Based on Basketball Insiders’ ranking of the Atlantic Division last week, it’s not hard to see the 2017-18 favorites in clear sight already. Top-heavy in nature, it should be the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors pushing for some of the Eastern Conference’s highest postseason seeds once again.
However, thanks to some shrewd moves from the middle of the pack, the division is shaping up to be its best incarnation in years. Of course, the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets could, unsurprisingly, find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff bubble for another season, but they’ve made some positive steps nonetheless.
With that in mind, here are the top trades and signings this summer from the Atlantic Division, starting with the crown jewel of free agency: Gordon Hayward.
Boston Celtics sign Gordon Hayward
After winning 53 games and securing the conference’s No. 1 seed, naturally, the only possible follow-up is to sign the best available free agent, right? Hayward’s four-year deal worth $128 million comes after averaging 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for the Utah Jazz in 2016-17, even earning his first-ever All-Star selection in a stacked field. Sure, the Celtics had to part with the long-time menacing defense of Avery Bradley in order to clear the necessary cap space, but Marcus Morris isn’t a bad consolation prize either.
Hayward’s emergence as a reliable scorer and an underrated defender should make life easier for both Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, sliding in seamlessly with the rest of Boston’s hard-nosed roster. There’s not much hard-hitting analysis to be had here as, for the second straight summer, the Celtics landed an elite free agent target. With Hayward in tow and the Cleveland Cavaliers now reeling from the recent Kyrie Irving reports, the Celtics continue to position the franchise supremely well.
Philadelphia 76ers sign J.J. Redick
Next on the list is a win-win deal in Philadelphia, as J.J. Redick trusted the process and signed a massive one-year deal worth $23 million. For both sides, it’s the perfect fit. With Redick, the 76ers will massively upgrade their three-point shooting, one of the potential-laden roster’s largest weaknesses. Last year, Robert Covington was the only rostered player to end the season with an average of two or more made three-pointers per game, and the team ranked 7th in attempts but 25th in percentage.
Best of all, both parties were smart enough to sign up for the trial version before committing too far down the road. That way, if the team doesn’t meet expectations or the raw core of Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and Joel Embiid develops quicker than expected, Redick and the 76ers can go their separate ways without any messiness. At the end of the day, Philadelphia added one of the league’s best three-point shooters and Redick got his richest payday yet, all without sacrificing another long-term contract down the road.
Brooklyn Nets acquire D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov from Los Angeles Lakers for Brook Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick
Just a few days before the NBA Draft, the Brooklyn Nets finally traded franchise stalwart Brook Lopez after years of endless rumors. Despite flourishing from three-point range and becoming the team’s all-time leading scorer, the 29-year-old was entering the final year of his contract. The return, however, has Brooklynites salivating for the future. In order to move the remaining three years and $49 million left on center Timofey Mozgov’s contract, the Los Angeles Lakers had to part with the promising D’Angelo Russell.
Russell averaged 15.6 points and 4.8 assists over 28.7 minutes per game during his sophomore season in Los Angeles, but, at long last, the Nets finally have their bright centerpiece to build around. Deemed as expendable after the front office arrival of Magic Johnson, the former No. 2 overall selection will get a fresh start and plenty of opportunities to mold this fast-paced Brooklyn side. For an in-flux franchise, it’s possible that Russell even makes a push for the All-Star team in a suddenly weakened conference.
Toronto Raptors re-sign Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka
Boom – status quo achieved. While the Celtics added the top available free agent and the Cavaliers appear to be unraveling at the seams, the ever-reliable Raptors just kept things exactly the same. Lowry’s deal is worth three years and $100 million, but for Toronto, the three-time All-Star is worth every cent. While there were some initial worries about Lowry fleeing towards the opposite coast, the Raptors have done well to bring the majority of their 51-win squad back to the court. Lowry averaged a career-high in points in 2016-17, tallying 22.4 of them per contest to go along with seven assists.
