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Making the Case for Carmelo to Portland

This summer, trading Carmelo Anthony to the Portland Trail Blazers would make sense for all parties, writes Moke Hamilton.

Moke Hamilton

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As the New York Knicks play out the string in a season that was thought to have so much promise, Carmelo Anthony is likely playing out the string on his career in a Knick uniform.

At this point, the smart money is on Anthony, the Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers coming to terms on a trade that would send Anthony to the Clippers this summer. But if Anthony and the Knicks were smart, they’d each realize that the best bet for one another would be coming to terms with the Portland Trail Blazers.

For many reasons, sending Anthony to the Pacific Northwest would be a wise move.

* * * * * *

In life, people have different priorities. Some value compensation above all else, while others value a favorable work-life balance. Some attribute a high value to their relationship with their management and co-workers while others cherish personal fulfillment.

While Anthony himself has let it be known that his family’s comfort and happiness is quite important to him, what nobody seems to know for certain is how highly Anthony actually values winning and what kinds of concessions he would make to put himself in a situation where he has an opportunity to compete for a championship. Certainly, pushing for a trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs or even the Boston Celtics would give Anthony greater odds of winning a championship than remaining with the Knicks, but with the Cavs and Spurs each having won championships within the past three years, Anthony wouldn’t be considered a lynchpin — he’d be looked at as a hanger-on. He would be the basketball version of a freeloader.

More importantly, though, is the word on the street. People who know Anthony well and have been trusted with matters related to his psyche would tell you that he is satisfied with being well compensated and playing on a big stage, and his refusal to approve a trade to the Clippers this past February (something he admitted was on the table), lends credence to that theory. In other words, the prevailing sentiment as it relates to Anthony and his relationship with the Knicks is that he would be satisfied with remaining with the team since he is being paid well and is known to be happy with his life in New York.

Based on what we have been led to believe are his priorities, it’s easy to understand why the Clippers would seem to be a natural fit. They are an experienced team that seems to be at least one piece away from being able to compete with the Golden State Warriors and the rest of the cream of the West. They are located in the league’s second-biggest media market and, on the court, happen to be run by Anthony’s good friend, Chris Paul. Doc Rivers is said to value Anthony quite highly and believes that adding him to the Clippers would give the team improved odds of winning a championship.

So yes, for Anthony and the Clippers, heading to Southern California makes all the sense in the world.

For the Knicks, however, trading him there doesn’t.

* * * * * *

There is no clear definition as to what constitutes a the “most valuable” player in the league, and similarly, there’s no clear definition as to what makes a player a “superstar.” At the very least, that designation involves an intersect of a player having tremendous ability, notoriety and accomplishments. Although he may be on the downside of his career, it’s probably safe to say that Anthony still qualifies as a superstar, or, at the very least, he still carries the perceived value of a superstar.

In general, in the NBA, teams hate trading superstars. They are both hard to find and even harder to replace. With one, you can hold steadfast to the belief that you might be one or two pieces away from becoming an elite team. Without one, you’re stuck in the lottery and waddling in the mud of mediocrity, aimlessly, until you can find one.

So for the Knicks, trading Anthony to the Clippers would literally be something the franchise would do out of a belief that it would be common addition by subtraction. Receiving equal value back for a superstar in a trade is difficult enough, much less a superstar with a no-trade clause.

The assumption is that the Clippers will re-sign J.J. Redick this summer, meaning that he would not be trade eligible until December. That would likely remove him from the equation as it relates to trading him for Anthony. The Clippers will also send their 2017 first round draft pick to the Toronto Raptors and their 2019 first round draft pick to the Boston Celtics, further diminishing the value that they could send the Knicks for Anthony.

From here, it would appear that the most likely trade involving the two teams, unless a third or fourth team got involved, would center around Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and perhaps the Clippers’ 2021 first round pick.

For the Knicks, maximizing their return on a Carmelo Anthony trade would be their priority, especially with Phil Jackson notably trading Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Jerian Grant for what will ultimately end up being low returns.

That’s why the Blazers make sense for the Knicks. But do they make sense for Anthony?

