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.
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NBA Daily: Grayson Allen Ready for NBA Challenge
Making it in the NBA alone is quite an impressive feat, which is why Grayson Allen is doing the best he can to prepare for the big stage.
Grayson Allen may not be the most hyped-up prospect to come out of this year’s draft, but he is one of the more experienced rookies coming into the league this season.
Allen spent four years learning under the tutelage of Coach K at Duke University while also playing with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Marvin Bagley III. He’s been through it all at the collegiate level, but he knows that if he’s going to make it in the pros, he’s going to have to adapt as quickly as possible.
“I have to set the tone for myself where I have to know playing in the NBA as a rookie, guys are going to be physical with you,” Allen said. “They’re going to come at you, they’re going to test you and see what you got. You’re gonna get beat. You’re gonna fail, but you gotta come right back at ‘em the next time.”
Since debuting in the summer league, Allen’s been the perfect storm for the Jazz. His shooting numbers have not been encouraging, but his numbers across the board have shown how impactful a player he can be. These have been his stat lines in both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas summer leagues.
July 2 vs. San Antonio: 11 points on 4/16 shooting including 2/6 from three, eight rebounds, seven assists
July 5 vs. Atlanta: 9 points on 2/13 shooting including 0/2 from three, six rebounds, eight assists
July 7 vs. Portland: 16 points on 6/17 shooting including 2/9 from three, six rebounds, six assists
July 19 vs. Miami: 17 points on 7/17 shooting including ⅕ from three, seven rebounds, three assists
Maybe it’s been the dry climate, or maybe it’s been the high Utah elevation that has caused Allen’s struggles shooting-wise, but the fact that his all-around game has shined despite his shooting woes should excite the Jazz. After his summer league play, Allen says the biggest adjustment he’s had to make offensively is acclimating himself with the pace of the game.
“Offensively, it’s a lot easier when you slow down,” Allen said. “I’m starting to see the space of the floor a lot better and finding the open guys. There’s still a few plays out there where I think I got a little antsy but it’s human nature and I’m trying to fight it right now. As a rookie playing in his first couple of games, I’m trying to fight that and play under control.”
On the other side of the ball, Allen says the biggest adjustment is the increased level of physicality in the pros.
“Defensively, it’s physical,” Allen said. “You gotta fight guys. You gotta get through screens. I mean, the bigs, they really set great screens, so you gotta be able to fight through that… If you’re tired on defense, they’ll find you.”
Allen knows that he needs to commit if he’s going to make it in the NBA, which requires eliminating all bad habits. In order to eliminate any habit that Allen has, which in his case is fatigue at the moment, Allen believes that he needs to be more mindful of himself when he’s physically drained.
“I try to be really self-aware of my habits when I get tired out there,” Allen said. “On defense, I have a habit when I’m tired, I stand up and my feet are flat. On offense, I’m not ready for the shot… I try to be really self-aware of that stuff so that in practice or in August, September, October, leading up to the regular season, I can have good habits when I’m tired because we got a short leash as a rookie. You don’t have many mistakes to make.”
In Utah, Allen will be playing for a team that exceeded all expectation last year and has a much higher bar to reach this season. He believes the summer the league should serve him well as he fights for minutes in the Jazz’ rotation.
“I’m joining a playoff team, so I gotta carve out a role with the guys they already have,” Allen said. “When I’m playing in summer league, I’m trying to play the right way. Don’t take too many tough shots, find the right guy, make the right pass.- Because when you come and play for Quin Snyder, that’s what he’s gonna want. He’s just gonna want you to play the right way.”
When Adam Silver announced that Utah was taking Allen with the 21st overall pick, the general masses laughed due to Utah, a state with a white-bread reputation, took a white player. Given that Allen just played four years of basketball at one of the best college basketball programs in the nation and will be starting his career playing for one of the most well-run organizations in the league, he may be the one laughing when it’s all over.
In other words, Grayson Allen playing in Utah could be quite the trip.
NBA Daily: Credit Ujiri And Raptors For Taking The Risk
Perhaps emboldened by OKC’s ability to retain Paul George, the Raptors are taking a gamble of their own.
