In this day and age, when anything and everything is capable of being turned into a reality television series, these final weeks leading up to the Feb. 20 NBA trade deadline are no different.
If only the league's front office executives could be convinced to have their private phone conversations go public in the name of good business-of-sports theater, to be aired after the deadline passes of course as we look back to see how certain deals were done and why others weren't. Make no mistake, it would be quite a show. One suggestion, though: It's probably best players and agents don't tune in because, well, ignorance is bliss and that sort of thing.
ALL-STAR: Davis makes it as replacement
In lieu of that, we offer this, a peek at some of the early rumblings from around the league heading into what should be a very active swapping season. And if there's a series title for this particular production, it's most definitely a rip-off courtesy of the wayback machine: Fear Factor, the NBA edition.
Whether it's the New York Knicks looking to make a splash because of growing concerns that free agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony may skip town if they don't, or the Cleveland Cavaliers making moves, in large part, because they're afraid of losing yet another star player (this time, Kyrie Irving) to the horde of teams dreading forthcoming contract talks with certain young players so much that they may look to trade them rather than pay them, it appears fear is a major factor in this latest episode of trade deadline madness.
USA TODAY Sports spoke with six NBA executives about trade deadline discussions. The executives spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks and league rules about discussing other teams' players. Here's a look at the landscape at the moment, with the focus on teams that are likely to be more active than the rest.
VIDEO: Sam Amick on hot NBA story lines
New York Knicks (19-30)
With all due respect to Anthony's wife, La La Anthony, her recent proclamation that her husband was "definitely" going to re-sign in New York wasn't enough to allay the Knicks' concerns. They know full well that making roster improvements sooner rather than later would increase their chances of Anthony re-signing, meaning the Knicks are known to be on the lookout for a blockbuster-type deal and still are hoping against hope that it involves Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo.
Despite the consistent claims from Celtics general manager Danny Ainge that Rondo isn't available, the Knicks have a strong belief that he can be had if – in a nod to another show – the price is right. They can offer the likes of Amar'e Stoudemire (one season remaining after this one, at $23.4 million) while taking future money back (such as Gerald Wallace and/or Jeff Green) and helping Ainge clear the way for the summer of 2015 that is known to be a priority of his. (That summer is a major priority for the Knicks, too, but it appears the Rondo scenario is one of the few, if not the only, where they'd consider the impact of his addition great enough to justify taking on some money from that point on.) The Knicks can include Raymond Felton (a much cheaper point guard option) or Iman Shumpert (rookie contract) and even discuss beloved rookie Tim Hardaway Jr.
Yet what they can't do is offer the sort of draft-pick haul that Ainge covets and that could come his way from somewhere other than New York before the deadline passes. The Knicks don't have a first-round draft pick available to be traded until 2018, and that factor alone will likely be enough to keep their Rondo dreams from coming true. Remember this, too: If Ainge is going to do something with Rondo, his colleagues tend to think he'd wait until the very last minute before the deadline to do so.
The moral of this story, though, is that the Knicks have decided to think big leading up to the deadline. And no, for anyone wondering, those big ideas are not thought to include the idea of trading Anthony before the deadline rather than possibly losing him for nothing in the summer.
A final note here: Regarding the pressure that continues to build around Knicks coach Mike Woodson, it is undeniably real, but only owner James Dolan knows when and if he'll decide to make a change on that front.
GALLERY: Eastern Conference All-Star roster
Detroit Pistons (19-29)
With Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert having fired general manager Chris Grant on Thursday, it now appears that no front-office seat is hotter than that of Pistons President Joe Dumars. Yet the question some rival executives are asking is this: Will Dumars look to make moves with the hopes of saving his job, and does he still even have the same sort of freedom to do so considering the pressure being applied by unhappy owner Tom Gores?
The next few weeks will tell this tale, but this much is agreed upon around the league: Dumars would be more than willing to trade forward Josh Smith. Yet the reality of Smith's contract signed last summer (four years, $54 million) means he's likely going nowhere, which brings us to the question of what happens with big man Greg Monroe.
Monroe's agent, David Falk, is known to have taken a max-contract-or-no-deal stance last summer when an extension was not agreed upon between the two sides, and there were strong signs even before Monroe's production declined that Dumars didn't see him as a max player. Yet anyone who saw Falk's deft handling of the Roy Hibbert situation two summers ago should know better than to doubt his ability to find a max offer for Monroe in restricted free agency this summer: The Indiana Pacers had no plans of paying Hibbert max money, but the Portland Trail Blazers did to force Indiana to match.
Could Falk do it again with Monroe, perhaps by trying to place him back with the Washington Wizards, where all his Georgetown fans could watch him play or with the Atlanta Hawks, run by former Falk client and current general manager Danny Ferry, if they could free up some space? It seems plausible, especially considering Monroe's reputation for his high-character personality that, in addition to being yet another similarity to Hibbert, often comes with an added cost.
