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Los Angeles Lakers 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

It’s not often a team can remake itself in such dramatic fashion as the LA Lakers did this summer. The question is, is it enough to compete for anything in year one? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the LA Lakers in this 2018-19 NBA Season preview.

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The new look Los Angeles Lakers have arrived. While the team sports a number of new players, none compares to LeBron James. King James arrives with what appears to be monumental pressure on his shoulders. Like another all-time great, Wilt Chamberlin, James will be wearing purple and gold as a veteran having already accomplished much in his career. James also comes to a Lakers team that has suffered through an abnormally long postseason drought, having not made the playoffs since the 2012-2013 season. Unlike other players his age, James is playing basketball at the highest levels and is positioned to lead the team back to renewed levels of success and visibility.

To kick off this new era of Lakers basketball, the Lakers bring back a core of young and talented players along with returning head coach Luke Walton. Walton and the young core will face new levels of attention and pressure as the presence of James immediately elevates the team’s profile and expectations. After James committed to the Lakers, the front office went out and added several veterans to round out the roster. In the short term, expectations are all over the place, from championship contention down to merely fighting for one of a playoff spot in the very competitive Western Conference. Where the team actually ends up will be determined by how quickly this new group of players can come together. Regardless of this season’s results, a new era has begun in Lakers land.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

You might have heard that the Los Angeles Lakers signed LeBron James this offseason. The addition of James alone means the Lakers are a threat to make the postseason, even in the stacked Western Conference. The addition of veteran players like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley and the re-signing of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should also help the Lakers in the playoff hunt this season. However, I do wish the Lakers had used their cap flexibility on better shooters who could collectively space the court and don’t need the ball in their hands to be effective. Players like Wayne Ellington and Avery Bradley come to mind. Regardless, this season isn’t the main priority. The Lakers have LeBron under contract for at least three more seasons and will have cap space to add another star next offseason. Needless to say, things are looking up in L.A.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

All things considered, a pretty dull and boring offseason in Los Angeles. Not a whole lot of note to report, honestly. All jokes aside, how much more is there to say about the league’s reinvigorated epicenter? In acquiring LeBron James and turning over a huge chunk of the roster, the Lakers have reminded the league that even after a strange dry spell, the purple and gold just operates on a different plane. All the big questions for LA headed into the year revolve around chemistry and roles – this is a unique situation for a LeBron team, both in terms of the relative ages of his top supporting cast and in terms of their skill sets. Whether he can mesh with noted non-shooters like Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson remains to be seen, though the Lakers quietly do have certain lineups that could be dominant offensively (think Josh Hart-Brandon Ingram-LeBron-Kyle Kuzma-JaVale McGee, for instance). The bright lights are on and the league is watching.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

-Ben Dowsett

Have you guys heard that LeBron James is a Laker? All kidding aside, it is going to be a loud year in Hollywood. From the promising rookie seasons out of Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma to the constant development of former number two overall pick Brandon Ingram, there was already excitement in the air. Bringing in The King and a ton of veterans on one-year deals who understand the league from back to front—that’s just a roster made up of a solid mixture. Knowing how first-year LeBron teams are, it’s going to be a roller coaster, but it should be fun and interesting once we get to the postseason.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

– Spencer Davies

Since Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took over the Lakers’ front office, they’ve had three major wins. One, they added LeBron James. Two, they’ve expertly managed to get rid of their bad contracts so they’ll have long-term cap room. Three, they have promising young talent on rookie contracts. The Lakers should be a playoff team this season with all they added this summer, but I hesitate to call them a contender because they lack a number two and they need an upgrade at center. Still, the Lakers are back, and that’s all that matters.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