Following Lowry was the re-signing of Ibaka (at three years and $65 million), the shot-blocking power forward that was acquired from the Orlando Magic last winter. Ibaka is a model of consistency and he’s averaged more than 12 points per game in every season since 2012-13, even pulling down exactly 6.8 rebounds for four straight years as well. All in all, the recapture of Lowry and Ibaka likely won’t lead to an NBA Finals appearance anytime soon, but it’s a strong indication that the franchise’s newfound success will continue until further notice.
Brooklyn Nets acquire DeMarre Carroll plus 2018 first- and second-rounders from Toronto Raptors for Justin Hamilton
While the aforementioned Russell is a great building block and the roster’s other prospects – Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Isaiah Whitehead – exhibit potential, the Nets still aren’t done paying for that ill-fated Celtics trade from 2013, believe it or not. Even after missing out on Jaylen Brown in 2016 and Fultz just last month, Brooklyn still owes one final unprotected pick in 2018. The Nets’ move for Carroll, most importantly, gives general manager Sean Marks two more assets in his ambitious rebuild attempt, but the eight-year veteran should prove useful in that young locker room as well.
Nets were more than happy to take on the final two years and $30 million left on Carroll’s contract with plenty of cap space to burn. The forward struggled in Toronto, but his ability to hit three-pointers – a skill that Hollis-Jefferson and Trevor Booker don’t currently possess right now – should make him a valuable addition as a stretch four. Although this is technically a salary dump through and through, the move reunites Carroll with head coach Kenny Atkinson, a pairing that thrived together in Atlanta three years ago.
Brooklyn Nets acquire Allen Crabbe from Portland Trail Blazers for Andrew Nicholson
This deal isn’t even 24 hours old yet, but Marks’ wheeling-and-dealing this offseason suddenly has a few reconsidering Jeremy Lin’s bold playoff prediction for the Nets. While Crabbe’s contract is certainly expensive, the Brooklyn-based franchise has clearly been enamored with the shooting guard for quite some time. Of course, the Nets lined up to give Crabbe $75 million before the Portland Trail Blazers matched the massive offer sheet last July.
Crabbe’s averages aren’t exactly eye-popping, even with his recent major increase in role, but he shot 44.4 percent from three-point range in 2016-17 – the second-best mark in the NBA for a guard, only trailing Kyle Korver at 45 percent. Crabbe will be freed from the blinding spotlight behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and could end up as a starter in Atkinson’s fast-paced offense. The Nets had no use for Nicholson, who averaged just 3 points in 10 games after Brooklyn acquired him at last year’s trade deadline, and the 25-year-old Crabbe perfectly fits the franchise’s generous rebuilding plan.
NBA Daily: Trade Watch Central Divison
Which players could be on the move in the Central? Shane Rhodes names a list of candidates.
It has been quite the up and down start to the season for the Central Division.
On one hand, the Milwaukee Bucks have stormed out of the gates, while the Indiana Pacers have, at times, looked like one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. On the other, the Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers have combined to start a dismal 13-29.
It may be early in the season but, as the Philadelphia 76ers have shown with their recent acquisition of Jimmy Butler, it is never too early to think about trades that could improve the team. If these teams make themselves out to be wheelers and dealers, what could they add or subtract? Which players could be on the move?
Milwaukee Bucks – John Henson
The play of Brook Lopez has made John Henson, and the near $10 million he is due next season, expendable. Lopez has started every game this season for the Bucks to the tune of 12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.6 blocks per game. He has also played a major role in the three-point wave that washed over Milwaukee upon Mike Budenholzer’s arrival; Lopez has taken seven three-point attempts per game and is knocking them down at a 41.8 percent clip.
Henson, meanwhile, hasn’t done much off the bench.
With most of the big minutes split between Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, Henson hasn’t seen the floor much. While he has played in all 14 games, he has averaged only 13.5 minutes per to go along with 5.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He is shooting a career-high 35.5 percent on 2.2 three-point attempts per game (also a career high), but that alone isn’t enough to take minutes away from Lopez.
At this point, a trade would not only seem logical but beneficial for both parties as well. Henson could latch on with a team that would make use of his services. Meanwhile, the Bucks would clear some cap space and open up more minutes for third-year center Thon Maker.
