With seven days until the trade deadline falls, there is precious little time remaining for NBA teams to make themselves over. While trades are certainly part of the equation around draft time and over the course of the summer, the deadline affords each club a rare opportunity to leverage player and team performance while it's still developing.
Right now, there are likely a number of teams that think they might be one or two moves away from making a serious championship run. Some of them are wrong, and once the season has played out, they will discover their errors in self-assessment. Meanwhile, teams are starting to look ahead to the usual roster headaches -- players opting out of their deals, who might or might not be available in the draft, etc.
With so much uncertainty floating around the league at this stage on the NBA calendar, an astute general manager can strike. A key asset to have is a player who might not fit in with your long-range plans but nevertheless has a great deal of value around the league. One term for these guys is "sell high candidates" because you're trading current perceived value against future perceived value. If you assess your talent and that on other teams correctly, it's a great chance to emerge from deadline chaos with an improved prospectus.
Who are some of these sell high candidates?
Michael Beasley, Minnesota Timberwolves
Scoring is always a valuable commodity on the trade market and that's the one thing Beasley does well. As Minnesota's talent level has risen, Beasley's minutes have fallen, but he's still cranking out more than 19 points per 40 minutes. He's still only 23 years old and was the second pick in the draft just a few years ago. Certainly there are questions about his ability to fit in a team concept and in a locker room, but talent is talent.
The Timberwolves don't need that talent. Beasley has given Minnesota a boost with his bench scoring at times and with the Wolves in the hunt for a playoff berth, this might not seem like the best time to shake things up. However, you've got to keep your eye on the real prize. Kevin Love has already signed an extension. Not too far down the line, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams are going to be seeking the same. At this point, you have to throw Nikola Pekovic into that mix. That's your talent core and where your future financial investment lies. Beasley plays no part in this scenario.
Meanwhile, Beasley can become a restricted free agent this summer, so the time to move is now. If handled deftly, Minnesota general manager David Hahn can not only improve his long-term prospects by moving Beasley, but he can better position the club for the postseason chase.
Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz
Millsap is riding the upper arc of his developmental curve and is enjoying a career season. Is he overachieving? Sure, but not by a lot. Even if he was hitting our preseason forecast on the nose, he'd still be producing near an All-Star level. Millsap is due to earn $8.1 million this season, which actually undervalues his production by $3-4 million.
With just one more year left on his deal beyond this season, Millsap will never have more value than he does right now. This is the perfect chance for Utah's Kevin O'Conner to deal from a position of strength. He's already got Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Jeremy Evans well positioned to fill Millsap's spot. All of those young forwards are raw and moving Millsap now would likely torpedo Utah's already flagging playoff prospects. That's fine -- Millsap can bring real value in terms of players and/or picks that will be of more use the next time the Jazz are actually read y to contend.
Jose Calderon, Toronto Raptors
Calderon is moderately overpaid but nevertheless is enjoying a sterling season in his first campaign under Dwane Casey. That said, he's nearing 31 years of age and is not going to be a part of the next good Raptors team. He's got just one more year left on his contract after this year. On one hand, you can look ahead and decide that Calderon's expiring deal will have more value next season. However, do you really want to chance a drop in his production after he has another year under his belt?
It's essential that Toronto braintrust Bryan Colangelo and Ed Stefanski do an accurate survey of the landscape. There are at least two quasi-contenders - - the Lakers and Magic -- desperate for help at the point guard position. It might take a three- or four-team scenario to deliver the future-friendly assets that Toronto covets, but that's the route the Raptors should be taking.
D.J. Augustin, Charlotte Bobcats
Augustin has improved steadily, albeit with a few sidesteps, during his four seasons in the NBA. He can become a restricted free agent after the season. Since Charlotte is in a foundation-building phase, it's arguable that they need to secure as much talent as it can and not worry about fit. However, someone in a decision-making role for the Bobcats has to make what seems to be an obvious call: a backcourt of Augustin and Kemba Walker is not going to work long term.
Once you've reached that conclusion, how do you then go out and sign Augustin to a new contract? That's right -- you don't. However, he is a good player and, goodness knows, the Bobcats don't have enough of those. Plus, once again, there are some good teams out there that would really like to get their hands on a legit point guard. This is a chance for Charlotte to take another step in its rebuilding process.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
We know what you're thinking. You think we're overreacting to the awkward fit Anthony has proven to be in the Knicks' latest new configuration. No, that's not why he's on this list. One would assume that a player as talented as he would eventually figure out how to work with Jeremy Lin.
This is more about opening up a window for a leap in the future. The Knicks have cast their lot with a core of Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. Lin may or may not be the long-term answer at point guard but he sure looks like it, especially if you're planning to keep Mike D'Antoni around.
For better or worse, Anthony is viewed as a championship-level franchise player in the NBA. It's a debatable viewpoint. However, New York can leverage that perception into a roster that makes sense, that is deeper and more than just a collection of talent. If you can pull it off, you can also improve the team's clogged cap position going forward.
If you're a non-believer in Anthony's inclusion on this list, take a second to participate in a quick exercise in Socratic method. Is your goal to win a championship? (Yes, or at least it damned well should be.) Are there others that are using similar models to pursue this goal? (Yes, the Heat, to name one, also employ the "big three" model of roster building.) Is your execution of this model better than that that of the competition. (Um, no.)
Fine. Then you have to pursue another direction.
A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
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