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San Antonio Spurs 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 season for the San Antonio Spurs.

Basketball Insiders

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The San Antonio Spurs, and the NBA as a whole, said goodbye to future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan this offseason. Duncan was 39 years old throughout the majority of last season, but he was still one of the more effective defenders in the league for periods. Father Time finally started catching up to Duncan as he struggled to defend effectively against quicker and more athletic teams and it wasn’t apparent that things would improve moving forward.

With Duncan gone, the Spurs acquired Pau Gasol in free agency to pair alongside LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt. Neither Aldridge nor Gasol can defend like Duncan could, but both are talented offensive players who should give other teams trouble on most nights. Other big men such as David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon were added as well. Now, it’s up to Gregg Popovich to do what he does best: take a collection of returning players and incoming players and get them to play like they’ve been teammates for years. If anyone can achieve this, it’s Pop. However, this will be the first time he will be doing so without his franchise big man serving as the focal point on both ends of the court.

Basketball Insiders previews the San Antonio Spurs’ 2016-17 season.

FIVE GUYS THINK

If any team in the Western Conference can challenge the Golden State Warriors in a seven-game series, I’d say it’s the Spurs. Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches in the history of this sport, Kawhi Leonard is a freak of nature (on both ends of the court now) and LaMarcus Aldridge is a defender’s nightmare. As my colleagues mentioned, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have declined, but they aren’t asked to do nearly as much for this team anymore. One of the most impressive things about San Antonio’s roster, in my opinion, is their depth. In addition to the players mentioned above, they also have Danny Green, Pau Gasol, David Lee, Dewayne Dedmon (a sneaky-good signing), Kyle Anderson, Patty Mills and Jonathon Simmons as well as incoming youngsters Davis Bertans,  Livio Jean-Charles, Dejounte Murray and Patricio Garino. It’s sad to see Tim Duncan retire after his incredible career, especially because he was still capable of producing. But even without the future Hall of Famer, the Spurs are extremely talented, well-coached and deep. It’s also worth noting that Aldridge should be more comfortable and productive this year since he’s no longer getting acclimated to his new situation. His adjustment period wasn’t discussed much last season since he played well and the Spurs won so many games, but it’s very possible that Aldridge will be even better in 2016-17 since he’s more familiar with his teammates, coaches and system.

1st Place – Southwest Division

– Alex Kennedy

Even though Tim Duncan was Kirk-Douglas-old by the end of last season and understandably chose retirement over another 90+ games of the NBA grind, he’s not a guy a team just replaces. Honestly, Pau Gasol was about as good as San Antonio was going to do, and he’ll be a nice fit in the frontcourt alongside LaMarcus Aldridge. Duncan’s send-off also means this is Kawhi Leonard’s show now, but we’ve seen this transition coming for a year or two now. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are still around, and there are plenty of other typical Spurs roster components in the mix for 2016-17. They’ve got a young kid ready to break out in Kyle Anderson, an underrated-yet-universally-adored rookie in Dejounte Murray, a bargain-basement vet in David Lee and a couple of international lottery tickets who just couldn’t wait to give it a go with San Antonio. That sounds like the same recipe for success this team has been using so well for almost 20 years.

1st Place – Southwest Division

– Joel Brigham

Losing Tim Duncan is significant and I’m not sure Pau Gasol, at this stage in his career, addresses the biggest concerns for the Spurs. Gasol is a good passer and an intelligent all-around player, but a lot of his offensive work comes from midrange – an area where the Spurs are arguably generating too much of their offense. While there are concerns, this roster is proven and plays well together. Also, Gregg Popovich is adaptive and knows how to structure his systems to the personnel available to him. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are another year older, so rest throughout the season will be a priority. I’m expecting young players like Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons take on even bigger roles this season. Despite losing Duncan and some other veterans, I expect the Spurs to be competing at the top of the Western Conference with the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers.

1st Place – Southwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Spurs will head to training camp without Tim Duncan on the roster. While Duncan’s physical skills had already begun to erode, the future Hall of Famer marked an era of excellence and stability for the franchise and the transition period could get rough. However, the Spurs have an extremely strong infrastructure in place and forward Kawhi Leonard could be headed for superstardom. The club also signed veteran big man Pau Gasol over the summer and he’ll provide another strong offensive option in the paint alongside forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The talent level in San Antonio is still title contention worthy. Don’t sleep.

