What Is He Worth?
As the NBA trade season starts to ramp up this week, there are a few names that will get a little more play in the rumor mill than most. But defining their trade value may be harder than you think, mainly because of their contract status or the season they are having.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento
Let’s start here. DeMarcus Cousins is not asking for or seeking a trade, and the Sacramento Kings are not fielding or talking to teams about a trade involving Cousins. That’s where you have to start with this situation.
There is a reality looming over the marriage of Cousins and the Kings: The Kings are still not contending, and Cousins’ contract is running out.
Cousins becomes an unrestricted free agent in roughly 565 days. The Kings are sitting at 9-15 (.375). The good news is that’s three games out of the eighth seed in the West, but that’s still not good basketball.
The story around the NBA is pretty consistent. At some point, the Kings have to face the reality that Cousins will hit the open market, and history has not been kind to non-winning teams with top level free agents.
Cousins says all the right things when asked about trades. The Kings say all the right things when teams call trying to pry Cousins out of Sacramento. They are both trying to keep the marriage in a good place (which it is), but there is a reality to all of it.
The Kings have listened over the last year to what has come in regarding offers and ideas, and while there are a few teams that would unload a lot to get Cousins for the next year and six months, none of it is equal value for what Cousins is to the Kings right now.
Kings ownership is unwilling to give away arguably the top center in the game for what amounts to a handful of young guys and the promise of future draft picks that amount to a handful of magic beans. Sure, the Kings could land someone new in the draft, but they are invested in Cousins and believe the best scenario for them is to build around him, even if there is risk somewhere down the road.
As one source close to the situation said recently, “If you know the return is bad, why make the deal?” And the Kings know the return is bad.
There is little doubt that the Kings could move Cousins tomorrow if they wanted to. They could get some young guys, some expiring contracts and draft picks, but frankly and honestly, the Kings know that won’t help them in the short-term – not nearly as much as having an All-Star center to build around for another year and seeing where things land.
Maybe the Kings get less in a year if they opt to trade Cousins at a later date. Their view is they’d get less for him now, so what’s the difference.
That’s the problem in trying to extract value for a star-level talent at the end of his contract.
Greg Monroe, Milwaukee
The Milwaukee Bucks and Greg Monroe have not been a very good pairing. Monroe is now a fixture on the Bucks’ bench, and that does not look to be changing anytime soon.
The Bucks tried pretty aggressively to find a trade for Monroe last year, and all through the offseason it was said the Bucks were not looking for much for Monroe, hoping to free up the cap space and a roster spot.
The problem for the Bucks, and to a certain extent for Monroe, is that his contract is a tough one to move.
Monroe holds a player option for next season worth $17.8 million. Ultimately, it’s his choice whether to stay in this deal or opt to explore the market for a longer-term deal. Few around the league expect Monroe to command more than the $17.8 million he’s owed, but would he cash that in for a new multi-year deal with a better fitting team?
The problem for the Bucks is this: Teams that would want Monroe as a straight up rental would pay one price in a trade knowing he likely walks in July. There are teams that would entertain that.
The other side of that are the teams that would want Monroe beyond this current year. Unless Monroe opts into that final year, there is risk for those teams that see Monroe as a longer-term option. It’s the unpredictability that kills the market for Monroe.
The belief is the asking price on Monroe is not very high, and with the Bucks still middling in the East at 11-12, there is a sense that moving Monroe would be more likely than not, even if the return is fairly low.
Milwaukee does have to weigh their options, because moving off $17 million in contract money is not easy without taking some contract money back in return. The last thing the Bucks want to do is litter their future flexibility with a bad contract, so the difficulty in finding the right mix of value, cap flexibility, and a team willing to play both sides of Monroe’s contract is why Monroe is still in Milwaukee. Maybe that changes as the trade market gets underway, but finding that balance is no easy task.
Mario Hezonja, Orlando
The Orlando Magic are one of the teams to watch in terms of an early trade. The team is better in some ways than they were four weeks ago, but they are still struggling on offense, and there is a growing sense they will be aggressive in trying to snag a scoring threat in a trade.
The Magic have some assets they can move. Center Nikola Vucevic is no longer a focal point for the team and is on one of the more favorable team-friendly contracts in the NBA. The Magic are highly invested in other players in the front court that match their defensive mindset, and Vucevic seems to be the odd-man out.
The Magic still hold some favorable draft picks, not only from their cache of picks but from picks they have acquired in trades.
The Magic have some youth in guard Elfrid Payton, who has been relegated to the bench by head coach Frank Vogel. They have the all-energy tweener in Aaron Gordon and they have last year’s fifth overall pick Mario Hezonja, who is not even seeing playing time.
