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NBA PM: Luol Deng May Be Traded Once Again

Could Luol Deng by traded for the second time this season? The Cavaliers may decide to move him before the deadline. … Suns ready to commit to Eric Bledsoe

Alex Kennedy

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With the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline just eight days away, trade talks around the league are heating up. A number of teams have been mentioned as potential buyers at the deadline, such as the Phoenix Suns, Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons.

However, the problem that these teams are running into is that there aren’t many teams willing to give away significant pieces that can help a team get to the next level. The players who were expected to be available earlier in the season – Rajon Rondo, Arron Afflalo, Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic among others – now seem more and more likely to stay with their current teams.

This year, there are a lot of buyers with attractive assets, but the sellers don’t have great pieces to shop. It’s possible that players like Pau Gasol, Eric Gordon, Omer Asik, Evan Turner and Andre Miller will be moved between now and Feb. 20, but those players have low trade value for a variety of reasons and they aren’t exactly pieces that help a team make a leap. One could argue that Gasol fits that mold, but keep in mind that he’s injured and the Los Angeles Lakers’ asking price is very high, based on how talks with the Suns went.

With that said, there is one All-Star caliber player who may be available. Luol Deng, an All-Star over the last two seasons, was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in early January, but he could be dealt again before the deadline.

Deng hasn’t been discussed much since he just landed in Cleveland, but with the firing of GM Chris Grant and multiple reports suggesting that he’ll leave as an unrestricted free agent this summer, the Cavaliers have to seriously consider moving him before the deadline. Remember, he supposedly told a close friend that “the stuff going on in practice [in Cleveland] would never be tolerated by the coaching staff or the front office back in Chicago. It’s a mess.” They might as well trade him now and get something back for him, rather than likely losing him for nothing over the summer.

Cleveland can trade Deng, but he can’t be packaged in a deal with any other Cavs players and he can’t be dealt back to the Chicago Bulls.

The Cavaliers desperately want to end their post-LeBron-James playoff drought, something that owner Dan Gilbert has repeatedly made clear, and the team has won three straight games. However, the smart move by interim GM David Griffin would be to ditch the postseason goal since the team is 19-33 and in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Best case scenario, the Cavaliers are fighting for the eighth seed in the conference, and that’s often described as the worst place to be in the NBA since it’s just good enough to miss out on a top prospect in the draft, but just bad enough to have no shot of making any noise in the postseason.

If Cleveland makes this move (and possibly trades other veterans such as Anderson Varejao, Alonzo Gee, Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark as well), they would be able to focus on developing their young players and they’d be more likely land a top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Because there are very few All-Star caliber players available at this year’s deadline, the Cavaliers may be able to create a bidding war for Deng’s services. He would be an upgrade for the Suns, Bobcats, Wizards and Pistons at the small forward position, and as a strong veteran, he’d likely be able to help each of those teams on and off the court. While his numbers have been slightly down in Cleveland, it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t return to form in a better situation.

If one of those teams were to acquire Deng at some point in the next week, it would not only bolster their roster for the remainder of this season, it would also give them an edge over other teams when it comes to signing him to a long-term deal this July. If Deng is traded again, his new team will acquire his Bird rights and be able to offer him more money than any other team in the league when he’s a free agent this offseason. Having a player’s Bird rights doesn’t guarantee that the player will re-sign (look at Deng and Cleveland, after all), but it is an additional benefit of trading for Deng prior to the deadline.

Deng’s name hasn’t come up very much in trade rumors recently, but that’s likely to change in the days to come. As Griffin tries to put his own fingerprints on the Cavaliers, rival executives believe that his best move would be trading away the team’s veterans and trying to land a top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The Cavaliers aren’t going anywhere this season, so why not try to pick high in the draft again, this time with a new decision-maker making the selection? It’s unfortunate for Deng because no player likes being traded, and it may happen to him twice in a six-week span.

If you are looking for the latest NBA news and rumors, make sure to check out the Daily Rumors section of the site.

Suns Ready to Commit to Bledsoe

Earlier this season, the Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe’s camp weren’t able to agree to an extension, which means that he’ll become a restricted free agent this summer. The Suns can match any offer sheet that he receives, and it sounds like they’re planning on doing just that.

In an interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM earlier today, Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby was asked if the front office had seen enough from Bledsoe to know that they would match any offer to retain him.

“I think our answer to that is yes, that we know enough about Eric as a player,” Babby said. “Even more importantly, we’ve lived with him now for almost a year as a person. We like everything about him. Like him as a teammate, like him as a representative of our franchise and everything that he stands for. He’s got a tremendous future. Yes, if you ask me today, I would say absolutely we are going to match any offer, but I hope it doesn’t come to that. I hope Eric has developed enough of a feeling, and my instincts are that he likes it here.”

Bledsoe was averaging 18 points, 5.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals through 24 games with the Suns, prior to undergoing surgery to repair his right meniscus. It was the second time that his right meniscus had been operated on since 2011, but Babby isn’t worried about his star, especially since Phoenix has one of the best training staffs in the league.

“I always feel in these medical situations that we have an extraordinary advantage because of not only the quality of our training staff, led by Aaron Nelson, but also the quality of our medical staff led by Dr. Carter,” Babby said. “And if they tell us, as I believe they will, that he’s going to have a long and healthy career, then I’m willing to take my chances and I think the whole organization will be willing to take our chances on that. And we know his circumstance better than anyone else would know it. I think he will be a Phoenix Sun for a long time; that would be my expectation and my hope.

