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NBA AM: You Can Make One Trade, What’s It Look Like?

Joel Brigham, Jabari Davis, and Steve Kyler all weigh in on five burning questions in the NBA .

Steve Kyler

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Five NBA Questions

Sometimes it’s interesting to get different perspectives when discussing these NBA topics, so this morning we asked three Basketball Insiders writers to answer five league-related questions. Joel Brigham, Jabari Davis and Steve Kyler all weighed in and here is what they had to say.

1. Who Has Been the Biggest Surprise Player for You?

While so many players have gone nuclear this year statistically, the one player who has surprised me the most, even more than Russell Westbrook’s triple-double average, has been James Harden leading the league in assists with 11.8 per game. He’s never averaged more than 7.5 assists per game at any other point in his career and, for the most part, it’s pretty unheard of for an older dog to come up with this kind of new trick. Harden has looked like an MVP this year, and his ball distribution has been a big reason why.

– Joel Brigham

It isn’t shocking given all of the promise, but the most pleasant surprise (or development) so far has been the progress of Giannis Antetokounmpo throughout the first quarter of the NBA’s regular season. It would have been very easy to write the Bucks off given the preseason injury to Khris Middleton and the fact that the Eastern Conference at least appeared to be improving significantly around them, but Milwaukee has shown to be a resilient bunch, and Antetokounmpo has been a major part of that.

At just 22 years old, the 6’11 point forward can effectively play any position on the court depending on the matchup and still only appears to be touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to potential. He’s up to 22.4 PPG (19th), 8.6 RPG (20th) and 6.1 APG (17th) on the year and the Bucks are exceeding expectations. Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns understandably get mentioned whenever the discussion of “starting a franchise around one guy” comes up, but Antetokounmpo is a guy that should be breaking into that conversation if he’s not already there.

– Jabari Davis

Solomon Hill of the New Orleans Pelicans has surprised me, and not in a good way. Whenever a player changes teams, you expect something of a learning curve. But fresh off a four-year $48 million contract this past summer, Hill has been downright dreadful as a Pelican. In 22 games logged this season, Hill is averaging a career low 5.2 points per game. He has registered double-figure scoring just twice all season and has recorded seven games with a zero field goal percentage. You can point to many things that are not working for the Pelicans, but Hill has turned into an almost disastrous signing.

– Steve Kyler

2. What Players Has Not Lived Up to Your Expectations?

Chandler Parsons was part of Memphis’ quarter-billion investment this past summer, but he’s only played in six games this season thanks to a knee injury. And even in the games he played, he averaged only 7.7 PPG. That’s a career-low and about half of his career average, so all that vitriol Mark Cuban had about Chandler’s exit can now be targeted at something or someone more deserving. Frankly, Mark Cuban is lucky he avoided investing all that money in a player who’s been arguably the league’s most disappointing through the first 20 games of the year.

– Joel Brigham

Although he appears to be putting it together a bit more of late, Bismack Biyombo hasn’t enjoyed quite the rollover success for his new team in Orlando many would have liked to see following a successful late-season and playoff stretch with the Toronto Raptors last season. His rebounding totals (8.3 RPG) have been impressive for a reserve player, but even more consistency and production would have been anticipated given the deal he signed this past summer.

Unless the plan was to pay a backup an average of $18 million per season over the next four years, it isn’t a stretch to assume Orlando’s front office has a larger role (eventually) in mind for the 24-year-old big man from Zaire. It will be interesting to see if GM Rob Hennigan is active on the trade market at some point this season or moving forward given the roster redundancy or if they ultimately like having the ability to bring in the versatile Biyombo behind Nikola Vucevic. For perspective, Vucevic has been effective and has another two years left on a very favorable deal (about $12.5 million per through 2018-19). That means the team has technically committed about twice as much money to Biyombo moving forward.

– Jabari Davis

Stanley Johnson of the Detroit Pistons gets the nod here. Part of Johnson’s problem is he can’t get out of Stan Van Gundy’s doghouse. There has been talk of needing to be more focused at practice and needing to play harder in games, so some of that is on Stanley. Johnson is immensely talented and shows flashes of being a special talent. Maybe Johnson needs a change of scenery to blossom. This was a year in which the expectations on Johnson were higher, especially after a solid Summer League. With 19 games logged and just 3.6 points per game, Johnson has hardly lived up to the hype and his 9.85 PER rating is downright disappointing.

