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2014-2015 Detroit Pistons Season Preview

Basketball Insiders continues previewing the 2014-2015 NBA season with a look at the Detroit Pistons of the Central Division.

Basketball Insiders

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The Detroit Pistons are a team with some newfound stability. Stan Van Gundy has taken over and is looking to lead the team back into the playoffs and eventually back into contention. They have one of the most talented young players in the game in Andre Drummond, who will look to continue to blossom this season, to build around. Thanks to some win-now roster moves in the offseason, the pieces are in place for marked improvement.

Basketball Insiders takes a look at the 2014-2015 Detroit Pistons…

Five Guys Think

Since Flip Saunders was fired back in 2008, the Detroit Pistons have gone through a staggering six head coaches, the most of any team in the league over that period of time, but the future looks pretty bright now that Stan Van Gundy is bringing some stability to both that position and that of President of Basketball Operations, mercifully vacated this offseason by the mercurial Joe Dumars. There is a lot to like in Detroit right now, but most of that optimism resides in the frontcourt, with burgeoning superstar Andre Drummond coming into his own and steady big man Greg Monroe heading into a contract year. Free agent acquisitions like Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin were perhaps more expensive than they should have been, but they all add shooting to a team that really needed it, and with the new coach and another year with a promising core, it looks like they’ll be right back in the conversation for a playoff spot this year, even if Josh Smith only shoots 20 percent from the field.

3rd Place – Central Division

– Joel Brigham

Former president of basketball operations Joe Dumars did succeed in bringing a title back to Detroit, but by the end of his tenure at the helm it was apparent a change in philosophy was needed. Enter Stan Van Gundy who is now calling the personnel shots and serving as the team’s head coach. Van Gundy was extremely active retooling the roster via free agency over the summer. While the Pistons, on paper, have one of the most talented frontcourts in the league, their supporting cast left much to be desired last season. Keep an eye on the relationship between forward Josh Smith and Van Gundy at the start of the season which could be an early  indicator of the team’s trajectory.

4th Place  – Central Division

– Lang Greene

Bringing in Stan Van Gundy was an excellent move for the Pistons, as he’s one of the best head coaches in the NBA and should be able to get the most out of their players. Detroit also has a superstar-in-the-making on their hands in Andre Drummond. In the final month of last season, Drummond averaged 18.4 points, 17.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 64.2 percent from the field. The 21-year-old should pick up right where he left off this season, and his experience with Team USA and the addition of Van Gundy should make him even better. It seems that Van Gundy will use Drummond like he used Dwight Howard in Orlando – running the offense through him and surrounding him with shooters. Detroit should make strides this season and will be one of several teams competing for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, but they’re playing in a very tough Central Division.

3rd place – Central Division

– Alex Kennedy

With Greg Monroe finally agreeing to sign the club’s one-year qualifying offer, newly installed head coach Stan Van Gundy will have at least one season to try to make sense of the Josh Smith, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe triumvirate. With Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin added to the team’s rotation, along with Brandon Jennings, the Pistons have a fairly talented top seven. They are clearly no match for the Cleveland Cavaliers or Chicago Bulls, but the mere presence of Van Gundy alone should help the team improve from last season’s 29-53 debacle. Playoffs may still be a long shot, but with Drummond seemingly in the team’s long-term plans, Van Gundy’s presence lends a credibility to the the franchise that immediate past president Joe Dumars seemed to have lost. This season is the first chapter in a new beginning, but the story is just beginning.

4th place – Central Division

– Moke Hamilton

Beyond all the control and money, it’s easy to see why the Pistons were able to get Stan Van Gundy to walk away from his self-imposed hiatus from coaching. This is a team with a ton of talent. They haven’t necessarily meshed together well up to this point, but Van Gundy has a lot to work with and should be able to get more out of guys immediately with his system and philosophy. People tend to forget in their criticism of the Pistons players how much instability there’s been at the head coaching position over the last couple of years. That’s now a thing of the past, and we should see Detroit climb closer to the top eight in the East as a result.

3rd place – Central Division

– Yannis Koutroupis

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: The Pistons had their fair share of struggles on the offensive end this past season, largely due to their lack of perimeter shooting. While the team may have struggled from the outside, Greg Monroe was once again very effective in the low to mid post. Although Monroe wasn’t the Pistons top scorer last season, finishing third in per game scoring with an average of 15.2 points per night behind Josh Smith (16.4) and Brandon Jennings (15.5) in that category, he certainly was the most efficient. Monroe was markedly better from the field than both Smith and Jennings shooting 49.7 percent, compared to 41.9 percent for Smith and 37.3 percent for Jennings. Monroe, who just recently officially signed the Pistons qualifying offer, will be hungry to put together another productive season and prove he is worthy of a big long-term deal.

