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NBA Sunday: Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony’s Looming Legacies

Entering the 2014-15 season, both Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony face questions regarding their legacies.

Moke Hamilton

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The horn sounded. The third quarter ended. Chris Paul sat on the bench, forlorn. His bright red jersey, now burgundy and drenched in sweat, clung to his frame.

He took a deep breath and looked up at his head coach. Searching and hoping for a diatribe that would light a fire under his listless teammates, he got the opposite.

“We’ll regroup for Game 2,” his coach said, mentally forfeiting.

“We’ll be ready,” he said.

But alas, this was Game 1 and there were still 12 minutes remaining.

And as he sat down and looked up at the scoreboard, he saw the 85-64 score. He didn’t need an abacus to tell him that his team faced an insurmountable deficit. That this was Game 1 on the road made the task of accomplishing the impossible all the more daunting.

Lesser men would have rationalized the defeat, waved the white flag and reasoned that they simply needed to win Game 2.

Instead, Paul opened his mouth.

“You have to give us a chance,” he pleaded with his coach.

And against his better judgment, Vinny Del Negro relented. Paul peeled himself up for the game’s final 12 minutes and went out and made history.

His Los Angeles Clippers didn’t just defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, they practically robbed them at gunpoint, erasing a 24-point fourth quarter deficit to win Game 1 of a series that would eventually see them prevail in seven.

Yes, it was a heist, and afterward, Blake Griffin said so himself.

“We put a mask on and robbed that one,” Griffin told The Los Angeles Times.

So as Paul closes in on his 30th birthday and the questions about his durability and lack of bling persist and polarize, I ask you:

What will you remember him for?

Will you remember him for having the heart of a champion? Will you remember him for controlling and dominating games, despite often being the smallest competitor on the court? Will you remember him for single-handedly turning two franchises into contenders in the ever-tough Western Conference?

Or, will you, like those who cannot see past their own noses, simply boil his legacy and place in history down to the simple question of whether he was able to capture a championship over the course of his career?

Would Kevin Garnett not be as great of a player in your eyes if he never had the good fortune (and sense) to be traded to the Boston Celtics to team up with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen?

Would Dirk Nowitzki not be arguably one of the greatest shooters and offensive forces in NBA history if his 2011 Dallas Mavericks weren’t able to pull off one of the biggest NBA Finals upsets in history?

Are they, Garnett and Nowitzki, better players because they were able to accomplish that?

Through that lens, I ask you, even deeper, will you remember any of the NBA’s superstars who walk away from the game without ever having the pleasure of cradling the Larry O’Brien trophy?

If Kevin Durant is unable to lead his Oklahoma City Thunder to the promise land, will that diminish his greatness? Will you pretend as though he is not a transcendent basketball talent who, amazingly, has the stature of a beanstalk, the grace of a gazelle and the dead-eye of an eagle?

Will you brush their accomplishments aside and forget to mention them along the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade?

Will you cast their legacies aside and include them in the list of “others” that were unable to accomplish the game’s ultimate feat?

The gross majority of the basketball-watching public will, but you should not, because the ultimate measure of one’s greatness should not be boiled down to whether or not they were able to win a championship. Prudent and intelligent management is an integral part of accomplishing that and players have little control over it.

Yes, the bling sings, but it should be in pianissimo.

*****

Let’s talk about irony.

Let’s talk about a player whose own fan base is torn on him and his talent.

Let’s talk about a player who has been expected to live up to an unattainable standard and is largely unappreciated as a result.

Yes, let’s talk about Carmelo Anthony and his self-appointed designation as being the game’s most underrated superstar, even after signing a five-year, $124 million contract to remain a member of the New York Knicks.

And then, let’s talk about the fact that Anthony is correct.

Perhaps somewhat naturally, in a culture that has come to worship the World Series of Poker and other winner-take-all endeavors, we have learned how to ignore all but the brightest shining star.

You’re either the best, or you’re not. You’re either the man, or you’re not. You’re either LeBron James, or you’re not.

I know LeBron, and Mr. Anthony, you are no LeBron.

