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NBA PM: Trying to Trade Carmelo Anthony

Trading Carmelo Anthony is complicated. Tommy Beer goes in-depth to break down some scenarios.

Tommy Beer

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So, in full disclosure, I have previously avoided dedicating a column to potential Carmelo Anthony trades primarily because Melo had made it crystal clear time and again that he had absolutely no interest in waiving his no-trade clause. Accordingly, it seemed to be a fool’s errand to conjure up hypothetical trades when it appeared there was no way Melo would ever approve any such deal.

Welp, after four straight losing seasons, and the looming likelihood of a fifth, in addition to a terribly fractured relationship with team president Phil Jackson and purported issues in his personal life, it seems we may have finally arrived at a point where Melo would actually prefer to be traded.

Thus, here we are. Now, let’s gets down to business.

From a Knicks perspective, there should be three primary objectives in any trade involving Melo:
* Clear cap space, and/or
* Acquire young, promising players on affordable contracts, and/or
* Obtain draft picks

History tells us it is almost impossible to get equal value in return when trading a star. And while Melo is clearly no longer an elite all-around player, he remains one of the NBA’s most accomplished and skilled scorers. However, Phil likely lost leverage and devalued his asset during his divisive diatribe after the end of the regular season. And, of course, there is the looming no-trade clause, which gives Anthony ultimate power and the final say on any proposed deal.

One other impediment to a deal is the trade kicker in Carmelo’s contract. Before we get to the fun exercise of examining and deliberating potential trades, let’s get some bookkeeping out of the way so we know how much the team that trades for Melo will have to accept in salary.

Back when Melo initially signed his massive, $124 million contract in July of 2014, Phil Jackson not only decided to pay Anthony $25 million more than any other team could offer, Jackson also agreed to include a no-trade clause and a trade kicker (a decision that was derided soon after it was announced).

Melo is owed $26,243,760 million in 2017-18 and has an Early Termination Option for the following season. If he does not exercise that option and opt out, he will be paid $27,928,140 million for the 2018-19 campaign.

Thus, Melo is owed a sum total of $54,171,900 over the next two seasons. Melo’s contract also includes a 15 percent trade kicker. 15 percent of $54.2 million is $8.1 million. If we divide that number by two (the remaining years on Melo’s deal), we get $4.1 million.

$26,243,760 (Melo 2017-18 base salary)
+$4,062,892
= $30,306,652

Thus, when configuring trades involving Melo, we have to use an outgoing salary for Melo of approximately $30.3 million as opposed to just his base salary of $26.2 million.

The bonus money owed to Anthony would be paid by the Knicks but it would go on the acquiring team’s salary cap.

So, because Melo’s outgoing salary would count as $30.3 million with the trade bonus included, the team that acquires Anthony will have to send back $24.2 million (125 percent of Melo’s contract plus $100,000).

Two caveats here: As will be discussed below, if the Knicks wait until after July 1 (the start of the new NBA year) to trade Anthony, then the salaries may not necessarily have to match up evenly. For instance, if a team is $20 million below the cap, they can use that cap space to absorb/offset the difference in outgoing salary. Also, Melo has the option to waive his trade kicker to facilitate a deal, just as Roy Hibbert did when he waived his $2.3 million trade kicker when the Pacers traded him to the Lakers in 2015.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s now talk trades…

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New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for J.J. Redick (via sign-and-trade), Austin Rivers and 2021 first-round draft pick.

Why it makes sense for the Clippers:
It’d be an easy decision for the Clippers. They would avoid overpaying an aging, slowing Redick and bring in a sublime scorer in Anthony, who just so happens to be BFF’s with Chris Paul, the free agent point guard who the Clips badly wants to keep in L.A. Assuming the Clippers re-sign Blake Griffin as well, that gives them an incredibly intriguing Big 4 of CP3, Melo, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Billionaire owner Steve Ballmer has already avowed he is willing to pay a hefty luxury tax bill for a superior product. This would be the best of both worlds for L.A.; they keep their core together but also infuse new life and shake things up with the exciting addition of 10-time All-Star.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
It doesn’t. But before we break down this potential deal, let’s first discuss why a sign-and-trade with Blake Griffin is extremely unlikely. Assuming he opts out of his contract this summer, he can sign a max contract with the Clippers (who own his Bird Rights) for $175.7 million over five years. If he inks a deal with any team other than the Clippers, he can sign for “only” $128.5 million in guaranteed money over four years. When a player agrees to a sign-and-trade, they lose their Bird Rights in the process. Thus, the Knicks would be able to offer a max amount of $128.5 million. It’s extremely difficult to imagine Griffin willfully choosing to sacrifice nearly $45 million in order to leave a team that has won more than 50 games in five straight seasons so he can join a team that has won more than 50 games just once since 1996-97. Moving on…

A deal centered around J.J. Redick would be an awful move for the Knicks. Redick will be 33 years old when he signs his next contract. It’s been rumored Redick will be seeking around $16 to $18 million annually. While he is still an elite shooter, a skill that has increasing value in today’s NBA, Redick is on the downside of his career. Last season, he averaged less than 15.2 points per game and shot below 45 percent from the floor for the first time since 2012-13. In the 2017 postseason, Redick averaged 9.1 points on 38.0 percent shooting. In the two most important games of the Clippers season, Games 6 and 7 vs. Utah, Redick was invisible. He scored a total of seven points on 2-for-9 shooting. As noted above, if/when the Knicks move on from Melo, the team needs to embrace a complete rebuild and focus on the future, i.e. building a young foundation that can grow with and around Porzingis. If the Knicks clog up their cap space going forward by overpaying a defensively deficient guard creeping towards his mid-30’s because he would be a great fit in the Triangle Offense, it would be a major mistake that sets the franchise back years. Furthermore, it would likely force the Knicks subsequently trade Courtney Lee, New York’s current starting shooting guard. While Lee had an up-and-down season in New York, a young 3-and-D wing on an affordable contract is preferable to Redick.

Rivers is a decent player, but obviously not a difference maker. While his 2017-18 salary ($11.9 million) isn’t terrible considering his skill set, he has a player option for 2018-19. Thus, even in the best case scenario of him playing very well and exceeding expectations, the Knicks would be forced to offer him a raise and long-term contract next summer to keep him in New York.

