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NBA Sunday: Three Big Trade Deadline Buyers

Three NBA teams that are hoping to make huge trade deadline moves … Which team in the West can hope to upset OKC and San Antonio to get to the Finals?

Bill Ingram

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NBA Trade Deadline Buyers

This week will be a big one for Basketball Insiders and our readers. We’ve been working overtime putting together what will be a comprehensive 2014 NBA Trade Deadline Guide, which you can download from the iPhone App Store, Android App Store as well as online. Our team takes an in-depth look at all 30 NBA teams, detailing which ones are buyers, which ones are sellers and which ones are likely to stand pat. We also offer trade deadline insight from the player, agent and executive perspectives. As we anxiously await the publication of the magazine, let’s take a quick look at three teams that will absolutely be buyers as the last days before the deadline melt away.

First and foremost, we have the Phoenix Suns. They are, without a doubt, the most surprising team in the NBA this season, and they have let it be known that a playoff berth is not enough. They want to make some noise once they get there. Last week the Suns were pursuing Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol, though talks broke down because the Lakers reportedly wanted more than the Suns were willing to part with. The Suns have Emeka Okafor’s expiring, insured contract burning a hole in their pocket, and they were hopeful that the cap relief it represents would be a primary motivating factor for the foundering Lakers. Of course, Gasol’s contract is expiring, as well, so the Lakers wanted the Suns to send them one of their four coveted first round picks in this summer’s very deep draft. The Suns declined. It will be interesting to see if those talks resume before the deadline, or if the Suns decide to open a dialogue with one of the many teams now willing to move quality big men. Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Larry Sanders, Omer Asik, Anderson Varejao, Carlos Boozer, Spencer Hawes and maybe even Brook Lopez are a few of the bigger names that are believed to be available. If the Suns could add a star-level big man to their front line they might just have enough talent to get to the second round.

Second, we have the New York Knicks working the phones in an attempt to add another star-caliber player alongside Carmelo Anthony. As much as the media loves to talk about the Knicks dealing Anthony himself, that just isn’t very likely to happen. Anthony wanted to be in New York, which is why the Nuggets worked to send him there in the first place, and his feelings about that haven’t changed. We recently saw a story where his comment that the most important thing was competing for a championship were taken somewhat out of context, and used to presume that Anthony would look for greener pastures as a free agent. What Anthony meant, of course, was that the most important thing is to win a championship with the Knicks. Where the Knicks would really like to make a radical upgrade is at point guard, which is why they have been connected to talks about Kyle Lowry and now Rajon Rodo. Toronto’s asking price was too high, as they hope to convince Lowry to be their long-term floor general, so the Knicks are hoping to convince Celtics GM Danny Ainge that Amar’e Stoudemire’s expiring contract will help them make a huge splash in the next big free agent class: 2015. One way or the other, the Knicks need to make a significant move at the deadline to show Anthony why he should re-commit to New York. If they can do that, it won’t be a hard sell at all.

Finally, the Charlotte Bobcats have been surprisingly good this season, and they too would like to make a big move to solidify their spot in the postseason. The team is hoping to re-engage their fan base with a return to the Hornets nickname, and a few postseason wins would certainly further that cause. Charlotte would love to move Ben Gordon, and might even be willing to send out Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to make a deal happen. The Bobcats are looking to improve their small forward position, and so have been connected to talks surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers’ Evan Turner. Turner would be a fabulous addition for the Bobcats, who, according to the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell, do not believe they need to tank for another high draft pick as much as they need a taste of the postseason. If the Bobcats can land an upgrade on the wing they could be a tough out in the first round.

Once again, keep an eye on the site so you’ll know when our Basketball Insiders 2014 NBA Trade Deadline Guide drops and make sure you have the inside scoop on one of the most exciting days in sports.

Is There A Dark Horse in the West?

The Western Conference is by far the dominant conference in the NBA these days, with many of the Eastern Conference teams looking like they might really belong in the NBA Development League. Even in the West, however, there is a shortage of legitimate contenders, a list that might be just two teams long. Kevin Durant’s MVP season has helped the Oklahoma City Thunder to the league’s best record despite the absence of All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs have been decimated by injuries, yet continue to find ways to win. They have the second-best record in the West and expect to be back in the NBA Finals come June if they can get everyone healthy.

As good as the West is, does that sum up the entire list of legit contenders in the conference?

