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NBA AM: One on One With Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor talks to Alex Kennedy about his pre-draft training, defense, handling of criticism and much more.

Alex Kennedy

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Okafor Ready to Play With the Pros

Back when Jahlil Okafor was a 17-year-old junior in high school, the big man told me that he believed he could compete in the NBA right then if given the opportunity. People in NBA circles loved his confidence and there were some talent evaluators who agreed with him.

JahlilInsideOnly1Soon, Okafor will finally get his chance to take on NBA opponents, as he’ll be one of the top picks in the 2015 NBA Draft in a little over two weeks.

To say that the last two months of Okafor’s life have been crazy is quite the understatement. In April, he achieved one of his childhood dreams when he led Duke to a national championship. He also earned many individual accolades, such as First-Team All-American honors and the ACC Player of the Year award (becoming the first freshman to win it). Then, he declared for the 2015 NBA Draft and, shortly after, started training three times a day at Peak Performance Project (P3) in California.

On June 25, Okafor will find out where he’ll be spending the next chapter of his life. Will he be the No. 1 overall pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves and play alongside the NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins? Will he go No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Lakers and get the chance to learn from Kobe Bryant and join Julius Randle in their frontcourt?

He’s not sure, and he can’t wait for draft night so he can find out.

“I’m just ready,” Okafor told Basketball Insiders in a phone interview. “I’m excited about playing at the next level. I’m excited for the draft, and I’m really eager to see where I’m going to end up.”

In the meantime, Okafor continues to train at P3. Not only do their staffers do on-court training with the 19-year-old, they also put him through a customized workout designed to reduce the risk of injuries and maximize his potential and efficiency. P3’s staff includes biomechanists and data analysts, and each player who trains at P3 is assessed using state-of-the-art technology. Using the results from these evaluations, players are given specific “corrective exercises” to strengthen specific body parts that may have had a higher injury risk or could have potentially limited a player’s effectiveness on the court, as explained in-depth in a recent Sports Illustrated article. Going through this process, Okafor has learned a lot about his body and its strengths and weaknesses.

“It’s amazing; they give me all of these details, more than I’ve ever had, about my body and the way I move,” Okafor said of P3’s assessment. “They are able to pinpoint certain things that will help me move better and help me get certain [parts of my body] stronger and make me more explosive. I’m excited about it. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m going to continue to work with them.

“I’ve been staying out in Santa Barbara with pretty much all of the guys in my agency; we have a great group of guys who are all preparing for the draft. I’ve been out there with them and our workouts are at P3. I’m working on my explosiveness, my body, my agility and just a bunch of things. Those are some of the things I’ve been working on, and I’ve been working out three times a day. I’m just working as hard as I can to try to prepare myself for the next level.”

Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns are considered the top prospects in this class, and many expect the big men to be the first two players picked on draft night. The question is, who goes first? When asked why he should be the No. 1 pick in the draft, Okafor had an interesting response. He says that he and Towns refuse to campaign to go first overall, either by talking themselves up or downplaying the talent of the other.

“I can’t say why I should be the number one overall pick,” Okafor said. “They try to have me and Karl debate with one another about why we should be number one, but we both thought the other should be number one. We have a lot of respect for each other.

“But if I’m talking to a team, any team, about why I should be picked, I’d say that I just want to win. That’s all I’m looking to do. That’s what I’ve done at every level and that’s all I want to do at the next level as well. That’s what I want to do. I want to be known as a winner, and I always have been. At the next level, I want that to continue.”

Reports have indicated that Towns won’t work out for teams, and Okafor confirmed that he has yet to schedule any workouts either. However, it does seem like he might work out for some teams before the draft, but he and his camp are still finalizing all of that.

“I don’t have anything scheduled yet, but I’m going to soon, obviously,” Okafor said. “Actually, I’m going to talk to my agent today and we’re going to figure that out. I know Karl isn’t working out for any teams and that’s definitely understandable, but me and my agent will talk about it today in detail and then I’ll have a better understanding of my schedule.” [Update: Okafor and his agent set his schedule and reports indicate his first workout will be with the L.A. Lakers on Tuesday.]

In his lone collegiate season at Duke, Okafor averaged 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. He was the Blue Devils’ top option offensively, and he shot above 70 percent from the field in 20 games during his freshman year. NBA talent evaluators rave about his post moves, foot work, basketball IQ, court vision and touch around the basket. Most executives are in agreement that he is the best offensive big men to enter the NBA in years. Okafor made Duke’s offense unstoppable at times, with his ability to score and facilitate.

