With nearly half of NBA teams projected to pay the luxury tax next season, it appeared that a league-wide cap crunch would make for a ho-hum deadline day. But then Cavaliers GM Koby Altman decided to hit the reset button and flip six of Cleveland’s roster spots.
Altman’s mid-season insta-rebuild provided some fireworks as the deadline approached, but the rest of the league was relatively quiet with mostly peripheral deals. Below, we assign grades for each team that made a move.
Three-way trade: Rodney Hood and George Hill to Cavs, Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose to Jazz, Iman Shumpert and Joe Johnson to Kings
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin tweeted some strong comments from Altman about how serious the Cavaliers took the chemistry issues that prevented the team from meeting expectations.
“We felt like we were on a slow death march, and that’s not something I wanted to be a part of.”
Strong words from Cleveland GM Koby Altman on a media conference call about the culture of the Cavs he felt he had to change: "We felt like we were on a slow death march and that's not something I wanted to be a part of"
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) February 9, 2018
Altman’s actions on deadline day were decisive and put him squarely in the conversation for NBA Executive of the Year. He addressed the fractured chemistry and made the team significantly younger and more athletic, all while preserving Brooklyn’s unprotected 2018 first-round draft pick. Take a bow, Mr. Altman.
Basketball Insiders on Tuesday broke down the hidden potential of former Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood. He ranks 101st of 106 shooting guards in defensive Real Plus-Minus and will be a significant defensive downgrade from Jae Crowder. However, on the offensive end, Hood is a multi-talented player who gets buckets but remains humble and low-key. He won’t replace Kyrie Irving, but he could develop into the best perimeter scorer LeBron James has played with since Irving departed.
While Hood struggles defensively, George Hill is known as a two-way stalwart. If he can remain healthy, he’ll provide exactly the leadership by example Cleveland needs after all the finger-pointing.
- Grade for the Cavaliers: A+
With Hood sharing the same position with emergent rookie Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz decided to get something for Hood rather than keep him as he entered restricted free agency. Crowder is known as one of the best defensive small forwards in the NBA and shot almost 40 percent from three in Boston last season. Normally such a three-and-D stud would be untouchable, but for some reason, it didn’t work out in Cleveland.
For the Jazz, Crowder is a worthy gamble who should lock down the other wing position next to Mitchell. He’s on one of the NBA’s most team-friendly deals with two more guaranteed seasons at under $8 million per. There’s some danger that Hood could blow up in Cleveland and make the Jazz regret this decision. Utah is expected to waive or buy out Derrick Rose.
- Grade for the Jazz: B
The Kings made a valiant effort to supplement a young core with veterans last summer, but it simply didn’t work out. With Sacramento lottery-bound despite its veteran investments, it was time to move off some salary and commit to youth. The Kings got out of $19 million Hill will make next season, and his absence should lead to better draft position.
Joe Johnson will likely be bought out but, according to league sources, Iman Shumpert is more likely to opt into the final year at $11 million remaining on his contract. Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler tweeted that he has that from a source close to Shumpert.
I have had this conversation – according to sources close to Shump, barring some eruption of production in Sacramento, far more likely Shump opts for $11 million than not. Injuries and bare marketplace a HUGE factor. https://t.co/ZTFJQWOg0C
— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) February 8, 2018
The Kings will also receive a 2020 second-round draft pick.
- Grade for the Kings: B
Lakers trade Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson to Cavs for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Fry, and Cleveland’s first-round pick
There’s no telling, based on what he did with the Lakers, what Larry Nance can become. Can he be as good as Tristan Thompson? Only time will tell. But the key to this deal is that Cleveland moved on from Thomas and got two young, athletic players in return for a piece that didn’t fit. Losing Channing Fry’s floor-stretching ability will hurt with Kevin Love injured, but that was the cost of doing business.
