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NBA Saturday: Trade Deadline Deals That Didn’t Happen

Basketball Insiders takes a loot at some missed opportunities from Thursday’s trade deadline … Reggie Jackson says he became a scapegoat in Oklahoma City.

Jesse Blancarte

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Thursday’s trade deadline surprisingly turned out to be the most active in NBA history. Some of the trades that were executed were complete surprises, such as Michael Carter-Williams being sent to the Milwaukee Bucks, and Brandon Knight landing with the Phoenix Suns. While players like Carter-Williams and Knight were unexpectedly traded, some names that have been in trade rumors for several weeks were surprisingly not dealt before Thursday’s deadline.

Let’s take a look at some trades that didn’t happen and what it means for those players and their respective teams moving forward.

Brooklyn Nets, Brook Lopez 

The worst kept secret in the NBA has been the Brooklyn Nets’ desire to trade expensive veterans Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. Lopez’s name has shown up the most in recent trade rumors and on Thursday it seemed almost certain that the big man would end up with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Nets were in advanced discussions with the Thunder to acquire point guard Reggie Jackson, Kendrick Perkins and Perry Jones for Lopez, according to Adrian Wojnarowksi of Yahoo Sports. Brooklyn would have turned Lopez, who has a player option for next season, into a potentially long-term solution at point guard in Jackson (who is set to be a restricted free agent after this season) an expiring contract in Perkins and a young, multi-talented wing-player in Jones. However, the Thunder passed on the proposed deal with Brooklyn and, as part of a three-team deal, sent Jackson to the Detroit Pistons (and a future first-round pick to the Utah Jazz) in exchange for Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, D.J. Augustin, and Kyle Singler.

So now the Nets move forward with Lopez, who has been openly shopped by the Brooklyn front office for weeks. As previously mentioned, Lopez has a player option for next season and could potentially opt out of the final year in order to land a long-term contract (likely with another team). However, Lopez is set to earn $16.7 million next season, which is a lot of money to pass on. In addition, the salary cap is expected to increase significantly after next season, when the NBA’s new, lucrative television deal comes into effect. At that point, Lopez would be in a position to earn a lot more money than he can after this season, especially considering how many teams will suddenly have extra spending power and the usual high demand for big men. And if the Nets still want to move Lopez after this season, there may be lukewarm interest from other teams since he could very likely be a one year rental.*

*Lopez’s player option was reportedly a contributing factor to teams not making better offers for him prior to the trade deadline.

As for Williams and Johnson, neither player was expected to be moved before Thursday’s deadline. Aside from some preliminary interest from the Sacramento Kings for Williams (before hiring George Karl) and recent interest in Johnson from the Pistons, the market was pretty cool on both players. On a day when teams were making a surprisingly high amount of trades, the Nets failed to move any of its three most expensive players, who combined are set to make roughly $62.6 million next season (assuming Lopez opts into the final year of his contract).

The Nets did manage to trade Kevin Garnett for Thaddeus Young, who has been less than stellar this season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but is still a very solid player. Young, age 26, is a nice addition for the Nets, who are currently ranked ninth in the Eastern Conference standings.

Denver Nuggets, Wilson Chandler –

The Denver Nuggets entered this season with playoff aspirations. However, the Nuggets have been inconsistent all season and it has been apparent for some time that Denver is lottery bound.

The Nuggets traded center Timofey Mozgov to the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this season in exchange for two first-round draft picks. It was a nice haul for a good, but not great center, who became expendable with the emergence of rookie Jusuf Nurkic. The package received for Mozgov reportedly emboldened Denver to demand high returns on its other veterans, including hot commodities Wilson Chandler and Arron Afflalo.

The Nuggets eventually traded Afflalo to the Portland Trail Blazers for Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson, a lottery protected 2016 first-round draft pick and a second-round draft pick. This was a nice haul for a player that can opt out of the final year of his contract after this season.

However, the Nuggets failed to trade Wilson Chandler, who is having a solid season and has a partially guaranteed salary for next season. Whether Denver only received low-ball offers for Chandler, or simply demanded too much in return, it was a missed opportunity to add future assets. While Chandler can still be moved after the season, it just seems as though Denver can’t decide whether to reload or completely rebuild its roster. The Boston Celtics were in a similar situation not so long ago, but general manager Danny Ainge eventually embraced a full rebuild and acquired a ton of assets by offloading a majority of his veteran players.

