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Executive of the Year Watch

A few executive have made strong cases for Executive of the Year. David Yapkowitz breaks down the candidates.

David Yapkowitz

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Every summer each NBA front office is tasked with shaping their respective roster. Some teams are looking for that big trade or free agent acquisition that could vault them into contender status. Those who are already contenders seek to add complimentary pieces to their already established core. And yet others rely on the draft for a much needed influx of talent across the roster. Whatever the motivations are for a front office, the hope is always to make a positive step forward and to execute on a vision that will lead to a high level of success now or in the near future.

Not every team’s moves pan out, however, and some teams end up in a perpetual state of mediocrity. In this regard, the Sacramento Kings come to mind. On the flip side, there are always a handful of teams that make home run moves that vault a team into contention or catch the league by surprise. Often times, these executive are rewarded with the annual Executive of the Year award.

With the 2016-17 NBA regular season approaching the finish line and the playoffs right around the corner, the contenders long ago separated themselves from the pretenders. And with enough of a sample size to judge each team’s roster and success thus far, there are a few general managers who have separated themselves from the rest of the pack this season.

Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets

Morey’s offseason moves have not only produced a major turnaround for the Houston Rockets but has elevated them into contender status.

Morey’s first move last offseason was signing Mike D’Antoni to a four-year deal to become the team’s head coach. D’Antoni, who was then an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers, has always been regarded as one of the more brilliant offensive minds in the NBA. One of the knocks on him since his Phoenix days has been his inability to make it deep into the playoffs. While it remains to be seen how Houston fares in the postseason, there’s no questioning the wonders D’Antoni has done for the Rockets this season.

His move to make James Harden a full-time point guard has resulted in Harden being one of the front-runners for the MVP award as well as making the Rockets the second-best offensive team in the league (115.5 points per game), falling behind only the Golden State Warriors.

A few of Morey’s free agent signings last summer, most notably Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Nene,  have also helped catapult the Rockets’ offense this season. It wasn’t too long ago when all three players had a hard time staying healthy and staying on the floor. Morey took a chance on them, using cap space that was freed up with the departure of Dwight Howard, and the result has been tremendous.

Gordon has emerged as a top contender for the Sixth Man of the Year award, averaging 16.4 points per game while on pace to play the most number of games since the 2013-14 season. Anderson has played in the most number of games since the 2012-13 season and has become one of the Rockets most reliable three-point threats at just about 40 percent. While Nene is averaging close to career-lows in points (8.6) and rebounds (4.1), he has been a valuable contributor off the bench and is shooting 61.3 percent from the field, just shy of his career-high of 61.5 percent from the the 2010-11 season. The only other time he came close to that was an 11-game stretch after he was traded to Washington in 2012.

Still not done, however, Morey traded for Lou Williams at the trade deadline. In his first three games with the Rockets, Williams averaged 24 points per game on 48.7 percent shooting from the field, and 47.4 percent from three. He has since cooled down a bit but with Williams and Gordon, the Rockets have the two best bench scorers in the league now. Sitting solidly in third place in the Western Conference, it appears as if Morey’s acquisitions are working out.

Bob Meyers, Golden State Warriors

Another possible contender for the Executive of the Year award is Bob Meyers, the general manager of the Golden State Warriors. Meyers won the award for the 2014-15 season, and while the Warriors haven’t been quite as dominant as they were last season, Meyers still made some fantastic acquisitions during the offseason that have allowed the Warriors to remain the favorites out West.

Meyers pulled off the top move of the summer with the signing of Kevin Durant. While much has been made about the Warriors players’ recruitment of Durant, it was still Meyers who made sure the Warriors had the cap space to fit Durant’s salary. Prior to his injury, Durant fit seamlessly into the Warriors offense and was shooting a career high 53.7 percent from the field while leading the team in scoring at 25.3 points per game.

The Warriors did have to sacrifice some of their depth to sign Durant, losing Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, but Meyers looked to free agency and the draft to address those concerns. Picking up both Zaza Pachulia and David West on relatively cheap contracts were great moves. Pachulia has started all 59 games he’s played this season and while his numbers don’t jump out (6.4 points and six rebounds per game), he is shooting a career-high 54.1 percent from the field and has provided the Warriors with a solid inside presence. West, on the other hand, is long past his peak New Orleans days, but the veteran big man is still a nice option to have off the bench as the playoffs approach.

