The NBA trade deadline is nearly here for the 2012-13 season. Certain fringe playoff contenders are struggling to hang on, and should definitely make big splashes prior to the Feb. 21 ultimatum.
The leverage that surefire contenders bring to the table makes the market shrink, and may force the hand of GMs thinking they need just one more piece to complete a potential championship puzzle. Such circumstances should lend to an action-packed adventure of big-name swaps.
Here are two teams from each conference that need to take a plunge before next Thursday in order to enhance their team's immediate and long-term title hopes.
Defense doesn't always win championships, but more often than not, it does. In any event, having defense is better than not having it—and the Rockets don't have it.
Houston may be the second-highest scoring team in the NBA, but it allows the second-most points to offset that. Trading baskets won't be easy to do against the conference's elite teams in Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
There haven't really been any signs of improvement on that end of the floor, mostly because of the lackluster perimeter defense and a slew of power forwards that are assets on offense but too soft on the defensive end.
The Rockets would greatly benefit from an imposing post presence on the inside that could play strong interior defense and allow Houston's athletic swing men to contest shots when the ball is passed out of the lane.
Alex Kennedy of HOOPSWORLD.com broke news that the Rockets love Memphis Grizzlies PF Zach Randolph, who would undoubtedly be a great fit:
Alex Kennedy @AlexKennedyNBA
Source says that the Memphis Grizzlies may keep Rudy Gay, and instead trade Zach Randolph to the Houston Rockets. Houston loves Randolph.1/20/2013, 2:14:18 PM
However, that was before Memphis traded away Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors. But while the circumstances have changed, that bit of information did show that the Rockets are in the market for a power forward.
The backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis is explosive and fun to watch at times, but it doesn't exactly seem to indicate a future championship.
There is also at least one team in the hunt for Ersan Ilyasova, according to Legion Sports.
That type of a return for the Bucks' versatile, highly skilled forward would give Milwaukee more of a post presence and better rebounding on the inside. Brooks would also provide the squad with a solid role player, and the first-round pick helps build for the future.
However, having a stretch 4 like Ilyasova is a hot commodity, and the Bucks may not be willing to part with him even after using a high draft pick on former UNC standout John Henson. That above move would also not help the Bucks improve in the short-term.
Either Jennings or Ellis would be good bets to ship, since both can tend to hog the ball and Milwaukee is clinging to the No. 8 spot in the East in the midst of a four-game slide.
Pro Basketball Talk reported that the Bucks aren't interested in trading Jennings. But with Ellis being an unrestricted free agent this summer, he is an explosive scorer that could instantly help a contender and command assets in return.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap have long been targets for trade speculation. There are so many possibilities for the Jazz to get in return for either of those two players.
With Enes Kanter continuing to improve at center and the same going for 2010 No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors at power forward, Utah suddenly has flexibility in the front court.
That is a big key, considering the backcourt is largely void of premier talent. Mo Williams was having a surprisingly good year in his second stint with the team that drafted him, but has been out since late December with a thumb injury.
Beyond him, the Jazz only have the likes of Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson running the point, which isn't exactly an ideal situation.
Jefferson has already been linked to the San Antonio Spurs and more recently Phoenix Suns, along with teammate Gordon Hayward (h/t Hoops-Nation.com). FOX Sports' Sam Amico reported in late January that Millsap's potential suitors included Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Denver.
As of Tuesday, Millsap may be headed to the New York Knicks, although a straight-up trade for Iman Shumpert seems a bit on the strange side (h/t @NBARUMORS):
NBA Rumors @NBARUMORS
According to sources, The New York Knicks and Utah Jazz are entertaining the idea of trading Iman Shumpert for Paul Millsap.2/12/2013, 7:45:04 PM
The market is open to make a move, and the Jazz have to do something to separate themselves in the Western Conference. Dealing one of their big men would go a long way in doing that, and look for Jefferson as the most likely to move based on recent news.
A lot of guards clutter this Hawks lineup, but head coach Larry Drew has done an exceptional job juggling it all.
Leading scorer Josh Smith is likely going to demand a large contract in the offseason, when he's set to become a free agent. Holding onto him now makes no sense if GM Danny Ferry is simply going to let him walk in the summertime.
Therefore, dealing Smith makes a lot of sense, and could give the Hawks a lot of help at the power forward position. Smith doesn't exactly fit in Atlanta, but did enjoy an extremely good January and has played well recently too.
Kennedy again is on the ball to report who is looking hard at Smith as the deadline approaches:
Alex Kennedy @AlexKennedyNBA
Source confirms that the Nets are interested in Josh Smith. The Suns, Rockets and Bobcats have shown some interest in Smith as well.2/11/2013, 4:06:17 AM
The San Antonio Spurs have also shown interest, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo!
There is plenty to be gained here by the Hawks. Most notably, Smith alleviates them of a significant cap hit. In a year where luxury taxes will loom large, Ferry must cut as much as he can off the books.
That added flexibility would give Atlanta a shot at landing another marquee free agent this offseason.