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: Lee Awaiting Opportunity, Staying Positive With Knicks
Drew Maresca has a chat with Courtney Lee about his situation with the New York Knicks and staying ready for when an opportunity comes his way.
Basketball if a fun sport that’s grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry. It brings people of all ages great joy, employs thousands and allows millions of fans to remove themselves from their daily lives and immerse themselves in the sport of their choice.
But there is a colder side to the sport, one in which ability is overlooked in favor of intangibles. The NBA is, after all, a business. And like any business, office politics play a role. This is a side that we’re all at least marginally familiar with. We’ve all seen players traded or cut because they do not fit the team’s timeline or because they were brought in or drafted by the previous management team.
This is not to infer that there’s anything insidious about the business of basketball, but players are people with families and bills and routines just like the rest of us. Of course, teams have the right to operate as they see fit – after all, we’re talking about individual contracts worth between $385,000 and $37.5 million per year that add up to payrolls exceeding $100 million annually.
But often times, players are reduced to their contracts and cap holds rather than being valued for their contributions on – and off – the court. Players understand the business they’re in, but there’s something that feels wrong about the league’s politics when it supersedes the natural order – when effective players sit in favor of less qualified ones. This is probably most prevalent when a team fast tracks a rebuild.
And for the first time in what feels like forever, this issue is front and center in New York. To the delight of Knicks fans, the team has finally embraced the concept of bottoming out. Tanking is a notion the Knicks have toyed with and ultimately either balked at or botched nearly every season since 2001. They’ve instead chosen to side with short-term fixes over long-term solutions.
With Scott Perry at the helm this season as general manager, the Knicks are making smart, calculated decisions. They are playing their young guys, which allows for them to develop valuable experience that can’t be learned from the bench or in practice. It also has the residual payoff of more losses, which means better odds come the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery.
But losing is tough. It can cause fatigue within a fanbase, a roster and an organization. Dennis Schroder, backup point guard for the Thunder, recently spoke about his experience with the Hawks regarding this very topic with The Oklahoman.
“I wanted to be in a winning organization,” Schroder said. “You just can’t go out there and try to lose.”
Back in New York, no one on the Knicks sympathizes more strongly with what Schroder went through than Courtney Lee. Lee is in an unusual position. He is too good to get on the court for his team because playing him would result in more wins and less playing time for younger guys. But he’s relatively expensive for his age, counting for $12 million against the salary cap this season and he’s owed nearly $13 million for 2019-20.
Lee is 33 years old, but has played some of his best basketball in recent seasons. In fact, he averaged a career high 12 points per game just last season. Furthermore, he is a career 38.9 percent shooter from deep, and he is viewed as a capable defender, a good teammate and someone who doesn’t need touches to impact the game. And yet, he’s received nine consecutive DNP-Coach’s Decisions (including Thursday’s game against the Wizards in London).
Theoretically, the Knicks can point to the neck injury Lee suffered in training camp. There’s an element of plausible deniability there – he was hurt so he could still be hurt.
But Lee upended any such excuse following the 76ers game on January 13.
“I feel good,” Lee told Basketball Insiders. “It happened back in training camp. I feel 100% now.”
Lee understands the business side of the NBA. He has played for seven NBA franchises in his 11 professional seasons.
“It’s not the first one,” Lee said with a chuckle regarding the DNPs. “I’ve been dealing with it, man. At this point you just understand what’s going on – the thought process behind it. The best thing I can do is just stay positive, keep cheering my teammates on and be ready for whatever happens.
“If it’s here getting in the game or getting traded somewhere, just making sure I’m staying in shape and ready to contribute. I just have to live in the moment. Have to tell myself to stay ready, stay prepared, stay in shape because there’s always light at the end of the tunnel – that’s my mindset.”
And fortunately for Lee, he could reach the end of the tunnel sooner than later. The NBA Trade Deadline is less than a month away, and the Knicks would like to double down on their youth movement. Moving Lee, Enes Kanter and/or Tim Hardaway Jr. would help the team open up the requisite cap space to offer a free agent a max deal this coming offseason.
Lee could easily find himself on a team competing for a playoff spot in the very near future. He would almost certainly help the Rockets, the Nuggets and the 76ers, as well as a number of other teams. But in the NBA, it’s never that straight forward. Teams must not only see the benefit of adding the player in question, but also feel compelled to deal with the other team’s front office. And teams know the Knicks want to go shopping this summer, so nothing is guaranteed for Lee.
One thing Lee has going for him that is far from guaranteed is transparency, which he receives from New York’s coaching staff daily.
“Coach Fizdale communicates a lot,” Lee said. “He’ll talk to me before the game (about the potential for DNPs) or he’ll touch base during the game. He does a good job with that.”
