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Is the 2015 Free Agent Class Better than 2014?

Which free agent class is better: the 2014 class or the 2015 class? See which players will be available in each summer and decide.

Jesse Blancarte

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The NBA’s regular season is over, which means free agency is right around the corner. This summer’s list of free agents is fluid as many players have the choice to opt out of their current contract in order to secure a new, longer contract with their team or another team; players such as Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph have to decide whether they want to test free agency now or at some point down the road. This often precludes a potential free agent from ever actually hitting the market. Also, players can extend their current contract and avoid free agency. This happens less often under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but is still possible. Thus, here we will be making educated predictions on whether players such as Anthony, Gay and Randolph will enter this summer’s free agency pool or put off the bidding war for their services until next offseason.

In some years, NBA free agency includes a star-studded cast, like in 2010 when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Carlos Boozer, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Dirk Nowitzki among others were all free agents. More often, however, there are one, two or maybe three stars who are free agents and generate a lot of buzz, such as Chris Paul and Dwight Howard last year.

Considering this, let’s take a look at who may be available this upcoming offseason.

Notable 2014 Unrestricted Free Agents:

Early Termination Option:

Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Andrea Bargnani

Player Option:

Tim Duncan, Josh McRoberts, Darren Collison, Glen Davis, Danny Granger, Chris Andersen, Anthony Morrow, Mo Williams, Rudy Gay, Channing Frye, Zach Randolph, Nick Young, Andray Blatche

Currently in Final Year of their Contract:

Dirk Nowitzki, Lance Stephenson, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Jerryd Bayless, Kris Humphries, Andrei Kirilenko, Shaun Livingston, Luke Ridnour, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Spencer Hawes, C.J. Miles, DeJuan Blair, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Aaron Brooks, Rodney Stuckey, Steve Blake, Jermaine O’Neal, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman, Jodie Meeks, Mike Miller, Beno Udrih, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, Greg Oden, Ramon Sessions, Dante Cunningham, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jason Smith, Greg Stiemsma, Thabo Sefolosha, Emeka Okafor, Boris Diaw, Kyle Lowry, Marvin Williams, Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat

»In Related: Full 2014-15 Cap Space Projections

Nobody’s free agency decision has created more speculation and interest than Anthony’s. This is due to the disappointing season that the New York Knicks had, and their questionable ability to become a contending team in the next few years. ‘Melo can forgo the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer to potentially join a team with significant cap space, like the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets. Anthony’s free agency situation is in flux and will garner the most interest throughout the league. New York is still considered the favorite to retain ‘Melo, but at age 29, he may just take his chances moving forward in Chicago or Houston.

The Big Three in Miami similarly have the option to forgo the final year of their contracts and sign with any team that has cap space. However, given their success in Miami, and their close relationship, most insiders and fans believe that James, Wade and Bosh will either choose not to exercise their early termination options this summer to put off their free agency by one year, or re-sign long-term with the HEAT. However, if Miami gets bounced in the playoffs and the long-term health of Wade becomes a major issue, James may look to other teams. While this scenario seems unlikely, it’s not implausible. Wade had to miss a lot of games this season to preserve himself for the playoffs, and he has been injury prone throughout his career. Additionally, Bosh has taken a back seat to James and Wade since teaming up in Miami, and may look to go elsewhere in order to reestablish himself as a franchise player. Don’t forget that in Toronto, Bosh was the franchise cornerstone who put up huge numbers each season.

These are not the only major players to potentially hit free agency this upcoming season. Players like Duncan, Gay and Randolph can forfeit significant money in the last year of their contracts in order to secure a long-term deal. Duncan is a Spur for life and would most likely retire before joining another team, so he doesn’t impact this list too much. However, Gay and Randolph are both players that are set to make major money next year, but may benefit more by re-signing with their teams, or another team, for more guaranteed years at a lower annual salary. Gay has stated that he would like to stay in Sacramento, and Randolph has had his best seasons in Memphis. However, if other teams make significant offers to either player, they will have to seriously consider moving to a new team.

Nowitzki is in a similar situation to Duncan. Nowitzki is more likely to retire than leave the Mavericks, so he is not a major factor in terms of free agency. Teams like the Houston Rockets and Miami HEAT may come calling to woo Nowitzki, but the safe bet is that he remains in Dallas. However, Gasol, Pierce and Deng are some players who will draw a lot of attention this offseason. Gasol and Pierce are looking for their last significant contracts, and could potentially end up anywhere this offseason. Deng could stay with the Cavaliers, but he has not been a natural fit since arriving from Chicago. Cleveland should be considered the favorite right now, but teams like the Suns and Lakers are reportedly interested.

