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NBA AM: Some Teams Are Searching For A Star

With the NBA trade deadline less than two weeks away, some teams are hoping to land an impact player… The Durant rumors might be premature.

Steve Kyler



Looking For A Star

The biggest challenge for an NBA team is finding a transcendent star, someone who can change the game in an enormous way. Most teams hope to find one in the draft, some dream of landing one in free agency, while others try to collect enough viable assets to trade for one. With the 2016 NBA Trade Deadline just two weeks away, more and more teams are trying to pry away a difference maker, even though most of them may not be going anywhere.

Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics have been linked to virtually every significant name in the trade field including Atlanta’s Al Horford, Houston’s Dwight Howard and Los Angeles’ Blake Griffin.

The Celtics are actively looking at deals, understanding that they have a ton of duplication and that while they have some good players, moving off a guy or two along with a draft pick could land them someone to build around – not only for a postseason run this year, but going forward as well.

The Celtics have assets and seem willing to deal; the problem is that what the Celtics are swinging for usually does not take shape at the deadline, but that’s not going to stop them from trying to make a deal.

Forward David Lee, big man Tyler Zeller and some of their underachieving rookie-scale players are said to be available. The Celtics are not open to trading the Brooklyn Nets pick they obtained in their Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade, but it is believed that Boston would listen to deals involving their other draft picks, especially if they can land the kind of notable player they desire.

Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic continue to struggle, especially in tight games. Last night’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder marked their 14th loss in 16 games. While the Magic are among the youngest teams in the NBA, with an average age of 24.9 years old, there was an expectation from management that not only would this be the year that the Magic win more games (and technically they have), they would also be in the hunt for a playoff spot.

The Magic, for most of December, were turning away offers on their roster. But over the last three weeks sources close to the situation say that trade conversations have taken a turn and there is an increasing sense that this roster as constructed may require significant change.

The Magic are one of the teams listening to the big idea offers; however, they seem unwilling to part with their young core, especially the players who were high level draft picks.

It’s believed Orlando has several suitors for veteran big man Channing Frye, but it’s unclear if Orlando will pull the trigger on a cosmetic change or if they will hold the line for a significant upgrade.

The Magic seem like a team willing to pull the trigger on a trade. But can Orlando find a difference maker to salvage this season? And if they can, at what cost?

Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings want to make a deal, but they are not looking to trade for the sake of making a trade. Word is the Kings have explored a number of options, including moving forward Rudy Gay and point guard Darren Collison.

The problem in obtaining either guy is that Sacramento wants a sizable return on either guy. League sources say it will take a combination of assets to pry Gay out of Sacramento including a rookie-scale player with upside and someone who can impact the team right away.

There are a couple of teams that continue to be linked to Sacramento, with the Los Angeles Clippers believed to be the biggest suitor for Rudy Gay. Meanwhile, the Kings may be the team that pulls the trigger on a Kevin Martin trade with Minnesota, if he will opt in to his contract.

The Kings are not swinging for the fences in a transaction, rather it seems they would like to exchange some of their duplication for more options.

Kings sources have been pretty adamant that a deal involving any of their guys would have to return substance, so it’s very possible that the Kings could be the center piece to the 2016 NBA Trade Deadline, as they have some of the most productive players said to be available.

Durant and The Rumors

By now you have likely seen the story from Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks, suggesting that the Golden State Warriors could be a serious threat to land Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant in free agency and how they could re-shape their roster to create the cap space to go after him.

The problem with this and some stories that are following it is that it’s all based on the same premise: Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, and that is far from decided.

It’s important to note that Wojnarowski did write, “Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said.”

However, others have taken the Warriors narrative and run with it. Woj’s voice is among the loudest in basketball, so he creates conversations and other voices start talking about the situation too.

What gets missed in the narrative of free agency is that historically, many of the teams that get listed in February as the front-runner for a player very rarely end up landing that player. Think about all the players that were linked to the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers this time last year. It’s pretty safe to say Roy Hibbert to the Lakers and Robin Lopez to the Knicks were not the names talked about last February.

