With the NBA Draft less than a month away, the 2017 offseason is coming up for teams to alter their direction with different roster moves and find pieces to add to the puzzle.
The Western Conference has plenty of solid names to look at, but the Eastern Conference takes the cake with really big names that are probably up for grabs with the right offer.
Perhaps the most valuable player and well-known option on the trade block, George is entering the last season of his contract with the Indiana Pacers before likely hitting the open market in 2018.
It was a year of disappointment for both parties involved, as the new-look roster led by brand new head coach Nate McMillan did not live up to expectations. The positive takeaway was a strong end to April that led to a seventh-seed berth in the postseason for Indiana, but it ended quickly with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers sweeping them right out.
Individually, the All-Star forward’s frustration with the organization is notable. The direction of the ball club could be a major reason, as then-president Larry Bird decided last summer to part ways with Frank Vogel and try out a new offensive philosophy. The plan backfired as Indiana was one of the bottom defensive teams in the entire league.
Off the floor, George’s relationship with the franchise wasn’t much better. At the trade deadline back in late February, George knew that other teams were interested in him, but he wasn’t hesitant to fire off at the Pacers’ front office for not keeping him informed with what was going on.
Since the season had started, George was linked to multiple teams like the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, and most popularly, the Los Angeles Lakers. A couple of weeks ago, All-NBA teams were announced. George was not selected to make any of the three. Since he didn’t qualify for the designated player exception, Indiana will not be able to propose a super maximum contract offer unless he makes an All-NBA team next season.
With how talented the league is, it would be extremely risky to wait out, and would be costly to the Pacers to lose George without getting anything in return for the future. Any team in the NBA that’s one piece away or in need of a small forward or superstar should pick up the phone and dial up Kevin Pritchard as soon as possible.
Whoever ends up with George will be more than happy to have him. Offensively across the board, he was spectacular, setting a career-high with 23.7 points per game and delivering the best true shooting (58.6) and effective field goal percentage (53.3) in his seven years as a pro.
Similar to the player previously mentioned, the rumors surrounding Anthony have been well documented, but in his particular case, they’ve been around for years.
But it’s never been clearer than now what fate will have in store for the 10-time All-Star. There’s a big mess going on in the Big Apple with Phil Jackson at the helm of the New York Knicks organization, and it’s not getting better anytime soon. After another unsatisfactory season, Anthony could use a change of scenery for sure.
Making him the scapegoat for the Knicks’ failure of a year is nonsense. Sure, he’s gotten older and has been a step slow defensively, but he’s still one of the top scoring threats this league has to offer. Now 33 years old, Anthony has also matured off the floor as a veteran, which is why it’s ridiculous for the Zen Master to question his nightly efforts. Jackson’s been trying to move him for a while and Anthony is quite aware of it.
Looking at potential fits, it again comes down to whoever needs a reliable starting wing. The Clippers could be a great place to go, but could they offer anything significant in return? Adding him to the mix with Isaiah Thomas might be an interesting thought, but would the Boston Celtics risk what already is a great situation with young talent? Expect a team that’s near contending to try and nab Anthony away from the toxic situation in the Mecca.
The Orlando Magic organization is currently undergoing a major makeover. Recently, they’ve hired former Toronto Raptors general manager Jeff Weltman as their president of basketball operations, lured away John Hammond from the Milwaukee Bucks to be the general manager under him and brought in John Gabriel as a consultant.
Turnover in the front office could mean turnover on the current roster. With the NBA Draft fast approaching, rumors are running rampant about the Magic’s interest in Dennis Smith Jr. as the sixth pick. If that selection goes through, the writing will be on the wall for Payton’s career in Orlando.
After three years in the league, Payton displays a number of strengths, but shooting isn’t one of them. He’s an excellent all-around player who is unselfish and has plenty of room to grow. Despite his limited ability on the perimeter, he’s already in select company.
Among names like John Wall, Ricky Rubio, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James, Payton is the 20th player in NBA history to average 10 points, over six-and-a-half assists and four rebounds per game in the first three years of their career. It’s hard to believe a team looking for a floor general with the youth and potential he has wouldn’t engage Orlando in talks.
Shockingly at the deadline, the 2015 third overall pick was not moved by the Philadelphia 76ers, contrary to what nearly everyone expected. Instead, the team went its separate ways with Nerlens Noel in a transaction with the Dallas Mavericks.
