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NBA AM: Ranking the Top Young Cores

Which NBA teams have assembled the best young cores? Ben Dowsett ranks the league’s up-and-coming squads.

Ben Dowsett

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Part of the mass appeal of the NBA is its cyclical nature. The postseason begins in a couple weeks, showcasing the league’s elite, but the calendar year has hardly stopped for the 14 teams on the outside looking in. Eliminated teams become free to make personnel moves even as the playoffs wear on, and the ever-vital NBA Draft takes place just days after a champion is finally crowned. Before anyone knows it, eyes will once again be looking ahead to the future.

With that in mind, before we reach playoff time, here’s a nod to the franchises – a few of whom will still be playing in late April – who have put themselves in the best position for sustained runs over the next half-decade or more. Let’s take a look at the top young cores in the NBA.

Our list will stop at five, meaning many potentially qualified situations will be left out. A brief look at some of those who didn’t make the cut (others weren’t even quite worthy of a runner-up list, including groups like Brooklyn and Phoenix who are incredibly devoid of overall future assets).

Honorable Mentions

New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis’ presence alone likely would have qualified the Pels for a top-five spot in these rankings a year ago, but a campaign from hell has set the franchise back. Davis is shut down for the year, trying to finally catch up with maladies plaguing him for years, and New Orleans has been so thoroughly decimated by injuries that assessing them realistically is virtually impossible. Jrue Holiday, another clearly injury-prone player, is their only other young-ish piece with a positive outlook if he can stay on the court, and while Davis’ potential still gets them in the conversation, the prospects are much bleaker than they once looked.

Orlando Magic: The right guys making leaps could easily see the Magic threaten for a spot in the top five on this list next season. In Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Mario Hezonja and Elfrid Payton, Orlando has a deep core that will have a chance to blossom together. None is quite a blue-chip superstar in the making, but all five have significant potential, with Gordon and Hezonja’s ceilings still mostly untapped and potentially very high.

Los Angeles Lakers: Putting aside ludicrous team turmoil, the Lakers do have a solid core including D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Larry Nance, Jr. A completely untenable organizational situation could shake things up in a hurry, and even if not, Los Angeles will need to add at least one more name to compete with the big boys in terms of core potential.

Philadelphia 76ers: The league’s most rampant tanking has yielded a number of high picks, but only lukewarm results. It’s tough to gauge whether any members of the current roster outside Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid are truly part of the long-term core, and each of these guys has their own set of questions. Overseas star Dario Saric may or may not be in the NBA soon. The 76ers have a war chest of picks still upcoming, but until these turn into actual prospects with bright futures, they can’t crack the top five.

New York Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis is a great start, but they have a long way to go. Jerian Grant and Langston Galloway might be the only other worthwhile future pieces on the current team, and neither is exactly blowing anyone away. Whether the Knicks will have the patience to rebuild fully remains to be seen.

Boston Celtics: There’s a temptation to put Boston on the list due to their unmatched stockpile of picks and movable contracts, but this doesn’t really qualify as a “core.” Boston absolutely could acquire a young centerpiece with their assets, but until that time they don’t really qualify. They could just as easily use those picks to add a veteran and speed up their rebuild. With that said, this is a very good team with a terrific head coach in Brad Stevens (as I recently wrote).

Alright, onto the true contenders.

  1. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are in something of an interesting place. Their young core is supplemented by three guys in Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried who don’t really fit within the same age timeline, but also have clearly defined roles on the current team. It’s tough to imagine more than one of them playing a major role when this group is truly contending, though, so we’ll consider their young foundation separately.

They’re not exactly lacking in that department, to be fair. Savvy drafting and a bit of trade poaching have put GM Tim Connelly in a fantastic position, with pieces at nearly every position: Rookie Emmanuel Mudiay and sophomore Gary Harris in the backcourt, Will Barton (sneakily obtained in the Arron Afflalo trade that also netted Denver a first-round pick) as a swingman of sorts, and a triumvirate of talented young bigs in Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic and Joffrey Lauvergne. The Nuggets lack that superstar, yes, and it feels unlikely any of these names outside perhaps Mudiay could reach that perch, but they have capable, high-ceiling guys up and down the roster.

They don’t get credit for it for the same reasons as Boston and Philly, but the Nuggets are also incredibly well-positioned draft-wise on top of an already-impressive collection of talent. Denver is a favorite to be in possession of three first-round picks in the 2016 draft as of this writing: Their own (which they have the right to swap with the Knicks, if New York’s is more favorable), Portland’s (will convey unless the Blazers tumble out of the playoffs, which is highly unlikely) and Houston’s (again, assuming the Rockets don’t miss the playoffs).

They’re unlikely to grab a fourth that was possible earlier in the season – a Memphis first-rounder, but that pick becomes only top-five protected in 2017 and 2018, making it possible the Nuggets are owed yet another lottery pick in the near future. They don’t owe anyone a single first-round pick moving forward, and their flexibility might top any team in the league outside of Boston.

They still have to capitalize on that potential, but they have a strong group already in place even if things don’t go perfectly. This could be the last year the Nuggets rank even this low on this list.

