Which stars should be traded?
With the trade deadline approaching on Feb. 20, our 5-on-5 crew takes a look at five players who are candidates to get a new address:
1. Fact or Fiction: The Lakers should move Pau before the deadline.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Fact. Even if the best they can do is save some luxury-tax dollars -- or trade Pau Gasol in combination with another move to get them out of the tax entirely -- the Lakers should do it. There's no need to put basketball above business this season or have this season count toward a repeater tax penalty. If they're not going to make the playoffs with Gasol and he doesn't figure into their long-term plans, it's time to finally make a Gasol trade rumor become reality.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Fact. The Lakers continue to wait for the sweetheart deal that will net them an extra first-round pick, but even if they can't attract such an offer, there's no reason to hold on to Gasol. His presence on the floor only jeopardizes their ping-pong balls this May, and his presence on the books is a needless waste of money. If the only deal on the table is indeed Emeka Okafor's expiring deal, they should jump on it, even if it doesn't include a pick. That is, unless something better presents itself.
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Fact. The Lakers should maximize Kobe's remaining years, and this one no longer counts. He's unlikely to reach 100 percent health until next season, so the Lakers are best off tanking and getting a prime draft pick they can use to upgrade their roster whether they keep it or trade it. Gasol would help L.A. tank and fetch another helpful asset.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Fact. It's time to sell high on your 33-year-old big man's hot streak. In theory, it should take years before the Lakers are good enough to where Gasol can help them win titles. And by the time they get there, he will be too old to help. It's better to trade his expiring contract now. It's tank time.
Tom Sunnergren, Hoop76: Fact. A team in the Lakers' position has little use for a player like Gasol, who, despite coming off a month in which he effectively averaged a 20-and-12, is 33 and firmly in his decline phase. (His win shares has dipped precipitously in each of the past four seasons from a high of .232 in 2010-11 to .082 this season.) Nostalgia has a strong pull on these Lakers, but it's time to move on.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Celtics should move Rondo before the deadline.
Adande: Fact. As with the Lakers and Gasol, there have been far too many Rajon-Rondo-rumor-Danny-Ainge-denial cycles for the Celtics. Please, for everyone involved, bring it to a stop. After he played in 92 playoff games in his first six full seasons in the league, sitting through a rebuild during the prime of his career can't appeal to Rondo. Spending $13 million next year for a player with an 11-point career scoring average and no All-Stars to pass to can't appeal to the Celtics. Give both sides a chance to start anew.
Elhassan: Fiction. I wrote about why Boston should keep Rondo, but even if you're convinced he has no future in a Celtics uniform, there's no rush to move him now. Rondo is under contract through 2014-15 at a very reasonable rate, so Boston has three more "pressure points" beyond this trade deadline when it can deal him: draft day, July 1 (start of free agency) and trade deadline 2015.
Feldman: Fiction. Rondo is just 27, and he could easily still be in his prime when the Celtics are next ready to win. There's no reason to rush Rondo out of town, especially when he's still rusty and helping Boston tank as he plays through his struggles.
Strauss: Fiction. Even if the Celtics have designs on moving Rondo, they should probably wait 'til he's fully healthy. Also, what if he thrives alongside coach Brad Stevens? Maybe it'd be better to keep him under those circumstances? I'm not wholly against the idea of considering a Rondo trade, but I doubt they'll get good offers right now.
Sunnergren: Fiction. Let's keep it simple. The Celtics are in the process of building another title contender. Elite 27-year-old point guards who elevate their games on the sport's biggest stages are very helpful to title contenders. Unless Ainge gets blown away -- which seems unlikely -- Rondo should stay put.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Knicks should move Melo before the deadline.
Adande: Fiction. Unless the Knicks plan on dropping their exorbitant ticket prices next season, they need someone on the roster who makes it worth coming to the Garden. Maybe Carmelo Anthony will go for 60 points again. What else are they going to put on the video billboard outside, "Maybe J.R. Smith plays or maybe he gets benched?" Carmelo should have learned his lesson from last time: If he wants to go somewhere, he should do so as a free agent rather than a trade that strips the team of its depth. A trade would admit that one of the biggest deals in recent NBA history was a huge failure.
Elhassan: Fact. In an ideal world, the Knicks would re-sign Melo to a less-than-max deal this summer, giving them the flexibility to acquire complementary pieces and move forward as a fiscally responsible, competitive franchise. But it's the Knicks! So we know with a good deal of certainty that they will write the second-worst check in basketball (first place belongs to the Lakers). Rather, they should save themselves the grief and try to find a taker for Melo, and build their team up with sound decisions.
