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Atlanta Hawks 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Hawks have embarked on a drastic rebuild, however, will tanking this aggressively yield a cornerstone star? Basketball Insiders digs into the Atlanta Hawks in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

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From 2008 to 2017 the Atlanta Hawks reached the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons. During this time the team never seemed to get the mainstream respect it deserved, but the wins kept flowing. From head coaches Mike Woodson to Larry Drew to Mike Budenholzer. From the team’s revolving door of key players such as Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Josh Smith and Kyle Korver. The Hawks were able to become playoff fixtures amid a sea of constant change.

But the 2017-18 campaign ushered in the beginning of a lengthy rebuild as general manager and head of basketball operations Travis Schlenk elected to take the franchise into a new direction. Year one of the project wasn’t anywhere close to pretty as the Hawks stumbled to just 24 wins – their lowest victory total since the 2005 campaign. To be fair, massive rebuilding projects, especially at the beginning are rarely attractive to fans.

Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Hawks have major question marks surrounding the team. The Hawks will look to break in first time head coach Lloyd Pierce and must somehow overcome the departure of last season’s leading scorer and primary floor general Dennis Schroder. The Hawks have a promising mix of youth and a solid mix of veteran contributors but unless the young guns grow up in a hurry, the road back to the land of playoff contention is likely years away.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

In a league where very few teams are truly entering the season already in tank mode, the Hawks are something of an exception. Where even other bottom-feeders from last season have at least made token attempts at on-court improvements, the Hawks have gone the other way entirely. They used big open cap space to absorb and then waive Carmelo Anthony from the Thunder, acquiring a future first-rounder and shedding Dennis Schroder’s contract simultaneously in the process. They acquired another first (top-5 protected from Dallas in 2019) in a draft day trade that saw them move down a couple spots to take Trae Young while sending Luka Doncic to the Mavericks. They mitigated things to a small degree by acquiring Jeremy Lin and Vince Carter in later summer moves to bolster their veteran presence a bit, but the message is clear: The Hawks are building around Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter and their other youth, and their development is the clear priority over winning games in 2018-19.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Ben Dowsett

First-year head coach Lloyd Pierce has a project ahead of him when it comes to flipping the script with these Hawks. That’s not to say they don’t have talent. Granted he stays the course, Taurean Price is a real candidate for most improved player in my eyes. If healthy, Jeremy Lin is one of the more underrated point guards in the league. John Collins is going to blossom into a walking double-double before we even know it. Adding college basketball star Trae Young and national champion Omari Spellman to the squad should excite fans. Even with all of that said, however, the rebuild is only beginning in Atlanta.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Spencer Davies

With Coach Bud and Dennis Schroder out of the picture, the rebuild is in full swing in Atlanta. There’s not much to say about the Hawks at the moment since they’re going to be one of the league’s worst teams. Their whole season pretty much revolves around Trae Young, the most polarizing prospect to come out of the draft, along with their other young talent such as Taurean Prince and John Collins. The Hawks as of now don’t have a young franchise cornerstone until Young proves otherwise, but they have reason to hope for their future.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Matt John

The Hawks lived the NBA purgatory of being just good enough not to be great for too many years not to see something like the rebuild they are in the middle of coming. While no NBA team is going to be as brazen about tanking as the Philadelphia 76ers were under Sam Hinkie, the Hawks are coming in as a close second under current GM Travis Schlenk. The good news is the last two runs through the NBA draft have yielded gems with great upside and the Hawks found a way out of their ugly contract money, clearing the way for the young players to get minutes while not accumulating a lot of wins. The Hawks should be in the Eastern Conference basement for another year at best, so we’ll see if those draft gems turn into cornerstones and how patient ownership will be with a prolonged rebuild. Few front offices survive the tank-method, let alone tanks that don’t produce cornerstones.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Steve Kyler

