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NBA PM: Who Most Needs A Trade?

We asked three of our Basketball Insiders to identify some players that really could use a trade.

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Who Most Needs A Trade?

In what is a weekly Thursday feature, we ask three of our Basketball Insiders to weigh in on common question. This week we asked “Who Most Needs A Trade?”

Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony has had a rough year. Not only did his boss openly make it known in the most brutal media market in professional sports that he no longer wanted Anthony on the Knicks, he also experienced minimal professional success from a team standpoint and saw embarrassing details of his marital struggles broadcast to the entire world. Any human being with the power to choose their place of employment would have long ago bolted for greener pastures, or even just an equally green pasture, if only for a fresh start.

That, of course, hasn’t happened just yet. Anthony could accept a trade to Portland if he wanted change just for the sake of change, but so far he hasn’t waived his no-trade clause to play with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, despite their overtures. He reportedly would waive it for Chris Paul and James Harden in Houston, however, forcing a trade with the just the one team is rather limiting, so thus far it simply hasn’t happened.

For now, Anthony is stuck where he is, playing for a team that hasn’t made the postseason since Marvin Bagley III was an 8th grader. In the past four years, New York never has won more than 37 games and has used their futility to draft Anthony’s heir as franchise cornerstone in Kristaps Porzingis. More recently, they have shown how serious they were about building something around Porzingis and Anthony by passing on Dennis Smith, Jr. in the most recent draft and paying Joakim Noah and Tim Hardaway, Jr. a combined $143 million.

It looks like the Knicks are going to move toward youth for yet another rebuild, and at 33 years old Anthony does not fit into that. If there wasn’t a no-trade clause, he would likely already be gone, but with only Houston as a trade partner he is stuck on a team where he serves no real purpose. Rather, it’s as if he’s serving time.

Anthony still can score 20+ points per game and would be a really fun fit with the Rockets, knocking down threes and spreading out what already should be an insanely entertaining offense, but he’s not a Houston Rocket yet. Rather, he’s rotting in the center of the Big Apple. His stubbornness will keep him there for now, but he hasn’t fit with the Knicks for years. Nobody’s more overdue for a change of scenery than him.

– Joel Brigham

Jahlil Okafor

Few feelings can top the feeling a young player has when they are drafted to their first NBA home. At the time, waves of happiness are followed by waves of excitement for accomplishing what would look to be a lifelong goal of playing in their sport’s highest league.

But for some, that honeymoon feeling can come to an abrupt end and the search for greener pastures replaces the once-new feelings of excitement.

For Jahlil Okafor, the latter has become the present.

Just two years ago, Okafor was selected third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Draft only a few months after winning a national championship with Duke during his lone collegiate season.

Okafor’s start with the Sixers was immediately met with turmoil. During his introductory press conference, a chopped video hit Twitter and displayed what had looked like a displeased Okafor dropping his new Sixers jersey on the table with no love. More or less just a result of good editing, it still left a bad taste in the mouths of Philly fans to start the big man’s stay in his new city.

While on the court during his rookie year, Okafor did his best to shine. Throughout the 53 games Okafor played during his first season, he averaged 17.5 points, seven rebounds, and shot over 50 percent from the field per game. Poor defense aside, Okafor was the first real scoring threat Philadelphia possessed since Allen Iverson was on the court.

Since then, however, things haven’t been so sunny in Philadelphia for the Chicago native.

As he enters his third season, Okafor finds himself sitting behind Joel Embiid — the franchise cornerstone — and his lack of versatility athletically limits his ability to the play power forward role (which is crowded in its own right between Dario Saric and potentially Ben Simmons).

Along with the fact that his place in the rotation in question, Okafor’s name has been involved in trade talks for nearly a year. During last season’s trade deadline, Okafor was informed by the team that they were looking for suitable trade partners. The process got so far along that Okafor even left the club during a road trip. The trade deadline ultimately saw Philadelphia move Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks, leaving Okafor stuck with the Sixers for the duration.

Although the Sixers have looked to move Okafor in the past, and will presumably keep their eyes open for any deals in the future, there has been talk of optimism around the team in regards to seeing what Okafor can do on the court when surrounded by actual playmakers like Simmons and 2017 first overall pick, Markelle Fultz.

Regardless of what impact Okafor may have with elevated talent around him, the traditional back-to-the-basket center doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of a Sixers team that will look to push the pace next season. Okafor’s ball stopping offensive game and defensive limitations make him a forced fit at best with Philadelphia’s current roster construct.

The writing’s on the wall for Okafor in Philadelphia, and while his future with the Sixers seems bleak he still does possess some attractive qualities to his game; most notably his ability to score at will in the post.

At this point, Okafor would best be suited in another uniform with a fresh start. Hopefully there he can restart his still very young NBA career.

– Dennis Chambers

Eric Bledsoe

The Phoenix Suns have a plan in place for their future.

Guys like Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss and first-round draft pick Josh Jackson are set to lead basketball in the desert into a new era. With the organization honing in on young talent to develop during its rebuild, it’s obvious Eric Bledsoe shouldn’t be a part of it anymore.

