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NBA AM: Trade Talks Are Heating Up

Trade talk is starting to heat up… The problem with moving draft picks… The biggest cliche of the deadline… You may want Steve Nash to quit, but would you?

Steve Kyler

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Starting To Percolate:  With the NBA trade deadline just eight days away and the All-Star break, the unofficial vetting window for potential trades, this weekend things are starting to take some shape on the trade front. Here are a few things we are hearing:

The Magic Are Not Out, But Not In Either  Magic general Manager Rob Hennigan has been playing the trade talk surrounding his team the same way for most of the season. His team is listening, but his team is not shopping. There are a couple of players that Orlando would be open to moving, the top candidate is Glen “Big Bay” Davis. However, there seems to be virtually no trade market for Davis on his own. His long-storied attitude issues combined with his hefty remaining contract make it more likely than not that he’ll remain in Orlando beyond the trade deadline. In Davis’ defense, he has gotten a lot better and is not nearly the problem child he is often labeled to be, but for the teams that would value what he brings, his contract and the potential for issues makes him a hard sell. The Magic have also entertained offers on Jameer Nelson, but given the size of his contract ($8 million this season) and Orlando’s unwillingness to take on long-term dollars makes moving Nelson a tough sell as well. The veteran teams that could use Nelson are so close to or already over the luxury tax line that unless Orlando takes back something long-term, most deals are unworkable. The Magic continue to turn away incoming offers on Arron Afflalo. Unless something serious comes their way it looks like Orlando may sit out the trade deadline, although they are still having dialogue so you never say never in the NBA.

Knicks Ramping Up Efforts  The Knicks continue to try and strike a deal, having renewed efforts to land Denver forward Kenneth Faried and Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry. It is highly unlikely the Knicks can land either player, but they are trying. The Knicks are open to moving a number of player combinations, but still seem reluctant to include future draft considerations. There is a sense that the Knicks are going to do something at the deadline, but it’s unlikely that it’s going to be anything involving forward Carmelo Anthony. Sources close to the process say there has been a very open and candid dialogue about Anthony’s pending free agency and while there is a risk that he could get charmed out of New York, the Knicks feel like they have enough assurances to hold the line. If Anthony’s tone changes, so could the Knicks’. It will be a scenario to watch, however it seems the Knicks are trying to add to their current roster not subtract their biggest piece.

Warriors Willing To Move  The Golden State Warriors are sitting on two significant traded players exceptions from their cap clearing move with Utah this past summer. The bigger of the two is a $9 million slot, with an additional $4 million slot. Both expire this July. The Warriors are said to be kicking around trade scenarios, especially ones involving veteran players that could help them in the postseason. The Warriors seem most interested in ending or near ending contract players and have been sniffing around for point guard help. With the ability to significantly reduce someone’s luxury tax bill or to take on money in a three team deal the Warriors look primed to be involved in a deal at the deadline, especially if they can extract draft assets or a veteran player to bolster their bench. Unfortunately for the Warriors, exceptions cannot be combined with anything, so whatever player they acquire has to fit into one of those two slots. While the $9 million slot is appealing and opens up a lot of options, there is a sense the Warriors would rather use that exception around the draft or in July unless the right player surfaces.

Kings Looking At Ending Deals  The Sacramento Kings continue to kick around trade scenarios. It seems pretty clear that Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette and the ending $2.6 million contract of Aaron Gray could be had. The Kings have really stayed clear of anything involving a future draft pick, unless it yields a significant asset and it seems they are taking the same stance on long-term contract money. The Kings remain the frontrunner for Andre Miller, whenever the Denver Nuggets decide to move him. The problem is Miller isn’t going to return much for Denver, hence the lack of movement on a deal. The Kings look like they want to make a deal at the deadline, it remains to be seen if anyone wants what Sacramento is selling.

If you are looking for the latest NBA news, notes and rumors, make sure to check out the Daily Rumors section of the site.

The Problem With Picks:  There are a number of so-called tanking teams in NBA that seem more than willing to move off players that are approaching free agency, no longer fit the youth movement plan or are just flat out too good to be on a bad team.

The problem is that the teams in the NBA that want these kinds of players – players who can contribute to a playoff push – simply don’t have the assets or the cap space to make a deal happen.

Almost all of the teams considered frontrunners for a NBA title have either traded their first round picks already or need to hang on to them to replenish the talent pool too because of the NBA’s punitive luxury tax system.

There are a number of teams floating at the bottom of the NBA standings that are hoping to make a move around the trade deadline, but they want rookie scale contract players, draft picks or ending contracts in exchange for the pieces they’d move. Most of the teams that would do a deal for the players don’t have the assets. The teams that have the assets don’t want the players.

»In Related: The NBA Draft Picks Owed.

As the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline gets closer there might be some lowering of asking prices and some teams may settle for what they can get rather than getting nothing, especially teams like the Philadelphia 76ers with regards to Evan Turner, who is headed into free agency, or the LA Lakers and Pau Gasol, another soon-to-be free agent.