In his rookie season, Okafor showed plenty of promise in the back-to-basket game with his polished footwork, but he needed to improve his rebounding. Believe it or not, it regressed a ton this year—ranked dead last in the league in defensive rebounds per game with only 3.2 per game. He also produced a -14.5 net rating per-100-possessions for the Sixers.
On the court, the former big man out of Duke just looked lost and confused. Whether it was the knee injury and minute restriction, the emergence of Joel Embiid or something else, it’s obvious Okafor needs to do something different. Philadelphia may not be able to get much value out of a deal with a team that’ll gamble on him, but maybe the fact that he was a top three pick in the last two years will help the case.
With the latest news of Stan Van Gundy’s desire to acquire a veteran, “win-now” player in exchange for the 12th overall pick in the draft, a potential deal could have Jackson’s name attached to it.
Since he started the season recovering from surgery on his knee, Jackson wasn’t able to play like his usual self for the Detroit Pistons. He had problems on the defensive end and wasn’t quite as aggressive as he was the previous year.
At 26 years old, Jackson still has plenty of potential and room to grow as a point guard in the NBA. The injury issues could be a concern and keep teams away, though.
It’s all but certain that if the Celtics keep the number one overall pick, they will select Markelle Fultz out of Washington to be the future of the franchise. This would create a logjam at that point guard position in Boston, so it’s likely to see somebody in the backcourt get moved.
Marcus Smart has a real chance to be something special for Brad Stevens. Danny Ainge has expressed his feelings about keeping both Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, even with Fultz entering the mix. Rozier becomes the odd man out and will get the chance to shine elsewhere, just like he did for the majority of his first playoff experience.
NBA Daily: The Young, Western Conference Bubble
The race for the West’s final playoff spot may seem crowded, but the last two months make it clear that two teams are already ahead of the pack.
We all jump to conclusions too quickly, this space and this scribe most certainly included. Three months ago, five weeks into the NBA season, the Western Conference playoff bubble looked like it would be a race between the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves. That has assuredly not become the reality.
While the Kings and Suns can claim to still be in the playoff race, they would have to not only make up five-game deficits, but they would also each have to jump over four other teams to reach the postseason. The Timberwolves would delight at such challenges as they initiate a not-so-subtle tank with franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined for at least a few weeks with a fractured wrist.
Instead, the race to be swept by the Los Angeles Lakers has come down to a pair of up-and-comers, a perpetual deep threat and the NBA’s most consistent organization. Of all of them, it is the youngsters who are both currently playing the best and have the most control of their playoff hopes relative to their competition.
Between the current No. 8-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, the Portland Trail Blazers (3 games back), New Orleans Pelicans (3.5) and San Antonio Spurs (4), the next six weeks will feature eight key games. Five of those will include either the Grizzlies or the Pelicans or, in two instances, both.
That pair of matchups is still a month out, but they warrant circling already, nonetheless. Memphis and New Orleans have been playing at a high level for two-plus months now, and by the time they play two games within four nights in late March — when the basketball world is largely distracted by the NCAA Tournament — the two inexperienced teams may have completely separated from Portland and San Antonio.
After starting 1-5, 5-13 and then 10-19, the Grizzlies have gone 18-9 since Dec. 21. The Pelicans have matched that record exactly, down to the date, since starting even worse than Memphis did, bottoming out at 7-23 before finding an uptick long before Zion Williamson found the court. Winning two-thirds of your games for two months is a stretch with a sample size large enough to make it clear: Neither Memphis nor New Orleans should be dismissed in this playoff chase.
Their early-season profiles were examples of young teams sliding right back into the lottery — and there was absolutely no indication a surge was coming.
|Offensive Rating||106.4 – No. 23||106.8 – No. 21|
|Defensive Rating||111.7 – No. 23||113.5 – No. 27|
Through Dec. 20; via nba.com.
Then, for whatever reason, things changed. They changed in every way and in ways so drastically that one cannot help but wonder what could come next for the teams led by the top-two picks from last summer’s draft.
|Offensive Rating||111.9 – No. 15||115.1 – No. 4|
|Defensive Rating||109.3 – No. 11||110.3 – No. 13|
Since Dec. 21, through Feb. 23; via nba.com.
In a further coincidence of records and timing, the Blazers and Spurs have both gone 13-16 since Dec. 21.
If all four teams in the thick of things out west continue at these two-month winning rates for another month, then Portland and San Antonio will have drifted out of the playoff conversation before Williamson and Ja Morant meet for a second time. Of course, those rates would keep New Orleans a few games back of Memphis; the latter has 14 games, compared to 12, before March 21, so the gap in the standings would actually expand to an even four games.
