With the 2020-21 NBA season quickly approaching its halfway point, we're starting to get a sense of who the true contenders are and which teams should be looking ahead to the future.
This year is different in a number of ways due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but that hasn't stopped the trade rumours from swirling as furiously as they do in a normal season. With the March 25 trade deadline exactly one month away, teams need to soon decide what approach they want to take down the stretch. Who will push their chips in to gear up for a title run and who will seek to sell assets?
Here's a look at some of the most notable recent buzz from around the league.
Lowry on the radar for multiple teams
The Toronto Raptors limped out of the gate, starting the season 2-8. That poor stretch is understandable since the team was getting used to a new home in Tampa Bay and trying to mix in a number of new pieces after losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol in free agency. The Raptors have since turned things around and now sit fifth in the Eastern Conference at 16-17.
One massive decision the front office will have to make is what to do with franchise icon Kyle Lowry, whose contract expires at the end of this year. Do Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster want to hold on to their leader for one more playoff run and risk losing him in the off-season, or will they work on a trade to try and acquire some assets in return?
If they opt for the latter, the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as potential trade destinations for the six-time all-star, according to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
A source indicated to Pompey that Lowry, a proud Philadelphia native, would be interested in a homecoming and the fit is obvious. Adding an established floor general like Lowry to a team that already features Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris would make the 76ers heavy favourites to reach the NBA Finals. The Raptors would reportedly be seeking a mix of draft picks, young players and veterans on expiring contracts in return.
Per Pompey, Miami at 15-17 might be hesitant to pull the trigger on a trade until it has more clarity on the direction of its season. Lowry's gritty style would transition seamlessly to the culture the Heat have built. Finally, a trade to the Clippers would reunite Lowry with former teammates Ibaka and Kawhi Leonard. Those three won a championship together in 2019 and would likely have no trouble quickly regaining their chemistry.
Knicks eyeing a big splash
The New York Knicks have infamously struck out on a number of high-profile free agents over the past few years. So if superstars aren't actively choosing to sign with the Knicks, why not go the trade route to acquire that type of talent?
That is exactly what New York is rumoured to be doing. The Knicks acquired Derrick Rose from the Pistons earlier this month, but they've been linked to even bigger names this week.
Bradley Beal is the big fish, and a source confirmed to Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News that the Knicks have interest in the NBA's current scoring leader. However, Beal has publicly stated his desire to remain with the Washington Wizards and multiple reports indicate a Beal trade is unlikely by the deadline.
If Beal is off the table, the Knicks could find their scoring boost from another shooting guard in injured Portland Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum. It's very much unclear whether Portland would consider moving him, but Bondy's source indicates New York is keeping an eye on him.
The Knicks have also been connected to Andre Drummond of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and are analyzing whether or not a move for the big man would make sense, per The New York Post's Marc Berman. Cleveland has stapled Drummond to the bench while it attempts to move the two-time all-star and the asking price is not believed to be high, though Drummond's $28 million contract could make putting together a trade package logistically challenging.
Porzingis on the block?
The Dallas Mavericks were believed to have found their star duo of the future in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but that may no longer be the case. Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report reported earlier this week that Dallas was "quietly gauging" the trade market for Porzingis. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has since denied that report but Ian Begley of SNY further reported Dallas had reached out to the Golden State Warriors about a possible trade for the centre.
Porzingis has only appeared in 17 games this season due to injury but has been his typical self, averaging 20.5 points and 8.2 rebounds on 47 per cent shooting. He is just six months removed from earning second-team All-Bubble honours after averaging 30.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks during the restart last summer.
The offence isn't the issue, it's his defensive struggles that could lead the Mavericks to consider a trade. The 25-year-old currently owns a 112.2 defensive rating, which is easily the worst mark of his career.
"It looks like it's impossible for him to get in a stance. He looks like a scarecrow out there," a Western Conference executive told Fischer. "You don't expect him to necessarily be great from the jump, but I've watched Porzingis a couple of times this year, and I'm not sure the guy can guard anybody."
Dallas is very much still alive in the Western Conference playoff hunt at 15-15, but could a mid-season re-tool help the team reach its true potential? Moving an all-star calibre centre and close friend of Doncic would be risky, but stranger things have happened.
Tucker popular among contenders
A hard-nosed defender who can knock down timely three-pointers is always going to be in demand at this time of year. Enter P.J. Tucker, the Houston Rockets veteran who is as versatile a defender as they come and owns a career 36 per cent mark from beyond the arc.
The Los Angeles Lakers have expressed interest in Tucker but they're not his only suitor, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets are also reportedly showing interest, with Houston preferring a rotation player instead of draft picks in return.
Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer reports the Bucks have been checking in on Tucker since November and are still keeping an eye on him. Tucker would add another excellent defender to a team that already features plenty of prowess on that side of the ball.
Houston is out of post-season contention after dealing James Harden to Brooklyn, so selling off a veteran like Tucker who appears to be in high demand seems like a no-brainer.