“Jahlil made the game so much easier for all of us,” Duke point guard Quinn Cook said. “Anytime we needed a bucket, we knew we could get the ball down to him and he’d score. When he was guarded one-on-one, 75 percent of the time he’d get a good shot up. When teams would double him, he’s one of the better passing big men so he’d find us. Either way, we’d always get a good shot because of him. That’s why we won the title – one of the big reasons. We could always go to him and he attracted so much attention from teams that the rest of us got to play freely because they were so worried about him. And at the next level, teams won’t be able to double him like that.”

What many people don’t see is the hard work that takes place behind the scenes to perfect the post moves and footwork that are so effective in games. Okafor began doing drills to improve these aspects of his game at 14 years old, as well as studying game film of Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Patrick Ewing. Okafor is a workaholic with a desire to be great.

“It’s just always the way I’ve been because I love the game of basketball,” Okafor said. “I’ve just always wanted to be in the gym. That’s what I enjoy doing and that’s why I [work hard]. That’s just who I am. I’ve had some tragedies in my life and I’ve been able to rely on basketball [to cope with them]. The game has been great to me, and the only thing I know is to work hard.”

As he transitions to the NBA, one thing Okafor will be working hard to improve is his defense. Throughout this past season at Duke, Okafor was criticized for his defensive play and some have argued that Okafor’s poor play on that end of the court is why Towns should be Minnesota’s pick. Okafor is determined to silence the critics who say he can’t defend at a high level.

“I know I’m going to get better,” Okafor said of his defense. “I can get better at everything I do, and I always improve. I don’t think my defense was as bad as people made it out to be. We did win a national championship and all of my coaches were extremely happy with the way that I played on both ends of the floor. Also, I couldn’t get in to foul trouble and with the way our defense was set up, I wasn’t really in rim-protecting situations.

“Honestly, that is one of my flaws that I can improve on, but I can also improve on the offense end. Luckily, I’m 19 years old and I think I have a lot of time to improve my game. … I think a lot of people forget that a lot of us are still 18 or 19 years old. We’re put under the microscope and expected to be perfect, on the floor and sometimes even off the floor. Oftentimes, I do think people forget how young we actually are.”

As Okafor said, he often wasn’t asked to be a defensive stopper because his team needed him staying out of foul trouble and saving his energy to dominate on the offensive end. Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer confirmed this. Scheyer said he did see defensive improvement from Okafor throughout the season, and added that he believes the intense criticism is mainly because Okafor has been projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft for the last two years and people were looking to magnify the holes in his game.

“I think there are some who try to find flaws when a guy is averaging almost a double-double – averaging 19 and 9 for most of the year – there are always people who will try to find something [to criticize],” Scheyer said. “And, I mean, what are you going to say about him offensively? He averaged almost 20 points and he carried us at times. I think defense is what people tried to pick on, but what they don’t talk about is that there were games when Jahlil wasn’t just good, he was great on defense. Also, it’s very tiring when on offense you have a responsibility to score so much and carry the team at times, especially when guys were guarding him the way they were. But he’d still come down on defense and be involved in pick-and-roll defense and guard the basket. We asked a lot, and he did a great job battling through everything and getting better as the season went on.

“I saw a lot of improvement from Jahlil throughout the season. Obviously, he came in with a ton of talent and all kinds of offensive gifts, no question, but I thought on the defensive end he made huge strides. When you look at his ball coverage and protecting the basket, I think he got better and better at that. And, look, people were beating on him. If you look throughout our season, he took a beating and opponents were fouling him on almost every play. Just being able to fight through that [was impressive], and I definitely think he got better as the season went on.”

Cook also defended Okafor, shooting down the criticism.

“He’s 19, he was only a freshman!” Cook said. “He has a lot of room to get better, and he knows that, which is why he’s always in the gym working out and trying to improve. In the tournament, I think he played his best defensively. We were defending together a lot of the time and he was always active and he never let guys get by him. He played great defensively during the tournament, so he got better on that end throughout the year and he’ll only continue to get better.”

Scheyer’s point about Okafor being overly criticized due to his top ranking is interesting, as Andrew Wiggins experienced the same thing in his lone college season at Kansas before thriving in the NBA this year. Towns hasn’t faced nearly as much scrutiny, despite the fact that he didn’t show he can be a top option on offense like Okafor did, had a much smaller sample size at Kentucky (averaging 10 fewer minutes per game than Okafor) and had some problems with foul trouble (fouling out of six games to Okafor’s zero even while playing significantly less). However, with Towns, there’s little talk of these issues and much more focus on his potential and strengths.