Last year the Atlanta Hawks committed to rebuilding its roster from top to bottom. This offseason, general manager Travis Schlenk made some bold moves, such as trading the rights to Luka Doncic to the Dallas Mavericks for Trae Young and Dallas’ 2019 first-round draft pick (top-5 protected). Atlanta may come to regret that move if Doncic proves to be a star player and Young’s dynamic skill set doesn’t fully translate to the NBA. Young is now a major part of the young core of talent Atlanta is trying to bolster, which includes John Collins and Taurean Prince, among a few others. Player development and moving forward in their long-term rebuild will be the main focus of the upcoming season, so don’t expect Atlanta to hang around in the playoff race too long. But this team now has a long-term vision and is now fully committed to executing it. So while the team will struggle on the court this season, Atlanta’s fans should take solace in the fact that there is a plan in place to rebuild this roster and a front office that is committed to seeing it through.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Trae Young

In 32 collegiate games for Oklahoma, Young averaged a whopping 27.4 points per outing on 42 percent shooting from the floor, 36 percent from three-point range and 86 percent from the charity stripe. The dynamic guard was chosen with the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Dallas Mavericks and then traded to Atlanta for the rights to Luka Doncic. There are legitimate questions on whether Young’s scoring prowess will translate at the next level and how much time he will need to develop. But since the Hawks shipped Schroder to Oklahoma City during the offseason, playing time won’t be an issue in Atlanta’s backcourt.

Young was up and down during summer league play and its clear opponents’ game plan will be geared toward being physical and not letting him reach his sweet spots. Despite the offensive shakiness, Young still managed to snag second-team All-NBA Summer League honors in Las Vegas.

There are a couple of veterans on the Hawks’ roster with a more refined offensive arsenal, but none possess the immense upside Young has when it comes to putting the ball into the hoop.

Top Defensive Player: Dewayne Dedmon

Last season Dedmon made the transition from promising journeyman to nightly contributor – with relative ease. Dedmon led the team with 7.9 rebounds per contest and finished second in blocks behind rookie John Collins. From a defensive standpoint, Dedmon finished with a team-leading defensive rating of 107 per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Reference. Heading into last season most would have projected Taurean Prince would occupy this space, however, after a campaign full of defensive lapses, Dedmon proved to be the most consistent Hawks defender.

Top Playmaker: Jeremy Lin

Lin, entering his ninth season, has experienced almost all the game has to offer. From being an undrafted afterthought to a taste of superstardom (Linsanity), to becoming a full-time starter and playoff contributor. Lin is in the final year of his current deal and will presumably be asked to be a veteran presence with Schroder now in Oklahoma City and while Young navigates treacherous rookie campaign terrain. Lin will never be a high volume assist guy but for this young Hawks team and rookie head coach, he just may become a calming influence in the midst of the rebuilding project.

Top Clutch Player: Jeremy Lin

Eventually, the team hopes Young will be the go-to guy down the stretch. But until that time comes to fruition, you can expect the ball to be in the hands of Lin in late game situations. The Hawks are an extremely young team filled of players with less than three years of experience. Veterans such as Lin, Kent Bazemore and to a smaller degree Vince Carter, will be counted on to help cultivate Atlanta’s youth movement.

The Unheralded Player: Dewayne Dedmon

Dedmon easily was the Hawks’ biggest acquisition in 2017. The center attempted only one three-pointer is his first four seasons as a professional. Last season, Dedmon attempted 141 shots beyond the arc and nailed 36 percent of them in an expanded role. Dedmon averaged 10 points and 7.9 rebounds for the campaign in under 25 minutes per contest. The veteran also plays a significant role in the team’s defensive efforts. Guys like Dedmon don’t get many headlines for doing the dirty work, but on a team with plenty of guys learning how to be pros, he provides a good example.

Best New Addition: Trae Young

Schlenk was in Golden State when the Warriors also drafted a guard with a smallish stature coming out of college in the lottery. You may have heard of him, his name is Stephen Curry. Obviously, Schlenk sees similarities between Curry and Young and their styles of play. No one is projecting Young to become Curry, but what the dynamic guard does represent is an explosive talent with very high upside.

Atlanta basketball has been accused in the past of being too conservative or playing it too safe. With the acquisition of Young, the team is swinging for the fences in what could be the ultimate boom or bust scenario in a few years.

