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DeAndre Bembry on Joining Hawks, Rookie Goals, More

DeAndre Bembry on his transition to the Atlanta Hawks, offseason training with teammates, goals for his rookie year and more.

Alex Kennedy

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Atlanta Hawks small forward DeAndre Bembry is arguably one of the most NBA-ready players from this year’s draft class.

Not only is the 22-year-old more experienced than many of his fellow rookies, he’s also mature beyond his years and has the kind of basketball IQ rarely seen in a first-year player. Because of his versatility and ability to produce on both ends of the court, it’s possible that he could crack Mike Budenholzer’s rotation sooner than later in Atlanta.

Bembry was the No. 21 overall pick in the draft, and he likely would’ve gone higher had he been a bit younger. During the draft process, teams often fall in love with a player’s potential rather than their college production, which tends to hurt older prospects like Bembry. But after doing very well in pre-draft workouts and impressing NBA decision-makers in face-to-face meetings, Bembry solidified himself as a mid-first-round pick and is now determined to make every team that passed on him pay.

He seems to have found a perfect situation in Atlanta since the team is in win-now mode. After adding Dwight Howard in free agency, the Hawks are hoping to contend in the Eastern Conference, which is relatively wide open after the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Budenholzer and his staff want contributors, not projects, so it’s no coincidence that both of the team’s first-round selections (Taurean Prince and Bembry) are 22-year-olds who are ready to play now rather than needing years of development before making their mark.

Bembry may have flown under the radar a bit while at Saint Joseph’s, but there’s no question that he was one of the most productive players in the nation. As a sophomore, he led the Hawks in scoring (17.7), rebounds (7.7), assists (3.6) and steals (1.9). Last year, as a junior, he averaged 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 steals and .8 blocks while shooting 47.9 percent from the field. Bembry finished the campaign with an offensive rating of 113.1 and a defensive rating of 97.7. He played the third-most minutes of any player in the nation (1,341), showing just how important he was to the Hawks.

He was named the 2016 Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Player of the Year for his efforts, while also earning a spot on the All-Atlantic 10 First-Team (for the second straight year) and the conference’s All-Defensive Team.

Perhaps the best example of Bembry making his presence felt all over the court when his team needed it most was this past NCAA Tournament. In Saint Joseph’s first-round win over Cincinnati, Bembry filled the stat sheet to the tune of 23 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks (while shooting 57.2 percent from the field and 60 percent from three-point range). In the Round of 32 against Oregon, Bembry had 16 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals. Unfortunately for the Hawks, Bembry received little help and Oregon managed to win the close game by seven points.

Now, Bembry is hoping to use his well-rounded game to continue filling the stat sheet at the pro level. The Hawks won 48 games last season (fourth-best in the East) and are looking to make a deep postseason run after advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago. Atlanta has made the playoffs in nine straight seasons and all signs point to that streak continuing.

Basketball Insiders caught up with Bembry to discuss his transition to the NBA, what he has seen from his Hawks teammates in offseason workouts, his lofty Rookie of the Year goal, how he plans to honor his late brother, Adrian, and much more.

Alex Kennedy: You’ve been described as one of the most NBA-ready players in this draft class. Do you think you can make an impact right away in Atlanta and what can you provide the Hawks this season?

DeAndre Bembry: “I definitely feel like I can impact the game right away. I feel like it just depends on what the coaches need me to do in my rookie year. Whether it’s me needing to score or if it’s just needing me out there to guard the best player on the floor, I’m open to it. I’m a very versatile player; I can play with the ball in my hands and can play off the ball if that’s what Coach Bud wants. I can pretty much guard the one, two and three, so I can affect the game in many different areas. It just depends what the team needs me to do or what my coaches want me to do.”

Kennedy: You mentioned being able to play three positions and defend three different positions. You ranked 17th in the nation in Defensive Win Shares last season. How much does your versatility help you and, in today’s NBA where we see position-less basketball more and more, how important is that?

Bembry: “Rather than just being a one-dimensional player, Coach can throw me out there to do multiple things. Rather than just being a defensive player or just being able to throw up shots, I can always find a way to make an impact since I play hard on both ends. The NBA is definitely moving toward more versatile players. These days, the four will bring the ball up the court sometimes, like Draymond Green does. Even the fives are trying to dribble more than they used to. Being versatile can definitely help a player get more minutes, and I feel like that will help me get out there more.”