Hezonja is the interesting one because his camp is growing frustrated with his lack of a role and there is growing pressure to either find a role for him or find him a new home. The Magic like Hezonja a great deal, but they are trying to win games and Hezonja has regressed a great deal this year, so much so that the coaching staff won’t put him in games despite a need for scoring.
The Magic have been sniffing around the league doing early due diligence on trades, so it’s likely they trigger something sooner than later, but the question becomes: What do the Magic get in return?
Hezonja’s value could not be any lower given his 3.8 points per game average and downright dreadful 3.41 PER. Had Hezonja posted a monster rookie year he might hold more value, but even as a rookie Hezonja job-shared, logging just 17.9 minutes per game and averaging 6.1 points. There were some flashes, but hardly the sustained presence that could command a lot in return.
The Magic have eyes on a postseason run and something more than just eighth seed fodder this year. To reach that goal, the Magic clearly will need more than they currently have. The question becomes, what can they really move and what kind of value does it return?
Stanley Johnson, Detroit
Like Hezonja in Orlando, Detroit’s Stanley Johnson has fallen out of the picture for the Pistons. The situation is a little different because Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy would like to use Johnson more, he just has not been nearly as effective as the team hoped coming into the season.
The Pistons recently sent Johnson to the D-League to get him some extended minutes and a chance to play his way out of the funk he’s been in for most of the season. Johnson delivered a huge 26-point, five-rebound and four-assist showing in his first D-League game. Johnson returned to the Pistons for their matchup against the 76ers on Sunday but didn’t necessarily bring the magic back with him.
The Pistons are in a tough spot because they genuinely believe in Johnson’s potential, but they can’t afford to waste game minutes if Johnson is going to struggle, especially defensively.
Sources close to the situation say the Pistons are not ready to give up on the promise of Johnson, but they may have to consider other options if Stanley can’t turn the corner.
Johnson said he is open to shuttling back and forth between the NBA and the D-League every so often to get extended minutes, which is smart, because if he can’t get minutes for the Pistons at least he keeps his value up if they opt to move in a new direction.
Monta Ellis, Indiana
As if things were not bad enough for Pacers guard Monta Ellis this year, he’s been ruled out for the next four games due to a groin injury and will not travel with the team.
Ellis has posted a gruesome season so far, notching the second-lowest scoring average of his career at 9.7 points game. Ellis’ assists are down, his steals are down and his PER is by far the worst of his career at 9.61.
To make matters worse, Ellis has three years left on his deal: $10.76 million this season, $11.27 million next season and a player option in the 2018-2019 season worth $11.69 million.
It is becoming clear the Pacers are a much better team without Ellis, which is why his name is mentioned so frequently in trade talk. The problem for the Pacers is, who trades for him given the situation? He is injured, owed a ton of money and not producing. Any one of those scenarios kills a possible trade, but Ellis may have the trifecta of deal-killing circumstances.
There is a belief that Ellis has not been right physically all year, and that the decision to leave him home for the next six days isn’t just about giving him time to heal, but to give him a chance to re-focus as well.
The Pacers are one of the teams right there in the Eastern Conference hunt, so every game matters. If the Pacers continue to play well without Ellis, it gets easier and easier to justify a trade. The problem is that Ellis may have very little trade value given all the circumstances of his situation.
While these are by no means the only names we’re going to hear about over the coming weeks, these are some of the names we’re talking about now and there will be more to come.
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NBA Daily: The Memphis Grizzlies’ Young Core Rises
The Memphis Grizzlies have built one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA – and it won’t be long before they’re competing at the top of the Western Conference.
Needless to say, the NBA is flush with some exciting young rosters. Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks, Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks and Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans are bursting at the seams with talent and, in short order, have sparked discussions as to which team might be basketball’s next big thing.
While each of those teams excites in their own, unique way, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies that stand out from the rest of the pack.
The Grizzlies are led by Ja Morant, their sophomore star point guard out of Murray State. As a rookie, Morant proved he was one of the NBA’s brightest up-and-comers, but he’s taken it to another level this season. While he missed time with an ankle injury, Morant has averaged 22.6 points and 7.0 assists per game on 53.2 percent shooting. Morant is also first in the NBA in fast-break points per game, averaging 5.8 per game.
The bright hooper hasn’t had the hype that someone like Young did early on in the season, but there’s a case to be made that Morant is just as promising as the Hawks’ star guard. Per 48 minutes, Morant is averaging 37.1 points and 11.5 assists versus Young at 33.6 points and 13.1 assists per game. While not a perfect comparison given the former’s smaller sample size in 2020-21, it does show that Morant is absolutely in the discussion for the best young guard in the league.
