Trade Chatter From The G-League Showcase
With the NBA’s annual G-League Showcase underway in Mississauga, Ontario this week, there was no shortage of NBA decision makers and executives huddled in two gyms for hours every day. That environment is ripe for chatter and with the annual NBA Trade Deadline just weeks away there was a familiar story from more teams than not – most teams want to add a player, but not very many seem open to giving up one to get something done. That’s the beauty of the deadline; it forces a decision.
Here are some things worth noting:
The Magic Continue to Come Up
Having talked to both sides of the equation, the story from the middle seems to be the same. The Magic are going to be active and want to make changes. The Magic won’t characterize it as blowing the team up, but the teams on the other end of the phone seem to think that.
The Magic have entertained talks on the entire roster, and no one is untouchable for the right return — that’s been said on both sides. The Magic seem to be seeking to shed cap dollars, which will be very tough to make happen in the current NBA landscape as almost no one has the cap space to take something off the books. If the Magic decide to simply shed money, there may be no shortage of ending contracts that can get the current leadership out of deals made by the previous leadership.
The player most teams seem to have interest in is guard Evan Fournier, and there is a sense that both Fournier and big man Nikola Vucevic are growing frustrated with the lack of progress and that both would welcome the chance to get to a winning situation.
The Magic don’t seem to be overly interested in more draft picks, so it will be worth watching to see what the Magic will ultimately do. One thing is clear, the team most likely to radically change themselves at the deadline may be the Magic, the question is can they find the kinds of deals – ending contracts and attractive rookie scale players – that allow them to reset the clock on not only the roster but the salary cap.
The Clippers Expected to Deal
Despite the Clippers surging week, there is still a sense in NBA circles that center DeAndre Jordan is going to be moved before the deadline. The Milwaukee Bucks continue to be the team mentioned as most likely to get a deal done, but sources near the situation say the Clippers still are not sure whether they will pull the trigger. A Bucks deal is said to be centered on center John Henson’s $11.4 million contract and the inclusion of a young roster player and a draft pick. League sources said the Clippers had expressed interest in Malcolm Brogdon, which seems to be a non-starter for the Bucks.
One league source asked bluntly, “How can Milwaukee pay them all?”, suggesting that, even with a new arena on the way, the Milwaukee market was going to limit how much the Bucks could reasonably spend on the payroll without ownership subsidizing things.
The Bucks are facing some tough decisions on the current roster. Jabari Parker is going to hit free agency this summer and demand a hefty increase from his current $6.78 million salary. Adding a player like Jordan would make sense in the short-term, but retaining him for the long term starts to become an expensive math problem.
Sources close to the situation in L.A. say the team isn’t ready to toss in the towel and that they are seeing what they had hoped to see from the team. But that hasn’t stopped league sources from saying they believe the Clippers deal at the deadline.
Sense Of Urgency In Utah
The Utah Jazz has been linked to Chicago big man Nikola Mirotic in a trade that seems more likely than not. The Bulls are said to be seeking a first-round draft pick, something the Jazz seem reluctant to move.
League sources said things in Utah were starting to get contentious and that management and the coaching staff may not be on the same page with the direction of the roster and that change seems necessary.
The Jazz seem to be trying to move Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson, although the market for both may be tied to their ending contracts not necessarily their upside as players.
There is a belief that Johnson will seek a buyout after the trade deadline if he does not land on a playoff-bound roster.
Favors seems to be the salary that will head to Chicago in the Mirotic deal; the question becomes what kind of draft pick is going in the deal.
The Jazz are not the only suitor for Mirotic, so Chicago does have some leverage as the Detroit Pistons are said to be at the table on a Mirotic deal too. League sources still pegged the Jazz at the team that could win it; it just would require a first-round pick.
The wrinkle for the Bulls is that Mirotic does have veto power on a trade, and word is he likes the idea of the Jazz and head coach Quinn Snyder.
Cavaliers Not Sitting It Out
It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that Cleveland is active as the deadline approaches. Word in NBA circles is the Cavs are again trying to move often injured guard Iman Shumpert. The Houston Rockets expressed interest in Shumpert during the summer and are again a team to watch. Shumpert has a Player Option, which makes his value tough to gauge. The belief is Cleveland wants to shed the salary, so it will be interesting to see if the Cavs can pull off anything.
There has also been talk that Cleveland would consider deals involving Jae Crowder if it would return the right roster upgrade piece.
The Cavaliers want to shed Luxury Tax dollars, so they will be an interesting team to watch. However, league sources at the Showcase said they didn’t have anything meaningful on the table and were more likely to make a cap clearing kind of transaction than anything substantive with the roster.
