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NBA PM: The Importance of Draymond Green

Draymond Green has surprisingly emerged as one of the Warriors’ most important players this season.

Alex Kennedy

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The Importance of Draymond Green

The Golden State Warriors’ well-rounded roster is full of key contributors who helped this squad win 67 games in the regular season (with a +10.1 net rating) and become one of the best NBA teams in recent memory.

Stephen Curry is the superstar MVP candidate who has become one of the most talented (and most popular) players in the NBA.

Klay Thompson is the All-Star sidekick who is one of the NBA’s elite two-guards and was deemed untouchable last summer, even when Kevin Love was available.

Andrew Bogut is the former No. 1 overall pick who helped the team become elite on the defensive end by being their anchor down low.

Andre Iguodala is the former All-Star and All-Defensive First Team player who was the team’s big free agent acquisition before the 2013-14 season.

Harrison Barnes is the phenom who was rated the top high school recruit in the country and got drafted No. 7 overall in 2012.

Steve Kerr is the first-year head coach who was one of the NBA’s hottest coaching prospects last summer and finished second in Coach of the Year voting.

Then, there’s Draymond Green. He has surprisingly emerged as one of Golden State’s top contributors even though he wasn’t a top pick, phenom or star. He has exceeded all expectations in the NBA and his development has been incredible to watch.

Rivals.com rated Green a three-star recruit out of high school. After four years at Michigan State, he entered the NBA as a second-round pick (35th overall) in 2012. There were low expectations for him because he was one of the older players in the draft and many people around the NBA felt he didn’t have much upside. In the draft, teams often try to swing for the fences and go with young, boom-or-bust prospects, which can cause seniors like Green to slip on draft night. Also hurting his stock was the fact that he was viewed as a tweener, who was too short to be a power forward yet too doughy to be a small forward.

DraymondGreenInside1Now, the 25-year-old Green has silenced all of his doubters. In his first full season as a starter, Green has been outstanding on both ends of the floor and become one of the Warriors’ most important players.

“It’s hard to put into words what Draymond means to the team,” Kerr said. “He does everything; he’s a jack of all trades. On top of that, he’s one of our leaders and the guy who talks the most trash to the other team, to the refs, to his teammates, to me. He’s kind of our life line. It’s great. … Draymond is always the guy who has the passion and the intensity that sort of lifts us up when we need it, and he’s also a great playmaker at both ends of the floor.”

As Kerr said, Green has become a great two-way threat for the Warriors.

He’s a dominant defender, who has the versatility to guard every position on the floor. He averaged 8.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks during the regular season. Despite being measured at just 6’7.5 with shoes on, he has shown he can guard centers very well, giving them fits in the post. He’s a big reason why the Warriors had the NBA’s top ranked defense this season (allowing only 98.2 points per 100 possessions). Green finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting behind only San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, and he received more first-place votes (45) than any other player – including Leonard (37).

On offense, he has averaged career-highs across the board, including 11.7 points on 44.3 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from three-point range as well as 3.7 assists. He’s an efficient playmaker who always seems to make the right basketball play. He makes his teammates significantly better with his unselfishness and ball movement, and he has really developed into a well-rounded weapon for Golden State.

This versatility and ability to impact the game in a variety of ways was on full display during the Warriors’ first-round sweep over the New Orleans Pelicans. Green filled the stat sheet, averaging 15.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks while shooting 47.9 percent from the field in the first round.

Green spent much of the series guarding Anthony Davis, making things difficult for the budding superstar and showing his ability to guard even the most talented big men in the NBA. He forced the Pelicans’ star to take tough shots and was a big reason why Davis averaged 3.3 turnovers during the four-game series (after averaging just 1.4 turnovers during the regular season). Green’s second-place DPOY finish was announced during the series and he certainly looked like an elite defender in the first round, while also contributing on offense and getting the crowd pumped up with his screaming, flexing, trash talking and hustling.

