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Five NBA Small Forwards on the Rise in 2014-15

Which small forwards will make a significant leap in the 2014-15 NBA season? Here are some up-and-coming small forwards to watch.

Jesse Blancarte

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In the modern NBA, the small forward position has become one of the most important for teams. Small forwards need to be more versatile than ever before. They are often asked to guard some of the NBA’s biggest power forwards, and just as often asked to shut down some of the league’s elite point guards. Many of the better ball-handling forwards, such as LeBron James and Andre Iguodala, play “point-forward” and initiate their team’s offense intermittently with the full-time point guard.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the best two NBA players in the NBA, and by the far best small forwards. Behind them are players like Paul George (who may miss the upcoming season due to his recent leg injury) and Carmelo Anthony. However, behind these top small forwards is an exciting crop of young small forwards that are climbing the ranks and are ready to take the next step in their development. Some of them have been in the league for more than six years, some have yet to play their first NBA game.

Here is a look at some of the best up-and-coming small forwards in the league:

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs (Age 23. Drafted 15th overall in the 2011) –

It is hard to express just how important Kawhi Leonard is to his team. For the last few seasons, Leonard has been a do-it-all sort of player. He spreads the floor with his three-point shooting, is a great defensive player (NBA All-Defensive second team), good rebounder, and has hands that look as though they belong to a center.

Leonard, who was acquired via a trade with the Indiana Pacers in exchange for point guard George Hill, really made a name for himself in last season’s NBA Finals. In the Finals, Leonard averaged 17.8 points on 61 percent shooting and became the youngest Finals MVP since teammate Tim Duncan won the award in 1999. He routinely guarded LeBron James, and made it difficult for James to impose his will on the game like he is accustomed to.

Shortly after winning the Finals, Spurs head coach Greg Popovich spoke highly of Leonard, and praised him for his work ethic.

“He’s a great learner and he’s super competitive, has a drive to be the best that’s really uncommon in our league,” Popovich said. “He walks the walk. I mean, he’s there early, he’s there late. He wants more. He wants me and the coaches to push him. So I just talked to him about not being in that defer sort of stage. The hell with Tony, the hell with Timmy, the hell with Manu, you play the game. You are the man.”

At just 23, Leonard really is “the man” now and for the foreseeable future in San Antonio. With a drive to be the best player he can be, and a humble demeanor, Leonard is well-situated to take his game to the next level next season and help the Spurs push for another championship.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Age 19. Drafted 15th overall in 2013) –

Too often NBA media and fans casually throw around phrases like “unlimited potential,” or “unlimited upside” when talking about young prospects. However, if there is one player in the NBA today that would warrant the use of such phrases, it is Giannis Antetokounmpo, otherwise known as the “Greek Freak.”

When Antetokounmpo was drafted by the Bucks, he was listed at 6’9. By June, Antetokounmpo had reportedly grown to just over 6’10, is now reportedly 6’11, and very well may keep growing since he is only 19 and his growth plates are still open.

But height isn’t everything. Players like Hasheem Thabeet are very tall, but not top-level NBA players. However, in his rookie season, Antetokounmpo showed on several occasions that he has the skill-set to utilize his height and length against defenses.

This type of length at the small forward position is a significant part of what makes Kevin Durant so dangerous. The Greek Freak has a long way to go to start being compared to Durant, but the tools are there.

Last season, Antetokounmpo averaged 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 41.4 percent from the field, 34.7 percent from three-point range. He played in 77 games, and averaged 24.6 minutes a night. These numbers are by no means eye-catching, but last season was Antetokounmpo’s first time playing against elite basketball players after playing against what one league executive described as “YMCA” level talent.

Newly hired Bucks head coach Jason Kidd has said that he will expand Antetokounmpo’s role this season, and experimented with him at point guard during the Las Vegas Summer League. Antetokounmpo made a strong showing in Vegas, but has a ways to go before he can realistically play point guard effectively during the NBA season. Still, the possibilities really are limitless for Antetokounmpo. With an expanded role, his upcoming season could be a breakout year for Antetokounmpo.

Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz (Age 24. Drafted 9th overall in the 2010) –

Gordon Hayward has significantly improved his game each of the four seasons he has been in the NBA. While Hayward may not be great at any single thing, he is a solid all-around player that still has plenty of room to improve.

Earlier this offseason, Hayward signed a max offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets, which the Utah Jazz matched. The Jazz made a huge commitment to Hayward, who was looked to as a number one scoring option last season, as well as point forward.