If Durant decides to take meetings, and there is a sense that how this season ends in Oklahoma City will influence that greatly, he is going to have a big pool of teams that log interest and want to meet.

While the Warriors are certainly one of the teams that would trip over themselves to land Durant, they are not alone. The Miami HEAT, Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers will all be waiting with baited breath.

The other part of the Warriors narrative that gets easily ignored or dismissed is that it would take a lot of cap maneuvering and significant moves for them to create the space required to sign a player like Durant. It can be done; we’ve seen teams mortgage their future draft picks to create space before. The Warriors did it to land Andre Iguodala. The Miami HEAT leveraged virtually everything they had to get LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami in 2010. As they say, if there is a will, there is a way. But some things are easier to achieve than others. This Warriors team is already historically good, so other teams may be very hesitant to help them add Durant and form what could potentially become a dynasty.

As Wojnarowski said, there still is no sense that Durant is ready to leave Oklahoma City. He is extremely fond of the market. He has personal and deep connections to the team and he is incredibly loyal.

The sense from around the Thunder is that Durant really is not at all focused on free agency. He turns away conversations from teammates about it. He does not engage in the speculation even privately, and he’s told those in his life not to bring it up until this season is over.

The prevailing thought is that assuming the Thunder finish the season strong, Durant may very well sign a one-and-one deal, giving him one fully guaranteed year at the new NBA maximum and give him a player option on a second year allowing him to cash in again in 2017.

This would allow Durant to tie his own future to teammate Russell Westbrook, who has the ability to be an unrestricted free agent in 2017.

Going the one-and-one route affords Durant the same luxury LeBron James has in Cleveland. He can stay for as long as he is comfortable without a long-term deal. If Westbrook opts to leave in 2017, Durant could too.

While talking about Durant’s possible landing spots is not going to go away, the belief is still that his real future gets decided this post-season. If the Thunder are one of the last teams standing, reaching the Conference Finals or NBA Finals, the odds Durant remains where he is are pretty high. If the Thunder struggle, getting eliminated early or looking over-matched in the playoffs, things could change dramatically.

The Thunder have a strong understanding of where they stand with Durant. The know their future with Durant is tied to the ability to compete right now for an NBA title. They have the known quantity factor in their favor.

Speculation of where a free agent ultimately lands is part of the NBA news cycle. That’s never going to change, but to predict that any one team is a front-runner in the Durant race overlooks a lot of the process that still has to play out to get there.

If free agent history has taught any lessons, it’s that predicting in February who the front-runners for a free agent are is a crap shoot at best.

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 , @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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NBA Daily: Tyus Jones Thriving in Bigger Role

Minnesota’s Tyus Jones speaks to David Yapkowitz about his growing role with the Wolves.

David Yapkowitz



It was the last game of the 2016-17 NBA season. The Minnesota Timberwolves had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention for quite some time. Their opponent that night, the Houston Rockets, had an impressive year and were on their way to the postseason.

Although the Wolves would go on to lose that game, 123-118, Tyus Jones came off the bench to have to his best game of the year. He would finish with 17 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, 75 percent from the three-point line, seven assists, four rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot.

Jones had just finished up his second year in the NBA, which had gone a little bit just like his first; a few games played here and there followed by some DNP-CD’s. Rookie Kris Dunn was ahead of him on the depth chart at backup point guard for the majority of the year. That stat line he put up on the last night of the season, however, should have been a sign of things to come.

Now in his third year, and second playing under Tom Thibodeau, Jones has firmly seized the backup point guard spot. Thibodeau is notorious for playing short rotations, and along with Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng, Jones has solidified himself as one of Minnesota’s most dependable reserves.

“It’s been good, I’m just trying to contribute to the team as much as possible,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I want to do whatever I need to do to help this team win more games.”

The Timberwolves have done just that so far. They won 31 games all of last season. This year, they already have 16 wins. They didn’t break that mark last season until mid-January. Jones’ impact on the Wolves this year has been a big reason for that.

His stats may not jump off the page; he’s averaging 3.9 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting, and 2.8 assists in about 17 minutes of play. But he’s become a reliable floor leader who is able to anchor the Wolves second unit. He’s also one of their best floor spacers at 38.2 percent from the three-point line, and he’s an improved defensive player.

