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NBA Trade Watch: Atlantic Division

A look at a few players that may be on the move in the Atlantic Division, including Amar’e Stoudemire.

John Zitzler

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This week in our Trade Watch series, we are taking a division by division look at players who may be on the move. If you haven’t already, make sure to read up on each division we’ve covered so far. In this installment, we check out the Atlantic Division and what players in the Atlantic may be playing elsewhere by season’s end.

The Atlantic Division is filled with diversity in terms of the current state of each organization. Teams like the Celtics and the Sixers are looking to build a foundation by acquiring young talent through the draft. Others, like the Knicks and Nets, hope to secure a playoff berth. At the top, the Raptors are ready to build off a strong postseason. For the Knicks and Nets, their play early on will likely determine their actions at the trade deadline. The Sixers and Celtics, on the other hand, will be looking to add young talent and draft picks from the get go. Here are five players in the Atlantic Division to keep an eye on around the trade deadline.

Amar’e Stoudemire

The nightmare contract of Amar’e Stoudemire is finally nearing an end. The Knicks have been handcuffed financially ever since signing Stoudemire to a nearly $100 million dollar deal back in 2010, a salary Stoudemire never came close to living up to. His deal with the Knicks will come to an end following this season, making him one of the largest expiring contracts in the league. With his contract expiring, Stoudemire will have value to teams looking shed salary this offseason. Basketball Insiders’ own Steve Kyler laid out one possible scenario in reference to a potential Stoudemire trade just a few months ago.

“What’s far more likely is that the long rumored Amar’e Stoudemire to Philadelphia deal gets done at the deadline. The Sixers take on Stoudemire’s $23 million salary cap number, which pushes them way over the minimum. They would only owe him roughly 30 percent of his remaining contract, so they’d end up paying him $7 million in cash and likely extract a draft pick or a rookie scale player for their troubles.” Kyler wrote on August 19.

The one thing that may put a stop to all the trade talk surrounding Stoudemire is a strong start to the season from the Knicks. If the team appears to be a threat in the East, and Stoudemire is playing well leading up to the trade deadline, in all likelihood the Knicks will hold onto Stoudemire and let the season play out.

Rajon Rondo

At this stage in his career, Rondo just doesn’t fit with the current direction of the Celtics. Right now, the Celtics are in the early stages of the rebuilding process and don’t figure to make any noise in the East for at least another couple of years, and that’s with or without Rondo. Considering the team’s current state, it would almost be more surprising if Rondo wasn’t traded. The fact of the matter is both sides would be better off going their separate ways. Not to mention, Celtics Owner Wyc Grousbeck recently voiced concern over Rondo’s temperament.

“He’s super stubborn,” Grousbeck told Boston.com. “I don’t know how coachable he really is.”

It would be a shame to see Rondo waste some of the most valuable years of his career on a team with almost no shot at contending in the near future. For the Celtics, their best chance at putting together a winner will be through the draft. The team selected Marcus Smart this past June and he will be counted on as a cornerstone piece going forward. Even with Smart in place, the Celtics need to accrue more young talent and getting draft picks for Rondo is definitely one way to do so.

There have been quite a few teams rumored to be interested in the Celtics’ talented point guard. The team certainly understands how valuable Rondo is and the type of return he can bring. While it may be best for both sides to part ways, the Celtics have made it clear that they won’t move Rondo unless they feel that they are getting fair value in return.

Brook Lopez

The Nets will face a difficult decision on whether to keep Brook Lopez, a decision that may come as soon as this summer. Lopez is under contract with the Nets through this season, with a player option for the 2015-16 season. Even if Lopez wanted to remain with the Nets long-term, he could decline his player option if he felt that he could land a more lucrative deal with more long-term security by opting out.

Lopez has struggled mightily to stay healthy over the past couple of years and that is something the Nets must take into account when considering his future. When he is right, Lopez has proven he can be one of the top offensive centers in the NBA. During the 2012-13 season, Lopez started and played in 74 games, averaging 19.4 points per game on 52.1 percent shooting from the field.