The Grizzlies already have their cornerstone of the future, but what separates them from the rest of the NBA’s fascinating teams is the organization’s ability to acquire talented role players. Five of the Grizzlies’ top seven scorers are players the Grizzlies drafted in the last four seasons; better, four of them were players selected in the previous two.
Memphis only has two players older than 30, Gorgui Dieng and Tim Frazier, the latter of which has played just 33 minutes this season. That number jumps to three with players 28-years-and-older by adding Jonas Valanciunas to the list.
Lead amongst those role players is the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, the 45th overall selection for Memphis in 2017. Brooks is putting up 15.2 points per game in his fourth season in the NBA despite not shooting the ball well, just 36.9 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from three-point range. Brooks has never shot below 35 percent from three or 40 percent from the field in his career, so it stands to reason his percentages will increase by the end of the year and, with it, his entire scoring output.
Elsewhere, Brandon Clarke, a second-year forward out of Gonzaga, is one of Memphis’ five players averaging over 10 points per game this year, putting up 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. While his scoring numbers are substantial, Clarke’s value comes on the defensive end – much like the two Grizzlies’ rookies, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman.
Bane and Tillman were picked between 30-35th overall, and through a handful of games, both have well exceeded their draft slots. Bane is averaging 8.6 points per game on crazy efficient shooting percentages of 47.1/48.9/77.8. Beyond that, Tillman has shown his worth on both ends of the ball too, averaging 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Grizzlies’ talented young core which includes two ultra-talented youngsters who have yet to play this season.
Jaren Jackson Jr. may be the Grizzlies’ second-best player behind Morant; last year, he averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 46.9/39.4/74.7 shooting splits. Winslow hasn’t played since early on in the 2019-20 season with the Miami HEAT, before being traded to Memphis at the deadline for Andre Iguodala. During his last full season, Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game on 43.3/37.5/62.8 shooting splits, making him a valuable wing player that the Grizzlies have just waiting on the bench.
Of course, Memphis is one of the youngest teams in the NBA with an average age of 24.3, second-youngest in the league, and have dealt with significant injury problems early on this season. Despite this, the Grizzlies are one of the best defensive units in the league, holding a defensive rating of 106.66, second-best league-wide. The Memphis offense has struggled so far this year, but a major reason why is because of Morant’s injury.
When Morant plays, the Grizzlies’ offensive numbers are much improved. With Morant on the floor, they’ve got an offensive rating of 115.4, which would be the sixth-best mark in the NBA. Without him on the floor, their offensive rating drops to 103.8, good for second-worst. Given that Morant has missed more than half the Grizzlies’ games this year, it’s no wonder their offensive rating is a 105.66 on the season.
Ultimately, this has left the Grizzlies with a record of 7-6, putting them at the eighth seed in the Western Conference and right in the hunt for the playoffs.
The scary thing is that the Grizzlies are only going to get better. Morant and Jackson Jr. are both 21-years-old, Tillman and Bane are 22 and Brooks, Winslow and Clarke are 24. The entirety of the core is young, while their two best players are hardly old enough to buy alcohol. Even though the Grizzlies are young, they’ve already shown themselves to be one of the league’s best defenses and possess the tools to improve their offense in-house.
Come the end of the season, the Grizzlies will be a real playoff contender – and with such a young roster, it’s only a matter of time before Memphis is competing for more than just the backend of the playoffs.
NBA Daily: Reggie Jackson Staying Ready for the Clippers
Reggie Jackson hasn’t had much opportunity with the Los Angeles Clippers this season. Still, he’s ready for whenever the team may need him.
There’s an old saying: “if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” That saying would certainly apply to Reggie Jackson this season.
Jackson, who joined the Los Angeles Clippers last season after he was bought out by the Detroit Pistons, re-upped with team on a one-year deal. A once-promising young guard that the Pistons pried away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015 with a five-year, $80 million contract, his time in Detroit was unfortunately marred by injuries and inconsistency.
Still, he was coveted on the buyout market. When Jackson arrived in Los Angeles, the prevailing thought was that he would provide the Clippers with extra guard depth and an additional ball-handler and solid playmaker off the bench. They even had competition from the Los Angeles Lakers for his services.
And, for the most part, Jackson did just that in his 17 regular-season games — including the Orlando bubble seeding games — that he suited up with the Clippers. He put up 9.5 points per game and 3.2 assists while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three-point range.
