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NBA Trade Deadline Watch: Pacific Division

With the trade deadline approaching, Jesse Blancarte looks at the names to watch in the Pacific Division.

Jesse Blancarte

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Golden State Warriors (1st in Pacific, 43-8)

The Golden State Warriors are 43-8, have won eight of their last 10 games and have four of the best players in the league in their starting lineup. This is not a team that needs to be particularly active at the trade deadline, but it’s likely that general manager Bob Meyers will look for opportunities to add depth to the roster. Let’s not forget that in order to bring in Kevin Durant, the Warriors did have to part ways with players like Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Leandro Barbosa and Marresse Speights.

Unless a lopsided trade falls into the Warriors’ lap, it’s unlikely we will see any notable players like Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, David West or Zaza Pachulia being moved. Each is on an expiring contract, so it would be fairly easy to include any of them in a deal to bring in a notable player or two. However, as previously stated, it’s highly unlikely that the Warriors move any of their important role players and it’s a virtual certainty that none of their stars will be moved.

If anything, the Warriors will likely look to be opportunistic in the buyout market.

Los Angeles Clippers (2nd in Pacific, 31-21)

The Los Angeles Clippers are perhaps the most interesting team to keep an eye on as we approach the trade deadline. The Clippers have won just three of their last 10 games, have gone two out of seven since Chris Paul tore a ligament in his left thumb on January 16 and are struggling mightily on defense.

With an aging championship-caliber roster, and with Griffin and Paul able to become unrestricted free agents after this season, there is an extreme sense of urgency surrounding this team. The problem is that, even at their best, the Clippers would have a very difficult time getting through teams like the Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and even Houston Rockets on their road to the Finals.

Considering this, it makes sense that the Clippers are reportedly working to facilitate a deal for New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. The issue is the Clippers don’t have the players or future assets to put together a compelling package for New York and it’s not clear that Anthony would waive his no-trade clause to join the Clippers.

Unless Doc Rivers finds another worthwhile deal for a forward to shore up the team’s depth at small forward and power forward, it’s unlikely the Clippers make a significant deal for anyone outside of Anthony. Considering that Knicks team president Phil Jackson is looking to undermine Anthony at every possible opportunity, the likelihood is the Clippers hold off on all other deals until it becomes clear that they will not be able to swing a deal for Anthony.

If the Clippers make a trade for Anthony, players like Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson and Alan Anderson will likely be included to facilitate the deal. If the trade does not come together, expect the Clippers to stand pat and look for added depth in the buyout market.

Sacramento Kings (3rd in Pacific, 20-32)

Over the last few seasons, the trade rumors in Sacramento have frequently revolved around DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is arguably the best overall center in the NBA, can become an unrestricted free agent after next season and would surely look for greener pastures considering the Kings haven’t made the postseason since the 2005-06 season.

However, once the new CBA officially comes into effect, Cousins can sign a maximum Designated Player contract extension with the Kings (likely worth up to roughly $219 million over five seasons), which has increased the likelihood that he will stay in Sacramento long-term. Earlier this week, Kings general manager Vlade Divac told Marc Stein of ESPN that the team will not trade Cousins and are not fielding offers for him, which lines up with the reporting from Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler.

With Cousins likely off the table and Rudy Gay recovering from surgery to repair his ruptured Achilles tendon, it’s likely that the Kings won’t be making any blockbuster trades this year, but will still be active. According to Kyler, the Kings have been active in the trade market looking for other deals, and there is a growing sense that the Kings could move guard Darren Collison and possibly big man Kostas Koufos before the deadline.

The Kings are in an interesting position. They could trade off their short-term veteran players for future assets, or bolster their current roster with more veterans in order to become a perennial playoff contender in the Western Conference. Cousins has been in the league for several years, so he may not want to sign a multi-year deal with Sacramento if they go into a full rebuild around him and some of their other young, core players. However, considering the size of Cousins’ potential deal, the likelihood is he stays in Sacramento one way or another.