“His return, when it happens, will be more important probably than any trade we could make on February 20. I think there’s no question that we will not lose that asset.”

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 AM: Was Watson Setup To Fail or Just Ill Equipped?

Was Phoenix’s Earl Watson setup to fail or did he just not have the tools and experience to overcome the tenuous job of a rebuild?

Steve Kyler

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Set Up To Fail? Maybe

The Phoenix Suns have parted ways with head coach Earl Watson just three games into the 2017-18 season. Associate head coach Jay Triano is expected to be his replacement as interim head coach.

Some have suggested that Watson was set up to fail, but let’s be honest for a minute. Was Watson really the best option the Suns had after parting ways with Jeff Hornacek during the 2015-16 season? Watson was well liked and that an easy and intoxicating concept, but even as an interim coach Watson won just nine games in 33 tries.

It’s not as if Watson took the team in a totally new direction; the Suns were a bad team when they took the gamble on Watson. Moving the needle wasn’t exactly likely when the massive inexperienced Watson took over the team. Is anyone really surprised he couldn’t make it work?

Sure, the roster and the priorities of the franchise were an uphill climb, but let’s be real for a minute: The Suns couldn’t have expected Watson to have the tools to bring it all together. Rebuilding is hard all by itself, and doing so with a head coach that has never coached isn’t exactly smart. In fact, it rarely works out.

It’s easy to say Watson was set up to fail, but equally easy to say he never had the experience to believe he’d be successful. It was a gamble on the Suns’ part, a gamble that ran its course.

So What Next?

The Suns are not very good, as three straight blow out losses have proven. It’s possible that Triano can make enough changes to at least get the Suns to compete, but the word in NBA circles was the Suns locker room had basically quit after three games, so Triano’s task may be tough for even a coach that been around the block a few times.

Like Watson, Triano is incredibly likable and approachable, but unlike Watson, Triano has experience. Triano has experience not only as a head coach, having coached the Toronto Raptors for three years, but he is the head coach of the Canadian National Team and has been on the Team USA and Portland Trail Blazers staff as an assistant. While Triano’s stint in Toronto looked a lot like Watson’s stint in Phoenix, the big difference is Triano has been around a lot more situations and may be better equipped to put a system and structure in place that could yield improvement, or at least that’s the newest bet the Suns are making.

With Triano at the helm, it’s also likely that the front office will have a better relationship than what’s emerged in Watson’s time in Phoenix. General Manager Ryan McDonough and Watson haven’t exactly been on the same page, and Watson had grown emboldened enough to make it clear in the media somethings were not in his control, often taken subtle shots at decisions made by the front office.

It is rare for inexperience and dysfunction to yield success. The hope is Triano will smooth some of that over.

“I Dont wanna be here.”

As news of Watson’s firing began to leak Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, who had a very good relationship with Watson, took to Twitter to announce “I Dont wanna be here.”

Bledsoe has been a constant name in NBA trade circles for the last few years, and with Watson out of the picture, Bledsoe seems to be looking for the door too.

The 27-year-old Bledsoe has two more seasons remaining on his deal, $14.5 million this season and $15 million owed for next season. The Suns have listened to offers on Bledsoe off and on for some time, with many in NBA circles believing this would be the season the Suns would finally trade him.

With Watson, a long-time champion of Bledsoe, out of the picture, there is a belief that Bledsoe’s role is going to decrease, which is likely why Bledsoe took to Twitter.

Pulling off a trade three games into the season seems highly unlikely, especially given that Bledsoe has likely killed his own trade value. There have been several teams over the last two seasons with interest in Bledsoe; the question is, will the Suns close this chapter or try and see if Bledsoe can help them right the ship under Triano and rebuild some trade value when the trade market opens up in December?

$41.11 Million

Of the Phoenix Suns’ $85.448 million in guaranteed contracts, $41.11 million belongs to Bledsoe, injured guard Brandon Knight and center Tyson Chandler. You can toss $10 million more for injured forward Jared Dudley. While Bledsoe and Chandler have played in all three regular-season games, both are not part of the long-term future of the team.

The question becomes, what role will they play under Triano?

The Suns are truly a tale of two teams. There is the old veteran squad that is clogging up the top of the Suns salary cap chart, and there are rookie scale players that are the future, and not coincidentally the players performing at their worst so far this season.

Will the Suns just let the $41.11 million owed at the top just sit, or will the Suns try and fire-sale some of those veterans? The belief is they would like to do the latter.

As much as people may want to say Watson was set up to fail, the evidence in the situation is he was never proven enough to succeed.

The Suns are in a dreadful no-man’s land of bad contracts and underperforming players. Maybe a more proven established coach could have set this situation in a better direction, but the reality is Watson was never experienced enough to handle a rebuild like this because getting the most out of players while losing is a very tough job even for the most experienced of coaches.

Watson, like many before him, will find another job in the NBA. Maybe like Triano who is replacing him, he can take the lessons learned in Phoenix and become a better coach somewhere down the road and get a shot with a team that wouldn’t require as much as the Suns desperately need.

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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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