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NBA Trade Watch: The Northwest

Dennis Chambers breaks down the Northwest division and how each team fairs heading into the trade deadline.

Dennis Chambers

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Continuing down the road towards the trade deadline, here at Basketball Insiders we’ll continue to give you a division-by-division breakdown of how teams are equipped to head into the NBA’s last month of trades.

After already covering the Atlantic and Southwest divisions, we now turn our attention to one of the most competitive divisions in basketball, the Northwest.

With four teams boasting a record above .500 at the midway point of the season, it will be curious to see how if these teams decide to add to their current arsenal or stay put for the playoff push.

Minnesota Timberwolves (27-16)

After making their big moves this past offseason to bring in Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson — three of their five starters — to pair with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves are reaping the benefits of those big money decisions.

Currently leading their division, and hitting their stride as the second half of the season approaches, the Wolves are in a position to flex their star power muscles for a deep playoff run. Considering their moves in the offseason, along with inking Wiggins to a max contract and preparing to do the same for Towns, the books in Minnesota are a bit tight at the moment.

With that being said, at this point for the Timberwolves, staying put with the core that’s led them to a record 11 games over .500 so far is their most likely scenario heading into the trade deadline.

Notable Ending Contracts:

None.

Names Worth Talking About:

Like most high-level contending teams in the NBA, the Timberwolves are a bit stuck with their current core. With no real cap room to play with and no notable expiring contracts that can be used as trade chips, Minnesota doesn’t expect to be one of the more active players at the deadline. Barring an incredibly surprising move where the Wolves ship off one of their star players, don’t expect this lineup to look much, if any, different after the first week of February.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Despite having a roster loaded with star-caliber names, there are still some serious areas of weakness for the Timberwolves. Namely three-point shooting, where Minnesota ranks 27th in the league in attempts, and 24th in percentage. As noted, it’s not like the Wolves have much wiggle room to address that need at this point; they are who they are, but if there was a situation where they could add a piece for cheap it would behoove them to take a look at some deep ball shooters.

Portland Trail Blazers (22-19)

With one of the most prolific backcourts in the entire league, the Trail Blazers are once again pushing their way to a playoff berth. Having a ton of money tied up in both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum doesn’t help Portland all that much in terms of being able to bring any new bodies on board, but with a few expiring deals that are attached to recognizable names, the Blazers could potentially find themselves in a position to make a move should they choose to do so.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Ed Davis — $6,352,531

Noah Vonleh — $3,505,233

Jusuf Nurkic — $2,947,305

Pat Connaughton — $1,471,382

Names Worth Talking About:

The Trail Blazers’ biggest cause for concern should be preparing to sign Jusuf Nurkic to an extension. Nurkic is the perfect thunder to the team’s backcourt lightening. Leading the Blazers in rebounding and blocked shots while also chipping in 14.6 points per game, Nurkic gives Portland an inside presence that can become a matchup problem for some of the finesse teams in the Western Conference.

Alongside Lillard and McCollum, Nurkic is the perfect low-post complement to even out the team’s identity. Portland should be focusing on making sure they can lock up their Bosnian big man before adding new names to the fold.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Even though money is tight out in Portland, the team could absolutely benefit from picking up a bench distributor. With two ball-dominant guards in their starting lineup, the Trail Blazers rank last in the NBA in assists per game. Up until this point, facilitation problems have still allowed the team to win more games than they’re losing, but as the season continues on into the playoffs, ball movement is crucial to sustained success.

Their current financial position is the biggest question mark over the next month. But finding an option to come in and kick up ball movement for the team’s various lineups could go a long way in terms of success.

Oklahoma City Thunder (22-20)

Halfway through the Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony experiment, results are mixed at best.

Despite All-Star names and All-Star paychecks, the Thunder’s trio has shown serious problems in terms of meshing their talents together for a more efficient collective result. With George and Anthony set to be free agents, the Thunder are an increasingly interesting team to watch as the deadline approaches. On record, Westbrook has said that the best free agent pitch to keep George in OKC would be winning a championship. That alone suggests Paul isn’t going anywhere this month. But again, the NBA is a wild ride, and Westbrook isn’t the general manager.

