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NBA AM: Let’s Make A Deal – NBA Draft Edition

The NBA Draft is just two days away and NBA teams are now in full on “deal making” mode. Who is trying to make a move and what’s being talked about in the march up to the 2014 NBA Draft?

Steve Kyler

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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.

Need To Read: 2014 NBA Mock Draft: Consensus Ver 7.5

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.

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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.

Need To Read: Should Celtics Be Pro Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony?

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.

We Have You Covered! NBA Draft Day isn’t just another day on the calendar, it’s Christmas Day for us. And we’ll have everything you need to stay up to date on all the happenings around the draft starting with the 2014 NBA Draft Day Diary featuring up-to-the minute news, notes and rumors; all on one page and all in one place. The diary drops on Wednesday morning and will be updated all the way through the 2014 NBA Draft. Need some more Mock Draft action? A new draft day 60-Pick Mock Draft will drop Wednesday morning as part of the Final Consensus Mock Draft of the season. Want more? Basketball Insiders will have reporters on the ground in New York, posting and tweeting the latest news and interviews with the players invited to the draft, and our first ever Video Mock Draft. As the draft unfolds, we’ll have instant reaction to all of the first round picks including quotes and reaction from the players themselves. If you want to know everything that’s out there – be on Basketball Insiders all day on Draft day.

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NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southeast Division

With the All-Star Break behind us, the final stretch of NBA games has commenced. Quinn Davis takes a look at a few teams in the Southeast Division that have a chance at making the dance.

Quinn Davis

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Well, that was fast.

With the NBA All-Star break in the rearview, there are now fewer than 30 games to play for all 30 NBA teams. In other words, time is running out for certain teams to improve their seeding in the conference.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we will be looking at a certain subset of teams that are right on the border of making or missing the playoffs. In this edition, the focus will be on the Southeast Division.

The Southeast features three teams — the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards — operating in the lower-middle-class of the NBA. These three will be slugging it out over the next month-and-a-half for the right to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

The two remaining teams are the Miami HEAT and Atlanta Hawks. As this is being written, the former is comfortably in the playoffs at 35-20, while the latter is comfortably gathering more ping pong balls at 16-41.

In this space, the focus will be on the three bubble teams. The Magic are currently frontrunners for the eighth seed, but the Wizards and Hornets are within striking distance if things were to go awry.

Led by head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic have ground their way to the eighth seed behind an eighth-ranked defense. Lanky wing Aaron Gordon is the standout, helping the Magic execute their scheme of walling off the paint. The Magic only allow 31.3 percent of opponent shots to come at the rim, putting them in 89th percentile in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.

Following a post-break loss to Dallas Mavericks, the Magic sit at 24-32 and three games up on the ninth-seeded Wizards. While a three-game margin doesn’t sound like much, that is a sizable cushion with only 26 games to play. Basketball-Reference gives the Magic a 97.4 percent chance to make the playoffs.

The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule out of Eastern Conference teams. They have very winnable games coming against the Bulls, Hornets, Cavaliers, Knicks and Pistons. They also have multiple games coming against the Brooklyn Nets, the team they trail by only 1.5 games for the seventh seed.

The Magic are prone, however, to dropping games against the league’s bottom-feeders. It can be difficult to string together wins with an offense this sluggish. The Markelle Fultz experiment has added some spark in that department, but his lack of an outside shot still leaves the floor cramped.

After a quick analysis of the schedule, the most likely scenario appears to be a 12-14 record over the last 26 games, putting the Magic at 36-46 come season’s end. A record like that should not be allowed anywhere near playoff basketball, but it would probably be enough to meet the Bucks in round one.

If the Magic go 12-14, that would leave the Wizards, fresh off a loss to J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers, needing to go 17-11 over their last 28 games. They will need to finish one game ahead as the Magic hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Wizards finishing that strong becomes even more farfetched when you consider their remaining schedule. They have the second-toughest slate from here on out, per Basketball-Reference.

The Wizards do have a trump card in Bradley Beal, who is the best player among the bubble teams in the East. He has now scored 25 points or more in 13 straight games and has been the driving force behind the Wizards staying in the race.

He has also picked up his defense a bit following his All-Star snub in an effort to silence his critics. The increased focus on that end is nice, but it would’ve been a little nicer if it had been a part of his game earlier in this season when the Wizards were by far the worst defense in the league.