“For me, having a little bit bigger role this year, it’s what I wanted,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just trying to make the most of it and take advantage of it.”

Jones has definitely taken advantage of his new role. Starting point guard Jeff Teague missed four games last month due to a sore right Achilles tendon. Aaron Brooks started in place of Teague for the first game he missed, but Jones was the starter for the next three.

In his first ever career start on Nov. 26 in a win over the Phoenix Suns, Jones had nine points on 50 percent shooting, four rebounds, seven assists, seven steals, and two blocks. The following game, albeit in a loss to the Washington Wizards, he finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. In his final start before Teague returned, a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, he had his best game of the season with 16 points on 66.7 percent shooting, four rebounds, six assists, and four steals.

“It was a dream, I’m just trying to make the most of it,” Jones told Basketball Insiders about being a starter. “Once again, take advantage of the opportunity and just do my role.”

Although Jones only spent one season playing college basketball before entering the NBA draft, it was the program he attended that’s allowed him to make a seamless transition. He played at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski during the 2014-15 season, winning a national championship alongside fellow NBA players Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Quinn Cook.

“It’s the best program in the country. Coach K is the best coach, arguably ever, to coach the game,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “There’s nothing comparable on the college level, playing at Duke. They’re the brightest lights, so that helps prepare you for the next level.”

The Wolves are a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade. It was the 2003-04 season, to be exact. This year, however, they are hoping to change that. They currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference, fighting for the right to host a playoff series in the first round.

“We’re trying to make the playoffs, that’s our goal right now,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “Each year, we’re trying to get better. We’re still trying to take that next step. This organization hasn’t been to the playoffs in a number of years.”

With Jones playing a pivotal role, the Wolves’ playoff drought looks like it will be coming to an end very shortly.

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NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 12/12/17

Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.

Dennis Chambers



The NBA season is coming in hot on Christmas Day games, and before we know it the new year will arrive as well. As the second half of the season starts to come into sight, more stability among the league’s MVP candidates will prevail.

By now, most of the frontrunners for the award have staked their claim of consistent dominance over the last eight weeks of the NBA season.

For our list here at Basketball Insiders, the same names make up our ladder from the last MVP race installment. A slight juggling of the order is the only new wrinkle. Thus far, these individuals have put themselves ahead of the pack.

A full season in the NBA is a long race, but through the first few laps, these are the MVP leaders.

stockdown456. Steph Curry (Last Week: 3)

Coming in at No. 3 on the last list, Steph Curry sees a bit of a tumble in the standings. Unfortunately for Curry, he’s suffering from a sprained ankle that is going to cause him to miss some time. Fortunately for the Golden State Warriors, they’ve won three straight games without their star point guard.

This doesn’t discredit the type of season Curry is having, or his brilliance on the court when he’s healthy, but the fact that the Warriors have enough firepower to sustain his absence damages his claim to the most “valuable” player throne.

Nevertheless, for the Warriors to truly fulfill their championship potential, Curry needs to be healthy and playing. Otherwise, the Warriors aren’t as lethal as they could be.

Barring a complete meltdown from his ball club, Curry’s spot will likely continue to drop slightly as he sits on the bench watching his team win games without him.

stockup455. Joel Embiid (Last Week: 6)

Almost the exact opposite of Curry, the Philadelphia 76ers don’t seem to have a prayer at winning basketball games that Joel Embiid sits out of. Luckily for the city of Philadelphia, though, that hasn’t been nearly frequent of an occurrence as past seasons.

The on/off numbers for Embiid are staggering. On both ends of the court, no less. Without their big man, the Sixers’ offensive rating drops off by more than five points and their defensive rating sees a 10-point spike in favor of their opponents.

In short, it’s worse for the Sixers when Embiid is tweeting rather than playing.

After missing back-to-back games over the weekend, Embiid’s value became more apparent to the Sixers. Among a myriad of injuries, Embiid’s was felt the heaviest as his team posted a defensive rating of 111.6 to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then a 130.2 the next night to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Both figures are a far cry from the 102.9 rating the team records with Embiid on the floor.