Should everyone stay put, the Thunder have the second half of the season to figure out how they can mesh three ball-dominant players well enough together to make noise during the playoffs. Regardless of what happens, all eyes will most certainly be on Oklahoma City.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Carmelo Anthony — $26,243,760

Paul George — $19,508,958

Jerami Grant — $1,524,305

Nick Collison — $1,471,382

Josh Huestis — $1,471,382

Raymond Felton — $1,471,382

Names Worth Talking About:

The most intriguing names related to the Thunder at this point in time are two players already on their roster: Anthony and George.

With the Los Angeles Lakers scenario looming over George as an evergreen possibility, the Thunder could be in a position to lose another star player for nothing if he decides to walk away from the team this summer. Considering his pairing with Westbrook hasn’t been the wild success the team was hoping for, seeing what Sam Presti could get for George on the trade market is at least a scenario worth exploring.

As for Anthony, his early termination option makes him a flight risk as well. If George bounces for Hollywood this summer, there isn’t much to suggest that Anthony would stick around in Oklahoma City as well.

It’s impossible to tell the future for the Thunder in terms of how many games they’ll win or if they can make a deep run in the playoffs, so making a move at the deadline at this point would be abandoning their experiment without giving it a full season to run its course. That was always the risk in dealing for George and Anthony, though.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

The biggest need the Thunder have to focus on as the deadline approaches is something that can’t be bought or traded for on the open market, and that’s chemistry.

With the third-highest payroll in the league, the Thunder are as strapped for cash as they come. Pulling off a blockbuster trade would require breaking up the current three-man band. Bringing on complementary pieces at this point may just not be feasible financially. Oklahoma City is married to its team at this point in time, and the best case scenario to start seeing more wins is an uptick in chemistry between the star players. Unfortunately, there’s no “chemistry exception” in the current CBA. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how this one pans out.

Denver Nuggets (21-20)

After swinging for the fences this summer and signing Paul Millsap to a three-year $90 million deal, the Denver Nuggets got a hard dose of reality when Millsap tore a ligament in his left wrist after just 16 games.

Managing to stay afloat with a record one game above .500 and keeping themselves in the playoff race, the Nuggets are in a position to add a piece or two at the deadline to pair with the return of Millsap for a playoff push.

What makes that tricky for Denver is the reality that they’re over the cap and pretty tight on cash. With a contract extension for Nikola Jokic right around the corner, it isn’t likely that the team will be in a position to make any long-term acquires. But a cheap option to fill out the second unit for a team looking to find the postseason isn’t totally out of the question.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Will Barton — $3,533,333

Richard Jefferson — $1,454,756

Names Worth Talking About:

Currently, there aren’t any names that are directly being connected to the Nuggets. With limited mobility in terms of cap space and tradable assets, there’s a good reason why things are quiet at the moment.

There are some sellers in this market, like the Lakers and their desire to move Jordan Clarkson to free up cap space. Clarkson would be a wonderful fit in Denver, where former lottery pick point guard Emmanuel Mudiay has fallen out of the rotation, as a perfect secondary option like his role in Los Angeles. The only problem is, the Nuggets don’t have the cap room to make a move like that work without shedding some money of their own.

Any particular move made by Denver will have to be the result of them finding a partner to take on contracts of their own. Otherwise, their hands are tied moving forward towards the deadline.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

As mentioned above, the Nuggets could really benefit from having a second-unit point guard to truly solidify their rotation. Since Mudiay fell out of favor, Will Barton has been responsible for that role. While Barton has his moments from time to time, his ability to facilitate an offense effectively comes into question more often than it should with a backup point guard.

Being able to shore up the backcourt of the second-unit would help create a deeper, more cohesive unit for the Nuggets as they look to force themselves into the playoff picture throughout the second half of the season.

Utah Jazz (17-24)

In their first season without Gordon Hayward, the Utah Jazz have regressed as expected. Although Donovan Mitchell has been an incredible surprise for the club, missing the seasoned scorer from the wing has been detrimental to the Jazz’s success.

Along with losing Hayward, the fact that Rudy Gobert has dealt with injury issues this season as well is adding to Utah’s tough campaign. Continuing throughout the rest of this season under their current trajectory, the Jazz will likely be on the outside looking in for the playoff picture. But according to certain reports, Utah will look to add players at the deadline in hopes to add more talent to their roster moving forward.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Derrick Favors — $12,000,000

Joe Johnson — $10,505,000

Dante Exum — $4,992,385

Rodney Hood — $2,386,864

Names Worth Talking About:

As Marc Stein of The New York Times reported, the Jazz are serious suitors for Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic.