Perhaps.

* * * * * *

As Anthony creeps toward his 33rd birthday, his mileage is showing. At this point in his career, the best case scenario for him would be to find himself on a team in which he was surrounded by younger pieces whose ceilings were still unknown. As great as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are, Griffin has already shown a propensity to get hurt, while Paul is just a few years from his 32nd birthday. On the other hand, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum 26 years old and 25 years old, respectively. Since adding Jusuf Nurkic (who is just 22 years old), the Blazers have not resembled the team they were over the course of the first 50 games of the season. After going 13-3 over their last 16 games, they have reentered the Western Conference playoff picture and look formidable. Nurkic may have been lost for the season, but he looks like a stud that could be in a Blazer uniform for many years to come. Think long term. The roster doesn’t currently feature a single player over 30 years old, with Evan Turner, at 28 years old, serving as the elder statesmen.

For Anthony, latching on with a team full of young talent, one on the rise and one that seems to be just one solid veteran piece away from going to the next level — that’s preferable to joining a team that has already peaked.

The aforementioned Nurkic came to the Blazers in February and also yielded the Blazers the rights to the Memphis Grizzlies’ first round pick this coming June. Add in the Cavaliers’ first round pick, and the Blazers are the only team in the league that has three first round picks in the loaded 2017 draft. With a roster chock full of young talent, the Blazers might actually be interested in divesting.

What’s more important for the Knicks is that the Blazers are a relative underachiever this season. Considering the fact that they are coming off of a second round appearance in last season’s playoffs and boast the league’s second-highest payroll, it stands to reason that they would be open to shaking things up, especially if it meant adding a player of Anthony’s caliber.

There is zero doubt that with Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless, Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier and the aforementioned picks, the Knicks could find a trade that would interest them.

And finally, the most important thing for Anthony would be finding himself with a front office he could trust. The Blazers might not boast the biggest market, but the team has a proud franchise and basketball tradition. As for Neil Olshey and his staff, they have already proven to have an eye for talent, an ability to develop players and the intelligence to put well-fitting pieces together on the basketball court. Doc Rivers, as much as he is revered, cannot boast that. He inherited each of his three best players and has continually swapped out his auxiliary pieces to no avail.

Truth be told, Rivers hasn’t done anything to instill confidence in his ability to build a winner.

That’s something Anthony — if he values winning — would be wise to consider.

* * * * * *

As it stands, it would appear that the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers are not only the NBA’s best teams right now — they’ll be the best teams tomorrow, as well. The Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards appear to be on the cusp of greatness, too. Meanwhile, nobody seems sure where the Clippers fit in.

With Anthony, sure, the Clippers could become elite and give the Warriors and Spurs fits for the next few years. But for Anthony, the better bet might be to latch on with the younger studs and the franchise that has proven it knows a thing or two about building. Truth be told, with Anthony playing third fiddle to Lillard and McCollum, the Blazers would probably have a championship window of five years. The same probably can’t be said for the Clippers.

In all of this, it’s important to remember a major fact: the Knicks actually need to agree on any trade that would land Anthony elsewhere. Based on the return that the Clippers appear able to send to New York, it might be a tough sell.

Indeed, in life, people have different priorities. Anthony, we know, values his compensation, but so does everyone else.

Of everything, some professional athletes attribute the highest value on something money can’t buy — immortality.

As it stands, Anthony is likely playing out the string on his New York Knicks career. At this point, we don’t know what his priorities are. But when next season begins, if he is donning the jersey of a different franchise, one way or another, we will have learned something about what it is that Carmelo Anthony values most.

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

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Update: Eric Bledsoe Trade Talks

Michael Scotto updates the ongoing Eric Bledsoe trade saga.

Michael Scotto

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The sun has set on the 2017-18 season for Phoenix three games into the year.

The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson and promoted Jay Triano as the team’s interim head coach, as ESPN first reported. The Suns suffered an embarrassing 124-76 loss in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The final straw came during a 130-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road to drop the team to 0-3.

Then things went from bad to worse rapidly after a tweet from guard Eric Bledsoe.

