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Fixing the Memphis Grizzlies

Ben Dowsett breaks down the Memphis Grizzlies’ present and future after an injury-riddled season.

Ben Dowsett

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Whether they were true title contenders or not, what happened to the Memphis Grizzlies this year doesn’t seem fair. An unreal succession of injuries detonated what was already a strange season in progress, robbing us all of the yearly pleasure of watching Grit and Grind give some title contender headaches in the early rounds. Marc Gasol turned 31 a couple weeks before foot surgery suddenly gave a very imposing feel to the four expensive years left on his contract after this season. Every depressing element was set against a backdrop of Mike Conley’s impending unrestricted free agency, and thrown into sharper focus suddenly Saturday morning with news of Dave Joerger’s dismissal.

In all honesty, the injuries may have obscured the unfortunate truth that this team was playing with house money all year long. Even while healthy, with point differential indicators pegging them as a non-playoff team, the win-loss results they managed painted them as one of the statistically “luckiest” teams in league history, a theme that held through the full 82 games: The Grizzlies became just the third team since 1946 to post an SRS rating (point differential adjusted for strength of schedule) at or below negative-2.0 while still winning at least half of their games.

Memphis was just 16th in the league for defensive efficiency even before Gasol’s injury, a big departure from recent years and a worrying warning light with a similarly anemic offense still struggling to break league average. The Grizzlies were once again in the league’s bottom third for attempts and accuracy from beyond the arc, not a surprise given a total lack of marksmanship in the perimeter rotation outside of Conley and Matt Barnes. Stifling defense wasn’t propping up a more old-fashioned attack built on Gasol and Zach Randolph bullying teams from the elbows.

Entering a summer that is unpredictable enough on its own, the Grizzlies are at something of a crossroads after a strange end to the year and the Joerger bombshell. Let’s break down a few of the biggest themes vital to their future.

The Big Picture

Were it not for this franchise’s resiliency over the last half decade or more, the more prescient vultures among us might already be starting to circle above Memphis in anticipation.

Randolph turns 35 in July, and his value in the modern NBA is diminishing along with his body. Gasol was having his worst year in several before he went down, struggling to make his usual defensive impact. The Grizzlies relied heavily on guys like Barnes, Tony Allen, Mario Chalmers and Lance Stephenson at various points this year, and the fact that Barnes’ potential departure legitimately damages their wing rotation is very worrying.

Worse yet, the future doesn’t look too bright. GM Chris Wallace has exactly zero blue chip youngsters or recent draftees in house, with 2014 first-rounder Jordan Adams and his 263 NBA minutes (due in large part to injury this year, to be fair) over the course of two seasons serving as their recent draft headliner. Adams was infamously taken one pick ahead of burgeoning Jazz guard Rodney Hood, a move Joerger wasn’t shy about reminding folks he was against at the time, and 2015 selection Jarell Martin isn’t blowing anyone away.

There isn’t too much help on the way, either. Their 2016 playoff berth ensured Memphis will keep their pick this year rather than sending it to Denver, but Wallace could quickly be wishing they’d sacrificed four ugly losses to the Spurs and missed out on the postseason entirely. The pick is just 17th after a lost coin flip, and Memphis keeping it this year means it becomes just top-5 protected next year.

A healthy Gasol keeps this team too solid for a tank job anywhere near that disastrous, but likewise isn’t enough to carry a playoff team on his own. A worst-case scenario sees the Grizzlies send a Denver a pick in the six-to-10 range in a 2017 draft that many league insiders consider much stronger than the 2016 class. If they manage to keep things afloat and stay in the playoffs for the next couple years, they’ll lose their 2018 first round pick as well (to Boston, protected top-12).

Such a bare cupboard doesn’t make things any easier on Wallace, who is already facing an uphill climb to continue a run of six straight playoff appearances. A coup in summer free agency – never likely for even the biggest markets, nearly impossible in places like Memphis – seems like their only faint hope for getting out of a very dreary position in the league’s middle, with little young talent coming up the pipe to take the mantle and few draft avenues available in the next couple of seasons.

