While with Denver, Warkentien was on the road with the Nuggets and sitting in the hotel lobby one morning before practice. It was a couple of days before the trading deadline. A fellow team employee asked if he was going to practice.
“Are you kidding?” he replied. “The last thing these guys need to see is me talking on the phone.”
So while players prepare for the season’s stretch run, GMs generally pull a Warkentian and stay back at their office or the hotel – out of sight – and work the phones, trying to improve their team one last time before the offseason.
Here are five teams that should be looking to do just that between now and Thursday:
ATLANTA HAWKS (31-24): The Hawks are fourth in the East but already have lost more games than they did all of last season (22), including a home-and-home set last week to Orlando. They still have the last third of the season to try and recapture last season’s chemistry karma but seem unlikely to make a deep playoff run, which is probably why teams are asking about the availability of stars Al Horford and Jeff Teague.
Last summer, the Hawks had a dilemma with DeMarre Carroll, who was coming off a two-year contract and had to fit under the cap. They opted to re-sign Paul Millsap to a max deal and let Carroll walk. They will be in a similar position this summer with Horford and Kent Bazemore, also coming off a two-year deal. Horford has said he likes Atlanta and wants to stay, and he is the fulcrum of the offense. It is hard to imagine the Hawks dealing him, although they cannot risk losing him for nothing in free agency.
Moving Teague makes more sense because the Hawks have a ready-made replacement in Dennis Schroder. Teague makes $8 million this year and next, and there are plenty of teams in the market for an upgrade at point guard (Knicks, Pacers, Bucks, Nets, Jazz, Rockets). Any trade would have to bring back some expiring deals so Atlanta would have the wiggle room to re-sign Bazemore and not experience the same issue it had with Carroll.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS (23-28): It’s hard to imagine where the Wizards would be without John Wall. As disappointing as Washington has been, it is just two games in the loss column out of a playoff berth, although missing the postseason could be the death knell for coach Randy Wittman and mitigate the value of its sizable cap room.
GM Ernie Grunfeld has some chips to play with, starting with Nene’s expiring $13 million deal. However, the big man likely would have to be moved to a team looking to clear cap room this summer (Nets, Heat, Raptors) and given his age and injury history would not bring much in return. Trading Nene also harpoons any chance of landing homegrown Kevin Durant, the jewel of 2016 free agency who seems less and less likely to jump ship. If Washington feels Durant is going nowhere, then it starts to make sense.
Could Nene’s expiring deal pry Kenneth Faried away from the Nuggets? The Wizards need another big man now and would definitely have to get one back for Nene. Shooting lower, they could use a mix of the expiring deals of Kris Humphries ($4.4 million), Jared Dudley ($4.4 million), Alan Anderson ($4 million), Drew Gooden ($3.3 million) and DeJuan Blair ($2 million) to take a run at Thaddeus Young or Ryan Anderson (draft picks also would have to be involved). Or they could roll the dice on Markieff Morris.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS (22-32): They are 13th in the East, which no one saw coming with the return of Jabari Parker and the addition of Greg Monroe. They also reportedly are sellers, with the recently demoted duo of Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams being mentioned the most as possibly available. But dealing either could be tricky.
Monroe’s deal already looks like a bargain against the rising cap, but it also has a player option for 2017-18. And any team acquiring Monroe also would have to play very small (with him at center) or very big (with him at power forward). We’re just spitballing here, but how about Monroe to Philadelphia for Nerlens Noel, Carl Landry’s expiring deal and Hollis Thompson?
The consensus on Carter-Williams was that he had reached his ceiling, but he has been a much better decision-maker this season and still has another year on his deal before becoming a restricted free agent in 2017. The Bucks chased Teague as a restricted free agent and could put Juice Mayo’s $8 million expiring contract in a deal with MCW for Teague and Tim Hardaway Jr., which would improve their shooting and give Atlanta the room it needs to re-sign Bazemore.
