Connect with us


Deadline Watch: Northwest Division

Ben Dowsett predicts how each Northwest Division team will approach the NBA’s trade deadline.

Ben Dowsett



The deadline is upon us! It’s that time of year, and as of this writing, there is one week (give or take a few hours) to go before all in-season trades need to be wrapped up and submitted to the league. Like last season, some executives expect things to come down to the wire as teams hold out their very best offers until the last minute.

The Northwest Division will be of particular interest, with teams stationed at every spot on the spectrum as far as their trade deadline goals. The Thunder are clear contenders who will look to do anything they can to make a push for the rest of the year. The Jazz are toeing the line between competing now and building for the future, and the Blazers have to decide which side of this same fence they’re on. Meanwhile, teams like the Wolves and Nuggets (despite some positive moments this year) are primarily focused on developing their young groups for the future and determining which assets stay in town and which belong elsewhere.

Let’s take a detailed look at each team’s situation leading up to the deadline. What’s their cap situation like? Who are their targets, or guys they might be looking to move? Most importantly, what are their goals? We’ll go in order of record.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Cap situation: $97 million payroll – well over the cap, cannot absorb uneven incoming salary

Needs: Two-way wing, potential backup point guard upgrade (temporary)

Outlook: Well over the cap and with limited draft resources to use in a trade, it’s unlikely the Thunder are players for any big names at the deadline. That doesn’t mean they can’t make a move, though, and they could very well be on the market, particularly if a strong 3-and-D wing were to be available. Everyone beyond Kevin Durant in OKC’s wing stable has a glaring flaw – Andre Roberson can’t hit water from a boat, Anthony Morrow can’t defend, Dion Waiters is Dion Waiters and Kyle Singler hasn’t really proven he’s worthy of rotation minutes.

The Thunder have Steve Novak’s expiring contract to trade as salary filler, and would likely be willing to part with Singler’s $4.5 million if the right thing came along, but it’s uncertain whether they’d have the salary in house to make a trade for a more established player with a higher cap hit. They’re also stuck for the moment as far as trading first-round picks – because they owe their 2016 and 2018 selections to other teams with various protections on each pick, the Stepien rule prevents them from trading their first-rounder for 2017 or 2019. They have four extra second-round picks coming in over the next few years, which could be bargaining chips, but it’s tough to get real impact players without similarly valuable on-court assets or a first-round pick.

A target like Allen Crabbe in Portland makes bits of sense, though it’s tough to say whether OKC has the assets to even get a guy like this. They could see about trying to rent Kent Bazemore from Atlanta, but the same restrictions might apply. Maybe Washington would enjoy the summer cap benefits of Novak’s expiring deal enough to send Jared Dudley if the Thunder attached something else of value for their trouble? These are limited options, all of which could be struck down in a moment if the partner weren’t willing. The Thunder will definitely keep their ears to the ground, but don’t be surprised if the best they manage is a deal for a fringe rotation player to slightly bolster their depth.

Utah Jazz

Cap situation: $62 million payroll – under the cap, can absorb uneven incoming salary

Needs: Better point guard play, potential third big upgrade

Outlook: As the Jazz make a strong push before the All-Star break for the second straight season, they’re working to maintain what’s been an excellent developmental culture while also looking to potentially make improvements to this year’s team. Dante Exum’s season-long injury left a void at the point, which remains to a large degree, and filling it requires balancing Exum’s future development with the need to convince stars like Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors that this is a winning team on the way up before those guys hit the open market in a couple years.

The Jazz have an open cap situation, meaning they have lots of flexibility for any deal they do look to make. They can retain extra incoming salary, potentially enough to be a dumping spot for a smaller contract if a team was in need and could send the right sweeteners. They also have several picks in the arsenal – all their own, plus two future late firsts (GSW in 2017 unprotected, OKC in 2018 or 2019 lottery protected) and a boatload of accumulated seconds – with which to sweeten the pot if a player who could help now becomes available.

