It’s early February, and in the NBA world, that means it’s deadline time. With just a few short weeks to go until the NBA’s trade deadline, any talks which are going to take place before the offseason will begin to intensify over these next several days.
The Northwest Division is a fascinating place to start when assessing where various teams might look as the deadline looms. The division is chock full of young teams, and with the possible exception of Minnesota, each group still has at least a puncher’s chance at the postseason (even the Wolves aren’t entirely out of it). Let’s break down each team in the division, in order of record, and see what their stock looks like headed into the deadline.
Utah Jazz (1st in Northwest, 33-19 record)
The Jazz have mostly equaled or surpassed decently high preseason expectations and sit atop the division. They also currently have a home playoff seed for the first time in over a half decade. They’re doing so with perhaps the deepest roster in the entire league – so deep, in fact, that it’s begun posing real questions about certain future elements, even as the Jazz have once again been hit hard by the injury bug.
Whether any of these major questions materializes into an active approach around the deadline remains to be seen, but given this team’s management and history, it feels unlikely.
Guys like Derrick Favors and Alec Burks have been whispered as potential trade pieces, but that’s mostly by media types; little has been substantiated publicly, and the Jazz are among the most conservative teams out there. Don’t rule them out for certain, though, as the big moves they have made in recent years have mostly come out of nowhere and won’t hit the rumor mill too far before they actually happen. But safe money on Utah is that they either make no moves, or simply look to offload one of their extra point guards for a small return.
Names to Watch:
Shelvin Mack: Mack was rumored as a potential fit in Cleveland as a backup, with the same report stating that he was “definitely available” from Utah. Mack’s contract expires at the end of the season, and inconsistent production this year has led to him barely seeing the court in recent weeks. If he’s moved, the return should be minimal.
Raul Neto: Same story, only Neto hasn’t been specifically rumored in any deals, and likely has even less value than Mack. Frankly, there might be a greater chance Neto is cut than traded, if the Jazz really need that spot.
Gordon Hayward: Hayward’s name only appears on this list because he’s a likely expiring contract, with a player option for next season he’ll certainly decline. But that’s the extent of it – Hayward will not be traded under any circumstances. The Jazz are confident he will re-sign in the offseason. Ditto for George Hill.
Jeff Withey: Withey is another expiring who might fetch the Jazz a very limited pick or some other consideration, but even though he’s mostly in DNP territory when both Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are healthy, he’s been a valuable security blanket if one of those guys goes down – which has been often over the last 12 months. It seems likely his value to Utah is greater than what they could get in return before he hits the open market.
Oklahoma City Thunder (2nd in Northwest, 30-23 record)
The Thunder is one of the toughest teams to read come deadline time. They’d certainly like to improve on the wing, but whether they have the assets to get there is questionable, and one of their top rumored targets in Rudy Gay is now out for the year. Russell Wesbrook’s future in town hangs over any moves they might make.
They also have a few future first round picks tied up in some complicated pick swaps, which could make any deals that don’t sacrifice current rotation players hard to find. Their only young assets who seem able to fetch a real return are point guard Cameron Payne and big man Domantas Sabonis, but the former is the Westbrook successor should Russ ever leave, and the latter was a big part of the investment the Thunder made by trading away Serge Ibaka over the offseason. It’s tough to see the Thunder swinging big unless a team has major interest in a guy like Enes Kanter, which feels unlikely at his salary range and given his recent hand injury.
Names to Watch:
Anthony Morrow: Morrow is only on the fringes of the rotation, but he’s a cheap expiring contract who can shoot. Some contender always seems to find themselves in need of a guy like this, and with Alex Abrines and his own shooting prowess locked up long term, maybe the Thunder would entertain moving Morrow for a pittance, or as part of a larger package.
Joffrey Lauvergne: Lauvergne is a young, promising big whose restricted free agency is still ahead, but it’s difficult to know whether he has any real trade value.
Kyle Singler: Not a particularly attractive piece, but could be useful for salary matching, if it was needed.
Enes Kanter: Highly unlikely, but only on here because he would appear to be the only high-dollar contract the Thunder might be okay with separating from if the right return was on the table. Guys like Westbrook, Oladipo and Adams all are completely off the table.
Denver Nuggets (3rd in Northwest, 23-28 record)
If they’re so inclined, the Nuggets could likely be the most active team in the league around the deadline. They have the pieces to move in whichever direction they want: They could send some young assets and picks for an established player, go in the opposite direction and send one of several vets for a younger package, or pick some hybrid route.
