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New Faces In New Places: Pacific Division

Looking at the new faces set to make a big impact in the Pacific Division.

Eric Pincus

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After taking a look at the Southeast, Central and Northwest Divisions, Basketball Insiders continues its New Faces in New Places series with a look at the Northwest Division.

Golden State Warriors:

Steve Kerr The biggest change for the Warriors this season is on the bench.  Kerr won’t be hitting crucial jump shots deep into a championship run like he did with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs during his playing days.  Instead, he’ll get his first chance to coach at a professional level, replacing the departed Mark Jackson.  While Jackson’s emphasis was on the defensive end, the Warriors hope Kerr brings a greater balance between offense and defense.  Kerr comes in having played for Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, the top two coaches of the last 20 years.  It’s an important year for Golden State, after two straight playoff appearances.  The team is looking to do more than just qualify or win a series – this is a franchise hoping to be a contender in the Western Conference.

Shaun Livingston The Warriors struggled last season to find a replacement for backup point guard Jarrett Jack, who was a vital part of the team’s 2012-13 playoff run.   None of Toney Douglas, Jordan Crawford and Steve Blake were able to make a big enough impact.  The team signed Livingston to a three-year, $16.6 million contract this summer after a strong season in Brooklyn with the Nets.  Livingston is currently sidelined with a toe injury, but when healthy, he may be an interesting fit playing alongside Curry.  Livingston is a strong defender at multiple positions, which can help offset his All-Star teammate’s most glaring deficiency.

Los Angeles Clippers:

Spencer Hawes The Clippers struggled most of last season to find frontcourt players who could successfully spell Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.  By and large, the team was less effective when either sat.  After moving both Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison, the Clippers did the best they could with Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Hollins.  While both Davis and Turkoglu are back, the Clippers have a true seven-footer in Hawes, who can shoot, pass and rebound.  Coach Doc Rivers said he expects to play Hawes in rotation with either Griffin or Jordan, at either power forward or center.  The Clippers needed depth up front, and they got it in Hawes.

Jordan Farmar In getting Hawes, the team didn’t have the resources to re-sign point guard Darren Collison — who left to join the Sacramento Kings.  The Clippers struck a deal with another UCLA product and two-time NBA champion (with the Lakers) in Farmar.  Collison might be a feistier defender but Farmar is the better outside shooter.  The Clippers need a strong year out of Farmar, who struggled to stay healthy last year with hamstring issues.

Los Angeles Lakers:

Julius Randle After their worst season since moving to Los Angeles (27-55), the Lakers landed the lefty Randle with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.  Randle comes into the NBA-level strength, along with a surprisingly good handle that wasn’t often on display at Kentucky.  The Lakers need Randle to grow into a franchise-level player.  Kobe Bryant may make a spectacular return from injury (Achilles tendon and knee), but ultimately he’s in the last few years of his career.  Coach Byron Scott will initially play Randle off the bench a he learns the NBA game.  Eventually, even if it’s not this season, Randle needs to own the power forward position for the Lakers over the next five to 10 years.

Carlos Boozer While Randle grows into his game, the Lakers will rely on the veteran Boozer to start at the four.  Boozer isn’t the All-Star he was a handful of years ago, but he’s a capable scorer, rebounder and playmaker.  Defense may not be Boozer’s strongest suit, but he’s adequate — and right now that will have to do for the Lakers as they restructure.

Jeremy Lin As long as 40-year old Steve Nash is healthy, Lin will serve as the floor leader for the Lakers’ second unit.  Lin, acquired in a trade from the Houston Rockets, is capable of major scoring jags.  If he can keep his assists up and turnovers down, he’ll help the Lakers this season.  Of course, Nash hasn’t been able to stay on the court through most of his two seasons with the Lakers.  An injury could bump Lin to the starting lineup, alongside Bryant.

Ed Davis Davis is an under-the-radar minimum signing for the Lakers.  While his true position is power forward, the team may need him most as a backup center who can defend, block shots and use his athleticism to score on the pick and roll.  Davis has struggled with consistency over his career, but playing behind Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in Memphis, with the Grizzlies, didn’t exactly give Davis a lot of time to develop on the court.  Consider Davis the Lakers’ wild card this season — a break out year could help push the Lakers above the .500 mark.

Phoenix Suns:

Isaiah Thomas The Suns spent most of the summer unsure if Eric Bledsoe would return.  Now that Bledsoe has re-signed, the Suns are just loaded in the backcourt.  Last season Thomas was an elite scorer, but he’ll need to settle into a bench role with the Suns.  While he’s not much of a defensive force, Thomas can be extremely difficult to guard.  The Suns love their playmakers and Thomas should flourish in Phoenix – but fantasy basketball aficionados should note his individual production is going to drop off from what he was able to achieve as a primary scorer with the Sacramento Kings.

