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Phoenix Suns 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

After an off-season that featured the top overall pick, a new coaching staff and litany of roster moves the Phoenix Suns look to be one of the rising young teams in the West, Basketball Insiders takes a deep dive into the Phoenix Suns.

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The Phoenix Suns had quite the offseason, to say the least. After winning just 21 games last season, the Suns landed the top overall pick in this year’s draft and selected Deandre Ayton. Phoenix also named Igor Kokoškov as the team’s new head coach, made a draft day trade for Mikal Bridges (Zhaire Smith (16th pick) and a Miami HEAT 2021 first-rounder to the Philadelphia 76ers for the rights to Bridges (10th pick)), drafted Elie Okobo 31st overall, signed veteran forward Trevor Ariza to a one-year, $15 million contract, came to terms with Devin Booker on a five-year, $158 million extension, traded Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight to the Houston Rockets for De’Anthony Melton and Ryan Anderson, traded Jared Dudley and a protected 2021 second-rounder to the Brooklyn Nets for Darrell Arthur and traded $1 million to the 76ers for Richaun Holmes. Notable players not returning from last season’s roster include Alex Len, Elfrid Payton and Tyler Ulis, as well as the aforementioned Chriss, Knight and Dudley.

The Suns were clearly one of the busier teams this offseason, but it’s not exactly clear that all of their activity fit within a well-reasoned vision of the future. With the Western Conference as talented and deep as ever, Phoenix could have invested all of its resources in young talent with an eye toward the future when some of the Western Conference powerhouse teams are on the downswing. Instead, the front office bolstered its young core while also pursuing veteran talent to compete this upcoming season. Only time will tell whether Phoenix’s offseason strategy will prove successful both in the short and long term.

With all of this in mind, let’s take an early look at what will be in store for Phoenix this upcoming season.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Phoenix hasn’t won more than 24 games in a single season since the 2014-15 campaign, so it’s no wonder the team is aching to become competitive again. While I am not sure bringing in Trevor Ariza on a one-year, $15 million contract makes a ton of sense, I do think he can be a good mentor for younger forwards like Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges and T.J. Warren. I also like that Phoenix overpaid Ariza on a one-year deal rather than committing to him for several season at a lower annual rate.

Bringing in De’Anthony Melton in the trade for Anderson is a nice addition. As of now, Phoenix projects to enter the season without a clear option at the starting point guard position. Booker could slide into that role but it’s not certain he could handle the lead guard position consistently the way James Harden and other non-traditional point guards have in the past. I would not be surprised to see Phoenix aggressively pursue a more established point guard while looking to Melton and Okobo to develop into starting-quality point guards in the near future.

Big picture: Phoenix did well long-term in adding young talent in Ayton, Bridges, Okobo and Melton but may regret investing so much of its resources into trying to be competitive this season in the stacked Western Conference.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

If the goal was to take a step forward, then mission accomplished for Phoenix, I guess? The Suns certainly kept themselves busy since their season ended, adding plenty of dependable and/or promising wings and bigs. The one snag is that the overabundance of wings and bigs on the roster came at the expense of their guard depth. Phoenix doesn’t have many guards to complement Devin Booker with all they lost. If the roster stands as is, then the Suns may rely on positionless basketball, which could make them more fun to watch. Improvement is on the horizon, but for now, its baby steps for the Suns.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Matt John

Even in a loaded Western Conference, it seems the Suns are looking to become a bit more relevant on the court for the first time in several years. Signing a veteran like Trevor Ariza on a big one-year deal, then making a move for Ryan Anderson from Houston to round out a sneakily strong group of shooters, signaled aspirations of at least something more than what we’ve seen over the last few seasons. Moving Brandon Knight out in that same Anderson deal would seem to be an indication that the Suns are leaning toward putting the ball in Devin Booker’s hands as the lead handler from the get-go, and Phoenix will be banking on some new life injected into their youth by new head coach Igor Kokoskov – Booker first and foremost. If Kokoskov can continue to hone his young star’s already-potent offensive game while perhaps refining his play on the defensive side, the Suns will have the foundational piece they’ve committed gigantic money to for the next several years. Whether they’re able to threaten for a playoff spot this year or not, it’s clear the Suns are looking to turn the culture around moving forward.

