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NBA Trade Watch: The Southwest

Shane Rhodes breaks down the mindset of each Southwest team headed toward the deadline.

Shane Rhodes

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New Years may have come and gone, but Trade Season is still very young. In fact, the NBA sits under a month away from the February 9th trade deadline. One of the most exciting times of the season, the trade deadline presents the opportunity for teams to improve both in the immediate and or distant future whether they are acquiring talent or accumulating future draft compensation.

In the lead up to the deadline, Basketball Insiders will tackle each division and break down where each team can improve or any trade chips they may have; Dennis Chambers has already covered the Atlantic Division here. While there doesn’t appear to be any major moves or changes on the horizon, the NBA never sleeps and that could change at a moments notice.

Here is a breakdown of the Southwest Division.

Houston Rockets (28-11)

The Rockets sure have fallen on hard times in recent weeks.

Houston has lost seven of their last 10 games, nine of which were played without superstar guard James Harden. Thanks to a dominant early season, the Rockets still sit comfortably at the two-spot in the Western Conference, but the San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves and others are all quickly gaining ground on them. And if they want any chance to catch the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in the standings, the Rockets are going to have to right the ship and do so quickly.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Chris Paul — $24,599,495

Trevor Ariza — $7,420,912

Clint Capela — $2,334,528

Names Worth Talking About:

The Rockets roster is already a fleshed out one; despite their recent struggles, they boast a top-shelf offense and, at the very least, an average defense. However, looking ahead, Houston’s top priority should be retaining talents Chris Paul and Clint Capela.

When healthy, Paul has been his usual dominant self and has formed one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA when alongside Harden. Capela, meanwhile, is in the midst of a breakout season for the Rockets and, at just 23-years-old, should continue to develop into an impact player on the floor. It would behoove the Rockets to maintain both their services.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

The Rockets don’t need much outside of the return of James Harden. They have already fortified their bench with Gerald Green, who has provided Houston with a major spark off the bench in Harden’s absence. Leading up to the deadline, the Rockets should be focused on maintaining the health of the players and trying to lock down the likes of Paul and Capela for the future.

San Antonio Spurs (28-14)

Gregg Popovich has worked his magic again this season.

Despite Kawhi Leonard’s extended absence, the Spurs have managed to a 28-14 record this season, good for third in the Western Conference. LaMarcus Aldridge has rebounded from a poor showing last season, while the likes of Pau Gasol, Danny Green, Kyle Anderson and Rudy Gay have been key contributors for Popovich’s squad.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Tony Parker — $15,453,126

Names Worth Talking About:

Tony Parker is a free agent at season’s end. Outside of the veteran guard, the Spurs don’t have much in the way of trade assets outside of draft compensation. The Spurs don’t look poised to make any big splashes as the deadline draws near; unless it’s swapping bench pieces, don’t expect much from San Antonio.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Health. If the Spurs want to remain in contention they are going to need to return some players to the starting lineup. Most notably, Leonard, who has played just eight games this season, would be a welcome addition to a team that needs a reliable scoring option outside of Aldridge. The Spurs currently rank 26th in the NBA in points per game, averaging just 101.6 per contest; Leonard’s return would certainly remedy that situation.

New Orleans Pelicans (20-19)

As they seem to be every season, the New Orleans Pelicans are at a crossroads. Despite their talented frontcourt pairing of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, New Orleans sits at just 20-19, good for eighth in the Western Conference; do they forge on ahead or finally hit the button and blow it all up?

Notable Ending Contracts:

DeMarcus Cousins — $18,063,850

Rajon Rondo — $3,300,000

Names Worth Talking About:

While the Pelicans are likely reluctant to trade their second-star, Cousins, it may be in their best interest to do so. Now in his eighth season, Cousins has never been to the playoffs; does he believe the Pelicans — currently the eighth seed in the West — stand a chance to go anywhere against the top teams in the Conference? New Orleans retaining Cousins beyond this season will come down to that, and if they are unable to make any headway out West the team should, at the very least, be taking calls on the All-Star center.

E’Twaun Moore and Rajon Rondo could be interesting pieces as well. Moore is having a career year and could provide a scoring spark to a team either off the bench or in the starting lineup. Rondo, meanwhile, is an experienced veteran, and if his two postseason games against the Boston Celtics are anything to go by, Playoff Rondo can still make a major impact. Both players could be nice chips for the Pelicans should they look to retool or reallocate some assets heading into the deadline.