General manager Ryan McDonough spoke with Bledsoe. Bledsoe told McDonough he was at a hair salon with a girl and the tweet wasn’t related to the Suns. McDonough didn’t believe that to be true and said the 27-year-old guard “won’t be with us going forward.”

Bledsoe spoke with McDonough and owner Robert Sarver privately several weeks ago. During that conversation the desire for a change was expressed, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Since then, Phoenix has discussed trades involving Bledsoe around the league, sources told Basketball Insiders. In addition, Tyson Chandler has continued to be shopped by the Suns during that time.

Trade talks have rapidly picked up since Bledsoe’s desire to be traded was made public.

The Suns and Denver Nuggets have discussed a trade of Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and other pieces, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has emerged as part of the trade package with Mudiay, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Denver has shopped Faried for years. The 27-year-old forward is owed $12.9 million this season and $13.7 million next season. Mudiay is owed $3.4 million this season and $4.3 million next season. Mudiay will then become a restricted free agent if given a qualifying offer in the summer of 2019. For more information on Denver’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Suns also spoke to the New York Knicks and asked for No. 8 overall pick Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Bledsoe. The Knicks are not interested in that package, however.

Kyle O’Quinn is a candidate to be traded. Several teams have called the Knicks expressing interest in O’Quinn. New York wants to retain Hernangomez for the foreseeable future despite a lack of playing time early in the season. It’s also worth noting Hernangomez is a close friend of Kristaps Porzingis. Ntilikina is currently the point guard of the future in New York.

In addition, New York would need to add a salary filler to make the trade work financially. For more information on New York’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe, according to the New York Times. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also have interest in Bledsoe, according to Amico Hoops.

Bledsoe is owed $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season before entering unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix. In addition, Bledsoe shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from downtown, and 81 percent from the foul line.

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NBA PM: Greek Freak Off to an MVP-Caliber Start

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ MVP and looks primed to be in the actual MVP race this season.

James Blancarte

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The NBA season is officially underway. Although each team has only played a few games so far, it has helped illuminate where many teams and players are in their development. For example, last night’s game in Oklahoma City gave a glimpse into how the Thunder will handle a late-game situation now that the team has three previous number one options. In the final minute, Russell Westbrook scored two of the Thunder’s last three baskets and assisted Carmelo Anthony on the final basket just before Andrew Wiggins hit a game-winning buzzer beater from well beyond the arc.

After three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s individual development has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow. A number of positive and far-reaching questions can be asked of Giannis. What is the ceiling for him? Can a player of his considerable talents continue to improve after winning Most Improved Player last season? Remember, Giannis was drafted in 2013 and is still only 22 years old.

When told in August that although he could win most valuable player, he could not also win most improved player as well, he responded with a simple, yet telling response.

“Why not?” Antetokounmpo responded.

While he continued to be lighthearted and moved on to the next topic, it’s fair to ask, “why not?” when it comes to Giannis. Through three regular season games, he is averaging 38.3 points, five assists, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. These averages will likely regress to more sustainable numbers as the season continues. For now, however, his averages are in elite territory. In addition, his ability to impact the game is already getting to the point where LeBron James may be the only other player who can similarly fill up the stat lines while physically terrorizing opponents on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

When asked who the “biggest freak in the NBA” is, Giannis elaborated that it was James due to his ability to impose himself on the game.

“The things [James] does, the veteran leadership he brings to the team, how big he is, how quick, how strong,” Giannis stated. “And at the end of the day, how smart he is. He can put his team in the right spots, make the right decision.”

In Saturday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Giannis willed his team to victory. It was Giannis demonstrating how big, strong and smart he was, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them to an impressive win.
With less than a minute left in a close game, Giannis closed in with a well-timed double team on Damian Lillard and came away with a clean steal. The steal got the Bucks the ball back and Giannis was fouled, which put him on the free throw line. Unfortunately, he came up short on both attempts and the Bucks remained a point behind.

Despite missing the free throws, Giannis came up huge on the very next play. Giannis took on C.J McCollum one-on-one at the top of the key and created yet another steal. He then leaked out to receive the pass for a breakaway dunk that quickly gave the Bucks the lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.

