Less Than 31 Days To Go
The 2018 NBA Trade Deadline is February 9, so that puts the league under 31 days before the window to complete trades will come to a close.
With the clock getting a little louder with each passing day, there are a few things worth talking about.
The Knicks Have Choices
Yesterday, word leaked that the New York Knicks are likely going to bring up minor league guard Trey Burke from their G-League affiliate. Burke has been playing incredible basketball and has been eligible to sign with any team in the NBA as a full G-League roster player. Word is his camp was getting serious interest from other teams and basically told the Knicks if they were not going to sign him, they’d sign elsewhere.
The prevailing thought is the Knicks would waive guard Ramon Sessions to open the roster spot to sign Burke. However, the Knicks seem to have been kicking the tires on trades. Word is the Knicks have heard interest on forward Kyle O’Quinn, who holds a player option for free agency and second-year big man Willy Hernangómez, who has fallen out of the rotation in New York.
Sources close to the situation have been saying for weeks that Hernangómez is growing increasingly frustrated that he doesn’t have much of a role in New York. While Hernangómez loves the team and the city, he wants to play, and his camp has been urging the Knicks to make something happen either way—play him or trade him.
There have been reports that the Knicks have heard from playoff teams that are open to the idea of a rental type trade for O’Quinn, which could yield a low-level draft pick.
The challenge in moving O’Quinn is his $4.08 million salary. Most teams can’t absorb that kind of contract money without sending back something, meaning the Knicks would have to take back a player which wouldn’t solve the immediate issue of opening a roster spot.
The Knicks are on the clock in some regards, but they don’t have a hard deadline on Burke. If push comes to shove, they can simply waive a player to open the roster spot, but it seems the Knicks have at least looked at bigger options before pulling the trigger.
The Jazz Want To Add
There has been talk in NBA circles that the Utah Jazz are angling to make some moves before the deadline.
The Jazz are sitting on two sizable ending contracts in Derrick Favors ($12 million) and Joe Johnson ($10.5 million), with NBA insiders saying both could be had before February 9, especially if they return solid younger options.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, dropped that the Jazz have eyes for Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic who will become trade-eligible on January 15.
The Bulls seem more than open to the idea, despite how well Mirotic has played. The prevailing thought is if the Jazz were to package some draft picks, along with ending contracts the Bulls might be willing to deal.
The Jazz have also been linked to talks regarding often-injured guard Alec Burks, who has one more year on his deal after this season and has become somewhat expendable with the emergence and dominance of rookie Donovan Mitchell.
With the Jazz four and a half games out of the playoff picture, they seem like a team open for business, especially if it yields talent today.
Orlando Isn’t Sitting It Out
However you’d like to characterize it, the Orlando Magic are open for business.
Sources close to the situation said recently that the team had heard interest on virtually every player on the roster, including their injured guys.
The Magic’s new front office isn’t eager to dump anything, so anything the Magic do will have to be meaningful.
There has been a lot of talk that the Magic would like to move guard Evan Fournier, but they have yet to be offered anything that’s worth doing, according to sources.
The Magic also don’t find draft pick based offers overly appealing, mainly because of the youth on the roster already and the likelihood their own pick will land in the top five. Too much youth, especially mid-to-late first round youth, would likely stall forward progress.
Injuries have defined the Magic’s season, so there is at least some consideration internally that. if healthy, the Magic would be better than their current 12-28 record. But that’s not stopping the Magic for engaging on ideas.
The prevailing thought in Orlando as the deadline approaches is that no one is offering the proven All-Star it would take to pry Aaron Gordon away. Equally, no one is going to bail them out of Bismack Biyombo’s remaining two years and $24 million.
The Magic have arguably some of the more team-friendly deals in the NBA in Fournier, center Nikola Vucevic and injured swingman Terrence Ross. The Magic do not seem eager to cash those favorable chips in unless it returned something significant in terms of a roster upgrade.
The team is absolutely open for business; the problem is the market doesn’t seem to have anything they’d consider doing.
Bucks Looking For Size
The Milwaukee Bucks have been sniffing around for frontcourt help most of the season. They have been linked to Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan, they have been linked to Phoenix’s Tyson Chandler, and it seems they have been kicking the tires on recently waived Laker center Andrew Bogut, according to Gery Woelfel.
