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NBA AM: Cleaning Up and Clarifying The Rumor Mill

There are a lot of juicy nuggets in the rumor mill these days. Here are some worth talking about.

Steve Kyler

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Cleaning Up and Clarifying

The beauty of the NBA season approaching so quickly is there is once again a lot to talk about in NBA circles. We’ve already seen a number of juicy nuggets of info start to trickle out, so it seemed appropriate to jump in and add some perspective to some of these reports.

Expansion Is Not On The Table

About a week ago, a story over at Sonics Rising caught a lot of attention as the article suggested that not only was the concept of expansion in the NBA something that was on the table, the author backed it up with several unnamed quotes from “media and league people in my contact list.” This is clever because it’s massively vague as to exactly who the “league people” are or what role they play in the league.

Basketball Insiders reached out to an NBA owner and a voting member of the Board of Governors and was told flatly that any talk of expansion has been shot down at every turn inside the Board of Governors meetings. It’s been a non-starter.

The problem with expansion is that the NBA over the years has learned that adding new undeveloped teams subtracts massively before it adds and that there is no desire at this point to dilute the talent pool with more teams or to divide the revenue pie among new ownership groups.

As one source said, expansion and the whopping fees that would be associated are like revenue advances. The owners would get cash today, but would give up a huge chunk of future revenue forever and there really isn’t much appetite for that among the existing ownership group.

Now that’s not to say that “media and league people” in someone’s contact list may not believe expansion is inevitable, but what those people may not know is that expansion isn’t in the near-term future from a Board of Governors perspective.

There is no doubt that when the NBA and the players reach their new collective bargaining agreement, which should happen before the December opt-out deadline, that the NBA does not turn its attention to ways to grow the business even more because that’s something both the players and the owners have pledged to do to reach a compromise deal. But like all labor deals, both sides will want to see how the tweaks and changes impact the big picture before there is even real consideration of diluting the pool.

There is no doubting the interest from non-NBA markets in landing a team, but the story coming out of the NBA is that expansion just simply is not on the table, no matter how badly others may want it to be.

Tick Tock, Denver Is On The Clock

The story coming out of Denver is that forward Kenneth Faried, long believed to be available in trade, may lose his starting job to Nikola Jokic. While everyone is saying all the right things, league sources doubt that Faried is going to take a bench role lightly and that the Nuggets may have to ramp up efforts to ultimately move him this season.

The Nuggets have logjams everywhere, so it’s not just Faried that may end up with a less than desirable role – meaning the Nuggets may have a couple of players to deal as the season gets moving.

Sources close to the Nuggets point to their injury history as a reason not to jump the gun on a trade, but suggested that when the first wave of free agents signed during the summer become available to trade on December 15 that Denver could be fairly active if their season does not jump out of the gate strong.

The Nuggets have a number of young guys to groom, so there is not a false sense of who they are in the NBA’s Western Conference; however, there is a belief that this team can compete and if the 7th or 8th seed stays in focus and in reach, the Nuggets have more than a few assets to trade to bolster a playoff run.

Magic Not Open To Moving Vucevic… Yet

There is no question the Orlando Magic have created a logjam in their frontcourt after doing the same in the backcourt last year. The name many keep suggesting will be moved is center Nikola Vucevic. Magic sources flatly deny any interest in moving Vucevic, pointing to his team friendly contract and ability to create his own offense. The hope from inside the Magic was that offseason additions Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka would cure the defensive issues around Vucevic and allow him to focus solely on being an offensive weapon. Time will tell if that’s smart basketball.

There is little doubt that Vucevic would be attractive in trade, mainly because he’s highly productive offensively and his $11.7 million salary this year is a steal in the current NBA economy. The fact that he’s locked in at that kind of rate for the next two years makes him an easy addition to a team starving for frontcourt offense.

Magic sources were pretty adamant that moving Vucevic was not in the plan, but with the Magic so focused on making the playoffs, one has to wonder if others start to flourish and the right swingman was offered, would Orlando hold that line?

Magic sources said barring the offer of an All-Star in return, the odds of a Vucevic trade were very small, so it might take something real to get Orlando to the table.