Solomon Hill, who has missed the entire season to this point with a torn hamstring, is on the verge of returning. He could make an impact for New Orleans as well.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Defense may be the missing ingredient in the recipe that is the Pelicans success.

The Pelicans have the makings of an elite offensive team in place despite bucking the traditional trend and rolling with two star big-men — they currently rank sixth in offensive rating, fourth in points per game and second in assists per game — but New Orleans has been unable to put forth the same effort on the defensive end. That needs to change if they want to stay out of the Western Conference cellar and move up and out of the eighth spot.

Keeping Anthony Davis should be a priority as well, through the deadline and for the remainder of the season.

Dallas Mavericks (14-28)

Another year, another down season for the Dallas Mavericks. But down might be where the Mavericks want to be right about now.

While no franchise wants to be losing games, the fact that the Mavericks are so low in the standings provides them with the prime opportunity to add a major impact talent in the stacked 2018 Draft. For a team lacking talent as much as the Mavericks do, it’s almost the perfect scenario to add to build a core for the future.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Nerlens Noel — $4,187,599

Seth Curry — $3,028,410

Yogi Ferrell — $1,312,611

Names Worth Talking About:

The Mavericks won’t be competing anytime soon, but they certainly have some intriguing pieces they can move for assets; Wesley Matthews, Nerlens Noel, Devin Harris and others, veterans who could surely be made use of by contenders. Matthews is one of the more underrated players in the NBA while Noel is a young talent who has simply fallen out of Rick Carlisle rotation and could do with a change of scenery. Devin Harris could certainly provide some experience and knowledge for a younger team while off the bench as well.

Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell present as two intriguing pieces as well; they certainly are good enough, when healthy, to provide some offense off the bench and could definitely bring in some return should the Mavericks elect to move them.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

The Mavericks need assets, and they need them badly.

The team has experienced a long fall since its title run in 2011 and numerous on-the-fly retoolings have done little to keep the franchise afloat. As much as Mark Cuban wants Dirk Nowitzki to go out on a winning squad, there isn’t much he can do at this point; the Mavericks are just too lacking in talent. They need to break it all down and build a core through the draft and, while they are certainly on their way with Smith Jr. and Barnes, they still have a long way to go.

Memphis Grizzlies (12-27)

In the absence of Mike Conley, the Memphis Grizzlies have had a horrid stretch. Conley’s absence has coincided with a 5-23 stretch after a promising 6-3 start to the season, and things don’t appear as if they will be turning around in the near future. With Conley on the shelf for an extended period of time, Memphis’ best course may be the one no franchise wants to face; it may be time to cut their losses and rebuild.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Tyreke Evans — $3,290,000

Names Worth Talking About:

Marc Gasol will likely be an oft-mentioned name in the rumor mill, but it will probably take a larger-than-life offer to pry away the face of the franchise.

Rumors have swirled around Gasol for much of the season and they will continue to do so. Memphis’ poor performance certainly hasn’t helped but, with Conley on the shelf, Gasol is the team and that puts the Grizzlies in a terrible position. Memphis truly should consider shipping out Gasol; they desperately need the return he would bring in now in order to jumpstart a rebuild. The longer they wait, the lower the return will be. But what kind of message are they sending to their fan base should they simply admit defeat and subjugate them to potentially multiple years of irrelevancy? It is almost an impossible situation.

Tyreke Evans should be a hot commodity as well, and one much easier to move on from. The Sixth Man of The Year candidate has had the best season of his career and, most importantly, has maintained his health up to this point. Evans will almost certainly net the Grizzlies a first rounder, if not more, from a contender looking to add some scoring punch to their second unit. Signed to a one-year deal in the offseason and playing for a team going nowhere fast, there is no reason for the Grizzlies not to trade Evans.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Like the Mavericks, the Grizzlies need draft assets and they need them badly.

Regardless of their decision on Gasol, Memphis is in a position where they must accumulate some talent through the draft after whiffing on multiple first-rounders in recent years. If the season keeps going as is, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get a top-level prospect with their own selection, but every extra pick is just another chance for Memphis to add to their depth and to a talent pool that is looking very thin at the moment.

In the event that they do move Gasol, taking on salary to facilitate some trades and acquire some draft picks certainly wouldn’t be out of the question.

With the trade deadline getting closer with each passing day, rumors will continue to swirl while teams make moves to critique and perfect their rosters.

And Basketball Insiders will be here to break it all down.

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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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