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Peers Believe Crawford is Sixth Man of Year

A survey of NBA players reveals an overwhelming number believe Jamal Crawford should win Sixth Man of the Year.

Alex Kennedy

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This is a strange year when it comes to the NBA’s end-of-season player awards.

Typically, there is a lot of debate over who deserves each honor. There are 129 sportswriters and broadcasters who make up the voting panel, and they receive their ballots two weeks before the regular season ends. Some years, voters will wait until the absolute final moment (after the final regular season game) to cast their ballot because the competition is that intense and they want to have as much information as possible before making up their mind.

However, this season’s award races will be relatively anti-climactic because the results seem rather obvious. Stephen Curry will be Most Valuable Player, Karl-Anthony Towns seems poised to be Rookie of the Year, C.J. McCollum will likely be Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year seems like it’ll once again come down to Kawhi Leonard or Draymond Green.

There doesn’t seem to be many wide-open award races this year. That is, except for Sixth Man of the Year. The award is obviously given to the most productive reserve and, in order to be eligible, a player must come off of the bench in more games than he starts.

The top two vote-getters from last season are currently ineligible, so it’ll be interesting to see who the media turns to now. Last year, Lou Williams and Isaiah Thomas finished first and second in the voting, but both players used their successful 2014-15 campaign as a springboard to an increased role.

The veterans who are typically mentioned as possible Sixth Man candidates, such San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, Houston Rockets guard Jason Terry and Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala, seem like long shots now. Each of these players have seen their production dip significantly as they’ve gotten older and all three are averaging single-digit points.

JamalCrawford_Inside4The only “usual suspect” left in the race is Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, who is competing with a host of new candidates such as Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter, Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton, Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin and New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson among others.

But while it seems there isn’t a clear-cut frontrunner, NBA players see the Sixth Man of the Year race very differently. Basketball Insiders talked to a long list of NBA players and almost every single one said that Crawford deserves the award.

Obviously Crawford’s teammates were quick to campaign for him, but players from all around the NBA voiced their support for the 36-year-old guard as well.

If Crawford is named this season’s Sixth Man of the Year, he’ll become the first player in NBA history to win the award three times. He also earned the honor in 2010 (with the Atlanta Hawks) and 2014 (with the Clippers), joining Kevin McHale, Ricky Pierce and Detlef Schrempf as the only two-time winners.

“When you win games, those individual honors have a way of working themselves out,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “You can’t be in the conversation for any of those things if you’re not winning. To be recognized again would be a great honor! But obviously winning is the most important thing, especially this season. We revamped our team to start the season and then lost our big gun, Blake Griffin, for a while. No one thought we would be in this position now – fourth in the Western Conference – but here we are. It’s taken a collective effort from the coaches and players to get here. And we’re not satisfied with where we are because we still have a long way to go. There’s so much more work to be done.”

This season, Crawford is averaging 14 points in 26.8 minutes off the bench. He stepped up significantly once the Clippers lost Griffin due to injury. Since Dec. 25 (the last time that Griffin played), Crawford has increased his average to 15.5 points per game and he has scored 15 or more points in 27 contests, which is the most of any bench player during that span. He has scored in double figures in 54 games this season. Many players who felt Crawford deserved the award mentioned how he’s helped keep the Clippers’ offense performing at it’s usual high level in Griffin’s absence. L.A. currently has the NBA’s sixth-best offense, scoring 106 points per 100 possessions.

Crawford has also played well when his team needs him most: in the fourth quarter. This season, he leads the Clippers in total points scored in the fourth quarter with 319. He may not start games for Los Angeles, but he often finishes them and makes an impact in the final period.

The fact that Crawford is putting up these numbers on a legitimate contender helps his case for the award too. In the past 20 seasons, every Sixth Man of the Year winner came from a playoff team. Crawford is the leading reserve scorer among all postseason-bound teams.