Stephenson is another player to keep an eye on. Stephenson is a nightly triple-double threat and has a very diverse skill-set. Though he has had some behavioral issues, such as recently butting heads with teammate Evan Turner, Stephenson is very talented and will get a lot of interest from teams this offseason.

Notable 2014 Restricted Free Agents:

Avery Bradley, Greg Monroe, Evan Turner, Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vazquez, Gordon Hayward, Jordan Crawford, Ed Davis, P.J. Tucker

In general, restricted free agents are less likely to leave their team, as most franchises tend to match any offer sheet their player receives. However, this year some very talented players could be available. For example, when former Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars signed Josh Smith to a large contract this past offseason, he made it increasingly difficult for the team to retain Greg Monroe. Monroe has emerged as one of the most talented young bigs in the league, but with Smith on board (who is virtually unmovable due to the size of his contract and poor outside shooting) Monroe may be lost to a team willing to offer a max deal. If Monroe secures a max offer from another team, the Pistons will have the option of matching the offer sheet, but it will be a difficult decision. Two other examples are Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, who have both shown flashes of brilliance throughout this season and may interest other teams enough to receive near max, or max contract offers. In these scenarios, the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Detroit Pistons would have to make a tough decision, deciding to match the offer sheet or let the player walk or try to work out a sign-and-trade to get something back for losing the player.

Gordon Hayward and Evan Turner are in similar situations. They are both players who have value, but they are not bona fide stars. Therefore, other teams may be willing to offer Hayward and Turner significant contracts in the hopes that they will continue to improve and someday be worth that contract offer. This will put pressure on their current teams to either pay them more than they may be currently worth, or let them walk away for nothing. This is what happened a few seasons ago when the Golden State Warriors offered Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan a four-year, $43 million offer sheet, which seemed ridiculously pricey at the time. The Clippers decided to match the offer, though the cost was higher than what they wanted to pay. Fortunately for the Clippers, Jordan has developed enough that he is now worth that contract.

Overall, with names like Anthony, James, Wade, Bosh, Gay, Stephenson, Bledsoe, Thomas, Monroe, Hayward, Deng, Gasol and Pierce available, this is a very talented free agency class. Additionally, there are also some potential gems like Shaun Livingston and Kyle Lowry who will be available as well. However, as talented as this pool of players may seem, a lot of the talent potentially available will likely re-sign with their current teams, which diminishes the potential talent that will actually be available.

The summer of 2015 has a lot of talented names that will be potentially available as well. Here are some of the more notable players likely to hit free agency the following summer:

Notable 2015 Unrestricted Free Agents:

Early Termination Option:

Thaddeus Young, Jared Dudley

Player Option:

Jeff Green, Brook Lopez, Gerald Henderson, Al Jefferson, Monta Ellis, Roy Hibbert, David West, Chase Budinger, Kevin Love, Arron Afflalo, Goran Dragic

Will be in Final Year of their Contract:

LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Louis Williams, Brandon Bass, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Marcus Thornton, Gary Neal, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Anderson Varejao, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Brandan Wright, Will Bynum, Omer Asik, Omri Casspi, Jeremy Lin, Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, DeAndre Jordan, Steve Nash, Marc Gasol, Kosta Koufos, J.J. Barea, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ronny Turiaf, Tyson Chandler, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Jason Maxiell, Jameer Nelson, Ronnie Price, Gerald Green, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews, Dorell Wright, Jeff Ayres, Marco Belinelli, Austin Daye, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Tony Parker, Landry Fields, Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes, Amir Johnson, John Salmons, Jeremy Evans, Andre Miller

The big name that has everyone’s attention for 2015 is Kevin Love. Love has never made it to the playoffs and has not given much indication that he wants to stay in Minnesota long-term. Love can forgo the last year of his contract and hit the market as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015. Teams like the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly keeping tabs on Love and may avoid adding any significant salary this upcoming offseason in case Love does decide to leave Minnesota.

While Love headlines the 2015 class of free agents, there are other talented players who will potentially be available as well. Players like Rajon Rondo, Goran Dragic, DeAndre Jordan, Brook and Robin Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Arron Afflalo and Paul Milsap will all potentially be available as well.

While teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers are likely to retain players like Jordan, Dragic and Aldridge, it is less clear what will happen for players like Rondo and Brook Lopez. Rondo, when healthy, is one of the best point guards in the league. Similarly, Lopez, when healthy, is one of the most talented centers, despite his low rebounding rate. With Boston rebuilding and Brooklyn experiencing so much success without Lopez, Rondo and Lopez may be on the move.

