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NBA AM: More Early Season Trade Talk

Even though the trade deadline is three months away, there are more than a few situations to watch.

Lang Greene

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There are three ways for a franchise to improve in the NBA – the draft, free agency and trades. With the draft and free agency period now fading long in the rearview mirror, the only option left for teams over the next few months is rummaging through the trade market.

As we approach trade season, there are a couple of dates worthy of note.

December 15 marks the day when the NBA trading season truly opens up. This is because players that sign with a team as a free agent cannot be traded for up to three months after signing, or until December 15 – whichever is later. With the majority of free agency around the league taking place in July and August, there will be plenty of guys that become available to be dealt. Most league executives wait for this type of flexibility, as it gives them added wiggle room to be creative in sculpting out potential moves.

Another date to remember is the annual trade deadline. This season it is February 23 at 3 p.m. ET.

So even though we’re just under three months away from the actual deadline, we’re only three weeks away from when the doors of trade season truly open.

As expected up until this point, there has been little movement, but here are some situations around the association worth keeping an eye on.

Is Tom Thibodeau Growing Impatient In Minnesota?

The Minnesota Timberwolves have one of the most intriguing young cores in the league spearheaded by former No. 1 overall picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The team hired veteran head coach Tom Thibodeau during the offseason to provide their youth movement with an experienced sideline general who has previous success in the playoffs.

While there were some that picked the Timberwolves as a trendy potential playoff team this season, the reality is young NBA cores take time to develop and win at a high level. The Timberwolves (4-10) are currently 13th in the Western Conference, but only three games outside of a playoff berth if the season were to end today.

According to Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report, Thibodeau has already grown impatient with the team’s losing and is considering trading one of his young players, not named Towns or Wiggins, for an experienced veteran to help them win now.

More from Bucher’s report:

“Tom Thibodeau is not exactly a paragon of patience, which is why league sources expect that he is only a few more losses away from dealing one of his young stars for a veteran who can help him win now. His first look will be for a player he already knows and trusts because he’s already had that player in his system. Would the Lakers consider advancing their youth movement and dealing former Bull Luol Deng? Would the Bulls consider parting with Jimmy Butler or Taj Gibson? Where Thibs looks is not certain, nor is who he’d be willing to move. But those in the league who know his hunger to win and win now are convinced he will begin calling around soon, if he hasn’t already.”

While the Timberwolves have a nice collection of talent, there’s no guarantee that young promising cores ever will develop enough to match expectations. When dealing with players under 25, maturity, focus, money, ego and a host of other potential pitfalls can stunt development. NBA history is littered with once-promising young cores that ultimately didn’t develop.

There were numerous reports this past summer about Minnesota’s interest in All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, but both sides refused to admit any advanced talks. In regards to Luol Deng, while he hasn’t looked good on the court, word is the veteran’s presence around the Los Angeles Lakers’ young collection of talent has been an added benefit.

The Timberwolves may ultimately make a move here, but after just 14 games under Thibodeau any movement will likely come closer to the trade deadline than the December 15 opening stanza.

Are the Knicks Already Having Buyer’s Remorse on Joakim Noah?

There was an interesting bit of news from Marc Berman of the New York Post earlier this week. According to Berman, there are some beginning to believe the four-year, $72 million contract team president Phil Jackson inked Noah to this past summer may become a haunting one if the veteran center’s productivity doesn’t increase.

At 31 years old, there have been numerous signs of Noah’s decline over the past few seasons and his inability to remain healthy scared off a few teams in free agency. With an Amnesty clause provision not likely to be included in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Knicks could have an immovable piece on their hands if early returns hold consistent.

The Always-Changing Climate Surrounding DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento

Here’s the deal: The Sacramento Kings have a big decision to make regarding their talented All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and his future with the organization. Cousins will become an unrestricted free agent during the summer of 2018.

There are many who believe the Kings will have no shot at re-signing him once he hits the open market – despite being able to offer him more cash. But trading away arguably the best center in the game, in his prime, is a tough pill to swallow for an organization that hasn’t had luck luring elite talent to town. In fact, the unsteady relationship between Cousins and the Kings actually diminishes what Sacramento could demand in a deal. This is because teams around the league know full well the franchise’s unsteady ground and could play a bit of hardball.

According to Zach Lowe of ESPN, the Kings are reportedly growing weary of the Cousins era.

“I’ve had a couple of guys from other teams tell me they’re hearing the Kings are starting to get sick of Cousins,” Lowe said. “Whatever that means. I mean, no one knows who’s making the decisions from the ownership level, not who’s making the decisions, but there’s just so many voices among ownership. They have a million minority owners, Vlade [Divac] and Ken Catanella.”

Trade winds have been swirling around Cousins for years now, so this isn’t exactly a new development. However, with the Kings (6-9) trending toward another season under .500 and Cousins’ free agency looming, more than ever it may be time to tune into the state of the Kings.

The Status of Brandon Knight in Phoenix

Last season, Brandon Knight averaged 19.6 points, 5.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds over 52 games in an injury-shortened campaign. The guard averaged 36 minutes per contest in the process. This season, the Phoenix Suns have relegated Knight to the bench in favor of their youth movement – namely Devin Booker and T.J. Warren. To date, Knight is currently averaging 12.4 points, 3.2 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 16 appearances (three starts) in just 25 minutes per game.

Knight is under contract through the 2020 campaign so any team seeking his services would have to assume the long-term financial obligation ($43 million over the next three seasons, $55 million total). While Knight has freely admitted to struggling while adjusting in his new bench role, the front office hasn’t wavered with their public support and consistently reiterate his importance to their rebuilding plan.

“We’re certainly not looking to move Brandon, we haven’t been close to trading Brandon,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough told the Burns and Gambo show. “I think he’d love to be starting, we understand that. He’s accepted the role very well. I think you guys will see him go on a run here. As you know, watching him play the last couple years, he has the ability to get hot and put up a lot of points in a hurry and take over stretches of games — he hasn’t done that yet for us consistently but I think it’s coming.”

Booker currently leads the Suns in scoring, but has struggled with his shot to start the campaign with declines in overall field goal and three-point percentages compared to his rookie season. Warren has missed a few games due to injury. The presence of Knight on the roster is like a security blanket for a team trying to see how their young guys mesh.

But as we approach the trade deadline, don’t be surprised to hear Knight’s name mentioned more often. Then it will be interesting to see if McDonough, faced with lucrative assets, can remain firm in his plans not to deal the talented guard.

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NBA

Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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