It’s been a full four days since the NBA trade deadline came and went, and many fans are still left wondering why certain moves that should have happened did not happen. While there wasn’t a lot of marquee shakeup outside of DeMarcus Cousins and Serge Ibaka, there was plenty of smoke for big trades that suggest bigger things that could be on tap this summer. Plenty of big names shopped at the deadline almost certainly will be shopped again once the Finals wrap up in June, meaning the groundwork for even more big trades this summer may already have been laid.
Here’s a look at a handful of trades that didn’t happen at the deadline but very well could happen this offseason:
Jimmy Butler to the Boston Celtics
There are some things we’ll never know, but it’s hard to believe that the Boston Celtics couldn’t have landed Butler or Paul George this past trade deadline had they really built promising packages around the 2017 Brooklyn Nets’ pick available, as rumored, but by the time June rolls around that pick could potentially be even more valuable once its actual draft slot has been revealed.
As it stands, the Nets have the worst record in the NBA with a nine-game cushion, meaning they will have the best odds of landing the first overall selection in this summer’s draft. Of course, due to the nature of the lottery, that pick could be as low as fourth, which alters its value considerably. That’s the difference between having your pick between Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith and Josh Jackson, or simply taking whomever is left over.
If Chicago is going to trade Jimmy Butler and rebuild, they’re going to need a very good player to use as the centerpiece of that rebuild. Fultz or Ball would clearly qualify, and a couple of other Boston rotational players could go even further to change Chicago’s mind. Jae Crowder feels like an inevitable inclusion, and there are other players like Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and/or Terry Rozier that could appeal to the Bulls, as well.
The finished trade would have to be something built around that pick and a handful of other serviceable young-ish players. DeMarcus Cousins clearance-rack trades don’t happen for All-Stars without the reputation for being surly. Boston didn’t pull the trigger because they didn’t like the value that was out there for them, but superstars typically aren’t bargain buys. Boston is going to have to pony up if they want to land their big fish.
Paul George to the L.A. Lakers
The Celtics also could make another run at Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George for a similar package, but one of the most interesting rumors to spill forth from this year’s trade deadline was that George is itching for an opportunity to play for the Lakers, particularly if the Pacers are unable to build a contender around him in Indy.
The Pacers only are guaranteed one more full season out of George, as he possesses a player option in the summer of 2018, so if Larry Bird is feeling as though he’ll lose his franchise cornerstone on the free agency market, he could decide to preemptively trade him to the place he wants to be.
It’s not as though L.A. doesn’t have the assets to generate an interesting offer for George. Bird’s rivalry with Magic Johnson is well-established and well-recorded, so negotiations likely would be fairly intense, but L.A has the youth to put together something intriguing. Starting with D’Angelo Russell or Brandon Ingram would be a great place to start, with sweeteners like Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle at least keeping the Indiana front office at the table. The Lakers have a history of playing fast and loose with first-round draft picks, but George could require one of those, too.
This offer may not be as desirable as the one that Boston could make, but if Danny Ainge acquires Butler or simply refuses to deal that Brooklyn pick, L.A.’s offer could conceivably be one of the better ones on the table, especially considering other teams wouldn’t necessarily be guaranteed that George wouldn’t just leave them the following summer for the Lakers, anyway.
Los Angeles can be patient, save their assets, and just try to sign him outright in 2018, but the quicker, more guaranteed path would be making a deal for him, which they almost certainly will try to do once again this summer.
Denver Nuggets Consolidation Trade
The Nuggets have a ton of talented guys under contract next season. Kenneth Faried, Emmanuel Mudiay, Wilson Chandler, Mason Plumlee, Nikola Jokic, Will Barton, Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Jamal Murray and Wilson Chandler all will be under contract. Danillo Gallinari has a $16.1 million player option, and Darrell Arthur’s $7.5 million and Jameer Nelson’s $4.7 million deals are on the books for next season, as well. They’ve got the players, the cap-filling contracts and the draft picks to make some sort of consolidation trade.
Frankly, there’s little reason that Denver also shouldn’t go after Butler and George, if only because they could put together one of the more attractive packages in the league. Jokic is a burgeoning star, but he needs another stud to help him with the scoring load. Some of these pieces could get it done.
Jokic’s need for a running mate aside, there’s too much young talent in Denver and not enough minutes to go around to develop that talent. Even the kids with big potential won’t get the run they need to thrive on a roster so loaded. Something’s gotta give in Denver this summer, and it seems probable that something will. If nothing else, consolidating some of those players frees up those minutes. Adding some talent in the process only makes it better.
