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NBA PM: 10 Underrated Moves That Are Paying Off

A look at 10 offseason moves that initially flew under the radar, but are looking very smart now.

Alex Kennedy

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Over the offseason, the transactions that received the most attention were moves like LeBron James and Kevin Love to Cleveland, Pau Gasol to Chicago, Chandler Parsons to Dallas and Luol Deng to Miami among others. These acquisitions made headlines, and understandably so since they involved marquee players joining talented teams.

However, there were many other solid moves that flew under the radar at the time, but ended up being key transactions that have made a big impact this season. Here are 10 offseason additions that were underrated and are looking very smart today:

Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks – Coming off of a down year with the New York Knicks in which Tyson Chandler missed 27 games and was less productive even when he was healthy, the big man being dealt to the Dallas Mavericks wasn’t seen a huge move. He wasn’t even the most talked about Chandler to join the Mavs, as Dallas’ biggest acquisition of the summer was signing Chandler Parsons away from the Houston Rockets and that transaction overshadowed their other moves. However, the 32-year-old center has been excellent for Dallas so far this season, delivering one of the best seasons of his NBA career. He’s averaging 11.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 68.3 percent from the field (which ranks second in the NBA and is a career-high for him). Chandler’s 22.3 efficiency rating is by far the highest of his career, as his previous high was 18.9. He has been outstanding thus far and it certainly seems like the Mavericks got the better end of the trade with the Knicks, considering they only had to give up Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and a pair of second-round picks.

Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets – When the Houston Rockets decided not to match Chandler Parsons’ offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks and failed to steal Chris Bosh away from the Miami HEAT, Daryl Morey was criticized and the Rockets were deemed one of the losers of the offseason. Without Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin entering this season, Houston’s roster seemed to have less talent and depth than last year’s squad. However, that hasn’t been the case. The Rockets have been one of the best teams in the Western Conference, and their depth is a big reason for that since they continued winning even after injuries to starters Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley. Trevor Ariza has been huge for the Rockets, averaging 13.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 steals while providing excellent perimeter defense. Houston hasn’t missed Parsons because Ariza has been so productive, and his four-year, $32 million deal allowed the Rockets to keep their cap flexibility (while matching Parsons’ deal would’ve capped them out). Ariza has been a great fit alongside James Harden, who has elevated his game and entered the Most Valuable Player conversation. When the move was made, some people felt that Ariza would be a step down from Parsons and that he’d come back down to earth after playing so well in a contract year last season with the Washington Wizards. Instead, his numbers are virtually identical to last year’s and he has been an important piece for the Rockets. Houston’s offseason didn’t go exactly as they hoped, but Morey’s back-up plan has worked nicely.

Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic – When the Orlando Magic traded Arron Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets for Evan Fournier, the deal was widely regarded as a win for the Nuggets. Many people felt that Orlando should’ve gotten more for Afflalo, especially since the team was rumored to want a first-round pick in exchange for the veteran shooting guard. Now, after seeing Fournier thrive so far this season, it seems that the criticism was unwarranted and Magic general manager Rob Hennigan knew exactly what he was doing. Fournier has been outstanding for Orlando, emerging as the team’s starting shooting guard and having the best year of his career. He is averaging 14.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and .6 steals – all of which are career-highs. He’s shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from three-point range. Meanwhile, Afflalo is putting up almost identical numbers in Denver: 14.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, .4 steals, 43.1 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from three. Afflalo can become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, while Fournier has one more year on his deal and then he’ll enter restricted free agency, so Orlando can match any offer he receives. It’s also likely that Fournier’s best basketball is still ahead of him since he’s only 22 years old. It seems that Hennigan traded Afflalo at the perfect time and added a key piece to the Magic’s young core, just like when he traded J.J. Redick in the final year of his contract to the Milwaukee Bucks for Tobias Harris.

Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors – During Lou Williams’ two-year stint with the Atlanta Hawks, the scoring guard was limited by injuries and never played to his full potential. His time in Atlanta ultimately ended with a trade to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for John Salmons’ non-guaranteed contract. This move now looks like a steal for Toronto, as Williams has returned to form and looks like a serious Sixth Man of the Year candidate once again. He is averaging 14.6 points off of Toronto’s bench, which is the second-highest scoring average of his 10-year NBA career. Williams is looking much more like the player who was a key contributor for the Philadelphia 76ers earlier in his career than the player who struggled on the Hawks. This year, Williams has a 20.6 efficiency rating, which is a career-high. Toronto really needed to improve their bench scoring and Williams has helped them do that, emerging as their third-leading scorer and stepping up when DeMar DeRozan went down with a groin injury. The trade for Williams was overlooked since he hadn’t been very effective over the last two years, but it was an excellent move that’s paying off for the Raptors, who are the top team in the Eastern Conference. Considering it only cost them Salmons’ contract (which was subsequently waived) and they also landed prospect Lucas Nogueira, the deal looks extremely lopsided in Toronto’s favor.

Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings – When the Kings decided to let Isaiah Thomas leave as a free agent and sign Darren Collison to a three-year deal worth $16 million instead, the front office was largely mocked and questioned. Thomas had put up impressive numbers for the Kings and wanted to stay in Sacramento, while Collison had previously struggled when used as a starter on the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks. However, Sacramento liked what they saw from Collison last season as a reserve on the Los Angeles Clippers and felt comfortable handing him the reins to their team. The 27-year-old has rewarded their faith in him by having the best season of his career. He’s averaging 15.9 points, 5.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals – all of which are career-highs. While the decision to go with Collison over Thomas could’ve blown up in the Kings’ face, especially since Thomas was a fan favorite in Sacramento, Collison has played well and done a solid job running the team.

Rasual Butler, Washington Wizards – Two years ago, Rasual Butler was out of the NBA. He was training at Impact Basketball in Los Angeles, working out alongside draft prospects and overseas players to stay in shape. He sat out the entire 2012-13 season since no NBA team showed interest in signing him, and then decided to play in the Orlando Summer League in an attempt to show that he could still make a difference for an NBA team. He suited up for the Indiana Pacers’ summer league squad, and he earned an invite to the Pacers’ training camp. There, he played his way onto the final roster on a non-guaranteed deal and ultimately stuck with the team for the entire season. He appeared in 50 games with Indiana last season, averaging 2.7 points. Even though his numbers didn’t jump off of the page last season, he played well enough to get signed by the Washington Wizards this past summer. Now, with an increased opportunity in Washington, Butler has taken full advantage and is playing some of the best basketball of his career. He’s averaging 10.8 points off the Wizards’ bench while shooting an amazing 52.4 percent from the field and 51.2 percent from three-point range. He has earned the trust of his teammates and has emerged as a veteran leader for the team since he’s in his 12th season in the NBA. Butler has bounced around the league throughout his career, playing for seven teams and often playing a limited role, but he has been a huge contributor for the Wizards and helped them emerge as an elite team this year. Butler has been one of the best stories of the 2014-15 NBA season, going from being out of the NBA to becoming a key contributor for a contending team.

Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls – The Bulls spent the offseason courting Carmelo Anthony and signing Pau Gasol, so it’s no surprise that the addition of Nikola Mirotic didn’t receive a ton of attention. Many Bulls fans had been patiently waiting for Mirotic’s arrival since Chicago acquired him in a draft-night trade back in 2011, and the team finally managed to bring him to the U.S. this summer with a three-year deal worth $17 million. Nobody was sure what to expect from Mirotic in his first NBA season since the Bulls had a loaded frontcourt and Tom Thibodeau isn’t known for giving rookies a lot of minutes, but the 23-year-old has been excellent so far. He is averaging 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and .8 blocks in 18.3 minutes per game, while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from three-point range. He has had a number of very impressive games, including a 27-point, eight-rebound outing against the Memphis Grizzlies in which he went 6-6 from three-point range and a 24-point, 11-rebound performance against the Portland Trail Blazers. Mirotic’s 18.8 efficiency rating is by far the highest among all rookies (the next best is Jusuf Nurkic at 14.2). He’s also leading all rookies in estimated wins added at 1.9 (with the next highest being K.J. McDaniels at .6). Mirotic is getting some Rookie of the Year consideration, which is incredible considering this class was supposed to be stacked with stars and Mirotic’s signing barely got any attention when it happened over the summer.

Chris Kaman, Portland Trail Blazers – Last season, one of the biggest issues with the Blazers was their bench. The team had one of the best starting lineups in the league, but there was a significant drop off when their starters exited the game. Portland’s general manager Neil Olshey realized this and focused on improving their depth over the offseason, signing veteran contributors Chris Kaman and Steve Blake. Both players have performed well this season, but Kaman has really stood out. The 12-year veteran signed a two-year, $9.8 million contract with only $1 million guaranteed in the second year and he has been worth every penny thus far. Kaman has been excellent for the Blazers, averaging 9.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and a block in 19 minutes per game. He has even gotten some Sixth Man of the Year consideration early in the season due to his strong play. With Robin Lopez out several weeks with a broken hand, Kaman has become even more important for Portland and has seen his minutes increase on some nights. With an improved second unit, the Blazers have emerged as one of the best teams in the NBA. They currently have the second-best record in the league, behind only the Golden State Warriors.

