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NBA AM: A Look At The Likely Trade Field – Part 1

The trade deadline isn’t just about improving a roster, sometimes it is about moving off some ending contracts and roster housekeeping.

Steve Kyler

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A Look At The Likely Trade Field – Part 1

For the most part, as teams approach the annual trade deadline (which is just 43 days away) the motivations are sometimes two-fold. While every team wants to try to improve, there is also salary cap housekeeping that needs to be addressed as well.

Historically most of the deals made at the deadline are not roster motivated as much as trying to extract value out of pending free agents or moving off non-guaranteed contracts to get value out of them before the end of the season.

The new agreed upon Collective Bargaining Agreement is going to change how non-guaranteed money will be treated. Teams used to be able to swap the face value of the non-guaranteed deals, however beginning in July teams will only be able to use the guaranteed value. That means a lot of the non-guaranteed deals sitting on team’s books will become less valuable in July, making the February 23 trade deadline the last chance to leverage those deals.

Here is a look at the first 15 NBA teams’ situations as it pertains to would-be free agents (AKA: Ending Contracts) and possible trades. We’ll tackle the next 15 tomorrow:

Atlanta

Paul Millsap, Tiago Splitter, Kyle Korver, Kris Humphries, Thabo Sefolosha, Mike Scott

The Hawks are one of the teams to watch, mainly because they are not nearly the team they had hoped to be. They have a roster loaded with 30-year-old pending free agents. If this team was competing as they had hoped, the idea of keeping the team together would make sense, but being trapped in the middle of the East and facing the idea of $175 million or more in new salary commitments may be too much. The Hawks are one of the teams with not only players to move, but a few like Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver that could be very attractive to a team that’s one player or one piece away.

Boston

Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, James Young

If the Celtics make a trade it’s not likely going to be built around one of their would-be free agents, it would be around roster players and future draft picks. The Celtics have kept no secret of their desire to make a splashy trade and given that they do have some ending contract money to toss into a deal, they are primed to make a deal.

Brooklyn

Luis Scola, Randy Foye

Like Boston, if Brooklyn is making a significant trade it’s likely built around Brook Lopez, not their ending contracts. That said, they do have some ending money to pack into a deal to help bring in more value. Nets GM Sean Marks has his eyes on trading for rookie scale players or draft picks, so it’s not out of the question they’d swap parts, not for pieces for the future.

Charlotte

Roy Hibbert

Charlotte has one notable ending deal and that’s Roy Hibbert. He is on a manageable $5 million contract so it’s not like he’s breaking the bank. The fact that Roy is no longer a difference maker in the NBA likely means using him as trade bait would mean very little and given where the Hornets are at in the standings, it’s unlikely they do anything with their core players, unless it yielded a significant return.

Chicago

Taj Gibson, Rajon Rondo ($3 million guaranteed)

The Bulls are in a tough spot. They are again underachieving and are again facing questions about whether Fred Hoiberg is the right coach. Historically the Bulls have not been big in-season traders, but given where they are and what they have to play with a trade around the deadline to jump start the team might make sense. Taj Gibson is the most attractive ending deal, and he could return value. The Bulls also have young guys like Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine that could also return value. The Rajon Rondo situation has turned sour, and it’s unlikely anyone is helping the Bulls out of that situation. Do the Bulls ultimately just cut their losses with Rondo and waive him outright and open up a roster spot? The answer might be yes.

Cleveland

Mo Williams, Mike Dunleavy ($1.62 million guaranteed)

The Cavs are in a tough spot. Their roster is maxed out. They have two guys in Mo Williams and Chris Andersen that likely do not play for them again, and they have very little by way of trade assets to spend without breaking up a championship core. There is a belief that the Cavs would send cash in a deal to shed Mo Williams’ contract and at the deadline the Cavs will have paid 70 percent of what’s owed to both Williams and Andersen. The Cavaliers do have a $9.63 million Traded Player Exception that will expire before the deadline on February 18, so they are on the clock to use it or lose it. So, the Cavs might have little choice but to be active at the deadline, if only to clear out their dead roster spots to open up space for fresh bodies as nagging injuries are leaving them a little shorthanded these days.