Considering the lack of talent at the center position throughout the league, Lopez, despite his health concerns, is still a valuable commodity. If the Nets don’t feel confident in his ability to stay healthy or their ability to re-sign Lopez at a reasonable price, don’t be surprised to see the team consider offers on their skilled center.

Iman Shumpert

The Knicks aren’t short on depth at the shooting guard spot with J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. to go along with Shumpert. All three players have proven that they can be productive when given significant minutes. Unless Shumpert is able to distinguish himself from the others or play well at point guard, it would make sense that the Knicks would consider moving Shumpert to balance out their roster. They tried to do exactly that this past season, shopping Shumpert prior to last year’s deadline. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Knicks, once again, take calls on Shumpert.

Shumpert is relatively young at only 24 years old, so while he has been inconsistent thus far in his career, many teams may still believe in his potential. The Knicks have chosen not to negotiate an extension with Shumpert, meaning the he will be a restricted free agent following the 2014-15 season. If the Knicks don’t plan on matching offers made to Shumpert, the wise move would be to seek out a trade while they can get something in return for him.

Michael Carter-Williams

To the surprise of many, the Sixers made their recent Rookie of the Year winner Michael Carter-Williams available during the draft. Despite Carter-Williams being one of the few Sixers to play well in the 2013-14 season, the team dangled him out there with the hope of acquiring another top draft pick. While the Sixers were unable to find a taker for Carter-Williams during the draft, it doesn’t mean they have stopped looking. The team has made their intentions clear, and that is to stockpile as many assets as possible.

Although Carter-Williams played well in his rookie season, the Sixers, at this stage in the rebuilding process, are always looking to gather more draft picks. It’s not that they feel Carter-Williams is a bad player, but speaks more to the value they place on high draft picks. A trade of Carter-Williams would certainly not sit well with the fan base that already went through one season of non-competitive basketball. While the fans may not like it, if the Sixers are presented with the opportunity to better themselves in the long-run by moving Carter-Williams, don’t expect them to say no.

Some of the bigger trade targets in the league can be found in the Atlantic Division. The players listed above are just a few potential candidates within the division to be moved. Let us know what you think about the possibility of each player being traded in the comment section below.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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NBA Daily: Examining the Eastern Conference Contenders

Matt John takes a look at the four titans who will be fighting for the Eastern Conference crown this May.

Matt John

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The day after the trade deadline passed, LeBron James had some interesting things to say about the arms race that was going down between the Eastern Conference titans.

“They know they ain’t gotta go through Cleveland anymore,” James said. “Everybody in the East thinks they can get to the Finals because they ain’t gotta go through me.”

It’s notable that LeBron’s current team is currently toeing the line between making the playoffs and playing the lottery odds. That does, however, beg the question: What if LeBron stayed in Cleveland?

Now if that had happened, then a lot of things would probably be different for the Cavaliers right now. There’s no telling if they would have kept the pick the Nets owed them, or if they would be playing Kyle Korver, George Hill, and J.R. Smith right now.

It would have added another intriguing wrinkle to what has been the tightest formerly-five-currently-four-man race going on at the top of the Eastern Conference in quite some time. Whether you agree that Cleveland would still be the frontrunner in the East with James, there doesn’t really appear to be a clear-cut favorite to represent the East anymore. Plenty of fans and analysts would give their takes on who stands out among the pack, but there’s no consensus pick.

In a sense, LeBron’s kind of right. He was a tyrant – or a “King” if you will – that set the bar year-in and year-out for the past decade. It gave his rivals motivation to play at one hundred percent, though it made the East a little predictable. With LeBron gone, the suspense as to who will take his throne makes it all the more fun.

The season is now coming down the home stretch. With less than 25 games left, Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston will fight tooth and nail to get home court advantage over each other. Who has the edge? Well, let’s take a look.

Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 44-14
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .465 (27th overall)
Record against competitors: 5-2

They finally did it. After years of looking as incredible as they were inconsistent, the Bucks have hit a breakthrough. It turns out all they needed was to put the right personnel around the Greek Freak (i.e. floor spacers and impact defenders). Oh, and a coach who could bring all of the notable talent together. The pieces are now fitting into place for the Bucks. Giannis is now going full-throttle with a supporting cast who only make Milwaukee all the harder to stop. Their league-leading point differential (9.6) tops the league by a fair margin, which indicates that this may not only be a fluke but the first sign of the glorious future we all believed the Bucks had.

