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NBA AM: Who Is Touchable In Cleveland Now?

The Cavaliers are not going to panic and do something drastic, but they do need to do something and it seems they are open to it… Why Boston isn’t listening to Rondo trade talk… The Other Gasol.

Steve Kyler

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No One Is Untouchable?:  Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin created a mini-controversy this week when he candidly told Chris Haynes of The Plain Dealer that as an executive in the NBA you can’t be closed minded on the construction of your team’s roster saying: “No one is untouchable and you’re never done building a team so we’re always paying attention to what opportunities are out there.’

Well maybe not “no one”. LeBron James isn’t going anywhere, but it’s clear what the Cavaliers had hoped would be a smooth run to the NBA Finals is turning out to be anything but.

With the Cavs having played 10 games and sitting at 5-5 on the season. Things are not coming together as quickly as many were hoping. Most around the team knew the first week or so of the season was going to be a learning process, especially considering the core in Cleveland really hadn’t played much together, as guys missed preseason games for various minor injuries.

But now that the curtain is open and games are being played on the big stage, things are starting to rub the wrong way in some regards.

James has already made proclamations about the minutes he and the other core starters are playing. He is averaging the third most minutes in the NBA at 38.6 per game. He sitting just behind Reggie Jackson of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who is logging 40.2 minutes per contest on an injury ravaged Thunder team, and Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, who was tied for the most minutes last season and is again sitting at the top of the per game minutes chart at 40.3 minutes per game.

Kevin Love has said a few times now he’s thinking about his touches and how to fit into the offense. Love is shooting a career worst 38.9 percent from the field on an average of 13 attempts per game.

Love said last night after the nail biting loss to the Spurs that he knows there are points there for him.

“I’m just trying to find myself in this offense,” Love said to Chris Fedor of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. “It’s just one of those things. We’re 10 games in. I think everyone knew coming in that we would have to sacrifice. At some point we are going to need some low-post scoring and outside shooting.”

“I haven’t really said much. I’m just trying to be a part of this team as best I can to help us win. As far as getting into a rhythm it has been tough.”

Star guard Kyrie Irving has been blasted for his style of play and not being a facilitator. Despite being surrounded by more talent than at any point in his career Irving is averaging a career low five assists per game. In the 10 games the Cavs have played, Irving has logged six or more assists just four times. He chipped in just two assists last night.

The Cavaliers are far from the team they will be in mid-December, but given the surface layer issues that continue to present themselves for the Cavs, it’s not surprising that the front office is at least open to a change. While the idea that “no one” is untouchable is a little bit of hyperbole, the truth is the Cavs seems to be missing that glue guy that can bring it all together.

Some of that admittedly is on the shoulders of rookie head coach David Blatt, but some of that is also on the front office to find those complimentary players that can bring the per game minute load down, help spark some offense other than James and maybe help Irving set some guys up.

Sounds like a tall order to fill, but that’s what Griffin was talking about when he said a roster is never done. That’s why teams that are competing for something will entertain change, because even good teams can get better and there is no doubting the Cavs can and need to get better to get where they set out to this season.

Trading Rondo:  December 15 is usually the first milestone of the trade season as that’s the date when the bulk of the players signed to contracts this summer become eligible to trade. As it stands now, about 175 players have some form of restriction on being traded and for some rosters, like the LA Lakers for example, have almost half of their players with some type of trade restriction.

So while the trade market in the NBA isn’t going to heat up for roughly a month, that’s hasn’t stopped teams from looking around the league and trying to gauge who is going to be buyers and who are going to be sellers.

One of the top teams viewed as seller is the Boston Celtics. They have one of the biggest impact trade chips in the game in guard Rajon Rondo.

Both Rondo and the Celtics are playing this thing the right way – they are both saying his potential free agency in July isn’t going to be a problem and that both sides want to make a new, long-term deal.

Incoming trade calls on Rondo’s status are being met with roughly the same story, that they are not trading him.

That in and of itself isn’t overly surprising for a couple of reasons: The Celtics genuinely do want to keep Rondo, but they also can’t extract nearly what they would want for him right now, so why entertain the concept and create unnecessary chaos?

If a buyer can’t pay the price, why have the conversation?

That’s not to say that Boston is going to put Rondo on the market, because they may very well hold true to what they have said to Rondo and to the press.

But if a Rondo deal is going to happen, it’s going to happen when the full complement of trade assets are available, so nothing is likely to get real consideration until after all the trade restrictions are lifted.

Equally, what’s more likely is the Celtics ride this out with Rondo until closer to the trade deadline in February, and then gauge who the motivated buyers are. That’s the key.

Right now there really isn’t a desperate team that’s going to overpay for Rondo. Until that situation surfaces it’s going to be hard for Boston to extract the kind of assets they would ultimately want in a Rondo deal, and that is what’s going to determine whether Boston changes course – what do they get back?