With Utah showing interest in bringing aboard the likes of Mirotic, a frontcourt set to potentially lose Favors this offseason could find a bit more stability. An offensive-minded four, Mirotic could do well under Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, who has a knack for capitalizing on players’ offensive potential. As the trade deadline approaches for both the Bulls and Jazz, it appears that Mirotic will be the hot name.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Piggybacking off of the Mirotic noise, the Jazz’s most obvious need at the deadline would be depth. Particularly in the frontcourt. With Gobert sidelined, and Favors a free agent, bringing in Mirotic to an offensive friendly system could be beneficial for both parties.

Whether the Jazz actually make the move or not remains to be seen, but over the course of the next month, with Gobert’s knee a question mark right now, Utah could only benefit from bringing in some back up on the front lines.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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NBA Daily: Credit Ujiri And Raptors For Taking The Risk

Perhaps emboldened by OKC’s ability to retain Paul George, the Raptors are taking a gamble of their own.

Lang Greene

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In any given NBA season, at the most, there are only five legitimate title contenders in play. The rest of the league could be considered as either on the rise, middle of the pack or in the hunt for a lottery pick.

There are far too many teams around the league that are content with solely making the playoffs while not seriously contending for a title. This is why the Toronto Raptors organization along with team president Masai Ujiri should be given credit for taking the ultimate gamble in acquiring a top-five player, even one who could amount to a one-year rental.

The Raptors shipped four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran wing Danny Green.

The move is the ultimate gamble for an organization that has turned itself into a perennial playoff presence with five consecutive postseason appearances and three straight 50-win campaigns. DeRozan, 28, was locked under contract the next three seasons and the organization could have theoretically decided to ride the DeRozan and fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry duo until the proverbial wheels fell off.

But instead, Ujiri unexpectedly shipped their star player, who wanted to be in Toronto long-term, to acquire Leonard who reportedly has his eyes dead set on joining one of the Los Angeles franchises once he hits free agency in 2019.

Think about this for a moment.

While Toronto has served as LeBron James’ playoff punching bag as of late, make no mistake, Raptors basketball is undoubtedly experiencing the peak of its golden era.

Sure, the team’s former stars such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh will likely go down in history considered better than DeRozan (and Lowry). But none of the aforementioned players led the franchise to a 50-win season while with the organization. None of those guys led the Raptors to a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. DeRozan was a vital cog in breaking new ground while with the team, defiantly re-signing with the Raptors despite overtures from his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in 2016.

Perhaps emboldened by the success the Oklahoma City Thunder recently had in taking a similar risk last summer, the Raptors took the gamble. The Thunder traded for All-Star forward Paul George, who also reportedly also had Los Angeles dreams, last summer, and were able to convince the wing to re-sign earlier this month to a long-term deal.

Toronto has never been a free agency hot spot and the aforementioned stars all forced their way out of town early in their careers. What if Leonard doesn’t buy the soup Ujiri is cooking? There are already some reports stating the forward has no desire to play with the Raptors at all.

Even if this is the case, Ujiri and company still have options. Leonard can still be dealt before next February’s trade deadline. Ujiri could theoretically create a bidding war between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers for Leonard’s services with an attractive.

At the bare minimum, the Raptors are all-in this season for a championship run in an Eastern Conference no longer facing the talents of LeBron James. If things don’t work out, DeRozan’s $54 million owed after this season is off the books. Lowry will be owed $33 million in 2020 but could potentially be an attractive expiring contract. All of this to say, the Raptors are simultaneously preparing for a title run and bracing for a rebuild of their current roster.

Far too many teams become content with just making the playoffs and not rocking the boat. Ujiri took his shot to boost the Raptors up the league’s hierarchy. The ultimate risk. Much respect for taking it.

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NBA Daily: Quality Free Agents Still Available

Many quality free agents are still available nearly three weeks into free agency, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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With the NBA Summer League over and training camps a few months away, the NBA would normally be quiet this time of year. Apparently the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors didn’t get the memo as they agreed to a trade centered around Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan. Additionally, Carmelo Anthony has finally been traded to relieve the Oklahoma City Thunder from a tremendous tax burden.

