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Jazz, Hawks, Pacers Trade is First Shoe to Drop

Ben Dowsett looks at what today’s three-team trade means for the Hawks, Pacers and Jazz.

Ben Dowsett

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The first major trade bombshell of the 2016 draft season dropped Wednesday, with reports that a three-way trade will send George Hill to Utah, Jeff Teague to Indiana and the 12th pick in Thursday’s draft (formerly belonging to Utah) to Atlanta. Further, reports have indicated that Indiana will pursue an extension for Teague. Let’s break down the deal as reported for each of the three teams involved.

Atlanta Hawks

Many will view swapping a starter for a lottery pick as a clear sign of a rebuild, but this could be entirely the opposite from the Hawks. It’s long been rumored that many in the front office considered Dennis Schroder the superior option at the point as he came of age, and moving Teague for a return that includes no incoming salary doubles down on that bet while also creating additional cap space. The Hawks’ chief priority this summer is retaining unrestricted free agent Al Horford, and the extra cap space opened up by Teague’s departure now leaves them right in the neighborhood of max space available for a potential free agent – one who could convince Horford they were still on a winning track. The room could also serve as a way to retain restricted free agent Kent Bazemore, whom the Hawks will have to dip into cap space for on a new deal.

Of course, should the dominoes not fall their way on the market over the summer, the move actually does allow the Hawks the flexibility to pivot into something of a temporary rebuild. Paul Millsap would be the largest tipping point in determining if they went all the way with this, but the other outlines are there: Atlanta owns all its own picks and now adds another in the lottery, plus has a ton of financial flexibility from the summer of 2017 on forward. Their ideal outcome with this move clearly appears to be to persuade Horford to stay while bringing on another high-talent veteran, and their second preference should Horford leave might just be to attempt to add multiple high-dollar guys (or re-sign Bazemore). Even if neither of these pan out, they’ve left themselves some outs, albeit not fantastic ones. The team is also reportedly shopping the No. 12 and No. 21 picks in tomorrow’s draft, so they may not be done dealing. For more on the Hawks’ angle, check out Lang Greene’s recent piece.

Indiana Pacers

In swapping players at the same position who many consider to be on a similar talent tier, the Pacers are mostly betting on age and their ability to extend Teague, who is two years younger than Hill as both enter the final season on their current deals. If Larry Bird and Pacers brass do indeed believe they can lock Teague up for another few years at a fair deal, and do indeed have him at least even with Hill as a player currently, they’ve made a nice little deal for themselves.

The latter part there could be up for debate in some circles, though. Hill is the better distance shooter and defender of the two, by an amount that just might override the two-year gap in age (expressed another way, Hill has logged just over 3,000 more minutes than Teague in their respective careers). Teague is more capable creating offense, though the degree here might be overstated – he’s a very good passer, but many of the looks he was able to create for both himself and others in Atlanta were at least partially a result of a team system and fantastic gravity from guys like Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap. Hill was consistently good to great playing a slightly deferential role next to Paul George; will Teague fit in the same way?

From a raw value standpoint, though, the Pacers have done well if they can get extra years out of Teague in exchange for an older guy who might be over the hill a year or two earlier.

Utah Jazz

Purely from the perspective of immediate team goals, it’s hard to view the Jazz as anything but clear winners in this deal. A team already loaded with youngsters and without a major draft need, Utah was able to flip a 12th pick that held less value for them than most other teams into a starting-caliber player in their largest clear area of need.

Hill will fit like a glove in Utah, where he can play either with or without returning 20-year-old Dante Exum without forcing the Jazz to sacrifice an inch of size on the perimeter (the Hill-Exum duo would likely have the longest wingspan of any backcourt in the league, actually). He offers 37 percent and change from deep in his career to a team with major shooting and spacing needs last year, and is yet another above average defender to put in front of the menacing Rudy Gobert-Derrick Favors combo at the rim.

Best of all, Hill has proven successful in a situation where wings share in the primary ball-handling duties – exactly the scenario he’ll be entering in Utah. His own skill in the pick-and-roll will lighten the burden on guys like Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood to generate all the offense, and vice versa. He’ll be the perfect soft landing spot for Exum, coming off a torn ACL, allowing the young Aussie to find his legs and his rhythm without an overdose of pressure from a fan base hungry for the playoffs.

The move has larger ramifications outside the specific players impacted on the court, too. With rumors flying about Gordon Hayward’s status as he nears a summer 2017 opt-out he’ll certainly exercise, the trade signifies in part the franchise’s commitment to pushing this core into contention immediately. They’ve added a veteran to fill a specific need. Talk that they’d send core assets to move up in the draft and trigger another minor rebuild was always contrary to this simple line of thinking. This has been the preference of the Jazz front office for some time now.

There could be some fairly immediate roster fallout at the point guard position, however. The Jazz now hold each of Hill (when the deal is consummated, which likely won’t be until July for salary reasons), Exum, Shelvin Mack, Trey Burke and Raul Neto under contract, and there will not be room for at least one of these guys (likely more than one) moving forward. How Dennis Lindsey and his team proceed here will be interesting to see. Burke has felt like an unlikely bet to remain on the team since he was relegated to third string upon Mack’s arrival last year, and that feeling was reinforced Wednesday. Exum isn’t going anywhere, period.

The most interesting debate would appear to come down to Mack and Neto, both of whom did well in the roles asked of them last season – but both of whom are clear backups. Expect Utah to give significant run to both Hill and Exum rather than relegating one of them to the more traditional “backup” point guard role, an easy task as they can play together whenever necessary. This probably leaves room for only one of the other two.

Mack has a non-guaranteed deal that the Jazz have to make a decision on by July 7 – should they choose to let him go, they can do so without costing themselves another dime before that date. Neto is guaranteed, but his deal is so cheap that releasing him (or trading him for whatever thin value they could get back, if such value exists) would be easy enough if they chose to. Both guys can be removed from the roster without much trouble, and which one leaves town probably just depends on who team brass thinks will do a better job in a limited role. Given the extra time on Neto’s contract and the team control it feels like he has a small edge at this point, though Mack’s rapport with coach Quin Snyder and connection to Hayward from their Butler days could play a role.

There’s no question Utah’s move involves a certain degree of risk. Hill is a big upgrade to Utah’s point guard situation, but he’s no superstar and he’s 30 years old. He could walk as an unrestricted free agent after this season, and retaining him might cost a pretty penny in the largest cap summer the league has ever seen. A lottery pick in return is far from nothing.

It’s exactly the sort of gamble the Jazz simply had to take, though. They believe in Exum on a high level, and holding firm in that belief would make a hypothetical Hill departure after just one year much more bearable. The 12th pick could yield a good player, sure, but it comes in a class with a ton of questions and warts after the top two guys – there’s no better than 50-50 odds that the player selected 12th in this draft ever becomes better than George Hill is right now. There’s also the very real chance that a guy labeled a solid teammate and an unselfish player his whole career would see an overwhelmingly positive youth movement taking place in Utah, and decide to return on a bargain deal to play veteran leader on a team chasing glory.

Most of all, though, it’s a signal to guys like Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert that this team is serious right now. Who cares if Hill doesn’t make them a title contender overnight? The time is over for hedging assets and getting younger; the time is now for figuring out what it will take for this core to compete for a title. The Jazz will enter 2016-17 having filled their largest hole, and with perhaps the most menacing defensive starting lineup we’ve seen (on paper) in the league in a few years. This is a great move for Utah, even in realistic worst-case scenarios.

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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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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