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NBA Daily: Who Will Make The Next Big Move?

The first domino of the NBA season has fallen with Tyronn Lue’s firing. What team shakes things up to follow suit? Matt John explores.

Matt John

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It’s never too early to shake things up.

Two games into the 2008-2009 season, the Pistons traded Chauncey Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson. Five games into the 2012-2013 season, the Lakers fired Mike Brown after an abysmal 1-4 start. Now, just six games into the 2018-2019 season, the winless Cavaliers decided they were fed up with the Tyronn Lue era and sent him packing.

This season hasn’t even entered double digits in games played. Yet, so far, several teams are showing some serious red flags. Some of these red flags we all saw coming, while others actually came as a bit of a surprise.

With the Cavs firing Lue as a response to their winless start, it’s only a matter of time until another team decides to make a change or two of their own. There are quite a few teams that are looking desperate for answers. They may be looking for any boost in their playoff chances, or they may be looking for a fresh start.

The following teams could be the next one to make some major modifications to their roster.

Minnesota Timberwolves

As long as Jimmy Butler remains in Minneapolis, everyone’s eyes will be glued to the Timberwolves. It still is rather puzzling that Butler is still in Minnesota after all the drama that they’ve gone through over the past month. There’s no need for elaboration on that because everyone and their mother knows what’s been going on behind the scenes.

The newest wrinkle is that this is affecting the Timberwolves’ morale as a team. In their first six games, Minnesota has gone 2-4. Their schedule so far has not been a cakewalk by any means, but Butler’s antics have proven to be a distraction. Karl-Anthony Towns has regressed badly since the start of the season, averaging 16.3 points, 8.8 rebounds on 43 percent shooting from the field.

What’s more telling is that Towns’ best game of the season – a high-scoring, competitive loss to the Mavericks, in which Towns put up 31 points on 9-of-16 shooting including four-of-six from three – happened to be the one game Butler didn’t play.

That could just be a coincidence, but given all that’s happened, that doesn’t seem likely. The writing is on the wall. Butler needs to go. That’s been public knowledge for a while now, but the more this drags on, the more both the team and the fans suffer.

Houston Rockets

Houston’s worst nightmare came true. Their most recent departures – Trevor Ariza, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and retired assistant Jeff Bzdelik – proved to be as disastrous as feared. Their defensive rating has plummeted down to 116.9, which is bad enough for 27th in the league. A drop off was expected, but…holy moly.

It’s shown in their record so far. The Rockets currently stand at 1-4, tied for 13th in the Western Conference. Even with all they lost, they shouldn’t be starting off this badly. Yet here we are. Now this bad start that they’ve had shouldn’t continue. James Harden and Chris Paul are too good of a duo for the Rockets to play this badly. However, they’ve got an elephant in the room that can’t go unnoticed.

Lucky for them, their problems coincide with Minnesota’s problems with Jimmy Butler. Both are growing more and more desperate by the day, which could lead to a deal. The latest reported offer is four first-round picks with the major hold-up being Eric Gordon, who Minnesota insists must be part of the deal.

Houston refuses to include Gordon because he fits its system like a glove. That is understandable, but when the system is not getting results, an upgrade is necessary. Gordon is a terrific player, but this is Jimmy Buckets we’re talking about. Though not a knockdown shooter, Butler’s perimeter defense can fix their problems.

A date to keep an eye on is Halloween because on that day, both Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss have their trade restrictions expire. That may be the reason why Houston hasn’t traded for Butler just yet, which is why we should all stay tuned.

Washington Wizards

“Just wait until Dwight Howard gets back!”

A phrase no one expected to say given all the issues that have gone on between Howard and his last few teams. For the Wizards though, Howard is their last hope, because whatever’s going on in Washington is only getting worse.

The team has now fallen to 1-5, with their most recent loss coming at the hands of the Clippers. This wasn’t some tight contest either. The Clippers blew them out by a whopping 32 points, and the Wizards allowed 136 points all in all. Howard is capable of plugging some of their holes on the floor, but the discord could get so much worse.

This shouldn’t be happening to the Wizards because they still have a fair amount of talent. It’s just that they shouldn’t have to rely on Dwight’s return to give them a boost. The Wizards are quickly turning into a sinking ship. It’s not the roster that may need a change. It’s the coach.