Nuggets Have Roster Parts
This is hardly news, but sources at the Showcase continued to list forward Kenneth Faried as being available from the Denver Nuggets, as is guard Emmanuel Mudiay. League sources said the asking price on one or both isn’t very high, and the Nuggets seem willing to shed the salary for ending contracts. The Nuggets face the task of re-signing Nikola Jokic and Will Barton this summer and are already sitting on a $105 million payroll, with a projected $111 million next season.
With the Luxury Tax looming on the horizon, the Nuggets seem more than motivated to move money. The question is, do any of the players the Nuggets have on the market hold any real value?
Cousins And George Staying Put, For Now
As much as some fans would like to see a major player moved, there isn’t any sense in NBA circles that either Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins or Thunder swingman Paul George will get entertained in deals.
Sources at the Showcase were pretty adamant that despite his play on the floor in New Orleans, the toxicity factor around Cousins remains and a team trying to win anything wouldn’t touch him and wouldn’t offer any of value to obtain him, which was sort of the message last year.
One league executive said bluntly, “If it doesn’t work, you’ll get fired. Who is doing that?” The supporting belief is that New Orleans will pay Cousins and his camp knows it and it’s more likely he stays beyond the season, which is one of the reasons the Pelicans seem closed off to the idea.
As for George, there is a sense that a few teams will make an 11th hour run at the Thunder to test their resolve. However, the talk in NBA circles is that even though most felt like George would leave the Thunder in July for the Lakers, no one was going to offer enough value for Sam Presti and company to break up what may be a one year shot at the Conference Finals.
As much as George has tried to say he was happy in Oklahoma City, none of the executives at the showcase were buying the idea of him staying beyond the current season, but they agreed it would be smarter to take a shot rather than pack it in for peanuts on the dollar.
With the NBA Trade Deadline coming before All-Star weekend this season, most league insiders are expecting a noisy deadline, but few were sold that anything major would get done.
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NBA Daily: Can the Milwaukee Bucks be Real Contenders?
Do the Bucks now have the talent and coaching to legitimately contend for this year’s championship?
The Milwaukee Bucks weren’t very good in 2017.
While they had one of the best players in the world, Giannis Antetokounmpo, on the court at almost all times, they struggled to win games under then Head Coach Jason Kidd. While things improved with the transition to Joel Prunty, Milwaukee and its underperforming roster ultimately fell to the Boston Celtics, sans their two best players, in the first round of the postseason.
But with Mike Budenholzer, one-time Coach of the Year award winner and former head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, in the fold along with some new personnel, are the Bucks good enough to challenge the top teams in the NBA?
If their 2018 debut is anything to go by, the NBA needs to be on alert.
On the road against the Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee looked completely dominant at times with the Greek Freak leading the charge in a 113-112 win. Antetokounmpo was his usual dominant self and finished the game with 25 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists.
The most important take away from their season debut, however, has nothing to do with Antetokounmpo. It’s the fact that he got a sizeable amount of help from his supporting cast.
The Bucks often looked like a one-man show last season, with Antetokounmpo doing his thing while the rest of the team failed to pull their collective weight. They often looked slow and were worse than average, defensively; Milwaukee was just 20th in pace-of-play and 18th in defensive rating last season. And, amidst the NBA’s three-point revolution, the Bucks ranked just 25th in three-point attempts and 22nd in three-point percentage.
In a nutshell, the Bucks system wasn’t an ideal workspace for its star player. Antetokounmpo, who isn’t a great long-range shooter himself, needs all the spacing he can get in order to be the best version of himself. And that is why the 2018 version of the Bucks could be so dangerous.
Going back to the 2013-14 regular season, Budenholzer’s first as the Hawks head coach, here is how Atlanta ranked compared to the rest of the league in three-point attempts: 2nd, 7th, 7th, 16th, 7th. Budenholzer has instilled that same three-point happy offensive system in Milwaukee. Not only have they played faster, but they are shooting more; the Bucks attempted 34 shots from beyond the arc, 10 more than they averaged per game last season.
More importantly, the Bucks have the players to take advantage of that system and clear the interior as much as possible for the multipositional and uber-athletic Antetokounmpo.
Khris Middleton, the often underrated two-way wing, is a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter. Eric Bledsoe, who struggled at times last season, has been solid from behind the arc for his career as well. Free agent additions Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, two big men who have steered into the three-point evolution of the NBA, have both shot 34 percent or better from three-point range over the last two seasons. Even rookie Donte DiVincenzo, who went two-for-four from three-point range against Charlotte, was a long distance specialist at Villanova and shot 37.8 percent from three during his three years with the school. The roster is loaded with more shooters than ever and they are being put in a position to shoot the long-ball, thanks to the gravity that Antetokounmpo has on the floor and Budenholzer’s system.