For the past couple of years, mostly last, Bledsoe’s name was brought up as a potential trade chip with the Suns nowhere near the playoff picture. As it stands today, he’s been rumored as a major piece the Cleveland Cavaliers would like in return for Kyrie Irving if a deal were to be worked out.

The interest is high, as it should be. Entering his eighth season as a pro, Bledsoe has proven to be one of the most dynamic point guards in the NBA. It hasn’t quite resulted in an All-Star appearance for him yet, but the production is clearly there.

In the past four seasons combined, Bledsoe has averaged over 18 points, six assists and four rebounds on over 44 percent from the field. He’s one of five players in the league to have done so and is among elite company—Stephen Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul and LeBron James to be specific.

Of course, the knock on the 27-year-old is trouble staying on the floor, which could definitely affect his value as a core piece of a move. He’s dealt with knee injuries multiple times and missed a month of action last year because of soreness there. The concern is very real regarding if he’ll be able to handle the rigors of a full season consistently.

With that being said, if Bledsoe is attacking with the same aggressiveness as he was pre-surgery and putting forth those kinds of numbers while hurt, imagine what can he do with no restrictions? That’s where the intrigue remains. He’s got a 6-1, 205-pound frame, but plays like he’s seven inches taller and 35 pounds heavier.

The fearless attitude is what makes Bledsoe, Bledsoe. His all-around game is spectacular. That’s why Phoenix paid him a $70 million contract over five years in 2014. He was supposed to pair up with Brandon Knight and create a foundation for seasons to come, but that ship sailed two seasons ago. There’s just a new direction altogether.

Coming into the 2017-18 campaign, Bledsoe is about to hit the prime of his career. For both parties, it’d be mutually beneficial to go separate ways. On one hand, the Suns could finally hand the reigns over to the next faces of their franchise and see what they can really do when given a better opportunity.

On the other, Bledsoe could go to a contending spotlight and show what he’s really made of on a bigger, brighter stage.

– Spencer Davies

Every Thursday we’ll ask three of our guys to chime in on a common subject. If there is something you would like to see us address, drop it to us on Twitter at @BBallInsiders using the hashtag #ConversationThursday.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA AM: Paul Millsap’s Injury Derails Denver

With Paul Millsap injured, the Nuggets hopes to become a contender take a hit.

Lang Greene

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After missing the playoffs for the past four seasons, the Denver Nuggets are a team on the rise. The team won 30 games in 2015, 33 in 2016, 40 in 2017 and are currently on pace to record 48 victories this season, which would be their most since 2013.

The squad features six players averaging more than 10 points per contest, not including two veterans in Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler, both of whom are career double-digit scorers. The Nuggets also boast one of the youngest teams in the league with only three players over the age of 30 (Paul Millsap, Chandler and Richard Jefferson).

But the team was dealt a huge blow this week when it was learned that four-time All-Star forward Paul Millsap will be out the next three to four months after suffering a torn ligament in his wrist.

Millsap was extremely durable during his first 11 seasons in the league, missing 10 games just once (2017). This injury marks the first time in Millsap’s career where he will miss significant time while roaming the sideline in designer suits.

Millsap signed a three-year, $90 million deal this past summer and his acquisition was viewed as the next step in bringing the team back into the realm of the playoffs.

After an early season adjustment period, Denver (10-7) has rattled off seven victories in their last 10 games. For the team, Millsap’s injury news couldn’t have come at a worst time.  The veteran was averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds through 16 contests. The points are his lowest since 2013 and the rebounding output is his lowest since 2010, but Millsap’s presence has helped stabilize the young Nuggets on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

The Nuggets do have a plethora of power forwards on the depth chart. Veteran Kenneth Faried has started 366 contests for the franchise since being drafted in 2011. Faried’s future with the franchise has come into question in recent years as his playing time and role in the rotation has consistently diminished. The signing of Millsap likely solidified that fate, however, by not dealing Faried, the Nuggets were able to keep an insurance policy in the fold.

Third-year forward and former lottery pick Trey Lyles is another candidate for an increased workload. Lyles is currently averaging 6.8 minutes in 12 appearances but is shooting a career high from the field (52 percent) and three-point range (42 percent) in his limited court time. Another like candidate for more playing time is second-year big man Juan Hernangomez, who has currently appeared in just six contests.

Offensively, the Nuggets will be able to absorb his loss. Guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray score the ball efficiently while swingman Will Barton provides pop off the bench. The team will also likely ride the back of their franchise player Nikola Jokic a bit more as well, with the big man averaging just 11.6 shot attempts per game—third on the team.

Perhaps the biggest area the Nuggets will have to adjust is on the defensive end.

According to ESPN’s real defensive plus-minus (DPM), Millsap ranks 31st overall in the league (1.62). He ranks seventh among power forwards with at least 10 games played this season. Last season, Millsap was fifth among power forward and 14th overall in DPM.

The veteran’s track of improving a team’s prowess on the defensive end is proven and it’s exactly the type of “silent” attribute the Nuggets needed on a loaded young team still learning how to play on that side of the ball.

