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NBA DAILY: Where Will The Bottom NBA Teams Go?

With the NBA season slipping away for several teams, the trade season could prove to be fairly active.

Steve Kyler

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Where Will The Bottom Go?

With the 2018 NBA trade deadline on February 9 approaching quickly, the questions surrounding some of the NBA’s worst teams are becoming more about which parts will they sell off and which parts they will keep.

Here are some things to know about each:

Dallas Mavericks – 12-26

The Mavericks really don’t have a lot of ugly contract money sitting on the books, and while the team isn’t going to challenge for a playoff spot, they aren’t exactly tanking either.

Mavericks guard Wes Matthews has one more year left on his deal that’s a player option worth $18.62 million, an option he is likely to pick up. The uncertainty of that option makes trading Matthews a tough sell in the NBA where teams don’t value the uncertainty positively.

The Mavericks do have a bunch of ending contracts and have routinely been linked in NBA circles to the LA Lakers as a possible destination for Luol Deng. The prevailing thought is if the Lakers packed in Julius Randell and a future first-round pick, the Mavericks might have the right combination of ending contracts to get the Lakers where they want to be next summer.

League sources said there had been zero talks about a Deng deal with the Mavericks, but history has shown the Mavericks don’t have much issue trading within Conference. If the return is right for the Mavericks, they have in the past been open to helping another team shed cap money if it’s in their favor, which makes them a team to watch at the deadline.

The Mavericks also have the Nerlens Noel situation, because Noel signed his qualifying offer last summer, he has the right to veto any trade, which would make moving him difficult. Noel is a name to watch at the deadline because it’s in his best interest to get traded somewhere he can really play or risk seeing his free agent value drop even more.

Memphis Grizzlies – 12-26

There was considerable talk that the Grizzlies might be open to trading All-Star center Marc Gasol. While that’s always a possibility when a team underachieves as the Grizzlies have, sources close to the situation say that unless Gasol asks to be traded, it’s not a real consideration for Memphis.

The Grizzlies have had a tough run with injuries this season which may open the window for them to be bad enough to secure a top-tier draft pick. As things stand, the Grizzlies have the fourth-worst record in the NBA, which could line them up with a shot at an elite draft talent, and that’s not lost on the team either.

Like the Mavericks, the Grizzlies do have a handful of compelling ending contracts including the one-year deal Tyreke Evans signed. Evans has flourished in Memphis and might be valuable enough to return something meaningful at the deadline.

It’s unlikely the Grizzlies do something franchise changing in the next 30 days, but they are a team to watch regarding roster parts changing hands. It’s pretty clear the floor on the season seems to have come out from under them in a way that makes the 2018 draft more compelling than trying to deal their way back into the playoff discussion.

LA Lakers – 11-26

The Lakers are in a tough spot mainly because they will not have their own draft pick to show for what is turning into a season filled with losses. The hope coming into the season was this group would be good enough to at least challenge for the eight seed in the West and enter free agency next summer with the “one player away” pitch to would-be free agents. That’s not how things are playing out.

The Lakers will have some choices to make in the coming weeks. They have repeatedly tried to find a trade destination for Luol Deng and have concluded no one is going to help them shed his money. That could change at the deadline, but moving Deng on his own isn’t in the cards, which means to get to the maximum free agent slots the Lakers continue to talk about, means moving off several players before July 1st.

The good news for the Lakers is they don’t have to make all their moves at the deadline, as they will have time around the draft and even into free agency in July to make cap shifting trades if they feel like they can get the players they covet. The reality of the situation is that doing some of the work now will take the pressure off and remove some of the leverage other teams would have over the Lakers if they wait until the last minute to shed contract dollars. The premium the Lakers would have to pay to shed dollars in July would be considerably higher than at the deadline.

There are a couple of names to watch as the deadline nears – namely Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Having Randle’s Bird rights would be meaningful for an acquiring team hoping to re-sign him this summer, and he may be the best trade chip the Lakers have in the quest to shed Deng. Clarkson has played well for the Lakers and is owed a ton, which may make him tough to move and not return salary in the deal. That fact he is very productive and under contract for two seasons beyond this one might make sense for a team looking to add a long-term chip. In the grand scheme, Clarkson’s $12.5 and $13.4 million salaries after this season are not crazy comparative to similar free agents; the question becomes who is willing to add the salary in exchange for ending contracts?

Another thing to watch is the Lakers making a roster deal that includes first-round picks. The Lakers are going to need assets to help them shed dollars as they get into free agency, which again is something to watch in regards to Randle.