Zoran Dragic It’s unclear how much of a role Dragic will play with the Suns this season, given how packed the team’s backcourt is.  That said, Dragic just being with the organization may make the difference when brother Goran Dragic hits free agency next summer.  Just as the Morris twins (Markieff and Morris) treasure playing together –Zoran and Goran may be together for some time in Phoenix as well.

Sacramento Kings:

Darren Collison The Kings wanted more of a pass-first point guard, letting Isaiah Thomas go in a sign and trade with the Suns.  Collison isn’t Chris Paul, but he’ll look to get others involved before looking for his shot and is a solid defender.  The Clippers weren’t thrilled that they lost Collison in free agency.  The Kings offense should flow more naturally to players like DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay with Collison at the point.

Ramon Sessions Sessions is one of the NBA’s top backup point guards.  While he’s not as strong a defender as Collison, Sessions can rack up assists in little time.  The seven-year veteran has averaged 4.7 assists a through 25.8 minutes a game.  Sessions has struggled to hit the three-point shot for most of his career, but has some strong seasons well above the 40.0 percent range — and some as low as 6.7 to 20.0 percent.

Nik Stauskas The Kings added Michigan shooting guard with the eight overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.  Stauskas is a tremendous shooter and while he’s not a point guard, he has enough of a basketball IQ and handle to run the pick-and-roll.  Even as a rookie, Stauskas may step right into the Kings’ starting lineup.  He needs to prove he can defend at the NBA level, but if he can hold his own, Stauskas may very quickly prove to be an important acquisition by the Kings.

Make sure to check back as the series continues throughout the next week with a look at the Atlanta and Southwest Divisions!

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NBA

NBA Daily: Danuel House Optimistic About Future

David Yapkowitz speaks to Danuel House about life as a two-way player for the Houston Rockets & what he hopes comes out of his time in the G League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

David Yapkowitz

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Opportunity is everything in the NBA. Last season’s implementation of two-way contracts gave a lot more players potential opportunities in the league that may not have been previously available.

One player who has used two-way contracts to showcase himself and really prove that he belongs in the NBA is Danuel House Jr.

House actually began his career two years ago as an undrafted rookie with the Washington Wizards. However, he suffered a wrist injury only about a month into the 2016-17 season.

He was subsequently cut by the Wizards and used the summer to heal up before joining the Houston Rockets for training camp prior to the start of last season. He ended up being one of the final cuts in camp, and he joined the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

His strong play earned him a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns after only two months of G League play. This year, he rejoined the Vipers, only to earn another two-way contract with the Rockets. Having had some experience now with a two-way, it’s something that House sees as being beneficial.

“It’s got its good perks and its bad perks. But then the NBA is just trying to open more doors for more guys to be seen and have an opportunity,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s a good idea, it’s gonna work the kinks out so it can be more beneficial to the players. It’s still new and it’s still trending and working itself through the NBA.”

This season has been a bit of a whirlwind for House. He initially joined the Golden State Warriors for training camp, only to have them cut him before the start of the season. After spending about a month with the Vipers, the Rockets called him up, only to cut him and then eventually re-sign him to a two-way deal.

Due to injuries in the Rockets lineup, House saw meaningful minutes right away, even being placed in Houston’s starting lineup. He had some solid performances down the stretch of last season with the Suns, but this season he really looked the part of a legitimate NBA rotation player.

When a player signs a two-way deal, they are allotted a maximum of 45 days of NBA service, meaning that the rest of the time they must remain in the G League. If a player exceeds the 45-day limit, they must be sent back down to the G League unless they’re able to reach an agreement on a standard contract with the NBA team.

Because of the Rockets’ necessity of House in the rotation, he used up his NBA days last month. He and the Rockets were unable to agree on a contract, so he returned to the G League with the Vipers. While there haven’t been many updates as of late, he’s still hopeful that something can work out with the Rockets.

“Hopefully I can go back to Houston and compete for a title. There’s nothing like learning from James [Harden] and Chris Paul, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and those guys,” House told Basketball Insiders. “And now with the additions of [Iman] Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, I’m just excited to hopefully get something done so I can be out there and competing with those guys.”

Initially, House wasn’t playing with the Vipers upon returning to the team. But he made his return to the court a few weeks ago on Feb 8. In that game, House shook off some initial rust and ended up having a solid performance including hitting the game-winning free-throws.

In the past, the G League was often times seen as a punishment for NBA players. The league didn’t have that great of a reputation, but over the past few years that image has started to change. The competition has gotten a lot stronger, and according to House, there are plenty of guys who are that close to making it to the NBA.

