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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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NBA AM: Pacers Got Some Much Needed Tough Love

After a rocky start, Thaddeus Young spoke up, and it may have helped the Pacers find their identity.

Steve Kyler

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A Little Tough Love

Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young isn’t known as a vocal leader, in fact, his reputation is that he’s usually the most even-keeled guy in the room. However, after the Pacers were blown out by the Detroit Pistons in early November, the normally reserved Young was anything but that.

“When we lost, I think, we lost at the first Detroit game. I came in, and I spoke to the team, and I was a little out of character because I was yelling,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “It got through to those guys, and we understood what we had to do to go out there and win games.

“I made it clear that if we don’t move the ball, if we don’t do it by committee, if we don’t defend and guard the paint, it’s going to be a long season. It’s going to be one of those seasons where it’s going to be tough on everybody, and we don’t want that.”

The Pacers seemed to turn a corner after that moment. A sense of purpose was introduced to the team—a team that has so many new faces playing so many new roles. It also brought the team together.

“We love being around each other,” Young explained. “We’re doing it as a family, and we’re committed to winning games as a whole, not as one person. When I came in and got on those guys, it was out of the love for the game, the passion for the game, the passion for this team and understanding where we can go as a team.”

The Pacers have lost one game since Young spoke his mind.

Young, who is playing in his 11th NBA season, sees something special in this year’s version of the Pacers—a team many predicted would be rebuilding, but one that enters play on November 21 two games above .500 and setting the tone as much on defense.

“Defensively we’re coming along,” Young admitted. “We’re starting to lock in a little bit more on the defensive side of the basketball. Offensively, it’s there.

“We know what we have to do to win games, which is move the basketball, execute, and do it by committee. Defensively if we do it by committee each and every night, defensively we’ll be definitely a tough team to beat. Especially going into the later part of the season.”

Young has always been something of an all-purpose player who understands that on this team, he has to be part of the defensively solution.

“I have tough matchups each and every night,” Young said. “I’m switching on guys; that’s point guards or centers or just all different positions. I have to be able to do those different things, and for me, I take pride in my defense each and every night. Going out there and executing on the defensive end because the offense is going to come. I don’t really worry too much about offense. I’ve been in the league long enough to know how I’m going to score the basketball and what I’m going to be able to do, but it’s ‘Can you get stops on the defensive end?’ which is going to win games for us.”

While most would see a 10-8 record as a positive thing, Young and the Pacers know they have to get better at the little things to be the team they want to be.

“We feel like we should be better and we’re continuing to get better as a team,” Young said. “We continue practicing, playing, and going out there and executing in games. We’re getting better as a team. We can’t have stretches like that where we lost four games in a row or a couple of games in a row. We have to try to bounce back from one loss and try to get to the next game. So far, we’ve been doing a good job. We’ve just been playing. Like I said, we’re executing and having fun playing with each other.”

Young smiled when explained why he felt that he had to get on his teammates.

“Some guys could have been like ‘forget what he’s talking about,’ but everybody was on the same page,” Young explained. “Everybody understood exactly where I was coming from. Besides the fact when I get mad, they know something’s wrong. I’m pretty laid back and chill, so when I do get mad, and I do get upset, it’s something that has to change.”

The Pacers seem to have found their way, and maybe a little tough love from an unexpected place was all that was needed.

As things stand today, the Pacers are the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Their next stretch of games includes home contests against Toronto, Boston, and Orlando before finishing November on the road in Houston.

Time will tell if the Pacers are as good as they seem to be, but there is no questioning that they are playing some pretty inspired basketball.

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 .

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NBA PM: Clippers In A Hole, Hoping For Spark From Beverley

The Clippers are in an early season free-fall and are hoping Patrick Beverley can help get them back on track.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers came into the season with the intention of turning the departure of Chris Paul into a positive. His departure led to the team netting the small forward it had always lacked in Danilo Gallinari, a replacement point guard in Patrick Beverley and a number of other new faces. With the massive turnover in key players, the hope would be that the Clippers would take this new mix of players and build around the franchise centerpiece, Blake Griffin, and thrive in a new era of Clippers basketball.

For now, at least, those offseason hopes have been dashed. The team is in the midst of a horrid skid where they have lost their last eight games and 10 of their last 11 going back to October 28. After losing the first two games, the team is playing their third of a five-game road trip tonight against the New York Knicks. When the team returns, they will host the Los Angeles Lakers who have been playing well as of late. Although the season is still young, the team is currently 13th in the Western Conference, nestled between the Phoenix Suns and the Sacramento Kings, and behind the Lakers. Not good company to have if your goal is to make the playoffs.