- Grade for Cavaliers: A
For the Lakers, regardless of what Thomas does for the rest of the season, this was about opening two potential maximum salary slots for the offseason to pursue stars. Jordan Clarkson was the team’s third-leading scorer, but that doesn’t count for much when the team is destined for the lottery. The Lakers should also be applauded for getting Cleveland’s first-round pick in an environment where teams are clinging to their picks with a death grip.
- Grade for Lakers: B
Cavaliers trade Dwyane Wade to Heat
This one was tricky, and it’s again a tribute to Altman for the master craftsmanship he displayed ahead of the deadline. To give incoming guards Hood and Clarkson a real opportunity to assimilate, it was important to open up minutes for them. With Dwyane Wade still in Cleveland, that would have meant forcing those players to compete for minutes with one of James’ closest friends. Wade’s return to Miami allows him to finish his career the way he wants to while opening the floor for Hood and Clarkson to make their own imprint for the Cavaliers. Cleveland gets a protected second-round pick.
- Grade for Cavaliers and Heat: A+
Bulls trade Jameer Nelson to Pistons for Willie Reed
Basketball Insiders has already given the Pistons glowing marks for landing Blake Griffin in exchange for expendable pieces. With Reggie Jackson still ailing, point guard remains a major area of concern in Detroit. Jameer Nelson was solid for the Nuggets last season and should have a bit left in the tank as he rejoins Stan Van Gundy, his coach in Orlando. The Bulls are engaged in a youth movement and should dedicate point guard minutes to developing talent. Chicago has waived Willie Reed and will have the option to swap second-round picks in the deal.
- Grade for Pistons and Bulls: B
Grizzlies trade James Ennis to Pistons for Brice Johnson
This is a peripheral move headlined by James Ennis, a former second-round pick of the HEAT who has shown some promise as an offensive swingman. The Pistons are leaving no stone unturned in the quest to load up for a playoff run. The Grizzlies also picked up a future second-round pick.
- Grade for Pistons and Grizzlies: B-
Knicks trade Willy Hernangomez to Hornets for Johnny O’Bryant
With Kristaps Porzingis lost for the season to a torn ACL and Joakim Noah in exile, the Knicks suddenly had minutes available to placate Willy Hernangomez. Instead, the team traded him for a pair of second-round picks from the Hornets and Johnny O’Bryant, whom the Knicks immediately waived. They will say it was about the draft assets, but this was a typical Machiavellian move. Porzingis lost his season then lost his best friend on the team in a matter of hours.
- Grade for the Knicks: F
For the Hornets, this was about getting a player that made the All-Rookie first team last year. With Dwight Howard starting and Cody Zeller coming back from injury, Charlotte doesn’t present a significantly-better opportunity for Hernangomez to find minutes. But this was a savvy move by the Hornets to grab a valuable player who was only available so cheap because the Knicks refused to showcase him before moving him.
- Grade for the Hornets: B
Three-way trade: Emmanuel Mudiay to Knicks, Devin Harris to Nuggets and Doug McDermott to Mavericks
Emmanuel Mudiay and Doug McDermott are former lottery picks who have not lived up to expectations. Devin Harris has been a quality backup point guard for a long time, but he’s getting toward the end of his career. Denver also picks up the Clippers’ 2018 second-round pick via the Knicks while the Mavs get a second from the Nuggets. There’s nothing to get overly excited about here for any of the parties involved.
- Grade for the Knicks, Nuggets, and Mavericks: C+
Magic trade Elfrid Payton to Suns for second-round pick
Speaking of former lottery picks that haven’t panned out, the Magic finally decided to move on from Elfrid Payton. Keep in mind that Orlando also gave up on Payton’s former backcourt mate Victor Oladipo, who is now an All-Star for the Pacers. Payton has improved his outside shot but doesn’t appear to have that kind of potential. By trading him, the Magic can improve the odds of landing a top draft pick.
- Grade for the Magic: C
For the Suns, who have suffered a similar run of draft picks that haven’t panned out, this move is low-risk and potentially high-reward. Phoenix has nothing to lose other than more games on its way to another lottery pick.
