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NBA PM: Kemba Walker Should be an All-Star

Kemba Walker is having his best NBA season, and the numbers suggest he should be an East All-Star.

Cody Taylor

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Kemba Walker Proving to be All-Star Worthy

Each season around this time, we begin to see lists discussing which players deserve to be an All-Star.

Now that the starters have been revealed for the upcoming game, debates will begin on who deserves to be named as a reserve player. Eventually, the conversation will shift to those players that were snubbed from the game.

Perhaps one of the biggest All-Star snubs last season was Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker. He had been quietly putting together a great season, but ultimately failed to earn the vote from the coaches around the league.

Walker finished last season averaging 17.3 points, 5.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals. He finished fourth among Eastern Conference point guards in scoring, eighth in assists, third in assist-to-turnover ratio and ninth in steals.

While fans and coaches failed to vote Walker into the All-Star game last season, Walker has proved this season that he can’t be ignored again.

He was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for his play last week after averaging 34.8 points per game, including a 52-point outing on Monday against the Utah Jazz and a 40-point performance against the Orlando Magic on Friday.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a teammate on a tear like that and I’ve played with some really good scorers,” teammate Marvin Williams said. “He’s just aggressive. He wants to win; he’ll do anything to win. If he feels like he has to keep scoring the ball, he’s going to do it.

“He’s making the right plays, though. He’s getting assists as well. He’s rebounding as well. He’s going to give you his all each and every night and I think that’s why he’s playing so well.”

Walker is in the midst of his best season to date. In his fifth year in the league, Walker is averaging a career-high 20.5 points per game, which ranks eighth in the East and third among point guards.

Perhaps his biggest improvement has come in the form of his shooting. He’s raised his field goal percentage from 39 percent last season to 43 percent this season, while his three-point shooting has increased from 30 percent to 37 percent.

“I would never thought that this would happen, but I’m playing pretty well,” Walker said. “I’m just playing off of my teammates, letting the game come to me. [I’m] just trying to make shots or get my teammates involved and trying to do it to the best of my ability.”

Players are often judged by how they use their time away from the court. The summer months are what defines players. This past summer, Walker worked extensively on his shooting and his pick-and-roll game. He’s added a Steve Nash-type of element to his game when it comes to his pick-and-roll play. He even spent a few days over the summer working with Nash to help refine some of his skills.

“Hard work pays off every time,” Walker said. “I don’t think there is nobody in this league who say they work harder than me. Maybe as hard, but not harder. It’s just showing. It’s showing.”

Given Walker’s great play as of late, it should come as no surprise that the Hornets posted a 3-1 record on the week. The team looked dead in the water against the Magic on Friday night. The Magic led the Hornets 94-79 at the end of the third quarter and looked to be fully in control of the game.

There was a point at the end of the third quarter in which Walker told head coach Steve Clifford that he didn’t want to leave the game. That ended up being the best thing to happen for Charlotte as Walker played every minute of the fourth quarter and overtime period and scored 17 of his 40 points down the stretch to lead the Hornets to a 120-116 win in overtime.

So, is this Walker proving to the rest of the league that he should be an All-Star?

“I’m just playing basketball,” Walker said. “[I’m] trying to win games and get to the playoffs. If I can make the All-Star game, that’s great. If not, who cares? I just want to win. I want to just keep getting better everyday. I want to make the playoffs, man. That’s the main goal.

“I want to win, man. I’m trying to do everything. I’m definitely a lot better, but I’m older. This is my fifth year. I’m starting to get a little bit more comfortable. I just want to keep it rolling.”

As it stands, Walker faces tough competition to earn a spot on the All-Star roster. Dwyane Wade and Kyle Lowry were voted in by the fans to start the game in the backcourt. After Lowry, only Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas averages more points per game than Walker (among point guards).

It seems likely that Jimmy Butler or DeMar DeRozan will be voted into the game by the coaches, leaving Walker’s chances of earning a spot pretty slim. It could be possible that Walker will again headline the snub list this season.

