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NBA Power Rankings – 12/9/16

In our latest NBA power rankings, the Lakers and Hawks fall while the Bucks and Celtics climb.

Moke Hamilton

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The Golden State Warriors were supposed to need time to develop their chemistry, but as we pass the first quarter of the NBA season, the Dubs are on pace to win 71 games. That’s definitely noteworthy.

Also noteworthy is the topsy turvy play of both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. The Central Division foes seem to lose games they should win. When they count, though, they tend to show up. Case in point: the Cavs making the New York Knicks look like a junior varsity squad on Wednesday night and the Bulls being the first team to hand the San Antonio Spurs a road loss this season.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks drop like hot bricks while the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics each make a power move.

 

stocknochanges4530. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 4-17, Last Week: 30)

The last time the Mavs won back-to-back games was on November 6 and November 8. At this point, the question is not when they will do so again, it’s whether they actually will. The bright side is that the 2017 draft class is said to be somewhat strong.


stockdown4529. Phoenix Suns (Overall: 6-16, Last Week: 27)

The Suns haven’t won back to back games in over a month. Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are pulling their weight for the most part, but the Suns are at a talent deficit and are seeing Devin Booker come back to earth a tad.


stocknochanges4528. Minnesota Timberwolves (Overall: 6-16, Last Week: 28)

A 15-point third quarter featured a mesmerizing display of dunks and shots from Karl-Anthony Towns in Thursday night’s contest at the Raptors, but the T-Wolves couldn’t get it done. They haven’t won in Toronto since January 2004, and Towns couldn’t change that.


stockup4527. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 5-18, Last Week: 29)

Stop the presses! The Sixers won a road game! On Thursday night, in defeating the Pelicans by a final score of 99-88, the Sixers snapped a 23-game road losing streak that dates back to January! Either these guys are turning a corner or the Pelicans are really bad. Or both.


stocknochanges4526. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 6-15, Last Week: 26)

The bad news? The Rockets decided to match the offer sheet tendered to Donatas Motiejunas. The good news? The Nets were paid a visit by the Nuggets, whom Kenny Atkinson’s team beat to get just their second win over the past three weeks.


stockdown4525. New Orleans Pelicans (Overall: 7-16, Last Week: 24)

Three straight losses at home hurts, especially when you lose one to a Sixers team that hasn’t won a road game in almost a year. Many are beginning to wonder whether Alvin Gentry will last all season long. One reporter even asked him directly on Thursday night. He snapped. It was awkward.


stockdown4524. Miami HEAT (Overall: 7-15, Last Week: 23)

The HEAT will carry a three-game losing streak with them as they pay a visit to a few old faces. On Friday, they’ll visit the Cavs before heading to Chicago to see Dwyane Wade on Saturday. The week will end with home contests against the Wizards and Pacers and we expect them to get one victory from those four games. Sorry HEAT fans.


stockdown4523. Denver Nuggets (Overall: 8-15, Last Week: 20)

Losers of four of five, Thursday’s 92-85 loss to the Wizards drops the Nuggets to 1-3 on their current road trip with stops in Orlando and Dallas to come. After 23 games, they’re jostling with the T-Wolves for last place in the Northwest, and we expect that to be the case all season long.


stocknochanges4522. Sacramento Kings (Overall: 8-13, Last Week: 22)

The world has begun talking about DeMarcus Cousins and whether or not the franchise is going to trade him. Word on the street is that they won’t, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. When was the last time the Kings actually did something smart?


stockup4521. Washington Wizards (Overall: 8-13, Last Week: 25)

John Wall’s 52-point, eight-assist effort couldn’t get the win for the Wizards against the Magic on Tuesday, but they did manage to get one versus the Nuggets. They’ve won two of their last three, but if things continue going this badly, we should expect some changes to be made in D.C.


stockdown4520. Los Angeles Lakers (Overall: 10-14, Last Week: 12)