- Grade for the Suns: B
Pelicans trade Dante Cunningham to Nets for Rashad Vaughn
The Nets had just traded Tyler Zeller to the Bucks to obtain Rashad Vaughn before moving him on to the Pelicans for Dante Cunningham. Vaughn is another young point guard who failed to carve out a role in Milwaukee. Cunningham became expendable in New Orleans after the Pelicans traded for Nikola Mirotic. He could help the Nets win a few more games, which could hurt draft position for the Cavaliers, owners of Brooklyn’s unrestricted 2018 first-round draft pick. There’s not much cause for exuberance among the directly-involved parties.
- Grade for the Nets and Pelicans: C
Trail Blazers trade Noah Vonleh to Bulls for Milocan Rakovic
Continuing a theme, Noah Vonleh is another former high draft pick who hasn’t become a significant contributor. Players are always the right opportunity away from taking the next step in their career, so a fresh start in Chicago could be just what he needs. For the Trail Blazers, this was about getting under the luxury tax. It may only buy Portland a season out of luxury tax territory, but that means the clock isn’t ticking toward repeater tax penalties. This was a sensible move for both parties.
- Grade for the Bulls and Trail Blazers: B
Hawks trade Luke Babbitt to Heat for Okaro White
In 34 games Luke Babbitt started for the HEAT between Jan. 17 and March 29 of last year, Miami went 26-8. With the Hawks, Babbitt hasn’t been able to carve out a significant role. The Miami Herald has speculated that the trade for Babbitt might have to do with the strained shoulder Kelly Olynyk suffered, which caused him to miss Wednesday’s loss to the visiting Rockets. It was Olynyk’s first missed game of the season. The Hawks, which have already waived Okaro White, are on pace for one of the top picks in the draft and don’t need Babbitt.
- Grade for the HEAT and Hawks: B
Wizards trade Sheldon Mac to Hawks for protected second-round pick
The Wizards are facing so massive a cap crunch that even the little bit of space saved by sending away Sheldon Mac makes a difference. The Hawks also received cash considerations and have already waived Mac.
- Grade for the Wizards and Hawks: B
Raptors trade Bruno Caboclo to Kings for Malachi Richardson
It’s the end of an era in Toronto with the departure of Bruno Caboclo, one of the oddest draft picks in recent memory. When he was announced as the 20th pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, dismay set in among Raptors fans since few draft observers had Caboclo on their boards. Analyst Fran Fraschilla quipped on ESPN’s broadcast of the draft that Caboclo looked “two years away from being two years away.” Four years later, it appears Fraschilla overestimated Caboclo.
- Grade for the Raptors and Kings: C
Bobby Portis’ Time to Shine
Bobby Portis talks to Basketball Insiders about his increased role on offense, the Bulls’ young core of talent and more.
When the Chicago Bulls acquired Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in the summer of 2016, it was assumed that they were gearing up for another strong season and a playoff appearance. Fred Hoiberg had just finished up his first season as head coach and the team ended with a decent 42-40 record, albeit missing the playoffs.
They struggled the following season, however,but snuck into the postseason as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 41-41 record. They put a brief scare into the Boston Celtics in the first round, but Bulls management ultimately decided to move in another direction. They traded franchise cornerstone Jimmy Butler, bought out Wade’s contract and allowed Rondo to sign elsewhere.
The departure of their veteran players opened up minutes and opportunities for the younger guys on the team, in particular, Bobby Portis. Currently, in his third year with the Bulls, Portis was surrounded by veteran guys during his first couple of years in the league. It’s a different type of environment now in Chicago.
“We went from a veteran-led team, very experienced team, to now having guys on the team here who have never played in the playoffs,” Portis told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a different team, but at the same time we’re gonna grow together and get better together.”
A McDonald’s All-American coming out of Hall High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, Portis was one of the best college basketball players in the nation during the 2014-15 season. He was named the SEC Player of the Year and he declared for the NBA Draft after his sophomore season at the University of Arkansas.