Would Anthony accept a trade to L.A: We have to assume the Clippers would be one of his top choices, if not his preferred destination.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Boston Celtics in exchange for Jae Crowder, Tyler Zeller and Memphis’ 2019 first round draft.

Why it makes sense for the Celtics:
There are a lot of unknown variables that have to play out before Boston considers trading for Carmelo. If the C’s advance past Wizards and put up a strong fight vs. the Cavs in the Conference Finals, they may be unmotivated to make a major move, especially considering they will be adding a top-tier prospect via a top-three pick in the 2017 Draft (courtesy of the Nets). Also, because they will have upwards of $30 million in cap space to spend this summer, Danny Ainge and company will likely target a younger, max-level player. Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately under Brad Stevens at Butler, is presumably the apple of their eye.

But what if the next few weeks and months play out differently? Maybe the Wiz come back and knock off Boston in round two. Or the Cavs crush them in the Conference Finals by shutting down Isaiah Thomas, with Boston unable to produce offense elsewhere. Then, come July, Hayward re-signs with Utah. At that point, maybe Ainge is willing to roll the dice and bring in Anthony. Maybe a hungry, motivated Melo is viewed as the piece of the puzzle that takes Boston over the top.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
It’s a no-brainer for the Knicks. While not nearly as gifted as Melo offensively, Crowder is a terrific defender with an improving offensive game (he shot a career-best 39.8 percent from 3-point territory this past season). Best of all, Crowder is just 26 years old and locked into one of the more attractive contracts in the league, which would clear a ton of cap space for New York. Crowder will make a total of $21.9 million through 2020, or an average of just $7.3 million annually over the next three seasons.

The Celtics are swimming in extra picks. The Knicks would benefit greatly from any additional draft selections they can acquire. The salaries don’t match, but Boston would be able to absorb the excess salary into their cap space. (Safe to assume that Phil Jackson was hoping that Rajon Rondo had not gotten hurt and the Celtics flamed out in round one, as it would have increased the chances Boston would be willing to deal.)

Would Anthony accept a trade to Boston?
The C’s would seem to check a lot of boxes for Melo. Boston is a major market on the east coast and just a few hours north of NYC. And, with a top rookie and Melo added to an already stellar collection of talent, the Celtics would enter next season as a legit contender for the crown.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Toronto for DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Pascal Siakam and Toronto’s 2018 first-round pick

Why it makes sense for the Raptors:
The Raps have a solid nucleus, which has carried them to playoffs in four consecutive seasons. The problem is they have stalled once arriving in the postseason, unable to get past Cleveland, the cream of the crop in the East.

Toronto will almost certainly make every effort to re-sign Kyle Lowry and keep Serge Ibaka in Toronto by inking him to a new deal. Obviously, they are in “win now” mode. Much like the aforementioned Celtics, the Raps might believe they are just a key player away from dethroning the Cavs. A starting five of Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Melo, Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, with Norm Powell and Delon Wright coming off the bench would surely have to excite fans north of the border. Furthermore, they’d rid themselves of Carroll’s onerous contract, which was a rare swing-and-miss by GM Masai Ujiri.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
Carroll’s contract ($14.8 million in 2017-18 and $15.4 million in 2018-19) is certainly not cap-friendly, but it will be off the books in two years. In addition, Carroll is owed far less than Melo and obviously doesn’t have a no-trade clause. A gaggle of smaller pieces will be easier for Phil Jackson to flip in future deals down the road.

Cory Joseph is an above-average backup point guard. He is owed $7.6 million next season and has a $7.9 million player option for 2018-19. He’ll most likely opt out in July of 2018, clearing cap space in the process. Assuming the Knicks draft a point guard with their lottery pick next month, Joseph can serve as a starter for a season and help mentor the Knick neophyte. Siakam was the Raps first round pick in 2016 and showed flashes of promise as a rookie, starting 38 games. If those pieces don’t fit for either side, the Raps have plenty of other attractive assets to dangle in a deal. I’m sure New York would be very interested in adding Delon Wright or Jakob Poeltl as opposed to one of the other principles in the deal.

Would Anthony accept a trade to Toronto?
Toronto is further away from NYC, but much of what was said above about Boston applies to Toronto. If he values winning, Melo has to be at least intrigued by joining a stacked Raptors lineup.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kevin Love and Kay Felder

Why it makes sense for the Cavs:
This is another hypothetical trade dependent upon future events. If the Cavaliers defend their title this season, they would have no reason even to consider breaking up a core coming off back-to-back titles. However, if they were to get knocked off in the NBA Finals, or, especially, if they were tripped up in the East, the Cavs might investigate shaking things up.

One other factor in play here is the fact that both Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade have the opportunity to become free agents this summer. All four friends have been open about their desire to team up and join forces at some point in their careers. While LeBron somehow figuring out a way to make “Team Banana Boat” a reality in Cleveland is extremely unlikely, it’s not impossible to envision him pressuring Cleveland management to trade for his buddy Melo.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
Yes, Kevin Love has some flaws, but he’s also an extremely skilled big man who is five years younger than Anthony. Granted, he’s not an ideal fit alongside Porzingis, but if you’re Phil, you make the trade and figure out how to realign the remaining chess pieces later in the game. Love is not only younger than Melo, but he also has a lower annual salary.

Would Anthony accept a trade to Cleveland?
Melo has nearly every individual accolade a player could hope for. At this stage of his career, considering the toxic work environment in New York and the roster assembled around him, one has to assume he’d now jump at the opportunity to join his friend LeBron and compete for a championship.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Portland Trailblazers in exchange for Maurice Harkless, Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier and Portland’s 2018 first-round pick.

