With the NBA trading deadline just hours away (Thursday, 3 p.m. ET), several prevailing questions remain. Here are five:
1. Where will Josh Smith be on Friday?
An expiring contract and serious ability have made Smith the hottest name on the rumor wagon for a good month. Reports say interest in Atlanta’s power forward has come from nearly half the league’s 30 teams — with Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Phoenix and even Boston being the most determined suitors.
Smith says it’s no different than any year, and he speaks the truth. He’s a borderline All-Star with remarkable athleticism and capable of putting up 25-plus on anyone. He also has a difficult side, sometimes running afoul of team policies with a me-first attitude.
Throw in a contract that ends this summer, however, and it’d be a shocker if Smith remains with the Hawks while GM Danny Ferry continues to reshape the roster.
Of course, much of moving Smith will be dependent on him giving the team that obtains him a behind-the-scenes wink and nudge that he’ll re-sign in the offseason. The Nets and Bucks seem to stand the best chance of that.
2. Will either of the Celtics’ old stars move on?
Everything changed for Boston last month, when point guard Rajon Rondo went down for the year with an ACL injury. A few days later, it was learned rookie forward Jared Sullinger would miss the season with a bad back.
Until then, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge appeared ready to make a minor move, adding a small piece to a veteran team in need of complementary pieces.
But man, things sure have changed. Now, Ainge is said to be trying his luck at gutting the roster — and a purge such as that begins and ends with championship-ring holders Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Garnett insisted he won’t waive his no-trade clause, even if it means joining a real title contender such as the L.A. Clippers. But he’s also indicated that if Pierce is traded, he won’t be able to follow him out the door fast enough.
Atlanta, Brooklyn and Charlotte have all been mentioned as potential Pierce destinations. If Pierce lands anywhere but Boston, expect Garnett to abandon his stance and start talking all that great smack in a new city.
3. Will any contender make a move that alters the title picture?
The Clippers appear convinced Garnett could easily be swayed into chasing another title, especially if offered the chance to do so alongside Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and longtime pal Chauncey Billups.
Adding Garnett to that group would prove they’re “all in” for this season and next — and immediately improve their chances to emerge from a conference that also boasts Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Memphis and (still) the L.A. Lakers.
Speaking of the Thunder and Spurs, while neither is expected to do anything overly serious, both are quietly doing their due diligence, and could pull off something at the last minute that gives them an edge.
Rumors of the Thunder potentially making a play for Phoenix center Marcin Gortat (for Kendrick Perkins), and the Spurs’ possibly entering the Josh Smith raffle, are real.
Any of it would offer a new outlook on what those teams could accomplish in April and May.
As for the Lakers …
4. Are the Lakers really going to stand pat?
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has called Dwight Howard “the future” of the franchise, and while you can’t help but wonder how that sits with Kobe Bryant (the here-and-now), Howard is likely to remain in L.A. until at least this summer, when he becomes a free agent.
Meanwhile, Pau Gasol is injured, Bryant is untouchable and no one else on the roster is collecting any interest.
Save for a blowout loss to the Clippers right before the All-Star break, the Lakers have looked like they’re starting to get it recently. If they really are, the entire league will suddenly have a new team to fear in the postseason.
Unless Kupchak has a sudden change of heart, it appears we’re about to find out if all the drama and difficulty meshing can swiftly be overcome.
5. Which Utah big man will go?
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are blue-collar types with gobs of ability, and those two alone give the Jazz reason to believe they can ride this out and make the playoffs.
Then there’s the rest of the team, which gives the Jazz reason to wonder if they’ll actually end up anywhere but playing golf in early May.
Both Jefferson and Millsap come off the books this summer, and both of their situations are very similar to Smith’s. They’re really good, but not good enough to be deemed unattainable.
Chances are the Jazz will keep one. But don’t be floored if the other is sent to an unexpected contender in a tactical move that allows the Jazz to stay on track now without having to worry about negotiating two major deals later.