“He’s a gamer,” Curry said of Green. “He finds different ways to impact the game. Obviously we know he’s going to defend at a high level, whoever his match‑up is, and make some plays that won’t show up on the stat sheet that kind of get the crowd into it and just bring some life into us out on the floor. He just always finds a way to be in the mix. There is no teaching that. He just has a knack for it. He’s shown that since his rookie year, and obviously in big games, that’s huge that you can rely on him to be ever present on the court.”

Green averaged 41.5 minutes per game (just shy of Davis’ 43 minutes per game) during the series because Kerr knew the team was better off when he was on the court, even if he was tired. When asked about how he manages Green’s minutes and decides when to keep him on the floor, Kerr smiled.

“I ask Draymond if he’s tired, and if he says no, I leave him in. If he says yes, I leave him in,” Kerr said. “It’s a very scientific approach.”

Green knows that the Warriors have a target on their back after winning so many games and entering the postseason as the favorite to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. However, he’s not worried about how that will affect Golden State since they already expect so much out of themselves.

“The last two years you’re the hunters; now you’re the hunted,” Green said of the Warriors. “You have to go out there with that mindset that they’re coming. They’re going to give you their best shot. The world expects you to win, so I guess there is a little more pressure. But at the end of the day, with what we expect out of ourselves, nobody’s expectations are going to be higher than ours for us. I think as long as we keep that mindset, we’ll be just fine.”

Some people have questioned if Golden State has what it takes to win it all, labeling the Warriors as a “jump shooting team” and wondering if they can still win games when their shots aren’t falling. However, this ignores the fact that Golden State had the league’s best defense and one of the NBA’s most efficient offenses. They’re just the third team in the last 38 years to finish top two in the NBA in offense and defense (joining the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and 2009-10 Orlando Magic). This is a dominant team that can beat you on both ends of the court, which Green stressed when asked about those skeptics who question if their success is sustainable.

“That’s just stigma – there is this expectation and belief that we can’t win if we’re not making threes, yet we’re the number one defensive team in the league,” Green said. “But that’s never really talked about. We know if we continue to get stops, no matter how we’re shooting the basketball, we can find a way to win the game.

“We know that we’re more than what some people may say we are: ‘just a three‑point shooting team.’ We don’t worry about it. We just go out there and play our game, and we know we can do other things.”

That defense has been led by Bogut and Green, who finished No. 1 and No. 2 in Defensive Real Plus-Minus during the 2014-15 NBA season. Having two elite defenders surrounding their offensively gifted All-Star guards makes Golden State very scary.

“We’re just working together like we’ve done all year,” Green said of he and Bogut. “I think we’ve done a great job working together as a tandem on the defensive end. If he gets beat, I’m there to cover for him. If I get beat, he’s there to cover for me.”

While the Warriors have looked absolutely unstoppable at times throughout this campaign, Green believes they haven’t even played their best basketball yet.

“Absolutely, there is definitely another level [that the team hasn’t reached yet],” Green said.  “We’re going to keep continuing to work to get to that level. Obviously every game matters now.

“In order to win a championship, which is our ultimate goal, you have to get better each and every time you step on the floor in the playoffs because other teams are.  There is another level that this team could reach, and we look forward to reaching it.”

In order for the Warriors to reach that next level, they will need Green to continue making plays all over the court like he did in round one. That shouldn’t be a problem; that’s what he does. These playoffs are Green’s coming out party – right before he hits restricted free agency this July, when he’s expected to get a max contract offer. Expect to see plenty of big plays from Green throughout the rest of the postseason followed by screaming, flexing and, likely, winning.

Tim Duncan Winning Fight Against Father Time

The San Antonio Spurs are damn good and they could win it all (once again) this season.

I know… this isn’t exactly breaking news. We’ve been saying this for years, since the Spurs have made the playoffs in 18 straight seasons and won five championships in that span. Their winning percentage has been 61 percent or higher (at least 50 wins, except in a lockout-shortened season) in each of those 18 seasons. That means there are high school and college students across the country right now who can’t remember a time when the Spurs finished below 50 wins in a season.