Top Defensive Player: There is no doubt that Josh Smith fell short of expectations on the offensive end last season. Despite his inferior play offensively, he was, like he has been throughout his career, very active defensively. Smith was the team leader in blocks and finished second in steals in his first year with the club. He is big enough to go down low and battle with most fours, while still being quick enough to step out on the perimeter and match up with opposing wings. Again, while Detroit surely wasn’t pleased with what Smith provided offensively, it can’t be denied that he is still a very talented defender and will continue to be in 2014-2015.

Top Playmaker: Brandon Jennings, like Josh Smith, arrived in Detroit last summer. Both were brought in with the expectation that they would push the Pistons right into the thick of the second tier in the East, behind Indiana and Miami but give them the chance to compete with the rest of the pack. That obviously never came to fruition, but on the bright side Jennings had a career year passing the ball. He was able to make a sizable jump from his career average of 6.1 assists per game, dishing out 7.6 assists a night in 2013-2014. Jennings and Andre Drummond built a nice chemistry with each other and connected frequently this past season. Despite Jennings having a down year overall, he improved his passing and that is one thing that Pistons fans can take solace in.

Top Clutch Player: The Pistons found themselves on the wrong end of a couple buzzer beaters in 2013-2014, being victimized by both Dion Waiters and Damien Lilliard on last second game winners. That is one trend they will aim to reverse this coming season. Brandon Jennings may be the best shot creator on the roster, but the best option in the clutch remains Greg Monroe. Jennings is just too inefficient and too willing to take poor looks to be trusted in crunch time. The previous statement also, just as easily, could be made about Josh Smith. Monroe is the Pistons most consistent offensive player and is the guy who gives the team the best chance to score when the pressure is on.

Top Unheralded Player: The Pistons bench was one of their biggest weaknesses in 2013-2014. They allowed opposing benches to shoot a league high 46.7 percent from the field, while their second unit was near the bottom of the league, shooting 41.9 percent. One guy who the Pistons brought in who should help improve the team’s bench is D.J. Augustin. Augustin comes to Detroit after a terrific season with the Bulls. He will likely start the season behind Brandon Jennings, but will offer the Pistons a great option at point guard off the bench.

Best New Addition: After a very busy offseason in Detroit there are quite a few new additions to choose from. The Pistons not only made moves to their roster but to their front office as well. The biggest addition in long run may be Stan Van Gundy, he joins the team as the new head coach and will also serve as the president of basketball operations. As far as the best roster addition, that goes to Jodie Meeks. It could be argued that the price tag for Meeks, the Pistons signed him to a three-year contract worth a total of $18.81 million, may be a little steep. However, the addition of Meeks addresses a pressing need for the team, and that’s a lack of three-point shooting. The Pistons were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league last season, they shot only 32.1 percent from downtown and finished 27th in the league in total three point shots made. Meeks is coming off the best year of his career shooting the ball after shooting 40.1 percent from deep with Lakers. His shooting should prove beneficial from day one.

– John Zitzler

Who We Like

1. Andre Drummond: The future of the Pistons starts and ends with Andre Drummond. The young big man has out of this world potential and has the chance to be a truly special player. At only 21 years old, Drummond is already one of the top centers in the league. He has quickly developed into an elite rebounder; his massive frame combined with his impressive mobility allows Drummond to dominate the glass on most nights. When you consider how productive Drummond has already been in his young career and how much room he still has to grow, he is easily the Pistons most valuable asset going forward. He will be big factor next season and even bigger factor for years to come.

2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Caldwell-Pope will enter his second season as a pro this coming season after a rookie season where he showed signs that he could be a promising player down the road. In his first year of NBA action, Caldwell-Pope played just under 20 minutes a game, experience that should prove very valuable for him next year. With the Pistons making a sizeable investment in Jodie Meeks, he is the favorite to be the starting two guard, however, Caldwell-Pope certainly has the talent to challenge Meeks for that role. He will look to build off the momentum of a strong Orlando Summer League where he led the league in scoring, averaging 24 points a game.

3. Greg Monroe: Monroe has been one the most productive options for the Pistons since being drafted out of Georgetown four years ago. Over his short career, Monroe has averaged 14 points and nine rebounds a game. As well, during his four year tenure with the team Monroe has been remarkably durable, missing only three games over that span. However, his long-term future with the team is a bit cloudy, he is only under contract for one more year after signing a one-year qualifying offer from the Pistons. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Monroe he is eager for the chance to play under new coach Stan Van Gundy. “I look forward to playing for Coach Van Gundy and his staff,” said Monroe. “He has a proven track record and I’m excited about working with my teammates to get better and prepare for the season.”

