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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: Jaren Jackson Jr. Adapting As He Goes

Memphis Grizzlies rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. has put on a show this summer. Spencer Davies dives into what’s been behind the success and how it bodes well for the future.

Spencer Davies

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Meeting Jaren Jackson Jr. for the first time, you won’t find an ounce of doubt in him.

Instead, you’ll be introduced to a high-spirited man oozing with charisma and an obvious love for the game of basketball, which likely factored into why the Memphis Grizzlies were so keen on taking him with the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Then there’s the big reason—quite literally—that came into play. Standing at 6-foot-11 with over a 7-foot-5 wingspan and hands that are the size of most people’s heads, Jackson Jr. is the term “matchup problem” personified.

We’re seeing the evidence in front of our very eyes already. In eight summer league games between Utah and Las Vegas, the versatile Jackson Jr. is averaging 12.9 points and seven rebounds. He is shooting 41.3 percent from the field and has knocked down half of his attempts (14-for-28) from beyond the arc.

It didn’t take long for the JJJ bandwagon to get established. In his first taste of NBA action against the Atlanta Hawks in Salt Lake City, he scored 29 points and cashed in on eight triples to kick off July. He hasn’t tried more than four perimeter shots since then, but he’s been plenty busy doing other things just as important on the floor.

“I think I’m surprised by how well I’ve been doing,” a smiling, candid Jackson Jr. said. “You’re surprised at yourself sometimes, especially like the first game.”

You can look at these aforementioned offensive stats and take them with a grain of salt since the level of competition is a step below what the real professional ranks bring to the table. However, seeing the anticipation, reaction time, and natural awareness on the defensive end makes the lengthy forward a true gem of a prospect.

In all but one game thus far, Jackson Jr. has recorded multiple rejections every time he’s stepped foot on the court, including two occasions where he swatted four shots. It’s added up to an average of 3.3 blocks per contest to this point.

So since the outside potential, the athleticism and the rim protection are all there, what else is there to hone in on?

“I think just my aggressiveness,” Jackson Jr. said. “Making sure I play tougher, go harder longer. And my shooting…kind of—make sure I get my form right and all that stuff.”

Adjusting to a new pace at the next level can take some time. It depends on how fast of a learner a player is and how quickly that person can apply that knowledge in a game setting. Jackson Jr. thinks he’s started to pick it up as he’s gone along.

“It’s getting a lot better,” he said. “It’s a lot more spacing so it’s pretty cool. But they’re definitely stronger and faster players, so you have to adapt to that.”

Thanks to contributions from Jackson Jr.—in addition to Jevon Carter and Kobi Simmons—the Grizzlies have had loads of success in Sin City. They are one of the final four teams standing as summer league play wraps up in a day.

Whether the result goes in the favor of Memphis or not, the last couple of weeks in Las Vegas have impacted Jackson Jr. in a positive manner in more ways than one as a student of the game—and he’ll be better off because of it.

“It’s been cool,” Jackson Jr. said. “It’s a lot of stuff going on. It seems like more of an event when you’re here as far as watching it on TV over the years. You get like a new historic player sitting on the sideline every day talking to people. You meet people in your hotel. Bunch of stuff like that. It’s been a good experience just having everybody here before we all leave and go to our own cities.

“I kinda went into it [with a] clear head. I didn’t really didn’t want to put too much into it ‘cause I’m learning everything new. Everything is new. Being a rookie, everything’s gonna be a new thing.”

As the youngest player in his draft class at 18 years old, Jackson Jr. has a ways to go to familiarize himself with the NBA.

But by the looks of things, the NBA had better prepare to familiarize itself with him as well.

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NBA Daily: Antonio Blakeney Hoping For A Big 2nd Year

After an impressive rookie stint, Antonio Blakeney gives us a tale of hope and potential.

David Yapkowitz

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The Chicago Bulls are in the midst of a rebuilding project. This summer, they held on to one of their key young players in Zach LaVine and drafted two guys in Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchinson whom they’re hoping can be part of that rebuild.

But there might be one player on the roster already who could play a big role in the team’s future. A year ago, Antonio Blakeney used a big summer league performance in Las Vegas to earn a two-way contract with the Bulls.

This time around, with his NBA future a little more secure, he’s working on becoming more familiar with the team.

“Just learning and getting better,” Blakeney told Basketball Insiders his goals are. “Obviously being able to play through my mistakes, go out here and learn and get familiar with the coaching staff. Keep building our relationship with the coaches and stuff.”

Blakeney went undrafted last summer after declaring for the draft following two years at LSU. He lit up Las Vegas to the tune of 16.8 points in four games before the Bulls signed him. Under the two-way contract, he split time between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, their G-League affiliate.