The Nuggets could have also potentially moved players like Randy Foye, whose salary is also non-guaranteed for next season. Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried were reportedly made available as well, but it would have taken significant offers for Denver to trade either player, which is understandable. Lawson and Faried are both players that are arguably worth building around (although Faried has been disappointing this season), however players like Chandler and Foye don’t figure to be in Denver’s long-term plans.

Considering the make up of Denver’s roster, the nice returns on Mozgov and Afflalo, and the eagerness of contending teams to bolster their rosters on Thursday, it looks as though the Nuggets missed out on an opportunity to move Chandler in exchange for future assets that could have accelerated a full rebuild, which is probably what is needed for Denver at this point.

Reggie Jackson Says he became a Scapegoat in Oklahoma City

Reggie Jackson is one of the best players that was traded before Thursday’s trade deadline. Jackson has never been shy about his desire to be a full-time starter, which became a distraction in Oklahoma City this season. Considering his desire to be a starting point guard and the fact that he will be a restricted free agent after the season, Thunder general manager Sam Presti essentially had no choice but to trade Jackson.

On Friday, in an interview with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Jackson said that he became a scapegoat for everything that has gone wrong in Oklahoma City this season.

“I wasn’t always perfect, nor was the situation, but I became the brunt of the blame there,” Jackson said. “Everything bad that happened, I was the scapegoat. I’m taking all this blame, and I’m wondering: ‘How am I supposed to change it all here, make an impact, in eight minutes a game?’ Everybody is jumping down my neck, and it gets annoying when I’m supposed to have this great impact playing so little this season.

“All of a sudden, I’m the bad locker room guy. I’m the problem.”

In 50 games this season with the Thunder, Jackson averaged 12.8 points, 4.3 assists and four rebounds per game. These per game numbers are above Jackson’s career averages and are roughly in line with his numbers from last season. However, it was apparent to anyone who watched a Thunder game recently that Jackson was not fully engaged while on the court. He would often hold the ball and take tough shots from the perimeter and seemed reluctant to attack the rim.

When asked about the trade deadline and Jackson’s departure, Kevin Durant made it clear that it was a bitter end to his former teammate’s tenure in Oklahoma City.

Jackson joins the Detroit Pistons with a new attitude and more responsibility. Jackson is for the most part unproven as a starting point guard, so it will be interesting to see how he does as the full time starter in Detroit. Jackson started in 13 games in November, filling in for Russell Westbrook who was sidelined with a hand injury. Through that stretch, Jackson averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game. While those numbers are promising, the Thunder won just three of those 13 games.

Another concern for Jackson is his three-point shooting. For his career, Jackson has shot just 28.8 percent from beyond-the-arc and is shooting 27.8 percent this season.

Reggie Jackson Shooting Chart 2014-2015

While Jackson is a poor three-point shooter, he is good at driving and finishing around the rim. But Jackson does not draw many fouls, averaging just three free throw attempts per 36 minutes this season (which is a career high).

With a new coach in Stan Van Gundy, new teammates and a larger role, Jackson has the opportunity to redefine himself and prove that he is worthy of being a starting point guard.

“I’ve always dreamed about this, and I was never sure it would happen,” Jackson told Yahoo Sports. “Stan believes in me, in the leader that I can be. He believes in the player that I can be, and I’ve always imagined having a coach like this, an opportunity like this, in the NBA.

“It just means so much to have someone finally believe in you. I’m Stan’s point guard now, and I want that responsibility. He can cuss me out in the film room, do whatever he needs to do for this team and me, because at least now I have control on the court. That’s all I ever wanted.

“This is my shot now.”

Jackson will likely make his debut with the Pistons on Sunday against the Washington Wizards.

 

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Larry Nance Jr. Is Ready To Move On

At All-Star Weekend, Larry Nance Jr. talked about moving on from being traded, Dr. J and the love that Los Angeles still has for him.

Ben Nadeau

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At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Larry Nance Jr. found that out the hard way when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018 first-rounder just a few weeks ago.

