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NBA Trade Watch: The Central Division

Spencer Davies takes a look at what teams in the Central Division are going to busy in the trade market.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders continues its division-by-division trade watch series with the Central Division.

Between the top and bottom, it’s expected that those organizations will be busy in the trade market as the deadline approaches.

Here’s a look at the group of five and what teams are expected to be the most involved in the Central.

*Player Option
**Qualifying Offer
***Team Option

Cleveland Cavaliers (26-14)

The Cavaliers have lost six out of their last eight games, but they still sit atop the division. They’re a team full of ups and downs due to injuries and re-implementing players into rotations, like what’s most recently gone on with Isaiah Thomas and Tristan Thompson. Soon they’ll have to do the same with Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert.

Regardless of that, Cleveland is a team in need of some type of move. Not only are they an older roster, but their defense has been sub-par to put it politely. A trade doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, but just enough to fill a need, or in this case, needs.

Notable Ending Contracts:

LeBron James* — $33,285,709

Isaiah Thomas — $6,261,395

Iman Shumpert* — $10,337,079

Channing Frye — $7,420,912

Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Jeff Green — $1,471, 382

Names Worth Talking About:

It’s no secret that the Cavaliers have contemplated trading Tristan Thompson in an effort to move his heavy contract. Iman Shumpert is another player who’s been rumored to be in discussions with other teams for the past two years now.

Thompson would likely net more of a return for Cleveland, but considering his representation is the same as James’ and the fact he’s slowly developed a rapport with Thomas in the pick-and-roll game, it’s probably not going to happen. On the other hand, Shumpert has had a tough time staying healthy this year and his role with the team might suffer due to the abundance of guards on the roster, so he could be on his way out if the Cavs find a taker for his salary.

Based on lack of production on both ends of the floor, J.R. Smith should also be a candidate worth discussing, but Tyronn Lue is known to stick with his guys through thick and thin, so chances are a trade wouldn’t be in the cards.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Defense. Cleveland has had little to no resistance in many areas on that end of the floor. Two types of players would be welcomed—a perimeter defender that can shoot and a rim-protecting big that at the very least can alter shots in the restricted area.

It’s widely known by now that they have kicked the rocks on Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, but that price tag may be too steep. If the Cavs want a rental, there multiple potential targets. Nerlens Noel has a thumb injury at the moment, but if he’s healthy by deadline time it’d be a no-brainer for the sheer fact that he’s no longer used by the Dallas Mavericks at all. Another big from the same team who actually gets some playing time, Salah Mejri, could also be had for a lesser return. It wouldn’t be bad idea to explore the availability of Robin Lopez in Chicago, either.

As far the two-way guard is concerned, the perfect target is Courtney Lee. He’s been sensational from both a leadership and production standpoint for the New York Knicks and has plenty of experience. Slot him into the Cavs’ starting lineup and watch the energy level increase. Other options could include Tyreke Evans, who is having a career year with the Memphis Grizzlies, and Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore, whom Mike Zavagno of Fear The Sword suggested this past week.

Milwaukee Bucks (22-18)

Over the last week and a half, the Bucks have been on a seesaw. They’ve been on a win-loss, win-loss, win-loss pattern since the New Year came about. There has to be some semblance of consistency shown in the near future.

Milwaukee needs to start taking (and making) more threes. With Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell on the outside, that should be a dependable trio to knock those three-balls down. Crashing the boards has been an issue that’s held this team back in the past and is affecting them right now, but we’ll get into that more in-depth.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Jabari Parker** — $6,782,392

Names Worth Talking About:

The Bucks already made their blockbuster deal in November when they acquired Eric Bledsoe from the Phoenix Suns. Greg Monroe was whom they sent out, and other than him, there really are no players to pay attention to that may get shipped away.

What Milwaukee is waiting on is the impending return of Jabari Parker, which will pretty much act as a mid-season acquisition when he rejoins the team.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Rebounding. It’s been what’s held the Bucks back this year from being a true contender. It doesn’t help that they lost their best big man in the deal for Bledsoe, but it was a splash where the pros outweighed the cons. Still, Milwaukee’s dependence on John Henson is the X-factor of how far they can go.

Reports suggested Milwaukee threw their name in the hat in the DeAndre Jordan sweepstakes, but similar to the Cavs situation, the return L.A. is asking for may not be worth it. If the Bucks are involved in the deadline talks though, it should be for a big.

Detroit Pistons (22-18)

To the surprise of many, though not including this writer, the Pistons are a real player in the East. Unfortunately, injuries have restricted them from achieving their true potential, but the growth of Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris has really put this team in a great position.

