Three Big Trade Deadline Buyers
By Bill Ingram
This week will be a big one for Basketball Insiders and our readers. We’ve been working overtime putting together what will be a comprehensive 2014 NBA Trade Deadline Guide, which you can download from the iPhone App Store, Android App Store as well as online. Our team takes an in-depth look at all 30 NBA teams, detailing which ones are buyers, which ones are sellers and which ones are likely to stand pat. We also offer trade deadline insight from the player, agent and executive perspectives. As we anxiously await the publication of the magazine, let’s take a quick look at three teams that will absolutely be buyers as the last days before the deadline melt away.
Can These NBA Rookies Be Salvaged?
By Nate Duncan
Long before it was actually held, pundits deemed the 2013 NBA Draft one of the worst in recent memory. Since then, the top 10 has done absolutely nothing to dispel that notion. Aside from second pick Victor Oladipo and ninth pick Trey Burke, every rookie in the top 10 has been disappointing, injured, or both.
Do these rookies’ struggles bear ill portent for their fanbases, or can they turn it around? I talked to several scouts and executives, then went to the film and the stats to determine what to make of five rookies’ bad starts.
Can The Magic Continue To Win?
By Steve Kyler
The Orlando Magic have done the improbable. After amassing 14 wins in 51 tries, in the span of the weekend the Magic have taken down the top two teams in the NBA, overcoming 17-point deficits against both the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday and the Indiana Pacers last night.
After the game last night in Orlando, one media member leaned into a Magic player and asked jokingly “Isn’t this a rebuilding team? This isn’t the plan.” The player looked up from his locker and smiled coyly.
Two games does not a season make, but what these two wins have done is prove to the players inside the Magic locker room that they can win when they apply themselves defensively, and they can play with anyone in the NBA, even the top two teams in the game.
Father’s Tough Love Turned Around Sullinger’s Season
By Jessica Camerato
It’s not unusual for Satch Sullinger to travel to Boston to watch his son play for the Celtics. Over the past two seasons he has become a familiar face around TD Garden, often coming to town for long home stands at a time. When Satch decided to visit Jared in late January, the 21-year-old thought his dad was coming to check in on him. Turns out Satch was traveling to put him in check.
Satch didn’t like what he had been seeing during games. The attitude, the expressions, they were not up to the standard he had set for his children when it comes to professionalism. Just weeks after leaving from a month-long stay, he returned to Massachusetts to let his displeasure be known.
NBA Power Rankings: Clippers Sailing
By Moke Hamilton
Commissioner Adam Silver’s first NBA All-Star Weekend is nigh, and thanks to him, the same can be said for Anthony Davis. As we take a look back at Week 15 of the Association, it is Davis who has been named the All-Star replacement for the injured Kobe Bryant, and it is Commissioner Silver that should be commended for what amounts to an excellent choice.
Another excellent choice would be the Indiana Pacers and their opting to roll the dice on Andrew Bynum. After coming to terms with the enigmatic seven-footer, the Pacers remain our top dogs in the Eastern Conference, but now, obviously have another player who, if healthy, can help them on what we expect to be a deep playoff run.
But as of this moment, for three weeks running, it is the Oklahoma City Thunder who are not only running, but crashing and rolling, as well. The winningest team in the league at this point still trail those Pacers by mere percentage points, but Kevin Durant’s near triple-double in Sunday’s showdown with Carmelo Anthony’s New York Knicks has done nothing more than put more room between Durant and his peers as the Most Valuable Player conversation continues in earnest.
Jazz Could Crash Trade Deadline Party
By Lang Greene
There’s no way around it. This is a rebuilding year for the Utah Jazz, one where the organization is allowing their young core of Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke to gain experience and learn on the fly. While some franchises, such as Brooklyn and New York, have struggled to live up to the lofty expectations of their respective preseason hype, Utah is right where most slotted them to be.
The Jazz (17-33) are owners of the second worst record in the Western Conference this season, but if the team gets its personnel decisions right over the next six months, a big improvement in 2015 is undoubtedly on the horizon.
There are many variables to pulling off a successful NBA rebuilding project, but here are three essentials: significant talent on rookie scale deals, draft assets and salary cap room to maneuver.
On paper, the Jazz are positioned strongly on all of these fronts.
With the February 20 trade deadline just over a week away, the Jazz are strongly positioned to become an active player in the market festivities with a plethora of veteran players on expiring contracts.
Potential Trading Partners for Knicks in a Carmelo Trade
By Tommy Beer
Let’s start by fast-forwarding 12 months into the future… One year from now, what’s the best-case scenario for the New York Knicks? Could they be 10 games better than they are this season? Could they be a few games above .500? Even under ideal circumstances, could they possibly be considered a championship contender?
Keep in mind: Not even including Carmelo Anthony, New York’s 2014-15 team salary will still exceed $70 million – including $49 million committed to the trio of Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani for the 2014-15 season. Thus, Knicks GM Steve Mills will have very limited roster flexibility this summer. Because New York will be over the cap, they will not be able to reel in any significant free agents. They also don’t have either their first or second-round pick to improve the roster.
This is something Anthony will have to consider this summer when he has to make a life-altering decision in July. Will Anthony be willing to essentially sacrifice another year of his prime? Has the Knicks organization exhibited an ability to build a winner?
If Healthy, Pau Gasol Remains Suns’ Best Option
By Jabari Davis
When we last heard of the Pau Gasol to Phoenix rumors, it appeared the Suns were souring on the idea of giving in to the Lakers’ reported desire to acquire a particular first-round pick (closer to middle of the round) of the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft. Either that, or they are truly playing hardball with the Lakers while awaiting Gasol’s re-evaluation of his injured groin scheduled to follow the All-Star break.
The reality is, while Gasol’s post productivity and veteran leadership could be precisely what the Suns need as they head into what they hope results in a playoff run, their potential four first-round picks in the upcoming draft give them more options than perhaps any other team in the league to complete a deal for an available player of their choosing.
Eric Gordon, Milwaukee Bucks a Potential Match?
By Yannis Koutroupis
We’re officially one week away from the NBA’s trade deadline and as a result there are a lot of talks about potential transactions going on throughout the league. Here’s a look at the latest rumors to cross the wire:
According to Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times, the Milwaukee Bucks were playing close attention to New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon last night. They could have stood to pay him a little more attention defensively, as he dropped 21 points on them in a 102-98 Pelicans win, but that’s not the kind of attention Woelfel was alluding to.
A Warped Sports Fantasy Land
By Travis Heath
As someone who works with 19-year-olds on a daily basis, I am persistently reminded how their brains are still developing. As a college professor it is a true privilege to watch young people grow and gain a more stable sense of self. Within that process though, there is much fragility.
Our society erroneously assumes that adolescents become adults the moment they turn 18. Neuroscience paints a different picture and reminds us that a brain is not fully mature until age 24 or 25. Perhaps that is what is so disturbing to me about what happened at Texas Tech last week.
Bulls Might Not Amnesty Boozer
By Joel Brigham
Death, taxes, and the Chicago Bulls using the amnesty provision to cut ties with Carlos Boozer this summer. All of them are about as certain as things come in life, though on the TNT broadcast of the Bulls/Nets game Thursday night, Craig Sager dropped a little bombshell that has since shaken Bulls fans to their cores:
Chicago might not amnesty Boozer this summer after all.
Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance
Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.
Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.
The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.
As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.
For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.
“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”
Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.
He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.
The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.
“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”
Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.
He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.
“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”
Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.
Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.
If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.
For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.
“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.