But perhaps the biggest reason Crawford is so universally respected among opposing players is his ability to create his own shot. He ranks seventh in the league in isolation points (223) behind only stars James Harden, Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard, LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Durant.

Crawford does some amazing things with the ball in his hands, and he’s excellent in one-on-one situations. Even the best defenders in the NBA admit that they hate guarding Crawford because he has so many different weapons in his offensive arsenal and he’s completely unpredictable. Fouling him is pointless too since he is ranked first in the NBA in free throw percentage this season, hitting 90.9 percent of his shots from the charity stripe.

Crawford certainly doesn’t look like a 36-year-old on the court. In fact, as SLAM recently noted, he’s the first NBA player in history to average over 13 points while playing fewer than 27 minutes per game in at least his 16th NBA season. Crawford found that stat amusing. He also laughed when he learned that he’s averaging 18.5 points per-36-minutes this year, which is actually higher than his per-36-minutes scoring average from over a decade ago when he was in his prime with the New York Knicks.

On many teams, Crawford would be starting. However, he has embraced the sixth-man role and enjoys leading the second unit. Still, if asked to start, Crawford will rise to the occasion. In his three starts this season for the Clippers, he averaged 28 points, five assists and four rebounds while shooting 45.2 percent from the field, 43.5 percent from three-point range and 94.7 percent from the free throw line.

Crawford has had a number of signature performances this season too.

He had 37 points, eight assists and six rebounds in a November win over the Detroit Pistons (numbers that only Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Kemba Walker and Russell Westbrook have matched this season). Crawford had 32 points (including 6-9 three-pointers) and five assists to beat the Orlando Magic in December. Later that month, he led the Clippers to a win over the Washington Wizards by scoring an efficient 21 points on 9-12 shooting from the field. In January, the veteran guard contributed 26 points (on 11-15 shooting from the field) and three assists to defeat the Chicago Bulls. Last month, Crawford had 26 points in 25 minutes – hitting 10-17 shots, including 3-4 three-pointers – to beat the Brooklyn Nets.

For an example of Crawford getting hot and helping lead L.A. to a victory, look no further than last night’s 25-point performance against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Some NBA decision-makers also believe Crawford is the obvious choice for the award.

“Jamal is worthy of the award almost every year, but he has to get it this year,” said one rival Western Conference executive who spoke under the condition of anonymity. “Without Jamal, they’d have been sunk by the Blake Griffin injury. He is definitely one of the elite sixth men in the league and somehow he still remains underrated. He not only comes off the bench and scores, he does it in a way that helps them win games.”

“Jamal has been amazing; he provides the type of spark off the bench that can be the difference between a team having an early exit in the postseason and making a deep playoff run,” said an NBA assistant coach, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. “His instant offense really comes up big in games where game plans are thwarted early and you simply need to get buckets. In my opinion, he deserves Sixth Man of the Year honors.”

It’s clear that there’s an overwhelming number of NBA players who are adamant that Crawford is the NBA’s best sixth man. Many players – young and old, short and tall, East and West – all have a lot of respect for Crawford. Here’s what players told Basketball Insiders:

Sacramento Kings forward Caron Butler: “He’s the greatest sixth man in NBA history. He should win the award this year, and that would solidify him as the best sixth man ever. He was a great teammate [on the Clippers] and an even better person. I’m happy to call him a friend. He has the respect of all of his peers. As athletes, that’s what we all shoot for: winning, being respected and having a solid legacy.”

Indiana Pacers point guard Ty Lawson: “[Winning three Sixth Man awards] has never been done. It would be a big honor for him to win that award three times because he’s one of the best players to have ever come off a bench. You never know what he’s going to do. He might come down and just pull up for a three, or he might give you a hesitation move (which he normally does right before he pulls up for a three) or he just blows by you. It’s so hard to guard him. Even in the lane, he knows how to throw up floaters and he always seems to make them.”