With four straight losses, the Lakers have fallen and they may not be able to get up, especially as they begin a SEVEN-GAME road trip on Monday. The schedule makers didn’t do the Lakers any favors, as they are set to play nine games over the next 15 days. And again, seven of those are on the road.


stockup4519. Orlando Magic (Overall: 10-13, Last Week: 21)

The three-game win streak ended at the hands of the Celtics on Wednesday, but the bigger story for the Magic has to be that they won four games on their five-game road trip. Only good teams do that, and for what it’s worth, the Magic are just 3.5 games outside of first in the division and 1.5 games out of the eighth seed.


stocknochanges4518. Portland Trail Blazers (Overall: 12-12, Last Week: 18)

Just 5-8 since beginning the season 7-4, the Blazers lost a hard-fought contest in Memphis on Thursday night. Damian Lillard has begun the month of December shooting just 41 percent from the field as the squad drops to 1-2 on the current five-game trip. They’ll see the Clips and Thunder over the next week, so we’ll circle those two.


stockup4517. Indiana Pacers (Overall: 11-11, Last Week: 19)

Clocking in at .500 after the first quarter of the season, the Pacers are 25th in points allowed and don’t stand to improve very much so long as Monta Ellis is scoring 9.6 points per game as he has been over their past 10 games. They did score a win over the Clippers on Sunday, though, which gives them a sweep of the season series. Go figure.


stockdown4516. Atlanta Hawks (Overall: 11-12, Last Week: 11)

The Hawks broke the losing streak that reached seven games with a 103-95 win over the HEAT on Wednesday, but the damage has been done. Losers of 10 of 11, they’ve inexplicably fallen to a game beneath .500. Their next 10 appear winnable, though, so we’ll be watching.


stocknochanges4515. Detroit Pistons (Overall: 12-12, Last Week: 15)

The Pistons have quietly gone 6-3 over their past nine to clock in at 12-12 through 24 games. Reggie Jackson made his long-awaited season debut in Sunday’s 98-92 loss to the Magic, but things are looking up for the squad.


stocknochanges4514. New York Knicks (Overall: 12-10, Last Week: 14)

The Knicks were humbled by LeBron and his Cavs on Wednesday night, 126-94. Even with the loss, the Knicks are 9-4 over their past 13 games as they embark on a five-game Western Conference road trip that has stops at the Kings, Lakers, Suns, Warriors and Nuggets. The goal should be at least three wins.


stockup4513. Boston Celtics (Overall: 13-9, Last Week: 17)

Al Horford’s missed layup at the buzzer cost the Celtics a win against the Rockets on Monday, so they were that close to riding a four-game winning streak into Friday’s battle with the Raptors. The Celts trail by two games for the division lead, so it’s a fairly important game.


stockup4512. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 12-10, Last Week: 13)

Since beating the Cavs last Friday, the Bulls lost three straight and lost Rajon Rondo to a suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. They then follow that up by beating the Spurs and handing Kawhi Leonard’s team their first road loss of the season. The best words to describe this ride thus far? Topsy Turvy.


stockup4511. Milwaukee Bucks (Overall: 11-9, Last Week: 16)

Jason Kidd’s team has very quietly won five of six, including wins over the Cavs and Blazers. Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to impress. From Wednesday’s triple-double to his 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals per game, we must point out that no other player in NBA history has ever accomplished those numbers for an entire season. He’s 22 years old.


stockdown4510. Charlotte Hornets (Overall: 13-9, Last Week: 8)

Winners of three of their last four, Team Kemba begins a five-game road swing on Saturday and will pay visits to the Cavs, Celtics and Hawks along the way. They lead the struggling Hawks by 2.5 games out in the division as Walker closes in on what will likely be his first All-Star berth.


stockup459. Utah Jazz (Overall: 14-10, Last Week: 10)

Gordon Hayward missed Thursday’s 106-99 loss to the Warriors, ending the club’s three-game win streak. They’ll see the Kings, Thunder and Mavericks to end the five-game home stand. When they see the Thunder (on Wednesday), they could actually be playing for the division lead, so that’s one worth watching.


