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NBA AM: Soon-To-Be Free Agents Who May Be Dealt

Oliver Maroney looks at some 2017 NBA free agents who could be traded prior to February.

Oliver Maroney

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The 2016 NBA free agency class has dominated headlines this month, and understandably so. However, with most of the marquee players off the market, let’s shift gears and look forward a bit.

Today, we’re going to focus on some players who can hit free agency in 2017 and, as a result, may surface in trade rumors between now and February’s deadline. Some of these names have already popped up in the rumor mill, and it’s only a matter of time until the others do too.

Without further ado, here’s a look at some free agents-to-be worth watching:

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder, 2017 Unrestricted Free Agent:  With Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder this month, all eyes are on Westbrook to see if he’ll ask for a trade or part ways with the organization when given the chance next summer. He can bolt as an unrestricted free agent in July of 2017, so don’t be surprised plenty of teams are calling Thunder general manager Sam Presti in hopes of prying Westbrook away from Oklahoma City.

Westbrook is a perennial All-Star and certainly a hot commodity as one of the best point guards on the planet. His athleticism, improved shooting and ability to make plays for others make him a truly remarkable floor general. He has a great competitive spirit and energy, which is evident when he’s on the floor. This fire and passion has made him something of a fan favorite and his attitude seems contagious among his teammates as well.

Sometimes, Westbrook makes mistakes and tries to do too much by himself, but that’s part of his personality on the court and he has tried to limit those reckless, one-on-one attacks.

Oklahoma City is going younger by acquiring Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Alex Abrines this summer and holding onto Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Cameron Payne, Andre Roberson and Mitch McGary. All eight of those players are 24 years old or younger. Westbrook may not want to wait around if the team has to rebuild. Last season, the 27-year-old averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists, 7.8 rebounds and two steals, while finishing fourth in Most Valuable Player voting.

If he wants to contend for a championship now, which would make perfect sense, he could ask for a trade. If Westbrook is made available, plenty of potential suitors will emerge. However, keep in mind that like all of the soon-to-be unrestricted players on this list, Westbrook has some say in where he may land since he can tell teams that he won’t commit to a long-term deal with certain teams if they trade for him. This is essentially how Carmelo Anthony forced his way to New York a few years back, and Westbrook could do the same if he has a certain destination in mind – so long as he was comfortable with forcing his incoming team to surrender assets for him the way the Knicks did for Melo, something many point to as a limiting factor in the team’s success after the trade.

Or, he could stay in OKC. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the nightly triple-double threat, but he’s certainly a name to watch.

Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers, 2017 Early Termination Clause: The former slam dunk champion has been terrific throughout his career. Griffin is a high value commodity to the Clippers and the league as a whole, but because of his injury history and an off-court incident last season, it may be hard to persuade a team to shell out a couple of high draft picks and additional assets for him. Obviously, when Blake is healthy, he’s one of the most dominant power forwards in the league and is still relatively young in NBA years at just 27 years old. But the off-court incident in which a punch was thrown at a member of the organization, along with his health, are major concerns for other teams who come calling.

Since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2011, Griffin has vastly improved his game. Once a player who had a lousy mid-range game, he now has a reliable jumper – proving to many that he’s more than just a “dunker.” His court vision, off-ball movement, ability to get up and down the floor and his post moves allow him to be a good fit in almost any system because of his versatility and size.

Playing only 35 games last season, he still managed to average 21.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists while shooting over 49 percent from the field.

It’s very unlikely that a Griffin deal happens before the start of the season, but the Clippers will have to consider it if the team struggles or if the right offer presents itself. Oklahoma City is a team hoping to get Griffin since he’s from the area. And keep an eye on the Boston Celtics, who have been rumored to be in the mix and have a ton of assets.

The jury is out on whether Griffin will still be the same after his injuries last season, but if he’s close to what he was, expect the Clippers to try and increase his value. They could wait until the trade deadline, when a team that is underachieving feels they need to make a change.

Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz, Early Termination Option 2017: Hayward has an early opt-out as well and can become a free agent next year. An extremely undervalued player, Hayward has been effective with the Jazz by becoming a constant on a team that’s been on the brink of the playoffs for three to four seasons. His ability to hit three-point and mid-range shots, drive to the hoop and move off the ball is extremely valuable and versatile for any team in the league. Sometimes his movement laterally and positional instincts can be questioned, specifically on defense, but other than that Hayward is an incredibly gifted basketball player.

The Jazz are on the up-and-coming path and have been for a few seasons. With injuries riddling them last year, they hope to get back to the playoff pursuit with new signings like Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw and George Hill.

Playing 80 games this season, Hayward averaged 19.7 points, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals and five rebounds per game on 49 percent effective field goal shooting. Keep in mind, this was without key players like Rudy Gobert, Dante Exum and Derrick Favors, who suffered from staggered injuries throughout the year (a combined 92 games missed between Gobert, Favors, and Burks, plus Exum out for the season).

A natural pairing for Hayward is Boston and coach Brad Stevens, Hayward’s former mentor at Butler University. Will that play any part in a potential trade to, say the Celtics? Although an interesting thought and idea, it’s questionable whether the Celtics would part ways with enough pieces for the Jazz to pull the trigger. On the other side of the coin, the Celtics really don’t have a need for another small forward unless they send Jae Crowder in a potential deal.

Rumors have already flown about Hayward and have been categorically shot down by both his camp and multiple local beat writers, and all signs point to him remaining with this Jazz team based on his personality and how he fits in Utah. He’s been one of the most consistent and proven commodities in the league for the past five seasons, and with Utah’s injury battles, he’s also been the most reliable as far as health is concerned.

Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings, Player Option 2017:

Gay has stated multiple times that he wants out of the Kings organization, but it’s finding a likely trade partner to make a deal happen that becomes the problem.

The 29-year-old is still a good player and had a productive season with a below-average Kings team, averaging 17.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. Those would be his lowest totals since the 2012-13 season and before then since his rookie year. Staying relatively healthy the past couple seasons, only missing 26 games over two years, Gay has proven he can be a good defender and efficient scorer. His three-point shooting has been sub-par at around 34 percent his entire career, which is certainly a downside for a team in need of a “3-and-D” player, but he makes up for his inefficient three-point shooting with his size and ability to rebound.

Gay has been shopped a lot in his career, from team to team and city to city. The situation in Sacramento has long been tumultuous at best, and while it may be getting better, it’s hard to blame Gay for wanting out. He’s gone through three seasons in Sacramento (two separate stints) in which the team has gone a combined 91-155, which won’t get you near the playoffs when you’re in the Western Conference.

When players begin to reach their late 20s and early 30s, like Gay, it seems as though they want realize what they want – and it certainly feels as though Rudy wants to be on a playoff team. Teams like Miami, Cleveland, Boston, L.A. Clippers, Dallas, and Toronto seem like reasonable destinations, but it’ll be interesting to see what teams will have to give up to get him. Because Gay has spoken out about wanting to be traded, Sacramento is in a difficult spot because teams know he doesn’t want to be with the Kings. Essentially, teams know the Kings will have to trade him, or else they’ll lose him for nothing after this season.

Greg Monroe, Milwaukee Bucks, Player Option 2017:

Another player with a ton of question marks surrounding him,it seems like Monroe has been involved in many trade rumors with teams looking for a big man over the last six months. Toronto, Portland, New York and several other teams have been subject to rumors, but no one seems to be giving Milwaukee what they’re looking for. After re-signing Miles Plumlee, getting Mirza Teletovic in free agency, drafting promising big man Thon Maker and returning a healthy Jabari Parker, the frontcourt in Milwaukee seems to be filling up without Monroe in the fold.

After averaging his lowest minute total since his rookie season (29.3 minutes per game), Monroe fell out of place within Jason Kidd’s Bucks rotation late last season on multiple occasions. The former Pistons player has always been questioned because of his lack of mobility and inability to stretch the floor, which may be the reason for his minutes decrease over his first season in Milwaukee.

The NBA is moving toward a faster, quicker pace, meaning Monroe can only fit in so many schemes. With the additions they’ve made, Monroe is now just checking a box that isn’t there for him, and the Bucks have to find a way to get some assets for him before he bolts in free agency.