But I know that Anthony is still an amazing basketball talent worthy of universal reverence from all-corners of the league (and the basketball-watching world, for that matter). But I also happen to know that Anthony is being simultaneously judged while his immense talents are disrespected and overlooked. Not only because he’s considered the peer of LeBron, and not only because of the dearth of playoff series victories, but also because of Allen Iverson.

Collectively, we were sold on the idea that Iverson, a “volume scorer,” who was both ball-dominant and inefficient, was impossible to win with. Over time, we soured on Iverson. We overlooked the fact that he would leave everything he had on the floor in pursuit of winning. Instead, we focused more on the fact that he was unable to win more and do more, despite the likes of Derrick Coleman, Matt Geiger, Toni Kukoc and Theo Ratliff being his wingmen.

Instead of talking about how he played hurt and was a one-man wrecking crew that was small enough to fit in Shaquille O’Neal’s pocket—and revering him for that—we would rather spend our time talking about practice and why Iverson was “only” able to lead his Philadelphia 76ers to one NBA Finals appearance.

Because of Iverson and his faults (and he did have quite a few), we were eventually taught to buy into the myth that a man whose most capable asset on the floor is his ability to score points is impossible to succeed with. We have been taught that anyone lacking the all-around skill set of LeBron James isn’t worthy of our respect.

And so what if Mark Cuban was able to finally win with Nowitzki?

Nowitzki was far more efficient than Carmelo. He’s never even sniffed the 50/40/90 club, so clearly, he’s not of Nowitzki’s caliber

We will continue to overlook the fact that since 2011, Anthony has become a more efficient shot maker, become a more willing passer and has flat-out played harder than we had grown accustomed to seeing him in the past.

We will continue to not believe that the correct offensive system—the triangle, in this case—can find a way to utilize his unique skills while hiding the weak points.

We will continue to overlook some of his more amazing accomplishments. Like that time when he finally got a capable running mate in Denver and he and Chauncey Billups gave an in-prime Kobe Bryant a valiant fight for the 2009 Western Conference Championship. Or that time in the 2011 NBA Playoffs where, without Billups and a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire, being flanked by the likes of Bill Walker, Toney Douglas, Jared Jeffries and Shawne Williams, Anthony put together one of the most amazing playoff performances many of us have ever seen.

After he single-handedly gave his New York Knicks an opportunity to win with a 42-point, 17-rebound, six-assist effort, Doc Rivers called him one of the best players he’s ever seen and said his Boston Celtics were “lucky” to have won that night.

The 33 points he scored in a single quarter back in 2008? We will brush that aside as quickly as we have the fact that he is one of the greatest and most accomplished players to ever play for USA Basketball. We will brush them aside just like we did his amazing performance in the 2012 Olympics, where he emerged as the alpha scorer for Team USA and set the USA Men’s Olympic team record for most points (37) scored in a game.

Those 62 points he scored against the Charlotte Hornets back in 2014 in Madison Square Garden? Most call that meaningless in the grand scheme.

Instead of holding Anthony in high esteem, we will continue to boil his usefulness and legitimacy down into one simple question…

How many championships has he won?

And until that number changes, if it changes, the answer to that questions equals how much respect he will get from the masses, because honoring, respecting and appreciating players like Anthony and Chris Paul requires more than a passive look. It requires actually watching.

It requires one to do more than simply look at a stat sheet or an accolades list to make a determination about a player’s worth.

It requires basketball education, and frankly, that’s a little too difficult for most of us to attain.

So yes, let’s talk about irony and let’s discuss what it is.

In short, irony is becoming a better player while your team regresses. Irony is making it through 11 years in the NBA without ever simultaneously having a coach that could fully utilize your skills and a Robin that fully complements them.

Since arriving in New York, like his salaries, Anthony’s game has risen while his stature in the league has seemingly gone on a descent.

That’s life as Anthony, though. The $124 million underrated superstar.

Ironic, isn’t it?

*****

Since 1999, each NBA Finals has had at least one of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan or Dwyane Wade in it.

Duncan has had R.C. Buford and Greg Poppovich by his side for his amazing run. Bryant has served under Jerry West, Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson and Wade owes almost everything to Pat Riley.