He was selected with the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 draft but having joined a team that had serious playoff aspirations, he saw only sporadic playing time as a rookie. His second year in the NBA, he started seeing increased playing time, but he still had a string of DNP’s throughout the year. His role changed this season when the Bulls front office started heading down the rebuilding path.
“I’m just playing more minutes and actually having a defined role on the team. I don’t have to come in worried if I’m gonna play or not, I know I’m gonna play,” Portis told Basketball Insiders. “That’s the biggest thing for me. Also, the coaching staff having the utmost confidence in me to go out there every night and do what I do.”
This season, he’s emerged as one of the young Bulls most dependable reserves. He’s averaging a career-best 21.3 minutes per game while putting up 13 points on a career-high 10.7 field goal attempts and shooting 47.5 percent from the field. He’s also improved his outside shooting, connecting on 34.7 percent of his attempts from the three-point line.
With many of the Bulls top scoring options gone, Portis has had to take on a much bigger role in the Bulls’ offense. On Thursday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, he dropped a career-high 38 points on 57.7 percent shooting and 6-9 shooting from beyond the arc. In the Bulls’ 22 games since Jan. 1, he’s only failed to reach double-figures in scoring in seven of those games.
“I always say my role is to bring energy and toughness off the bench. Now I feel like my role has changed a little bit,” Portis told Basketball Insiders. “I have to be more aggressive on the offensive end, even more so than last year. Going out there and trying to make my teammates better, moving the basketball, sharing the basketball, trying to lead by example.”
Although he’s been playing better personally, he’s also seen a change in the team as a whole as the season has progressed. The Bulls dug themselves into a hole to begin the season, losing 17 of their first 20 games. They had a much better stretch during their next 20 games, winning 11 of them, including seven consecutively.
“We’re learning how to close games out, learning how to finish games. That’s something we didn’t do earlier in the season, we let other teams come back and win,” Portis told Basketball Insiders. “We’re learning some of each other’s tendencies with the basketball. Having chemistry on the court is always big.”
And as the Bulls move forward with their rebuilding project, they seem to have found at least one player in Portis who can be a part of that. He still has another year left on his contract before he can become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2019. He likes what he sees from the Bulls’ young core, and it’s something he’d like the continue to be a part of.
“Guys are going out there and getting minutes,” Portis told Basketball Insiders. “That’s the biggest thing in this league, you play more minutes you get more experience. It’s having an opportunity.”
NBA Daily: Jimmy Butler’s Potential Absence Could Doom Minnesota
Should Jimmy Butler miss an extended period of time, the Minnesota Timberwolves could lose footing quickly in the tight Western Conference playoff race.
Say it ain’t so, Basketball Gods.
In his first game back from the All-Star break, coincidentally after logging zero minutes in the glorified exhibition game, Jimmy Butler left Friday night’s game with an apparent knee injury.
If the worst comes to fruition — a season-ending injury — Butler would join a laundry list of players whose seasons have been cut short.
Butler’s Minnesota Timberwolves are in the midst of battling for position amongst their Western Conference peers for playoff spots. At the time of Butler’s injury, seeds three through nine are all separated by one game in the loss column.
Calling it a tight race out West would be a vast understatement. With a few more than 20 games to play, the seeding could land in a different order on basically a nightly basis. And for a team like Minnesota, losing their All-Star and veteran presence could be catastrophic.
But, not all hope is lost.
David Aldridge reported Friday night that there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.
MRI Saturday will give final word, but there is some optimism in @JimmyButler camp that he may have at least avoided the worst—an ACL tear—on Friday.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) February 24, 2018
Given how tight the race is amongst the conference, losing Butler for any extended period of time is going to be a big blow to the way Minnesota operates. Very literally, Butler produces a drastic improvement on both ends of the court his team.
On the surface, Butler’s averages are good. They don’t blow you away, but it’s clear that his presence is felt on a nightly basis. 22.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and five assists with a 59.3 true shooting percentage is more than worthy of an All-Star selection. But to the naked eye, it doesn’t scream that he’s the team’s most valuable player by a long shot.
