Teams gear up for trade deadline … or not

With salary-cap space to spare and an array of movable contracts, league sources have pinpointed Houston, Cleveland and Phoenix as three teams aggressively seeking a move as the Feb. 21 NBA trading deadline approaches.

What, if anything, these teams might do, however, still seems to be anyone’s guess.

“It’s way too early to know,” one source dialed in with league-wide phone conversations told FOX Sports Ohio.

Not in doubt is all three teams’ willingness to want to strike.

Both Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Cavaliers GM Chris Grant are admitted trade junkies. Suns GM Lance Blanks, a former assistant GM in Cleveland with Grant, may be following the same path.

Each has a different approach, however. Morey is more of a cowboy, a guy willing to pull the trigger on almost any deal — provided it helps his team right away.

Grant is considerably more strategic, thinking about today, but with a bigger eye on the future and maintaining flexibility.

Blanks, it seems, is somewhere in the middle.

Obviously, those aren’t the only three men working the phones at this time of the season. They’re just doing what they can to not be denied.

But when it comes to trades and the deadline, every GM agrees with what Mitch Kupchak told a Los Angeles reporter earlier in the week.

The Lakers GM basically said, no one executes a deal in a day. It takes weeks. When a deal is out there that a GM finally likes, that’s when the GM calls another team to see if there’s a better offer.

The NBA is a trading deadline-oriented league. While most fans wish it operated somewhere closer to their fantasy leagues, where trades are made by the second, it’s considerably more complicated than that.

So when it’s mentioned a team is interested in another team’s player(s), chances are, it’s true. But “interest” and “nearing execution of a trade” are two entirely different things.

For instance, league sources say the Rockets have a strong interest in Cavs guard Daniel Gibson, a veteran with a decent perimeter stroke (when healthy) — and an expiring contract that makes him a prime target everywhere.

But if Grant were to deal Gibson, it’s only because Grant feels he’s improving the Cavs in a significant manner. That could be difficult, given Gibson’s lack of minutes (and therefore, productivity) in recent weeks.

Grant just pulled a basketball caper by trading a non-factor in forward Jon Leuer to the Memphis Grizzlies for two reserves off a winning team in forward/center Marreese Speights and guard Wayne Ellington. For good measure, Grant received young point guard Josh Selby and a first-round pick, all while maintaining the Cavs’ cap advantages.

Grant follows Kupchak’s credo, agreeing that the best deals are made at the last minute. But Grant couldn’t pass up a trade like this one with the Grizzlies.

In the Grizzlies’ defense, it’s a trade that had to be made. Without question, they needed to create some room under the cap to avoid getting blasted in the cruel new world of luxury tax.

Time to move?

Back to what league sources are hearing — or at least want to believe:

• Either Lakers center Dwight Howard or forward Pau Gasol is available, depending on what makes most sense. Both also could still be with the team after the deadline. “GMs don’t think like fans,” one GM said. “Fans are reactionary. GMs can’t afford to be. Keeping both (Howard and Gasol) might be their best move.”

• Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay is still not untouchable, despite the recent deal with the Cavs. “He could get traded tomorrow, I don’t know,” said one opposing GM.

• The Cavs could very well flip one of the pieces obtained in that same deal. They are constantly on the lookout for more draft picks. At the same time, they are extremely open to moving the first-rounder they received from Memphis, as well as the expiring deals of Gibson and Luke Walton.

• The Rockets’ Morey will trade anyone except James Harden. Morey usually aims extremely high regardless of contract status (Kevin Love, Howard, you name it), but will settle low.

• Blanks is itching to make the Suns relevant again — if not by landing a marquee name, then by obtaining a boatload of assets. (Read: Expiring contracts and draft picks.)

• Boston’s Danny Ainge will surrender anyone not named Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or Rajon Rondo (and to a lesser extent, Avery Bradley). Just give the Celtics a veteran who can really bring it in return.

• And don’t forget all the castoffs after the deadline. They sometimes prove to be valuable free agents.

That, of course, is just the extremely short list.

But if you’re obsessed with the idea of trades, those are the areas in which to start. Many will never happen. Some will, but with just minutes to spare.

“I think there’s a chance we could see some big trades this year,” said one GM. “But I say that every year, and the ones that happen typically are ones I never would’ve dreamed of. And I’m in on the conversations.”

Twitter: @SamAmicoFSO