Originally Published: December 14, 2012

1. Trade Season Begins: Who's In Play?

Stein By Marc Stein
Pau GasolRobyn Beck/AFP/Getty ImagesWith trade season here, we take a look at top names who could be on the block, including Pau Gasol.

Saturday is regarded in most NBA outposts as the opening day of trade season because Saturday is Dec. 15.

And Dec. 15 is the first day players who signed new contracts in July can be dealt, which in this case will unlock 108 previously off-limits names for liberal use on ESPN's irresistible Trade Machine.

In real life, it must be said, trade talk leaguewide is just starting to simmer, with no Carmelo Anthonys or Dwight Howards for teams to chase. Yet there are a few rather recognizable vets of quality in play, with the flood of Dec. 15ers giving deal-minded teams more chips to plug in to satisfy salary-cap demands.

A five-deep update on the biggest of those names, some 70 days away from the Feb. 21 trade deadline, follows here:


Pau Gasol

Talking about the prospect of a Pau Gasol deal has become a Weekend Dime staple, despite the fact that the Lakers have managed to convince the league at large that they're not going to seriously consider moving him until after Steve Nash returns. And only then if Gasol continues to struggle.

The reality, though, is that trade speculation is going to be an inescapable part of Gasol's life for the rest of his days as a Laker, largely because L.A. has already traded him once. (I'm guessing you haven't forgotten how NBA commissioner David Stern canceled the firstChris Paul blockbuster deal assembled by the Hornets, who were owned by the league at the time, thus making Stern their de facto owner.)

Yet nothing much has actually changed from what we wrote about Pau in last week's Weekend Dime. There's realistically room to accommodate only one center in Mike D'Antoni's spread-the-floor offense and trading Gasol, furthermore, is clearly the best option available to the Lakers to bring in a floor-stretching big man and the bench reinforcements that would make them more than a four- or five-man team.

The Lakers, though, would naturally prefer to avoid making another blockbuster change to the operation after all the upheaval they've already endured the past two months. They're likewise aware that getting good value in return for a 32-year old -- who also happens to be coping with achy knees and is owed nearly $20 million next season -- is bound to be even tougher than finding enough sweet-spot touches in the D'Antoni system to satiate Gasol, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant.

Minnesota continues to make the most sense as a landing spot for Gasol, since he'd slot in so nicely alongside countryman Ricky Rubio and a cranky Kevin Love, but the Wolves don't have the proven big man with deep range to clinch a one-to-one deal with L.A. If Nash comes back and Pau looks as lost as he did before knee tendinitis shelved him for the past six games, finally convincing L.A. to end the Gasol guessing games once and for all, perhaps there's a multiteam scenario down the road to fill in the gaps for the Wolves and Lakers.



Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon

Numerous front-office sources describe the Raptors as the team, more than any other on the NBA map, most motivated to make a deal. Which isn't terribly surprisingly when you consider that the Raps began the season with dreams of challenging for the last playoff spot in the East … and entered the weekend at 4-19.

There are some legit alibis for Toronto's struggles, once you add up all of the injuries and scroll through its road-heavy early schedule, but the Raptors have new problems. Sources have maintained for weeks that former No. 1 overall pick Bargnani is available in tandem with the expiring contract of veteran point guard Calderon, but Bargnani is suddenly dealing with an elbow injury that is expected to sideline him at least three weeks.

Combine that with the fact that Bargnani hasn't played well all season -- as well as the contractual issues detailed in this cyberspace last week that would presumably turn off the Lakers in particular -- and you struggle to see how the Raps could find a taker for the Italian. The growing sentiment around the league, as a result, is that the Raptors might be forced to move Calderon on his own or as the headliner in a deal to initiate the shakeup they appear to badly need.

Sources say the Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks would love to import Calderon, but neither has the spare assets to easily swing a trade for a player making $10.6 million this season with a 10 percent trade kicker in his contract.


Anderson Varejao

We shared with you in a recent Weekend Dime how one Eastern Conference team official routinely refers to Varejao's run of double-doubles this season as the Brazilian's "Get Me Out of Cleveland" tour.

Various teams have chimed in since to say that Varejao is highly available, as he has been for the past few seasons, but likewise expressed a good amount of skepticism about Andy V. actually moving before the trade buzzer in February because the Cavs' perpetually high asking price has only gone up.