The ripple effect of this somewhat-similar situation with Monroe starts now, but it still appears as if it will take a major offer to convince the Pistons to part ways with Monroe just yet. More likely, it's players on expiring contracts such as Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva and Jonas Jerebko who could be on the move.
New Orleans Pelicans (21-27)
The Pelicans are looking to make a big play, with rival executives having been given the impression that they're willing to trade shooting guard Eric Gordon. That's a tall task, though, considering Gordon is owed a combined $29 million for the next two seasons and is scoring a career-low 15.9 points per game. What form this pursuit of improvement takes is unclear, but New Orleans is among the more active teams around.
GALLERY: Western Conference All-Star roster
Memphis Grizzlies (26-22)
The Grizzlies aren't necessarily among the more active teams, but they are known to be perusing their rivals' rosters in search of an upgrade at the small forward spot. Veteran Tayshaun Prince is having the worst of his 12 seasons as a starter, averaging just 6.0 points (38% shooting overall, 29.5% from three-point range), 3.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 26.7 minutes a game.
Otherwise, the Grizzlies are focused on continuing their winning ways now that they're relatively healthy. They're 9-3 since getting center Marc Gasol back from a strained knee ligament and are optimistic that point guard Mike Conley (ankle sprain) and shooting guard Tony Allen (broken hand) will both return before next week's All-Star break.
Forward and possible free agent-to-be Zach Randolph has yet to say whether he plans to opt out this summer but has made it widely known that he wants to return. In turn, it appears the Grizzlies have no plans of trading him.
Phoenix Suns (29-20)
It's no secret at this point that the Suns are searching for a star to take their shockingly-good season to yet another level, and as was first reported by ESPN, they're currently considering the question of whether or not the Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol is that player. But if that deal or any other doesn't happen, here's one player to watch when free agency rolls around in July: Rudy Gay.
The Sacramento Kings small forward has a player option for next season worth $19.3 million, and the Suns are expected to have serious interest if he decides to opt out. While second-year Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is clearly open to a star player of any kind, it's believed that he would prefer it to be a perimeter player. As a footnote, the Suns inquired about Randolph but were told he wasn't available. One rival executive also noted the possibility of the Philadelphia 76ers' Thaddeus Young being a target, as the 25-year-old who is averaging 17.5 points and 6.2 points per game is known to be up for trade discussion.
Orlando Magic (14-37)
The Magic are in what's called listening mode, and it's a safe bet that most of what they're hearing is offers for shooting guard Arron Afflalo. He's having a career year (19.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game) and has a manageable contract (combined $22.8 million for this season, next, and the player option in 2015-16).
Yet while first-round picks are more coveted than ever because of this celebrated draft that's now about four months away, Orlando would want a proven player who could help speed up their rebuilding efforts if they're going to strongly consider parting ways with Afflalo. There's no urgency on this front, though, as his individual value isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
GALLERY: NBA photo of the day
Golden State Warriors (30-20)
Considering the heightened expectations this season and the fact that Golden State owner Joe Lacob means it when he says he's trying to build a championship team, it's safe to say the Warriors aren't content with their current standing (sixth in the Western Conference). They have one of the most aggressive front offices in the league, and rival executives are of the belief that anyone not named Stephen Curry or Andrew Bogut is up for discussion.
Cleveland Cavaliers (16-33)
Point guard Irving won't be a restricted free agent until the summer of 2015, but the mere possibility of him not wanting to be in Cleveland anymore appears to be a driving force behind Gilbert's firing of Grant. The Cavs certainly don't want to see another star skip town after the way LeBron James left for Miami in 2010, and Grant paid the price for the fact that his recent high draft picks outside of Irving (specifically, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett) hardly formed a young core that offered much promise for the future. It all adds up to the strong likelihood that the Cavs will look to be active before the deadline, with acting general manager David Griffin (promoted after Grant's firing) leading the way and the influence of Irving's situation omnipresent.
Minnesota Timberwolves (24-25)
For those who missed the memo, the summer of 2015 is a large priority for quite a few teams because of Kevin Love. The T'wolves star can opt out of his deal at that time, and first-year team President Flip Saunders is well aware that missing the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season would certainly not help his campaign to keep him in town. Translation: The T'wolves should be on the personnel prowl. Among their players thought to be available are point guard J.J. Barea, forward Dante Cunningham and guard Alexey Shved.
Philadelphia 76ers (15-35)
And in the final episode of Fear Factor, we have the case of Evan Turner (another Falk client). The fourth-year swingman is having a very productive season, averaging 17.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. But the price for that production in his forthcoming restricted free agency (if he's extended the qualifying offer) is likely too rich for the 76ers' blood, meaning they'd rather net a first-round draft pick in return for him and continue their rebuilding efforts with a more salary-cap friendly situation. One rival executive mentioned the San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Bobcats as possible destinations via trade, though both teams could also wait until the offseason to see if they could simply sign him then. Sixers center Spencer Hawes and Young are also frequently mentioned as trade possibilities.
GALLERY: NBA dance teams and cheerleaders