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NBA AM: Pistons Not Looking To Move Jennings

The Detroit Pistons are not overly concerned about the future of Brandon Jennings as they have eyes for the post-season and he can help them… Finding a willing mentor isn’t easy… Are the Lakers sitting this one out?

Steve Kyler

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Jennings Looks Like Jennings

Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Jennings played 18 minutes last night in the Pistons 115-89 win over the Orlando Magic. While the sample size for Jennings was small in terms of minutes, the production on the floor was solid with Jennings posting 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting and 3-for-4 from the three-point line. Jennings was agile and aggressive and looked every part of the NBA starter he was before his Achilles tear this time last year.

Jennings’ name has been floated around in NBA trade rumors mostly because the Pistons have found gold in guard Reggie Jackson, who they gave an enormous contract to this summer. As a result, the team does not have a very big role left for Jennings. Factor in Jennings’ pending unrestricted free agency and there has been a sense that Jennings could be the best point guard obtainable as the February 18 trade deadline approaches.

Pistons president and head coach Stan Van Gundy has tried to quell the notion that his point guard was available, and said as much again last night.

“Our plan, right now, is that Brandon can help us make a playoff push, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Van Gundy said to David Mayo of MLive.com. “That’s our plan right now. If something happens in the next five weeks, we’ll look at it. But right now, he’s a very good player who can help us, and that’s the only way we’re looking at him.”

League sources that have tried to engage the Pistons on a Jennings trade label the Pistons as lukewarm, at best, on moving Jennings primarily because Van Gundy likes the depth and change of pace Jennings provides and that the team has eyes for improvement through free agency in July and is unwilling to take on any money that would impact their 2016 salary cap position.

The belief from some around the league is that eventually the Pistons would explore moving Jennings, rather than risk losing him for nothing to unrestricted free agency. However, it seems unlikely that a deal will be made unless the offer is a knockout in favor of the Pistons. Van Gundy seems more concerned about breaking the Pistons’ six season playoff drought than getting an ending contract or draft pick in return for Jennings.

Things in the NBA change and change quickly, but what Van Gundy is saying publicly mirrors what the team is saying privately.

As things stand today the Pistons are 19-16 and have won five of their last 10 games. If the Playoffs began today, the Pistons would make the cut as the 8th seed.

There is little doubt that Jennings has trade value, especially if he continues to post games like he did last night, but it does not seem that the Pistons are nearly as interested in moving Jennings as other teams are in acquiring him.

The Elton Brand Signing

In case you missed it yesterday, the Philadelphia 76ers agreed to a deal with veteran forward Elton Brand. In a piece Brand penned for The Cauldron, he explained that he chose to return in part because he wanted to finish his NBA career on his terms, but that he also felt that he had an obligation to help some of the younger players, specifically the 76ers, find their way in the NBA in ways he had to find out on his own.

Philadelphia has been desperately searching for a few veterans that would agree to come in and mentor the younger 76er players and help them evolve into professionals. Brand was identified very early on as a prime target. Brand took his time in making a decision, ultimately deciding to sign.

The narrative here is interesting because it’s commonly believed in fan circles that pairing up a young rookie with a proven veteran should happen all the time. However, what’s neglected in this thinking is that not every veteran is willing to share their experiences and play the mentor role, especially as they get to the twilight of their career and the end of their playing days becomes more imminent.

The other part is that not all young guys are open to veterans coming in and playing big brother.

Putting two guys together does not always equal chemistry and the connections that are required to foster the learning and development that a mentor-relationship requires.

Adding Brand sounds great on paper and based on what he wrote about his reasons for returning to the NBA, he is approaching it with the right attitude. The question is will the young guys in Philly truly connect with Brand enough for him to make a difference? That’s the burning question.

Some have criticized the 76ers for not bringing in players like Brand at the start of the season, and that might be a fair criticism. The problem is when you are a team that’s going nowhere this season (like the 76ers) how desirable is that situation to a free agent?

