Let’s Make A Deal: With the NBA Draft just two days and less than 10 hours away, teams are now in full on “deal making” mode. This usually results in a lot of chatter and very little action. What’s becoming clear in the talk is that a number of teams at the top of the draft would like to move around and there are some real assets in play. Let’s take a look at what’s in play as of today:
Cleveland Cavaliers: With the top overall pick in their pocket and the literal pick of the litter, the Cavs have started to entertain what else they could get for the top pick instead of their choice of players. There is a report from Cleveland that the Utah Jazz have made a hard push for the top pick with an offer said to include Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and the fifth overall pick. Such a package would be a massive haul for the Cavaliers, who would rather move toward proven veterans given the state of their roster. The Cavs have had a number of teams approach them about the top pick and even with a haul like that on the table, it seems they are still holding the line.
The Cavs are said to be leaning toward Jabari Parker with the top overall pick, if they keep it, but there is a still a lot of deal making time to be had so whether or not the Cavs will ultimately hold the top pick on Thursday is still very much up in the air.
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Orlando Magic: The Orlando Magic are absolutely open for business, as one rival executive put it. Although there have been several reports suggesting specific packages and offers, sources close to the process say the team isn’t nearly that close to a deal to be hammering on specifics. The Magic are said to have the entire team on the table for the right combination of assets. The Magic hold the fourth and 12th picks in Thursday’s draft and have been angling to move up in the draft, possibly into one of the top two picks. Sources say there really is not much that’s off limits in talks and that Orlando is willing to listen to overtures on their own picks in trade down scenarios too. The Chicago Bulls have been linked most prominently to a deal with Orlando involving shooting guard Arron Afflalo, although sources say that’s not likely happening on draft night, but it’s still very much in play. The dark horse to obtain Afflalo still remains the Charlotte Hornets, who have long coveted him and are willing to give up the ninth pick and a roster player to do it.
Like the Cavaliers, the Magic have a number of options they are weighing, but the smart money says despite the chatter the Magic likely end up where they are at with four and 12, but they are working through the process and are willing to deal.
Keep an eye on Jameer Nelson on draft night; his $8 million contract is only partially guaranteed for next season, meaning for $2 million in cash, a team could clear $6 million in cap space. For those teams looking hard at free agents like Carmelo Anthony, Nelson’s contract is fairly attractive.
Boston Celtics: The Celtics are sitting on the sixth and 17th picks in Thursday’s draft and would love to package them with a roster or player or two and get a serious player in return. The Celtics have been at the Minnesota Timberwolves regarding Kevin Love, but that seems to be at a standstill mainly because of the Timberwolves. There is a belief that as the draft starts to unfold and the true value of Boston’s picks become real with players available, that things may change.
If the Celtics reach for an odd selection at six that may be the telltale sign that they have a deal with someone else.
Equally the Celtics have made it clear that both of their picks are obtainable, so someone wanting to move to the sixth pick could find a willing partner in Boston.
Equally there is a sense that if Kansas big man Joel Embiid is on the board at six, the Celtics would draft him. However, there continues to be reports from teams that are hearing about the details of Embiid’s medical review and even the Celtics may be scared away from him at six. At 17, that’s an entirely different story.
The Celtics are being very active, which is usual for them at this time of year. However, it seems they are not willing to move on a major deal until Minnesota moves Love, but they may be willing to do some minor deals including moving the non-guaranteed $5.28 million contract of Keith Bogans. Like Nelson he is expected to be moved on draft day to a team looking to clear cap space.
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Utah Jazz: The Utah Jazz are not going to sit quietly and wait for their turn. They have been extremely active. The Jazz have not been overly excited to be sitting on the fifth pick in this draft class and have been at all three teams sitting at the top. Their target surprisingly is not Jabari Parker, as much as fans may want to see Parker in Salt Lake City, sources say their ideal target is Andrew Wiggins.
As covered above, the Jazz are believed to have made a whopper of an offer to Cleveland looking to pry the top overall pick loose. It’s believed they have a similar offer on the table to the Milwaukee Bucks and to the Philadelphia 76ers, assuming one of them can deliver Wiggins.
Parker is not completely out of the discussion for Utah, neither is Australian guard Dante Exum.
In addition to the fifth pick, the Jazz also hold the 23rd pick, which they have been actively shopping. When you hear about teams trying to obtain a first rounder this is one of the picks that could be had.
Typically when a team is this aggressive about trying to make a deal, they usually make one, so do not be surprised to see Utah move out of the number five spot. The question is what will they really give up to do it?
Philadelphia 76ers: Much like the Jazz, the 76ers are feeling a little squeamish about the third spot. They too have had eyes for Andrew Wiggins and there was a sense that he would fall to them at three, and then Embiid required foot surgery. The Cavs seem to have zeroed in on Parker or Wiggins if they keep the top pick, leaving the 76ers to catch whatever falls to them at three and it’s believed the Bucks are leaning towards Parker or Exum. Philadelphia wouldn’t be crushed to land Exum; they are very high on him, however if surrendering the 10th pick or a roster player like Thaddeus Young could get them Wiggins they seems open to pulling the trigger.
The 76ers have also been linked to a deal with the L.A. Lakers that would net them the seventh pick in exchange for Michael Carter-Williams, Young and two of Philly’s five second round picks. It’s believed the 76ers would also take on the contract of Steve Nash.