If the Pelicans can just pick up a game or two before then, though, they have already beaten the Grizzlies twice this season. Doing so twice more that week would just about send New Orleans into the playoffs – at which point, perhaps Williamson could steal a game from LeBron James to put a finishing coda on his rookie season.
NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southwest Division
David Yapkowitz finishes Basketball Insiders’ Stretch Run series with an overview of the Southwest Division.
We’ve hit that point in the NBA season approaching the final stretch of games before the playoffs roll around in April. The trade deadline has come and gone, the buyout market is wearing thin and most teams have loaded up and made their final roster moves in anticipation of the postseason.
Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking a look at each team — division by division– at what they need to do to get ready for the playoffs, or lack thereof. Looking at the Southwest Division, this was a division that used to be one of the toughest in the league.
It still is for the most part. The Texas triangle of the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs was no joke and hell for opposing teams on a road trip. Those are still a couple of formidable teams, but with the exception of the Rockets, it’s not quite near the level of yesteryear.
The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans are a pair of young, up-and-coming teams that will give you 100 percent every night. While Memphis sits firmly in the eighth spot in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on the outside looking in. Here’s a look at how each team might fare in the stretch run.
The Houston Rockets have been the best team in the Southwest all season long, and all that remains for them is playoff positioning. They currently sit in fourth place in the West, giving them home-court advantage in the first round, but they could just as easily slip a bit with the Utah Jazz essentially tied with them record-wise in the standings and the Oklahoma City Thunder a mere two games back.
The Dallas Mavericks have taken a huge leap this season behind Luka Doncic, who is rapidly becoming one of the best players in the league. They currently sit in seventh place in the West and a return to the postseason is in the cards for the Mavericks.
The rest of the teams in the Southwest is where things get a little interesting. The Grizzlies have been one of the surprises of the season, as they’ve defied expectations and are firmly entrenched in the playoff race out West. They have a three-game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers and a four-game lead on the San Antonio Spurs.
Out of the Grizzlies’ final 26 games, 15 of them come against teams over .500, more than either the Blazers or the Spurs. 14 of those final 26 are also on the road, again, more than the Blazers or the Spurs. They also play both the Spurs and Blazers one more time this season. If the Grizzlies end up making the playoffs, it will be very well earned.
The Spurs are knocking on the door, and they have one more game against the Grizzlies which could prove to be very meaningful. This is a team that has been one of the standard-bearers in the league for success over the past decade. Their streak of playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy.
They’ve won two of their last three games, however, and out of their final 26 games, 15 of those are at home, where they are 14-12. Based on how the Grizzlies are playing though, a close to .500 record at home probably isn’t going to cut it. They’re going to need to pick it up a bit over the next month if they want to keep their playoff streak intact. A lot can happen between now and then, and the Grizzlies do have a tough remaining schedule, but it looks as if San Antonio will miss the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.
The final team in the Southwest is the Pelicans, boosted by the return of prized rookie and No.1 draft pick Zion Williamson. Prior to the start of the season, the Pelicans were looked at as a team that could possibly contend for the eighth seed in the West. Then Williamson got hurt and things changed.
But the team managed to stay afloat in his absence, and as it stands, they’re only three-and-a-half games back of the Grizzlies with 26 games left to play. Out of the bottom three teams in the division, it’s the Pelicans who have the easiest schedule.
Out of those 25 games, only seven of them come against teams over .500. They are, however, just about split with home and away games. New Orleans is 8-2 over their past 10 games, better than the Grizzlies and Spurs. If Memphis falters down the stretch due to its tough schedule, and the Pelicans start gaining a little bit of steam, things could get interesting in the final few weeks.
In all likelihood, the Pelicans probably won’t make the playoffs as not only do they have to catch up to the Grizzlies, but the Spurs and Blazers as well. But it certainly will be fun to watch them try.
There are some big storylines in the Southwest Division worth following as we begin the final run to the postseason. Can the young Grizzlies defy expectations and make a surprise return to the playoffs? Will the Spurs get their playoff streak snapped and finally look to hit the reset button after nearly two decades of excellence? Can the Pelicans, buoyed by Williamson’s return, make a strong final push?
Tune in to what should be fun final stretch in the Southwest.
NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southeast Division
With the All-Star Break behind us, the final stretch of NBA games has commenced. Quinn Davis takes a look at a few teams in the Southeast Division that have a chance at making the dance.
