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NBA Trade Watch: Western Conference

Who are some Western Conference teams to watch as the trade deadline approaches?

Jabari Davis

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As mentioned in our Eastern Conference Trade Watch feature, we should expect the bulk of discussions to surface after Dec. 15 once players that signed contracts this past summer are eligible to be included in deals. Although we are still weeks away from that date and months away from February’s trade deadline, that hasn’t stopped speculation and some early discussions that several teams have already reportedly had.

It may seem as though the 2014-15 season started just moments ago, but we are actually nearly 20 percent through the schedule in many cases, leaving teams with plenty of time to have assessed whether moves are necessary.

Here are some of the Western Conference teams to keep in mind as trade talks increase over the coming months:

Los Angeles Clippers –

Players who could be on the move: Reggie Bullock, Matt Barnes

The Clippers have been searching for an answer at the small forward position for several seasons, and it doesn’t appear they’ve found the solution as of yet. The lack of consistent productivity from the position is an issue on many nights, but particularly when matching up against some of the better scoring swingmen. It is one thing to provide limited production, but an entirely larger issue when the counterpart at the position is routinely scoring 25 or more points, which has already taken place six times.

Matt Barnes provides toughness and a willingness to do the dirty work that doesn’t always appear in the stat sheet, but is better suited in a reserve role as a change-of-pace player at this point. The market could be relatively small for Barnes, but another playoff contender could value the tenacity and experience he brings to the table.

The team drafted Reggie Bullock last summer, but his rookie season was marred by nagging injuries and box scores littered with DNPs (Did Not Play). Signed this past summer, journeyman swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts is still recovering from what was initially described as a partially torn Achilles. Clearly, the team needs to address the position, but may need to go bargain-hunting once again unless they’re able to persuade a team to take on a player with a contract.

Denver Nuggets –

Players who could be on the move: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee

General manager Tim Connelly made it abundantly clear the Nuggets were open to the idea of making moves when he recently told ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz that “every player on [Denver’s] roster is a movable asset.” The team may pride itself on the depth of the roster, but doesn’t sound entirely against the idea of packaging multiple contracts in order to obtain an established star player.

Faried’s name has been in an out of trade rumors for the better part of two seasons, but the 25-year-old power forward may prove to be the more difficult piece to move given his four-year, $50 million extension that is set to kick in at the start of 2015-16.

Gallinari still has a ways to go before returning to the form he was in as the team’s leading scorer in 2012-13, but appears to be settling in after missing an entire season due to a torn (right) ACL. If he can remain healthy and get into a shooting rhythm, look for his name to surface in discussions, as the 6’10 small forward can stretch the floor and provide matchup problems for many teams.

McGee simply hasn’t lived up to the sizable contract he signed a few years back. One of the better athletes at the center position, McGee hasn’t been able adjust and flourish in what has become a more controlled and deliberate offense under head coach Brian Shaw. It could make more sense to acquire him as an expiring deal next summer, but teams desperate for a rim-protecting weakside defender could come calling before this year’s deadline.

Houston Rockets –

Players who could be moved: $8.34 million trade exception

According to Jonathan Feigan of the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets have already been in discussions with other teams regarding the availability of 10-12 players that would provide frontcourt depth with Dwight Howard’s recovering knee, Terrence Jones being out indefinitely and head coach Kevin McHale being forced to play several players out of position in order offset the losses.

The team’s ongoing interest in Minnesota small forward Corey Brewer has been widely-documented over the past couple seasons, but it will be interesting to see if the team’s frontcourt depth concerns trump the desire to bring in another contributing swingman.

One intriguing frontcourt remedy that hasn’t been mentioned for these Rockets could be a return of Jordan Hill. Hill is having a career-year for the Los Angeles Lakers (13.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 31.3 MPG), and has a deal that expires after next season. While not the impact player that Howard is, Hill could be used as a reserve at either power forward or center. He’s an active body on the boards, isn’t a guy you necessarily have to call or design plays for, and he does appear far more confident in his face-up game and on the offensive end in general recently.

Los Angeles Lakers –

Players who could be moved: Jordan Hill, Steve Nash (expiring contract)

The reality for these Lakers – whether they would ever publicly acknowledge it or not – is that the team needs to secure what will undoubtedly become a lottery pick next summer. While such a proud organization may not be able to openly embrace a “tank” season in the manner by which the Philadelphia 76ers have, that doesn’t negate the fact that their 2015 pick (1-5 protected from the Phoenix Suns) will be a vital asset for a team hoping to welcome back a recovering Julius Randle. While some would say the organization may have been a bit cavalier in how they tossed future picks into deals in the past, a team that is clearly in a full-blown rebuilding process cannot afford to lose assets.

Their two biggest and most realistic trade assets are the aforementioned Hill and the expiring contract of Steve Nash. Any number of teams with playoff and title aspirations (Cavaliers, Clippers, Suns, etc.) could inquire about Hill’s services before the deadline if he continues producing at this level. As Basketball Insiders’ Eric Pincus points out in his most recent Trade feature, Hill cannot be moved until January 15th, but it would conceivably leave plenty of time for teams to reach out.  Any team looking to shed contracts for immediate salary cap flexibility could be interested in obtaining Nash’s deal. The Lakers are a team in need of either upgrades and/or depth at every position, so regardless of their previously reported desire to maintain their own flexibility, at some point you have to be willing to bring in additional talent to make your existing roster more desirable for potential free agents around the league.

We’ll continue looking at potential trade scenarios throughout the season (until February 19), but make sure you also keep an eye on our MVP, Rookie Watch and Power Ranking discussions along the way as well!

 

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience

It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.

Spencer Davies

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Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.

He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.

To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.

“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.

“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”

Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.

“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”

So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.

“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”

It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.

Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.

“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.

“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”

After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.

Whether the next step in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”

And it’s about time people are taking notice.

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NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop

Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.

Joel Brigham

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When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.

He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.

Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.

The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.

“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.

“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”

And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.

“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”

This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.

Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.

It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.

“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”

Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”

Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.

After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.

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