The tricky part is finding targets who both help now and could be out of the way when Exum grows into his own. A guy like Jeff Teague has been a rumored target for several teams, the Jazz included, and would be a good fit on both ends of this spectrum – he definitely helps the team now, and with his contract coming off the books in summer 2017, would be out the door quickly enough for Exum to assume full control if he becomes the player Utah expects. The Jazz might have interest for the right package, whether it be Teague or another of his ilk (guys like Jrue Holiday or George Hill also mostly fit the bill), but they won’t be sending core assets like Exum, Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood or Gordon Hayward for temporary fixes. They have plenty of assets and the space to get a deal done, so now the question will be can they find one that checks all the right internal boxes? Stay tuned here.

Portland Trail Blazers

Cap situation: $49 million payroll – miles under the cap, can absorb huge amounts of salary

Needs: Wide open

Outlook: The Blazers are in perhaps the most flexible situation of any team in the league at the deadline. With nearly $20 million in space below the cap available, they could mathematically figure in virtually any trade they felt like being part of, including facilitating a massive salary dump or two if they were so inclined. They also have virtually no untouchable pieces outside stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum (and perhaps sophomore Noah Vonleh), meaning they could get involved and look to swap some of their young pieces for others that might fit better.

It all depends what Portland wants to do, and they’ll get plenty of phone calls. Teams looking to dump money only have a couple true outlets available, and the Blazers are at the top of the list. Maybe they could get a pick or a young asset from Boston to carry David Lee’s salary if the Celtics need the space for another deal? They could be the third team in a bigger deal in a heartbeat due to their financial flexibility, and GM Neil Olshey is savvy enough to make sure he extracts assets from teams if this becomes the case. Shoot, they could even go all-out for the eight seed this season and make a smaller win-now move without affecting their long-term outlook much at all. But the Blazers are in no rush with their young group, and they can afford to pick off low-hanging fruit at this deadline and head into the summer with options.

Denver Nuggets

Cap situation: $68 million payroll – virtually right at the cap

Needs: Concrete direction

The Nuggets don’t have the financial flexibility Portland does, but they’re similarly open in terms of their asset picture. With several good, young players on the books for cheap and a plethora of draft assets (Denver could have as many as four first-round picks in 2016, and owns all of their own firsts in the future), Nuggets GM Tim Connelly has numerous options at his disposal.

The most obvious items might be auctioning older players who don’t fit their rebuilding timeline off for some assets, and Connelly will look in this direction. Guys like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and especially Kenneth Faried are uncertain pieces in the team’s future, and each still has bits of value around the league with time remaining on generally fair market deals. Contenders could have interest in one or more of these pieces, and Connelly would be a fool not to entertain these sorts of offers if he can improve the young core.

Some in the league have suggested a quicker path, and the Nuggets could roll the dice here as well if they wanted. It might not be the perfect avenue for rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, but it’s never a terrible thing to let a young guy develop around a winning culture, and the Nuggets have the assets that they could look to make a more immediate move. This feels far less likely, but some combination of their treasure trove of assets and all their fun young guys could certainly be the type of thing that interested a team trying to move a more established player.

Denver likely looks for good value for its veterans and doesn’t shed many tears if they remain roughly the same after the deadline – they’ve got plenty of time to figure things out here, and all signs are pointing in a great direction for their future. They can afford to be patient.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Cap situation: $71 million payroll – just over the cap

Needs: Ridding themselves of an unwanted deal or two

Outlook: The Wolves have the most promising young core in the game, and their moves will all reflect their desire to move this group along together and in the most positive way possible. Their most immediate concern should be a couple useless pieces on the roster – veterans who add nothing to the developmental table like Kevin Martin, and overpaid backups like Nikola Pekovic who have been rendered nearly useless by the team’s recent draftees. These guys are taking up space and salary without adding anything to the team’s current process, and the Wolves should be aggressively pursuing any future assets they might be able to scrounge out of either one if any partners are interested.

Beyond that, there aren’t a whole lot of pressing needs on the table for a team that expected to be bad this year and won’t have any pressure from a wins and losses standpoint for at least another year or two. If a deal came along where they could grab another young asset or pick they’d have to take a look, but given their own asset chest it’s hard to imagine such a deal in practice. For now, this franchise is firmly in developmental territory, and the name of the game will be jettisoning redundant present assets for the sake of a couple years down the line when Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are ready to contend.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.


Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


NBA Daily: Pelicans Might Be Better Off Without DeMarcus Cousins

Without DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis has excelled. It might not be a coincidence.