Last season, Hayward averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game and shot 41.3 percent from the field, 30.4 percent from three-point range. These are very solid per game averages for a 24 year old forward. The major issue for Hayward was his shooting percentages, which plummeted from previous seasons.

To Hayward’s credit, he was adjusting to his role as the number-one option on the team and the focus of opposing teams’ defensive schemes. With young talent like Trey Burke, and Dante Exum now in Utah, there is a chance that Hayward will have less attention on him, and the opportunity to bring his shooting percentages back up next season. With Quin Snyder now coaching the team, the Jazz are more likely to increase the pace from last season, and spread the court more. With more possessions per game and more room to operate, it’s quite possible that Hayward will have a big season.

Chandler Parsons, Dallas Mavericks (Age 25. Drafted 38th overall in 2011) –

For the last few years, Chandler Parsons has been the best bargain in the NBA, making less than $1 million annually. Don’t feel too bad for Parsons, however, as he signed a three-year contract worth roughly $46 million this offseason with the Dallas Mavericks.

It is questionable whether Parsons is worth roughly $15 million annually under the new, restrictive CBA. However, Parsons enters this season with plenty of motivation to prove he is worth every penny after the Houston Rockets chose to not match the Mavericks’ offer sheet, allowing him to go to Dallas for nothing in return. Parsons knew the Rockets were looking for a third star player to put along James Harden and Dwight Howard, and thought that he could be that third star. The Rockets disagreed.

Last season, Parsons averaged 16.6 points. 5.5 rebounds, four assists and 1.2 steals per game, and shot 47.2 percent from the field, 37 percent from three-point range. He is a very good three-point shooter, a willing defender, and underrated athlete. In Dallas, Parsons will play alongside Raymond Felton, Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tyson Chandler. Under the direction of one of the best coaches in the league in Rick Carlisle, Parsons has the opportunity to expand his game from floor-spacer and wing-defender to a primary scorer and playmaker.

In Houston, James Harden handles the ball and the offense runs mostly through him. When Harden is not taking the lead on offense, Howard is looking to score in the post. This left Parsons to be opportunistic with his scoring opportunities. It will be up to Parsons to find his niche with the Mavericks and show Houston they made a mistake in letting him leave.

Nicolas Batum, Portland Trailblazers (Age 25. Drafted 25th overall in 2008) –

Nicolas Batum is one of the best two-way players in the league, and arguably the best “glue-guy.” He does a little bit of everything for the Trailblazers, and is a huge reason why they advanced to the second round of the Playoffs last season.

One of the reasons why Batum flies under the radar is due to the fact that he is not a volume scorer (just 13 points per game last season). But on a team with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and LaMarcus Aldridge, Batum doesn’t need to score a lot. Instead, Batum spreads the floor with his three-point shooting, grabs rebounds at a high rate for a small forwards, sets up teammates as a playmaker, is great in transition both offensively and defensively, and often defends opposing teams’ best scorers, even if they happen to be a point guard. He even fills in at power forward quite often, allowing the Blazers to play at a quicker pace and add more three-point shooting.

Last season, Batum averaged 13 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 0.9 steals, and shot 46.5 percent from the field, and 36.1 percent from three-point range. Batum was one of three players in the league last year to average over seven rebounds and five assists a game last year, along with Joahim Noah and Kevin Durant.

At age 25, Batum still has room to improve his game and take another step in his development. He is one of the most versatile players in the league, but he would really turn heads if he can get his scoring average up. However, on a high-scoring Portland team, it’s not really necessary for him to do so. But for Batum, a bump in nightly scoring to somewhere near 17 points a game would put more attention on his all-around impact on the game, and earn him the recognition he already deserves.

Batum has improved his production each season and projects to continue that upward trend with the up-and-coming Blazers this upcoming season.

Honorable Mention:

Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic (Age 22. Drafted 19th overall in 2011) –

Tobias Harris is by no means a household name, but may become more familiar to casual NBA fans this upcoming season.

Harris suffered through an ankle injury early last season and reportedly never fully recovered. Nevertheless, in 61 games played last season, Harris averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds, 1.3 assists and shot 46.4 percent from the field in 30.3 minutes per game. These were career best numbers for Harris, who is reportedly now 100 percent healthy entering the upcoming season.

