The Extra Pass: Five teams to watch closely as the trade deadline nears

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With just more than 48 hours left until the NBA’s trade deadline, it feels like the biggest deals may be behind us — Rudy Gay and Luol Deng have already been moved. Rumors are swirling, but the feeling around the league is it is all a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Still there are a number of teams trying to make deals. While there are more hoping to get something done, here are five teams to watch as they are pushing hard to make something happen in the next two days.

1) Denver Nuggets. They are trying hard to move Andre Miller, who has landed deep in Brian Shaw’s doghouse, and there are certainly a lot of teams that could use a veteran point guard who can start or come off the bench. He is popular in the locker room, his teammates love him. The Nuggets are likely just holding out for the best possible deal here but it’s hard to imagine they keep him past Thursday. The other name to watch is Kenneth Faried — the Nuggets have been shopping him around pretty hard. They aren’t sure he is worth what he is going to get offered as a restricted free agent, so they are trying to move him and let that be another team’s problem.

2) Philadelphia 76ers. They have three players they want to move — Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes — and what is more important they are $11 million under the salary cap so they can absorb more salary than they send out. They are the most flexible trade partner out there. The problem is Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie wants draft picks in exchange for his players or to take on some salary and teams are incredibly reluctant to part with picks this year. So we wait. Hinkie has not been the kind to cave so we could get through the deadline without a deal, but more likely somebody comes around and presents a deal Hinkie likes.

3) New York Knicks. Their activity stems from this fact: Carmelo Anthony is going to opt out of his contract this summer. He said over All-Star weekend his “first priority” is to remain with the Knicks but he needs to see a plan that will return the Knicks to contender status. Most of that plan will be “look at all this cap space in 2015” but they are trying to make moves now, specifically they want to add a point guard in the face of Raymond Felton’s struggles. The Knicks are calling everyone; they desperately want to make a move (even if it means bringing back Jeremy Lin). The problem is they don’t have picks they can dangle to tempt teams (not for five years, anyway), and the only tradable player they have is Iman Shumpert (other teams keep asking about Tim Hardaway Jr. but New York refuses to move him). The Knicks are trying, it’s just the reality of them getting a deal done is far less likely than flexible teams like the Sixers.

4) Phoenix Suns. They are one of the few potential buyers on the market, and that gives them some leverage. The Suns have been the NBA’s biggest surprise this season and now they want to continue that — at 31-21 they are just 1.5 games ahead of nine seed Memphis, so the Suns want someone to help solidify them as a playoff team in the West (and make them more dangerous in the first round). Also, they have four firsts round picks and are willing to part with one in the right deal — and that deal might yet be for Pau Gasol. That would be the biggest deal of the deadline, by far. The Suns have the expiring deal of Emeka Okafor ($14.5 million) plus those picks to make it work (the problem has been the Lakers demanding one of the Suns two higher ranked picks and Phoenix is only offering something much smaller if any pick at all, they don’t really want to help a team in their division). If it is not Gasol, look for the Suns to make some kind of deadline deal, they may be rebuilding but they are now in for this season and want to make the playoffs.

5) Boston Celtics. It’s not just Rajon Rondo — although he can be had, you’re just going to have to give something of real value up to get him. Boston decision maker Danny Ainge is rightfully concerned about his ability to re-sign Rondo in the summer of 2015 (not that Rondo is looking to bolt, he just wants to keep his options open) and if Ainge can get something for Rondo in a deal he’ll consider it. However, I expect Rondo to be a summer move (after teams have seen him play more post ACL surgery). Instead, look for Brandon Bass to be on the move — he is the kind of solid big that can help a playoff team immediately but isn’t much use to Boston right now. Also, if Ainge can find a sucker… er, team to take on the two years left on Gerald Wallace’s contract he would do it in a heartbeat.

Report: Magic’s search firm inquiring about Larry Bird

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Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president.

Not just today, but also in 2012. A year later, he was again running a front office (Indiana’s).

Could he make an even quicker leap back into NBA team presidency – with the Magic?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This strikes me as more as Orlando’s search firm trying to prove its usefulness than a viable option.

Whether they’re trying to generate excitement, getting used for leverage or actually serious, the Magic keep getting linked to big-name replacements for the fired Rob HenniganDoc Rivers, David Griffin and now Bird. If the Magic are willing to pay major money for name recognition, they could get plenty of people to at least listen. But I’m unconvinced about that spending.