– Matt John

How can you not like what the Lakers did this summer? They nabbed the biggest fish in the pond in LeBron James, added proven veterans on short term deals and didn’t have to give up draft picks or youth to get out of the Luol Deng albatross of a contract; that is a solid offseason. The real question is, do the Lakers have enough to do anything meaningful in year one of LeBron? The answer is a big maybe. Keep in mind LeBron took a team with across the board less talent and got them to the Finals. That’s not necessarily happening in the West, but does LeBron have another miraculous season to get this roster to the second round, and if he is anywhere close to what he was last season? The answer is yes. It’s hard not to see the Lakers as a stock worth investing in, beyond what could be the most comical group of eccentric personalities in basketball – the Lakers got a lot better.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: LeBron James

Without question, James fits the bill here. At any given moment James is a threat to set up his teammates or score at will from nearly anywhere on the court. James has slowed down a bit as the years have gone by and is somewhat less apt to engage in high energy run and gun, fast break basketball. However, James is still capable of unleashing his athleticism when the situation or moment calls for it. His teams often feature lots of veteran players who adjust to a James-based system with specialized roles.

This new roster is filled with young players unaccustomed to winning at the pro level and an assortment of veterans on one-year deals. How minutes are distributed needs to shake out over time. Over his career, James has handled the primary ball handling, distribution and scoring load. As discussed below, things might change with this roster full of playmakers who are also used to having the ball in their hands. Should James move his game off the ball somewhat, his usage percentage may dip a bit, but his overall offensive impact will still be massive. Though, if instead James continues to dominate the ball as in years past, expect for him to continue to be the do-everything singular force on offense. One way or another, James is going to be the Lakers’ most important and effective offensive player this year and for years to come.

Top Defensive Player: Lonzo Ball

Quick shout out to James as the player with the highest defensive potential. However, in recent seasons James has decreased his defensive intensity in an effort to save energy for offense and that doesn’t figure to change this season. Beyond James, its not exactly clear who the top defender might be. If he steps up to the opportunity, second year guard Lonzo Ball is positioned to step into this role. With the possibility of playing off the ball more often (discussed below), Ball can further increase his overall effort and effectiveness with his individual defense. On defense, Ball has already shown a knack for reading passing lanes and even picking his opponent’s pocket in isolation situations. After apparently adding significant muscle in the offseason, Ball may have addressed the issue of size and strength that affected him at times last season. Should the Lakers employ a defense that emphasizes switching, Ball should have the strength and ability to defend multiple positions. Ball may not have the size or strength to impact the court like James can, but he has the tools to be a key defensive player and is better situated to make that his priority this season.

Top Playmaker: Rajon Rondo

Another mention for James, but Rajon Rondo gets the nod here. For years, any team featuring James ran most of their offensive action through him. The gravity and attention he draws opens up teammates for easy scoring opportunities consistently. However, this new Lakers team appears (operative word) to be designed to lessen James’s shot creation responsibility.

Enter Rondo. Compared to Ball, Rondo averages more assists per game, has a better assist to turnover ratio and a championship level pedigree. This assumes Rondo will win the starting point guard position as a more established veteran and won’t have chemistry issues. Compatibility with Rondo is not a guaranteed thing. Rondo comes to the Lakers having played a critical role in the New Orleans Pelican’s playoff success last season.

Ball may win the starting role at some point. In the meantime, there is an ongoing belief that as Ball improves his mechanics, he can become a reliable three-point threat. Off the ball, he can also be a valuable secondary creator who can pass or score off the dribble creator as well. Rondo and Ball are elite playmakers but Rondo is further along and more established at this point and serves as the top playmaker.

Top Clutch Player: LeBron James

James gets mentioned a lot in this preview and with good reason. It’s not yet clear what the pecking order is after James. Regardless, James has been to the Finals eight straight seasons and has been the deciding factor in countless clutch moments. James will draw the other team’s attention and can make almost any play. All eyes will be on James in any game that comes down to the wire.