4th Place – Pacific Division

-Ben Dowsett

For the first time in three years, it feels like the Suns are going to create an identity. There is a youth movement across the board from the players all the way to the coaching staff. It’s not going to all come together in the first year under Igor Kokoskov, but Devin Booker’s on the rise and Josh Jackson is coming into his own. On top of that, having top overall pick Deandre Ayton and fellow first-rounder Mikal Bridges learning under wily veterans like Tyson Chandler and Trevor Ariza should kickstart things in the desert.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Spencer Davies

If the Phoenix Suns were in any other division, it would be easier to see them climbing out of the basement into the playoff discussion, but in the Pacific, they are still the basement, but with a much better forward-looking future. The draft yielded a ton. The new coaching staff should install a fun brand of basketball and the Suns’ future should be on full display every night. They may not win more than 25-30 games, but they look to be in a much better place than they were this time last season.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Devin Booker

At age-21, Booker already has the complete package on offense. He is a pure shooter who can knock down shots off the dribble, out of catch-and-shoot situations and while flying off of screens. Booker is also a solid playmaker and effective operator out of the pick-and-roll. He doesn’t have elite athleticism but he has a nice feel for the game and uses his change of pace to create space and attack the rim effectively. Coach Kokoškov is sure to build his offense around Booker and put his young star guard in a position to fully utilize his dynamic offensive skill set. Phoenix’s offense will go as Booker goes, especially until the team acquires an established starter at point guard.

Also, in case there is any doubt about Booker’s offensive talent, let’s not forget he scored 70 points against the Celtics in Boston on March 24, 2017.

Last season, Booker averaged 24.9 points and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 43.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three-point range.

Top Defensive Player: Trevor Ariza

Let’s be clear, Ariza is not the defensive player he was earlier in his career. However, at age-33, Ariza is still an effective defender on the wing and against bigger forwards in the post. Additionally, Ariza comes to Phoenix after being part of Houston’s elite defense, which ranked sixth overall last season in defensive rating. Ariza was a key part of Houston’s switch-heavy schemes, which managed to slow down the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and put Houston in striking distance of the NBA Finals.

Ariza isn’t going to lockdown opposing team’s star guards and forwards on a nightly basis, but he will hold his own and work within the team’s defensive schemes. Ariza could also act as a mentor to Phoenix’s young forwards, including Warren, Jackson and Bridges and could help them develop good habits and improve as defenders as well.

Top Playmaker: Devin Booker

Without a starting caliber point guard currently on the roster, Booker takes the nod as the team’s best playmaker. Booker has good vision, is an underrated passer and if often methodical while probing opposing defenses. His offensive abilities often cause defenses to scheme towards stopping him from scoring as a top priority, which can lead to easy scoring opportunities for his teammates. With more talent around him this season, Booker needs to make a more concerted effort to be a consistent playmaker and facilitator for his teammates. If he manages to do so, his offensive impact will hit another level, even if his per game scoring average takes a slight dip from last season.

Top Clutch Player: Devin Booker

In year’s past, players like Eric Bledsoe or Goran Dragic could have made a claim as being Phoenix’s top clutch player. However, Booker has hit some big time shots in clutch situations over his young NBA career and is the most capable scorer and playmaker Phoenix has at this point. Booker hasn’t always been the most efficient scorer in clutch situations, but there is little doubt that he is the most capable offensive player Phoenix has and the person who should have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.