Even if Beal goes bonkers, it is hard to see a path for this Wizards team to sneak in outside of a monumental collapse in Orlando. Looking at their schedule, it would take some big upsets to even get to 10 wins over their last 28. Their most likely record to finish the season is 8-20 if all games go to the likely favorites.

The Wizards’ offense has been impressive all season, but injuries and a porous defense have been too much to overcome.

The Hornets, meanwhile, trail the Wizards by 1.5 games and the Magic by 4.5 games. They have won their last three in a row to put themselves back in this race, but they still have an uphill climb.

The Hornets also may have raised the proverbial white flag by waiving two veterans in Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The goal coming into this season was never to make the playoffs, so they are likely more interested in developing young talent over these last 27 games.

If the Magic do play up to their usual levels and go 12-14, it would require the Hornets to go 18-9 to finish the season against the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the East.

Devonte’ Graham and his three-point shooting have been a bright spot for the Hornets, but it would take some otherworldly performances from him and Terry Rozier down the stretch to put together a record like that. Basketball-Reference gives this a 0.02 percent chance of happening (cue the Jim Carrey GIF).

Barring a miracle, the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are locked in place. The only questions remaining are how seeds 2-6 will play out, and whether the Magic can catch the Nets for the seventh spot.

The Wizards will fight to the end, but it is unlikely they make up any ground given the level of opponents they will see over the next six weeks. The Hornets, meanwhile, are more likely to fight for lottery odds.

At least the playoffs should be exciting.

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The Pressure Is On Anthony Davis

The Rockets’ and Clippers’ strong commitments to small-ball show that the Lakers’ opponents are zeroed in on stopping LeBron James. If the Lakers want their next title, Anthony Davis has to prove he can take over for a contender. Matt John writes.

Matt John

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LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of his generation and arguably of all-time. No matter how old he is or how many miles he has on those tires — 48,014 minutes total as of Feb. 20, good for eighth-most all-time among NBA players =- he is not to be underestimated. The Los Angeles Lakers know they have a window on their hands, but with LeBron on the wrong side of 30, they know that this window won’t be for too long. Unfortunately, so do their opponents.

This brings us to his partner-in-crime, Anthony Davis. Throughout LeBron’s era of dominance, he’s always had a Robin to his Batman. Dwyane Wade needed time to adjust to it. Kyrie Irving was so perfect for the role that he grew tired of it. Anthony Davis has embraced it since day one.

LeBron and AD have been as good as advertised. Together, the two of them possess a net rating of plus-10.3 when they share the court. They don’t actually run the pick and roll as often as we thought they would – LeBron only runs 26 percent of his plays as a handler while Davis has been the roll man for 13 percent of his plays – but when they do, it’s efficient.

LeBron’s effective field goal percentage as a pick-and-roll handler is 47.5 percent and draws and-1’s at 3.5 percent, which is pretty high for that sort of play. He ranks in the 67th percentile as a handler. Davis’ effective field goal percentage as a roll man is 61 percent and draws and-1’s at 4.9 percent. He ranks in the 72nd percentile as a roll man.

They may not run this in LA primarily because their old school play of playing big probably eats up the spacing. Since the Lakers have the fourth-highest offensive rating in the league, scoring 113.6 points per 100 possessions, it’s not a problem at the moment. This might change in the playoffs, but we’ll get to that.

Something else to note is that Davis’ numbers have stayed relatively the same since going from New Orleans to LA. His scoring average has gone down just a tick, but that’s to be expected when you’re playing next to LeBron James. Davis’ rebounding numbers have taken a more noticeable dip, but having him play next to Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee probably has something to do with that.

He and LeBron have led the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference. According to Tankathon, they have the 10th-easiest schedule for the rest of the season, so the odds are in their favor of finishing out on top. Of course, their elite production as a duo is about as shocking as Martin Scorsese’s movies getting nominated for Oscars.

The Lakers are expected to make their deepest run since the last time they won the title in 2010. Even if they are among the league’s biggest powerhouses, they’ll have plenty of competition along the way in the Western Conference. Without going into too much detail about who that is — because you probably already know who that is — let’s focus on the two competitors who have been making major shakeups since the trade deadline, the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Both may have executed different trades, but both had the same goal in mind when they made them.