The team is coming off of an overtime loss to the Cavaliers in Cleveland and a 102-87 loss to the Charlotte Hornets that had been closer than the final score indicates. Yet, Head Coach Doc Rivers didn’t mince his words when judging the team’s performance against the Hornets.

“Overall this is a tough stretch to go through,” Rivers stated. “I thought we were selfish as far as moving the ball and playing together.”

Rivers didn’t hold back and made it clear how unhappy he was with the team’s effort.

“This was the first game that I wasn’t happy as a coach,” Rivers stated. “I can take losing even poorly if we play right. I just didn’t think we played right tonight.”

Coach Rivers is frustrated and with good reason. Only Griffin and bench sparkplug Lou Williams made their mark on offense with 19 and 25 points, respectively. DeAndre Jordan was the only other Clipper to register in double digits with 10 points.

Offense overall isn’t exactly the issue for the Clippers. Per nba.com, the Clippers’ offensive rating is 105.9, good for 10th in the league. However, the team’s assist percentage is 28th in the league at 51 percent, echoing Coach Rivers’ concern regarding selfish play. Look no further for proof than Jordan, whose shooting percentages have dropped from 71.4 percent to 64 percent, his worst shooting since the 2012-2013 season. Jordan depends on others to create for him through lobs, pick and roll finishes, dump offs and opportunistic put backs.

Injuries have helped to create and magnify many of the individual issues the team faces. In fact, all of the key players that have been missing from the Clippers rotation are capable playmakers and passers that can help to create a more fluid offense. Unfortunately, there is no clear timetable indicating when Gallinari and Euro passing sensation Milos Teodosic (only two games played) are set to return. Help is on the way with the Beverley set to return to the lineup tonight against the Knicks after missing the last five games.

On offense, Beverley is averaging 12.5 points, three assists and 3.9 rebounds. These are acceptable statistics that only partially indicate his worth to the team. Beverley had had success taking (5.3) and making (2.1) three-point shots at nearly a 40 percent clip (39.6). Beverley does a good job of creating space off the ball, allowing Griffin to be a scorer and a facilitator. In addition, Beverley has had success driving to the rim, where he is shooting 59.3 percent (0-3 feet from the rim), he can score, run pick and roll with Jordan or kick the ball out and keep the offense moving from side to side.

Coach Rivers made his view of Beverley’s value relative to their recent poor play abundantly clear.

“We get Patrick [Beverley] back Monday night,” Rivers stated. “[We can] start playing the right way, we will be all right.”

Beverley had been developing chemistry as a complement to everything the team does on defense as well as offense. Beverley has taken his aggressive defense to the Clippers and by doing so had taken up a shared role as a lead defensive weapon alongside Jordan. The team could use the help on defense where, over the last 11 games, they sport the worst defensive rating (111.3) in the NBA.

Having Beverley’s balance of defense and offense should be a boost to the team. The Clippers have earned a reputation over the years for sniping at the refs and getting flustered when things don’t go their way, which has bubbled up in their recent losing skid. Beverley helps with the intangibles as well including effort and hustle, which may help offset the team’s penchant for complaining.

Another benefit will be the ability of the team to re-insert Beverley back into the starting line-up and place guard Austin Rivers back on the bench. Rivers can be a productive player who brings a scoring punch against opposing second units while being available as a small ball small forward when necessary. Rivers can also be a pest on defense when focused. However, injuries have forced Rivers into the starting line-up where he has been less effective.

In an exclusive interview with Basketball Insiders, Lou Williams discussed the value of the team’s injured players.

“It’s three starters,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “One guy’s [Beverley] our heart and soul on the defensive end. We have another guy [Teodosic] who was leading us in assists and we have another guy [Gallinari] who’s second in scoring.”

Whether the return of Beverley alone is enough to halt the team’s recent losing streak is unclear. The team is buried deep in the Western Conference and needs to get back on track sooner rather than later before the team falls too far behind to be competitive. As stated, there is no clear indication as to when the team will get Teodosic or Gallinari back. In addition, Griffin has his own history of injuries, having missed at least 15 games a season over the last four years. This year, the team has so far shown an inability to rise above injuries. The season is young but these are perilous times for the Clippers.

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Williams, Clippers Will Keep Pushing Through

The Clippers veteran guard chats with Spencer Davies in a one-on-one Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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For the second straight year, Lou Williams started his basketball season as a resident of California.

Despite being moved by the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline back in February, it wasn’t a long stay for the 31-year-old in Houston. After bolstering the Rockets’ bench in a big way during their playoff stretch, the organization dealt the veteran guard to the LA Clippers, meaning he was going right back to the City of Angels.

Which begs the question—did he even relocate from his old place?

“Yeah, I moved,” Williams told Basketball Insiders in Cleveland on Friday. “But I ended up moving back into the same neighborhood that I was in, so it was all good.”