4. Stan Van Gundy: Van Gundy will bring some fresh blood into an organization that, as of late, hasn’t appeared to have too much direction. His experience and success in Orlando is something he’ll be able draw from as he looks to build the Pistons into a contender. In particular, the time spent working with Dwight Howard will be especially useful in the development of Andre Drummond. Van Gundy has a career winning percentage of 64.1% and has had success in the playoffs. The Pistons aren’t going to become a contender overnight but will be in good hands going forward with Van Gundy at the helm.

– John Zitzler

Strengths

The frontcourt duo of Drummond and Monroe will once again do much of the heavy lifting for the Pistons. The two proved last year, despite some skepticism, that they can not only coexist together in the paint, but excel. The combination will again be a major concern for opponents and a major strength for the Pistons.

– John Zitzler

Weaknesses

Even with the acquisitions of Jodie Meeks, DJ Augustin and Caron Butler, all capable three point shooters, it’s hard to imagine the Pistons lighting it up from the perimeter. The problem being that two of Pistons highest usage rate players, Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, are also two of teams’ most inefficient players. Both settle for poor outside shots far too often and despite their past struggles, and so far haven’t been willing to adjust their game. If the team hopes to improve offensively, the first step will be reigning in both Smith and Jennings.

– John Zitzler

The Salary Cap

The Pistons dropped under the cap this offseason, using their space to sign free-agent veterans Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler.  Greg Monroe, formerly a restricted free agent, chose to accept Detroit’s $5.5 million qualifying offer — giving the forward/center the ability to block any trade this season.  Monroe will also be unrestricted next summer.  Meanwhile, the Pistons have $3.1 million in remaining cap space (plus the $2.7 million Room Exception, if that space is used).  The issue now is roster space; the Pistons are locked into 16 guaranteed players — one more than the regular-season maximum.  Will Bynum, who is guaranteed $2.9 million for the coming season, may be expendable with the addition of guards Augustin and Meeks.

– Eric Pincus

Dunc’d On

The last few years have been a far cry from the halcyon days of a franchise that produced some of the most memorable defenses of all-time in the late 80s and mid 2000s.  Last year I cited the Pistons and the Charlotte Bobcats as fascinating test cases for the value of new coaches for bad defenses.  The Bobcats rocketed to sixth in defense under the stewardship of Steve Clifford, while the Pistons remained rather miserable under Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer despite the infusion of defensive talent in Josh Smith.  Stan Van Gundy, a defensive guru in previous stops in Miami and Orlando, is now the coach and President of Basketball Operations.  He will provide yet another fascinating data point in how coaching can affect defense with most of the major players back from last year.

This is certainly a team with a ton of raw defensive talent.  Andre Drummond and Smith are both mobile and bouncy, and Smith has been an elite defender from the power forward spot in previous years.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is also an excellent athlete with a nose for the ball at shooting guard, assuming he plays his way into significant minutes.

Another reason to believe the Pistons may improve is the fact that they very well might have played far below their potential toward the end of last season in an endeavor to keep their draft pick, which was top-eight protected and owed to the now-Hornets.  Detroit finished with the eighth-worst record, but Cleveland leapfrogged the Pistons in the lottery, pushing the pick to ninth (and to the Hornets).  While there was no particularly overt tanking behavior, the Pistons did finish a mere 8-24 under Loyer after going 21-29 under Cheeks, leading one to believe the desire to keep the pick may have resulted in worse play.

Throw in the fact the Pistons underperformed their Pythagorean record by two games last year, and there is ample reason to believe the squad will be substantially better this year.

Best Case

47-35

The Pistons register an 18 win improvement over last year’s 29-53 abomination.  A team with this kind of potential on defense has no business ranking 25th defensively as they did last year, and Van Gundy gets them to their potential–above the league average.  Caldwell-Pope builds on a strong summer league and provides three and D on the wing as the starting shooting guard, the overpriced shooting Van Gundy signed during summer spaces the floor, and Brandon Jennings and Smith bounce back. Drummond, Smith, and Greg Monroe distribute the minutes evenly among them, allowing them to stay fresh and crash the offensive boards at a furious rate. Van Gundy employs some sort of automatic shocking device that eventually provokes a negative Pavlovian response whenever he tried to put Drummond, Smith, and Monroe in the game together, and the Pistons grab a mid-tier seed in the East.

