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New York Knicks 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the New York Knicks’ 2016-17 season.

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The New York Knicks are arguably the least predictable team in the NBA heading into the 2016-17 season.

If their key contributors stay healthy – and granted, that’s a big ‘if’ – New York has a chance to flirt with 50 wins and possibly secure home-court advantage in first round of the playoffs. However, there is also a possibility that injuries will cripple the Knicks and they’ll fail to even approach a .500 record. There are very few teams in the league that have such a high ceiling and such a low floor. The only thing we know for certain regarding the 2016-17 Knicks: It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out.

Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 New York Knicks.

FIVE GUYS THINK

The Knicks took an aggressive approach this offseason, bringing in big names like Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee to supplement Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. While Rose, Noah and Jennings have proven themselves as quality players, each has struggled with significant injuries over the last few seasons and it’s fair to say each has lost some of the explosiveness that made them so effective in the past.

Despite the obvious health concerns, Rose expressed supreme confidence in the Knicks and their ability to compete at a high level this season.

“They’re high,” Rose said when asked what the expectations are for this team. “I mean, with these teams right now, they’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams, and they’re trying not to build that many super teams, and Adam Silver came out with the statement and this and that.”

Rose’s comment drew predictable backlash among those in and around the NBA. The Warriors have put together historic seasons and nearly won a second consecutive NBA title last season, while the Knicks are restocking with players that, while talented, are past their primes or dealing with injuries.

I won’t be stunned if the Knicks are more competitive than they have been in past seasons or if they win a playoff series or two, but I also think this team has a clear ceiling despite bringing in some notable talent this offseason.

3rd Place – Atlantic Division

– Jesse Blancarte

Good for Derrick Rose, believing with all his heart that the Knicks are a “super team” on par with the Golden State Warriors, but that’s not the way the rest of the world sees it – not even with the additions of Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee. However, it is more than fair to expect a drastically improved Knicks team, even if some of these new players can only give the team 60 healthy games a year. Noah looked like an also-ran a season ago, but that was more a result of the fire in his belly snuffing out than anything else. If he’s even remotely healthy, his chest-thumping, antagonistic style of play will help rejuvenate this squad (and the Madison Square Garden faithful) more than anything else. Rose should be super motivated to explode in a contract year, the undefendable Kristaps Porzingis will be another year along in his development and there’s little reason to believe Carmelo Anthony can’t still pour in 20+ points per game. They’re better than they were, but they’re still not a serious title contender.

3rd Place – Atlantic Division

– Joel Brigham

If you are depending on Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to stay healthy for the balance of an 82-game season, you’re asking for a lot. For the Knicks, their thriving depends on exactly that. Sure, Phil Jackson made the offseason splash that many, including me, were looking for… The only thing is, at this point, we don’t know if it’s a belly flop or not. On paper, the Knicks look like an Eastern Conference contender, and if things break right, 50 wins and a division crown are within the realm of possibility. Still, relying on Rose and Noah to be the players they were three or four years ago doesn’t seem wise and without them each playing at a high level, the Knicks may be battling for one of the conference’s final playoff seeds once again. Of all players on the roster, Kristaps Porzingis is the one who is most capable of exceeding expectations. I’ll be interested in seeing whether he gets lost in the shuffle and stunted, or if playing with a few higher-caliber players will actually make the game easier for him. I’m willing to bet on the latter. 

In the end, the smart money says that we have already seen the best of Rose and that something will go wrong in New York. I’d put the over/under on their win total at 44.5 and would expect both the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics to end up ahead by April. 

3rd Place — Atlantic Division

– Moke Hamilton

There are three sides to every story; their side, your side and the truth. But what is the truth about the 2016-17 Knicks? Is this team a true playoff contender or has their best offseason in recent memory been overhyped by a fan base starving for success? On paper, the Knicks are undoubtedly better than last year’s unit that missed the playoffs, but members of the current roster are talking boldly about a return to title contention. It all comes down to how quickly the team buys into new head coach Jeff Hornacek’s system and how much usage the team can realistically count on from veteran free agent additions Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. The Knicks will punch a ticket to the playoffs, but there’s still work to be done here.