The familiarity with the area must’ve been comforting, but playing for three different teams in such a short amount of time can’t be easy. It’s only been 15 games, but he already notices a discrepancy between the two that share the same arena.

“Obviously when you have different people running it,” Williams answered when asked to compare the Los Angeles franchises. “I think the Lakers were in a different space than the Clippers are. The Clippers are a more veteran group, so two completely different atmospheres.”

Winning four straight games to kick off the 2017-18 campaign, the year started out great for he and his new team, but it’s gone downhill in a hurry.

The Los Angeles Clippers are hurting in every way. Literally.

Only halfway through a five-city road trip, they’ve lost eight consecutive games and 10 of their last 11. Key members of their team are absent and they have been plagued by injuries out of the gate.

First, it was international sensation Milos Teodosic who went down with a foot injury in just the second NBA game of his career. Then there’s Danilo Gallinari, whose ailing hip has kept him out of action for two weeks. To top it all off, Patrick Beverley is dealing with a sore right knee that has forced him to miss over a week as well (he’ll reportedly be active on Monday night).

Without the trio, the Clippers are missing a little bit of everything, and Williams is eager for them to return to the floor because of it.

“It’s three starters,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “One guy’s our heart and soul on the defensive end. We have another guy who was leading us in assists and we have another guy who’s second in scoring.

“Three very important pieces of our team are missing. But we have other guys that’s stepping in doing the best job that they can. We’re just falling short.”

Aside from their most recent 15-point loss to the equally struggling Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center, Los Angeles has competed and been in almost every game during the long skid.

In Cleveland, they led for most of the way until midway through the fourth quarter. It was a back-and-forth affair when the Cavaliers struck back, and once the game went into overtime, the Clippers went cold and ran out of gas.

Taking out the element of overtime, the “close game, but no win” trend has been apparent as they attempt to get over the hump for a victory. Williams sees his team battling. They’re just not getting the outcomes they desire.

“Just continue to push,” Williams said of how LA can climb the wall. “We’ll have a couple of guys back this week from injuries.

“We’ve been playing extremely hard giving ourselves an opportunity to win these games and just haven’t been able to finish. Get guys back, just continue to push. We’ll break through.”

If Williams keeps on producing the way he has, especially as of late, that could be sooner rather than later. Over the last five games, the scoring assassin has put up over 30 points in two of them and 25 in another. In addition, he’s averaged over four rebounds, four assists, and more than a steal per game during the stretch.

When asked about what’s made him so comfortable, he kept it simple.

“Just playing,” Williams told Basketball Insiders.” Taking what the defense gives me and try to make shots. That’s it.”

Williams is special when it comes to how much he can impact a game in the snap of a finger. Over the course of his career, he’s one of those guys that have been able to just go off at any given moment.

“Just continue to play,” he said. “Play [as] hard as I can. I never really think about it until after the game. I just go out there, play [as] hard as I can. Put myself in position to score points and live with the results.”

You can recall Williams being an elite sixth man in this league for just about every team he’s been a part of. Whether it was with the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Lakers, Rockets or even with the Clippers now, he’s constantly been a guy to provide a powerful punch off the bench.

With the consistency and the energy he’s provided with second units throughout his career, it’s rather surprising that Williams has only won the Sixth Man of the Year award one time in his career. Having established this reputation, it should only be a matter of time before he’s rewarded again.

That being said, it’s got to be one of his aspirations, right?

“Not anymore,” Williams told Basketball Insiders, admitting he felt slighted in last year’s race. “Nah. Probably had one of the best seasons of my career and finished third, so I don’t really care no more.”

Furthermore, as one of the top sharpshooters the NBA has to offer, he told Basketball Insiders he doesn’t wouldn’t care to participate in the three-point contest, either.

Moving away from the individual side of things, Williams has enjoyed his time with the Clippers for the short time he’s been a part of the franchise.

One good reason is the opportunity to play under one of the league’s most respected head coaches in Doc Rivers, whom he credits has a unique manner of making adjustments.

“Doc is a high basketball IQ coach,” Williams said. “He knows how to break down the game on the fly, which is impressive. A lot of coaches, they make a lot of corrections at halftime or in film sessions. Doc makes them on the fly, which is great.”

Playing alongside two superstars isn’t so bad. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are a pairing that can dominate each and every time they step on the floor. In fact, having those two alone should be enough for the Clippers to get things turned back around.

When the frontcourt duo clicks on a nightly basis and the team returns to full strength, Williams believes that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

“It’s been fun,” Williams told Basketball Insiders of the experience with Griffin and Jordan. “Obviously, we would like to win some games and I think that tide is gonna turn once we get back healthy.

“But these two All-Star guys in this league that’s done an exceptional job for this organization—so it’s been a good time being with these guys.”

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