The fallout from Joerger’s firing has already begun, and isn’t making the destination any more attractive. Reports Saturday blamed internal discord and Joerger’s desire to discuss a move to another team (the second time in three years he’s asked for said permission), and were followed by even stranger indications that Wallace himself had secured his own approval to discuss a front office vacancy in Sacramento. The wheels are already possibly falling off from a talent standpoint, and a similar fate for the front office could signal impending catastrophe.

All of these circumstances don’t make Memphis the easiest sell at the moment, which is relevant because their most important agenda item this summer rests in large part on their salesmanship.

The Conley Conundrum

Conley’s unrestricted free agency has been the elephant in the room all year long, and with good reason. He’ll command a max salary somewhere as the top point guard on the market, an inconvenient reality for Memphis during a summer when all but a handful of teams can open up max room.

Conley has commented on his desire to see the right pieces put in place around him, but his own situation limits the team’s flexibility here more than one might assume – and might torpedo it altogether if he isn’t cooperative on the timing.

If the Grizzlies pick up Stephenson’s $9.4 million player option (a choice they must make by June 29, before free agency begins) and retain all their other contracts, they’ll sit right around $60 million already on the books before a Conley deal if they renounce their rights to guys like Barnes and Chris Andersen as expected.

Being at or below the $60 million mark with a cap projected over $90 million seems great, but this is where Conley himself comes in: His own $14 million cap hold counts against the team’s books until he’s signed in Memphis or somewhere else, nearly slicing their available free agency dollars in half. If Conley stays home and does management a solid by waiting on his own deal, it will allow the Grizzlies to play the market before signing him over the cap using their Bird rights – but even then, they’d have well under a max slot available to draw talent.

There are methods available to open up larger chunks of room, but all carry risks to one degree or another. The most straightforward in theory would be declining Stephenson’s option, but this avenue reveals how startlingly weak the Grizzlies are on the wing – moving on from Lance without any clue whether they’d be able to find a wing on the market could leave Carter, Adams and Tony Allen as the team’s 2-3 rotation if they strike out, a terrifying possible outcome. The timing on Stephenson’s player option combined with a huge lack of perimeter talent makes this a less preferable option.

Much simpler would be cutting ties with Carter or JaMychal Green, both of whom are on contracts that don’t guarantee until January 2017 and can be waived without penalty any time before then. Green is young and cheap enough to keep, though, and stretching Carter only yields another $3 million or so after some cap gymnastics.

The Grizzlies could also look to dump Brandan Wright’s $5.7 million somewhere if they needed that bit of space to get them over the top on a signing, and could do the same with Carter or even Adams if it came down to it. They’d better have some cheap depth options in mind in free agency if they take any of these routes, though – sacrificing any of the names listed above without a replacement coming back drops the number of rostered Memphis players as low as seven or eight depending on a few other fringe decisions.

Even if they’re able to carve out the flexibility, the Grizzlies are running uphill trying to add talent. They’re competing with 25 other teams for the top names, all of whom have similar or greater cap maneuverability. Gasol, an aging Randolph, a chance at Conley and a bunch of role players and replacement level guys aren’t a core that inspires awe in the top prospective free agents, particularly with the knowledge that one major signing eats up most or all of their available room.

It could be panic time in a hurry if Conley does leave. Maybe he’ll be kind enough to do it early in the process and let them use the vacated space to chase a max guy before all of them are off the market. However, even if that scenario arises, the chances are mighty low that a true impact player looks at this roster and sees his best option in such a crowded pool. The Grizzlies could be stuck with the unwanted scraps after the big boys pick all the good meat off the bone.

Team brass would have to strongly consider broaching the subject of trading Gasol and entering a true franchise rebuild in that scenario. There’s virtually no conceivable combination of mid-tier free agents attainable under Memphis’ available space who could make this roster sans Conley anything more than a fringe playoff contender at the very best, and we’ve already covered their limited draft and youth capital.