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin: “Jamal is not only a huge part of our bench, but also our team. I’ve never seen a guy be able to come off the bench and consistently score and carry a second unit the way he does while accepting his role. As good as he is on the court, he’s even better off of it. He’s a terrific locker room guy. He should win Sixth Man of the Year this season. And I think he should have won the award two more times than he already has, in my opinion.”

Five-time All-Star Chauncey Billups: “Of course Jamal should be the Sixth Man of the Year this season – again! He’s a guy who deserves a tremendous amount of credit for accepting a reserve role while knowing that he could be a top-five scorer in the league if put in that position. He’s extremely valuable to the Clippers. They depend on his production every night. He’s the best in the league at what he does.”

Two-time All-Star Baron Davis:I love Jamal Crawford. He is one of my favorite players to watch. He has always been stellar and consistent. He is a player that every team wishes they had coming off the bench. I think he is a key to the Clippers making a run this year. He deserves Sixth Man of the Year because of the impact he has on the team.”

Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton: “He deserves to win Sixth Man of the Year. He’s so important to that team because he’s instant offense off of the bench. He’s somebody who can come in and bring energy and get the crowd into the game. Also, when it comes to closing games, he’s someone who can create his own shot, so he’s very important to the Clippers. He’s tough to guard because he is so good at making tough shots. No shot is a bad shot for him. I remember watching him when I was younger – four-point play after four-point play.”

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas: “He’s in the conversation every year. He does for his team what other guys try to do and can’t. And it happens to be year 16 in his NBA career! It says a lot about the type of player he is. He could easily start around the league, but he’s a guy who doesn’t care about that and cares about doing what’s best for the team. It’s a blessing to play against Jamal because he is a big brother to me and I’ve known him for so long. Going against him is like playing in his pro-am in the summers; we battle and have fun at the same time. He’s very important to the Clippers. I watch all of their games when I’m not playing and it seems like if Jamal doesn’t play well, then they don’t play well. He’s a big part of their team and when he plays well, they usually win. I believe he should be high up in the conversation about another Sixth Man of the Year award. He deserves it, and his team is winning.”

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard: “He’s a game-changer for them. They could be having a bad night and he can take over. He makes big shots, tough shots, and draws fouls if you’re too physical.”

Washington Wizards forward Jared Dudley: “Jamal Crawford is one of the most unique players in the NBA. His shot-making ability off the dribble and his uncanny way to get to the free throw line makes him dangerous. He’s the Benjamin Button of the NBA. He’s simply not aging at all.”

Seven-time All-Star Grant Hill: “Aside from his impressive shot-making ability and his vast array of illusory skills, what’s impressed me most about Jamal is his longevity and durability. To be able to dominate off the bench in now his 16th year in the league is quite remarkable.”

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert: “He is, for sure, one of the frontrunners. You know he can go off anytime, so you cannot relax against him.”

Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick: “Jamal is one of a kind – both as a player and a person. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him and playing with him the past three seasons. He’s the epitome of what a sixth man should be: someone who instantly changes the flow and dynamic of the game with his skill set. For Jamal, that is scoring the basketball. There are few players, if any, like him.”

Nine-year NBA veteran Mo Evans: “Jamal Crawford is a prolific scorer with a high basketball IQ and a knack for hitting big shots. He did this for our Atlanta Hawks team over and over again in 2010, when he won his first Sixth Man of the Year award. His game is proving to be timeless. He is still equally impactful at 36 years old as he was in his younger years. He has heavily contributed to the Clippers’ success this year, especially with Blake Griffin out of the line-up. He’s a big reason L.A. is fourth in the Western Conference. All things considered, I believe he deserves a historic third Sixth Man of the Year award.”

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum:Jamal is one of the toughest covers in the league. His ability to shoot off the dribble and manipulate ball screens makes him a unique guard. [He] also gives the Clippers a secondary ball handler. … Jamal could potentially win [the Sixth Man award] every year.”

