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NBA Deadline Watch: Atlantic Division

Moke Hamilton discusses how each Atlantic Division team is approaching the NBA trade deadline.

Moke Hamilton

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Boston Celtics

The most appropriate question to ask would be who aren’t the Celtics aren’t interested in? The fortunate thing for the franchise, though, is that they are dealing with a position of power. With first-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas earning a berth in Toronto, there is objective evidence that the Celtics—who enter play on February 10 with a 31-23 record and the conference’s third seed—are progressing.

In terms of who is currently on the roster, David Lee and Evan Turner are each in the final year of their contracts – with Lee emerging as a logical candidate for a change of scenery. Despite being the team’s highest-paid player at just above $15 million, he is ninth in minutes played and hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Turner is a much more important piece of the team’s rotation, but the general sentiment surrounding these Celtics is that anyone can be had for the right price.

Armed with as many as three first round picks in this year’s draft (including the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected pick), the Celtics will be ready to pounce on any All-Star caliber talent that finds himself on the trading block. To this point, there has been nothing more than conjecture as it relates to the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Al Horford and Jeff Teague being dealt by the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks, respectively. It should come as no surprise, though, that Boston has been constantly mentioned as a potential landing spot.

Expect more of the same, as they are a team chock full of quality rotation pieces and a franchise whose treasure trove of draft picks is precisely what any team looking to divest itself of a talented player would look to raid in return for a potential difference maker.

Brooklyn Nets

Without a general manager in place, the Nets have priorities aside from making phone calls to gauge what may or may not be available for them on the trade market. With Jarrett Jack lost for the season, the Nets have primarily relied on Donald Sloan and Shane Larkin for their playmaking duties, so a more reliable lead guard would make a lot of sense in Brooklyn.

Up until very recently, the prevailing sentiment from some around the organization in Brooklyn was that the Nets would stand pat at the deadline and attempt to augment the team’s existing core of Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez with a difference-making free agent or two. That was, of course, until a report surfaced suggesting that the Toronto Raptors had the hots for Thaddeus Young. With the team entering all-out rebuilding mode, the 27-year-old Young, one would think, could be had for the right price. As the Nets do not control their own first-round pick until 2019, it is safe to assume that any conversation revolving around trading Young and/or Lopez would have to begin with draft pick compensation.

Since Deron Williams was bought out by the franchise this summer, the clock has been ticking on Joe Johnson’s tenure as a member of the Brooklyn Nets. Johnson and his $24.89 million salary makes him the league’s second-highest paid player trailing only Kobe Bryant. That huge salary makes Johnson difficult to trade, but as seen in years past, him accepting a buyout after the passing of the trade deadline seems a very likely outcome. One source close to Johnson recently told Basketball Insiders that the 34-year-old marksman is “as miserable as he has ever been” and would welcome a change of scenery.

One way or another, it is incredibly difficult to imagine any scenario where Johnson is no longer a Net come March 1, as that is the playoff eligibility waiver deadline.

New York Knicks

With the firing of head coach Derek Fisher, the New York Knicks have probably already made their February headlines. Phil Jackson has made no secret of the fact that the Knicks would like to upgrade every position around Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis (both of whom Jackson said are not likely to be traded), but he also admitted that the Knicks do not seem to have much of anything that any other NBA team wants. Jeff Teague and Brandon Jennings would both make a lot of sense in New York City. Still, it is difficult to see how the Knicks could get their hands on Teague and the Detroit Pistons may be inclined to hold onto Brandon Jennings through the trade deadline since he could pay dividends for them in what is seeming like a probable playoff run.

If the Knicks do manage to pull the trigger on a headline-making trade, it may have to include Arron Afflalo. Afflalo has emerged as a dependable contributor for the Knicks and has both restored his value and outplayed the $8 million he will earn this season. With a player option for $8 million for next season, Afflalo is likely to opt out. His productivity plus short obligation would make him an ideal get for a team that wants to improve its shooting guard spot for a playoff run.

Kevin Seraphin and Lou Amundson have little to no value on the open market and although Lance Thomas may, no team will return anything of value to the Knicks in a trade centered around anyone but Anthony, Porzingis and, to a lesser extent, Afflalo.

Although the Toronto Raptors currently own the Knicks’ first round pick in this year’s draft, fans of the team can look forward to July. Even without qualifying for the playoffs, with the progressing Porzingis and their improved play this season, the Knicks have returned to respectability and will certainly have their audience with difference-making free agents that hit the market this summer. The outlook is bright, even if the deadline ends up being quiet.

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers enter play on February 10 having gone 7-14 since Christmas Day and that is considered a major accomplishment. With the recent additions of Ish Smith, Jerry Colangelo and Mike D’Antoni, we are suddenly seeing the semblance of a competitive team. Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor each seem to be players worth keeping, so it’s difficult to imagine the Sixers being willing to part with either easily. Like the Boston Celtics, the team has made a habit of stockpiling draft picks and will be ready should an opportunity to add an impact player present itself.

For the Sixers, the team currently has just $60 million on its books for this season, meaning that, if they chose to, they could absorb the contract of a player or two without sending out any salaries in return. Having that flexibility makes them a prime candidate to facilitate a multi-team trade by absorbing a contract or two. In terms of players that could be shown the door, objectively speaking, nobody seems more likely than any other. The team’s highest paid player is Carl Landry, who is earning just $6.5 million this season. Both Robert Covington and Isaiah Canaan have had their share of moments in Philadelphia, but we are willing to bet the it’s another fairly quiet deadline for these Sixers. In all likelihood, the team will roll into the post trade deadline season looking to build some momentum.

If there is a deal to be had, however, expect them to involve a pick swap or two. As it currently stands, the Sixers have a whopping eight first-round pick credits between now and 2018, not including their own picks. Although all of those picks may not turn into first rounders, for the Sixers, it has gotten to the point where they simply have too many picks over the next few years and will need to actively begin consolidating them into an impact player or divesting them.

Toronto Raptors

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Things are awfully quiet in Toronto on the trade front, and for good reason. The Raptors will enter play on February 10 at 35-16 and trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers by only two games for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. What makes that especially impressive is that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have essentially carried the team to wins in 14 of 15 games with prized free agent acquisition DeMarre Carroll injured. Carroll hasn’t appeared in a game since January 3.

General manager Masai Ujiri has traditionally been active on the phone lines, but operates in stealth. If the Raptors do make any moves before the trade deadline, expect it to be inconsequential to Dwane Casey’s rotation.

As of right now, multiple sources familiar with the front office’s thinking tell Basketball Insiders that manufacturing a roster spot in order to call up D-League standout Ronald Roberts remains a priority for the team. There has been some gossip related to Anthony Bennett and Lucas Nogueira, with those two names seeming to be the most logical casualties to make room for Roberts.

In the meantime, one source confirms that multiple NBA teams are keeping an eye on Roberts, with a call up expected to occur fairly soon. Aside from that, the Raptors do not seem likely to make a big splash this trading season.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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VIDEO: Tobias Harris – 2018 NBA All-Star

New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.

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NBA All-Star Saturday Recap

Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.

In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.

In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.

JBL Three Point Contest

The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.

In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.

Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.

In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points.  Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.

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