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NBA PM: Magic Should Avoid Three-Way Trade

Cody Taylor explains why the Magic should avoid the rumored three-way deal with the Kings and Lakers.

Cody Taylor



Magic Should Avoid Three-Way Trade

The Orlando Magic hold the fifth pick in Thursday’s NBA draft and have a lot of different directions in which they can go. In mock drafts all across the Internet, Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, Kristaps Porzingis, Devin Booker, Emmanuel Mudiay and Willie Cauley-Stein have all been penciled in as possible selections for the Magic.

The truth of the matter is no one really knows what the Magic are going to do outside of those within the organization. The team treats the draft and who they’ve scouted and worked out as if they are holding nuclear missile launch codes – they don’t publish any information. The Magic even ask players to withhold tweets and other communication about possible workouts as they see no value in sharing that information.

Last year, the team was linked heavily to point guard Dante Exum with the fourth pick, but ultimately chose Aaron Gordon out of Arizona. So as more and more mock drafts surface, any name attached to the Magic seems to be purely a guess and likely has no factual basis behind it. (Although, some are guesses are more educated than others based off of the feedback Orlando is giving each prospect’s respective camp).

Each year around this time, trade rumors and speculation on picks begin to ramp up significantly as the draft is a good time to execute roster moves. Virtually every team that holds a pick in the top 10 has been rumored to be considering some sort of trade and the rumors only figure to continue to escalate until the conclusion of Thursday’s draft.

More often than not, rumors turn out to be just that. For every actual move that occurs, there are a ton of rumored scenarios that don’t occur. Some of the reports or rumors are even leaked just to benefit a specific player or team in some way. Rumors often don’t pan out, and if they do, they’re sometimes much different than originally reported.

One of the biggest trade scenarios of this offseason surfaced on Monday when Marc Stein of ESPN reported that the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic “have had exploratory dialogue” on a potential deal that would send DeMarcus Cousins to the Lakers. Exact details of the trade were unknown, other than a suggestion that the Magic could send center Nikola Vucevic to the Kings to fill Cousins’ place. It should also be noted that Stein’s sources said the Lakers are trying to construct trade scenarios that would entice the Kings to trade Cousins.

Of course, this report sent the basketball world into a frenzy with Lakers fans wondering if there’s an actual chance their team could acquire one of the best young centers in the game in Cousins. To really evaluate if that trade has any legs is to simply ask, would the Kings trade Cousins? Since Stein’s report has published, the answer to that question has gotten significantly complicated.

It seems as though Kings ownership is adamant that they want to keep Cousins in Sacramento, while head coach George Karl is reportedly trying to recruit Kings vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac and several players to persuade Kings owner Vivek Ranadive to green-light a trade involving Cousins.

In this scenario, it’s believed the Magic would part ways with Vucevic and their fifth pick on Thursday and in return for the second pick from the Lakers. At that point, the Magic would likely draft the big man the Timberwolves don’t select – either Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor – to replace Vucevic. While the team could reportedly consider making a trade on draft night, the Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the Magic are not involved in that three-way trade.

While trying to determine who the Magic might draft may be difficult, the decision to hold onto Vucevic and distance themselves from this trade might be an easier decision to make.

Vucevic has become one of the Magic’s most reliable scoring options, as his 19.3 points per game led the team last season. The team would be taking a huge gamble trading away their franchise cornerstone for an uncertainty coming out of college. While both Towns and Okafor have extremely high ceilings, there is still no guarantee how they’ll develop as they’ve yet to log a single minute in the NBA.

With Vucevic, the team already has an efficient big man on offense that finished ninth in the league in field goal percentage and fifth in the league in PER among all centers. The Magic rewarded Vucevic last October by signing him to a four-year, $48 million deal, which will begin paying him $11.25 next season. That deal is a bargain and will only continue to look better for the Magic with each passing year as the salary cap increases. He has tremendous talent on the offensive side of the ball, but remains a work in progress on defense. While his defense certainly needs to improve, there are similar concerns about Okafor, who Orlando would likely take with the second pick (as the Timberwolves are expected to draft Towns at No. 1).

