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NBA AM: The Calm Before The Storm?

The NBA Trade Deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m. and things are starting to heat up on several fronts.

Steve Kyler

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The Calm Before The Storm?

The NBA trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m. EST and while there have been a few deals in advance of the cutoff, the bulk of the deals that will get done are starting to take shape now and will drop on Thursday.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind as this process plays out: Noise is not always an indicator of intent as yesterday’s Lou Williams trade to the Houston Rockets illustrated. Prior to that deal there was very little chatter about Williams even being on the Rockets radar let alone being a deal the Rockets could consummate.

Also, keep in mind, teams do try and hold the line until they get the best offer possible, some deals got lost in this process as Sacramento King’s General Manager Vlade Divac suggested when talking to the media about dealing DeMarcus Cousins, stating he had a better offer that vanished as he pondered his options.

Lastly, NBA teams don’t like uncertainty. Pending free agents and players with option years are tough to plan around. Teams tend to shy away from the unknown, especially if they have to part with real assets in a deal, unless the team is right there in terms of competing.

Here is some of the latest on a few teams as the deadline ticks closer:

HEAT Likely Buyers Not Sellers

The Miami HEAT liked this team a great deal, even when they were not winning. Now that the team turned the corner a little and is within striking distance of a playoff chair, the Miami is much more likely to be buyers at the deadline than sellers.

As one HEAT source pointed out recently, they are unwilling to tempt fate on the hope of a draft pick because, frankly, there are no guarantees with a draft pick — both in terms of the pick you can get with a bad record and more importantly the player you can select.

The HEAT as an organization value their culture, and their culture has been about winning and competing and they are simply unwilling to accept or endorse losing — mainly because it’s a hard culture to get out of your locker room once you allow it to creep in.

The other part for Miami is they like that this group is learning how to win on their own even if it means they miss the dance. The experience and confidence their young guys are gaining is more significant in their long-term plan than whatever they could sell off a player for. That’s not to say the HEAT wouldn’t look at a big offer if it really moved them forward, but that’s not something the HEAT expect to fall their way.

If the HEAT makes a deal (and it seems possible) it’s more likely to add a piece to the roster for a playoff push more so than any planning for the future — they are prepared to deal with that in June and July.

Cross Butler and George Off The List

The beauty of the NBA trade deadline is the speculation and chatter that leads up to it. It’s sort of like that moment before the roulette ball bounces into its resting place on a red, black or green number; there is a brief moment when anything seems possible.

The problem with the deadline is, like roulette, it very rarely delivers the big payoff.

Historically, star level players are not traded at the deadline. They are usually traded before the deadline much like we saw with DeMarcus Cousins. There have been a few big deals over the deadline’s history, but they are few and far between, which makes the talk of Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Indiana’s Paul George more like a roulette spin than a likely payoff.

In Chicago’s case, the narrative coming from the Bulls is that while they know that moving Butler likely makes sense for the future, no one wants to embrace that process — at least not at the deadline. There have been a few NBA teams linked to Butler recently, with the Boston Celtics being the loudest of the bunch. However, the talk from league sources is the Bulls and Celtics have not talked seriously about a Butler trade since the NBA Draft last June. That’s not to say a phone call today couldn’t start that process — it simply means that process has not started with so little time left on the proverbial clock.

The Bulls are believed to be open to trading almost anyone on the roster not named Butler, so that may be the likely outcome. The Bulls have two pending free agents in Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotić that seem to be headlining their talks and are viewed as far more likely to be moved than Butler.

In the case of Indiana forward Paul George, Pacers sources found the idea of trading George almost laughable and said it was not anything the team would consider. The Pacers have been looking for help in the trade market but a couple of teams said that beyond some of their roster players and draft picks, the Pacers were not engaging on players like George or even pending free agent Jeff Teague.

George is one of the players that will likely be eligible for the new Designated Veteran Extension this summer and the view from both sides of that equation is they’ll try to reach an extension deal this summer and that will be the turning point of the relationship. If the Pacers can’t get George extended, they likely look to move him in July.

There were some reports out of the All-Star break that have been taken somewhat out of context, suggesting that George declined an extension with the Pacers. However, those headlines neglected the quotes where George said his goal is to win a championship in Indiana.

Until that changes, George is not a name that’s available at the deadline.