— Lang Greene

WHO WE LIKE

1. Kent Bazemore

It’s hard to find much to dislike about Bazemore and his journey from being an undrafted fringe player to a bona fide full-time starter. Bazemore is on the books for $18 million this season and holds a player option for $19 million in the 2020 campaign. It’s unclear of the team’s long-term plans for Bazemore but after a down year in 2017, the veteran responded with a career high in points (12.9), assists (3.5) and three-point accuracy (39 percent) last season. Bazemore is the last holdover from Hawks of years past. When the wing came to Atlanta the team’s leading scorers were Millsap, Teague, Horford, DeMarre Carroll and Korver. Times have definitely changed, but expect the same Bazemore night in and night out.

2. Vince Carter

The Hall of Fame will one day likely come calling for Carter. Until then, Atlanta is the latest stop for the 41-year-old guard out of the University of North Carolina. Carter is just 132 points shy of 25,000 for his career, a milestone he should hit within 40 games played based off of last year’s production. Carter is no longer the high flying franchise player he was during his prime years, but he is the perfect elder statesman for a team of young guys still learning how to be pros. Temper your expectations and don’t expect high usage from Carter on a nightly basis. His role in Atlanta is about veteran leadership and mentorship to the young guys.

3. Lloyd Pierce

Pierce, a former college backcourt mate of impending Hall of Famer Steve Nash, is in his first stint as a head coach after previous stops around the league as an assistant. Pierce worked as an assistant coach with Cleveland, Golden State and Memphis before a five-year stint in Philadelphia. The similarity between the Hawks’ current rebuilding situation and Philadelphia’s own restructuring efforts undoubtedly played a role in his hire with Atlanta. Pierce is Schlenk’s guy and that’s always important for a new general manager implementing a rebuild. The 42-year-old promises to bring a defensive mindset and energy to the team.

4. John Collins

Collins was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team last season and became the first Hawks player since Al Horford to be named All-Rookie. Selected No. 19 overall in 2017, Collins averaged 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 74 appearances.

The potential for Collins to take another jump in 2019 is there for the taking, especially with a new head coach preaching energy and defense. Collins led the Hawks in blocked shots and finished second on the team in rebounding. And when you look at advanced stats such as PER (18.3), true shooting percentage (62 percent) and win shares (5.4) it becomes clear that the Hawks may have found something special outside of the lottery in 2017.

STRENGTHS

Youth. These young Hawks are going to sneak up on plenty of older teams throughout the season, especially on back-to-backs or short road swings. The reason? Young legs and new head coach Lloyd Pierce’s commitment to defensive intensity. The Hawks are simply too young to know any better and will push teams up and down the court. Atlanta will have its fair share of upsets this season because of their youthful exuberance.

— Lang Greene

WEAKNESSES

Experience. The lack of experience will ultimately hinder the flight of these young Hawks. Jeremy Lin figures to play a prominent role in the starting backcourt, but he played in just one game last season due to a ruptured patella. The team traded away its leading scorer and primary ball handler, Dennis Schroder, in order to make room for rookie Trae Young. Vince Carter is a future Hall of Famer with loads of experience but can no longer be counted on to carry a heavy load nightly. Even rookie head coach Lloyd Pierce, despite plenty of stops around the league, is in his first role as the leading shot caller. The roster is loaded with promising (and unproven) young talent. The Hawks will show flashes of the future, but winning in the NBA comes down to veteran laden teams winning down the stretch. This is where the Hawks will struggle.

— Lang Greene

THE BURNING QUESTION

How long will the Atlanta Hawks’ rebuilding project last?

Rebuilding projects are ugly. Rebuilding projects are painful for the fans to endure. Rebuilding projects don’t help franchises land marquee free agents. Rebuilding projects don’t necessarily equate into securing a franchise player in the draft. So the question is, how long will the Hawks’ project last? It took Brett Brown and the Philadelphia 76ers four seasons to reach the playoffs. But the Sixers also have two generational type of talents at the top of its roster in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The Hawks don’t have a player close to that pedigree in the fold just yet. Rookie Trae Young is the wildcard. If Young is ready right out of the cereal box to perform and John Collins doesn’t suffer a sophomore slump the team will be on a positive trajectory. However, any slippage from these two pillars could derail some of the early positives gained from Schlenk’s short tenure at the helm.

— Lang Greene

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NBA Daily: Buyers Or Sellers – Central Division

Spencer Davies kicks off Basketball Insiders’ “Buyers or Sellers” series with a detailed breakdown of the Central Division.