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo – If it weren’t for James Harden putting up legendary numbers, Giannis would be the frontrunner for MVP. So much has been said about him that there’s not much to be added, so let’s leave it at this. Many have said if he starts hitting threes, he’ll be unstoppable. When you see his dominance in the paint – he’s shooting 77.3 percent in the paint – it makes you wonder if he really has to.
X-Factor: Eric Bledsoe – He’s had a nice bounce-back after a rocky half-season in Milwaukee. The record still stands that he was outplayed by Terry Rozier in his first playoff action as a starter. If the Bucks are to maintain their success in the postseason, Bledsoe must avoid a repeat performance from last postseason.
Unsung Hero: Malcolm Brogdon – People can scoff all they want at Brogdon’s Rookie of the Year Award. The fact is, the Bucks absolutely need him. They are +7.1 with him on the court, good for second behind, well, who do you think?
Pivotal Question: Will the supporting cast (including Coach Bud) keep it up in the playoffs?

Toronto Raptors
Record: 43-16
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .450 (30th overall)
Record against competitors: 6-5

Do you know what’s odd about the Raptors? Going by net rating, they’ve actually taken a step back this season. Last season, the Raptors had the second best offensive rating (113.8) and the fifth best defensive rating (105.9). This season, they have the seventh-best offensive rating (113) and the eighth best defensive rating (107.4). Yet somehow, the genuine belief is that this is the best team they’ve ever assembled. With Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin added to the team, the Raptors have made it clear that they’re not messing around.

MVP: Kawhi Leonard – Remember when Kevin Durant implied that Kawhi was a system player for the Spurs? Maybe that’s why Kawhi wanted out because he’s proven that notion wrong. He hasn’t skipped a beat in Canada and has even averaged career-highs both in scoring and rebounding average. He’d be an MVP candidate if he hadn’t missed 16 games.
X-Factor: Kyle Lowry – If Leonard is going to be the alpha dog of this team, he needs a second-in-command. Lowry’s numbers have dipped, but he’s got the experience. He’s folded in the playoffs before. Perhaps with less pressure, he can step up his game.
Unsung Hero: Serge Ibaka – With everything else that’s gone right for Toronto, Ibaka’s full acclimation to the center position has given him new life offensively. He’s putting up some of the best scoring, rebounding, and assist averages he’s had either ever or in years.
Pivotal Question: Will Nick Nurse get the team finally past its long-lived playoff demons?

Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 38-21
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .486 (21st Overall)
Record against competitors: 1-7

We have seen three iterations of the Sixers this season. One with Dario Saric and Robert Covington, one that added Jimmy Butler, then one that added primarily Tobias Harris among others. That’s a lot of talent to integrate in such a short time. Lucky for them, by adding Butler and Harris, the Sixers have the most talented starting five in the East. The Process is now at 100 percent capacity. They may have holes, but their Warriors-esque talent level may make it so that it won’t be a problem.

MVP: Joel Embiid – At age 24, Embiid has now taken his first steps into superstardom. 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists along with 1.9 blocks is sure to Joel among the ranks of the league’s top centers. Perhaps what’s most encouraging is that, before this recent knee ailment, Embiid has only missed five games.
X-Factor: The Bench – The Sixers also loaded up the second unit by adding Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, Jonathon Simmons and James Ennis III. By doing so, they really are committing to positionless basketball. It honestly could work if they use it to the best advantage they could.
Unsung Hero: Jimmy Butler – Butler’s fit with the Sixers hasn’t been smooth, but, even with the decreased scoring numbers, Butler is quietly putting up some of the most efficient percentages he’s ever had this season, both from three and the field itself.
Pivotal Question: Will they be able to stop any elite point guards?