Los Angeles Lakers (4th in Pacific, 18-36)

With Kobe Brant officially retired, the Los Angeles Lakers are finally all in on their rebuild. Their core pieces include Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. The Lakers brought in former Laker player Luke Walton as the new head coach, who, despite suffering through some rough patches this season, has shown that he is well-suited for the job.

Of note, owner Jeanie Buss recently hired Magic Johnson as an advisor to her and the team. Soon after, Johnson stated that the Lakers are a “superstar away.” While the merits of that statement can be debated, it should be noted that the Lakers do have the talent and trade assets to swing a deal for a star player like Jimmy Butler, whose long-term future in Chicago is being called into question recently.

The front office could also make calls on other star players whose contracts are close to ending, whose teams are struggling or who are discontent with their current situations. Players like Nerlens Noel and Stanley Johnson are young, talented and are finding inconsistent roles with their respective teams.

The Lakers aren’t likely to move any of their core pieces without getting a substantial return, and GM Mitch Kupchak warned fans that the team wasn’t likely to be active before the upcoming trade deadline. But with Johnson now involved, that may change, based on his recent comments.

The Lakers very likely will hold onto all of their young core talent and assets, while looking to move some of their veterans. Walton recently removed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov from the starting lineup, so maybe they will see if there is any interest for these two veterans (though they are both owed over $15 million annually through 2019-20, so there likely isn’t much of a market for either player). Jose Calderon is on an expiring contract and may generate some interest from other teams.

The Lakers have options and can be very aggressive in trade discussions over the next two weeks. However, the safer bet is that the Lakers take a long-term approach to building their roster and hold on to their core players – unless a player like Butler becomes a realistic option at a reasonable price.

Phoenix Suns (5th in Pacific, 16-36)

The Phoenix Suns have a good amount of young talent, including players like Alex Len, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren and Tyler Ulis. Additionally, even guys like Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are still relatively young. With so much young talent and no hope of making the postseason, it’s likely that the Suns resist moving their core players and instead look to cash in on some veterans on short-term deals.

P.J. Tucker is well-regarded around the league and is on the last year of his current deal. His $5.3 million salary is a very good value and his name has already come up in rumored trade discussions, including via Basketball Insiders’ Michael Scotto. However, the Suns are reportedly looking for a nice return for Tucker, so it’s possible that teams ultimately pass and he finishes the season in Phoenix. Phoenix also has Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler on the roster, but their deals are guaranteed through the 2018-19 season, so teams may pass on any discussions involving them.

The most interesting trade chips for Phoenix are arguably Bledsoe and Knight. Bledsoe is locked up until the 2018-19 season at a very reasonable annual salary of roughly $14.75 million. Bledsoe, age 28, has suffered through several injuries throughout his career but he is playing exceedingly well recently. Considering his age, production and solid contract, it’s unlikely Phoenix will move him, unless they receive a very good offer for him.

Knight is the more interesting trade piece. His role has been reduced this season, he’s younger than Bledsoe and is under contract through the 2019-20 season at a reasonable annual salary that tops out at $15.6 million in the final year. Knight is a talented but flawed player. He can score and make plays off the dribble, but he’s not a true point guard and is not a strong defender. However, if a team is convinced he would thrive in a new setting and wants a guard who is under contract for several seasons, Knight is a decent trade target.

The Suns have had a disappointing season so far, but the future is bright. Booker looks like a future star player and Warren has improved significantly since last season. The team will likely take the long-term approach here and develop internally while adding more young talent, though they would certainly entertain trade discussions if a star player became available.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience

It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.

Spencer Davies

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Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.

He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.

To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.

“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.

“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”

Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.

“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”

So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.

“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”

It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.

Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.

“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.

“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”

After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.

Whether the next chapter in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”

And it’s about time people are taking notice.

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NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop

Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.

Joel Brigham

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When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.

He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.

Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.

The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.

“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.

“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”

And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.

“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”

This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.

Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.

It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.

“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”

Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”

Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.

After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.

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