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Five questions to keep in mind as the NBA trade deadline approaches

Five questions to keep in mind as the NBA trade deadline approaches
Bulls forward Jimmy Butler brings the ball up the court during the first half of a game against the Atlanta Hawks in Chicago on Jan. 25.
(Kamil Krzaczynski / Associated Press)

DeMarcus Cousins was just one man among many, surrounded by the greatest players in the NBA. He had played just 2½ minutes and scored three points during a game in which the other All-Stars combined to score 371.

If it was a normal postgame, Cousins probably would’ve been largely ignored, save for the local writers in New Orleans sent to monitor Sacramento’s star.

But, as quickly as the trade deadline’s Pied Piper, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, pushed send, Cousins’ postgame, and life, changed.

The rumors that the Kings were seriously considering sending the 6-foot-11 center-forward to New Orleans made the two-minute, three-point man a center of attention.

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Before the night was over, the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer was headed to a new team, the New Orleans Pelicans, in one of the loudest shots fired before the NBA’s trade deadline since the Denver Nuggets sent Carmelo Anthony to New York in 2011.

With two impact big men already dealt (Toronto acquired Orlando’s Serge Ibaka last week), the NBA’s trade season has already been more exciting than in recent years. And the league’s executives have until noon Thursday to add to it.

Here are five big questions to keep in mind until the deadline passes:

1. Who is doing what, exactly, in the Lakers front office?

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The Lakers have a couple of compelling options heading into the deadline, and Magic Johnson’s new role as an “advisor” to team President Jeanie Buss makes things in the already confusing front-office situation even murkier. The plan, it seemed, was to build through the draft and try to attract a big-name free agent. The Lakers could stay on that path, building more assets by dealing Lou Williams (rumors have the Wizards interested) or Nick Young, who can opt out of his suddenly incredibly affordable contract after this season But might Johnson, who sure has made it seem like he’s got aspirations beyond an advisory role, push the team to go all in on a star?

The team spoke to Sacramento about Cousins and reportedly balked when Brandon Ingram’s name came up, but maybe a Johnson regime would cash in those assets and try to make a big splash. Monday, Knicks guard Brandon Jennings predicted All-Star forward Paul George would get dealt to the Lakers, before quickly deleting the tweet. Maybe he’s an advisor too? Still, it’s unlikely  the Pacers, who are sixth in the Eastern Conference, decide to move George, the franchise’s best player since Reggie Miller.

The Lakers’ 19-39 record is the league’s third-worst, ahead of only Phoenix (18-39) and Brooklyn (9-47). Thus, their top priority figures to be keeping their pick in the upcoming draft, which heads to Philadelphia if it falls outside of the top three. Trading Williams and/or Young would be a step in that direction.

2. Can the Clippers pick over the scraps?

Weeks ago, it seemed like the big question for the Clippers at the trade deadline would be centered around Anthony and a trade with the Knicks. Those rumors have definitely quieted, and the Clippers could be more focused on more complementary moves.

The team could try to pry one of Denver’s wings — Wilson Chandler or Danilo Gallinari — but the cost might be too complicated to pay. While either player would upgrade the Clippers’ starting lineup significantly, their best tradable asset, Austin Rivers, doesn’t really fit on a team that’s already guard heavy.

The team’s draft pick cupboard is pretty bare, but maybe the Clippers will go further into draft debt and acquire a wing like Phoenix’s P.J. Tucker, a longtime favorite of Coach Doc Rivers. Maybe the Cousins trade helps the Clippers pick the bones in Sacramento.

The most likely scenario, though, is Rivers’ saying their big deadline acquisition is getting Chris Paul back from an injury. This is what they always say.

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3. Will Melo move again?

The biggest, uh, melodrama in the NBA is still happening in New York, where the Knicks are banning former players and sub-tweeting current ones. Anthony is still a dynamic offensive player, and obviously, a team looking for an injection of star power should probably ring up the Knicks.

Trouble is, Anthony, and not Phil Jackson or the Knicks, has the leverage here. Since he has a no-trade clause, he can pick and choose his suitors, maybe driving the price down low enough for the Clippers to get involved.

Still, the financials are complicated, and it seems like Anthony might prefer to stay in New York and wait out the Knicks’ management team.

4. Will the Bulls blow it up?

If Anthony is the biggest name that’s been rumored, Jimmy Butler is the best player who could possibly be on the move, now that Cousins has been dealt.

The Chicago Bulls probably shouldn’t be in a rush to move on from a 27-year-old All-Star making less than market value for the next two seasons, but the team seems like it could use a reboot. Boston, maybe the most asset-rich buyer out there, has been known to covet Butler, who would be a perfect fit.

With the Raptors adding Ibaka and the Cleveland Cavaliers the big favorites in the East, a Butler-to-Boston deal would get the Celtics on even footing, if it doesn’t put them ahead. Boston has picks from Brooklyn, ample young talent and the contracts to make a deal work.

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Even more than Cousins, this could be the deal that reverberates loudest.

5. Can anyone catch the Warriors?

The biggest question, if execs are being honest, is “Will any of this matter?” The Warriors are the best team in the NBA, and barring injury, they’ll likely remain the best team in the NBA. Still, they were the best team in the NBA last year, they owned a 3-1 lead in the Finals and they didn’t end up as champs.

Cleveland already added Kyle Korver, and he’s making more than 50% of his three-point attempts with the Cavs. Could the team find another guard without having to unearth an unsigned free agent? The Spurs traditionally are quiet at the deadline. The Jazz have some interesting pieces but a big deal doesn’t make a lot of sense for them.

Whoever swaps jerseys, whoever changes towns, it still seems like they’ll have to travel through Golden State on the road to a title.

daniel.woike@latimes.com

Follow Daniel Woike on Twitter @DanWoikeSports


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