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NBA AM: Some Early Trade Watch In The NBA

With so much focus on Kyrie and Carmelo, there are other trade candidates to watch as the season begins.

Steve Kyler

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Keep Them Or Trade Them?

While the NBA rumor mill has quieted down as executives around the NBA get in vacations and family time, there are some things to keep an eye on as the NBA begins to ramp up for the 2017-18 NBA Season in the coming weeks. While the futures of Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and New York’s Carmelo Anthony have dominated the conversation, there are some soon to be free agents that could make some noise of their own, here are a few:

Avery Bradley – Detroit – $8.808 million

The Boston Celtics had to move off some contract money to make room for their free agent signing of Gordon Hayward. While moving Bradley to Detroit was likely the right move for the Celtics, it was not an easy move because of how much Bradley meant to the chemistry and success of the Celtics. All of those characteristics that made it a hard decision for Boston are why the Pistons opted to trade for Bradley rather than re-sign guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The thought process from the Pistons side was if they were going to shell out $90 plus million dollars, it needed to be a better fitting two-way player. The Pistons will get a full season to see if Bradley is the player they believe him to be, but there is a risk for the Pistons, too. Bradley will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose his next team on his own and could leave the Pistons with nothing to show for the trade.

Sources close to the process believe that Detroit traded for Bradley knowing full well it would be very expensive to retain him beyond this season, however, if he is everything they hope he’ll be, they have no issues paying him.

The wrinkle in all of this is the Pistons as a team. If Detroit continues to be middling as they were last season, would it be smarter to trade off Bradley at the trade deadline and get value? The other option is to keep investing in a team that is not appearing to turn the corner.

The current thinking is that Bradley was traded to become a long-term piece, however, if the season turns south, would he opt to stay and would it be smart for the Pistons to pay him? It’s an interesting situation to watch.

Isaiah Thomas – Boston – $6.261 million

The biggest fear you hear from Celtics fans is the idea of a full max contract being given to what will be a 29-year old Isaiah Thomas. Whether or not the Celtics ultimately opt to pay him will be a recurring storyline that has already gotten a lot of attention. What makes the situation worse is that Thomas himself continues to campaign in the media for a max deal.

The good news for the Celtics is that while every player wants a max deal, most players don’t get them unless there is a real market for the player. The same reservations Celtic fans have on a long-term huge money deal for Thomas is a fairly common train of thought in NBA circles, meaning the Celtics may find themselves in the same situation Toronto did with Kyle Lowry this summer. New Orleans and Jrue Holiday were in a similar situation. Both got huge new deals, but neither got the full maximum possible because there wasn’t much appetite in the free agent market for maxing either guy.

With the NBA salary cap sort of flattening out and fewer teams expected to have a ton of cap money to spend the free agent marketplace is going to smooth out, meaning the Celtics may not have to offer a full max deal to retain Thomas if they choose to.

The two big variables for Thomas future are his health. He is recovering from a pretty significant hip injury that he did not have surgery on. So, getting and staying healthy is a big factor in his future, but also his play compared to continued improvement from guards Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier.

The Celtics do have some luxuries with so many options at guard that they can ultimately opt to keep the best ones and that’s how they are approaching this season.

Should things not improve after all the roster changes, it’s not out of the question the Celtics explore Thomas’ trade value, but given his expected price tag next July, it’s hard to imagine he returns anything close to what his value is to the Celtics.

If things go as expected, and the Celtics pick up where they left off last season, the C’s have the option of exploring the trade value of Smart, who will be hitting free agency too, as well as Rozier who showed tremendous promise in the post-season.

It is absolutely not out of the question that the Celtics will re-sign Thomas, the thinking is he is a special player that made a lot of things work. But, re-signing Thomas does not mean he’ll get a full max deal either, mainly because the Celtics may not have a lot of competition in re-signing him if they frame a deal similar to Lowry’s deal in Toronto – max value, for a shorter number of years.

Will Barton – Denver – $3.533 million

Barton is an interesting situation to watch, mainly because he could be a highly productive player this year and is on a relatively dirt-cheap contract. Barton and the Nuggets explored a contract extension last season, however, Barton passed, opting for the chance to be an unrestricted free agent.

