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Six Best Deals In The Southwest Division

Buddy Grizzard looks at the six best moves from the offseason for the NBA’s Southwest Division.

Buddy Grizzard

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While the Cleveland Cavaliers organization has fallen into disarray, the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets have been full participants in the NBA’s ongoing arms race. Both teams have sought to bolster their depth in hopes of challenging Golden State’s ongoing dynasty in the upcoming season. As a result, the Southwest Division’s entry in our series analyzing the best moves of the offseason is dominated by those two teams, with a nod to the New Orleans Pelicans, who hope to crash the party and get into the conversation as contenders.

Houston Rockets acquire Chris Paul from L.A. Clippers

The Houston Rockets’ trade for Chris Paul — in exchange for a package that included presumptive Clippers starting point guard Patrick Beverley, along with Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, DeAndre Liggins, Darrun Hilliard, Kyle Wiltjer, a top-three-protected 2018 first-round pick and cash — precipitated the largest shift in the NBA’s balance of power this summer. The Rockets now have a starting backcourt that arguably eclipses Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors. In the era of superteams, Houston has positioned itself to compete with the juggernaut in Oakland.

The Rockets shocked the world last season as Mike D’Antoni moved James Harden to point guard, which resulted in Houston claiming the league’s third-best record. D’Antoni was rightly recognized with Coach of the Year honors for his outside-the-box approach. But Paul’s arrival does not assure that the Rockets will be better than last season. Beverley, Williams, Dekker and Harrell were all important depth pieces for a team that had its depth exposed in the conference semifinals against the Spurs. Nonetheless, the Paul trade gives Houston cache among other potential free agent signings and trade targets that should allow for further improvement.

Houston Rockets sign James Harden to record $228 million extension

Along those same lines, by getting Harden under contract through the 2022-23 season, Houston has announced itself as an organization absent the instability that could cripple the Cleveland Cavaliers’ chances to compete for a championship this year. The signing is yet another shrewd business move for owner Leslie Alexander, who reportedly will sell the franchise after owning the Rockets for 24 years. Harden will be just 33 in the final season of his newly-extended deal, so Houston has ensured that a potential purchaser will have the team’s centerpiece under contract for the entirety of his prime.

By relieving some of the pressure to carry the team, Paul’s signing could make Harden even more effective this season. Additional help could come in the form of a trade for New York Knick Carmelo Anthony, but moving Ryan Anderson’s contract to open cap space has proven difficult. Nonetheless, with Paul newly-arrived, Harden locked up for half a decade and no state tax in Texas, Houston has established itself as a destination franchise and a contender for years to come.

San Antonio Spurs sign Patty Mills

It’s difficult to overstate what a bargain Patty Mills is at four years and $50 million after he led the Spurs in net rating last season. Not appearing on this list are Pau Gasol’s new three-year, $48 million deal and the reported return of Manu Ginobili for his age-40 season. The Spurs have an age problem. While Ginobili was shockingly-effective at 39 last season, it’s impossible to think he will be as effective in what will likely be his final season. Starting point guard Tony Parker has been in precipitous decline, which makes retaining Mills, who could have taken over as the starter for a number of NBA teams, a huge coup for the Spurs.

San Antonio Spurs sign Rudy Gay

Unlike the Mills signing, the addition of Rudy Gay on a two-year, $17 million contract represents a significant gamble for the Spurs. If he can recover from the Achilles injury that ended his season to produce anything close to the 18.7 points per game he scored for the Kings last season, the signing could significantly affect the balance of power in the NBA’s Western Conference. Gay isn’t known for his defense, but he has the size to match up against Kevin Durant and the scoring acumen to make him work on the defensive end. However, if Gay’s injury results in diminished output for the long term, the Spurs may come to regret making this gamble rather than allocating that money to important depth pieces such as the departed Jonathon Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon.

Houston Rockets sign P.J. Tucker

The Cavaliers lost the NBA Finals because big men Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love were ineffective from a net rating perspective and Cleveland lacked the wing depth to compete with the Warriors. Adding P.J. Tucker on a four-year, $32 million deal gives the Rockets a player who can guard wings and switch onto some power forwards. Houston also added Luc Mbah a Moute on a one-year veteran’s minimum deal, which gives the Rockets yet another player who can switch defensively against Golden State’s incredibly-deep corps of wings and forwards. These moves were very obviously made to give Houston a better chance of competing against the Spurs and Warriors in next season’s playoffs.

New Orleans Pelicans sign Rajon Rondo

The nod here goes to Rajon Rondo, who had the Boston Celtics on the brink of a first round disaster before he fractured his thumb in Game 2, allowing Boston to recover and advance. The Pelicans signed Jrue Holiday to a five-year, $126 million deal that could reach $150 million with incentives. This is an overpay for a player who rated as an average NBA starter according to Real Plus-Minus and will prevent the Pelicans from addressing its glaring depth issues. By contrast, getting Rondo on a one-year deal was a coup for New Orleans.

The Pelicans have yet to prove that the team can win with a pair of centers in DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis as the team’s centerpieces. Adding Rondo gives New Orleans some inexpensive depth and an opportunity to sell Cousins — a fellow Kentucky Wildcat — on staying with the franchise beyond his current expiring contract.

Our list is of course dominated by the moves of Houston and San Antonio, the two teams most likely to challenge the Warriors for Western Conference supremacy this season. While those teams have loaded up in hopes of closing the gap, the Pelicans did what they had to do in re-signing Holiday since the team wasn’t in a position to replace him with comparable talent. It will be fascinating to see if Rondo — oft-maligned throughout his career — can become the much-needed glue guy in New Orleans that helps the Pelicans emerge as a contender and keeps the assembled core together long-term.

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NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role

The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.

James Blancarte

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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.

On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.

Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.

“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.

Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.

“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.

In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.

Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.

“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”

If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.

Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.

“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”

After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.

Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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