The Magic would take a step back in their rebuild if they were to hypothetically take part in this deal, since they’d be replacing their most productive player with a teenager. That doesn’t seem to line up with their other moves, which have been focused on winning now and making a playoff push in the Eastern Conference. They just hired Scott Skiles as head coach to help advance the team further along in their rebuild and get to the next step. Drafting a player like Okafor means waiting another couple of seasons while he develops, unless Orlando has fallen in love with him and believes he’s a big upgrade over Vucevic.

This trade scenario also doesn’t line up with what Magic GM Rob Hennigan has said he is willing to do. Hennigan told the Orlando Sentinel recently that the team is considering moving back in the draft.

“I would say we’ve talked to at least a half-dozen teams about it,” Hennigan told the Orlando Sentinel. “So it’s something we’re definitely considering and weighing sincerely: potentially moving back.”

The idea of moving back in the draft could potentially help the team acquire veteran players to contribute, in addition to their young nucleus, or they could add additional picks to trade down. The Magic had veteran players in Channing Frye, Ben Gordon, Luke Ridnour and Willie Green on the team last season, but only Frye is guaranteed for next season.

It’s clear that the Magic will listen to offers on draft night, but nothing is imminent and it remains to be seen what Hennigan will do. The team has plenty of assets to work with, but they’ll likely be careful in how they approach potential trades and may opt to sit out this potential three-way trade with the Lakers and Kings.

Several Teams Looking to Change Draft Positions

As Thursday’s draft quickly approaches, many teams are looking to change positions in the draft. Some teams have made it public that they may be looking to trade down, while there are reports out there that some would like to move up.

We’ve already publicly heard that the Magic would be open to the possibility of moving down, while the Boston Celtics recently made it public knowledge that they would like to trade up.

“We’re having discussions to move up with both of our picks in the first round,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Tuesday morning at the team’s training center. “We’re trying to move up with at least one of them. I think there will be some movement.”

The Celtics are currently slated to pick at positions 16 and 28 in the first round and at 33 and 45 in the second round. Ainge admitted that, based on what he’s heard from other executives, Thursday’s draft could feature a lot of movement. Ainge remains hopeful that his team can get a deal done.

In addition to the Celtics, the Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and the Oklahoma City Thunder may also try to move up as well. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers are said to be interested in acquiring a pick. The Pelicans want a first-rounder, as they currently only have the 56th pick in the second round, while the Clippers are looking at options to land a late-first or second-round pick because they don’t have a selection in either round.

One idea that appears to be picking up steam is a potential deal between the Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers.

The draft should feature no shortage of potential deals and could feature a lot of trades taking place.

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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Miami’s Struggles About More than One Player

Drew Maresca assesses the Miami HEAT’s early-season struggles and their statistical slide from the 2019-20 campaign.

Drew Maresca



The Miami HEAT appeared to successfully turn the corner on a quick rebuild, having advanced to the bubble’s 2020 NBA Finals. It looked as though Miami took a short cut even, rebounding from the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh era incredibly quickly. Ultimately, they did so through smart drafting – including the selections of Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro – plus, a little luck, like the signing of Jimmy Butler and smartly sticking with Duncan Robinson.

But despite the fact that they should have improved from last season, the tide may have turned again in South Beach.

Through 15 games, the HEAT are an underwhelming 6-9 with losses in each of their last two games. Miami is also scoring fewer points per game than last season – 109.3 versus 112  – while giving up more – 113.1 against 109.1.

Miami has played the 14th-toughest schedule in the NBA, and there are some embarrassing and noteworthy loses thus far. They lost by a resounding 47 points to the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this season, with extra harsh defeats of 20 points to the lowly Detroit Pistons and the mediocre Toronto Raptors.

What’s to blame for Miami’s woes? Unfortunately for the HEAT, it’s a number of things.

First of all, they need more from a few of their stars – and it starts at the very top. Jimmy Butler was Miami’s leading scorer in 2019-20, posting 19.9 points per game. But this season, Butler is scoring just 15.8 points per game on a sub-par 44.2 percent shooting. While Butler shot poorly from three-point range last season, too (24.4 percent), he hasn’t connected on a single three-pointer yet in 2020-21. This, coming from a guy who shot 34.7 percent from deep in 2018-19 and 35 percent in 2017-18.

But it’s not just his lack of scoring that’s hurting. Butler is also collecting fewer assists and rebounds as well. He’s averaging only 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, down from 6.7 ad 6.0 last season.

