Almost Trade Season: With the first month of the NBA season behind us, the first milestone of the trade season is quickly approaching and some teams are starting to make their intentions known that when things open up on December 15, there is some interest in making a deal.
NBA teams are prohibited from trading players they signed during the summer until December 15 which makes almost half the NBA untradable until mid-December. Some of the players that signed towards the end of the summer are restricted until January 15. Most of the players under restriction become trade eligible in about two weeks and some teams are revving up interest in deals now, before things slip away from them.
Here are a few of the teams to watch:
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans recently opened up two roster spots waiving swingman Darius Miller and big man Patric Young. The Pelicans have been sniffing around the trade market and have logged some interest with a few unsigned free agents including forward Dante Cunningham. Sources close to the Pelicans call the sniffing normal due diligence at this time of year, however teams on the other side see New Orleans as a motivated buyer and peg them as a team looking to make a trade.
The Pelicans are sitting at 7-8 on the season and have dropped three straight games. Ownership in New Orleans is eager to see this team turn the corner, and it seems that Pelicans GM Dell Demps is looking for a move or two to right the ship.
The Lakers have a loaded roster, which means making a trade might be a little difficult, especially considering how much of the Lakers roster has trade restrictions. One of the Lakers best trade chips might be big man Jordan Hill; however, because of the contract he signed this summer he has the ability to block a trade. The Lakers are sitting on two disabled player exceptions, one from Julius Randle ($1.49 million) and one from Steve Nash ($4.85 million). While these exceptions cannot be combined with other elements, they do represent the ability to take on a player for little or nothing in return. The Lakers are under no obligation to use the exceptions and have until March 10 to use them. The Lakers have worked out about a dozen or so free agents and are said to be close to signing former Laker Earl Clark from the D-League. The Lakers are not being overly active in the trade market, but their exceptions make them interesting trade partners as they can take on an unwanted salary using one of their exceptions.
It’s unlikely that the Lakers are players early in the trade season, but they do have two assets that make them worth paying attention to as teams try and construct deals parking a player to or through LA is a possibility.
Like the Pelicans, the Hornets are trying to right the ship and have been labeled as one of the teams being aggressive in the early goings of the trade season. The name mentioned the most is swingman Gerald Henderson, but with basically two years and $12 million reaming on his contract ($6 million this year and a player options worth $6 million next year), he’s not the most attractive of trade chips. The Hornets are said to be open to trading just about anyone not named Al Jefferson or Kemba Walker and seem interested in shaking up their 4-14 roster.
The Magic are not actively looking in the trade market but they do have two players that get mentioned a lot by other teams. The Magic are 7-12 on the season and still finding their way, but it seems clear that forward Maurice Harkless and big man Andrew Nicholson are not going to play a big role for the team, which has some teams sniffing around about their availability.
Harkless clearly is the bigger trade asset, however sources close to the Magic say Harkless is one of GM Rob Hennigan’s favorite guys. He is not getting consistent playing time, though, and seems to be in head coach Jacque Vaughn’s doghouse. Harkless has said he’s trying to make the best of the situation, but it is clear that if the Magic are not going to play him that moving him becomes almost inevitable.
Like Harkless, Nicholson has been marginalized with the emergence of other players and he too sits more than he plays, prompting teams to inquire about his availability in trade.
The Magic at some point are going to need to decide what to do with their excess pieces, and as teams start making offers, the Magic might find a deal worth doing.
The Magic are not actively pursuing deals, which puts them in the driver’s seat, however at 7-12 with increased expectations the Magic may have to pull the trigger sooner than later.
Like many of the teams on this list, the Pistons expected to be better than their 3-14 record. The fact that the team has lost eight straight games has the Pistons squarely in the sellers category. The Pistons are preaching patience, but it’s clear that a number of the pieces in Detroit simply don’t fit how head coach Stan Van Gundy wants to play.
The Pistons’ biggest trade chip might be big man Greg Monroe, however given that he accepted the Pistons’ qualifying offer and is headed towards unrestricted free agency, he can block any trade. That makes moving him tough. The Pistons continue to talk about retaining him, so it’s possible given how he’s been playing that the Pistons make other moves to solidify Monroe’s future in Detroit.
Surprisingly, the Pistons most productive player has been Brandon Jennings, a player most thought would struggle in Van Gundy’s demanding system.
Second year guard Kentavious Caldewell-Pope seems to be having the toughest time adjusting to Van Gundy and he might be one of the players on the move, especially if he can be packaged in with someone like Jonas Jerebko ($4.5 million) or Josh Smith ($13.5 million) and return something more valuable than his $2.7 million salary can return under NBA trade rules.
The Pistons are preaching about patience, however it’s clear that no one in Detroit is happy with how this season is playing out and that a change is more than likely.
The Nets are very much like the Pistons, they hoped that a coaching change would solve most of their woes, however at 6-9 and having lost seven of their last ten games, things are not going as swimmingly as some expected.
There have already been a number of small blow ups in the media from shooting guard Joe Johnson questioning his team to Brook Lopez being benched in the fourth quarter and even second year big man Mason Plumlee playing a vastly reduced role.
The team has already shopped forward Andrei Kirilenko and found little interest or value in him, leaving them with no choice but to backpedal in the press, downplaying their desire to move him.
The Nets continue to be a team that seems like its open for business and with Lopez eligible for free agency in July, there is a chance the Nets look to move him before they potentially lose him for nothing in return. Lopez is owed $15.7 million this season and holds a player option worth $16.7 million next season and could be the trade chip that returns the most value.
The Nets are said to have made Kirilenko and guard Sergey Karasev available in trade talks with other teams, neither likely returns much, but the Nets seem open to making a deal sooner than later.
The Suns are very much like the Magic. They are overloaded with talent. It’s talent that they like quite a bit, but its talent they simply don’t have a lot of minutes for. The Suns are not actively shopping for deals, but a few teams believe the Suns will be sellers before it is said and done and that guard Goran Dragic is the name to watch.
Dragic has the option to hit unrestricted free agency in July. With the offseason deals guards Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe signed this summer and the drafting of Tyler Ennis, there is a sense that Dragic could be moved before he walks to a different situation.
Dragic has in essence has two years left on his deal, a $7.5 million year this year and a player option worth $7.5 million next year. Its possible Dragic stays in his deal, and the Suns would likely want that to be agreed to before the trade deadline, or they’d have no choice but to move him before losing him for nothing in return.
After an All-Star caliber season last year Dragic has settled back down to earth, likely due to the log jam the team has at the guard position.
Its seems likely if the right offer fall Phoenix’s way they’ll pull the trigger, especially with the team sitting at 10-8 and just inside the Playoff picture in the West.
Given that the team is having some success they are clearly not motivated to make a change, but if the teams starts to slip or that missing playoff piece surfaces, there is no doubt the Suns have the assets to make some changes, especially if it locks them into the postseason.
The number of in-season trades that get done on a year-to-year basis is generally fairly small, while there are a number of teams open to making trades, don’t expect a lot to drop in December. You can expect the trade chatter to pick up especially as December 15 gets closer, as that’s when teams that are looking to make changes tend to get more serious in their conversations.
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NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.