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NBA Sunday: The Kyrie Irving Quandary

Will Kyrie Irving be able to fulfill his promise playing as the Robin to LeBron James’ Batman?

Moke Hamilton

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When Kobe Bryant began playing basketball at the ripe young age of three, what do you think he dreamed of?

When, at the age of 10 years old, he began dissecting film of some of his predecessors, what do you think he imagined for himself?

Do you think Bryant hoped to merely be renowned as the Robin to Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most dominant centers the league has even seen?

Or, do you think Bryant dreamed of one day being known as the greatest player that has ever lived?

What do you think Kyrie Irving dreams of?

Do you think, as a fourth grader living in New Jersey after Irving had fallen in love with the game, that his central aspiration was to one day serve as the sidekick to arguably the greatest player to ever play the game?

Or, do you think he himself dreamed of one day being the greatest player to ever play the game?

A better question may be whether Irving will ever get the respect that he hopes to earn and leave the legacy he wants to leave by being the Tony Parker to LeBron James’ Tim Duncan.

This is the Kyrie quandary, and this edition of the NBA Sunday is merely examining his potential and promise through the lens of the two aforementioned superstars who have lived similar situations already, though they have taken diverging routes.

——

Back in the summer of 1996, with the Los Angeles Lakers wallowing in mediocrity, then general manager Jerry West effectively struck the basketball lottery jackpot. Amazingly, one year removed from a run to the 1995 NBA Finals, West convinced the already-established Shaquille O’Neal to accept a seven-year, $120 million contract to spurn the Orlando Magic and take his talents to Los Angeles.

This came on the heels of the Lakers acquiring an 18-year-old Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets.

Despite entering the league as the number one high school player in the nation, Bryant’s true potential on the NBA level was difficult to ascertain. He played all five positions during his high school years and was mostly regarded as a high-flying athletic wing upon his entry into the NBA.

It took Bryant two full years to become the team’s starting shooting guard, but after turning in some powerful performances and impressing the likes of West and coach Del Harris with his work ethic and confidence, Bryant would eventually supplant Eddie Jones.

Despite having copious amounts of talent, the Lakers were never seriously able to contend for an NBA championship until the arrival of Phil Jackson in July 1999.

With the implementation of the triangle offense, Jackson featured O’Neal as the primary offensive option with Bryant as his secondary. Operating out of the pinch-post and low box, O’Neal created looks and opportunities for his teammates, including Bryant. The formula was an obvious success, as the Lakers managed to win three straight NBA championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

That O’Neal would be named the NBA Finals MVP in all three series was not only unsurprising, it was both predictable and proper. O’Neal, the centi-millionaire, was West’s prized acquisition, the center of Jackson’s offense and the primary option.

He was, in a word, Batman. Kobe was Robin.

As the years progressed, egos clashed. For O’Neal, complacency set in. His work ethic deteriorated as his weight escalated. Bryant, who was probably a bit envious of the accolades and credit that O’Neal had gotten for his role as the centerpiece, quietly fumed.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and that fire ultimately led to Bryant making a decision that would completely alter the course of his career and his legacy.

In essence, in the summer of 2004, after O’Neal and Bryant played in their fourth NBA Finals in five years, Bryant chose the uncertainty of pursuing his own destiny over continuing to thrive as the Robin to O’Neal’s Batman.

Shaq had fallen out of favor with the Lakers’ front office and, wielding an immense amount of power by virtue of being a free agent, Bryant could have helped smooth things over between the Lakers and O’Neal. Instead, he sat by idly as O’Neal was traded to the Miami HEAT for Brian Grant, Caron Butler and Lamar Odom. He did so partially out of the want to be a good company man, but also because he believed that he was better than being second fiddle to anybody and he wanted to prove that he could win without O’Neal.

Bryant was correct, and his stubborn belief in himself has made all the difference in the world.

Now, two championships later, Bryant is regarded by most people as, at the very least, the second-best shooting guard to ever play the game. He is considered by many to be the best Laker of all-time and by some, one of the top 10 players in history.

There is no way Bryant would have ever been regarded in that light by us if he could not win without O’Neal. Whether to take the opportunity to do so was a quandary of his own, but it is a quandary that Kyrie Irving may one day face.

Ten years from now, even if Irving accomplishes great things alongside LeBron James as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, how do you think history will remember him?

For that answer, look no further than Tony Parker.

——

It seems that since July 2003, Tony Parker has been searching for the respect he deserves, and 11 years later, his search still persists.

Even after admirably steering the San Antonio Spurs to the 2003 NBA championship, the Spurs, armed with cap space, attempted to sign Jason Kidd away from his New Jersey Nets. At the time, the decision to go after Kidd was questionable, to say the least.

In Parker, the Spurs seemed to have a neophyte who, at the young age of 21 years old, was already a championship contributor thanks to a decorated international career that began at the age of 16 for Paris Basket Racing.