Spencer Davies

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Trade season is fast approaching and rumors are running rampant across in the NBA. Just in the past month, we’ve had three trades executed, including two blockbuster moves that will surely make an impact on the association, regarding this year and in the future.

The chatter is about to heat up, even more, this weekend. As soon as the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. EST on Dec. 15, players that signed new contracts in the summer (prior to Sept. 15) are eligible to be traded. The date is basically the opening of the floodgates when it comes to trade season.

Basketball Insiders is starting a “Buyers or Sellers” series to take a look at teams by division to determine what side of the spectrum they should be on. Is it wise to add talent, or is it smarter to look towards the future and acquire future assets?

Let’s go case-by-case, beginning with the Central Division.

Milwaukee Bucks

As detailed in a reaction piece last Friday, the Bucks are all-in on winning now. When they went after veteran guard George Hill in a trade where parting with a potential future lottery draft pick was necessary to do it, it proved that claim.

Looking to offload two contracts that weren’t doing the organization any good, Milwaukee acted and added two guys—Hill and Jason Smith—that have been around this league for over a decade. With the way the season is going so far, it may not even be necessary to look for more help, but there’s no doubt that the team is in buyer mode.

There’s time to talk about Khris Middleton’s expiring contract later. Right now, it’s all clicking with the Bucks.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Pat Connaughton, Ersan Ilyasova, Brook Lopez

Indiana Pacers

Similar to their in-division rivals, the Pacers are absolutely in contention for the Central and the Eastern Conference. Despite the injury bug rearing its ugly head, their record stands at 16-10, which is only four games back from the top-seeded Toronto Raptors.

There’s no shortage of talent on this Indiana squad. There’s Victor Oladipo, who, when healthy, is an All-Star playmaker. Bojan Bogdanovic has been an underrated player for the majority of his career. They’ve got a dual Sixth Man of The Year-Most Improved Player candidate in Domantas Sabonis. The team’s defense is as physical and gritty as NBA defenses can be.

In no way, shape or form are the Pacers a “seller” by any means, but they could explore trading Darren Collison. Doing so would allow Tyreke Evans to play more minutes with the second unit, as well as open up some more floor time for Aaron Holiday, the team’s rookie point guard that showed his capabilities in extended run in mid-November.

A lot has been made of the dynamic between Myles Turner and Sabonis and what that future looks like, however, it’s not something to worry about at the moment considering both look extremely comfortable in their roles.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, Kyle O’Quinn

Detroit Pistons

We approach the middling team of the bunch in the Central. While Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin are enjoying career seasons and Dwane Casey is doing a fine job in year one as head coach, the Pistons just can’t seem to get it going on the offensive end as a team.

Detroit’s perimeter defense, and defense, in general, has been solid to this point. Its own three-point shooting has been quite the opposite. We’ve highlighted this before multiple times. It needs to change if this group wants to have a chance to make noise in the division and in the East.

According to a report from the New York Post, the Pistons have shown interest in Knicks guard Damyean Dotson. In his sophomore season, the 24-year-old is taking over four threes per game and knocking down 38.5 percent of them. To put this in perspective, Dotson would already be Detroit’s best three-point shooter the day he walked into the building.

Detroit Free Press writer Vince Ellis confirmed that Dotson is a real option for the Pistons because of his current cheap contract and the fact that his $1.6 million salary for 2019-20 is non-guaranteed until July 15. The only snags in making this happen are Detroit’s reluctance to make a deal to go over the luxury tax and the Knicks trying to avoid added salary.

If Dotson isn’t the player the Pistons go after, they should look elsewhere for help beyond the arc because they need it. Otherwise, the season could get away really fast.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Jose Calderon, Zaza Pachulia, Glenn Robinson III

Cleveland Cavaliers

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s pretty obvious that the Cavaliers are in asset accumulation mode. They just made a trade to absorb two rather heavy contracts in John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova in order to add draft picks.

Henson has a torn ligament in his left wrist and Dellavedova—though highly appreciated in Cleveland for his NBA Finals heroics—has seemingly been injured for the majority of the last two seasons with no real rotation spot since the 2016-17 campaign.