In any given NBA season, at the most, there are only five legitimate title contenders in play. The rest of the league could be considered as either on the rise, middle of the pack or in the hunt for a lottery pick.
There are far too many teams around the league that are content with solely making the playoffs while not seriously contending for a title. This is why the Toronto Raptors organization along with team president Masai Ujiri should be given credit for taking the ultimate gamble in acquiring a top-five player, even one who could amount to a one-year rental.
The Raptors shipped four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran wing Danny Green.
The move is the ultimate gamble for an organization that has turned itself into a perennial playoff presence with five consecutive postseason appearances and three straight 50-win campaigns. DeRozan, 28, was locked under contract the next three seasons and the organization could have theoretically decided to ride the DeRozan and fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry duo until the proverbial wheels fell off.
But instead, Ujiri unexpectedly shipped their star player, who wanted to be in Toronto long-term, to acquire Leonard who reportedly has his eyes dead set on joining one of the Los Angeles franchises once he hits free agency in 2019.
Think about this for a moment.
While Toronto has served as LeBron James’ playoff punching bag as of late, make no mistake, Raptors basketball is undoubtedly experiencing the peak of its golden era.
Sure, the team’s former stars such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh will likely go down in history considered better than DeRozan (and Lowry). But none of the aforementioned players led the franchise to a 50-win season while with the organization. None of those guys led the Raptors to a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. DeRozan was a vital cog in breaking new ground while with the team, defiantly re-signing with the Raptors despite overtures from his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in 2016.
Perhaps emboldened by the success the Oklahoma City Thunder recently had in taking a similar risk last summer, the Raptors took the gamble. The Thunder traded for All-Star forward Paul George, who also reportedly also had Los Angeles dreams, last summer, and were able to convince the wing to re-sign earlier this month to a long-term deal.
Toronto has never been a free agency hot spot and the aforementioned stars all forced their way out of town early in their careers. What if Leonard doesn’t buy the soup Ujiri is cooking? There are already some reports stating the forward has no desire to play with the Raptors at all.
Even if this is the case, Ujiri and company still have options. Leonard can still be dealt before next February’s trade deadline. Ujiri could theoretically create a bidding war between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers for Leonard’s services with an attractive.
At the bare minimum, the Raptors are all-in this season for a championship run in an Eastern Conference no longer facing the talents of LeBron James. If things don’t work out, DeRozan’s $54 million owed after this season is off the books. Lowry will be owed $33 million in 2020 but could potentially be an attractive expiring contract. All of this to say, the Raptors are simultaneously preparing for a title run and bracing for a rebuild of their current roster.
Far too many teams become content with just making the playoffs and not rocking the boat. Ujiri took his shot to boost the Raptors up the league’s hierarchy. The ultimate risk. Much respect for taking it.
NBA Daily: Quality Free Agents Still Available
Many quality free agents are still available nearly three weeks into free agency, writes James Blancarte.
With the NBA Summer League over and training camps a few months away, the NBA would normally be quiet this time of year. Apparently the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors didn’t get the memo as they agreed to a trade centered around Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan. Additionally, Carmelo Anthony has finally been traded to relieve the Oklahoma City Thunder from a tremendous tax burden.
As the dust settles from these trades, many free agents continue to wait in the wings. The list includes many talented players who will eventually make their way back onto an NBA team’s roster. Some will return to the team they played for last year, which is especially likely for restricted free agents (e.g., Marcus Smart). Some may, for a variety of reasons, not return to an NBA roster. Last year Rodney Stuckey sat the year out and used the time to improve his health in order to make a comeback this year. Former All-Star center Roy Hibbert just announced his retirement at age 31 after not being active last season.
The list of available restricted free agents has seriously dwindled now nearly three weeks into the free agency period. RFAs such as Marcus Smart (back to the Boston Celtics) and Jabari Parker (to the Chicago Bulls) have recently signed new contracts. These signings, among others, leaves Houston Rockets RFA center Clint Capela and Los Angeles Clippers RFA center Montrezl Harrell as two of the bigger names left on the board.