Dallas

Andrew Bogut, Deron Williams

Almost no one believes Andrew Bogut finishes the season in Dallas. Even he said as much in a recent radio interview. Bogut’s $11.02 million deal won’t be easy to move, especially with the Mavericks seeking youth and possible draft picks in a deal. It is hard to move big money in the NBA without taking some back, so moving Bogut without impacting future flexibility may be harder than you think. As for Deron Williams, it’s possible he is moved, but he is so far removed from being “D-Will” the starting guard, it would be surprising to see him moved for very much in return. The Mavericks are looking towards the future, so it is more likely than not they are traders at the deadline.

Denver

Mike Miller

Surprisingly the only notable pending free agent in Denver is veteran Mike Miller and he’s not returning any value. Like Boston and Brooklyn, if the Nuggets are making a deal (and they likely need to) it’s going to involve their core roster parts. There has been a lot of talk lately about Jusuf Nurkic and the fact that the Nuggets can’t seem to get the production out of him that they had hoped, making him a name to watch. Nuggets big man Kenneth Faried has been talked about from almost the moment he signed his new contract. Faried is owed two more seasons after this one, which makes him as safe a trade chip as they come. There have also been reports that Will Barton has drawn trade interest. His modest $3.5 million salary makes him a steal in the current NBA economy and it also greatly limits how much the Nuggets can take back in a deal involving him. The Nuggets are a team to watch as the deadline approaches. They have a glutton of talent and log jams almost everywhere.

Golden State

Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, Ian Clark, David West, JaVale McGee, Anderson Varejao

The Golden State Warriors have a bunch of pending free agents, and with almost any other team that would make them prime trade candidates, however, that’s not the case with this group. The Warriors are built to win a championship, and they are structured to have the flexibility to re-tool the bench this summer if it’s needed. If there is one team that’s not likely messing with their roster it’s the Warriors.

Houston

Nene, Tyler Ennis, K.J. McDaniels (TO), Kyle Wiltjer

The Rockets are purring right along like a race car. They have a few movable assets that don’t mean much to their core, but most of them wouldn’t return much in a trade. The Rockets historically have been a mid-season trader, but this might be the first February they hold the line.

Indiana

Jeff Teague, Aaron Brooks

The Pacers do have Jeff Teague as an expiring deal, and there is a risk that he’d walk away as an unrestricted free agent. The Pacers feel like they have the advantage in keeping Teague, but unrestricted free agency is a fickle thing in the NBA. There has been a lot of speculation about the future of Paul George given his very verbal frustrations with the direction of the team and his perception of the team being slighted because of the market. Sources close to the situation say Indiana remains optimistic that the new Designated Player Exception will allow them to retain George long-term, assuming he makes one of the All-NBA teams this season. As for transactions around the deadline, there continues to be talk that the Pacers would be open to moving guard Monta Ellis, however, his production this season matched with his hefty contract make that unlikely.

LA Clippers

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick, Paul Pierce ($1.09m guaranteed)

The Clippers face a tough off-season. There is a scenario in which all of this could implode, especially if Blake Griffin decides he wants a change or if Chris Paul decided he can’t win as a Clipper. For the Clippers part, they are staying the course. They believe they have the financial and marketplace advantage to keep both Paul and Griffin on new deals. Paul and his family are very settled in LA and Griffin has a number of entertainment oriented business deals in LA that he is very attached to. You never say never, but the Clippers believe they’ll keep both guys which makes the Clippers pulling off a deal fairly unlikely.

LA Lakers

Jose Calderon, Tarik Black, Marcelo Huertas, Nick Young (5.6m Player Option)

The Lakers do have a few trade chips they could shop around, and they normally take calls in February if only to see what they can get, but if history is the roadmap Mitch Kupchak and company usually sit out the February trade market. There are a couple of variables. The Lakers owe draft picks, so if moving pieces that are not part of the future like the ending contract of Jose Calderon or a resurgent Nick Young (who holds a player option for next year) and it returns promising picks they likely explore it. They also have some bloated contracts from the off-season in Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov that might not make as much sense today as they did in July. Moving off money without taking any back is a very tough deal to pull off, so it’s more likely that the Lakers hold where they are and preserve the culture they are trying to build rather than up-end the apple cart at the deadline.

Memphis

Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Vince Carter

The Grizzlies are another interesting situation. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are the heart and soul of the team, however, both likely walk in free agency or get prohibitively expensive in the twilight of their careers. It’s not out of the question both opt to stay in Memphis, but there have already been reports that teams have called about Allen and with the way Randolph has played from the bench he likely will have some suitor too in a playoff-rental scenario. The Grizzlies are sitting at 22-16 on the season which is currently good enough for the seventh seed in the West. If there is a team that might need to cash out to move up, it might be the Grizzlies.