The Unheralded Player: De’Anthony Melton

When the Suns traded Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight to the Houston Rockets for Ryan Anderson and De’Anthony Melton, most of the attention fell on everyone but Melton. Melton is a talented combo guard who was sidelined all of last season at USC because of a federal investigation into the NCAA. Had Melton not been sidelined, he would have had more of an opportunity to show NBA teams that he was arguably worthy of a first-round pick in this year’s draft. Instead, Melton dropped on draft night and was selected 46th overall by the Houston Rockets.

Melton participated in the Las Vegas Summer League with the Rockets and had some standout performances. At Summer League, Melton averaged 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and four assists and demonstrated a nice feel for the pace and tempo of the game.

Melton will compete with Elie Okobo, Shaquille Harrison and Isaiah Canaan for playing time at the point guard position.

Best New Addition: Deandre Ayton

There are some skeptics who don’t believe Ayton has the skill set or drive to be a star player at the NBA level. However, the majority of scouts and other player evaluators had Ayton as the consensus top pick in this year’s draft – a conclusion Phoenix clearly agreed with.

Ayton stands at 7-foot-0 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He has a big, muscular frame but still has plenty of room to continue developing his body. Ayton is also extremely athletic, coordinated and nimble for a player his size. If Ayton can become a more consistent weak side defender, improve his consistency in making the correct defensive rotations and improve on his rebounding fundamentals, he could possibly become a Rudy Gobert level defensive anchor someday. No one should expect Ayton to reach Gobert’s level but it’s a possibility and that alone was reason enough to take him with the first overall pick.

Ayton also has a surprisingly diverse offensive skill set but he isn’t great at any particular thing yet on that end of the court. However, Ayton is a big-time threat as a rim-roller and should get plenty of opportunities to finish lobs from teammates over the course of the season.

Ayton may not be ready to contribute at a high level in his rookie season, but he has star potential and that alone makes him the team’s best new addition.

– Jesse Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Devin Booker

For all of the reasons we have already discussed above.

2. Deandre Ayton

In Ayton, Phoenix finally has a second young prospect with star potential. There is no guarantee that Ayton ever becomes anything more than a starting quality center but between his physical gifts and improving skill set, it’s possible he could become an All-Star caliber player in the near future. Additionally, if Ayton reaches his defensive potential, he could become the defensive anchor that Phoenix needs as Tyson Chandler is no longer the defensive ace he once was and is only under contract for this season.

After seemingly missing the mark by using top picks on big men like Alex Len, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, Phoenix is hoping that Ayton’s game will translate to the modern NBA. If it does, Ayton could become part of a formidable duo with Booker.

3. Mikal Bridges

Phoenix traded a promising player in Zhaire Smith and a valuable Miami 2021 first-round pick for Bridges, which is a somewhat steep price to pay. But it’s not hard to understand why Phoenix was willing to pay this price for Bridges. He is a prototypical 3-and-D prospect with the potential to develop into a capable playmaker. When I think about Bridges, I think of Kris Middleton. I don’t know whether Bridges will ever develop into the kind of player Middleton has become, but he has deep range on his jumper, is a confident shooter and looked comfortable getting his shot off quickly at the Las Vegas Summer League.

Depending on how Bridges and Smith develop over the next few seasons and what becomes of that Miami draft pick, Phoenix may come to regret making this deal. But Bridges is a quality prospect that should make a lasting impact in Phoenix.

4. T.J. Warren

Warren is now entering his fifth NBA season and while he has shown some flashes of his unique offensive skills, he has yet to establish himself as a reliable starter at the forward position. Injuries have limited Warren, who has never played in more than 66 games in a season. However, this could be the year where Warren starts to fully and consistently utilize all of his offensive skills, including his ability to score off the dribble, in the midrange and at the rim. Warren is a poor shooter from three-point range but his brand of offense keeps opponents off balance, making him a tough matchup for many players who are used to running players off the three-point line and trailing them to the rim rather than guarding them in the midrange and in the post.

