NBA trade rumors: Shaq to Cleveland?

6/16/09 Update: For discussion about the more recent Shaq rumors, click here.

6/25 Update: Shaq has been reportedly traded to Cleveland.

The trade deadline is at 3 PM ET today, and the rumors are flying fast and furious. I’m not going to spend too much time on each one, but here’s a rundown of the rumors…

Yahoo! Sports says that the Cavs are considering acquiring Shaquille O’Neal at the cost of Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic. I’m not sure what the upside is here for the Suns other than the fact that they’d get about $5 million in cap relief next season when Pavlovic’s salary comes off the books.

– The NBA league office apparently sent out a memo warning of drastic reductions in the salary cap and luxury tax thresholds, which may have a few teams scrambling today.

– There was some talk of a Tracy McGrady-for-Baron Davis deal, but that rumor seems to be dead.

– The Suns are reportedly still trying to pry talent away from the Grizzlies, offering up Amare Stoudemire for Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick and a 2009 first round draft pick. Unsurprisingly, the Grizzlies have declined.

– The Bucks are trying to get out from under Richard Jefferson’s contract and they’ve been making some headway with the Blazers and Cavs about Raef LaFrentz and Wally Szczerbiak, respectively.

– The Cavs have been trying to pry Antwan Jamison away from the Wizards, who might be more willing to deal today with the news about the (possible) significant drop in the luxury tax threshold.

– The Vince Carter-to-the-Spurs talk has died down because they don’t want to give up Roger Mason or George Hill in the deal. Apparently, they want the Nets to give Carter away.

Deadline day is like a poker game with 20 people playing. Teams are holding out until the last minute hoping that they can get the best deal. Complicating matters is the state of the economy and the financial strength of the NBA. There could be a flurry of trades today or everyone could stand pat.

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No Love?

The rosters for the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge have been announced and there are a few surprises.

The rookie roster consists of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon, Rudy Fernandez, Michael Beasley, Brook Lopez, Greg Oden and Marc Gasol.

The sophomore roster includes Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Durant, Wilson Chandler, Jeff Green, Al Thornton, Luis Scola, Al Horford and Thaddeus Young.

Kevin Love isn’t on the nine-man roster for the Rookie Challenge, and it’s a big, glaring snub. ESPN’s John Hollinger agrees.

For starters, the decision to select Eric Gordon ahead of Kevin Love for the rookies was completely inexcusable.

Don’t get me wrong; Gordon is going to have a fine career, it seems, and in almost any other year he’d be a shoo-in for the team. But he made this squad mainly because the forlorn Clippers have no choice but to play him extensive minutes.

As good as he’s looked, Gordon is the only rookie team member with a Player Efficiency Rating below the league average, while Love has a better PER than every player on the rookie team except Greg Oden. Love leads the league in offensive rebound rate, as I mentioned the other day, but his prodigious work on the boards has gone largely unnoticed because he plays only 23.2 minutes a game, far less than Gordon’s 32.2.

Love’s absence is especially surprising considering how the rookie roster is loaded with four guards (Rose, Westbrook, Mayo, Gordon), one G/F (Fernandez) and only one true forward (Beasley). You’d think that if it were a tossup between Gordon and Love (which it isn’t) that they’d at least want to get another true forward on the roster to balance things out.

Hollinger goes on to rail against the sophomore roster snubs, which included Wilson Chandler over Jamario Moon, Al Thornton over Carl Landry and the worst of all (he says) — Aaron Brooks over Ramon Sessions.

Interestingly, seven of the top 11 picks of the 2007 draft — Mike Conley, Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer, Brandan Wright, Joakim Noah, Spencer Hawes and Acie Law — did NOT make the sophomore roster. (I counted Greg Oden amongst the four since he made the rookie roster.) Conversely, six of the top 11 picks in the 2008 draft did make the rookie team.

Conley on the move?

The Racine Journal-Times is reporting that the Bucks and Grizzlies have verbally agreed on a deal that would send Mike Conley, Jr. to Milwaukee in exchange for Ramon Sessions and Joe Alexander.