There are also some other names that may be obtainable, like Tyson Chandler, Amir Johnson and Carlos Boozer (note: Boozer may be amnestied this offseason and would then join the 2014 crop of free agents). These players are not likely to receive the types of offers that Aldridge or Gasol will, but they are talented pieces who can significantly help a team looking to add a solid veteran. Another notable player is Afflalo. Afflalo is one of the best two-way shooting guards in the league, but has been hidden away in Orlando. With the Magic rebuilding, Afflalo is likely to change teams either through a trade this upcoming offseason, or in free agency in 2015.

Notable 2015 Restricted Free Agents:

Pero Antic, Mirza Teletovic, Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Jae Crowder, Kenneth Faried, Quincy Miller, Kyle Singler, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Patrick Beverley, Nick Calathes, Norris Cole, Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved, Iman Shumpert, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, Kyle O’Quinn, Nikola Vucevic, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Joel Freeland, Derrick Williams, Kawhi Leonard, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Glen Rice Jr.

The list of restricted free agents in 2015 is deeper than the list for 2014, but it could shrink if some of these players ink extensions. Names like Jimmy Butler, Kenneth Faried, Klay Thompson, Partrick Beverley, the Morris twins, Iman Shumpert, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris and Enes Kanter may be available if they continue to increase their value and become too expensive for their current team to keep. Some names that will not likely make it to free agency are Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio and Kemba Walker. These players will likely agree to a contract extension with their current teams as they are cornerstone pieces for their franchises.

However, for players like Reggie Jackson, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler, they may get offers that their current teams are not comfortable matching. For example, Jackson has shown that he is very talented, but with Russell Westbrook ahead of him, does it make sense for the Thunder to keep Jackson if he is offered a contract worth over $8 million a year? Probably not when teams like the Clippers, Bulls and Nets have backup point guards like Darren Collison, D.J. Augustin and Shaun Livingston playing big minutes for $2 million or less. Leonard is more likely to be retained by the Spurs no matter what since Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are in the latter parts of their careers and Leonard is considered a cornerstone piece moving forward. Similarly, Butler is likely to be retained by the Bulls unless he is given an unexpectedly large contract offer.

Comparing the two free agent classes, it seems that there is more talent available this upcoming offseason with names like James, Wade, Bosh, ‘Melo, Gay, Randolph, Bledsoe, Monroe, Gasol, Stephenson, Pierce, Deng, Lowry, Duncan and Nowitzki all potentially available. However, a lot of these players, like James, Wade, Bosh, Bledsoe, Duncan and Nowitzki are almost certain to re-sign with their current teams and so it is difficult to say that they should really be included in this year’s free agent class. This summer’s free agent pool has big names, but it may end up being somewhat anticlimactic.

Names like Love, Rondo, Afflalo, Millsap, Jordan, the Lopez twins, the Morris twins, Jackson, Shumpert, Faried, Harris and Kanter are more likely to join new teams if they are given big enough offers. So while the biggest names may be technically hitting free agency this upcoming offseason, it may be in 2015 when significant free agents will actually be available to teams looking to make big signings. This is why teams like the Lakers and Knicks may forgo adding any major salary this offseason and hold off for 2015. When looking at the talent that will be available during these next two years, the biggest names will technically be available in 2014, but there will likely be more talent that is actually on the move in 2015.

Of course, these are all fluid situations, and the final list of players actually available each offseason may look very different in the future than it does today.

Leave your thoughts below on which class of free agents you think is more talented, and what players you think may be on the move in the next two seasons. If you think this list overlooked some significant names that could impact the 2014 or 2015 free agent markets, let us know in the comments section.

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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G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

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

David Yapkowitz

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Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.

Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.

Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.

With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.

1. Christian Wood

Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.

His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.

2. Jameel Warney

Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.

With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.

3. Melo Trimble

After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.

He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.

4. Joel Bolomboy

Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.

At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.

5. Jeremy Evans

Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.

With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.

Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.

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NBA Daily: Potential Trade Targets to Get the Sixers to the Playoffs

On the cusp of a playoff appearance for the first time in six years, the Philadelphia 76ers could cement their postseason status with a move at the trade deadline.

Dennis Chambers

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At times this season, the Philadelphia 76ers look like they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best teams. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at their disposal, along with capable three-point shooters, the Sixers have shown flashes of being a force to be reckoned with.