It would be a mistake to overlook the Portland Trail Blazers, though many were writing them off even when they had the best record in the West. They have the second-toughest schedule over the second half of the season, and that is starting to take its toll on the team. They came into the weekend as winners of just four of their last six games and need to right the ship quickly to avoid falling below the third seed. The Blazers are the most-improved team in the conference behind the strong improvement of Damian Lillard and a number of key offseason additions. There are still concerns that they are not deep enough, and that may prove to be their downfall if they don’t address that issue at the trade deadline.

As things stand today there may only be one team in the Western Conference that can hope to upset either the Thunder or the Spurs and escape the wild, wild West. We’re talking about a team that made a radical upgrade in the coaching department, has added great veterans to the bench and looks like the deepest team in the NBA. They have struggled with significant injuries, but they’re about to get healthy, and once healthy they should be ready to make a run towards the top.

We’re talking, of course, about the Los Angeles Clippers.

Of all the teams that changed head coaches over the offseason, none did as well the Clippers. Doc Rivers is to Vinny Del Negro what Scary Movie Part 10 is to Dances With Wolves. There really is no comparison. Darren Collison was a fabulous addition behind Chris Paul, JJ Redick is one of the best shooters in the game, and the more recent additions of Hedo Turkoglu and Sasha Vujacic make the Clippers one of the most lethal three-point shooting teams in the league. Then you add one of the best frontlines with DeAndre Jordan intimidating opposing players and controlling the glass and Blake Griffin putting up great numbers, as well as the shoe-in sixth man of the year in Jamal Crawford and the Clippers appear to have all of the pieces required to win a championship.

Nothing has been determined, of course, and if a team like the Houston Rockets or maybe even the Phoenix Suns can make a splashy move before the trade deadline they might make things more interesting. As things stand today, however, the LA Clippers appear to be the most intriguing Western Conference team outside of San Antonio and Oklahoma City, and with Chris Paul due back tonight it’s time for what looks great on paper to start dominating on the court.

NBA Chat with Bill Ingram

In case you missed my last NBA chat, find it by linking here! You can also go ahead and submit a question for this week’s chat, which you can find here! I make an effort to answer every non-repeat question, and early questions are virtually guaranteed to be answered, so drop yours in now!

Twitter Follows:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton and @YannisNBA.

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Life After Philadelphia is Just Fine For Turner

Evan Turner goes 1-on-1 with Basketball Insiders to explain how life in Philadelphia shaped the rest of his career.

Dennis Chambers

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Once upon a time, Evan Turner was the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and the next man in line to save the Philadelphia 76ers.

After finishing his junior year at Ohio State University, Turner declared for the draft and eventually was taken directly after John Wall by the Sixers. Turner joined a team that won just 27 games the year before, but had more than a few promising young pieces.

Andre Iguodala, a former Sixers top-10 pick in his own right, was the oldest of the core bunch, at just 27. After him, the likes of Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes were all under the age of 24. All in all, adding a No. 2 pick to that mix looked to set up the Sixers for years to come.

For the most part, the beginning of Turner’s career was successful. After making the playoffs his rookie season and losing in the first round to the Miami HEAT four games to one, the Sixers pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals during the 2011-12 season.

Turner started 12 of those 13 playoff games during his second season, averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 points per game.

Just as Turner seemed to be coming into his own, though, the tides in Philadelphia began to turn, and turn quickly.

His third year in the league, and first year as a full-time starter, came and went for Turner. He posted decent numbers. His 13.6 points per game were second only to Holiday. He was third on the team in assists and sixth in rebounds. In the midst of his fourth season, while averaging a career-high 17.4 points, Turner was traded to the Indiana Pacers.

Newly hired president of basketball operations, Sam Hinkie, had a plan in place that didn’t include Turner. It didn’t include Holiday either, as he was shipped off during the 2013 draft for Nerlens Noel and future first-round pick.

Just as the Sixers were becoming “his” team, Turner was sent packing to a new zip code. In his mind, he never got a fair shake at trying to the be the guy he was drafted to be in Philadelphia.

“I don’t think I really ever had a chance to shoulder it, to tell you the truth,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t start my first two years, but numbers wise I thought I did well. Nobody averaged more than 13 or 14. We were a great unit. My third year, my first year starting, I thought I did pretty well for a first-year starter. We missed the playoffs, which is always tough. Within the next year, it got blown up.”

Turner reiterated that in his mind, he wasn’t allowed the leash to become a franchise guy. But it wasn’t all for naught in Philadelphia.

“Honest opinion, I don’t think I ever fully got the chance,” Turner said. “But I got the chance to do a lot of great things. Learn how to win, learn how to defend, learn how to prepare.”

Since leaving Philly, Turner’s role in the NBA has shifted from a potential franchise player to a serviceable role man on a playoff caliber team.

