As the calendar shifts to February, the NBA rumor mill starts to churn again. After a wild and expensive free agent summer that saw Kevin Durant move to Golden State, the buzz about potential trades subsequently died. With more than half the season gone the contenders and pretenders have begun to separate and teams that lie in the middle have a choice to make: make a move or stand pat. There are numerous enticing rumors throughout the association, but the question remains which of these stories will come to fruition, and which will simply fade from memory.
It is time to separate fact from fiction.
Carmelo Anthony will be traded before the February 23rd deadline: Fact
Carmelo trade rumors have long been the lifeblood of any good trade deadline addict. Ever since his unceremonious exit from Denver, rumblings have been coming from Madison Square Garden that perhaps Anthony would be happier on a better team. This is the year that it will finally happen. Anthony has a nasty no-trade clause that will allow him to block any trade he’s involved in, but there are contending teams that have the right pieces to package together for him. Even as he approaches age 33, Anthony is still an effective offensive player. His numbers have dipped, but he is able to create his own shot and continues to be one of the best mid-range scorers in the league, posting a 45.4% field goal percentage in the mid-range area per NBA.com.
Teams like the L.A. Clippers and Boston Celtics are both in need of a dynamic wing scorer, which despite his sulky attitude and bad body language, Anthony still is. The Knicks are ready to hand the keys to the franchise over to Latvian wonder boy Kristaps Porzingis, and with two years left on Anthony’s deal the time to move him is right now. New York has been taken aback by how tepid the market for Carmelo is, but as the deadline nears and the rumors heat up they will eventually come to reason and take the best offer on the table. Whether Carmelo can dramatically shift the balance of power in either conference is certainly up for debate (hint: he can’t), but he will have his opportunity once traded by the Knicks.
An All-Star will be traded before the deadline: Fiction
Before the season there were plenty of rumblings about players like John Wall, Paul George, and DeMarcus Cousins. Then, when Atlanta traded away Kyle Korver to Cleveland for essentially nothing, it hinted that All-Star forward Paul Millsap was available. Those stories have all but died as we approach All-Star weekend. For Wall, George, and Cousins, the likelihood that they are traded is very low. George and Wall are leading their teams to playoff berths and Cousins has reportedly been looking to ink a massive extension with Sacramento. Atlanta is currently in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and Millsap is far and away their best player. Millsap is probably the least flashy All-Star in the league, but the guy is an incredible player especially on the defensive end. His 101.0 defensive rating is truly amazing and his ability to switch onto and trap perimeter players is what makes Atlanta’s defense effective. Of the other 20 All-Stars, the only player that could conceivably be traded is Jimmy Butler. The Bulls have been a complete mess of late both on and off the court, but trading Butler is not a viable solution. The rest of the roster is still in “win-now” mode and blowing it up would just further the dissension in an already divided locker room.
The eight team in the playoffs currently in the East will be the eventual playoff teams: Fact
As it currently sits the eight teams are Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Atlanta, Washington, Indiana, Chicago, and Charlotte in that order. The top six teams feel like playoff locks as Washington has finally put it all together around John Wall and Bradley Beal. In the nine spot is Milwaukee, who has come crashing back to Earth after a relatively hot start. As dismal as Chicago has looked of late, veterans like Butler and Dwyane Wade give them an upper hand during the playoff stretch run. Charlotte has lost four straight, but they are a well coached group of veterans who are being led by first time All-Star Kemba Walker. The big wild card in this playoff equation is Khris Middleton. The Bucks shooting guard has missed the entire season up to this point and is slated to potentially return after the All-Star break. Middleton is clearly an upgrade on the wing, and he could take some of the scoring burden off of Giannis and Jabari Parker as well as shore up a defense that has been leaky at best. With that being said, it is unfair to Middleton to expect him to pick up where he left off last season after not playing the first 50 games of the year.
The eight team in the playoffs currently in the West will be the eventual playoff teams: Fiction
The playoff teams in the Western Conference are currently: Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, Los Angeles Clippers, Utah, Oklahoma City, Memphis, and Denver. The top seven seeds have clearly separated themselves from the pack, as Memphis sits a full five and a half games ahead of Denver in the seventh spot. Denver has had a nice bounce back year under Mike Malone, and they have finally realized that Nikola Jokic is their best player. Jokic is an exceptionally talented passer for a big man and he has helped Denver’s young guards find easy shots. In the ninth spot currently is Portland, a team almost everyone had pegged as a lock playoff team. The issue for the Blazers has been their inability to play playoff-caliber defense, posting a putrid 108.8 defensive rating. Despite their defensive woes, Portland’s star studded backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will likely be enough to leapfrog Denver for the eighth seed. Lillard was once again left off the All-Star team this year and it well documented the kind of chip on his shoulder he played with last year. It is evident that Lillard has picked up where he left off.