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NBA Trade Watch: The Atlantic

Dennis Chambers outlines the prospects for the Atlantic Division teams as the trade deadline fast approaches.

Dennis Chambers

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As the midway point of the NBA season comes and goes, it’s now trade season. With the in-season trade deadline merely a month away, February 9 to be exact, expect rumors to begin swirling at a more rapid rate.

While every year is an exciting time at the trade deadline, the current rumblings indicate that, as of now, the league may not see that big splash deal this time around. Unlike DeMarcus Cousins from a year ago, there don’t appear to be many big fish on the move over the next month. However, that could change any minute.

In the meantime, here at Basketball Insiders, we’ll be doing a division-by-division breakdown of each team and the potential trade chips they may hold, as well as some aspects of their team that could use a bit of an upgrade at the deadline.

Let’s get into the Atlantic Division first.

Boston Celtics (33-10)

What a ride the Celtics have had through the first half of this season.

Just minutes into their first game, newly-signed Gordon Hayward breaks his leg in a gruesome way and is lost for the season. The year Boston was supposed to challenge Cleveland and LeBron James after stealing Kyrie Irving from him to pair along with Hayward seemed lost just six minutes into the new year.

Don’t tell that to Brad Stevens and his players, though. All they’ve done is rattle off a 33-10 record, play some of the best defense in the NBA, and gotten incredible production from their young players. Hayward or not, the Boston Celtics are a threat.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Marcus Smart — $4,538,020

Aron Baynes — $4,328,000

Names Worth Talking About:

The Celtics are pretty set in their roster as a contender, and despite the fans on Twitter continuously clamoring for the likes of Anthony Davis in Bean Town, there’s no reason to believe at this point in time that a move of that magnitude is likely to happen.

Who the Celtics should be focused on the most moving forward is their own, Marcus Smart.

Smart is arguably the most annoying defender in the NBA, in a good way. Along with that quality, he doesn’t back down from the challenge of besting his opponent’s top player. While his ability to shoot and score at a high-level may never come to fruition, Smart is the prototypical defensive dog Stevens needs to make his system work.

If Boston can find the right price for his deal, all of their focus should be on retaining Smart.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

For the Celtics, their biggest need at the current moment is to stay put. Stevens has his current group clicking on all cylinders. They play tough defense and are one of the better shooting teams in the NBA. Barring an opportunity to acquire the likes of Anthony Davis, Stevens and the Celtics should stay put at the deadline and ride into the postseason with the current horses in their stable.

Toronto Raptors (28-10)

Much like the Celtics, the Toronto Raptors are more or less stuck in their ways at this point. An enhanced season from DeMar DeRozan and an all-around defensive effort by the rest of the team has the Raptors as one of the most complete teams in the entire NBA at the halfway point.

Over the course of the offseason, general manager Masai Ujiri retained the likes of Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, while bringing aboard C.J. Miles in hopes of making another push at the Eastern Conference crown that has eluded this Raptors core.

It remains to be seen if the Raptors can break through and truly challenge the Cavaliers for the throne, but their current makeup is more than intriguing at this point.

Notable Ending Contracts:

None.

Names Worth Talking About:

As it currently stands, the Raptors’ core is pretty locked up. With no ending contracts from any key pieces in the rotation, Toronto doesn’t have an expiring deal trade chip to use over the next month. The team’s best bet at this point is the stand pat with what they have, and continue to build on their strong success in the first half of the season.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Similar to the Celtics, the Raptors biggest need is to stay put. With minimal cap flexibility and a shortage of trade chips, Toronto won’t have many options over the coming weeks to make a major change to their roster. Should they be able to come across some lower level options to help improve their depth and three-point shooting, of course, that is always an option to keep an eye on. But at the moment, there isn’t much the Raptors can, or should, do.

Philadelphia 76ers (19-19)

In the first season of putting “The Process” wheels in motion, the Sixers have resembled a playoff-caliber team at times, and an inexperienced flawed roster at others.

With the second-youngest roster in the league, competing against the second-hardest schedule in the first half of the season, Philadelphia survived to go .500. Missing their first overall pick from June, Markelle Fultz, the Sixers showed their true colors at times when franchise cornerstone Joel Embiid was on the bench. A playmaker and scorer of Fultz’s caliber were brought into Philly for a reason, and the team cannot get him back soon enough as the head into a playoff push.

As the trade deadline approaches, the Sixers could be in a position to be buyers at the right price, and for the right player. For the first time in a long time, they want to go hard after a playoff spot this season.

Notable Ending Contracts:

J.J. Redick — $23,000,000

Amir Johnson — $11,000,000

Trevor Booker — $9,125,000

Names Worth Talking About:

When scanning the trade deadline landscape, an interesting name comes to mind for the Sixers: former Philadelphia draft pick, Lou Williams.