stockup458. Memphis Grizzlies (Overall: 16-8, Last Week: 9)

Marc Gasol’s season-high 36 points helped the Grizzlies outlast the Blazers on Thursday night, but it was the newly signed Toney Douglas’ two clutch free-throws that made the difference in the 88-86 victory. They’ll need more of these epic efforts without Mike Conley, even if they’re 5-1 without him so far.


stockup457. Houston Rockets (Overall: 15-7, Last Week: 8)

After last Thursday’s impressive win over the Dubs, the Rockets rolled into Denver and crushed the Nuggets. After besting the Celts and Lakers, Russell Westbrook and James Harden will have a good old-fashioned shoot out. Winners of four straight and nine of 11, we have zero complaints.


stockup456. Oklahoma City Thunder (Overall: 14-8, Last Week: 7)

Let’s be honest here, as impressive as Russell Westbrook’s six straight triple-doubles are, what’s more impressive is that the Thunder are 6-0 in those games. He’s averaging 31 points, 10.9 rebounds and 11.3 assists per game and has 11 triple-doubles in 22 games. That puts him on pace for 41 for the season, which would tie him for Oscar’s single-season record.


stockdown455. Toronto Raptors (Overall: 15-4, Last Week: 4)

A six-game win streak came to an end on Monday when the Cavs rolled into Toronto, but Thursday’s 124-110 win over the visiting T-Wolves means they’ve won seven of eight. Jonas Valanciunas’ 20-point, 10-rebound double-double went a long way toward pulling that one out, as well.


stockup454. Cleveland Cavaliers (Overall: 15-5, Last Week: 5)

After dominating the Knicks on Thursday night to the tune of a 126-94 beating, the three-game losing streak is a distant memory. When these guys are dialed in, no team out East has a chance. That includes the Raptors, who are nipping at their heels but yield their top 4 spot from last week after losing to the Cavs on Sunday. Kevin Love is averaging 21.4 points per game—a full five points higher than last season.


stocknochanges453. Los Angeles Clippers (Overall: 16-7, Last Week: 3)

Last week’s win at the Cavs was impressive, and it’s the main reason why the Clips keep the third spot, despite having lost their last two and five of seven. They were embarrassed by the Warriors in Wednesday night’s 115-98 loss, but that doesn’t mean much since the Dubs are clearly the top dogs in the Association. Sunday’s loss to the Pacers bothered us much more than the one to the Dubs, but the Cavs haven’t been world beaters, either.


stocknochanges452. San Antonio Spurs (Overall: 18-5, Last Week: 2)

The Spurs won their first 13 road games of the season but fell short in Chicago. One more win would have tied the Warriors for the best road start to begin a season, but the Spurs managed just 91 points—17 below the 108.1 they’ve averaged on the road thus far this season. Still, it’s tough to complain, especially since this was the third game in four nights.


stocknochanges451. Golden State Warriors (Overall: 20-3, Last Week: 1)

The Dubs have three guys who are capable of scoring 60 points on any given night. One of them recently did, but forget about that. These guys have averaged about 132 points per game over the past week and very quietly, through 22 games, are on pace to win 71.

 

In the end, it appears that the Warriors are separating themselves from the pack, though they only lead the Spurs by 2.5 games for the lead out in the Western Conference. Christmas Day is just a few weeks away, though, so we will continue to look forward to the Dubs and Cavs renewing their rivalry. Be sure to keep an eye on our weekly power rankings each and every Friday.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

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

David Yapkowitz

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

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

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

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

1. Christian Wood

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

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

2. Jameel Warney

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

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

3. Melo Trimble

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

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

4. Joel Bolomboy

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

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

5. Jeremy Evans

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

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

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

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

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

Dennis Chambers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Payton Blocking Out Trade Talk, Believes Magic Will Turn It Around

Spencer Davies sits down with Elfrid Payton to discuss his fourth year, trade rumors and a trying season for Orlando in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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It’s hard for a team to look for positives when it’s living in the basement.