Miami HEAT center Hassan Whiteside: “When he has the ball, you never know what he is going to do with it. [Until this interview], I didn’t know he was 36 years old. Wow. That’s crazy.”

Brooklyn Nets point guard Shane Larkin: “I think Jamal Crawford has a good chance at winning Sixth Man of the Year because he is crucial to the Clippers’ success. He comes into the game for J.J. [Redick] most of the time and immediately makes them more dangerous because he can do everything with the ball offensively and pretty much carries the second unit for them. Whenever you’re playing against him, you have to respect his jumper but he also keeps you on your heels because at any moment he can cross you over and make a mid-range pull-up or get all the way to the bucket. He is the one guy on their second unit who consistently gives other teams problems and produces starter-like numbers. For a team that has been without their leading scorer in Blake Griffin for a long time, he has been huge for them. He finishes a lot of ball games for the them alongside of Chris Paul and it is very difficult to guard them both in multiple pick-and-roll actions with DeAndre [Jordan] rolling to the rim. I think JC has a good chance of winning the award for the third time and it would be pretty cool to see it happen.”

New York Knicks center Kyle O’Quinn: “It would be nice for him to make history by winning his third Sixth Man award. Not only does he deserve it, that will separate him as the best sixth man ever, which he is. Every time people talk about sixth men, his name comes up and people compare themselves to him. He means a lot to the Clippers. He’s that spark that could really push the lead against teams. And honestly, he’s scouted more than a lot of starters.”

Brooklyn Nets center Willie Reed: “I definitely think Jamal deserves to be Sixth Man of the Year. What he’s done in the absence of Blake [Griffin] to help the Clippers keep rolling has been amazing. Playing against him, you definitely have to shrink your defense. He can shoot the ball and draw contact to get to the line, where he shoots over 90 percent. Also, he has the handles to get wherever he wants on the floor. He’s so difficult to defend.”

Former NBA player and current Providence assistant coach God Shammgod: “I think he should win the award every year, and there’s no doubt that he’s the best sixth man ever. He would start on most teams. As an assistant at Providence, I’ve worked with guards like Kris Dunn and Bryce Cotton and I make sure they study Jamal’s game. They study everything from how he breaks defenses down to his pull-up jumper. Every guard can learn from him.”

Portland Trail Blazers forward Ed Davis: “He is super important for that team. He’s a guy who you have to game plan for, otherwise he’ll beat you. He can produce instant offense. He’s the kind of player who can easily go for 16 points in a single quarter.”

Cleveland Cavaliers D-League affiliate player Quinn Cook: “Did Jamal influence my game growing up? Hell yes! I’ve watched every single video of his and I still watch them to this day. He should be Sixth Man of the Year. He’s the primary scorer for their second unit and he’s in the game when it matters. He’s more important to his team than any other sixth man in the league.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: The HEAT Are Building Character By Necessity

With so many player games lost to injury, the Miami HEAT have had to look within themselves to keep a good season going.

Buddy Grizzard

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The injury situation for the Miami HEAT has gone from bad to worse with point guard Goran Dragic missing the last two games after suffering a bruised knee against the Milwaukee Bucks. The HEAT were able to gut out a 106-105 win in Charlotte Saturday before falling 99-90 to the Rockets in Houston Monday.

HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra said after the win over the Hornets that the test of going deep into the roster to find contributors with so many players out has forced his team to grow.

“We’ve had so many guys in an out, [a] revolving door of injuries,” said Spoelstra. “We’ve been through a tough stretch. But you use these opportunities to test yourself, measure yourself and see if you can develop some competitive character collectively when the chips are down.”

In addition to missing Dragic, the HEAT lost Dion Waiters for the season, likely won’t have Rodney McGruder back until February and are awaiting the return of starting shooting guard Tyler Johnson, who suffered an ankle injury that thankfully wasn’t as bad as it looked initially. Miami is on pace to lose the most games to injury in the NBA for the second season in a row. Spoelstra talked about the role of luck in Charlotte.

