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NBA PM: Six Teams to Watch at NBA Trade Deadline

Basketball Insiders looks at six teams that may be active in the weeks leading up to the NBA trade deadline.

Jesse Blancarte

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The NBA trade deadline is less than a month away, which means it’s a good time to see which teams may be active in trade discussions over the next few weeks.

Orlando Magic 

The Orlando Magic entered this season with hopes of returning to the playoffs for the first time since the Dwight Howard trade. The front office hired Frank Vogel to take over for the departed Scott Skiles, who unexpectedly resigned in May of 2016. The front office then traded Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to Donatas Sabonis (11th pick in 2016) to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, signed Jeff Green to a one-year, $15 million contract and signed Bismack Biyombo to a four-year, $72 million contract (player option on the final season).

Despite all of these transactions, this season hasn’t gone as expected. Orlando is currently 18-28, good for the 12th seed in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately, Orlando is still only four and a half games back of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff seed.

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, in a Q&A with the Orlando Sentinel’s Josh Robbins, stated that the team is going to be active in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline.

“We need to explore every and all options to improve the team,” Hennigan said. “We’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to be active in our discussions and in the opportunities we seek out. So, we’re going to look to be active. I’m not sure it’s a ‘necessity,’ but it’s certainly something that’s in our best interests to explore.”

Orlando is committed to roughly $106,248,869 in salary this season, which is a hefty amount considering their current standing. Green, Ibaka, Jodie Meeks and C.J. Wilcox are on expiring deals, while C.J. Watson’s $5 million salary next season is non-guaranteed. The Magic front office could look to unload these role players before potentially losing them in free agency, especially if it becomes clear that this team isn’t going to have a realistic shot at the postseason.

Each of these players, to varying degrees, could be helpful to a fringe or even true contender that is looking to bolster its roster in preparation for the playoffs in exchange for some future second-round picks perhaps. The Magic could also move Ibaka if a solid deal presents itself, though Ibaka has the ability walk away for nothing as an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason. Additionally, Nikola Vucevic could be moved considering the fact that the Magic invested so heavily in Biyombo last offseason. Vucevic has some notable limitations defensively, but he is a very skilled offensive center and has two years left on his contract after this season at a very reasonable average annual salary of $12.5 million.

Orlando’s front office has made some very questionable moves over the last few seasons and may feel pressure to make significant changes if this team is out of playoff contention near the trade deadline.

Denver Nuggets 

The Denver Nuggets started off the season trying to play big men Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic together. That experiment quickly proved to be a disaster, so head coach Mike Malone made Jokic the starting center and surrounded him with plenty of shooting. The Nuggets still struggle to defend effectively, but they can keep pace with the best offenses in the NBA and are now featuring Jokic in a primary role. Jokic has proven himself more than worthy of the position and is blowing away the expectations of even those who were early believers in his game.

Jokic’s rise means that Nurkic is now expendable and, according to Marc Stein of ESPN, the Nuggets are actively looking to move him in a deal. Nurkic, age 22, is a talented center who could be a nice addition for any team that needs a true center who can play both ends of the court.

The Nuggets also have some other players that they could move if a team offered a nice return of players or assets in exchange. Veterans like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur could be the type of players that a fringe or true contender could think of as a missing piece for a title run. However, the Nuggets are currently holding the eighth seed in the Western Conference and may not be looking to do anything beyond adding some more depth by unloading Nurkic. There’s no major rush to unload a player since their core players are locked into deals that go beyond next season, with the exception of Gallinari, who has a player option for next season.

Boston Celtics 

The Boston Celtics have significant cap space flexibility, the best trade assets in the league, a major need for help on the defensive glass and a desire to add a marquee star player. Those factors combined mean that the Celtics have to be a team to keep an eye on at the deadline.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has held off on cashing in his significant assets up to this point, so he may be waiting for a lopsided deal to present itself. The Celtics have been linked to Nerlens Noel, whom the Philadelphia 76ers are looking to deal. Noel is an athletic big man who could play alongside Al Horford and help the Celtics address their rebounding issues. However, Noel is on the last year of his rookie deal, so Boston would have to be prepared to pay him a significant raise as a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason

The Celtics are currently 26-17 and are only four games back of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who hold the first seed in the Eastern Conference. With Isaiah Thomas playing at superstar levels and the rest of the team playing within their respective roles, Ainge may opt to make marginal upgrades while holding onto his major assets for after the season.