The threat of losing him for nothing is very real for Denver. However, there is a belief that Denver can and would pay Barton market value. So, how he plays and the role he plays with a revamped Nuggets team becomes very interesting in the long-term.

The Nuggets are one of the teams linked to Cavs guard Kyrie Irving, making the possible inclusion of Barton in a Cavs deal a very real possibility.

As thing stand, the Nuggets are expecting a big season from Barton. However, it will be interesting to see if he indeed plays himself out of Denver at the trade deadline. By then, his impending market value will have become a bit more clear.

Trevor Ariza – Houston – $7.420 million

As much as Knicks fans may want to see Ariza included in a package for Carmelo Anthony, the prevailing thought out of Houston is the Rockets need the versatile Ariza to make it all work, especially on the defensive side.

There are some realities that Houston will have to face, which includes determining how much to commit to the future of Ariza, who just turned 32 years old this past summer. There is no question Ariza has tremendous value, not just as a potential free agent, but also as a trade chip should all of this not come together in Houston as expected.

The Rockets stance this summer has been that Ariza is not a trade option. However, as the season comes together, does he have a future in Houston? Today that answer is a resounding yes. However, at the deadline, if the Rockets are not the team they believe they will be, he is a chip they can cash to tweak the roster. That’s always a real thing with pending free agents, especially ones looking for the last big payday.

Derrick Favors – Utah – $12 million

With Gordon Hayward gone from Utah, the mantle of star player could shift over to Favors—at least that’s what his camp is hoping for. Favors was banged up most of the year last season and never got right. The hope in Utah is that Favors can return to form and take the next step forward in his career. Believe it or not, Favors just turned 26 this summer and still hasn’t reached what many would say is the prime of a player’s career.

When healthy, Favors has been a solid double-double player, and with his usage expected to increase dramatically, there is a chance for Favors to bounce back this season. The problem for Favors, and even the Jazz in many ways, is that the game has changed and that Favors may not get the repetitions and opportunities to be the player they hope he can be.

In a worst-case scenario, Favors could have some trade value at the trade deadline in early February, but to be moveable for any kind of value, he will have to get and stay healthy.

Given how brutal the market has been on big guys, there is a chance that re-signing Favors may not be as expensive as other options, but for the Jazz, they are playing a wait and see approach to Favors and his future.

There is a real window for Favors to be more than he’s been over the last two seasons, so time will tell if he can play himself into a big deal or if he plays his way out of Utah.

We’ll be dropping more features on pending free agents all week as we start to look ahead a little in the month of August. With the NBA season opening up a little earlier than normal, this year we will also start dropping our season previews the first week of September, so stay tuned.

The Insiders Podcast

Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Moke Hamilton is joined by Senior Analyst Tommy Beer as they discuss the prospects of Isaiah Thomas cashing in next summer, what lies ahead for the Celtics, Kyrie Irving’s value and why he makes sense in Minnesota and the latest on Carmelo Anthony and a few moves the Knicks have made this summer.

New podcasts drop every week and can be found not only here on the website, but also in your favorite Podcast tool. On iTunes you can find the Podcasts here. As well as TuneIn here.

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, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers and @Ben__Nadeau.

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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NBA

The Lakers Have Finally Stabilized

After a tough five-year period filled with loss and disappointment, the Lakers have finally put themselves back in a position to succeed.

Matt John

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On paper, missing the playoffs for the fifth year in a row would rarely be considered impressive, but for the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that’s suffered pretty much nothing but misery over the last half-decade, this season was a sign of progress.

Leading up to this past season, the previous four years overall were anything but easy on the Lakers. Besides consistently being one of the worst teams in the league, some of the team’s high lottery picks, such as D’Angelo Russell, did not pan out as well as they had hoped, and management baffled the fanbase when they signed both Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to approximately $140 million combined over four years.