Worst Case

35-47

An anonymous whistle-blower in the Pistons organization alerts OSHA to Van Gundy’s shocking device, preventing him from using it.  Or, more realistically, Van Gundy realizes that he has nobody to play the three aside from Smith, and trots out the three-headed monster due to a lack of other options.  Caldwell-Pope is not ready, and Jodie Meeks, Smith, and Caron Butler prevent any significant defensive improvement on the wings.  Monroe struggles defensively, and Drummond continues to exhibit a curious inability to defend shots at the rim despite his athleticism.  Smith and Jennings prove last year was no fluke offensively, and the spacing is again awful.  By January, Van Gundy the President longs to relieve Van Gundy the coach so he can spend more time with his family.

– Nate Duncan

Burning Question

Can Stan Van Gundy fix the Pistons?

The Pistons are a team with a number of burning questions that now, all that must be answered by Stan Van Gundy. Can the team trade Josh Smith? Is Brandon Jennings the point guard of the future? Should the team offer Greg Monroe a long-term deal, and if so, at what price next summer? Van Gundy certainly has some tough decisions ahead of him, but with his history there is no reason to believe that he isn’t the right guy for the job. Next season will mark the first year of the Stan Van Gundy era in Detroit, it will be very interesting to see what types of changes he has in store to help bring the Pistons back to prominence.

– John Zitzler

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NBA Daily: Trade Targets – Southeast Division

Like all divisions, teams of the Southeast Division have their specific preferences pertaining to players they’d like to move from their rosters. Drew Maresca identifies six players he feels teams might move before the Feb. 6 trade deadline.

Drew Maresca

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With the trade deadline only a few weeks away, teams are zeroing in on potential deals. Some teams hope to improve for a playoff push, while others are looking to capitalize on the urgency of contenders. Whichever side of that equation your favorite team finds itself on, they are surely weighing all of their options.

Basketball Insiders’ Trade Targets series has already examined the Northwest, Southwest and Central divisions. Now, we turn our attention to the Southeast Division, where we identify six players who should be moved before the Feb. 6 deadline. To be considered a trade target, a player must either add value to a contender, represent a salary dump or have been featured in rumors, now or in the past. Rumors and/or speculation factored into our trade targets, but we identified players who we feel should be moved regardless if they’ve been named in rumors or not.

The Southeast Division has its share of mediocrity. In fact, the Miami HEAT are the division’s only winning team as of Thursday. But don’t be fooled — all five Southeast teams are likely to be relatively active come the trade deadline. While the HEAT may be the division’s lone buyers, the other four have players they’d like to move for salary purposes and/or prefer to swap for assets. And many of those players can still play a real role elsewhere. So let’s jump in with the most interesting of the bunch:

Aaron Gordon – $19,863,636

This one won’t sit too well with Orlando Magic fans, but it’s practical. The Magic have a relatively young team. And they have too many big men for all to get a good amount of playing time.

Big man or not, Gordon is among the Magic’s best trade piece – he’s only 24 years old and has probably yet to reach his prime. Further, he’s on a relatively affordable deal through 2022 and can profoundly impact the game on both ends of the floor.

This isn’t the first time Gordon finds himself in trade rumors, but it might be the year they come to fruition. Gordon is in his sixth season with the team. While he’s actually regressed this season in terms of points per game (13.5 points per game), he’s still a dynamic offensive weapon and one of the team’s best defenders. His trade value won’t get too much higher; but losing Gordon doesn’t hurt as much this season considering the arrival of Jonathan Isaac as a defensive stopper — and the fact that the team signed Nikola Vucevic to a 4-year/$100 million deal last Summer.

And it’s not as if the Magic don’t have other areas to address. They still lack an elite point guard and need help offensively – they’re 25th in offensive rating and 24th in assists. They should check in with any teams looking to offload high-end guards. While Markelle Fultz has shown flashes this season and Evan Fournier has played at an All-Star level, they don’t have a difference-maker in the backcourt. Swapping Gordon for a floor general or elite scoring guard might be their best bet at securing one.

Justise Winslow – $13,000,000

The Miami HEAT need help. Provided, they’re playing better than anyone thought they would in the 2019-20 season. But they need more to do more and become real contenders this year.

I know what you’re thinking – Justise Winslow has been hurt for much of this season. And when healthy, he’s an above-average defender, playmaker and shooter. And that’s right. But the HEAT need help, and they need it now.

The HEAT badly want to add star power, and they need to improve defensively to compete with the best in the East in a seven-game series. Winslow cannot be shipped out for a one-year rental. He’s far too talented for that, but the alternative is even less likely. The HEAT will not part with Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn or Jimmy Butler. Duncan Robinson, who is also unlikely to be dealt, wouldn’t return nearly as much, anyway. And what’s more, the HEAT are limited in their ability to add talent; their 2021 and 2023 first-round picks are owed thank to past trades. So if the HEAT are serious about upgrading their roster soon, Winslow is the obvious sacrificial lamb.