However, Butler’s main struggle this season has nothing to do with any statistic or slump. Butler has missed seven straight games due to COVID-19 protocols. Although to go-scorer wasn’t playing particularly well prior to isolating from the team – scoring in single digits twice – the HEAT are always in better shape if their leader takes the floor with them.

It’s not just Butler either. Tyler Herro also needs to regain his bubble form, at least as far as shooting is concerned. After connecting on 38.9 percent on 5.4 three-point attempts in 2019-20, he’s sinking only 30.2 percent of his 5.3 three-point attempts per game this season.

While Herro is scoring more – 17.2 points per game this season – and doing so more efficiently, he’s doesn’t pose the same threat from deep this season. So while he’s sure to pick it up sooner than later, he must do so to put more pressure on opposing defense.

It’s fair to assume Herro will solve his long-distance shooting woes, but the fact that he’s also struggling from the free throw line is concerning because it speaks more to his form. Herro is still well above the league average, connecting on 76.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, but he shot a scorching 87 percent on free throw attempts last season.

So what’s behind the slump? More importantly, which Herro can the HEAT count on for the remainder of 2020-21? As much as Herro is on track to grow into an incredible player, Miami needs his efficiency to return to last season’s form if they expect to compete. But like Butler, a major part of Herro’s struggles are off the court.

Herro is currently dealing with an injury, having missed the last five games with neck spasms. Coach Erik Spoelstra noted that giving the injured Herro so many minutes before his big layoff likely exacerbated his injuries.

“There’s no telling for sure if this is why Tyler missed these games,” Spoelstra told the South Florida SunSentinel. “But it definitely didn’t help that he had to play and play that many minutes. We didn’t have anybody else at that point. If he didn’t play, then we would have had seven.”

But the HEAT’s struggles are about more than any one player – and that’s a big part of what makes Miami, Miami.

Still, their team stats are equally puzzling, like that the Miami HEAT currently ranks 20th in offensive rating and 23rd in defensive rating. In 2019-20, they were 7th in offensive rating and 11th in defensive rating. Obviously, something isn’t translating from last year, but what is it that’s missing?

Firstly, the HEAT are only the 18th best three-point shooting in terms of percentage. Last season, Miami was 2nd by shooting 37.9 percent. Herro returning to his old self should help quite a bit, and Butler making at least a few threes should improve spacing, too.

But it’s not just three-point shooting as the HEAT ranked last in field goal attempts last season, tallying just 84.4 attempts per game. And while they’re last again this season, they’ve managed to average even fewer attempts per game (81.7) despite maintaining nearly all of their roster.

The HEAT are also last in offensive rebounding, which translates to fewer field goal attempts and fewer points. And while Miami was 29th in offensive rebounds last season, they’re corralling 2.1 fewer rebounds this season (6.4) than in  2019-20 (8.5). What’s more, Miami is now last in total rebounds with only 40.9 per game. A number that also represents a fairly significant change as the HEAT were 17th a season ago with 44.4 per game – whew!

Lastly, Miami is turning the ball over more often than nearly any other team – sorry, Chicago – in 2020-21. During the prior campaign, the HEAT were barely middle of the pack, turning the ball over 14.9 times per game, a mark that left them 18th-best in the league. This season, they’re 29th and turning the ball over 17.7 times per game – dead last in terms of turnovers per 100 possessions.

It’s not all bad news for the HEAT, though. Bam Adebayo looks great so far, posting 20.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Second-year stud Kendrick Nunn is averaging 21.5 points on 56 percent shooting through the past four games; while Duncan Robinson is still a flame thrower, shooting 44.4 percent on 8.4 three-point attempts per game.

The HEAT’s upside is still considerable, but it’s easy to wonder if they captured magic in a bottle last season.

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What We Learned: Western Conference Week 4

Ariel Pacheco



It’s only been a month, but the NBA season has already seen plenty of ups and downs. In the Western Conference, especially, the 2020-21 season has been a smashing success for some, but a complete and total slog for others.

But which teams have had it the best in the West so far? The worst? Let’s take a look in the latest Western Conference installment of Basketball Insiders’ “What We Learned” series.