The Orlando Magic have had a rough go of it this year. They’re 13-32 at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve have had a ton of setbacks, and they currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating.

There is a bright spot hidden in there, though, and head coach Frank Vogel sees it growing as the season progresses.

“We’re frustrated with our record, but we’re encouraged with the development we’ve had with our young players,” Vogel said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “Aaron Gordon, Mario [Hezonja], and [Elfrid Payton] have all had strong individual seasons and continue to get better. All those guys are improving individually and at some point, it’s gonna lead to more Ws.”

While Gordon stands out more to some than the others because of his star appeal, Payton is right up there with him as far as making the next step goes.

“Elfrid’s shooting the ball better from the perimeter and at the rim,” Vogel said. “He’s worked on his left hand. He’s worked on his floaters. Shooting 52 percent from the field and that’s pretty darn good for a point guard, and the 39 percent from the three as well.”

Those are your more traditional statistics that don’t address the leap he’s taken in efficiency. Sure, Payton’s scoring the same amount of points per game, but it’s the way he’s been getting that’s been most noticeable.

According to Basketball-Reference and NBA.com, he’s making nearly 70 percent of his tries between 0-3 feet and ranks third among point guards in restricted field goal percentage (min. four attempts).

But Payton doesn’t like to evaluate himself using numbers, so he doesn’t know how to feel about how he’s played for Orlando this year.

“It’s tough to say because I like to measure my success by winning and we haven’t been doing that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “So tough to say.”

He’s not kidding. Since starting out the season 8-4, the Magic have taken a hard fall, only winning five games since November 10. In this stretch, there have been three hefty losing streaks—two 9-game slides and most recently a 7-game skid.

“Not to make excuses—we had a lot of injuries,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of what happened. “Haven’t really been playing with the group of guys that we started the season with, so kinda derailed us a little bit.”

As the losses pile up, so does the chatter. Indicated by multiple recent reports, Orlando has made it clear that many players on the roster are available on the trade block. Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, and Payton were recently brought up as names who could possibly on the move if the right deal presents itself.

When asked about the rumblings, Vogel claimed he doesn’t have a message for his guys.

“They understand it’s part of the business,” he said. “Just focus on playing the game.”

Like his coach, Payton doesn’t have a reaction to the noise.

“I don’t get caught up into the things like that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Today I’m an Orlando Magic. I play for the Orlando Magic and I’m gonna give them 100 percent of me. I’m somebody that likes to finish what I started, so I definitely would like to see this through and try to turn this organization around.”

So who does he see on this team that can help jump-start the process in flipping the script?

“Everybody,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I like Vuc. I like AG. Evan [Fournier] is somebody who can fill it up. T Ross is somebody who can fill it up when healthy. I think we have a lot of talent on this team. Even the rookies—Wes [Iwundu] plays well for us in stretches. Jon [Isaac] when he was playing he’d do well.

“You could see the potential there. So I think we have a lot of weapons on this team. I’m very confident in the group we have here. I think we have a lot of talent, we just have to do it.”

Saying you’re going to right the ship is one thing. Actually doing it is a whole other challenge. With where the Magic sit in the standings currently, their work is cut out for them. That being said, Payton isn’t giving up.

In fact, he’s still got his eyes on making it to the postseason, and it starts with him.

“Definitely trying to get a run going,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Make a playoff push. It’s definitely not out of sight right now, especially with the way the East is. We win a few games and we right back in the thick of things.

“Do whatever I can to help us to get more wins, man. I think that’s what it all boils down to. I figure if I’m playing well, that means we’re winning for the most part.”

Defense matters the most, and it’s something Payton and his group know they need to get better at if they have a chance to play past mid-April.

“Just be tied in together a little bit more,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I think sometimes we have too many breakdowns on the backside. So just being more in-tune with each other.”

One thing is for sure—Orlando is going through this difficult time as a team, but refuses to fold. Payton says Vogel has constantly stayed in their ears with uplifting advice.

“Keep fighting,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of his words. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No one’s gonna feel sorry for you, so just keep fighting.”

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