Well, that was fast.
With the NBA All-Star break in the rearview, there are now fewer than 30 games to play for all 30 NBA teams. In other words, time is running out for certain teams to improve their seeding in the conference.
Here at Basketball Insiders, we will be looking at a certain subset of teams that are right on the border of making or missing the playoffs. In this edition, the focus will be on the Southeast Division.
The Southeast features three teams — the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards — operating in the lower-middle-class of the NBA. These three will be slugging it out over the next month-and-a-half for the right to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.
The two remaining teams are the Miami HEAT and Atlanta Hawks. As this is being written, the former is comfortably in the playoffs at 35-20, while the latter is comfortably gathering more ping pong balls at 16-41.
In this space, the focus will be on the three bubble teams. The Magic are currently frontrunners for the eighth seed, but the Wizards and Hornets are within striking distance if things were to go awry.
Led by head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic have ground their way to the eighth seed behind an eighth-ranked defense. Lanky wing Aaron Gordon is the standout, helping the Magic execute their scheme of walling off the paint. The Magic only allow 31.3 percent of opponent shots to come at the rim, putting them in 89th percentile in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.
Following a post-break loss to Dallas Mavericks, the Magic sit at 24-32 and three games up on the ninth-seeded Wizards. While a three-game margin doesn’t sound like much, that is a sizable cushion with only 26 games to play. Basketball-Reference gives the Magic a 97.4 percent chance to make the playoffs.
The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule out of Eastern Conference teams. They have very winnable games coming against the Bulls, Hornets, Cavaliers, Knicks and Pistons. They also have multiple games coming against the Brooklyn Nets, the team they trail by only 1.5 games for the seventh seed.
The Magic are prone, however, to dropping games against the league’s bottom-feeders. It can be difficult to string together wins with an offense this sluggish. The Markelle Fultz experiment has added some spark in that department, but his lack of an outside shot still leaves the floor cramped.
After a quick analysis of the schedule, the most likely scenario appears to be a 12-14 record over the last 26 games, putting the Magic at 36-46 come season’s end. A record like that should not be allowed anywhere near playoff basketball, but it would probably be enough to meet the Bucks in round one.
If the Magic go 12-14, that would leave the Wizards, fresh off a loss to J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers, needing to go 17-11 over their last 28 games. They will need to finish one game ahead as the Magic hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Wizards finishing that strong becomes even more farfetched when you consider their remaining schedule. They have the second-toughest slate from here on out, per Basketball-Reference.
The Wizards do have a trump card in Bradley Beal, who is the best player among the bubble teams in the East. He has now scored 25 points or more in 13 straight games and has been the driving force behind the Wizards staying in the race.
He has also picked up his defense a bit following his All-Star snub in an effort to silence his critics. The increased focus on that end is nice, but it would’ve been a little nicer if it had been a part of his game earlier in this season when the Wizards were by far the worst defense in the league.
Even if Beal goes bonkers, it is hard to see a path for this Wizards team to sneak in outside of a monumental collapse in Orlando. Looking at their schedule, it would take some big upsets to even get to 10 wins over their last 28. Their most likely record to finish the season is 8-20 if all games go to the likely favorites.
The Wizards’ offense has been impressive all season, but injuries and a porous defense have been too much to overcome.
The Hornets, meanwhile, trail the Wizards by 1.5 games and the Magic by 4.5 games. They have won their last three in a row to put themselves back in this race, but they still have an uphill climb.
The Hornets also may have raised the proverbial white flag by waiving two veterans in Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The goal coming into this season was never to make the playoffs, so they are likely more interested in developing young talent over these last 27 games.
If the Magic do play up to their usual levels and go 12-14, it would require the Hornets to go 18-9 to finish the season against the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the East.
Devonte’ Graham and his three-point shooting have been a bright spot for the Hornets, but it would take some otherworldly performances from him and Terry Rozier down the stretch to put together a record like that. Basketball-Reference gives this a 0.02 percent chance of happening (cue the Jim Carrey GIF).
Barring a miracle, the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are locked in place. The only questions remaining are how seeds 2-6 will play out, and whether the Magic can catch the Nets for the seventh spot.
The Wizards will fight to the end, but it is unlikely they make up any ground given the level of opponents they will see over the next six weeks. The Hornets, meanwhile, are more likely to fight for lottery odds.
At least the playoffs should be exciting.