Time To Make The Phone Call
While NBA teams are typically talking trades and personnel year-round, things in the NBA tend to heat up in mid-December and start to take real shape into the new year.
With less than 52 days until the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline, there are some situations that may warrant exploring and some teams and players that could be ready to deal sooner than later. Here are a few:
Paul George and the Thunder
There is an inevitability to the Thunder’s rocky season so far, which is that it hasn’t been nearly dominating enough to think that Thunder forward Paul George would stay beyond this season.
George’s looming ability to hit free agency and the long-running narrative that he’d like to play in L.A. for the Lakers will weigh heavily on the Thunder as the deadline gets near. However, the same issue the Thunder face faces anyone that could or would trade for George, and that’s he’d likely leave them in July too, making him a playoff run rental on the best of days.
For the Thunder, expecting any real value out of George will be tough, especially when you consider that while the win/loss record isn’t great, the chemistry inside the team has been better than expected.
The Thunder have been hovering at or around .500 for a while and seem close to putting things together. However, if the Thunder doesn’t get a sustained push that gets them out of the middle of the Western Conference, its hard to believe a real offer on George would get dismissed, mainly because of the inevitability that George likely walks in July.
Can the Thunder afford to lose another marquee All-Star for nothing in return? That is something even the Thunder’s massively secure general manager Sam Presti has to factor into his decision-making process.
The reality is that if George is indeed made available in trade—something more insiders believe than not—it likely doesn’t happen until late January, but getting in line now might not be the craziest of ideas, especially for a team that still may be one player away.
DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers
The L.A. Clippers and center DeAndre Jordan have been talking contract extension. In fact, there was a window for several weeks when the narrative out of the Clippers was that they were going to get a deal done. Then the Clippers season fell off a cliff.
Jordan has a player option worth $24.11 million, and while most insiders don’t believe there will be a very robust free agent market for traditional centers, there is something to the idea of trading in $24.11 million for a multi-year deal.
With the Clippers beginning to accept that a rebuild is more than necessary, Jordan’s future with the Clippers is anything but clear, especially with the notion of him expecting a new deal north of $100 million.
There has already been some speculation that Jordan could be on the move to the Milwaukee Bucks in a package built around John Henson and possibly Jabari Parker, who is getting closer to returning to action after a second ACL tear.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have also been in the mix with an offer built around guard Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson and a first-round pick. It’s been reported that pick was possibly the Brooklyn pick obtained in the Kyrie Irving trade, although sources close to the situation say it was never discussed and that the Cavs were open to moving their own pick in any trade scenarios.
On the surface, none of those deals seem to return much value to the Clippers, but the truth of the matter is the Clippers aren’t necessarily dealing from a position of strength and may end up taking what they can get, even though there is a lot of affection for Jordan in the senior leadership of the Clippers.
This one is far from decided, but absolutely one to watch especially as teams in the East try and jockey for the top spot with eyes on how to beat or contain the Warriors.
Nikola Vučević and the Magic
The Orlando Magic got off to a hot start, but have fizzled into the bottom of the East after a nine-game losing streak and now what’s become a new five-game losing streak. Since November 1st, the Magic have lost 18 of 23 games.
There have been few bright spots in the Magic’s journey to the bottom, save maybe the reemergence of center Nikola Vučević, who is posting maybe his most efficient season in the NBA.
Vučević has maybe the most team-friendly deal in the NBA, with $12.25 million owed this season and a fully guaranteed $12.75 million next season.
With the Magic clearly going nowhere fast, Vučević is the name mentioned most in NBA circles as having value.
The Magic’s message continues to be the same in trade talks. They will listen to offers and ideas but are not actively seeking change for change sake, accepting that this season was more about the newly installed front office understanding who and what they really had.
League sources have maintained for some time that to get Orlando off the dime was going to take a significant player hitting the market—something that has not happened yet.
The Magic are absolutely a team to watch as the trade season picks up steam for two big reasons, they have some productive players they can offer, and they have cap money they’d love to shed for the future.
If the Magic end up making a move this trade season, you can expect that Vučević will be the primary name talked about, in part because he may be the best trade asset the Magic have to offer.
Kent Bazemore and the Hawks
The Atlanta Haws are exactly where they were planning to be when they opted to tear apart the roster, sitting dead last in the NBA.
The challenge for the Hawks is they still have some contract dollars and players that may or may not fit the rebuild plan. The biggest name and salary would be swingman Kent Bazemore.
The Hawks owe Bazemore $16.91 million this season and a guaranteed $18.089 million next season. Bazemore has a player option in 2019 worth $19.262 million, which could be problematic for the Hawks to find a real salary shedding transaction.
The fact that Bazemore is 28 years old puts him outside the rebuild window.
League sources say the right combination of ending contracts and a first-round pick, even one highly protected might be enough to get Bazemore in trade, especially for a team looking for a scoring punch.
Of all of the players likely to be moved this trade season, Bazemore may be one of the harder players to trade, but if a team were serious about trying to get him, the word is he could be had and for not a lot in return.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Hornets
The prevailing thought in NBA circles is the Hornets have to move off a salary, with forward Nic Batum, who can’t seem to get and stay healthy or swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist being candidates. Of the two, Kidd-Gilchrist is owed the least amount of money—$13 million a year for the next three years, which isn’t exactly a bargain.