The problem with dealing for what you can get is a team often doesn’t get nearly the return they’d like. With the deadline approaching quickly some teams have to decide whether it’s better in the long term to hold the line and see what the offseason brings or liquidate even when the return may be less than ideal.

With so many young teams valuing what’s possible in the 2014 NBA Draft, there is going to be a dearth of lottery level picks available at the deadline, which means some team searching for draft picks in deals may have to settle for second round picks because it’s unlikely that anyone holding on to what could be a lottery pick will move it.

There is no doubting that some teams would make deals for picks, the problem is the teams holding them value the picks more than the players and the teams that value the players don’t hold the picks.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next eight days.

”We Really Like Our Team”:  The sports world is filled with fun clichés, but as the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline approaches the best of the bunch comes from NBA general managers and executives – “We really like our team”.

The phrase is often used to explain why a team is not talking trades, or isn’t looking to make moves, but the problem with the phrase is as much as teams like to use it, can they really use the opposite? – “We don’t like our team?”

There are several teams that are downplaying their involvement in trades. The Orlando Magic, the Washington Wizards, the Indiana Pacers and the Memphis Grizzlies to name a few, yet every one of them are looking at something around the February 20 Trade Deadline.

“We like our team” is really code for we haven’t found a deal we’d consider breaking up our team for. It really means we like our core guys, but we’d consider making some bench upgrades.

»In Related: Alex Kennedy Looks At The Latest NBA Trade Rumors.

In all of the cases mentioned above, each team is sniffing around for something. Orlando wouldn’t be crushed if they could move Glen “Big Baby” Davis, any more than the Wizards would like to add one more impact player to insure they are competitive in the postseason. The Grizzlies would like some help at small forward and the Pacers have eyes on a bench-based scorer.

None of those teams are willing to break up their team to make those kinds of moves, but all of them are sniffing around for a deal, even if it’s just a small deal.

As you hear executives quoted over the next eight days, watch how many tell you how much they like their existing team, then watch how many of them make deals at the deadline.

There is likely some truth to the notion that if a team didn’t do a deal they wouldn’t be crushed, but saying they wouldn’t do a deal at all likely isn’t true; it’s always about what you can get in return for what you have to give up and that’s why every team in the NBA talks to each other just before the trade deadline, because you honestly never know what another team will be willing to part with and that’s where those improbable deals get made.

Would You Quit?:  There was considerable chatter about the future of Laker guard Steve Nash after a report out of New York where Nash makes (one of) his offseason homes, suggested that Nash has told friends that he would retire after this season.

Nash was asked about the reports yesterday and while he continues to battle nerve related injuries and irritations, he made it clear that he is not thinking about hanging them up and he has not been talking about it.

“Not from me,” Nash said to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News. “I work as hard as I can every day to perform and keep going until I’m not playing anymore. But right now, I have no intentions to stop playing.”

Nash has one more year left on his contract that will pay him more than $9 million next season. If he were to simply retire, he’d leave that money on the table. If he were to attempt a medical retirement, he would need to be ruled unable to play by independent doctors and that is not a path Nash has explored at this point.

»In Related: Will The Phoenix Suns Or LA Lakers Blink First?

Nash says his goal is get passed the nerve irritations and get back on the floor, suggesting that his latest injury is more annoyance than hindrance.

“It’s frustrating more than anything,” Nash said. “It’s something I hope we can get under control quickly here. It doesn’t feel like something too serious. I had so many issues with the nerve; I’m not going to take it for granted.”

Lakers fans have struggled to understand why the 40-year old Nash continues to try and return to the court, especially for a team and a season that’s going nowhere but the draft lottery, but the truth is that for athletes like Nash who love to play, once it’s over, it’s generally over.

In talking with a number of older veteran players, it’s not just the money that continuing to play offers them, it’s the chance to continue to compete, to be part of a team and to continue a lifestyle many of them have had for more than a decade or more.

»In Related: The LA Lakers team salary page.

It’s hard for guys to give up the fame, the adulation and the respect they get as NBA players, even ones on the downside of their career. For Nash, who was as unheralded a prospect as they come when he was drafted in 1996, he turned himself into a two-time MVP and is a likely Hall of Famer. He is not hanging around for the money, because his money is fully guaranteed. He is hanging around the NBA because once it’s over for him, it’s over.

It’s easy for fans and media members to say a guy is washed up and needs to go, but ask yourself this question: Would you give up the life of a NBA player if you really didn’t have to? Neither will Nash.

The Lakers have lost eight of their last ten games and are currently 18-34 on the season, which has them sitting with the fifth worst record in the NBA.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

Bobby Krivitsky

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

Drew Maresca

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?

Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.

Matt John

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Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.

It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.

We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.

The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.

If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.

In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.

TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be

Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.

Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.

For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.

There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.

That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.

Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.

Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.

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