Why it makes sense for the Blazers:
After going on a shopping spree last summer and doling out $350 million in long-term contracts, the Blazers will be bumped up against the cap for the foreseeable future. They will have to wheel and deal if they want to substantially improve their roster, just as they did in acquiring Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first-round pick from the Nuggets in exchange for Mason Plumlee. After stumbling out of the gate last season, Portland made a remarkable run to qualify for the postseason. Nonetheless, they squeaked into the playoffs and were quickly swept by Golden State. Afterward, Dame Lillard, the face of the Blazers franchise, discussed how the organization needs to find a way to compete with the vaunted Warriors. Procuring a talented veteran in Melo would provide an upgrade and allow the Blazers to start three elite scorers (Lillard, Anthony, and rising star C.J. McCollum) and a big man in Nurkic. Basketball Insiders’ own Moke Hamilton broke down this intriguing possibility last month.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
Making the salaries match would be difficult. Inserting Allen Crabbe in place of Harkless would get the job done, but Crabbe is owed $56.3 million over the next three seasons. That would be a tough contract for the Knicks to swallow. Harkless, who was born and raised in Queens, NY, is set to earn just $30.9 million over the next three seasons. Considering both players are comparable, Harkless is the more desirable option. In this scenario, a third team would be needed to absorb some of the excess salary.

Noah Vonleh hasn’t lived up the hype after being selected ninth overall in the 2014 draft. However, he’s still just 21 years old and played the best basketball of his career this past April, averaging 8.7 points (shooting 57.1 percent from the floor) and 9.1 rebounds. Shabazz Napier hasn’t had a chance to play consistently since his rookie season in Miami. The Blazers have a glut of picks they can include to spice up any deal. Portland has three first-round selections in the 2017 draft (15, 20 and 26th overall picks).

Would Anthony accept a trade to Portland?
A couple of factors to consider regarding Melo waiving his no-trade clause. First, he has a player option for the 2018-19 season. Thus, Anthony would only have to option of spending only one year with his new team before opting out and becoming an unrestricted free agent. Secondly, he gets to collect a cool $8 million via the trade bonus if he approves any deal. In Portland, Melo could revive his career playing alongside young, hungry players on a team with a high ceiling.

****

Here are a few more potential (albeit somewhat unlikely) trade scenarios.

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Jordan Clarkson, Corey Brewer and Larry Nance Jr.

If the old management group were still in place (the one that handed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov $136 million last summer in a desperate attempt to become an adequate team), it would be easier to imagine the Lakers trading away a couple of their young pieces to net a notable name such as Carmelo. However, with Rob Pelinka now calling the shots in L.A., it’s safe to assume they would have no interest in renting Melo for a year or two on a team that is nowhere near a title contention. The Knicks could surely pique the Lakers interest by discussing a deal that included the dead-weight contracts of Deng and Mozgov along with young talent, but that would be counter-productive for New York.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Miami HEAT in exchange for Justise Winslow and Josh McRoberts

This would only be possible once the HEAT cleared Chris Bosh’s salary off their books. It also assumes McRoberts exercises his $6 million player option for 2017-18.

Miami was rightfully ecstatic when Winslow fell to them at No. 10 in the 2015 draft. He was immediately viewed as a cornerstone piece for the franchise. However, his first two NBA seasons have not gone according to plan. He appeared in only 18 games during the 2017-18 campaign before a torn labrum in his right shoulder ended his season prematurely. In the 18 contests he played in, Winslow shot 35.6 percent from the floor, 20.0 percent from three-point territory and 61.7 percent from the free throw line. All that said, he is still only 21 years of age and projects as a terrific perimeter defender with a high basketball IQ.

Nevertheless, might Pat Riley be tempted to trade his prized youngster for a player that would be able to provide significant help right away. The HEAT went 30-11 over their final 41 games last season. The Golden State Warriors (33-9) were the only team in the entire league to tally more victories over the second half of the season. The HEAT have to believe they are close to being a real threat in the East. Miami would be able to trot out a starting five that included Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Anthony, and Hassan Whiteside, with Tyler Johnson coming off the bench. The issue for Miami is that they would not only have to part with Winslow, but they’d also have to use most of their coveted cap space to absorb Melo’s contract.

For the Knicks, it’d be a no-brainer. As for Melo, one would think he wouldn’t mind spending a (tax-free) season on South Beach.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony, Joakim Noah and Kyle O’Quinn to the –
Detroit Pistons in exchange for Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

How desperate is Stan Van Gundy shake up things in Motown? Would he be willing to dismantle the roster he built?

Based on preseason predictions/expectations, the Knicks were quite possibly the NBA’s most disappointing team last season. You could make a strong argument that the Pistons were a very close second. After winning 44 games and qualifying for the postseason in 2015-16, Detroit was expected to take that “next step” in their progression this past year. Instead, they took a major step backward. The team appeared to quit down the stretch and failed to make the playoffs. Van Gundy was outwardly optimistic at the end of the year and said all the right things, but he had to have been incredibly frustrated. Playing in the first season of a five-year $130 million contract, Drummond was not nearly as impactful as he should have been. Reggie Jackson, who is owed over $51 million over the next three seasons, fought through knee tendinitis all season. He missed the first 21 and the final nine games of the year. Even when Jackson was active, the team was often better with Ish Smith running the point. Still, there would be little motivation in trading away their flotsam for the Knicks jetsam.

On the flip side of the coin, New York would love to get out from under the Noah contract, but how enthused would they be about trading for Drummond and Jackson, knowing that dynamic duo would account for approximately 40 percent of their cap going forward? More importantly, Melo would likely squash this before it even got serious. Moving on…

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New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Kent Bazemore, Mike Dunleavy, and Malcolm Delaney.

The Hawks are stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference and appear to be trending in the wrong direction. Paul Millsap is a pending free agent. Dwight Howard is unhappy with his role in the offense. The organization consistently has trouble selling tickets. Anthony could be appealing on a number of fronts.

It’s not an overly exciting package from the Knicks perspective, but they do get younger and upgrade defensively. Bazemore struggled to locate his stroke for much of the season but has a relatively high floor due to his solid perimeter defense. Delaney is a backup point guard on a cheap deal. The final year of Dunleavy’s contract is non-guaranteed.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Khris Middleton and Matthew Dellavedova

At first blush, it seems unlikely that Melo would consider moving to Milwaukee; but, upon further inspection, maybe he would entertain the possibility.

