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Orlando Magic 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Orlando Magic’s 2016-17 season.

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Last season, the Orlando Magic entered the 2015-16 campaign with increased expectations. For the first time in recent memory, making the playoffs didn’t seem out of the question. The Magic had a new head coach in Scott Skiles, and the organization expected to take the next step in their development.

While posting 35 wins was an improvement from recent years, Orlando fell apart during the new year. The team was in fourth place in the Eastern Conference heading into 2016, but a 2-12 record in January quickly dropped the Magic down the standings and, eventually, they fell out of the playoff race.

After an active offseason that featured plenty of player movement and another coaching search due to Skiles’ resignation, the Magic are hoping to end their four-year playoff drought and return to the postseason under new head coach Frank Vogel.

Basketball Insiders previews the Orlando Magic’s 2016-17 season.

FIVE GUYS THINK

Giving up Victor Oladipo and a lottery pick for Serge Ibaka is forgivable, but turning around and spending $72 million on Bismack Biyombo immediately after that trade is considerably less so. With those moves, the Magic now have one of the deeper (and more confusing) frontcourt rotations in the league, which is great for their ability to defend the paint with some elite shot-blockers, but it hasn’t left the team with anybody capable of actually creating some meaningful offense. Elfrid Payton is the team’s projected starting point guard, but he can’t shoot. Evan Fournier and Jodie Meeks both can pour it in, but neither is known for dominant one-on-one offense. There are going to be many low-scoring games in Central Florida this season, which means it could be another long one for Magic fans.

4th Place – Southeast Division

– Joel Brigham

The Magic spent years after Dwight Howard’s exit sticking to a patient approach to rebuilding their roster. The team was seemingly content building through the draft, letting the youngsters develop and avoiding big free agency expenditures, but the team abruptly changed course this summer. Orlando opened up the piggybank and was active during free agency to bring in veterans Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green and D.J. Augustin while also trading for defensive-minded forward Serge Ibaka. There’s no question the team has gotten better defensively, which has sort of become new head coach Frank Vogel’s calling card. Offensively, the Magic lack a true go-to scorer when things get tight late in games and this will be the primary source of the team’s struggles to get over the hump.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Lang Greene

Based on what Frank Vogel was able to get out of the Indiana Pacers over the course of his time there, I think that the young core in Orlando has a capable leader. I like a lot of the pieces on the team and think that Vogel is a capable taskmaster, but it’s the front office that I question. Let’s not forget that the Magic very recently traded the promising Tobias Harris for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova. Jennings has since departed for New York, while the Magic packaged Ilyasova with Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in the Serge Ibaka trade. On paper, you could argue that could be a good trade, but then you can’t help but to question why the Magic signed Bismack Biyombo to a huge deal right after that. Adding those two to Nikola Vucevic and Jeff Green (who was also signed this summer) just leaves me very confused as to just what these guys are doing. I love a lot of the young players in Orlando, but I get the sense that this season is going to be more about figuring who is there to stay and how Vogel will coach these guys than it will be about getting the Magic to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

4th Place – Southeast Division

– Moke Hamilton

The Magic had an interesting offseason to say the least. Former head coach Scott Skiles unexpectedly resigned and was replaced shortly thereafter by former Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel. The Magic later traded Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to Domantas Sabonis to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka, signed Jeff Green to a one-year, $15 million contract and Bismack Biyombo to a four-year, $72 million contract. They also re-signed Evan Fournier to a five-year, $85 million deal. Giving up Oladipo and Sabonis is a steep price tag for Ibaka, who has declined in recent seasons and could leave after the upcoming year as an unrestricted free agent. The signing of Green is surprising as well considering his skill overlaps talent already on the roster. Additionally, while I like the defensive impact Biyombo can add to the Magic, his contract is pretty hefty (even with the inflated salary cap) considering his limited track record. The Magic seemed to be continuing down the path of auctioning off the young talent they’ve compiled to bring in veterans that can help them compete for a playoff berth now. While I think they have sold low on that talent (see the Tobias Harris trade), I do like the hiring of Vogel. If Vogel can turn this team into a strong defensive unit (something Ibaka and Biyombo should help with), that may help this team turn things around sooner than expected. I like the young talent Orlando assembled in recent years, I just don’t love the deals they’ve made recently to bring in veterans that don’t move the needle enough to compete for anything other than a low-seed playoff berth.

