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NBA AM: A Lot Of Talk, Not Much Substance

There’s still some trade chatter involving big-name players, but most of it is not based on substance.

Steve Kyler

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A Lot Of Talk, Not Much Substance

In the NBA, they say you never say never because even the most ardent “no” can turn into a “yes” if the situation is right. That’s true in almost every facet of the game, from drafting and signing a player to hiring and firing a coach and, of course, deciding when to trade a player.

There are a few names that keep popping up in offseason rumors and while it’s always fun to speculate, there are some players who simply are not going anywhere (at least not yet).

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento

Fresh off his Olympic gold medal campaign, the Kings and Cousins have agreed to take a fresh-start approach to the relationship. Cousins says he likes the hiring of Dave Joerger and that everything he’s heard from the team this offseason is good with him. There are still some roster moves to work out, but Cousins says he is all the way on-board with the plan Joerger and Vlade Divac have for the team.

There’s no question that of everyone on this list Cousins is the situation to watch, but that’s only because it’s been so bad in Sacramento.

The Kings believe Cousins is the cornerstone of the franchise and that any success this season starts and stops with him. They will open their new arena – the Golden 1 Center – in just a few weeks and the plan is for Cousins to be the anchor and focal point of the team.

Incoming calls from other teams have been dismissed. There seems to be zero desire to even talk about a Cousins trade from the Kings’ side.

Unless things are just brutally bad out of the gate, the Kings likely play out the first season under Coach Joerger and make decisions from there once they know more.

There is no doubt that Cousins’ looming free agency in 2018 will become a factor; it’s just not one right now.

Kevin Love, Cleveland

No name gets mentioned more frequently in trade rumors than Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. The problem with that is neither the Cavs nor Love are looking for a change.

People like to point to the sometimes awkward fit for Love on the Cavs roster, but the truth of the matter is Cleveland won a lot of games last season because of Love. While Love wasn’t extremely productive in the Finals against the Warriors, he was very effective in the march up to the Finals and the Cavs know they won’t get anything better than Love in a trade. It’s something they have known for some time.

While there are no shortage of suitors who would take on Love’s contract, sources close to the Cavs say moving him is not even remotely a consideration.

The Cavaliers do have some roster business to take care of, namely getting J.R. Smith re-signed, which is viewed internally as simply a process that resolves itself in time.

As for trading Love, there is no sense that the Cavs are even listening to offers. Like Cousins, he is a name you can simply remove from the discussion.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City

By virtue of signing his re-negotiated contract with the Thunder, Westbrook became untradeable for six months, putting him as trade restricted until February 4.

Sources close to the situation say the Thunder’s view on Westbrook is to see what he can do as the single focal point of the team and plan to keep the noise out of the equation until next summer.

That’s not to say if the Thunder simply crumble under their own weight that things won’t be re-visited on this front. It’s simply that the Thunder and Westbrook have pledged to give this season a real chance before addressing the future beyond his new contract.

There is little doubt that after losing Kevin Durant to free agency for nothing in return that the Thunder won’t be more mindful in how they handle Westbrook, but as sources close to the situation have said, there is almost no scenario in which the Thunder look at trades with Westbrook this year. The hope is that he can be the triple-double MVP candidate he looked like two years ago and that would take care of everything.

Trading Westbrook in the future remains a possibility; what’s not a possibility is it happening this year, at least not without a catastrophic collapse on the Thunder’s part.

Blake Griffin, LA Clippers

The clock is ticking pretty loudly for the Clippers. Not only are the Clippers still arguably the third-best team in the Western Conference, they are facing the looming free agency of both guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin.

Sources close to Griffin have been adamant that he is planning to re-sign in L.A. and that he’s not open to going anywhere. Clippers president and head coach Doc Rivers has mirrored that, saying he believes Griffin retires as a Clipper.

Both sides are saying all the right things. But are the Clippers good enough to really contend for a championship and what happens if they fall short again?

Sources close to the situation say win or lose, Rivers is not open to trade talks on Griffin or Paul and that he’s not worried about either walking away in July.

If that is genuinely true, then there is no point in speculating about Griffin. The Clippers can and likely will offer more money in free agency and with Griffin’s business interests in the L.A. market, the odds of him picking up and walking away are pretty slim.

The only scenario in which that becomes remotely plausible is if the Clippers just fall apart and even the harshest critics would struggle to make a case of that being likely.

While moving Griffin might be the best course of action if the Clippers want to re-load the team for the future, the truth is Rivers and owner Steve Ballmer do not seem at all interested, so it’s safe to say Griffin stays exactly where he’s at.

Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks

The only reason Millsap’s name gets talked about in trade rumors is because the Hawks explored moving him to try and retain Al Horford in free agency. But with Horford gone, the Hawks continue to say Millsap is their guy. While he does have a $21 million player option for next season, the belief around the Hawks is that they are hanging on to him as the counter balance to newly acquired Dwight Howard.

Now, much like many of the teams mentioned above, if the floor falls out from under the Hawks then moving Millsap might become a possibility. However, according to sources near the situation, Millsap has been assured he’s not going anywhere.

The problem with hanging onto a guy who could be an unrestricted free agent is that you could lose him for nothing in return. And if the Hawks’ season goes sideways or they are among the bottom six to eight teams, changes might be the only way to jump start things.

How the Hawks play likely has more to do with the future of Millsap than anything.

