On The Clock: With roughly 30 hours remaining until the 3:00 pm EST NBA’s trade deadline, a lot of last minute chatter is leaking out as teams try and consummate deals before the mid-day cut off tomorrow. While there is a lot of talk taking place, the general sense around the league is that this may again be a very anti-climactic trade deadline with very few major players moved. With that in mind lets dig into what we know today.
Rajon Rondo: The Boston Celtics are on the receiving end of a lot of calls from teams trying to pry Rondo out of Boston. The problem is not whether Boston would do a Rondo deal; most teams believe Boston would. The problem is that Rondo can become an unrestricted free agent in July of 2015, which has many teams on the phone with Boston wanting assurances that Rondo would agree to a contract extension or a new deal with the acquiring team and Rondo’s camp is unwilling to entertain that. The asking price for Rondo is said to be two unprotected first round draft picks and some combination of ending contracts and rookie scale players. There are a few teams that have their nose in this discussion including the New York Knicks, the Toronto Raptors and the Sacramento Kings, although it seems unlikely that they could extract Rondo from Boston. The Celtics are talking on a number of fronts and would love to part ways with Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries, so there is more than Rondo on the table for Boston.
Pau Gasol: There continues to be a belief that the LA Lakers are going to pull the trigger on a Gasol trade and that the long dormant deal with the Phoenix Suns that would send one of the lower of the four draft picks the Suns hold and injured big man Emeka Okafor to LA will be the deal that gets done. The Lakers continue to ponder if that’s the best move for them or if hanging on to Gasol into the summer for a possible sign-and-trade deal might return more long-term value than a late first round pick that consumes cap space. The Lakers continue to work other angles which include a possible deal with the Brooklyn Nets that would offload big man Jordan Hill to the Nets in exchange for a draft pick and a Disabled Player Exception. It seems that one is directly connected to the other, meaning if the Lakers move Gasol, moving Hill to get under the luxury tax line seems likely. The problem for the Lakers is that Phoenix is talking to other teams about their package with Okafor so if the Lakers wait to the wire they may find their deal for Gasol gone as Phoenix seems intent on using their chips before the clock strikes 3:00pm.
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Kenneth Faried: The talk of Faried being available is a little over blown according to sources near the situation in Denver. More teams seem to be calling, but Denver is being somewhat calculated. There is a sense that Faried is not nearly as valuable to the Nuggets under Brian Shaw as he was under George Karl and that with the expected price tag of $10 million a season in his next deal on the horizon this summer, the Nuggets are at least listening to offers. Sources continue to say that the odds of a Faried deal are low, but that Nuggets GM Tim Connelly has to listen and consider offers if only to better understand Faried’s market value for contract talks this summer. The Nuggets are still trying to find a home for disgruntled guard Andre Miller. As one league insider put it, the way this thing has played out with Miller and head coach Brian Shaw, it’s going to be tough to make a deal as teams trying to win are unwilling to take on Miller and the young teams that might want a leader do not view this situation as positive. The Nuggets are active, but other than Miller it seems unlikely that Denver is doing much more than that unless someone blows them away with an offer.
Kings Getting Close: The Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets continued talks yesterday on a deal that would send volume scorer Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn in exchange for forward Reggie Evans and guard Jason Terry. The deal seems like its gaining enough traction to be close and given that both sides have been talking for a few days about it, unless something better surfaces this one might get done. The Kings have been trying to offload Thornton and guard Jimmer Fredette and are working angles on both players. The Kings seem like they have a deal for one very close, the question is can they move the other? There were also reports yesterday that the Kings would entertain offers on guard Isaiah Thomas, although sources say the asking price on Thomas is an unprotected first round draft pick this year and those are becoming hard to come by. Factor in that Thomas had an MRI that revealed ligament damage in his wrist yesterday, it’s unclear how much a team would really give for Thomas. The Kings really want to add some veteran influence to their roster and continue to be one of the teams trying to swing for the fences on a major deal.
Ben Gordon: The Charlotte Bobcats have been sniffing around for a trade for several weeks. Word is the ending contract of Ben Gordon can be had for a combination of smaller assets that could bolster the Bobcat’s run into the playoffs. It’s unclear who has real interest in Gordon, however, it’s been said if the Suns strike out on Gasol with the Lakers they may take on Gordon with their Emeka Okafor offer that includes a first round pick. Sources close to the situation say that Charlotte would rather have a roster player in the deal, so it remains to be seen how this one will play out, but Charlotte is very much in the mix as the deadline approaches.
Orlando Magic: If you call the Orlando Magic will answer, but getting them into a serious discussion on a deal has proven to be fruitless. A number of teams have made passes at the Magic regarding Arron Afflalo, but the Magic have turned those conversations away. Glen “Big Baby” Davis is a name the Magic are trying to find a deal for, but even with Davis there isn’t a lot of effort being put forth. The Magic could be a team that’s involved in a deal or they very well could sit this one out. The magic have not shut down trade talks, but it does not seem today that they are nearly as interested in making a deal this year as they were last year.