STRENGTHS

Young talent. The Suns feature one of the better young cores in the NBA and are now guided by a promising head coach in Igor Kokoškov. While the Suns brought in Ariza and Anderson to add veteran experience and depth to the roster, it’s unlikely they alone will be able to help the Suns maintain pace in the Western Conference playoff picture this season. However, if Ariza, Anderson and Chandler can help mentor the younger players and build a strong team culture, this team could conceivably outperform expectations. But even in the best case scenario, the playoffs don’t seem like a realistic goal for Phoenix this season considering how many young players the team is relying on to play heavy minutes and how stacked the Western Conference is.

If the Suns see meaningful development from their young core players, this season should be seen as a success even if Phoenix misses the postseason.

– Jesse Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

Point guard. As previously discussed, the Suns are projected to enter the upcoming season without an established starter at point guard. Booker could slide into the lead guard position but there is no guarantee he is ready to take on that taxing role. Phoenix has promising prospects in Okobo and Melton, but neither player is likely ready to take on the starting position and perform at a league average level consistently. Phoenix is rumored to be seeking out a quality point guard but until such a deal has been agreed to and finalized, point guard play is likely going to be an area of concern for the Suns.

– Jesse Blancarte

THE BURNING QUESTION

Will Phoenix regret investing significant resources into veterans like Trevor Ariza?

Phoenix wasn’t a team that was one or two quality veterans away from becoming a contender, which is why some people in and around the league have questioned the wisdom of Phoenix’s signing of Ariza and trade for Anderson. Notably, Ariza’s contract is only for this season and Anderson’s deal will become more movable after this season. Additionally, Phoenix could flip either player for assets midseason if a team feels either player would help them move into contention or separate themselves from the other contenders. However, Phoenix could also end up winning more games than they would without veterans like Ariza, which could hurt them in next year’s Lottery. Is winning a few more games this season worth potentially ending up with a lower draft pick?

– Jesse Blancarte

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NBA Daily: Trade Watch: Southwest Division

Drew Maresca identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Southwest Division.

Drew Maresca

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As of Thursday, 60 percent of the Southwest division was at or above .500. The Western Conference’s brutal competition will likely fix that as the season grinds on, but the number of surprises in the division thus far is shocking – be they pleasant or otherwise.

Basketball Insiders continues its Trade Watch series with an eye on the Southwest Division, examining players that might be on the move and teams that should be looking to wheel and deal.

  1. Houston needs Ariza (and vice versa)

The Houston Rockets need help on the defensive end of the floor; they will almost certainly look to add some wing defenders before the trade deadline in February. The Minnesota Timberwolves passed on their offer of four future first round picks, Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss for Jimmy Butler. But fortunately for the Rockets, there’s a player that should fit right in who may be available via trade – Trevor Ariza.

Yes, he would come at a price; but the Rockets see what life is like without Ariza patrolling the perimeter, and something or someone must stop the bleeding. The Rockers are 6-7 through 13 games. They need to recapture some of the magic they tapped into last season, and Ariza is part of what’s missing. They won’t be able to execute a deal until December 15 per NBA rules, which can’t come soon enough for the defenseless Rockets.

  1. New Orleans should be buyers at the deadline

This is the season in which the Pelicans must prove to Anthony Davis they’re serious about building a winner around him. They made nice additions this offseason in Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle, and they have a nice combo guard in Jrue Holiday.

But still, they’re only 7-7 despite Davis’ extraordinary play. They need a second star (and then some).mFortunately for New Orleans, such a player should be available – assuming he returns fully recovered from injury this season: Kevin Love. The Cavs are not interested in remaining competitive – in fact, they’re nearly openly welcoming losses at this point (Hello, Zion).  The Pelicans can include Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and others in a deal, which should be a net positive for the Pelicans depending on Love’s health.