I’ve been told both teams have virtually agreed on the conditions of the trade and only Bucks owner Herb Kohl had to give his stamp of approval. Bucks general manager John Hammond, reached in North Carolina where he was on a scouting trip, said it was his policy not to comment on any trade speculation.

As a Bucks fan, I don’t really want to see this trade go down. I’m not clear on why Sessions isn’t getting any run despite being the 15th most productive point guard in the league. He must be in Scott Skiles’ doghouse. That’s the only explanation. And it’s a shame because the kid has shown tremendous potential. At 22 years of age, he has a bright future ahead of him.

Neither Joe Alexander nor Mike Conley has shown a whole lot in their brief careers. Conley continues to struggle with his jumper (41%), and if the Bucks were to trade for him, it would be for his potential, not his production. I don’t understand why a team would trade for a semi-expensive, 21 year-old, unproductive point guard when they’d have to give up a cheaper, more productive 22 year-old point guard. Sessions is a better shooter and has a much better assist-to-turnover ratio (3.43 vs. 2.47). I’ve always liked Conley as a prospect, but simply stated, when comparing the two, Sessions is simply more of a proven player.

Like I said, it looks like Sessions may be in Skiles’ doghouse. While I do like the sense of discipline and defense that Skiles has brought to the Bucks, I’ll be disappointed if Milwaukee trades away a productive young player because the head coach can’t find a way to get through to him.

Six NBA players who are about to break out

The NBA season is underway, and every year there are a few players that raise the level of their games. This might stem from maturity, improvement or increased opportunity. These players aren’t household names, but they could be by season’s end.

Here are six players that have a great shot to break out. These guys aren’t rookies; but they’re all relatively young and for whatever reason, they just haven’t reached their potential. I’ve ranked them in the order of just how certain I am that they’ll break out this season.

1. Jose Calderon, Raptors
Calderon was the #4 PG last season in terms of PER, but he posted great numbers while T.J. Ford was out, which prompted the Raptors to trade Ford to the Pacers for Jermaine O’Neal. In 56 games as the starter, Calderon averaged 13.0 points, 9.1 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals. He’ll probably see 35-38 minutes per game this year, so those numbers are probably a baseline. On the season, he shot 52% from the field, 43% from 3PT and 91% from the charity stripe, making him one of the most efficient shooters in the league. Moreover, he’s just 27 years old and the Raptors wisely locked him up with a five-year deal worth $43 million, which might seem like a bargain in a year or two. Since he’s Spanish and plays for the Raptors, he’ll probably still be ignored. What a shame.

2. Devin Harris, Nets
Before his trade to the Nets, Harris already had something of a breakout season with the Mavs, averaging 14.4 points and 5.3 assists per game. In 25 games with the Nets, he averaged 15.4 points and 6.5 assists. After the trade, his shooting percentage dipped, so if he can get that back up to his career 47% mark, a 17/7 season is not out of the question. Harris is lightning quick – especially for someone that’s 6’3” – and he has an improving jumper. (He shot the ball well while at Wisconsin, but seemed to lose that touch a bit once he hit the NBA.) His numbers could jump even more if the team is able to trade Vince Carter. Do you think the Mark Cuban will regret the trade after he pays Jason Kidd $21.3 million to shoot 39% from the field resulting in a first-round playoff exit for the Mavs? Me too. Harris is one of the young pieces that the Nets will use to try to lure LeBron James to Brooklyn in the summer of 2010, and the Mavs never should have traded him away.