As Brand explained in his piece, deciding to join the 76ers required some significant soul searching. It’s not easy to put your career in your pocket to play wet nurse to first and second year players. Joining the 76ers, even in training camp, would have amounted to exactly that given their desire to play the young guys and get them experience.

Hanging around for one more season in the gym isn’t always as appealing as it may sound on paper, especially if you won’t play.

It’s admirable that Brand decided to sign on, however, keep in mind the number of players that would be willing to do it and that have a resume like Brand’s is pretty small.

You Won’t Like This

It’s almost without question that Laker Nation is the loudest most vocal fan base in the NBA, especially on social media.

No trade rumor is too small; no trade combination is too outrageous. Lakers Nation is loud, proud and ready to pounce.

The problem is that’s not at all how the organization works.

As much as fans would like to see change from the franchise, whether that’s firing head coach Byron Scott, trading away all of the veterans or cashing in the young guys for a proven star. The Lakers just are not that engaged on any of those topics.

League sources labeled the Lakers stance as “looking”; they are doing the normal due diligence teams do as the deadline approaches. They apparently are not actively shopping anyone on the roster. If the right deal fell into their laps they would look at it, but it seems that the Lakers are more than ready to let this season play out and re-tool after Kobe Bryant retires.

Lakers head coach Byron Scott is safe by all accounts. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said the team would look at his situation in the off-season but that a change now simply wasn’t being considered or even deemed necessary to consider.

You were warned at the start of this that you wouldn’t like this piece.

As much as Laker Nation wants to see change, it does not look like the Lakers are nearly as interested in making a move as their fans are.

The vibe from the Lakers has been this is a transition year. It’s the swan song for Kobe Bryant and that unless something special falls their way, they’ll play out the season.

The Lakers are not concerned about their draft pick, which is top-three protected (if it falls outside the top-three it goes to the 76ers). Kupchak admitted recently to season-ticket holders that he vacillates on that situation but that the team has been instructed to compete as hard as they can and if the pick lands with them, it lands with them.

There are two names that other teams talk about. One is Metta World Peace, who has played pretty well for the Lakers. The other is Brandon Bass, who has a very team friendly deal worth $3 million this year with a $3.13 million Player Option for next year.

The idea of moving off Nick Young, Roy Hibbert or even Lou Williams has been labeled as unlikely from teams that have talked to the Lakers.

You never say never in this business because the right phone call tomorrow can turn a resounding “no” into an overwhelming “yes” depending on what’s offered, but the stance from the Lakers seems to be one of holding the line and that’s not going to make many in Laker Nation happy.

As things stand today, the Lakers have $23.126 million in firmly guaranteed salaries for the 2016-2017 season. That number does not include Bass’ option, the $2.155 million Qualifying Offer on Ryan Kelly, or the $1.18 million Qualifying Offer on Jordan Clarkson and Tarik Black.

Assuming the Lakers issue all the offers they can and Bass stays in his current deal, the Lakers have $31.851 million against what’s expected to be a $90 million salary cap, giving the Lakers roughly $58.149 million in cap space.

As much as fans may want to see change, preserving that cap position seems to be priority number one and that’s likely why the Lakers are sitting out of the trade market.

That could change as the deadline approaches, especially if the Lakers could offload some salary for an ending deal or two, however, today that does not seem to be very likely.

Told you, you wouldn’t like this.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @JCameratoNBA, @iamdpick, @jblancartenba, @eric_saar and @CodyTaylorNBA .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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Update: Eric Bledsoe Trade Talks

Michael Scotto updates the ongoing Eric Bledsoe trade saga.

Michael Scotto

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The sun has set on the 2017-18 season for Phoenix three games into the year.

The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson and promoted Jay Triano as the team’s interim head coach, as ESPN first reported. The Suns suffered an embarrassing 124-76 loss in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The final straw came during a 130-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road to drop the team to 0-3.

Then things went from bad to worse rapidly after a tweet from guard Eric Bledsoe.

General manager Ryan McDonough spoke with Bledsoe. Bledsoe told McDonough he was at a hair salon with a girl and the tweet wasn’t related to the Suns. McDonough didn’t believe that to be true and said the 27-year-old guard “won’t be with us going forward.”