Available Restricted Free Agents:
Clint Capela is coming off of his best and most efficient season averaging 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks in 27.5 minutes a game (all career highs) and he is only 24 years old. Capela also spearheaded a defense that, when combined with James Harden’s offensive mastery, pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals. Reports are that Capela has turned down an initial offer to re-sign for well below his max. While the clock ticks on the Rockets and Capela, Capela finds himself in what remains a punitive free agent market. The Sacramento Kings is the only other team capable of immediately signing Capela to a competitive contract to lure him away from the Rockets. To make matters worse, the Kings have been committed to stocking their roster with as many big men as possible making them a less-than-ideal suitor for Capela’s services.
Montrezl Harrell won’t generate as many headlines as the other RFAs that have been in the news lately but don’t sleep on him. In a season that never went according to plan for the Clippers, Harrell was one of the bright spots for the team. Harrell, acquired by the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, showed tenacity on offense as he served as a strong offensive rebounder, floor runner and helped the Clippers weather a five-game stretch where center DeAndre Jordan was unavailable. Harrell played especially well in place of Jordan. However, working against Harrell is the Clipper’s roster crunch. The team has 18 players on the roster, not counting Harrell. If the Clippers do ultimately decide to bring back Harrell, the Clippers will have to make several moves to clear roster spots.
Cleveland Cavaliers RFA wing Rodney Hood also remains available. Utah Jazz fans can relate to the ups and downs of cheering for Hood who has flashes of brilliant play but remains inconsistent. Hood was acquired during last season to help bolster the Cavaliers’ championship run. However, Hood’s scoring, three-point shooting, overall statistics and minutes went down significantly due to his uneven play. While Hood is still a capable player, his time with the Cavaliers did not end well, which has impacted his stock around the league. It didn’t help Hood’s cause when he was benched in the postseason and he subsequently refused to enter the game when instructed to. The Kings, in need of help on the wing, could be a suitor for Hood’s services. However, Cleveland could match any such offer as the franchise continues to build a new team after the loss of LeBron James.
Available Unrestricted Free Agents:
The group of remaining unrestricted free agents is a mixed bag. As mentioned above, there is at least a chance that one of these players may not even make a roster when the dust settles this offseason. Dwyane Wade has bounced around the league the last few years with stints with the Bulls, Cavaliers and a most recent return to the Miami HEAT under his belt. Wade remains capable of spurts of offense and is a fan favorite in Miami. The most obvious result here is a return to Miami. However, Wade himself commented regarding a potential return or possibly retirement.
“When I get back from China, I’ll focus on that [decision],” Wade said while in China. “The basketball will take care of itself. I’ll sit down and figure that out once I get back from this tour at some point.”
Michael Beasley remains unsigned despite a strong outing last season for the New York Knicks. Beasley started 30 of 74 games played. His numbers don’t jump off the boxscore: 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists in 22.3 minutes. However, these are some of the best numbers he’s put up in years and the most consistent he has played since 2012-13. The Knicks may likely move on from Beasley but he remains a viable scorer who could come off the bench and start in a pinch for many teams if the price is right.
Jamal Crawford and Nick Young
Jamal Crawford and Nick Young remain unsigned veterans who offer potential teams a scoring punch off the bench. Young has the benefit of showing that he contributed in spurts to the Warrior’s championship season while not becoming a distraction. Both are known for knocking down difficult outside shots but can be inefficient scorers and potential liabilities on defense.
A few notable big men remain available as well. Phoenix Center Alex Len never became the elite big man the Suns had hoped for when they used the fifth pick in the 2013 draft to acquire him. However he remains a serviceable player. For his career, Len averages 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes. He is somewhat mobile and could be a strong option for a team looking for a backup center. Centers Al Jefferson and Jahill Okafor can both score the basketball but have to directly combat the notion that they have become antiquated. The modern game calls for mobile centers that shoot reliably from the outside to stretch the floor, are efficient on offense, can guard the rim as well as being at least somewhat capale of covering ball handlers on switches. Okafar and Jefferson don’t fit that profile and will have to convince potential suitors that despite their meager contributions over the last few seasons that they can sufficiently adapt to the modern game and make a positive impact.