Kennedy: I love this fit in Atlanta for you. You’re unselfish, you defend, you like to facilitate for your teammates and you’re mature. A lot of times during the draft process, people focus on what number you get selected, but the specific situation and fit is probably more important. How great of a fit is this for you?

Bembry: “It’s a great fit. Being a team player is one of the things Coach Bud is really high on. Also, being able to share the ball, making the right play at the right time and being able to read and react much faster than others. It’s definitely a good fit for me because those are some of the things that I do very well. When I played in the Summer League, there wasn’t one play we drew up; it was just all read and react and that’s one thing I’m pretty much use to doing, making the right play at the right time and finding open teammates.”

Kennedy: What kind of interactions have you had with your teammates so far? Have you been working out with guys and getting the chance to pick their brains yet?

Bembry: “Yeah, definitely. I’ve been on the court with them and working out with them a lot. I’ve been working out with Dwight [Howard] a lot. [Paul] Millsap has been around. [Thabo] Sefolosha has been around. Pretty much everyone who’s been here for the summer, we’ve all been working out and just getting used to each other. The same goes for the coaches as well; I’ve just been trying to learn things from the coaches because they’ve been around the NBA for years. I’m just trying to soak in everything.”

Kennedy: The addition of Dwight Howard was huge for you guys. His move home made headlines and now people are curious to see how he’ll produce. What have you seen from Dwight in your workouts and, at this point in his career, what kind of impact can he have on both ends of the floor?

Bembry: “He can still obviously dominate the game if, mentally, he gets his mind right and if, physically, he’s healthy. From what I’ve been seeing though, Dwight has been killing it. He’s been shooting a lot of mid-range shots and they’re going in. He’s making them more consistently. I mean, everyone knows what Dwight can do though; we just need him when the season starts. He has to just block everything out and just do what he normally does. I feel like this year will definitely be a year where he does great things. He could be the top guy here, and I feel like that’s something he needed. He’s been trying to lead the team, and just doing little small things talking to me and Taurean [Prince], the two rookies. Even if it’s the older guys, he’ll talk to them as well. He’s definitely trying and we’re really looking forward to see what he’ll do for us.”

Kennedy: You and Taurean Prince have quite a bit in common in addition to being the two incoming rookies. You’re both 22 years old who are versatile swingmen who can make an impact on both ends of the court. How have you guys gotten along so far?

Bembry: “Well, Taurean and I have a similar background as far as how we got here. We were both underrated – not in the top 100. I met him at the Nike Skills Academy last summer and after that, we always had this respect for each other because whenever we went out there, we were just dogs and played hard against each other. Then, entering the NBA draft, we always matched up with each other somehow [in pre-draft workouts]. We were just going against each other a lot and just respecting each other’s game, so I feel like we got a feel for each other. He was cool off the court as well, so we developed somewhat of a bond. It was just funny how we ended up getting drafted together and ended up staying in the same condo and stuff like that. So yeah, Taurean and I are very close. We’re too close (laughs).”

Kennedy: That’s awesome. When you have another rookie who is there with you every step of the way and can relate to what you’re going through, how much easier does that make this transition?

Bembry: “I mean, it definitely helps to have somebody out there that you’re cool with, can talk about whatever with and things like that. I feel like we’re both mentally prepared, and we’re both mentally strong enough to come into the league prepared to dominate and go at whomever. That’s one of the things I like about Taurean; he has the same type of attitude that I have coming into the game. Right now, of course, he’s the one guarding me so we’re going hard at each other, like we’re enemies. (laughs) But that’s how I play and that’s how I like my teammates to play. We’ve looked really good playing against each other and alongside each other this summer. I can’t wait to see how we play against players from other teams.”

Kennedy: You had a very interesting journey to the NBA. In high school, you had a ton of doubters and you flew under the radar. One prominent scouting service had you ranked No. 224 in your class and Rivals didn’t even give you a single star, if I recall. How did that motivate you and how nice is it now to silence some of those detractors with your success?