Bledsoe spoke with McDonough and owner Robert Sarver privately several weeks ago. During that conversation the desire for a change was expressed, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Since then, Phoenix has discussed trades involving Bledsoe around the league, sources told Basketball Insiders. In addition, Tyson Chandler has continued to be shopped by the Suns during that time.

Trade talks have rapidly picked up since Bledsoe’s desire to be traded was made public.

The Suns and Denver Nuggets have discussed a trade of Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and other pieces, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has emerged as part of the trade package with Mudiay, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Denver has shopped Faried for years. The 27-year-old forward is owed $12.9 million this season and $13.7 million next season. Mudiay is owed $3.4 million this season and $4.3 million next season. Mudiay will then become a restricted free agent if given a qualifying offer in the summer of 2019. For more information on Denver’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Suns also spoke to the New York Knicks and asked for No. 8 overall pick Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Bledsoe. The Knicks are not interested in that package, however.

Kyle O’Quinn is a candidate to be traded. Several teams have called the Knicks expressing interest in O’Quinn. New York wants to retain Hernangomez for the foreseeable future despite a lack of playing time early in the season. It’s also worth noting Hernangomez is a close friend of Kristaps Porzingis. Ntilikina is currently the point guard of the future in New York.

In addition, New York would need to add a salary filler to make the trade work financially. For more information on New York’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe, according to the New York Times. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also have interest in Bledsoe, according to Amico Hoops.

Bledsoe is owed $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season before entering unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix. In addition, Bledsoe shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from downtown, and 81 percent from the foul line.

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NBA PM: Greek Freak Off to an MVP-Caliber Start

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ MVP and looks primed to be in the actual MVP race this season.

James Blancarte

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The NBA season is officially underway. Although each team has only played a few games so far, it has helped illuminate where many teams and players are in their development. For example, last night’s game in Oklahoma City gave a glimpse into how the Thunder will handle a late-game situation now that the team has three previous number one options. In the final minute, Russell Westbrook scored two of the Thunder’s last three baskets and assisted Carmelo Anthony on the final basket just before Andrew Wiggins hit a game-winning buzzer beater from well beyond the arc.

After three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s individual development has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow. A number of positive and far-reaching questions can be asked of Giannis. What is the ceiling for him? Can a player of his considerable talents continue to improve after winning Most Improved Player last season? Remember, Giannis was drafted in 2013 and is still only 22 years old.

When told in August that although he could win most valuable player, he could not also win most improved player as well, he responded with a simple, yet telling response.

“Why not?” Antetokounmpo responded.

While he continued to be lighthearted and moved on to the next topic, it’s fair to ask, “why not?” when it comes to Giannis. Through three regular season games, he is averaging 38.3 points, five assists, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. These averages will likely regress to more sustainable numbers as the season continues. For now, however, his averages are in elite territory. In addition, his ability to impact the game is already getting to the point where LeBron James may be the only other player who can similarly fill up the stat lines while physically terrorizing opponents on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

When asked who the “biggest freak in the NBA” is, Giannis elaborated that it was James due to his ability to impose himself on the game.

“The things [James] does, the veteran leadership he brings to the team, how big he is, how quick, how strong,” Giannis stated. “And at the end of the day, how smart he is. He can put his team in the right spots, make the right decision.”

In Saturday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Giannis willed his team to victory. It was Giannis demonstrating how big, strong and smart he was, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them to an impressive win.
With less than a minute left in a close game, Giannis closed in with a well-timed double team on Damian Lillard and came away with a clean steal. The steal got the Bucks the ball back and Giannis was fouled, which put him on the free throw line. Unfortunately, he came up short on both attempts and the Bucks remained a point behind.

Despite missing the free throws, Giannis came up huge on the very next play. Giannis took on C.J McCollum one-on-one at the top of the key and created yet another steal. He then leaked out to receive the pass for a breakaway dunk that quickly gave the Bucks the lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.