Minnesota Clears the Way for Dunn, Jones
There will be no Ricky Rubio trade for Derrick Rose. That particular flower has wilted with Rose headed for free agency, but that doesn’t mean Tom Thibodeau won’t explore other landing spots for his starting point guard. With two years and just under $30 million left on his deal, Rubio is good enough and expensive enough to play Minnesota’s two talented rookie point guards out of the minutes they need to take the next step. Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones both have shown how good they are, but they’re never going to live up to their full potential until Rubio has been shipped off and all his minutes have opened up for the kids.
There aren’t any obvious suitors at the moment, but they’ll arise once free agency settles and teams without point guards look to the trade market to fill those holes. Rubio’s contract is fair in the new CBA, especially considering he dishes and defends incredibly well.
Unfortunately, the Timberwolves just don’t need him anymore, but there are likely to be plenty of teams interested before the summer is over. Thibs will have a move to make if he wants to make one.
Philadelphia Lowers Asking Price for Okafor
Jahlil Okafor still could be a very good pro, but it probably isn’t going to happen for him in Philadelphia. On the one hand, the trade of Nerlens Noel opened up some minutes in Philadelphia’s frontcourt, but Okafor still plays the same position as the franchise’s only untradeable player in Joel Embiid, except he doesn’t defend or rebound anywhere near as well.
Okafor is an incredibly polished offensive post player, and some team is certain to make better use of him than his current team has. He reportedly wasn’t moved at the deadline because the asking price was too high, but it’s hard to demand a king’s ransom for a player the team doesn’t play and clearly doesn’t value. Eventually, Philly’s asking price will come down, Brett Brown will turn the frontcourt minutes over to Embiid, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons, and Okafor will move on to greener pastures.
Whoever gets him is staring at a bargain. He may never be an All-Star, but he’s still an incredible talent with better days ahead.
This year’s trade deadline reminded us how thrilling a big trade can be, and for those who like such things, even bigger deals could be on the way. Trading season is done for the spring, but by the time the draft rolls around, expect all of this to start bubbling once again.
NBA Daily: Is Stephen Curry the MVP?
Given the prolific season Stephen Curry is having, despite the Golden State Warriors being ninth in the Western Conference, does his impact make him the Most Valuable Player in the NBA this season?
In the aftermath of Klay Thompson suffering an Achilles tear that ended his season before it began, no one would have blamed Stephen Curry for prioritizing his preservation through the 2020-21 campaign.
Instead, despite the Golden State Warriors lacking the necessary talent to become a title contender, Curry’s doing everything in his power to get them into the playoffs.
The two-time league MVP is on pace to win the scoring title for the second time in his career. In a recent road loss against the Boston Celtics, Curry put up 47 points, becoming the second player in Warriors history to score 30 or more points in 10-straight games, joining Wilt Chamberlain.
In his last 11 contests, Curry’s averaging 40 points on shooting splits that aren’t supposed to be possible at the game’s highest level. Even though he’s hoisting 14.3 attempts from beyond the arc per game, he’s making them at a 49.7 percent clip. He’s taking 23.4 shots from the field but still seeing the ball go through the hoop 54.1 percent of the time.
The context of how Curry’s producing those prodigious numbers makes them even more impressive. He is the only scoring threat on Golden State who defenses need to concern themselves with — stop Curry, win the game; it’s that simple, at least in theory it is.
Another layer of what makes Curry’s prolific scoring so impressive is the energy he’s exerting to do so. According to NBA.com’s tracking data, Curry’s running 1.43 miles per game on offense, which is the sixth-most league-wide. And what that figure doesn’t fully capture is that while Curry has a lightning-quick release and is masterful at creating the sliver of daylight he needs to get his shot off, it takes a significant amount of energy to do that once, let alone throughout a game.
Even though Curry’s already the greatest shooter of all time, he’s taken the most lethal part of his game to new heights. From 2015 when the Warriors won their first NBA championship to 2019, a stretch in which they reached the finals every year, step-back threes accounted for just eight percent of Curry’s shooting profile from beyond the arc. But this season, Curry knew it would be more challenging to create shots for himself, which is why he’s doubled that figure to 16 percent and he’s knocking down 51.5 percent of his step-back threes, per NBA.com.
Curry’s also putting more pressure on opponents from further away from the hoop than he has in years past. According to NBA.com, from 2015 through 2019, five percent of his threes came from 30 to 40 feet. This season, shots from that distance account for 10 percent of his three-point attempts. Just like when defenses double team him out of a pick-and-roll, Curry forcing teams to defend him from further out is another way for him to create 4-3 opportunities for his teammates.