And once again Tim Duncan has been a huge reason for their success. Duncan is one of the greatest players of all-time, with five championships, two Most Valuable Player awards, 15 All-Star appearances and 14 selections to the All-NBA teams. Now, even though he’s 39 years old and has played 54,915 minutes (counting the regular season and postseason) throughout his 17-year NBA career, he continues to make a significant impact on the court for San Antonio.

Duncan is averaging 17.2 points (on 55.4 percent shooting from the field), 10.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 steals through five games in the Spurs’ first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers. It seemed like this match-up against the Clippers’ frontcourt would be hard for Duncan since Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are two of the most athletic big men in the NBA. However, he has played well and continues to battle off Father Time.

“I’m just getting to spots,” Duncan said. “I didn’t change anything. I didn’t do anything different. I just kind of worked myself into the spots I know that we need. I get shots sometimes, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes they go, sometimes they don’t.”

While Duncan hasn’t changed what he’s doing on the floor, he has tried to change the way he approaches each game. He knows that his NBA career will be over very soon, so he’s trying to appreciate each game and take in everything.

“I’m trying to enjoy myself,” Duncan said. “I’m trying to enjoy myself, whatever that means. I know it’s coming to an end… whenever that time is, so I’m enjoying myself. I’m enjoying the time out here and the crowd, the energy, the situation, and if that translates into something different, that’s something different then.”

Duncan admits that it has been frustrating at times to make sacrifices and accept a diminished role as he gets older, but he knows that it’s for the best of the team, especially with players like Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard carrying the team for spurts. When asked if there’s still “a lot left” in terms of what he can do on the court, Duncan was realistic.

“I think ‘a lot’ is a stretch, but I still feel right now I can be effective in my role,” Duncan said. “And that’s all I’m doing is just playing a role on this team.

“I’m a competitor. I want to be playing the best I can, and there have been times where I feel I’m just kind of running around for my health, but sometimes that’s my role. Sometimes it’s with the ball movement, with the guys that we have, with the shooters that we have, with Tony and Kawhi controlling the ball. That’s kind of my role in that position sometimes. But I’m here to do whatever I have to do and be a part of whatever I have to be a part of. I get to my spots, and [things] will change, whether it’s from game to game or from series to series, whatever it is, you have to find your spots and be as effective as you can in it. It is [hard mentally] at some points, but it’s a gradual process. It’s over an entire season or two or three seasons [of adjusting to the new role], not just overnight.”

Still, Duncan understands why he doesn’t get the same amount of touches that he used to, as he’s the first person to point out that one of the Spurs’ biggest strengths is their depth.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen on any given night, but we’re willing to go 10 deep and figure out what happens from there,” Duncan said. “We [rely] on a bunch of different guys to step up.”

Over the last two games, Duncan has contributed 43 points, 25 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and four blocks, while shooting 61.5 percent from the field. When asked about Duncan’s excellent production recently, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said what everyone was thinking.

“I thought Duncan was terrific… He’s Tim Duncan,” Rivers said.

We have come to expect these monster stat lines and impressive playoff victories from Duncan, even at 39 years old, because he has been consistently great for nearly two decades now. And somehow, even with so many NBA miles on his body, he shows no signs of slowing down.

Father Time is undefeated, but Duncan is giving him a hell of a fight.

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

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NBA Daily: Buyers Or Sellers – Central Division

Spencer Davies kicks off Basketball Insiders’ “Buyers or Sellers” series with a detailed breakdown of the Central Division.

Spencer Davies

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Trade season is fast approaching and rumors are running rampant across in the NBA. Just in the past month, we’ve had three trades executed, including two blockbuster moves that will surely make an impact on the association, regarding this year and in the future.

The chatter is about to heat up, even more, this weekend. As soon as the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. EST on Dec. 15, players that signed new contracts in the summer (prior to Sept. 15) are eligible to be traded. The date is basically the opening of the floodgates when it comes to trade season.

Basketball Insiders is starting a “Buyers or Sellers” series to take a look at teams by division to determine what side of the spectrum they should be on. Is it wise to add talent, or is it smarter to look towards the future and acquire future assets?

