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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: What Should the Raptors Do at the Trade Deadline?

The Toronto Raptors are surging. Bobby Krivitsky examines whether they’ve been good enough to keep their current core intact or if they should take a different approach at the trade deadline.

Bobby Krivitsky

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After losing eight of their first 10 games to start the season, the Toronto Raptors have won 14 of their last 23 matchups, surging to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors had to quickly recharge during a truncated offseason, get acclimated to a new setting and adjust to Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher stepping into the void left by the departures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Despite all of that, they’re scoring the 10th-most points per 100 possessions, are 13th in defensive rating and have the ninth-best net rating in the NBA.

Through Toronto’s ups and downs this season, they’ve been able to count on Fred VanVleet. After signing a four-year, $85 million contract to remain with the Raptors, the fifth-year guard from Wichita State has once again taken his game to a higher level. He’s averaging 20 points, 6.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds — all career-bests — and eighth in the NBA with 1.7 steals per contest. It’s discomforting to imagine where this team would be if he had left.

Then there’s Pascal Siakam, who’s finally shaken off a rough second-round series against the Boston Celtics last postseason and thawed from an icy start to his 2020-21 campaign. Siakam is averaging 20.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. One of the main reasons for his turnaround has been Siakam’s growth as a facilitator: those 4.8 assists represent a career-best. And, with the Raptors shifting more towards small-ball, Siakam is thriving working off a screen from guards, spotting where the defense is vulnerable and taking advantage of it.

Another crucial component of Siakam’s improvement is him playing with more energy on the defensive end. Effort can only take a defender so far, but when that individual is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and has the strength, quickness and intelligence to guard positions one-through-five for varying amounts of time, doing so can have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

 

 

While Siakam’s production has more of an impact on the Raptors’ ceiling than any other player on the team, Kyle Lowry, alongside VanVleet, establishes Toronto’s floor. Lowry, who turns 35 in March, is averaging 18 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this season. He remains the heart and soul of the team. That makes it even more impressive that, despite losing him to a thumb injury during a Feb. 16 matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto went on to win that night and again two days later, stretching their winning streak to four games (including a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers).

One major change stemming from the Raptors playing small more often is Norman Powell entering the starting lineup. He’s started his last 17 games and is averaging a team-high 21.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals. During that stretch, the sharpshooting Powell is also knocking down 44.4 percent of his 6.4 threes per game and shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. Toronto has won 10 of those 17 games.

Powell gives the Raptors more offensive firepower, allows them to play faster and, when they don’t have a traditional center on the floor, has made it easier for them to switch on defense. It’s an adjustment that’s worked so well for Toronto, even in Lowry’s absence, Baynes came off the bench while DeAndre’ Bembry joined the starting lineup.

So, with the Raptors finding their footing and the March 25 trade deadline inching closer, what’s Toronto’s best course of action? That decision revolves around their plan with Lowry.

Lowry, whose $30 million deal is set to expire after the season, is interested in playing at least two more seasons at a similar value, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Are the Raptors willing to meet those demands, paving the way for the franchise icon to spend the remainder of his career with them? Secondly, the Raptors aren’t a title contender right now, which could lead to the two sides working together to send Lowry to a team meeting that criteria by the trade deadline, which also happens to be his 35th birthday.

If it comes to that, Pompey listed the 76ers, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Clippers as Lowry’s preferred destinations, noting the North Philadelphia native would like to return to his roots. For the Raptors to go through with trading the six-time All-Star, it would likely take multiple first-round picks and promising young players along with any contracts included for salary-matching purposes to be expiring after this season. 

Considering Toronto’s current place in the NBA’s hierarchy, if Lowry intends to leave for a title contender or the Raptors aren’t willing to meet his contractual demands, it’s clear what they should do at the deadline. Trading Lowry isn’t going to net Toronto the return necessary to vault them into the league’s top tier, but it would still figure to serve them better in the long term, even though the Raptors’ resurgence suggests if he’s still on the team after Mar. 25th, they’re once again going to be a difficult out in the playoffs, and they could go as far as the Eastern Conference Finals.

If they want to play the long game, it would also make sense for them to trade Powell, who has an $11.6 million player option he’s likely to decline in the offseason. Granted, he’ll be 28 next season, so it’s not as if re-signing him would be short-sighted.