3rd Place – Atlantic Division

– Lang Greene

I agree with my four colleagues: I see the Knicks improving after their busy offseason, but it’s hard to imagine New York seriously contending in the Eastern Conference or even contending for the Atlantic Division crown. The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors seem like sure things, in my opinion, whereas this Knicks team has a ton of question marks surrounding them. Still, New York should make some significant progress this year and return to the postseason. They may even make some noise in the first round. That’s certainly a step in the right direction for this squad, who shouldn’t let unrealistic title expectations stop them from celebrating that fact.

3rd Place – Atlantic Division

– Alex Kennedy

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Carmelo Anthony

After a significant knee injury cost Anthony most of the 2014-15 campaign, there were legitimate concerns about whether he would be able to bounce back and return to form. Anthony quickly put those doubts to rest, re-establishing himself as not only the Knicks’ best offensive option but as one of the league’s most dangerous players with the ball in his hands. In fact, last season Anthony was one of just four players in the NBA to average at least 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game, alongside LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Top Defensive Player: Joakim Noah

The Knicks have been either a “below average” or “terrible” defensive team for the better part of this millennium. Phil Jackson is hoping that Noah is a key piece in turning that reputation around. Noah has been severely limited by injuries the past two seasons, but prior to this recent slippage, he was an elite defender. In fact, Noah won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013-14. He’s been named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team on three occasions (2011, 2013 and 2014). He also finished in the top 10 in blocks twice. With few defensive-minded players on the roster, the Knicks are hoping Noah can prove he is still one of the league’s most feared defensive players.

Top Playmaker: Derrick Rose

The lack of a productive point guard has been a major issue in New York the last two seasons. The sad reality is that if Rose plays at even an average level next season, he would be a huge upgrade for the Knicks. Jose Calderon was arguably the NBA’s worst starting point last year. In order to be competitive in today’s NBA, it is imperative that you have a point guard who can break down his defender and penetrate into the heart of the defense to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. Calderon scored a total of 46 points in the paint over the 2,024 total minutes he played last season. Rose scored 453 points in the paint (10th-most in the league) over the 2,097 minutes he played. For his career, Rose averages 6.2 assists per game. Other than Brandon Jennings, no other player on the Knicks’ roster averages over three assists per game over their career.

Top Clutch Player: Carmelo Anthony

There are many new faces and big names on the this overhauled Knicks squad, but it is very safe to assume that when the game is on the line, the ball will end up in Anthony’s hands. Since the moment he arrived in NYC after being traded from Denver, Anthony has taken the vast majority of important attempts late in games. Unfortunately, despite establishing a reputation as a superior clutch player earlier in his career, Anthony has been remarkably inefficient in such situations over his last few seasons in New York. It was commonly believed that Anthony was worn down by the heavy burden he’s had to shoulder offensively and the massive minutes he’s been forced to play, leaving him with little left in his legs in fourth quarters. The Knicks hope that fewer minutes, more creative offensive sets and a vastly improved supporting cast will allow ‘Melo to regain his reputation as one of the NBA’s best closers.

The Unheralded Player: Courtney Lee

The traditional “counting” stats on the back of Lee’s basketball card won’t knock your socks off, but if you dig a little deeper, the value Lee provides is nearly impossible to miss. For instance, Lee is one of only two qualifying players to shoot above 37 percent from three-point territory each and every season this decade (Kyle Korver is the other). In addition, as Basketball Insiders’ own Alex Kennedy pointed out back in July, “Last season in Charlotte, Courtney Lee ranked first among qualified players on the Hornets in offensive rating (111.4), net rating (+6), true shooting percentage (57.6 percent) and assist ratio (18.9 percent). In the playoffs, Lee contested 12.1 shots per game, which not only ranked first among all Hornets but ninth among all postseason players. Charlotte’s top three lineups in terms of plus/minus in the playoffs all had one thing in common: Lee playing on the perimeter, either at shooting guard or small forward (when they went small). In fact, Charlotte had two of the top five lineups of the 2016 postseason and both featured Lee.”