If there is a team in the bunch worth watching as the deadline nears, it’s the Lakers, not only because their season is going nowhere fast, but because they have contracts to move to get the open salary space to pursue the free agents they covert in July.

Orlando Magic – 12-27

As much as things change, they have remained the same in Orlando. The Magic continue to run off huge losing streaks, and the team does not seem to be improving.

When the Magic made massive changes to their front office, the message from the new regime was they were not rushing to jump off a cliff. They wanted to make sure they had a firm understanding of what assets and players they had and make sure they got real value out of anything they opted to move. With the trade market opening up in earnest on December 15—the date when virtually all signed free agents become tradable—the Magic look to be front and center in the trade market.

The Magic have for some time coveted a game-changing player. That has not changed. The Magic have a bunch of players they would consider deals for including center Nikola Vucevic and guard Evan Fournier. Neither are franchise guys in their own right, and there has been continued chatter than one or both could get moved at the deadline.

The prevailing thought around the Magic is that forward Aaron Gordon is going to be retained this summer and that deals involving him would have to return a proven All-Star. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

The dream scenario would be to offload the contract of Bismack Biyombo, but no one is taking that contract off the Magic’s hands.

There is little doubt the Magic are going to entertain the trade market fairly aggressively in the coming weeks, but the one thing that continues to be clear is they are not open to a fire sale with anyone. If the Magic make a move, it has to make the roster better, which is often hard to pull off at the deadline, but the sense is the Magic are going to try and see what they can shake loose.

Atlanta Hawks – 10-27

The Atlanta Hawks are right where they wanted to be when they started the season—sitting in last place, staring a top pick in the eyes.

This season was a rebuilding year for the Hawks, and they knew it. It also is a year in which the Hawks are open to shedding contract dollars. League sources continue to say the asking price on Dennis Schroder is too high to make sense, but the Hawks have at least listened to the idea and are not turning away conversations.

There continues to be a sense that Kent Bazemore is available, but again, the asking price seems to be too high to think he’ll get moved, but he is a name to watch as the deadline grows near.

The Hawks do have some meaningful ending contracts on proven veterans, which could make them a team to watch at the deadline, which is typically when teams cash in expiring deals for their future.

The Hawks are in a pretty good situation cap wise for next summer which means they do not have to do anything that doesn’t make sense for them, but they do have some pieces they can play with if the return is right. Of the bunch, the Hawks may be the least likely to do something splashy, but for a team looking to rebuild, they have things worth watching.

The 2018 G-League Showcase will get underway next week, and that’s where the bulk of NBA trade deadline chatter will get started. With the trade deadline a full two weeks earlier, the cycle of things has altered a little bit, so expect the noise to pick up especially around the teams whose seasons are going nowhere.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA

The Real Jrue Holiday Has Finally Arrived

It may have been a little later than they would have wanted, but the Jrue Holiday that New Orleans has always wanted is finally here, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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New Orleans has always earned the nickname “The Big Easy”, but ever since Jrue Holiday came to town, his time there has been anything but.

When New Orleans traded for Holiday back in 2013, they hoped that he would round out an exciting young core that included Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Ryan Anderson. At 23 years old, Holiday averaged 17.7 points, 8.0 assists, and 4.2 rebounds the previous season and was coming off his first all-star appearance in Philadelphia, so the Pelicans had much to look forward to.

Unfortunately, recurring extensive injuries prohibited the Pelicans’ new core from ever playing together fully healthy, with Holiday getting his fair share of the bruises. In his first two seasons, Holiday played in only 74 games combined with the team due to injury, and things didn’t get much better his third season. While he played more games, Holiday was on a minutes restriction and his season ended again with injury.

Holiday avoided the injury bug his fourth season, but he nobly took a leave of absence at the start the season to tend to his ill wife, which caused him to miss the season’s first 12 games and 15 in total. Holiday’s inability to stay on the court coupled with New Orleans’ stagnated progress made him a forgotten man in the NBA. That was until last summer, when Holiday became a free agent.

Given the circumstances, Holiday did what he could for the Pelicans. He certainly proved he was above average, but he hadn’t shown any improvement since his arrival. Coupling that with both how many games he had missed in the previous four seasons and the league’s salary cap not increasing as much as teams had anticipated, and one would think to proceed with caution in regards to extending Jrue Holiday.

But the Pelicans saw it differently. New Orleans gave Holiday a five-year, $126 million extension last summer, befuddling the general masses. Besides Holiday’s inability to stay on the court, the Pelicans already had an expensive payroll, and they later added Rajon Rondo, another quality point guard, to the roster. So, with all that in mind, giving Holiday a near-max contract on a team that had made the playoffs a grand total of once in the Anthony Davis era seemed a little foolish.