Scott Brooks did a fantastic job getting the Wizards to realize their potential two seasons ago. Unfortunately, he’s in a league that basically lives by the question, “What have you done for me lately?” Well, lately, Brooks hasn’t been able to keep things afloat. If these struggles continue even with Howard back, then Brooks might follow in Ty Lue’s footsteps.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Something is definitely wrong with the Thunder. Defensively, they’re only okay as they are 13th overall in defensive rating (109), which is disappointing for them given all the talent they have on that side of the ball. It’s the offensive struggles that are absolutely mind-boggling. Even with Russell Westbrook and Paul George on the team, the Thunder rank last in offensive rating with 99 points per 100 possessions.

One of the most obvious culprits for OKC’s struggles is their lack of shooting. The Thunder rank last in the NBA in three-point percentage with a ghastly 24.1 percent from distance. Sure that’s bad, but consider that the next one up from them is Denver, who as of now among one of the best teams in the west, at 29.1 percent. Despite that, the Nuggets still have the tenth best offensive rating at 112.1

That’s not to say the lack of spacing isn’t a problem, because it is, but the offense just in general is all-around dysfunctional. This team doesn’t really know how to work together, and now they don’t have Carmelo Anthony as the scapegoat to their problems. Many will point to Andre Roberson’s absence as the reason for their struggles. He should help when he returns, but he doesn’t help their lack of spacing.

Much like Scott Brooks, the gist of the blame should be directed towards Billy Donovan. He’s struggled to put the pieces together, and if they continue, he should be out of the job. If the Thunder find a reliable shooter who makes life easier for them, Donovan’s job should be safe. If the offense struggles even with said shooter, then there’s no question what should happen to Donovan.

Cleveland Cavaliers

They may have already shaken things up with Lue’s firing, but that may not be the last move they make.

Tyronn Lue’s firing might be the first domino in what could be a potential blow-up this season. Though Tristan Thompson swears the east would run through Cleveland, the Cavs have looked nothing short of awful since LeBron’s departure. It’s a shame because the way they approached this offseason was centered around proving that they weren’t completely helpless without LeBron.

To make a long story short, it’s appeared that they most definitely are, which honestly isn’t that shocking.

So, if the struggles continue, what is their next move? This writer has already detailed what Cleveland should have done when LeBron left, and he stands by it.

-Trade their best players for assets – Kevin Love, George Hill, JR Smith, Kyle Korver
-Focus on developing their young talent – Collin Sexton, Larry Nance Jr., and maybe Rodney Hood
-Get a coach who would help a rebuild like old friend David Blatt

That is, of course, if their struggles continue, which, from the look of things, is a strong possibility.

For all we know, all of these mentioned teams’ will figure themselves out in the coming weeks. Bad starts, though, can be very difficult to overcome if things don’t improve. If these teams’ struggles continue for an extended period, they may regret not shaking things up while they had their chance.

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G-League

NBA Daily: G League Guards Showing They Belong

Jordan Hicks spoke with NBA hopefuls Trey Lewis and Isaiah Cousins about their current games, playing in the G League and more.

Jordan Hicks

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The Utah Jazz currently have three players out due to injury – all three point guards, coincidentally – so one might say they are a little shorthanded. Because of this, both of their two-way players – Tyler Cavanaugh and Naz Mitrou-Long – have been called up to travel with the team. Unfortunately for Utah’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, they are left short-handed.

Add this to the fact that their first overall draft pick – and arguably their most important player, Willie Reed – is done for the season.

Things like this aren’t uncommon for the G League. In essence, that is primarily why it is there. As a developmental league for the NBA, it is used to both groom young talent, as well as have players readily available when needed (for teams lucky enough to have a program in their area).

In recent years, the SLC Stars have helped groom current Jazz rotation players Georges Niang and Royce O’Neale.

In a league that is growing more and more competitive with every game, every advantage a team can get is clearly a plus. Therefore, having the Stars so close has definitely been a huge positive for the Jazz.

Because a couple of heavy contributors are missing games, guys who are typically important role-players need to step up and be the key guys for the team.

Basketball Insiders had the chance to catch up with two of their young guards – Isaiah Cousins and Trey Lewis – after a recent home loss to fellow G League team the Stockton Kings (affiliate to the Sacramento Kings). In a close game where the Stars were slightly outmatched, these players stepped up in a big way and almost led the Stars to an unlikely come-from-behind victory.