There’s a real chance Gasol would spend his final few productive NBA years dragging one of the worst supplementary rosters in the league to just enough wins to avoid the very top of the lottery, but nowhere near enough to compete. Big Spain loves Memphis and they love him right back, but a mutually beneficial move would have to at least be mentioned if things go really badly this summer. There are surely those in the “title or teardown” camp who would even prefer this avenue to Conley re-upping in Memphis – there’s a valid argument that returning Conley still leaves them well behind the true contenders barring a perfect additional string of events this summer.

However, even that sort of painful teardown wouldn’t be simple. Gasol has a 15 percent trade kicker attached to his deal, which would be at least a moderate disincentive to nearly any team in negotiations (the Grizzlies have to pay the extra dollar amount, but the incoming team has to absorb the new, larger number on their cap sheet). The Grizzlies would also find themselves miles below the cap floor, and would have to fill at least some of that gap with guys who didn’t threaten the rebuild by carrying them to enough wins to land their 2017 pick outside of the top five and force them to send it to Denver. They could accomplish some of this, plus help restock the draft cupboard if they took on an albatross salary or two in exchange for some picks, but these kinds of contracts become rarer by the minute in this new cap environment. It’s painful to consider for the Memphis faithful, but could be a reality of their situation.

The team’s immediate playoff chances drop to slim if Conley bolts, and their title aspirations with this group slide to nil barring a Kevin Durant-level miracle in free agency. It’s really not an exaggeration to say his choice may decide the fate of the franchise for the next several years.

Other Targets

The Grizzlies can still offer Conley more years and larger annual raises than any other team (whether he’ll want the years is another question), and things aren’t quite so bleak if they’re able to retain him – provided he waits, of course. Unless he takes a big hometown discount, forcing Memphis to sign him before they’ve acceptably rounded out the rest of the roster in free agency will virtually eliminate their ability to do so.

Assuming this happens, quality wings should be far and away the highest priority. The Grizzles could use a suitable backup for Conley, unless they think Bryce Cotton or Xavier Mumford are up for it, but the market here is more robust and easier to navigate with a cheaper budget. Real, NBA-caliber shooters on the perimeter are a massive area of need, and bonus points if any of them can defend multiple positions well or run some secondary pick-and-roll.

Here’s the thing, though: These guys are tougher and tougher to find in a league that puts a premium on them. All the top candidates are out of Memphis’ price range unless they’re willing to roll some pretty huge dice by declining Stephenson’s option, a massive gamble that one of a handful of max-level swingmen would even give the Grizzlies a meeting.

Eric Gordon should be a top target among “safer” options – a guy with plenty of talent (including shooting) who could reconcile a disappointing career if he could ever stay healthy and consistent is exactly the type of bet the Grizzlies should be willing to take. Memphis should give Joe Johnson a call if he shows any desire to leave Miami after their playoff run, and could inquire about a guy like Arron Afflalo if he turns down his player option in New York. Gerald Henderson has done a solid job in Portland this year, and Leandro Barbosa could be within Memphis’ price range as a combo guard to both back up Conley and play some wing minutes.

Whether any of these moves would be enough to pair with the incumbents and take another shot at the West is a tough question to answer. However, if we are being honest about Memphis’ current situation, the answer is “no” within most conceivable outcomes.

That isn’t reason enough alone to give up on Conley and break out the drills for the rebuild, of course. Winning an NBA title is a ridiculously low-probability event, and even more so for teams in these kinds of markets. The past six years are an unquestioned success for this Memphis franchise even without a conference final appearance, and they’d only need a couple lucky dominos to fall their way to eclipse it.

A fall from grace is just a couple wrong turns away as well, though, and seemed to become more likely with Saturday’s news. We’re a few months away from finding out which direction Memphis is moving in.

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.

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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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Young Glad To Reunite With McGee, Embracing Chance With Warriors

Spencer Davies chats with JaVale McGee and Nick Young about the sharpshooter’s first year with the Warriors.

Spencer Davies

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You never forget where you started.

As first-round draft picks with only a year apart between them, Nick Young and JaVale McGee began their respective careers in our nation’s capital with the Washington Wizards.