Just one week beforehand, the Cavaliers traded Kyle Korver to the Utah Jazz for Alec Burks and future second-round draft picks. The biggest question mark coming into the season was what would happen with these veteran players leftover from the championship years, and we’re getting the answer to it right now.

Cleveland likely won’t be done there, either. J.R. Smith is away from the organization as both parties agreed to part ways until a deal is found. That could be this year, or it could be in the summertime when Smith’s contract is a desirable asset, as only $3.7 million of his 2019-20 salary is guaranteed until June 30. Everything depends on the offers the team receives.

What to do with Kevin Love is another good question considering the All-Star forward’s injury history and age, but the value in return likely wouldn’t be up to par with what the Cavaliers’ front office would find plausible. Plus, with the emergence of Collin Sexton, the wine and gold would like to see what that pairing looks like together after a year of experience for the rookie.

If you’re a franchise with an undesirable contract on the books, it’d be wise to call Cleveland right away. Just be prepared to give up some draft picks and/or young talent in return.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Channing Frye, David Nwaba, Rodney Hood (can veto trade due to re-signing qualifying offer)

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Jan. 24: Kevin Love

Chicago Bulls

With the reported friction between Bulls players and interim head coach Jim Boylen, trades are not the talk of the town in the Windy City at the moment. Things have gone south in a hurry as the team has submerged to the bottom of the standings once more. With a 6-21 record, it looks as if another year is lost.

It’s especially disappointing since Lauri Markkanen just returned from injury and already made a game-winning shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The good vibes from that night have faded away since, as a 56-point home drubbing to the Boston Celtics occurred this past weekend and sparked debate all over social media regarding who to point the finger at.

Monday, Yahoo Sports published an article stating that Bulls players went to the National Basketball Players Association to express their frustrations with Boylen’s tactics—specifically holding a Sunday practice after a back-to-back.

So that’s where we’re at in Chicago at the moment. As far as trade talk goes, you’d have to think anything could be on the table at this point. One or two moves aren’t going to fix this situation. If anything, it’d be a temporary fix.

The organization could do some favors for its veterans, though.

Robin Lopez’s role has diminished significantly and is in his 10th year as a professional. He has an expiring $14.3 million left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent this coming summer. Justin Holiday is another candidate to be moved when you look at his salary. He’s making $4.38 million and that deal also expires at this season’s end.

The Jabari Parker homecoming has been fine, but nothing spectacular, so there might be some value in trading for him. It’s especially valuable when Parker’s contract includes a team option for $20 million next season, meaning it could basically be treated as an expiring deal—for Chicago or the team he’d hypothetically be moved to.

Whatever this franchise decides to do, some kind of change has to be made if it wants to get better and consistent.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney, Jabari Parker

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Jan. 15: Zach LaVine (can veto trade due to re-signing with Bulls after matching offer sheet. Can’t be traded to Sacramento Kings even with consent until after the 2018-19 league year)

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Jan. 21: Shaquille Harrison

This is only the Central Division. There’s still plenty of time for a makeover for all five of those teams, but just imagine elsewhere around the NBA. Be on the lookout for the rest of our “Buyers or Sellers” division-by-division breakdown series this coming week.

Starting Saturday, it’ll be off to the races. We’d better pay attention.

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NBA Daily: The Trevor Ariza Sweepstakes: Part Deux

With the Trevor Ariza trade rumors heating up, Matt John speculates which teams could finish the three-way deal reportedly being discussed by the Lakers and the Suns.

Matt John

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Previously on Basketball Insiders…

After it was revealed last week that Trevor Ariza would soon be on the trade market following the expiration of his trade restriction on Dec. 15, much was discussed on who his next team could be. Almost one week following Marc Stein’s report, the jury is still out, but we finally got our first trade rumor centered on the veteran swingman.

Last night, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers are trying to orchestrate a three-way trade where they would acquire Ariza by shipping Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a team who could then provide Phoenix with both a young playmaker and a draft asset.

If both sides are able to find that third team to complete the deal, then holy nostalgia! First, we get Kyle Korver going back to the Jazz after eight years, and now we might potentially get Trevor Ariza’s return to the Lakers nearly a decade after he won a championship with them. All we need is for Kendrick Perkins to return to the Celtics, then we’ll party like it’s 2009!

