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Dog Days Of NBA Winter: Part Western

Law Murray |
January 17, 2014 | 1:23 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Danny Green set records for his shooting in the 2013 NBA Finals, but the Spurs have not been pleased with his production this season (San Antonio Spurs/Twitter).
Danny Green set records for his shooting in the 2013 NBA Finals, but the Spurs have not been pleased with his production this season (San Antonio Spurs/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 for this season: 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 in between the summer 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 Western 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 Eastern Conference):

The Nuggets traded point guard Andre Miller once before, and they are looking to do so once again (Denver Nuggets/Twitter).
The Nuggets traded point guard Andre Miller once before, and they are looking to do so once again (Denver Nuggets/Twitter).

Northwest: Despite being dead last in the NBA in steals and forced turnovers, the Portland Trail Blazers are riding the best offense in the league and holding on to first place in their division. The return of rookie SG C.J. McCollum has knocked SF Dorell Wright out of the rotation this month, and that could be the catalyst for a roster move. … The first overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, PF Anthony Bennett, may go down to the D-League, which would make him the highest drafted player ever to endure that rookie season demotion. Current Oklahoma City Thunder C Hasheem Thabeet, the second overall pick of the 2009 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies, holds that ignominy now. Thabeet has more fouls (nine) than points scored (eight) in 37 minutes played this season, and he is clearly the 13th man in OKC. … Denver Nuggets PG Andre Miller had his consecutive games played streak snapped at 239, and the Nuggets promptly ended an eight-game losing streak once they separated Miller from the team. Miller has never been content with being less than a starter, and his teams have a remarkable 0-9 series record in the postseason. … The Minnesota Timberwolves lack depth, shot-blocking, and a killer instinct, as their 0-11 record in close games (four points or less) has them under .500 despite a healthy starting lineup for the first time in years. SG Alexey Shved (31 percent from the field) will probably be squeezed from the lineup even further now that SG Chase Budinger has returned. … The Utah Jazz are scraping towards respectable play after a 2-14 start, and it will be interesting to see what happens with third-year C Enes Kanter, who lost his starting job due to inconsistent effort and poor defense. Kanter doesn't lack talent, as he has more 20-point games this season (six) than C Derrick Favors (four). But Kanter fouls too much, struggles to block shots, and seems to play his best when the Jazz play their worst (Utah is 1-17 when Kanter scores at least 12 points, 12-10 otherwise).

Pacific: The Los Angeles Clippers have made end-of-the-roster moves like signing PG Darius Morris and SF Hedo Turkoglu. The presence of C Byron Mullens on the roster is a perfect example of what the Clippers need to improve upon - frontcourt depth. Mullens is signed for cheap, but the Clippers would be lucky if they got anything for him, as he is not an asset on either end of the floor. … The Golden State Warriors gave in and acquired PG Jordan Crawford and SG MarShon Brooks from Boston for PG Toney Douglas. The Warriors would be fortunate if they were able to upgrade on PF Marreese Speights (career-low 39 percent from the field) as well. … The Phoenix Suns have surprised with their dynamic play this season, though knee surgery for SG Eric Bledsoe complicates things now and for the future (he's a 2014 free agent). PG Goran Dragic was thought to be on the trade block, but he is having a career-year, averaging 19.3 points per game. The Suns are holding on to a playoff spot, and Dragic has been their best player. … Ever since Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Malone declared that his team hit rock bottom in time for the holidays, the team has woken up a bit, winning six of their last ten. PG Jimmer Fredette doesn't have a future with the Kings, and the team wants a backup for PG Isaiah Thomas, so he's a candidate to be moved. … Speaking of rock bottom, that's where the Los Angeles Lakers are as they prepare for their first lottery since 2005. As has been the case every post-Phil Jackson year, C Pau Gasol is on the block in case a sucker team wants a contract-year veteran with notable health concerns, issues with mobility, and struggles around the hoop (career-low 46 percent from the field).

Southwest: No player has disappointed for the San Antonio Spurs like SG Danny Green. Green lost a grip on his starting spot with his inconsistent play, and now will miss time with a fracture to his non-shooting hand. By time he comes back, the Spurs may have moved on. … C Omer Asik wanted the Houston Rockets to trade him as soon as the team agreed to sign C Dwight Howard. But Asik's act failed to force the team's hand initially, and now Asik hasn't played in weeks. He was a double-double machine last year, but he is in limbo for now. … The Dallas Mavericks signed C Samuel Dalembert and must have known that his inconsistencies would show up eventually - there's a reason why Dallas is his fifth team in as many seasons. Though Dallas needs a defensive presence in the middle, Dalembert doesn't stay on the court long enough to be a difference-maker. Dalembert has never been traded midseason, but this might be the year it happens. … The Memphis Grizzlies have crawled back to .500 after starting 14-18. Trade rumors swirled around PF Zach Randolph earlier this season, and the Grizzlies have made unconventional moves before. With C Marc Gasol returning, it is worth watching to see if Memphis shows some "loyalty or love". … The New Orleans Pelicans have had another season sidetracked by the availability of their money players, as PF Anthony Davis, C Jason Smith, PG Jrue Holiday, SF Tyreke Evans, and PF Ryan Anderson have all struggled with injury at some point this season. The one player who has actually stayed on the court is the player most felt would be the main one to get injured, SG Eric Gordon. Of course, Gordon has been the subject of trade rumors since his awkward free agency from the summer of 2012, and the team's slide won't halt that chatter.

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



 

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