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NBA AM: Who’s on the Trading Block?

The NBA trade deadline is just over two weeks away. Here are some names and situations to watch closely.

Lang Greene

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The 2013-14 NBA trade deadline is set for 3:00 p.m. (ET) on February 20, which puts us at just over two weeks away from one of the busiest times of the season. As expected the trade rumor circuit has started to heat up as league executives continue to work the lines to secure a deal for their respective franchise.

Here are some initial names and situations to keep an eye on around the league as the deadline nears.

Pau Gasol, Forward-Center, Los Angeles Lakers

Gasol, a four time All-Star, has seemingly been on the trading block for years. The veteran is on the books for $19.2 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. It’s no secret the Lakers would move Gasol if the opportunity presented itself, but the franchise has refused to take on long term money in the process preferring to protect their cap room for free agency this summer.

The latest, according to the Los Angeles Times, indicates the Phoenix Suns have at least expressed an exploratory interest in Gasol. The Suns reportedly would be willing to part ways with a first round pick and veteran center Emeka Okafor as part of the deal.

The Lakers are attempting to retool on the fly, so expect Gasol’s name to remain firmly entrenched on the rumor mill all the way up until the deadline.

Greg Monroe, Forward, Detroit Pistons

The frontcourt trio of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith has failed to live up to expectations this season in Motown, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The team’s lack of perimeter shooting has played a strong role in the team’s struggle as well as Monroe’s presence forcing Smith to play out of position at small forward.

With Monroe is expected to become a restricted free agent this summer and the team committing over $50 million to Smith, reports have surfaced the former Georgetown product may be on the move.

However, despite the persistent reports, Pistons executives continually have denied engaging in any trade talks involving Monroe.

Rajon Rondo, Guard, Boston Celtics

The Celtics are at the beginning stages of their rebuilding project and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has made it clear he won’t let loyalty to specific players impact his blueprint. Boston has a strong asset in Rondo, one of the best point guards in the league, as we approach the deadline. However, as we covered in this space last week, sources maintain Rondo is in all likelihood safe from the trading block – for now.

Evan Turner, Forward, Philadelphia 76ers

There are three factors to note when evaluating Turner’s future with the Sixers: the team is beginning a lengthy rebuilding process, Turner is headed toward restricted free agency and the fourth year pro is having a career season.

The Charlotte Observer recently reported the Charlotte Bobcats have explored the possibility of acquiring Turner from the Sixers to aid in their playoff push. Other outlets report the Sixers are looking to secure a first round pick in return for Turner in a deal.

Emeka Okafor, Center, Phoenix Suns

Okafor has yet to play a single game this season due to a neck injury, but the Suns are reportedly shopping the veteran big man around the league to gauge interest. The value in Okafor is his $14.5 million expiring contract at the end of the season. There are plenty of teams in rebuilding situations around the league and one of the keys to a successful retooling is freeing up cap room.

Phoenix is looking for another rotation player to strengthen their playoff positioning and Okafor may be one of the vehicles utilized to pull off a deal at the deadline.

Ben Gordon, Guard, Charlotte Bobcats

Make no mistake, the Bobcats would entertain the notion of moving Gordon and his $13.2 million expiring contract, but the franchise hasn’t found a deal to their liking yet.

A change of scenery would apparently be welcomed on both fronts as Gordon told Basketball Insiders earlier this season his biggest priority would be joining a contender in free agency this summer.

Jason Thompson, Forward, Sacramento Kings

The arrival of forwards Derrick Williams and Rudy Gay and the return of Carl Landry may place Thompson on the expendable list. The problem Sacramento will encounter is the fact Thompson is owed more than $19 million over the next three seasons.  While Thompson has been productive since entering the league, that cap number may be one teams around the league hesitate to absorb on their books.

Thaddeus Young, Forward, Philadelphia 76ers

Young is currently the longest tenured Sixers player on the roster and is averaging a career-high 17.4 points per game this season. Despite being one of the few bright spots for the team this season, rumors continue to swirl that the organization is trying to move Young in order to secure an asset (or pick) for their rebuilding effort.

Young is owed  $9.4 million next season and has a player option for the 2016 campaign worth $9.9 million.

Omer Asik, Center, Houston Rockets

The Rockets aggressively tried to deal Asik earlier this season but couldn’t find a deal to their liking. After failing to find a deal, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has publicly maintained Asik will most likely remain with Houston until his contract ends after next season. However with the trade deadline approaching  and finding quality big men scarce, Morey’s phone lines may be buzzing soon from team’s  looking to strengthen their own interior.

Chris Kaman, Center, Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers used their full taxpayer mid-level exception ($3.1m) to sign Kaman this past summer, but the partnership hasn’t blossomed according to plan. Kaman was expected to receive the lion’s share of minutes for the Lakers at center this season but has played in less than half of the team’s games to date.

Kaman, who has also dealt with some injuries, has been confused by his lack of a defined role and with the  Lakers rebuilding don’t be surprised if you hear the veteran’s name mentioned in trade reports leading up to the deadline.

Andre Miller, Denver Nuggets Rift Still Ongoing

Veteran point guard Andre Miller’s consecutive games  played streak was snapped at 239 last month after receiving a DNP-CD from head coach Brian Shaw.  Miller then lashed out at his coach and received a two game suspension from the Denver Nuggets in return. While the suspension was quickly lifted, the fact remains Miller hasn’t played with the team since December 30, 2013.

The Nuggets could use a steady floor general in the backcourt with Nate Robinson being lost for the season to a torn ACL.

However if a reunion were to take place, Shaw says he won’t be the one reaching out to mend the fence with the exiled Miller.

“There won’t be any reaching out from our end,” Shaw told Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post.  “I think we’ve operated and done everything that we’re supposed to do. So, if there’s any reaching out that needs to be done I think the reaching out has to come from him to us. But at this point we’re still trying to evaluate the situation. The guys that are here are going to be our concern. That’s something I’ve kind of completely taken myself out of and let whatever happens be dealt with between him, his agent and the front office.”

Miller is averaging a career-low 5.9 points and 3.3 assists in 30 games this season.

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VIDEO: Tobias Harris – 2018 NBA All-Star

New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

Basketball Insiders

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New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.

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NBA All-Star Saturday Recap

Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.

In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.

In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.

JBL Three Point Contest

The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.

In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.

Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.

In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points.  Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.

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