For most of the NBA’s history, talented centers have frequently been crucial centerpieces for championship teams. Having a top-tier center was all but essential for sustained success. This was especially true during the NBA’s formative years. For instance, from 1957 through 1980, 22 of the 23 players named MVP were centers. Yes, only once over the course of that 23-year period did a non-center (Oscar Robertson in 1964) take home MVP honors. And in the 1990s, big men were again front and center. For instance, in 1993-94 (following Michael Jordan’s first retirement) four centers finished in the top-five in MVP voting (Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing).
However, today’s NBA is far different in many ways. Traditionally dominant back-to-the-basket centers are all but extinct. Guards and wings dominate the league. A center hasn’t taken home MVP honors since the early 2000s. In fact, over the last 10 years, only once has a center even cracked the top three in MVP voting.
Nonetheless, many bigs still play an undeniably important role on many great teams throughout the league. As Pat Riley was famously fond of saying: “No rebounds, no rings.” That old adage still holds true today. Furthermore, the best teams in the NBA consistently rank in the top-10 in defensive efficiency. Rim protectors and big men that patrol the paint are often the last line of defense.
Thus, centers and power forwards still hold plenty of value, especially for teams that have plenty of complimentary pieces but are missing a burly big man to help anchor the offense and defense.
Fortunately, for teams such as the Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors who may need such a player to help push them over the top, there are number of quality centers that will likely be available (for the right price) on the open market in the coming months. The NBA’s trade deadline is now less than two months away and many offseason signings become eligible to be traded on December 15th, which increases the chances of deals being discussed and, eventually, consummated.
Here is a list of the most valued and desired big men that may potentially be on the block:
DeMarcus Cousins – Sacramento Kings:
It’s extremely rare that a player as talented as Cousins is available via trade. However, the clock is ticking on the Kings, who have some very difficult decisions to make in the very near future. DMC’s current contract expires at the end of next season, which means he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018 unless the Kings sign him to an extension prior to that date.
The relationship between Sacramento and Cousins has been rocky at times, to say the least. He has failed to co-exist with a number of different head coaches. Cousins’ inability to control his temper has also resulted in a league-leading nine technical fouls already this season. And looking at the big picture, the Kings have yet to qualify for the postseason even once in the six seasons he has spent in Sacramento.
On the flip side of the coin, it could easily be argued that Cousins has been a victim of the dysfunction in the Kings organization. More importantly, Cousins may be the most physically gifted center in the NBA today. There simply isn’t anything he can’t do on a basketball court. He is on pace to become the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000-01 to average at least 28 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per game over the course of a full season. In fact, dating back to 1975, there have been only five players to average 28/10/3: Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Karl Malone and Shaq.
For obvious reasons, Cousins will be extremely costly for any team willing to engage the Kings in trade talks. Still, Sacramento is in a tough position. If they don’t trade him and then fail to re-sign him in 2018, it would be a crippling blow for the franchise, one from which it would extremely difficult to recover. If they are going to move him, it would behoove them to do so sooner rather than later. If they attempted to trade him in 2018, he would be viewed only as a rental. They would be able to ask for far more in return if they would be willing to trade him this season.
Greg Monroe – Milwaukee Bucks:
It has been a disappointing season for Monroe in Milwaukee. He hasn’t started a single game and was banished to coach Jason Kidd’s doghouse last month. For a while, he was the odd man out in the middle (behind John Henson and Miles Plumlee) and seeing very limited playing time. He was even surprisingly slapped with a DNP-CD on November 17th.
He has played a bit better of late and has earned more consistent playing time. Still, his numbers are well below his career averages. Over his last 15 games, Monroe is averaging just 8.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 0.3 blocks.
Monroe has a player option in his contract that will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent in July of 2017. Considering his reduced role in Milwaukee and the incredible contracts secured by even mediocre players this past summer as the salary cap continues to rise, it would be surprising if Monroe did not opt out in July. As a result, it is safe to assume the Bucks will be very motivated sellers at the deadline, hoping to move Monroe in exchange for assets that could advance their rebuilding efforts. Still just 26 years old, Monroe averaged over 15 points and nine rebounds per game in each of his final four seasons in Detroit. There will likely be plenty of interested suitors if the Bucks’ asking price is reasonable.