The Clippers Hit Their Stride

Los Angeles’ holdovers from a season ago have often pointed to their regular season complacency as to why they fizzled out during last year’s postseason. And, because of that, they’ve made a concerted effort to play hard on every possession so far in the 2020-21 season.

So far, the results have been good. More than good, even; the Clippers, tied for the best record in the NBA with their in-house rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, are on a six-game win streak. Paul George has played like an MVP candidate, while Kawhi Leonard has looked healthy and at the peak of his powers. Offseason additions Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard have all made strong contributions as well.

With so many versatile players and a roster as deep as any in the NBA, anyone can be “the guy” for Los Angeles on any given night. And, tough to guard because of that versatility, they’ve managed the NBA’s second-best offensive rating through the first month.

After last season’s let-down, the Clippers have played without much pressure this season — and it’s showed. Still, with Leonard a potential pending free agent (Leonard can opt-out after the season), it’s paramount that the team play hard and show him they’re good enough to compete for a title in both the short- and long-term.

So far, they’re off to a great start.

Injury Woes Continue in Portland

Portland’s been bit by the injury bug. And badly.

Already without Zach Collins, the Trail Blazers have lost both Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum in recent weeks. They couldn’t have come at a worse time, either; Nurkic had turned a corner after he struggled to start the year, while McCollum, averaging 26.7 points on 62 percent true shooting, was in the midst of a career year.

It would seem, once again, like Portland has put it all on the shoulders of Damian Lillard. But, in a brutally competitive Western Conference, he may not be able to carry that load alone. They do have some solid depth: more of a featured role could be just what Robert Covington has needed to get out of a rut, while Harry Giles III, the former Sacramento King that was signed in the offseason, has a ton of potential if he can just to stay on the court. Carmelo Anthony, Gary Trent Jr. and Enes Kanter should see expanded roles in the interim, as well.

But will it be enough? We can only wait and see. But, if that group can’t keep the Trail Blazers afloat until Nurkic and McCollum can return, Portland could be in for a long offseason.

Grizzlies Are Competitive — With or Without Ja Morant

Memphis, on a five-game win streak, is just a half-game back of the West’s fifth seed. And they’ve managed that despite the sheer amount of adversity they’ve had to deal with to start the year. Jaren Jackson Jr. is expected to miss most of if not the entire season, multiple games have been postponed due to the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols and Ja Morant missed eight games due to an ankle sprain.

However, head coach Taylor Jenkins has the Grizzlies playing hard, regardless of who is in the lineup. They have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA at 106.1 and have managed huge wins over the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.

Of course, Memphis is glad to see Morant over his injury and back in the lineup, but they might be just as happy to see how their entire core has progressed. Their success this season has, in large part, been a group-effort; rookies Xavier Tillman and Desmond Bane have been strong off the bench, while youngsters Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen have all proven integral pieces to the Grizzlies’ core for years to come.

As the year carries on, Memphis might not stick in the playoff picture. But, if their young core can continue to develop, they might not be on the outside looking in for much longer with Morant leading the charge.

What’s Going On In New Orleans?

The Pelicans have struggled and there wouldn’t appear to be an easy fix.

5-9, on a three-game losing streak and having dropped eight of their last nine, New Orleans just can’t seem to figure it out. The rosters fit around cornerstones Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram has proven awkward at best, as the team ranks in the bottom-10 in both offensive and defensive rating. Lonzo Ball has struggled offensively to start the season while JJ Redick can’t find his shot. Newcomer Eric Bledsoe has been fine but, as one of the team’s few offensive creators, his impact has been severely minimized.

Despite their stable of strong defenders, Stan Van Gundy’s defensive scheme, which has maximized their presence in the paint but left shooters wide open beyond the arc, has burned them continuously. Williamson’s effort on the defensive end, meanwhile, has been disappointing at best; he hasn’t looked like nearly the same impact defender he did at Duke University and in short spurts a season ago.

They still have time to work it out, but the Pelicans need to do so sooner rather than later. If they can’t, or at least establish some sort of consistency, New Orleans might never see the heights many had hoped to see them reach this season.

Be sure to check back for the next part of our “What We Learned” series as we continue to keep an eye on the NBA all season long.

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NBA Daily: Lonzo Ball Presents Difficult Decision For Pelicans

Lonzo Ball is struggling early in his fourth NBA season, leaving the Pelicans questioning whether he will be a part of the team’s long-term plans moving forward.