Top New Addition: Joakim Noah

Considering how much the Knicks have invested in Noah ($72 million over four years), they are certainly counting on him to be their best new addition. As noted above, Noah is a wonderful defender, but that’s certainly not the only skill he brings to the table. Even when nursing injuries, Noah is still an elite rebounder and passer. Last season, Noah led all centers in assist rate (24.2 percent). Marc Gasol was second at 18.9 percent. No Knicks point guard has averaged more than five assists per game since Raymond Felton in 2013-14; Noah averaged 5.4 assists per game that same season. The last time Noah was completely healthy back in 2013-14, he was the best center in the NBA. It’s worth noting that he is actually the last Eastern Conference player not named LeBron James to finish in the top five in MVP voting.

– Tommy Beer

WHO WE LIKE

  1. Kristaps Porzingis

Ask nearly any New Yorker and they’ll likely tell you it’s almost impossible not to like Mr. Porzingis. His rookie season was nothing short of a revelation. His inspiring play and put-back dunks electrified Madison Square Garden and revitalized an upset fan base. Despite last year being his first exposure to NBA-level competition, the skinny 20-year-old more than held his own. In fact, Porzingis became the first rookie in NBA history to tally at least 100 blocks, 75 made three-pointers and 50 steals in his first pro season. Still, Knicks fans are so excited because it is clear that KP has yet to even scratch the surface of his ultimate upside.

  1. Brandon Jennings

The fact that Jennings is working his way back to 100 percent from such a significant injury (Achilles tear) is obviously concerning, but that was also the reason the Knicks were able to secure his services at a discount ($5 million over one year). Encouragingly, Jennings is only 27 years old and avoided a major setback last season. The Knicks have very little depth at point guard, and thus would have to lean heavily on Jennings if Rose were to miss any time with an injury. His career averages are impressive (15.5 points and 5.9 assists). Can he approach those numbers again?

  1. Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez

The Knicks traded for Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez on draft day last summer, after the Philadelphia 76ers nabbed him with the 35th overall pick in the 2015 draft. He had one year left on his contract in Spain and played well during his final season for Real Madrid. The Knicks signed him to a very affordable contract ($5.8 million over four years) this summer. Willy is not overly athletic, which may make it difficult for him to defend quicker big men and finish at the rim in the NBA, but he is a grinder who plays hard and is willing to doing the dirty work. He’s also shown impressive improvement during the early stages of his career. If Hernangomez can develop into even a spot rotation player, he’ll provide significant value for the Knicks, as he will account for less than two percent of the Knicks’ salary cap each season through 2020.

  1. Lance Thomas

Thomas is one of those often underappreciated “glue guys” who end up playing significant minutes on competitive teams. Thomas was enjoying the best season of his career in 2015-16 before a concussion and other nagging injuries cost him most of the second half of the year. Still, he showed enough to persuade the Knicks that he was worth the lucrative four-year, $27 million contract they handed him. Thomas’ values lies in his defensive versatility and newfound three-point stroke. Thomas made over 40 percent of his three-pointer attempts last season, and knocked down a total of 44 three-balls in 2015-16. This is particularly remarkable because Thomas had attempted only one three-pointer over the first three seasons of his NBA career and his four years at Duke combined.

– Tommy Beer

SALARY CAP 101

The Knicks went below the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap this summer, using their spending power on players like Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Brandon Jennings and Marshall Plumlee.  They also landed Derrick Rose in trade and re-signed Lance Thomas.  Now fully spent, the Knicks have 14 guaranteed players with one open spot – potentially for Ron Baker, J.P. Tokoto or Chasson Randle.