The Bucks are a fresh, up-and-coming team that features one of the game brightest young stars in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Anthony also has a good relationship with Bucks coach Jason Kidd. Melo enjoyed his greatest success as a Knick playing alongside Kidd back in 2012-13. And, again, Anthony would pocket millions by agreeing to the trade, and he’d have to spend just one season there if he was unhappy.

Milwaukee would obviously hate to give up Middleton but would be happy to dump Delly’s deal. Dellavedova signed a four-year, $38 million pact last summer but was replaced in the starting lineup by Malcolm Brogdon in late December. Brogdon, who is favored to win the Rookie of the Year award, is clearly the Bucks PG of the future.

The PG-starved Knicks would be more than willing to add Dellavedova if that was the price to pay for acquiring Middleton as well.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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NBA

Cleveland Cavaliers 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Cleveland Cavaliers may not be as different as you think, especially with most of their Finals core returning from last season. They may not be contenders, but the question is can they stay in the playoff hunt while their big contracts age off the books? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Cavaliers in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are no longer the talk of the town in the Eastern Conference. The King has left his post for a venture westward and the organization he was the face of is now on its own.

With a mixture of veterans and inexperience, it’s going to be a roller coaster season for the wine and gold, but they’ll be better prepared this time around for the departure of LeBron James.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Losing LeBron James is a tough blow (obviously) but there are still enough solid players on Cleveland’s roster to compete for a playoff seed this season. The main question is whether Kevin Love can recapture his superstar form from years ago when he was playing in Minnesota. It has been a while since Love was the go-to player on a team, so only time will tell if he is able to lead this team to the playoffs. The Cavaliers will also try to get more production out of players like Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and George Hill. These guys can produce but were inconsistent last season. My focus will be on the play of Collin Sexton, whom the Cavaliers drafted eighth overall in this year’s draft. Sexton has the attitude and talent to be a quality point guard and could be a nice sparkplug for the Cavaliers this season.

4th Place – Central Division

– Jesse Blancarte

It’s hard to pinpoint which direction Cleveland is going. They actually did a pretty solid job this summer outside of losing the best basketball player of this generation. Drafting Collin Sexton, extending Kevin Love and adding under-the-radar players such as Sam Dekker and David Nwaba were sensible decisions. Sad to say, their current roster is now only good enough to be conversation for one of the lower seeds in the east. That may not be the best idea since they owe Atlanta a top-10 protected first-rounder this year. Still, there should be plenty of interesting storylines for them this year, which include how well they perform post-LeBron (again), how good of a coach Tyronn Lue really is, and what they have in Sexton.

4th Place – Central Division

– Matt John

Much more prepared for the second time LeBron James left the franchise, the wine and gold are poised to create a team-first environment with a healthy culture in the building. Kevin Love will have to take the reigns and Rodney Hood will be heavily depended on to put the ball in the basket. Larry Nance Jr. is going to be tasked with protecting the paint. Player development is going to be the sole focus, but winning is an absolute priority for the Cavaliers. Eighth overall pick Collin Sexton will have the chance to showcase his skills right away with plenty of young talent surrounding him. They’re not looking to tank as some speculated they would post-LeBron, so we’ll see if it pays off. Considering the Eastern Conference is wide open, there’s still a chance they could sneak into the playoffs.

3rd Place – Central Division

– Spencer Davies

In their second go-round after losing LeBron James in free agency, there’s definitely hope in Cleveland that things won’t go quite so poorly for the Cavs. Last time, as many will recall, they went from the league’s best record to its worst in just a single season when The King departed. This time? There’s even playoff hope still abound in Cleveland, though whether it’s realistic or not is up for debate. Much of those hopes rest on Kevin Love, who is now armed with a new extension that’ll keep him paid through 2023. Many forget that Love was once a perennial All-Star and considered a borderline top-five player in the NBA in his Minnesota days – does he still have that level of play left in him as the lead dog? The Cavs still have solid shooting in Love, George Hill, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and others, but there are real concerns about whether this roster will have enough playmaking or defense to make any noise. Still, the relative weakness of the East makes a playoff appearance possible.

4th Place – Central Division

– Ben Dowsett

The Cavaliers are going to take a huge step backward, that’s not news or shocking, but to think the Cavs will fall off the map might be misplaced. Kevin Love is an All-Star, and he still has a lot of proven guys around him. The Cavs draft pick, Collin Sexton, should get all the opportunity to be the next guy and has star potential and Ty Lue is a good player-centric coach. The 8th seed isn’t out of the question for the Cavs, and that’s not bad for a team that lost its franchise player for nothing in return.

4th Place – Central Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Kevin Love

The five-time All-Star forward is going to have his hands full. There is no LeBron anymore. There is no Kyrie Irving anymore. Ironically, he is the last man standing out of the former big three and just signed a long-term deal this summer to be “the man” in Cleveland.

For years, basketball fans have been begging to see Love return to the same player as he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves. This season, he has the opportunity to become that dominant force once again. We all know he’s a double-double machine who can stretch the floor and crash the glass, but it’ll be interesting to see whether the Cavaliers establish him on the block more often.

According to NBA.com, on a minimum of three possessions per game, Love had the sixth-lowest frequency, yet scored 0.98 points per possession in post-up situations. Only Karl-Anthony Towns and LaMarcus Aldridge were ranked above him in PPP. Last year’s offense was full of isolation and drive-and-kicks, leaving little opportunity for the 30-year-old big man to work down low.

He’s coming off his best perimeter-shooting season since 2010-11, too. It might take a few games to get re-acquainted to being the go-to guy without LeBron there, but Love will now have the chance to remind everyone that he is one of the most forceful inside-outside threats in the league.

Top Defensive Player: Larry Nance Jr.

The 2017-18 Cavaliers were an abysmal defensive team. Whether it was a veteran-heavy roster failing to get their legs under them, poor effort, flawed schemes or too much miscommunication on switches—it was not pretty.

With that said, there was a small silver lining in that ugliness, and it was Nance Jr. From challenging bigs at the rim to moving his feet and making it tough on guards, he immediately made an impact as a versatile defender when healthy. Per Cleaning The Glass, with Nance Jr. off the court, Cleveland allowed 9.9 points per 100 possessions more. Opponents’ effective field goal percentage also increased by 4.5 percent as well.