Let’s go case-by-case, beginning with the Central Division.

Milwaukee Bucks

As detailed in a reaction piece last Friday, the Bucks are all-in on winning now. When they went after veteran guard George Hill in a trade where parting with a potential future lottery draft pick was necessary to do it, it proved that claim.

Looking to offload two contracts that weren’t doing the organization any good, Milwaukee acted and added two guys—Hill and Jason Smith—that have been around this league for over a decade. With the way the season is going so far, it may not even be necessary to look for more help, but there’s no doubt that the team is in buyer mode.

There’s time to talk about Khris Middleton’s expiring contract later. Right now, it’s all clicking with the Bucks.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Pat Connaughton, Ersan Ilyasova, Brook Lopez

Indiana Pacers

Similar to their in-division rivals, the Pacers are absolutely in contention for the Central and the Eastern Conference. Despite the injury bug rearing its ugly head, their record stands at 16-10, which is only four games back from the top-seeded Toronto Raptors.

There’s no shortage of talent on this Indiana squad. There’s Victor Oladipo, who, when healthy, is an All-Star playmaker. Bojan Bogdanovic has been an underrated player for the majority of his career. They’ve got a dual Sixth Man of The Year-Most Improved Player candidate in Domantas Sabonis. The team’s defense is as physical and gritty as NBA defenses can be.

In no way, shape or form are the Pacers a “seller” by any means, but they could explore trading Darren Collison. Doing so would allow Tyreke Evans to play more minutes with the second unit, as well as open up some more floor time for Aaron Holiday, the team’s rookie point guard that showed his capabilities in extended run in mid-November.

A lot has been made of the dynamic between Myles Turner and Sabonis and what that future looks like, however, it’s not something to worry about at the moment considering both look extremely comfortable in their roles.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, Kyle O’Quinn

Detroit Pistons

We approach the middling team of the bunch in the Central. While Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin are enjoying career seasons and Dwane Casey is doing a fine job in year one as head coach, the Pistons just can’t seem to get it going on the offensive end as a team.

Detroit’s perimeter defense, and defense, in general, has been solid to this point. Its own three-point shooting has been quite the opposite. We’ve highlighted this before multiple times. It needs to change if this group wants to have a chance to make noise in the division and in the East.

According to a report from the New York Post, the Pistons have shown interest in Knicks guard Damyean Dotson. In his sophomore season, the 24-year-old is taking over four threes per game and knocking down 38.5 percent of them. To put this in perspective, Dotson would already be Detroit’s best three-point shooter the day he walked into the building.

Detroit Free Press writer Vince Ellis confirmed that Dotson is a real option for the Pistons because of his current cheap contract and the fact that his $1.6 million salary for 2019-20 is non-guaranteed until July 15. The only snags in making this happen are Detroit’s reluctance to make a deal to go over the luxury tax and the Knicks trying to avoid added salary.

If Dotson isn’t the player the Pistons go after, they should look elsewhere for help beyond the arc because they need it. Otherwise, the season could get away really fast.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Jose Calderon, Zaza Pachulia, Glenn Robinson III

Cleveland Cavaliers

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s pretty obvious that the Cavaliers are in asset accumulation mode. They just made a trade to absorb two rather heavy contracts in John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova in order to add draft picks.

Henson has a torn ligament in his left wrist and Dellavedova—though highly appreciated in Cleveland for his NBA Finals heroics—has seemingly been injured for the majority of the last two seasons with no real rotation spot since the 2016-17 campaign.

Just one week beforehand, the Cavaliers traded Kyle Korver to the Utah Jazz for Alec Burks and future second-round draft picks. The biggest question mark coming into the season was what would happen with these veteran players leftover from the championship years, and we’re getting the answer to it right now.

Cleveland likely won’t be done there, either. J.R. Smith is away from the organization as both parties agreed to part ways until a deal is found. That could be this year, or it could be in the summertime when Smith’s contract is a desirable asset, as only $3.7 million of his 2019-20 salary is guaranteed until June 30. Everything depends on the offers the team receives.