After that loss against the Celtics, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Curry’s “at the peak of his powers.” Though he’s not just putting his talents towards individual production, he is the primary reason Golden State’s firmly in the play-in tournament. The Warriors currently reside ninth in the Western Conference. They’re one game behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and two back of the seventh-ranked Dallas Mavericks.
As impressive an individual season as Curry’s having and as vital as he’s been to his team’s success this season, the reality is the Warriors haven’t won at a high enough level for him to win Most Valuable Player honors for the third time in his career. Currently, Nikola Jokic is the leading MVP candidate. While it’s fair to point out the Denver Nuggets aren’t even in the top three in the Western Conference, Jokic ranks first in player efficiency rating, win shares, box plus/minus and value over replacement player. He’s averaging 26.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
If Jokic misses enough of Denver’s remaining games, someone could usurp him for the right to win MVP. In that scenario, Curry would have a chance to become the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for a third time, but he’d have to sway voters from giving it to Joel Embiid. Embiid’s in the midst of a career season, ranking second in player efficiency rating, eighth in win shares and fourth in box plus/minus. He’s averaging 29.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while leading the Philadelphia 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Curry ranks sixth in player efficiency rating, seventh in win shares and is second in both box plus/minus and value over replacement player. He has a case for MVP, but Jokic and Embiid are capping off career seasons while leading their respective teams to a higher level of success. Yes, their teams are more talented and there probably isn’t enough weight put on how valuable an individual is to his team, but the reality is the MVP typically goes to the best player on a top team. Furthermore, that argument also applies to Jokic, who’s the lone All-Star on a team with a better record.
Not naming Curry this season’s Most Valuable Player doesn’t mean his prolific production isn’t appreciated. Nor should it get taken as a sign elevating his team, somehow finding ways to become a more dangerous shooter and investing as much energy as he has into a season that won’t end with a championship isn’t garnering respect from the NBA community. That includes fans whose favorite team doesn’t reside in the Bay Area.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Path Back to the NBA Finals
In the wake of Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Bobby Krivitsky examines the Los Angeles Lakers’ path back to the NBA Finals.
It’s been 15 games since a high ankle sprain sidelined LeBron James.
With the Western Conference standings congested and Anthony Davis already out due to a right calf strain and a re-aggravation of his right Achilles tendinosis, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the threat of a fall that would require their participation in the play-in tournament.
However, the Lakers have fought admirably in the absence of their two stars, going seven and eight. As a result, their fall in the standings has been painless, going from third at the time of James’ injury to now occupying fifth place in the West.
The primary reason the Lakers have been able to tread water without their two stars is they’ve remained stingy on defense. Since James’ injury, they have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. That’s despite facing four teams who rank in the top five in offensive rating and six of the categories’ top-10 members.
Right now, the Lakers are 2.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, with a 4.5-game cushion between them and the Dallas Mavericks, who are seventh in the conference. That should be a large enough gap to keep Los Angeles out of the play-in tournament, but the two teams are going to converge for a two-game series starting Thursday. For the Lakers, getting swept would re-open the possibility of having to compete in the play-in tournament.
Fortunately for them, even splitting that series would make it unlikely the Mavericks finish ahead of the Lakers in the standings. And help might be on the way for the Lakers: Davis may soon rejoin the lineup, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meaning there’s a distinct possibility he’s active for at least one of those two matchups. As for James, he’s on track to return in three weeks.
While Los Angeles’ stars are getting closer to making their returns, the Denver Nuggets got dealt a more severe blow when Jamal Murray tore his ACL in a recent game against the Golden State Warriors. Denver is 10-2 since acquiring Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline and looked the part of a legitimate title contender prior to Murray’s injury.
Denver is fourth in the West, 1.5 games ahead of Los Angeles. But even if the Nuggets have home-court advantage, they’re the preferable opening-round opponent, not just for Los Angeles, but any team with a legitimate chance at the fourth or fifth seed.
Fortunately for the Lakers, that’s the place in the Western Conference pecking order where they’re most likely to finish this season. So long as the Nuggets don’t freefall in Murray’s absence, Los Angeles will likely start the playoffs against an opponent that’s gone from having the potential to present the greatest challenge to the defending champions’ quest to get back to the Finals to becoming a desirable first-round matchup.
After that, the Lakers may have to get past the Utah Jazz and or the Los Angeles Clippers to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. The former has the best record in the league this season, but locking horns with the defending champions in a best of seven series is a far more challenging and potentially rewarding proving ground.
The Jazz have a deep, reliable rotation, they have the best net rating in the NBA, they’re in the top five in points for and against per 100 possessions, and they’re attempting the most threes per game, but also rank in the top five in three-point shooting percentage. However, the Lakers would have the two best players in a series against Utah. Usually, an opponent doesn’t overcome that disadvantage.
