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NBA Daily: Making Use of Boston’s Traded Player Exception

Danny Ainge knows Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are ready to compete for a championship. Now, it’s on him to utilize the largest trade exception in NBA history to fortify the roster around his two young stars.

Bobby Krivitsky

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When the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets completed their Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade, it netted Boston a $28.5 million traded player exception, the largest such exception in NBA history. While they are unable to use the exception in its entirety, as they are hard-capped due to the addition of Tristan Thompson via the mid-level exception, Danny Ainge and Co. have nearly $20 million to work with.

And, as we creep closer to the March 25 trade deadline, the intrigue as to what the exception might be used for has only grown.

But who could the Celtics use the exception to acquire, realistically? Boston’s bench could improve, while Ainge himself has stressed the need to upgrade on the wing and down low. But who would be the right fit for the team as currently constructed?

J.J. Redick, New Orleans Pelicans

Redick has long been a strong shooter. 15th and 17th in NBA history, respectively, in three-pointers made (1916) and three-point percentage (41.5 percent), any team could make use of Redick’s gravity on the perimeter.

That said, he’s struggled mightily to start the year. Redick has converted just 34 percent of his shots from deep, while he’s taken just 4.9 three-point attempts per game, his fewest since the 2011-12 season. If he would like to help any contender, let alone the Celtics, Redick must turn his season around.

Provided he can, Redick would prove an immediate upgrade to Boston’s bench, both as a shooter and spacer that would aid Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker mightily on offense. Redick could also serve as a mentor and potential guide to some of the Celtics’ younger guards, namely Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith, both of whom could serve in a similar role to Redick down the road in their respective careers.

There would be some drawbacks, such as Redick’s defense. Never a strong defender, the opposition would surely zone in on Redick during his time on the floor. Of course, Boston’s group of versatile defenders should be able to mask his issues for the most part, but is that a burden Ainge and the team want to take on? Does Redick’s potential impact outweigh what he might give away on defense?

As far as actual acquisitions go, Redick, on the final year of his deal, should be one of the easier players to acquire. With an expiring contract, the team wouldn’t have to make a long-term commitment to the 36-year-old, nor would Boston have to send much back to New Orleans in any deal.

Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic

Another offensive-oriented option, the Celtics won’t be the only team looking to add the oft-rumored about Fournier.

Averaging 17.8 points per game, the 6-foot-7 guard might be exactly what Ainge is looking for. Whether a starter or bench contributor, Fournier can create his own shot and should alleviate some pressure on the aforementioned trio of Brown, Tatum and Walker. Likewise, though not to the extent of Redick, the career 37.5 percent three-point shooter would aid in the Celtics’ ability to operate inside the arc.

A reduced role, while it may come with reduced output, might be good for Fournier as well. Forced into a primary role with Magic, Fournier would operate significantly lower on the pecking order in Boston. And, while that may sound like a negative, it would allow him easier assignments on either end of the court and would afford Fournier the opportunity to focus solely on his own game, to maximize what he does with the touches he’s given as opposed to the entire team’s. Boston might even consider an extension for the 28-year-old, were he to perform well.

But, like Redick, Fournier’s defense may keep him out of the running.

For much of his career, Fournier has been abused on defense. Orlando’s two most recent postseason series, versus the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors, have shown as much; though not entirely his fault, Fournier was a constant target as the Magic lost both series in five games. Despite the potential offensive upgrade, Ainge had best look elsewhere if the goal is for Boston to stay airtight on defense.

Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings

The former high lottery selection has taken considerable flack throughout his career. But Barnes has turned into quite the well-rounded forward and would be a positive addition for almost any team.

Better yet for Boston, Barnes should come relatively cheap given his production.

Through 23 games, Barnes is averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. A career 37.8 percent shooter from beyond the arc, Barnes has improved his shot beyond the arc considerably, knocking down 4.5 three-point attempts per game at a 41.7 percent clip. Barnes has kept the basketball safe, as well, as he’s turned it over just 1.5 times per game.

Beyond his offense, Barnes’ versatility would give Boston another chess piece on the defensive end. The 6-foot-8, 225 pound forward has the size and strength to bump with power forwards and, in a pinch, centers, while Barnes’ has maintained the athleticism to keep up with the smaller wings on the perimeter.

He isn’t the “sexy” addition and the near $39 million he’s due in the next two seasons may be tough to swallow, but Barnes would undoubtedly push the team closer to an NBA title. The Kings may be reluctant to move him, as the 12-11 squad has surged recently and could certainly contend for a spot in the postseason.

Barnes might cost the Celtics a bit more than some of the other options on this list. But should Ainge have the opportunity to add him, he should probably take it.

Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

Currently sidelined for four-to-six weeks with a left ankle sprain, Gordon is averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. The former Arizona Wildcat is also shooting 42.7 percent from the field and a career-best 36.9 percent from beyond the arc on 4.4 attempts per game.

