After taking a look at the players most likely to be traded in the Southeast Division, we take a look at the Central Division.
Trade rumors fly each and every year. Things really tend to heat up around the trade deadline when contenders try to find that missing piece and rebuilding teams look to add young talent and/or draft picks. Inevitably many names will be mentioned as trade candidates as the deadline approaches, with many of those rumors never coming to fruition. While many trade rumors may turn out to be just that – rumors – there are always a few deals that get done during the season. Here is a list of six players in the Central Division who may end up playing elsewhere by season’s end.
O.J. Mayo, Milwaukee Bucks: Mayo signed a three year, $24 million dollar deal with the Bucks in the summer of 2013. The Bucks went into last season with aspirations of a playoff berth and expected Mayo to be the team’s starting shooting guard. The Bucks’ playoff hopes quickly deteriorated and the team ended the season with the worst record in the NBA. As bad as the Bucks were, Mayo wasn’t much better. He came into the season in less than ideal shape and was never able to find his stride. He went from a starter at the beginning of the season to playing spotty minutes by the end.
There have been massive changes throughout the Bucks organization since Mayo joined the team. As a result, the direction of the franchise has changed. Mayo doesn’t appear to be the long-term answer at shooting guard for the rebuilding Bucks. The problem will be finding a team willing to take his hefty contract. Mayo can be very effective shooting the three ball, but struggles to do so on a consistent basis. If he can prove early on this season that he can knock down perimeter shots with regularity, he may catch the eye of a contender looking to add shooting.
Zaza Pachulia, Milwaukee Bucks: Pachulia, like Mayo, signed with the Bucks during the summer of 2013. Again, it was the Bucks’ belief that they could be a playoff team in the East that led to the signing of Pachulia. He was brought in to be a physical presence and provide depth down low. Unlike Mayo, Pachulia performed exactly as expected.
Although Pachulia was as steady as they come last season, he doesn’t fit into the Bucks’ long-term plans. The team has two young big men in Larry Sanders and John Henson, who are expected handle the majority of minutes available at the center position. Pachulia is signed to a reasonable contract with the Bucks, which is due to pay him $5.2 million per year through this season and the next. He proved last season he still has plenty of gas left in the tank and can still be an effective presence in the paint. He could be a great addition to a playoff team looking to bolster their frontcourt. The Bucks will almost certainly receive some phone calls regarding the availability of Pachulia as the season progresses.
Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks: Ilyasova is currently the longest-tenured member of the Bucks as he prepares to start his seventh season with the organization. Since joining the team, he has developed in a very solid stretch four. He was able to parlay his improvement as a player into a sizable contract extension in July 2012, signing a deal worth $40 million over five years with the last year being non-guaranteed.
Since signing his new deal Ilyasova has struggled to replicate the play that earned him that salary boost. Last season he really had a tough time shooting from three, shooting just 28.2 percent, a career low. The significant changes throughout the franchise make you wonder how Ilyasova fits into the team’s future plans. He can still be a valuable contributor, but on a rebuilding Bucks team are his contributions really desired? Also, the team now has Jabari Parker, who figures to play a good chunk of his minutes at the PF spot. His development will be a top priority for the Bucks. Ilyasova is another player on the Bucks players who could fit nicely on a contender, particularly one looking to add a PF that can space the floor.
Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe and the Pistons went through a long offseason where both sides were non-committal. In the end, Monroe agreed to accept the team’s qualifying offer worth just under $5.5 million, keeping him Detroit at least one more season. One benefit of signing the team’s qualifying offer for Monroe is that it allows him to veto any potential trades that the Pistons may work out. If he were to be traded it would have to be to a team and a situation that he feels would be a good fit. Reports have surfaced that Monroe isn’t exactly happy with the way things have played out in Detroit during his first four years with the team. The addition of Stan Van Gundy may be enough to change his opinion and help persuade him to reconsider potentially staying in Detroit. His immediate future with the team will likely depend on how they perform leading up to the trade deadline. If the Pistons can’t prove in the first couple months of the season that they can be a playoff team, the organization may feel it’s best to try and trade Monroe rather than risk losing him for nothing come free agency. Again, though, Monroe has the power to stop any trade should he choose to.
Josh Smith, Detroit Pistons: The other big name in Detroit that has been mentioned in trade talks is Josh Smith. Smith came to Detroit last summer after signing a four-year, $54 million dollar deal. After signing such a lucrative contract much was expected of Smith upon his arrival in Detroit. In his first season with team Smith didn’t exactly play up to level expected from a player making $13.5 million per season. He had the worst year shooting, percentage wise, of his career. Smith shot just 41.9 percent the field, 26.4 percent from three and a lowly 53.2 percent from the free throw stripe.
The most prevalent rumor surrounding Smith is a deal that would send him to Sacramento joining the Kings. This is all speculation, but the Smith-to-the-Kings deal is one that has been mentioned on more than occasion. However, like Monroe, the addition Stan Van Gundy changes things and may be enough to quell any talks of trading Smith. Van Gundy has made it known that he views Smith as important piece going forward and if he were to trade to him it wouldn’t be just to move his contract. The Pistons would expect significant value in return for Smith.
Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers: There have been rumblings over the past six months that Hibbert is ready to move on from the Pacers. There have also been rumors that the Pacers have been shopping around their towering center. At one point Hibbert appeared to an integral part Pacers’ future, but now his time with the team may soon be coming to an end. Hibbert has two years remaining on his current contract with the Pacers, with the second year being a player option. If the Pacers feel the chances of Hibbert exercising that player option are slim, they may look to move him this season.
With Paul George set to miss the majority of the season, the Pacers’ chances of making a deep playoff run are almost non-existent. The departure of Lance Stephenson couldn’t have come at a worse time. With their chances of competing this season being so low the team has even more reason to move Hibbert while they can still get something in return for him. He has tremendous value as an interior defender and the Pacers should be able to bring back noteworthy talent in any potential Hibbert deal. If things go bad early for the Pacers this season, look for Hibbert to big one of the bigger names on the block as trade deadline approaches.
These are just a few players that may be mentioned in trade talks as the season goes on, each with different reasons as to why they might find themselves wearing a different jersey as some point this season.
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.