What to do with Kevin Love is another good question considering the All-Star forward’s injury history and age, but the value in return likely wouldn’t be up to par with what the Cavaliers’ front office would find plausible. Plus, with the emergence of Collin Sexton, the wine and gold would like to see what that pairing looks like together after a year of experience for the rookie.

If you’re a franchise with an undesirable contract on the books, it’d be wise to call Cleveland right away. Just be prepared to give up some draft picks and/or young talent in return.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Channing Frye, David Nwaba, Rodney Hood (can veto trade due to re-signing qualifying offer)

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Jan. 24: Kevin Love

Chicago Bulls

With the reported friction between Bulls players and interim head coach Jim Boylen, trades are not the talk of the town in the Windy City at the moment. Things have gone south in a hurry as the team has submerged to the bottom of the standings once more. With a 6-21 record, it looks as if another year is lost.

It’s especially disappointing since Lauri Markkanen just returned from injury and already made a game-winning shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The good vibes from that night have faded away since, as a 56-point home drubbing to the Boston Celtics occurred this past weekend and sparked debate all over social media regarding who to point the finger at.

Monday, Yahoo Sports published an article stating that Bulls players went to the National Basketball Players Association to express their frustrations with Boylen’s tactics—specifically holding a Sunday practice after a back-to-back.

So that’s where we’re at in Chicago at the moment. As far as trade talk goes, you’d have to think anything could be on the table at this point. One or two moves aren’t going to fix this situation. If anything, it’d be a temporary fix.

The organization could do some favors for its veterans, though.

Robin Lopez’s role has diminished significantly and is in his 10th year as a professional. He has an expiring $14.3 million left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent this coming summer. Justin Holiday is another candidate to be moved when you look at his salary. He’s making $4.38 million and that deal also expires at this season’s end.

The Jabari Parker homecoming has been fine, but nothing spectacular, so there might be some value in trading for him. It’s especially valuable when Parker’s contract includes a team option for $20 million next season, meaning it could basically be treated as an expiring deal—for Chicago or the team he’d hypothetically be moved to.

Whatever this franchise decides to do, some kind of change has to be made if it wants to get better and consistent.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney, Jabari Parker

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Jan. 15: Zach LaVine (can veto trade due to re-signing with Bulls after matching offer sheet. Can’t be traded to Sacramento Kings even with consent until after the 2018-19 league year)

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Jan. 21: Shaquille Harrison

This is only the Central Division. There’s still plenty of time for a makeover for all five of those teams, but just imagine elsewhere around the NBA. Be on the lookout for the rest of our “Buyers or Sellers” division-by-division breakdown series this coming week.

Starting Saturday, it’ll be off to the races. We’d better pay attention.

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NBA Daily: The Trevor Ariza Sweepstakes: Part Deux

With the Trevor Ariza trade rumors heating up, Matt John speculates which teams could finish the three-way deal reportedly being discussed by the Lakers and the Suns.

Matt John

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Previously on Basketball Insiders…

After it was revealed last week that Trevor Ariza would soon be on the trade market following the expiration of his trade restriction on Dec. 15, much was discussed on who his next team could be. Almost one week following Marc Stein’s report, the jury is still out, but we finally got our first trade rumor centered on the veteran swingman.

Last night, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers are trying to orchestrate a three-way trade where they would acquire Ariza by shipping Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a team who could then provide Phoenix with both a young playmaker and a draft asset.

If both sides are able to find that third team to complete the deal, then holy nostalgia! First, we get Kyle Korver going back to the Jazz after eight years, and now we might potentially get Trevor Ariza’s return to the Lakers nearly a decade after he won a championship with them. All we need is for Kendrick Perkins to return to the Celtics, then we’ll party like it’s 2009!

But where will they find that third team? With what they’ve asked in return for Ariza, the Suns should not be optimistic that someone out there will meet their demands. Jimmy Butler didn’t fetch back any first-round picks, and neither did Korver, who are both in similar contract situations as Ariza. Getting a young playmaker and a draft asset for a guy who has disappointed enough to be put on the market the second he’s eligible is going to be difficult.