That’s where a bond began. Despite a tumultuous four-year stay with an organization that never sniffed the playoffs and finished dead last in the Central Division three times in the span, the two remained close friends.

Almost a decade later, “Swaggy P” and “Pierre” are reunited. Only this time, it’s with the NBA’s defending champion Golden State Warriors.

“Just shows,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve both been in this league for a long time and people didn’t think we was gonna make it this far and that’s a blessing. We’ll continue to do it and prove people wrong. From the bottom to the top, you know what I’m sayin’?”

McGee agrees wholeheartedly. Winning his first title with the Warriors last summer, he’s learned quite a few things about the healthy climate within the organization that Young, at first, was surprised by.

“It’s definitely a different environment,” McGee told Basketball Insiders. “Even when he came here, he asked certain questions of stuff he could and couldn’t do just because the environment that we used to be in was real restrictive of things that really didn’t have to do with basketball.

“Here it’s a player’s team, so they do a really good job of catering to us.”

In regards to his on-court fit with Golden State, McGee feels that Young has adjusted accordingly throughout the season.

“I feel like he’s fit in well,” McGee told Basketball Insiders. “Definitely got his conditioning right and he’s pretty good getting in the system, figuring out the screen system that we have here, so he’s doing a pretty good job.”

Though he hasn’t played as much as he’s used to, Young is truly enjoying his transition with the Warriors. He says it’s been the most fun he’s had in his career.

“Just being in the winning circle,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “Being around good teammates, good people and just competing for a championship man. We fightin’ for something big. It’s my first time being a part of something like this.”

As for what’s stood out to him about Steve Kerr’s system, it’s been the unselfishness from everybody on the roster, coaches and players alike.

“They embrace me good,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “That’s the one thing I like is a good team, good teammates. Pretty much just everybody knowing their roles. Nobody’s bringing negative energies to the locker room and it’s just a good vibe.”

Once asked about who the best shooter on the team is, Young went with Kerr as his answer. He told Basketball Insiders that he’s “still going with Steve,” but probably anybody else would have to give Stephen Curry the nod.

Curry’s been playing out of his mind this year. Kevin Durant’s done the same. There have been multiple times where one or the other has been out due to rest or, most recently, nagging injuries. It’s allowed for others to step in and get some extra minutes, and Young’s been the beneficiary of that multiple times.

So with Curry in and Durant out or vice versa, how would he compare and contrast the periods?

“It’s a different game,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “Of course, different styles. Both of ‘em draw so much attention that leaves guys like me open, but when one of ‘em’s out we’ve still got enough depth to keep up with anybody.”

Recently after Curry scored 45 points in three quarters against the Los Angeles Clippers and didn’t even play in the fourth, Young was baffled. His only explanation for the outburst was that he was from another planet.

And yes, Young believes Curry’s “got a shot,” as does Durant, when it comes to the MVP conversation because of where the Warriors are at this point of the season.

The belief goes both ways. Just as Young is ecstatic watching his teammates succeed, so are they for him. McGee recalls his friend’s debut for Golden State at Oracle Arena on opening night.

It was a night of celebration for the Bay Area, as the crowd cheered during the pre-game championship ceremony to commemorate the team. Young ended up dropping 23 points on 8-for-9 from the field in his first game for the Dubs. The Houston Rockets spoiled the party with a win, but the moment was special for the two.

“I was excited,” McGee told Basketball Insiders. “I always get excited when he’s out there scoring and doing his thing. I’m always happy for him. That’s my friend, long-time friend, and it was dope that he could be out here.”

Though you wouldn’t know it by his performance, Young had butterflies in his stomach before it all started.

“Ah man it was unbelievable,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “I was nervous. I didn’t know what was gonna happen. First time playing for the Warriors opening night. Had my family there. It was ring night, so I didn’t think I was gonna play that much, but I got an opportunity and I just took advantage.”

