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Trade Targets In The West

James Blancarte takes a look at some Western Conference players who could be trade targets this offseason.

James Blancarte

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Trade Targets in the West

In roughly 24 hours, the NBA Finals will finally begin after a six-day break from the end of Conference Final play. Many individuals have been able to pass the time debating how LeBron James’s career matches up to Michael Jordan’s, the pressure on Kevin Durant to finally win a NBA title and who wins hypothetical player match ups in the Finals.

However, there are still 28 other teams in the Association, including many who will be looking to improve their respective rosters through trades. With the NBA Draft coming up, there is an additional catalyst for transactions to occur as draft picks are potentially in play in various potential trades. Here we take a look at a few players who are potential trade targets in the Western Conference.

J.J. Redick – Los Angeles Clippers

J.J. Redick has been a member of the Los Angeles Clippers for four years. During that time he has continued to perfect the art of using off-ball screens as the foundation for a very capable and precise three-point attack. This season he shot 42.9 percent from three-point range. Redick’s off-ball movement has been a catalyst for the Clippers’ offense for years and his defense has been surprisingly effective as well.

Redick is now an unrestricted free agent and is in control of his own destiny. Put another way, if Redick chooses to sign with a team that has the requisite cap space to afford his services, the Clippers will not have the option to match his contract and retain his services. Redick earned $7.34 million for his services this season and is set for a handsome pay raise this upcoming offseason.

For a trade to be possible, Redick would have to be amenable to a sign and trade. So, why would this happen?

Redick may wish to play for a team that does not immediately have the cap space to directly sign him. In addition, there have been rumors involving New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who has been a subject of trade speculation for some time. Notably, Anthony is in a position to decline any potential trade as he has a no-trade clause (NTC) in his contract. For him to be traded, he would have to authorize the transaction or he would invoke his NTC. With a NTC, Anthony is in a position to dictate which teams he is open to being dealt to. With Phil Jackson and the Knicks seemingly eager to move Anthony, and with Anthony being tied to the Clippers in previous reports, a trade scenario involving these two teams is feasible. A lot of things would have to come together, but this is a situation worth keeping an eye on.

D’Angelo Russell – Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell is just 21 years old, is on a team-friendly rookie contract and has played well in his two years in the league. Russell has demonstrated the potential for further improvement and has already had a few signature moments in his brief career. With major skill and upside, why would the Lakers look to trade Russell?

With the second pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, it is widely anticipated that the Lakers will select UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball. Ball recently agreed to conduct a solo work out for Lakers officials. Ball is seen as a gifted, pass first point guard who does a great job of making the players around him better. He is also a gifted scorer and can defend opposing guards effectively with his length. With excitement around Ball and the prospect of building the franchise around him, Russell suddenly looks to be somewhat expendable.

Russell is going into his third year of his rookie contract and is a great value for any potential suitor who might trade for him. Russell himself has shown the ability to be creative with the ball in his hands both as a scorer and facilitator. The Lakers even briefly experimented at the end of the season with Russell playing as the off-ball guard, allowing him to score more freely without the pressure of facilitating.

Standing in the way of this trade is a failure to get decent value for Russell. The Lakers are in a new era of management with Jeannie Buss’s hiring of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. Lakers management would be loathed to give away one of their best young pieces for poor value. Furthermore, the Lakers are not seen as being a single transaction away from being truly competitive yet and are not under intense pressure to trade away core players.

Ricky Rubio – Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio has been the subject of trade rumors on an annual basis for quite some time. To hear rumblings of Rubio possibly being traded is par for the course for Timberwolves fans. Rubio is a talented player with prodigious passing abilities, which peaked at a career high 9.1 assists per game this season. He can make almost any pass and genuinely enjoys setting his teammates up in creative ways. So, what’s the problem?

To put it bluntly, Rubio is a poor shooter. On pick and rolls, defenders go under the screen frequently, daring Rubio to shoot from the outside. This allows opposing defenses to clog up the lane and stymies Rubio’s own ability to facilitate Minnesota’s effectively. Rubio did show signs of improvement this past season with a couple of high-scoring games as well as hitting a career high 44.3 percent of his shots from two-point range.

Unfortunately, these incremental improvements did not coincide with a winning season for a franchise still searching for a return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2004 playoffs. At $14.2 million, Rubio is one of the Timberwolves’ more expensive players and yet with recent cap increases is still relatively well priced for potential suitors. With talented but untested backup point guard Kris Dunn (the fifth pick in the 2016 NBA Draft) on the roster, the Timberwolves may look to capitalize on Rubio’s most recent campaign and finally trade him.

Enes Kanter – Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter has had a bad summer. While hosting a basketball camp in Indonesia he received a tip that Indonesian police were looking for him based on a call from the Turkish government and that he should leave. Kanter took a flight a few hours later in the middle of the night, found his passport had been revoked by the Turkish government, but eventually made it back to the United States where he wrote above the whole ordeal. Let’s hope Kanter can focus on basketball now to create distance from this ordeal.

As the backup center and occasional front court partner of starting center Stephen Adams, Kanter had solidified a role as an off the bench scorer for the Thunder. Criticism of his defense has never really subsided but in this role, his defensive shortcomings have been easier to hide. Unfortunately, the 2017 NBA Playoffs included a harsh realization for Kanter. When it mattered most, the Thunder couldn’t hide Kanter’s poor defense, which relegated him to the bench and forced him to watch as the Thunder eventually fell to the Houston Rockets.

Kanter is still a talented basketball player who can score. If the Thunder look to move on from Kanter, there are teams that could use a player with his abilities. The biggest question then is, will another team be willing to absorb his contract? Kanter has two years remaining on his contract, the second being a player option. He is set to be paid $17.88 million next year and $18.86 million the year after if he opts in. As mentioned, Kanter’s defense stuck out like a sore thumb and got him benched. Now his contract might prevent the Thunder from generating more interest. Any team looking to trade for and invest in Kanter’s services will also have to have a creative game plan that takes into account his less than stellar defense.

Brandon Knight – Phoenix Suns

Phoenix Suns guard Brandon Knight has been around the league. Having played for the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and now the Suns, another move presumably wouldn’t be a total shock for Knight. In fact, a trade would likely be a benefit to Knight. In his first five seasons, Knight has been a starter for all but 13 games. In his first four seasons, he played roughly 32 minutes a game, which jumped in 2015-16 to 36 minutes per game when he averaged 19.6 points per game.

Now in his sixth season, he has since been relegated to a bench role behind oft-injured point guard Eric Bledsoe and young scoring phenom Devin Booker. In this role, his scoring (11 points) and minutes (21.1) per game dropped to career-lows. Knight is not far removed from being a primary option and would benefit from joining a team that is more stable and looking to maximize his scoring abilities.

What could get in the way? Knight may simply not generate a lot of interest. He is set to be paid $13.62 million this upcoming season, which is not a bad value if you are getting something close to pre-2016-17 version of Knight. In addition, he is a poor defender, with his defensive RPM dropping from -1.5 in the 2015-2016 season to -3.0 this past season.

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NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors

Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.

Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.

Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.

Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.

When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.

“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”

Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.

Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.

In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.

“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”

It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”

“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season

NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.

Ben Dowsett

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The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.

In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.

Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.

Features

New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:

  • Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
  • A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
  • A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
  • Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
  • Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
  • NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.

Pricing

Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:

  • Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
  • Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
  • NBA Team Pass: $119.99
  • Single Game Pass: $6.99
  • Virtual Reality package: $49.99
  • Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
  • Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
  • NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99

Notes

As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).

This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.

Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.

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