  1. DeAndre Jordan

Early reports out of Dallas are that DeAndre Jordan isn’t overwhelmingly popular in the Mavericks’ locker room. And that’s fine because Jordan doesn’t align with the Mavericks’ young core of Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. Dallas should shop Jordan to a team that’s in need of an athletic center.

The Wizards have looked better at times with Dwight Howard on the floor than they did prior to his return. So why not upgrade? After all, it doesn’t seem like they’re ready to break-up the Wall-Beal core.

In return, the Wizards would probably be willing to build a deal around Otto Porter – who, at 25, arguably aligns much better with the Mavericks’ young core. While Porter’s deal extends as long as two years beyond Jordan’s one-year contract, the fact that the Mavericks traded the rights to their 2019 first-round pick to acquire Doncic makes nabbing a young, well-rounded player like Porter all the more appealing.

  1. Spurs need help at point guard

The Spurs’ 2018-point guard plan broke down before the season started with Dejounte Murray’s knee injury – and the team still needs help. While they don’t seem to have the assets to return high profile point guards like Terry Rozier or Goran Dragic, there are alternate options.

The Knicks have an abundance of point guards, none of whom stands out as a huge difference-maker for them this season, but any of whom could help as a short-term solution in San Antonio. And what’s more, the Knicks probably wouldn’t require much in return – with one caveat being that they prefer to move Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr., as well. Fortunately for the Spurs, Lee can contribute nicely in Coach Gregg Popovich’s system, assuming he gets healthy sometime soon.

The Spurs should look to flip some of the players who aren’t currently in the rotation for a capable point guard. While New York isn’t sending out capable players for free, the price tag on some of these guards shouldn’t be too high.

  1. Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol

Both Conley and Gasol are still members of the Memphis Grizzlies, and there have been no rumors of either of them being shipped elsewhere. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.

The Grizzlies hold first place in the Southwest Division at 8-5 with wins against the Jazz (twice), Nuggets, Pacers and Sixers. They’ve dropped some easy ones, too. Basically, they’re good, but the cold, hard reality of the situation is that advancing beyond the second-round out west will require more than what they currently have on their roster.

Meanwhile, Conley and Gasol are still assets, but aging ones who will return exponentially less every year they’re not moved. Conley is still playing well in his twelfth year, averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. And Gasol is averaging 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his eleventh season. It would behoove the Grizzlies to put feelers out there to any team that fancies themselves buyers in the lead up to the deadline. The time is now to embrace a rebuild around Jaren Jackson Jr. and get everything they can out of their star point guard and center.

In all likelihood, teams will only become more desperate as the season plays out. With the Philadelphia-Minnesota deal in the books, other teams are sure to follow suit. Considering the parity, every team in the Southwest Division should seriously consider making moves — after all, the division is still entirely up for grabs.

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NBA Daily: Role Players Vital to Pacers’ Success

In a star-heavy league, Jordan Hicks takes a look at why role players are so vital to the Pacers’ wins this season.

Jordan Hicks

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In today’s NBA, you have to have star players if you want to compete. Gone are the days of having one or two All-NBA caliber players take you deep into the playoffs. Nowadays, with as much talent as there is in the league, you need three or four. And for teams located in northern California, you might even need five.

But does this apply to everyone?

The Indiana Pacers have started the season off on a quiet note. They aren’t doing anything incredibly flashy, nor do they have any overt weaknesses. But they do have eight wins compared to only six losses. Three of those wins have come against teams with above .500 records, and all of their losses have come from the Bucks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, and Rockets – all good teams if you don’t want to look it up.

Most would consider Victor Oladipo a star. Sure, he’s only had one All-Star nod in his young career, but he’s proven on more than one occasion that he can be elite on both ends of the floor.
But apart from him, the Pacers are nothing but a mix of role players. But the role players on the roster aren’t just “good” – they seem to know their roles and execute them to a high degree.