There’s nothing wrong with preserving the possibility Lowry never dons another team’s jersey — and parting with a franchise icon is never easy. But trading Lowry may be the best bet for the franchise’s future, while it would neither change the fact that the team will someday retire his jersey, nor would it take away from his legacy. In fact, doing right by him and giving Lowry another opportunity to compete for a title may just be the best parting gift the Raptors could give him while also strengthening their own long-term outlook.

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NBA Daily: Don’t Forget About Romeo Langford

Once a top-five high school recruit, Romeo Langford has yet to make an impact in his brief NBA career.

Dylan Thayer

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As a highly-touted high school prospect, Romeo Langford found himself at the fifth spot in the 2018 ESPN Top 100. His play earned him a spot in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game among big-name recruits such as Zion Williamson, and after a very successful high school career, the five-star shooting guard decided to take his talents to Indiana over both Kansas and Vanderbilt. 

Langford’s time as an Indiana Hoosier was short-lived as he only spent one year with the team before declaring for the draft. He played in thirty-two games despite tearing a ligament in his thumb. His shooting percentages reflected this injury as he shot a meager 27.2 percent from three and 44.8 percent from the field, per Sports-Reference. Both of these percentages were not reflective of the electric, efficient scorer he was at New Albany High School. 

Selected with the No. 14 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, there was a lot to be excited about. For starters, the Celtics were able to draft a player just inside the lottery who many thought would be a top-five pick before the 2018-19 NCAA season. They were also able to get a resilient player that grinded through his injury and was still able to pace the BIG 10 in freshman scoring with 16.5 points per game. The potential with a healthy Langford is there, and that’s what led to him being a Boston Celtic.

During a 2019 interview with Boston.com, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens spoke highly of their rookie. 

“If they would have been more on the national radar, and he would have not hurt his thumb, he probably would have been even more discussed,” Stevens said at the Celtics practice facility. “He’s a guy we were all well aware of before his first game at IU.”

If it was not clear by this quote, big things were expected from the former Indiana Mr. Basketball. 

Unfortunately, his first season on the Celtics was not much of one to write home about. Across 32 games, he managed to average only 2.5 points with 1.3 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game, often finding himself with Boston’s G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

This should not be a big indicator of how things will end up for Langford though – as flourishing Charlotte Hornets star Terry Rozier was also an afterthought off the Celtics’ bench in his first season, even though many people saw his future potential. In a Feb. 7th matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, Langford made the most of a starting opportunity, dropping 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-5 from three-point range, and 3 blocks. Later, he would then undergo season-ending surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament of his right wrist during the team’s playoff run in the bubble.

As the 2020-21 season heads towards the All-Star break, Langford has yet to suit up as he still is recovering from surgery. But according to a report by NESN, Langford should be healthy enough to return following the pause. 

This then leaves the question: where does Langford fit on the Celtics roster, if at all? Amidst a disappointing start to the season, many fans and people around the Celtics have begun to sound the alarm. When the owner even comes out to 98.5 The Sports Hub and acknowledges the fact that the young Eastern Conference finalists are not currently a contender, there should be plenty of reason to panic.

The Celtics’ troubles have been all over the place this season, but the one that seems to be the most glaring is the lack of explosive scoring outside of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. There has been some great play off the bench by Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams, but players like Grant Williams, Jeff Teague and Semi Ojeleye have struggled to be consistent factors. 

As the Celtics continue to look for splashes in the trade market, there is a lot of uncertainty around Langford’s future as the team now seems to lack tradable assets outside of the core. 

Despite his long injury, Langford is still a much more desirable piece than Javonte Green or Grant Williams. Moving on from Jeff Teague may be a route that the Celtics opt to take as well because he has failed to make much of an impact off of the bench, and this would open up playing time to test out a 100 percent healthy Langford. 

Langford could bring a great burst of energy off the bench for the Celtics if healthy, and so exciting to see how he fits alongside the outstanding rookie point guard in Pritchard. With Langford on the second unit, it would open up the floor for Tatum as he would have another solid scorer to kick the ball out to. 

Could Langford end up being the guy that fixes the bench scoring problem for the Celtics? Only time will tell, but based on his high school and collegiate careers, he very well might be 𑁋 if he’s still on the team past the deadline.

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NBA Daily: Luke Walton’s Uncertain Future

Could this be it for Luke Walton in Sacramento? David Yapkowitz examines.