So, let’s dig a little deeper.
When Butler is on the court, Minnesota benefits from a 116.3 offensive rating. Houston and Golden State have 115.7 and 115.4 offensive ratings for the season, respectively. The addition of Butler creates more free space for the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to play with.
Speaking of those two, with the addition of an established superstar like Butler, they’ve been able to focus more on playing basketball than leading a locker room, allowing for growth in their games — Towns especially.
Truly coming into his own as one of the league’s best big men this season, arguably nobody on Minnesota’s roster benefits more from Butler’s performance on the wing than Towns does. On the court together, Towns sports a pretty 114.1 offensive rating, which produced a satisfying 9.3 net rating. That’s winning basketball.
Take Butler away, though, and things get ugly. Fast.
Because of his vast arsenal of offensive versatility, Towns’ offensive rating doesn’t suffer when Butler isn’t in the fold. But his defense? Well, it falls off of a cliff. Towns’ defensive rating balloons to 120.9, bringing that once impressive 9.3 net rating all the way down to -6.5. Butler alone accounts for a 15.8 point swing in Towns’ net rating. The levels of codependency from Towns to Butler in relation to effective basketball are incredibly concerning if the latter is lost for an extended period of time.
Basketball isn’t just a two-man game, though. So, while Minnesota’s younger All-Star benefits greatly from his elder counterpart, maybe the rest of the roster isn’t in such bad shape without him, right?
In fact, as you could probably assume, the production for the Timberwolves as a whole plummets when Butler grabs a seat on the bench. Shooting percentage, net rating, assist rate, rebound rate, finishing at the rim, defending and just about any other conceivable statistic you can find is worse for Minnesota when Butler isn’t on the floor.
Beyond all of the stats though, Butler represented more to the Timberwolves this season. He was the star to get the team over the hump. The veteran two-way impact player that could take just enough of the load off of the two budding studs in Towns and Wiggins to make Minnesota a threat night in and night out. Tom Thibodeau brought Butler over from Chicago because he knew the level of work ethic and leadership he would bring to a team that had talent, but needed guidance.
Up until Friday night, the pieces were falling into place.
The state of Minnesota will hold its collective breath while waiting for the results of Butler’s MRI. For the sake of Timberwolves fans, the organization and most importantly, Butler himself, hope for a clean scan.
Without it, and without Butler, the team could find itself in a free-fall amid this clustered Western Conference playoff race.
Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards Aiming For Consistency
Spencer Davies has a one-on-one talk with Otto Porter about the Wizards’ up-and-down season and why they’ve been clicking over the last few weeks.
When a team loses an All-Star point guard after dropping four out of five games while other teams continue to improve and climb up the standings, it’s usually a sign that things are headed south.
But the Washington Wizards have debunked that thanks to a commitment from literally every man on the roster to step up. Since John Wall went down with injury, they’ve won eight out of their last 10 games and are a half game back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the number three seed in the Eastern Conference.
Why that is, is simple—there’s a balance.
“Everybody eats” is the mantra that Wall’s backcourt partner Bradley Beal came up with when the tide started to turn and the D.C. family has been living by it for weeks now.
The setback has definitely forced them to alter their style of play, but it hasn’t been a bad thing so far, according to Wizards head coach Scott Brooks.
“It’s definitely a challenge missing one of the best guards, one of the best players in the league,” Brooks said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “We’ve had to change definitely the way we play a little bit. We couldn’t expect our point guards to play like John. His speed you just don’t come by often.
“We have to play a little different. I think guys have stepped up defensively. We’ve played well. We definitely had some favorable games go our way with the scheduling, but the challenge is ahead of us now. We’ve got a lot of tough games coming up, but we just have to still keep playing and focus on each game.”
Otto Porter has been somebody who’s really kicked it into gear at a higher level and looks like himself again after a tough start to the New Year. Since January 30th, he’s averaging 18.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and over a steal per game. On nearly 14 attempts per game during the stretch, he’s shot above 52 percent from the field.
