The Buyers and The Sellers
With the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline just two weeks away, there are a lot of things floating around the NBA, some are less likely than others, but what has become clear is there are some bona fide sellers, and there are some teams looking to buy. Here are some of them:
The Magic have been in the NBA trade market for most of the season. The prevailing thought from league sources is while the Magic seem to be open for business, they are not open to taking much back in terms of salary which may make it hard for them to offload some of the contract money they seem to be trying to move.
The two names that get the most play in NBA circles are guards Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton. While the Magic seem to open to ideas on the entire roster, they have been pretty open that they are not doing a deal just to do a deal. The Magic’s stance is that anything they do has to meet their goals of being able to remake the team fairly quickly, so taking back long-term contracts are not in the plan.
As the deadline nears, the Magic could move half the roster or make no moves at all. That’s really where they are. If nothing materializes, the Magic seem content to let this roster ride out the season and re-tool around the draft and in free agency, especially because the Magic feel like they have some pretty attractive contracts that could be significantly better value than options available to other teams in free agency.
Magic general manager John Hammond said recently anything the team did wouldn’t be geared towards a short-term fix, rather fitting into the long-term plan, which has been a consistent message out of the Magic from the start.
The Kings seem to be closing in on a deal to move out guard George Hill, likely sending him to Cleveland in exchange for Cavs center Channing Frye and guard Iman Shumpert. There is the possibility that some second-round picks change hands, but this deal would be about getting Hill and his hefty salary next year off the books.
The Kings have also been exploring deals involving big man Skal Labissière and guard Malachi Richardson. The Kings need to open up a roster spot to complete the Cavaliers trade and have been exploring options.
Sources close to the Kings said they have been very open and receptive to helping move off the veteran players that have fallen out of the rotation in Sacramento.
The Kings are said to be fielding offers on Garrett Temple and Zach Randolph, although team sources said both are more likely to end the season in Sacramento than being moved, it was something on the table.
New York Knicks
The Knicks have been kicking the tires on their options at the trade deadline and one of the players more likely moved than not is big man Willy Hernangomez.
The Knicks kicked the tires on several trade options before agreeing to sign Trey Burke and found the market to be a little bare, with limited interest that made sense for them.
The Knicks have reportedly fielded conversations on potential free agent big Kyle O’Quinn, swingman Courtney Lee and potential free agent Enes Kanter.
The prevailing thought around the NBA is that Hernangomez is mostly the guy moved, but that the return may not be nearly that sexy.
The Knicks seem like they will do something at the deadline, but the odds of it being a huge team altering deal seems remote.
When news that Charlotte’s Kemba Walker might be available broke, Knicks fans pegged him as someone to go all-in for, however, Knicks sources say there was due diligence done there, but nothing got very far. The Hornets have been quick to downplay a willingness to move Walker, which likely is why the Knicks talk didn’t get very far.
The Jazz are said to be listening pretty aggressively to trade ideas involving some notable players. The name mentioned most is soon to be free agent big man Derrick Favors, although guards Alec Burks, Joe Johnson and even Rodney Hood are said to be available for the right return.
The narrative around the Jazz is they want to retool around big man Rudy Gobert and super rookie Donovan Mitchell and that the rest of the roster is open for discussion.
The Cavaliers have been linked to Favors as have the Chicago Bulls. Most league insiders see Bulls forward Nikola Mirotić landing in Utah, however, Bulls sources cautioned that while both sides have gotten pretty far down the road, nothing is close enough to label it likely or unlikely.
The Bulls are believed to want a first-round pick in a Mirotić deal, and that does not seem to be something the Jazz are open to.
For the Jazz, Johnson represents a huge ending contract. However, the prevailing thought in NBA circles is that Johnson stays past the deadline and it ultimate bought out.
The Jazz have the right combination of ending contracts and rookie scale players to be a big player at the deadline, especially if a notable player hits the market.
The Nuggets get frequently mentioned during every transaction window mainly because they have so much duplication. As the trade deadline approaches, the Nuggets are again in the mix with league sources saying forward Kenneth Faried and guard Emmanuel Mudiay can be had, and the asking price isn’t that significant. The Nuggets also have reasonable deals on Wilson Chandler and forward Darrell Arthur, both hold player options for next season which make them tough to move, as teams tend to shy away from placing value on uncertainty.