Recently, Detroit pummeled the Nets in Brooklyn, but they’ve still dropped three out of five. They’re combating missing pieces and giving young guys like Luke Kennard and Dwight Buycks significant playing time while they wait for others to get healthy. That’s a reason they’ll be heavily involved come deadline time.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Avery Bradley — $8,808,989

Names Worth Talking About:

Despite having a solid season, Reggie Jackson is always somebody to pay attention to when it comes to trade chatter. Whether it’s because of his trouble staying on the court or his hefty contract, the Pistons have floated him around in deal discussions for the past two years. Luke Kennard’s flashes of talent in his rookie season have reportedly made him an interesting target for teams, but it will depend on what direction the organization wants to go. The same goes for Stanley Johnson.

It’s very unlikely, but the expiring deal of Avery Bradley makes him an attractive option for teams in need of a starting guard. Anthony Tolliver could also make for an intriguing rotational player and has a cheap expiring contract.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Depth. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Detroit has been “one of the most aggressive” players on the market looking for talent. Injuries have sidelined Jackson and Jon Leuer, so those positions could use either an upgrade or some extra bodies.

So what names have the Pistons been linked to? Earlier this season, Orlando Magic swingman Evan Fournier was apparently in the mix. Chicago Bulls power forward Nikola Mirotic and Brooklyn Nets wing DeMarre Carroll are two names that have come up in rumblings as well.

Indiana Pacers (21-20)

Remember when people were laughing at the Pacers for trading Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis? Those people are awfully silent right now. Outside of a rough end to December, the supposedly rebuilding squad is above .500 and in a real conversation to make the postseason.

Defense is still an area of concern for Indiana, but their dynamite offensive onslaughts are overpowering enough to beat some teams. We’ll see if it can sustain throughout the season, and if it does, Nate McMillan will have quite the case for a Coach of The Year argument.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Thaddeus Young* — $14,796,348

Glenn Robinson III — 1,525,305

Cory Joseph* — $7,630,000

Lance Stephenson*** — $4,180,000

Names Worth Talking About:

Not too many. The Pacers are in good shape and really don’t need to ship anybody out necessarily.

Maybe with the return of Glenn Robinson III from injury, there may be less playing time for somebody, but it’s not necessarily enough of a change to make a move. If they weren’t contending for a potential postseason appearance, it’d make sense to try and find a deal for Thaddeus Young and Darren Collison, but they’ve been paramount to the team’s success.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

One more superstar. If Indiana chooses to make a move at the deadline, why not go for a home run? Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post cooked up an interesting thought about chasing Kemba Walker away from the struggling Charlotte Hornets. While point guard is a position set at the moment, you can’t equate to the production that an All-Star could potentially give you. It’s a grand idea and could make what was intended to be a rebuild into a contending season.

That might be the key to sending this Pacers team over the top as a real threat in the Eastern Conference, but it could also mess with the current flow they have right now with Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis leading the charge. Only time will tell if they attempt something that drastic, but it could pay dividends if they try.

Chicago Bulls (15-27)

It hasn’t been pretty, but it’s been a lot prettier than most of us expected. After a 3-20 start, the Bulls are scratching and clawing with 15 wins already. The development of Kris Dunn as a legitimate starting point guard has been promising. Lauri Markannen is doing everything in his power to prove he’s a future star in this league. Nikola Mirotic is having a career year. Zach LaVine is coming back on Saturday.

Chicago’s probably going to finish in the bottom half of the conference, but it might not be as far deep as some predicted before the season started. They’ll definitely be players in the trade market to get their younger talent some more chances to develop.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Nikola Mirotic*** — $12,500,000

Zach LaVine** — $3,202,218

Names Worth Talking About:

Nikola Mirotic wants out of the Windy City. Regardless of how well the Bulls have competed over the last few weeks, he has no desire to stay for multiple reasons. Reports say that the 26-year-old has interest in the Utah Jazz to play under Quin Snyder. Outside of his personal preferences, the Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, and Portland Trail Blazers have had discussions with Chicago. The asking price for Mirotic is a first-round pick. He can be shipped out as soon as January 15, so expect talks to pick up fast.

Another player to keep an eye on is Robin Lopez, who is a veteran center lost on a team going towards a youth movement. With Cristiano Felicio recently earning a payday and getting so little time on the court, that could ultimately push management to make a trade. Lopez could probably yield a decent return, too.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Size and youth. Say Chicago does get rid of Mirotic or Lopez, or even both—they’re left with one center and no bigs to back up Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen. Some guards on their roster should be expendable when Zach LaVine returns from his injury on Saturday, so maybe start there.

One rumored deal for Mirotic includes Derrick Favors in exchange, so they’re on the right track.

The trade deadline is shaping up to be a busy one for a lot of teams. Expect the Central Division to be on the phones when it comes to improving their respective rosters.

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.


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Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance

Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.

David Yapkowitz



Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.

The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.

As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.

For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.

“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”

Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.

He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.

The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.

“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”

Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.

He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.

“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”

Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.

Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.

If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.

For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.

“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”

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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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