David Yapkowitz

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There’s one big question surrounding the Sacramento Kings this season: what, exactly, will become of head coach Luke Walton? Walton, in the second year of a four-year deal he signed back in 2019, has often headlined the group of coaches that are thought most likely to be let go next.

Brought in by the previous regime, Sacramento’s situation has changed considerably since they brought in Walton. Former general manager Vlade Divac has since stepped down and been replaced with Monte McNair. And, often, new management will look to build their team, coaching staff included, in their own mold — that’s nothing really against the current personnel, just that different voices sometimes have different visions and want to construct a team within that vision.

If the team plays well, the new management team may be inclined to ride it out with the current staff. In a somewhat recent example, when Masai Ujiri first took over in the Toronto Raptors front office, the Raptors started surging in the standings and Ujiri held on to Dwane Casey for a while before ultimately replacing him with Nick Nurse. Casey had been hired by former executive Bryan Colangelo.

The Kings are in an interesting scenario in that, despite being a perennial bottom-dweller, expectations have existed for the team for over a decade now, the main expectation being that they would eventually improve beyond that bottom-feeder status. Now, that expectation may be more warranted than ever, as Sacramento has some seriously talented pieces in place, including franchise cornerstone De’Aaron Fox and Rookie of the Year contender Tyrese Haliburton.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Kings looked like they might actually be turning things around. On a four-game win streak, with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, they looked like a different team.

Since then, unfortunately, they’ve reverted to the Kings of old. Now, they’re on an eight-game losing streak, their first such skid since 2019.

There are plenty of good teams in the Western Conference and, because of that, at least a couple of them are going to be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Of course, it can be hard to fault teams that show consistent effort and improvement. But that just hasn’t been the Kings, for quite some time now.

The main area of concern for the Kings where they haven’t shown real improvement is on the defensive end. They were already among the bottom half of the league on that end before their most recent skid, while it’s been significantly worse during their last eight games.

It’s always a possibility to bring in a defensive-minded assistant to help with that end, much like Sacramento tried to do on offense this past offseason. To spark the team on that end of the court, the Kings added Alvin Gentry to Walton’s staff and for the most part, it’s worked out: Sacramento is 12th in the league in scoring, up from 22nd last season. They’re also shooting better from three-point range while playing at a quicker pace.

But in order to win in this league, you need to do it on both ends. And that’s something the Kings haven’t shown the ability to do.

Sacramento is allowing 119.6 points per game, dead last in the NBA. Their defensive rating of 118.7 is also last. And, at this point, simply adding an assistant might not do the trick; at this point, it might just be easier (and more effective) for management to simply cut ties with Walton and set up a new staff under a new head coach.

Walton’s popularity and potential as a head coach first piqued during the 2015-16 season with the Golden State Warriors. When he stepped in for Steve Kerr, who took leave from the team to recover from back surgery, Walton guided the team to a 24-0 start and a 39-4 record upon Kerr’s return. While the Warriors were in their second of what would be five-straight runs to the NBA Finals and had a strong foundation already in place, Walton’s involvement in the feat can’t be discounted, while it opened the league’s eyes as to his potential as a head coach.

But later, during Walton’s years as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team showed slight, if minimal improvement each year at best. In fact, those Lakers were similar to these Kings in that they were a young team with no real experience just trying to get better. And, obviously, it’s much easier to look good when you already have an established unit.

Coaching in the NBA is a tough and often thankless job. When things go right, they get little credit. When they go wrong, the blame lies almost squarely on their head. As with players, sometimes a coaching situation just isn’t the right fit for either party; maybe this Kings’ roster just isn’t built to maximize Walton’s system.

That said, in this particular case, it would probably be best for the Kings to ride the current situation out. Sacramento has shown some improvement from last season and Walton deserves some credit for that. He’s shown constant faith and trust in his rookie, Haliburton, while he has Fox playing at a near All-Star level and Richaun Holmes looking like one of the NBA’s best in the painted area (and an absolute steal, given his contract).

Going forward, it’s worth rolling the dice and seeing if they can’t end this skid and get back to their strong play earlier in the year. Further, it might not be that great an idea to make such a radical structural change halfway through the season when your team might still have a realistic shot at the postseason.

That said, should the team continue to struggle, then it would be wise to revisit the matter in the offseason. If they do, it wouldn’t be much of a reach if McNair decides that two years is enough and that he wants to bring in a head coach of his own choosing.

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