Nerlens Noel / Jahlil Okafor – Philadelphia 76ers:
The Sixers have four young centers on their roster: Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Richaun Holmes. Three of them (Noel, Okafor and Embiid) were drafted in the top half of the lottery. Now that all three are (almost) finally healthy, coach Brett Brown is tasked with the very difficult job of figuring out how to distribute minutes in an attempt to keep them all happy. Noel let his feeling be known on the eve of training camp back in October.
“I don’t see a way of it working. It’s just a logjam,” Noel said. “You’ve got three talented centers that can play 30-plus minutes a night and three centers can’t play 30 minutes a night. That’s that. Things need to be situated. Obviously, somebody’s got to be moved around. It’s a tough situation, but I can only say so much because I have no say and no power.”
Noel said this before Embiid started playing incredibly well once the regular season commenced. Embiid is the run-away favorite to take home the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award. His per-36 minute averages are mind-boggling: 27.8 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.9 blocks. It is safe to assume that Embiid is now untouchable. Consequently, the Sixers will likely focus on attempting to move Noel or Okafor. Okafor is under team control on his rookie contract for at least two more seasons, whereas Noel will be a restricted free agent this summer.
Okafor had a roller-coaster rookie campaign. He had a number of issues off the court and struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor. However, Okafor was arguably even better than advertised offensively. In fact, Okafor became just the sixth player in NBA history to average at least 17 points and seven rebounds while shooting above 50 percent from the floor, all before turning 21. Per Basketball-reference.com, the other five members of that exclusive club are Magic Johnson, Adrian Dantley, Chris Weber, Shaquille O’Neal and Karl-Anthony Towns. This season, Okafor has been hampered by his own injury issues and has struggled as a sophomore. However, he still possesses the potential to develop into one of the NBA’s truly elite low-post scorers.
When healthy, Noel is one of the more versatile and athletic defensive-minded big men in the NBA. In 2014-15, he became the first rookie in NBA history to average at least 1.7 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. Noel was back at it again last season, patrolling the paint in Philadelphia, leading the 76ers in defensive rebounds and steals and was second on the team in blocks. His offensive game is limited, but he could flourish in the right situation.
Kenneth Faried – Denver Nuggets:
Like the Sixers, the Nuggets simply have too many bigs crowded in their frontcourt. Faried, Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic are all averaging between 21 and 24 minutes per game. They also have Danilo Gallinari playing 35 minutes a night and Wilson Chandler at 30.8, in addition to Darrell Arthur and Juan Hernangomez seeing 12-plus minutes per game off the bench.
Faried is the player most likely to be dealt in order to alleviate the logjam. Both Jokic and Nurkic on are making less than $3 million this season and next. Faried is set to make $12.9 million in 2017-18 and $13.8 million in 2018-19. He’s averaging career-lows in points (nine) and minutes (22.4), while also averaging fewer than five defensive rebounds per game for the first time since his rookie campaign. Nonetheless, he has shown intermittent flashes of excellence, specifically the energy and tenacity that earned him his large contract. He’s played over 22 minutes in 15 games this season and posted a double-double in five of those contests.
Brook Lopez – Brooklyn Nets:
It seems as though Lopez’s name has been bandied about in the rumor mill going on three years straight. In some respects, it seems logical for the Nets to trade away their best player for a package that facilitates their ongoing rebuild. However, the Celtics own Brooklyn’s first-round pick each of the next two years, so the Nets don’t have the same motivation to strip down their roster and bottom out as do many of the other teams near the bottom of the NBA barrel.
Lopez was already one the most dangerous offensive centers in the league, and this season he has added the three-point shot to his arsenal. Coming into this year, Lopez had made a total of three three-pointers over the first eight seasons of his career (487 games). This season, through just 21 games, Lopez has knocked down 42 triples. He is one of just four players with at least 40 three-pointers and 30 blocks this season, joining DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant and Kristaps Porzingis.
Tyson Chandler – Phoenix Suns:
Chandler has been a rebounding machine this season, especially of late. He averaged 11.3 rebounds per game in October, then 12 in November. For December, he’s up to 13 boards per contest. In fact, Chandler has pulled down 44 rebounds in the Suns’ last two games alone. His contract isn’t appealing (he’ll make an average of $13 million per year over the next two seasons) but that is a bit easier to swallow with the cap increasing.