The Bucks have been actively looking for frontcourt help in trade, but have found little to no interest in deals built around John Henson.
There is at least a sense that the Bucks would entertain the idea of packing in Jabari Parker (who is expected back soon), but a deal involving the former number two pick would have to solve the frontcourt issues, and that seems unlikely.
With Mirza Teletovic on the shelf indefinitely due to a second occurrence of blood clots in his lungs, the Bucks don’t have a lot of offer in trade for a big salary that wouldn’t include what is deemed a core piece.
The Bucks do have some promising youth in last year’s rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon (who they like a lot) and the blossoming Thon Maker.
League sources have pegged one or both as needing to be included in anything involving a big-name player, which may be why the Bucks are still on the outside looking in. It also likely explains why they are exploring Bogut—signing him wouldn’t cost them a critical roster piece.
Lakers Are Active
This should not be surprising, but the LA Lakers are active in the trade market.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, has been reporting that the Lakers are not only shopping the $11.56 million contract of guard Jordan Clarkson, but they also have pending free agent Julius Randle and forward Larry Nance Jr on the market, as well.
Sources close to the situation caution that the Lakers would rather not trade Nance, Jr., but in order to move off the contract money they are trying to shed, it will take inducement, and Nance seems to be that.
The Lakers have thoroughly explored ways to trade forward Luol Deng and have found almost no interest in a deal that wouldn’t include mortgaging their future first round picks, which is something the Lakers do not seem open to doing.
There has been considerable talk about combining assets with Deng, but league sources said that is not nearly as favorable as some think and that anything like that wouldn’t clear the space the Lakers are looking to clear.
Because the salary cap is only expected to increase marginally next July, there is a prevailing thought that ending contracts are again in demand and coming with a hefty premium for teams hoping to clear cap space.
The Lakers do not appear to be close to a deal with anyone, but they do appear to be one of the teams with notable players that are available. The question is who has the right combination of ending contracts to get something done in LA?
It’s a Soft Market
While there is no shortage of trade chatter in NBA circles–and it will likely only increase next week when the NBA converges on Mississauga, Ontario for the 2018 G-League Showcase–the prevailing thought is there are a lot more teams interested in making a deal than there are players worth dealing for. Most are classifying this as a seller’s market, meaning the teams with assets to trade seem to be asking the moon for them, making it more likely that fewer impact deals get done.
Historically, there are 8-12 deals that happen at the deadline, the majority of those deals are cap “housecleaning” type deals or, as Houston’s Daryl Morey labeled them, “outside the rotation” deals.
At the last deadline in 2017, there were 11 deals that could be characterized as deadline deals, with seven happening on deadline day. Sacramento’s trade of DeMarcus Cousins dropped three days before the deadline and was arguably the biggest deal of the cycle.
At the deadline in 2016, there were nine deals that could be characterized as deadline deals, with seven of them happening on deadline day. Orlando’s deal to send to Tobias Harris to Detroit was arguably the only major transaction of that cycle.
Historically, the majority of deals that matter happen well before the eleventh hour and, based on what’s out there now, this might be another snoozer of a deadline in terms of real roster change.
Basketball Insiders will be dropping a series this week looking at the trade situations for all the teams in the NBA. Trade Watch: The Atlantic will drop today, with Trade Watch: The Southwest slated for tomorrow, so make sure to swing back and check them out all week.
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NBA Daily: Trail Blazers Come Up Short and Now Search For Answers
The Portland Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the Playoffs and now face tough questions, writes James Blancarte.
The playoffs have been a wild ride so far. On Sunday, all three Eastern Conference playoff games were exciting matches that featured star players stepping up in the clutch. As a result, each series is tied up, two games each. The other game of the day featured the San Antonio Spurs, who stayed in control and never once allowed the Golden State Warriors to take the lead. The Spurs managed to get a win against the defending champs despite missing their best player and now their head coach indefinitely.
For the Portland Trail Blazers, there was no such Game 4 turnaround. In fact, with the Spurs win, the Trail Blazers have the lamentable distinction of being the only team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs. This is just one way to describe how disappointing and surprising this playoff series loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was for Portland. Many NBA observers and Pelicans fans were quick to point out that every ESPN NBA personality chose the Trail Blazers to win the series, as did select writers of the Basketball Insiders team.