Monroe’s salary is significant, and getting a team to take that deal may be more difficult than originally thought. At over $17 million per season, he’s making more than most on the Bucks’ roster and playing a smaller role than many. It has yet to be seen whether Monroe is happy in Milwaukee, but the writing must be on the wall based on the acquisitions and moves they’ve made this offseason.

Averaging 15.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists, Monroe terrorizes the low post but has had some difficulty with his one-on-one defense and lateral mobility. A double-double machine, Monroe can offer a lot to a team looking for someone to dominate the paint, but do they want him to slow their offense down and create a new scheme around him? It all depends on where he ends up.

Oliver Maroney is an NBA writer for Basketball Insiders. He is based in Portland and covers the league as a whole.

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NBA

Deep Bench Stays Ready for the Pelicans

Though out of the rotation, DeAndre Liggins and Jordan Crawford are staying ready to step up and contribute for New Orleans, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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As DeAndre Liggins is standing by his locker talking about what his next move might be in terms of free agency, he gets a ringing endorsement from the New Orleans Pelicans’ franchise guy, Anthony Davis.

“He ain’t going nowhere,” Davis shouts from across the locker room. “He ain’t going nowhere.”

Liggins pauses for a moment, lets out a laugh and then turns back.

“I don’t know, I’ll have to talk to Dell [Demps],” Liggins told Basketball Insiders with a grin.

With the NBA playoffs in full swing, there are always those guys on the fringe — players who may not always know when they’ll have a chance to get into a game. It can be tough sitting on the bench and watching the rest of the team partake in the postseason.

For players like Liggins, however, they’re just as much a part of the team as the guys in the rotation. They do bring value to the team. And they patiently await their turn, however long that may take. Even if he doesn’t get to play in an actual playoff game, Liggins believes he understands the atmosphere.

“It started off in Orlando, a playoff team. OKC was a playoff team. I’ve been in the playoffs twice,” Liggins told Basketball Insiders. “I haven’t experienced playing minutes, but I know what the feeling is like, I know what the vibe is like. It’ll be great going into the playoffs, we’ll be ready.”

Liggins has never spent more than one season with any team. He’s spent the past seven years shuffling between the Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami HEAT, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks and now New Orleans.

He had a bit of a breakthrough with Cleveland where he emerged as one of the better perimeter defenders on the team. He started 19 games for the Cavaliers last season and shot 37.8 percent from the three-point line. It’s been that 3 and D calling card that’s allowed him to latch on from team to team despite never really playing major minutes.

“Just bringing that defensive energy. I do all the little things like take charges, all the intangibles,” Liggins told Basketball Insiders. “I was the same way at Kentucky. You got to stick to what you know, what you do, and play a role. Especially when you’re in the league and being on this type of team.”

Liggins has a non-guaranteed contract for next season. It’s too early to know what the Pelicans front office will decide to do. He isn’t focused on that right now though. Right now, the focus is helping New Orleans make a deep playoff run even if he isn’t on the court that much.

He joined the Pelicans around mid-season after being cut by the Bucks. Although he hasn’t been on the team for very long, he’s already noticed the competitiveness and togetherness of this group. They rallied around each other following the season ending injury to DeMarcus Cousins.

“We just clicked and gelled when [Cousins] went down,” Liggins told Basketball Insiders. “I think we lost three or four in a row then after that we just started changing the way we play.”

Aside from Liggins, the Pelicans also feature Jordan Crawford who is in a similar situation right now. Their career beginnings may be a bit different, Crawford was a regular rotation player for playoff teams in the past, but as playoff rotations have tightened up, Crawford has also found himself on the outside looking in.

He was on the Pelicans roster to begin the season but was cut in favor of Jameer Nelson when an injury to Rajon Rondo precipitated the need for point guard help. He had been a key player in the rotation but upon his return near the end of the season, he found himself mostly glued to the bench.

Crawford initially was a bench scorer for the Pelicans, capable of getting hot quickly and putting up a flurry of points on the board. He was nicknamed ‘Instant Grits’ by Cousins due to his penchant for scoring. He’s a little bit unsure though of what he’s going to be asked to do this time around.