Garrett Brooks



Lonzo Ball and the New Orleans Pelicans failed to reach an extension prior to the deadline entering the 2020-21 NBA season – which made this season an important year for the former second overall pick to prove his worth.

But things have not gone according to plan for Ball. Originally acquired by the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis trade, Ball has failed to get going early in the current season. After a few years of what seemed like positive progression in the guard’s shooting stroke, this 2021 has brought up the same questions that surrounded Ball in his earlier scouting reports.

In his first three seasons, Lonzo saw his three-point accuracy increase each year. It started at a 30.5 percent accuracy rate and had jumped to an impressive 37.5 by his third NBA season, 2019-20.

Now well into his biggest campaign yet, he sits below 30 percent for the first time in his career, though there is a lot of time left to see that number increase. If Ball expects to be part of the Pelicans’ long-term plans, improvement is absolutely vital.

Obviously, shooting is a key part of the NBA game today, especially as a guard. Simply put, a player needs to give his team the proper floor spacing needed to maximize their scoring output in an offensively driven league.

That point is especially true for Ball, who needs to prove he can play alongside franchise cornerstones Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Both players are showing the skillset to be a dominant one-two punch for years to come, and the biggest need around them is proper floor spacing.

So even with all the positives Ball brings to the defensive side of the floor and as a playmaker, he cannot fit alongside Williamson and Ingram unless he’s a threat to hit shots from behind the arc. He’s obviously trying to prove himself in that regard as he has never averaged more three-point shots per game than he currently is – and yet, the result has been concerning.

When the two sides failed to reach an extension this offseason, it was abundantly clear that the Pelicans needed to see consistency before they’d tie long-term cap space to the guard. In the early going of the season, Ball is perhaps playing his most inconsistent basketball since his rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers.

But will the Pelicans benefit from not signing Ball prior to the season? Maybe even by getting him to agree to a team-friendly contract if his struggles continue all year?

That seems highly unlikely. First off, not all teams are as desperate for a good shooting guard as the Pelicans are. As previously stated, Williamson and Ingram are in place as the franchise cornerstones. That means every player brought in on a long deal from here on out is brought in with the plan to fit alongside the forward combination.

Most teams with cap space don’t have the luxury of already having two franchise cornerstones in place. That means they are more likely to build around a player they sign – that’s especially true for a player that will hit free agency at a young age as will be the case with Ball.

While there’s almost no way the Pelicans won’t make a qualifying offer to Ball this offseason, it becomes a whole different question when pondering if they’ll match any contract he signs, depending on the financials involved.

He’ll offer significantly more value to another franchise than he might to the Pelicans because of the fit. The New York Knicks, for example, will be among the teams with cap space this offseason, they could see Ball as a player they can build things around moving forward.

That instantly makes him much more valued by the Knicks than he currently would be by the Pelicans. Of course, New Orleans would maintain their right to match the contract, but what good would it be if he isn’t going to fit next to the stars of the team? At no point will he be prioritized over the likes of Williamson and Ingram, which means he’s on a ticking clock to prove he can play alongside them as the team continues its ascension.

The first step could be adjustments to the rotation that sees Ball play more of the traditional point guard role with the rock in his hands. This isn’t easy for head coach Stan Van Gundy to do though as Ingram and Williamson thrive with the ball in their hands.

In all likelihood, Ball’s future in New Orleans will hinge on his consistency as a shooter, which, contrary to popular belief, he has shown the ability to do in the past. First off, confidence and staying engaged are keys; while Ball has struggled with both of those things in his early NBA seasons.

The second is an adjustment to his tendencies. Instead of settling for the spot-up opportunity every time it is presented, Ball would benefit from attacking the closeout more often and maximizing the chances that come from doing so.

Those options are in areas like finding the next open man for a three-pointer, getting to the free-throw line and finishing at the rim instead of hitting the deep shot. If he does these things, he’ll quickly find himself facing less aggressive closeouts and will be more confident in his game. Naturally, those things could lead to a more successful shooting number as the season continues on.

Ball is as talented as they come and it’s understandable why the Pelicans want to slide him in behind the two franchise forwards they have. The unfortunate reality is that time is running out on pass-first guard’s big chance to prove it’s the right move for the Pelicans moving forward.

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