Complicating matters somewhat is the West’s ridiculously weak race for the eight seed. In a normal year, this sort of record would make Denver’s decision easy: They could sell of one of their higher-priced veterans, get the young guys even more time on the court together and be happy with a good lottery pick.
But entering play on February 7, the Nuggets sit in the final West playoff seed. How will that impact their thinking? Will general manager Tim Connelly view this as a chance to accelerate his rebuild, or will he take the patient approach and prioritize development over the right to be massacred by the Warriors in round one? He could always stand pat and do very little – the Nuggets are in a great future position almost regardless of what they do, barring a disastrous move.
Names to Watch:
Wilson Chandler: Chandler has long been considered one of the most likely trade candidates, and he recently expressed at least some level of displeasure with his fluctuating role in Denver. He has another year left on his deal after this, plus a player option for 2018-19, meaning he’s more than just a rental. As a versatile swingman who can hit the three and play two-way ball, he’s one of the most likely individual names in the league to move before the deadline.
Kenneth Faried: Faried is another of the trifecta of Denver veterans who has been rumored as a trade piece for multiple years now. He still has two full years left on his deal after this one, and though he’s a moderate overpay at this point, there’s still room for his role in the league. To some degree, though, it feels like this move would already have been made if it was going to happen.
Danilo Gallinari: The third member of the Vet. Trade Rumors crew. Gallo only has this year left on his deal before a player option he seems likely to decline, so he’s a pure rental if anyone will pony up for him.
Jusuf Nurkic: As star youngster Nikola Jokic continues to light the world on fire, there’s less room for Nurkic in a crowded frontcourt. He’s young enough that he could still fetch a real return, or be part of a larger deal.
Will Barton: Same goes for Barton to some degree, who is less useful with guys like Gary Harris and Jamal Murray filling similar roles. He has another year on his deal after this one, so he could be more than a rental.
Portland Trail Blazers (4th in Northwest, 22-30 record)
The Blazers are another team with a ton of potential options. After spending a whole boatload of money over the offseason for a collection of parts that hasn’t really fit as well as one would have hoped, the Blazers are left with several guys who are theoretically close to fair value on their contracts. They could get involved in some fireworks.
Of their summer spending projects, it seems like only Evan Turner is truly un-moveable. Allen Crabbe is close, but with tons of years left for a relatively young guy, some team with space to fill (think 76ers) might take a shot at him for the right considerations. The Blazers have about six other guys who could fit into a hypothetical deal, and you have to figure they’re willing to listen to fair offers. These pieces haven’t quite fit, but the right shuffling of this deck might change fortunes.
And then, of course, there’s the potential for something that’s only been whispered to this point, and never with any connection to a real move: A true tear-down, a.k.a. a trade of either Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum.
The pair is devastating offensively, but their defensive liabilities together have begun to make some wonder if this pairing can ever be a true contender given their huge combined salaries. Both would fetch a huge return in a trade, though these sorts of things rarely happen at the deadline – even if the Blazers were looking this route (highly unlikely, it’s just too early), it seems like we wouldn’t hear about it until the offseason. McCollum’s goofy salary under extension rules also makes a trade involving him tough to consummate without a third team involved.
Names to Watch:
The mid-tier glut: We won’t even separate them, because from a value standpoint, so many of these guys are relatively close together. Each of Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, Al-Farouq Aminu, Festus Ezeli (unlikely given injury status), Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh and Mason Plumlee could conceivably fetch some value from the right team. Each have years left on deals that range from fair to moderate overpays, and while the Blazers are over the cap currently, their flexibility makes tons of potential deals realistic. Don’t be surprised to see any of these guys move.
Minnesota Timberwolves (5th in Northwest, 19-33 record)
The Wolves were making their own charge at that sad West eight seed, but the wheels may have fallen off that train with the devastating news of Zach LaVine’s season-ending injury. The Wolves don’t really have anyone capable of duplicating his 19 points a night, nor the spacing he provides to a team that desperately needs it when Ricky Rubio is in the game.
Speaking of Rubio, he’s by far the most likely piece to move out of Minnesota. The Wolves don’t really appear poised for too many other big moves, unless a rebuild-accelerator like a Jimmy Butler became truly available, and even then, one of their best chips for such a deal, LaVine, now has a slightly more uncertain future. The Wolves could make a few other moves on the margins, but with LaVine done for the year and a high lottery slot seemingly well within reach, it seems most likely Minnesota lets the chips fall this year before re-assessing over the summer.