Isaiah Cousins is having a career year with the Stars. His third year in the G League – and second with the Stars – Cousins is averaging 12.7 points, 6.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds a night. He’s currently second in the league in assist to turnover ratio at 3.27.

“Making the right reads and [not trying] to force anything,” Cousins told Basketball Insiders. “Whatever the scouting report is, each team has a different defensive scheme each game, so I look at the scouting report and see what they are going to do.”

Isaiah alluded to the fact that preparation is what helps him take care of the ball so well. In a league where taking care of the ball is essential to winning games, solid point guard play is a must. Cousins’ development in that area goes hand-in-hand with his ability to someday make an NBA roster.

“This is my third year in the G League so I’m experiencing and understanding the game now,” Cousins said.

When asked what position Cousins sees himself playing in the NBA, he noted his versatility.

“I think I’m a point guard, but I can play multiple positions and I can guard multiple positions,” Cousins said. “I do a little bit on-ball and off-ball. Basically, wherever a job is open, I’ll take it.”

Trey Lewis has been instrumental to the Stars’ winning record coming off the bench. Averaging 11.6 points and 2.3 assists, the team relies on his scoring and playmaking abilities to pull-ahead.

Although he isn’t in the starting lineup, Lewis finds himself closing out many games, thanks in part to his clutch shotmaking. Just over two weeks ago Lewis hit a big, go-ahead three-pointer with just seconds left to seal a home win. On the season – in which Lewis has only participated in 13 games due to an early-season ankle injury – Trey has already dropped 20+ points on four occasions.

Lewis played for a handful of teams during his collegiate years, ultimately ending up on Louisville with current Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. Lewis and Mitchell are now playing basketball for the same organization and living in the same city. “[Mitchell] is somebody who I talk to on a daily basis. We push each other, we motivate each other, and we support each other so it’s been great.”

Lewis garnered the essential skill of shooting the deep ball in college. While playing for Cleveland State in the Horizon League, he led the conference in threes made, knocking them in at a 42.3 percent rate.

After playing overseas in Germany for two seasons where he was a two-time All-Star in the BBL, Germany’s top basketball league, Lewis came back to the states.

“My goal since a little child has always been to play in the NBA,” said Lewis when asked why he came to the G League. “I feel like I had two great seasons overseas and felt like this was the next step to get to where I want to go.”

As the NBA continues its move to a heavy three-point shooting league, players are finding they need to adapt in this sink-or-swim situation. Players that can’t shoot the deep-ball – at least at a respectable mark – need to hold elite skills in other areas.

Luckily for Lewis, three-point shooting has always been a strength for him.

Basketball Insiders asked him where he gets his confidence from behind the arc.

“Just hard work; my regimen every day, sticking to my routine, getting my reps, and that builds confidence,” Lewis said. “I know I can hit those shots in needed situations.”

The window has opened for NBA teams to sign 10-day contracts. Whether they eventually end up with the Utah Jazz or with an entirely different franchise, it doesn’t matter. Cousins and Lewis will continue to grind so they can have their shot at a spot in the league. But for now, they will continue to work for their current team and help the Stars try and lift the G League championship trophy at the end of the season.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Potential 10-Day Contract Players

Basketball Insiders takes a look at a few players who could be prime candidates for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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January 5 was an important deadline in the NBA in that it marked the first day teams can begin signing players to 10-day contracts.

Usually reserved for younger, unproven talent looking to get their first shot in the NBA, recently NBA veterans have started going the 10-day route to refresh their careers and get back in the league. For example, Corey Brewer just recently signed a 10-day contract with the Philadelphia 76ers.

These contracts are very beneficial for teams in that there’s essentially no risk, and the potential for a high reward. It’s a relatively cheap tryout for teams to get a quick look at players who can potentially be helpful. Best case scenario, they end up finding a solid contributor. If not, then the player is no longer with them after 10 days.

Here’s a look at a few players who could be candidates for a 10-day contract.

1. Willie Reed

The veteran big man has had his taste of the NBA. He began last season as the Los Angeles Clippers’ primary backup to DeAndre Jordan. With the emergence of other players, however, his playing time decreased and he was ultimately traded to Detroit in the Blake Griffin trade.

The Pistons then shipped him off to the Chicago Bulls for Jameer Nelson, and the Bulls proceeded to cut him. He ended up being the first overall pick of the Salt Lake City Stars of the G League.