While Walker won’t openly admit he wants to be an All-Star, his teammates and coach believe he should be playing for the East in Toronto on February 14.

“No question [he should be an All-Star],” Williams said. “That’s not taking away from any other players out there in the Eastern Conference. I think he’s done his fair share, definitely.”

“I don’t to get to vote for him,” Clifford said. “You don’t get to vote for your own guys, but I certainly would.”

Walker’s goal of returning to the playoffs this season looks like it’s going to be a battle until the end. The Hornets enter tonight’s game at Sacramento with a 21-23 record, two games out of the last playoff spot in the East.

Prior to the start of last week, the Hornets had gone just 1-9 over their previous 10 games. Things could be beginning to look up as they’ve won three out of their last four games, but they begin a four-game West coast road trip tonight.

It’s clear that as long as Walker is playing, the Hornets will virtually always have a chance to compete. All-Star selection or not, the Hornets are experiencing success thanks to their most valuable player whether the rest of the league wants to admit it.

Ish Smith Happy to be Back in Philadelphia

Despite owning the worst record in the league, the Philadelphia 76ers have been a much-improved team over the past month. The improvement seems to be directly linked to the return of point guard Ish Smith.

Philadelphia re-acquired Smith on Christmas Eve from the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for two second-round picks. Prior to Smith returning to Philadelphia, the team had just one win on the season. They now have six wins with Smith back, and have gone 5-9 since his arrival. While the numbers suggest otherwise, Smith denies being the reason for Philadelphia’s turnaround.

“No, it’s not me,” Smith told Basketball Insiders. “I was so happy to be back with the guys and the team. I felt like the last 30 games, I built a relationship with the guys.

“I think more or less it’s just the camaraderie we have. We’re having fun playing basketball. It’s not me at all. Before I got here, [they were] playing really good basketball. So I don’t think it’s me. I just think as a team, we’re growing up.”

Smith won’t take credit for the Sixers’ improved play, but the stats show that the team has been better since he’s arrived.

During the first 31 games of the season, the 76ers scored 91.8 points per 100 possessions, which ranked dead-last in the league. In 14 games with Smith playing, the team has improved that number to 98.5 points per 100 possessions.

The defense has improved too, as the team is giving up 102.9 points per 100 possessions, which is 10th in the NBA since December 26.

Over the last month, the Sixers have posted a better record than the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns.

“We’re just playing hard,” Smith said. “I think we’re growing up – knowing what are good shots and what are bad shots, knowing the defensive schemes, what Coach [Brett Brown] what really wants for us. Offensively, moving the ball [and] playing off of each other. I think just overall, we’re playing good basketball. We’re growing up.

“Like I said, this is a huge step for us, just kind of closing out these games down the stretch. I can name numerous games with the exception of two that if we would have locked the game down and closed it out the right way, we probably would have won.”

Smith’s story this season has been incredible considering how well he’s played. He began this season in training camp with the Washington Wizards. Then, the Wizards waived Smith on October 24, just three days before the start of the season.

Two days after being waived by Washington, Smith signed with New Orleans just one day before the Pelicans were set to begin the season against Golden State.

In his debut with the Pelicans, Smith was forced to play a big role due to a number of injuries. Smith delivered, contributing 17 points, nine assists and three steals in a game-high 38 minutes in a loss to the Golden State Warriors. The Pelicans would eventually get some healthy bodies back, effectively ending Smith’s tenure in New Orleans.

In 14 games with the Sixers, Smith is averaging a career-high 15.9 points, 8.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Smith’s 6.5 assists this season (between New Orleans and Philadelphia) currently rank 11th in the league, while his 8.1 assists per game with the Sixers rank second in the East.

“I think the biggest key is being ready and staying ready,” Smith said. “[It’s also about] having faith that your next turn is your right turn. Just keep pushing, keep pressing and keep working. When your number is called, be ready. Know when your number is called, you have to be ready and play good basketball.”

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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