In the draft, Meyers selected UNLV’s Patrick McCaw in the second round with the 38th overall pick. McCaw saw sporadic playing time early in the season, but since getting more consistent minutes in the latter half of the season, he’s looked more and more like a second-round steal. He’s started the last nine games for the Warriors and he’s looking like a guy who could eventually become a major cog in the rotation both offensively and defensively.

Perhaps the most underrated move Meyers made in the summer was the signing of JaVale McGee. On the verge of being out the league, Meyers took a chance on McGee, who made the team out of training camp on a non-guaranteed contract. Despite his on-court antics, which have made him a permanent fixture on TNT’s Shaqtin’ A Fool, McGee has emerged as a solid contributor for the Warriors front court while shooting a career-high 64.5 percent from the field.

Dennis Lindsey, Utah Jazz

Another possible candidate for the award is Dennis Lindsey of the Utah Jazz. The Jazz missed the playoffs last season, but this season they are fighting for home court in the first round due in large part to the additions made by Lindsey.

Lindsey’s first move of the offseason was to trade Utah’s lottery pick to the Atlanta Hawks in a three team trade with the Indiana Pacers that netted veteran point guard George Hill. Hill has been a solid addition, averaging a career high 16.9 points per game on 47 percent shooting to go along with 4.1 assists. Hill’s provided the Jazz with a much needed floor general and tw0-way impact from the point guard position.

Lindsey followed that up by trading the draft rights to 2015 draft pick Oliver Hanlan to the San Antonio Spurs for Boris Diaw, another veteran who has added needed leadership and guidance to the young Jazz. He also managed to bring in veteran Joe Johnson to bolster the bench and give the team yet another veteran mentor and contributor.

He also signed Rudy Gobert to a contract extension right at the beginning of the season, and Gobert responded by having a near All-Star season while possibly becoming Utah’s best and most important player.

Masai Ujiri, Toronto Raptors

Another executive who deserves consideration for this year’s award is Masai Ujiri, the president of the Toronto Raptors who won the award in 2013 when he was working for the Denver Nuggets. Ujiri deserves serious consideration due to a couple of late additions he made at the trade deadline, as well as his offseason re-signing of DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has helped lead the Raptors to an 11-5 record while fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry remains sidelined due to a wrist injury. That stretch includes three 40 point games, each of which resulted in a win for Toronto. DeRozan is also averaging a career-high 27.1 points per game, which is good for fifth in the league.

But perhaps it was Ujiri’s acquisitions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker at the trade deadline that has really bolstered the Raptors, specifically on the defensive end. Prior to the All-Star break, the Raptors were in a free fall, dropping to fourth in the Eastern Conference and in danger of losing home court in the first round of the playoffs. Currently on a five game win streak, the Raptors have been doing their damage on defense, holding their opponents to 91.2 points per game during this stretch. The Raptors have a lot of competition in the Eastern Conference, but with these trade, Ujiri addressed the team’s biggest weakness and has given Toronto the tools it needs to make a strong push in the upcoming playoffs.

Honorable Mention:

R.C. Buford, San Antonio Spurs

A case could probably be made for San Antonio’s R.C. Buford, the winner of last year’s award. Buford brought in Pau Gasol and David Lee, who for the most part have revitalized their careers a bit after stagnating last season. Buford also brought in Dewayne Dedmon, a seldom used reserve in Golden State, Philadelphia and Orlando, who is now the Spurs starting center and is enjoying a career-year.

One name who does not appear on the list is David Griffin of the Cleveland Cavaliers. While Griffin has made attempts to bolster the Cavaliers by adding Kyle Korver, Derrick Williams, Deron Williams, and now Larry Sanders, the Cavaliers have under-performed this season and now appear in danger of possibly losing the top-spot in the East to the up and coming Boston Celtics. Griffin has made some nice moves with little flexibility, but the results have not been as significant as some of the marquee moves made by the executives listed above.

Ultimately, Morey should be considered the favorite based on how significant of a turnaround the Rockets have made this season. However, these other candidates are deserving of consideration as well.

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G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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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.

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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.

Dennis Chambers

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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.

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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.

Spencer Davies

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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.”

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