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NBA AM: Sanders’ Days In Milwaukee Numbered?

The Bucks are a league worst 9-40. With the trade deadline looming will the team start listening to offers for Larry Sanders?

Lang Greene

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Could Bucks center Larry Sanders be on the move?

Entering the season, no one exactly had the Milwaukee Bucks battling for the Larry O’Brien trophy come June, but the club’s league worst 9-40 start is a shock on the other side of the spectrum.  Milwaukee is currently on pace to win just 15 games this season and is seemingly at the beginning stages of a lengthy rebuilding process.

One of the biggest issues plaguing the Bucks has been the team’s inability to stay healthy with just four players logging action in at least 40 contests.

Sanders is at the center of the missed time.

The fourth-year pro has appeared in just 22 contests and is averaging eight points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per outing. Those numbers aren’t horrible, but considering the Bucks signed Sanders to a four-year, $44 million contract extension last summer, expectations were that the young center would continue making strides over the 2013 campaign.

To date, Sanders’ production across the board has fallen off a cliff.

Sanders missed much of the early portion of the season because of a thumb injury reportedly suffered in a nightclub incident and has struggled to find the rhythm. To be fair, Sanders has shown signs of life in February averaging 14.3 points and 11.3 rebounds in three contests.

However with the February 20 trade deadline under two weeks away and the Bucks eyeing the draft lottery, speculation has naturally turned to the long-term future of Sanders with the franchise.

According to Marc Stein of ESPN, sources maintain the Bucks have remained consistent in their messaging about Sanders not being on the trading block even though the club is actively looking for assets in the market.

Yet the Bucks appear intent on resisting, at least in the short term, though we stress the word appear and have to throw in the caveat — as we did on Stein Line Live with Detroit’s Greg Monroe last week — that there’s still time for teams to change their trade stances.

The trade deadline is 13 days away. And nothing stops teams from listening even when they’re telling suitors on the other line that so-and-so is completely off the table. The Bucks, furthermore, are widely described by rival teams as a club busily exploring all possible options in advance of deadline after assembling a team they thought could compete for a playoff spot before promptly falling to the bottom of an unsightly Eastern Conference.

The Bucks currently have $56.8 million in guaranteed salaries on the books this season giving them $1.9 million in available cap room. Sanders is on the payroll for just $3 million this season before his extension kicks in at the start of the 2015 campaign at an average of $11 million per year.

Bobcats’ Walker offended by tanking talk

The 2014 NBA draft class is expected to be one of the most talented and deepest crops of talent in years. Naturally, fans of struggling franchises are salivating at the prospect of netting a future All-Star caliber player.

This is where the notion of tanking comes into focus. Tanking is the belief a franchise has effectively given up on the current campaign in order to strengthen their chances at netting a higher pick in the draft lottery.

The Charlotte Bobcats have been fixtures in the draft lottery the past three years, winning just 66 games from 2011-13. However, if the playoffs started today the Bobcats would be the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. But with the Bobcats potentially having three first round picks in such a talent rich draft, fan conversation around the team has started to shift toward focusing more on acquiring another young asset in the lottery.

Bobcats guard Kemba Walker is having trouble accepting this line of thinking, believing the franchise has the talent already in the fold to compete at a high level.

“That’s ridiculous, as far as us tanking and getting a high draft pick,” Walker told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. “I don’t think we need any more (high) draft picks at this point.

“I don’t see why we can’t make the playoffs. I think we have a great team and are playing great basketball. As long as we keep it up, I think we can. We go out each night with the mindset we can make the playoffs. We practice like we can make the playoffs.”

The Bobcats have already recorded 22 victories this season. Last season, the club won just 21 contests total. The arrival of head coach Steve Clifford, free agent signee Al Jefferson and the continued emergence of Walker have been driving factors in the team’s year over year improvement.

Knicks’ Woodson frustrated by his own performance

The New York Knicks (19-30) won 54 games last season and reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time since the 2000 campaign. However, as we approach the All-Star break, the team is playing sub .500 ball and only on pace to register 32 wins.

With any amount of struggle, discussions have shifted toward finding the scapegoats for the team’s woeful start to the season. Head coach Mike Woodson has emerged as a candidate to receive some of the blame and as a result his job security has routinely been rumored to be on the hot seat.

Woodson understands why his name is being linked in termination rumors and admits this season has been frustrating for him personally as well.

“This year has been, for me, it’s been kind of a disaster from a coaching standpoint in trying to get players to compete and play at a high level,” Woodson said in an interview on ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show. “That’s the frustrating part about it, because I know we’re better than what we’ve shown and we’ve still got a chance.”

According to reports, Knicks players are tired of Woodson’s pointed criticism following losses.

Woodson says he won’t deeply engage in rumors on his job security, but vows to work hard in an attempt to right the ship in the second half of the season.

“I can’t concern myself with that. I really can’t,” Woodson said. “It’s been out there, it’s buzzing. The media, they write it.

“That’s not my concern. My concern is coming to work every day with my head held high, trying to figure out how I can get us out of this hole. It’s not worrying about if I’m going to have a job tomorrow. I don’t live my everyday life thinking about that. My job is thinking about X’s and O’s and trying to get guys to play at a high level and win games.”

The Knicks remain just 2.5 games behind Charlotte for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot with plenty of time to salvage the season.

The Basketball Insiders Trade Deadline Guide

Later this week, Basketball Insiders’ first Digital Magazine issue will drop, featuring the most comprehensive look at the NBA Trade Deadline you will find anywhere.

The magazine will be available on your smartphone, tablet or desktop. If you are an Apple user, you can grab the Digital Magazine app here. For our Android users, you can grab the Digital Magazine app here. When the issue is ready it will automatically appear in your app for purchase.

If you do not want to download the app, we will have a web-based solution for you that works great on the same devices. The links for that will drop when the issue is available.

Get ready for 110 pages of trade deadline knowledge, exclusively from Basketball Insiders.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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