Entering his second season with the wine and gold, Nance Jr. is going to play a huge role in forcing turnovers and making it hard on his assignments. The more floor time he receives, the better he will get.

Top Playmaker: Collin Sexton

A label held by LeBron for the past four years will be taken over by a rookie. There is no replacing the best player in the world in any way, shape or form. It’s all about creating a new star, and that’s what the Cavaliers are planning on doing with Sexton.

You will find no shortage of confidence or explosiveness watching the Alabama alum play the game. Not to use NBA Summer League as the best of examples, but just go back and look at his body language during that tournament, especially against Josh Hart and the Los Angeles Lakers. He is a surefire competitor, which is exactly why Cleveland selected him with the eighth overall draft pick.

He’s able to make things happen for both his teammates and himself. Sexton can change speeds quickly and get to the rim with conviction, pass on the drive and kick and get out in transition. Getting used to the speed of the NBA level will take some adjusting, as will playing with new teammates and learning their tendencies, but the man dubbed “Young Bull” is poised to have a breakout debut year.

Top Clutch Player: Kyle Korver

Who takes the big shot at the end? Who gets the big stop? Who makes the game-altering pass? All of these questions were answered with “LeBron” in the snap of a finger before. The question now is who will assume that responsibility.

At the moment, it’s a collective team effort. One night it could be Love, another it could be Sexton. Maybe Rodney Hood even gets the ball from time-to-time in a late-game situation. The point is, we don’t know the answer quite yet.

Purely based on who had the second-highest net rating in clutch situations to LeBron in a minimum of 30 games played in crunch time, Korver gets the nod here. The veteran sharpshooter’s offensive rating and true shooting percentage were both the highest on Cleveland as well. If you get the 37-year-old the ball on the outside, he’ll likely knock down a big bucket.

The Unheralded Player: Cedi Osman

When you look at the Turkish swingman’s statistics from last year, you’ll probably question what the fuss is all about and why he is getting invited to private workouts with the likes of LeBron, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. Here’s why: He has the desire to play the game the right way.

Osman is only 23 years old. He already has the potential to be the perfect glue guy in his second season at the NBA level. Something about his game just provides a spark. It might be the energy he brings to the floor, or maybe it has to do with how aggressive he is on both sides of the boards.

Playing for his country in FIBA, there’s already been an improvement with his jump shot. He’s been drilling threes, specifically on off-the-dribble and pull-up attempts. Remember, he did work with Korver last season often. Maybe the veteran’s pointers will pay off for Osman.

Best New Addition: Collin Sexton

Cleveland desperately needed to add a playmaker to the roster. They severely missed that last year without Kyrie Irving. The 19-year-old rookie is going to have his ups and downs, but more importantly, he’ll be fun to watch develop. Learning under a veteran like George Hill could do him some good, regardless of whether or not the seasoned guard finishes the year out there.

– Spencer Davies

WHO WE LIKE

1. Rodney Hood

It was a difficult second half for Hood last year. Being traded to the Cavaliers at the deadline, some thought he could just fit right in and score 17 points per game as he did with the Utah Jazz. But unfortunately, the league isn’t a 2K simulation where teams can just plug and play with no issues. It took time for him to learn to play off LeBron. His usage was down nearly 10 percent as well. Year two in The Land should allow him to get back to his usual confident self. Tyronn Lue thinks the world of him, so we’ll likely be seeing a lot of trust put into Hood.

2. David Nwaba

On a one-year deal, Nwaba is looking to prove he’s worth a bigger deal in the long term. He’s only going into his third season, but since making waves a couple of years ago in the Lakers’ G-League system and on the big club, he’s been scratching and clawing his way up. He started over 20 of the 70 games he played in for the Chicago Bulls in 2017-18. He’ll likely play a key role in the second unit., but the more playing time he’s gotten, the better the production has been. Nwaba has athleticism through the roof and is already one of the top defenders on the Cavaliers.

3. Channing Frye

Frye is a fan-favorite and an important part of the team culture Cleveland is aiming to instill in the locker room. He’s the perfect person to loosen things up if they get tense, almost like a player-coach type. On the floor, he’s still going to provide valuable production offensively as a knockdown shooter. Off of it, he’ll be a mentor to his younger teammates and a calming presence to the others. That’ll be necessary for an up-and-down season.

4. Tyronn Lue

With no LeBron around, we’re going to really see what Lue is made of. There were plenty of detractors last season due to the rotations he played and the way he managed minutes. Here’s his shot at proving the doubters wrong. Losing the four-time NBA MVP is going to make life harder on everybody in the franchise, but there’s a free range of what to do with this team now. Versatility and youth are available to him now like they never have been before. The pressure has been lifted a bit with the expectations tampered down a bit. It’s time to see if Lue can walk the walk.

– Spencer Davies

STRENGTHS

The Cavaliers finally have a chance to focus on the long-term, while addressing the now. General manager Koby Altman said it himself: This organization is getting back in the player development business. With the moves they made over the offseason, that couldn’t be clearer. Players who haven’t gotten too many opportunities—Sam Dekker, Isaiah Taylor, Kobi Simmons, Nwaba—are going to have a chance to show the coaching staff what they’re made of in training camp. The youth movement started early at the deadline last season with the acquisitions of Jordan Clarkson, Hood and Nance Jr. It’s full speed ahead now.

– Spencer Davies

WEAKNESSES

This team lost its best scorer, its best playmaker, its best clutch option—pretty much all of the above. Filling the void of LeBron is impossible. In one year without him, it’s not going to be pretty at times. Depending on who is starting these games, you’re going to see errors and mistakes you haven’t seen in a while with the Cavaliers. They’ll show flashes of what they can become in due time, but for the most part, there will be plenty of teaching moments. It’s not going to happen overnight. Everybody involved probably knows, but we’ll see what the reaction is once things are set in motion.

– Spencer Davies

THE BURNING QUESTION

What is the plan with these veterans and their contracts?