Feldman: Fact. The tea leaves increasingly say Melo will leave as a free agent this summer. What's the upside of keeping him these next few months? The No. 8 seed? That's not even guaranteed. Get some draft picks and give yourself a chance to rebuild once these bad contracts begin to expire in two years.
Strauss: Fiction. I might say "Fact" if I trusted this owner to meticulously build a roster from the ground up. Since the Knicks are more liable to hastily lard up a rebuild with overvalued vets, they might as well hold on to the Melo status. You just have to hope that his game ages well (it should) and that Tyson Chandler ages well (OK, that one's a stretch).
Sunnergren: Fact. Although Melo is quietly putting together a fine season -- he's setting career marks in rebound and block percentage, is shooting 42.5 percent from 3 and could well set new career highs in wins produced, win shares and PER -- a consensus has long since formed that he's NOT a complete enough player to carry a team to a title, which is the thing he's being paid to do. If the 'Bockers can find the right deal, they should take it.
4. Fact or Fiction: The Raptors should move Lowry before the deadline.
Adande: Fiction. Kyle Lowry's impending free agency diminishes his trade value ... and actually increases the consolation if the Raptors don't trade him. If there isn't a player on an absolute bargain of a contract coming back in a trade, might as well let Lowry walk and take $6.5 million off the payroll with him. Or the Raptors could use their Bird rights to re-sign a borderline All-Star.
Elhassan: Fiction. Somewhat related to the argument I made in my column about Boston keeping Rondo, finding good two-way point guards is increasingly difficult in this age of tremendous talent at that position. Lowry can be prickly, but he is productive, an intense competitor and only 27, and there's no guarantee Toronto can find even an adequate replacement to build around moving forward.
Feldman: Fiction. I understand Masai Ujiri's fear of having to re-sign Lowry to a big contract this summer, and now would definitely be a chance to sell high. But the Raptors, who have missed the NBA's past five postseasons, are the NBA's feel-good story. Ride out this season's eclectic roster and enjoy it.
Strauss: Fiction. It's too late for Toronto to tank its way to a 2014 lottery pick, so the Raps might as well compete. Historically bad franchises generally shouldn't trade their best player if the playoffs are in sight.
Sunnergren: Fiction. This is a strange situation. Lowry has been the best point guard -- maybe the best guard -- in the East this season, but the trade market for him seems tepid. Couple this with the fact that, at 26-22, Toronto already has done too much winning to make a run at lottery balls, and it looks as though the smartest play for Ujiri is to hang on to his catalyst.
5. Fact or Fiction: The Pistons should move Monroe before the deadline.
Adande: Fact. If Greg Monroe had followed a natural progression, he should have been battling for an All-Star spot this season. Instead, his numbers are down all over. The Josh Smith signing gives the Pistons a frontcourt-heavy team at a time when the rest of the league is going to the perimeter. The Pistons are 26th in the league in 3-pointers made. They should trade Monroe, a player without a 3-point attempt this season, for an outside threat.
Elhassan: Faction. I mean, Fict. I mean, it's complicated. Detroit should try to move Smith, who was an awful signing from a fit perspective, but with almost the entirety of his $54 million still on the books, it'll struggle to find takers. Unfortunately, the current combination can't flourish moving forward without the addition of talent (shooting!), and Monroe's youth, production and right-of-first-refusal status make him the easier trade piece.
Feldman: Fiction. Monroe is one of the NBA's premier young offensive big men. He doesn't fit well with the Pistons' current roster, but they shouldn't be too concerned with short-term fit. Monroe could fit well with Andre Drummond in three years, and that matters more than the couple of extra wins a lower-upside wing would bring this season.
Strauss: Fact. Perhaps I'm wrong on this, but I believe that offense-first big men are generally overvalued. The exceptions to this philosophy are guys like Dirk Nowitzki who can stretch opposing defenders to the 3-point arc. Monroe can't stretch the opposing defense, and he doesn't play good defense. Teams that trade that type of player tend to end up better off.
Sunnergren: Fact. In a perfect world, the Pistons would trade Smith, work out an extension with Monroe and go to bed each night secure in the knowledge that, with him and Drummond, they had one of the top frontcourts in the sport. Alas, we don't live in a perfect world. We live in one where Detroit's roster is an unworkable disaster and Smoove's $54 million deal is unmovable. Time to make a deal.