Since that game, Young hasn’t eclipsed the 20-point mark. But to his defense, that first game was his season-high in minutes thus far. Kerr understands the depth of his team makes it difficult for him to get consistent playing time, but he’s taken it in stride and been a good teammate.

But we all know how he shoots the rock when he finds a groove. So how many games like the opener does he have in store for us?

“I don’t know,” Young told Basketball Insiders with a laugh. “I just gotta get hot, so it could be any night.”

And whenever that night comes, expect to see him smiling as he drains those buckets.

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NBA Daily: Are The HEAT Getting Into The Fray?

Things in the NBA trade world are starting to heat up, and there are some new situations worth watching as the NBA trade market starts to take shape.

Steve Kyler

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The Latest On The Trade Front

With the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline ticking ever so closer, there are a few stories worth watching as teams start to zero in on the changes they may consider making.

Clippers Not Ready To Blow It Up

For most of the season, there has been talk in NBA circles and the media that the Clippers would likely move on from center DeAndre Jordan. While that still seems to be more likely than not at this point, the message from the Clippers’ side of things is they are not ready to blow up the team, and moving off Jordan is far from assured.

The narrative from around the Clippers is they are going to evaluate the team a little closer to the deadline and see what’s really available to them, but until then they seem more than happy to see if this team can actually compete, which they have been doing.

A league source close to the situation said recently that as much as Clipper fans might want to see the team blown up, ownership and senior leadership does not seem open to that concept at all. In fact, they believe that its better to be competitive and one player away than trying to go through the teardown route, knowing that no one is bailing out their $119 million roster commitment.

The Clippers invested heavily into forwards Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari this past summer, and the belief is that they will invest even more into guard Lou Williams.

Equally, the prevailing thought on Jordan is that while he does have a Player Option for free agency in July, there isn’t much beleif that he’ll land anything close to the $24.1 million he is owed next season, making it more likely he opts into his deal than walks away.

There are no shortage of teams hovering around the Clippers if they opt to change course. The Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets both have eyes for Jordan if the Clippers opt to deal, while several teams seem keen on Williams, who is on an ending deal and would have Bird Rights for a team with limited cap flexibility. There has been talk that a couple of teams have had introductory talks on Griffin. However, it seems highly unlikely the Clippers seriously consider those situations.

If the Clippers wanted to blow up the team, it seems there are options for them, but the talk from the Clippers side is they don’t seem to be as open to the idea as some would like them to be.

Want A Veteran? Kings Have Some

The Sacramento Kings have told their veterans that they are going to start focusing more and more playing time on the younger players and that as many as three of the proven vets may not see action on a night to night basis.

There has been talk for weeks that guard George Hill is unhappy and seeking an exit from the Kings. However, his injury history and whopper of a salary seems to make it unlikely that he and the Kings will find a trade.

Veterans Vince Carter and Zach Randolph have handled the situation better, but league sources said it very possible both could be moved before the deadline, which apparently was suggested to both when they signed back in July.

The Kings have also been sniffing around for deals involving center Kosta Koufos and guard Garrett Temple; both have Player Options next season, which makes their value tough for the Kings, as most teams don’t value the uncertainty well.

Sources close to the situation said the Kings seem to be trying to help their veterans find better situations, especially as they are falling out of the rotation.

One long-time agent with a player on the roster commended the Kings for being smart about the situation, saying they seem to be going out of their way to try and help resolve the situation. Time will tell if there is a real market for any of those players and their somewhat hefty contracts.

Mirotic Has Veto Power, Sort Of

The Chicago Bulls have had the ability to trade forward Nikola Mirotic for a few days now, as he was one of the players who became trade-eligible on January 15. League sources said the Bulls had gotten pretty far down the road with both the Utah Jazz, on a deal centered on the expiring contract of Derrick Favors, and with the Detroit Pistons.

It’s unclear who the Pistons were really offering; there had been reports that the Pistons were dangling rookie Luke Kennard as the juice of a deal, with possibly Jon Leuer and his $10.4 million salary being the cap dollars included to make it work under the cap.

The Bulls seem to be holding out for a first-round draft pick in a Mirotic deal. However, league sources say the real hold up may be Mirotic himself.