This season with the Stars, he’s been one of the best big men in the G League. Reed has put up 20.1 points per game on 66.5 percent shooting from the field, 11.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He’s still a quality rotation player and could help a playoff team in need of some size off the bench.

2. John Jenkins

Another NBA veteran, Jenkins developed a reputation as a sharpshooter during his early years in the league, but didn’t do much else. His last appearance in the NBA was last season when he was brought to training camp by the Atlanta Hawks.

He ended up being one of the Hawks’ final cuts before the end of camp, and he subsequently chose to play overseas. He returned stateside this season, where he joined the Westchester Knicks, the New York Knicks’ G League affiliate.

Jenkins has had a very strong season thus far, putting up 24.8 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting, 42.8 percent from the three-point line, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Perhaps the biggest changes in his game have been his playmaking ability and his development into a more versatile scorer. Any team in need of some bench scoring should give him a look.

3. Anthony Bennett

Keeping with the trend of NBA veterans using 10-day contracts to get back to the league, the former No.1 overall pick in the 2013 draft has begun to put people on notice this season.

Bennett last saw NBA minutes two season ago with the Brooklyn Nets. He wasn’t that bad during his stint in Brooklyn, but the Nets cut him almost halfway through the 2016-17 season. Aside from a brief stop overseas, Bennett has been playing in the G League.

This season with the Agua Caliente Clippers, Bennett has looked like he’s ready for another shot in the NBA. He’s been averaging a modest 13.0 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field. One of the biggest additions to his game though has been his expanded shooting range. He’s knocking down 43.6 percent of this 5.1 three-point attempts. He’s worth another look for a team in need of a stretch big man.

4. Bruno Caboclo

Another player with NBA experience, it’s probably not fair to call Caboclo a veteran seeing that he rarely saw playing time in the league. When he was drafted by the Toronto Raptors, his selection caused quite a bit of confusion, leading to Fran Fraschilla’s now famous quote of him being, “two years away from being two years away.”

Caboclo toiled on the Raptors’ bench for about four years before being traded to the Sacramento Kings. He finally was able to see some minutes with the Kings, but still didn’t show much. The Houston Rockets invited him to training camp but ultimately cut him.

Caboclo joined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets G League affiliate, and has since been showing that he may very well be worth a 10-day contract. He’s averaging 16 points per game on 51 percent shooting from the field, 42.5 percent from downtown, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. When he was drafted, the expectation was he’d develop into a 3&D wing but that didn’t happen. He’s looking much closer to that now. For a team in need of a wing defender who can shoot from distance, he’s worth a look.

Again, 10-day contracts have become a very valuable and inexpensive way for NBA teams to try out potential contributors. If the player pans out, then you have a relatively cheap guy in the rotation. If they don’t, you cut your losses after 10 days. It should be interesting to see if these vets are able to parlay their G League success into a path back to the NBA.

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NBA Daily: Capela’s Injury is a Massive Setback for Houston

Clint Capela’s thumb injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. Spencer Davies looks at the massive loss, who may get opportunities and what moves the Houston Rockets could make in response.

Spencer Davies

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James Harden has a real challenge on his hands.

The Houston Rockets’ remarkable stretch from mid-December to the New Year behind the reigning MVP helped put them back in the middle of the playoff picture.

But he had a right-hand man—the same right-hand man who has emerged as a dominant two-way interior presence over the last three years under Mike D’Antoni—and that is Clint Capela.

Friday afternoon, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Capela would be out for at least the next month with ligament damage in his right thumb. There’s a chance that the 24-year-old big man could get a second opinion from a hand specialist following the MRI he took Monday.

Before sustaining the injury in Orlando, Capela was having a career season with the Rockets on the offensive end, significantly up-ticking his previous year averages to an impressive 17.6 points and 12.6 rebounds in over 34 minutes per game.

At the bottom of the barrel in defensive rebounding (and 29th in total rebounds per game), Houston already struggles on the glass as it is. However, they are doing a solid job of preventing their opponents from crashing the boards. Taking Capela out of the equation hurts because of his fundamental ability.

According to NBA.com, the Rockets rebound the ball as a team 89.9 percent of the time when Capela boxes out under the basket. He averages six of them per game and the vast majority of those are coming on the defensive end. It’s a simple part of the game, yet such an important aspect for a group that struggles in that area.