And at other times, well, they look like a discombobulated young team, with serious flaws in the construction of its roster.

Despite the lapses they display, the Sixers are still right in the thick of the playoff race. Currently, at 21-20, they hold a half-game advantage over the Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.

While they await the return of top overall pick Markelle Fultz, who has still yet to hit the court after being shut down earlier this season with a shoulder injury, the Sixers will continue to miss depth on the wing and a particular skill set that holds them back from winning games they seem to have locked up with double-digit leads. For all the greatness that is Embiid, and all of the promise that is Simmons, when the former isn’t on the court, the latter struggles to shoulder the scoring load due to his inability to shoot jump shots.

Initially, that’s what Fultz was drafted for. A player that head coach Brett Brown has said many times before, has the talent to tie everything together with the Sixers’ roster. What he means by that is Fultz represents a scorer from multiple levels of the court who forces the defense to lock in on, potentially leaving the teams’ shooters open on the wing.

Without Fultz, and when Embiid is on the bench, the team lacks a player who can put the ball on the floor, create and knock down jumpers. Although long-term success is still very much the attention for Philadelphia, that doesn’t discount the fact that a team that finished with 10 wins just two seasons ago is on the verge of making a playoff appearance for the first time since 2011-12 with a core of young, promising players.

Because of that possibility, and because of the clear holes in team’s makeup that could prevent this from happening, the Sixers could become an interesting player at the trade deadline — especially considering the names that appear available, according to reports.

It’s no secret that Sixers’ president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wants to keep financial flexibility heading into this summer, that’s the main reason players like J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson were signed to one-year deals last offseason. Before the team has to start signing their own players to big extensions, the Sixers are in a unique position where they not only have elite homegrown talent, but the money to complement those players the best they can. Because of that, any deal that would return a player with money on the books past this season seems unlikely.

That being said, it just so happens that two players potentially on the trading block right now fulfill the Sixers’ most crucial need, and also aren’t on the hook for money past this year. Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that Rodney Hood could be moved before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and that multiple teams are expressing interest in his services.

Along with Hood, Stein also reported that Lou Williams, who’s been the center of many trade talks around the league given his career-year and impending free agent status, was involved in specific discussions that would send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What should intrigue the Sixers about these two players is not only their ability on the court but also their flexibility off of it.

Let’s start with Hood. Before the rise of Donovan Mitchell this season, Hood looked to be in a position to assume the role as the dominant scorer on the Utah Jazz following Gordon Hayward’s departure. At just 25 years old and in the final year of his rookie contract, Hood may not be worth the price tag for Utah this summer considering their find with Mitchell.

Should the Jazz actually move on from Hood, it’s unclear what they would ask for in return at this point. Yes, Hood his an impending free agent, which could diminish his value. But the team trading for him would assume his Bird Rights, therefore giving them a better shot at retaining him this summer should they choose to do so.

The best part about his potential fit in Philadelphia is that he fits the timeline of the rebuild while also addressing a need in the present. Being just 25, Hood fits alongside the core of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Dario Saric and Robert Covington as a young player. If the Sixers were to miss out on whoever they were planning to target with their financial flexibility this summer, Hood would still be there to plug in for years with a contract extension.

Shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc this season, and displaying the track record of being able to fill up the score sheet, Hood could become the go-to-scorer for Philadelphia when Embiid isn’t on the court, or late in games when they need to stop an opposing team’s run.

While he appears to at least be on the table as of now, Hood is certainly worth checking in on from the Sixers’ standpoint.

Now, onto Williams. Drafted by Philadelphia all the back in 2005 with the 45th overall pick, Williams is enjoying the best season of his career for the Los Angeles Clippers. At 31, he doesn’t represent the long-term upside that Hood does, but for this season alone, bringing Williams on to this current Sixers’ roster could be that extra jolt to get them cleanly into the postseason.

Averaging 23 points per game and shooting 41 percent from downtown, Williams fits the role as an iso-scorer better than any player on the Sixers’ current roster. Alongside Simmons and Embiid, Williams could assume the role Fultz was supposed to this season.

Another interesting ripple to the potential Williams fit is that he was on the last Sixers’ roster to make the playoffs. Adding him to this roster would bring his career full circle. This summer, Williams is most likely going to test the market and given his age and potential price tag he may not fit so well into the Sixers’ plans moving forward. But with his history with the club and city, getting him on board for another playoff run with an exciting young team could arguably help in the negotiation process this offseason.