Andrew Bogut – Dallas Mavericks:
Bogut is on the shelf at the moment, dealing with a bone bruise in his right knee which could keep him sidelined through the end of the month. Staying healthy is obviously a major issue, but he is a force, especially on the defensive end, whenever he is even remotely close to 100 percent. He’s playing out the last year of his contract, so if he is back on the court and playing well in February, he could be intriguing to a team that is looking to rent an elite rim protector for the final few months of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Nikola Vucevic – Orlando Magic:
Over the past two seasons (2014-15 and 2015-16), Vucevic averaged 18.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.3 assists. It certainly seemed he was viewed as a franchise cornerstone and the Magic’s center of the present and the future. Then, on draft day this past summer, the Magic traded for Serge Ibaka. But Ibaka can play power forward, so that wasn’t a huge deal, right?
Well, in July, Orlando signed Bismack Biyombo to a four-year, $72 million contract.
Vucevic has now been coming off the bench consistently for the first time since his rookie season. As a result, his scoring average has plummeted (12.2 points per game) and he hasn’t been able to find his groove this season. He’s locked into a relatively cap-friendly contract, making less than $13 million per year through 2018-19. If the Magic would be willing to listen to offers, there would be plenty of teams willing to take Vooch off their hands.
Timofey Mozgov – Los Angeles Lakers:
Many pundits panned L.A.’s signing of Mozgov as soon as it was announced and, unfortunately for the Lakers, the early returns have not been overly encouraging. Mozgov, at 4.7 rebounds per game, is currently fifth on the Lakers in rebounding, behind Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Tarik Black and Luol Deng.
Joakim Noah / Willy Hernangomez / Kyle O’Quinn – New York Knicks:
Depth is a good problem to have, but it’s an issue nonetheless. Noah is signed to a massive contract and it was assumed he would handle the bulk of minutes at the five and do most of the heavy lifting down low. However, Kyle O’Quinn is playing some of the best basketball of his career and has earned the right to increased playing time. Over his last six games, O’Quinn’s per-36 minute averages are undeniably impressive: 16.3 points, 16 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, while shooting 64.8 percent from the floor. In addition, he now leads the team in PER (21.5) this season.
Hernangomez has been also been a pleasant surprise for the Knicks. He currently leads the team in both True Shooting percentage (60.6) and Effective Field Goal percentage (57.9) and ranks first on the Knicks in defensive rebounds per 100 possessions (11.6).
Add to the equation that the team’s best player, Kristaps Porzingis, is at his best when playing at the five, and the situation only gets murkier.
If Derrick Rose’s injury is in any way serious, might the Knicks consider trading from their surplus of bigs to add depth in the backcourt?
G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts
David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.
Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.
Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.
Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.
With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.
1. Christian Wood
Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.
His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.
2. Jameel Warney
Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.
With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.
3. Melo Trimble
After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.
He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.
4. Joel Bolomboy
Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.
At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.
5. Jeremy Evans
Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.
With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.
Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.
NBA Daily: Potential Trade Targets to Get the Sixers to the Playoffs
On the cusp of a playoff appearance for the first time in six years, the Philadelphia 76ers could cement their postseason status with a move at the trade deadline.
At times this season, the Philadelphia 76ers look like they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best teams. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at their disposal, along with capable three-point shooters, the Sixers have shown flashes of being a force to be reckoned with.
And at other times, well, they look like a discombobulated young team, with serious flaws in the construction of its roster.
Despite the lapses they display, the Sixers are still right in the thick of the playoff race. Currently, at 21-20, they hold a half-game advantage over the Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.
While they await the return of top overall pick Markelle Fultz, who has still yet to hit the court after being shut down earlier this season with a shoulder injury, the Sixers will continue to miss depth on the wing and a particular skill set that holds them back from winning games they seem to have locked up with double-digit leads. For all the greatness that is Embiid, and all of the promise that is Simmons, when the former isn’t on the court, the latter struggles to shoulder the scoring load due to his inability to shoot jump shots.