Now, as with almost everything, there could be some complications.
While shooting more shots per game could equate to more makes and, therefore, more points, it could, by the same logic, yield more missed shots as well. The Bucks aren’t a strong defensive team, nor have they been for the last four seasons or so, and those extra possessions for the opposition could kill the Bucks in the final stretch of games. Likewise, playing quickly can lead to more turnovers, creating further opportunities for opponents and hurting Milwaukee even further.
But, for now, the benefits seem to outeight the risks, and Antetokounmpo can cover up a lot of mistakes with the talent he possesses.
One game may seem like a small sample size to go on, but, if the Bucks can limit their offensive mishaps and defensive blunders, they have the chance to be a legitimate threat to win the Eastern Conference crown and, perhaps, the NBA title.
NBA Daily: Kings Starters Show Promise Despite Loss
The end result may be the same as it has been every season in the past decade, but the Sacramento Kings have something brewing for the first time in a long time.
The end result may be the same as it has been every season in the past decade, but the Sacramento Kings have something brewing for the first time in a long time.
Yes, a 25-9 lead was squandered and the game was lost to the Utah Jazz. Marvin Bagley III confusingly played fewer minutes than 14 of his fellow rookies in his NBA debut. They also forced more miscues than they committed, yet were still outscored 24-13 in points off of turnovers.
All of that makes it seem like Wednesday was the start to a long, frustrating season for the Kings, but don’t be so quick to judge. There was a ton of good to come out of the team’s season opener at the Golden 1 Center.
First off, what a night for Willie Cauley-Stein it was. He had the unenviable task of going head-to-head with Rudy Gobert, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, to begin the fourth season of his career. We know that the 25-year-old isn’t necessarily a go-to scoring option, however, you wouldn’t have figured that to be the case if you watched the game.
Finishing with the third-most attempts for Sacramento, Cauley-Stein wasted no time and went right at Gobert when he touched the ball. Not once did he hesitate to put it on the floor, showing an improved, tighter handle on drives to the basket. Likely coming from film study, the 7-foot, 240-pound center excelled at using his body to get his shots up and over the “Stifle Tower” with great timing.
Cauley-Stein was determined to attack the paint all game long and showed no fear. He scored 19 of his 23 points with Gobert on the floor, including a thunderous alley-oop slam over the Frenchman following a screen-and-roll. To put the significance of this in perspective, his eight field goal makes are more than he’s had in each of the previous three seasons with Utah’s big man on the floor.
The Kings’ starters, in general, were especially solid, as all five players scored in double figures and had their squad’s best plus-minus ratings.
De’Aaron Fox swiped three steals, showed his playmaking skills and shared the love with his teammates, recording seven assists in addition to his 21 points. A candidate for a breakout year, Buddy Hield looked like the most comfortable player on the floor despite some lazy passes early, knocking down his signature off the dribble, mid-range fadeaways with ease.
Nemanja Bjelica used the threat of his outside shot to make his way to the basket for better looks and poured in 18 points. Starting at the wing, Yogi Ferrell held his own defensively against Donovan Mitchell and added a couple of threes to the mix as well.
Sacramento gave a double-digit led game away, but the players never gave in. During the fourth quarter, they got stops but just couldn’t seem to take advantage on the other side. It was the recurring theme of the night. The chances were there in transition. Now, they’ve got to work on completing those sequences and turning them into points.
Kings head coach Dave Joerger played essentially a nine-man rotation and got little out of his bench players. Justin Jackson struggled at the four spot and carved out 30 minutes of playing time in spite of it. Other than that, though, everybody in the second unit was on the floor for less than 17 minutes. It’s likely because of how well the starters performed, but they’ll need more out of those guys eventually.
There’s already a topic of discussion on the front of development vs. wins in Sacramento. Joerger’s addressed the matter with Bagley after the game and said it’s going to be hard to allocate minutes for a roster heavy with big men.
The counter-argument to that is simple—he’s the second overall pick of the draft. You have to find time for him, period. There should be no excuse not to regardless of who’s on the team. Don’t forget about Bagley being so talented that he re-classified to play with an age group above his own and still dominated as the ACC Player of the Year at Duke. He was a true freshman!
Aside from that whole debate, the Kings did not roll over and quit when they blew a 16-point lead and trailed by 14 soon after. In a game of runs, their young group hung in there and battled until the clock hit zero. Keep in mind this is a ballclub short of last year’s starting shooting guard still, too.
There may not be a whole lot of winning to come by in Sacramento—what with competing in the Pacific Division and Western Conference—but the season could be easier on the eyes if this is the type of effort they’re going to give on a nightly basis. Of course, we’ve got to be careful here since it’s only one game.