Knicks Are Trying To Shake It Up

New York is trying to shake things up, with reports suggesting the Knicks would move guard Derrick Rose for almost anything at this point. The team getting the most play is the Minnesota Timberwolves, who still have some capspace to absorb salary in such a deal.

The Knicks have already paid $15.05 million of Rose’s $21.323 million salary, leaving $6.27 million left to pay. For a team like the Wolves, bringing Rose in for a look, while potentially clearing out long-term money is appealing on a number of fronts — including Tom Thibodeau’s affections for Rose. The problem with the deal is the Knicks are not open to taking on long-term money. With the deadline around the corner, it seems possible that Rose is moved, especially if Minnesota can reduce the long-term impact.

League sources also pegged Knick big man Kyle O’Quinn as being available, along with Courtney Lee, who was signed this past summer to a hefty free agent deal.

New York seems to be trying to off-load cap money and is not believed to be seeking a ton in return as the Knicks point themselves toward their young guys and a higher possible draft pick.

This list by no means includes the only trade conversations taking place, but rather is an update on some of the teams working the process. So, stay tuned for more as we march towards the deadline on Thursday.

The Basketball Insiders Trade Deadline Diary is up and will have all of the trade scuttle we can find in one place, including the deals that get done, the rumors surrounding them and any original insight we come across.

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, @SusanBible, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett 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 Saturday: Kuzma Is The Main Attraction In Los Angeles

Kyle Kuzma, not Lonzo Ball, is the rookie in L.A. that is turning heads around the NBA.

Dennis Chambers

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Out in Los Angeles, there is a dynamite rookie first-round pick lighting it up for the Lakers, invoking memories of the days when the purple and gold had homegrown stars.

That’s Kyle Kuzma. He was the 27th pick in the NBA Draft. Twenty-five picks after Lonzo Ball, the rookie that first sentence would have presumably been about had it been written three months ago.

Ball’s early season struggles are well-noted. He’s missing shots at an all-time bad clip for a rookie, his psyche seems a bit rattled, and he isn’t having the impact most Lakers fans would have hoped he would from the jump.

All of that has barely mattered, though, in large part to the show Kuzma has been putting on just 16 games into the 2017-18 season. In Friday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kuzma put up 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, the most by an NBA freshman so far this year. That performance was Kuzma’s sixth 20-point game of the young season, another rookie best. And to top it all off, Kuzma was the first rookie to reach the 30-point, 10-rebound plateau since none other than Magic Johnson, back in February of 1980.

Kuzma’s path to the NBA was much different than Johnson’s, though, along with his rookie counterpart Ball. Those two prospects were highly-touted “superstar potential” guys coming out of the college ranks. Kuzma? Well, he was a 21-year-old junior out of Utah who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament his last year and was a career 30 percent three-point shooter as an amateur.

The knocks on Kuzma began to change during the NBA Draft process and came to a head for the Lakers when long-time scout Bill Bertka raved about his potential.

“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”

The Lakers took a chance on the 6-foot-9 forward who had a rare combination of a sweet shooting stroke to accompany his low-post moves that seemed to be reminiscent of players 20 years his senior.

Fast forward from draft night to the Las Vegas Summer League, and everyone could see with their own two eyes the type of player Los Angeles drafted. The numbers were startling: 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, and 48 percent from beyond the arc out in Sin City for Kuzma, all capped off by a Summer League championship game MVP.

Summer League stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but what Kuzma did in July was proved he belonged.

Through the first month of Kuzma’s rookie campaign, when the games are actually counting for something, all he’s continued to do is prove that his exhibition numbers in Vegas were no fluke.

After his 30-point outburst, Kuzma now leads all rookies in total points scored (yet still second in scoring average), is fourth in rebounds per game, third in minutes, and third in field goal percentage.

By all accounts, Kuzma is outperforming just about every highly-touted prospect that was taken before him last June, and sans a Ben Simmons broken foot in September of 2016, he would be in line for the Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today.

Following Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Brett Brown had more than a few nice things to say about Kuzma.

“He’s a hell of a rookie,” Brown told NBC Philly’s Jessica Camerato. “That was a great pick by them.”

Brown went on to commend Kuzma for being “excellent” Wednesday night, when prior to his game Friday against the Suns, Kuzma set a career-high by scoring 24 points.

For all of the praise and the scoring numbers Kuzma is bringing to the Staples Center, his Lakers team sits at just 6-10 on the season, and has been on the wrong end of a number of close games so far this year.