It’d be a little weird for Bird to inherit Frank Vogel, whom Bird fired as the Pacers’ coach. But Bird did everything he could to show that was more about seeking change than losing faith in Vogel.

Report: Larry Bird stepping down as Pacers president

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Larry Bird put his stamp on the Pacers in the last year –  firing Frank Vogel and trading for Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young to join hand-picked Monta Ellis and Myles Turner as Paul George‘s supporting cast on an up-tempo, offensively dynamic team.

The plan fell flat.

Indiana played at a below-average pace and produced a middling offense. The Pacers got swept by the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

Now, Indiana’s uncertain future – with Paul George a year from free agency and the Lakers courting – gets even more chaotic.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Bird had already resigned once as Pacers president, in 2012. He returned the following year.

Bird’s patience and pain tolerance for the job due to lingering back issues from his playing days has long seemed to waver. I wouldn’t write him off for good.

Indiana promoted Kevin Pritchard in 2012, when Bird previously stepped down. Pritchard previously worked as the Trail Blazers’ general manager, and he’s a qualified replacement.

The work begins immediately with a decision on George. If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team, the Pacers won’t gain as much financial advantage in his contract offer. That could open the door to a trade and rebuilding around Turner — or making a last-ditch push to convince George he can win in Indiana.

Report: Clippers expect Chris Paul to re-sign

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Chris Paul reportedly verbally committed months ago to re-sign with the Clippers. There have been mixed signals about Blake Griffin‘s intention to re-sign.

But they can’t formalize the deals until July, and the Clippers are now one game from another demoralizing first-round exit.

Where do they stand now?

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

Sources close to the Clippers say that they expect Paul to re-sign with the Clippers. He’ll be eligible for a five-year contract in excess of $200 million. Griffin’s return is less certain, sources say. This summer is his first foray into unrestricted free agency. Given his snakebitten tenure with the team and the possibility of another early exit, the prospect of exploring what’s out there will be alluring. One premise volunteered in good humor suggests that Paul is more likely to take a slew of meetings in a public process but ultimately re-sign with the Clippers, while Griffin is more likely to mull the decision privately under the guise of night, but announce he’ll be playing elsewhere in 2017-18.

Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers has made clear his desire to re-sign Paul and Griffin, and the playoffs won’t change that. This is the right call. It’s so difficult to assemble a team this good, the Clippers shouldn’t throw it away for the sake of change. Just because the Clippers haven’t gotten the breaks in previous seasons doesn’t mean they won’t get the breaks in future seasons.

But Paul and Griffin – and J.J. Redick, who’ll also be an unrestricted free agent – will determine the franchise’s fate. If they want to leave, they’ll leave.

Can the Clippers lure them back? They apparently think they’ll keep Paul, but there’s an uncertain dynamic in L.A. that Arnovitz explores in great depth. I highly recommend reading his full piece.

Nike, Adidas, Under Armour pass on potential No. 1 pick Lonzo Ball

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NBA teams reportedly aren’t dinging potential No. 1 pick Lonzo Ball over all the wild stuff his dad says and does.

Shoe companies are apparently taking a different approach.

Darren Rovell of ESPN:

An endorsement deal with Nike, Under Armour or Adidas is not in the cards for Lonzo Ball.

Ball’s father LaVar confirmed that the three shoe and apparel companies informed him that they were not interested in doing a deal with his son. Sources with the three companies told ESPN.com that they indeed were moving on.

In his meetings with the three, LaVar insisted that the company license his upstart Big Baller Brand from him. He also showed the companies a shoe prototype that he hoped would be Lonzo’s first shoe.

“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

“Just imagine how rich Tiger (Woods), Kobe (Bryant), Serena (Williams), (Michael) Jordan and LeBron (James) would have been if they dared to do their own thing,” LaVar said. “No one owned their own brand before they turned pro. We do and I have three sons so it’s that much more valuable.”

Is there more upside in this approach? Yeah, I guess.

But the traditional shoe companies bring valuable infrastructure and experience. There’s value in forfeiting upside for those resources. Lonzo Ball, who has yet to play in the NBA, is also missing out on guaranteed life-changing money.

On the risk-reward curve, this seems like a mistake.