The Logjam In Phoenix

There is little doubt the Phoenix Suns have more guards than minutes, so the question becomes which guy becomes the odd man out? League sources for some time have pegged Eric Bledsoe as the most likely to be moved from a Suns point of view, but there is a growing belief that Brandon Knight would return more value in a trade (mainly because of Bledsoe’s injury history).

Sources close to the Suns say there is real concern about trying to break up the roster at this point because there is a nice vibe around the team that management wants to try and cultivate for as long as they can. Equally, like many teams with roster duplication, the number of available tradable players almost doubles in December and that gives everyone about 20 games to figure out what’s really worth keeping in the long-term before consummating a trade.

It seems more likely than not that the Suns pull the trigger on a trade at some point, especially if Devin Booker continues his upward climb, but sources close to the situation say there isn’t a lot of urgency yet to solve the logjam. That could change when guys making starter level money start logging bench-level minutes.

Time To Chat

Just in case you didn’t get enough juicy basketball goodness from the NBA AM, my weekly NBA Chat will drop on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. EST. There is plenty of room in there for you, so swing by and drop in a question.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @OMaroneyNBA, @Ben_Dowsett, @ JabariDavisNBA and @CodyTaylorNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA

The Real Jrue Holiday Has Finally Arrived

It may have been a little later than they would have wanted, but the Jrue Holiday that New Orleans has always wanted is finally here, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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New Orleans has always earned the nickname “The Big Easy”, but ever since Jrue Holiday came to town, his time there has been anything but.

When New Orleans traded for Holiday back in 2013, they hoped that he would round out an exciting young core that included Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Ryan Anderson. At 23 years old, Holiday averaged 17.7 points, 8.0 assists, and 4.2 rebounds the previous season and was coming off his first all-star appearance in Philadelphia, so the Pelicans had much to look forward to.

Unfortunately, recurring extensive injuries prohibited the Pelicans’ new core from ever playing together fully healthy, with Holiday getting his fair share of the bruises. In his first two seasons, Holiday played in only 74 games combined with the team due to injury, and things didn’t get much better his third season. While he played more games, Holiday was on a minutes restriction and his season ended again with injury.

Holiday avoided the injury bug his fourth season, but he nobly took a leave of absence at the start the season to tend to his ill wife, which caused him to miss the season’s first 12 games and 15 in total. Holiday’s inability to stay on the court coupled with New Orleans’ stagnated progress made him a forgotten man in the NBA. That was until last summer, when Holiday became a free agent.

Given the circumstances, Holiday did what he could for the Pelicans. He certainly proved he was above average, but he hadn’t shown any improvement since his arrival. Coupling that with both how many games he had missed in the previous four seasons and the league’s salary cap not increasing as much as teams had anticipated, and one would think to proceed with caution in regards to extending Jrue Holiday.

But the Pelicans saw it differently. New Orleans gave Holiday a five-year, $126 million extension last summer, befuddling the general masses. Besides Holiday’s inability to stay on the court, the Pelicans already had an expensive payroll, and they later added Rajon Rondo, another quality point guard, to the roster. So, with all that in mind, giving Holiday a near-max contract on a team that had made the playoffs a grand total of once in the Anthony Davis era seemed a little foolish.

This season, however, Jrue Holiday has rewarded the Pelicans’ faith in him and has proven the doubters so very wrong.

With a clean slate of health, Holiday has proven himself to be better than ever. This season, Holiday averaged career-highs in scoring (19 points a game) and field goal percentage (49 percent overall), which played a huge role in New Orleans having its best season since Chris Paul’s last hurrah with the team back in 2011.

Holiday’s impact extended beyond what the traditional numbers said. His on/off numbers from NBA.com showed that the Pelicans were much better on both sides of the ball when he was on the court compared to when he was off. Offensively, the Pelicans had an offensive rating of 108.9 points per 100 possessions when he was the on the court compared to 104.4 points per 100 possessions when he was off.

On the other side of the court, Holiday was even more integral. The Pelicans had a defensive rating of 103.3 per 100 possessions when Holiday was on the court compared to 112.3 off the court. Overall, the Pelicans were 13.6 points per 100 possessions better with Holiday on the floor. That was the highest net rating on the team, even higher than Anthony Davis.