When the Rockets traded Clint Capela — their only traditional center that was playable — for Robert Covington, a two-way wing that they believed they could mold into a small-ball five, they traded their size for switchability and versatility. Not only that, they doubled down on their strategy by bringing in the likes of DeMarre Caroll and Jeff Green, two swingmen who have played some minutes at center in their career but very, very few.

When the Clippers traded Moe Harkless — who was doing just fine for them as their third wing — they opted to go for an upgrade at the wing spot instead of another big by trading him among others and a first-round pick for what’s likely to be a short rental of Marcus Morris. They could have used Harkless to get another big to combat the Lakers’ size, but instead opted to add more grit to the wing department. The deal also opened up a few more spots on the roster, but they too opted not for more size, but for another scorer in Reggie Jackson.

Acquiring those wings demonstrates that they have coined the exact same gameplan to taking down the Lakers should they face them in the playoff — slowing down LeBron James.

Slowing down LeBron is a strategy that just about everyone has been familiar with since 2003, but very few have been successful at executing it because, well, there doesn’t really need to be an explanation when it comes to the subject of LeBron James.

By doing everything in their power to make LeBron’s life miserable, they are in effect going to dare everyone else on the Lakers to beat them, and that starts with Anthony Davis.

We know how good Anthony Davis is, but we don’t really know how good he’s going to be when the stakes are higher. Davis’ numbers in the playoffs should hardly concern the Lakers’ faithful. He’s averaged 30.5 points and 12.7 points on nearly 53 percent shooting from the field. The one number that could be concerning is that those averages come from only 13 playoff games total.

Davis is hardly to blame for the lack of playoff success in his name. Injuries ravaged the Pelicans continuously, and the best players he’s played with in the postseason are Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Rajon Rondo. The numbers suggest he carries his weight.

He should have less weight to carry when and if the Lakers enter the playoffs, but because their competitors are doubling down on their small ball to make sure LeBron’s covered as tightly as possible, the pressure will be on Davis to keep it going.

Posting up against small lineups shouldn’t be an issue for Davis because he’s been efficient on post-ups this season. On a frequency of 22.8 percent, Davis has a points per possession (PPP) of 0.95 when posting up. Davis is averaging five points while shooting 47.8 percent from the field in the post up throughout the entire season. His efficiency in the post up ranks him in the 63rd percentile. He’s not Joel Embiid or even LaMarcus Aldridge in that area, but he’s reliable.

Still, time will tell to see if it translates in the playoffs. In the Lakers’ most recent game against the Rockets, we got our first sample of how LA will fare against Houston’s new scheme. LeBron struggled with it, putting up just 18 points on 8-for-19 shooting while turning it over six times. The switchability and intelligence that their defenders possessed made life difficult for him.

It was a different story for Davis. He had an excellent game. 32 points on 14-of-21 shooting, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks because he dominated the very undersized center Houston threw at him. Despite that, the Rockets prevailed 121-111.

They were more than happy to let Davis dominate them as long as they took LeBron out of his comfort zone, and it worked. Games like that should make you want to keep your eye on this. Teams know that LeBron James is a nuclear weapon during the NBA playoffs. They have yet to see if Anthony Davis can be the same. If he can’t pick up the slack when LeBron is off his game, then that changes the ballgame.

Davis is an elite player. He has done a lot in his NBA career. He hasn’t had the opportunity to show that he can take over for a contender when the stakes are dialed to 11. When the playoffs arrive, we’ll finally see what he can do.

There shouldn’t be much doubt as to if Davis can do this. There should be much pressure as to if he’ll be able to do enough.

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NBA Daily: Picking Up The Pieces In Portland

The Portland Trail Blazers continue to fight for their playoff lives. Damian Lillard’s recent injury is just another obstacle that this team must hurdle to survive. Chad Smith looks at one player that may be emerging off of their bench just when they need it most.

Chad Smith

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The home stretch has begun, and most teams around the league are pushing for a better playoff seed.

The postseason begins in less than two months and many teams are just hoping that they are able to be part of it. That is the case in Portland, where the Trail Blazers find themselves on the outside looking in as they trail the Memphis Grizzlies by 3.5 games for the final spot in the West. They also have four teams right behind them that are hungry for playoff basketball.

The story of the 2019-20 Blazers has been injuries. It began last season when they lost their starting center Jusuf Nurkic to a devastating leg injury that he has still not fully recovered from. Zach Collins was more than ready to fill in, but he suffered a shoulder injury in their third game of the season and has been out since having surgery on it. The organization made a Hail Mary trade for Hassan Whiteside, who has actually played very well for them this season.