The Unheralded Player: Josh Hart

Lakers fans already know this one should go to guard Josh Hart. Like Ball a year before, Hart stepped up to dominate in the Las Vegas NBA Summer League. Hart led this year’s summer league Lakers squad to the championship game while earning the Summer League MVP trophy. Hart is poised to contribute should he get the minutes. Only a rookie last year, Hart stepped his game up as the season went on and his playing time increased. Unfortunately for Hart, the roster currently has as many as 11 players expecting regular rotation minutes so Hart will need to be ready to step up again and show he can earn and keep those minutes.

Best New Addition: LeBron James

James again, hands down, for obvious reasons. The addition of James sparks a new era in the Lakers’ vaunted history that had become stagnant for the last few years. After James, Rondo serves as the team’s other best new addition.

– James Blancarte

Who We Like:

1. The Lakers’ front office – Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka

Through them, the Lakers finally got the free agent superstar savior they had been craving since the tail end of the Kobe Bryant’s career. Even more, the Lakers were also able to secure a three-year contract (with a 4th year player option) from James, showing a level of commitment not previously given in Cleveland in the last few years. With a long-term commitment from James, the team assembled a roster that is a mishmash of veterans on one-year deals alongside talented, developing young players. The franchise also convinced Luol Deng to agree to give back significant money ($7.5 million) as part of a buyout that allows Deng to re-sign elsewhere. Now the franchise is fully poised to swing for the fences next offseason and sign other top tier free agents in the loaded 2019 NBA free agent class.

2. Brandon Ingram

Ingram ended last season showing new elements in his offensive game. Ball was the team’s primary ball handler but struggled with injuries and missed major portions of the season. By necessity, the team put the ball into Ingram’s hands and asked him to become more of a creator as the season ended. How good Ingram can become is yet to be seen but his potential seemed to increase with more responsibility on offense. Now Ingram will likely have to adjust again. James, Rondo and Ball are likely to dominate the ball, leaving Ingram to wait for his touches as an isolation scorer, spot up shooter or secondary ball handler. However, should Ingram adapt and continue to grow on this new team, he could answer the question of who is the second-best player on the roster after James. On the flip side, should the Lakers find the opportunity to make a deal, Ingram is a desirable trade piece and could find himself as the centerpiece in a deal for a star player. Either way, Ingram brings plenty of value to the Lakers.

3. Michael Beasley

While the additions of Rondo and Stephenson have garnered more attention, the addition of Beasley is overlooked. He has bounced around the league the last few seasons while continuing to play surprisingly good basketball. Last season he played his most games (74 games) since the 2012-13 season. With New York, Beasley served as a reliable spark plug for the offense coming off the bench and was an effective isolation scorer. With Kristaps Porzingis going down for the season, Beasley stepped up and even started 30 games for a Knicks team that fell out of the national spotlight. With his career on the upswing, Beasley has the chance to once again serve as a bench scorer who can play expanded minutes in a pinch, especially if the Lakers are willing to experiment with him at center. While Beasley’s career has never matched expectations coming out of college, now is a great chance for him to play and perhaps shine in a useful role on a good team.

4. Luke Walton

Now going into his third season as a head coach, Walton faces the biggest challenge of his career. Like many coaches before him, Walton needs to gain the respect and confidence of James, who has seen a wide range of coaching styles throughout his career. Having won multiple championships and perfected his game, James is now seen as someone who dictates the direction his team takes as much as any player in the league. Walton will need to balance his ability to lead his team while sharing authority with James. Walton is well liked around the league and unlike the last few Lakers head coaches, he has not had to deal with as much outside scrutiny, which has allowed his young core to develop effectively under his tutelage. Walton will have to establish who does and does not make it into the rotation while balancing the continued development of the younger players while keeping James happy. No easy task. Walton has reportedly already spoken to Cavaliers Head Coach Tyronn Lue about his experience coaching James and, at this point, appears to be up the task and poised to take a huge leap in his coaching career.