Other statistics also support how impactful Holiday has been this season. According to ESPN’s real plus-minus page, Holiday’s 3.81 Real Plus-Minus ranked ninth among point guards – No. 16 offensively, No. 4 defensively – which beat out Kyrie Irving, John Wall, and Goran Dragic, all of whom made the All-Star team this year.

However, Holiday’s effectiveness shined through mid-way through the season, or more specifically, on Jan. 26, when Demarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles tear. While Davis certainly led the way, Holiday’s role could not have been understated when the Pelicans went 21-13 without their MVP candidate to finish the season. Offensively, Holiday’s point average went from 18.6 to 19.4 and his assist average went from 5.2 to 7.2, all while his turnover average – from 2.6 to 2.7 – stayed the same.

Defensively, Holiday had much to do with the Pelicans’ improved defense after Cousins went down. According to NBA.com, the Pelicans defensive rating went from 106.2 points allowed per 100 possessions to 103.7, and much of it can be attributed to Holiday. When Holiday was on the court, the team’s defensive rating was 101.2 points allowed per 100 possessions compared to 109.6 points allowed per 100 possessions with him off.

Holiday’s improved numbers, combined with the Pelicans steadying the boat without their star center, make a fair argument that Holiday was one of the league’s best all-around point guards this season, but Holiday’s style isn’t much of a thrill to watch. He doesn’t have Russell Westbrook’s other-worldly athleticism, he doesn’t have Stephen Curry’s lethal jumper, nor does he have Chris Paul’s floor general abilities. Holiday’s specialty is that he has every fundamental of a good point guard, which makes his impact usually fly under the radar.

That was until last week, when the Pelicans unexpectedly curb stomped the Blazers. The Jrue Holiday coming out party was in full-swing, as the 27-year-old torched Rip City, averaging 27.8 points, 6.5 assists, and 4 rebounds a game on 57 percent shooting from the field, including 35 percent from deep. He did all of that while stymieing MVP candidate Damian Lillard, as Dame averaged 18 points and 4 assists while shooting 35 percent from the field, including 30 percent from deep, and surrendered four turnovers a game.

If Holiday’s contributions weren’t on full display then, they certainly are now. The Pelicans have suddenly emerged as one of the West’s toughest and most cohesive teams in this year’s playoffs, with Holiday playing a huge role in the team’s newfound mojo and potentially glorious future.

This was the Jrue Holiday the New Orleans Pelicans had in mind when they first traded for him almost five years ago. While his impact has come a little later than they would have wanted, it’s as the old saying goes.

Better late than never.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Are Player Legacies Really On The Line?

How important is legacy in the NBA playoffs? Lang Greene takes a look.

Lang Greene

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As the NBA Playoffs continue to pick up steam, the subject of individual greatness has become the big topic of conversation. Today, we ask the question: is legacy talk just a bunch of hyperbole or are they really made or broken in the playoffs?

To be clear, legacies do matter. Reputations are built on reliability and how dependable someone is throughout the course of their respective body of work. We all have them. They are built over time and it’s seldom they change from one misstep – but they can. Some of the greatest players in NBA history never won a title; see John Stockton and Karl Malone during their Utah Jazz years. Some NBA greats never won a title until they were past their physical prime and paired with a young charge that took over the reins; see David Robinson in San Antonio. Some NBA greats never won a title as the leading man until they were traded to a title contending team; see Clyde Drexler in Houston. We also have a slew of Hall of Famers that have been inducted with minimal playoff success in their careers; see the explosive Tracy McGrady.

So what’s in a legacy? And why does it mean more for some then it does for others?

Four-time League MVP LeBron James’ legacy is always up for debate, despite battling this season to make his ninth NBA Finals appearance. James’ legacy seems to be up in the air on a nightly basis. Maybe it’s because of the rarified air he’s in as one of the league’s top 10 players all-time or maybe it’s just good for ratings.

As this year’s playoffs gain momentum, the topic of legacy has been mentioned early and often.