Cleveland has a tall task ahead of them when it comes to shedding salary. We can start off with the $19 million contract of George Hill, followed by the $14.72 million that J.R. Smith is making this season. Both of these veteran guards do not have guaranteed big money next season, though, if waived in the summer of 2019. Only $1 million of Hill’s deal is guaranteed until July 1 and $3.7 million of Smith’s deal is guaranteed until June 30, respectively. If these two are waived before said dates, a team would not be on the hook for the last season of their contracts (Hill at $18 million, Smith at $15.68 million). Because of that, those two players would likely be easier to move for the Cavaliers than Tristan Thompson, who has two fully guaranteed years left on the deal he signed before the 2015 season.

Considering the shift in direction that the franchise has made, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if at least two of these three were moved in the future. Whether that’s mid-season, at the trade deadline or next offseason, we’ll have to wait and see.

– Spencer Davies

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NBA

NBA Daily: Four Trades For Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler has told the Minnesota Timberwolves he would like to be traded. If the team decides to deal, what might they get back in return?

Drew Maresca

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The Jimmy Butler and Minnesota Timberwolves saga feels as though it’s dragged on forever. In reality, it was only 15 months ago that he was traded to the Timberwolves from the Chicago Bulls for what now seems like a king’s random: Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, with the only other asset going back to Minnesota being the sixteenth overall pick.

Regardless of what was given up for him or how long the relationship lasted, it seems as though the two will part ways sooner than later. After a drawn out and fairly public back-and-forth on social media about when and where the two parties would ultimately meet, Coach and President Tom Thibodeau and Butler finally sat down on Wednesday. It was then that Butler informed the Timberwolves he would like to be traded. So much for a happy ending to the Thibodeau-Butler reunion.

But Butler doesn’t simply want out of Minnesota. He wants to be traded to one of three teams: the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers or the New York Knicks. Reports have read that Butler will only sign an extension with one of his preferred destinations. The subtext of the leak – regardless of who leaked it – indicates that teams beyond those three need not apply. And in fairness to Butler, he recognizes that he is in the prime of his career and prefers to begin establishing himself in a hand-selected location.

Butler is scheduled to make $19,841,627 this season. Below, Basketball Insiders explores the likely trade packages each of the three teams Butler would like to play for might put together, as well as one additional team that may be able to convince Butler to re-sign. Lots of other scenarios exist, including three-team deals and packages in which Minnesota ships out additional players. But we only focused on two-team deals in which Butler is the only player departing the Wolves roster.

Los Angeles Clippers

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Clippers are the preferred destination for Butler. The Clippers have numerous players with the requisite salary to get the deal done, but little in the way of desirable young players to entice the Wolves.

From a salary standpoint, the Timberwolves would likely have their choice of veterans to pry from the Clippers roster. Danilo Gallinari makes more than Butler and his deal stretches another year after 2018-19. Besides, Gallinari’s age and injury history make him an unlikely candidate. Marcin Gortat is on a $13.565 million expiring deal. But unfortunately for the Clippers, Gortat’s value is relatively low. While the Clippers probably prefer to hang onto Avery Bradley to form a tenacious one-two defensive punch, would be the likely starting point considering his value. But Bradley cannot be traded until December 15. If both teams are willing to wait, then Bradley will likely be the main piece for salary purposes. Otherwise, the Clippers may have to part with one or more of Tobias Harris, Wesley Johnson and Patrick Beverley.

But none of the aforementioned veterans would be the centerpiece of the trade. And the Clippers are unable to trade away another of their first round picks before 2022. So the deal is likely to be predicated on the inclusion of either Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Jerome Robinson, both of whom were drafted by the Clippers with back-to-back picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. However, the team should think twice before trading both. Other recent trades involving superstars – Paul George –haven’t returned two lottery picks of late. If possible, the Clippers should be steadfast in insisting that only one be included.

The Wolves will likely prefer Gilgeous-Alexander given the buzz that he created in the summer league. If the Clippers are serious about acquiring Jimmy Butler, they should begin rebuilding around Butler before they miss out on him altogether (see the Lakers’ recent failed-before-it-even-started pursuit of Paul George).

Clippers Get Jimmy Butler

Timberwolves Get Tobias Harris, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jawun Evans

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are one of Jimmy Butler’s (second tier) preferred destinations. On the one hand, the Nets have limited developed talent to pair with Butler in 2018-19. On the other, the Nets open up an enormous amount of cap space next season, allowing them to sign at least two max-level free agents, one of whom could be Butler. If Butler went ahead and included Brooklyn on his list of destinations, then so be it.

Spencer Dinwiddie is an up-and-coming young guard and among the most valuable assets on the Nets roster. Trade discussions would probably begin there. But Dinwiddie only makes $1.6 million this season, the last year on his deal. The recently acquired Kenneth Faried makes a fairly significant $13.7 million and his contract also expires after this season. Throw in a Jarrett Allen for good measure and you’ve got the framework of a deal. In this situation, a protected pick would be needed as well.

Nets Get Jimmy Butler

Timberwolves Get Kenneth Faried, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and the Nets 2019 First Round Pick (top 8 protected)

New York Knicks

The Knicks held their press day on Monday, at which time team President Steve Mills professed the team’s strategy of avoiding sending out assets for players that are free agents-to-be. If this is actually true, the team will have a hard time blowing the Timberwolves away with an offer.

But the team can still put forth a respectable package, which would begin with a young guard named Frank Ntilikina. Ntilikina is an incredible defender who can be the lead guard or play off the ball. He is a 6-foot-6 20 year old with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. Ntilikina is alluring to almost any front office in the league.

Beyond Ntilikina, the Knicks actually have a talented veteran who can fill most of the salary requirements – Courtney Lee. Lee is slightly older than Butler, but can bridge the gap until Ntilikina is ready to take on a bigger role along side Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.

The Timberwolves would probably prefer to net more than just one solid prospect in a deal for Butler, but Butler put them in a precarious situation when he gave them a wish list of preferred destinations. The Knicks would be wise to offer this and no more.

Knicks get Jimmy Butler

Timberwolves get Courtney Lee, Frank Ntilikina, Trey Burke and Damyean Dotson

Boston Celtics

Lots of teams will throw their respective hats in the ring on Jimmy Butler. On paper, the Celtics make the most sense given their abundance of young talent and accrued draft picks. And let’s not forget that earlier this summer, rumors began to spread about Kyrie Irving’s desire to team up with Butler.