Atlanta Hawks 

The Atlanta Hawks have one of the strangest situations heading into the trade deadline. The Hawks put Paul Millsap on the trade market, subsequently pulled him off the market and then traded Kyle Korver to the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers, for Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, a protected 2019 first-rounder and $750,000.

In trading Korver, it seemed as though the Hawks were in the early stages of a rebuild, with Millsap and other veterans likely to be moved in exchange for assets. However, the Hawks have won seven of their last 10 games and are just a game back of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings. The Hawks may be tempted to push forward with this roster and take another shot at a deep playoff run.

However, the Hawks are seemingly outclassed by their main Eastern Conference rivals and by several Western Conference teams. Additionally, Millsap can walk away for nothing this upcoming offseason, as Al Horford did last season. Considering these factors, it makes sense for the Hawks to probe the market and see what they can get for guys like Millsap, Tiago Splitter, Thabo Sefolosha, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Muscala and Kris Humphries.

Minnesota Timberwolves 

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, the Minnesota Timberwolves are actively shopping point guard Ricky Rubio and swingman Shabazz Muhammad. Rubio, age 26, was once pegged as Minnesota’s long-term answer at point guard, but his shooting been a major weakness and he never seemed to meet the expectations that surrounded him earlier in his career. Rubio’s contract is guaranteed through 2018-19 at an average annual salary of $14,250,000, which is pretty reasonable for a starting quality point guard.

Several teams have shown interest in Rubio, though it’s not clear what kind of package of players and assets it would take to get Minnesota to pull the trigger. Minnesota has pegged Kris Dunn as the point guard of the future, so they aren’t necessarily looking for a top-tier guard in exchange for Rubio.

The Timberwolves also have some veterans that could be moved, such as Brandon Rush and Jordan Hill. However, these players would likely be included in a deal based around Rubio for salary matching purposes. Rubio is the real target for other teams, especially ones that are in playoff contention and could use some serious help at point guard, such as the Chicago Bulls.

Philadelphia 76ers 

The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven of their last 10 games and are slowly but surely climbing their way up the Eastern Conference standings. However, the 76ers feature three quality big men in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. Since the team’s media day, Noel has made it clear that this logjam needed to be addressed through a trade. The team has been working on finding a deal for Noel, who will begin being eligible for a restricted free agent offer after this season.

It’s not clear what the 76ers are looking for in exchange for Noel. The 76ers have the ability to package significant draft assets and other fillers around Noel in exchange for a star player, but there aren’t any obvious candidates for that scenario to play out. The team is in need of help at the point guard position, but, depending on how the season plays out and the lottery, the 76ers may be in line to draft either Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball. Additionally, once Ben Simmons is healthy, he may prove capable of facilitating the team’s offense as a point forward, which could minimize the team’s need for a lead guard.

The 76ers, like the Celtics, have plenty of flexibility in terms of salary cap space and trade assets to be very active at the deadline. With significant holes to fill on the roster (excluding the frontcourt), it’s possible they could be one of the more active teams at the trade deadline.

******

These are just a few teams to keep an eye on before next month’s trade deadline. Other teams like the Chicago Bulls and Miami HEAT could also look to make some significant moves involving players like Nikola Mirotic and Goran Dragic.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA DAILY

NBA Daily: Rockets Might Be Formidable Challenge For Warriors

If nothing else, the Rockets gave everyone, including the Warriors, something to think about by beating the champs.

Moke Hamilton

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For those that had any lingering doubt as to the authenticity of the Houston Rockets, Saturday afternoon’s win over the Golden State Warriors should serve as a bit of a wakeup call.

Sure, championships aren’t won in mid-January, but by virtue of the win, the Rockets won their season series against the Warriors, 2-1.

Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season—the year the Warriors won the first of three consecutive Western Conference Finals—they’ve lost a season series to just one other team: the San Antonio Spurs.

A review of the tape suggests that those that believe that Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are truly the team that has the best shot of beating the Warriors is founded in some fact. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have lost a total of 39 games.

In total, during that span, seven teams have failed to beat the Warriors even once, while 12 teams have beaten them one time. Four teams have beaten the Warriors twice and only the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies have beaten them thrice.

The Spurs, though, have managed to beat the Warriors five times, with Popovich leading his team to a 2-1 regular season series win over the Warriors during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.