As for the Clippers, Rajon Rondo has quickly proven to be an impactful acquisition. Los Angeles is seven and one with him in the lineup, generating the highest net rating in the league during that span. Last season, the Lakers saw first-hand how impactful playoff Rondo can be. Now, the Clippers are hoping he can bring structure to their offense, something they sorely lacked last postseason and was at the forefront of them blowing a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Doing so would go a long way towards maximizing the production of a team that has the talent to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in franchise history.
If this is the year the battle of LA takes place in the postseason, it figures to be a slugfest. Still, the Clippers have their doubters after last year’s meltdown in the playoffs. There’s also a large contingency who are skeptical about how far the Jazz can go in the postseason, given their lack of a top-tier superstar. Despite the validity of those concerns, both teams can beat the Lakers in a best of seven series. That no longer appears to be the case for the Nuggets, which is a shame for them and people who want to see the best possible matchups in the playoffs. But Murray’s injury, as unfortunate an occurrence as it is, makes it easier for the Lakers to get through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference and have a chance to claim an 18th championship, which would break their tie with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history.
NBA AM: The Play-In Game – West
With the season winding down, Ariel Pacheco takes a look at how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Western Conference.
With the regular season’s end in sight, teams are making their last push to make the playoffs in what has been a condensed season. But the new play-in tournament is providing more teams than ever a chance at a coveted playoff spot.
Here is what the new play-in tournament will look like: Teams that finish with the Nos 7 and 8 seeds will face off against each other. The winner of this game will be No. 7. The Nos. 9 and 10 seeds will also play and the winner will play the loser of the first game. The winner of this game will be the No. 8 seed.
The play-in tournament provides intrigue and adds pressure on teams in both conferences to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in altogether. The Western Conference, in particular, is shaping up to have a rather exciting finish. There are a number of teams who could find themselves fighting for their playoff lives in this year’s tournament – all below in tiers.
Teams Likely To Avoid Play-In
Portland Trail Blazers (32-24)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 11
The Trail Blazers are currently the sixth seed in the West meaning, for now, they are safe from the play-in tournament. However, they are just two games above the Mavericks from possibly dropping down a place. They’re the team most likely to secure that sixth seed because they have more talent than the teams below them – hello, Dame – and they also have an elite offense. However, the defensive concerns are very real and if they were to slip, it would likely be because of their struggles on that side of the ball.
Likely Play-In Teams
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 5
Games Against West: 8
On paper, the Mavs have a really easy schedule as the season winds down. They have just five games against teams over .500 and two against the Los Angeles Lakers, who may be without their two stars for those games. However, they are just 10-12 this season against sub .500 teams and are coming off a disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings. There’s still a pretty good chance they get the sixth seed and avoid the play-in, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see them in it as well.
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 7
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 12
The Grizzlies are often overlooked, but they are about as well-coached as any other team in the NBA. It is likely they will be in the play-in game, but don’t be surprised if they are able to sneak into the sixth seed. They lost last year’s play-in game in the Bubble to the Blazers, so they do have experience in this type of setting. They may be getting Jaren Jackson Jr. back soon which should help.
Golden State Warriors
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 6
Games Against West: 13
The Warriors are getting just other-worldly performances from Stephen Curry on an almost nightly basis at this point. However, they continue to struggle to win games, in large part due to the struggles when he sits on the bench. Their schedule is pretty light to close the season, which bolsters their chances. The talent on this team isn’t great, but Curry’s play should be enough to get them in the play-in tournament.
San Antonio Spurs
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 7
The Spurs have struggled of late, especially after the All-Star break. Their defense has dropped off badly, but if there’s any reason to be positive, it’s that they are still coached by Gregg Popovich and their young guys continue to show improvement. They have been really good on the road this season and a majority of their games are on the road. It won’t be easy, but the Spurs should find themselves in the play-in tournament.
Outside Looking In
New Orleans Pelicans
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 9
Games Against West: 11
The Pelicans have been hit with the injury bug of late, but their inconsistent play this season continues to be a huge problem. Their defense continues to bleed three-pointers and while point Zion Williamson has worked, there just isn’t enough shooting to maximize him just yet. It seems unlikely the Pelicans make a late-season run to the play-in game.
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 14
The Kings are the least likely team to make the play-in tournament. Their defense is still problematic and they just recently ended their 9-game losing streak. It’ll take a huge late-season push and the Kings just haven’t shown that they are capable of putting it all together for a long enough stretch.
The play-in tournament adds a new layer of competition that will bring excitement at the end of the season. Be sure to check out how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Eastern Conference.
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