The Celtics have enough draft assets to swing a deal in which they give up limited players, instead leveraging their future draft picks. Remember, the Celtics not only own their own picks, the team also possesses the Sacramento Kings’ 2019 first-round pick (top-one protected) and the Memphis Grizzlies’ 2019 first-round pick (top-eight protected).

But is that the right answer? After all, the Celtics already have a mini-logjam at the wing between Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart. But maybe, instead of parting ways with future assets, the Celtics secure Butler and shorten up their rotation, which could potentially disrupt the team’s success into the playoffs with the entire roster entering the season seemingly healthy. Disclaimer — the Celtics would likely seek assurances from Butler that he would be open to re-signing before trading away a young star like Jaylen Brown.

Celtics get Jimmy Butler

Timberwolves get Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart

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NBA

Portland Trail Blazers 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Portland Trail Blazers could end up almost anywhere in the West – their outlook is that unclear. If they can’t be elite, could this be the end of the road for this roster? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Trail Blazers in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

Basketball Insiders

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The Portland Trail Blazers surprised many last season when they ended up with the third best record in the Western Conference behind only the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately for them, they ran into a New Orleans Pelicans team that was probably a bit better than their record and sixth place finish indicated.

Despite that, the Blazers should feel good about themselves. They’ve got an All-Star backcourt with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Sure they may not be on the same level as the Rockets or Warriors, but after that, the West is seemingly wide open. And with a little luck, maybe an injury here or there, anything can happen once the postseason rolls around.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

The Portland Trail Blazers are a really good team. But being really good in the Western Conference just doesn’t get you very far, unfortunately. Like the Utah Jazz, Portland is a dangerous team that could beat just about anyone on any given night. But I don’t see this year’s team being able to push the elite Western Conference teams in a seven-game playoff series. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are explosive and continue to improve. The Blazers’ role players, like Al-Farouq Aminu and Jusuf Nurkic, are solid. The team even has some interesting prospects, such as Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons. Having said that, I think the front office needs to try and make an honest assessment about this team’s ceiling and decide whether it’s time to be aggressive and start making some serious changes to the roster. It’s odd saying that since this is a really good team. However, the goal for Portland is a championship, but I just don’t see this roster having a real shot at that.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

The Blazers won 49 games last year and return a very similar roster, yet many are picking them to finish outside the playoff picture in the West – and it’s not that crazy to imagine. The conference is just that tough. Last year’s team was pretty similar to the year before: They had one remarkable run in the mid-spring period (a 13-game winning streak from just before the All-Star break through the middle of March), then were roughly .500 the rest of the year. They’re always a threat to explode offensively with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in the backcourt, but it seems pretty clear this group has a limited ceiling that falls well below championship level. It’s also one Portland has a lot of money committed to even beyond this season. Is this the year the Blazers seriously consider making some big moves and resetting things if they aren’t in the hunt among legitimate contenders?

5th Place – Northwest Division

– Ben Dowsett

The Blazers have to do something. They may have a fine roster. They may have some excellent players. They may be well-coached. Unfortunately, they just don’t have enough. After suffering that embarrassing postseason defeat, the Blazers didn’t really do anything to improve their team. They are capable of making the playoffs and maybe could win a playoff round if everything goes their way. However, that’s as high at their ceiling gets and that’s if everything goes their way. Seriously, does anyone think they can actually compete with the Warriors or the Rockets? Are they even better than the new-look Lakers? If they don’t change things for the better, then the Blazers may approach the dreaded “treadmill team” label.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Matt John

It was a quiet offseason for the Blazers, who are coming off a solid season that abruptly ended in the playoffs against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. The tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is still one of the best one-two punches in the league today. Jusuf Nurkic is continuing to grow and build chemistry with his teammates going into year three with Portland. The loss of Ed Davis will impact the bench unit, but Zach Collins will have an opportunity to expand his role. Guys like Wade Baldwin and Jake Layman could see more floor time as well. While there won’t be a regression, Terry Stotts and company will need to fight tooth and nail in a tough Northwest Division to secure a postseason berth in the Western Conference.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Spencer Davies

This has to be the year, right? It has to be the year the Blazers break through and become an elite team or management and ownership has to break it up, right? The Blazers have two elite level guards and a gob of money tied up into the rest of the roster. They have a good but not great head coach, so it either has to click and start to happen or leadership has to make bold changes. Let’s be real, the Blazers have tried to be aggressive, not only in trades but in free agency, so this team isn’t a product of sitting on their hands. But as West has gotten tougher and more developed, the Blazers haven’t necessarily kept up, so it has to happen now and there is a sense the Blazers get that. On paper, this arguably should be the best team in the Northwest Division, it’s just not assured they will be.

1st Place – Northwest Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Damian Lillard

To this point, Damian Lillard has blossomed into arguably a top-ten player in the league. He can score from anywhere on the floor. He’s got unlimited range and is very difficult to stop when he’s attacking the rim. Last season, he averaged 7.4 free throw attempts per game which he converted at a 91.6 percent clip, both career-highs.

The 26.9 points per game on 43.9 percent shooting were both the second-highest marks of his career. At 28 years old, Lillard is right in the prime of his career and a true star. He’s capable of exploding and having a huge scoring game on any given night. Many other teams in the NBA would love to have a player of that caliber. As long as Lillard is in Portland and producing at this level, the Blazers should remain competitive.

Top Defensive Player: Al-Farouq Aminu

Al-Farouq Aminu has quietly become the best defensive player on the Blazers roster. He’s a long and athletic wing who can slide between forward positions defensively as well as take on the challenge of staying with some guards. Aminu was a big part of Portland’s strong defense last season. He’s good at transition defense, and he’s good at recovering and helping out when the guards get beat off the dribble. As the season went on, Portland had one of the better defenses in the league and Aminu was a major part of that.

Top Playmaker: Damian Lillard

There isn’t much that Lillard can’t do on the court, and as it stands, he’s their best when it comes to running the offense. As explosive as he is at scoring the basketball, he can be just as deadly carving up a defense and creating opportunities for his teammates.