With what other teams have to offer on paper, it’s not undoable. The Suns may just have to lower their standards on what they hope to get back. The following teams could be the last piece the Lakers and Suns look towards to complete a Trevor Ariza deal.

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers were mentioned in this writer’s piece last week among the teams that could potentially compete for Ariza’s services because they need the wing depth. The Lakers seemingly have the upper-hand in the Ariza sweepstakes, so Philly may have to settle for the next best thing: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Not to fret, though. Shortly after the Jimmy Butler trade was completed, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported that the Sixers had interest in KCP to help fill the shooting void left by Robert Covington and Dario Saric. Caldwell-Pope’s shooting percentages have gone down a little this season, as he’s shot 38 percent from the field including 34 percent from three. Maybe that would change on a team like Philly, where his role would be more clearly defined.

The point of acquiring him would be to add much-needed depth to a struggling bench. According to hoopsstats.com, the Sixers rank no. 22 in bench scoring on average, as they put up 34.3 points a game. KCP’s not a pure scorer, but he’s better than what Philly has in its second unit.

It’s also a good match because Philly has Markelle Fultz to offer as the young playmaker the Suns would want. It’d be perfect because the Suns can be patient with Fultz – which Philly can’t afford at the moment – and trading Fultz $8 million plus for Caldwell-Pope’s expiring deal saves money for the Sixers that they would use to retain Butler and Ben Simmons.

Also, trading the two of them for each other works straight up, which benefits the Sixers because they’d have to add extra contract filler to match with Ariza’s contract. If the Lakers and Suns really wanted to make this trade, then Philly would be the most ideal third team to complete it.

New York Knicks

If the Suns are truly are searching for that young playmaker to put next to Devin Booker, then the one team that has plenty to offer in that department is the New York Knicks.

This past week, Drew Maresca wrote about the influx of young point guards that the Knicks have at their disposal and that changes need to be made because they can’t properly develop all of them. Getting involved in this rumored Trevor Ariza trade could solve the problem.

Between Trey Burke, Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay, someone has to be the odd man out. The Suns inquired about Ntilikina a short time ago, but New York rebuffed them. Since Frank is the youngest and has the most economical contract of the three, he’s the least likely of the three to be traded.

That leaves Burke and Mudiay. Both have done a half-decent job at running the point, as they have put up nearly identical averages in the same number of minutes this season.

Burke: 12 points, three assists, 2.1 rebounds on 42 percent shooting including 36 percent from three on 20.7 minutes a game.

Mudiay: 12.1 points, 2.9 assists, 2.8 rebounds on 45 percent shooting including 37 percent from three on 23.8 minutes a game.

Either one would probably satisfy Phoenix’s demands of a young playmaker since they are both in their twenties. They aren’t a long-term solution, but since either would hypothetically be traded for Trevor Ariza, that’s about as good as they can expect.

New York also has the contract filler to match for Caldwell-Pope. Lance Thomas’ deal is non-guaranteed next year, and Ron Baker is expiring. They could easily make this work.

Caldwell-Pope wouldn’t be playing for a playoff contender in New York, and he can veto any trade he doesn’t like. However, playing for a storied franchise with that much exposure could give his career a boost, especially if he gets more touches as a Knick. If not, then he can just ask for a buyout and join a better team. New York can’t offer the same high potential that Philly can, but they can reasonably meet Phoenix’s demands.

Philadelphia and New York are the two prime candidates to be the last piece in this three-team deal. That being said, there could be others.

Sacramento, who was also brought up in last week’s article, could use more defensive personnel. They could offer Frank Mason III as well as expiring contracts for Caldwell-Pope.

Utah has some expiring contracts, as well as a mysterious young playmaker in Dante Exum, but they’re not likely to offer any of that for Caldwell-Pope.

There is also the outside possibility that Ariza goes somewhere besides Laker Land. We have seen scenarios play out like that before, which is why we as the audience always tune into stories like these.

The Trevor Ariza sweepstakes are getting juicier by the day, which brings nothing but joy to NBA junkies alike. This is probably going to be an impactful transaction in a season that already has a list of them, and we haven’t even hit the two-month mark yet!