K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers – McDaniels is the only 2014 draft pick on this list, but he qualifies since he is a new addition. The 2014 NBA Draft featured one of the most hyped up classes in years, with potential stars like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker who had been on the NBA radar since they were 15 years old. However, most of the lottery picks in this class have either been hurt (Parker, Julius Randle, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, etc.) or disappointments so far. That has opened the door for a player like McDaniels to shine and receive Rookie of the Year consideration. McDaniels was the 35th overall pick in the draft, going to the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. He was projected as a lottery pick in Basketball Insiders’ mock drafts, but slipped due to some poor performances in pre-draft workouts. This season, McDaniels has averaged 9.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and one steal. He has led all perimeter players in blocks per game this season, and he has emerged as an excellent two-way player for Philadelphia. He is certainly making some teams regret passing on him and has been a pleasant surprise for the 76ers in a season where they haven’t had much to be excited about. For more on McDaniels’ excellent rookie season, check out this recent Basketball Insiders article about him.

Anthony Morrow, Oklahoma City Thunder – While some contending teams decided to make drastic changes over the summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder decided to stand pat for the most part. They brought back their same core and their biggest acquisition was the signing of Anthony Morrow to a three-year, $10.03 million contract. The move didn’t get much attention, but Morrow has emerged as a key contributor for the Thunder and really made an impact on the team this season. He’s averaging 10.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and one steal in 25.8 minutes per game for Oklahoma City. He’s shooting 41.1 percent from three-point range on nearly five attempts per game, which spreads the floor for the Thunder and prevents defenders from leaving him to help on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The 29-year-old also stepped up when Durant and Westbrook were injured, delivering a 28-point performance in a win over the Boston Celtics last month and scoring in double figures 14 times this season. Morrow is having one of the best seasons of his seven-year NBA career and was a nice under-the-radar signing. He should be even more productive once Durant and Westbrook are completely healthy, as he’ll likely get plenty of open catch-and-shoot opportunities.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Rich Cho Out As Charlotte Hornets GM

The Charlotte Hornets opted to not move forward with GM Rich Cho and are expected to pursue former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.

Buddy Grizzard

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The fateful moment for Rich Cho came days after he was hired as GM of the Charlotte Hornets in June of 2011. With the NBA Draft coming up just nine days later, Cho started work on a three-team trade that would land Charlotte a second top-10 pick to pair with its own ninth pick, which was used to draft franchise cornerstone, Kemba Walker.

In that draft, Klay Thompson went 11th to the Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard went 15th to the Pacers. Of the 17 players selected after Bismack Biyombo, whom went to the Hornets with the seventh pick, 12 are regular contributors on current NBA rosters. The Orlando Magic are currently being outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions with Biyombo on court, a rotation-worst.

Today, Hornets owner Michael Jordan announced that Cho is out as Charlotte’s GM.

“Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization,” said Jordan in a press release. “We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”

While the failure to obtain Thompson, Leonard or any of the other numerous impact players in the 2011 draft will always mar Cho’s record, falling to the second pick in the 2012 NBA Draft will continue to haunt the Hornets. Despite a brutal 7-59 record in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, which set the record for lowest win percentage in an NBA season (.110), the New Orleans Pelicans won the right to the first overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and selected Anthony Davis.

The Hornets selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second pick. Although the 2012 Draft wasn’t nearly as deep as 2011’s, the Hornets still left players like Bradley Beal (third) and Andre Drummond (ninth) on the board. Either player would have been an outstanding compliment to Walker, who remains with the team despite rumors of his availability leading up the the trade deadline.

“I feel like I’m going to be in Charlotte,” said Walker at his All-Star media availability. “So that’s where I’m at, that’s where I’m playing. So I never really sat and thought about any other teams.”

Walker made his second All-Star appearance after Kristaps Porzingis suffered a season-ending ACL injury.

“I wish K.P. hadn’t gotten hurt,” said Walker. “Everybody hates to see guys go down, especially great players like him. But when I was able to get the call to replace him, it was a really good feeling.”

Another fateful moment in Cho’s tenure came during the 2015 NBA Draft. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Boston Celtics offered the 15th and 16th picks, a future protected first rounder from the Brooklyn Nets and a future first from either the Grizzlies or Timberwolves in exchange for the ninth pick, which Cho used to draft Frank Kaminsky.

“If it was such a no-brainer for us, why would another team want to do it,” Cho asked rhetorically in defense of the Kaminsky selection, according to Lowe.

Years later, it’s evident that the Celtics dodged a bullet when both Charlotte and the Miami HEAT rebuffed its attempts to move up and draft Justise Winslow. The latter has not panned out while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the players Boston subsequently selected with Brooklyn’s picks, have developed into starters.

Chris Mannix of Yahoo! Sports reported in the first week of February that Charlotte may target former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak for a high-ranking role in the organization with Cho’s contract set to expire. Kupchak, like Jordan, is a former UNC star. Kupchak would join Jordan’s UNC teammate and Charlotte assistant GM Buzz Peterson.

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The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA

The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.

With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.

One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.

Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.

“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”

Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.

When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.

“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”

He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.

Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.

He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.

“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”

While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.

He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.

It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.

“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”

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NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.

Steve Kyler

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Playing For Something Bigger

The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.

By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.

“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.

“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”

Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.

“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.

“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”

Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.

“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”

With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.

“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”

With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.

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