Behind every great champion is a great executive and a great head coach. Winning requires an immense amount of talent on the basketball court, but it requires an immense amount of brainpower above it, as well.

In the end, no matter how great the player, he himself cannot single-handedly win the ultimate prize. In the end, reducing someone’s legacy and the amount of respect bestowed upon him to a single question as to whether he was able to win is an insult.

Although there are more chapters to be written in the books of Paul, Anthony and even Durant, eventually toppling LeBron’s reign atop the NBA is something that should enhance the legacies that they leave on the game. But if none of those three are able to, it should not detract or distract us from seeing them for the special talents that they are.

Success in the NBA is no accident. It requires an alpha-male, but it requires so much more.

Falling short of accomplishing that ultimate goal should not be a black mark against any player who changes the culture of a franchise and gives it an opportunity to compete at the highest level.

I’ll take Paul or Anthony on my team any day. I’ll take their strengths and their weaknesses and I’ll do my best to utilize them and hide them, respectively. I’d do my best to be the Mark Cuban to their Dirk Nowitzki.

And when it’s all said and done, win or lose, I’ll take their accomplishments and their shortcomings.

I just won’t take their credit.

When it’s all said and done, win or lose, after observing their growth over the years and their transforming of two franchises, I’ll take their legacies, too.

I’ll take their legacies and defend them, because unlike many, I understand that winning in the NBA never was and never will be about just one player.

But one’s legacy? It should be.

And at the end of the day, it is important to know the difference. Being an inlier is a natural byproduct of competition, but by no means should it reduce the esteem anointed to some of the greatest players we have had the pleasure of watching.

So no, neither Paul nor Anthony is LeBron. But at the end of the day, they’re still pretty damn good.

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

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Second Half NBA Story lines

With the All-Star break in the rearview, here are the key storylines to keep an eye on for the home stretch of the season.

Dennis Chambers

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The long winter has ended.

Ok, not really. But the break after All-Star weekend has finally come to a halt, and the second half of the NBA season is ready to get underway.

Each team has around 25 games remaining on the schedule. February is in its last week, and March and April will truly define how the May schedule aligns. The first leg of this season provided more than enough entertainment, combating the narrative that the regular season is a bit of a bore nowadays.

Because of some unexpected turns through the 50-plus games already played, this final stretch that will bring the regular season to a close should be more than entertaining for the fans that think the NBA season is just a six-month placeholder for the inevitable.

So, as we get ready to bounce back into action Thursday night, let’s focus on what needs to be monitored down the homestretch.

Houston Rockets can make the Finals

When the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant, a narrative swept across the league that everyone not in the Bay area should just wave the white flag. Game over.

After dropping just one game through the entire postseason last year, completely decimating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals, the assumptions were proved correct.

But things may be different this year.

The Houston Rockets are trying to end the Warriors’ Durant-Era dynasty before it starts. After trading for Chris Paul in the offseason, the Rockets are in a legitimate position to pose a threat to Golden State.

At the moment, the Rockets have the best offense in the NBA. But, not just for this season, for every season. Their efficiency is revolutionary and unprecedented. Their defense is improved, too. Ranking 18th in defensive rating last season, Houston is eighth this season, and proving to be competent enough on that end to get a few stops of their own against the Warriors. In fact, Houston has won two of the three meetings between the two Western Conference powerhouses so far this season.

For all of the damage Houston put on the league pre-All-Star break, and even leaping Golden State in the standings, the oddsmakers are taking notice.

Take a look at how drastically the Rockets’ odds at contending for a title have changed from the summer to present day. According to this odds tracker on Sports Betting Dime, Houston has almost entered the same realm as Golden State in the bettors’ mind.

Postseason basketball is a different beast, and Durant and Steph Curry are as formidable a tandem as any (not to mention their supporting cast), but the growing pile of statistics that says Houston has more than a puncher’s chance is becoming hard to ignore.

These last 25 or so games will be telling as to if the Rockets are truly a team that can go shot-for-shot with the mighty Warriors.

LeBron’s new teammates

The trade deadline in Cleveland was basically a mass upheaval of the roster the Cavaliers had struggled with for the first four months of the season.

Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose and Channing Frye were all shipped from The Land in hopes to bring LeBron James new players that could help him back to his eighth straight Finals appearance.

So far, so good.

The return that brought George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., into wine and gold gave the Cavaliers a much-needed boost heading into the All-Star break. Since the trade, Cleveland has won three straight games, the last two including a blowout victory against the Boston Celtics, and a road win in Oklahoma City.

But, before the roster turnovers, the Cavaliers were one of the league’s worst defensive units. Their lack of consistent effort on a nightly basis was beginning to spread doubt in the basketball minds across the league that the team would be equipped enough to beat the Celtics or Toronto Raptors in the postseason.

Coming out of the break, the Cavaliers will take on another playoff contender in the Washington Wizards. Another strong showing from the new-look Cavs could further the belief that the team is now in a better position to make their way to a fourth straight Finals.

As the regular season comes to its final stages, close eyes will be kept on Hood, Hill, Nance and Clarkson. They’re the key to any real postseason success Cleveland hopes to have. We know LeBron will be there at the end, at this point, and it’s worth watching to see if it teammates can join him.

Tight Playoff Races

For all the talk that surrounds the lack of disparity and entertainment around the league, the playoff races in both conferences appear to be coming down to the wire.

In the West, the 10th-seed Utah Jazz is just two and a half games behind the 5th-seed Oklahoma City Thunder. In between the two clubs, Denver, Portland, New Orleans and the L.A. Clippers are all clawing for spots in the postseason.

Over their last 10 games, every team besides the Thunder is at least .500. The Jazz have won 11 straight games, the Clippers are 7-3 and surging, Denver is hoping to return Paul Millsap to their lineup soon, the Trail Blazers have the luxury of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and while the Pelicans have lost DeMarcus Cousins, their three straight wins suggest they’re learning to live without Boogie.

That’s six teams fighting fiercely for four playoff spots. Each is deserving and well-equipped enough to make it to the postseason happen.

The West isn’t the only conference with a wild bunch at the bottom of the playoff standings. The Eastern Conference contenders also find themselves in the midst of a playoff battle post-All-Star break.

Just outside of the playoff picture at the moment, the Detroit Pistons, with new star Blake Griffin, are just four and a half games behind the 5th-seeded Indiana Pacers. Philadelphia, Miami and Milwaukee are all also vying for their spot in the playoffs.

At the moment, the Miami HEAT seems to be on the verge of being the odd man out, losing two straight before the break and seven of their last 10 games. As the Pistons begin to find new life with Griffin, they could bump Miami right out of the picture if their slide continues as games pick back up.

With a limited number of games remaining, each of these teams in both conferences cannot afford to fall into a rut. Coming down to the final weeks of the season, watching the playoff carousel develop will be entertaining and worthwhile.

In the blink of an eye, the 2017-18 regular season is almost over. Be sure to keep an eye on these unfolding storylines as the league charges towards playoff basketball.

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NBA Daily: Larry Nance Jr. Is Ready To Move On

At All-Star Weekend, Larry Nance Jr. talked about moving on from being traded, Dr. J and the love that Los Angeles still has for him.

Ben Nadeau

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At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Larry Nance Jr. found that out the hard way when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018 first-rounder just a few weeks ago.

Naturally, Nance was due back at the Staples Center nine days later to compete in the league’s annual slam dunk contest. Although he would finish second to the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Nance was frequently reminded just how many fans he still has out on the West Coast.

“It’s either one of two responses,” Nance said over the weekend. “Either people don’t understand how a trade works and they ask me why I left, or, you know: ‘Larry, we miss you, come back in free agency’ and stuff like that. So, either way, they’re kinda on my side — I mean, I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”

Over his first three seasons, Nance had become a familiar contributor for the Lakers, using his rim-rocking athleticism to carve out a steady role under two different head coaches. Before he was moved to the Cavaliers, Nance was on pace to set career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.4). This statistical rise also comes in the midst of his field goal percentage jumping all the way up to 59.3 percent — a mark that would rank him fifth-highest in the NBA if he qualified.* Given the noteworthy change of scenery, his current average of 3.6 field goals per game could grow as well.