The Trail Blazers’ players and front office also made it clear how surprised they were at the result. Forward Evan Turner shared his surprise.
“Obviously finishing so quickly wasn’t definitely the plan and to a certain extent it was shocking,” Turner said.
General Manager Neil Olshey chimed in as well.
“Nobody expected [the playoff sweep] to happen. It did. We had our chances in Game 1, we had our chances in Game 2. Clearly Game 3 was a setback,” Olshey stated when describing his surprise at how the series ended. “Stunned, I think disappointed.”
Credit should be given to the Pelicans and their ability to fully harness their talent and impose their will in the series. Turner was effusive in praising the talent and ability of the Pelicans.
“Unlocked Jrue is pretty dangerous and we all see how Rondo plays. He’s a homerun hitter but he is always solid. He can mess around. He’ll get two or three triple doubles. Anthony Davis is a problem,” Turner said.
When asked how he felt about the playoff exit, starting center Jusuf Nurkic stated that he is beyond disappointed.
“I mean, the way I finish the season, I feel shame. The way we have a season, like a team and group, and being in position to be third in the West, and finish like this, is not good,” Nurkic stated. “It’s not something you should be proud of, because all you do through the year, fight for playoff and to be in position to have a good postseason.”
Despite the early exit, many within the organization were quick to highlight that they continue to see the regular season in a positive light, including Head Coach Terry Stotts.
“I thought we had a very good regular season, I thought we had a very disappointing end of the season,” Stotts stated.
Damian Lillard shared a similar sentiment when reflecting on the season as a whole.
“I think I’ll always remember the way [the season] ended. But I won’t forget the kind of season we had. You can’t ignore the fact we won a division title in a division where there was some great teams,” Lillard stated. “We came out on top.”
Still, the success of the regular season makes the playoff result that much harder to grasp and deal with for some. Nurkic again didn’t hold back when comparing the success of the regular season with the team’s playoff failure.
“Very surprised,” Nurkic stated. “You definitely didn’t see the team who we are in the playoffs.”
Explaining why the Trail Blazers came up short against the Pelicans is no easy task. Clearly Portland’s attempt to feature its two premiere guards failed as the Pelicans were able to clamp down on Lillard and McCollum effectively in each game. Complicating matters further was the inability of the Trail Blazers to effectively utilize Nurkic on both ends of the court. However, there was at least some praise to be heaped on the backup bigs, Zach Collins and Ed Davis.
“I think Zach played really well for us,” Olshey stated. “He had an impact defensively.”
Also, Al-Farouq Aminu was able to do his part as an acceptable defensive option against Davis while spreading the floor with his outside shooting
Regardless, Turner shared his assessment that the team failed to have an adequate game plan for a scenario where their two best players are neutralized.
“One thing that may help, it’s no jabs or anything, but building the identity outside of our two strong scorers,” Turned stated. “[W]e sometimes go downhill when a team fully focuses on a lot of attention on our stars […] But I think we might need certain plays, certain structures that kind of prepare just in case that occurs.”
With their postseason concluded, the Trail Blazers are suddenly left trying to answer questions with no easy answers. Who, if anyone, is to blame for what happened? So far, many head coaches have been let go and unsurprisingly some speculation has turned toward Coach Stotts. Stotts, when asked, focused on the team and deflected any analysis of his performance.
“I’m not going to evaluate the job I did,” Stotts said.
Lillard, on the other hand, was effusive in his praise of his coach.
“Coach Stotts has done a great job from day one. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight,” Lillard said.
For now, there does not appear to be strong rumblings about Stotts. With the offseason just beginning for the team there is still time to reflect and assess what went wrong. Additionally, the team has to resolve what to do regarding its own free agents. No name looms larger than Nurkic, who despite his poor showing, represents one of the team’s top talents and expressed his guarded optimism regarding a return.
“I want to be here, it’s no secret,” Nurkic stated when asked if he wants an extension in Portland. “Yes, definitely.”
Nurkic ended the thought by stating, a bit ominously, that he did his part and a deal may or may not get worked out.
“My agent and people here are going to figure out the rest, or not,” Nurkic said.
Complicating the desire to retain Nurkic is the team’s financial situation as the team is currently over the cap and under obligation to center Meyers Leonard, who has struggled to stay in the rotation and is earning roughly $21.8 million over the next two years.