This season, things finally took a turn for the better. The team’s youngest players, particularly Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle and Lonzo Ball, started to yield positive results. The team’s new acquisitions, specifically Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and briefly Isaiah Thomas, made a notable impact on the season. Second-year head coach Luke Walton proved himself to be up for the job with improved personnel at his arsenal. That may have led to only 35 wins, but compared to the previous four seasons’ final results, 35 wins is about as good as the Lakers could have hoped for.

And it should only get better from here. The biggest positive is that the team’s long-term outlook is now the brightest its been since Dwight Howard skipped town in 2013. Their impending return to the glory days is still up in the air, but the Lakers can finally look forward to a promising future for two reasons.

Cap Flexibility

When the Lakers replaced Mitch Kupchak with Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson to run the team, the two of them went to work right away. Pelinka and Johnson knew that if the Lakers were going to attain relevance again, they had to undo the franchise’s previous mistakes, even if it meant getting rid of some of their young talent.

It’s as the old saying goes, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”

Making said omelet started with getting rid of their albatross contracts. The Lakers found a taker for Mozgov when they traded him to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez’s expiring deal, but that deal also required trading Russell. Mid-season, the Lakers found a taker for Jordan Clarkson when they traded him to Cleveland, but that deal also required trading Larry Nance Jr.

Losing Russell and Nance Jr, and to some degree Clarkson, may have been tough cheese to swallow, but with Mozgov and Clarkson off the payroll, the Lakers have a ton of cap space at their disposal. In fact, this summer, the Lakers have only $34.5 million in guaranteed contracts, which will be the lowest payroll in entire NBA. This is a much bigger deal now that it’s been in the past for one simple reason: Hardly any teams will have cap room this summer.

The NBA salary cap’s drastic rise in 2016 caused many teams to overshoot their mark over the past two off-seasons. Because of that, quite a few teams will be paying the luxury tax while others will do everything in their power to avoid the luxury tax. This means that only a select few teams will have cap room to add a free agent on a max deal. The Lakers, on the other hand, have the cap room to add two.

Their situation only gets better given the competition in free agency. Most of the other teams that have cap room are in rebuilding mode, so the Lakers shouldn’t expect many competitors in their chase for marquee free agents ie LeBron James and Paul George this summer. The only other team that will be competing for their services with available cap space is Philadelphia, who only has $44 million on payroll this summer. Houston will also be in the race, but they will have to get creative if they hope to add a max free agent this summer plus keep Chris Paul AND Clint Capela.

Even if the Lakers whiff on LeBron and George, it isn’t the end of the world. They can afford to re-sign Thomas and/or Caldwell-Pope to one-year deals worth over $10 million because hardly anyone else can do the same. Even if absolutely nothing goes their way this summer, they’ll have flexibility again next season. While having cap space does not automatically mean free agents will come to the Lakers’ door next season, it’s better to have money available to offer than having to spend it on Clarkson and Mozgov.

Promising Youth Movement

Many knew the Lakers’ young core was nothing to sneeze at, but for the first time since they’ve started their rebuild in 2013, their youth movement’s talent finally translated into wins. They didn’t do it all on their own, but nothing makes a team’s future brighter than their young players starting to reach their potential.

That starts with Brandon Ingram. Ingram was the textbook example of raw his rookie season, but his sophomore year, he started living up to his billing as the second overall pick in his draft. Across the board, he improved his numbers, but his shining moment came when the Lakers turned to him to run the point with Lonzo Ball out in late-January. During that stretch, the Duke alum averaged 18.4 points on 52 percent shooting including 46 percent from three, 5.4 assists, and 5.5 rebounds. Ingram struggled mightily with injuries after that, but his vast improvement should be very beneficial in the long run.

Then there was the biggest surprise of the season: Kyle Kuzma. When the deal was first agreed to, Kuzma was originally a throw-in when the Lakers traded Mozgov and Russell for Lopez, but knowing Brooklyn’s luck, Kuzma may wind up being the best player in this deal. Kuzma wowed the fans at the Staples Center, as he averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field. Since Kuzma is only 22 years old, there’s no telling what his ceiling might be.