But as the Lakers prepare for a potentially crucial offseason, the front office remained committed to shedding salary ahead of free agency, where they may or may not chase the likes of LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. In just three short years, Nance had quickly become a fan favorite as a jaw-dropping in-game dunker and an improving prospect on a cheap rookie contract, so his involvement at the deadline may have come as a surprise to many as it was for him.

“It’s been a week, so, no, it’s still kinda like: ‘Jeez, I gotta pick up and move right now,’” Nance said. “So, no, I’m not fully adjusted, I’m not, for a lack of a better term, over it. But it’s still fresh in my mind, it’s something that is still kind of shocking.”

Nance, for his worries, is now a key member of the James-led Cavaliers, a franchise that has won 11 more games than the Lakers and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Cavaliers will likely have to go through the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James himself has reached the championship series every year since the 2009-10 postseason. With the Cavaliers’ maniacal mid-season reboot — which also brought in Rodney Hood, George Hill and the aforementioned Clarkson — they could be poised for an encore performance.

Since he was acquired by Cleveland, Nance and the Cavaliers are 3-0 and, just like that, much of the lingering narrative has been reversed. As the Cavaliers look to further stabilize their season, Nance figures to play a large part down the stretch, particularly so as All-Star Kevin Love continues to rehab from a broken hand.

Still, Nance knows that the Cavaliers will certainly face some speed bumps along the way.

“It’s a learning process, obviously we started out super fast, but there will be a learning process,” Nance stated. “Just like there is with every team and every new group, so we’ll figure it out and we’ll get past it [for the] playoffs.”

But before he makes his first-ever postseason appearance, Nance returned to Los Angeles in an attempt to capture a slam dunk title, something his father — Larry Nance Sr. — did in the inaugural competition way back in 1984. In that contest, the older Nance famously upset Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take home the crown in a nine-person field. On Saturday, Nance paid homage by changing into a retro Phoenix Suns uniform to execute his father’s signature dunk — the rock-the-cradle throwdown that won it all 34 years ago.

“For me, [his highlights were] like normal kid Sesame Street or Barney or something. I was watching his clips when I was growing up, so, yeah, I see it all the time,” Nance recalled.

But when asked what he remembers the most about those distant memories, the second generation son decidedly kept it in the family.

“The fact that he beat Dr. J,” Nance said. “Dr. J is normally thought of as almost like the dunk inventor, kinda brought the dunk contest back — but, really, [I remember] my dad.”

Although Nance couldn’t replicate his father’s success in the contest, his emphatic, springy dunks indicated that the 6-foot-9 skywalker could be an event staple for years to come. In one of the best dunks all night, Nance pulled off the rare double tap — a jam so technically difficult, that he immediately told the judges to look at the jumbotron to make sure they understood what exactly he had just pulled off.

Nance, for his original acrobatics, earned a perfect score of 50.

Earlier that day, Nance discussed the difficulty in standing out amongst a field of explosive guards.

“I think the guys that are taller and longer have a different skill-set than smaller guys,” Nance said. “Obviously, if the smaller guys do something, it looks super impressive because they got to jump a little bit higher, or it looks like they got to jump higher.

“There are ways for bigger guys to look good and I think I’ve got that hammered out.”

For now, Nance doesn’t know if he’ll return to the dunk contest next season after his narrow two-point loss to Mitchell. Instead, Nance wants to focus on helping the Cavaliers in their hunt for the conference’s top seed and, of course, with James, anything is possible. But it’s fair to say that Nance, who nearly pulled down a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds) in his second game with Cleveland, has gone from a rebuild to a legitimate contender in a flash.

“At the same time, I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new team,” Nance said.

From the West Coast to the Midwest, Nance is clearly ready to make some waves once again.

* * * * * *

*To qualify, a player must be on pace for 300 made field goals. As of today, Nance is on pace for 252.6.

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Updating the Buyout Market: Who Could Still Become Available?

Shanes Rhodes examines the buyout market to see which players could soon be joining playoff contenders.

Shane Rhodes

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While it may not be as exciting as the NBA Trade Deadline, another important date is approaching for NBA teams: the Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.