With Capela sidelined, Houston loses its rim protector. While it may be true that he’s not having as much success as last year defending in the paint, he is one of only four players in the league seeing at least seven attempts per game within five feet or less. More importantly—anywhere on the floor—the Swiss center is a top five shot contester among all of his peers.

Offensively speaking, Harden might be the most disappointed. He and Capela have developed an incredibly impressive two-man game through the Beard’s ability to finish at the rim.

Using the pick-and-roll to their advantage, the opposing big often chooses to help his man cover Harden, leaving Capela there for the easy high-handoff. It’s a play this duo has literally executed at will, and it’s been made deadly over the last few seasons.

Couple that with the athleticism and precision both have—few teams stand a chance at stopping it. And, back to the battle of the boards, Capela pulls down five offensive rebounds per game and provides second chance opportunities consistently.

If you don’t get the picture, we’ll leave it at this—the Rockets have to do something to keep up in a crowded Western Conference. The postseason hunt cannot solely rest on the shoulders of Harden. He has accomplished unfathomable feats in his career and was the NBA’s 2017-18 Most Valuable Player, but this is another type of challenge.

Houston’s players are dropping like flies. Sure, Chris Paul is on the mend and likely to return soon, and the same could be said of Eric Gordon, but there is little depth in the frontcourt . They’re down to Nene, Marquese Chriss and Isaiah Hartenstein as men in the middle. The rest are versatile forwards with the ability to play multiple positions, but not the one they need desperately at the moment.

We all know what Nene is capable of. That said, he’s not going to play 34 minutes per night at his age. In fact, the veteran has only eclipsed the 20-minute mark four times total in the last two seasons. There’s no doubt that he’ll give Houston a solid boost in spurts, but that’s likely not sustainable throughout the entirety of a game.

This writer is curious to see what Chriss does with the opportunity in front of him. It is fair to say that his athletic ability matches, or even supersedes, Capela’s, so the alley-oops will be there for him. However, these important questions remained unanswered: Can he screen? Can he rebound? Can he take the challenge?

Chriss was a top 10 draft pick not even three years ago. There’s a ton of potential that can be tapped into here. Unfortunately for the Rockets, they’re going to need to see growth and development quickly with little leeway for mistakes. They probably can’t depend on a raw 21-year-old prospect to steadily produce the way Capela has.

Hartenstein offers more size than both of those two and has played in 22 games this season. Still, he has only appeared in one contest since December 3. Hartenstein has taken advantage of his floor time, but the sample size is extremely small. Again, not nearly enough to fill the Capela void.

There are a few names out there that Houston general manager Daryl Morey could pursue.

Purely out of speculation, Bulls center Robin Lopez might be a good fit for a veteran squad and the organization is reportedly refusing to negotiate a buyout, so that may be worth paying attention to.

Hawks big man Dewayne Dedmon has quietly put together two impressive seasons in Atlanta. He’s a consistent player who fights for rebounds and gives a solid effort on the defensive end. And an extra attractive quality for D’Antoni—his expanded shooting range. John Collins has stated his own case for extra playing time with stellar play, so Dedmon probably won’t fit into the plans too much longer.

Tristan Thompson is giving his all with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He just returned from a foot injury and is getting back to the pre-injury version of himself. The 27-year-old is matching his career-high in points per game and is grabbing a career-best 11.2 rebounds per game to boot.

Like Capela, he is a monster on the offensive glass and excels at the fundamentals of the game with pick-and-roll situations and box outs. The only drawback to Thompson is his hefty, fully guaranteed salary, but he’s only on that deal for this year and the next.

With Cleveland looking to take on “bad” contracts with future assets attached, the Rockets should most definitely consider moving Brandon Knight or some other package along with a pick or two.

This is just a matter of spitballing a few names that might fit the bill for Houston. Heck, even if it’s a minor depth move, going out and getting an underutilized player like Skal Labissiere in Sacramento would make a difference to ensure the others aren’t winding themselves down with a huge increase in playing time.

Whatever the Rockets decide to do, the road to the playoffs has become a whole lot bumpier. Harden is going to have his work cut out for him LeBron James style a la 2017-18. We’re all anxious to see how he responds to such a challenge.

The past is the past—and CP3 was incredible for Houston last postseason—but it sure would be nice to have Montrezl Harrell around now, wouldn’t it?

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