NBA trade winds intensify

Most of the NBA’s 30 teams are talking the talk.

But will they walk the walk?                                                       

With the NBA trading deadline closing in, there isn’t a shortage of trade rumors making the rounds. In fact, the general consensus among several NBA officials is that there will be a fair amount of wheeling and dealing before the deadline, which is Thursday (2 p.m., CST).

As one might assume, playoff-bound teams – Miami, Boston, Brooklyn, Los Angeles Lakers, etc. — have been especially active in trade discussions. Here is a list of just a few of the players whose names are being bandied about in trade talks:

  • Kyle Lowry – The veteran Raptors guard is coveted by a spate of clubs, although several NBA sources contend Miami and Philadelphia are the frontrunners. One executive gave a slight edge to Miami. Said the exec: “Philly really wants Lowry but they don’t have the assets to send back to the Raptors. Miami has the assets and some veteran contracts that they could move to get him.’’
  • Marcus Smart – The Celtics, of course, aren’t just going to give away the veteran combo guard who just might be the heart and soul of the team. But the Celtics GM Danny Ainge has made it abundantly clear, a source said, that he doesn’t want just any first-round pick for Smart. “Danny wants a lottery pick. I doubt that’s going to happen, but that’s what he wants,’’ a GM said.
  • Aaron Gordon. The Magic are headed to the lottery and are more than receptive to moving the talented forward. Several teams wouldn’t mind taking Gordon off their hands, but the Magic brass has high demands. “They want two first-rounders,’’ a league source. Boston, Denver and Houston, some NBA officials claim, are the primary Gordon courters.
  • Evan Fournier. With his experience and his scoring abilities Fournier is an attractive piece for any playoff-bound team. The Magic have to like the fact Fournier has been on fire of late, having scored 31 points in two of his last three games.
  • Lonzo Ball. The Pelicans intriguing young guard has been the subject of much trade speculation, but some NBA officials believe that unless the Pelicans get a crazy offer, he isn’t going anywhere.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Warren, etc. – The Pacers are perhaps the most underachieving team in the league and problems are cropping up internally. Some players haven’t embraced new Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren, who succeeded Nate McMillan. While the former coach’s team is struggling – the Pacers have lost nine of their last 13 games — the latter coach’s team is thriving as the Atlanta Hawks have won eight of nine games.
  • Victor Oladipo. Perhaps no one on the trade market is more polarizing than Oladipo, whose days in Houston are clearly numbered. Some executives believe Oladipo can still play at a high level, while others believe he’ll never be the same explosive player and potent scorer he was before he injured his knee. “I don’t know if he has enough value to take him on for the rest of the season and then not being able to keep him. That’s a big risk,’’ an NBA exec said. “I do know this: Houston would certainly trade him.’’
  • Harrison Barnes. The Kings have entertained various offers for the talented wing, but have an extremely high asking price: two first-round picks.

Some more trade candidates: Pistons shooting guard Wayne Ellington, Knicks combo guard Austin Rivers, Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica, Hawks shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic and Thunder guard George Hill.

Coveted veterans

Three proven and productive players – all likely buyout candidates —  are smack dab on the radar screens for a bunch of playoff-caliber clubs.

One is Cleveland center Andre Drummond. Said a GM: “You don’t think he’d help Boston? Or how about Mathletic big man iami? But I really think it’s going to come down to him playing with either LeBron (James) or Kevin (Durant). Its going to be the  Lakers or the Nets.’’

Two other players who are expected to be bought out are San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge and New Orleans JJ Redick. Aldridge has been linked to Portland, Miami and Boston, while Reddick, according to a source, is hoping to land the Nets, 76ers, Celtics or Knicks.

Cream of the crop

The NCAA Tournament can be a blessing or a curse for NBA draft prospects. Two player personnel directors said both Oklahoma State’s do-it-all Cade Cunningham and Southern California’s athletic big man Evan Mobley have had tournament performances worthy of being the possible top pick in the draft.

In fact, one personnel director said he’d pick Cunningham No. 1, while the other said he has moved Mobley ahead of Cunningham in his draft rankings.

Here’s what an Eastern Conference player personnel director said about Cunningham and Mobley:

“I think Cunningham is the complete player. His passing skills are pretty darn good and shooting skills are good. I don’t know if he’s going to knock the socks off people at the next level, but he’s going to be pretty damn good.

“Mobley’s not the tough guy that you might like in your big man, but, man, is he skilled.’’

Fab five

Both of the aforementioned NBA officials agreed Mobley, Cunningham, Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs, G League Elite shooting guard Jalen Green and G League Elite forward Jonathan Kuminga are their top five prospects.

Said one official: “After those five guys, it gets cloudy for me. Real cloudy.’’

Going into overtime

  • There are some NBA scouts who project Baylor guards Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler as late-first to early second-round picks. But a GM contends they helped themselves in the tournament: “They’ve risen on my draft board. I think both of them could go between 15 and 25 now.’’
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo ranks in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding: He’s fourth in scoring at 29.0 and fifth in rebounding at 11.7 boards a game. The Greek Freak also has the dubious distinction of ranking in the bottom 10 in free throw shooting and 3-point percentage. Antetokounmpo is the league’s seventh-worst free throw shooter, ranking 103 out of 109 candidates at 67.9 percent. Antetokounmpo is the league’s third-worst 3-pointer shooter at 29.9 percent.
  • One of the few bright spots for the Rockets this season has been the sterling play of Christian Wood, who is averaging 21.9 points and 9.8 rebounds. Wood had a cup of coffee with the Bucks during the 2018-2019 season, appearing in 13 games while also tearing up the G-League with the Wisconsin Herd. The Bucks cut Wood to sign Tim Frazier.
  • Few players have improved so noticeably since last season than Jordan Poole, a Milwaukee native who was Golden State’s first-round selection – the 28th overall pick — in the 2019 draft.

As a rookie last season, Poole averaged 8.8 points while shooting a dismal 33 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from 3-point range in 57 games. This season, the 6-4 shooting guard is averaging 10.4 points while significantly improving his shooting: 50 percent from the field and 39.6 percent on treys. In the last seven games, he has had four games of 23 to 26 points. In the last three games, the 21-year-old Poole scored 23, 25 and 26 points. In that same stretch, he connected on 12 of 26 attempts beyond the arc (46 percent).