“You have to make shots and you have to be lucky,” said Spoelstra. “This league is tough. You need all of it sometimes. You need a great connection, you need good karma, you need to play to your identity and then you need the right breaks.”

One thing that has broken in the HEAT’s favor is the play of shooting guard Wayne Ellington, whom the team has needed more than ever with Waiters and Johnson out. Spoelstra preferred to use Ellington off the bench, but moved him into the starting lineup against the Hornets by necessity. Fortunately, Spoelstra said he never had to worry about Ellington handling whatever is asked.

“Wayne is the true embodiment of pro,” said Spoelstra. “He’s reliable, always early, he’s got a great work ethic, he exudes an incredible positive energy always, whether the game is going well for him or not, whether he’s playing or not.

“I just love the guy. If I would have told him hey, we’re not going to start you and I’m not going to put you in until the middle of the second quarter, he would have looked at me and said, okay, whatever it takes to win.”

While Ellington has slid seemlessly into the starting shooting guard role, covering for Dragic hasn’t been as easy. Against the Hornets, power forward James Johnson and small forward Josh Richardson alternated bringing the ball up and initiating the offense.

Further down the roster, Kelly Olynyk has provided some much-needed offense, but Justise Winslow, whom Johnson singled out as a player that could step up in the absense of others, has continued to struggle. Winslow, who missed 15 games earlier in the season due to a strained knee, shot just 1-for-4 against the Hornets and was frequently matched up against Nicolas Batum, who had a game-high 26 points.

Told that Winslow threw his shooting shirt and towel into the air in frustration after exiting the game late in the fourth quarter, Spoelstra was coy.

“He was probably throwing his jersey to a fan,” said Spoelstra. “He’s just getting back into the mix. He’s fine. He’s a competitor and he wants to be out there and fill in the gaps.”

Despite finishing a five-game road trip, including a stretch of five games in six nights, with a 2-3 record, the HEAT survived to remain the fourth seed in the East with the eighth-best record in the NBA. Only the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors in the East and Warriors, Rockets, Timberwolves and Spurs in the West currently have a better record than Miami. As such, Spoelstra was able to look at the positives after the team finished the road trip with a loss in Houston.

“There’s a lot of good things going on,” said Spoelstra. “Our locker room knows that. We’ve got to get back, get some rest and maybe we’ll get some guys back. If not, get ready for another battle on Thursday night.”

Missing so many bodies, the HEAT have had to rely on the team’s depth and character to excel despite adversity. If Miami can have a little bit of the luck and good karma Spoelstra spoke of, the team will be well-positioned for the stretch run of what has already been a suprisingly-good season.

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NBA Trade Watch: Point Guards

David Yapkowitz looks at five point guards who could be involved in trade deadline activity.

David Yapkowitz

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We’ve got a new series dropping this week here at Basketball Insiders. With the trade deadline about two weeks away on Feb. 8, we’re taking a look at some of the players, position by position, most likely to be traded. For our first installment of this series, we’ll identify the point guards who might find themselves moved as the deadline draws near. There are a few point guards that could definitely help some playoff teams in the stretch run that could be dealt. Here’s a look at them.

1. Kemba Walker – $12,000,000

Kemba Walker has played his whole career in Charlotte. For the past few years, he’s been one of the point guards in the league. He’s got career averages of 18.7 points per game and 5.4 assists. This season he’s putting up 21.7 points and 5.8 assists. In many ways, he’s the engine that makes the Hornets go. He’s been their franchise player since arriving in Charlotte.

The Hornets just haven’t been that good of a team. Since their inception as the expansion Bobcats in 2004, they’ve made the playoffs three times in the 14 years they’ve been around. Last week, reports surfaced that the Hornets were open to trading Walker. Compared to the contracts given out since the increase in the NBA’s salary cap, Walker’s contract is a steal. He’s an All-Star level player who can certainly push a team that much closer to the promised land. For any team on the verge of playoff success, it’s a good idea to kick the tires on what it would take to land Walker.

