For most NBA teams, the trade deadline presents one of the best opportunities to alter the trajectory of a franchise. For fringe contenders, the deadline could see the acquisition of one of the final few pieces to a championship puzzle. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers added Channing Frye, who has since become an important part of their team. Way back in 2004, it was the Detroit Pistons who succeeded in adding Rasheed Wallace to their core.
Some teams find themselves looking to divest of assets, while others see the deadline as an opportunity to acquire some players that can help improve the future fortunes of the team. That’s why, along with the NBA Draft, the deadline is one of the most important dates during the NBA season. Traditionally the Thursday following the conclusion of All-Star Weekend, general managers across the league will have until February 23 to put up or shut up.
Down in the NBA’s Southwest Division, we are likely to see most teams standing pat, but there is bound to be a surprise or two.
San Antonio Spurs (1st in Southwest, 39-12)
Aside from winning basketball games, the other constant with the San Antonio Spurs is their ability to fly under the radar and avoid unwanted attention. Some things never change.
All things considered, the Spurs are doing quite well for themselves this season, despite having been without Pau Gasol since mid-January. What the injury to the Spaniard reminds the franchise of, though, is that you are only as good as your health allows you to be. The Spurs are obviously in the market for another big body, and as we saw previously with George Hill and Cory Joseph, the franchise is gifted when it comes to finding players that other teams covet.
From David Lee to Kyle Anderson to Jonathan Simmons, the Spurs have a number of valuable players on reasonable contracts, and could unquestionably find a trade partner if the franchise deemed it necessary. However, lovers of continuity and those that possess “corporate knowledge,” the Spurs aren’t likely to rock the boat this deadline season. That rings even truer when one considers that they sit atop the Southwest Division and appear to have an inside track to the second overall seed in the tough Western Conference.
Houston Rockets (2nd in Southwest, 38-17)
All season long, the question most commonly posed as it relates to the Houston Rockets is whether or not the team is “for real.” In the past, we have seen Mike D’Antoni teams excel in the regular season, only to falter and fall short when the games really count.
General manager Daryl Morey, despite his team’s early success, isn’t one to traditionally take things for granted. Even he admits, though, that making substantial changes to a team that has played so well is a risky proposition. For that reason, Morey went on record with the Houston Chronicle, assuring the public that his streak of making deadline deals was over.
In all likelihood Morey won’t be able to help himself, but anything that the Rockets do won’t rock their foundation. D’Antoni has earned a reputation for being a very loyal coach, both to his system and to his players. The team that the Rockets have assembled plays to his strengths, and there isn’t much reason to entertain the notion of a shakeup. According to Calvin Watkins of ESPN, the Rockets do have some interest in Serge Ibaka, however. With free agency on the horizon, the Congolese big man could find himself with a new address by the deadline. In many ways, Ibaka could make some sense for the Rockets, but the Magic is a team that is on the fence as it relates to fire selling some of its current assets of making a push for a run at the playoffs.
In the spirit of never saying never, Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer are each regarded as hard-working players who impact both sides of the floor. Each will stand to earn a total of $15 million combined for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, meaning that they are valuable trade commodities. The Rockets also have youngsters in K.J. McDaniels, Tyler Ennis, Sam Dekker, Clint Cappella and Montrezl Harrell, all of whom have low salary commitments and high perceived value.
For the Rockets, they could potentially package a few pieces to make a run at a bigger named player, so Serge Ibaka is worth watching. That is, of course, assuming Morey can’t help but to make a splash.
Memphis Grizzlies (3rd in Southwest, 32-22)
For as long as we can all remember, the Grizzlies have been a team that has seemingly been stuck in the middle. Good enough to make the playoffs and throw a scare into a good team, but ultimately not good enough to win the conference. It seems that, despite an infusion of some younger and more talented pieces, that’s where the Grizzlies are once again.
Many fans lose sight of the fact that consummating a trade at the NBA level requires two teams making a deal, and both teams want to win. It has to be symbiotic. For the Grizzlies, then, there are two questions. First is whether they have pieces that other teams would actually want, and second is whether what they fetch in return would actually help improve the team’s odds of improving their standing as the third-best team in the Southwest Division.