The Other Gasol:  There has been some media driven commentary about the future of Memphis big man Marc Gasol. Like Rondo, he too can hit unrestricted free agency in July and while there are a number of teams that are going to throw max-level money at Gasol and try and tempt him out of Memphis, the truth is the Memphis Grizzlies have positioned themselves cap wise to give him a full max offer themselves, which would include a fully guaranteed fifth year, ensuring they can put the most money on the table.

There is some truth to the idea that Gasol is a name high on both the New York Knicks and the LA Lakers wish list, but the problem is neither of those teams offer what Gasol has right now in Memphis: a winning team and culture.

Some have tried to imply that Gasol would be swayed by Phil Jackson because of the success his brother Pau had under Jackson, and while Marc has been around Phil and knows him through his brother, he has never played for Jackson, so this idea that Marc is jumping ship for the Knicks because of his brother’s past is a little far fetched. Even Pau turned Jackson away this summer.

The idea that Marc covets the LA spotlight, is even more far fetched after he watched the Lakers try unsuccessfully to trade Pau for the final two years of his contract. Pau walked away from more money in LA to be on a winner in Chicago.

It’s understandable why fans in both markets mention Marc, he is arguably one of the top big men in the game and he could be obtainable as an unrestricted free agent

The problem with the wishful thinking and hair-brained logic is it overlooks that Marc is having a solid season. His team is again among the best in the West and his current team can and will pay him every dime possible under the cap.

Could Marc leave Memphis? Maybe. But what’s far more likely is Marc is going to sign a new $100 million deal with the Grizzlies this summer and finish what he has started with the Grizz.

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, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

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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Update: Eric Bledsoe Trade Talks

Michael Scotto updates the ongoing Eric Bledsoe trade saga.

Michael Scotto

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The sun has set on the 2017-18 season for Phoenix three games into the year.

The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson and promoted Jay Triano as the team’s interim head coach, as ESPN first reported. The Suns suffered an embarrassing 124-76 loss in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The final straw came during a 130-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road to drop the team to 0-3.

Then things went from bad to worse rapidly after a tweet from guard Eric Bledsoe.

General manager Ryan McDonough spoke with Bledsoe. Bledsoe told McDonough he was at a hair salon with a girl and the tweet wasn’t related to the Suns. McDonough didn’t believe that to be true and said the 27-year-old guard “won’t be with us going forward.”

Bledsoe spoke with McDonough and owner Robert Sarver privately several weeks ago. During that conversation the desire for a change was expressed, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Since then, Phoenix has discussed trades involving Bledsoe around the league, sources told Basketball Insiders. In addition, Tyson Chandler has continued to be shopped by the Suns during that time.

Trade talks have rapidly picked up since Bledsoe’s desire to be traded was made public.

The Suns and Denver Nuggets have discussed a trade of Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and other pieces, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has emerged as part of the trade package with Mudiay, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Denver has shopped Faried for years. The 27-year-old forward is owed $12.9 million this season and $13.7 million next season. Mudiay is owed $3.4 million this season and $4.3 million next season. Mudiay will then become a restricted free agent if given a qualifying offer in the summer of 2019. For more information on Denver’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Suns also spoke to the New York Knicks and asked for No. 8 overall pick Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Bledsoe. The Knicks are not interested in that package, however.

Kyle O’Quinn is a candidate to be traded. Several teams have called the Knicks expressing interest in O’Quinn. New York wants to retain Hernangomez for the foreseeable future despite a lack of playing time early in the season. It’s also worth noting Hernangomez is a close friend of Kristaps Porzingis. Ntilikina is currently the point guard of the future in New York.

In addition, New York would need to add a salary filler to make the trade work financially. For more information on New York’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe, according to the New York Times. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also have interest in Bledsoe, according to Amico Hoops.

Bledsoe is owed $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season before entering unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix. In addition, Bledsoe shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from downtown, and 81 percent from the foul line.

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NBA PM: Greek Freak Off to an MVP-Caliber Start

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ MVP and looks primed to be in the actual MVP race this season.

James Blancarte

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The NBA season is officially underway. Although each team has only played a few games so far, it has helped illuminate where many teams and players are in their development. For example, last night’s game in Oklahoma City gave a glimpse into how the Thunder will handle a late-game situation now that the team has three previous number one options. In the final minute, Russell Westbrook scored two of the Thunder’s last three baskets and assisted Carmelo Anthony on the final basket just before Andrew Wiggins hit a game-winning buzzer beater from well beyond the arc.

After three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s individual development has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow. A number of positive and far-reaching questions can be asked of Giannis. What is the ceiling for him? Can a player of his considerable talents continue to improve after winning Most Improved Player last season? Remember, Giannis was drafted in 2013 and is still only 22 years old.