1st Place – Southwest Division

– Lang Greene

Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett all decided to leave us in the same offseason, and that makes me sad. I’m sure fans of the San Antonio Spurs are a bit more sad than I am, but the silver lining is that Pau Gasol will serve as the replacement for Duncan in the lineup. Gasol has always been a team-first guy. Although he’s a bit long in the tooth himself, he still sees the floor well and is a good post defender. I think he will fit right in with the Spurs and along with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, should help Gregg Popovich’s team win their sixth Southwest Division title over the past seven years. The biggest concern I would have for the Spurs would be at the point guard position. If something happens to Tony Parker, they could be sailing down the Riverwalk with no paddle. But since we cannot predict injuries and no other team in the division stacks up better against the Spurs than they did last year, I’d be wiling to bet that Leonard and Aldridge help these guys repeat, especially since they too had a legitimate shot of winning 70 games last year.

1st Place — Southwest Division

– Moke Hamilton

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Kawhi Leonard

Leonard was already the Spurs’ best all-around player and he’s now clearly the franchise’s most important player with Duncan out of the picture. Leonard has turned himself into a top-notch offensive player since he’s become a knock-down shooter from three-point range, a creator who can take opponents off the dribble and a strong finisher at the basket. Perhaps the next step for Leonard is turning himself into more of a playmaker from the forward position, but that is being nitpicky considering how good he already is. There are few players in the league who are as effective or efficient on offense as Leonard, who will likely be in the MVP discussion this upcoming season.

Top Defensive Player: Kawhi Leonard

Leonard has won Defensive Player of the Year two years in a row for a reason. With long arms, great footwork, unwavering discipline and solid instincts, Leonard is a menace on defense and makes life difficult for top-level players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant each time he faces them. Defense in the NBA continues to evolve, as players like Leonard and Draymond Green are able to guard players as fast as John Wall and as big as Blake Griffin. Leonard also ranks at the top of the league in most advanced metrics, finishing last season second in Defensive Win Shares and third in Defensive Rating. There was an argument that Duncan was the Spurs’ most important defensive player, but now it’s clear that Leonard is the Spurs’ most effective and important defender.

Top Playmaker: Tony Parker

While Parker may not register double-digit assists each night, he is still an effective playmaker for the Spurs. The Spurs’ movement-based, pass-happy offense is what generates open looks for the Spurs rather than a single ball-dominant playmaker. Parker could possibly average more assists per game if he played for another team, but Parker understands his role on offense and doesn’t try to do more than is required of him. Parker isn’t as quick as he used to be, but he’s still a tough cover when he attacks the rim, which is when he usually finds an open teammate on the perimeter.

Top Clutch Player: LaMarcus Aldridge

It’s not easy to peg any single player as the Spurs’ top clutch player. The Spurs scored 30.5 percent of their points from midrange in clutch situations last season (by far the highest mark in the league), which should come as a surprise considering how much of their offense was geared towards opening up shots from that distance. Whether it was Duncan, Leonard, Aldridge or Parker, the Spurs’ offense generally created opportunities for players to get a nice look at the end of games. While there are several choices here, we are going to go with Aldridge considering his offensive skill set, ability to operate in isolation and pick-and-pop situations, and his ability to get his shot off against just about any defender.

The Unheralded Player: Danny Green

Green had a down season in 2015-16 in just about every way imaginable. Whether it was due to injuries, adapting to playing with new teammates like Aldridge or the pressure of playing on a new contract, Green simply wasn’t himself last year. However, Green is still one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA and he will need to be at his best, along with Leonard, for the Spurs to have a shot at slowing down the Warriors and other teams with talented scorers and shooters on the wings. Green also needs to get his three-point shooting back to his usual 40 percent range to spread the court for Aldridge and Gasol, who occupy the same areas on the court.

Top New Addition: Pau Gasol

With Duncan, Boris Diaw, David West and Boban Marjanović no longer on the team, the Spurs signed Gasol, David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon to shore up the frontcourt. Gasol is the most important player of the three considering the fact that he is effectively replacing Duncan. Gasol still has a good amount of skill left in his game even if the athleticism isn’t quite there anymore. His impact on the defensive end leaves a lot to be desired, so he is going to need to focus in on making the right rotations at the right time to ensure that he is getting proper help when necessary. Gasol and Aldridge are going to be key components for the Spurs this season, so the sooner they can develop chemistry and learn to play off one another, the better off the Spurs will be.