4th Place – Southeast Division

– Jesse Blancarte

While I’m curious to see how Serge Ibaka fits with this Magic squad, I’m also excited to watch Aaron Gordon’s continued development. I interviewed Gordon last week and he made it clear that he expects to play a much bigger role under new head coach Frank Vogel. He has been working really hard this offseason and seems poised for a breakout third season. With the Vogel hire, talented veteran additions and more experience for their young core, the Magic should take a significant step forward this year. With that said, if the Magic lose Ibaka to free agency after this season, the front office will be criticized (and deservedly so) for dealing away Victor Oladipo and lottery selection Domantas Sabonis for a one-year rental who, at best, makes them a fringe playoff team.

4th Place – Southeast Division

– Alex Kennedy

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Evan Fournier

After parting ways with Victor Oladipo, Fournier steps in as the team’s best offensive weapon given everything that he can do. Although it was center Nikola Vucevic who led the team in scoring last season, expect Fournier to take over as the team’s top offensive player. Last year was the most productive of Fournier’s four-year NBA career, as he averaged a career-high 15.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Fournier led the Magic in scoring 19 times and 24 outings with 20 or more points (including two 30-point efforts). He can finish at the rim and create his own shot. Like Manu Ginobili, his Eurostep remains one of his most effective moves. He averaged 5.7 drives per game last season, which ranked inside the top 50 in the league. He also figures to be one of the team’s best shooters next season; last year, he knocked down 40 percent of his three-point shot attempts, which was tied for 21st among qualified players.

Top Defensive Player: Serge Ibaka

There is no question who Orlando’s best defender will be this season. The team desperately wanted to add a defensive-minded big man next to Vucevic in the starting lineup and that’s what they’re getting in Ibaka. The reaction to the trade that brought Ibaka to the Magic was a bit mixed, as some believe Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to No. 11 overall pick Donatas Sabonis was too much to give up for Ibaka since he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer. However, it’s clear that the Magic love Ibaka’s game and feel he can take them to the next level. He has been selected to three All-Defensive First Teams and has led the league in total blocks four times. Ibaka is a great rim protector, which is exactly what the Magic have needed since Dwight Howard left town. Ibaka held opponents to 43.6 percent shooting at the rim last year, which ranked among the best in the league. His 1.9 blocks per game ranked seventh in the NBA and he was third in total blocks with 148. The Magic haven’t had a player average more than 1.5 blocks per game since Howard in 2011, so Ibaka gives them a much-needed interior defender.

Top Playmaker: Elfrid Payton

As the team’s point guard, Payton is our pick for top playmaker. He is the player who touches the ball most frequently on the team and is in charge of running the offense. Last season, Payton averaged 10.7 points, 6.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. Payton averaged 74.1 touches per game last year. He’s shown that he’s comfortable passing to set up his teammates or keeping the ball to get to the rim, as he averaged 7.8 drives per game last season. What makes Payton such a weapon when he drives are the different head fakes, ball fakes and hesitation dribbles that he uses to keep defenders guessing. He’s a guy who can be a triple-double threat – he’s recorded three during his two years in the league and has come close a number of other times. Payton has shown a lot of promise so far during his career and many believe that he can be a dangerous point guard once he develops a consistent jump shot. He made big strides from his rookie to sophomore season in that department and it seems as though the 22-year-old is poised to be even better next season.

Top Clutch Player: Nikola Vucevic

Although a case can be made for Fournier here, we’re going to highlight Vucevic’s clutch play. It may seem odd to name a center as a team’s best clutch player, but that’s exactly what the Magic have with Vucevic. He hit two game-winning shots for the Magic last season – one against the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 11 and one against the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 7. Vucevic just edged out Fournier in total points scored in the final five minutes of close games (with neither team ahead by more than five points). Vucevic recorded 78 points in those situations, compared to 76 points for Fournier. One of the most impressive aspects of Vucevic’s game is his mid-range shooting. Last season, he averaged 2.2 made shots per game between 15-19 feet from the rim, which ranked second in the league; he shot 50.3 percent from that distance. Vucevic has proven to be one of best offensive centers in the league and he figures to be a guy the team can continue to count on down the stretch.