Last summer, Turner inked a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers after his stint with Indiana, and then two years with the Boston Celtics. Beyond the years in Philly, Turner’s life in the Association has been kind to him.

“It’s been fine,” Turner said. “On the up and up, I was fortunate to make the playoffs every year since leaving Philly. I made the playoffs two out of three, or three out of the four years that I was here. It’s cool, it’s a blessing. Healthy, stable, and living the dream.”

On Wednesday night, Turner returned to Philadelphia and the Wells Fargo Center to square off against his old team. Nowadays, this version of the Sixers is much different than the one he left behind. A process that nearly began with jettisoning Turner to the Pacers feels near completion, and the energy Turner once felt on the court in a Sixers uniform is returning in full force.

When walking around the building, this time as a visitor, Turner takes appreciation in seeing some old faces. The guys “behind the scenes” as he put it, always are welcoming. Brett Brown, Turner’s former coach, never fails to show him love, and the arena in South Philly, Turner says, is always a great reminder of where he came from.

Turner thinks the process that was kicked off with getting rid of him and his core teammates is promising, though.

“It’s turning around,” Turner said.  “Just off the first eye glance, I know Coach Brown can coach his butt off. Even the fact that they’re getting up a real practice facility says a lot. Obviously on the court, the energy. You see on tv before, it’s more sold out. When you see the Sixers sometimes it would be a joke, in regards to how many games they lost, or whatever. But now it’s kind of like you’re going to see some great highlights, you’re watching a lot of energy from the crowd and things. I’m happy for them. It seems like it’s trending in the right direction.”

It wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine for Turner in Philadelphia; he would be reminded of that as he was greeted with boo’s from the crowd when he checked into the game for the first time Wednesday night. The city of brotherly love has a reputation that doesn’t necessarily precede its name.

“Much is given, much is expected,” he said. “One thing is, when you get kind of labeled as whatever, you kind of get tagged for the most critical stuff. I saw how sometimes Iguodala would get blamed for everything, and then I kind of moved into that. I went from the cute little kid, to moving into that responsibility. Then MCW (Michael Carter-Williams) went from that position. It’s just kind of, you know, part of the game.”

The harshness of the city, and Turner’s situation particularly, helped guide him through his career after Philadelphia. In Turner’s words, “The only way to go from here, in a certain sense, is up.”

Portland’s sixth man has lived a long, lucrative life in the NBA, even if it didn’t go exactly how it was initially planned to. Turner was quick to point out that any time he heard someone complain during his travels around the league, at least they weren’t facing the wrath of Philadelphia.

“Going into new situations, people are like, ‘Hey they do this or they do that,’ and I’m like are y’all serious,” Turner said with a smile. “Go to Philly and see what they’ll do to y’all.”

Maybe his time spent in Philadelphia didn’t turn out the way fans had hoped, but Turner found out quickly there was a spot for him in the league as a former second overall pick, and that his career has gone just the way it was supposed to.

“I’m a firm believer in everything is supposed to happen how it’s supposed to happen,” Turner said. “Regardless of which, it’s a blessing.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA AM: The First 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

Steve Kyler

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The Thanksgiving 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

So with that in mind here is my first Mock Draft of the 2018 Season, look for more of these are we march on (and hopefully you like the new Mock Draft table design.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this summer.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out our Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA

NBA PM: Lopez Leading On And Off The Court

Brook Lopez has been a valuable addition to the Los Angeles Lakers, both on and off the court.

Ben Nadeau

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In spite of the ongoing media circus, an inherently tougher conference and a roster that features just five players with more than three years of NBA experience, the Los Angeles Lakers are 8-10. Naturally, that won’t be good enough to reach the postseason in the West, but it’s better than most expected the young Lakers to fare. Their early season successes can be chalked up to their glut of budding talent — Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, among others — but there’s one other major driving force at hand here and his name is Brook Lopez.

Following years of will-they, won’t-they rumors, Lopez was acquired in a shocking blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets just prior to this year’s draft. The Lakers were eager to get out from under Timofey Mozgov’s lengthy, albatross-sized contract, so they packaged him with the once-troubled D’Angelo Russell, shipping the pair off for Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick. The deal was largely made with financial implications in mind, but the initial returns on Lopez have been a massive win for the Lakers as well.

Although Lopez is currently logging a career-low in minutes (24.3), he still often leads the way for Los Angeles — like the night he effortlessly dropped 34 points and 10 rebounds on 6-for-9 from three-point range against his former franchise. Through 18 games, Lopez is averaging just 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds — a scoring mark that ranks only above his rookie season with the New Jersey Nets in 2008-09 — but his statistical impact is key on this inconsistent roster nonetheless.