And, while he may be the most expensive add, that development might make Gordon the perfect option for Boston. He’s not Draymond Green — although his 4.2 assists per game is a career-high — but, unburned on offense, Gordon could focus on working in the flow of the offense, setting screens, making the right pass to the open man or simply knocking down his shot from deep and drawing out the defense to clear space for Brown, Tatum and Walker to do their thing.

Defensively, Gordon’s size would place him snug in the center of Boston’s system, both figuratively and literally, as his 6-foot-9, 220-pound frame should root him firmly in the paint against the typical backdown big man while his 7-foot wingspan would deter would-be cutters from floating toward the basket.

Only 25 and under contract for next season, a Gordon addition would also make sense in regards to the Celtics’ timeline alongside Brown and Tatum.

Honorable Mention: Al Horford, Oklahoma City Thunder

While he played heavy minutes at power forward with the Philadelphia 76ers, Horford is back primarily as a center with the Thunder.

And he has flourished.

Of course, we know what Horford would be capable of in Boston; in three seasons under Stevens’ watch, he played some of the best basketball of his career, was a deadeye shooter from deep and looked to be one of the best big men in the league, if not a bit underrated. And, while his 13.7 points per game isn’t the flashiest stat in the world, his 43.2 percent shooting from deep on more than five attempts per game would add a spark to Boston’s so far so-so offense.

And, while he may not be the defender he once was, Horford is still versatile enough to make an impact on that end of the court, whether serving as an anchor in the paint, rotating on the perimeter or in the pick-and-roll.

So, why is Horford simply an honorable mention? Well, Boston may not have to use the exception to acquire him.

Owed more than $50 million through the 2022-23 season, few teams, if any, are likely to give up anything of value for the 34-year-old. And, barring an expected surge into the postseason by Oklahoma City, both parties are likely to seek a buyout.

Would a potential Horford addition make sense for Boston? For sure. That said, it’s unlikely that his presence would preclude another addition via the exception.

The Celtics’ roster is incomplete, but they are fortunate enough to have Hayward’s traded player exception to work with. If Ainge can make the right move, if he can further fortify the roster around the impressive core that is Brown, Tatum and Walker, it just might push Boston over the top and into a title.

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NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench

Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.

David Yapkowitz

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When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.

But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.

On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.

“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”

As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.

This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.

“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.

This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”

Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.

Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.

“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”

Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.

“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”

And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.

He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.

“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”

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NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch

Will we see Rudy Gobert win another Defensive Player of the Year Award? Or will we have a new winner this year?

Dylan Thayer

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In the fourth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Rankings, Basketball Insiders continues to look at the players excelling on the defensive side of the ball. The Utah Jazz continues to be a powerhouse in the Western Conference amidst a surprising season, and they will still be well represented in these rankings. But there’s another newcomer to the list, an MVP-caliber player looking to lead his team to the NBA Finals. Ready to take look at the rankings? Let’s get into it.

1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 2)

The 28-year-old center out of France is one of the best defensive big men the game has seen in recent years – and this year is another example of that as Gobert has been the anchor of the best team in the NBA. Better, he has been a vital piece to their unanticipated success by taking part in all 35 of the Jazz games thus far.

Looking at Gobert’s numbers, he is still second in the league in blocks with 2.8 blocks per game, trailing only Myles Turner in that category.  Gobert has had three or more blocks in 18 games, even reaching four in 12 of them. 

In the defensive rating category, Gobert ranks third in the league with a rating of 103.0, per NBA Advanced Stats. This number is just enough behind Lebron James at 102.6 and teammate Mike Conley, who leads the NBA with a rating of 100.8. These three players are also in the top three for defensive win shares, with Gobert sitting in third with a DWS of 0.154. Gobert should be the current frontrunner as he has led the best team in the NBA on defense through the first half of the season. 

2. LeBron James (Previous: 4)

As a reminder, LeBron James has not made an All-Defensive Team since 2014. How about breaking that streak with a DPotY award as well? He very well could.

Without Anthony Davis, James is unarguably the tone-setter for the defense. The Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26 is a prime example of this. During that contest, James had 3 blocks and 4 steals as the Lakers won by 9. Furthermore, James has managed to average 1 block and 1.3 steals per game since the injury to Davis.

Notably, James ranks in the top three in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. James is just behind Conley in defensive rating at 102.6 compared to Conley’s 100.8 rating. Keep an eye on James’s defensive impact for the defending champs as the season continues to unfold.

3. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)

Embiid has been very neglected on this list, but now is the time for him to make his appearance. Yes, it is very high for a player to debut on this list, but he’s been on a tear as of late. 

In his career-high night on Feb. 19, Embiid went off for 50 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls. This is the game that put the league on notice of Embiid’s brilliant season, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the first-place Philadelphia 76ers. As things stand right now, he’s averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.

