Almost Trade Season: As the NBA enters the quarter mark of the season, several NBA teams are starting to ponder the direction they are headed and some teams have already started sniffing around the trade market. The problem with trades at this point in the season is that a large chunk of NBA rosters are still under trade restrictions involving the players signed as free agents this summer. However, on December 15 – roughly two weeks from now – those restrictions will be lifted and the unofficial trade season in the NBA will begin.
Here are some of the situations to watch over the next couple weeks:
The Rockets pulled the trigger on firing head coach Kevin McHale, but after firing their coach things really have not changed in a meaningful way. The Rockets have lost seven of their last 10 games and rank 24th in point differential, losing by an average of 6.1 points per game and have yet to find the defensive presence the coaching change was supposed to help restore.
During the offseason, the Rockets pulled the trigger on a deal bringing in point guard Ty Lawson, who at the time was believed to be the missing piece for a Rockets championship run. However, Lawson has been a shell of himself on the court and is now coming off the bench in favor of 38-year-old Jason Terry.
The Rockets have been sniffing around the league for deals and there is a belief among other teams that Lawson could be had in trade, and had cheaply. Lawson is owed $12.4 million this season with the final $13.21 million of his deal being fully non-guaranteed.
As the Rockets search for ways to change, there is a belief that Lawson could be the first Rocket player moved. But given how poorly Lawson has played in Houston and his troublesome off-the-court history, it’s hard to imagine that Lawson alone is going to yield much in return. But as teams start to get desperate, Lawson does have a career assist average of more than 6.5 assists per game and averaged 9.6 per game last season for the Nuggets. Lawson’s salary could return an asset or two and given the rut the Rockets find themselves in, they seem to be a bit more motivated to deal than normal.
The Milwaukee Bucks were the darling of the NBA this time last year with a swarming and effective defense that has all but evaporated this year. The Bucks added forward Greg Monroe and traded for guard Greivis Vasquez this summer to complement their deadline trade for Michael Carter-Williams last year. The addition of those three players has yet to yield a lot of positive results, and one of the NBA’s best defensive units has devolved into one of the worst. Add in the fact that the Bucks’ offense has been sputtering, to say the least, and the Bucks find themselves sitting outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture, with very little light at the end of the tunnel.
Surprisingly, league sources say the Bucks are not being overly aggressive in looking for trades. However, it seems like a matter of time before the Bucks have to decide who they’d part with to the get the ship turned around.
The Bucks are sitting on a couple of compelling contracts, namely the $8 million ending contract on reserve guard O.J. Mayo and the $3 million ending deal for guard Jerryd Bayless. Both are proven NBA veterans and are prime rental-type pieces for teams looking to bolster their roster.
While both players are key leaders for a very young Bucks team, the clock on the season isn’t slowing down.
The Bucks have lost seven of their last 10 games, and have the Pistons, Knicks and Raptors on their schedule before Christmas. Falling further behind in the East may change how the Bucks approach the trade market, especially if their defense continues to struggle.
The Clippers are not ready to blow things up, but there is a growing sense that the Clippers are willing to make a deal and that move may involve the ending contract of swingman Jamal Crawford.
The Clippers have been up and down all season and have lost five of their last 10 games. Amid reports of infighting in the locker room, it seems the Clippers may be open to a splashy move if one surfaces.
Sources close to the situation continue to say the Clippers are being opportunistic – saying if a solid player becomes available they’d do a deal – however, league sources say the Clippers may be more desperate than they’ll admit, sensing that a major change is needed.
The Clippers have won their last three games and are still above the line in differential, but with losses to the Jazz, Blazers and Warriors still lingering, the next group of games could go a long way toward quieting the rumbling or fast tracking the process. The Clippers have the Pacers and Magic at home this week before heading out on five-game east coast trip next week.
The Clippers should know a lot more about themselves after the trip, which happens to line up with the December 15 trade restriction deadline being lifted for most of the players signed this past summer.