March 1 is the final day players can be bought out or waived and still be eligible to play in the postseason should they sign with another team. As teams continue to fine-tune their rosters, plenty of eyes will be on the waiver wire and buyout market looking for players that can make an impact.

So who could still become available?

Joakim Noah, New York Knicks

This seems almost too obvious.

The relationship between Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks hasn’t been a pleasant one. Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016, has done next to nothing this season after an underwhelming debut season in New York and has averaged just 5.7 minutes per game.

After an altercation between himself and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek at practice, Noah isn’t expected to return to the team. At this point, the best thing for both sides seems likely a clean break; there is no reason to keep that cloud over the Knicks locker room for the remainder of the season.

Noah may not help a playoff contender, but he should certainly be available come the end of the season.

Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

Arron Afflalo isn’t the player he once was. But he can still help any contender in need of some shooting.

Afflalo is averaging a career-low 12.9 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic this season. He is playing for just over $2 million so a buyout wouldn’t be hard to come by if he went asking and he can still shoot the basketball. A career 38.6 percent shooter from long distance, Afflalo can certainly get it done beyond the arc for a team looking to add some shooting or some depth on the wing. He doesn’t add the perimeter defense he could earlier in his career, but he could contribute in certain situations.

Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings

Vince Carter was signed by the Sacramento Kings last offseason to play limited minutes off the bench while providing a mentor for the Sacramento Kings up-and-coming players. And Carter may very well enjoy that role.

But, to a degree, the old man can still ball — certainly enough to help a contender.

Carter is 41-years-old, there is no getting around his age, but he can still provide some solid minutes off the bench. Playing 17.1 minutes per night across 38 games this season, Carter has averaged five points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 35.3 percent from three-point range. Combining all of that with his playoff experience and the quality of leadership he brings to the table, Carter may be an ideal addition for a contender looking to make a deep playoff run.

Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings

Like Carter, Zach Randolph was brought in by the Kings to contribute solid minutes off the bench while also filling in as a mentor to the young roster. Unlike Carter, however, Randolph has played much of the season in a starting role — something that is likely to change as the season winds down.

Randolph has averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.6 minutes per game; quality numbers that any team would be happy to take on. But, in the midst of a rebuild, the Kings should not be taking minutes away from Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and (eventually) Harry Giles in order to keep Randolph on the floor.

As he proved last season, Randolph can excel in a sixth-man role and would likely occupy a top bench spot with a team looking to add rebounding, scoring or just a big to their rotation down the stretch.

Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks

Wesley Matthews remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He provides positional versatility on the floor and is a solid player on both sides of the ball.

So, with Mark Cuban all but saying the Mavericks will not be trying to win for the remainder of the season, Matthews is likely poised for a minutes dip and seems like an obvious buyout candidate. Matthews, who has a player option for next season, has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals this season across 34.1 minutes per game this season.

If Cuban is true to his word, both parties would be better served parting ways; the Mavericks can attempt to lose as many games as possible while Matthews can latch on to a team looking to win a title. It’s a win-win.

Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Lakers

Isaiah Thomas’ three-game stint with the Los Angeles Lakers before the All-Star break looked much like his short tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers: up-and-down. Thomas shined in his Laker debut, putting up 25 points and six assists in just over 30 minutes.

He then followed that up with three points and two assists, and seven points along with five assists in his second and third games with the team, respectively.

Thomas needs time to get himself right before he can start playing his best basketball. Re-establishing his value is likely his top priority.

But will he be willing to come off the bench for a team that won’t be making the postseason?

With Lonzo Ball close to returning, Thomas will likely move to the Laker bench. Adamant in recent years that he is a starting guard in the NBA, Thomas may be more inclined to take on that role for a team poised to make a deep playoff run — there is no shortage of teams that would be willing to add Thomas’ potential scoring prowess while simultaneously setting himself up for a contract and, potentially, a starting role somewhere next season.

Other Names to Look Out For: Channing Frye, Shabazz Muhammed, Kosta Koufos

There are still plenty of players that can make an impact for playoff-bound teams should they reach a buyout with their current squads. And, as the Postseason Eligibility Waiver Deadline approaches, plenty of teams out of the running will move quickly in order to provide their guys an opportunity to find their way to a contender.

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