Naturally, Nance was due back at the Staples Center nine days later to compete in the league’s annual slam dunk contest. Although he would finish second to the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Nance was frequently reminded just how many fans he still has out on the West Coast.

“It’s either one of two responses,” Nance said over the weekend. “Either people don’t understand how a trade works and they ask me why I left, or, you know: ‘Larry, we miss you, come back in free agency’ and stuff like that. So, either way, they’re kinda on my side — I mean, I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”

Over his first three seasons, Nance had become a familiar contributor for the Lakers, using his rim-rocking athleticism to carve out a steady role under two different head coaches. Before he was moved to the Cavaliers, Nance was on pace to set career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.4). This statistical rise also comes in the midst of his field goal percentage jumping all the way up to 59.3 percent — a mark that would rank him fifth-highest in the NBA if he qualified.* Given the noteworthy change of scenery, his current average of 3.6 field goals per game could grow as well.

But as the Lakers prepare for a potentially crucial offseason, the front office remained committed to shedding salary ahead of free agency, where they may or may not chase the likes of LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. In just three short years, Nance had quickly become a fan favorite as a jaw-dropping in-game dunker and an improving prospect on a cheap rookie contract, so his involvement at the deadline may have come as a surprise to many as it was for him.

“It’s been a week, so, no, it’s still kinda like: ‘Jeez, I gotta pick up and move right now,’” Nance said. “So, no, I’m not fully adjusted, I’m not, for a lack of a better term, over it. But it’s still fresh in my mind, it’s something that is still kind of shocking.”

Nance, for his worries, is now a key member of the James-led Cavaliers, a franchise that has won 11 more games than the Lakers and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Cavaliers will likely have to go through the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James himself has reached the championship series every year since the 2009-10 postseason. With the Cavaliers’ maniacal mid-season reboot — which also brought in Rodney Hood, George Hill and the aforementioned Clarkson — they could be poised for an encore performance.

Since he was acquired by Cleveland, Nance and the Cavaliers are 3-0 and, just like that, much of the lingering narrative has been reversed. As the Cavaliers look to further stabilize their season, Nance figures to play a large part down the stretch, particularly so as All-Star Kevin Love continues to rehab from a broken hand.

Still, Nance knows that the Cavaliers will certainly face some speed bumps along the way.

“It’s a learning process, obviously we started out super fast, but there will be a learning process,” Nance stated. “Just like there is with every team and every new group, so we’ll figure it out and we’ll get past it [for the] playoffs.”

But before he makes his first-ever postseason appearance, Nance returned to Los Angeles in an attempt to capture a slam dunk title, something his father — Larry Nance Sr. — did in the inaugural competition way back in 1984. In that contest, the older Nance famously upset Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take home the crown in a nine-person field. On Saturday, Nance paid homage by changing into a retro Phoenix Suns uniform to execute his father’s signature dunk — the rock-the-cradle throwdown that won it all 34 years ago.

“For me, [his highlights were] like normal kid Sesame Street or Barney or something. I was watching his clips when I was growing up, so, yeah, I see it all the time,” Nance recalled.

But when asked what he remembers the most about those distant memories, the second generation son decidedly kept it in the family.

“The fact that he beat Dr. J,” Nance said. “Dr. J is normally thought of as almost like the dunk inventor, kinda brought the dunk contest back — but, really, [I remember] my dad.”

Although Nance couldn’t replicate his father’s success in the contest, his emphatic, springy dunks indicated that the 6-foot-9 skywalker could be an event staple for years to come. In one of the best dunks all night, Nance pulled off the rare double tap — a jam so technically difficult, that he immediately told the judges to look at the jumbotron to make sure they understood what exactly he had just pulled off.

Nance, for his original acrobatics, earned a perfect score of 50.

Earlier that day, Nance discussed the difficulty in standing out amongst a field of explosive guards.

“I think the guys that are taller and longer have a different skill-set than smaller guys,” Nance said. “Obviously, if the smaller guys do something, it looks super impressive because they got to jump a little bit higher, or it looks like they got to jump higher.

“There are ways for bigger guys to look good and I think I’ve got that hammered out.”