“I have no clue. I’m going to try to find out,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “I’m going to work my way through, do what I got to do to make the coaches happy and stuff like that. But I don’t know my role yet.”

When Crawford signed with the Pelicans earlier this month, his contract was only for the duration of the regular season and playoffs. He too will be entering free agency this summer, and due to his lack of postseason playing time, he might have to rely on past performances to secure that next contract.

He also isn’t too concerned about that right now. While he is anticipating the summertime, he’s just thrilled to be back with a familiar team, even if the playing time is scarce right now.

“I’m looking forward to the summer, definitely looking forward to the offseason,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “I’m happy I accomplished getting back on the team for the season. That’s good right now, I’m satisfied with that for right now.”

Although he was cut despite having initially carved out an important role on the team, Crawford always remained positive and believed things would eventually fall into place. He wasn’t sure if that place would be New Orleans, but he’s glad that it was them who came calling once again.

“I didn’t think I’d be back here. They did stay kind of connected with me, talked to me,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “I did have a good time while I was here, so it wasn’t no bad attitude, hard feelings or nothing. It always could’ve worked and by not having a bad attitude it allowed it to work again. It’s been a blessing.”

They stayed in contact with him and made him feel like a part of the team again. And for players like Crawford and Liggins, players who may not know who their next contract is coming from or when their next minute on the court might be, sometimes that makes all the difference

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 4/24/18

The deadline for early entry into the 2018 NBA Draft has passed, so Basketball Insiders Publisher Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft.

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The Deadline for early entry into the 2018 NBA Draft was April 22, however, the NBA hasn’t yet released the full list of eligible players. There appear to be more than 153 underclassmen that have declared to “test the waters” according to reports. By way of comparison, last year there were 137 players from college and an additional 45 from international basketball that declared early, with 73 of those players pulling out after going through the process.

The 2018 Draft class could be shaping up to be one of the biggest, especially when you consider the volume of highly draftable seniors.

There are still some dates to keep in mind:

The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago on May 15. The annual NBA Draft Combine will get underway on May 16, also in Chicago. In any given draft year, roughly 70 percent of players invited to the Combine end up being drafted into the NBA, so a Combine invite is a significant draft milestone.

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college, however, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

Here is this week’s 2018 NBA Mock Draft, based on the final pre-draft lottery draft order:

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. Based on the final regular-season standings should convey to Philadelphia if the draft lottery holds true to the standings.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four protected and would convey if the draft lottery holds true to the standings.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the final NBA standings.

The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick was lottery protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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NBA Daily: Trail Blazers Come Up Short and Now Search For Answers

The Portland Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the Playoffs and now face tough questions, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The playoffs have been a wild ride so far. On Sunday, all three Eastern Conference playoff games were exciting matches that featured star players stepping up in the clutch. As a result, each series is tied up, two games each. The other game of the day featured the San Antonio Spurs, who stayed in control and never once allowed the Golden State Warriors to take the lead. The Spurs managed to get a win against the defending champs despite missing their best player and now their head coach indefinitely.

For the Portland Trail Blazers, there was no such Game 4 turnaround. In fact, with the Spurs win, the Trail Blazers have the lamentable distinction of being the only team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs. This is just one way to describe how disappointing and surprising this playoff series loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was for Portland. Many NBA observers and Pelicans fans were quick to point out that every ESPN NBA personality chose the Trail Blazers to win the series, as did select writers of the Basketball Insiders team.

The Trail Blazers’ players and front office also made it clear how surprised they were at the result. Forward Evan Turner shared his surprise.

“Obviously finishing so quickly wasn’t definitely the plan and to a certain extent it was shocking,” Turner said.

General Manager Neil Olshey chimed in as well.

“Nobody expected [the playoff sweep] to happen. It did. We had our chances in Game 1, we had our chances in Game 2. Clearly Game 3 was a setback,” Olshey stated when describing his surprise at how the series ended. “Stunned, I think disappointed.”

Credit should be given to the Pelicans and their ability to fully harness their talent and impose their will in the series. Turner was effusive in praising the talent and ability of the Pelicans.

“Unlocked Jrue is pretty dangerous and we all see how Rondo plays. He’s a homerun hitter but he is always solid. He can mess around. He’ll get two or three triple doubles. Anthony Davis is a problem,” Turner said.