Initially, that’s what Fultz was drafted for. A player that head coach Brett Brown has said many times before, has the talent to tie everything together with the Sixers’ roster. What he means by that is Fultz represents a scorer from multiple levels of the court who forces the defense to lock in on, potentially leaving the teams’ shooters open on the wing.
Without Fultz, and when Embiid is on the bench, the team lacks a player who can put the ball on the floor, create and knock down jumpers. Although long-term success is still very much the attention for Philadelphia, that doesn’t discount the fact that a team that finished with 10 wins just two seasons ago is on the verge of making a playoff appearance for the first time since 2011-12 with a core of young, promising players.
Because of that possibility, and because of the clear holes in team’s makeup that could prevent this from happening, the Sixers could become an interesting player at the trade deadline — especially considering the names that appear available, according to reports.
It’s no secret that Sixers’ president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wants to keep financial flexibility heading into this summer, that’s the main reason players like J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson were signed to one-year deals last offseason. Before the team has to start signing their own players to big extensions, the Sixers are in a unique position where they not only have elite homegrown talent, but the money to complement those players the best they can. Because of that, any deal that would return a player with money on the books past this season seems unlikely.
That being said, it just so happens that two players potentially on the trading block right now fulfill the Sixers’ most crucial need, and also aren’t on the hook for money past this year. Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that Rodney Hood could be moved before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and that multiple teams are expressing interest in his services.
Along with Hood, Stein also reported that Lou Williams, who’s been the center of many trade talks around the league given his career-year and impending free agent status, was involved in specific discussions that would send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What should intrigue the Sixers about these two players is not only their ability on the court but also their flexibility off of it.
Let’s start with Hood. Before the rise of Donovan Mitchell this season, Hood looked to be in a position to assume the role as the dominant scorer on the Utah Jazz following Gordon Hayward’s departure. At just 25 years old and in the final year of his rookie contract, Hood may not be worth the price tag for Utah this summer considering their find with Mitchell.
Should the Jazz actually move on from Hood, it’s unclear what they would ask for in return at this point. Yes, Hood his an impending free agent, which could diminish his value. But the team trading for him would assume his Bird Rights, therefore giving them a better shot at retaining him this summer should they choose to do so.
The best part about his potential fit in Philadelphia is that he fits the timeline of the rebuild while also addressing a need in the present. Being just 25, Hood fits alongside the core of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Dario Saric and Robert Covington as a young player. If the Sixers were to miss out on whoever they were planning to target with their financial flexibility this summer, Hood would still be there to plug in for years with a contract extension.
Shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc this season, and displaying the track record of being able to fill up the score sheet, Hood could become the go-to-scorer for Philadelphia when Embiid isn’t on the court, or late in games when they need to stop an opposing team’s run.
While he appears to at least be on the table as of now, Hood is certainly worth checking in on from the Sixers’ standpoint.
Now, onto Williams. Drafted by Philadelphia all the back in 2005 with the 45th overall pick, Williams is enjoying the best season of his career for the Los Angeles Clippers. At 31, he doesn’t represent the long-term upside that Hood does, but for this season alone, bringing Williams on to this current Sixers’ roster could be that extra jolt to get them cleanly into the postseason.
Averaging 23 points per game and shooting 41 percent from downtown, Williams fits the role as an iso-scorer better than any player on the Sixers’ current roster. Alongside Simmons and Embiid, Williams could assume the role Fultz was supposed to this season.
Another interesting ripple to the potential Williams fit is that he was on the last Sixers’ roster to make the playoffs. Adding him to this roster would bring his career full circle. This summer, Williams is most likely going to test the market and given his age and potential price tag he may not fit so well into the Sixers’ plans moving forward. But with his history with the club and city, getting him on board for another playoff run with an exciting young team could arguably help in the negotiation process this offseason.
Neither of these potential trades are slam dunks, and it remains to be seen if either player will even be moved. But for where the Sixers stand currently, coupled with their growing postseason expectations, checking in around the league on trade targets that can fulfill obvious needs should be at the forefront of Colangelo’s agenda for the next few weeks.