His summer success carried over to the G-League where he exploded on the scene averaging 32 points per game and being named the G-League Rookie of the Year. Being shuffled back and forth between leagues was a bit of an adjustment for Blakeney, but it was an experience he ended up learning a lot from.

“It was an up and down roller coaster from the NBA to the G-League and stuff like that. Starting in summer league, going to the big team, going to camp, preseason games and going to the G-League. It was an up and down experience,” Blakeney said.

“Overall, it was great. I think I learned a lot in the G-League. A lot of rookies play in the G-League now. Going down there it’s kind of tough. For some guys, the travel is different. It’s just staying motivated and working hard.”

It’s no secret that Blakeney can put up points in a hurry, as he was the Tigers third-leading scorer his freshman year behind Ben Simmons and Keith Hornsby with 12.6 points per game. His sophomore year, he led the Tigers in scoring with 17.2 points.

He knows though that he’ll have to be able to do other things if he wants to stick in the NBA. While he’s been lighting up the stat sheet scoring wise this summer in Vegas, he’s been working on other aspects of his game. He’s been charged by the Bulls summer league coaching staff with initiating the offense.

“Obviously I got to be a combo. I got to be able to move over to the one and make plays and stuff like that. So just working on making that simple play,” Blakeney said. “Obviously, I’m a natural scorer so I’m not really a pass-first guy, but I’m more when the simple play presents itself, to make it.”

While his future may be more secure, the majority of the guys in summer league don’t have that luxury. The two-way contract Blakeney signed last summer was for two years and based on his play this summer, it would be shocking to see the Bulls let him go.

For his summer teammates who don’t have that security, he understands what they’re going through. Having been in that situation a year ago, he’s got plenty of advice for them.

“Just go work hard, learn from the veteran guys, but compete,” Blakeney said. “Go at the guys that’s supposed to be the best. If you think you’re that good, go at guys. Just compete, that’s the main thing I did, I just competed.”

And although nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA, especially regular rotation minutes, Blakeney is confident that he can be a regular contributor. The league is filled with guys who come off the bench and provide instant offense. He knows if, given the opportunity, he can do that too.

“I think next season my goal is to try to crack the rotation and just be a guy who brings energy off the bench,” Blakeney said. “I can get buckets fast, get it going, bring energy and get buckets off the bench, just do my thing. That’s something that in my young career I’m trying to get in to.”

He’s certainly off to a good start.

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Mitchell Robinson May Prove Competence of Scott Perry

Scott Perry is still fairly new on the job, but it’s impossible to argue with the early returns.

Moke Hamilton

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With some eye-popping performances, the neophyte simultaneously caught the attention of the New York Knicks and the observing eyes in Las Vegas.

Sure, merely a few weeks ago, he was largely considered an unknown quantity, but after an impressive stint at the Vegas Summer League, we all know his name.

It’s Mitchell Robinson.

Like his fellow rookie Kevin Knox, in short order, Robinson has caused quite a bit of a stir.

For Scotty Perry, though, he’s more than just another promising prospect; he’s the latest entry on the list of things that the newly hired general manager has gotten right. 

As players like Brook Lopez and Isaiah Thomas accept contracts worth barely enough to buy LeBron James lunch, the predictions of a “nuclear winter” for NBA free agents seem to have mostly come to fruition.

For the past two summers, general managers and team executives have spent their money as if it were on fire, and as a result, we’ve seen many of the league’s teams watch their flexibility go up in smoke.

Since hiring Perry, the Knicks have done the opposite.

Time and time again, the message tossed around internally at Penn Plaza has mirrored what we’ve been told publicly—the Knicks believe they will have a serious shot at signing a marquee free agent in 2019 and have put their emphasis on shedding salary to the best of their abilities.

It took all of one summer league game for us to learn that the club had signed Robinson to a team-friendly four-year contract. According to the New York Post, the deal is only guaranteed for three years and $4.8 million. If Robinson comes anywhere near the productivity he showed in those few performances, though, the value and return on investment will be remarkably high.

If you’re keeping count, let the record fairly reflect that among Perry’s major moves for the Knicks have been trading Carmelo Anthony, hiring David Fizdale, drafting Kevin Knox and Robinson, and strategically managing his cap situation so that he could offer Robinson a contract that was so advantageous to the Knicks that some believe Robinson fired his agent as a result.

With the Knicks, Robinson will have to earn playing time and beat out Enes Kanter and Luke Kornet for minutes, but Kanter isn’t considered to be a core member for the club’s future and Kornet hasn’t exactly appeared to be the next coming of Dwight Howard, so for the rebuilding Knicks, the task doesn’t appear that difficult.

What this all means in the end is that Knox and Robinson will combine to earn just $5.4 million next season. Yet together, they’ll carry the hopes of a billion dollar franchise on their backs.