Looking ahead, the Knicks project to have roughly $22.2 million in spending power next summer, with a projected salary cap of $102 million.  Rose, who will be a free agent next July, will take up New York’s space if they retain his rights.  Carmelo Anthony is one of the few players in the league with a true no-trade clause.  New York will take their rookie-scale option on Kristaps Porzingis before November.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

The Knicks ranked near the bottom of the league (25th overall) in offensive efficiency last season, scoring just 104.6 points per 100 possessions. With the addition of Rose, Lee and Jennings – in addition to bench contributors such as Maurice Ndour and Mindaugas Kuzminskas – New York should be vastly improved on the offensive end in 2016-17. And although the downside to bringing in veterans is the potential health concerns,  the upside is the experience and savvy they bring to the table. Carmelo Anthony has experienced his greatest success in NBA when surrounded by veterans who took control of the team. The Knicks have won over 50 games only once this millennium, and that was back in 2012-13 when they fielded the “oldest team in NBA history” featuring Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and Jason Kidd among others. Joakim Noah establishing himself as a leader in the locker room and holding teammates accountable could pay major dividends on and off the floor.

– Tommy Beer

WEAKNESSES

Two of the biggest issues in New York in years past have been inadequate point guard play and lackluster defensive effort. Phil Jackson hopes he addressed these two major flaws with his acquisition of Derrick Rose and signing of Joakim Noah.  If the Knicks ever want to be considered serious contenders, they need to improve defensively. New York has allowed fewer than 108 points per 100 possessions just three times over the last 12 seasons. Noah brings defense, aggressiveness and intensity – three qualities that have been sorely lacking in New York for some time.

– Tommy Beer

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can the Knicks stay healthy?

Based on talent alone, the Knicks have the potential to be a special team. Consider this: Only five Eastern Conference players have finished in the top five in NBA MVP voting this entire decade, and three of those players are currently Knicks (Rose, Anthony and Noah). Last season, ‘Melo proved he is still an elite scorer and played arguably the best all-around ball of his career. Rose was frustratingly inconsistent and oftentimes inefficient, but showed flashes of his old, explosive self. Porzingis is already further along than anyone could have hoped and his upside is obvious. The issue is whether the team’s core pieces can stay healthy. If the injury bug begins to bite, the season may quickly be derailed. Here’s a discouraging fact: Rose has actually played in more games over the last two seasons (117) than Anthony (112), Noah (96) and Jennings (89). If the Knicks can beat the odds avoiding injuries, they have a legit chance to defy expectations and make some noise in 2016-17.

– Tommy Beer

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Young Glad To Reunite With McGee, Embracing Chance With Warriors

Spencer Davies chats with JaVale McGee and Nick Young about the sharpshooter’s first year with the Warriors.

Spencer Davies

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You never forget where you started.

As first-round draft picks with only a year apart between them, Nick Young and JaVale McGee began their respective careers in our nation’s capital with the Washington Wizards.

That’s where a bond began. Despite a tumultuous four-year stay with an organization that never sniffed the playoffs and finished dead last in the Central Division three times in the span, the two remained close friends.

Almost a decade later, “Swaggy P” and “Pierre” are reunited. Only this time, it’s with the NBA’s defending champion Golden State Warriors.

“Just shows,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve both been in this league for a long time and people didn’t think we was gonna make it this far and that’s a blessing. We’ll continue to do it and prove people wrong. From the bottom to the top, you know what I’m sayin’?”

McGee agrees wholeheartedly. Winning his first title with the Warriors last summer, he’s learned quite a few things about the healthy climate within the organization that Young, at first, was surprised by.

“It’s definitely a different environment,” McGee told Basketball Insiders. “Even when he came here, he asked certain questions of stuff he could and couldn’t do just because the environment that we used to be in was real restrictive of things that really didn’t have to do with basketball.

“Here it’s a player’s team, so they do a really good job of catering to us.”

In regards to his on-court fit with Golden State, McGee feels that Young has adjusted accordingly throughout the season.