The 6.6 assists per game that Lillard dished out last season were the second-highest in his career. This was with not having too many offensive options to work with outside of McCollum. The Blazers were last in the NBA in assists per game, largely due to that fact, but Lillard made do with what he was given. He still managed to turn other guys into offensive threats. The Blazers are going to need much more of that this upcoming season.

Top Clutch Player: Damian Lillard

With the game on the line and a big shot needed, one could argue that you’d be comfortable with the ball in McCollum’s hands. He can create his own offense and is also a dead-eye shooter from anywhere on the floor. But overall, when a big play is needed for the Blazers, you’d still want the ball to be in the hands of Lillard.

Lillard’s ability to score is unparalleled on the team. He’s more adept than McCollum at getting to the rim in crunch time situations and thus, able to get a better look at the basket or draw contact and get a couple freebies. And when he inevitably draws the defense, his playmaking enables him to set someone else up for a big play.

The Unheralded Player: Al Farouq-Aminu

Al-Farouq Aminu may have emerged as the Blazers best defensive player, but he also might have just become their third best player behind Lillard and McCollum. He doesn’t draw much media and national attention, but he contributes in many different ways that help the Blazers win games.

Since entering the league, he’s improved his offense tremendously. He was always a solid defender, but his offense, in particular his shooting, was a weakness of his. This past season, he knocked down a career-high 36.9 percent of his attempts from three-point range. He also took a career-high 4.9 attempts per game. He’s their perfect 3&D guy. He’s also one of the best rebounders on the team, especially on the defensive glass. He can guard multiple positions. For the Blazers to continue to take leaps in the West, they’ll most certainly need Aminu.

Best New Addition: Seth Curry

The Blazers had a couple of weaknesses last season, bench depth and outside shooting. They’re hoping that Seth Curry can address both of those issues. Sure he owns the distinction of being Steph Curry’s brother, but he’s become a solid NBA player in his own right. He missed all of last season due to injury, but if he’s healthy, he’ll provide Portland with exactly what they need.

During the 2016-17 season, the last in which Curry played, he averaged a career-high 12.8 points per game on 48.1 percent shooting from the field and 42.5 percent shooting from the three-point line. The Blazers guard off the bench role was filled by Shabazz Napier last season. Napier did an admirable job but he’s now off to Brooklyn. Curry can help fill that void with a capable ball-handler off the bench. He may even see time in the lineup with either one or both of Lillard and McCollum.

– David Yapkowitz

WHO WE LIKE

1. Zach Collins

Portland’s lottery pick from a year ago, Zach Collins was thrown into the lineup as the season went on, and he showed vast improvements. He and Ed Davis became an effective big man tandem off the bench. He’s got range out to the three-point line and he is an effective defensive player. It got to the point where he was sometimes finishing games over starting center Jusuf Nurkic. He allowed Portland to feel comfortable letting Davis walk and allowing Collins to be the primary big man off the bench.

2. Anfernee Simons

It’s tough to envision Anfernee Simons getting minutes right away this season, but there’s no denying the oozing potential he has. For a playoff contender like the Blazers, a draft pick like Simons is a huge gamble. Portland has major playoff aspirations and someone like Simons isn’t going to be ready to contribute now. But his long-term outlook is what intrigues Portland. He is very gifted athletically and he’s already a good shooter. In Summer League, he showed off an ability to create his own shot. If his development goes well, Portland could end up with one of the best players of the 2018 draft.

3. Gary Trent Jr.

His fellow rookie Anfernee Simons might not be able to contribute right away, but Gary Trent Jr is a little more NBA ready. For a team that often lacked bench production, Trent can definitely help in that regard, even as a rookie. Physically, Trent is better adapted to the NBA grind than the slight Simons. He also gives the Blazers some much-needed perimeter shooting. In a recent survey of NBA rookies, Trent was voted by his peers as one of this rookie classes best shooters and most likely to be a draft steal. If he can come in and contribute, the Blazers bench might be very much improved.

4. Caleb Swanigan

A year ago, Caleb Swanigan had a very impressive summer league. He played sparingly for the Blazers this past season, but due to some roster departures, he’s going to be counted on to provide production off the bench. He’s a decent passer for a big man and he can score in the paint. He’s more of a traditional big man, which seem to be a dying breed in today’s NBA, but perhaps with his passing, he can make an impact on the court. With Davis gone, the other bigs on the bench such as Collins, Jake Layman and Myers Leonard, are all better suited to the changing game. But this is going to be an important training camp for Swanigan to prove that he should get a chance to help the team.

– David Yapkowitz

STRENGTHS

Defense. The Blazers turned into one of the better defensive teams in the league last season. Sure neither Lillard nor McCollum would be confused for All-Defensive players, but even that didn’t matter too much. Jusuf Nurkic is a decent shot blocker, and Collins showed great defensive potential. Aminu is an incredibly underrated defender. And then there’s the enigma known as Moe Harkless. He can either be very good, or non-existent. He’s got the tools to be a superb wing defender. If they want to continue their ascent in the West, they’re going to need to continue to be a good defensive team.

– David Yapkowitz

WEAKNESSES

Outside shooting and reliable bench production were two of the Blazers main weaknesses last season. Three of their main contributors from last season’s second unit, Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton and Ed Davis all signed elsewhere. They’re hoping that a few new roster additions, as well as some internal development, can help alleviate that. Based on the development he showed throughout the season, Collins appears ready to take another step forward. Trent and Curry will help with outside shooting. They’re going to need a couple of these guys to really step up and contribute if they hope to keep afloat in the West.

– David Yapkowitz

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can the Blazers continue to take a step forward and become an elite Western Conference team?

Sure the Blazers grabbed a top-four seed in the West last season, but they might be skirting around dangerous territory. Looking at their roster, they might be floating around the NBA’s dreaded no man’s land. That is, a team not bad enough to benefit from a lottery pick in the draft, but not good enough to make any serious noise in the playoffs. They’ve got an All-Star backcourt, and that definitely counts for something. But after that, it can get a bit murky. Their depth isn’t on par with some of the other elite West teams. They’ve got some guys capable of filling those roles, but it’s still a question mark. They’re probably good enough to keep their hold on a playoff spot, but it most likely will be a lower one than where they finished last season.

– David Yapkowitz

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