When told in August that although he could win most valuable player, he could not also win most improved player as well, he responded with a simple, yet telling response.

“Why not?” Antetokounmpo responded.

While he continued to be lighthearted and moved on to the next topic, it’s fair to ask, “why not?” when it comes to Giannis. Through three regular season games, he is averaging 38.3 points, five assists, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. These averages will likely regress to more sustainable numbers as the season continues. For now, however, his averages are in elite territory. In addition, his ability to impact the game is already getting to the point where LeBron James may be the only other player who can similarly fill up the stat lines while physically terrorizing opponents on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

When asked who the “biggest freak in the NBA” is, Giannis elaborated that it was James due to his ability to impose himself on the game.

“The things [James] does, the veteran leadership he brings to the team, how big he is, how quick, how strong,” Giannis stated. “And at the end of the day, how smart he is. He can put his team in the right spots, make the right decision.”

In Saturday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Giannis willed his team to victory. It was Giannis demonstrating how big, strong and smart he was, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them to an impressive win.
With less than a minute left in a close game, Giannis closed in with a well-timed double team on Damian Lillard and came away with a clean steal. The steal got the Bucks the ball back and Giannis was fouled, which put him on the free throw line. Unfortunately, he came up short on both attempts and the Bucks remained a point behind.

Despite missing the free throws, Giannis came up huge on the very next play. Giannis took on C.J McCollum one-on-one at the top of the key and created yet another steal. He then leaked out to receive the pass for a breakaway dunk that quickly gave the Bucks the lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.

On the next play, when Jusuf Nurkic set a high screen and roll, he received the pass on the roll and headed to the basket. Giannis’ primary responsibility was the shooter in the corner and yet he read the action correctly and was ready and waiting at the rim for Nurkic. Giannis times Nurkic’s shot perfectly and rejected him at the rim, which effectively ended the game in favor of the Bucks.

Giannis’ ability as defensive Swiss Army Knife was instrumental in the Bucks’ close win over Portland. In addition, Giannis has also made further improvements in an area of his that has received a lot of attention over the years. He continues to shoot a below average three-point percentage for his career (27.6) and has had a rocky start to this season as well (16.7). It’s likely that Giannis’ three-point shooting will be a significant limitation in his game for the foreseeable future. However, over his career, Giannis has shown an ability to improve his shooting percentage on two-point shots consistently, especially shots from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. As Giannis has gotten stronger and more explosive, he has developed a strong desire to attack opponents off the dribble and absorb contact at the rim. Whether he blows by his opponent outright or scores through opponents at the rim, Giannis has developed into an offensive force that few players in the league could hope to slow down.

In addition to his scoring, Giannis continues to display his unique ability to handle the ball in transitions and run the Bucks’ offense in the half court as a point forward. This sort of ability separates Giannis from the other elite wings in the league who don’t have the skill or vision to act as a primary playmaker. Giannis is doing much of what he did last year, but seems more aggressive and physically dominant through the first three games of this season. That sort of improvement of course puts Giannis in the MVP discussion (though it is incredibly early in the season to even start this sort of discussion).

Giannis was recently asked about his ability to win the MVP and wasn’t shy about his desire to win the prestigious award.

“I’m going to be one of the players that hopefully dominates the game. But I’ve got to still make sure that my team wins, that my teammates get better,” Giannis stated. “I’ve set the goal since the last game against Toronto last year, at the playoffs. I want to be the MVP this year.”

What helps solidify Giannis’ ability to be such a strong MVP candidate is also what makes his team less dangerous. The Bucks are woefully dependent on their star and, at least for now, lack the necessary depth to be a true contender in the East.

Through three regular season games, it’s clear that the Bucks will only go as far as Giannis can take them. And that is the key to Giannis’ budding MVP campaign. Let’s take a look at last year’s top five MVP candidates. Last year’s winner, Westbrook, has two new star-caliber players (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) to share the spotlight, and the ball, with. James Harden is sharing the ball with Chris Paul, who is currently struggling with a knee injury. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are almost exclusively concerned with the postseason. Kawhi Leonard is similarly crucial to the San Antonio Spurs on offense and defense but has lingering health concerns and has yet to play this season. Finally, Isaiah Thomas is coming off a major hip injury and is not projected to play until January.

With so much uncertainty, Giannis has the opportunity to continue to draw attention as not only the most important player on the Bucks but perhaps the most valuable player in the league. Giannis’ early play this season indicates that this is possible. Despite his early-season outburst, Giannis is giving deference to LeBron James — though he admits he hopes to reach James’ level at some point in the future.

“Definitely [James is] the best player in the NBA. For a few years to come,” Giannis stated. “But I think a lot of players are getting better. Even myself. And hopefully one day we can get to that spot from him.”