“I feel like he’s fit in well,” McGee told Basketball Insiders. “Definitely got his conditioning right and he’s pretty good getting in the system, figuring out the screen system that we have here, so he’s doing a pretty good job.”

Though he hasn’t played as much as he’s used to, Young is truly enjoying his transition with the Warriors. He says it’s been the most fun he’s had in his career.

“Just being in the winning circle,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “Being around good teammates, good people and just competing for a championship man. We fightin’ for something big. It’s my first time being a part of something like this.”

As for what’s stood out to him about Steve Kerr’s system, it’s been the unselfishness from everybody on the roster, coaches and players alike.

“They embrace me good,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “That’s the one thing I like is a good team, good teammates. Pretty much just everybody knowing their roles. Nobody’s bringing negative energies to the locker room and it’s just a good vibe.”

Once asked about who the best shooter on the team is, Young went with Kerr as his answer. He told Basketball Insiders that he’s “still going with Steve,” but probably anybody else would have to give Stephen Curry the nod.

Curry’s been playing out of his mind this year. Kevin Durant’s done the same. There have been multiple times where one or the other has been out due to rest or, most recently, nagging injuries. It’s allowed for others to step in and get some extra minutes, and Young’s been the beneficiary of that multiple times.

So with Curry in and Durant out or vice versa, how would he compare and contrast the periods?

“It’s a different game,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “Of course, different styles. Both of ‘em draw so much attention that leaves guys like me open, but when one of ‘em’s out we’ve still got enough depth to keep up with anybody.”

Recently after Curry scored 45 points in three quarters against the Los Angeles Clippers and didn’t even play in the fourth, Young was baffled. His only explanation for the outburst was that he was from another planet.

And yes, Young believes Curry’s “got a shot,” as does Durant, when it comes to the MVP conversation because of where the Warriors are at this point of the season.

The belief goes both ways. Just as Young is ecstatic watching his teammates succeed, so are they for him. McGee recalls his friend’s debut for Golden State at Oracle Arena on opening night.

It was a night of celebration for the Bay Area, as the crowd cheered during the pre-game championship ceremony to commemorate the team. Young ended up dropping 23 points on 8-for-9 from the field in his first game for the Dubs. The Houston Rockets spoiled the party with a win, but the moment was special for the two.

“I was excited,” McGee told Basketball Insiders. “I always get excited when he’s out there scoring and doing his thing. I’m always happy for him. That’s my friend, long-time friend, and it was dope that he could be out here.”

Though you wouldn’t know it by his performance, Young had butterflies in his stomach before it all started.

“Ah man it was unbelievable,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “I was nervous. I didn’t know what was gonna happen. First time playing for the Warriors opening night. Had my family there. It was ring night, so I didn’t think I was gonna play that much, but I got an opportunity and I just took advantage.”

Since that game, Young hasn’t eclipsed the 20-point mark. But to his defense, that first game was his season-high in minutes thus far. Kerr understands the depth of his team makes it difficult for him to get consistent playing time, but he’s taken it in stride and been a good teammate.

But we all know how he shoots the rock when he finds a groove. So how many games like the opener does he have in store for us?

“I don’t know,” Young told Basketball Insiders with a laugh. “I just gotta get hot, so it could be any night.”

And whenever that night comes, expect to see him smiling as he drains those buckets.

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NBA Daily: Are The HEAT Getting Into The Fray?

Things in the NBA trade world are starting to heat up, and there are some new situations worth watching as the NBA trade market starts to take shape.

Steve Kyler

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The Latest On The Trade Front

With the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline ticking ever so closer, there are a few stories worth watching as teams start to zero in on the changes they may consider making.

Clippers Not Ready To Blow It Up

For most of the season, there has been talk in NBA circles and the media that the Clippers would likely move on from center DeAndre Jordan. While that still seems to be more likely than not at this point, the message from the Clippers’ side of things is they are not ready to blow up the team, and moving off Jordan is far from assured.