Among fans, there seems to be this perception that Towns is by far the better prospect, but many executives disagree. While it’s true there are plenty of executives who are Team Towns, there are many who are Team Okafor and who believe he’s the better prospect. However, in talking to executives, one thing becomes clear: Most believe both players will be extremely successful and productive, just in different ways.

Okafor is very mature for his age, so he has accepted that he will always have to deal with criticism regardless of what he does. This is often difficult for young players to grasp, but Okafor’s time as the nation’s top high school recruit and top collegiate player helped him come to this realization.

“Honestly, I’ve been that top guy that everyone looked at for most of my high school career and going to college that didn’t change, so [you’re under the microscope],” Okafor said. “It’s something that I’ve come to expect. Me and my dad were just talking about how LeBron James and Stephen Curry and all of those guys get criticized, and I’m not nearly as good as they are, so I wouldn’t expect anything else.”

Okafor’s season at Duke was clearly a success, as he was able to add a national championship to his long list of accomplishments and position himself to be a top pick in the draft.

“My year at Duke was amazing, obviously, and I think I improved tremendously being under Coach K and playing with guys like Tyus [Jones] and Justise [Winslow] and Quinn Cook and the guys who were already there,” Okafor said. “I really improved by seeing how hard they worked and taking little things from each of those guys. And learning from Coach K, that’s just a whole ‘nother ball game. He definitely made me a better player. I loved watching film with him after practice to see things that I could improve on. From a basketball standpoint, that’s the most I ever improved over a one-year period.”

However, he still feels like there are aspects of his game that he didn’t get to showcase at Duke. For example, Okafor rarely took jump shots in college, simply because it made more sense for him to score over inferior centers in the paint since he shot such a high percentage there. When you’re unstoppable in the paint, why venture outside of it? But that doesn’t mean he can’t knock down jumpers. He’s excited to showcase some of his other talents in the NBA and continue expanding his game even more.

“I’d like to say that there is a lot more that I can do,” Okafor said. “There are things that I can improve on, but there are a lot of things that I’m going to do at the next level that a lot of people haven’t seen. I do believe there are a lot of other things that I’m capable of doing and that I have done [in the past]. At Duke, I didn’t need to shoot jump shots and that wasn’t my role.”

“I think Jahlil is going to be a really, really good 15-to-18-foot shooter; I think he’ll really be able to shoot those well, especially as he develops over the next few years in the NBA,” Scheyer added. “He has a great touch and I think that can be expanded all the way out there. Another thing, he’s a great passer. He has a great feel for the game and while I think you got to see a glimpse of it this year, I think it’s harder to double-team in the NBA and you’ll be able to see his passing ability even more at the next level.”

“There’s more he can do,” Cook said. “There were games, like at Wisconsin, where he hit two face-up jumpers. One of them was off of the glass. There were games, like against North Carolina, where he was dribbling to the rack and doing a lot.”

After spending a year with Okafor, Scheyer and Cook expect him to dominate in the NBA.

“I think he’s going to be very special and he’s going to be a franchise player for one city for 15 years – I think that’s the type of player he should be,” Scheyer said. “I think the sky is the limit for Jahlil. In college, he got double-teamed so much, but in the NBA I don’t think he’ll see that as much. He’ll have some great defenders guarding him, but once he adjusts to that, the sky is the limit for him.”

“He’s going to be a franchise player,” Cook said. “He has a great feel for the game and a real love for the game, plus he’s so humble.”

Okafor has been compared to a young Tim Duncan by many people (including Duncan’s former teammate David Robinson), and Scheyer believes the comparison makes sense.

“Tim Duncan, I think, is probably the best power forward of all-time so to draw comparisons to him is obviously a huge, incredible compliment, but I do think Jahlil has some similarities to him,” Scheyer said. “Mainly, I think it’s just the feel for the game that both of them have. You can’t teach what Jahlil has. His touch around the basket is unlike anything I’ve ever seen from a player I’ve been around. There isn’t anyone else like Jahlil. So from that standpoint, I think it’s a very good comparison.”

In case you didn’t know, expectations are extremely high for Okafor as he enters the NBA. But that’s nothing new for Okafor. In high school, people expected dominance and he delivered with ridiculous stats, multiple national player of the year awards and an IHSA championship. In college, he was expected to be one of the best players in the country and he lived up to the hype and brought a championship to Duke.

