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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 Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision.

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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