But where will they find that third team? With what they’ve asked in return for Ariza, the Suns should not be optimistic that someone out there will meet their demands. Jimmy Butler didn’t fetch back any first-round picks, and neither did Korver, who are both in similar contract situations as Ariza. Getting a young playmaker and a draft asset for a guy who has disappointed enough to be put on the market the second he’s eligible is going to be difficult.

With what other teams have to offer on paper, it’s not undoable. The Suns may just have to lower their standards on what they hope to get back. The following teams could be the last piece the Lakers and Suns look towards to complete a Trevor Ariza deal.

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers were mentioned in this writer’s piece last week among the teams that could potentially compete for Ariza’s services because they need the wing depth. The Lakers seemingly have the upper-hand in the Ariza sweepstakes, so Philly may have to settle for the next best thing: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Not to fret, though. Shortly after the Jimmy Butler trade was completed, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported that the Sixers had interest in KCP to help fill the shooting void left by Robert Covington and Dario Saric. Caldwell-Pope’s shooting percentages have gone down a little this season, as he’s shot 38 percent from the field including 34 percent from three. Maybe that would change on a team like Philly, where his role would be more clearly defined.

The point of acquiring him would be to add much-needed depth to a struggling bench. According to hoopsstats.com, the Sixers rank no. 22 in bench scoring on average, as they put up 34.3 points a game. KCP’s not a pure scorer, but he’s better than what Philly has in its second unit.

It’s also a good match because Philly has Markelle Fultz to offer as the young playmaker the Suns would want. It’d be perfect because the Suns can be patient with Fultz – which Philly can’t afford at the moment – and trading Fultz $8 million plus for Caldwell-Pope’s expiring deal saves money for the Sixers that they would use to retain Butler and Ben Simmons.

Also, trading the two of them for each other works straight up, which benefits the Sixers because they’d have to add extra contract filler to match with Ariza’s contract. If the Lakers and Suns really wanted to make this trade, then Philly would be the most ideal third team to complete it.

New York Knicks

If the Suns are truly are searching for that young playmaker to put next to Devin Booker, then the one team that has plenty to offer in that department is the New York Knicks.

This past week, Drew Maresca wrote about the influx of young point guards that the Knicks have at their disposal and that changes need to be made because they can’t properly develop all of them. Getting involved in this rumored Trevor Ariza trade could solve the problem.

Between Trey Burke, Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay, someone has to be the odd man out. The Suns inquired about Ntilikina a short time ago, but New York rebuffed them. Since Frank is the youngest and has the most economical contract of the three, he’s the least likely of the three to be traded.

That leaves Burke and Mudiay. Both have done a half-decent job at running the point, as they have put up nearly identical averages in the same number of minutes this season.

Burke: 12 points, three assists, 2.1 rebounds on 42 percent shooting including 36 percent from three on 20.7 minutes a game.

Mudiay: 12.1 points, 2.9 assists, 2.8 rebounds on 45 percent shooting including 37 percent from three on 23.8 minutes a game.

Either one would probably satisfy Phoenix’s demands of a young playmaker since they are both in their twenties. They aren’t a long-term solution, but since either would hypothetically be traded for Trevor Ariza, that’s about as good as they can expect.

New York also has the contract filler to match for Caldwell-Pope. Lance Thomas’ deal is non-guaranteed next year, and Ron Baker is expiring. They could easily make this work.

Caldwell-Pope wouldn’t be playing for a playoff contender in New York, and he can veto any trade he doesn’t like. However, playing for a storied franchise with that much exposure could give his career a boost, especially if he gets more touches as a Knick. If not, then he can just ask for a buyout and join a better team. New York can’t offer the same high potential that Philly can, but they can reasonably meet Phoenix’s demands.

Philadelphia and New York are the two prime candidates to be the last piece in this three-team deal. That being said, there could be others.

Sacramento, who was also brought up in last week’s article, could use more defensive personnel. They could offer Frank Mason III as well as expiring contracts for Caldwell-Pope.

Utah has some expiring contracts, as well as a mysterious young playmaker in Dante Exum, but they’re not likely to offer any of that for Caldwell-Pope.