Besides, the team is 21-8 without Winslow and 7-4 with him. So while he’s clearly productive, he’s also expendable.

But the HEAT can’t move too quickly. Winslow is only 23 years old, adds borderline elite two-way backcourt skills and is signed for a relative bargain through 2022 (3 years/$39 million).

While the HEAT would obviously benefit from a healthy Winslow, they may prefer to swap him for a player who’s more likely to contribute this season, as well as in the future. And if Miami really believes it can win this season, trading Winslow likely returns a major asset without shipping out players who have developed chemistry with one another and who have been contributors for the current iteration of the team.

Davis Bertans – $7,000,000

Let’s be clear – the Wizards have not made Davis Bertans available. But they should listen to offers for anyone on their roster not named Bradley Beal – and they should be open to moving him, too, for the right – albeit ridiculously high – price.

Bertans is in the middle of a breakout season, which includes scoring 15.3 points per game on 43.4% three-point shooting (after scoring 8 points per game in 2018-19), and we know that shooters become increasingly popular around the trade deadline. Bertans is even more attractive considering he is in the final year of his $14 million deal – so he’s affordable and carries no long-term salary implications.

Despite recently returning from an injury, Bertans has played well enough to attract serious interest. According to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington, as many as five teams are interested in Bertans: the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers.

And while the Wizards have appeared against the idea of moving Bertans, they should start entertaining it. Sure, he’s in only his fourth season in the league, but he’s already 27 years old and eligible for a new contract this offseason. Meanwhile, the Wizards have a long way to go before they should consider dedicating serious cap room to veteran role players with whom they won’t seriously compete.

The Wizards should gauge the market for Bertans and pull the trigger on a deal that adds young, unproven talent and/or unprotected first-round picks. What ultimately happens pertaining to Bertans is anyone’s guess; but if the Wizards can add a younger, unestablished player with a higher upside, they have to do it.

Marvin Williams – $15,006,250

The Hornets need to establish an on-court identity. They added Terry Rozier this past offseason and boast young, high-upside players in Miles Bridges, rookie PJ Washington and breakout star Devonte’ Graham. But everyone else should be available for the right price.

The first Hornet who should be traded from Charlotte is Marvin Williams, a true three-and-D guy who is shooting a near career-best 52.6% on two-pointers and 37.7% from three-point range. Williams is someone who plugs into just about all contending rosters. And since his contract expires following this season, there would are no long-term salary implications.

The Hornets might be deceived into thinking they can make a run at the playoffs, but they shouldn’t be. They are currently in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and trail the Nets – current owners of the eighth seed – by five whole games. And while the Nets have their share of issues to solve, they just recently returned Caris LeVert and Kyrie Irving from injuries and should play better from here on out.

And even if the Hornets could sneak into the playoffs, what good would a quick exit do for a team that has only a select few building blocks on its roster? The Hornets should be proactively engaging other teams to determine what Williams could return. But a deal seems even more likely if the Hornets drop farther out of the eighth seed before Feb. 6.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – $13,000,000

Speaking of the Hornets, they should look to move out from under the contracts of more than just Marvin Williams.

Until last season, head coach James Borrego’s first in charge of the Hornets, Kidd-Gilchrist was a key player in the Hornets rotation. He was a 25 minute per game guy through his first six seasons with the Hornets. Last season, he dipped to a career-low 18.4 minutes per game. This season has seen another substantial step back to 13.3.

Clearly, Borrego prefers playing younger players in hopes of organic growth. That means that representatives for guys like Kidd-Gilchrist must begin looking elsewhere to secure their players’ playing time and opportunities.

Kidd-Gilchrist is still an above-average defender. Rookie Cody Martin stole away some of his minutes as a defensive stopper, but his utility on the defensive end should result in spot minutes off the bench for a contender looking to throw bodies at guys like James Harden, Jimmy Butler, etc. And while he’s never been an effective shooter, Kidd-Gilchrist posted a career-high 34% on three-pointers last season.

A change of scenery is probably Kidd-Gilchrist’s best bet. And with unrestricted free agency ahead in 2020, Kidd-Gilchrist should hope to land on a team that allows him to demonstrate his ability to defend and, to a degree, shoot while not overburdening him offensively.

Chandler Parsons – $25,102,512

The Atlanta Hawks have five or so players around whom they hope to build their team in the coming years. They are all 22 years old or younger. Veterans are not on that list. And with Allen Crabbe being moved on Thursday for Jeff Teague, there’s one fewer vet who entered the season on the Hawks roster still around.

And that brings us to Chandler Parsons – someone who this writer hopes to see get an opportunity elsewhere. Despite it seeming as though he’s been around for decades, Parsons is only 31 years old. After fighting his way back from a number of knee injuries, he’s now healthy and able to contribute. Only no one outside of Atlanta seems to notice.