With the formal announcement that Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will call it a career after this season, there continues to be talk that the Lakers will ultimately look at selling off some of their veteran players as the NBA trade deadline gets closer. The two players to watch are forward Brandon Bass and center Roy Hibbert.
Bass signed a two-year, $6.135 million deal in July and could return a reasonable asset for the Lakers. Hibbert, on the other hand, waived part of the trade kicker in his contract to get out of Indiana and there is a sense the Lakers might want to re-sign him in the offseason if he is agreeable to a lower-dollar deal. If the Laker decide Hibbert isn’t an answer in the long-term, they are not restricted from moving Hibbert – they simply need to find a taker for his $15.592 million deal. At the trade deadline, the Lakers will have paid roughly 70 percent of that cash value.
The Lakers have no shortage of value priced veterans to peddle if they so desire. Guard Lou Williams is set to earn $7 million over the next three years, while Nick Young is scheduled to earn $5.219 million this season and roughly $11 million more over the following two seasons.
None of the Lakers’ veterans are likely to return unprotected draft picks, but there is a sense the Lakers could turn one or two of the veterans they have into rookie-scale contract players, especially from some of the teams looking to cash out a little youth in exchange for a playoff push.
The Washington Wizards have struggled as of late, with some questioning if the team has started to tune out head coach Randy Wittman, who is in the first year of a three-year contract extension, while others wonder if it’s simply a case of the team not having enough bench punch to compete in what’s becoming a much tougher Eastern Conference.
The Wizards are planning to waive injured forward Martell Webster, which will open up a roster spot that could be used to add an additional player or open up room for a two-for-one trade at some point in the near future.
Wizards sources labeled replacing Wittman as a last resort – one that’s not being actively considered. However, making a roster move is deemed more likely, even if it’s grabbing a free agent or one of the promising veterans from the D-League.
The Wizards have no shortage of tradable players on ending contracts including Nene, Jared Dudley, Kris Humphries, Alan Anderson, Ramon Sessions and Gary Neal.
The Wizards are not open to absorbing any long-term contract money since they have eyes for a max-level free agent offer this July, but there is a sense that to be the attractive free agency destination they want to be viewed as they have to turn things around.
Its seems the Wizards are looking at changes, the question becomes will it be a cosmetic change with their open roster spot or will they try to shake up the bench?
New Orleans Pelicans
It’s easy to blame the Pelicans’ lackluster start on early injuries. That’s a fair and valid excuse. However, with 13 losses and not a lot going their way, there is an increasing sense that the Pelicans may have no choice but to look at a significant trade sooner than later.
The Pelican player whose name surfaces the most among league sources is sharp shooting forward Ryan Anderson, but sources close to the team say that Anderson is incredibly valued inside the organization and it would take a monster offer for the Pelicans to consider moving him. Anderson is in the final year of his deal and will be an unrestricted free agent in July, so the Pelicans may have to explore his value despite how the organization feels about him as a player and leader in the locker room.
The Pelicans don’t have a lot of attractive contracts to shop. Shooting guard Eric Gordon is at the end of his deal, but is owed $15.5 million, which may be tough to trade given his injury history.
Center Omer Asik is owed roughly $60 million and might be the least attractive contract on the roster.
With few avenues to influence change, the Pelicans may have to explore moving pieces they’d like to keep if they want to salvage this season. And considering this year was billed as the season they make a leap up the standings and compete in the playoffs, waiting for the roster to get healthy might be too little too late, especially with the losses already on the ledger.
NBA teams are not restricted from making trades at this point in the season, the only limitations in making a deal are the willingness of teams to pull the trigger at this point and those players who signed contracts this summer.
In two weeks, most of those players become trade eligible and that’s when most of the teams searching for immediate change will start getting serious about trade talk.
The 2015-16 NBA trade deadline is 3 p.m. EST on February 18, which is roughly 79 days from today.
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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.