The Unheralded Player: Mario Hezonja

Hezonja played sparingly during his rookie campaign, but he left a lasting impression on fans when he did see the court. Many people in Orlando are excited about his potential, especially on the offensive end. He appeared in 79 games last year and averaged 6.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists in just under 18 minutes per game. He elevated his production to 11.1 points per game in nine starts. What is encouraging for Hezonja fans is the fact that Coach Vogel loves his game. During his introductory press conference in May, Vogel said he is excited to help Hezonja develop. He loves Hezonja’s confidence and his ability to shoot the ball, while also saying that Mario’s skillset and style of play fits with how he wants to run the team. While it doesn’t seem as though Hezonja will find himself in the starting lineup very often, it does seem like he’ll be playing more than the 18 minutes he averaged last season.

Top New Addition: Serge Ibaka

Ibaka experienced great success during his time with the Thunder, so he could emerge as a leader for the Magic and help build a winning culture in Orlando. In addition to everything he brings on the defensive end, he also provides a scoring punch and stretches the floor. Ibaka averaged 12.6 points on 48 percent shooting from the floor and 33 percent from three-point range last season. His numbers were down a bit compared to previous seasons, but that’s likely because the Thunder experimented with getting big men like Enes Kanter and Steven Adams more involved. In Orlando, Ibaka is in a great position and he’ll be one of the team’s top scoring options. Coach Vogel has indicated that Ibaka will be relied on more than he was in OKC. Ibaka is in a contract year and will surely be looking to put up big numbers so that he can cash in when he hits unrestricted free agency next offseason.

– Cody Taylor

WHO WE LIKE

1. Aaron Gordon

After becoming a household name following his incredible performance in February’s Slam Dunk Contest, what’s not to like about Gordon? The most remarkable thing about Gordon is that he’ll be turning 21 years old later this week, meaning he still has plenty of room to grow as a player. In his second season, he averaged 9.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. His per-48 stats offer a look at what he could produce given an increased role: 18.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks. It can be quite exciting to watch Gordon play since his athleticism allows him to make impact plays all over the floor. He has a great understanding of the game and has one of the best work ethics in the league. Oh, and his confidence is through the roof. He’s much more comfortable entering this campaign and many are expecting him to have a breakout season.

2. Frank Vogel

Was Scott Skiles’ unexpected resignation in May actually a blessing in disguise for the Magic? Vogel was among the top candidates remaining at the time and the team moved quickly to hire him as their next head coach. Given his success with the Indiana Pacers, the hiring of Vogel looks to be a great move. Vogel consistently put the Pacers in great position to be successful and his teams were always known to be very good defensively. Vogel has already set the bar high for next season, stating that the team will make the playoffs.

3. D.J. Augustin

One of the biggest areas of concern for the Magic last year was the backup point guard position. The team tried to address that issue prior to last season by signing C.J. Watson, but he played in just 33 games after battling a calf injury for much of the year. The team then traded for Brandon Jennings, who left to join the New York Knicks this summer. Now, the Magic have brought in Augustin to bolster their backcourt depth. He will give the second unit some much needed shooting; he’s a career 37-percent shooter from three. Augustin also brings a ton of experience to the team and has played on plenty of contenders. It remains to be seen if it will be Watson or Augustin who will ultimately backup Elfrid Payton, but the Magic have legitimate options at the position for the first time in a long time.

4. Bismack Biyombo

Whether or not you agree with Orlando’s decision to give Biyombo a four-year deal worth $72 million, it’s evident that Biyombo can make a big impact for the Magic. He helped his league-wide perception last year with Toronto Raptors – particularly during the playoffs – by making hustle plays and defending the paint. He pulled down a franchise record 26 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, which was impressive. It appears Biyombo will be counted on to anchor the Magic’s second unit and that could be a role he flourishes in. It’s clear that the front office is in love with Biyombo judging by the contract they gave him. Coach Vogel’s teams have always been great defensively and Biyombo looks like he’ll fit right in with what the team wants to do.

– Cody Taylor

SALARY CAP 101

The Magic have had a busy offseason, acquiring Serge Ibaka via trade and then going under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to sign players like Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green and D.J. Augustin.  The team also re-signed Evan Fournier, locking in at least $104.8 million in salary on 13 players.  Orlando invited six players to camp, all on non-guaranteed summer contracts, to compete for two open roster spots.  The Magic also have their $2.9 million Room Exception available.

