Davis). But if New Orleans goes into a tailspin over the next month and finds itself outside of the playoffs in early February, and it looks like Cousins might walk for nothing in the summer, then it has to start listening to calls, or making them.
What Is Paul George’s Favorite Clash Song?
If this Thunder season has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t get too worked up over one game. Or 10 games. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t say that the OKC superteam experiment has had mixed results. George has also made no secret of his interest in playing in his hometown of Los Angeles at some point in his career. George told NBA.com’s David Aldridge recently, “I think everybody knows where, ultimately, I stated where I wanted to play. But at the same time, I’m putting all that aside. I’m happy where I’m at. I’m happy with this situation.” The Thunder can’t afford to let him leave for absolutely nothing in the summer. This isn’t a rumor. It’s just the way it is.
DeAndre Jordan and the Lob City Paradox
Spare a thought for DJ: He loves Los Angeles, but the Clippers … OK, “hates” is a bit much, but the ebullience that used to characterize his game is gone. He is still a double-double machine, but it feels perfunctory rather than emphatic and domineering.
Jordan is the name we’ve heard most frequently in this pre-trade-deadline period, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see anyone be put on the block, even Blake Griffin. Such is the state of the Clippers: expensive, mediocre, and due for a rebuild. For Jordan, Midwestern teams like Cleveland and Milwaukee have been floated as suitors. The Cavs would have to include the Brooklyn pick in any deal, which is risky without any assurances on LeBron’s future. The Bucks would need to part with a few of their developing pieces (Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker, etc.), and whatever they gained in Jordan, they’d lose in depth heading into the postseason.
Nikola Mirotic Goes From Exile to Asset
Quite the roller coaster for Niko this season. Punched in the face by Bobby Portis, catalyst for the Bulls’ recovery, now on the trading block by his own demand. Chicago and Mirotic are doing a hell of a sales job, too: Since returning to action, Mirotic is averaging career highs in points per game, minutes, true shooting percentage, and unexpected swagger. Apparently things are heating up between Chicago and Utah, and the Jazz could certainly use his 17 points per game to push into the postseason, but I’d also be happy to see him in Portland. If Fred Hoiberg can save Kris Dunn’s career, imagine what he can do with Noah Vonleh.
Teams and Players to Watch
Cleveland has the Brooklyn pick and an air of desperation to it. … Denver has entirely too many players and not enough of them are good, and none of them are point guards. … Masai Ujiri is Danny Ocean. … It behooves Memphis to be as bad as possible this season, since it doesn’t have its pick next year, so watch out for Tyreke Evans and even Marc Gasol. … Would it shock you if Tom Thibodeau, the coach, told Tom Thibodeau, the team president, that he wanted to add more veteran bench help? What if he did something more drastic than that? … The Lakers will probably do something with Jordan Clarkson (I hear Lithuania is nice this time of year).