This season, however, Jrue Holiday has rewarded the Pelicans’ faith in him and has proven the doubters so very wrong.

With a clean slate of health, Holiday has proven himself to be better than ever. This season, Holiday averaged career-highs in scoring (19 points a game) and field goal percentage (49 percent overall), which played a huge role in New Orleans having its best season since Chris Paul’s last hurrah with the team back in 2011.

Holiday’s impact extended beyond what the traditional numbers said. His on/off numbers from NBA.com showed that the Pelicans were much better on both sides of the ball when he was on the court compared to when he was off. Offensively, the Pelicans had an offensive rating of 108.9 points per 100 possessions when he was the on the court compared to 104.4 points per 100 possessions when he was off.

On the other side of the court, Holiday was even more integral. The Pelicans had a defensive rating of 103.3 per 100 possessions when Holiday was on the court compared to 112.3 off the court. Overall, the Pelicans were 13.6 points per 100 possessions better with Holiday on the floor. That was the highest net rating on the team, even higher than Anthony Davis.

Other statistics also support how impactful Holiday has been this season. According to ESPN’s real plus-minus page, Holiday’s 3.81 Real Plus-Minus ranked ninth among point guards – No. 16 offensively, No. 4 defensively – which beat out Kyrie Irving, John Wall, and Goran Dragic, all of whom made the All-Star team this year.

However, Holiday’s effectiveness shined through mid-way through the season, or more specifically, on Jan. 26, when Demarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles tear. While Davis certainly led the way, Holiday’s role could not have been understated when the Pelicans went 21-13 without their MVP candidate to finish the season. Offensively, Holiday’s point average went from 18.6 to 19.4 and his assist average went from 5.2 to 7.2, all while his turnover average – from 2.6 to 2.7 – stayed the same.

Defensively, Holiday had much to do with the Pelicans’ improved defense after Cousins went down. According to NBA.com, the Pelicans defensive rating went from 106.2 points allowed per 100 possessions to 103.7, and much of it can be attributed to Holiday. When Holiday was on the court, the team’s defensive rating was 101.2 points allowed per 100 possessions compared to 109.6 points allowed per 100 possessions with him off.

Holiday’s improved numbers, combined with the Pelicans steadying the boat without their star center, make a fair argument that Holiday was one of the league’s best all-around point guards this season, but Holiday’s style isn’t much of a thrill to watch. He doesn’t have Russell Westbrook’s other-worldly athleticism, he doesn’t have Stephen Curry’s lethal jumper, nor does he have Chris Paul’s floor general abilities. Holiday’s specialty is that he has every fundamental of a good point guard, which makes his impact usually fly under the radar.

That was until last week, when the Pelicans unexpectedly curb stomped the Blazers. The Jrue Holiday coming out party was in full-swing, as the 27-year-old torched Rip City, averaging 27.8 points, 6.5 assists, and 4 rebounds a game on 57 percent shooting from the field, including 35 percent from deep. He did all of that while stymieing MVP candidate Damian Lillard, as Dame averaged 18 points and 4 assists while shooting 35 percent from the field, including 30 percent from deep, and surrendered four turnovers a game.

If Holiday’s contributions weren’t on full display then, they certainly are now. The Pelicans have suddenly emerged as one of the West’s toughest and most cohesive teams in this year’s playoffs, with Holiday playing a huge role in the team’s newfound mojo and potentially glorious future.

This was the Jrue Holiday the New Orleans Pelicans had in mind when they first traded for him almost five years ago. While his impact has come a little later than they would have wanted, it’s as the old saying goes.

Better late than never.

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NBA Daily: Are Player Legacies Really On The Line?

How important is legacy in the NBA playoffs? Lang Greene takes a look.

Lang Greene

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As the NBA Playoffs continue to pick up steam, the subject of individual greatness has become the big topic of conversation. Today, we ask the question: is legacy talk just a bunch of hyperbole or are they really made or broken in the playoffs?

To be clear, legacies do matter. Reputations are built on reliability and how dependable someone is throughout the course of their respective body of work. We all have them. They are built over time and it’s seldom they change from one misstep – but they can. Some of the greatest players in NBA history never won a title; see John Stockton and Karl Malone during their Utah Jazz years. Some NBA greats never won a title until they were past their physical prime and paired with a young charge that took over the reins; see David Robinson in San Antonio. Some NBA greats never won a title as the leading man until they were traded to a title contending team; see Clyde Drexler in Houston. We also have a slew of Hall of Famers that have been inducted with minimal playoff success in their careers; see the explosive Tracy McGrady.