– Steve Kyler

3. What Team Has Not Lived Up to Your Expectations?

As someone who thought the Indiana Pacers would be one of the East’s best teams, seeing them flounder just south of .500 through the first quarter of the season has been terribly frustrating. While Paul George has dealt with some early-season injuries, Jeff Teague hasn’t been the big-time scorer they hoped he would be and the team just hasn’t come together under Nate McMillan. This group looks weird and disjointed, and they’ll be lucky just to make the playoffs this year, let alone win a series.

– Joel Brigham

A legitimate case could be made for the Indiana Pacers (10-11) and even the Atlanta Hawks (on a 1-9 stretch following a 9-2 start), but it has to be the Minnesota Timberwolves. They were just about everyone’s ‘darling’ squad coming into the season, and while a transition period was certainly anticipated given the new direction under Tom Thibodeau, let’s just say they haven’t shown quite the collective growth that might have been expected.

In retrospect, some of their early struggles should have been anticipated given the age of the core, but you still might expect a more defined defensive identity or at least signs of significant improvement on that end from their wing talent. Given Thibodeau’s penchant for the defensive end, you know being the 23rd-ranked team in terms of defensive efficiency and 28th overall in opponent’s shooting percentage is not sitting well. Perhaps some veteran depth in the locker room and huddle might be the answer?

– Jabari Davis

The Washington Wizards should be substantially better than their 6-13 record. The chemistry of the team is just off. The bench is almost dreadful, and unfortunately, it does not look like something that will right itself. The good news is the Wizards are just 3.5 games out of the playoff picture so a strong run of games could put them in the hunt. But given how good this team should have been coming into the season, the Wizards have been a big disappointment.

– Steve Kyler

4. You Can Make One Trade, What’s It Look Like?

The Philadelphia 76ers trade Nerlens Noel to the Chicago Bulls for Nikola Mirotic. Chicago’s bench has been brutal, and while Noel doesn’t help with the offense, he does bolster the frontcourt in the second unit where currently there isn’t a whole lot of talent that can contribute. Chicago wouldn’t lose much in Mirotic, who has regressed considerably this year, and the contracts are pretty comparable. Philadelphia clears up their logjam at center and brings in a 25-year-old stretch four that still could very well figure it out, while Chicago gets depth for its bench and a pretty talented defensive player itching for a fresh start.

– Joel Brigham

It wouldn’t be able to take place until after January 15th due to a recently signed deal, but a deal centered around Bradley Beal for Nikola Vucevic (+ Jodie Meeks’ expiring deal) could make sense for both teams once Beal can be moved. Washington is 6-13 and headed absolutely nowhere once again this season even with the transition to Coach Brooks’ new system. Although it is still relatively early in his tenure, John Wall is in the midst of his third consecutive frustrating season and certainly doesn’t seem eager or willing to continue struggling. The move would open things up a bit more for the Wizards from a financial standpoint over the next few years and give Wall a big man that has proven he can score and rebound at a high level. It would also balance things out for Orlando, open time up for the aforementioned Biyombo and obviously give them the type of wing scorer the organization has coveted for some time.

– Jabari Davis

If we’re making a trade, let’s make a trade. There are a few problems that need solving, so this deal attempts to do both. There is a massive logjam of similar players in Philadelphia, Orlando and Denver. The Kings also have a couple of guys that would like out, so let’s fix all of that with one deal.

So, the Philadelphia 76ers send out Nerlens Noel (to Denver) and Robert Covington (to Sacramento). The Orlando Magic send out Nikola Vucevic (to Philadelphia) and C.J. Watson (to Sacramento). The Nuggets send out Emmanuel Mudiay (to Philadelphia) and Wilson Chandler (to Sacramento) while the Kings send out Rudy Gay (to Orlando), Omri Casspi (to Orlando) and Skal Labissière (to Denver).

In the end, the 76ers come out with Vucevic and Mudiay, better fitting pieces to the roster they have and a strong option at point guard going forward. There is still some duplication at the center position, but Vucevic could play more of a stretch four role in Philly, and his deal is very team friendly.