Next summer, Orlando may reach $29 million in spending power under a $102 million salary cap.  That assumes the team picks up the rookie-scale options on Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, C.J. Wilcox and Elfrid Payton.  Only $1 million of C.J. Watson’s $5 million salary is guaranteed for 2017-18.  While Ibaka is eligible to have his contract restructured and extended, the Magic do not have the necessary cap space to get that kind of deal done.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

The theme of the Magic’s offseason was adding defense. They have a great defensive mind in Vogel on the sideline and they added a couple of very talented defenders in Ibaka and Biyombo to help the team improve on that end of the court. The Magic improved to 17th in defense last season under Scott Skiles, but they clearly would like to be significantly better this season. In addition to Ibaka and Biyombo, Payton and Gordon have emerged as great defenders as well.

– Cody Taylor

WEAKNESSES

As strong defensively as the Magic may seem on paper, there are plenty of questions about their offense entering this season. The team failed to add a star through free agency and now they must decide who will become the squad’s go-to option. Vucevic led the team in scoring last season at 18.2 points per game, with Fournier next down the list at 15.4 points per game. Key players like Payton, Gordon and Biyombo are not known to be great scorers, which begs the question: Where will the scoring come from?

– Cody Taylor

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can the Magic finally break through into the playoffs?

With his bold statements, Vogel has set a playoff-or-bust atmosphere in his first season as Magic head coach. The team made a number of moves that signal their desire to win now and return to the postseason. While it seems as though the team’s defense will be much improved, there are still a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to how these pieces fit together. While the Magic certainly have the potential to improve their win total this year, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see them miss the playoffs for a fifth-straight season.

– Cody Taylor

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NBA Daily: Things To Watch Heading Into Trade Season

Two of our experts identify four teams and four players to keep an eye on during trade season.

Basketball Insiders

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With memories of DeMarcus Cousins being told that he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans during his postgame availability at last season’s All-Star game, the NBA moved the trade deadline up.

This season, the deadline falls on February 8, and all there has been a lot of discussion leading into next month’s deadline.

We asked Moke Hamilton and Lang Greene to weigh in on some items to keep an eye on over the next three weeks.

Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors

This year’s trade deadline will probably lack big names getting moved, but teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets are within sniffing distance of a playoff berth for the first time in years. It will be interesting to see if their respective front offices swing for the fences to achieve the goal.

There are three ways to improve a roster or prepare for the future in the NBA. The methods are free agency, trade and the annual draft. Trade deadline deals are risky. There are a lot of deals each season which involve players on the verge of hitting the free agent market. Teams acquiring these take the risk that they’re only “renting” those guys until the season concludes.

At the end of the day, though, the two biggest names we may see moved are Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors.

Mirotic has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career, but the fourth-year forward is by far having his best season as a professional despite his minutes remaining flat. On a per 36 minute basis, Mirotic is averaging 25.1 points and 9.9 rebounds.

Mirotic and teammate Bobby Portis made headlines before the season for their fight, which led plenty of missed time for the forward. Mirotic’s name has been mentioned on the block ever since this incident, but it’s clear the Bulls have integrated him back into their rotation fully. Still, the team is believed to simply be waiting for the right time and trade partner and that Mirotic’s days in Chicago are numbered.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls plan to be patient in fielding calls for Mirotic, while the player has deflected all talks to his representatives.

“I didn’t talk to [the Bulls’ front office recently],” he said. “Probably my agents are talking, so I don’t know so far what’s going on, but I know my name is going to be out there. I’m doing my job, and I’m sure they’re doing their job, and we’re both going to do what’s best for the team.”

Mirotic has a no-trade clause built into his contract and would have to waive it prior to completing any deal, unless the Bulls were to guarantee the team option on the final year of his contract for 2018-19. Don’t count on that, though.

With respect to Favors, he battled injuries the past two seasons but has remained relatively healthy to begin this campaign. The forward is shooting a career high from the field, but according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Utah Jazz have dangled him in trade talks since the beginning of the season.