With the Hawks playing their younger players – and rightfully so – Parsons clearly lacks a role with the team. He’s appeared in only five games in 2019-20 so far despite being healthy for the majority of it, and he hasn’t logged 17 or more minutes in any game thus far.

But that does not mean he can’t contribute– especially to a team looking to add scoring punch off of the bench. According to Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon of ESPN, Parsons impressed the Grizzlies coaching staff and team in five-on-five scrimmages last season, and he told Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype: “Obviously, I want to play. I want to help. I’m healthy and I’m in a contract year, so I want to show the team that I’m healthy and I can play and I can definitely help this team win.”

And what’s more, Parsons’ contract is an expiring one. So teams looking to add scoring, without affecting their future salary cap, should consider Parsons. Once upon a time, Parsons was a borderline All-Star who topped out at 16.6 points per game back in 2013-14. No one is under the impression that he’ll contribute anything near 16.6 points, but he’s an established scorer who’s been resting for much of the past few seasons. He’s a career 37.3% three-point shooter, and he adds good length as a true 6-foot-9 forward. Hopefully Parsons gets another chance to prove his worth.

With less than a month to go until the trade deadline, teams are almost certainly circling in on deals. And with so few trades being made so far this season, observers are waiting patiently for the first shoe to drop. But trade deadline deals hit us like a snow squall — quickly and with little warning. So everyone should hunker down and get ready for the mid-season main event.

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NBA Daily: Trade Targets – Southwest Division

The Southwest Division offers many intriguing options heading toward the annual trade deadline, Ben Nadeau writes, but how the chips fall is still anybody’s best guess.

Ben Nadeau

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The NBA landscape is oddly unfamiliar at this point in the season.

The Milwaukee Bucks are ruthlessly destroying everything in sight, the Golden State Warriors are headed toward a top-five draft pick in June and the New York Knicks are struggling to keep their heads afloat after a mid-season coaching change. OK, fine, that last one might ground us in reality, honestly — but things are looking up, at long last!

And yet, that one constant looms large: Feb. 6 and the annual trade deadline. Buyers, sellers — or wherever your favorite franchise might be — now is the time to push all-in, press the eject button or purchase a super-rare opal from a sketchy diamond salesman that may or may not give a player improved basketballing prowesses.

But if such an uncut gem is unavailable to front offices across the league, then they could do worse than to move for these Southwest Division-based players ahead of next month’s all-important deadline.

The Soft Resetters

Courtney Lee — $12,759,670
Solomon Hill — $12,758,781
E’Twaun Moore — $8,664,928
Marco Belinelli — $5,846,154

All four veterans total nearly 40 combined NBA seasons, offering experience, shot-making abilities and locker room leadership. Further, to some, they could represent cap relief. If a team is a deadline seller — the aforementioned Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers or Detroit Pistons, for example — then these contract-ready players could help them tread water, shed longer deals or gain draft pick collateral. So for the Marcus Morris, Kevin Love and Andre Drummond-type contributors on the market, they won’t come without some deal-matching gymnastics — that’s where players like Lee, Hill and Moore can come in handy, too.

Hell, it’s also why the Houston Rockets got in trouble earlier this year for giving Nene a two-year deal worth $20 million in bonuses, thus making the long-time man the ideal trade fodder. Instead, the NBA voided the deal, ruling that any trade with the Brazilian would only be worth $2.6 in outgoing salary. The Rockets, in salary cap hell, would’ve loved to use Nene in a mid-season deal — perhaps for a name further down on this list, Andre Iguodala — but their creative deal-making was ultimately stymied.

Elsewhere, Moore, 30, has started 29 games for the New Orleans Pelicans in 2019-20 — at a steady 10.2 points per contest, nonetheless — but with Zion Williamson set to return next week and a full youth movement underway, he’s expendable. Better, he’s affordable for those looking for a perimeter punch (39.1 percent from three-point range) or a more cap space in the summertime.

Lee, on the other hand, has struggled to find time in a backcourt led by Luke Doncic. With he has a massively-expiring deal and a fantastic reputation behind-the-scenes, it’s not hard to imagine Lee moving elsewhere in the next 20 days as the Mavericks try to bolster their postseason chances.

Belinelli, 33, has been less effective in his older age, but boasts 65 career postseason games and a low-risk contract. Should the San Antonio Spurs pull the plug — head coach Gregg Popovich likely feels strongly otherwise — then Belinelli and others could be intriguing trade targets.

As for Hill, who has labored to stay healthy in recent seasons, he has another bloated expiring deal — although he’ll likely be most valuable to Memphis as freed up cap space come June.