Harris is a gifted scorer, but will need to improve his three-point shooting to hit the next level in his development. This is especially true since teammate Maurice Harkless will be competing with Harris this upcoming season for playing time at small forward. Harkless shot 38.3 percent from three-point range last season, and successfully guarded some of the best players in the league. As a talented 3-and-D prospect, Harkless could take some significant playing time away from Harris if he is unable to stretch the floor out to the three-point line.

At age 22, Harris has a lot of potential to improve and become a major piece for the Orlando Magic moving forward. With a clean bill of health and a little bit of luck, this year may be a big one for Harris.

Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves (Age 19. Drafted 1st overall in 2014) –

Andrew Wiggins has been in the headlines for the last few months because of the rumored trade that officially sent him to the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this week. With the deal done, now the focus can turn back to Wiggin’s game and potential.

Without seeing Wiggins in a real NBA game yet, it is hard to say how effective he will be this upcoming season. However, it is fair to say at this point that he will be an above average defensive player in his rookie season, and will have nights where he shows flashes of the player he may become one day.

In his one season at Kansas, Wiggins averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals, and one block per game, and shot 44.8 percent from the field, and 34.1 percent from beyond-the-arc. These are good numbers for a first-year college player, but fell short of the lofty expectations of scouts and analysts. One of the major criticisms of Wiggins is his laid-back demeanor and reluctance to take over games as a scorer. However, Wiggins seems to want to address this issue, and, according to ESPN, conveyed that sentiment to Kansas coach Bill Self before officially being traded to the Timberwolves.

“When all this trade stuff started, I talked to Andrew and Andrew told me, ‘I hope I get traded,'” Self said. “And I’m like, ‘No you don’t.’ And he said, ‘Coach, I do. It’s better for me, knowing my personality and what I need to do, to go somewhere where I’m forced to be something as opposed to going in there where they’re going to be patient with me and I’m going to be a piece.’”

It is not clear what kind of NBA player Wiggins will be in his rookie season. But if he can prove the naysayers wrong and take on an alpha dog mentality, Wiggins will likely be much more than just another “piece” next season in Minnesota.

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks (Age 19. Drafted 2nd overall in 2014) –

Many NBA scouts and analysts believe that Jabari Parker is the most NBA ready player in this year’s rookie class. Parker is a gifted scorer who can knock down a catch-and-shoot three-pointer or just as easily score with his back to the basket in the post.

In his one season at Duke, Parker averaged 19.1 points. 8.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists, and shot 47.3 percent from the field, and 35.8 percent from beyond-the-arc. At 6’8, Parker has ideal size to play small forward, and is strong enough to play power forward as well. It will be interesting to see how Milwaukee head coach uses Parker this upcoming season, particularly with teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both Parker and Antetokounmpo have the size to play both forward positions, but each player is gifted in distinct ways.

Fortunately for Kidd and the Bucks, Parker and Antetokounmpo are both skilled enough that they should be able to find success in whatever role they are given. Parker, like all NBA rookies, will have stretches where he will struggle to assert himself– particularly on defense where he needs to improve– but will have as good of a chance as any rookie to make a strong impact next season.

These are some of the young, stand-out small forwards that are primed to have a big season. For some, next season may be a small step towards reaching their full potential. But for others, next season could be the year where they make the leap into elite echelon of the NBA.

Who do you think is going to breakout at the small forward position next year? Leave your thoughts below!

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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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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NBA Daily: Three Teams Treading Water In The West

While the Clippers have surged into the playoff picture, the Blazers, Nuggets and Pelicans are barely staying afloat out West.

Buddy Grizzard

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While the L.A. Clippers have surged into the Western Conference playoff picture on the crest of a six-game win streak, the Trail Blazers, Nuggets and Pelicans are stumbling toward the All-Star break with records around .500 over their last 10 games.

All four teams are within a game of each other and hovering around the playoff cut line. For teams that are treading water, the second half of the season will be a struggle for consistency in a brutal playoff race that promises to leave a good team on the outside looking in.

Although Richard Jefferson is winding down a storied career and barely playing for the Nuggets, he often takes the role of elder statesman in media scrums. After the Nuggets became the latest victim of the red-hot Clippers Wednesday, Jefferson said they should not be underestimated.

“They’ve been a playoff team for many, many years,” said Jefferson. “They’ve dealt with some injuries but, for the most part, I think they’re going to be in the hunt for the playoffs just like we are.”

Jefferson was also asked about the Nuggets’ late-game execution and pointed to the team’s overall youth with major addition Paul Millsap missing extended time due to injury.