The narrative from around the Clippers is they are going to evaluate the team a little closer to the deadline and see what’s really available to them, but until then they seem more than happy to see if this team can actually compete, which they have been doing.

A league source close to the situation said recently that as much as Clipper fans might want to see the team blown up, ownership and senior leadership does not seem open to that concept at all. In fact, they believe that its better to be competitive and one player away than trying to go through the teardown route, knowing that no one is bailing out their $119 million roster commitment.

The Clippers invested heavily into forwards Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari this past summer, and the belief is that they will invest even more into guard Lou Williams.

Equally, the prevailing thought on Jordan is that while he does have a Player Option for free agency in July, there isn’t much beleif that he’ll land anything close to the $24.1 million he is owed next season, making it more likely he opts into his deal than walks away.

There are no shortage of teams hovering around the Clippers if they opt to change course. The Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets both have eyes for Jordan if the Clippers opt to deal, while several teams seem keen on Williams, who is on an ending deal and would have Bird Rights for a team with limited cap flexibility. There has been talk that a couple of teams have had introductory talks on Griffin. However, it seems highly unlikely the Clippers seriously consider those situations.

If the Clippers wanted to blow up the team, it seems there are options for them, but the talk from the Clippers side is they don’t seem to be as open to the idea as some would like them to be.

Want A Veteran? Kings Have Some

The Sacramento Kings have told their veterans that they are going to start focusing more and more playing time on the younger players and that as many as three of the proven vets may not see action on a night to night basis.

There has been talk for weeks that guard George Hill is unhappy and seeking an exit from the Kings. However, his injury history and whopper of a salary seems to make it unlikely that he and the Kings will find a trade.

Veterans Vince Carter and Zach Randolph have handled the situation better, but league sources said it very possible both could be moved before the deadline, which apparently was suggested to both when they signed back in July.

The Kings have also been sniffing around for deals involving center Kosta Koufos and guard Garrett Temple; both have Player Options next season, which makes their value tough for the Kings, as most teams don’t value the uncertainty well.

Sources close to the situation said the Kings seem to be trying to help their veterans find better situations, especially as they are falling out of the rotation.

One long-time agent with a player on the roster commended the Kings for being smart about the situation, saying they seem to be going out of their way to try and help resolve the situation. Time will tell if there is a real market for any of those players and their somewhat hefty contracts.

Mirotic Has Veto Power, Sort Of

The Chicago Bulls have had the ability to trade forward Nikola Mirotic for a few days now, as he was one of the players who became trade-eligible on January 15. League sources said the Bulls had gotten pretty far down the road with both the Utah Jazz, on a deal centered on the expiring contract of Derrick Favors, and with the Detroit Pistons.

It’s unclear who the Pistons were really offering; there had been reports that the Pistons were dangling rookie Luke Kennard as the juice of a deal, with possibly Jon Leuer and his $10.4 million salary being the cap dollars included to make it work under the cap.

The Bulls seem to be holding out for a first-round draft pick in a Mirotic deal. However, league sources say the real hold up may be Mirotic himself.

The Bulls did a creative contract structure with Mirotic in that he has a team option in year two of the deal. Unless the Bulls exercise that option, Mirotic has veto rights. If the Bulls pick up that option, something league sources said Mirotic’s camp is pushing for, the veto power comes off the table, and the Bulls can completely control the process.

There has been considerable talk that Mirotic wants out of Chicago, but it seems some business may be holding up a potential deal.

It was never likely that the Bulls were going to immediately trigger a deal for Mirotic, so the timing of this may simply be the poker of deal-making in the NBA.

There is also something to be said about how teams would value Mirotic as a potential ending contract, versus a player with one more fully guaranteed year.

Equally, the Bulls haven’t closed the phones on offers either. While Utah and Detroit seem motivated, the Bulls may be smart to wait a few more weeks and see who is willing to meet their true asking price before they decide to pick up the Mirotic option to control the process.

Moving Whiteside?