So what’s in a legacy? And why does it mean more for some then it does for others?

Four-time League MVP LeBron James’ legacy is always up for debate, despite battling this season to make his ninth NBA Finals appearance. James’ legacy seems to be up in the air on a nightly basis. Maybe it’s because of the rarified air he’s in as one of the league’s top 10 players all-time or maybe it’s just good for ratings.

As this year’s playoffs gain momentum, the topic of legacy has been mentioned early and often.

Out in the Western Conference, the legacy of Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook is being questioned at all angles. There’s no doubt Westbrook is one of the best players in the league today as the reigning MVP and coming off two consecutive seasons averaging a triple-double. However, Westbrook’s decision making has come into question plenty over the past couple of seasons.

The subject of whether you can truly win a championship with Westbrook as your lead guy serves as the centerpiece of the debate. It goes without saying former league MVP Kevin Durant bolted to the Golden State Warriors amid rumors that he could no longer coexist next to Westbrook in the lineup. Ever since Durant’s somewhat unexpected departure, it seems Westbrook has been hell-bent on proving his doubters wrong – even if it comes at the detriment to what his team is trying to accomplish.

The latest example was in game four of his team’s current first-round series versus the Utah Jazz.

Westbrook picked up four fouls in the first half as he was attempting to lock up point guard Ricky Rubio, who had a career night in Game 3 of the series. Westbrook infamously waved off head coach Billy Donovan after picking up his second personal foul in the first quarter. Westbrook was also in the game with three personal fouls and under two minutes left in the first half before picking up his fourth personal.

You can make an argument that this was just bad coaching by Donovan leaving him in the game in foul trouble, but it also points to Westbrook’s decision making and not being able to play within the constructs of a team dynamic. Further, what will be Westbrook’s legacy on this season’s Oklahoma City Thunder team with Carmelo Anthony and Paul George if they were to flame out in the first round with little fizzle – against a Jazz team with no star power and zero All-Stars? Is discussing Westbrook’s legacy worthless banter or is it a legitimate topic? There is no doubt on his current trajectory Westbrook is headed straight into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. As an individual player there is no greater achievement than to have your name etched in stone with the greats of yesteryear, but the court of public opinion factors in team success and this is where the topic of legacy comes into play.

Say what you will about Durant’s decision to go to Golden State, but his legacy is undoubtedly secured. Durant won the Finals MVP last season in absolute dominant fashion and showed up on the biggest of stages. All that’s left from those that question Durant’s legacy at this point are the folks on the fringe saying he couldn’t do it by himself. But that is exactly the line of thinking that’s getting Westbrook killed as well, because winning championships is all about team cohesiveness and unity.

Out in the Eastern Conference, all eyes will be on Milwaukee Bucks do everything star Giannis Antetokounmpo. After five seasons in the league, Antetokounmpo has zero playoff series victories attached to his name. Heading into the playoffs this season, the seventh-seeded Bucks were considered underdogs to the second-seeded Boston Celtics.

But the Celtics are wounded. They do not have the services of All Stars Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward. The Celtics are a team full of scrappy young talent and cagey veterans. Antetokounmpo is clearly the best player in the series and teams with the best player usually fare well in a seven game series. But the Bucks are facing elimination down 3-2 versus Boston. Antetokounmpo has only been in the league half of the time Westbrook has, but the chirping about his legacy has already begun as Milwaukee attempts to win its first playoff series since 2001.

So what’s in a legacy? Are there varying degrees for which people are being evaluated?

Despite James’ success throughout his career, a first-round exit at the hands of the Indiana Pacers over the next week will damage his legacy in the minds of some. While others feel even if Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were to drop this series against the Celtics, he should be given a pass with the caveat that he still has plenty of time in his career to rectify.

As for Westbrook, there are vultures circling the head of his legacy and these folks feel that a first-round exit will damage his brand irreversibly after 10 seasons in the league

Ultimately, the topic of legacies makes for good column fodder, barbershop banter and sport debate television segments. Because when guys hang up their high tops for good, a Hall of Fame induction is typically the solidifying factor when it comes to a player’s legacy.

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: The Futures Of LeBron, PG13, Kawhi and More

Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and NBA writer David Yapkowitz talk about the future of LeBron James in Cleveland, the Paul George situation, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the future of the Blazers and the Basketball 101 program that’s part of the Professional Basketball Combine.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and NBA writer David Yapkowitz talk about the future of LeBron James in Cleveland, the Paul George situation, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the future of the Blazers and the Basketball 101 program that’s part of the Professional Basketball Combine.

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