Still, you don’t need to be able to count to a billion to understand that the ROI on Robinson could be exceptional. And it’s those crafty acquisitions that could help the Knicks maintain the space they’ll need to bring a superstar to Gotham City.

Of course, time will tell, but on the continuum of unknown quantity to certain conclusion, the best you can hope for is a positive sign. Robinson, like Knox, has given us over a dozen.

Truth be told, Perry has, too. And when you realize that the selection that the club used to grab Robinson was a critical piece of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City—a trade executed by Perry—that statement becomes all the more credible.

* * * * * *

It’s been quite some time since the Knicks had two rookies who opened eyes the way Knox and Robinson have. What’s been most pleasing about the two, however, have been the ways in which they complement one another on the basketball court.

In Vegas, Knox has impressed mostly with what he’s done on the ball, while Robinson has for what he’s accomplished off of it. The instincts and timing that Robinson has in conjunction with his athleticism are quite reminiscent of Marcus Camby.

In hindsight, we can fairly proclaim an in-prime Camby to have been ahead of his time. Camby was the prototype to which players like Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan aspired.

As a big man, Camby was one of the few players in the NBA who could capably guard all five positions on the basketball court and wasn’t at the mercy of an opposing point guard when switched out on a pick-and-roll. Nobody closed space from the weakside better than Camby, and few centers in the league were able to run out and contest jumpers like him. His nimbleness and second jump ability were remarkable for a man his size, and it didn’t take long for him to find his niche playing alongside more offensively talented players such as Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson.

We don’t know if Robinson himself will succeed in the NBA, but we do know that his archetype is the kind that does. So much of what gets young players drafted and paid in the NBA is about physics. If a guy can do one or two things better than other players his size, the job of his coaches and front office is to find ways to maximize those advantages and fit them within a team concept to exploit inferior players at his position.

It truly isn’t rocket science. When you think back even over the course of recent history, ask yourself how long it took for the world to recognize and extol the virtues of the likes of LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis and even Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons. While each representing an extreme case, the truly impactful players are able to utilize their gifts to dominate and can usually do so from day one. Certainly, they can’t do it everyday, but the potential is there and it’s evident from jump.

The most you’re gonna get from summer league is a young stud showing you that he has some exploitable advantage over his competitors. For Knox, it’s his combination of ranginess and a better than advertised nose for the ball. For Robinson, it’s the incredible agility that an extended absence from the game doesn’t seem to have blunted.

The concept of exploitable advantage is where the Golden State Warriors have run circles around the rest of the league. And although an extreme example, they are the specimen of what a team full of those types look like.

So no, while you can’t conclude that Robinson is going to end up being anything near the player that Marcus Camby was, what you can conclude is that he has the physical gifts to be effective. Whether he ends up fulfilling that potential will ultimately boil down to what Robinson has inside of him and what David Fizdale is able to do to bring it out.

Rest assured, though, to this point, Scott Perry has certainly done his job. That much is a fact.

* * * * * *

Of all words in the English language, “irony” and its adjective (“ironic”) are among those that are most often misused—irony is often confused with coincidence.

In its simplest term, irony is meant to describe a situation where there’s an occurrence that’s the opposite of what should have been expected.

In other words, back in 2015, just a few weeks after Carmelo Anthony dropped a career-high 62 points on the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden, a reporter asked him whether it was “ironic” that the Hornets also yielded 61 points to his buddy LeBron James in Miami.

That wasn’t ironic. That was just Charlotte.

On the other hand, irony was more along the lines of the Denver Nuggets seemingly becoming a better and more cohesive team after Anthony’s talents had been traded to New York. He was the team’s best player and has since proven to be a surefire Hall of Famer, yet they improved without him.

One could argue it to be ironic that Kyrie Irving welcomed a trade to the Boston Celtics after spending years battling them, or that fans of the Los Angeles Lakers have actually begun calling LeBron James the King of LA while Kobe Bryant still flies in a helicopter over Orange County.

Most appropriately, though, for a fan of the New York Knicks, irony is knowing that, despite Kristaps Porzingis being on the shelf and the Knicks not signing or trading for any big named player, there’s probably more reason to be optimistic about the club’s future than there has been in recent memory.

Yea. That’s ironic. The Knicks have always been looking for their savior—before Carmelo Anthony, it was Stephon Marbury. Infinite fanfare and declarations of grandeur. All for naught. In it all, who would have thought that the franchise’s savior could end up being Scott Perry?

Like Knox and Robinson, it’s still a bit early to certainly declare that Perry is who will lead the Knicks from the abyss.

But just like Knox and Robinson, to this point, it’d be quite difficult to argue with the early returns.

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