                              Paul Millsap – Real Defensive Plus-Minus
Season DPM League Overall Rank Power Forward Rank
2013-14 2.06                 63                   12
2014-15 2.22                 43                    8
2015-16 3.26                 12                    2
2016-17 3.35                 14                   5
2017-18 1..62                 31                  9

 

The Nuggets will be tested immediately without Millsap in the fold. The team travels to Houston (November 22) and will play nine of their next 13 games are on the road. This includes a six-game road trip from December 4 to December 13.

The team is currently 7-2 at home and just 3-5 away from the Pepsi center.

They will, for sure, be tested without Millsap.

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PODCAST: Lonzo’s Shot, How To Cut Luol Deng and More

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA writer and salary cap guru Eric Pincus talk about Lonzo Ball and the unreasonable expectations some have had about his rookie campaign, what the Lakers could do with Luol Deng, teams that have cap exceptions and could likely use them, which teams are for real and more.

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Johnson Is Leading By Example In Philadelphia

Amir Johnson may not be a star player, but his impact on the locker room is a constant in Philadelphia.

Dennis Chambers

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After every home win, the Philadelphia 76ers have a miniature liberty bell in their locker room that gets rung by a selected player, usually the who had the biggest impact on the game.

On Monday night, Amir Johnson got to the ring the bell after the Sixers beat the Utah Jazz 107-86 to secure their ninth win of the season. Johnson turned in his best performance since joining Philadelphia this offseason, with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes of playing time as Joel Embiid’s substitute.

Up until about 45 minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, Embiid’s status was unclear due to knee soreness. Johnson would’ve been tasked with the starting role had his teammate been unable to perform. Instead, he fulfilled his backup role to perfection, which has been the status quo for Johnson so far this season.

When the Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year $11 million deal in July, it was for the purpose of shaping a young roster with some veteran leadership. Management wanted to ensure there would be a professional in the locker room to help navigate the likes of Embiid and Ben Simmons through a full NBA season, with hopes of making it to the playoffs.

“When we looked to build our roster and sort of identify people we started talking about Amir Johnson,” Brett Brown said. “And Bryan was way more familiar with Amir — this is to Bryan’s credit — than I was, because of his Toronto background. And I started digging in and calling his teammates. I’ve been in the league for a long time, so you follow him, and you speak to people like Evan Turner. You know, tell me about Amir when you were in Boston and so on.”

While Brown was doing his research on Johnson, he came across an impressive level of continuity when it came to how others viewed the center.

“It’s amazing to a man how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said of Johnson. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game and now worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots? It isn’t ever on my mind with Amir.”

The Sixers’ head coach seems honest in his assessment, and Johnson’s fluctuating level of productivity and use reflects that. Prior to his big night against Utah, Johnson logged a combined 21 minutes over the team’s previous four games — including two DNP’s, both coming against the Golden State Warriors.

Still, just barely over a month into this new season, the Sixers are trying to iron out the kinks in their lineup. With injuries to Richaun Holmes, Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and Justin Anderson over the course of the season so far, finding a set group of guys and defining their roles has been a tricky situation to maneuver.

Last season, Johnson started 77 games for the Boston Celtics during their campaign that ran all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. His one start in 14 games this season, with a cut in minutes per game, is a far cry from the level of use Johnson experienced just one year ago. But coming into this season, that was known. Johnson’s role would be to help guide his junior counterparts and chip in where he could.

So far, the deal is paying dividends on both ends.

“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”

In a game that featured the absence of Jazz star center Rudy Gobert, Johnson was able to make his presence more prevalent during his reserve minutes. Along with his four blocks, Johnson had a game-high 15 contested two-point shots. As a team, Utah shot just 35.3 percent from the field.

Backing up a superstar in the making in Embiid, Johnson has limited time to let it be known that he’s still around. That situation is magnified on nights that Holmes is seeing extended run as well. But in his 13th season in the league, Johnson knows a thing or two about finding ways to be effective and efficient.

“Finding my way on the floor, knowing the amount of time I have, just finding ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “I watch a lot of film. Just for me to find open spots, set screens, and the biggest part that I can help this team out, is just play defense and grabbing rebounds.”

On the nights where Johnson doesn’t get his number called — a la games against the Warriors and other small-ball teams — the veteran just continues to do what he was brought in to do in the first place, lead by example.

“Just sticking to my routine,” Johnson said. “Being mentally prepared, getting my teammates ready, just being a professional, doing all kind of things to prepare for a game.”

After being around the come up in Boston, Johnson knows there are bigger things at stake for the Sixers than a few minutes here and there on the court. To him, winning is the only thing that matters.

“When you don’t play and you win, man it’s like and that’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “We’re here to try and do one goal, and that’s win games and make the playoffs, and go from there on.”

Whether he’s on the bench waving a towel, or on the court making a play, Johnson will continue to lead a young group of talented players by example, hopefully culminating in a trip to the playoffs.

“He is a legitimate pro, on and off the court,” Brown said. “He’s a wonderful teammate.”

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