While that’s good for second in the Pacific division right now, behind only the Golden State Warriors, it isn’t likely that type of success (or lack thereof) will get the Lakers to the playoffs. So, despite all of the numbers and attention, Kuzma isn’t fulfilling his rookie year the way he had hoped.

“It is cool, but I’m a winner,” Kuzma told Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters. “I like to win, stats don’t really matter to me. I just try to play hard and I want to win.”

Few projected the type of impact Kuzma would have this early on in his career, and even fewer would have assumed he’d be outperforming the Lakers’ prized draft pick in Ball. But surprising people with his game is nothing new to Kuzma.

From Flint, Michigan, to Utah, to Los Angeles, Kuzma has been turning heads of those that overlooked him the entire time.

With one month in the books as the Los Angeles Lakers’ most promising rookie, Kuzma has all the attention he could’ve asked for now.

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Kelly Olynyk Strengthens the HEAT Bench

David Yapkowitz speaks to Kelly Olynyk about his early showing in Miami.

David Yapkowitz

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The past few years, Kelly Olynyk carved out a nice role for himself as an important player off the Boston Celtics bench. He was a fan favorite at TD Garden, with his most memorable moment in Celtic green coming in last season’s playoffs against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With Boston pushed to the limit and finding themselves forced into a Game 7, Olynyk rose to the occasion and dropped a playoff career-high 26 points off the bench on 10-14 shooting from the field in a Celtics win. He scored 14 of those points in the fourth quarter to hold Washington off.

He was a free agent at the end of the season, and instead of coming back to the Celtics, he became a casualty of their roster turnover following Gordon Hayward’s decision to sign in Boston. Once he hit the open market he had no shortage of suitors, but he quickly agreed to a deal with the Miami HEAT, an easy decision for him.

“It’s awesome, they got a real good culture here,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “The organization is great, the city is great, the staff from the top down they do a good job here.”

Olynyk was initially the HEAT’s starting power forward to begin the season. In their opening night game, a 116-109 loss to the Orlando Magic, he scored ten points, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out three assists.

The very next game, however, he found himself back in his familiar role as first big man off the bench. In that game, a win over the Indiana Pacers, Olynyk had an even stronger game with 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, including 60 percent from three-point range, eight rebounds, and four assists.

Throughout the first eight games of the season, Olynyk was thriving with his new team. During that stretch, he was averaging a career-high 11.4 points per game on a career-high 55 percent shooting from the field and 60. 8 percent from downtown.

“I’m just playing, I’m just playing basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “They’re kind of letting me just play. They kind of let us all just play. They put us in positions to succeed and just go out there and let out skills show.”

For a HEAT team that may not be as talented on paper as some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference, they definitely play hard and gritty and are a sum of their parts. Night in and night out, in each of their wins, they’ve done it off the contributions from each player in the rotation and Olynyk has been a big part of that. Through Nov. 16, the HEAT bench was seventh in the league in points per game with 36.6.

In a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 5, Olynyk was part of a bench unit including James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington that came into the game late in the first quarter. The score at that point was 18-14 in Miami’s favor. That unit closed the quarter on a 16-6 run to put the HEAT up double digits. After that game, head coach Erik Spoelstra recognized the strength of the HEAT bench.

“Our guys are very resilient, that’s the one thing you’ve got to give everybody in that locker room, they’re tough,” Spoelstra said. “This is all about everybody in that locker room contributing to put yourself in a position, the best chance to win. It’s not about first unit, second unit, third unit, we’re all in this together.”

In Boston, Olynyk was part of a similar group that won games off of team play and production from every guy that got in the game. They were also a tough, gritty team and Olynyk has recognized that same sort of fire in the HEAT locker room.

“It’s a group of hard-nosed guys that can really grind it out and play tough-nosed basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “We can go a lot of places. We just got to stick together and keep doing what we do. We can compete with anybody and we just got to bring it every single night.”

At 7-8, the HEAT currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Olynyk has seen a bit of a decrease in playing time, and likewise in production. He’s right at his career average in points per game with 9.5, but he’s still shooting career-highs from the field (54 percent) and from three-point range (47.4).

It’s still very early, though, and only one game separates the 11th place HEAT from the 8th place Magic. The HEAT are definitely tough enough to fight for a playoff spot, especially with Olynyk around helping to strengthen their bench.

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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