When asked how Washington can best fill the void of Wall while he’s on the sidelines, he said it’s not possible to. Rather than focusing on that specific facet, it’s a responsibility of the group collectively to keep trending in the right direction.
“You don’t,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “I mean you just have to, next man up. You really can’t. X-Factor is everybody steppin’ up. With the guys that we have, it’s very simple. Just go out there and play for each other.
“Getting out in transition. Getting stops. Creating points. Threes. The ball going from side to side. That’s how we play. We goin’ through adversity, so we took the challenge.”
Mind you, this is a Wizards team that was once reportedly divided in the locker room. There were rumblings of disdain among certain players. Tweets, Instagram posts, and on-air interviews fueled the fire even more as the losses continued to pile up.
However, we all know the solution to any sort of rough patch is winning games. As soon as the victories started to come, the noise started to quiet down more and more.
“That’s with any sport for real,” Porter told Basketball Insiders after inquiring whether the negativity was overblown.
“I mean you gon’ have your ups and downs. You gon’ have that. But we’re gonna stick together no matter the wins or the losses. We’re gonna stick together. We’re not gonna let anything break us apart. That’s just how we feel.”
The All-Star break came at a good time for Porter, who admitted to Basketball Insiders that he was playing through with nagging injuries in the first half of the season and getting a week to see family and recuperate “was what I needed.”
In the meantime, he kept in contact with Beal, who was experiencing his first All-Star weekend in four years, except this time around he was selected by Team LeBron as a part of the big game.
“All-Star, he said he was mad busy,” Porter told Basketball Insiders of Beal’s hectic three days in Los Angeles. “That sucks ‘cause you know you really wanna—I mean All-Star is cool, but the guys all busy during All-Star. Seeing people, events, stuff like that, so you don’t really get a break. He enjoyed it though.”
Porter raved over the season Beal has had and what it’s meant to Washington. There hasn’t been a change in mentality at all, but the improvements are evident.
“He’s always been motivated,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “Each year he’s adding bits and pieces to his game every year that make him a threat and it shows this year.”
Another teammate of Porter’s that has taken on the challenge is Kelly Oubre. This month hasn’t been kind to him so far as a shooter, but taking the season as a whole, the third year forward is hitting a career-high 36.9 percent of his threes and averaging close to 12 points per game.
Not only that, but Oubre is always locked in defensively with an in-your-face method of guarding his opponents. It’s a physical style that constantly bothers opponents and most of the time, it works.
“He’s been improving,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “He’s been putting in a lot of work. I’ve seen him put in so much work this offseason on his shot improving his mechanics and it’s paying off.
“Aggressive defensively, getting his hands on a lot of balls, deflections, steals. That’s what we want from him every game.”
Brooks has rewarded Oubre and Porter’s efforts by giving them a ton of playing time, something that he doesn’t see changing anytime soon considering the job they’ve done with the extra load.
“They’re gonna have to keep playing a lot of major minutes and keep getting better along the way,” Brooks said. “Otto’s really steady, solid. He’s started to make some shots again.
“And Kelly, he hasn’t shot the ball well in February, but we need him to break out of that and start shooting the ball better. With Kelly to me, it’s always how he’s locked in and focused on the defensive end.”
In order for the Wizards to continue scaling the ranks in the East it’s going to come down to consistency, a hurdle that they’ve tried to clear in past years and have a goal of leaping this season.
“We have to,” Brooks said. “Firstly, just takes that consistent effort to win games. This is not an easy league. Nobody feels sorry for you. Nobody gives you wins. You’ve got to go out there and earn it.
“I like the spirit of our team. We’re willing to accept the challenges. We know it’s not gonna be easy, but I like how we’re playing.”
Porter’s personal goal is to make it through 82 games healthy, but he agrees with his head coach about Washington’s top priority as a team.
“Right now yeah, it’s consistency,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “And just sticking to what we do, sticking to our character. We know what type of players we are. We know how to play the right way and play Wizards basketball, so that’s what we’re gonna focus on.”
So far, so good.
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