As the dust settles from these trades, many free agents continue to wait in the wings. The list includes many talented players who will eventually make their way back onto an NBA team’s roster. Some will return to the team they played for last year, which is especially likely for restricted free agents (e.g., Marcus Smart). Some may, for a variety of reasons, not return to an NBA roster. Last year Rodney Stuckey sat the year out and used the time to improve his health in order to make a comeback this year. Former All-Star center Roy Hibbert just announced his retirement at age 31 after not being active last season.

The list of available restricted free agents has seriously dwindled now nearly three weeks into the free agency period. RFAs such as Marcus Smart (back to the Boston Celtics) and Jabari Parker (to the Chicago Bulls) have recently signed new contracts. These signings, among others, leaves Houston Rockets RFA center Clint Capela and Los Angeles Clippers RFA center Montrezl Harrell as two of the bigger names left on the board.

Available Restricted Free Agents:

Clint Capela

Clint Capela is coming off of his best and most efficient season averaging 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks in 27.5 minutes a game (all career highs) and he is only 24 years old. Capela also spearheaded a defense that, when combined with James Harden’s offensive mastery, pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals. Reports are that Capela has turned down an initial offer to re-sign for well below his max. While the clock ticks on the Rockets and Capela, Capela finds himself in what remains a punitive free agent market. The Sacramento Kings is the only other team capable of immediately signing Capela to a competitive contract to lure him away from the Rockets. To make matters worse, the Kings have been committed to stocking their roster with as many big men as possible making them a less-than-ideal suitor for Capela’s services.

Montrezl Harrell

Montrezl Harrell won’t generate as many headlines as the other RFAs that have been in the news lately but don’t sleep on him. In a season that never went according to plan for the Clippers, Harrell was one of the bright spots for the team. Harrell, acquired by the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, showed tenacity on offense as he served as a strong offensive rebounder, floor runner and helped the Clippers weather a five-game stretch where center DeAndre Jordan was unavailable. Harrell played especially well in place of Jordan. However, working against Harrell is the Clipper’s roster crunch. The team has 18 players on the roster, not counting Harrell. If the Clippers do ultimately decide to bring back Harrell, the Clippers will have to make several moves to clear roster spots.

Rodney Hood

Cleveland Cavaliers RFA wing Rodney Hood also remains available. Utah Jazz fans can relate to the ups and downs of cheering for Hood who has flashes of brilliant play but remains inconsistent. Hood was acquired during last season to help bolster the Cavaliers’ championship run. However, Hood’s scoring, three-point shooting, overall statistics and minutes went down significantly due to his uneven play. While Hood is still a capable player, his time with the Cavaliers did not end well, which has impacted his stock around the league. It didn’t help Hood’s cause when he was benched in the postseason and he subsequently refused to enter the game when instructed to. The Kings, in need of help on the wing, could be a suitor for Hood’s services. However, Cleveland could match any such offer as the franchise continues to build a new team after the loss of LeBron James.

Available Unrestricted Free Agents:

Dwyane Wade

The group of remaining unrestricted free agents is a mixed bag. As mentioned above, there is at least a chance that one of these players may not even make a roster when the dust settles this offseason. Dwyane Wade has bounced around the league the last few years with stints with the Bulls, Cavaliers and a most recent return to the Miami HEAT under his belt. Wade remains capable of spurts of offense and is a fan favorite in Miami. The most obvious result here is a return to Miami. However, Wade himself commented regarding a potential return or possibly retirement.

“When I get back from China, I’ll focus on that [decision],” Wade said while in China. “The basketball will take care of itself. I’ll sit down and figure that out once I get back from this tour at some point.”

Michael Beasley

Michael Beasley remains unsigned despite a strong outing last season for the New York Knicks. Beasley started 30 of 74 games played. His numbers don’t jump off the boxscore: 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists in 22.3 minutes. However, these are some of the best numbers he’s put up in years and the most consistent he has played since 2012-13. The Knicks may likely move on from Beasley but he remains a viable scorer who could come off the bench and start in a pinch for many teams if the price is right.

Jamal Crawford and Nick Young

Jamal Crawford and Nick Young remain unsigned veterans who offer potential teams a scoring punch off the bench. Young has the benefit of showing that he contributed in spurts to the Warrior’s championship season while not becoming a distraction. Both are known for knocking down difficult outside shots but can be inefficient scorers and potential liabilities on defense.