– James Blancarte

Strengths

Any team featuring LeBron James immediately has the ability to be competitive. With this roster, James has the opportunity to experiment with allowing other players to share on-ball shot creation responsibilities. As James continues his transition to the latter years of his career, this can serve as another means of longevity. In addition, it could serve to make the team more dynamic since the best teams in the league move the ball and have multiple creators unlike James’s team last Cavaliers team. This team also has multiple young players under contract who might develop into stars in the foreseeable future. Should the young players develop accordingly, the team has the ingredients to be successful now and into the future, and that’s before adding additional free agent talent next year. The future is bright in Los Angeles.

– James Blancarte

Weaknesses

Pressure, volatility and defense. Playing with James produces the kind of pressure that many players are ill-equipped to handle. Look at restricted free agent Rodney Hood. He came to the Cavaliers expecting to play a key role in the playoffs, which could have bolstered his profile going into free agency. Instead, he could barely get off the bench and never acclimated to playing with James. Something similar could happen in Los Angeles, especially to the various youngsters on the squad.

As mentioned above, there are numerous new veterans hoping to play well and make their mark this season, including Stephenson, Beasley and center JaVale McGee. Stephenson and Beasley are both talented offensive players with questionable personality profiles. Whether they can coexist with James and his high standards is in question. In addition, both are inconsistent defenders. McGee overcame similar concerns and showed he can be successful in a limited role on a championship squad and might do the same should he crack this rotation. Finally, it’s not clear if the Lakers have the sufficient personnel to be a good defensive team. Should the team struggle on defense, this season could go sideways quickly.

– James Blancarte

The Burning Question

Will the Lakers be able to resist making a trade should the season not begin as expected?

Teams acquiring James’ talents require time to adjust to him. Unlike his latest stint in Cleveland and Miami before that, this James led team heavily relies on young, untested talent. Should James (turning 34 in December) not mesh well with the young prospects on the team, the franchise may feel pressure to not waste one of James’s few remaining years as a top shelf, elite talent. Any trade for top-tier veteran players would requiring sacrificing some combination of young talent, cap flexibility and draft assets. Despite the pressure, the Lakers will likely not sacrifice these assets and will instead hold firm and hope that the team will work things out on their way to a likely lower end playoff berth.

– James Blancarte

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NBA Daily: Trade Watch: Southwest Division

Drew Maresca identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Southwest Division.

Drew Maresca

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As of Thursday, 60 percent of the Southwest division was at or above .500. The Western Conference’s brutal competition will likely fix that as the season grinds on, but the number of surprises in the division thus far is shocking – be they pleasant or otherwise.

Basketball Insiders continues its Trade Watch series with an eye on the Southwest Division, examining players that might be on the move and teams that should be looking to wheel and deal.

  1. Houston needs Ariza (and vice versa)

The Houston Rockets need help on the defensive end of the floor; they will almost certainly look to add some wing defenders before the trade deadline in February. The Minnesota Timberwolves passed on their offer of four future first round picks, Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss for Jimmy Butler. But fortunately for the Rockets, there’s a player that should fit right in who may be available via trade – Trevor Ariza.

Yes, he would come at a price; but the Rockets see what life is like without Ariza patrolling the perimeter, and something or someone must stop the bleeding. The Rockers are 6-7 through 13 games. They need to recapture some of the magic they tapped into last season, and Ariza is part of what’s missing. They won’t be able to execute a deal until December 15 per NBA rules, which can’t come soon enough for the defenseless Rockets.

  1. New Orleans should be buyers at the deadline

This is the season in which the Pelicans must prove to Anthony Davis they’re serious about building a winner around him. They made nice additions this offseason in Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle, and they have a nice combo guard in Jrue Holiday.

But still, they’re only 7-7 despite Davis’ extraordinary play. They need a second star (and then some).mFortunately for New Orleans, such a player should be available – assuming he returns fully recovered from injury this season: Kevin Love. The Cavs are not interested in remaining competitive – in fact, they’re nearly openly welcoming losses at this point (Hello, Zion).  The Pelicans can include Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and others in a deal, which should be a net positive for the Pelicans depending on Love’s health.