On the next play, when Jusuf Nurkic set a high screen and roll, he received the pass on the roll and headed to the basket. Giannis’ primary responsibility was the shooter in the corner and yet he read the action correctly and was ready and waiting at the rim for Nurkic. Giannis times Nurkic’s shot perfectly and rejected him at the rim, which effectively ended the game in favor of the Bucks.

Giannis’ ability as defensive Swiss Army Knife was instrumental in the Bucks’ close win over Portland. In addition, Giannis has also made further improvements in an area of his that has received a lot of attention over the years. He continues to shoot a below average three-point percentage for his career (27.6) and has had a rocky start to this season as well (16.7). It’s likely that Giannis’ three-point shooting will be a significant limitation in his game for the foreseeable future. However, over his career, Giannis has shown an ability to improve his shooting percentage on two-point shots consistently, especially shots from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. As Giannis has gotten stronger and more explosive, he has developed a strong desire to attack opponents off the dribble and absorb contact at the rim. Whether he blows by his opponent outright or scores through opponents at the rim, Giannis has developed into an offensive force that few players in the league could hope to slow down.

In addition to his scoring, Giannis continues to display his unique ability to handle the ball in transitions and run the Bucks’ offense in the half court as a point forward. This sort of ability separates Giannis from the other elite wings in the league who don’t have the skill or vision to act as a primary playmaker. Giannis is doing much of what he did last year, but seems more aggressive and physically dominant through the first three games of this season. That sort of improvement of course puts Giannis in the MVP discussion (though it is incredibly early in the season to even start this sort of discussion).

Giannis was recently asked about his ability to win the MVP and wasn’t shy about his desire to win the prestigious award.

“I’m going to be one of the players that hopefully dominates the game. But I’ve got to still make sure that my team wins, that my teammates get better,” Giannis stated. “I’ve set the goal since the last game against Toronto last year, at the playoffs. I want to be the MVP this year.”

What helps solidify Giannis’ ability to be such a strong MVP candidate is also what makes his team less dangerous. The Bucks are woefully dependent on their star and, at least for now, lack the necessary depth to be a true contender in the East.

Through three regular season games, it’s clear that the Bucks will only go as far as Giannis can take them. And that is the key to Giannis’ budding MVP campaign. Let’s take a look at last year’s top five MVP candidates. Last year’s winner, Westbrook, has two new star-caliber players (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) to share the spotlight, and the ball, with. James Harden is sharing the ball with Chris Paul, who is currently struggling with a knee injury. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are almost exclusively concerned with the postseason. Kawhi Leonard is similarly crucial to the San Antonio Spurs on offense and defense but has lingering health concerns and has yet to play this season. Finally, Isaiah Thomas is coming off a major hip injury and is not projected to play until January.

With so much uncertainty, Giannis has the opportunity to continue to draw attention as not only the most important player on the Bucks but perhaps the most valuable player in the league. Giannis’ early play this season indicates that this is possible. Despite his early-season outburst, Giannis is giving deference to LeBron James — though he admits he hopes to reach James’ level at some point in the future.

“Definitely [James is] the best player in the NBA. For a few years to come,” Giannis stated. “But I think a lot of players are getting better. Even myself. And hopefully one day we can get to that spot from him.”

Perhaps Giannis will take the spot as the best player in the NBA as early as this season. Considering how dominant he has been so far this season, it’s fair to ask “why not?”

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Wright Primed To Take Next Step With Raptors

Third year Utah alum Delon Wright is showing flashes of what he can do in an expanded role for Toronto.

Spencer Davies

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Backup point guards are essential to a team’s success.

They’re the floor generals of the second unit. They create for themselves to score. They collapse defenses in order for the others to get opportunities.

In some cases, these players perform so well that they outgrow the role they provide and force their way into the starting five—on that same team or elsewhere. Just look at past examples: Darren Collison, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, etc. The list goes on.

Kyle Lowry was 20 years old when he was drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He studied the position behind veteran guards Chucky Atkins and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire.