For now, Nance doesn’t know if he’ll return to the dunk contest next season after his narrow two-point loss to Mitchell. Instead, Nance wants to focus on helping the Cavaliers in their hunt for the conference’s top seed and, of course, with James, anything is possible. But it’s fair to say that Nance, who nearly pulled down a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds) in his second game with Cleveland, has gone from a rebuild to a legitimate contender in a flash.

“At the same time, I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new team,” Nance said.

From the West Coast to the Midwest, Nance is clearly ready to make some waves once again.

* * * * * *

*To qualify, a player must be on pace for 300 made field goals. As of today, Nance is on pace for 252.6.

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Updating the Buyout Market: Who Could Still Become Available?

Shanes Rhodes examines the buyout market to see which players could soon be joining playoff contenders.

Shane Rhodes

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While it may not be as exciting as the NBA Trade Deadline, another important date is approaching for NBA teams: the Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.

March 1 is the final day players can be bought out or waived and still be eligible to play in the postseason should they sign with another team. As teams continue to fine-tune their rosters, plenty of eyes will be on the waiver wire and buyout market looking for players that can make an impact.

So who could still become available?

Joakim Noah, New York Knicks

This seems almost too obvious.

The relationship between Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks hasn’t been a pleasant one. Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016, has done next to nothing this season after an underwhelming debut season in New York and has averaged just 5.7 minutes per game.

After an altercation between himself and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek at practice, Noah isn’t expected to return to the team. At this point, the best thing for both sides seems likely a clean break; there is no reason to keep that cloud over the Knicks locker room for the remainder of the season.

Noah may not help a playoff contender, but he should certainly be available come the end of the season.

Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

Arron Afflalo isn’t the player he once was. But he can still help any contender in need of some shooting.

Afflalo is averaging a career-low 12.9 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic this season. He is playing for just over $2 million so a buyout wouldn’t be hard to come by if he went asking and he can still shoot the basketball. A career 38.6 percent shooter from long distance, Afflalo can certainly get it done beyond the arc for a team looking to add some shooting or some depth on the wing. He doesn’t add the perimeter defense he could earlier in his career, but he could contribute in certain situations.

Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings

Vince Carter was signed by the Sacramento Kings last offseason to play limited minutes off the bench while providing a mentor for the Sacramento Kings up-and-coming players. And Carter may very well enjoy that role.

But, to a degree, the old man can still ball — certainly enough to help a contender.

Carter is 41-years-old, there is no getting around his age, but he can still provide some solid minutes off the bench. Playing 17.1 minutes per night across 38 games this season, Carter has averaged five points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 35.3 percent from three-point range. Combining all of that with his playoff experience and the quality of leadership he brings to the table, Carter may be an ideal addition for a contender looking to make a deep playoff run.

Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings

Like Carter, Zach Randolph was brought in by the Kings to contribute solid minutes off the bench while also filling in as a mentor to the young roster. Unlike Carter, however, Randolph has played much of the season in a starting role — something that is likely to change as the season winds down.

Randolph has averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.6 minutes per game; quality numbers that any team would be happy to take on. But, in the midst of a rebuild, the Kings should not be taking minutes away from Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and (eventually) Harry Giles in order to keep Randolph on the floor.

As he proved last season, Randolph can excel in a sixth-man role and would likely occupy a top bench spot with a team looking to add rebounding, scoring or just a big to their rotation down the stretch.

Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks

Wesley Matthews remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He provides positional versatility on the floor and is a solid player on both sides of the ball.

So, with Mark Cuban all but saying the Mavericks will not be trying to win for the remainder of the season, Matthews is likely poised for a minutes dip and seems like an obvious buyout candidate. Matthews, who has a player option for next season, has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals this season across 34.1 minutes per game this season.

If Cuban is true to his word, both parties would be better served parting ways; the Mavericks can attempt to lose as many games as possible while Matthews can latch on to a team looking to win a title. It’s a win-win.

Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Lakers

Isaiah Thomas’ three-game stint with the Los Angeles Lakers before the All-Star break looked much like his short tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers: up-and-down. Thomas shined in his Laker debut, putting up 25 points and six assists in just over 30 minutes.

He then followed that up with three points and two assists, and seven points along with five assists in his second and third games with the team, respectively.

Thomas needs time to get himself right before he can start playing his best basketball. Re-establishing his value is likely his top priority.

But will he be willing to come off the bench for a team that won’t be making the postseason?