  1. DeAndre Jordan

Early reports out of Dallas are that DeAndre Jordan isn’t overwhelmingly popular in the Mavericks’ locker room. And that’s fine because Jordan doesn’t align with the Mavericks’ young core of Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. Dallas should shop Jordan to a team that’s in need of an athletic center.

The Wizards have looked better at times with Dwight Howard on the floor than they did prior to his return. So why not upgrade? After all, it doesn’t seem like they’re ready to break-up the Wall-Beal core.

In return, the Wizards would probably be willing to build a deal around Otto Porter – who, at 25, arguably aligns much better with the Mavericks’ young core. While Porter’s deal extends as long as two years beyond Jordan’s one-year contract, the fact that the Mavericks traded the rights to their 2019 first-round pick to acquire Doncic makes nabbing a young, well-rounded player like Porter all the more appealing.

  1. Spurs need help at point guard

The Spurs’ 2018-point guard plan broke down before the season started with Dejounte Murray’s knee injury – and the team still needs help. While they don’t seem to have the assets to return high profile point guards like Terry Rozier or Goran Dragic, there are alternate options.

The Knicks have an abundance of point guards, none of whom stands out as a huge difference-maker for them this season, but any of whom could help as a short-term solution in San Antonio. And what’s more, the Knicks probably wouldn’t require much in return – with one caveat being that they prefer to move Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr., as well. Fortunately for the Spurs, Lee can contribute nicely in Coach Gregg Popovich’s system, assuming he gets healthy sometime soon.

The Spurs should look to flip some of the players who aren’t currently in the rotation for a capable point guard. While New York isn’t sending out capable players for free, the price tag on some of these guards shouldn’t be too high.

  1. Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol

Both Conley and Gasol are still members of the Memphis Grizzlies, and there have been no rumors of either of them being shipped elsewhere. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.

The Grizzlies hold first place in the Southwest Division at 8-5 with wins against the Jazz (twice), Nuggets, Pacers and Sixers. They’ve dropped some easy ones, too. Basically, they’re good, but the cold, hard reality of the situation is that advancing beyond the second-round out west will require more than what they currently have on their roster.

Meanwhile, Conley and Gasol are still assets, but aging ones who will return exponentially less every year they’re not moved. Conley is still playing well in his twelfth year, averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. And Gasol is averaging 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his eleventh season. It would behoove the Grizzlies to put feelers out there to any team that fancies themselves buyers in the lead up to the deadline. The time is now to embrace a rebuild around Jaren Jackson Jr. and get everything they can out of their star point guard and center.

In all likelihood, teams will only become more desperate as the season plays out. With the Philadelphia-Minnesota deal in the books, other teams are sure to follow suit. Considering the parity, every team in the Southwest Division should seriously consider making moves — after all, the division is still entirely up for grabs.

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NBA Daily: Role Players Vital to Pacers’ Success

In a star-heavy league, Jordan Hicks takes a look at why role players are so vital to the Pacers’ wins this season.

Jordan Hicks

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In today’s NBA, you have to have star players if you want to compete. Gone are the days of having one or two All-NBA caliber players take you deep into the playoffs. Nowadays, with as much talent as there is in the league, you need three or four. And for teams located in northern California, you might even need five.

But does this apply to everyone?

The Indiana Pacers have started the season off on a quiet note. They aren’t doing anything incredibly flashy, nor do they have any overt weaknesses. But they do have eight wins compared to only six losses. Three of those wins have come against teams with above .500 records, and all of their losses have come from the Bucks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, and Rockets – all good teams if you don’t want to look it up.

Most would consider Victor Oladipo a star. Sure, he’s only had one All-Star nod in his young career, but he’s proven on more than one occasion that he can be elite on both ends of the floor.
But apart from him, the Pacers are nothing but a mix of role players. But the role players on the roster aren’t just “good” – they seem to know their roles and execute them to a high degree.