Names to Watch:
Ricky Rubio: The source of trade rumors for multiple seasons, Rubio now also has a true successor behind him in the form of Kris Dunn. The Wolves seem ready to hand the keys to Dunn for the future, and they’ll be willing to take a reasonable return for Rubio if one becomes available. It hasn’t yet, though, and he’s reportedly been on the market a long time.
Shabazz Muhammad: Muhammad was recently linked to Phoenix’s P.J. Tucker by Basketball Insiders’ Michael Scotto, and he still has enough team control and skill to perhaps interest a suitor. He’ll be a restricted free agent after this season.
Nikola Pekovic: Pek is out for the year and off most radars, but he does have another year on his deal left, and some team might try to buy super low on him. Unlikely, though.
With the race for the Western Conference’s eighth seed quite competitive, the Northwest Division might see a shakeup.
Stay tuned, as the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline is only 16 days away.
NBA Daily: Daniel Hamilton Hopes to Stick in OKC
Oklahoma City’s Daniel Hamilton speaks to Basketball Insiders about his time at summer league and sticking in the NBA.
There are usually two main categories of guys who participate in the NBA’s summer league.
The players who are armed with guaranteed contracts are usually looking to expand on their game and test out new skills. Then there are the players who don’t have that kind of security, the ones who are looking for an opportunity to earn an invite to training camp in hopes of securing a coveted roster spot in the NBA.
For Daniel Hamilton, he kind of falls into both of those categories.
Hamilton just completed his rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was signed last summer to a two-way contract and he split time between the Thunder and their G-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue. He joined the Thunder’s summer league team in Las Vegas, his third consecutive summer with them.
“I’m working on getting stronger, lowering my turnovers, and continue getting reps up in the gym,” Hamilton told Basketball Insiders. “I’m getting shots up and different things like that.”
Hamilton was drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the 56th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft but was immediately traded to the Thunder. He didn’t play with the Thunder right away though. He spent the entire 2016-2017 season with the Blue.
This past year was his second in the G-League. He finished the season as the Blue’s second-leading scorer with 16.9 points per game, behind Dakari Johnson’s 23.3. While he was on a two-way contract, he only saw action in six games with the Thunder. Most of his time was spent with the Blue.
“It was good, my first year doing the two-way deal. I had a lot of good times playing up with the pros and going down to the G-League,” Hamilton told Basketball Insiders. “The G-League was real good, being able to just go out and play and work on your game, and get wins as a team. We had a great team this past year, we finished top in our division. It was just a fun experience overall.”
This season was a bit different for Hamilton, however. It was also his first year playing a different position. Up to that point, he’d been a shooting guard. He played shooting guard as a standout at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, CA. He was a shooting guard during his two years at UConn.
But the Thunder asked him to do something a bit different when he joined the team. They asked him to play point guard. He used his second season with the Blue to test out playing a new position. He averaged 7.8 assists with the Blue, but also 4.9 turnovers as he got used to being a playmaker. He used the Las Vegas Summer League to continue that adjustment.
“It’s been pretty good. My first year of playing point guard was this past year. It’s just something that I’m trying to get used to. Just trying to stay focused on whatever happens next,” Hamilton told Basketball Insiders. “I think it helped me expand my game, being able to do more than just one thing, to be versatile.”
In Las Vegas, Hamilton came close to averaging a near triple-double. Over the course of five games, he put up 7.8 points per game, 8.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists. He’s got the skill and physical tools to be a playmaking guard at the NBA level. He’s been impressive both in the G-League and Summer League.
However, it remains to be seen what happens with him come the end of the summer. With the Thunder’s recent acquisition of both Dennis Schroder and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, it brings their roster to 15 guaranteed contracts. They’re allowed two two-way contracts, but have already used one on Deonte Burton.
They’ve got decisions to make regarding P.J Dozier, who was on a two-way last season, and rookies Hamidou Diallo and Devon Hall. Unless the Thunder can clear up a roster spot or two, it appears Hamilton will be fighting for that last two-way spot. He hopes he’s done enough to warrant strong consideration.