To the casual fan, this would seem like it should be a given. But getting grown men with egos to consistently play their part isn’t as easy as it seems, and the Pacers organization might actually have something to work with. Sure, they are still a star (or two) away from actually competing for a title, but they were one game away from knocking off the former Eastern Conference Champions in last year’s playoffs, and, with any luck, could make it even further in the playoffs this year.

After the departure of Paul George, it was easy to read the writing on the wall. Most assumed that the Pacers would be headed to the lottery for a year or two while they worked their eventual rebuild. The franchise itself has consistently been considered one of the better small market organizations. With players like Reggie Miller, Danny Granger and George – it is easy to see why. They’ve only missed the playoffs five times in the last 20 years. But losing a mega-star like George usually contributes to a negative campaign the following season.

To the shock of the entire NBA, Oladipo led the Pacers to the five seed last year after posting a 48-34 record. Oladipo obviously played a huge part in this, but it was the help of the many role players, most of whom remained on the roster for this season, that likely made the biggest contribution to their positive season.

Through the beginning of the the 2018-19 campaign, the team statistic that sticks out the most for the Pacers is their opponent points per game. They are currently second in the league, allowing only 103 points a night behind only the Grizzlies. In comparison, both teams are also in the bottom two for pace. Controlling the flow of the game seems to be an important part of their game plan, and it is currently paying off as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference.

The list of role players making a significant contribution for the Pacers is quite long. In fact, over nine players are averaging more than 15 minutes a game. Keep in mind that eight of the nine players have a positive plus-minus, with Tyreke Evans being the sole player to fall under zero at -0.8. Let’s take a look at a few individuals and see what they may be doing to make a significant splash.

Oladipo is leading the team in scoring at 23.8 points per night, but he also leads the team in assist percentage at 24.4 percent and steal percentage at 27.8 percent. His impact on both ends of the floor is tremendous, and he is one of the few players in the NBA that leads his team in usage percentage and still maintains All-NBA level defense on the other end.

Domantas Sabonis is currently leading the team in rebound percentage at 18.3 percent. He is also second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game on a 68.8 effective field goal percentage. He’s doing all that coming off the bench.

Cory Joseph is currently posting the highest net rating on that team at 8.4. The Pacers also enjoy their lowest defensive rating, 98.7, when Joseph is on the court.

Myles Turner is starting to come into his own on the defensive end of the court. Currently posting 2.4 blocks a game, good for fourth in the league, his presence is being felt more and more at the rim. While his offensive game still needs to be polished, Turner has done a great job at amplifying his defensive position on the court.

Bojan Bogdanovic is tied for second in scoring at 14.1 points a game. He’s doing so by shooting a blistering 51.7 percent from three on over four attempts a night. He’s second on the team in minutes and eighth in usage percentage, showing just how effective he can be off the ball. He boasts the third best plus-minus and fourth best net rating.

Plenty of other players could get nods here – guys like Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott, Darren Collison and Evans. This just shows the talent night-in and night-out that the Pacers deploy.

The point of this article is not to say that the Pacers have a legitimate chance to win the East. They’ll likely finish outside the top four behind the Bucks, Raptors, 76ers and Celtics. But the Pacers definitely have one thing going for them – a roster full of talented role players that, in today’s NBA, can certainly be positive when deployed correctly.

We are still very early in the season. Another star could potentially emerge mid-season for the Pacers or they could make a bold move at the All-Star break. It is very unlikely that Indiana brings home a championship this year or even the next. However, they are still a team to watch throughout the season. They are a well-coached squad and play an incredibly selfless style of basketball.

Who knows? Maybe they can turn heads in the postseason. But in the meantime, they for sure prove one thing.

Role players are vitally important to a team’s success.

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NBA Daily: Trade Watch Northwest Division

David Yapkowitz identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Northwest Division.

David Yapkowitz

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We kick off a new series this week at Basketball Insiders. With the Jimmy Butler saga finally over, we’re taking a look at other players in each division who are possible trade candidates.