  1. Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers have a similarly deep collection of young talent. Mason Plumlee, Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Noah Vonleh are all in their third NBA season or earlier, each with varying degrees of potential still left.

Where they differ from the Nuggets, though, is in top-end talent. The combination of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as core foundational pieces separates Portland from other groups that have similar depth but lack the star power. Even if a couple of the supplementary pieces don’t quite pan out, the Blazers have the cushion of two elite shooters and playmakers to fall back on.

The Blazers also have a ton of cap space available and are a sneakily desirable destination, meaning they could make the leap from up-and-comers to true contenders in a big hurry with one or two signings this summer or thereafter. Their pick situation isn’t as robust as Denver’s, but they don’t owe any further first-rounders after likely sending this year’s mid-teens pick to the Nuggets. This team has made more noise than nearly anyone expected this season, and will be primed to take yet another big step next year if they have a productive summer.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks

We’re likely picking nits from spots two to four, but the Bucks take the middle spot among this group. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker aren’t quite the sure thing Lillard is in Portland, but both are far younger with very high ceilings. Khris Middleton remains only 24 and locked into a long-term deal. John Henson and Michael Carter-Williams both likely have their best years ahead of them, and who knows what rookie Rashad Vaughn, just 19, could turn into.

Ceiling-obsessed folks could easily make a case for placing the Bucks behind only Minnesota for long-term outlook – if Giannis and Jabari check all their boxes, Middleton stays consistent and the rest of the roster fills out, this has the potential of a dominant future core. Both are still very raw at this point, though, and we all know the pitfalls of assuming development in particular areas before it actually takes place.

The 2016-17 season will be huge for parsing out exactly where the Bucks fit on this list for the long run. Antetokounmpo has made large strides this year, but still has work to do as the leader of an offense and the pressure will be on the group as a whole to get back to the postseason after a strange down year.

  1. Utah Jazz

Some might argue Utah’s true ceiling is lower than both of the previous two teams (more on this in a moment), but even if they’re right, what the Jazz have already accomplished combined with a still-growing foundation gets them the nod. The Jazz seem likely to make the 2016 playoffs despite an untimely rash of injuries to multiple starters, and better yet are doing so while fueled entirely by virtually the exact core they expect to compete with in the future.

In Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, Utah holds a three-man group clearly capable of competing at a playoff level already – and all 25 or younger. Rodney Hood, Alec Burks and Shelvin Mack have yet to reach 26 years old as well, with plenty of team control in the former two cases. And that doesn’t even count perhaps the team’s two highest-leverage pieces: Rookie Trey Lyles and injured sophomore Dante Exum.

These latter two make any conversation about ceilings interesting when comparing the Jazz alongside their rivals on this list. Exum might have the widest outcome range of any player named in this piece; his floor might not even be a backup point guard, while a true ceiling could see him among the game’s most valuable two-way guards – particularly defensively. Lyles is the exact sort of playmaking four the league is falling quickly in love with, a guy who could define the team’s flexibility between small and big lineups if he develops in the right ways (he’s already a bona fide stretch big at 20 years old).

Tack those two onto what the team already has going for them, and their best possible outcomes suddenly start to compare favorably with others above. A starting five of Exum-Hood-Hayward-Favors-Gobert was already succeeding last season. If supplemented by solid development from guys like Lyles, Burks and Mack, plus perhaps one or two savvy signings, why couldn’t this group reach huge heights? Like both teams directly behind them, the 2016-17 season will be a make-or-break year for their prospects.

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves

The top spot is far and away the easiest on this list. The Wolves, stocked with the most exciting prospect in nearly a half decade and a reasonably impressive group behind him, stand head and shoulders above the rest of the league for future potential.

Karl-Anthony Towns drives the wagon, of course. The first overall pick in 2015 is arguably already one of the top 25 players in the entire league, and is likely the most untradeable asset under 26 the league has seen in quite some time. His otherworldly skill set will make him a good fit with virtually any combination of players the Wolves place around him, making their drafting situation moving forward as simple as finding the best players available. He’s the only guy mentioned in this list (outside Davis in honorable mention) who could win multiple MVP awards without league-wide shock.

Opinions vary on the rest of the core, but even the lowest possible estimations are still carried over the finish line by Towns’ vast potential. Andrew Wiggins, 21, has been disappointing in some areas and hopeful in others; he at least can be a high-quality second or third option. Zach LaVine has made some real strides near the end of this season, with so much physical talent still left to harness. Whether Ricky Rubio still counts as part of the core probably depends on who you talk to, as does his value. Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng may not be sure-thing future pieces, but are developing well enough to stay in supporting roles if the chips fall correctly. Should Rubio end up elsewhere, the Wolves have Tyus Jones in place to man the point.

Even if a few of these pieces disappoint in the long run, Towns coming anywhere remotely close to his ceiling makes this team an automatic contender once he enters his prime. They’ll add another high lottery pick this upcoming draft, and don’t owe any major picks of their own. Rivals out West had better hope they don’t strike gold in the 2016 draft. Towns and the rest of this core paired with another true blue-chip guy would make Minnesota even more terrifying. The sky seems the limit for this group.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

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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.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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