But the playoffs were a different story. Inconsistency reared its ugly head and Jackson’s numbers dropped to 4.9 points and 0.9 assists while his field goal percentage dipped to 43.8 percent. The Clippers as a whole were inconsistent, especially in their second-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, and it was unsure if Jackson would be back with the team for the 2020-21 season.
He did come back, although it looked as if this year he was going to have some competition at the backup point guard spot with second-year guard Terance Mann. When the season began, new head coach Tyronn Lue alternated between the two from game-to-game, but eventually settled on a rotation that didn’t necessarily include either of them.
For a young player like Mann, finding yourself out of the rotation might seem like necessary growing pains as your career is in its infancy. But, for a vet like Jackson, it can be tough. Lue admitted as much in a recent call with media.
“It was a hard conversation for me because I thought he had been playing well,” Lue said, “but we couldn’t play all the guys, we knew that coming into the season.”
“He took it well. I think when you’re a veteran, when you’re a pro, when you want to win you do whatever it takes to try to win. I just told him to stay ready, it’s a long season with Covid, with injuries and things like that, you got to be ready.”
To Jackson’s credit, he’s done just that and stayed ready for when his next opportunity should arise.
And, luckily for him, it came maybe a bit sooner than expected.
Last Friday against the Sacramento Kings, the Clippers found themselves without both Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. And, so, Jackson found himself in the starting lineup.
In the win against the Kings, Jackson finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, shot 50 percent from long-range and even threw down a dunk in traffic. After the game, he joked that his teammates had been teasing him for not dunking and for being 30 years old. That moment made him feel like he was younger again.
“It feels good, especially at 30. Seeing the open lane and having a chance to attack,” Jackson said. “I’ve had an injury-plagued career these past few years, I just feel like I’m getting my legs back under me and feel somewhat 20 again, it felt great to go out there to get a dunk.”
“I’m just glad to get it in there. I got a little nervous.”
Before being told he was going to be out of the rotation, Jackson had strung together some solid games off the bench as Lue was experimenting with the lineup. In the Clippers Dec 29 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jackson had perhaps his best game of the season with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and a block.
He followed that up with another strong performance in a win against a good Portland Trail Blazers team with 11 points, 2 assists and 66.7 percent shooting from the field including 50 percent from downtown. Jackson understands that some nights he might not see any playing time while other nights he may be called upon to provide a spark.
“I just want to be ready, I’m just trying to stay ready for anything and whenever my name is called this year,” he said. “I just try to manage the point guard like a quarterback, on wins. There’s things I can improve on, things I could be better at. For the most part I just want to find a way to help my team get a win.”
With the return of Beverley, Jackson only played 13 minutes off the bench in the Clippers most recent game against the Indiana Pacers. Still, he figures to be a regular in the rotation with Williams still day-to-day and Lue has liked what he’s seen from him in these recent wins.
“He’s a point guard, he did a good job with catch and shoot, distributing the basketball, but also running the team,” Lue said. “That’s what we expect him to do. I’m happy for Reggie, staying ready and being a professional.”
For Jackson, one of the things that have helped him the most this season is having two championship-caliber point guards on the sideline in Lue and assistant coach Chauncey Billups, as well as assistants Larry Drew and Kenny Atkinson who were solid point guards in their playing days, too.
Although he’s a veteran, he’s always trying to learn and always trying to improve and he feels like this is the best group for him to learn from.
“They’re helping me day-in and day-out. Having a slew of point guards and great minds at the helm is just helping me with my maturation and seeing the game,” Jackson said. “Having somebody to bounce ideas off of steadily, I think it’s working really well right now. I’m just fortunate to have their minds and try to pick their brains as much as possible. I know I’ve been doing this 10 years but to have those guys in my corner, they’ve forgotten more basketball than I know. I always try to soak it up.”
And if Jackson can continue to refine his game — to pick up what he can as he picks the brains of Lue, Billups and the others — and stay ready, he just might come up big for Los Angeles when they need him most.
NBA Daily: Youth Fueling San Antonio
Gregg Popovich has typically relied heavily on his veteran players. Now, he has a cast of young talent that is fueling a Spurs resurgence. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on the rising stars in San Antonio.
Last season was strange for everyone, but especially San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. It was the first time in his 25-year tenure that his team missed the playoffs. Heck, it was the first time his team ever finished with a losing record since he took the job in 1996. But, in spite of that season and the fact that Popovich will turn 72 next week, his motivation and excitement are still there.
Popovich has done it and seen it all during his time on the bench. From winning five NBA titles to coaching countless Hall of Fame players along the way. His list of accomplishments is endless, but the coaching job he is doing this year might just rank right near the top.