The player to watch in Denver might be swingman Will Barton. He is posting a solid season and the possible front-runner for the Sixth Man of the Year. Barton is headed toward unrestricted free agency and is expected to command a hefty number that might not make sense for the Nuggets without dumping some of the names mentioned.
Of the bunch, Barton likely returns the most value, which is something the Nuggets may have to entertain.
As it stands now, the Nuggets seem to be a seller, but sources close to the process don’t label them as wanting to trigger a deal as aggressively as some of the other teams. Time will tell if the Nuggets can find a deal they’ll do, especially as they linger around the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture.
Maybe it’s the chaos of the Cavs or maybe there is a realization that the roster as currently configured doesn’t work, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to shake some things up. Not only are the Cavs looking at significant deals, but they are also now open to taking on contract money, something they seemed closed to doing a few months ago.
The Cavs seem close to a deal to bring in guard George Hill from Sacramento. The word is they likely will dump off Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert and either include Derrick Rose or waive him at some point after a deal.
The Cavs have also been trying to pry away another high-level big man, having made repeated runs at the Clippers regarding DeAndre Jordan. Should the Clippers opt to hang onto Jordan, which seems to be the case as of today, the Cavs also have eyes on Utah’s Derrick Favors.
While the Cavs will have to send out contract money in any deal, they seem to be open to adding to their whopping $43 million tax bill.
As things stand today, the Cavs have $134.07 million in guaranteed salary, pushing them $14.811 million over the luxury tax line, giving them a repeater tax bill north of $43 million for a total roster cost of $177.16 million.
As things stand today, for every new million the Cavs add to the payroll, their tax bill will increase by more than $4 million. It seems if the Cavs are really willing to add money that Cavs ownership really is putting their money where their mouth is. Given their most recent stretch of games, it seems like they have little choice.
The Bucks have been looking for frontcourt help for some time. The Bucks continue to be linked to Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan, and while it’s looking less and less likely the Clippers will pull the trigger, the Bucks remain optimistic they could win a deal if they put him on the market.
The Bucks seem to be offering some combination of forward John Henson, and at least two rookie scale players from forward Thon Maker and guards D.J. Wilson and Rashad Vaughn.
An alternative for the Bucks seems to be Jazz big man Derrick Favors, although Utah seems to have a number of suitors for him.
The dark horse candidate for the Bucks could be Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, but sources close to the HEAT continue to say its unlikely they are going to make him available in trade, but admitted teams have called, meaning Miami has options.
The Bucks seem open to adding to their monster payroll now. The question becomes what to do with would be free agent Jabari Parker, who is still rehabbing from an ACL injury and may not be able to play until early March.
The Dallas Mavericks are open for business and willing to rent out some of their possible $13.5 million in cap space to add young pieces, or draft picks to their rebuild plan.
The Mavericks also have a slew of ending contracts including Josh McRoberts ($6.02m), Devin Harris ($4.40m) and Seth Curry ($3.02m). Big man Nerlens Noel is also an ending contract; however, he has veto rights on a trade making his $4.18 million a little tougher to move as he’d influence where he lands.
For teams looking to shed cap dollars or route a trade through Dallas to make the cap math work, the Mavericks are well positioned to grab a few assets for themselves as a middleman.
The Mavericks have had eyes for Lakers forward Julius Randle, and with LA looking to offload cap money in advance of free agency in July, the Mavericks look like the prime player.
The upside for the Mavericks is they’ll have cap space through the NBA draft and into July, so they don’t have to do anything with their flexibility at the deadline that doesn’t make sense for them, but they are open for business.
On Tuesday we started dropping our positional “Trade Watch” guides. If you missed one, here is NBA Trade Watch: Point Guards and NBA Trade Watch: Shooting Guards. Look for Small Forward today, Power Forward tomorrow and Center on Saturday.
The 2018 NBA Trade Deadline is Thursday February 8 at 3:00pm EST.
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NBA Daily: Pelicans Might Be Better Off Without DeMarcus Cousins
Without DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis has excelled. It might not be a coincidence.