HOUSTON ROCKETS (27-28): If the playoffs began today, the Rockets would be watching. Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff says his team is “broken,” and it certainly looks like it needs a trade to be fixed. In December, Sheridan reported that Dwight Howard was unhappy in Houston. Howard denied it, and the basketball journalism industry sneered. Now, with the deadline approaching, reports say the Rockets are working with his agent to try to deal him – which is kind of what Sheridan said two months ago.
The Rockets could go two ways here. They could take back expiring deals and picks for Howard – such as a package from Boston including David Lee – then cut bait with Ty Lawson and be a major player in free agency. Or they could go after a replacement star to pair with James Harden, such as Miami’s Hassan Whiteside with the expiring deals of Luol Deng and Chris Andersen or even Atlanta’s Horford with Tiago Splitter — a trade that would put Howard back in his hometown. Either way, dealing Howard will be difficult because he can opt out this summer. But if the Hawks could get his word on re-signing …
On a smaller scale, the Rockets have Lawson’s expiring $12.4 million and stretch bigs Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, both headed for restricted free agency. GM Daryl Morey should probably listen to any conversation that doesn’t include Harden, and I will be stunned if he stands pat, because this team needs a shakeup.
PHOENIX SUNS (14-40): Big closeout sale! Everything must go! Make us an offer! Thursday could be the last stand for GM Ryan McDonough, who signed Markieff Morris to an extension, drafted Alex Len with Noel still on the board and traded the Lakers’ upcoming No. 1 pick for Brandon Knight, whom he gave $70 million. Everyone except Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and possibly T.J. Warren should merit a conversation.
McDonough has to find a taker for the combustible Morris, even if he gets a bag of hammers in return. Possible destinations could be reuniting with his brother in Detroit (for Ersan Ilyasova) or his hometown of Philadelphia (for Landry’s expiring deal). As mentioned above, there are a handful of teams that need a point guard and could be interested in Knight, such as the Nets (Young?) or Rockets (Lawson, Sam Dekker and a first-round pick?).
There are also the expiring deals of Mirza Teletovic ($5.5 million), P.J. Tucker ($5.5 million), Sonny Weems ($2.8 million) and Jon Leuer ($1 million) that could help balance a bigger trade, such as making a run at Faried. Keep in mind that while the Suns could have $30 million in cap room this summer, they also could be looking for a new GM, who will be looking for a new coach.
One last thought: Would Knight, Morris and one of Miami’s future first-round picks be enough to land Carmelo Anthony?
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: In a shooting contest between events at All-Star Saturday Night, actor and comedian Kevin Hart made as many 3-pointers – eight – as Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, who shoots 42 percent from the arc, tied for 10th place in the NBA with 3-Point Shootout winner and teammate Klay Thompson.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Sacramento Kings coach George Karl, responding to a reporter’s question about his tenuous job security:
“My world is basketball, the gym and players. Your world is interpretation, innuendo, gossip. I’m not into it.”
TANKS A LOT!: After being pushed to overtime by the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers had this to say of his opponent. “If you look at their record, it’s the worst record in the league, but they’re not the worst team,” Rivers said. OK, coach, so who is the worst team?
LINE OF THE WEEK: Isaiah Thomas, Boston vs. LA Clippers, Feb. 10: 40 minutes, 12-21 FGs, 1-5 3-pointers, 11-12 FTs, four rebounds, 11 assists, one steal, two turnovers, 36 points in a 139-134 overtime win. If anyone was doubting whether Thomas was an All-Star, this should have answered their questions. His jumper with five seconds left in regulation forced overtime, where he had assists to three different teammates as the Celtics erased a six-point deficit in the extra session.
LINE OF THE WEAK: Ty Lawson, Houston at Golden State, Feb. 9: 16 minutes, 0-4 FGs, 0-2 3-pointers, 0-0 FTs, zero rebounds, one assist, zero blocks, zero steals, zero points in a 123-110 loss. It was the eighth donut of the season for Lawson, who was supposed to be the missing piece for the Rockets. The next night in Portland, he had his ninth donut. Hey, at least he didn’t have a turnover.