The Calculated Risks

Andre Iguodala — $17,185,185
Jae Crowder — $7,815,533

The time has finally come: Free Andre Iguodala, you cowards!

Since the former NBA Finals MVP was dealt to the Grizzlies last summer, he’s been stuck in the mud. In an old fashioned standoff, Iguodala hasn’t appeared yet for the rebuilding franchise, while Memphis hasn’t budged from their first-round-pick-or-no-deal mindset from the offseason. Will they budge? Which teams will blink first?

The Los Angeles Lakers, always in need of more playoff-poised athletes to put next to LeBron James, might be willing. Houston, still in luxury cap hell, probably can’t finagle adding $17 million in cap space without obliterating its already-teetering-off-the-edge-of-the-abyss built roster.

Last time Iguodala was featured for the Warriors, the 35-year-old averaged just 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds, but his defensive abilities and postseason record speaks for itself. The expectation is that Iguodala will be moved — but to whom and for how much? Well, that’s the six-month-old question on everybody’s mind, even today.

Iguodala, of note, will be an unrestricted free agent come June.

Crowder, 29, is on his fifth team since 2012 but, by and large, he’s impressed at every stop thus far. In 2019-20, the veteran standout has started all 38 games for Memphis, tallying 10.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest on a paltry (and expiring) $7.8 million dollar deal. Should the Grizzlies clear the deck, Iguodala included, Crowder has 50 games of postseason experience and won’t come with an outrageous price tag — both in regards to outgoing cost or future commitments.

The Leap Of Faiths

DeMar DeRozan — $27,739,975
Jrue Holiday — $26,131,111

This would be the all-in push. The all-or-nothing swing. The so-called leap of faith. Two stars in two different places in their careers — both equally excellent trade candidates for different reasons.

DeRozan, 30, is still chugging along as the leader of San Antonio, and he’ll likely finish with an average over 20 points per game for the seventh consecutive season. Healthy as they come, the high-flyer has played in 72-plus games during every campaign since 2014-15 — and he still knows how to enact a healthy dose of revenge, too. DeRozan won’t be a cheap option for many franchises, but might he be the final missing piece somewhere?

Such a move, naturally, would have to come with Popovich’s blessing and acceptance that the Spurs aren’t postseason-bound for the first time since 1997. At 17-22, San Antonio currently ranks 9th in a stingy Western Conference with five teams within three games of them as of Jan. 16. Betting against Popovich is a sin, but those odds, for the first time in a long time, aren’t looking fantastic for the perennial stalwarts.

Should the Spurs look to jumpstart a mini-rebuild — Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker and Keldon Johnson in tow — then there will certainly be suitors for DeRozan.

As for Holiday, he’s the division’s big-ticket item — if he’s still available, of course. Last the world had heard, the Pelicans had retreated from the offseason position of an unmovable Holiday, the new leader and cornerstone post-Anthony Davis. And yet, the Pelicans are one of those teams within breathing distance of the Spurs and a postseason trip for their budding core, so moving Holiday may not behoove them anymore.

Given Williamson’s assumed presence in the season’s second half, Brandon Ingram’s rise to stardom and Lonzo Ball’s newfound settledness, Holiday might be best served to stay put. Still, David Griffin, New Orleans’ executive vice president of basketball operations, is no stranger to the wheelin’ and dealin’ nature of February, and everybody has a price.

Holiday — 19.6 points, 6.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game, plus a back-to-back member on an All-Defensive Team — would elevate any roster in the league. If the 10-year veteran is, in fact, on the table, Griffin has likely been fielding offers for quite some time already. Should Williamson’s introduction to the rotation go seamlessly and the Pelicans firmly cement themselves as postseason contenders, however, then Holiday will be the perfect player to get them there.

With less than a month to go before the NBA’s trade deadline, the proceedings will only get wilder from here. While the entirety of the Southwest Division is still involved in a hectic playoff chase, far too much could change over the remaining weeks. Who will push all-in? Who will pull back? Are the Spurs going to concede their historic streak of postseason appearances? And how will the Pelicans look with Williamson in the fold?

These are questions without answers at this point.

In another month, we’ll have seen the future and then some — but which way it falls now is still anybody’s best guess.

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NBA

NBA Daily: RJ Barrett Calming Down, Playing With Poise

Jordan Hicks recently caught up with RJ Barrett near the end of a grueling road trip for the New York Knicks, discussing poise, confidence and dealing with injury.

Jordan Hicks

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The New York Knicks have struggled out of the gate, again. In fact, they haven’t had a season in the last five-plus years that you’d consider commendable. If there was even more salt to rub in the wound, the Knicks haven’t reached the Eastern Conference Finals since the 1999-00 season.