“The competition here is real. There’s a lot of dudes out here that got a lot of talent that they can showcase. They just want their one opportunity, their one chance that I was so fortunate and blessed with,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I know not to come out here and take it for granted, that’s why I’m playing hard and of course still trying to be a student of the game and learn.”

Recently, during a media availability session, Rockets star and perennial MVP candidate James Harden expressed hope that the Rockets and House could work something out. Harden told reporters that they all know how good House is and what he brings to the team.

In 25 games for the Rockets this season – including 12 starts – House put up nine points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39 percent from the three-point line. He’s in the mold of a three-and-D type player, but he also moves well without the ball on cuts to the rim and can attack the basket as well.

“My role was to play defense and make the right read,” House told Basketball Insiders. “Shoot when I’m open, drive, attack the rack, and run the floor. Of course, defend and rebound and make good reads. It was easy.”

As it stands, the Rockets have 12 players on their roster, and a pair of two-way deals for House and Vincent Edwards. House is not eligible to rejoin the Rockets until the G League season concludes. Even then, he won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs as per two-way deal restrictions.

The Rockets will need to add at least two players to get up to the league-mandated 14 players on the roster. House would appear to be a good candidate for one of those spots, but that remains to be seen. But regardless of whether or not it works out in Houston, House is confident that he’s done enough to prove he belongs in the NBA.

“It gave me the utmost confidence, but my hard work, my passion, and my faith in the man upstairs gave me the ability. I asked him to guide me through the journey and he’s been taking care of me,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so grateful that the opportunities and I used my ability to perform and do something I love to take care of my family.”

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: Checking In On Clippers & Lakers, East Arms Race, Warriors’ Challengers

Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Ujiri Leading Golden Era of Raptors Basketball

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri has taken big risks in going all in for the 2019 season and – with a potentially shortened window – it’s the right move, writes Lang Greene.

Lang Greene

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The Toronto Raptors (43-16) are on pace for their fourth consecutive 50-plus win season and barring a collapse of epic proportions will shortly secure their sixth straight trip to the playoffs.

Make no mistake, this is the golden era of Raptors basketball. Period.

The easiest thing in the world to do is play a situation safe. Minimize risk and accept the near certain outcome. Heading into the season, as previously constructed, the Raptors were already on a trajectory to reach 50 wins and secure a playoff berth. However, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri made the risky decision to turn off cruise control and go all in on a championship this season.

The reason was simple – five straight trips to the Eastern Conference playoffs netted only one trip past the second round and some seriously embarrassing postseason eliminations. So sure, the franchise could have stayed the course with the previous roster framework, but realistic title aspirations were a stretch at best.

To begin the roster reconstruction, the Raptors traded All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, big man Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran guard Danny Green.

Green and Leonard immediately provided Toronto with championship heart and grit, something lacking from the team in year’s past. The trade was a huge risk for Ujiri with free agency looming this summer for Leonard (and Green) and having to say goodbye to DeRozan, a homegrown talent and the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.

Toronto rolled early this season and have remained near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, but Ujiri doubled down at the trade deadline by acquiring former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round draft pick.

In just over six months, Ujiri was able to acquire two former Defensive Player of the Year award winners while gutting his roster of familiar faces fans came to know during the team’s recent run to prominence.

The Raptors currently sit one game out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The moves are driving results and most believe the Raptors are legitimate title contenders. But the risk for the franchise is most definitely real. Gasol, Leonard and Green are all expected to hit the unrestricted free agency market this summer which could leave the franchise facing a real possibility of losing all for nothing in return.

The prospect of losing Leonard and Gasol would undoubtedly take Toronto from the top of the East to a club scrapping to even make a playoff run in 2020. Ujiri went all in for a title this season. Leonard’s future is uncertain and so is Gasol’s. But the prospect of truly competing for a title was too tantalizing to pass up after years of setbacks around playoff time.

Inevitably all teams must go through a time of rebuilding or reloading. Despite Toronto’s previous success, their window was limited in nature and closing rapidly, so you have to admire Ujiri’s daring to be great mindset.

For reference, the Atlanta Hawks reached the postseason 10 consecutive times from 2008-2017 but the franchise’s front office played it relatively safe during their run devoid of any major moves. The Hawks watched All-Star performers Al Horford and Paul Millsap ultimately leave for nothing in return. Atlanta’s rebuild is in good shape with guard Trae Young, big man John Collins and an additional lottery pick this season.

However, the team never swung for the fences during their run – something Ujiri wouldn’t let happen – despite the huge risks needed to be potentially a champ.

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