Some teams have holes in their respective rosters that they need to patch up. Others have contracts that are expiring or just don’t make sense for the team anymore. Some players and teams just need to move on at this point for a variety of reasons. Here’s a look at some of those situations, starting with the Northwest Division.

1. Tyus Jones – Minnesota Timberwolves

There’s an argument to be made that when he actually receives regular playing time, Tyus Jones is the best overall point guard on the Timberwolves’ roster. He’s been the primary backup for Minnesota for the time being with Jeff Teague out with an injury.

However, with Derrick Rose’s reemergence this season, it remains to be seen what happens once Teague returns. It’s no secret that Tom Thibodeau has his preference for veteran guys and Jones has often found himself as the odd man out. The Phoenix Suns, desperate for a point guard, have been rumored to have interest in him.

Jones was apparently close with Butler, if that means anything, and it just seems like his future is elsewhere. If the Timberwolves aren’t going to use him properly, then maybe a split is necessary. Should Minnesota really look to deal him, they probably won’t have any shortage of suitors.

2. Gorgui Dieng – Minnesota Timberwolves

A few years ago, Gorgui Dieng looked like an up and coming prize for Minnesota. He ended up being rewarded with a big contract based off of that. But since then, he’s seen both his playing time and production decrease.

The Timberwolves reportedly tried to include Dieng in possible deals for Butler in order to offload his contract. Obviously that didn’t happen, and Minnesota is locked into his contract for two more seasons after this one.

Backup big man Anthony Tolliver has surpassed Dieng in the rotation at this point as he’s a better fit as a stretch big man in today’s NBA. It’s hard to imagine any team trading for Dieng straight up with that contract but the Timberwolves could try and include him any potential Jones deal.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder – In Need of Outside Shooting

The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have any bad contracts per se, nor do they have any players that they’re aggressively looking to move on from. They do, however, have a glaring need and that is three-point shooting.

Currently, they’re shooting 30.1 percent from the three-point line as a team. That’s not going to get it done in today’s league if they truly want to be among the Western Conference’s elite. They do have Patrick Patterson reemerging as one of the better stretch fours in the league (38.6 percent), but after that everyone just kind of drops off a bit.

The Thunder could certainly use the addition of another outside shooter as the season goes on. Kyle Korver is rumored to be available although he’s been linked to Philadelphia recently. Perhaps they could put in an inquiry with the Miami HEAT about Wayne Ellington if the HEAT continues to struggle. Either way, unless the guys they already have step up, perimeter shooting will need to be addressed.

4. Meyers Leonard – Portland Trail Blazers

It’s not that Meyers Leonard has been bad for Portland, he’s actually been decent so far this season. But with the contract he has, Portland isn’t getting the value they expected when they entered that deal.

Instead, Zach Collins has supplanted him in the rotation, and Caleb Swanigan is close to doing so as well. Leonard has been mentioned in trade rumors for some time, so perhaps this season is the one where he and the Blazers part ways. His contract is expiring next season so that might be enticing to some teams.

He isn’t a bad player, and there might be a team out there willing to take a chance on an athletic big man who can run the floor and even stretch defenses out to the three-point line. At any rate, it might be time for both parties to go their separate ways.

5. Tyler Lydon – Denver Nuggets

The writing was on the wall when the Nuggets declined Tyler Lydon’s third-year option prior to the start of the season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

He suffered an unfortunate injury early in his career and just hasn’t been given an opportunity to prove his worth as an NBA player. He played well in the G-League last season and has promise as a stretch big man. It’s just obvious that it won’t be realized in Denver.

He’s worth taking chance on for a team looking to add intriguing, youngish talent – especially since it shouldn’t cost too much to acquire him in a deal.

As the season progresses, there will be other situations around the division that might emerge on the trade front. But, as of now, these are arguably some of the most active situations to keep an eye on.

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