2. George Hill – $20,000,000

When the Sacramento Kings landed George Hill in the offseason, it was considered quite a success. He was one of the most coveted free agent point guards on the market. It was assumed that he’d come in and start right away while being a mentor to De’Aaron Fox. However, the futility of Sacramento’s season seems to have got to him a bit as he voiced his frustrations earlier this month.

Despite that, he’s still having a relatively productive season. His scoring is down a bit from recent seasons at 10.5 points per game, but he’s shooting well. He’s at 46.1 percent from the field, and 45.2 percent from three-point range. His contract is rather large, perhaps making him a little more difficult to move, but for one of the better two-way point guards in the league, he’ll probably have a few suitors. Recent reports have mentioned the Cleveland Cavaliers as being interested, where he could either come off the bench or slide over into the starting shooting guard spot. In any case, he’d bring them a much-needed defensive presence.

3. Emmanuel Mudiay – $3,381,480

When he first came into the league in 2015, Mudiay looked like one of the Denver Nugget’s brightest young stars. He played in 68 games, starting 66 of them, and 12.8 points per game, 5.5 assists, 3.4 rebounds. Since then, however, he’s struggled a bit and at this point, he’s lost his spot in the rotation to Jamal Murray.

This month alone, he’s played in only four of the Nuggets ten games. His name’s been mentioned often in trade rumors, and perhaps this is deadline where he finally gets moved. It’s still only his third year in the league and he’s only 21 years old. It’s not farfetched at all to think that he’s got his best years ahead of him. Like many players before him, all he may need is a fresh start and someone to give him a chance. For any team looking to take a flyer on a player that is a high-reward, low-risk kind of guy, Mudiay is a name worth inquiring about.

4. Devin Harris – $4,402,546

Devin Harris isn’t a name that’s appeared in trade chatter such as the other guys on this list, but he’s a guy that’s worth inquiring about. With the situation in Dallas very apparent in regards to the direction of the team, Harris is kind of an odd man out. Dennis Smith Jr. is clearly the future at point guard for the Mavericks. They also have a younger, cheaper option as a backup with Yogi Ferrell. He’s actually been a part of the rotation, but if the Mavericks get decent offers for him, they should strongly consider moving him.

For a guy who’s been around the league for 14 years now, he’s having a pretty decent season; 8.4 points per game off the bench is solid. He’s also shooting 35.1 percent from the three-point line. He’s not going to be the double-digit scorer he once was, but he can still help a team. He’s on the last year of his contract, too, so if a team trades for him and it doesn’t work out, they can cut their losses at the end of the season. For any team looking for a veteran backup to help them in the playoffs, Harris is a player they should give the Mavericks a call about.

5. J.J. Barea – $3,903,900

Harris’ teammate in Dallas, J.J. Barea is only a year younger and shouldn’t figure into the Mavericks’ future plans either. As an undrafted player out of Northeastern in 2006, Barea has enjoyed a successful NBA career, one that saw him win a ring with the Mavericks in 2011. At age 33, he remains a solid veteran backup, one that could play a big role on a playoff contender.

For someone on the backend of his NBA career, Barea has actually turned in career seasons the past few years including this one. He’s putting up 11.8 points per game this year, the most since leaving initially leaving Dallas for Minnesota in 2011. He’s dishing out 6.0 assists and pulling down 3.1 rebounds, both career-highs, while shooting 37.5 percent from the three-point line. He’s played in all but one of Dallas’ 45 games at 23.0 minutes per. He’s got one more year on his contract after this one, and even then it’s a relative bargain. His name hasn’t come up either in trade rumors, but like his teammate Harris, he’s definitely worth calling about for a playoff team needed veteran point guard help.