“The main thing is just continuing to get better and continue growing,” Hamilton told Basketball Insiders. “That’s just the number one thing to being here at summer league.”
NBA Daily: Georges Niang’s Big Break
After dominating the G-League for a year, Georges Niang has more than earned this big opportunity with the Utah Jazz, writes Ben Nadeau.
For Georges Niang, reaching professional stability was always going to be a tall order.
Even after four dominant seasons at Iowa State, the tweener forward was viewed as a draft risk. At 6-foot-8, the versatile playmaker has always scored in bunches but also struggled to find his place in the modern NBA. Despite excelling as a knockdown three-point shooter, the fundamentally sound Niang has bounced around the country looking for a long-term opportunity.
In the two seasons since he was drafted, Niang has played in 50 G-League games for three separate franchises and had his non-guaranteed contract waived twice.
As a summer league standout for the second straight offseason, Niang’s determined efforts officially paid off last week after he signed a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth about $5 million. Now with a fully-guaranteed contract under his belt for 2018-19, Niang has been eager to prove his worth both on and off the court — a newfound skill-set he happily attributes to Utah’s excellent system.
“In the Jazz organization, from top to bottom, they do a good job of nurturing guys and forming them into good leaders and things like that,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, it was really easy to transition to summer league, [I’m] really just trying to lead by example, not with just my words.
“And I think playing hard, being a good teammate and doing the right thing –I think those are three things that the Jazz really stand for.”
But his meandering path toward year-long job security wasn’t destined to end up this way — no, not at all.
Selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA Draft with the No. 50 overall pick, Niang was correctly projected as a hard-working, high-IQ contributor that could put up points on almost anybody. Unfortunately, following a low-impact rookie year with the Pacers — and some short stints with their G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, as well — Niang was waived the ensuing summer. Shortly thereafter, Niang latched on with the Golden State Warriors, where he participated in training camp and four preseason games — but, again, he was waived before the season began.
With the Santa Cruz Warriors, Niang flat-out dominated the competition for months, up until he grabbed a two-way contract from Utah in January. In total, Niang played in 41 games between Santa Cruz and the Salt Lake City Stars in 2017-18, averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals on 45.7 percent from deep over 33.9 minutes per game.
Once attached to Utah’s affiliate franchise, Niang averaged a team-high 22 points per game and finished the campaign as the 13th-best scorer in the G-League. On top of all that, Niang was both an All-Star and honored with a spot on the All-NBA G-League First Team at season’s end.
Although he would ultimately play in just nine games for the deep Western Conference roster, Niang was simply laying important groundwork for the days ahead.
This summer, Niang averaged 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three contests during Utah Summer League. Given the golden opening to impress his future would-be-employers, Niang kept things rolling in Sin City and posted similar numbers over five games. On the back of a 20-point, eight-rebound performance early on in Las Vegas, Niang embraced the chance to fight and compete for his team — five full days before the Jazz signed him to a guaranteed deal.
“It was a real physical game, but those are the games you want to play in during summer league,” Niang said. “You want to play in those types of environments, where every possession matters and you gotta make plays down the stretch — and I think we did a really good job doing that.”
Those scrappy aspirations have been a staple of Niang’s since his collegiate days at Iowa State, too. During an ultra-impressive senior year, Niang tallied 20.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the Cyclones, leading their roster to 23 wins and an eventual trip to the Sweet Sixteen. That season, Niang took home the 2016 Karl Malone Award as Division-I’s top power forward and finished with 2,228 points, the second-best mark in school history.
Any way you slice it, whether at college or in the G-League, Niang can play, the moment just needs to reveal itself — and maybe it finally has.
Of course, this new contract — one that’s only fully guaranteed in 2018-19 — doesn’t ensure Niang any playing time and he’ll have some stiff competition. Just to get on the court, he’ll need to squeeze minutes from Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles — a tough task in head coach Quin Snyder’s defense-first rotation. No matter what his role or obligations end up amounting to, Niang is ready to meet that challenge head-on.
“In the NBA, everyone has a role,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, obviously, things are gonna be peeled back and you’ll have a defined role. My role is just when I get the ball, and if I do, play-make for others or get guys open, defend multiple positions, play multiple positions on offense and knock down open shots.”
Although his past resume certainly speaks for itself, it’ll be up to Niang take his big break even further. But given his efficiency and execution at every other level, there’s little reason to doubt the forward now. Days before they signed Niang, he was asked if Utah was somewhere he could see himself for the foreseeable future — his response was precise and foreboding.