Then there’s the first lottery pick the Lakers drafted in their rebuild: Julius Randle. Randle got himself in the best shape of his life in preparation for this season, and it paid off on the court. Randle averaged career-highs in both point average (16.1) and field goal percentage (58 percent), but his best stretch came in February through March. In that time, Randle averaged 21.2 points on 57.6 percent shooting, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Randle is a restricted free agent this year, but with the lack of available money this summer, his best option may be to stay in LA.

Finally, the biggest wild card of the Lakers’ young talent: Lonzo Ball. Ball was both injury-riddled and inconsistent his rookie year, but he showed flashes every now and again of the player his humble father said he would be. While he had his issues putting the ball in the bucket, Ball’s much-hyped passing translated in the NBA, averaging 7.2 assists a game, and his rebounding was terrific given his size, as he averaged 6.9 rebounds a game. The jury is still out on Ball, but he should be given a full season before anyone comes to judgment.

In short, the Lakers’ cap flexibility and promising youth movement give them stability that not many believed they would have had at the end of last season. Inadequacy and incompetence have plagued the Lakeshow for the past several years, but now that they’ve brought the right people aboard, they are now pointed in the right direction.

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NBA Daily: Meet Chimezie Metu, A Versatile Big Man

Chimezie Metu could end up being one of the steals of this year’s draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when it comes to the NBA draft, there always seems to a few players flying under the radar a bit. Players who are underrated or overlooked for whatever reason. This year, one of those players is Chimezie Metu from the University of Southern California.

In early mock drafts, Metu was projected to go anywhere from mid to late first-round. In some of the more recent mocks, he’s fallen out of the first-round altogether and into the second-round. If those projections hold and he does end up being selected in the second-round, then some team is going to get a huge steal.

Metu is a versatile big man who impacts both ends of the floor. He is an agile shot blocker who can control the paint defensively, and on the other end, he can score in the post while being able to step out and knock down mid-range jump shots. He is confident in what he’ll be able to bring to an NBA team.

“I think being versatile and being able to make an impact on defense right away,” Metu told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine this past week. “Being able to switch on to smaller players or guard the post, and just being able to knock down shots or make plays when I’m called upon.”

In his three years at USC, Metu blossomed into one of the best players in the Pac-12 conference. This past season, he led a solid Trojans team in scoring with 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting. He also led the team in rebounding with 7.4 per game and had a team-high 59 blocked shots.

He’s taken note of some of the best big men in the NBA, some of whom he’s tried to model his game after. He told reporters at the combine that some of his biggest influences are Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. He knows that there may be misconceptions about his game, or those that doubt him, but he isn’t worried about that at all.

“I don’t really worry about what other people are saying about myself. I just go out there and play hard, and try to help my team win games,” Metu said. “My strength is being versatile, being able to impact the game in multiple ways. Not being one dimensional and being able to have fingerprints on different parts of the game.”

It’s been busy past few days for Metu. He’s had 13 interviews with NBA teams to go along with workouts, medical testing and media availability. Although it’s been a hectic time, part of what has made it so worthwhile is all of the NBA personnel he’s been able to interact with. What really has stood out to him being at the combine is the difference between college and the NBA.

“I can just go up to the owners and the GMs and just talk to them,” Metu said. “Coming from college you basically have to act like they’re not there, cause of the rules and stuff. Just the fact that they can come up and talk to you, you can talk to them, that’s probably the most surprising part for me.”

Aside from all the front office personnel he’s interacted with, Metu has also had the opportunity to meet with some of the most respected names in NBA history. Among the former players who he’s had a chance to meet with, Magic Johnson and Bob McAdoo have definitely stood out to him.

While he’s grateful just to have been able to meet NBA royalty, he’s used it as an opportunity to pick their brains. He’s also been able to showcase his game in front of them. He is confident that he’s been able to impress them and hopefully make an impact on their decisions come draft night.

“Just coming out here and having fun, there’s a lot of basketball royalty,” Metu said. “Being able to get a chance to shake their hands, being able to take stuff from them and what helped them become great. I’m just trying to take their advice. It feels great because never in a million years did I think I’d be here. It’s fun just going out there and showing what I can do.”

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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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