But even after showing promise in his rookie season, management decided to take Mike Conley Jr. the very next year. Though the two were about even in playing time, it was clear the Grizzlies favored youth over anything else, so in 2009, Lowry was dealt with the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade at the deadline.

At this point, Lowry had started in only 30 games over two-and-a-half seasons, so the keys to the car weren’t ready for him just yet. Aaron Brooks was a unique talent that Rick Adelman loved to throw out there along with Tracy McGrady and Kevin Martin.

Brooks started all 82 games in the 2009-10 campaign and blossomed into a scoring machine. He was shooting the lights out that year, and because of that, it was tough to sit him. Lowry still took advantage of his playing time, though, with plenty of floor run. He averaged nearly 14 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.

To the misfortune of his teammate and the advantage to Lowry the next season, Brooks struggled mightily with the jump shot that made him so deadly. After 34 games, the Rockets moved him in a deal to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Dragic was on his way to carving his niche in the league, but it opened up a door for Lowry to really take hold as “quarterback” of the team.

Circumstances arose once again, however. Houston had let go of Adelman and hired Kevin McHale in June 2011. Lowry and his new head coach did not have the same rapport. He unfortunately suffered from a bacterial infection and missed out on the beginning of the season, and towards the end, the emergence of Dragic led to his demise.

That summer, the Rockets sent Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future first-rounder. Once again, it was a fresh start for him, but also a brand new team with a different head coach.

It didn’t take long for the man to realize his true potential there. Aside from shuffling a bit with Jose Calderon as the starter in Toronto, Lowry found a home. The jump he made between that season and the next one was impressive.

Lowry got paid after that 2013-14 season and re-signed with the Raptors for four years. He earned three All-Star appearances and—aside from the postseason disappointments—led the team to new heights with his fellow All-Star backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto and its star point guard agreed to a three-year, $100 million deal over the summer to keep him running the show and to honor that contract well as he has always had. But now there’s somebody behind Lowry waiting to break out, and could very well be the one who gets the torch passed to him.

Delon Wright is ready to make his mark. When he entered the league, he was a reserve behind Cory Joseph and had to observe and soak in the experience of NBA life. For some rookies, they get the chance immediately, and for the others, they have to wait their turn. In this case, it was the latter.

Playing the waiting game ended up working out well for him. In the offseason, the Raptors went out and traded Joseph for C.J. Miles due to the loss of DeMarre Carroll. It was a move that not only addressed a need for depth at the wing but also opened a door for Wright.

So here we are, two games in. The Raptors are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by 51 points. In those combined, Wright has received 55 minutes of playing time.

Despite the competition being the rebuilding Chicago Bulls and a Philadelphia 76ers team trying to find an identity, he looks extremely comfortable. You don’t want to take too much out a sample size as small as that, but neither the numbers nor the eye test lies.

Wright has played the third-most minutes on the team thus far. He’s done a great job on both sides of the floor but has truly made a difference on the defensive end. As of now, the Raptors are only allowing 83 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood. When he’s not, that number blows up to 98.9 using the same scale.

Offensively he’s almost been just as good. Wright has been aggressive as a facilitator and as a shooter, putting up 13- and 14-point games early on. He dished out five assists in the season opener and nabbed five rebounds in the second game. He has a higher offensive rating than both Lowry and DeRozan.

According to NBA.com, Toronto’s net rating with him off the court (12.9) is the second lowest to his lifelong teammate Jakob Poeltl (12.8). Take it with a grain of salt because it’s one week into the season, but Wright has the best net rating in the league (37.6) among those playing at least 25 minutes per game.

Call it garbage time play or whatever you want: He has the tools to succeed. The stature is there. The intangibles are evident. It’s all about putting it together over the course of an entire season.

If the trend continues, there’s no way Casey can keep him off the floor for long. We don’t know where Wright’s career could go. It’s way too early to tell. The Raptors are likely hoping for him to be the successor after this era of basketball has come and gone.

Lowry is the man in Toronto, as is DeRozan. Nothing is changing that anytime soon. But rest assured, Wright’s primed to take a big step this year and it’s going to be fun to watch.

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