In the NBA, he’ll be expected to become a franchise-changing star who can eventually lead his team to a title (adding another kind of championship to his résumé). As Okafor said, he’s ready.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Brandon Ingram’s Growth A Perfect Fit Next To Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson has yet to play in the NBA. But as Brandon Ingram continues turning heads, it’s easy to envision he and Williamson leading the Pelicans to perennial title contention – and their snug positional and stylistic fit is the biggest reason why. Jack Winter writes.

Jack Winter

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Zion Williamson screamed when Brandon Ingram connected on the tough pull-up jumper that gave the New Orleans Pelicans a last-second lead over the Utah Jazz.

The rookie was watching from the bench as his team’s breakout star inbounded the ball, then used an Allen Iverson-esque cut to catch the ball high up the right wing on the other side of the floor. Ingram immediately took one dribble with his right hand. As Royce O’Neale trailed on his hip, Ingram put the ball down once more with his left, using his ridiculous strides to create enough separation to get to his spot and launch.

Buckets.

It was Ingram’s final make of the night, one among a bevy of highlight-reel plays he made during the best performance of his career to date. His score also put the Pelicans up one with just 0.2 seconds remaining, an advantage they needed to secure a win in overtime after Rudy Gobert was fouled as time expired on the ensuing possession, tying the game by making one of two at the line.

Williamson’s roar no doubt came in the context of those circumstances more than any other. Ingram capped another eye-popping outing with a would-be game-winning shot reserved for superstars, and New Orleans continued its strong recent play by beating the league’s hottest team in front of a raucous home crowd.

Obviously, that’s more than enough justification for Williamson’s enthusiasm. But as the most hyped draft prospect since LeBron James readies to make his long-awaited NBA debut next week, Ingram’s ongoing evolution into his ideal co-star gives Williamson and the Pelicans ample reason to be excited – and the reason for rest of the league to be scared.

A sizable portion of Williamson’s theoretical value stems from his unique two-way versatility. It’s universally agreed upon that New Orleans, especially going forward, will be best served slotting him at center in lineups that maximize his athletic gifts. But Williamson surely won’t be up to the task of being his team’s last line of defense as a rookie, and even prime Draymond Green didn’t start at the five until the Golden State Warriors were threatened in the playoffs. It simply asks too much of undersized bigs to play without a traditional center for 48 minutes.

The thing about Ingram’s rapid development, though, is that it further weaponizes Williamson and the Pelicans no matter what position the latter is playing.

Ingram’s growth is layered and multi-dimensional. He’s clearly sturdier than he was a year ago, continuing to fill out his body at 22 years old. His handle is tighter, providing additional comfort with the ball he’s using to create passing lanes that otherwise wouldn’t exist. But the main source of Ingram’s sweeping improvement is even more obvious than thicker shoulders and a defter handle: shooting.

That’s no secret. Ingram is shooting 40.6 percent on 6.2 three-point attempts per game this season, easily surpassing career norms. He’s making 46.8 percent of his shots from mid-range, another career-high and borderline elite mark league-wide.

Still, skepticism about the longevity of Ingram’s newfound shooting prowess abounds. Understandably so, too. Last season, he joined DeMar DeRozan and Tony Parker as the only non-bigs in the NBA to use more than 23 percent of their team’s possessions while posting a three-point rate below .13. A half-season sample size doesn’t erase that recent history, nor Ingram’s similar struggles to make an impact from deep during his first two years in the league.

What does? His 86 percent shooting from the free throw line, nearly 20 points higher than his combined career number before the season tipped off. The influence of lauded New Orleans shooting coach Fred Vinson can’t be discounted, either.

Bottom line: All indications suggest Ingram’s rise as a shooter is real.

Even if the scope of his growth was limited to that development alone, Ingram would still project as a snug fit next to Williamson. His 42.8 percent accuracy on catch-and-shoot triples ensures the floor will be properly spaced when Alvin Gentry slots Williamson at power forward, and it will leave the paint wide open when the Pelicans go small with Ingram and Williamson up front.

Williamson, like all high-usage attackers with a shaky jumper, will always be best served surrounded by four legitimate threats from deep. Still, it goes without saying he’ll get more comfortable navigating the tight offensive confines of playing in a traditional lineup as he gains experience. What’s far less certain is whether Williamson will ever become the type of player equipped to close games with the ball in his hands.

Ingram, as he so forcefully affirmed against the Jazz, already is. The high release point on his shot allows him to get a makable look off no matter how the defense is playing him. Ingram still has room to grow as a playmaker, but this season he’s passing out of drives more often than Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he has a better understanding of mapping the floor in pick-and-roll play.

