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NBA Sunday: The West’s Top Five Stories

The top five stories in the Western Conference’s free agency frenzy … Is Kevin Love really worth what the Timberwolves are asking?

Bill Ingram



NBA free agency may have gotten off to something of a slow start, but once LeBron James committed to the Cleveland Cavaliers, all of the other dominoes started falling into place. The landscape of the Eastern Conference has changed dramatically, but that doesn’t mean the Western Conference won’t still be the vastly better conference next season. With so much more at stake, here’s look at the West’s biggest free agency stories.

1) The Los Angeles Lakers Strike Out – It had almost become expected that the Los Angeles Lakers will target and land any major free agent they go after, but things have changed in L.A. Last year, Dwight Howard bolted to the Houston Rockets, leaving money on the table to do so, and this summer wasn’t much better for the Lakers. LeBron James never gave them serious consideration, Carmelo Anthony didn’t like what he saw and even Pau Gasol decided to take less money to join a potential contender in Chicago. Rather than landing one of the big names they targeted, the Lakers had to settle for cast of players that looks very much like last year’s, which won’t get them anywhere close to the playoffs.

2) The Houston Rockets Strike Out – Much like the Lakers, the Houston Rockets had high aspirations heading into the offseason following a successful free agency run in 2013. Adding James, Anthony or Chris Bosh would have been a strong follow-up for GM Daryl Morey. Unfortunately, not only did the Rockets fail to land a big name, they were even outbid for their own key free agent, Chandler Parsons. They did land Trevor Ariza, but he’s hardly as good as Parsons, not to mention they gave up quality rotation players like Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in their effort to clear cap space, which will really hurt their depth. Barring some huge trade between now and the start of next season, the Rockets won’t be as good as they were in 2014, when they lost in the first round of the playoffs.

3) The Dallas Mavericks Are On the Rebound – It would be hard to view the moves made by the Dallas Mavericks since their 2011 NBA championship as anything but dreadfully disappointing. They were hoping to lure a variety of big names, including Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and even LeBron James, yet they missed out time and time again after liquidating their championship team for cap space. This summer, the Mavericks got back on track. They acquired Tyson Chandler, signed Chandler Parsons to an offer sheet so large that Houston declined to match and, most importantly, got Dirk Nowitzki to take far less than market value to enable them to improve the team across the board. The Mavs aren’t completely finished dealing, having added Richard Jefferson, Devin Harris and Rashard Lewis in recent days, but as they stand they are arguably a top team in the Western Conference.

4) The San Antonio Spurs Stand Pat – The defending NBA champs know how to build a winner, and one of the biggest keys to their sustained success has been continuity. They don’t trade away big names and they don’t try to take short cuts by adding them, either. After expressing some interest in Pau Gasol, the Spurs were content to re-sign Patty Mills and Boris Diaw and look forward to another season with the same group of players who hung championship banner number five in the rafters of AT&T Center. It’s worked for the Spurs for years, so expect them to be contenders yet again without any roster moves needed.

5) The Dark Horse Move – With a nod to the Los Angeles Clippers, who added depth in both the front court and back court, and the New Orleans Pelicans, who have positioned Anthony Davis to break out with Omer Asik playing next to him, the understated move that may put a team over the top is the signing of Vince Carter by the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies were beset by injuries last season, but by the end of the year they were playing like one of the best teams in the league and were as tough an out as any team in the NBA. The one thing they lacked was a clutch offensive player off the bench who could help them get the one or two critical baskets when they mattered most. Carter may be toward the end of his prime, but he was incredibly clutch for the Dallas Mavericks last season and delivered win after win in their unlikely return to the playoffs. Carter might just be the key to Memphis making a deep postseason run and possibly advancing to the NBA Finals.

The Kevin Love/Andrew Wiggins Question

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been the big winners this summer, bringing home LeBron James after landing the top player in the 2014 draft in Andrew Wiggins. LeBron said all of the right things about it taking time for the Cavaliers to grow together, develop Wiggins and make their way back to the playoffs and contention. All the while, his new front office team was working to greatly shorten the amount of time expected to pass before LeBron is back in the NBA Finals with his new and former team.

Wiggins is one of the best young prospects to come along in years, the top prospect in a draft class that promises to shift the balance of power in the NBA as a new cast of franchise-changing players grow into All-Stars. The question for the Cavaliers, then, is whether to wait for Wiggins to grow into the star most everyone believes him to be, or to try to cut corners by sending him to Minnesota in an effort to land All-Star power forward Kevin Love. The addition of Love would seem to make the Cavaliers Finals-ready immediately, assuming Love is ready to play like a champion.

The question being pondered by the Cavaliers right now – whether or not to swap Wiggins in a package for Love – is arguably the biggest decision the franchise has ever faced, keeping in mind that both drafting and then re-signing LeBron was a no-brainer. The thought of Wiggins growing into a Hall of Fame type player alongside James and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving is positively irresistible, and yet the possibility of adding Love undoubtedly has Cavaliers GM David Griffin up nights.

Love is an impressive player, no question. He is one of the best rebounders in the NBA and can score in volumes from anywhere on the court. Despite those positives, Love has yet to make the playoffs or sniff postseason success, and that is something that should concern Griffin and his staff. Love doesn’t play much defense, and his lack of playoff experience is despite having a solid group of players around him and a great coach in Rick Adelman. Can Love evolve into a champion playing alongside James, or are the Cavaliers better off developing Wiggins into a champion from the start?

If Wiggins turns out to be as good as everyone projects him to be, the Cavaliers would be silly to cash him (as well as other assets) in on Love. Yes, Love is already in his prime and could conceivably accelerate Cleveland’s contention plan, but is it worth skipping a year or two if you give up a franchise player in the process?

It all comes down to how confident the Cavaliers are in Wiggins’ potential. If they are supremely confident, they should pass on Love, especially since the Timberwolves are asking for other assets in addition to Wiggins.


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NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson

Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.

Ben Nadeau



Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?

Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.

“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”

Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.

While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.

Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.

“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”

Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.

“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.

Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.

Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.

But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.

“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”

When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.

And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.

“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”

One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.

“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”

And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.

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Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?

Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.

Shane Rhodes



The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.

With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.

It couldn’t get worse, could it?

Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.

In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.

The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.

Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.

The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.

Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.

Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?

If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.

Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.

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NBA Daily: Houston Has It All

Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.

Lang Greene



It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.

So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.

As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.

Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.

One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.

Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.

Floor Generalship

Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.

This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.

Small Ball Ready

Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.

At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.


When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.

Shooting, Versatility and Experience

All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.

Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.


Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.

With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.

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