But beyond that, it seems as if some of Lopez’s biggest contributions this season have come off the court — just ask Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac.

“[Lopez] has taught me how to be a professional,” Kuzma told Basketball Insiders prior to their game against the Boston Celtics earlier this month. “He’s one of the first guys in the gym, one of the last ones to leave.”

Lopez, who has carried his fair share of incredibly poor teams in the past — and often with a smile — is in the final year of the contract he signed back in 2015. His expiring deal worth $22.6 million made Lopez the perfect acquisition for a Lakers team hoping to shed cap space before the upcoming free agency period — where, allegedly, LeBron James and Paul George are both targets.

For a 7-foot center that just added a three-point shot to his game and knocked down 134 of them last season alone, Lopez may be one of the greatest trade afterthoughts in recent memory. The Lakers will likely finish in the lottery rather than the postseason, but Lopez — along with veterans Andrew Bogut, Corey Brewer and Luol Deng — have been a helpful presence for the slew of young Lakers as they adjust to professional basketball.

“They’re all great — they’ve been there, done that,” Kuzma said. “They have a lot of experience in this league, so it’s good to learn from those guys because they’ve played 10, 13 years and that’s what I want to do.”

Kuzma, of course, was selected with that No. 27 overall pick that the Nets sent to Los Angeles in the trade, and he’s been red-hot ever since. Following an impressive combine, summer league and preseason, Kuzma jumped into the starting lineup after Larry Nance Jr. fractured his hand just eight games into the campaign. Although the Rookie of the Year battle has been dominated by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons so far, Kuzma — averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game — has emerged as a strong runner-up candidate.

For Zubac, however, it’s been a slower start to his NBA career but with Lopez, he says, things have gotten easier.

“The whole summer, I worked on my three-point shot,” Zubac told Basketball Insiders. “But also [I worked on my] post offense too, that’s what [Lopez] is good at. I’m really focusing my game around the post, so that’s where I’m trying to learn.”

Last year, Zubac was a popular late-season member of head coach Luke Walton’s rotation and he finished his rookie year averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. Unfortunately, the new arrivals and recent emergences have limited Zubac to just 10 total minutes over four appearances in 2017-18. Still, Lopez gives Zubac a mentor worth modeling his game after, even if it’s at the expense of real experience this season.

To get Zubac on the floor, the center has spent time with the South Bay Lakers, Los Angeles’ G-League affiliate, as of late. In two games, Zubac has averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds on 73 percent shooting from the field. Despite the lack of playing time, Zubac was more than happy to praise not only Lopez but the efforts of the other aforementioned veterans too.

“I can learn a lot from them and they help me play my game,” Zubac said. “Whoever’s on the court, whoever I’m playing with, I just try to learn as much as I can from them.”

Ultimately, though, it all comes back to Lopez.

Again, Lopez has averaged a career-low in minutes, but his contributions have been crucial in the Lakers’ overall standing thus far. In the games that Lopez has played less than 21 minutes, the Lakers are 0-5; but when he plays more than 30, the team is 3-1. On top of that, the Lakers are 5-1 when Lopez hits two or more three-pointers in a game as well. That sample size is still certainly small, but it’s nice indicator of Lopez’s inherent on-court impact, even when he’s not carrying the team on his shoulders.

“[He makes life] a lot easier for me,” Kuzma said. “He’s one of the most established scorers in the league and his career average is, like, 20 [points] a game. You can always count on him to be there every single night.”

While the Lakers can plan for a dream offseason haul involving James, George and others, they’ll have a tough decision facing them in July. Whether he’s efficiently stretching the floor, finishing off assists from Ball or setting the tone in an inexperienced locker room, Lopez has been quite the addition for Los Angeles.

This summer, Lopez enters unrestricted free agency and will likely garner offers outside of the Lakers’ pay range considering their big plans. If the Lakers decide to focus elsewhere, another team will reap the rewards. Until then, the youthful core in Los Angeles will benefit from having Lopez train and educate them each day.

“[Lopez] takes care of his body, he stays low-key and is never in trouble,” Kuzma said. “He’s the type of professional I want to be.”

Whether this is just a one-year detour in his extensively underrated career or the start of a great, new partnership, Lopez’s arrival in Los Angeles has been a huge success already. But as far as role models go for both Kuzma and Zubac, there are few choices better than Brook Lopez — both on and off the court.

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