On the next play, when Jusuf Nurkic set a high screen and roll, he received the pass on the roll and headed to the basket. Giannis’ primary responsibility was the shooter in the corner and yet he read the action correctly and was ready and waiting at the rim for Nurkic. Giannis times Nurkic’s shot perfectly and rejected him at the rim, which effectively ended the game in favor of the Bucks.

Giannis’ ability as defensive Swiss Army Knife was instrumental in the Bucks’ close win over Portland. In addition, Giannis has also made further improvements in an area of his that has received a lot of attention over the years. He continues to shoot a below average three-point percentage for his career (27.6) and has had a rocky start to this season as well (16.7). It’s likely that Giannis’ three-point shooting will be a significant limitation in his game for the foreseeable future. However, over his career, Giannis has shown an ability to improve his shooting percentage on two-point shots consistently, especially shots from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. As Giannis has gotten stronger and more explosive, he has developed a strong desire to attack opponents off the dribble and absorb contact at the rim. Whether he blows by his opponent outright or scores through opponents at the rim, Giannis has developed into an offensive force that few players in the league could hope to slow down.

In addition to his scoring, Giannis continues to display his unique ability to handle the ball in transitions and run the Bucks’ offense in the half court as a point forward. This sort of ability separates Giannis from the other elite wings in the league who don’t have the skill or vision to act as a primary playmaker. Giannis is doing much of what he did last year, but seems more aggressive and physically dominant through the first three games of this season. That sort of improvement of course puts Giannis in the MVP discussion (though it is incredibly early in the season to even start this sort of discussion).

Giannis was recently asked about his ability to win the MVP and wasn’t shy about his desire to win the prestigious award.

“I’m going to be one of the players that hopefully dominates the game. But I’ve got to still make sure that my team wins, that my teammates get better,” Giannis stated. “I’ve set the goal since the last game against Toronto last year, at the playoffs. I want to be the MVP this year.”

What helps solidify Giannis’ ability to be such a strong MVP candidate is also what makes his team less dangerous. The Bucks are woefully dependent on their star and, at least for now, lack the necessary depth to be a true contender in the East.

Through three regular season games, it’s clear that the Bucks will only go as far as Giannis can take them. And that is the key to Giannis’ budding MVP campaign. Let’s take a look at last year’s top five MVP candidates. Last year’s winner, Westbrook, has two new star-caliber players (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) to share the spotlight, and the ball, with. James Harden is sharing the ball with Chris Paul, who is currently struggling with a knee injury. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are almost exclusively concerned with the postseason. Kawhi Leonard is similarly crucial to the San Antonio Spurs on offense and defense but has lingering health concerns and has yet to play this season. Finally, Isaiah Thomas is coming off a major hip injury and is not projected to play until January.

With so much uncertainty, Giannis has the opportunity to continue to draw attention as not only the most important player on the Bucks but perhaps the most valuable player in the league. Giannis’ early play this season indicates that this is possible. Despite his early-season outburst, Giannis is giving deference to LeBron James — though he admits he hopes to reach James’ level at some point in the future.

“Definitely [James is] the best player in the NBA. For a few years to come,” Giannis stated. “But I think a lot of players are getting better. Even myself. And hopefully one day we can get to that spot from him.”

Perhaps Giannis will take the spot as the best player in the NBA as early as this season. Considering how dominant he has been so far this season, it’s fair to ask “why not?”

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Wright Primed To Take Next Step With Raptors

Third year Utah alum Delon Wright is showing flashes of what he can do in an expanded role for Toronto.

Spencer Davies

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Backup point guards are essential to a team’s success.

They’re the floor generals of the second unit. They create for themselves to score. They collapse defenses in order for the others to get opportunities.

In some cases, these players perform so well that they outgrow the role they provide and force their way into the starting five—on that same team or elsewhere. Just look at past examples: Darren Collison, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, etc. The list goes on.

Kyle Lowry was 20 years old when he was drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He studied the position behind veteran guards Chucky Atkins and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire.