Favors was one of the central parts of the Deron Williams trade years ago, but could be expendable because of the emergence of center Rudy Gobert in the Jazz’s frontcourt. The forward is on the books for $12.5 million this season and was most recently linked to the aforementioned Mirotic in trade talks between Utah and Chicago.

– Lang Greene

DeAndre Jordan and Paul George

Heading into deadline season, there’s not much out there to suggest that we’ll see any superstar-caliber players moved. With the likes of Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving among the players that switched teams over the summer, it seems that most NBA teams that have difference-makers on their rosters are in construction mode—they’re trying to compete with the Cavs or the Warriors.

The two superstar players who merit some discussion, though, are DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan.

With respect to Jordan, the Clippers find themselves in a very peculiar situation. With Chris Paul having defected to the Houston Rockets, it’s easy to conclude that the Clippers are no longer a true contender. Still, they’ve played so well over the past few weeks (including scoring a victory over Paul and his Rockets) that it seems a difficult proposition to proactively pull the plug.

Still, though, as written in this past Sunday’s column, it’s time for the Clippers to trade Jordan, mainly because a team that is heading toward a rebuild can’t afford to lose a player of his caliber for nothing, and that’s quite possible unless the Clippers fork over a max contract to Jordan this summer. The proposition wouldn’t be wise, particularly because it could cost the Clippers a first round pick in one of the upcoming drafts.

He’s definitely a player that should be watched.

Paul George, on the other hand, doesn’t appear likely to be headed out of Oklahoma City. The team is reportedly committed to keeping him for the duration of the season, with the hope being that the Thunder will get their act together and win a round or two in the playoffs. With the team still hovering around .500, it seems a long shot.

There are some, however, that believe that the Thunder should at least see what might be available to them in exchange for George, especially with the team trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him. That’s especially true with Oladipo closing in on what certainly appears to be his first All-Star selection.

– Moke Hamilton

Dallas Mavericks Are Open For Business

The Dallas Mavericks are in a clear rebuild and the prospect of making the playoffs is more dream than reality this season, but the team does have some things going for it.

The Mavs have roughly $13 million in cap space, which puts them in a prime spot to acquire talent at the deadline without giving up any of their players in return. In fact, Mark Cuban went on the record and said exactly that.

“I would say we are looking to use our cap space actively,” Cuban told the Dallas Morning News earlier this week. “We will take back salary to get picks or guys we think can play.”

The Mavericks have the second-lowest payroll in the league, but Cuban has been known to spend money to acquire relevant talent. The team hasn’t had much success in in attracting free agents in recent years, and with the Hall of Fame career of Dirk Nowitzki coming to an end, the team is undoubtedly looking to retool.

– Lang Greene

Cavs and Lakers Each Likely To Do Something

It’s a poorly kept secret that the Los Angeles Lakers have had their sights set on acquiring a superstar or two this coming summer. With Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and LeBron James among those who could hit the market in July, the Lakers have quite a bit of incentive to try to rid themselves of the contracts of Luol Deng and Jordan Clarkson.

Where things get interesting for the Lakers is with the emergence of several of their young players this season. Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma and to a lesser extent Josh Hart have each given the team impressive minutes this season. If the Lakers feel they have a real shot at signing James and, say, DeMarcus Cousins, it may be enough for them to package Deng and/or Clarkson with one of their promising young players and perhaps a future draft pick.

It’s certainly something I’d keep my eyes on.

And speaking of future draft picks, with the Cavs not taking their standing in the Eastern Conference for granted, one can only wonder the extent to which the Nets’ first round pick this coming season is burning a hole in their pockets. Aside from the Nets pick, though, the Cavs do own their own first round pick, which could be enough for them to pry the likes of a player like Mirotic or Favors from their current team.

There has also been some conjecture revolving around the availability of Tristan Thompson, with one interesting scenario having the Cavs and Clippers at least contemplating a trade involving Thompson and Jordan.

The Cavs and Lakers each have too much at stake to not do something.

– Moke Hamilton

Only 21 Days To Go…

With the trade deadline exactly three weeks from today, talks will certainly heat up.

For now, though, the Mavs, Cavs and Lakers appear to be the teams most involved in conversations, with Nikola Mirotic, Derrick Favors and DeAndre Jordan among those most likely to be dealt.

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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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