Fizdale has been open about his feelings toward Lee and the position he’s in.
“Courtney has been an incredible pro,” Fizdale said in an interview with NorthJersey.com. “I mean, he’s been like a big brother to all of these guys. They love him. They love being around him. He doesn’t do things like, you see times when veterans aren’t playing, they take young guys down in certain ways. Courtney’s been the guy that’s like no, go play. And like he tells me every day ‘Coach you need me, I’m here. I’m ready.’”
Lee has echoed those same sentiments all season long.
He’s just waiting to be given an opportunity to prove it.
NBA Daily: G League Guards Showing They Belong
Jordan Hicks spoke with NBA hopefuls Trey Lewis and Isaiah Cousins about their current games, playing in the G League and more.
The Utah Jazz currently have three players out due to injury – all three point guards, coincidentally – so one might say they are a little shorthanded. Because of this, both of their two-way players – Tyler Cavanaugh and Naz Mitrou-Long – have been called up to travel with the team. Unfortunately for Utah’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, they are left short-handed.
Add this to the fact that their first overall draft pick – and arguably their most important player, Willie Reed – is done for the season.
Things like this aren’t uncommon for the G League. In essence, that is primarily why it is there. As a developmental league for the NBA, it is used to both groom young talent, as well as have players readily available when needed (for teams lucky enough to have a program in their area).
In recent years, the SLC Stars have helped groom current Jazz rotation players Georges Niang and Royce O’Neale.
In a league that is growing more and more competitive with every game, every advantage a team can get is clearly a plus. Therefore, having the Stars so close has definitely been a huge positive for the Jazz.
Because a couple of heavy contributors are missing games, guys who are typically important role-players need to step up and be the key guys for the team.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to catch up with two of their young guards – Isaiah Cousins and Trey Lewis – after a recent home loss to fellow G League team the Stockton Kings (affiliate to the Sacramento Kings). In a close game where the Stars were slightly outmatched, these players stepped up in a big way and almost led the Stars to an unlikely come-from-behind victory.
Isaiah Cousins is having a career year with the Stars. His third year in the G League – and second with the Stars – Cousins is averaging 12.7 points, 6.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds a night. He’s currently second in the league in assist to turnover ratio at 3.27.
“Making the right reads and [not trying] to force anything,” Cousins told Basketball Insiders. “Whatever the scouting report is, each team has a different defensive scheme each game, so I look at the scouting report and see what they are going to do.”
Isaiah alluded to the fact that preparation is what helps him take care of the ball so well. In a league where taking care of the ball is essential to winning games, solid point guard play is a must. Cousins’ development in that area goes hand-in-hand with his ability to someday make an NBA roster.
“This is my third year in the G League so I’m experiencing and understanding the game now,” Cousins said.
When asked what position Cousins sees himself playing in the NBA, he noted his versatility.
“I think I’m a point guard, but I can play multiple positions and I can guard multiple positions,” Cousins said. “I do a little bit on-ball and off-ball. Basically, wherever a job is open, I’ll take it.”
Trey Lewis has been instrumental to the Stars’ winning record coming off the bench. Averaging 11.6 points and 2.3 assists, the team relies on his scoring and playmaking abilities to pull-ahead.
Although he isn’t in the starting lineup, Lewis finds himself closing out many games, thanks in part to his clutch shotmaking. Just over two weeks ago Lewis hit a big, go-ahead three-pointer with just seconds left to seal a home win. On the season – in which Lewis has only participated in 13 games due to an early-season ankle injury – Trey has already dropped 20+ points on four occasions.
Lewis played for a handful of teams during his collegiate years, ultimately ending up on Louisville with current Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. Lewis and Mitchell are now playing basketball for the same organization and living in the same city. “[Mitchell] is somebody who I talk to on a daily basis. We push each other, we motivate each other, and we support each other so it’s been great.”
Lewis garnered the essential skill of shooting the deep ball in college. While playing for Cleveland State in the Horizon League, he led the conference in threes made, knocking them in at a 42.3 percent rate.
After playing overseas in Germany for two seasons where he was a two-time All-Star in the BBL, Germany’s top basketball league, Lewis came back to the states.
“My goal since a little child has always been to play in the NBA,” said Lewis when asked why he came to the G League. “I feel like I had two great seasons overseas and felt like this was the next step to get to where I want to go.”
As the NBA continues its move to a heavy three-point shooting league, players are finding they need to adapt in this sink-or-swim situation. Players that can’t shoot the deep-ball – at least at a respectable mark – need to hold elite skills in other areas.
Luckily for Lewis, three-point shooting has always been a strength for him.