But even after showing promise in his rookie season, management decided to take Mike Conley Jr. the very next year. Though the two were about even in playing time, it was clear the Grizzlies favored youth over anything else, so in 2009, Lowry was dealt with the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade at the deadline.

At this point, Lowry had started in only 30 games over two-and-a-half seasons, so the keys to the car weren’t ready for him just yet. Aaron Brooks was a unique talent that Rick Adelman loved to throw out there along with Tracy McGrady and Kevin Martin.

Brooks started all 82 games in the 2009-10 campaign and blossomed into a scoring machine. He was shooting the lights out that year, and because of that, it was tough to sit him. Lowry still took advantage of his playing time, though, with plenty of floor run. He averaged nearly 14 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.

To the misfortune of his teammate and the advantage to Lowry the next season, Brooks struggled mightily with the jump shot that made him so deadly. After 34 games, the Rockets moved him in a deal to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Dragic was on his way to carving his niche in the league, but it opened up a door for Lowry to really take hold as “quarterback” of the team.

Circumstances arose once again, however. Houston had let go of Adelman and hired Kevin McHale in June 2011. Lowry and his new head coach did not have the same rapport. He unfortunately suffered from a bacterial infection and missed out on the beginning of the season, and towards the end, the emergence of Dragic led to his demise.

That summer, the Rockets sent Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future first-rounder. Once again, it was a fresh start for him, but also a brand new team with a different head coach.

It didn’t take long for the man to realize his true potential there. Aside from shuffling a bit with Jose Calderon as the starter in Toronto, Lowry found a home. The jump he made between that season and the next one was impressive.

Lowry got paid after that 2013-14 season and re-signed with the Raptors for four years. He earned three All-Star appearances and—aside from the postseason disappointments—led the team to new heights with his fellow All-Star backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto and its star point guard agreed to a three-year, $100 million deal over the summer to keep him running the show and to honor that contract well as he has always had. But now there’s somebody behind Lowry waiting to break out, and could very well be the one who gets the torch passed to him.

Delon Wright is ready to make his mark. When he entered the league, he was a reserve behind Cory Joseph and had to observe and soak in the experience of NBA life. For some rookies, they get the chance immediately, and for the others, they have to wait their turn. In this case, it was the latter.

Playing the waiting game ended up working out well for him. In the offseason, the Raptors went out and traded Joseph for C.J. Miles due to the loss of DeMarre Carroll. It was a move that not only addressed a need for depth at the wing but also opened a door for Wright.

So here we are, two games in. The Raptors are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by 51 points. In those combined, Wright has received 55 minutes of playing time.

Despite the competition being the rebuilding Chicago Bulls and a Philadelphia 76ers team trying to find an identity, he looks extremely comfortable. You don’t want to take too much out a sample size as small as that, but neither the numbers nor the eye test lies.

Wright has played the third-most minutes on the team thus far. He’s done a great job on both sides of the floor but has truly made a difference on the defensive end. As of now, the Raptors are only allowing 83 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood. When he’s not, that number blows up to 98.9 using the same scale.

Offensively he’s almost been just as good. Wright has been aggressive as a facilitator and as a shooter, putting up 13- and 14-point games early on. He dished out five assists in the season opener and nabbed five rebounds in the second game. He has a higher offensive rating than both Lowry and DeRozan.

According to NBA.com, Toronto’s net rating with him off the court (12.9) is the second lowest to his lifelong teammate Jakob Poeltl (12.8). Take it with a grain of salt because it’s one week into the season, but Wright has the best net rating in the league (37.6) among those playing at least 25 minutes per game.

Call it garbage time play or whatever you want: He has the tools to succeed. The stature is there. The intangibles are evident. It’s all about putting it together over the course of an entire season.

If the trend continues, there’s no way Casey can keep him off the floor for long. We don’t know where Wright’s career could go. It’s way too early to tell. The Raptors are likely hoping for him to be the successor after this era of basketball has come and gone.

Lowry is the man in Toronto, as is DeRozan. Nothing is changing that anytime soon. But rest assured, Wright’s primed to take a big step this year and it’s going to be fun to watch.

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