Moke Hamilton



Forget Kawhi Leonard, the most interesting storyline of this NBA summer is going to be DeMarcus Cousins.

By now, if you’ve wondered whether the New Orleans Pelicans would be better off without the talented big man, you’re certainly not alone.

Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers.

On Saturday, the Pelicans pulled off an improbable sweep of the third-seeded Blazers in the first round of their best-of-seven playoff series. And while the immediate question that comes to mind is what to make of the Blazers, a similar question can be (and should be) asked of the Pelicans.

Without question, Cousins is one of the most gifted big men the NBA has sen in quite some time, but it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that Anthony Davis began to put forth superhuman efforts when Cousins was absent.

Ever heard the saying that too many cooks spoil the brew?

That may be pricisely the case here.

Sure, having good players at your disposal is a problem that most head coach in the league would sign up for, but it takes a special type of player to willingly cede touches and shots in the name of the best interests of the team.

We once had a similar conversation about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, mind you. Those that recognized that Westbrook’s ball dominance and inefficiency took opportunities away from Durant to be the best version of himself once believed that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have been wise to pitch Westbrook to New Orleans back when Chris Paul was still manning their perimeter.

For what it’s worth, with Cousins in the lineup, he averaged 18 shots per game. In the 48 games he played this season, the Pelicans were 27-21. With him in the lineup, Davis shot the ball 17.6 times per game and scored 26.5 points per contest.

In the 34 games the Pelicans played without Cousins, Davis’ shot attempts increased fairly significantly. He got 21.9 attempts per contest and similarly increased his scoring output to 30.2 points per game.

Aside from that, Cousins’ presence in the middle made it a tad more difficult for Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to have the pace and space they need to be most effective. With both Davis and Cousins, the Pelicans struggled to consistently string together wins. Without Cousins, they improbably became the first team in the Western Conference to advance to the second round.

That Cousins tore his achilles tendon and is just a few months from becoming an unrestricted free agent combine to make him the most interesting man in the NBA.

* * * * * *

With Chris Paul having decided that the grass was probably greener with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni than it was with Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin, the Clippers fulfilled his request to be trade to the Houston Rockets and re-signed Griffin to a five-year max. deal. In doing so, they both gave Griffin a stark reminder of what life in the NBA is like and provided a blueprint for teams to follow when they have a superstar player with whom they believe to have run their course.

The glass half full perspective might be that Davis has simply become a better, healthier, more effective player and that with Cousins, he would have another weapon that could help catapult the Pelicans ever further toward the top of the Western Conference. But the half-empty glass might yield another conclusion.

At the end of the day, although he still hasn’t appeared in a single playoff game, Cousins is regarded as a game-changing talent and is one of the few players available on the free agency market this summer that could justify an annual average salary of $30 million. In all likelihood, the Pelicans will re-sign him for a sum that approaches that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best move.

In the end, the Clippers traded Griffin for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a first round pick and a second round pick. All things considered, it was a great haul for the Clippers when you consider that, just a few months prior, they could have lost Griffin as a free agent and gotten nothing in return.

Remarkably, after seeing Griffin dealt to Detroit, in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on a collision course with the Golden State Warriors. Their health a constant concern, the team will have to deal with the pesky perimeter defense of Holiday and Rondo and versatility and two-way effectiveness of Davis.

Nobody gave New Orleans a chance against Portland, and for sure, not many people are going to believe in their ability to score an upset over the defending champions. But believe it or not, New Orleans has become a different team. And they’ve done so without Cousins.

Indeed, believe it or not, the Clippers gave us a blueprint for what a team should do when it has a superstar who might not be the best long-term fit for their program.

And if the Pelicans were wise, they’d be smart to follow it.

Continue Reading


NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams

This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.

Dennis Chambers



This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.

As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.

With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.

Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.

Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.

With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.

However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?

Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.

Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.

In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.

So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.

However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.

Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.

At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.

Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.

For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.

On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.

With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.

Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.

Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.

Continue Reading


Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success

The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz



The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.

The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.

Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.

He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.

“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”

It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.

Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.

“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”

The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.

This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.

While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.

“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”

Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.

For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.

“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”

These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.

This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.

“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”

Continue Reading

The Strictly Speaking Podcast


Trending Now