Now, as the Spurs have accomplished some dynastic feats, Parker’s four championship rings are more than Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, John Wall and Damian Lillard combined.

Yet still, many, if not all of the aforementioned point guards would be mentioned among the game’s greatest before Parker.

Why is that? Is it because it’s true? Or is it because Parker’s greatness is hidden alongside the greatness of Tim Duncan?

Certainly, without Duncan, Parker would probably not have those four championship rings, but how many of the four that the duo won together would have been won if not for the Frenchman?

Parker is the quintessential inlier. One of this generation’s best point guards goes largely overlooked and unnoticed as he continues on about his business, secretly being one of the most consistent forces behind one of the league’s most consistent winners.

I have had multiple conversations with Parker about this very thing, the most recent being during the 2014 NBA Finals. In short, Parker is unconcerned with how history remembers him or the legacy that he leaves on the game. When it is all said and done, he will be considered, with Dirk Nowitzki, as one of the top European basketball players in history, but not one of the greatest point guards in history.

Parker is okay with that, though, because the fire that burned inside of Bryant to walk away and leave a legacy on the game, at large, simply isn’t there for Parker, and that is not a bad thing.

It’s just a fact.

But, deep down inside, if there is a raging inferno in the gut of a young superstar, that’s something that should be respected. All too often, though, as a collective culture, we view it as “selfish”—the worst thing you can call a basketball player.

What’s wrong with wanting to both win big and be the primary reason why your team does so? Why not strive to have your cake and eat it, too?

Kyrie’s quandary, and one that the Cavaliers will deal with at some point, is whether he, like Bryant, believes or will believe that he is better than being anyone’s Robin, or if he, like Parker, is willing to forgo an attempt at an independent legacy in pursuit of collecting rings.

——

In today’s NBA, winning is quite difficult. It takes three to tango, at the very least, and the recent examples of the “No I in Team” 2008 Boston Celtics and the recently disbanded Miami HEAT attest to this.

The assembling of those 2008 Celtics was just the beginning of the modern NBA talent arms race and led to the culmination of it—James and Chris Bosh joining the HEAT.

Sacrifice is a thing that is so often discussed as it relates to winning, whether it be money, touches, shots or ego. All six of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, James, Wade and Bosh had to sacrifice for their teams to win, so they are shining examples.

But each of those examples were at different places in their career than Irving is now.

Pierce, Allen, Garnett and Bosh had never come close to winning a championship, despite multiple All-Star appearances and being renowned as top-notch players. But by the time those unions were formed, all six players had already tirelessly toiled in pursuit of a championship that hadn’t come, and pulling the plug on their own individual legacies and willingly joining forces was a last straw that made sense after countless fruitless pursuits.

That, at this point, is not Irving’s situation.

Irving, at just 22 years old, is one of the more impressive point guard prospects to enter the league in recent memory. Despite just having 11 games of college experience at Duke University, Irving has impressed everyone with his poise and skill set. That was never more apparent than this past summer when he helped the Americans win the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup in Spain and was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

There are still some appreciable holes in his game, but before joining with James, it was far too early to know with any certainty that Irving was more Gilbert Arenas than he was Isiah Thomas.

Now, depending on how things play out, he may never get the opportunity to provide the answer.

Back in the summer of 2012, though, Irving certainly let everyone know how highly he thought of himself.

Back then, Irving had just completed his rookie year and was invited to Las Vegas by the U.S. Men’s National Basketball team. Irving was invited as a member of the Select Team—the junior varsity practice squad that was assembled in furtherance of creating a funnel for players to adapt and become integrated with the international basketball scene.

Famously, there, Irving was caught on camera, arrogantly challenging none other than Kobe Bryant to a game of one-on-one.

“This is not a high school kid coming up to you and saying ‘Oh my God, Kobe, Kobe,’ this is me, coming up to you, one-on-one,” Irving said as Bryant chuckled and Irving suggested the two wager $50,000 on the competition.

“You have to guard,” Irving said to Bryant after Kobe told the rookie that there was no way he could stop Bryant from scoring.

Irving’s response?

“You’re not gonna lock me up.”

And when Kobe reminded Irving that he was not far removed from being “a high school kid,” Irving responded by telling Bryant that some players need 30 games in college to get ready for the NBA.

But Irving? According to him, he only needed 11.

So back in 2012, when LeBron was coming off of his first championship as a member of the HEAT, Irving knew he was ready for a life of superstardom in the NBA and probably dreamed of one day knocking James off as the “it kid” of the league.

I wonder if, back then, he envisioned himself ever being subjugated to a role of second-fiddle to LeBron.

Now, two years later, we are wondering who Irving is.

Will he be a player who is ultimately okay with being the Robin to LeBron’s Batman? The journey of self-discovery, for Kyrie Irving, whether he recognizes it not, has already begun.

And the answer to that question, finding it and determining what do about it, with all of his potential and dreams—that is Kyrie’s quandary.

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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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