If they play well, he may want to stay in his deal – even with the cap ballooning again in July.

Like Cousins, Millsap may be one of the few guys mentioned in this piece you may want to keep an eye on this season. But any trade talks involving the forward likely don’t become real until December or January when the Hawks really know what they are.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Cross Jimmy Butler off your wish list. Barring some kind of critical melt down in Chicago, the Bulls made their choice this summer and opted to stick with Butler as the face of the franchise.

Butler played an instrumental role in recruiting Dwyane Wade to Chicago and the Bulls’ view is that Butler and Wade complement each other really well.

There is no question that if Butler is difficult to coach or if the Bulls’ season collapses that all bets are off, mainly because ownership is not going to sit idle if Chicago is outside the playoff picture again this year. But from all accounts, the Bulls are sticking with Butler for the foreseeable future, which makes him all but unobtainable.

It’s always possible that the right series of events changes the discussion on these guys, but the stance from all of their teams is that they are staying where they are and are the foundation to what their respective franchise is trying to do this season.

If injury strikes or the losses start to pile up in an unexpected way, maybe that changes. However, it’s pretty safe to say that these guys are staying where they are for the foreseeable future and are not the trade candidates some fans want them to be.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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NBA Daily: Zach LaVine Has Solid Debut With Bulls

Zach LaVine put together a solid performance for the Bulls in his first game back from injury.

James Blancarte

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The Chicago Bulls are turning a corner this season. Zach LaVine is healthy after completing a year of rehabilitation from an ACL injury. LaVine’s return comes at a critical moment. The team is 13-7 over the last twenty games. Many of the wins in this stretch are over current competitors for a potential spot in the playoffs. This includes wins against the Charlotte Hornets (in overtime), the Philadelphia 76ers and three wins (one in overtime) against the New York Knicks. The stretch of winning ties into the return of forwards Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic. Having these key players back and winning this many games recently has changed the dynamics of what had been shaping up to be a losing season.

LaVine played in his first game of the season on Saturday and hit three of four three-point baskets while scoring 14 points in 19 minutes played. LaVine described how he felt physically and about the team’s recent run.

“I thought I did pretty good. I was tired as hell at first. But, we got the win,” LaVine said. “We’re going to keep this thing going.”

The team went into this season having parted ways with their franchise player, Jimmy Butler, in a trade that was derided by many for being lopsided. The trade netted the Bulls LaVine, point guard Kris Dunn and the sixth pick in the 2017 draft in exchange for Butler and the number 16 pick. The trade also allowed Butler to be reunited with coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota. For the Bulls, Dunn has greatly improved from the poor play of his rookie season in Minnesota. In addition, the Bulls selected Lauri Markkanen, whom has already displayed some serious talent and potential. Now with LaVine in the lineup, the Bulls can see the total value of the trade on the court.

So, where do the Bulls now stand? According to FiveThirtyEight, as of January 14, the Bulls are projected as having a three percent chance of making the playoffs with a projected record of 32-50. This is a jump from less than one percent (essentially zero percent) back on December 11, 2017. Still, three percent is not the most reassuring projection.

In addition, the recent shift to winning basketball also puts Chicago’s 2018 draft pick in a more precarious position. On December 6, 2017, the Bulls were 3-20 and were on pace to have one of the worst records in the league, if not the worst. Now every win moves the pick further away from a likely top three or even a potential number one pick and moves it closer to a top-10 selection or even middle of the first-round pick.

At the moment, the team is 16-27, good enough for 12th place in the Eastern Conference behind the Hornets, Knicks, 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. Being 6.5 games back and having seven more losses than the Bucks means the Bulls will need to continue winning at a high rate to make up the difference in the time left in the season.

LaVine didn’t hold back when it came to expressing his optimism regarding the team’s potential.

“I think we can make a push for this thing,” LaVine said. “That’s our job to do. That’s our job to do that,”

LaVine isn’t paying much attention to skeptics who still don’t believe the Bulls have much change to win anything meaningful this season.

“You know, we can’t control outside thoughts or anything,” LaVine said. “We’re ball players, we go out there and try to win every competition. You know, I think we’re good. I think we’re going to be good.”

In LaVine’s absence, Mirotic and Portis (despite their offseason scuffle) have emerged as two of the team’s best players. In addition, center Robin Lopez has done an admirable job keeping up his effort all season long while fulfilling his role as a veteran leader for the team. Lopez described the atmosphere on the team as positive recently in an interview with Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders.

Despite the reason for optimism, it must be noted that the franchise might make another big trade that would diminish the team’s ability to be competitive this season. Despite his recent on-court success, reports are that Mirotic would like to be traded and that the Bulls asking price is a first-round pick.

Until such a move occurs, the Bulls appear poised to maintain their recent rate of success. Every win could cost the Bulls what could be a top overall pick in 2018. Regardless, the Bulls are surely feeling better about the results of the Butler trade, especially after LaVine’s impressive Chicago debut.

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NBA Daily: Lopez’s Enjoys “Old Guy” Role on Young Team

Robin Lopez is the old man on a very young Chicago Bulls team, but he says the camaraderie is a big reason why he’s happy there, and why the team is overachieving so much this year.

Joel Brigham

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When the Chicago Bulls started the season 3-20, nobody was surprised that they stunk. Everything was fine. They were supposed to stink. That was the entire reason they traded away Jimmy Butler for younger players in the first place. They wanted got their rebuild underway in earnest. (more…)

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