– Jesse Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Gregg Popovich

Popovich is widely regarded as the best coach in the NBA, and his resume backs that up. He has won five championships, three Coach of the Year awards (and he should have more) and 1,089 regular season games throughout his career. In the postseason, he has a 158-98 record. Perhaps most impressive is that Pop can win with various types of personnel and systems. Because of that versatility, he has thrived with grind-it-out, defensive-minded teams as well as fast-paced, offensive juggernauts. As long as Popovich is on the sideline, the Spurs will be a legitimate contender.

2. Kawhi Leonard

Leonard is one of the best overall players in the league, despite what Jason Terry may think about his game. Some have tried to peg him as a system player or the beneficiary of having so much talent around him, but it’s all nonsense. Leonard has kept his head down and worked hard to become one of the best overall players in the game. At age 25, Leonard is barely entering his prime and figures to keep improving.

3. LaMarcus Aldridge

Aldridge did a pretty solid job of integrating himself into the Spurs’ system last season. With Duncan gone, it will be up to him and Leonard to put this team on their collective shoulders and lead them to a deep playoff run. Aldridge may be 31 years old now, but his methodical game is still as sharp as ever. The real test for Aldridge will be trying to step into Duncan’s role on defense, which is something he may not be equipped to do (not many players are).

4. Manu Ginobili

Ginobili, 39, is entering his 14th NBA season. He has a ton of miles on his body and is not able to make some of the acrobatic and wild plays he used to when he was younger. But Ginobili goes all out and doesn’t care about age; he still plays with the same intensity and fearlessness as he did when he first entered the league.

– Jesse Blancarte

SALARY CAP 101

The Spurs opened up space under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap – trading Boris Diaw to the Utah Jazz – to ink Pau Gasol.  The team also used its $2.9 million Room Exception on Dewayne Dedmon, and re-signed Manu Ginobili via his Bird Rights.  Now over the cap, San Antonio has 14 guaranteed players, with four players vying for one open roster spot (Patricio Garino, Ryan Arcidiacono, Bryn Forbes and Ryan Richards.  Tim Duncan retired with $5.6 million in guaranteed salary, which the Spurs will pay out over the next three years at $1.9 million a season.

Next summer, San Antonio could near $26 million in space under a $102 million projected salary cap.  That assumes the team picks up the rookie-scale option on Kyle Anderson.  David Lee, who signed a two-year minimum contract, Gasol and Dedmon can all opt out of the second years on their respective deals.  If Gasol does not opt out, he’ll take up $16.2 million of that potential cap space.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Defensive and offensive efficiency, coaching and chemistry are this team’s strengths. I know, that’s a lot of strengths. Last year, the Spurs held opponents to just 96.6 points per 100 possessions (best in the NBA) and scored 108.4 points per 100 possessions (third-best in the NBA). They were seventh in assist percentage, second in assist-to-turnover ratio, fourth in rebound percentage, second in effective field goal percentage and third in true shooting percentage. Simply put, this team was destructive last season and that doesn’t figure to change even with the loss of Duncan. There will be some drop off in a few areas, but Duncan’s role had already significantly diminished last year, so it shouldn’t be too big of a dip. It doesn’t seem to matter who happens to be playing for the Spurs in any given season, as Coach Popovich always manages to maximize his roster.

– Jesse Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

There aren’t many major weaknesses for this team; if anything, the team could struggle with injuries considering the age of their core players. Parker is 34, Ginobili is 39, Gasol is 36 and even Aldridge is now 31. The Spurs take an aggressive approach with resting players to avoid wearing them down before the postseason, but that doesn’t guarantee it won’t be an issue for this team. In addition to age and the risk of injuries, I think the loss of Boris Diaw will be felt more than some people expect. Diaw was a perfect fit for the Spurs, providing both underrated playmaking and defense. Gasol is the better player, but that doesn’t mean Diaw won’t be missed. Lastly, the loss of Duncan could be felt in the locker room as much as on the court. Duncan was the heart and soul of the franchise for two decades. Losing that shouldn’t be taken lightly. This team has an excellent foundation and other experienced veterans to help stabilize the team after the loss of Duncan, but it’s impossible to completely replace a legend.

– Jesse Blancarte

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can the Spurs overcome the juggernauts in the Bay Area?

If you haven’t heard, the Golden State Warriors won 73 regular season games last season and then added Kevin Durant this summer. Any team in the West that has hopes of making it to the NBA Finals has to get through the Warriors first and that includes the almighty Spurs. The Warriors were favored over the Spurs by many last season when Durant was still in Oklahoma City and Duncan was still in town.