The Cavs, sources say, want multiple young assets in return for the 30-year-old, who is averaging 14.3 points and 14.8 rebounds and possesses a very manageable contract that calls for Varejao to receive $9.1 million next season with a $9.8 million team option in 2014-15. The Thunder are the rare title contender also blessed with the sort of youth/stashed draft picks to appeal to Cleveland, but sources say OKC has shown little interest to date.

We repeat: Varejao certainly hasn't been campaigning for a trade and has established an undeniable on-court connection with Cavs franchise Kyrie Irving. Keeping him wouldn't be the worst outcome, would it? As with Gasol, though, Varejao trade scenarios will continue to circulate -- and not just thanks to media scoundrels like me -- until the day he finally leaves Cleveland.



Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap

It's a working assumption in front offices all over the league that the Jazz will trade Jefferson or Millsap for a front-line point guard at some point in the next 10 weeks. For two reasons.

1. Jefferson and Millsap will be free agents in July, meaning Utah risks losing both without compensation if they're still on the roster beyond Feb. 21.

2. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are the undeniable power players of the future in Utah, even though Jefferson is one of only six players this season averaging 17 and 10 -- along with Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, David Lee, Kevin Love and Zach Randolph -- and despite Millsap's status as the most productive forward from the 2006 draft not named LaMarcus Aldridge.

The challenge is trying to determine which of the two is most likely to move … unless you expect the Jazz to surprise us again and ship out both.

The handful of teams consulted by ESPN.com this week were split. Some nominate Millsap because he's not at Jefferson's All-Star level. Some nominate Jefferson because Millsap's skill set theoretically meshes better with Favors and Kanter.

Our conclusion? No surprise that there's no consensus given how hard Utah has always been to read, as most famously seen in February 2011 when the Jazz shocked everyone by abruptly trading Deron Williams to the Nets mere days after Jerry Sloan's shocking resignation. Our best advice: Stay tuned.

The field

Other names that dribbled out this week as likely candidates to be dealt this trade season include Milwaukee's expiring-contract backcourt duo of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, based on the premise that the Bucks, if they start drifting out of playoff contention, won't want to risk losing their smallish scorers for nothing in free agency. Also mentioned frequently is the Minnesota trio of Derrick Williams, Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea, given that Wolves coach Rick Adelman appears to have no use for Williams and with the Wolves now boasting a surplus of point guards and with Ricky Rubio back from his knee tear.

In terms of those 108 offseason signees who become trade-eligible Saturday, at least three names are coming up repeatedly on the personnel grapevine: Indiana's D.J. Augustin, Phoenix's Michael Beasley and Boston's Courtney Lee. There's a reason for that, though: All three are seriously struggling.

Dimes past: Dec. 1 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7-8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13

2. Marc's Quote


"Just the jokes."

New York Knicks forward Kurt Thomas, when asked what stands out about life in the NBA as a 40-year-old.

By exactly one day, Thomas is the oldest player in the league, just ahead of the Clippers' Grant Hill. Thomas was born Oct. 4, 1972; Hill on Oct. 5.

The Knicks, as we've repeatedly covered in Weekend Dimedom, actually have four of the NBA's six oldest players on their roster, but Thomas says he takes the brunt of the locker-room abuse from the likes of Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby.

"Lotta one-liners around here," Thomas said.

It's easy, of course, for teammates to bust on each other when things are going so well. The Knicks haven't sported the best record in the East this late in the season since 1993-94 ... two seasons before Thomas broke in. They score 34.9 percent of their points from 3-point range and average 12 3s per game, which would net two NBA records if those figures can be maintained for the whole season. They're also a tidy 20-1 at home in regular-season games under Mike Woodson after surviving the loss of Carmelo Anthony and a sketchy second half Thursday night to plunge the Lakers deeper into crisis mode.

And while Thomas has played sparingly this season, he's one of those vets -- along with Kidd, Wallace, Camby and chatty center Tyson Chandler -- who handle much of the tone-setting for the Knicks. Which allows Melo to keep his focus on what he does best: Filling it up.

"We were too old a couple of years ago, too," Chandler said of the championship team in Dallas he anchored defensively in 2011. "That worked out well."

3. Eastern Conference

Heard a fresh round of rumbles this week that former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley, as covered here in early November, is already interested in buying back into the league and has the Milwaukee Bucks in his sights.

So that's one more intriguing variable to factor into Milwaukee's season of mystery.

Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, don't forget, are in the final season of their respective contracts. Ditto for coach Scott Skiles and general manager John Hammond. Why not throw a potential ownership transfer into the Brew Stew?

