Are The L.A. Lakers In The Hunt For Kevin Love?
A report over the weekend pegged the L.A. Lakers as the potential front runners for Minnesota’s Kevin Love. On the surface it seems like the Lakers wouldn’t have the assets to acquire a player like Love in trade, especially with teams like Boston and Golden State offering real value in return. However, there continues to be a sense among NBA executives that the Lakers are very much in the hunt. Last week, the Lakers were linked to a potential deal with the Philadelphia 76ers that would have involved sending the number seven pick and Steve Nash to the Sixers in exchange for Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young; at the time, that deal seemed somewhat lopsided in the Lakers’ favor. However, some are saying that the deal was potentially part of a three-way trade that would be consummated around the draft and get finished in July, when the Lakers could absorb salary.
While this time of year is filled with speculation and certainly filled with rumors that don’t come true, the Lakers have been extremely busy. The Lakers have been contacting the Golden State Warriors trying to pry loose Klay Thompson. Despite reports, sources say a Thompson deal was never seriously considered by the Warriors, but was more about the Warriors looking for additional assets to land Love for themselves. At this point it seems Minnesota is holding firm with no real deal on the horizon. That could change before Thursday’s NBA Draft, but the Wolves’ stance has been if they’re not going to get what they want they’re not moving Love.
One other aspect of the Lakers’ pursuit of Love is the fact that they still hold the rights to Pau Gasol. The Wolves have been linked to Gasol a number of times over the past two years and it appears that they would be willing to take on Gasol in a sign-and-trade. Given that Gasol and Wolves guard Ricky Rubio have a long history together and with Rubio up for an extension, obtaining Gasol might be what gets Rubio re-signed if Love indeed has to be traded.
League sources say the Lakers are one of many teams at the table trying to obtain Love but the list of suitors is significant. The Celtics, Warriors, Rockets and Bulls are considered the prime suitors. There are several other teams willing to get involved as well, especially if a third-team scenario surfaces, including the Cavaliers, who hold the number one overall pick and have a roster loaded with young, emerging talent.
When it’s all said and done, it’s doubtful Love ends up with the Lakers, as they simply don’t have the assets to pull off this kind of a deal. There is a sense among NBA executives the Love being traded to the Lakers is not a farfetched idea and that they are very much in the hunt; it’s just unclear what assets they would be able to obtain between now and July in order to obtain a player like Love.
Equally Love’s stances has been that he wants to be with an organization that can win this year and if the Lakers empty the cupboard to go get Love, what will they have to put on the floor other than Kobe Bryant? The Lakers clearly are going to have cap space to become a much more attractive situation with Bryant and Love on the roster, however is Love really going to be happy with a Laker team that’s clearly rebuilding? There have been reports that Love’s interest in the Lakers has been massively overstated, but it’s pretty clear the Lakers have interest Love and are not sitting this one out.
Need To Read: Should Celtics Be Pro Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony?
Embiid Still In The Top Five?
The biggest unknown in Thursday’s NBA draft is Kansas big man Joel Embiid. The choice to have surgery last week was a smart one, but the fact that he had two screws inserted in his broken navicular bone has thrown up even more red flags for several organizations. Pegging where his draft stock is ultimately going to land is still a massive unknown. With that said, basketball operations people are still very high on Embiid as a long-term prospect. That bodes well for Embiid to still be drafted high, depending on how each team handles the medical issues. Most organizations require draft picks to be medically cleared by the team’s medical staff and a number of NBA team’s medical staffs are scared of what Embiid’s medical history really looks like.
This is where skipping the Draft Combine is going to haunt Embiid. During the annual combine, prospects undergo a massive amount of medical testing including MRI’s, blood testing, heart and genetic testing. Without this volume of information, and knowing only what Embiid’s agent is releasing to them, there is more risk that normal and that is ruling some teams out of the discussion.
The sense is with some teams is that Embiid will make a full recovery and that might happen inside his rookie season. Even if he doesn’t play next season there are a number of teams that see his upside as far too appealing to pass, especially in the top 10. There is a sense of the Philadelphia 76ers at number three would look seriously at Embiid and that might be his floor. The Orlando Magic at number four are said to be exploring what’s going on with his health situation, however the Magic historically have steered away from players with injury problems and red flags.
The Magic turned away Brook Lopez from the Brooklyn Nets as part of a Dwight Howard package and also steered away from Andrew Bynum in the deal they eventually did for Howard. The Magic certainly have a roster that would allow them to be patient with Embiid, given the fact they’ve got Nic Vucevic on the roster. If the Magic’s goal is to get the best player possible, Embiid certainly fits the bill. There is considerable risk, especially given the nature of his recent injury, but it seems several teams are weighing the risk versus reward on what could be a once in a generation big man.
The other part of Embiid’s injury history to consider isn’t just a fractured foot or even his problematic back from last season; it’s the fact that he had a similar back injury in high school. There was also some concern among NBA scouts about his knee all season at Kansas. Given the small sample size Embiid has as a top-tier basketball player, having only played the game for just a few years added to the unknown of his medical history there is a lot of risk associated with Embiid. Even with the amount of risk present, there are still a number of teams that view him as a top-10 prospect even with the mystery surrounding his health. There is a sense Embiid will not get past the Boston Celtics at six and that he’s a serious candidate at number five to the Utah Jazz . There is little doubt that Embiid is going to get drafted, the question becomes what will his NBA future look like especially given how much unknown surrounds his medical history?
Need To Read: Would Carmelo Anthony Actually Be Miami’s Best Bet?
Could Aaron Gordon Be The Dark Horse?
Lost in the hype of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and even Dante Exum is Arizona’s Aaron Gordon. Gordon was highly thought of at the start of the draft process, especially early in the college basketball season. A number of teams were enamored with him early and he was one of the more heavily scouted prospects at the top of the draft.
As the draft process got underway in April, Gordon started to slide down the proverbial board with a lot of insiders pegging him as potentially Boston’s pick at number six. However in recent weeks, especially after strong workouts, Gordon’s stock is on the rise. There has been talk to Gordon could go as high as number four to the Orlando Magic or number five to the Utah Jazz.
There has been a sense that Gordon is a tweener at the next level, lacking the body to be a power forward and lacking the shooting to be a small forward. Gordon has sort of changed his image in workouts, having shot the ball well and showing the ability to play against bigger players. Teams that have taken a long look at Gordon really like what they seen. There is a sense that Gordon could go significantly higher than projected. It’s fairly common in the NBA draft process for the players to get locked into a specific pick range in the media, and that a player can’t go higher or lower based on some artificial ranking. NBA teams, specifically teams in the top 10, are very high on Gordon and there is a chance that he could go significantly higher than he’s been projected.
Need To Read: 2014 NBA Mock Draft: Consensus Ver 7.5
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Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance
Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.
Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.
The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.
As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.
For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.
“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”
Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.
He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.
The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.
“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”
Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.
He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.
“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”
Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.
Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.
If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.
For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.
“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”
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.