Ingram may top out as a great team’s second-best player. New Orleans would obviously prefer that he ultimately becomes capable of shepherding a championship-level offense all by himself. But that’s what’s so enviable about the Pelicans’ long-term prospects. If Williamson comes close to reaching his potential, they’ll be good enough to compete for titles even if Ingram’s development stalls – and the former proves unable to play alpha dog in crunch time.

What that means for this season remains to be seen. But as New Orleans, buoyed by the addition of Williamson, claws for a playoff berth over its remainder, pay special attention to the team’s identity at the end of close games. Those high-pressure situations won’t just be a showcase for the incredible gifts of the Pelicans’ young stars, but could serve as a harbinger of how Ingram and Williamson will co-exist in crunch time once they’re leading New Orleans to annual title contention.

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NBA Daily: Trade Targets – Southeast Division

Like all divisions, teams of the Southeast Division have their specific preferences pertaining to players they’d like to move from their rosters. Drew Maresca identifies six players he feels teams might move before the Feb. 6 trade deadline.

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With the trade deadline only a few weeks away, teams are zeroing in on potential deals. Some teams hope to improve for a playoff push, while others are looking to capitalize on the urgency of contenders. Whichever side of that equation your favorite team finds itself on, they are surely weighing all of their options.

Basketball Insiders’ Trade Targets series has already examined the Northwest, Southwest and Central divisions. Now, we turn our attention to the Southeast Division, where we identify six players who should be moved before the Feb. 6 deadline. To be considered a trade target, a player must either add value to a contender, represent a salary dump or have been featured in rumors, now or in the past. Rumors and/or speculation factored into our trade targets, but we identified players who we feel should be moved regardless if they’ve been named in rumors or not.

The Southeast Division has its share of mediocrity. In fact, the Miami HEAT are the division’s only winning team as of Thursday. But don’t be fooled — all five Southeast teams are likely to be relatively active come the trade deadline. While the HEAT may be the division’s lone buyers, the other four have players they’d like to move for salary purposes and/or prefer to swap for assets. And many of those players can still play a real role elsewhere. So let’s jump in with the most interesting of the bunch:

Aaron Gordon – $19,863,636

This one won’t sit too well with Orlando Magic fans, but it’s practical. The Magic have a relatively young team. And they have too many big men for all to get a good amount of playing time.

Big man or not, Gordon is among the Magic’s best trade piece – he’s only 24 years old and has probably yet to reach his prime. Further, he’s on a relatively affordable deal through 2022 and can profoundly impact the game on both ends of the floor.

This isn’t the first time Gordon finds himself in trade rumors, but it might be the year they come to fruition. Gordon is in his sixth season with the team. While he’s actually regressed this season in terms of points per game (13.5 points per game), he’s still a dynamic offensive weapon and one of the team’s best defenders. His trade value won’t get too much higher; but losing Gordon doesn’t hurt as much this season considering the arrival of Jonathan Isaac as a defensive stopper — and the fact that the team signed Nikola Vucevic to a 4-year/$100 million deal last Summer.

And it’s not as if the Magic don’t have other areas to address. They still lack an elite point guard and need help offensively – they’re 25th in offensive rating and 24th in assists. They should check in with any teams looking to offload high-end guards. While Markelle Fultz has shown flashes this season and Evan Fournier has played at an All-Star level, they don’t have a difference-maker in the backcourt. Swapping Gordon for a floor general or elite scoring guard might be their best bet at securing one.

Justise Winslow – $13,000,000

The Miami HEAT need help. Provided, they’re playing better than anyone thought they would in the 2019-20 season. But they need more to do more and become real contenders this year.

I know what you’re thinking – Justise Winslow has been hurt for much of this season. And when healthy, he’s an above-average defender, playmaker and shooter. And that’s right. But the HEAT need help, and they need it now.

The HEAT badly want to add star power, and they need to improve defensively to compete with the best in the East in a seven-game series. Winslow cannot be shipped out for a one-year rental. He’s far too talented for that, but the alternative is even less likely. The HEAT will not part with Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn or Jimmy Butler. Duncan Robinson, who is also unlikely to be dealt, wouldn’t return nearly as much, anyway. And what’s more, the HEAT are limited in their ability to add talent; their 2021 and 2023 first-round picks are owed thank to past trades. So if the HEAT are serious about upgrading their roster soon, Winslow is the obvious sacrificial lamb.

Besides, the team is 21-8 without Winslow and 7-4 with him. So while he’s clearly productive, he’s also expendable.