Reading what the Miami HEAT will really do is always tough. The HEAT have a long track record of misdirection and clandestine processes. That said there is growing talk that the HEAT are more than open to a trade involving center Hassan Whiteside, especially if would help them clear out his cap dollars.

Whiteside is owed $23.7 million this year and has a fully guaranteed $25.4 million salary next season, plus a $27.09 million Player Option after that. That’s big money for almost everyone in the league.

The HEAT are not fire selling Whiteside, but there is a growing sense that if Whiteside could be moved for the right combination of ending contracts and upside youth, the HEAT would explore it.

This becomes interesting when you consider the Milwaukee Bucks have been after Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and that Cleveland Cavaliers have been linked to Jazz big man Derrick Favors.

Making a deal for a salary of Whiteside’s size would be massively tough for both the Bucks and the Cavs, but considering both ownership groups seem to be looking for a big splashy move, Whiteside could be the consolation prize if neither of the first options works out.

A Milwaukee deal for Jordan was said to be built around John Henson and Mirza Teletovic, who may be forced to medically retire due to a second recurrence of blood clots in his lungs. A Bucks deal would also likely include some combination of rookie scale players such as Thon Maker, Rashad Vaughn or D.J. Wilson, according to sources.

While on the surface none of that seems overly enticing, would clearing that kind of space be appealing to the HEAT? It does not seem to be for the Clippers.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been sniffing around deals offering up both Tristan Thompson and guard Iman Shumpert. The inclusion of the Cavaliers’ own first-round draft pick was mentioned earlier in the season when the Cavs were linked to Jordan and the Clippers. Is that enough value for the HEAT? Equally, the challenge for the Cavs is they have set up the roster with a ton of expiring players, which makes sense with the uncertainty of LeBron James’ future in Cleveland. Do the Cavs want to be holding Whiteside for two years after a potential James exit?

Of all the things being talked about in NBA circles, this one is interesting to watch, not only because the HEAT seems to be willing to deal, but because Whiteside could be the answer to serious problems for good teams vying for a legitimate shot at the NBA Finals, especially this year.

Dallas Is Open For Business

The Dallas Mavericks are open for business. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban confirmed as much to reporters, saying the Mavericks would be open to leveraging their potential cap space next summer if it returned the right assets.

The Mavericks have several ending contracts they are dangling and seem to be looking for not only a promising rookie scale player, but future draft picks.

The Mavericks have held onto some salary cap holds to technically keep them above the salary cap line, but they could renounce those holds and get under the cap now. That cap flexibility makes them interesting to watch, as they could absorb up to roughly $13 million in salary before including ending deals like Josh McRoberts, Devin Harris, and Nerlens Noel, who has veto rights on a trade.

Historically the Mavericks have done a deal every year at the deadline. With some much flexibility, they could be the centerpiece to a big transaction because they can absorb cap dollars others teams simply can’t.

Keep in mind that trades and trade talks are a fluid thing; what can be a very hard “No” today can turn into a “Yes” quickly, so until something is done, keep in mind, it’s not done no matter how much it may make sense.

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Resurgent Clippers Climbing in the Standings

Blow up the Clippers? Not so fast, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The NBA’s trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and one team that has appeared quite often in trade rumors is the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers started out the season strong, and Blake Griffin was playing like an MVP candidate. Then they hit a rough patch of injuries and slipped all the way down in the standings.

Since then, DeAndre Jordan’s name has come up in trade chatter. The Clippers were in a free-fall and their franchise center reportedly could be had for the right price. Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams has also been mentioned, as playoff contenders could certainly use his scoring prowess as they gear up for a playoff run. And our own Michael Scotto reported that the Clippers approached the Minnesota Timberwolves at one point about a deal revolving around Griffin and Karl-Anthony Towns.

However, the Clippers have done an about-face recently. They’ve won 11 of their last 15 games. They’re currently on a five-game win streak that includes wins over the Golden State Warriors (on the road) and the Houston Rockets. Those teams weren’t at full strength, but neither were the Clippers.