TRILLION WATCH: Another light week for the heroes of zeros. Charlotte guard P.J. Hairston, Chicago rookie Cristiano Felicio and Minnesota forward Anthony Bennett posted 2 trillions. Top honors were shared by Phoenix forward Jordan McRae, who had a 3 trillion Monday vs. Oklahoma City, and San Antonio rookie Boban Marjanovic, who had a 3 trillion Wednesday at Orlando. Some special honorable mention should go to Magic guard Elfrid Payton, who somehow managed a 16-minute donut with no assists in the 157-154 Rookie Challenge on Friday.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Golden State at LA Clippers, Feb. 20. This is a true rivalry; these teams don’t like each other. They haven’t played since November, when they met 15 days apart on each other’s courts. The Warriors won a pair of close games, overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit for a 112-108 home victory on Nov. 4 and climbing out of a 23-point hole for a 124-117 road triumph on Nov. 19.
GAME OF THE WEAK: New York at Brooklyn, Feb. 19. The Knicks are 1-10 since reaching .500 on Jan. 20. The Nets have lost 12 of their last 15 games. Both teams have interim coaches. Yeah, how’s that East River rivalry working out?
TWO MINUTES: I used to think Jason Kidd dribbling into Mike Woodson while the coach was on the court was the smartest play I had ever seen. After watching Chris Paul dribbling into the path of intentional fouler Jonas Jerebko, I have changed my opinion. When Tommy Heinsohn admits you made a smart play against the Celtics, you made a really smart play. … Thunder superstar Kevin Durant has scored at least 20 points in 38 straight games since Nov. 10 at Washington, when he had 14 points in 17 minutes but sat out the second half with a pulled hamstring. … Two days after Suns interim coach Earl Watson described forward Markieff Morris as an “amazing leader,” Morris fought with teammate Archie Goodwin on the bench three minutes into Wednesday’s loss vs. Golden State. Morris’ explanation for the dust-up? “That’s part of being a leader,” he said. As he left the floor after the game, he appeared to flip off a heckler. … Nets swingman Joe Johnson’s field-goal streak ended at 937 games Monday when he went 0-of-3 from the field in a loss to Memphis. “I don’t even know what to tell you,” said Johnson, who had not gone without a bucket since Dec. 6, 2003, when he went 0-of-4 with Phoenix. According to Elias, it was the eighth-longest streak in NBA history but well behind the all-time record of 1,310 games by Tim Duncan. The longest current streak belongs to LeBron James at 855 games dating to Dec. 29, 2004, when he was elbowed in the eye vs. Houston after missing his first five shots. … The Brothers Gasol may be sunning on the Mediterranean earlier than usual this year as both the Bulls and Grizzlies have injury issues that could cost them a playoff spot. Pau Gasol’s Bulls already have lost center Joakim Noah for the season and are currently without All-Star guard Jimmy Butler until early March and forward Nikola Mirotic until later this month. Chicago has lost five straight home games – its longest skid at the United Center since 2010 – and was booed during Wednesday’s loss to Atlanta. The Bulls (27-25) are seventh in the East, one game in the loss column ahead of Charlotte and two games up on ninth-place Detroit. The Grizzlies (31-22) are fifth in the West and have a bit more of a cushion but likely will have to close the deal without Marc Gasol, their best player who is out indefinitely with a broken foot and likely will miss the rest of the season. Memphis has a five-game edge in the loss column on eighth-place Portland and is six up on ninth-place Houston. The Grizz could get a boost from the return of backup center Brandan Wright, who may be back later this week. But Marc Gasol leads them in scoring, is second in rebounding and third in assists while anchoring their defense. … Before rallying to beat Philadelphia in their last game before the All-Star break, the Kings had lost eight of nine, allowing an average of 118.1 points. There was a telling sign in Cleveland, when coach George Karl announced an optional shootaround and not enough players showed up to run a shell offense. “When three or four guys show up, what does that say?” point guard Rajon Rondo said. “You can’t have three or four guys show up and expect to beat Cleveland.”
Trivia Answer: Three (2010, 2013, 2016). … Happy 52nd Birthday, Mark Price. … OK, which lucky Oklahoma City resident gets Russell Westbrook’s All-Star MVP car this year?
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.