The logic of the deal, according to sources, is the 76ers trade their third and 10th pick to move up, while landing the seventh pick from the Lakers to walk out of the draft with two top players.
This deal seems like it would be contingent on Philly getting the player they want at the top.
NBA teams are prohibited from trading draft picks in consecutive years. Once the draft begins the Lakers are allowed to deal their pick, or more importantly a player they select with the pick.
Several teams have been at both the Lakers and the Sixers for a deal involving their picks and were turned away, so there is a sense this deal, or some variation of it, is very much in play.
LA Lakers: As mentioned above the Lakers are not holding firm with the seventh pick. In fact, they have shopped it as hard as almost any team in the league. The challenge for the Lakers is until players start to fall into slots their pick is not overly attractive.
There is a sense that the Lakers have three or four deals they could do with the seventh pick, including several “move down” scenarios. The Lakers have been looking at several draft prospects that project significantly lower than their seventh pick, so they have done their homework on moving down.
The Lakers are also very much open to moving the seventh pick to offload the guaranteed contract of Steve Nash. It’s unclear if any of the teams with cap space would take on the deal, although as mentioned above there is a belief the Lakers could trigger a deal with Philadelphia.
As thing stand today, the Lakers have three fully guaranteed contracts: Kobe Bryant ($23.5 million), Steve Nash ($9.701 million) and Robert Sacre ($915K). Nick Young holds a player option worth $1.227 million, which he is expected to decline. The Lakers have the option to restrict pending free agents Kent Bazemore and Ryan Kelly and hold a non-guaranteed option on Kendall Marshall worth $915,000. Given the cap hold rules, the Lakers are likely to hang on to Marshall, Bazemore and possibly Kelly, giving them a likely salary cap number in the $37 million range. Dumping Nash with little in return would get them to roughly $27 million in salary commitments plus whatever they take back for Nash.
In a conservative way, the Lakers could get to $30-$35 million in usable cap space if they can offload Nash and the guaranteed salary of the seventh pick.
The Lakers seem motivated to make a deal, the question becomes can they find a willing partner?
Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves have been busy. Not just on the Kevin Love front, which according to sources likely is going nowhere as Flip Saunders proclaimed early on in the process. The Wolves have also been sniffing around with their own draft pick, the 13th selection. The Wolves are said to covet a knock down shooter and may find a couple of candidates there at 13, however they seem more than willing to move down and return themselves a veteran asset.
The Wolves are in “win now” mode, according to several teams that have tried to extract Love, and they are willing to trade out of the 13th pick altogether if it gets them something they can bank on.
It’s believed that Jose Barea ($4.519 million), Corey Brewer ($4.702 million) and Alexey Shved ($3.15 million) could all be had on draft night along with the 13th pick to either move up to obtain a serious draft prospect or to move out and return a solid proven veteran.
Most of the teams that have made passes at the Wolves regarding Love are expected to re-visit on draft night, but sources near that process said that the Wolves’ stance is that virtually everything they are being offered will be available to them in July and that they may re-open talks then, but for now Love seems to be somewhat off the table, unless the offers get dramatically better.
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls are also not sitting out the draft transaction window. They have been active in trying to combine their two draft selections, the 16th and the 19th picks. The sense is they’d rather have one player from this draft class a little further up the draft board and have been targeting the 11th pick from the Denver Nuggets and the 13th pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Bulls have also made runs at Minnesota regarding Kevin Love, with an offer believed to be centered on Taj Gibson, Tony Snell and their two first-round picks.
The Bulls have also been linked to Magic guard Arron Afflalo, also believed to be centered around those same picks. There has been some speculation that Chicago might be trying to dump Carlos Boozer on the Magic in exchange for Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, offering their picks and possibly Snell as sweeteners.
The Bulls are absolutely kicking the tires on a number of fronts, so they are expected to be active on draft night, if only in trading their existing picks.
Chicago is considered one of the frontrunners to land Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, although Bulls sources warned that they have been down this free agent road before, and while they are absolutely ready to present to free agents they are not putting all their eggs or assets into one basket.
Need To Read: Would Carmelo Anthony Actually Be Miami’s Best Bet?
Phoenix Suns: The Phoenix Suns are equally active, looking at options on both the 13th pick and the 27th pick. Sources close to that situation say the 27th pick is likely going to be flipped on draft night for a future asset, but that the Suns are still very much open to deals involving not only their two picks, but players on their roster.
There has been some scuttle that Phoenix might be open to moving Goran Dragic, although Suns sources adamantly denied that Dragic was available.
There is a sense, however, that other parts of the Suns roster could be had for the right return.
The Suns are sitting on a potential mountain of cap space and want to get involved in the free agent run, including what’s believed to be an aggressive pitch to Carmelo Anthony.
The Suns have also been at the Minnesota Timberwolves regarding Kevin Love, but have found their assets are not as attractive to Minnesota as some of the other suitors, mainly because the Wolves covet proven veterans not younger players.
The Suns are very much in play as we march up to the NBA Draft. At worst, they are moving their second first round pick and best they could get involved in bigger move up or move out kind of trade, especially if it yields the right kind of impact veterans.
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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.