Taking a deeper dive into Embiid’s floor presence is what makes him stand out. He’s 13th in the NBA in defensive rating at 106.6. He also ranks 10th in defensive win shares with 0.131, per NBA Advanced Stats. The coaching change in Philadelphia has allowed Embiid to run the Sixers’ offense and, as things stand right now, he’s certainly in both the MVP and DPotY conversation. 

4. Mike Conley (Previous: 1)

Since an extended absence, Conley returned to make an instant impact in the Jazz lineup, averaging 2.0 steals over his last five games. The unexpected success has been due in large part to Conley’s improved play. Of course, Conley is high up on this year’s All-Star snub list, but his significant individual improvements won’t go unnoticed here.

Conley is currently tied for third in the league in steals per game at 1.5. He is also first in defensive rating with a rating of 100.8. Beyond that, he then ranks second in defensive win shares with 0.168. Without Conley, it’s hard to see the Jazz having the success they’ve enjoyed this year. Watch out for him as the season approaches the midpoint as he tries to become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton during the 1995-96 season. 

5. Myles Turner (Previous: 3)

Despite a slip in the standings for the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner has been a very bright spot for the team defensively. He leads the league in blocks with 3.4 per game and has a pretty sizeable lead over Gobert in that category. Add in the fact that he is averaging 1.1 steals per game, it’s easy to see why Turner is so high in these rankings.

If the Pacers can manage to get things back in order amidst a sub-.500 record thus far, Turner could rise into the upper part of these rankings again.

Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: N/A)

While voter fatigue may hinder the chance of Giannis earning his second consecutive DPotY award, he should be in the conversation again. The Milwaukee Bucks are amongst the top three in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to the stellar defensive play from the two-time MVP. 

It will be interesting to see where he finishes in the voting after the season’s end. Maybe he gets this award for a second-straight year, while the voter fatigue towards him takes place in the MVP ballots.

While these rankings have gotten competitive as of late, there’s still plenty of time for rising and falling in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Defensive Player of the Year rundown.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are Good Now?

The Washington Wizards went from 5-15 to 13-18 out of nowhere. Much improved from their early-season play they make a run? Dylan Thayer examines.

Dylan Thayer

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After the swap of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards did not look like they were going to be a playoff team. 20 games into the season, the team found themselves at 5-15 with trade rumors constantly buzzing. At one point, they even had the worst record in the NBA, while looked like a trade of Westbrook, Bradley Beal or even both was a certainty with the team was set to pivot into a true rebuild.

Now, all of a sudden, Washington has the look of a team that could make the postseason play-in game. 8-5 in their last 13 with wins over the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards have started to climb the conference, now just 2.5 games back on the Charlotte Hornets for the East’s eighth seed.

But what’s changed? Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly made them start the season out so slowly.

Early in the year, the former MVP Westbrook was playing through a left quad injury. He wasn’t nearly explosive with the ball as he’s always been, settling for low-percentage jumpers and outside shots, perhaps the biggest weakness in his game. Between the injury and COVID-19 postponements, Westbrook and many other Wizards were away from the court for a significant time — the whole team was in flux.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, the team took the floor in Boston and destroyed the Celtics; the 104-91 final doesn’t truly reflect that, but at one point the Wizards led by as many as 25. A national game beatdown, their play led into the best stretch the Wizards have seen this season.

Westbrook, over his injury, looked like his former explosive self. He’s posted six triple-doubles since, while he came within a point or assist of doing so in three other contests. And, back on the court, the entire team was also able to spend some time together, which allowed them to further jell as a unit and build some momentum toward future games.

It was a surprise when Beal came out and said he did not want to be traded from Washington, with more than a few curious as to how the NBA’s leading scorer could be satisfied with such subpar play from the rest of his roster. But he “shared a consistent viewpoint” with the team, according to Shams Charania, as to what they have done to build around him. The Wizards’ clear leader, Beal has signaled he’s in it for the long-haul, while additions like Westbrook should only serve to solidify that commitment.

Beyond their two stars, the Wizards roster has also stepped up in their most recent stretch. Sophomore Rui Hachimura has proven capable alongside the star-duo in the first unit, while Robin Lopez has stepped up in the absence of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews have both flashed as well, with Matthews shooting 41.3 percent from three and even earning a starting role.

If they can sustain their recent success, Washington could easily make the postseason in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, the tightly-packed nature of the East — while they’re 2.5 games behind Charlotte, just four games separate the Wizards and the fourth seed Celtics — should only serve to benefit Washington in their quest for their first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. And, if the Wizards want to bolster their team for a playoff run and look to buy at the deadline, they certainly have the pieces to make some interesting moves. With most of their draft capital for the foreseeable future, along with some interesting contracts they could flip for more win-now type players, anything could happen.

The Beal-Westbrook, while it started rough, has not nearly been as bad as most people would think. For the team, the 2020-21 season has proven more promising than they may have thought and, if they can continue to elevate their game, don’t be shocked to see the Wizards on the big stage come May.

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