»In Related: The History of NBA Trades
Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves are said to be open for business and that anyone on the roster outside of Kevin Love could be had. So, phone lines are now open. The Wolves are one of the teams trying to make a splash move for a serious player and virtually anyone could be had to make a big deal happen. There has been talk that the Wolves have entertained a Chase Budinger and J.J. Barea deal with the Memphis Grizzlies that would send Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince to the Wolves, so there is that to ponder. There have been a number of suitors that have made passes at the Wolves regarding Kevin Love, but all have been turned away. The Wolves are trying to make something happen and that generally means a deal, if a team is seriously motivated and seems like the Wolves are.
Basketball Insiders will keep you up to date on all of the trade deadline chatter with the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline Diary. That will drop later today and will feature all of the news, notes, rumors and tweets about the trades team are talking about.
Look for it to drop around 12:00pm EST.
Home Court Matters: Not everyone in the NBA is focused on the NBA trade deadline, in fact the Indiana Pacers and Miami HEAT are focused on getting through the final 30 something games of the regular season without injury.
It seems inevitable that the Pacers and HEAT are almost destined to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, the big question is who will get home court?
Heat All-Star Chris Bosh says his team doesn’t talk about securing the top spot in the East, but understands that comes from playing well.
“We don’t talk about it all,” Bosh told Basketball Insiders. “We’re too busy thinking about tomorrow or today or the team in front of us. We know what happens if we continue to take care of business and try our best to put a string of wins together and win as many games as possible. If we do that we look at the standings at the end of the day, we’ll see how we fair out. “
The HEAT have been in preservation mode for most of the season trying to keep guys as fresh as possible and keep them healthy after three straight Finals runs. As a result the HEAT have not been as sharp, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“I think it’s just a matter of getting out there and competing hard every night and really start to turn the corner defensively,” Bosh said. “I think our offense is going to take care of itself; we can even take another step as far as that’s concerned. The way we move the ball I think that’ll be fine when it’s time. We just need to improve defensively. Our rebounding can get better. Not so much the margin or our total rebounds, but our rebounding percentage can get better. We need to start putting things together as we get closer to the postseason. “
»In Related: Video: Chris Bosh All-Star Weekend
The Pacers on the other hand know that they have a lot more to accomplish and that Miami won’t be the only team they have to face in the postseason. Pacers All-Star Paul George knows all too well that it’s going to be a tough journey to even get to face Miami, let alone compete for a championship.
“We are after the title,” George said. “We understand it’s not going to be easy that’s not one team that we’re going to have to face to win it all. It’s always tough matchup against them, we just got one goal and we want to win it all.”
George and his Pacer teammates know they need to be the top team in the East to have the best chance at advancing.
“It’s real important,” George said. “That’s always in the back of our mind and the reason why we want to be number one in the East. We don’t think it’s going to be easy because we’re number one, but we just like our chances playing on our floor. We have been one of the best teams in this league defending our home court.”
The Pacers have been exceptionally sharp and focused all season, in part because of how the roster has grown together, but also in part because everyone on the team understands what’s at stake.
“We came into the year with everybody knowing what their role is and what their agenda is,” George said. “Another year of us being together and having that experience of playing a tough team like Miami last year. We grew and we had a message for everybody to get better in the summer and I thought a lot of guys did.”
The Pacers are currently 41-12 on the season and hold a 2 ½ game lead over the 38-14 Miami HEAT. The Pacers are currently 26-3 at home, while the HEAT hold a 20-4 home record.
The Pacers have 29 games remaining on their schedule which includes 12 home games and 17 road games. The Pacers will also see 20 Eastern Conference teams in that span and will face 11 teams with a record above .500.
The HEAT has 30 games remaining on their schedule which includes 17 home games and 13 road games. The HEAT will face 20 Eastern Conference teams in that span which includes 12 teams with a record above .500.
The NBA regular season ends on April 16, with the 2014 NBA Playoffs set to begin on April 19.
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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.
In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.
At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.
The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.
There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots.
A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks.
Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.
More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter.
But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic?
It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.
Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.
NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track
D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.
D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.
Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.
Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.
The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.
COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.
The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.
Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).
Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?
Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.
Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.
Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.
On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.
Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).
But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.
At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.
And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.
To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.
So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.
NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?
Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.
Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.
It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.
Goga Bitadze and Pacers assistant coach Greg Foster got into a heated discussion.
Myles Turner and multiple other players got involved to attempt to break up the confrontation. pic.twitter.com/9Xr96HmJg8
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 6, 2021
We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.
The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.
If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.
In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.
TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be
Report: Mike D’Antoni ‘leader in the clubhouse’ to become the next Pacers head coach https://t.co/42Ik5nPTyU
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) May 6, 2021
Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.
Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.
For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.
There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.
That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.
Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.
Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.