But the HEAT can’t move too quickly. Winslow is only 23 years old, adds borderline elite two-way backcourt skills and is signed for a relative bargain through 2022 (3 years/$39 million).

While the HEAT would obviously benefit from a healthy Winslow, they may prefer to swap him for a player who’s more likely to contribute this season, as well as in the future. And if Miami really believes it can win this season, trading Winslow likely returns a major asset without shipping out players who have developed chemistry with one another and who have been contributors for the current iteration of the team.

Davis Bertans – $7,000,000

Let’s be clear – the Wizards have not made Davis Bertans available. But they should listen to offers for anyone on their roster not named Bradley Beal – and they should be open to moving him, too, for the right – albeit ridiculously high – price.

Bertans is in the middle of a breakout season, which includes scoring 15.3 points per game on 43.4% three-point shooting (after scoring 8 points per game in 2018-19), and we know that shooters become increasingly popular around the trade deadline. Bertans is even more attractive considering he is in the final year of his $14 million deal – so he’s affordable and carries no long-term salary implications.

Despite recently returning from an injury, Bertans has played well enough to attract serious interest. According to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington, as many as five teams are interested in Bertans: the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers.

And while the Wizards have appeared against the idea of moving Bertans, they should start entertaining it. Sure, he’s in only his fourth season in the league, but he’s already 27 years old and eligible for a new contract this offseason. Meanwhile, the Wizards have a long way to go before they should consider dedicating serious cap room to veteran role players with whom they won’t seriously compete.

The Wizards should gauge the market for Bertans and pull the trigger on a deal that adds young, unproven talent and/or unprotected first-round picks. What ultimately happens pertaining to Bertans is anyone’s guess; but if the Wizards can add a younger, unestablished player with a higher upside, they have to do it.

Marvin Williams – $15,006,250

The Hornets need to establish an on-court identity. They added Terry Rozier this past offseason and boast young, high-upside players in Miles Bridges, rookie PJ Washington and breakout star Devonte’ Graham. But everyone else should be available for the right price.

The first Hornet who should be traded from Charlotte is Marvin Williams, a true three-and-D guy who is shooting a near career-best 52.6% on two-pointers and 37.7% from three-point range. Williams is someone who plugs into just about all contending rosters. And since his contract expires following this season, there would are no long-term salary implications.

The Hornets might be deceived into thinking they can make a run at the playoffs, but they shouldn’t be. They are currently in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and trail the Nets – current owners of the eighth seed – by five whole games. And while the Nets have their share of issues to solve, they just recently returned Caris LeVert and Kyrie Irving from injuries and should play better from here on out.

And even if the Hornets could sneak into the playoffs, what good would a quick exit do for a team that has only a select few building blocks on its roster? The Hornets should be proactively engaging other teams to determine what Williams could return. But a deal seems even more likely if the Hornets drop farther out of the eighth seed before Feb. 6.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – $13,000,000

Speaking of the Hornets, they should look to move out from under the contracts of more than just Marvin Williams.

Until last season, head coach James Borrego’s first in charge of the Hornets, Kidd-Gilchrist was a key player in the Hornets rotation. He was a 25 minute per game guy through his first six seasons with the Hornets. Last season, he dipped to a career-low 18.4 minutes per game. This season has seen another substantial step back to 13.3.

Clearly, Borrego prefers playing younger players in hopes of organic growth. That means that representatives for guys like Kidd-Gilchrist must begin looking elsewhere to secure their players’ playing time and opportunities.

Kidd-Gilchrist is still an above-average defender. Rookie Cody Martin stole away some of his minutes as a defensive stopper, but his utility on the defensive end should result in spot minutes off the bench for a contender looking to throw bodies at guys like James Harden, Jimmy Butler, etc. And while he’s never been an effective shooter, Kidd-Gilchrist posted a career-high 34% on three-pointers last season.

A change of scenery is probably Kidd-Gilchrist’s best bet. And with unrestricted free agency ahead in 2020, Kidd-Gilchrist should hope to land on a team that allows him to demonstrate his ability to defend and, to a degree, shoot while not overburdening him offensively.

Chandler Parsons – $25,102,512

The Atlanta Hawks have five or so players around whom they hope to build their team in the coming years. They are all 22 years old or younger. Veterans are not on that list. And with Allen Crabbe being moved on Thursday for Jeff Teague, there’s one fewer vet who entered the season on the Hawks roster still around.