Even if Ariza is getting past his prime, and regardless of where he goes, there’s one obvious winner from all of this: the spectators.

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NBA Daily: To Tank Or Not To Tank, That’s The Question In Brooklyn

With their season quickly falling apart, the Brooklyn Nets must decide on the best path forward and commit to it, writes Ben Nadeau.

Ben Nadeau

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The Brooklyn Nets, fresh off three straight seasons of disappointing results, finally looked halfway competent to start the 2018-19 campaign. Fueled by the impending breakout of Caris LeVert, the Nets began the year a very manageable 6-7 — a record that had them in the mix for a postseason berth within a muddied Eastern Conference. With big-time homegrown assets like Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris making strides and youngsters like D’Angelo Russell and Jarrett Allen on the up-and-up, it was officially time to be optimistic, if not downright positive, in Brooklyn once again.

Then disaster struck all at once.

Despite the minor miracle surrounding the brutal, gut-wrenching injury that LeVert suffered on Nov. 12 in Minnesota, his absence has buried the Nets from the inside out. Since then, the Nets have gone 3-10 and now sit only three games back from the ever-so-familiar territory of the conference basement. During this low streak, Brooklyn has blown multiple double-digit leads, gave the win away against Memphis (twice) and suffered a 14-point loss to the dysfunctional Washington Wizards. From playoff contenders to the bottom of the ladder at the snap of a finger, it’s gone from bad to worse very quickly for the Nets.

Well, unless you’ve got your eye on the 2019 NBA Draft, that is.

This is, of course, the first season that the Nets have held their own draft pick since 2013. And, perhaps rightfully so, there are compelling arguments to now release the safety brakes and tank out, especially with LeVert no longer leading the way. Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish represent the crown jewel trio of NBA-ready prospects and adding any of them — let alone the hulking Bol Bol or high-scoring Romeo Langford — would jumpstart the Nets’ rebuild in a way not yet seen. Still, the Nets have said from the start of training camp that they’d try to be competitive because their attempt to develop a winning culture needs, well, wins.

Tired of losing — 69-177 over the last three seasons will do that to a franchise — the Nets have constantly put themselves in a position to win, at least for the first 36 minutes or so. But with so many crucial, organization-altering decisions on the very near horizon, Brooklyn will need to reevaluate their direction if the losses continue to pile up. At what point does incubating culture come at the expense of missing out on an elite prospect? On the other hand, their error-prone defeatism would certainly put a toll on a growing roster, head coach and front office if it continued until April as well.

Aside from outright winning — LeVert’s injury was cruel timing in more ways than one — there appears to be no unanimously great path forward from here.

For example, there’s the internal struggle over Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell. As two of the Nets’ best players, a desire to retain them both is understandable — but unless one is willing to come off the bench for the foreseeable future, it may not be the road the franchise wants to head down. Dinwiddie is eligible for his extension worth $47.5 million on Dec. 8 and the Nets’ biggest success story in Brooklyn remains candid about his desire to either stay or test the free agent market come June. The flipside of this two-headed coin is Russell, a younger, higher-ceiling guard that has struggled to find consistency every night thus far. Russell is the only roster member capable of the 38-point, 8-rebound, 8-assist effort he dropped last month against the Philadelphia 76ers, but also he’s spent many late-game scenarios glued to the bench as well.

Russell, as luck would have it, is a restricted free agent come July and he’ll likely have a long list of suitors himself. If the Nets commit to Dinwiddie, they could end up letting Russell walk for nothing. If the Nets take a wait-and-see approach to Russell, they could obviously lose Dinwiddie and leave that situation empty-handed instead.

(For more on this intriguing dilemma, check out Drew Maresca’s most recent piece here.)

Utilizing them both will have a negative impact on the Nets’ eventual lottery position — unless, naturally, the organization truly believes they can tread water until LeVert’s undetermined return. But the Nets will need to decide if hanging around eighth place is really worth missing out on a blue-chip prospect. Even if Brooklyn won’t commit to one or both (or neither) of their point guards just yet — Dinwiddie is extension-eligible until Jun. 30 — there’s another tweak that could help determine their best-foraged way to the future: The often-maligned youth movement.