Heisley is based in Chicago and, based on what's been circulating, sees the Bucks as a natural team to pursue to keep him close to home.

Some numbers of note in the East this week:

15: Toronto trade bait Jose Calderon posted the 20th game of his career with at least 15 assists in Wednesday night's home loss to Brooklyn. The good news: Calderon has more 15-assist games than all other players in Raptors history combined. The bad news: Toronto is just 10-10 in those games.

28: Cleveland's C.J. Miles has scored 28 points in back-to-back games ... after scoring that many points in only two games in his first seven NBA seasons.

3.6: Boston's Rajon Rondo is the only player in the NBA averaging double figures in assists and averages 3.6 more assists per game than his nearest pursuer. The Clippers' Chris Paul ranks second in the league at 9.3 assists per game compared with Rondo's 12.9. You have to go back to the 1978-79 season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, to find a larger disparity between No. 1 in the league (Kevin Porter back then at 13.4 apg) and No. 2 (John Lucas at 9.3).

10: Want more Rondo? The Celtics' QB is trying to post just the 10th season in league history in which a point guard has averaged at least 12.9 assists per game. John Stockton did it five times, Magic Johnson did it twice and Isiah Thomas and Kevin Porter each hit those heights once.

23: Thanks to the best first quarter of his career, Carmelo Anthony finished with 30 points in 23 minutes in Thursday night's rout of the Lakers before leaving with a sprained ankle. Melo's 22 points in the opening quarter helped him become the NBA's first starter to reach the 30-point mark in 23 or fewer minutes since David Robinson back in 1995. ESPN's Jalen Rose had 31 points in 23 minutes off the bench for Toronto against New York in 2006. Elias says no Knick had achieved the feat since Johnny Green scored 33 points in 22 minutes in a neutral-site game against the San Francisco Warriors in Philadelphia on Dec. 30, 1964.

4. Three Dozen

I'm man enough to admit it.

I inexplicably got as swept up in this 12/12/12 stuff as anyone.

Can't really explain it, either, since I'm normally much more of an odd-numbers guy. But I found myself thinking in twelves all week … as the following compilation of a half-dozen related NBA factoids confirms:

• When Michael Jordan's jersey was stolen from the Bulls' locker room on Feb. 14, 1990, what number did he masquerade in for one night? No. 12, of course. Sporting those traditional QB digits, MJ rumbled for 49 points but couldn't prevent Chicago from an overtime loss at Orlando.

• Four NBA teams have retired No. 12: New York (Dick Barnett), Sacramento (Maurice Stokes), San Antonio (Bruce Bowen) and Utah (John Stockton). (Only five NFL teams have retired their No. 12s, but I'll have to consult Clayton, Mort or Schefter to confirm my suspicions that it's a number too sought after by quarterbacks for the majority of franchises to take it out of circulation.)

• Thirteen players in today's NBA wear No. 12: LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland), Leandro Barbosa (Boston), Eric Bledsoe (L.A. Clippers), Andrew Bogut (Golden State), Will Bynum (Detroit), Kirk Hinrich (Chicago), Dwight Howard (L.A. Lakers), John Jenkins (Atlanta), Kendall Marshall (Phoenix), Luc Mbah a Moute (Milwaukee), A.J. Price (Washington), Tyrus Thomas (Charlotte) and Evan Turner (Philadelphia).

• The most notable Dec. 12 in NBA history, before this one, was Dec. 12, 1971. The Lakers beat Atlanta to establish a new NBA record with 21 consecutive wins before ultimately stretching that streak to what is widely presumed to be an unbreakable 33 Ws in a row. "We did our celebrating when we won No. 21," Wilt Chamberlain said at the time. "That was the big one."

• On Wednesday night, also known as 12/12/12, Boston's Paul Pierce became -- you guessed it -- the 12th player in NBA history to reach the 23,000-point plateau with the same team for which he made his NBA debut. Joining Pierce in that illustrious dozen: Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant, Patrick Ewing, John Havlicek, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Hakeem Olajuwon, Jerry West and Dominique Wilkins. San Antonio's Tim Duncan is on course to make it a baker's dozen well before 2012 is out as he takes 22,952 career regular-season points into the weekend.

• For the record: I celebrated the "holiday" this week by ordering six new Bowen cards I found on eBay from a previously unseen (by me) Upper Deck set in 2010 that pictured the slender swingman who puts the "bow" in bow tie in his Cal State Fullerton orange. So how could I resist?


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