Boston Celtics
Record: 37-22
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .516 (10th Overall)
Record against competitors: 6-3

The Celtics are somehow a team that’s played badly enough that they’re a disappointment yet played well enough that people shouldn’t give up on them. After a mediocre start, most of the results that have come from the Celtics have been positive. That’s come with some frustrating losses, but the team has been resilient after every bad stretch they’ve had. A common characteristic of Brad Stevens teams is that they play at their best as the season approaches its end. With their guys finally getting past their injury issues, we may see more of the same in the best way yet.

MVP: Kyrie Irving – Kyrie’s chaotic free agency plans have gotten in the way of what’s been a great season for him. He’s put up his usual scoring numbers, but his passing, rebounding and defense have been the best they’ve ever been. The Celtics have proven their fine without him. They’re still better off having him on the court.
X-Factor: Gordon Hayward – It’s been reported to death by now that Hayward’s made some encouraging process in recent weeks. Let’s leave it at this – if he is 100 percent by the playoffs, that makes the Celtics so much scarier. People forget just how good Gordon Hayward was merely two years ago.
Unsung Hero: Al Horford – After the last Celtics-Sixers game, many believe Horford is going to be a matchup problem for Embiid. Correction: Horford’s skillset and IQ make him a matchup problem for everyone.
Pivotal Question: Will they find a consistent rhythm by the season’s end?

Some of you are probably going to be outraged that Indiana is not included on this list, and for good reason. They still are the third-seeded team in the East, they’ve just recently had a six-game winning streak snapped, and they have one of the league’s best defenses.

With all due respect, it’s pretty simple. No Victor Oladipo, no contest. The Pacers are still one of the most well-liked and well-rounded teams in the league. It doesn’t change the fact that in the playoffs, having star power gives a huge advantage. Without Oladipo, Indiana is completely deprived of it.

If it’s any comfort, with a fully healthy Oladipo next season, they are more than worthy of being put with this group.

Here’s to hoping that by next year, this group will stay the same when he does.

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NBA Daily: Are The Kings Destined For The Playoffs?

As the season starts up again after the All-Star Break, Jordan Hicks looks into the Sacramento Kings and what it will take for them to end their playoff drought.

Jordan Hicks

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Sacramento Kings fans should be incredibly happy regardless of how this season ends.

For the first time in what seems like forever they have a promising young team that is not only winning games, but maintaining a certain form of consistency doing so. With the foundation of youthful stars like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Marvin Bagley III, how can Kings faithful not be hyper-optimistic?

The Kings are geared for success over the course of the next few years, but could their time come sooner than that? Do they actually have a shot at making the playoffs this season? The trade deadline acquisitions of Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks, two vets that can make an instant impact, make it seem like they believe their time is now.

Breaking things down, the question becomes – what actually needs to happen for the Kings to make the playoffs this season? The simple answer is to win games.

What have they been doing thus far to put more ticks in the W column? Shooting the three efficiently jumps out. They are currently fourth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.7 percent. While this number is oddly similar to last season’s percentage, they are shooting about seven more threes per game.

Sacramento is also playing incredibly quick basketball. They are second in the league in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes). Some could argue that this doesn’t always translate into a positive outcome, but for Sacramento it does. They are leading the NBA in fastbreak points at 21.7 points per game and are sixth in the league at points in the paint. Their defense is translating into offense as well, as they are second in the league at points off turnovers.

While their strengths are definitely elite, they clearly have weaknesses, too. They sit in 18th for both offensive and defensive rating, good for a -1.2 net rating. They are an abysmal 28th in free throw shooting.

Apart from Willie Cauley-Stein – who likely isn’t a major part of their future – they lack an elite rim protector. This leaves their defense prone to giving up more points in the paint. They are currently 26th in the league at opponent points in the paint. The lack of rim protection clearly correlates with their inability to grab defensive boards. They are tied for last in the league at opponent second-chance points.

One would assume that if the Kings simply tighten up their defensive focus that they would be able to close out strong and make the playoffs. They are currently ninth in the West, only one-and-a-half games behind the Clippers who just traded away their best player in Tobias Harris and two-and-a-half games behind the Spurs, who are somehow putting together a strong season despite losing Kawhi Leonard via trade and Dejounte Murray to injury.