Neither of these potential trades are slam dunks, and it remains to be seen if either player will even be moved. But for where the Sixers stand currently, coupled with their growing postseason expectations, checking in around the league on trade targets that can fulfill obvious needs should be at the forefront of Colangelo’s agenda for the next few weeks.

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Payton Blocking Out Trade Talk, Believes Magic Will Turn It Around

Spencer Davies sits down with Elfrid Payton to discuss his fourth year, trade rumors and a trying season for Orlando in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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It’s hard for a team to look for positives when it’s living in the basement.

The Orlando Magic have had a rough go of it this year. They’re 13-32 at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve have had a ton of setbacks, and they currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating.

There is a bright spot hidden in there, though, and head coach Frank Vogel sees it growing as the season progresses.

“We’re frustrated with our record, but we’re encouraged with the development we’ve had with our young players,” Vogel said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “Aaron Gordon, Mario [Hezonja], and [Elfrid Payton] have all had strong individual seasons and continue to get better. All those guys are improving individually and at some point, it’s gonna lead to more Ws.”

While Gordon stands out more to some than the others because of his star appeal, Payton is right up there with him as far as making the next step goes.

“Elfrid’s shooting the ball better from the perimeter and at the rim,” Vogel said. “He’s worked on his left hand. He’s worked on his floaters. Shooting 52 percent from the field and that’s pretty darn good for a point guard, and the 39 percent from the three as well.”

Those are your more traditional statistics that don’t address the leap he’s taken in efficiency. Sure, Payton’s scoring the same amount of points per game, but it’s the way he’s been getting that’s been most noticeable.

According to Basketball-Reference and NBA.com, he’s making nearly 70 percent of his tries between 0-3 feet and ranks third among point guards in restricted field goal percentage (min. four attempts).

But Payton doesn’t like to evaluate himself using numbers, so he doesn’t know how to feel about how he’s played for Orlando this year.

“It’s tough to say because I like to measure my success by winning and we haven’t been doing that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “So tough to say.”

He’s not kidding. Since starting out the season 8-4, the Magic have taken a hard fall, only winning five games since November 10. In this stretch, there have been three hefty losing streaks—two 9-game slides and most recently a 7-game skid.

“Not to make excuses—we had a lot of injuries,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of what happened. “Haven’t really been playing with the group of guys that we started the season with, so kinda derailed us a little bit.”

As the losses pile up, so does the chatter. Indicated by multiple recent reports, Orlando has made it clear that many players on the roster are available on the trade block. Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, and Payton were recently brought up as names who could possibly on the move if the right deal presents itself.

When asked about the rumblings, Vogel claimed he doesn’t have a message for his guys.

“They understand it’s part of the business,” he said. “Just focus on playing the game.”

Like his coach, Payton doesn’t have a reaction to the noise.

“I don’t get caught up into the things like that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Today I’m an Orlando Magic. I play for the Orlando Magic and I’m gonna give them 100 percent of me. I’m somebody that likes to finish what I started, so I definitely would like to see this through and try to turn this organization around.”

So who does he see on this team that can help jump-start the process in flipping the script?

“Everybody,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I like Vuc. I like AG. Evan [Fournier] is somebody who can fill it up. T Ross is somebody who can fill it up when healthy. I think we have a lot of talent on this team. Even the rookies—Wes [Iwundu] plays well for us in stretches. Jon [Isaac] when he was playing he’d do well.

“You could see the potential there. So I think we have a lot of weapons on this team. I’m very confident in the group we have here. I think we have a lot of talent, we just have to do it.”

Saying you’re going to right the ship is one thing. Actually doing it is a whole other challenge. With where the Magic sit in the standings currently, their work is cut out for them. That being said, Payton isn’t giving up.

In fact, he’s still got his eyes on making it to the postseason, and it starts with him.

“Definitely trying to get a run going,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Make a playoff push. It’s definitely not out of sight right now, especially with the way the East is. We win a few games and we right back in the thick of things.

“Do whatever I can to help us to get more wins, man. I think that’s what it all boils down to. I figure if I’m playing well, that means we’re winning for the most part.”

Defense matters the most, and it’s something Payton and his group know they need to get better at if they have a chance to play past mid-April.

“Just be tied in together a little bit more,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I think sometimes we have too many breakdowns on the backside. So just being more in-tune with each other.”

One thing is for sure—Orlando is going through this difficult time as a team, but refuses to fold. Payton says Vogel has constantly stayed in their ears with uplifting advice.

“Keep fighting,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of his words. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No one’s gonna feel sorry for you, so just keep fighting.”

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