Ideally, Milwaukee would acquire another shooter to provide Giannis Antetokounmpo with maximum spacing as well.
Indiana Pacers – Myles Turner
Myles Turner looked like he needed a change of scenery last season. Then, the Indiana Pacers gave him a four-year, $80 million extension over the offseason.
Not much has changed for Turner in 2018. While he has posted an impressive 2.4 blocks per game, Turner has averaged just 10.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in 26.7 minutes per game, down from the 12.7 points and 6.4 rebounds he posted a season ago.
More importantly, Turner has continued to play ahead of Domantas Sabonis.
In his second season with the Pacers, Sabonis has averaged 14.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 24.1 minutes per game off the bench. While he isn’t the versatile defender Turner is, Sabonis has shown that he has much more to offer on the offensive end.
As was the case last season, Turner has the look of a player that could use a change of scenery. His departure would allow the Pacers to move Sabonis into the starting lineup, alleviate some spacing issues and clear the way for offseason-signee Kyle O’Quinn to see some minutes off the bench.
Detroit Pistons – Langston Galloway
In back-to-back years, the Detroit Pistons have used their top draft selection on a shooting guard: Bruce Brown in 2018 and Luke Kennard in 2017.
So, why is Langston Galloway still on the books?
Galloway would seem the odd man out in a crowded two-guard rotation in Detroit, one that includes Kennard, Brown and Reggie Bullock. Not only is he the most expensive of the bunch with a $7 million cap hit this season, but he hasn’t exactly made waves when on the court. While he has seen a major bump in playing time — 24.5 minutes per game compared to 14.9 last season — his contributions haven’t changed all that much; Galloway has averaged 9.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game this season compared to 6.2 points, 1.6 rebounds and one assist per game last season.
It doesn’t make sense to take any time away from Bullock, the starter, or stunt the potential growth of Kennard and Brown. If Detroit can flip Galloway and clear the money on his contract, or find some competent forward depth behind Blake Griffin, Stanley Johnson and Glenn Robinson III, they should jump at the chance.
Chicago Bulls – Robin Lopez
This one is simple.
The Chicago Bulls are rebuilding and Robin Lopez is, at worst, a serviceable rotation player on a potential playoff team. Outside some mentor-like responsibilities, he only serves to take minutes away from the Bulls’ youth.
His playing time has dipped this season; Lopez has averaged 15.3 minutes per game after he saw 26.4 a season ago. With Lauri Markkanen expected back in the next few weeks, it would only seem destined to dip further. The best course of action for Chicago would be to move Lopez to a team desperate for an interior presence.
While there is light at the end of the tunnel in Chicago, they should keep in mind that they are still in the midst of a rebuild. The Bulls should acquire assets whenever they can to further things along wherever they can, and this seems like a prime opportunity.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Is Anyone Not On The Table?
The Land has fallen on hard times.
With the departure of LeBron James, so too has winning basketball departed from the Cleveland Cavaliers. The team has dealt with their share of injuries, but the Cavaliers looked bad at the start of the season when they were healthy. With Kevin Love out for the foreseeable future, no one should expect things to get much better.
There are a number of players that Cleveland could look to move: Love, J.R. Smith, George Hill, Kyle Korver. The list goes on. The only player one could think to be “off limits” would be rookie point guard Collin Sexton, and even he could probably be had for the right price.
Such is the life of the NBA bottom feeder.
The Cavaliers would be wise stockpile whatever future assets they can. Expect their phones to be some of the busiest in the country between now and the February trade deadline.
As teams continue to soldier on through the season, they will look to make deals. Whether they approach the table as buyers or sellers, every team will look to improve themselves either in the now or with an eye on the future.
Basketball Insiders has already looked at some of the potential trade candidates in the Northwest and Southwest divisions. Keep an eye out for our trade candidates in the Southeast, Atlantic and Pacific divisions as well.
NBA Daily: Trade Watch: Southwest Division
Drew Maresca identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Southwest Division.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.