As the season gets deeper, however, the Kings won’t be the only team tightening things up for a final playoff push. Every other team will likely be doing the same thing. While the Kings are just a small shot from the playoffs, both the Lakers and Timberwolves are nipping at their heels as well.

The Warriors, Nuggets and Thunder have done enough to separate themselves from the pack, to a degree at least. So that essentially leaves eight teams fighting for the remaining five slots. You can likely write off the Clippers, as they traded away their star player for future assets, and quite possibly the Timberwolves, as they may not have enough depth on their roster. This leaves the Kings and Lakers. If history has taught us anything, it’s that LeBron James likes to play in the postseason.

Sacramento has 24 games left to play this season. Their next two are at Oklahoma City and Minnesota. If they can somehow manage to squeak out one win in that stretch that will keep them above .500 and still fighting for a spot. After that stretch, 11 of their final 22 games are against teams projected to make the playoffs. Apart from two games against the Knicks, one against the Suns, and one against the Cavaliers, none of the remaining 11 games not against playoff teams will be “gimmes.”

Their final three are away against Utah, home against New Orleans and away against Portland. For sure they will be battling with two (and potentially three) of those teams for playoff positioning.

As far as the Lakers – who after their head-to-head win Thursday are a game behind Sacramento and two games out of the playoffs – their schedule isn’t much easier. 15 of their final 24 games are against projected playoff teams. That victory over Sacramento at Staples could actually end up being incredibly important for who makes the playoffs and who loses out.

Whether or not the Kings make the playoffs is anyone’s guess. If Fox and Hield play elite ball to close out the season, that will definitely increase their chances. Strong play from deadline acquisitions Burks and Barnes will also play a huge role in the Kings’ final push.

Like previously mentioned, Kings’ fans should be happy either way. This is the brightest the team’s future has been in well over a decade.

But the Kings likely won’t settle for “promising” or “up-and-coming.” They want success now, and making the playoffs will give them the reward that they’ve been working so hard for.

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How The NBA Became The Most Betting-Friendly League In American Sports

Basketball Insiders

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The NBA has become synonymous with betting conversations during the Adam Silver era, with the league frequently being at the forefront of those discussions. Compared to the other professional sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has not only appeared to be the most progressive with regard to the topic, but it has also looked like the league that is the most likely to get further involved in the industry.

Of course, the league has placed a focus on sports betting, given that they have a vested interest in the continued legalization of that. They have mentioned that they would like a cut of NBA wagers placed, with the industry’s growth in the United States being something that the league could see improving the bottom-line.

Whether or not the NBA gets a piece of the action from a financial perspective, it is still surprising to see a major professional sports league in the United States willing to entertain the conversation at all. By comparison, the NFL has been largely afraid to discuss sports betting, while Major League Baseball has banned its all-time leading hitter for life for gambling-related offenses.

And it isn’t as if the NBA is only interested in gambling in the context of betting on NBA games. The league has relationships in the daily fantasy sports industry as well, with visibility for brands in that space seen in NBA arenas as well. And the NBA-subsidized WNBA is also a part of this betting-friendly basketball landscape, most notably in the form of a team named after a casino.

The Connecticut Sun is that team, as they play in the home of a popular casino in their area. Both the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury play in a venue named after a casino as well. And it is the casino industry that the NBA may conceivably expand into as their relationships in the betting industry appear to be growing in both quality and quantity. With the growth of online casinos, it isn’t impossible to envision the NBA encouraging its fans to compare the best casino bonuses to increase its market share in this growing industry.

Of course, with the betting renaissance that is going on in the United States at this time, the league is making sure that everyone knows that its integrity is not to be questioned. The league has made clear that they are going to ramp up the enforcement of its betting policies, to make sure that players aren’t compromising the game’s integrity. That move by the league is a smart one, as it makes sure that fans know that there is no reason to question the sport even if the league embraces betting.

The NBA is seeing progress across the sport, from its on-court evolution that prioritizes ball movement and long-range shooting, to its off-court stances on betting. Unlike the other major American sports, that willingness to evolve is part of what has caused the popularity of the NBA to skyrocket in recent years.

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