Miami

Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Udonis Haslem, Luke Babbitt, Wayne Ellington (non-guaranteed)

The Miami HEAT is 11-26 on the season which is basically the third-worst record in the NBA. They have kept no secret of their rebuild, and with so many things on the roster that might not make sense, the HEAT could end up being one of the bigger trade deadline dealers in the league. The HEAT is likely going to medically waive Chris Bosh at some point after February 9. They have to be smart about the timing of that decision because if Bosh can play 25 games for another team, the HEAT won’t get the cap relief they are hoping to obtain. The next part is all of the veterans they have on the roster, most notably point guard Goran Dragic. HEAT sources have said rebuilding around a 30-year point guard wouldn’t be the worst thing to do, but there is a growing sense that Miami explores liquidating not only Dragic but many of the veteran guys they have on expiring deals to collect rookie scale players or draft picks. The HEAT is going to lose Justise Winslow to torn labrum surgery, so they are going to continue to play depleted basketball on their way to the bottom of the NBA standings. Moving off the veterans is simply the next step in the process.

So, with the first 15 teams out of the way, we’ll jump into the next 15 tomorrow, so stay tuned for more.

In the time being, feel free to drop your comments in the comment section below.

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NBA Daily: Meet Chimezie Metu, A Versatile Big Man

Chimezie Metu could end up being one of the steals of this year’s draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when it comes to the NBA draft, there always seems to a few players flying under the radar a bit. Players who are underrated or overlooked for whatever reason. This year, one of those players is Chimezie Metu from the University of Southern California.

In early mock drafts, Metu was projected to go anywhere from mid to late first-round. In some of the more recent mocks, he’s fallen out of the first-round altogether and into the second-round. If those projections hold and he does end up being selected in the second-round, then some team is going to get a huge steal.

Metu is a versatile big man who impacts both ends of the floor. He is an agile shot blocker who can control the paint defensively, and on the other end, he can score in the post while being able to step out and knock down mid-range jump shots. He is confident in what he’ll be able to bring to an NBA team.

“I think being versatile and being able to make an impact on defense right away,” Metu told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine this past week. “Being able to switch on to smaller players or guard the post, and just being able to knock down shots or make plays when I’m called upon.”

In his three years at USC, Metu blossomed into one of the best players in the Pac-12 conference. This past season, he led a solid Trojans team in scoring with 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting. He also led the team in rebounding with 7.4 per game and had a team-high 59 blocked shots.

He’s taken note of some of the best big men in the NBA, some of whom he’s tried to model his game after. He told reporters at the combine that some of his biggest influences are Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. He knows that there may be misconceptions about his game, or those that doubt him, but he isn’t worried about that at all.

“I don’t really worry about what other people are saying about myself. I just go out there and play hard, and try to help my team win games,” Metu said. “My strength is being versatile, being able to impact the game in multiple ways. Not being one dimensional and being able to have fingerprints on different parts of the game.”

It’s been busy past few days for Metu. He’s had 13 interviews with NBA teams to go along with workouts, medical testing and media availability. Although it’s been a hectic time, part of what has made it so worthwhile is all of the NBA personnel he’s been able to interact with. What really has stood out to him being at the combine is the difference between college and the NBA.

“I can just go up to the owners and the GMs and just talk to them,” Metu said. “Coming from college you basically have to act like they’re not there, cause of the rules and stuff. Just the fact that they can come up and talk to you, you can talk to them, that’s probably the most surprising part for me.”

Aside from all the front office personnel he’s interacted with, Metu has also had the opportunity to meet with some of the most respected names in NBA history. Among the former players who he’s had a chance to meet with, Magic Johnson and Bob McAdoo have definitely stood out to him.

While he’s grateful just to have been able to meet NBA royalty, he’s used it as an opportunity to pick their brains. He’s also been able to showcase his game in front of them. He is confident that he’s been able to impress them and hopefully make an impact on their decisions come draft night.

“Just coming out here and having fun, there’s a lot of basketball royalty,” Metu said. “Being able to get a chance to shake their hands, being able to take stuff from them and what helped them become great. I’m just trying to take their advice. It feels great because never in a million years did I think I’d be here. It’s fun just going out there and showing what I can do.”

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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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