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Dog Days Of NBA Winter: Part Eastern

Law Murray |
January 16, 2014 | 7:38 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

The New York Knicks paid J.R. Smith last offseason, and he's rewarding them with an off season (New York Knicks/Twitter).
The New York Knicks paid J.R. Smith last offseason, and he's rewarding them with an off season (New York Knicks/Twitter).
It is mid-January. The sports world is in the heart of the NFL postseason, the Winter Olympics are only weeks away and college basketball has started conference play. Meanwhile, the NBA season is reaching its midpoint. If there is a time to sleep on the NBA season, it is right now.

Last year, I did a column in this space focusing specifically on player movement. But as you may have noticed, the NBA trade deadline (set for February 20) isn't as hot as it used to be. Ten teams have already made trades since Opening Night (Toronto, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami, Oklahoma City, Minnesota, Golden State, Sacramento, Memphis), and while other teams are sure to shake up their rosters in the coming weeks, there is no guarantee that a blockbuster is going down. 

This is also the time of the season where injuries dominate the conversation. This goes both ways - players are returning from injury, and players are missing time because of injury. Some teams keep moving along, while others are succumbing to the lack of depth and dearth of talent on the roster. Yes, there are a lot of "stars" going down (complete with everyone wishing that players would never get injured somehow). As I see it, that gives other players an opportunity to show what they can do in a highly evaluative part of the season.

Another interesting note: there have been no head coaching changes as of mid-January. This is truly unique. The last non-lockout season to have no head coaching changes by January 1 was the 1994-1995 season. Whether it's because of injuries, contracts or the hyped upcoming draft, teams are opting against major shakeups for now. Of course, more than half the league turned over their coaching staffs during the summers of 2012 and 2013, so perhaps it was time for that cycle to calm down.

With that said, this space will look at one player per team in the Eastern Conference. These players may or may not be a part of a transaction this season, but I view the roles of all of these players to be fluid at the least. If any of them do get moved, don't be surprised (see here for the Western Conference):

Atlantic: Much has been made of the availability status of Toronto Raptors PG Kyle Lowry, a 2014 free agent, especially after the team traded SF Rudy Gay. The Raptors started 6-10 this season, but followed that up with a 10-6 split and are rolling with the only winning record in the worst division in the league. Lowry has responded to trade rumors by staying healthy and posting the best numbers of his career (career-highs in points, assists, steals, and threes). … The Brooklyn Nets are starting SF Paul Pierce at the 4. Pierce is having the worst season of his career, but after a 4-12 start to the season, Brooklyn has climbed into the top half of the conference. Pierce's contract is up at the end of the year, but he's probably going to stick around if the Nets keep up the improvement. … The New York Knicks probably knew they shouldn't have re-signed SF J.R. Smith for three years this past summer, but they went overboard on their loyalty to the 2012-2013 Sixth Man of the Year. They're having buyer's remorse now, as Smith is shooting a career-low 36 percent from the field and is catching DNP-CDs. The Knicks have played better since starting 3-13, but Smith is a glaring eyesore whether he's playing or not. … The Boston Celtics are this season's Washington Wizards - after PG Jordan Crawford held down the starting position for a starter nursing a knee injury, he was traded. Trade rumors have swirled around PG Rajon Rondo for more than a year now. Rondo's return from a torn ACL re-opens his potential availability to be traded. … PF Thaddeus Young has already grown frustrated with the Philadelphia 76ers once this season. While that has blown over, he's playing well for a team that has made it clear that wins are not a priority this season. Young is the team's most tradable asset if the 76ers choose to go that route.

The Pistons have a decision to make on Greg Monroe, a restricted free agent after the season (Detroit Pistons/Twitter).
The Pistons have a decision to make on Greg Monroe, a restricted free agent after the season (Detroit Pistons/Twitter).

Central: SF Danny Granger has predictably struggled for the Indiana Pacers this season, shooting only 36 percent from the field and 30 percent from three since returning in December from a calf injury. Granger's contract is up at the end of the year, but the Pacers have the best record in the NBA despite their average offense, so they're probably not interested in trading their longest-tenured player. … The Chicago Bulls blew things up following PG Derrick Rose's knee injury, trading SF Luol Deng within the division and then eating C Andrew Bynum's contract. PG Kirk Hinrich is getting his struggle on, hitting a career-worst 34 percent from the field and 30 percent from three, but he still comes up in trade rumors for teams that may want a veteran backup. … The Detroit Pistons are struggling with their mismatched roster, and the most intriguing change the team could make involves contract-year PF Greg Monroe, who is squeezed in between second-year C Andre Drummond and veteran SF Josh Smith. … The Cleveland Cavaliers acquired contract-year SF Luol Deng in their quest to avoid the lottery while subtracting C Andrew Bynum from one of the worst locker rooms in the league. Second-year SG Dion Waiters (15 points per game, 41 percent from the field) has had challenges fitting in during his time in Cleveland, and he may be the next one out. … The Milwaukee Bucks have the worst record in the league, and the losing caught up to SG Gary Neal. Neal is a shooter, but he has been on and off the floor all season.

Southeast: The Miami Heat moved C Joel Anthony to acquire PG Toney Douglas, which also cleared the path for C Greg Oden to make his official return to the court after not playing for four years. The Heat have a full deck, so it is hard to see how they move on from Oden between now and spring. … The Atlanta Hawks have stayed afloat despite losing C Al Horford to a torn pectoral, just as they did in 2011-2012. PF Paul Millsap may be the only player worth trading, but Millsap is going to get all he can eat as Atlanta's new top option. The Hawks aren't just going to give him away to join a crowded tank pool. …  The Washington Wizards are all in on trying to get back to the playoffs, and PG Eric Maynor can't even see the floor, averaging a career-low nine minutes a game. It's hard to believe that Maynor has been in the league for five years now, as he has failed to recapture whatever promise he had prior to his lockout-year ACL tear. … The Charlotte Bobcats are failing to overcome their pitiful shooting, yet SG Ben Gordon has played all of 252 minutes this season despite being the team's second-highest paid player. He is this year's Corey Maggette - ironically, the player Charlotte traded to acquire Gordon. … When the Orlando Magic drafted SG Victor Oladipo, it was suggested that SG Arron Afflalo was on the trade block. Afflalo has responded with the best season of his career, as he is one of only 19 players averaging at least 20 points per game. The Magic could sell high on Afflalo, but they're already bad with him, so the additional cap space might be overdoing it.

Law Murray is an NBA and NFL staff writer. Reach him on Twitter or his website.



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