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NBA PM: Time for a Trade in Orlando?

Is it time for the Orlando Magic to make a trade? Cody Taylor looks at where each player stands.

Cody Taylor

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For the first month of the season, the Orlando Magic had been rolling through their schedule. The team had jumped out to a 19-13 start and were sitting fourth in the standings in the Eastern Conference following their 100-93 win over the Brooklyn Nets on December 30.

Fast forward three weeks later, and the story has been the complete opposite. Through nine games in January, the Magic are 1-8 and they are coming off of last night’s embarrassing home loss to the last-placed Philadelphia 76ers.

For one reason or another, the team just hasn’t performed as well as they previously were. After experiencing several high points thus far this season, last night was by far rock bottom for a team that has playoff aspirations. It’s a reality check that the team may not be as close to competing as initially thought.

With the trade deadline exactly four weeks away, one question should be asked regarding the Magic: is it time for a change?

From now until the February 18 deadline, trade rumors will be surfacing quite a bit. By this point in the season, we know which teams will be buying and we know which teams will be selling.

So, where does Orlando stand? Following that loss to the Sixers, the team is 20-21 and just one game back of eighth place in the East. By no means is the team eliminated from the playoff race. One win could be what’s needed to get the team back on track.

Equally, the season could begin to spiral out of control soon. Among Orlando’s games left before the All-Star break are contests against San Antonio (twice), Atlanta (twice), Boston (twice), Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers.

With the trade deadline looming, here is where each player on the team stands. It should be noted that these updates are merely opinion-based after being around the team for the majority of the season.

Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris

Both players entered the 2015-16 season in the first year of their respective long-term deals. Vucevic’s deal will pay him $48 million over four years, while Harris will earn $64 million over the next four years. Because the team just committed to these players and both guys are now getting paid a higher salary, it seems unlikely either player would be moved before the upcoming trade deadline.

While both players are a significant part of the team’s younger core, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan has said in the past that no player on the team is untouchable. However, in the case of Vucevic and Harris, it would likely take a huge offer for the team to move either of them.

Elfrid Payton

Payton could be as close to untouchable as it gets on the Magic. It would take a huge deal in order to pry Payton away, and is there a team out there that wants him that bad? Likely not.

Payton has become one of the most valuable players to the Magic this season. He’s proven this season to be just as valuable on the defensive end as he is on the offensive end. He recently missed four games earlier this month with a couple of sprained ankles, and the team went just 1-3 in his absence. Payton has the tools to become a special player in the NBA, and figures to be a huge part of the Magic’s future.

Evan Fournier

It seems as though there could be a point within the next year or so that the Magic will have to decide if they want to keep both Fournier and Victor Oladipo. Both players are shooting guards and both will be seeking long-term deals. Fournier will be a restricted free agent this summer, while Oladipo will be a restricted free agent the following summer.

As far as Fournier goes this year, it’s possible that a team would trade for him in order to have him as a restricted free agent under their watch this summer. That’s what the Phoenix Suns did last year by acquiring Brandon Knight and re-signing him over the summer when he was restricted. It’s also possible that any team overly intrigued in Fournier could just make him an offer this summer if they feel the Magic won’t want to match it. It remains to be seen if Fournier will stay with Orlando long-term, as he could be moved or he could be out of Orlando’s price range this summer.

Victor Oladipo

Oladipo’s trade value likely is as low as it’s ever been. A knee sprain has kept him out of the Magic’s past two games, and he has been listed as questionable for tomorrow’s game against the Charlotte Hornets. Outside of the injury, Oladipo has had an up-and-down season to this point. He began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bench at the end of November and has remained there for the most part.

He started five games prior to suffering the knee injury in place of Elfrid Payton, and was playing some of his best basketball of the season. But, even with his improved play as a starter during that five-game stretch, the team posted just a 1-4 record. The Magic are 13-7 this season when Oladipo comes off of the bench, compared to just 6-11 when he starts. He’s currently posting career-lows in points (13.5), assists (4.0), steals (1.3) and field goal percentage (40.5 percent). Given his injury and inconsistent season, Oladipo likely isn’t going anywhere.

Aaron Gordon

This seems to be the part of the roster where anything could happen. Gordon played just 47 games during his rookie season after suffering a broken foot. He’s almost eclipsed that mark this year, and has made some improvements. Gordon can be a change-of-pace player that can come into games and give the Magic a spark when needed.

It’s clear that he still has work to put in and is a work in progress. The Magic just used a very high draft pick on Gordon last year so they clearly value him. However, if the right deal came along, it’s possible Gordon could be had. He could be an attractive piece in a package deal that could land a notable player in Orlando. He was the team’s fourth overall pick in 2014, so it would still take a lot for the Magic to part ways with Gordon.