The Magic end up with Gay and Casspi; both bring offense. Both would basically be one-year rentals but would give the Magic two true small forwards, both of whom can score the ball.

The Nuggets would thin out the point guard position and concede that Mudiay might not be the guy and let Jamal Murray run the show. They would get back Noel and Labissière and shed Chandler. The Nuggets get some defense and shot blocking, although they’d still have a logjam in the front court, the pieces might be better long-term especially if the Nuggets could extract a draft pick from every team involved for helping make this deal work. For the Kings, they get a lot of value out of two guys that want to leave and a rookie they don’t need. Chandler is playing very well as of late and is under contract. Watson gives them another option at point guard and Covington (while injured today) gives them a tremendous outside shooter.

If you are going to make a trade, why not make a big one? This deal is not ideal for the Nuggets, but what it would do is set them up for a run through the lottery and maybe a shot at a much better fitting group of guys.

– Steve Kyler

5. What Player Is Over-Hyped?

While he started the season on fire, DeMar DeRozan has come crashing back down to earth over the course of the last several games and is showing more of the inconsistency he’s exhibited over the course of his career. We all saw how he completely disappeared in the playoff games that mattered a season ago, and his $139 million contract this past summer was supposed to represent his movement into the league’s upper echelon. He can be an elite scorer, but he’s just as inconsistent as he’s ever been.

– Joel Brigham

These questions are never fun, but following the amount of buzz he received coming out of college and some of the more favorable comparisons bestowed upon him, thus far, Jahlil Okafor has been overhyped. That isn’t, necessarily, a knock against him on a personal level. The fact that he was being mentioned in the same breath as greats like Tim Duncan (offensive skill set) and there was an actual debate (by some) as to whether he should have been the top selection over Karl-Anthony Towns (although, no one will admit this now). Okafor’s inability to assert himself on a team with plenty of opportunities to shine (like the Philadelphia 76ers) is at the very least a bit of a concern.

– Jabari Davis

Without trying to bring the wrath of Laker Nation upon me and admitting he’s a 19-year-old rookie, can we pump the brakes just a touch on Brandon Ingram now? With 23 NBA games under his belt, he’s averaging eight points a game, shooting 36.4 percent from the floor and 28 percent from three. He has a PER of 7.86 and just six games with double-figure scoring. Now seriously, I get it. He’s a baby in his NBA career, but if you rewind to the draft, he was drawing a comparison to Kevin Durant, and that he’d be the instant game changer for whatever team got him. He is a very nice player, with lots of upside and potential, but the hype around Ingram was never based in reality. It was always based on this fantasy concept that because he looked like Durant, he’d play like Durant. The Lakers are taking it slow with Ingram, as they should. In time, he has the skill set to potentially be a special player, but now that there is some reality to the equation, maybe we can ease back on how great Ingram is going to be until he actually is great. Just a suggestion.

– Steve Kyler

Don’t agree? Have a different answer to the question, we’d love to hear what you think. Drop your responses in the comment section below.

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, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @OMaroneyNBA, @Ben_Dowsett, @ JabariDavisNBA and @CodyTaylorNBA .

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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G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.

Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.

Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.

With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.

1. Christian Wood

Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.

His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.

2. Jameel Warney

Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.

With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.

3. Melo Trimble

After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.

He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.

4. Joel Bolomboy

Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.

At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.

5. Jeremy Evans

Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.

With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.

Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.

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NBA Daily: Potential Trade Targets to Get the Sixers to the Playoffs

On the cusp of a playoff appearance for the first time in six years, the Philadelphia 76ers could cement their postseason status with a move at the trade deadline.

Dennis Chambers

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At times this season, the Philadelphia 76ers look like they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best teams. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at their disposal, along with capable three-point shooters, the Sixers have shown flashes of being a force to be reckoned with.

And at other times, well, they look like a discombobulated young team, with serious flaws in the construction of its roster.

Despite the lapses they display, the Sixers are still right in the thick of the playoff race. Currently, at 21-20, they hold a half-game advantage over the Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.

While they await the return of top overall pick Markelle Fultz, who has still yet to hit the court after being shut down earlier this season with a shoulder injury, the Sixers will continue to miss depth on the wing and a particular skill set that holds them back from winning games they seem to have locked up with double-digit leads. For all the greatness that is Embiid, and all of the promise that is Simmons, when the former isn’t on the court, the latter struggles to shoulder the scoring load due to his inability to shoot jump shots.