The point is, as the Clippers have begun to get some of their injured players back, they’re playing much better basketball. Maybe all the talk about blowing it up should be put on hold for a moment.

As it stands, they sit in seventh place in the Western Conference and right back in the playoff mix. They’re 22-21; they haven’t been over .500 since back on Nov. 5 when they were 5-4. They’re only one and a half games back of the Oklahoma City Thunder for fifth.

A big reason for this resurgence has been the return of Griffin. Griffin sprained his MCL back on Nov. 28, and he didn’t return to the lineup until Dec. 29. The Clippers went 6-8 without him. He recently missed two games due to concussion protocol, but in the games he’s played since returning, the team has gone 6-2.

In those eight games, he’s put up 19.6 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting from the field, seven rebounds, and 6.1 assists. It’s not what he was doing early in the season, but his production has been a most welcome addition to the lineup. He had one of his better games of the season against the Rockets on Monday night, with 29 points on 50 percent shooting, 10 rebounds and six assists.

Another huge reason for the Clippers’ new success has been Williams. At age 31, Williams is having a career year. He’s averaging 23.3 points per game on 45.3 percent shooting, 41.6 percent from the three-point line, and 5.0 assists, all career-highs. He’s had games of 42 and 40 points this season, and he recently dropped a career-high 50 points last week in a win over the Warriors.

And yet another catalyst in the Clippers’ turnaround has been the overall play of their bench and their rookies. Both Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker were almost afterthoughts at the beginning of the season. They were key pieces at times for the Rockets last season, but seemingly couldn’t get off the bench with the Clippers.

The rash of injuries forced Doc Rivers to expand the rotation, and both players have responded accordingly. Harrell has seen an increase in minutes since Griffin initially got hurt at the end of November. In the Clippers first game without Griffin on Nov. 30, Harrell had 13 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting from the field. Since then, he’s put up 10.2 points on 55.4 percent shooting. He scored a season-high 25 points last week in a win over the Sacramento Kings, and he’s become the Clippers’ most dependable big man off the bench.

Dekker has also seen an increase in playing time since the beginning of December. His numbers may not jump off the charts, as he’s averaging six points per game during that time frame. But he’s given the Clippers another three-point threat on the floor, as well as the ability to play and guard multiple positions.

They’ve also uncovered a few gems this season. Jawun Evans, who was a second-round pick, as well as two-way players such as C.J. Williams, Jamil Wilson (who has since been released), and Tyrone Wallace have all made important contributions to the team.

Evans has started in four games recently, and in those games, he’s put up 9.0 points and 4.8 assists. Since Dec. 18, C.J. has been a permanent part of the starting lineup. As a starter, he’s averaging 9.0 points on 47.5 percent shooting. He had a career-high 18 in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 2. On Jan. 8 he had 15 points and the game-winner against the Atlanta Hawks.

Wallace is a relative newcomer after the Clippers cut Wilson, and he’s making a huge impression. He’s played in six games so far and scored in double-figures in all but one while shooting 52.8 percent. He had 22 points, six rebounds, and four assists in the Jan. 10 win over the Warriors.

On the injury front, the team welcomed back Milos Teodosic on Jan. 11, and since returning he’s averaging 11.0 points and 6.7 assists. DeAndre Jordan is expected to be out a couple more games after injuring his ankle on Jan. 11. Austin Rivers, who was having a career year prior to his ankle injury on Dec. 29, is supposed to be re-evaluated soon. There’s no new status on Danilo Gallinari who is out with a glute injury. Patrick Beverley is already done for the year.

These injuries have been a bit of a blessing in disguise, as they’ve allowed some of the Clippers’ young guys to get valuable experience — experience that will surely pay off if they do make a playoff run. It’s also allowed Rivers to utilize his bench more. When the others begin to make their return to the lineup, the Clippers will be that much more potent.

The Clippers still have a long road to go, and nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. But perhaps it’s best just to pump the breaks a little bit on all the tanking and blowing it up talk.

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