Payton Blocking Out Trade Talk, Believes Magic Will Turn It Around
Spencer Davies sits down with Elfrid Payton to discuss his fourth year, trade rumors and a trying season for Orlando in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
It’s hard for a team to look for positives when it’s living in the basement.
The Orlando Magic have had a rough go of it this year. They’re 13-32 at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve have had a ton of setbacks, and they currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating.
There is a bright spot hidden in there, though, and head coach Frank Vogel sees it growing as the season progresses.
“We’re frustrated with our record, but we’re encouraged with the development we’ve had with our young players,” Vogel said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “Aaron Gordon, Mario [Hezonja], and [Elfrid Payton] have all had strong individual seasons and continue to get better. All those guys are improving individually and at some point, it’s gonna lead to more Ws.”
While Gordon stands out more to some than the others because of his star appeal, Payton is right up there with him as far as making the next step goes.
“Elfrid’s shooting the ball better from the perimeter and at the rim,” Vogel said. “He’s worked on his left hand. He’s worked on his floaters. Shooting 52 percent from the field and that’s pretty darn good for a point guard, and the 39 percent from the three as well.”
Those are your more traditional statistics that don’t address the leap he’s taken in efficiency. Sure, Payton’s scoring the same amount of points per game, but it’s the way he’s been getting that’s been most noticeable.
According to Basketball-Reference and NBA.com, he’s making nearly 70 percent of his tries between 0-3 feet and ranks third among point guards in restricted field goal percentage (min. four attempts).
But Payton doesn’t like to evaluate himself using numbers, so he doesn’t know how to feel about how he’s played for Orlando this year.
“It’s tough to say because I like to measure my success by winning and we haven’t been doing that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “So tough to say.”
He’s not kidding. Since starting out the season 8-4, the Magic have taken a hard fall, only winning five games since November 10. In this stretch, there have been three hefty losing streaks—two 9-game slides and most recently a 7-game skid.
“Not to make excuses—we had a lot of injuries,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of what happened. “Haven’t really been playing with the group of guys that we started the season with, so kinda derailed us a little bit.”
As the losses pile up, so does the chatter. Indicated by multiple recent reports, Orlando has made it clear that many players on the roster are available on the trade block. Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, and Payton were recently brought up as names who could possibly on the move if the right deal presents itself.
When asked about the rumblings, Vogel claimed he doesn’t have a message for his guys.
“They understand it’s part of the business,” he said. “Just focus on playing the game.”
Like his coach, Payton doesn’t have a reaction to the noise.
“I don’t get caught up into the things like that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Today I’m an Orlando Magic. I play for the Orlando Magic and I’m gonna give them 100 percent of me. I’m somebody that likes to finish what I started, so I definitely would like to see this through and try to turn this organization around.”
So who does he see on this team that can help jump-start the process in flipping the script?
“Everybody,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I like Vuc. I like AG. Evan [Fournier] is somebody who can fill it up. T Ross is somebody who can fill it up when healthy. I think we have a lot of talent on this team. Even the rookies—Wes [Iwundu] plays well for us in stretches. Jon [Isaac] when he was playing he’d do well.
“You could see the potential there. So I think we have a lot of weapons on this team. I’m very confident in the group we have here. I think we have a lot of talent, we just have to do it.”
Saying you’re going to right the ship is one thing. Actually doing it is a whole other challenge. With where the Magic sit in the standings currently, their work is cut out for them. That being said, Payton isn’t giving up.
In fact, he’s still got his eyes on making it to the postseason, and it starts with him.
“Definitely trying to get a run going,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Make a playoff push. It’s definitely not out of sight right now, especially with the way the East is. We win a few games and we right back in the thick of things.
“Do whatever I can to help us to get more wins, man. I think that’s what it all boils down to. I figure if I’m playing well, that means we’re winning for the most part.”
Defense matters the most, and it’s something Payton and his group know they need to get better at if they have a chance to play past mid-April.
“Just be tied in together a little bit more,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I think sometimes we have too many breakdowns on the backside. So just being more in-tune with each other.”
One thing is for sure—Orlando is going through this difficult time as a team, but refuses to fold. Payton says Vogel has constantly stayed in their ears with uplifting advice.
“Keep fighting,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of his words. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No one’s gonna feel sorry for you, so just keep fighting.”