Bembry: “The way I’ve always thought about it is I know what’s right and what’s wrong about my game. Even when I was in high school, I would just go out there and play basketball; that’s how simple it is for me. You could say whatever you want about me, but I’m going to go out there and play hard every possession because that’s something I know how to do. I’m going to go out there and play defense. I’m going to play my game. That’s just how I do it. That’s how I’ve always done it and that’s how I got here. Each game, I would just go out there, play hard and that’s pretty much what would shut everyone up. I always loved the game, so getting motivated wasn’t hard for me. But I did use it and let it motivate me even more.

“I’ve never been someone who hypes myself up, and maybe that [affected me] in the draft. I still feel like I should have gone higher, but that’s just another chance for me to show people what I can do. I want to show people why I really should have gone higher in the draft. But I’m just excited to be in the NBA. I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing against these guys.”

Kennedy: What are some of your individual goals for this upcoming season?

Bembry: “Well, I always set my standards very high. This year, I’m obviously going to say win Rookie of the Year, but other than that [my goal is] just to get as many minutes as I can as a rookie. I know Coach Bud doesn’t really play younger guys a lot, but I feel like me and Taurean are two very different younger guys coming into the NBA. I’m just trying to go out there and play my game, but I’ll definitely try to win Rookie of the Year.”

Kennedy: Who are some NBA players who you’ve studied and who have influenced your game a bit?

Bembry: “There are a lot of people. I try to pick little pieces from different players when I notice something that looked good or worked well. Take someone like Dirk Nowitzki, for example. I’m always learning how to do the little fade-away jump shot. I do a lot of Eurosteps, so I look at Manu Ginobili and James Harden. I look at Tracy McGrady a lot. It’s just taking little things from different players. I’ll look at Magic Johnson running the point as a 6’8 guard. If you’re a good basketball player and something that you’re doing is working, then I’ll definitely try to pick it apart and learn from it.”

Kennedy: Are there any defensive-minded guys you watched, maybe because of their motor or their ability to lock guys down?

Bembry: “I like people who are mentally and physically in tune to the game, so I’ll start with like a Dennis Rodman type of player. That’s how I try to come into every game. Like Rodman, I won’t let anybody just keep scoring on me. In today’s game, I’d say someone like a Jimmy Butler or Tony Allen – guys who can actually defend and do a good job at it.”

Kennedy: We talked about your individual goals, so now let’s talk about team goals. After the Cleveland Cavaliers, the East is pretty much wide open. How good can the Hawks be this season?

Bembry: “I feel like if everybody brings their ‘A’ game, we should be good. The bond is there; I know a bond when I see them. I’ve been on a lot of teams, especially in high school, where we started with a strong bond and went on to win championships. That’s what I’ve been a part of, and it all starts off with the bond. Our bond [in Atlanta] is already good. Then, you always need to have superstars. Dwight Howard is our superstar, Paul Millsap is our All-Star. As long as our top guys always bring their ‘A’ game and we just do what we’re supposed to do, then we will be pretty good this year. Like you said, nobody else in the East is as dominant as the Cavs, so it would definitely be fun to play in the playoffs my rookie year.”

Kennedy: You are going to wear No. 95 to honor your younger brother, Adrian, who was shot and killed two weeks before the 2016 NBA Draft while trying to break up a fight in Charlotte. You’re doing this because Adrian was born in 1995. I know you also want to use your platform as an NBA player to speak out against gun violence and hold events in a number of large cities. I’m so sorry for your loss. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. For those who don’t know, can you explain what you’re planning to do to honor Adrian?

Bembry: “I’m wearing No. 95 for him. Also, we’re going to do events about [preventing gun violence] in a number of cities. We’re still doing all of the paperwork, and I’m trying to find different foundations to get involved with. I’ve just been talking with my mother about what we want to do and talking to my lawyers as we try to get all the paperwork done. In addition to here in Atlanta, I want to do something in Philly, New Jersey and Charlotte because those are all areas where I actually lived in and got to see a lot of different things. I’m just trying to get that all finalized and I’ve been talking to the National Basketball Players Association about it as well. I think I’m going to try to get it going after my first season so that people know who I am a bit more and know my story. I think that’s better rather than me just trying to do it now and nobody understands what’s going on.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is 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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