Initially, that’s what Fultz was drafted for. A player that head coach Brett Brown has said many times before, has the talent to tie everything together with the Sixers’ roster. What he means by that is Fultz represents a scorer from multiple levels of the court who forces the defense to lock in on, potentially leaving the teams’ shooters open on the wing.

Without Fultz, and when Embiid is on the bench, the team lacks a player who can put the ball on the floor, create and knock down jumpers. Although long-term success is still very much the attention for Philadelphia, that doesn’t discount the fact that a team that finished with 10 wins just two seasons ago is on the verge of making a playoff appearance for the first time since 2011-12 with a core of young, promising players.

Because of that possibility, and because of the clear holes in team’s makeup that could prevent this from happening, the Sixers could become an interesting player at the trade deadline — especially considering the names that appear available, according to reports.

It’s no secret that Sixers’ president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wants to keep financial flexibility heading into this summer, that’s the main reason players like J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson were signed to one-year deals last offseason. Before the team has to start signing their own players to big extensions, the Sixers are in a unique position where they not only have elite homegrown talent, but the money to complement those players the best they can. Because of that, any deal that would return a player with money on the books past this season seems unlikely.

That being said, it just so happens that two players potentially on the trading block right now fulfill the Sixers’ most crucial need, and also aren’t on the hook for money past this year. Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that Rodney Hood could be moved before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and that multiple teams are expressing interest in his services.

Along with Hood, Stein also reported that Lou Williams, who’s been the center of many trade talks around the league given his career-year and impending free agent status, was involved in specific discussions that would send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What should intrigue the Sixers about these two players is not only their ability on the court but also their flexibility off of it.

Let’s start with Hood. Before the rise of Donovan Mitchell this season, Hood looked to be in a position to assume the role as the dominant scorer on the Utah Jazz following Gordon Hayward’s departure. At just 25 years old and in the final year of his rookie contract, Hood may not be worth the price tag for Utah this summer considering their find with Mitchell.

Should the Jazz actually move on from Hood, it’s unclear what they would ask for in return at this point. Yes, Hood his an impending free agent, which could diminish his value. But the team trading for him would assume his Bird Rights, therefore giving them a better shot at retaining him this summer should they choose to do so.

The best part about his potential fit in Philadelphia is that he fits the timeline of the rebuild while also addressing a need in the present. Being just 25, Hood fits alongside the core of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Dario Saric and Robert Covington as a young player. If the Sixers were to miss out on whoever they were planning to target with their financial flexibility this summer, Hood would still be there to plug in for years with a contract extension.

Shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc this season, and displaying the track record of being able to fill up the score sheet, Hood could become the go-to-scorer for Philadelphia when Embiid isn’t on the court, or late in games when they need to stop an opposing team’s run.

While he appears to at least be on the table as of now, Hood is certainly worth checking in on from the Sixers’ standpoint.

Now, onto Williams. Drafted by Philadelphia all the back in 2005 with the 45th overall pick, Williams is enjoying the best season of his career for the Los Angeles Clippers. At 31, he doesn’t represent the long-term upside that Hood does, but for this season alone, bringing Williams on to this current Sixers’ roster could be that extra jolt to get them cleanly into the postseason.

Averaging 23 points per game and shooting 41 percent from downtown, Williams fits the role as an iso-scorer better than any player on the Sixers’ current roster. Alongside Simmons and Embiid, Williams could assume the role Fultz was supposed to this season.

Another interesting ripple to the potential Williams fit is that he was on the last Sixers’ roster to make the playoffs. Adding him to this roster would bring his career full circle. This summer, Williams is most likely going to test the market and given his age and potential price tag he may not fit so well into the Sixers’ plans moving forward. But with his history with the club and city, getting him on board for another playoff run with an exciting young team could arguably help in the negotiation process this offseason.

Neither of these potential trades are slam dunks, and it remains to be seen if either player will even be moved. But for where the Sixers stand currently, coupled with their growing postseason expectations, checking in around the league on trade targets that can fulfill obvious needs should be at the forefront of Colangelo’s agenda for the next few weeks.