The question for the Hornets is what else they would put into a deal to shed some cap dollars and get far enough under the tax line to add to the team next season?
The Hornets aren’t exactly brimming with promising and expendable young guys they’re willing to trade—rookie Malik Monk is a non-starter according to league sources. Its safe to say it would take a ton to get the Hornets to include fellow rookie Dwayne “Don’t call me Wade” Bacon.
The name to watch may be Frank Kaminsky, although he’s had a couple of really solid games as of late.
If the Hornets genuinely want to shed dollars and try and jump-start a floundering season, they may have little choice but to toss in some youth.
As things stand today, the Hornets are five games out of the eighth spot in the East and not exactly trending in a very good direction. This becomes a real issue when you consider that the face of the franchise, Kemba Walker, has just one more guaranteed year on his deal and has only played in 11 post-season games.
If the Hornets don’t want to find themselves in the same spot the Pacers were with Paul George, last season, they may have to do something.
The prevailing question is what will they really be open to?
Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies
The Grizzlies hoped that when they fired former head coach David Fizdale, they could right what appeared to be a sinking ship. Since that decision, the Grizzlies have won just two games out of their last 10.
Franchise big man Marc Gasol was labeled as a key reason why the Grizz parted ways with the immensely popular Fizdale, saddling him (unfairly) with the coach-killer label. With point guard, Mike Conley sidelined since mid-November, it’s been all on Gasol to carry a ho-hum Grizzlies roster.
Gasol continues to say all the right things when asked directly about his future, but more and more people in NBA circles are saying the same thing. All it will take for Gasol to be traded is him telling management he wants out—that would give the front office the green light with ownership to move on from Gasol.
With Conley’s return still unclear, there is a sense internally that the Grizzlies could rebound once he comes back and that any talk of trading Gasol before that wouldn’t be seriously considered.
There is little doubt this Grizzlies roster has run its course, especially in a tough Western Conference. The real question is when do the Grizzlies opt to blow the roster up and how much would they really move off in trade?
There is an additional situation worth watching in Memphis, and that’s the ongoing ownership situation.
When the current ownership group came together in 2012, a unique clause was put into the partnership agreement at the behest of then NBA commissioner David Stern. The gist of the idea was that current majority owner Robert Pera and the next two minority owners with most equity (Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus), would have the option to buy each other out in what’s called a buy/sell provision.
The parties have begun this process which started with a normal negotiation window on buying out each other. If a deal cannot be reached (and it has not been), that triggers a valuation process, where any of the three parties can name a valuation for the franchise. That value would force one of the other partners to sell their stake at that defined price or buy out the others at that price – which is expected to be the outcome. The question becomes does Pera, who now has a net worth according to Forbes at over $4.2 billion, go all-in on owning a much bigger share of the Grizzlies?
If majority ownership changes hands, there is a real belief leadership with the Grizzlies changes too. That could change the entire dynamic of the team’s future, so it’s absolutely a situation to watch.
George Hill and the Kings
By most accounts, the Sacramento Kings had a coup of an off-season luring in proven and established NBA veterans like Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and George Hill.
The idea at the time was they would help get the Kings respectable and winning games, while also giving a roster loaded with youth and inexperience a few proven veterans to learn from.
All three were sold on the idea that the Kings were aiming for the playoffs and that this wasn’t going to be a babysitting gig.
The Kings are currently sitting at 9-20, which is tied for the third-worst record in the NBA and increasingly looking like another lost season.
Carter and Randolph seem to be okay with the situation, mainly because they are in the twilight of their careers. However, Hill seems to be the one who may have the most remorse over the deal.
The be fair to the Kings, they massively overpaid Hill. Hill is owed $20 million this season and a fully guaranteed $19 million next season. Considering the rumored situation with Hill’s foot during free agency, the Kings were the best deal out there.
All of that said, the Kings seem open to the idea of trading Hill, and it seems Hill would more than welcome a move. Is there a team that would take on Hill’s contract without the Kings including youth or a future draft pick?
While the season does seem to be slipping away in the win-loss column, it’s hard to argue that the youth of the Kings isn’t improving, which is ultimately why the Kings committed so much cap money to older players.
Like many of the players on this list, the right phone call could put a deal in motion, and for the Kings and Hill, it seems he could be had if an inquiring team really wanted him.
This is by no means the only names to know and watch as the NBA trade season begins to pick up steam, but these are the names that could likely spark a real conversation based on the chatter in NBA circles at this point, and it only looks to get more interesting from here.
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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards
Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.
It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.
Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.
The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.
But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.
Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old
Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.
But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.
Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.
Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old
Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.
And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.
While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.
If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.
Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old
Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).
Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.
Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.
Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old
Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.
Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.
But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.
Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.
Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old
Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old
Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old
With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.
NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups
With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.
The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.
Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.
Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…
We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.
The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.
Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.
Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.
Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.
While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.
Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.
This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.
Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.
Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…
Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.
It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.
Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.
With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.
Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.
But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.
Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.
The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.