Most teams around the league are either primarily comprised of young and inexperienced players or made up mostly of veterans who know how to manage the game. You won’t find many that have a nice mixture of both, let alone having the talent that the Spurs seem to have. Their roster doesn’t have an All-Time great player, either; you won’t find a Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manu Ginóbili or Tony Parker here. They have a great veteran duo, to be fair — both DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are capable of playing at a high level — but neither can be asked to carry a team at this stage of their respective careers.
It is Popovich’s job to take those ingredients and cook up something special. And it’s here where his and San Antonio’s player development abilities shine through.
The 2019 NBA Draft was oozing with talent at the top with guys like Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barret taking the spotlight. And while no one wants to miss out on the postseason, their down year could have been a blessing in disguise for Spurs, who have long had a knack for plucking hidden gems in the first round. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Keldon Johnson were all drafted by the Spurs as the 29th overall selection.
And this season, while White has only played one game because of an injury, it has been the duo of Murray and Johnson that has been the spark for a reinvigorated San Antonio.
Murray, in particular, is finally having the breakout season that many envisioned. He has improved his scoring average by five points per game and is posting career-high averages in rebounds, assists and free throw percentage. Not only is he hitting the free throws, but Murray is also getting to the line more often instead of settling for mid-range jumpers.
As good as Murray has played thus far, it has been Johnson’s emergence that has been turning heads around the league.
Not many players from the loaded 2019 draft have busted onto the scene in their second year quite like Johnson has. After appearing in just 17 games last season, the former Kentucky product has elevated his game to new heights. So far this season he is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds while starting every game for San Antonio.
While his minutes and shot attempts have greatly increased in his new role, Johnson has maintained an efficiency that has allowed him to blossom. The Spurs desperately need some floor spacing, as they rank in the bottom five of the league in terms of three-point shot attempts; Johnson’s ability to shoot both vital to their strong start and has been heavily relied upon with guys like DeRozan, Murray and Aldridge all making their living in the mid-range area.
Johnson also has the tools and intelligence to make a major impact on the defensive end of the floor. His large frame allows him to guard bigger players and take contact, while his length and athleticism make him a great closeout defender. Popovich has relied on him heavily in their games where they’ve had to face the likes of LeBron James, Christian Wood, Pascal Siakam and former Spur Kawhi Leonard.
White’s prolonged absence has opened the door for another youngster, Lonnie Walker, who has flourished with the opportunity. There is a reason San Antonio took him with the 18th overall pick a few years ago and, now, he seems to be putting it all together. His scoring and efficiency have drastically improved, while his patience and understanding of what is happening on the floor seem more apparent.
Trick now for Lonnie Walker is to stay aggressive even after DeRozan comes back. "He doesn’t lack for anyone repeating that to him," Pop said. "There are like nine coaches, and we are all saying the same thing to him. We are trying to make it a habit – take no prisoners."
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) January 13, 2021
Walker has always had elite-level athleticism, but he has worked on his jump shot and finishing ability at the rim. He has been one of their best scoring options this season, capable of putting up 20 points or more on any given night. Walker and Popovich have given much of the credit to Murray’s leadership.
The 24-year-old point guard seems to be establishing himself as the leader of this team. His patience running the offense and finding teammates in half-court sets has been crucial. Their transition game has been thriving as well, with their young guys getting downhill and putting pressure on defenders. They rank in the top-five in terms of drives per game, as Popovich has emphasized the importance of getting to the rim and creating open shots for others.
Another statistic that Popovich has to be thrilled with speaks volumes about the growth of his backcourt: the Spurs turn the ball over less than any other team in the league. In fact, they are the only team that commits fewer than 10 turnovers per game.
Confidence plays a major role in how well a player develops. And it appears as though Popovich has instilled confidence in Murray and Walker, which has enabled them to take off. Johnson’s confidence was evident last season, where he erupted in his final games at the bubble in Orlando.
Just as he has injected confidence into his young guys, Popovich has channeled patience and better decision-making into DeRozan as well. No longer is he forcing up shots and shying away from the three-point line. It may have taken a bit longer than many expected, but Popovich may have molded DeRozan into the best version of himself.
Whether attacking their talented trio of young players or a veteran like DeRozan, Aldridge or Patty Mills, San Antonio is going to be a tough team to keep down or put away. The Western Conference is stacked once again but, while they may roster the same names as last season, this Spurs team is vastly different.
And, if they continue to grow and trust one another, there could be another playoff run on the horizon for Popovich and San Antonio.