Much like Curry, the Sixers will need Embiid on the court moving forward to live their best life. So long as he is resting on back-to-backs, or sitting with back soreness, the Sixers won’t be as fortunate as the Warriors to pull out wins.

stockup454. Kyrie Irving (Last Week: 5)

Masked Kyrie joined Untucked Kyrie this season as another alter ego capable of taking the NBA and Twitter by storm on a nightly basis.

Irving, despite suffering an injury to his face that forced him to wear a protective mask a la Rip Hamilton, still has the Boston Celtics atop the league standings with his MVP campaign so far this season. Over Irving’s last 10 games, he’s averaging 25.8 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. Over the course of that same span, the Celtics are 7-3.

Just to strengthen his already solid MVP claim, the Celtics went into Chicago Monday night to play the Bulls without Irving, as he sat out of the game with a quad contusion. All the league’s best team preceded to do was lose 108-85 to the league’s worst team.

At this point in the season, MVP candidates have their statistics in place. As viewers and fans, we really get to see the difference they make on their teams during the games that they aren’t playing, and Monday night for the Celtics was a microcosm of Irving’s season-long importance to the success of their team.

stockup453. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Last Week: 4)

The Greek Freak is still putting up absurd numbers, keeping him right in the conversation for Most Valuable Player. On top of his gaudy production, the Milwaukee Bucks are starting to pile up some wins as well.

Winning six of their last seven games — the only loss coming to the Celtics where Antetokounmpo put up 40 points, nine rebounds, and four assists — the Bucks currently hold a 15-10 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

It’s been well-documented up to this point how effective Antetokounmpo is for Milwaukee from a numbers standpoint. If he can really start translating those performances into wins over good teams, the narrative of him winning the award may begin to revert back the dominance it held over the first few weeks of the season.

As it currently stands, though, Antetokounmpo is ahead of the rest of the pack before a pretty sizeable gap at the two spots above him.

stocknochanges452. LeBron James (Last Week: 2)

After having his Cavaliers’ 13-game win streak snapped by an unconscious Victor Oladipo, LeBron James returned to business as usual by defeating the shorthanded Sixers without Kevin Love by his side. He did so in typical Year 15 fashion, posting 30 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals.

No big deal.

That’s the mantra for James’ 15th year in the NBA: Do it all, and do it well. He doesn’t have the supporting cast that many projected coming into this season, and Irving is out doing his thing in Boston. But for the King of the NBA, after a month of rough basketball, he seems to be figuring it all out for his club and putting them in the positions they need to be in to be successful.

Since the start of Cleveland’s winning streak up until the game against Philadelphia, James is averaging 27.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks, 55 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

His team is 14-1, Irving is in Boston, and Isaiah Thomas is on the bench.

Year 15 may very well end with James getting MVP number five.

stocknochanges451. James Harden (Last Week: 1)

The only man standing between James and his fifth MVP is the man who’s setting the league on fire trying to get his first.

James Harden is recreating his stellar season from a year ag but improving it, somehow. Harden’s averages are incredible: 32 points, 9.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 40 percent from downtown, and a 31.6 player efficiency rating.

Not to mention he’s led the Houston Rockets to a 21-4 record, and looks to be a real threat at knocking off the Golden State Warriors.

What Harden is doing on the defensive end is what is brining his game, and his MVP case, to the next level. Harden is posting his lowest defensive rating is four years and coming up big on D in crunch time situations.

On Monday night against the Pelicans, Harden came up with a clutch steal with under a minute to go (his sixth of the night) to extinguish a New Orleans rally and put the icing on his 26-point, 17-assist performance.

LeBron may be having an MVP season, even by his standards, but Harden’s performance this year thus far is keeping the King at arms length of the MVP crown.

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NBA DAILY: What Is Really Wrong With The Thunder?

The Thunder continue to struggle to string together wins. What’s the problem in OKC?