Sometimes trade rumors are just that — rumors. It’s common for many of the deals rumored and leaked to fall through and never materialize once the deadline hits. But every so often, some big deals do happen. Most of the guys on this list are not “big names” so to speak, but they are certainly capable of contributing to a playoff team for the stretch run. Be sure to check us out tomorrow as our series continues with the shooting guards most likely to be traded. And make sure to follow us at Basketball Insiders for all your latest trade news and rumors as we get closer to the deadline.

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NBA Daily: Things Are Getting Interesting On The NBA Trade Front

Some big names have hit the rumor mill, that’s typically the fuel that starts the Trade Deadline fire.

Steve Kyler

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Things Are Getting Interesting

With the February 8 NBA Trade Deadline getting closer, some bigger name NBA players have started to surface, which tends to fuel the fire of trade rumors. While league sources think its unlikely any of the named guys get moved, there are some things to know about each situation.

Jordan Talks Kemba Walker

In an exclusive interview with the Charlotte Observers’ Rick Bonnell, Hornets majority owner Michael Jordan tried to set the record straight on where his club was with star guard Kemba Walker.

“I’m not looking to trade Kemba, but I would listen to opportunities,” Jordan told Bonnell.

“There have been teams asking about players. Also, we’ve been asking about players. We ask teams who they like on our roster, and they always say Kemba.”

Jordan tried his best to defuse the notion that the Hornets were actively considering trade for Walker. The jist of his stance is that anything sort of a proven All-Star wouldn’t get much attention. However, there is a growing sense that if the Hornets could find a way to pry Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard out of San Antonio, they pull the trigger.

League sources that have engaged the Hornets on Walker scenarios said they believed the Hornets’ stance was more fact-finding and option gathering than anything serious; they also doubted that Charlotte would do anything with Walker based on their conversations.

The running narrative in NBA circles is that any deal involving Walker would also have to clear out a bloated contract while returning a fairly high-level draft pick.

The likely outcome of the Walker situation in Charlotte is the team will try to engage Walker on a contract extension this offseason, and if they can not reach a long-term deal, they would look to move him around the 2018 NBA Draft.

Walker becomes extension-eligible after this season. Involving him and his agent in the trade process could yield a lot more value to Charlotte if Walker ends up being traded somewhere he’d agree to an extension or a new deal. That is a factor in what teams are said to be willing to offer for him at the deadline.

Damian Lillard Wants Answers

According to Chris Haynes of ESPN, Portland star Damian Lillard requested to meet privately with Blazers owner Paul Allen, seeking some answers from ownership on the direction of the team.

In a meeting that took place without anyone in the organization’s knowledge, Lillard is said to have re-committed to remaining in Portland but wanted answers and assurances from ownership that becoming a title contender was the goal in the near term.

There had been growing concerns in Portland that Lillard, who has pledged loyalty to Portland at every turn, might be souring on the situation.

League sources said recently that Allen had taken a much more hands-on approach to many things around the Blazers, including having his top-level staffers gauge the league’s opinion on not only the job team president Neil Olshey was doing, but that of head coach Terry Stotts.

Olshey received a multi-year contract extension in late August of 2017 that is to carry him through the 2020-21 season. Stotts is also signed through the 2020 season.

The Blazers have run off a nice stretch of games, winning six of their last ten, but continue to linger in the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture.

With Lillard facing what could be another All-Star snub, there is a growing sense that Lillard and his camp are pushing for some aggressive changes to try and jump start what’s become a ho-hum team.

The Blazers have been one of the more aggressive suitors for Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan. However, the Clippers continue to say they haven’t been offered anything they’d consider doing.

Kawhi Leonard And The Spurs

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski’s dropped a doozy this week suggesting that the San Antonio Spurs and All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard are growing increasingly distant over his lingering hip injury.

The short version here is that the Spurs are growing frustrated with Leonard’s inability to get right, almost as much as Leonard is frustrated with not being able to get right.