There is also the outside possibility that Ariza goes somewhere besides Laker Land. We have seen scenarios play out like that before, which is why we as the audience always tune into stories like these.

The Trevor Ariza sweepstakes are getting juicier by the day, which brings nothing but joy to NBA junkies alike. This is probably going to be an impactful transaction in a season that already has a list of them, and we haven’t even hit the two-month mark yet!

Even if Ariza is getting past his prime, and regardless of where he goes, there’s one obvious winner from all of this: the spectators.

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NBA Daily: To Tank Or Not To Tank, That’s The Question In Brooklyn

With their season quickly falling apart, the Brooklyn Nets must decide on the best path forward and commit to it, writes Ben Nadeau.

Ben Nadeau

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The Brooklyn Nets, fresh off three straight seasons of disappointing results, finally looked halfway competent to start the 2018-19 campaign. Fueled by the impending breakout of Caris LeVert, the Nets began the year a very manageable 6-7 — a record that had them in the mix for a postseason berth within a muddied Eastern Conference. With big-time homegrown assets like Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris making strides and youngsters like D’Angelo Russell and Jarrett Allen on the up-and-up, it was officially time to be optimistic, if not downright positive, in Brooklyn once again.

Then disaster struck all at once.

Despite the minor miracle surrounding the brutal, gut-wrenching injury that LeVert suffered on Nov. 12 in Minnesota, his absence has buried the Nets from the inside out. Since then, the Nets have gone 3-10 and now sit only three games back from the ever-so-familiar territory of the conference basement. During this low streak, Brooklyn has blown multiple double-digit leads, gave the win away against Memphis (twice) and suffered a 14-point loss to the dysfunctional Washington Wizards. From playoff contenders to the bottom of the ladder at the snap of a finger, it’s gone from bad to worse very quickly for the Nets.

Well, unless you’ve got your eye on the 2019 NBA Draft, that is.

This is, of course, the first season that the Nets have held their own draft pick since 2013. And, perhaps rightfully so, there are compelling arguments to now release the safety brakes and tank out, especially with LeVert no longer leading the way. Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish represent the crown jewel trio of NBA-ready prospects and adding any of them — let alone the hulking Bol Bol or high-scoring Romeo Langford — would jumpstart the Nets’ rebuild in a way not yet seen. Still, the Nets have said from the start of training camp that they’d try to be competitive because their attempt to develop a winning culture needs, well, wins.

Tired of losing — 69-177 over the last three seasons will do that to a franchise — the Nets have constantly put themselves in a position to win, at least for the first 36 minutes or so. But with so many crucial, organization-altering decisions on the very near horizon, Brooklyn will need to reevaluate their direction if the losses continue to pile up. At what point does incubating culture come at the expense of missing out on an elite prospect? On the other hand, their error-prone defeatism would certainly put a toll on a growing roster, head coach and front office if it continued until April as well.

Aside from outright winning — LeVert’s injury was cruel timing in more ways than one — there appears to be no unanimously great path forward from here.

For example, there’s the internal struggle over Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell. As two of the Nets’ best players, a desire to retain them both is understandable — but unless one is willing to come off the bench for the foreseeable future, it may not be the road the franchise wants to head down. Dinwiddie is eligible for his extension worth $47.5 million on Dec. 8 and the Nets’ biggest success story in Brooklyn remains candid about his desire to either stay or test the free agent market come June. The flipside of this two-headed coin is Russell, a younger, higher-ceiling guard that has struggled to find consistency every night thus far. Russell is the only roster member capable of the 38-point, 8-rebound, 8-assist effort he dropped last month against the Philadelphia 76ers, but also he’s spent many late-game scenarios glued to the bench as well.

Russell, as luck would have it, is a restricted free agent come July and he’ll likely have a long list of suitors himself. If the Nets commit to Dinwiddie, they could end up letting Russell walk for nothing. If the Nets take a wait-and-see approach to Russell, they could obviously lose Dinwiddie and leave that situation empty-handed instead.

(For more on this intriguing dilemma, check out Drew Maresca’s most recent piece here.)