“I’d love to be here — what [the Jazz] stand for is what I’m all about. I’ve had a blast with all these guys and I’d love to keep it going.”
And now, he’ll get at least 82 more games to make his case.
NBA Daily: The Carmelo Anthony Trade is a Rare Win-Win for All Involved
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation.
The Big Three Era in Oklahoma City came and went rather quickly.
On Thursday, the Thunder reached an agreement to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Dennis Schröder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As part of a three-team deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder will also walk away with Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot while the Hawks and 76ers swap Mike Muscala and Justin Anderson.
Oklahoma City has agreed to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round pick to Atlanta for point guard Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, league sources tell ESPN. Anthony will be waived, and he will join team of his choice. Rockets are frontrunner.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 19, 2018
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation. Just as well, the trade is perhaps even more beneficial for the players involved.
While Anthony may have wanted to stay with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the trade is more than beneficial for him. After the trade goes through, the Hawks plan to buyout Anthony’s contract and he will reportedly receive the entire $27.9 million he is owed next season. Even better still, Anthony is free to join any team he wants, whether it be the Houston Rockets and friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers and friend LeBron James, or elsewhere.
With his money already in hand, Anthony could sign on the cheap as well, making negotiations with any franchise that much easier.
For the Thunder, clearing Anthony’s massive salary from their books was of paramount importance. Staring down a $150 million luxury tax bill, Sam Presti managed to move Anthony and improve the team or, at the very least, make a lateral move depending on how you look at Schröder. Even as they take back the remaining $46.5 million owed to Schröder, the Thunder will save more than $60 million next season alone. That makes the trade worth it for Oklahoma City all by itself.
Still, the move allowed them to fill a need, perhaps more important than the cash savings as they look ahead to next season. Schröder not only fortifies the Thunder bench but the point guard position behind starter Russell Westbrook as well; he is another athletic playmaker that Oklahoma City can play on the wing with confidence. And, after averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists last season, Schröder provides the Thunder offense with more firepower to compete against the other top teams in the Western Conference, a necessity if they hope to make a long playoff run.
For Schröder, the move to Oklahoma City is just as beneficial for him as it is for the team. Schröder is no longer the starter (he was unlikely to be the starter in Atlanta with Trae Young in the fold), but he can still make an impact and now he can do so for a contender.
The Hawks, as they should be, are playing the long game here. They acquired Jeremy Lin, an expiring contract, from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this offseason. After drafting Young, their guard surplus afforded them the chance to move Schröder’s deal off their books, netting them a first-round pick in the process and opening up playing time for the Young right away.
While the pick is top-14 protected (the pick becomes two second rounders if it doesn’t convey in 2022, every asset counts as the Hawks will look to add talent through the draft for years to come. With the addition of the Thunder pick, the Hawks now are owed an extra three first-round picks between the 2019 and 2022 drafts, a benefit for the Hawks whether they use those picks or trade them for already established talent. Meanwhile, Anderson, 24, presents another intriguing, and more importantly, young, option alongside the core of Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Taurean Prince.
Anderson will almost certainly receive more playing time in Atlanta as they figure out who and who can’t help the team. His time in Philadelphia was mired by injury and he never had the opportunity to show what he could do. So, whether they use him as an asset in a future trade or plan to keep him on the roster, Anderson, at the very least, will have the opportunity to show what he can do.
For the 76ers, Muscala is essentially insurance for the reneged deal with Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team but the stretch-four never signed his contract and backed out of the deal. With him out of the picture along with losing Ersan Ilyasova, Muscala was one of the few remaining options for the 76ers in that specific, stretch-big role.
Muscala doesn’t have the same shooting chops that Bjelica has, but he is younger and might have more upside alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and co. Last season, Muscala, in addition to career highs in points and rebounds, averaged a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game and hit 37.1 percent of them. While he likely won’t see the playing time he saw in Atlanta, Muscala should easily slide into a role off the bench for the 76ers. Moving Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot clears a logjam on the wing as well and will afford more minutes to Markelle Fultz (when he is ready), T.J. McConnell and rookies Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz.
As it stands, this trade made sense for all parties involved, and that alone is reason enough to consider it a win all around. While things could certainly change and hindsight is 20/20, this deal is beneficial for all three teams right now and could positively impact all three squads both next season and beyond.