It’s safe to say that they have been the only team worthy of calling themselves anything near a worthy adversary to Stephen Curry and company.

At least, that was the case until Saturday night.

* * * * * *

With all due respect to Michael Jordan, if the Warriors win the NBA Finals this season, they can legitimately claim to be the best team in NBA history.

Two titles in three years is nothing to sneeze at, but the claim holds no weight whatsoever without ever having won two in a row, especially when scores of other teams have been able to accomplish the feat.

Aside from the two championships, the Warriors can claim the best regular season record in the league’s history and the distinction of being the only team to ever win 67 or more games for three consecutive seasons.

It is true that the Warriors have been almost invincible since the 2014-15 season, but things have changed now that Chris Paul has joined forces with James Harden.

This season, the Mike D’Antoni coached team ranks 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions, a marked improvement over last season’s rank of 18th.

With Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, Luc Mbah a Moute, they have four defensive stalwarts, one of whom (Ariza) who wasn’t able to suit up due to being suspended.

At the end of the day, beating a team in the regular season doesn’t really count for much, especially when you consider the greatest irony: in each of the seasons the Spurs beat the Warriors in their season series, the Warriors won the NBA Finals. The obvious asterisk there is that the Warriors didn’t play the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Playoffs and only managed to sweep them once the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard in 2017.

Still, beating the defending champs in any game, much less a season series, has got to feel good. Whether they want to admit it or not, Saturday’s game against the Warriors was one that the Rockets wanted to get, that’s probably why Mike D’Antoni opted to reinsert James Harden into the game after he surpassed his 30-minute playing restriction.

In the end, Harden logged 35 minutes and ended up making what was the game’s clinching three-pointer.

Poetic, indeed.

* * * * * *

With the season a little more than halfway over, the Warriors still appear to be head and shoulders above those competing for their throne. Of the other contenders, the Rockets and Boston Celtics, at least for now, appear most formidable.

At the end of the day, what the Warriors have to fear more than anything is their own arrogance. As a unit, the team believes that it’s the best at playing small ball and that no other team can beat them as their own game. While that may be true, there have been a few instances over the past few years where that belief has ended up costing them.

What the Warriors seem to struggle with is understanding that not every possession can be played the same way, and as some possessions become more and more valuable, it would be wise for the team to play more conservatively and traditionally.

For example, when the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving made one of the most incredible shots we’ve ever seen, but it was Stephen Curry who helped leave the door open for the Cavs with a pitiful final five minutes of the game.

Among the worst atrocities he committed was an ill-advised turnover that came as a result of an off target behind the back pass to Klay Thompson. In such a situation, any second grader could have and would have known that a simple bounce pass to the flashing Thompson would have sufficed.

Steve Kerr’s message to his team, though, is to play like themselves and not overthink their execution.

While that’s fair, it does at least leave room to wonder if the Warriors will have the humility to play conservatively when the game is on the line.

Curry himself admitted to playing too aggressively and making poor reads and decisions down the stretch versus the Rockets. The team passed up wide-open two-point shots for three-pointers that didn’t fall, and those botched opportunities play a direct role in causing the loss.

Fortunately, for the Warriors, not much was at stake, but their performance and decision-making in those tight minutes leave us to wonder what will happen if and when they find themselves in another tight moment or two…

And by virtue of the Rockets becoming just the second team to take a season series from the Warriors since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, we can also fairly wonder whether they truly have what it takes to take down the Golden Goliath.

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NBA

G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.

Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.

Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.

With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.

1. Christian Wood

Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.

His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.

2. Jameel Warney

Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.

With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.

3. Melo Trimble

After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.

He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.

4. Joel Bolomboy

Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.

At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.

5. Jeremy Evans

Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.

With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.

Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Potential Trade Targets to Get the Sixers to the Playoffs

On the cusp of a playoff appearance for the first time in six years, the Philadelphia 76ers could cement their postseason status with a move at the trade deadline.

Dennis Chambers

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At times this season, the Philadelphia 76ers look like they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best teams. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at their disposal, along with capable three-point shooters, the Sixers have shown flashes of being a force to be reckoned with.

And at other times, well, they look like a discombobulated young team, with serious flaws in the construction of its roster.

Despite the lapses they display, the Sixers are still right in the thick of the playoff race. Currently, at 21-20, they hold a half-game advantage over the Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.