It’s safe to say there have been much, much better days in Madison Square Garden — but fortunately for Knicks fans, they finally have something to look forward to.

RJ Barrett – a product of Duke University – was selected with the third overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. After averaging 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in college, Barrett would have been the hottest commodity had he not played side-by-side with Zion Williamson, one of the most captivating prospects in the last 20 years.

Highly-touted coming out of college, Barrett was ranked as one of the top options from all major publications. And those rankings weren’t simply a guaranteed-star-is-born type deal – but the key intangibles have always been there. The New York-savior has a solid frame, smooth shooting stroke and the ability to get to the basket. He’s lengthy at 6-foot-7 and, combined with his agile demeanor, it allows him to comfortably create his own shot on offense.

Barrett hasn’t consistently shown Rookie of the Year-worthy flashes this season, but much of that can’t be placed solely on his shoulders.

So far, he’s tallied a respectable 14.1 points per game but doing so on an effective field goal percentage of just 43.5 percent. Those shooting percentages were a tad higher in college, however, it’s a facet of his game that he’ll strive to improve upon so that he can live up to the expectations of the Knicks’ franchise.

As he continues to develop his game and become more comfortable with the pace of the NBA, there’s little doubt his shooting will improve. At 31 minutes per game, Barrett is proving durable and capable, he just needs to see the ball go in the bucket more often and build up confidence.

Recently, New York was wrapping up a brutal road trip in which they finished against the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, then a back-to-back against the Utah Jazz. Still, despite the trials and tribulations, Barrett is taking things as they come.

“[I learned] just how to play hard no matter what,” Barrett told Basketball Insiders. “We are in the mountains, can’t breathe, still gotta play hard. It doesn’t matter.”

And that effort definitely showed.

Against Utah, the Knicks were without Julius Randle and Marcus Morris, their top-two scorers. Rather than simply fold, Barrett toughed out 10 points and two rebounds, despite feeling tired from the previous night’s game.

With the way the Jazz have been playing, facing the struggling Knicks on a back-to-back was almost a guaranteed win, but Barrett still learned a lot from his opponent.

“Experience is really an advantage, a team that has been together for that long you can tell,” Barrett said. “They know where each other [is], they’re knocking down shots, cheering for each other.

“A team like that, you hope one day we could get something like that too.”

The Knicks’ latest retool is still in its infancy stages, but with a few more draft picks and signings — added to a suddenly-budding core of contributors and expectations will rise quickly. But, until then, Barrett can only take his lumps, push to grow and adapt to the much more challenging NBA landscape, both on the court and on the road.

“I be chilling, to be honest, I’ve kind of learned that, you know, the game is just going to be the way it is and you can’t force it or you can’t get too down, can’t get too high,” Barrett told Basketball Insiders.

“Stay even-keeled every game. I’ve been more poised, more calm — it’s been working out a little better for me.”

From there, the conversation turned toward his former college teammate and close friend, Zion Williamson. When asked about how he feels about Williamson’s injury situation, he offered some sterling advice.

“I hate seeing him hurt. I hate not seeing him be able to play the game he loves, but at the same time, I think, we are 19, so he has a long career ahead of him,” Barrett said. “At this point I really just want him to continue to get better and get healthy and not try and rush back but, just come back when he’s ready.”

Wise words from someone who is only, as he said, 19 years of age. Together, although now apart, both have so much room to grow professionally. Even better, the former allies have used each other as a springboard half a coastline away.

“We keep in touch from time to time, picking each other‘s brains a little bit,” Barrett continued. “The one thing I like is that he’s happy, he doesn’t get too down on himself, he knows he has a long career ahead of himself, just gotta get healthy.”

Barrett mentioned the season is almost halfway over and, luckily for the Knicks, he’s been playing with more and more confidence. Preparation is key in the NBA, obviously, and the sooner players like Barrett can evolve, both mentally and physically, the better off his career will be.

“Just being more poised,” Barrett reiterated to Basketball Insiders about his new-found confidence. “[Knowing] how the defenses are going to play me so I’m just trying to figure out how to play within that.”

Needless to say, the Knicks have a slog ahead of them before they can rejoin the playoff conversation. Still, Barrett, prospect and skill-set wise, is about as good of a start as they come. Of course, he’s young and extremely raw in some categories — but he certainly doesn’t lack confidence and he has plenty of attributes necessary to be a star in the league.

When asked what needs to be done for the Knicks to get back on the right track, Barrett quickly responded, “Go home, feel good again, regroup, get back to it.”

With Barrett continuing to improve by the day, New York, finally, might have found the leading hands they so desperately need.

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