Rodney Hood had been a staple for Portland since they acquired him, but he was lost to a season-ending injury earlier in the year. Desperation may have ultimately led them to sign Carmelo Anthony, but he has undoubtedly been a positive addition to the club. The trade Portland made with the Sacramento Kings was thought to have just been a cost-saving move, but Trevor Ariza has been an excellent fit with the first unit.

The latest setback came in their final game before the break when the face of the franchise suffered a groin injury. Damian Lillard has been having an MVP-worthy season, on the heels of what was one of the greatest playoff buzzer-beaters in league history. Fortunately, the injury was deemed mild, and he should only miss a few games. It may be cliché, but it has been the moniker for Portland all season: Next man up.

Early in the season, it appeared as though their 2018 first-round pick Anfernee Simons was going to have a breakout year. After putting up strong numbers in the first couple of months, he was seen as a highly sought after trade target. Simons has cooled off considerably since then, and it has been the play of their other second-year guard, Gary Trent Jr., that has turned some heads.

Appearing in just 15 games as a rookie last season, Trent Jr. has had more opportunities to show what he can do this year. Amid all of the injuries and movement in Portland, he has shown the ability to hit shots and defend. The sophomore swingman just turned 21 last month, but he has the maturity and understanding of a player with more experience.

A large part of that can be attributed to his father, Gary Trent, who was traded to the Blazers after being selected 11th overall in the 1995 draft. While he didn’t turn out to be an All-Star player, he did play for nine seasons and appeared in more than 500 games. His son may not end up being a star, but they both know this is an excellent opportunity for him to showcase his talents.

The former Duke product began his rise in the middle of January after putting up 30 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder, followed by another 20 points against the Dallas Mavericks. He didn’t slow down in the final handful of games before the All-Star break, either. He scored double-digits in four consecutive games against tough competition in Denver, San Antonio, Utah and Miami, where he shot 65 percent (20-for-31) from deep. Those final two games were against elite defenses, in which he put up 38 points while shooting 7-for-15 from downtown.

So far in the month of February, Trent Jr. has shot 48 percent from the floor, 45 percent from three-point range, and is averaging 12 points and 1.4 steals per game. Those are all solid numbers for a third-string guard, but now he will be relied upon more heavily in the absence of Lillard.

It will be interesting to see the adjustments that Terry Stotts makes without his superstar point guard on the floor. CJ McCollum will likely have a higher usage and handle the ball more than he has before. The Blazers struggle mightily with shot creation. While the veteran two-guard will be looked upon to provide play-making for this group, it will be up to guys like Trent Jr. to knock down open shots and make the correct reads and rotations on defense.

Stotts appears to be leaning on Trent Jr. more often — and for good reason. Both he and Simons played in all 15 games in January, with Simons averaging about one more minute per game. Trent shot 39 percent from deep compared to Simons’ 23 percent. What Stotts really likes is how Trent Jr takes care of the ball. In those 15 January games, he had just four total turnovers. He also played 36 minutes in one of those games and finished without a single turnover.

As good as Whiteside has been at protecting the rim, Portland remains one of the worst defensive teams in the league. It ranks 26th in opponent scoring and has the 27th-ranked defensive rating. Trent Jr. is much bigger than the aforementioned Simons. He is actually bigger than McCollum and Lillard. The size and length that he possesses allow him to guard multiple positions and really help create deflections.

In his role as an off-ball scorer, Trent Jr. just fits really well alongside the Blazer backcourt. Even when one of them is out, he has found a way to excel. Over his last 15 games, he is averaging 12.5 points per game on 44.2 percent shooting from three-point range. They may need Trent Jr. to steal some minutes from the McCollum and Lillard, as they both rank among the top 12 in minutes per game.

Easing all of these injured players back into the rotation is going to be tricky. There will be some bumps and some hiccups along the way, but time is simply not on their side. They have just 26 games remaining, and several teams are fighting for that same spot. The good news for Portland is that only four teams have an easier remaining schedule.

A healthy Portland team is a dangerous playoff team. Getting Lillard back is paramount, but getting Nurkic and Collins back into the rotation with Carmelo and Whiteside would be monumental for this group.

A potential first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers would be tantalizing, to say the least. It will take some work for this team to get back into the playoffs, but then again, they have never backed down from a challenge.

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