“It’s our job to be measured and not to overreact. [Because] when you overreact is when you make mistakes,” Olshey stated.
Lillard was quick to emphatically shut down the notion of splitting up him and McCollum when asked if that would be a good idea.
“I mean, I don’t agree with it. I think it’s that simple,” Lillard declared.
When asked what the team plans to do going forward, Olshey expressed optimism but tried again to pay credit to the season’s effort overall.
“We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade the roster as we always do but we also aren’t going to lose sight of the success throughout the course of the season,” Olshey said.
“I don’t have all the answers for you today,” Olshey surmised. “A lot of times you don’t know where your help is coming from.”
The Problem With ‘Championship Or Bust’
Should an NBA Title be the only measuring stick when we’re talking about a team’s success?
In this day and age, there’s a constant need for instant gratification. It goes for everything, really, but especially for sports.
Before the 2017-18 NBA season kicked off, the general outlook on the league was that the regular season would be a waste of time. People dubbed the Golden State Warriors as clear-cut repeat champions. Other then that franchise, there were maybe one or two others that could put up a fight with such a juggernaut.
While that story has yet to play out, others are developing quickly.
The all-of-a-sudden dangerous New Orleans Pelicans are the only ball club to have advanced to the second round of the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are deadlocked in a tied series with an Indiana Pacers team that everybody seemed to believe was lottery-bound before the year began.
After falling nine games under .500 in late January, the Utah Jazz have caught fire and are up two games to one against the league’s reigning league MVP and a re-constructed Oklahoma City Thunder roster. We’d be remiss to leave out the sensational play of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as the Philadelphia 76ers continue to show how dominant they’ve been in a hard-hitting affair with a gritty Miami Heat bunch.
The start to this postseason trumps last season’s already. There is a competitive fire within the majority of these encounters. It’s all on the line to prove who will be the best of the best.
And having said that, there can only be one that takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
One. That’s it. In the last 18 years, there have been a total of eight different organizations that have earned the right to call themselves champions. All things considered, it’s not that many.
But there’s a giant misconception about parity in the NBA that needs to be thwarted.
This league is filled with talent, top to bottom. Just like in any sport, you have the basement dwellers still trying to right the ship. Whether it be coaching, injuries, or inexperience—they’re attempting to find their way. That’s why those players are sitting at home in late April.
Then there are those who are not merely spectators, but are involved in the remaining field of 15 teams (sorry, Portland Trail Blazers). Of course, in their minds, there is a common goal of winning a title, as it should be.
However, is it fair to quantify the success of every one of these franchises simply based on whether they accomplish that goal or not? Heck no.
Are we supposed to just forget about the progress made from end-to-end? What if — hear this out — both teams have talent and one just beat the other?
Building championship basketball takes patience. There has to be some semblance of playoff experience involved. Continuity is a must have. You might not want to hear it, but the postseason is where the seeds are planted, where the understanding of the stage really starts.
There can be a collection of young players who have been teammates for years, but have never taken part in the playoffs before. Sometimes there can be a team that’s full of veterans that have been there, but they may not have played together as a collective unit. Each one of them has a different background in a different setting.
It’s a whole different beast at this point. Some are so naive to see how elevated and intense the environment really is, so they assume a team that loses a few games isn’t championship material. Newsflash: Not one team in the history of the NBA has gone 16-0 in the playoffs.
And then, the ones who fall—whether it be in The Finals, conference finals, or in first two rounds—those organizations didn’t accomplish anything. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
So in this basketball world we live in where everything has to be a 20-point victory with zero losses and it’s “championship or bust” as the measuring stick, take a step back and appreciate the work it took to even get to the postseason.
Win or lose, many of these teams are building towards bigger things in the future. These experiences will make that clear in the years to come.
NBA DAILY: Who’s the Next Donovan Mitchell?
Donovan Mitchell provided elite value at the back end of the lottery. Who might that player be this summer?
The entire reason that so many non-playoff teams worked so diligently to blow their seasons was to get the best odds possible for the first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Watching LeBron James (a former first overall draft pick) do what he’s done to the league for the last 15 years, the desire to land a top pick is understandable. Ben Simmons, the heir apparent and likely Rookie of the Year, also was a first overall draft pick a couple of seasons ago.