Utilizing them both will have a negative impact on the Nets’ eventual lottery position — unless, naturally, the organization truly believes they can tread water until LeVert’s undetermined return. But the Nets will need to decide if hanging around eighth place is really worth missing out on a blue-chip prospect. Even if Brooklyn won’t commit to one or both (or neither) of their point guards just yet — Dinwiddie is extension-eligible until Jun. 30 — there’s another tweak that could help determine their best-foraged way to the future: The often-maligned youth movement.

There’s a clamor for another youth movement in Brooklyn that grows louder with each defeat, this time for Dzanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs, Theo Pinson and Alan Williams. Frankly, the foursome has been tearing up the G League for the Long Island Nets and the thought-process here is rather simple. Play the prospects and rookies and if they energize an at-times lethargic Nets squad — see Kurucs versus the Knicks — then great. If it doesn’t and the Nets keep falling down the conference ladder, then at least their future assets will have gained valuable experience at the NBA level.

Musa, the No. 29 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, has appeared in just seven games so far, most often as the ceremonial white flag in a loss. On Long Island, Musa has averaged 20 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game — but as he’s stuck behind a veteran-laden backcourt rotation, there may not be a true opportunity here without a trade. For Kurucs, his previous exclusion has been harder to quantify. Kurucs was forced into the rotation after preseason injuries to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll and the 20-year-old Latvian not only held his own, he thrived.

He’s tallied 7.3 points and 3.3 rebounds over 12.3 minutes per game, an athletic forward finding his place through aggressive open court action and a willingness to get dirty. An injury of his own knocked Kurucs back out of the rotation briefly — wherein that time, Hollis-Jefferson and Carroll both returned — but head coach Kenny Atkinson recently admitted that they may need to find more time for him moving forward.

The pair of two-way signees, Wiliams and Pinson, are considerably less urgent since the Nets can shuttle them between teams for up to 45 days before a decision has to be made. In any case, it’s not hard to imagine that both could help the Nets right now if that’s what the team is still aiming for in 2018-19. For argument’s sake, Brooklyn’s front office could be auditioning the likes of Jared Dudley, Kenneth Faried and the aforementioned Carroll — all of whom are expiring contracts — ahead of the trade deadline. Last season, the Nets’ extracted a second-round pick out the Milwaukee Bucks for Tyler Zeller, so that route is sensical, especially for general manager Sean Marks.

However, Faried has barely seen the floor at all, notching only 5.6 minutes over just eight contests so far. As of Friday, the Nets ranked 25th in rebounds per game at 32.7 and Faried, an eight-year veteran, has gobbled up a career average of 8.1 of them along the way but this seemingly perfect union hasn’t come together. Faried would conceivably help the Nets with their rebounding issues and put him front and center for a potential move elsewhere, so its become an overall confusing footnote indeed. Williams, a former NBA center himself, has pulled down 13.9 rebounds in just 25.2 minutes per game for Long Island — he, in all likelihood, is too good for the G League.

Elsewhere, Carroll underwent a career resurgence in Brooklyn in 2017-18 and he’d be worth a valuable return on the trade market if he’s available — but if the Nets still want to reach the postseason, the gritty veteran would almost definitely remain in their plans. Lastly, there’s Hollis-Jefferson, who, like Russell, will venture into restricted free agency this summer too. While the stretchy forward has been solidly part of the Nets’ rebuild, he could be an eventual casualty depending on how the Dinwiddie-Russell conundrum unfolds. Basically, there are difficult puzzles to solve here without any discernable, clear-cut answers.

But when the overarching goal is to compete despite the loss of your best player, the water gets muddied quickly. It’s hard to find time for both the veteran on an expiring contract and the scrappy rookie when those late-game wins turn into shocking losses time and time again.

Stuck between two frames of mind, the franchise has been tossed into a difficult position — to tank or tread water, that is the debate. LeVert’s injury turned a promising season into turmoil, but sooner rather than later, the Nets will need to take stock and determine how to most effectively proceed. Whether that’s the calculating the value of their two electric guards or the puzzling use of those back-of-the-rotation assets, it’ll be a busy winter and spring for the Nets’ front office, full of challenging questions that absolutely require the right answers.

Until then, even if the agonizing defeats continue to rise, the Nets must simply decide what kind of team they want to be.

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