3. David Lee, Knicks
Last season, Lee finished ahead of bigger names like Emeka Okafor, Lamar Odom and Rashard Lewis in terms of PER, and now that Mike D’Antoni is in town, I fully expect Lee’s minutes to increase from the 29.1 he got last season (Isiah, what were you thinking?) to something in the 35- to 37-minute range. He averaged 10.8 points and 8.9 rebounds on the season, but in 27 games as a starting forward, he averaged 12.9 points and 10.0 rebounds in 33.1 minutes per game. (I’ll ask again – Isiah, what were you thinking?) His hard-nosed, energetic play fits D’Antoni’s style, and while he’s due for an extension next season, the Knicks have so many bad contracts that they might have to include Lee just to get a fresh start. The key will be for the Knicks to find a taker for Zach Randolph and the $33 million he coming to him over the next two seasons. Eddy Curry’s contract isn’t quite as bad, so if the Knicks can get out from under Randolph’s, they may be able to hold onto Lee.

4. Thaddeus Young, 76ers
In terms of PER, Young was the #18 small forward in his rookie season, finishing just behind Danny Granger and ahead of Tayshaun Prince. That is impressive company, especially for a first-year player. He averaged just 8.2 points and 4.2 rebounds on the season, but in 22 games as a starter, he posted 10.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in 29.1 minutes. But what was most impressive was his 55% shooting as a starter. Elton Brand’s arrival should free Young up to make more plays. Expect Young to average 12-15 points and 5-7 rebounds per game.

5. Randy Foye, Timberwolves
Foye isn’t a pure point guard, but he can play the position. In 31 games as a starter, he averaged 14.3 points and 4.8 assists even though he was coming off of a “stress reaction” injury in his kneecap. Now that he’s had an offseason to recover, he should get off to a fast start this season. He’s very solid from long-range (41%) and the free throw line (82%) and doesn’t seem to have any major holes in his game. Along with Mike Miller, the duo will make for a sharp-shooting backcourt that will keep opposing guards from double-teaming Al Jefferson. GM Kevin McHale hasn’t done a whole lot right over the past few years, but Foye was a pretty good get.

6. Mike Conley, Grizzlies
He had trouble shooting the ball (43%) in his rookie season, but he missed time due to shoulder and rib injuries, so we should probably cut him some slack. The Grizzlies drafted him to be the point guard of the future, so he should get lots of opportunity to prove he’s the guy this season. The Grizzlies want to run, and with O.J. Mayo on one wing and Rudy Gay on the other, they could be an exciting team to watch with the super-quick Conley running the show.

2008 NBA Preview: #26 Memphis Grizzlies

Offseason Movement: The team acquired Antoine Walker and Marko Jaric as part of the deal that brought O.J. Mayo to Memphis in exchange for Kevin Love and some loose change. Walker is in the last year of his contract, while Jaric has three years and $21 million remaining on his deal. Neither player is likely to figure into the team’s long-term plans.
Keep Your Eye On: O.J. Mayo, G
Mayo is a highly touted combo guard. He showed some serious ability in college, but has struggled over his career with his maturity. However, he has more recently earned a reputation for being an extremely hard worker, which is one of the key components to NBA stardom.
The Big Question: Have the Grizzlies turned the corner?
Believe it or not, the 2007-08 season might have been the franchise’s low point. In addition to Mayo, the Grizzlies can now boast about a talented group of youngsters that includes Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and Hakim Warrick. The team also has Kyle Lowry, Javaris Crittenton and Darrell Arthur on the roster. Memphis projects to have a load of salary cap room over the next two summers, so if they can find a star power forward and/or center to run with Conley, Mayo and Gay, the Grizzlies may be a team to be reckoned with in two or three years.
Outlook: 2007-08 will be known as the season that the Grizzlies gave away Pau Gasol. In the short term, the move hurts the team’s chances to win games, but in the long term, it looks like it will help the Grizzlies get back to the land of respectability. Gasol’s contract runs through the 2010-11 season, so it is unlikely that the team would have had the cap space in the summer of 2010 to make a run at a star player. Now the team has a young core to build around and if they’re able to develop and add a couple of star/superstar veterans over the next two seasons, the Grizzlies will be back on track. One problem with that plan is the ownership situation, which continues to be in flux. In order to become a viable contender in the West, the team needs an owner willing to invest in its payroll.

Check out our NBA Preview page for a look at every team. We’ll be posting three previews per business day, which will take us up to the start of the season on Tuesday, October 28th.

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