“We’re getting to a spot of being a little bit more consistent in those moments,” said Jefferson. “But ultimately, I think guys are still learning. Most of the guys that are in these positions are in these positions for the first time. I think we’ll continue getting better as the season goes on.”

Meanwhile, the Pelicans experienced its own setback Wednesday in a loss to an Atlanta Hawks team that’s tied for the second-worst record in the league. For now, the Pelicans hold the seventh seed. It will be up to the continuing evolution of the Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins pairing to keep New Orleans trending in the right direction.

“For us, we’re two guys who can shoot the ball, handle it, pass,” said Davis after the loss in Atlanta. “We’ve got a lot of guys around us who are capable of making plays. I think we compliment each other. There’s still some stuff we still want to get better at as a unit.”

Davis went into further detail about what makes the rare pairing of two elite big men work.

“Cuz is always spacing the floor,” said Davis. “One guy’s inside, the other one’s outside. We set screens for each other, throw lobs for each other. So it’s tough for bigs to try to play that. When we set a pin-down for myself or DeMarcus, most four or fives are not used to that.”

Davis came into the game with 30 or more points in three straight games and seven of the previous 10—he’s been on a massive roll. However, that streak came to an end as Davis hit only two of eight shots for eight points. Hawks rookie John Collins scored 18 while dealing with the issues Davis described.

“You’ve got A.D. on the one hand and then you’ve got Boogie on the other hand,” said Collins. “[They’re] some of the best bigs in the league, very skilled guys, obviously a handful to deal with.”

Hawks shooting guard Kent Bazemore led Atlanta with 20 points and hit the final shot in the waning moments to secure the victory. Bazemore is a player the Pelicans could conceivably pursue at the trade deadline to address wing issues.

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are dealing with questions of whether a team built around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can become competitive with the West’s upper echelon. Marc Stein of the New York Times went so far as to predict that Portland’s backcourt could be broken up this year.

“No one’s suggesting it’ll happen before the Feb. 8 trade deadline,” Stein wrote. “But Portland’s latest so-so season threatens to be the impetus that finally pushes the longtime Blazers owner Paul Allen in a new direction.”

This is the time of year when NBA teams take stock and have to decide if they are properly constructed or need to look at changes. With the Pelicans, Trail Blazers and Nuggets barely keeping pace in the playoff race, few other teams will be more heavily scrutinized — internally as well as externally — as the trade deadline approaches.

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NBA Daily: Things To Watch Heading Into Trade Season

Two of our experts identify four teams and four players to keep an eye on during trade season.

Basketball Insiders

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With memories of DeMarcus Cousins being told that he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans during his postgame availability at last season’s All-Star game, the NBA moved the trade deadline up.

This season, the deadline falls on February 8, and all there has been a lot of discussion leading into next month’s deadline.

We asked Moke Hamilton and Lang Greene to weigh in on some items to keep an eye on over the next three weeks.

Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors

This year’s trade deadline will probably lack big names getting moved, but teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets are within sniffing distance of a playoff berth for the first time in years. It will be interesting to see if their respective front offices swing for the fences to achieve the goal.

There are three ways to improve a roster or prepare for the future in the NBA. The methods are free agency, trade and the annual draft. Trade deadline deals are risky. There are a lot of deals each season which involve players on the verge of hitting the free agent market. Teams acquiring these take the risk that they’re only “renting” those guys until the season concludes.

At the end of the day, though, the two biggest names we may see moved are Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors.

Mirotic has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career, but the fourth-year forward is by far having his best season as a professional despite his minutes remaining flat. On a per 36 minute basis, Mirotic is averaging 25.1 points and 9.9 rebounds.

Mirotic and teammate Bobby Portis made headlines before the season for their fight, which led plenty of missed time for the forward. Mirotic’s name has been mentioned on the block ever since this incident, but it’s clear the Bulls have integrated him back into their rotation fully. Still, the team is believed to simply be waiting for the right time and trade partner and that Mirotic’s days in Chicago are numbered.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls plan to be patient in fielding calls for Mirotic, while the player has deflected all talks to his representatives.

“I didn’t talk to [the Bulls’ front office recently],” he said. “Probably my agents are talking, so I don’t know so far what’s going on, but I know my name is going to be out there. I’m doing my job, and I’m sure they’re doing their job, and we’re both going to do what’s best for the team.”

Mirotic has a no-trade clause built into his contract and would have to waive it prior to completing any deal, unless the Bulls were to guarantee the team option on the final year of his contract for 2018-19. Don’t count on that, though.