Basketball Insiders asked him where he gets his confidence from behind the arc.
“Just hard work; my regimen every day, sticking to my routine, getting my reps, and that builds confidence,” Lewis said. “I know I can hit those shots in needed situations.”
The window has opened for NBA teams to sign 10-day contracts. Whether they eventually end up with the Utah Jazz or with an entirely different franchise, it doesn’t matter. Cousins and Lewis will continue to grind so they can have their shot at a spot in the league. But for now, they will continue to work for their current team and help the Stars try and lift the G League championship trophy at the end of the season.
NBA Daily: Potential 10-Day Contract Players
Basketball Insiders takes a look at a few players who could be prime candidates for 10-day contracts.
January 5 was an important deadline in the NBA in that it marked the first day teams can begin signing players to 10-day contracts.
Usually reserved for younger, unproven talent looking to get their first shot in the NBA, recently NBA veterans have started going the 10-day route to refresh their careers and get back in the league. For example, Corey Brewer just recently signed a 10-day contract with the Philadelphia 76ers.
These contracts are very beneficial for teams in that there’s essentially no risk, and the potential for a high reward. It’s a relatively cheap tryout for teams to get a quick look at players who can potentially be helpful. Best case scenario, they end up finding a solid contributor. If not, then the player is no longer with them after 10 days.
Here’s a look at a few players who could be candidates for a 10-day contract.
1. Willie Reed
The veteran big man has had his taste of the NBA. He began last season as the Los Angeles Clippers’ primary backup to DeAndre Jordan. With the emergence of other players, however, his playing time decreased and he was ultimately traded to Detroit in the Blake Griffin trade.
The Pistons then shipped him off to the Chicago Bulls for Jameer Nelson, and the Bulls proceeded to cut him. He ended up being the first overall pick of the Salt Lake City Stars of the G League.
This season with the Stars, he’s been one of the best big men in the G League. Reed has put up 20.1 points per game on 66.5 percent shooting from the field, 11.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He’s still a quality rotation player and could help a playoff team in need of some size off the bench.
2. John Jenkins
Another NBA veteran, Jenkins developed a reputation as a sharpshooter during his early years in the league, but didn’t do much else. His last appearance in the NBA was last season when he was brought to training camp by the Atlanta Hawks.
He ended up being one of the Hawks’ final cuts before the end of camp, and he subsequently chose to play overseas. He returned stateside this season, where he joined the Westchester Knicks, the New York Knicks’ G League affiliate.
Jenkins has had a very strong season thus far, putting up 24.8 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting, 42.8 percent from the three-point line, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Perhaps the biggest changes in his game have been his playmaking ability and his development into a more versatile scorer. Any team in need of some bench scoring should give him a look.
3. Anthony Bennett
Keeping with the trend of NBA veterans using 10-day contracts to get back to the league, the former No.1 overall pick in the 2013 draft has begun to put people on notice this season.
Bennett last saw NBA minutes two season ago with the Brooklyn Nets. He wasn’t that bad during his stint in Brooklyn, but the Nets cut him almost halfway through the 2016-17 season. Aside from a brief stop overseas, Bennett has been playing in the G League.
This season with the Agua Caliente Clippers, Bennett has looked like he’s ready for another shot in the NBA. He’s been averaging a modest 13.0 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field. One of the biggest additions to his game though has been his expanded shooting range. He’s knocking down 43.6 percent of this 5.1 three-point attempts. He’s worth another look for a team in need of a stretch big man.
4. Bruno Caboclo
Another player with NBA experience, it’s probably not fair to call Caboclo a veteran seeing that he rarely saw playing time in the league. When he was drafted by the Toronto Raptors, his selection caused quite a bit of confusion, leading to Fran Fraschilla’s now famous quote of him being, “two years away from being two years away.”
Caboclo toiled on the Raptors’ bench for about four years before being traded to the Sacramento Kings. He finally was able to see some minutes with the Kings, but still didn’t show much. The Houston Rockets invited him to training camp but ultimately cut him.
Caboclo joined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets G League affiliate, and has since been showing that he may very well be worth a 10-day contract. He’s averaging 16 points per game on 51 percent shooting from the field, 42.5 percent from downtown, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. When he was drafted, the expectation was he’d develop into a 3&D wing but that didn’t happen. He’s looking much closer to that now. For a team in need of a wing defender who can shoot from distance, he’s worth a look.
Again, 10-day contracts have become a very valuable and inexpensive way for NBA teams to try out potential contributors. If the player pans out, then you have a relatively cheap guy in the rotation. If they don’t, you cut your losses after 10 days. It should be interesting to see if these vets are able to parlay their G League success into a path back to the NBA.