When asked how he felt about the playoff exit, starting center Jusuf Nurkic stated that he is beyond disappointed.

“I mean, the way I finish the season, I feel shame. The way we have a season, like a team and group, and being in position to be third in the West, and finish like this, is not good,” Nurkic stated. “It’s not something you should be proud of, because all you do through the year, fight for playoff and to be in position to have a good postseason.”

Despite the early exit, many within the organization were quick to highlight that they continue to see the regular season in a positive light, including Head Coach Terry Stotts.

“I thought we had a very good regular season, I thought we had a very disappointing end of the season,” Stotts stated.

Damian Lillard shared a similar sentiment when reflecting on the season as a whole.

“I think I’ll always remember the way [the season] ended. But I won’t forget the kind of season we had. You can’t ignore the fact we won a division title in a division where there was some great teams,” Lillard stated. “We came out on top.”

Still, the success of the regular season makes the playoff result that much harder to grasp and deal with for some. Nurkic again didn’t hold back when comparing the success of the regular season with the team’s playoff failure.

“Very surprised,” Nurkic stated. “You definitely didn’t see the team who we are in the playoffs.”

Explaining why the Trail Blazers came up short against the Pelicans is no easy task. Clearly Portland’s attempt to feature its two premiere guards failed as the Pelicans were able to clamp down on Lillard and McCollum effectively in each game. Complicating matters further was the inability of the Trail Blazers to effectively utilize Nurkic on both ends of the court. However, there was at least some praise to be heaped on the backup bigs, Zach Collins and Ed Davis.

“I think Zach played really well for us,” Olshey stated. “He had an impact defensively.”

Also, Al-Farouq Aminu was able to do his part as an acceptable defensive option against Davis while spreading the floor with his outside shooting

Regardless, Turner shared his assessment that the team failed to have an adequate game plan for a scenario where their two best players are neutralized.

“One thing that may help, it’s no jabs or anything, but building the identity outside of our two strong scorers,” Turned stated. “[W]e sometimes go downhill when a team fully focuses on a lot of attention on our stars […] But I think we might need certain plays, certain structures that kind of prepare just in case that occurs.”

With their postseason concluded, the Trail Blazers are suddenly left trying to answer questions with no easy answers. Who, if anyone, is to blame for what happened? So far, many head coaches have been let go and unsurprisingly some speculation has turned toward Coach Stotts. Stotts, when asked, focused on the team and deflected any analysis of his performance.

“I’m not going to evaluate the job I did,” Stotts said.

Lillard, on the other hand, was effusive in his praise of his coach.

“Coach Stotts has done a great job from day one. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight,” Lillard said.

For now, there does not appear to be strong rumblings about Stotts. With the offseason just beginning for the team there is still time to reflect and assess what went wrong. Additionally, the team has to resolve what to do regarding its own free agents. No name looms larger than Nurkic, who despite his poor showing, represents one of the team’s top talents and expressed his guarded optimism regarding a return.

“I want to be here, it’s no secret,” Nurkic stated when asked if he wants an extension in Portland. “Yes, definitely.”

Nurkic ended the thought by stating, a bit ominously, that he did his part and a deal may or may not get worked out.

“My agent and people here are going to figure out the rest, or not,” Nurkic said.

Complicating the desire to retain Nurkic is the team’s financial situation as the team is currently over the cap and under obligation to center Meyers Leonard, who has struggled to stay in the rotation and is earning roughly $21.8 million over the next two years.

“It’s our job to be measured and not to overreact. [Because] when you overreact is when you make mistakes,” Olshey stated.

Lillard was quick to emphatically shut down the notion of splitting up him and McCollum when asked if that would be a good idea.

“I mean, I don’t agree with it. I think it’s that simple,” Lillard declared.

When asked what the team plans to do going forward, Olshey expressed optimism but tried again to pay credit to the season’s effort overall.

“We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade the roster as we always do but we also aren’t going to lose sight of the success throughout the course of the season,” Olshey said.

“I don’t have all the answers for you today,” Olshey surmised. “A lot of times you don’t know where your help is coming from.”

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