League sources said their calls on Leonard were shut down before they started, so it’s not likely that San Antonio is ready to do anything drastic with Leonard.

Spurs GM RC Buford told ESPN that there was “no issue between the Spurs organization and Kawhi.” However, whenever there is talk of unrest in the NBA, it brings the sharks out.

The Charlotte Hornets are rumored to have tried to engage on a Leonard deal built around Kemba Walker, which is where many believe the Walker rumors started.

Evan Fournier Likely The Guy

The Orlando Magic have been around the proverbial block with most of their roster according to league sources. The story surrounding the Magic is that virtually anything on the roster could be had in trade and that the Magic really are not seeking a ton in return.

The overarching theme from other teams is that the Magic are looking to shed salary and get out of players that do not fit the direction team leadership wants to take the team. Equally, the Magic are not overly interested in additional draft picks, understanding too much youth can and likely would slow down progress.

The ideal package seems to be some combination of ending contracts and players on rookie scale deals that are a little further along.

No one in Orlando likes the term fire sale, mainly because the Magic don’t seem to have a ton of urgency in blowing the team up at the deadline.

The general belief from most is that if Orlando can’t find the kind of deals they are looking for, they’ll simply run out the clock on this season and seek a more aggressive rebuild around the draft and in July when teams can absorb contract money into cap space.

The name most teams seem to have eyes on is guard Evan Fournier. There is a belief that of all the players that could get moved Fournier is the most likely. The Magic have also seriously gauged the trade value of point guard Elfrid Payton in advance of his free agency in July.

The Cavs Got Issues

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cleveland Cavaliers had a contentious and brutally honest team meeting before Monday’s practice.

The jist of the report is that no one was spared in what was a brutal assessment of a team that lost seven of their last ten and now find themselves six games out of the top seed in the East.

A big source of frustration seems to be the perception from Cavs players that Kevin Love was not ill and they wanted answers on why he left the locker room early on Saturday. Guard Isaiah Thomas has been a huge source of frustration for a Cavs team that said all the right things about Thomas when he came back from injury but, are growing increasingly frustrated with his poor effort on defense.

The Cavaliers have been aggressive exploring trades trying to dump off veteran players they feel may have become too complacent in Cleveland.

Forward Tristan Thompson and guard Iman Shumpert have been regular names in NBA trade circles for most of the season, with some suggesting that guard J.R. Smith and Thomas could both be packed into a deal if it returned the right upgrade.

With Love in the crosshairs of his teammates, his name will likely start to come up as the Cavaliers try and find their way out of the mess they have become.

Bucks Ramping Up To Shake Things Up

The Milwaukee Bucks opted to shake things up yesterday firing head coach Jason Kidd. The news was somewhat surprising given Kidd’s relationship with Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

According to Kidd, who spoke with ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, Antetokounmpo was the one who told Kidd about the decision and offered to call ownership on his behalf. The Bucks have involved Antetokounmpo on almost everything, hoping to keep his buy-in on the team.

The Bucks are also ramping up efforts to trigger a significant trade, with eyes not only on Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan, but possibly Miami’s Hassan Whiteside.

The Bucks have been dangling big man John Henson and several of their rookie scale players under the guise of a willingness to take on unwanted salary.

League sources said the Bucks are weighing where they are with injured guard Jabari Parker, who continues to shuttle back and forth between the Bucks and their G-League team the Herd for practice time.

Parker is set to hit free agency in July, and there is a sense that he could get very expensive. It’s not out of the question that Parker becomes the jewel of a trade if it returns the right combination of proven players and future assets.

One thing is becoming very clear. The Bucks understand the urgency of proving they can compete and they want Antetokounmpo on board with the plan.

As the trade deadline approaches Basketball Insiders will start to drop position Trade Watch feature, starting with the point guard today and shooting guards tomorrow. If you want to know who could be had, make sure to swing by early and often all week as we map out who to watch at every position.

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