With respect to Favors, he battled injuries the past two seasons but has remained relatively healthy to begin this campaign. The forward is shooting a career high from the field, but according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Utah Jazz have dangled him in trade talks since the beginning of the season.

Favors was one of the central parts of the Deron Williams trade years ago, but could be expendable because of the emergence of center Rudy Gobert in the Jazz’s frontcourt. The forward is on the books for $12.5 million this season and was most recently linked to the aforementioned Mirotic in trade talks between Utah and Chicago.

– Lang Greene

DeAndre Jordan and Paul George

Heading into deadline season, there’s not much out there to suggest that we’ll see any superstar-caliber players moved. With the likes of Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving among the players that switched teams over the summer, it seems that most NBA teams that have difference-makers on their rosters are in construction mode—they’re trying to compete with the Cavs or the Warriors.

The two superstar players who merit some discussion, though, are DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan.

With respect to Jordan, the Clippers find themselves in a very peculiar situation. With Chris Paul having defected to the Houston Rockets, it’s easy to conclude that the Clippers are no longer a true contender. Still, they’ve played so well over the past few weeks (including scoring a victory over Paul and his Rockets) that it seems a difficult proposition to proactively pull the plug.

Still, though, as written in this past Sunday’s column, it’s time for the Clippers to trade Jordan, mainly because a team that is heading toward a rebuild can’t afford to lose a player of his caliber for nothing, and that’s quite possible unless the Clippers fork over a max contract to Jordan this summer. The proposition wouldn’t be wise, particularly because it could cost the Clippers a first round pick in one of the upcoming drafts.

He’s definitely a player that should be watched.

Paul George, on the other hand, doesn’t appear likely to be headed out of Oklahoma City. The team is reportedly committed to keeping him for the duration of the season, with the hope being that the Thunder will get their act together and win a round or two in the playoffs. With the team still hovering around .500, it seems a long shot.

There are some, however, that believe that the Thunder should at least see what might be available to them in exchange for George, especially with the team trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him. That’s especially true with Oladipo closing in on what certainly appears to be his first All-Star selection.

– Moke Hamilton

Dallas Mavericks Are Open For Business

The Dallas Mavericks are in a clear rebuild and the prospect of making the playoffs is more dream than reality this season, but the team does have some things going for it.

The Mavs have roughly $13 million in cap space, which puts them in a prime spot to acquire talent at the deadline without giving up any of their players in return. In fact, Mark Cuban went on the record and said exactly that.

“I would say we are looking to use our cap space actively,” Cuban told the Dallas Morning News earlier this week. “We will take back salary to get picks or guys we think can play.”

The Mavericks have the second-lowest payroll in the league, but Cuban has been known to spend money to acquire relevant talent. The team hasn’t had much success in in attracting free agents in recent years, and with the Hall of Fame career of Dirk Nowitzki coming to an end, the team is undoubtedly looking to retool.

– Lang Greene

Cavs and Lakers Each Likely To Do Something

It’s a poorly kept secret that the Los Angeles Lakers have had their sights set on acquiring a superstar or two this coming summer. With Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and LeBron James among those who could hit the market in July, the Lakers have quite a bit of incentive to try to rid themselves of the contracts of Luol Deng and Jordan Clarkson.

Where things get interesting for the Lakers is with the emergence of several of their young players this season. Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma and to a lesser extent Josh Hart have each given the team impressive minutes this season. If the Lakers feel they have a real shot at signing James and, say, DeMarcus Cousins, it may be enough for them to package Deng and/or Clarkson with one of their promising young players and perhaps a future draft pick.

It’s certainly something I’d keep my eyes on.

And speaking of future draft picks, with the Cavs not taking their standing in the Eastern Conference for granted, one can only wonder the extent to which the Nets’ first round pick this coming season is burning a hole in their pockets. Aside from the Nets pick, though, the Cavs do own their own first round pick, which could be enough for them to pry the likes of a player like Mirotic or Favors from their current team.

There has also been some conjecture revolving around the availability of Tristan Thompson, with one interesting scenario having the Cavs and Clippers at least contemplating a trade involving Thompson and Jordan.

The Cavs and Lakers each have too much at stake to not do something.

– Moke Hamilton

Only 21 Days To Go…

With the trade deadline exactly three weeks from today, talks will certainly heat up.

For now, though, the Mavs, Cavs and Lakers appear to be the teams most involved in conversations, with Nikola Mirotic, Derrick Favors and DeAndre Jordan among those most likely to be dealt.

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