To the casual fan, this would seem like it should be a given. But getting grown men with egos to consistently play their part isn’t as easy as it seems, and the Pacers organization might actually have something to work with. Sure, they are still a star (or two) away from actually competing for a title, but they were one game away from knocking off the former Eastern Conference Champions in last year’s playoffs, and, with any luck, could make it even further in the playoffs this year.

After the departure of Paul George, it was easy to read the writing on the wall. Most assumed that the Pacers would be headed to the lottery for a year or two while they worked their eventual rebuild. The franchise itself has consistently been considered one of the better small market organizations. With players like Reggie Miller, Danny Granger and George – it is easy to see why. They’ve only missed the playoffs five times in the last 20 years. But losing a mega-star like George usually contributes to a negative campaign the following season.

To the shock of the entire NBA, Oladipo led the Pacers to the five seed last year after posting a 48-34 record. Oladipo obviously played a huge part in this, but it was the help of the many role players, most of whom remained on the roster for this season, that likely made the biggest contribution to their positive season.

Through the beginning of the the 2018-19 campaign, the team statistic that sticks out the most for the Pacers is their opponent points per game. They are currently second in the league, allowing only 103 points a night behind only the Grizzlies. In comparison, both teams are also in the bottom two for pace. Controlling the flow of the game seems to be an important part of their game plan, and it is currently paying off as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference.

The list of role players making a significant contribution for the Pacers is quite long. In fact, over nine players are averaging more than 15 minutes a game. Keep in mind that eight of the nine players have a positive plus-minus, with Tyreke Evans being the sole player to fall under zero at -0.8. Let’s take a look at a few individuals and see what they may be doing to make a significant splash.

Oladipo is leading the team in scoring at 23.8 points per night, but he also leads the team in assist percentage at 24.4 percent and steal percentage at 27.8 percent. His impact on both ends of the floor is tremendous, and he is one of the few players in the NBA that leads his team in usage percentage and still maintains All-NBA level defense on the other end.

Domantas Sabonis is currently leading the team in rebound percentage at 18.3 percent. He is also second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game on a 68.8 effective field goal percentage. He’s doing all that coming off the bench.

Cory Joseph is currently posting the highest net rating on that team at 8.4. The Pacers also enjoy their lowest defensive rating, 98.7, when Joseph is on the court.

Myles Turner is starting to come into his own on the defensive end of the court. Currently posting 2.4 blocks a game, good for fourth in the league, his presence is being felt more and more at the rim. While his offensive game still needs to be polished, Turner has done a great job at amplifying his defensive position on the court.

Bojan Bogdanovic is tied for second in scoring at 14.1 points a game. He’s doing so by shooting a blistering 51.7 percent from three on over four attempts a night. He’s second on the team in minutes and eighth in usage percentage, showing just how effective he can be off the ball. He boasts the third best plus-minus and fourth best net rating.

Plenty of other players could get nods here – guys like Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott, Darren Collison and Evans. This just shows the talent night-in and night-out that the Pacers deploy.

The point of this article is not to say that the Pacers have a legitimate chance to win the East. They’ll likely finish outside the top four behind the Bucks, Raptors, 76ers and Celtics. But the Pacers definitely have one thing going for them – a roster full of talented role players that, in today’s NBA, can certainly be positive when deployed correctly.

We are still very early in the season. Another star could potentially emerge mid-season for the Pacers or they could make a bold move at the All-Star break. It is very unlikely that Indiana brings home a championship this year or even the next. However, they are still a team to watch throughout the season. They are a well-coached squad and play an incredibly selfless style of basketball.

Who knows? Maybe they can turn heads in the postseason. But in the meantime, they for sure prove one thing.

Role players are vitally important to a team’s success.

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NBA Daily: Trade Watch Northwest Division

David Yapkowitz identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Northwest Division.

David Yapkowitz

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We kick off a new series this week at Basketball Insiders. With the Jimmy Butler saga finally over, we’re taking a look at other players in each division who are possible trade candidates.