The Bulls did a creative contract structure with Mirotic in that he has a team option in year two of the deal. Unless the Bulls exercise that option, Mirotic has veto rights. If the Bulls pick up that option, something league sources said Mirotic’s camp is pushing for, the veto power comes off the table, and the Bulls can completely control the process.

There has been considerable talk that Mirotic wants out of Chicago, but it seems some business may be holding up a potential deal.

It was never likely that the Bulls were going to immediately trigger a deal for Mirotic, so the timing of this may simply be the poker of deal-making in the NBA.

There is also something to be said about how teams would value Mirotic as a potential ending contract, versus a player with one more fully guaranteed year.

Equally, the Bulls haven’t closed the phones on offers either. While Utah and Detroit seem motivated, the Bulls may be smart to wait a few more weeks and see who is willing to meet their true asking price before they decide to pick up the Mirotic option to control the process.

Moving Whiteside?

Reading what the Miami HEAT will really do is always tough. The HEAT have a long track record of misdirection and clandestine processes. That said there is growing talk that the HEAT are more than open to a trade involving center Hassan Whiteside, especially if would help them clear out his cap dollars.

Whiteside is owed $23.7 million this year and has a fully guaranteed $25.4 million salary next season, plus a $27.09 million Player Option after that. That’s big money for almost everyone in the league.

The HEAT are not fire selling Whiteside, but there is a growing sense that if Whiteside could be moved for the right combination of ending contracts and upside youth, the HEAT would explore it.

This becomes interesting when you consider the Milwaukee Bucks have been after Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and that Cleveland Cavaliers have been linked to Jazz big man Derrick Favors.

Making a deal for a salary of Whiteside’s size would be massively tough for both the Bucks and the Cavs, but considering both ownership groups seem to be looking for a big splashy move, Whiteside could be the consolation prize if neither of the first options works out.

A Milwaukee deal for Jordan was said to be built around John Henson and Mirza Teletovic, who may be forced to medically retire due to a second recurrence of blood clots in his lungs. A Bucks deal would also likely include some combination of rookie scale players such as Thon Maker, Rashad Vaughn or D.J. Wilson, according to sources.

While on the surface none of that seems overly enticing, would clearing that kind of space be appealing to the HEAT? It does not seem to be for the Clippers.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been sniffing around deals offering up both Tristan Thompson and guard Iman Shumpert. The inclusion of the Cavaliers’ own first-round draft pick was mentioned earlier in the season when the Cavs were linked to Jordan and the Clippers. Is that enough value for the HEAT? Equally, the challenge for the Cavs is they have set up the roster with a ton of expiring players, which makes sense with the uncertainty of LeBron James’ future in Cleveland. Do the Cavs want to be holding Whiteside for two years after a potential James exit?

Of all the things being talked about in NBA circles, this one is interesting to watch, not only because the HEAT seems to be willing to deal, but because Whiteside could be the answer to serious problems for good teams vying for a legitimate shot at the NBA Finals, especially this year.

Dallas Is Open For Business

The Dallas Mavericks are open for business. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban confirmed as much to reporters, saying the Mavericks would be open to leveraging their potential cap space next summer if it returned the right assets.

The Mavericks have several ending contracts they are dangling and seem to be looking for not only a promising rookie scale player, but future draft picks.

The Mavericks have held onto some salary cap holds to technically keep them above the salary cap line, but they could renounce those holds and get under the cap now. That cap flexibility makes them interesting to watch, as they could absorb up to roughly $13 million in salary before including ending deals like Josh McRoberts, Devin Harris, and Nerlens Noel, who has veto rights on a trade.

Historically the Mavericks have done a deal every year at the deadline. With some much flexibility, they could be the centerpiece to a big transaction because they can absorb cap dollars others teams simply can’t.

Keep in mind that trades and trade talks are a fluid thing; what can be a very hard “No” today can turn into a “Yes” quickly, so until something is done, keep in mind, it’s not done no matter how much it may make sense.

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