Andrew Nicholson

Nicholson’s time with the Magic has been spotty. During his first two years with the team, he played in nearly every game; last season, he played in just 40 games. He saw a bigger role under head coach Scott Skiles last month, but now appears to be out of the rotation again. Nicholson doesn’t figure to be a part of the Magic’s long-term plans, and is likely being shopped.

He can be a restricted free agent this summer if the Magic make him a qualifying offer. Once they make him that offer, he counts against the team’s cap space, so they may not opt to do that since he doesn’t appear to be a part of their future plans. Nicholson has shown some flashes this season that he can still be a viable option off of the bench. So, if the Magic can flip him to a team in need of bench depth for a draft pick or contributor, they likely take that deal.

Channing Frye

Frye has been frequently mentioned as one Magic player that could be had. Entering the season, his price tag was reported to be fairly low. But, when the team made the move to bring Oladipo off of the bench, Frye became a starter. And he was a viable starter for the Magic. He provided the team with floor spacing, which opened things up for other players. During the month of December, Frye shot 47 percent from three-point range.

January has been a different story. In nine games this month, Frye has shot just 16 percent from three. Since his struggles, the trade talks could intensify with the trade deadline just a month away. Frye is owed just under $16 million over the next two years, so the Magic could look to dump his contract in order to spend it on younger players. Equally, Frye’s $8 million salary could look good for a team in need of another scoring option for a playoff run.

Jason Smith

Smith has been very solid this season for the Magic. He’s given the team productive minutes off of the bench. He’s known to be a grit-and-grind type of player and has played extremely hard this season. He signed over the summer on a one-year deal worth $4.3 million deal and could be an attractive option to a contender looking for frontcourt depth or to a team looking to shed some cap space this summer. Given that Smith has been one of the team’s better bench options, it would seem likely that it would take an attractive deal for the team to trade him.

C.J. Watson

One of the biggest offseason signings for the Magic was Watson. They valued his veteran leadership in that backup point guard spot behind Payton and thought he could help the team. The team tried to sign and trade for Watson prior to this season, but were unable to strike a deal. The two finally came together over the summer, signing a three-year deal worth $15 million. He’s a guy that they like and want to be a part of the team.

A calf injury has limited Watson this season to just eight games played, and his return to the floor is not yet known. He was said to be improving, but recently suffered a setback. Given his uncertainty with the injury, Watson has no trade value for the Magic. It was likely that he may not have been a trade option if we has healthy.

Mario Hezonja

The injuries to Payton and Oladipo opened up some playing time for Hezonja recently. He had played under 13 minutes per game through the end of December, but is now averaging about 18 minutes per game in January. He was the team’s fifth overall pick in last year’s draft and remains a work in progress.

He’s shown flashes thus far of the type of player that he can be. He can shoot and drive the hole, but his defense and decision-making needs further work. It’s seem highly unlikely Hezonja is traded as the Magic knew he would be a player that would need time to develop when they drafted him.

Shabazz Napier

Napier was acquired over the offseason in a cost-cutting move by the Miami HEAT. The terms of the deal included the Magic sending Miami a second-round pick, but it’s highly protected and will likely never have to be surrendered. So, the Magic acquired Napier for basically nothing. The team exercised its option on Napier, keeping him under contract through next season.

The Magic have been looking for a backup point guard given the injury to Watson, and so far they haven’t had any luck finding that player. Napier had a role with the team in November, but has since fallen out of the rotation. He could be a player to keep an eye on that gets packaged in a bigger deal.

Dewayne Dedmon and Devyn Marble

Each of these players don’t figure to be a part of the team’s future. Dedmon and Marble are guaranteed through this season. Dedmon can be a restricted free agent this summer, while Marble’s deal for next season is non-guaranteed. They could be used as filler pieces as well. It’s worth noting that recent 10-day signee Keith Appling cannot be traded.

*****

It’s clear that the Magic are still an elite player away from seriously competing. It would take a large package of players and likely picks for Orlando to land that kind of player. Free agency could be the best bet for the team to bring in a star player, and perhaps the team would want to trade away some unnecessary contracts to make that happen.

As things stand today, they’re looking at about $30 million in cap space, figuring in a projected $90 million cap next season. That number could change depending on how they handle their upcoming free agents (Fournier, Nicholson, Smith, Dedmon). The team will need to shed some salary in order to bring in a max-level player, so they could be active in the coming weeks.

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

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

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

Moke Hamilton

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

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

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

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So is Porzingis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

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

David Yapkowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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