And that brings us to Chandler Parsons – someone who this writer hopes to see get an opportunity elsewhere. Despite it seeming as though he’s been around for decades, Parsons is only 31 years old. After fighting his way back from a number of knee injuries, he’s now healthy and able to contribute. Only no one outside of Atlanta seems to notice.

With the Hawks playing their younger players – and rightfully so – Parsons clearly lacks a role with the team. He’s appeared in only five games in 2019-20 so far despite being healthy for the majority of it, and he hasn’t logged 17 or more minutes in any game thus far.

But that does not mean he can’t contribute– especially to a team looking to add scoring punch off of the bench. According to Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon of ESPN, Parsons impressed the Grizzlies coaching staff and team in five-on-five scrimmages last season, and he told Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype: “Obviously, I want to play. I want to help. I’m healthy and I’m in a contract year, so I want to show the team that I’m healthy and I can play and I can definitely help this team win.”

And what’s more, Parsons’ contract is an expiring one. So teams looking to add scoring, without affecting their future salary cap, should consider Parsons. Once upon a time, Parsons was a borderline All-Star who topped out at 16.6 points per game back in 2013-14. No one is under the impression that he’ll contribute anything near 16.6 points, but he’s an established scorer who’s been resting for much of the past few seasons. He’s a career 37.3% three-point shooter, and he adds good length as a true 6-foot-9 forward. Hopefully Parsons gets another chance to prove his worth.

With less than a month to go until the trade deadline, teams are almost certainly circling in on deals. And with so few trades being made so far this season, observers are waiting patiently for the first shoe to drop. But trade deadline deals hit us like a snow squall — quickly and with little warning. So everyone should hunker down and get ready for the mid-season main event.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Trade Targets – Southwest Division

The Southwest Division offers many intriguing options heading toward the annual trade deadline, Ben Nadeau writes, but how the chips fall is still anybody’s best guess.

Ben Nadeau

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The NBA landscape is oddly unfamiliar at this point in the season.

The Milwaukee Bucks are ruthlessly destroying everything in sight, the Golden State Warriors are headed toward a top-five draft pick in June and the New York Knicks are struggling to keep their heads afloat after a mid-season coaching change. OK, fine, that last one might ground us in reality, honestly — but things are looking up, at long last!

And yet, that one constant looms large: Feb. 6 and the annual trade deadline. Buyers, sellers — or wherever your favorite franchise might be — now is the time to push all-in, press the eject button or purchase a super-rare opal from a sketchy diamond salesman that may or may not give a player improved basketballing prowesses.

But if such an uncut gem is unavailable to front offices across the league, then they could do worse than to move for these Southwest Division-based players ahead of next month’s all-important deadline.

The Soft Resetters

Courtney Lee — $12,759,670
Solomon Hill — $12,758,781
E’Twaun Moore — $8,664,928
Marco Belinelli — $5,846,154

All four veterans total nearly 40 combined NBA seasons, offering experience, shot-making abilities and locker room leadership. Further, to some, they could represent cap relief. If a team is a deadline seller — the aforementioned Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers or Detroit Pistons, for example — then these contract-ready players could help them tread water, shed longer deals or gain draft pick collateral. So for the Marcus Morris, Kevin Love and Andre Drummond-type contributors on the market, they won’t come without some deal-matching gymnastics — that’s where players like Lee, Hill and Moore can come in handy, too.

Hell, it’s also why the Houston Rockets got in trouble earlier this year for giving Nene a two-year deal worth $20 million in bonuses, thus making the long-time man the ideal trade fodder. Instead, the NBA voided the deal, ruling that any trade with the Brazilian would only be worth $2.6 in outgoing salary. The Rockets, in salary cap hell, would’ve loved to use Nene in a mid-season deal — perhaps for a name further down on this list, Andre Iguodala — but their creative deal-making was ultimately stymied.

Elsewhere, Moore, 30, has started 29 games for the New Orleans Pelicans in 2019-20 — at a steady 10.2 points per contest, nonetheless — but with Zion Williamson set to return next week and a full youth movement underway, he’s expendable. Better, he’s affordable for those looking for a perimeter punch (39.1 percent from three-point range) or a more cap space in the summertime.

Lee, on the other hand, has struggled to find time in a backcourt led by Luke Doncic. With he has a massively-expiring deal and a fantastic reputation behind-the-scenes, it’s not hard to imagine Lee moving elsewhere in the next 20 days as the Mavericks try to bolster their postseason chances.