There’s a clamor for another youth movement in Brooklyn that grows louder with each defeat, this time for Dzanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs, Theo Pinson and Alan Williams. Frankly, the foursome has been tearing up the G League for the Long Island Nets and the thought-process here is rather simple. Play the prospects and rookies and if they energize an at-times lethargic Nets squad — see Kurucs versus the Knicks — then great. If it doesn’t and the Nets keep falling down the conference ladder, then at least their future assets will have gained valuable experience at the NBA level.

Musa, the No. 29 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, has appeared in just seven games so far, most often as the ceremonial white flag in a loss. On Long Island, Musa has averaged 20 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game — but as he’s stuck behind a veteran-laden backcourt rotation, there may not be a true opportunity here without a trade. For Kurucs, his previous exclusion has been harder to quantify. Kurucs was forced into the rotation after preseason injuries to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll and the 20-year-old Latvian not only held his own, he thrived.

He’s tallied 7.3 points and 3.3 rebounds over 12.3 minutes per game, an athletic forward finding his place through aggressive open court action and a willingness to get dirty. An injury of his own knocked Kurucs back out of the rotation briefly — wherein that time, Hollis-Jefferson and Carroll both returned — but head coach Kenny Atkinson recently admitted that they may need to find more time for him moving forward.

The pair of two-way signees, Wiliams and Pinson, are considerably less urgent since the Nets can shuttle them between teams for up to 45 days before a decision has to be made. In any case, it’s not hard to imagine that both could help the Nets right now if that’s what the team is still aiming for in 2018-19. For argument’s sake, Brooklyn’s front office could be auditioning the likes of Jared Dudley, Kenneth Faried and the aforementioned Carroll — all of whom are expiring contracts — ahead of the trade deadline. Last season, the Nets’ extracted a second-round pick out the Milwaukee Bucks for Tyler Zeller, so that route is sensical, especially for general manager Sean Marks.

However, Faried has barely seen the floor at all, notching only 5.6 minutes over just eight contests so far. As of Friday, the Nets ranked 25th in rebounds per game at 32.7 and Faried, an eight-year veteran, has gobbled up a career average of 8.1 of them along the way but this seemingly perfect union hasn’t come together. Faried would conceivably help the Nets with their rebounding issues and put him front and center for a potential move elsewhere, so its become an overall confusing footnote indeed. Williams, a former NBA center himself, has pulled down 13.9 rebounds in just 25.2 minutes per game for Long Island — he, in all likelihood, is too good for the G League.

Elsewhere, Carroll underwent a career resurgence in Brooklyn in 2017-18 and he’d be worth a valuable return on the trade market if he’s available — but if the Nets still want to reach the postseason, the gritty veteran would almost definitely remain in their plans. Lastly, there’s Hollis-Jefferson, who, like Russell, will venture into restricted free agency this summer too. While the stretchy forward has been solidly part of the Nets’ rebuild, he could be an eventual casualty depending on how the Dinwiddie-Russell conundrum unfolds. Basically, there are difficult puzzles to solve here without any discernable, clear-cut answers.

But when the overarching goal is to compete despite the loss of your best player, the water gets muddied quickly. It’s hard to find time for both the veteran on an expiring contract and the scrappy rookie when those late-game wins turn into shocking losses time and time again.

Stuck between two frames of mind, the franchise has been tossed into a difficult position — to tank or tread water, that is the debate. LeVert’s injury turned a promising season into turmoil, but sooner rather than later, the Nets will need to take stock and determine how to most effectively proceed. Whether that’s the calculating the value of their two electric guards or the puzzling use of those back-of-the-rotation assets, it’ll be a busy winter and spring for the Nets’ front office, full of challenging questions that absolutely require the right answers.

Until then, even if the agonizing defeats continue to rise, the Nets must simply decide what kind of team they want to be.

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