Steve Kyler



At Some Point It Just Doesn’t Work

The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to be middling, despite having the star level talent it takes in the NBA to be exceptional. With the clock ticking in the wrong direction, is it more likely that this combination of players won’t work, or is there something bigger at play worth considering?

Before we dive too far into this, keep in mind the Thunder have played their 26th game, and are just a half a game out of the eighth spot in the West. Equally, they are also three and a half games behind the fourth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, so the sky is far from falling. In fact, they have won four of their last six games, including wins over the Spurs and Timberwolves, which only makes the Jekyll and Hyde of all of this even more frustrating.

All of that said, what’s really wrong with the Thunder? Here are some thoughts:

Not Enough Touches

The Oklahoma City Thunder are dead last in the NBA in touches per game as a team at 384. To contrast that number, the Philadelphia 76ers lead the league in touches at 480.9 touches per game.

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook accounts for 94.4 touches per game, while forward Carmelo Anthony accounts for 61.3 touches with swingman Paul George bringing in 56.0 touched per game. Those three players account for 211.7 of the Thunders 384 touches per game.

That’s not as bad as you would think watching the Thunder play, but what it does illustrate is that neither Anthony or Paul are getting the volume of touches both are used to getting before joining the Thunder. It’s also why neither seems to be able to get into a rhythm on a game to game bases. They have had their moments individually, but it been far from consistent.

It’s more than fair to say that the Thunder offense isn’t generating enough touches to maximize what George and Anthony bring to the table. When the Miami HEAT brought their “Big Three” together, one of the biggest challenges they faced was how to generate the touches to get all their guys in a rhythm and rolling.

That seems to be the biggest part of the problem with the Thunder.

Russ Has To Be Russ

When you look at the Thunder’s “convincing wins” those wins in which they look like an elite team in the NBA, Russell Westbrook plays like last year’s MVP.

The problem for the Thunder is it seems Russell is trying to get other players, specifically Anthony, often to the detriment of his team and his own game. When Westbrook puts his head down and plays his game, the Thunder tend to come out on top.

Westbrook never seemed to have this problem playing with Kevin Durant, and maybe that’s why Durant opted to leave, but Westbrook seems to be trying too hard to get others going.

Where’d Offense Go?

The Thunder continue to talk about how good they are defensively, and that’s a real thing. They are currently the ranked second in the NBA’s defensive rating category. They rank second in point allowed per 100 possessions at 103, just behind league leader Boston at 101.6 points per 100 possessions.

There is no doubt their defense is keeping them in games, but what’s killing them is the long stretches of sub-par offense, many times in the fourth quarter where their offense comes to a grinding halt.

Some have suggested that head coach Billy Donovan simply isn’t creative enough for the construct of this roster. Looking at the stats this far into the season, there may be something to the idea that the Thunder, offensively, just are not creative enough to maximize the potential of their star players.

It’s Not A Selfish Problem

The easy answer on the Thunder is to say they are simply selfish players. There is enough historical evidence on Anthony and Westbrook to support the idea, however, if you really look at the Thunders’ games, it’s actually the opposite. Westbrook likely isn’t selfish enough; it’s likely why he’s struggling from the field on the season.

Part of the offensive problem may be Westbrook’s shooting. His averages this season is markedly down from a year ago—39.6 percent this season from the field versus 42.5 percent last season. Westbrook is also 31.1 percent from three this year versus 34.3 percent from three last season.

But Westbrook is not alone, George is tying his second worst season from the field at 41.8 percent shooting. Anthony is having his worst year as a pro from the field at 40.4 percent.

All three are producing some of their lowest efficiency ratings of their careers, so it’s not just one guy doing so much more than the other. None of them are playing particularly well together.

It’s easy to look at the Thunder and label them one thing or the other; there are enough polarizing personalities on the roster to draw the labels. The truth of the matter is the Thunder just are not very good or efficient offensively, and until they find a way to make that part work, they will likely continue to be middling.

That’s going to make things fairly tough on the Thunder front office, because come the February 9th NBA Trade Deadline, the Thunder may have to cut bait on some players before they potentially lose them in free agency for nothing. The trade deadline is only about 60 days away, believe it or not.

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, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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