Some teams have holes in their respective rosters that they need to patch up. Others have contracts that are expiring or just don’t make sense for the team anymore. Some players and teams just need to move on at this point for a variety of reasons. Here’s a look at some of those situations, starting with the Northwest Division.

1. Tyus Jones – Minnesota Timberwolves

There’s an argument to be made that when he actually receives regular playing time, Tyus Jones is the best overall point guard on the Timberwolves’ roster. He’s been the primary backup for Minnesota for the time being with Jeff Teague out with an injury.

However, with Derrick Rose’s reemergence this season, it remains to be seen what happens once Teague returns. It’s no secret that Tom Thibodeau has his preference for veteran guys and Jones has often found himself as the odd man out. The Phoenix Suns, desperate for a point guard, have been rumored to have interest in him.

Jones was apparently close with Butler, if that means anything, and it just seems like his future is elsewhere. If the Timberwolves aren’t going to use him properly, then maybe a split is necessary. Should Minnesota really look to deal him, they probably won’t have any shortage of suitors.

2. Gorgui Dieng – Minnesota Timberwolves

A few years ago, Gorgui Dieng looked like an up and coming prize for Minnesota. He ended up being rewarded with a big contract based off of that. But since then, he’s seen both his playing time and production decrease.

The Timberwolves reportedly tried to include Dieng in possible deals for Butler in order to offload his contract. Obviously that didn’t happen, and Minnesota is locked into his contract for two more seasons after this one.

Backup big man Anthony Tolliver has surpassed Dieng in the rotation at this point as he’s a better fit as a stretch big man in today’s NBA. It’s hard to imagine any team trading for Dieng straight up with that contract but the Timberwolves could try and include him any potential Jones deal.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder – In Need of Outside Shooting

The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have any bad contracts per se, nor do they have any players that they’re aggressively looking to move on from. They do, however, have a glaring need and that is three-point shooting.

Currently, they’re shooting 30.1 percent from the three-point line as a team. That’s not going to get it done in today’s league if they truly want to be among the Western Conference’s elite. They do have Patrick Patterson reemerging as one of the better stretch fours in the league (38.6 percent), but after that everyone just kind of drops off a bit.

The Thunder could certainly use the addition of another outside shooter as the season goes on. Kyle Korver is rumored to be available although he’s been linked to Philadelphia recently. Perhaps they could put in an inquiry with the Miami HEAT about Wayne Ellington if the HEAT continues to struggle. Either way, unless the guys they already have step up, perimeter shooting will need to be addressed.

4. Meyers Leonard – Portland Trail Blazers

It’s not that Meyers Leonard has been bad for Portland, he’s actually been decent so far this season. But with the contract he has, Portland isn’t getting the value they expected when they entered that deal.

Instead, Zach Collins has supplanted him in the rotation, and Caleb Swanigan is close to doing so as well. Leonard has been mentioned in trade rumors for some time, so perhaps this season is the one where he and the Blazers part ways. His contract is expiring next season so that might be enticing to some teams.

He isn’t a bad player, and there might be a team out there willing to take a chance on an athletic big man who can run the floor and even stretch defenses out to the three-point line. At any rate, it might be time for both parties to go their separate ways.

5. Tyler Lydon – Denver Nuggets

The writing was on the wall when the Nuggets declined Tyler Lydon’s third-year option prior to the start of the season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

He suffered an unfortunate injury early in his career and just hasn’t been given an opportunity to prove his worth as an NBA player. He played well in the G-League last season and has promise as a stretch big man. It’s just obvious that it won’t be realized in Denver.

He’s worth taking chance on for a team looking to add intriguing, youngish talent – especially since it shouldn’t cost too much to acquire him in a deal.

As the season progresses, there will be other situations around the division that might emerge on the trade front. But, as of now, these are arguably some of the most active situations to keep an eye on.

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