In fact, of the 38 former first overall picks dating back to 1980, 28 of them would evolve into All-Stars, and it seems like only a matter of time before Simmons is added to that list, too. A higher percentage of top picks have been named All-Stars than any other slot in the draft. Numbers don’t lie. There is no pick more valuable than the very first one.
Donovan Mitchell is good, too. Like, really good. He’s so good that there’s just as strong an argument for him as this season’s Rookie of the Year as there is for Simmons. Mitchell, though, was not a first overall pick. He was picked 13th, at the back end of the lottery.
He isn’t alone in landing elite value for teams picking outside of the lottery’s top half. Devin Booker was picked 13th in 2015. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th selection in 2013. In 2011, Klay Thompson was picked 11th, while Kawhi Leonard was chosen with the 15th pick that same year. Paul George went 10th overall in 2010.
In other words, there are plenty of really good prospects every summer to give late-lottery teams hope. They might not generate the same hype as the guys vying for that top overall selection, but they’re also clearly a lot better than the tiers of players that start coming off the board in the 20s and 30s. All-Stars lurk in the 10-to-15 range of the draft, especially in a loaded class like the one we’re looking at this summer.
That begs the question: who is this year’s Donovan Mitchell?
Here are three possibilities:
Back in November, a series of unfortunate circumstances in a game against Minnesota led to a mass ejection of Alabama players that resulted in just three players being allowed to play the final ten minutes. Sexton was one of those three players and led a Crimson Tide rally despite the lopsided Minnesota power play. ‘Bama outscored the Gophers 30-22 in those final 10 minutes despite being down two players, and Sexton finished the game with 40 points. That’s how good he is.
Of course, he could slip in this draft if only because there are so many flashier names ahead of him. It appears as though seven players (DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Marin Bagley, Michael Porter, Mo Bamba and Trae Young) likely will be drafted before him, which puts him in a category with guys like Mikal Bridges, Wendell Carter, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Miles Bridges, and Kevin Knox. Sexton probably will fall somewhere in that range, which means he would fall somewhere between the eighth and 13th pick.
He is competitive, charismatic and incredibly driven, so there’s a really good chance he does well in interviews and workouts and shows how elite he is. On the other hand, if he falls to the Sixers or Hornets or Clippers, some non-tanking team could end up with one of the biggest stars of the draft.
Coming into his sophomore season, Bridges was considered one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball, and while that is still true to a certain extent, his stock dropped a bit this past season while several players—including his teammate Jaren Jackson, Jr.—saw their own stocks rise.
Despite a minor loss in momentum, Bridges is one of the most NBA-ready players projected to be selected in the lottery. He’s still young enough to have a high ceiling, but he’s older and more physically mature than a lot of the other players vying to be drafted in his neck of the pecking order. He does nearly everything well, from ball handling to rebounding to shooting, and he can play both ends of the floor. His athleticism is his calling card, and that added to everything else he does well makes him a lock for some measure of NBA success.
He has his flaws, but he’s probably an All-Rookie First Teamer that will be selected after ten players that aren’t. That makes him a potential steal on the back-end of the lottery.
This time last year, Porter was a 17-year-old kid deciding whether or not to reclassify and play at the University of Missouri with his older brother Michael Porter, Jr. and under his father Michael Porter, Sr., who is a member of the coaching staff there. Obviously big bro is a high lottery pick, but the younger sibling was the 11th rated prospect in his high school class (the one with Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett) before reclassifying.
He has declared for this summer’s draft but hasn’t yet hired an agent. If he stays in, he’ll be the youngest player in the draft, and mid-first round is where teams start gambling on the uber-young players with mountains of potential rather than older, more proven college players.
In Porter’s case, that could mean a mid-to-late first-round team ends up with a tremendous bargain, even if it takes him a few years to grow into himself. He’s 6-foot-11 but is incredibly smart and well-rounded on offense. He shoots threes (he hit 110 of them as a freshman at Mizzou), but he’s know for his vision and passing more than anything. That’s a modern-day stretch-four or stretch-five if ever there was one, and getting him a year before his time could be a way for a team to steal a deal in the middle of the first round.
With the playoffs in full swing, most observers are focused in on the battles for conference supremacy. For many of the NBA’s other teams, though, the draft preparation process has begun.
In short order, we’ll see which teams end up snagging the next Donovan Mitchell.