The Spurs could conceivably take a step forward thanks to internal development from Leonard and improved chemistry from Aldridge, who enters his second season with the team. And if there’s any team that can push the Warriors in the West, it’s likely the Spurs considering their talent, the fact that Leonard is the perfect defender to guard Durant and since Popovich is one of the few coaches in the league savvy enough to find some schemes that could stunt the Warriors. It may look like a long shot at the moment, but the Spurs will have as good a shot as any team to put some pressure on the Warriors next season.

– Jesse Blancarte

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NBA Daily: Three Teams Treading Water In The West

While the Clippers have surged into the playoff picture, the Blazers, Nuggets and Pelicans are barely staying afloat out West.

Buddy Grizzard

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While the L.A. Clippers have surged into the Western Conference playoff picture on the crest of a six-game win streak, the Trail Blazers, Nuggets and Pelicans are stumbling toward the All-Star break with records around .500 over their last 10 games.

All four teams are within a game of each other and hovering around the playoff cut line. For teams that are treading water, the second half of the season will be a struggle for consistency in a brutal playoff race that promises to leave a good team on the outside looking in.

Although Richard Jefferson is winding down a storied career and barely playing for the Nuggets, he often takes the role of elder statesman in media scrums. After the Nuggets became the latest victim of the red-hot Clippers Wednesday, Jefferson said they should not be underestimated.

“They’ve been a playoff team for many, many years,” said Jefferson. “They’ve dealt with some injuries but, for the most part, I think they’re going to be in the hunt for the playoffs just like we are.”

Jefferson was also asked about the Nuggets’ late-game execution and pointed to the team’s overall youth with major addition Paul Millsap missing extended time due to injury.

“We’re getting to a spot of being a little bit more consistent in those moments,” said Jefferson. “But ultimately, I think guys are still learning. Most of the guys that are in these positions are in these positions for the first time. I think we’ll continue getting better as the season goes on.”

Meanwhile, the Pelicans experienced its own setback Wednesday in a loss to an Atlanta Hawks team that’s tied for the second-worst record in the league. For now, the Pelicans hold the seventh seed. It will be up to the continuing evolution of the Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins pairing to keep New Orleans trending in the right direction.

“For us, we’re two guys who can shoot the ball, handle it, pass,” said Davis after the loss in Atlanta. “We’ve got a lot of guys around us who are capable of making plays. I think we compliment each other. There’s still some stuff we still want to get better at as a unit.”

Davis went into further detail about what makes the rare pairing of two elite big men work.

“Cuz is always spacing the floor,” said Davis. “One guy’s inside, the other one’s outside. We set screens for each other, throw lobs for each other. So it’s tough for bigs to try to play that. When we set a pin-down for myself or DeMarcus, most four or fives are not used to that.”

Davis came into the game with 30 or more points in three straight games and seven of the previous 10—he’s been on a massive roll. However, that streak came to an end as Davis hit only two of eight shots for eight points. Hawks rookie John Collins scored 18 while dealing with the issues Davis described.

“You’ve got A.D. on the one hand and then you’ve got Boogie on the other hand,” said Collins. “[They’re] some of the best bigs in the league, very skilled guys, obviously a handful to deal with.”

Hawks shooting guard Kent Bazemore led Atlanta with 20 points and hit the final shot in the waning moments to secure the victory. Bazemore is a player the Pelicans could conceivably pursue at the trade deadline to address wing issues.

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are dealing with questions of whether a team built around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can become competitive with the West’s upper echelon. Marc Stein of the New York Times went so far as to predict that Portland’s backcourt could be broken up this year.

“No one’s suggesting it’ll happen before the Feb. 8 trade deadline,” Stein wrote. “But Portland’s latest so-so season threatens to be the impetus that finally pushes the longtime Blazers owner Paul Allen in a new direction.”

This is the time of year when NBA teams take stock and have to decide if they are properly constructed or need to look at changes. With the Pelicans, Trail Blazers and Nuggets barely keeping pace in the playoff race, few other teams will be more heavily scrutinized — internally as well as externally — as the trade deadline approaches.

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NBA Daily: Things To Watch Heading Into Trade Season

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

Basketball Insiders

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

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

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

Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lang Greene

DeAndre Jordan and Paul George

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

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

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

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

He’s definitely a player that should be watched.

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

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

– Moke Hamilton

Dallas Mavericks Are Open For Business

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

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

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

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

– Lang Greene

Cavs and Lakers Each Likely To Do Something

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Moke Hamilton

Only 21 Days To Go…

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

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

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Young Glad To Reunite With McGee, Embracing Chance With Warriors

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

Spencer Davies

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You never forget where you started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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