Perhaps Giannis will take the spot as the best player in the NBA as early as this season. Considering how dominant he has been so far this season, it’s fair to ask “why not?”

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Wright Primed To Take Next Step With Raptors

Third year Utah alum Delon Wright is showing flashes of what he can do in an expanded role for Toronto.

Spencer Davies

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Backup point guards are essential to a team’s success.

They’re the floor generals of the second unit. They create for themselves to score. They collapse defenses in order for the others to get opportunities.

In some cases, these players perform so well that they outgrow the role they provide and force their way into the starting five—on that same team or elsewhere. Just look at past examples: Darren Collison, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, etc. The list goes on.

Kyle Lowry was 20 years old when he was drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He studied the position behind veteran guards Chucky Atkins and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire.

But even after showing promise in his rookie season, management decided to take Mike Conley Jr. the very next year. Though the two were about even in playing time, it was clear the Grizzlies favored youth over anything else, so in 2009, Lowry was dealt with the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade at the deadline.

At this point, Lowry had started in only 30 games over two-and-a-half seasons, so the keys to the car weren’t ready for him just yet. Aaron Brooks was a unique talent that Rick Adelman loved to throw out there along with Tracy McGrady and Kevin Martin.

Brooks started all 82 games in the 2009-10 campaign and blossomed into a scoring machine. He was shooting the lights out that year, and because of that, it was tough to sit him. Lowry still took advantage of his playing time, though, with plenty of floor run. He averaged nearly 14 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.

To the misfortune of his teammate and the advantage to Lowry the next season, Brooks struggled mightily with the jump shot that made him so deadly. After 34 games, the Rockets moved him in a deal to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Dragic was on his way to carving his niche in the league, but it opened up a door for Lowry to really take hold as “quarterback” of the team.

Circumstances arose once again, however. Houston had let go of Adelman and hired Kevin McHale in June 2011. Lowry and his new head coach did not have the same rapport. He unfortunately suffered from a bacterial infection and missed out on the beginning of the season, and towards the end, the emergence of Dragic led to his demise.

That summer, the Rockets sent Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future first-rounder. Once again, it was a fresh start for him, but also a brand new team with a different head coach.

It didn’t take long for the man to realize his true potential there. Aside from shuffling a bit with Jose Calderon as the starter in Toronto, Lowry found a home. The jump he made between that season and the next one was impressive.

Lowry got paid after that 2013-14 season and re-signed with the Raptors for four years. He earned three All-Star appearances and—aside from the postseason disappointments—led the team to new heights with his fellow All-Star backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto and its star point guard agreed to a three-year, $100 million deal over the summer to keep him running the show and to honor that contract well as he has always had. But now there’s somebody behind Lowry waiting to break out, and could very well be the one who gets the torch passed to him.

Delon Wright is ready to make his mark. When he entered the league, he was a reserve behind Cory Joseph and had to observe and soak in the experience of NBA life. For some rookies, they get the chance immediately, and for the others, they have to wait their turn. In this case, it was the latter.

Playing the waiting game ended up working out well for him. In the offseason, the Raptors went out and traded Joseph for C.J. Miles due to the loss of DeMarre Carroll. It was a move that not only addressed a need for depth at the wing but also opened a door for Wright.

So here we are, two games in. The Raptors are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by 51 points. In those combined, Wright has received 55 minutes of playing time.

Despite the competition being the rebuilding Chicago Bulls and a Philadelphia 76ers team trying to find an identity, he looks extremely comfortable. You don’t want to take too much out a sample size as small as that, but neither the numbers nor the eye test lies.

Wright has played the third-most minutes on the team thus far. He’s done a great job on both sides of the floor but has truly made a difference on the defensive end. As of now, the Raptors are only allowing 83 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood. When he’s not, that number blows up to 98.9 using the same scale.

Offensively he’s almost been just as good. Wright has been aggressive as a facilitator and as a shooter, putting up 13- and 14-point games early on. He dished out five assists in the season opener and nabbed five rebounds in the second game. He has a higher offensive rating than both Lowry and DeRozan.

According to NBA.com, Toronto’s net rating with him off the court (12.9) is the second lowest to his lifelong teammate Jakob Poeltl (12.8). Take it with a grain of salt because it’s one week into the season, but Wright has the best net rating in the league (37.6) among those playing at least 25 minutes per game.

Call it garbage time play or whatever you want: He has the tools to succeed. The stature is there. The intangibles are evident. It’s all about putting it together over the course of an entire season.

If the trend continues, there’s no way Casey can keep him off the floor for long. We don’t know where Wright’s career could go. It’s way too early to tell. The Raptors are likely hoping for him to be the successor after this era of basketball has come and gone.

Lowry is the man in Toronto, as is DeRozan. Nothing is changing that anytime soon. But rest assured, Wright’s primed to take a big step this year and it’s going to be fun to watch.

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