Unfortunately, in either instance, the answer is probably no. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are as close to unmovable as can be. The former two are the team’s best players, while the latter, along with Tony Allen, give the Grizzlies the tough mindset the team had used as its blueprint. Reminiscent of the way the Indiana Pacers fell apart without Roy Hibbert, David West and Frank Vogel, similar things would happen to the Grizzlies without any of the four aforementioned players.
Toward the end of the bench, rookie Wade Baldwin has had his fair share of high moments this season, while Andrew Harrison, JaMychal Green and Deyonta Davis continue to have value, as well. But none of those players are thought to have superstar potential, and unless the Grizzlies can find a way to nab a true difference maker who finds himself on the trade market—think Serge Ibaka, Carmelo Anthony or DeMarcus Cousins—any trade they find themselves making this deadline season will likely be one that is inconsequential in the grand scheme.
Dallas Mavericks (4th in Southwest, 20-32)
Without question, the Mavericks are thinking about life after Dirk Nowitzki. Truly a franchise pillar, the sun is setting on one of the greatest careers we have ever witnessed. Now, what the future holds for Mark Cuban’s team is tied directly to the strides that Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews can make in their personal games.
Having recently signed upstart Yogi Ferrell, the Mavericks are continuing their youth movement, which does make Andrew Bogut somewhat of an odd fit. Bogut, despite his injury concerns, is a valued commodity. He can still serve a valuable role for a team that needs a defensive-minded center off the bench who can control the paint and grab some rebounds during some key moments down the stretch of a tight playoff game. What makes Bogut even more appealing is that he is playing in the final year of his contract; he doesn’t require a hefty investment.
Knowing that the days of playoff contention are behind them, the Mavericks would likely require some minuscule form of compensation for Bogut; heavily protected picks would probably get it done. Both Deron Williams and Devin Harris would have similar appeal, as well. According to Sam Amick of USA Today, the Cavaliers did have some interest in Deron Williams in the not so distant past, though many believe the team will address their point guard and depth issues via buyout candidates. They typically show up after the deadline.
Never the type to not answer their phones during trade season, the Mavericks will likely entertain bids for some of their aging players. This time around, however, the trade deadline will be more about divesting assets than trading for pieces and players that can assist with a playoff run. Those days appear over for the Mavs, at least for now.
As it currently stands, the Mavs have just one pick credit—a 2019 second rounder from the Golden State Warriors. They would be best served by trying to improve the depth of their coffers.
New Orleans Pelicans (5th in Southwest, 20-32)
Teams that are struggling tend to be open to the idea of mixing things up. And “struggling” is a word that can be used to describe the Pelicans quite well. Since being ousted by the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 playoffs, the Pelicans have regressed badly as Anthony Davis has struggled to remain healthy over the course of an entire season. Last season, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon had trouble staying on the court and this season, things got off to a rocky start because of Jrue Holiday’s extended absence. The end result is a team that many feel is underachieving, and those are the teams that typically shake things up.
It’s probably safe to assume that Anthony Davis remains the team’s franchise player. Despite his health concerns, his appreciable upside makes him among the most valuable players in the league. Rookie Buddy Hield has shown flashes over the course of the young season, and indications coming out of New Orleans are that he continues to have the support of the organization.
The Pelicans were recently linked to the Philadelphia 76ers, who have an obvious logjam in their frontcourt. The rumored trade would see Jahlil Okafor sent to New Orleans for Alexis Ajinca and a first round pick. With the Sixers most interested in the pick, the Pelicans may substitute another player. It’s fluid, but what is obvious is that general manager Dell Demps needs to upgrade the talent on the roster – and doing it with Okafor would make a lot of sense, so long as the Pelicans don’t have to sacrifice one of their core players.
Tyreke Evans is worth keeping an eye on in the final year of a contract paying him a reasonable $10.2 million, while rookie guard Tim Frazier has played up his value tremendously while filling in for the injury-riddled team.
Of all teams in the Southwest, the Pelicans appear most likely to make a groundbreaking trade, which really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering the franchise’s recent struggles.
For many years, the Southwest Division was thought to be the best in basketball. Times have changed a bit, but with the Spurs, Rockets and Grizzlies all vying for supremacy, the Pelicans and Mavericks are stuck in the cellar. Whether it be one of the teams up top trying to improve their stock or the Pelicans and Mavs trying to change their fortunes, the odds of the division experiencing some sort of shake up, in some way, seem fairly high.
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
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.
Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience
It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.
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.
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.
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.