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Payton Blocking Out Trade Talk, Believes Magic Will Turn It Around

Spencer Davies sits down with Elfrid Payton to discuss his fourth year, trade rumors and a trying season for Orlando in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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It’s hard for a team to look for positives when it’s living in the basement.

The Orlando Magic have had a rough go of it this year. They’re 13-32 at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve have had a ton of setbacks, and they currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating.

There is a bright spot hidden in there, though, and head coach Frank Vogel sees it growing as the season progresses.

“We’re frustrated with our record, but we’re encouraged with the development we’ve had with our young players,” Vogel said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “Aaron Gordon, Mario [Hezonja], and [Elfrid Payton] have all had strong individual seasons and continue to get better. All those guys are improving individually and at some point, it’s gonna lead to more Ws.”

While Gordon stands out more to some than the others because of his star appeal, Payton is right up there with him as far as making the next step goes.

“Elfrid’s shooting the ball better from the perimeter and at the rim,” Vogel said. “He’s worked on his left hand. He’s worked on his floaters. Shooting 52 percent from the field and that’s pretty darn good for a point guard, and the 39 percent from the three as well.”

Those are your more traditional statistics that don’t address the leap he’s taken in efficiency. Sure, Payton’s scoring the same amount of points per game, but it’s the way he’s been getting that’s been most noticeable.

According to Basketball-Reference and NBA.com, he’s making nearly 70 percent of his tries between 0-3 feet and ranks third among point guards in restricted field goal percentage (min. four attempts).

But Payton doesn’t like to evaluate himself using numbers, so he doesn’t know how to feel about how he’s played for Orlando this year.

“It’s tough to say because I like to measure my success by winning and we haven’t been doing that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “So tough to say.”

He’s not kidding. Since starting out the season 8-4, the Magic have taken a hard fall, only winning five games since November 10. In this stretch, there have been three hefty losing streaks—two 9-game slides and most recently a 7-game skid.

“Not to make excuses—we had a lot of injuries,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of what happened. “Haven’t really been playing with the group of guys that we started the season with, so kinda derailed us a little bit.”

As the losses pile up, so does the chatter. Indicated by multiple recent reports, Orlando has made it clear that many players on the roster are available on the trade block. Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, and Payton were recently brought up as names who could possibly on the move if the right deal presents itself.

When asked about the rumblings, Vogel claimed he doesn’t have a message for his guys.

“They understand it’s part of the business,” he said. “Just focus on playing the game.”

Like his coach, Payton doesn’t have a reaction to the noise.

“I don’t get caught up into the things like that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Today I’m an Orlando Magic. I play for the Orlando Magic and I’m gonna give them 100 percent of me. I’m somebody that likes to finish what I started, so I definitely would like to see this through and try to turn this organization around.”

So who does he see on this team that can help jump-start the process in flipping the script?

“Everybody,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I like Vuc. I like AG. Evan [Fournier] is somebody who can fill it up. T Ross is somebody who can fill it up when healthy. I think we have a lot of talent on this team. Even the rookies—Wes [Iwundu] plays well for us in stretches. Jon [Isaac] when he was playing he’d do well.

“You could see the potential there. So I think we have a lot of weapons on this team. I’m very confident in the group we have here. I think we have a lot of talent, we just have to do it.”

Saying you’re going to right the ship is one thing. Actually doing it is a whole other challenge. With where the Magic sit in the standings currently, their work is cut out for them. That being said, Payton isn’t giving up.

In fact, he’s still got his eyes on making it to the postseason, and it starts with him.

“Definitely trying to get a run going,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Make a playoff push. It’s definitely not out of sight right now, especially with the way the East is. We win a few games and we right back in the thick of things.

“Do whatever I can to help us to get more wins, man. I think that’s what it all boils down to. I figure if I’m playing well, that means we’re winning for the most part.”

Defense matters the most, and it’s something Payton and his group know they need to get better at if they have a chance to play past mid-April.

“Just be tied in together a little bit more,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I think sometimes we have too many breakdowns on the backside. So just being more in-tune with each other.”

One thing is for sure—Orlando is going through this difficult time as a team, but refuses to fold. Payton says Vogel has constantly stayed in their ears with uplifting advice.

“Keep fighting,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of his words. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No one’s gonna feel sorry for you, so just keep fighting.”

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