Honorable Mentions

A few notable big men remain available as well. Phoenix Center Alex Len never became the elite big man the Suns had hoped for when they used the fifth pick in the 2013 draft to acquire him. However he remains a serviceable player. For his career, Len averages 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes. He is somewhat mobile and could be a strong option for a team looking for a backup center. Centers Al Jefferson and Jahill Okafor can both score the basketball but have to directly combat the notion that they have become antiquated. The modern game calls for mobile centers that shoot reliably from the outside to stretch the floor, are efficient on offense, can guard the rim as well as being at least somewhat capale of covering ball handlers on switches. Okafar and Jefferson don’t fit that profile and will have to convince potential suitors that despite their meager contributions over the last few seasons that they can sufficiently adapt to the modern game and make a positive impact.

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NBA: Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan Makes Sense

In an unexpected move, DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard swapped teams, and it makes complete sense.

Dennis Chambers

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The Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio is finally over.

In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, news broke via Twitter that Leonard was about to be shipped across the Canadian border to the Toronto Raptors for — get this — DeMar DeRozan.

Leonard, and his deteriorated relationship with the San Antonio Spurs, dominated the offseason headlines, and while reports constantly whizzed around about where the All-Star small forward would wind up — maybe Los Angeles, maybe Philadelphia, maybe Boston — his final destination is one that came completely out of left field (despite the current odds).

While many people viewed the situation with Leonard as a chance for San Antonio to start fresh and plan for the future, the Spurs appeared to have no interest in that avenue. The entirety of the deal, Leonard and Danny Green for DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick displays a win-now outcome for each party.

After winning 59 games and obtaining the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors eventually were bounced by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a sweeping fashion. Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 Coach of the Year, was fired after not being able to extend the franchises’ best season to an NBA Finals appearance. It appeared, with LeBron moving West, that the Raptors were going to run it back one more time to see if they could finally break through to the game’s biggest stage.

On the other side, the Spurs were coming off of a season in which they won 47 games and were two games out of the Western Conference’s third seed — all of which they achieved without Leonard. In the waning years of Gregg Popovich’s career, it appeared his team was still talented enough, and system still effective enough, to make relevant noise in the playoffs without a superstar player.

At its core, this deal comes down to each team swapping their best player for the other’s. Leonard gets out of San Antonio, to a team whose core won 59 games in the East. DeRozan gets the benefit of fitting into a system with the best head coach in the league, on a very competitive roster.

Now, it remains to be seen how happy each player will be in their situations. Reports surfaced early Wednesday morning that both players were dissatisfied with the trade outcome. But, as we all know, winning cures everything.

On the Spurs’ front, it’s interesting how little they considered trade packages for future picks and quality role players. ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported San Antonio rebuffed offers from the Sixers and Celtics that were centered around future assets, in turn focusing their trade efforts on the likes of Ben Simmons, and the Celtics’ young core. Instead of landing a handful of assets or players that may not materialize until Popovich is gone, the Spurs reeled in a player who is a year removed from averaging 27 points per game. Oh, by the way, he’s also under contract for the next three seasons.

DeRozan keeps the Spurs relevant. Maybe he doesn’t help them beat the Golden State Warriors (in fact, he most certainly doesn’t), but he allows his new team the chance to win meaningful games in the postseason over the next three years.

From everything that’s been reported, there was no way Popovich was going to commit the final few years of his NBA life to a rebuild. With a man like that at the helm, and a star player like DeRozan under contract, who knows what other tricks San Antonio might have up its sleeve.

Up in Toronto, if the Raptors can convince Leonard to play this season, their core plus an upgrade on the wing might finally be enough to break through to the Finals. New head coach Nick Nurse suddenly has a player widely regarded as a top-five talent in the league on his roster to accompany a deep and talented core. Although, just like in San Antonio, Leonard might not add enough to the Raptors to dethrone the Warriors. However, he suddenly has a better supporting cast to try and give Golden State a run for its money.

Plus, given Toronto’s inability to get out of the East, a Finals appearance in its own right would be considered a success next season.

All around, maybe this wasn’t the deal we expected to get Leonard out of San Antonio, but digesting the move from all angles, it appears to be the most sensible.

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