It wasn't supposed to be like this.
With the best NBA draft class in years on the immediate horizon, teams like the Sixers, Celtics, Raptors, and Suns planned to post the league's worst records, positioning themselves for the best selections in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Unfortunately, they didn't figure on supposed "contenders" like the Knicks and Nets devolving into complete dumpster fires. Or on the Bucks - an organization that went out of its way to tell the world it would not be tanking this season - posting the NBA's worst record through New Year's Day.
If the season ended today, the Raptors would be the Eastern Conference's four seed in the playoffs. Boston would be the eight, and Phoenix would be six in the West. Philly might be a playoff contender as well if not for Michael Carter-Williams' injuries; the Sixers are 9-11 when their rookie point guard takes the floor and 1-10 without him.
Unanticipated success has put those teams in a very awkward position. Do they capitalize on their newfound success? Or do they write off their surprising records as fool's gold and tank even harder?
If they opt for door number two, we could see a series of trades between now and February's deadline; trades with the unique aim of making one or both of the teams involved worse. Phoenix could look to unload Goran Dragic or Channing Frye. Toronto could part ways with Kyle Lowry. Philly could shop Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young or Spencer Hawes. And most drastically of all, the Celtics could even consider moving Rajon Rondo, who is close to returning from injury. Obviously, any big trade will have a significant impact on fantasy values, so keep a close eye on the rumor mill and transaction wire.
The first big trade - the one that jump-starts the process - could involve Andrew Bynum. Cleveland has suspended the oft-injured center for conduct detrimental to the team. They've got some motivation to move him quickly - on January 7, the second half of his $12 million salary for this season becomes guaranteed. That contract quirk makes Bynum valuable to a team looking to dump salary. One rumored deal has him headed to the Lakers in exchange for Pau Gasol, a deal that would give the Cavs a much more reliable big man, and give LA a shot at getting out of luxury tax territory. If Bynum is traded and/or cut loose, he'll look to catch on with another team for the second half. Like every other veteran in his situation, he's reportedly interested in landing with the Heat.
Denver's Andre Miller was also suspended this week after getting involved in a shouting match with Nuggets coach Brian Shaw. Miller has more or less fallen out of Shaw's rotation at this point, but could probably help some other team. Golden State would make sense, but it's hard to see how the Nuggets and Warriors would match up in a trade.
And then there's Carmelo Anthony. Reports surfaced this week that 'Melo has soured on the situation in New York and is looking to get out. He can opt out of his contract after this season, but he stands to make more money in the long run if he's traded first, then opts out and signs a deal with his new team. (If that sounds familiar, there's a good reason. That's exactly what he did when he forced the trade that brought him to New York in the first place.)
Anthony's preferred destinations are reportedly Chicago (for a package involving Luol Deng), the Clippers (Blake Griffin) or the Lakers (Pau Gasol). The Griffin trade probably makes the most sense for all parties involved, as an Anthony/Chris Paul pairing would put the Clippers much closer to OKC and San Antonio in the Western Conference pecking order, while the Knicks would get a player young enough to rebuild around.
Picks for the Week
All percent-owned figures are from Yahoo!)
Deron Williams (99%) - Yeah, you probably aren't getting D-Will on the waiver wire. But it seems worth noting that Nets coach Jason Kidd has started using Williams off the ball more often, in a backcourt tandem with Shaun Livingston. That frees Williams to look for his own shot more often - which means a boost in scoring. He dropped a season-high 29 on the Thunder on Thursday, in addition to all the other good stuff he does.
Mario Chalmers (68%) - Chalmers doesn't have quite as high a profile as some of his teammates, but he's been very effective this year and especially of late, with averages of 11.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.8 three-pointers made over his last four games.
Jodie Meeks (31%) - With just about every backcourt player on the Lakers hurt, Meeks has been designated as the primary backup point guard. That's in addition to his role as the starting two. Sounds like he'll get a boost from his current 31 minute-per-game average, and a related boost in fantasy numbers (assuming he can handle the increased workload).
Giannis Antetokounmpo (30%) - The Bucks have been so impressed with their rookie wing they're starting him over O.J. Mayo and Caron Butler. (That's sort of remarkable, as Mayo is probably the team's best scorer.) Treat Antetokounmpo as a poor man's Andre Iguodala. He looks like a player that will contribute in lots of categories.
Iman Shumpert (16%) - Was Thursday night's 27-point explosion in San Antonio a sign that Shump has shaken his season-long shooting slump? The Knicks certainly hope so.
Kendall Marshall (13%) - With Jordan Farmar sidelined again and the Steves - Nash and Blake - unlikely to return until early February, newly-signed Marshall should have about a month as the Lakers' primary point guard. Unless he gets hurt, and he will, because that's how this season is going for Team D'Antoni.
Chase Budinger (9%) - His season debut could come within the next week.
Draymond Green (3%) - Green is producing impressive block and rebound numbers of late. His strong play could inspire the Warriors to at least kick the tires on a potential trade of David Lee.