While they await the return of top overall pick Markelle Fultz, who has still yet to hit the court after being shut down earlier this season with a shoulder injury, the Sixers will continue to miss depth on the wing and a particular skill set that holds them back from winning games they seem to have locked up with double-digit leads. For all the greatness that is Embiid, and all of the promise that is Simmons, when the former isn’t on the court, the latter struggles to shoulder the scoring load due to his inability to shoot jump shots.

Initially, that’s what Fultz was drafted for. A player that head coach Brett Brown has said many times before, has the talent to tie everything together with the Sixers’ roster. What he means by that is Fultz represents a scorer from multiple levels of the court who forces the defense to lock in on, potentially leaving the teams’ shooters open on the wing.

Without Fultz, and when Embiid is on the bench, the team lacks a player who can put the ball on the floor, create and knock down jumpers. Although long-term success is still very much the attention for Philadelphia, that doesn’t discount the fact that a team that finished with 10 wins just two seasons ago is on the verge of making a playoff appearance for the first time since 2011-12 with a core of young, promising players.

Because of that possibility, and because of the clear holes in team’s makeup that could prevent this from happening, the Sixers could become an interesting player at the trade deadline — especially considering the names that appear available, according to reports.

It’s no secret that Sixers’ president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wants to keep financial flexibility heading into this summer, that’s the main reason players like J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson were signed to one-year deals last offseason. Before the team has to start signing their own players to big extensions, the Sixers are in a unique position where they not only have elite homegrown talent, but the money to complement those players the best they can. Because of that, any deal that would return a player with money on the books past this season seems unlikely.

That being said, it just so happens that two players potentially on the trading block right now fulfill the Sixers’ most crucial need, and also aren’t on the hook for money past this year. Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that Rodney Hood could be moved before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and that multiple teams are expressing interest in his services.

Along with Hood, Stein also reported that Lou Williams, who’s been the center of many trade talks around the league given his career-year and impending free agent status, was involved in specific discussions that would send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What should intrigue the Sixers about these two players is not only their ability on the court but also their flexibility off of it.

Let’s start with Hood. Before the rise of Donovan Mitchell this season, Hood looked to be in a position to assume the role as the dominant scorer on the Utah Jazz following Gordon Hayward’s departure. At just 25 years old and in the final year of his rookie contract, Hood may not be worth the price tag for Utah this summer considering their find with Mitchell.

Should the Jazz actually move on from Hood, it’s unclear what they would ask for in return at this point. Yes, Hood his an impending free agent, which could diminish his value. But the team trading for him would assume his Bird Rights, therefore giving them a better shot at retaining him this summer should they choose to do so.

The best part about his potential fit in Philadelphia is that he fits the timeline of the rebuild while also addressing a need in the present. Being just 25, Hood fits alongside the core of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Dario Saric and Robert Covington as a young player. If the Sixers were to miss out on whoever they were planning to target with their financial flexibility this summer, Hood would still be there to plug in for years with a contract extension.

Shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc this season, and displaying the track record of being able to fill up the score sheet, Hood could become the go-to-scorer for Philadelphia when Embiid isn’t on the court, or late in games when they need to stop an opposing team’s run.

While he appears to at least be on the table as of now, Hood is certainly worth checking in on from the Sixers’ standpoint.

Now, onto Williams. Drafted by Philadelphia all the back in 2005 with the 45th overall pick, Williams is enjoying the best season of his career for the Los Angeles Clippers. At 31, he doesn’t represent the long-term upside that Hood does, but for this season alone, bringing Williams on to this current Sixers’ roster could be that extra jolt to get them cleanly into the postseason.

Averaging 23 points per game and shooting 41 percent from downtown, Williams fits the role as an iso-scorer better than any player on the Sixers’ current roster. Alongside Simmons and Embiid, Williams could assume the role Fultz was supposed to this season.

Another interesting ripple to the potential Williams fit is that he was on the last Sixers’ roster to make the playoffs. Adding him to this roster would bring his career full circle. This summer, Williams is most likely going to test the market and given his age and potential price tag he may not fit so well into the Sixers’ plans moving forward. But with his history with the club and city, getting him on board for another playoff run with an exciting young team could arguably help in the negotiation process this offseason.

Neither of these potential trades are slam dunks, and it remains to be seen if either player will even be moved. But for where the Sixers stand currently, coupled with their growing postseason expectations, checking in around the league on trade targets that can fulfill obvious needs should be at the forefront of Colangelo’s agenda for the next few weeks.

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