Out in the Western Conference, the legacy of Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook is being questioned at all angles. There’s no doubt Westbrook is one of the best players in the league today as the reigning MVP and coming off two consecutive seasons averaging a triple-double. However, Westbrook’s decision making has come into question plenty over the past couple of seasons.

The subject of whether you can truly win a championship with Westbrook as your lead guy serves as the centerpiece of the debate. It goes without saying former league MVP Kevin Durant bolted to the Golden State Warriors amid rumors that he could no longer coexist next to Westbrook in the lineup. Ever since Durant’s somewhat unexpected departure, it seems Westbrook has been hell-bent on proving his doubters wrong – even if it comes at the detriment to what his team is trying to accomplish.

The latest example was in game four of his team’s current first-round series versus the Utah Jazz.

Westbrook picked up four fouls in the first half as he was attempting to lock up point guard Ricky Rubio, who had a career night in Game 3 of the series. Westbrook infamously waved off head coach Billy Donovan after picking up his second personal foul in the first quarter. Westbrook was also in the game with three personal fouls and under two minutes left in the first half before picking up his fourth personal.

You can make an argument that this was just bad coaching by Donovan leaving him in the game in foul trouble, but it also points to Westbrook’s decision making and not being able to play within the constructs of a team dynamic. Further, what will be Westbrook’s legacy on this season’s Oklahoma City Thunder team with Carmelo Anthony and Paul George if they were to flame out in the first round with little fizzle – against a Jazz team with no star power and zero All-Stars? Is discussing Westbrook’s legacy worthless banter or is it a legitimate topic? There is no doubt on his current trajectory Westbrook is headed straight into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. As an individual player there is no greater achievement than to have your name etched in stone with the greats of yesteryear, but the court of public opinion factors in team success and this is where the topic of legacy comes into play.

Say what you will about Durant’s decision to go to Golden State, but his legacy is undoubtedly secured. Durant won the Finals MVP last season in absolute dominant fashion and showed up on the biggest of stages. All that’s left from those that question Durant’s legacy at this point are the folks on the fringe saying he couldn’t do it by himself. But that is exactly the line of thinking that’s getting Westbrook killed as well, because winning championships is all about team cohesiveness and unity.

Out in the Eastern Conference, all eyes will be on Milwaukee Bucks do everything star Giannis Antetokounmpo. After five seasons in the league, Antetokounmpo has zero playoff series victories attached to his name. Heading into the playoffs this season, the seventh-seeded Bucks were considered underdogs to the second-seeded Boston Celtics.

But the Celtics are wounded. They do not have the services of All Stars Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward. The Celtics are a team full of scrappy young talent and cagey veterans. Antetokounmpo is clearly the best player in the series and teams with the best player usually fare well in a seven game series. But the Bucks are facing elimination down 3-2 versus Boston. Antetokounmpo has only been in the league half of the time Westbrook has, but the chirping about his legacy has already begun as Milwaukee attempts to win its first playoff series since 2001.

So what’s in a legacy? Are there varying degrees for which people are being evaluated?

Despite James’ success throughout his career, a first-round exit at the hands of the Indiana Pacers over the next week will damage his legacy in the minds of some. While others feel even if Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were to drop this series against the Celtics, he should be given a pass with the caveat that he still has plenty of time in his career to rectify.

As for Westbrook, there are vultures circling the head of his legacy and these folks feel that a first-round exit will damage his brand irreversibly after 10 seasons in the league

Ultimately, the topic of legacies makes for good column fodder, barbershop banter and sport debate television segments. Because when guys hang up their high tops for good, a Hall of Fame induction is typically the solidifying factor when it comes to a player’s legacy.

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: The Futures Of LeBron, PG13, Kawhi and More

Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and NBA writer David Yapkowitz talk about the future of LeBron James in Cleveland, the Paul George situation, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the future of the Blazers and the Basketball 101 program that’s part of the Professional Basketball Combine.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and NBA writer David Yapkowitz talk about the future of LeBron James in Cleveland, the Paul George situation, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the future of the Blazers and the Basketball 101 program that’s part of the Professional Basketball Combine.

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