Forget Kawhi Leonard, the most interesting storyline of this NBA summer is going to be DeMarcus Cousins.
By now, if you’ve wondered whether the New Orleans Pelicans would be better off without the talented big man, you’re certainly not alone.
Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers.
On Saturday, the Pelicans pulled off an improbable sweep of the third-seeded Blazers in the first round of their best-of-seven playoff series. And while the immediate question that comes to mind is what to make of the Blazers, a similar question can be (and should be) asked of the Pelicans.
Without question, Cousins is one of the most gifted big men the NBA has sen in quite some time, but it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that Anthony Davis began to put forth superhuman efforts when Cousins was absent.
Ever heard the saying that too many cooks spoil the brew?
That may be pricisely the case here.
Sure, having good players at your disposal is a problem that most head coach in the league would sign up for, but it takes a special type of player to willingly cede touches and shots in the name of the best interests of the team.
We once had a similar conversation about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, mind you. Those that recognized that Westbrook’s ball dominance and inefficiency took opportunities away from Durant to be the best version of himself once believed that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have been wise to pitch Westbrook to New Orleans back when Chris Paul was still manning their perimeter.
For what it’s worth, with Cousins in the lineup, he averaged 18 shots per game. In the 48 games he played this season, the Pelicans were 27-21. With him in the lineup, Davis shot the ball 17.6 times per game and scored 26.5 points per contest.
In the 34 games the Pelicans played without Cousins, Davis’ shot attempts increased fairly significantly. He got 21.9 attempts per contest and similarly increased his scoring output to 30.2 points per game.
Aside from that, Cousins’ presence in the middle made it a tad more difficult for Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to have the pace and space they need to be most effective. With both Davis and Cousins, the Pelicans struggled to consistently string together wins. Without Cousins, they improbably became the first team in the Western Conference to advance to the second round.
That Cousins tore his achilles tendon and is just a few months from becoming an unrestricted free agent combine to make him the most interesting man in the NBA.
* * * * * *
With Chris Paul having decided that the grass was probably greener with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni than it was with Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin, the Clippers fulfilled his request to be trade to the Houston Rockets and re-signed Griffin to a five-year max. deal. In doing so, they both gave Griffin a stark reminder of what life in the NBA is like and provided a blueprint for teams to follow when they have a superstar player with whom they believe to have run their course.
The glass half full perspective might be that Davis has simply become a better, healthier, more effective player and that with Cousins, he would have another weapon that could help catapult the Pelicans ever further toward the top of the Western Conference. But the half-empty glass might yield another conclusion.
At the end of the day, although he still hasn’t appeared in a single playoff game, Cousins is regarded as a game-changing talent and is one of the few players available on the free agency market this summer that could justify an annual average salary of $30 million. In all likelihood, the Pelicans will re-sign him for a sum that approaches that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best move.
In the end, the Clippers traded Griffin for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a first round pick and a second round pick. All things considered, it was a great haul for the Clippers when you consider that, just a few months prior, they could have lost Griffin as a free agent and gotten nothing in return.
Remarkably, after seeing Griffin dealt to Detroit, in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on a collision course with the Golden State Warriors. Their health a constant concern, the team will have to deal with the pesky perimeter defense of Holiday and Rondo and versatility and two-way effectiveness of Davis.
Nobody gave New Orleans a chance against Portland, and for sure, not many people are going to believe in their ability to score an upset over the defending champions. But believe it or not, New Orleans has become a different team. And they’ve done so without Cousins.
Indeed, believe it or not, the Clippers gave us a blueprint for what a team should do when it has a superstar who might not be the best long-term fit for their program.
And if the Pelicans were wise, they’d be smart to follow it.
NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams
This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.
This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.
As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.
With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.
Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.
Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.
With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.
However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?
Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.
Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.
In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.
So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.
However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.
Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.
At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.
Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.
For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.
On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.
With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.
Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.
Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.
Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success
The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.
The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.
The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.
Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.
He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.
“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”
It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.
Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.
“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”
The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.
This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.
“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”
Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.
While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.
“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”
Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.
For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.
“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”
These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.
This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.
“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”