Belinelli, 33, has been less effective in his older age, but boasts 65 career postseason games and a low-risk contract. Should the San Antonio Spurs pull the plug — head coach Gregg Popovich likely feels strongly otherwise — then Belinelli and others could be intriguing trade targets.

As for Hill, who has labored to stay healthy in recent seasons, he has another bloated expiring deal — although he’ll likely be most valuable to Memphis as freed up cap space come June.

The Calculated Risks

Andre Iguodala — $17,185,185
Jae Crowder — $7,815,533

The time has finally come: Free Andre Iguodala, you cowards!

Since the former NBA Finals MVP was dealt to the Grizzlies last summer, he’s been stuck in the mud. In an old fashioned standoff, Iguodala hasn’t appeared yet for the rebuilding franchise, while Memphis hasn’t budged from their first-round-pick-or-no-deal mindset from the offseason. Will they budge? Which teams will blink first?

The Los Angeles Lakers, always in need of more playoff-poised athletes to put next to LeBron James, might be willing. Houston, still in luxury cap hell, probably can’t finagle adding $17 million in cap space without obliterating its already-teetering-off-the-edge-of-the-abyss built roster.

Last time Iguodala was featured for the Warriors, the 35-year-old averaged just 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds, but his defensive abilities and postseason record speaks for itself. The expectation is that Iguodala will be moved — but to whom and for how much? Well, that’s the six-month-old question on everybody’s mind, even today.

Iguodala, of note, will be an unrestricted free agent come June.

Crowder, 29, is on his fifth team since 2012 but, by and large, he’s impressed at every stop thus far. In 2019-20, the veteran standout has started all 38 games for Memphis, tallying 10.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest on a paltry (and expiring) $7.8 million dollar deal. Should the Grizzlies clear the deck, Iguodala included, Crowder has 50 games of postseason experience and won’t come with an outrageous price tag — both in regards to outgoing cost or future commitments.

The Leap Of Faiths

DeMar DeRozan — $27,739,975
Jrue Holiday — $26,131,111

This would be the all-in push. The all-or-nothing swing. The so-called leap of faith. Two stars in two different places in their careers — both equally excellent trade candidates for different reasons.

DeRozan, 30, is still chugging along as the leader of San Antonio, and he’ll likely finish with an average over 20 points per game for the seventh consecutive season. Healthy as they come, the high-flyer has played in 72-plus games during every campaign since 2014-15 — and he still knows how to enact a healthy dose of revenge, too. DeRozan won’t be a cheap option for many franchises, but might he be the final missing piece somewhere?

Such a move, naturally, would have to come with Popovich’s blessing and acceptance that the Spurs aren’t postseason-bound for the first time since 1997. At 17-22, San Antonio currently ranks 9th in a stingy Western Conference with five teams within three games of them as of Jan. 16. Betting against Popovich is a sin, but those odds, for the first time in a long time, aren’t looking fantastic for the perennial stalwarts.

Should the Spurs look to jumpstart a mini-rebuild — Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker and Keldon Johnson in tow — then there will certainly be suitors for DeRozan.

As for Holiday, he’s the division’s big-ticket item — if he’s still available, of course. Last the world had heard, the Pelicans had retreated from the offseason position of an unmovable Holiday, the new leader and cornerstone post-Anthony Davis. And yet, the Pelicans are one of those teams within breathing distance of the Spurs and a postseason trip for their budding core, so moving Holiday may not behoove them anymore.

Given Williamson’s assumed presence in the season’s second half, Brandon Ingram’s rise to stardom and Lonzo Ball’s newfound settledness, Holiday might be best served to stay put. Still, David Griffin, New Orleans’ executive vice president of basketball operations, is no stranger to the wheelin’ and dealin’ nature of February, and everybody has a price.

Holiday — 19.6 points, 6.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game, plus a back-to-back member on an All-Defensive Team — would elevate any roster in the league. If the 10-year veteran is, in fact, on the table, Griffin has likely been fielding offers for quite some time already. Should Williamson’s introduction to the rotation go seamlessly and the Pelicans firmly cement themselves as postseason contenders, however, then Holiday will be the perfect player to get them there.

With less than a month to go before the NBA’s trade deadline, the proceedings will only get wilder from here. While the entirety of the Southwest Division is still involved in a hectic playoff chase, far too much could change over the remaining weeks. Who will push all-in? Who will pull back? Are the Spurs going to concede their historic streak of postseason appearances? And how will the Pelicans look with Williamson in the fold?

These are questions without answers at this point.

In another month, we’ll have seen the future and then some — but which way it falls now is still anybody’s best guess.

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