With Lonzo Ball close to returning, Thomas will likely move to the Laker bench. Adamant in recent years that he is a starting guard in the NBA, Thomas may be more inclined to take on that role for a team poised to make a deep playoff run — there is no shortage of teams that would be willing to add Thomas’ potential scoring prowess while simultaneously setting himself up for a contract and, potentially, a starting role somewhere next season.

Other Names to Look Out For: Channing Frye, Shabazz Muhammed, Kosta Koufos

There are still plenty of players that can make an impact for playoff-bound teams should they reach a buyout with their current squads. And, as the Postseason Eligibility Waiver Deadline approaches, plenty of teams out of the running will move quickly in order to provide their guys an opportunity to find their way to a contender.

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NBA Daily: Eric Gordon, The Houston Rockets’ Ex-Factor

James Harden and Chris Paul are stars that have faltered in the playoffs. Eric Gordon could be their ex-factor

Lang Greene

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The 2017-18 Houston Rockets are shaping up to be one of the league’s best regular-season teams over the past decade. The squad features a fan-friendly and fun to watch style, two legitimate superstar talents and a seemingly well-rounded contingent of role players willing to do whatever it takes to help the team get to the next level.

But as strong of a force as the Rockets appear to be developing into, there are still major question marks about how this team will perform in the playoffs when the game gets tighter, bench rotations are reduced and the spotlight glares the brightest.

All-Star guard James Harden has played in 88 career playoff games over the course of his career – 45 with the Rockets where he’s averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The statistics look good in the aggregate, however, Harden has noticeably faded down the stretch during pivotal playoff moments in the team’s recent runs. The most recent example being Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs where Harden finished with just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor.

The Rockets other superstar, Chris Paul, has never reached the Western Conference Finals in a career dating back to the 2005-06 season. Paul’s most memorable playoff collapse came when he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. His team surrendered a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals to the Harden’s Rockets back in 2015.

While there are undoubtedly questions at the top, their bench unit is anchored by 2017 Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, once considered one of the rising shooting guards in the league while he was a member of the Clippers.

Gordon, was traded as part of a package by Los Angeles to acquire Paul from New Orleans. Since then, a combination of injuries and reported frustration in New Orleans seemingly derailed Gordon from the once promising ascent and trajectory he was projected to achieve. But Gordon has gotten his career on track. Once injury prone, Gordon suited up for 75 games in 2017 and is on pace to play 73 games this season.

“It’s almost like it is consistent to be here now,” Gordon said during All-Star weekend. “It’s been great. When I’ve been healthy, I’ve always had that chance to do some good things.

When you’re winning things come easier. You’re scoring easier [and] it’s easier to come into work and play well every single practice and game.”

Gordon believes there’s something special about this Rockets team because of how quickly they have gained cohesion since training camp. Gordon is averaging 18.5 points in 32 minutes per contest on the season. The guard will play an integral role off the Rockets’ bench and will play heavy minutes in any playoff series involving the Western Conference elite teams – namely Golden State and San Antonio. In three games versus the Warriors this season, Gordon is averaging 20 points on 43 percent shooting from the field.

“We definitely have to figure things out but we just clicked so quickly and early in the season,” Gordon said. “We just knew we had a chance to maybe win it. I’d say at this point we know what we need to do and it’s all about being consistent enough on both sides of the ball for us to have a chance.”

Golden State, as defending champs, have to be respected as the better team until proven otherwise. Many do believe the Rockets have at the very least a puncher’s chance because of how they can score the ball in bunches. The Warriors, for all of their past defensive prowess, have slipped on that side of the floor this season with declining efficiency numbers. But is that slippage enough for the Rockets to gain ground or are the Warriors’ defensive struggles a combination of regular season boredom and a lack of enthusiasm.

In a seven-game playoff series, the cream rises to the top. Are the Rockets legit? Or are they a team best suited for the regular season as in seasons past? They currently lead the season series against the Warriors 2-1 and are 2-0 versus the Spurs to date. We have witnessed regular-season dominance from Paul and Harden in the past. Is this the year both guys put it all together and finally get over the hump? Time will tell and Eric Gordon figures to play a big role in determining the outcome.

The Rockets resume play on Friday versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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