Even so, consider this writer in on “Kings SZN.”
NBA Daily: Offseason Acquisitions Making An Early Impact
Basketball Insiders takes a look at five players on new teams who had a big impact in their respective season openers.
Starting a new job is hard: new co-workers, new processes, new expectations, etc. Most of us have done it, and we can attest that it’s challenging on both a personal and professional level. It’s no different in the NBA. Sure, there is greater familiarity amongst players than for, say, a software engineer jumping from Facebook to Google, but the stakes are also higher. Most people are cut some slack initially due to a lack of familiarity, but not in the NBA. Players are expected to hit the ground running, and are judged harshly for getting off to slow starts.
Even still, some players are simply so skilled that their impact is immediately obvious. With that being said, let’s analyze the top five debuts of players who changed teams this past offseason.
- Kawhi Leonard — His post-game comments may have been understated Wednesday night, but his on-court performance was not. Leonard received an incredible amount of support from the Raptors crowd, and he did not disappoint. He posted 24 points and 12 rebounds and was +13 for the game. His offensive arsenal was on full display; he demonstrated his athleticism on dunks, his shooting prowess and range and his willingness to do some dirty work on the glass. No surprises here, but it is encouraging that he came back from the quad injury and looked mostly unchanged. Bonus points to Kyle Lowry for going the extra mile to get Leonard the ball (e.g., passing on an easy transition layup to feed Leonard).
- DeMar DeRozan — While Kawhi did his normal thing, DeRozan may have had his foot on the gas a bit more — or maybe his performance was more a result of greater necessity. Either way, DeRozan delivered. He scored 28 points on 7 for 11 shooting, with four rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes. Similar to Leonard, no one should be surprised by DeRozan’s debut, especially given how upset he was initially with the trade. It’s even less surprising when you consider that he transitioned to playing for Coach Gregg Popovich, whose system is tried and true. If he keeps this up and all goes well for San Antonio, it could re-ignite questions about the Leonard-Popovich-Spurs snafu that resulted in the trade in the first place.
- New New Orleans Pelicans (Julius Rande and Elfrid Payton – tie) — While Anthony Davis continues to be the main story line for the Pelicans, both free agents signings made their mark in the team’s season opener. Payton did so by posting a triple double in his first outing, demonstrating the versatility and promise that led the Pelicans to sign him in the first place; he notched 10 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in route to an impressive +23. Randle’s performance was probably a bit flashier, but maybe less impactful on the whole. Nevertheless, Randle proved his worth in his first game with the team, finishing with an impressive 25 points on an efficient 9 for 15. He also chipped in eight rebounds and showed his versatility, leading fast breaks and dishing three assists. Concerns over the Pelicans may have been a bit overblown — but that might have more to do with Davis’ impact than the supporting cast. Time will tell.
- Brook Lopez — How did the perception of a former top-tier center slip so far so quickly? Just 17 months ago, Lopez was wrapping up another typical Brook Lopez-esque season: 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per game. Sure, the league has passed by centers who can’t extend the defense and switch onto guards in the pick and roll, but Lopez introduced an effective three-point shot in 2016-17, shooting .34.6 percent from deep. And yet, one year on the Lakers bench was all it took for the league to begin to overlook and/or underrate Lopez. That was a mistake. Lopez seems to be the same player he’s always been. He’s no longer a go-to option, so his scoring will likely be down from his 17.8 points per game career average; but he will contribute on offense and block some shots on defense. In his first game with the Bucks — with whom he signed for the bargain salary of $3.4 million — he scored 14 points and grabbed three rebounds in 21 minutes of action. Lopez should continue to aid the already talented Bucks. Can he push them deeper into the playoff? If he does, he would likely secure himself one more pay day.
- Dennis Shroder — Shroder’s performance may have been inflated by the absence of Russell Westbrook. Correction — Shroder’s performance was definitely inflated by the absence of Westbook. But he demonstrated his value all the same. Oddly, the Hawks decided they wanted to part ways with the 25 year old point guard. Their loss. He notched 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists in 34 minutes of action. And it will get easier for him considering the Thunder opened against Steph Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Shroder gives the Thunder a third playmaker — exactly what they were lacking in last year’s playoffs against the Jazz, and exactly what they hoped Melo could be.
One thing all the guys on this list have in common (beyond being above average players) is their willingness to take on a challenge. Nothing in sports — or life — is guaranteed. But we will have a clearer picture if their respective changes of scenery were made for better or worse. If they were done successfully, they can shift the balance of power in the league, and rework the competitive balance to a pretty crazy extent.