Enjoying a career year, Williams could provide the Sixers with exactly what they’re missing so far this season. Averaging 22 points per game in 31 minutes a night—while connecting 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc—Williams represents a true scorer from all levels of the court. That’s a component Philadelphia’s roster misses dearly with Fultz on the shelf.

Should Bryan Colangelo and the Sixers find themselves in a position to push for a playoff spot and want to splurge draft assets for Williams and his expiring deal, they could probably make it happen fairly easily.

Depending on his price tag next summer, Williams could also represent a piece the Sixers use some of that cap space on to re-sign and round out their roster.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Outlined above, simply put, the Sixers need scoring from the wing—not just a spot up shooter like Robert Covington or J.J. Redick, but a player who can put the ball on the floor and make people try to guard him.

Adding someone like Williams, along with the return of Fultz, could change the dynamic of the Sixers’ roster entirely, making them that much more compelling heading into the postseason race.

As the clock winds down on the trade window, this is a name Colangelo should most certainly make a call about.

New York Knicks (19-21)

After jettisoning Carmelo Anthony for what appeared to be peanuts at the time, the New York Knicks turned in a surprising and entertaining first half performance. The emergence of Kristaps Porzingis and the play of Tim Hardaway, Jr. (prior to his injury), Michael Beasley (at times), Frank Ntilikina and others have the Knicks on the cusp of playoff contention.

For that reason, the team is in a precarious position as the deadline approaches.

Over the next month, New York has to make a final decision as to whether they believe they’re in a position to get to the postseason now, or if they could move some pieces for future draft assets and cap space.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Ramon Sessions — $1,471,382

Michael Beasley — $1,471,382

Jarrett Jack — $1,471,382

Names Worth Talking About:

As the deadline nears, the two players on the roster currently for the Knicks to keep an eye on are Kyle O’Quinn and Willy Hernangomez.

Steve Kyler pointed out today that the Knicks have heard interest on both players as the deadline approaches, and both could possibly be on the move.

For Hernangomez, the talented second-year center, losing his spot in the Knicks’ rotation has become increasingly frustrating and he’s beginning to lose his patience.

O’Quinn, on the other hand, could potentially yield a low-level draft asset, but the major problem in dealing him becomes his $4.08 million salary, along with his player-option for $4.2 million next season.

While Hernangomez may be able to fetch the most return for the Knicks at this point, trading a young player with his level of talent would be a questionable move. But as his patience grows thin and his minutes get scarce, the option is at least worth exploring.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Like many teams around the league, the Knicks could benefit from the addition of quality wing players. As Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported, the Knicks are among the teams currently looking at their options in adding a player that fits that mold.

Rightfully so, with the Knicks being dead last in the NBA in three-point attempts and 20th in three-point percentage, the team is in dire need of some assistance on the perimeter.

With the combination of expiring deals and potential trade pieces outlined above, the Knicks could be in a position to add some help to their roster if they decide that’s the direction they would like to go in.

Brooklyn Nets (15-25)

Although still one of the NBA’s bottom-feeders, the Brooklyn Nets have shown some areas of improvement in their second season under head coach Kenny Atkinson.

While the team has shown life under their head coach, the Nets are still a roster begging for talent. And with their lottery pick headed to Cleveland this offseason, there may not be any high-caliber help on the way.

But as a team in need of talent and assets, the Nets are an interesting team at the trade deadline. With the flexibility to eat contracts for added draft picks, or to help facilitate a larger deal, the Nets could be a hot trading partner over the next month.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Jahlil Okafor — $4,995,120

Nik Stauskas — $3,807,147

Quincy Acy — $1,709,538

Names Worth Talking About:

The biggest name surrounding the Nets right now would be Jahlil Okafor. Brooklyn finally plucked the former No. 3 overall pick from the Sixers roster.

Since coming over to Brooklyn from Philadelphia, Okafor has seen much of the same treatment in terms of playing time. While Atkinson has continued to say that Okafor needs to get into game shape and earn his minutes, it’s not a great start for the center who will be a free agent this summer.

While it’s unlikely the Nets trade Okafor, Brooklyn needs to begin figuring out what they have in their new asset should they want a shot at retaining him this summer.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Talent.

Brooklyn is in desperate need of talent any way they can get it, which is why they made the move for Okafor in the first place.

As stated before, they have the flexibility to facilitate deals with other teams in order to receive a draft pick in return or potentially a player another team has given up on (a la Okafor or D’Angelo Russell).

With the trade deadline nearing, the questions as to which teams will eventually pull the trigger remains to be seen.

And we’ll be here every step of the way.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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NBA Daily: Trade Watch: Southwest Division

Drew Maresca identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Southwest Division.

Drew Maresca

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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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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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.

Jordan Hicks

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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.

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NBA Daily: Trade Watch Northwest Division

David Yapkowitz identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Northwest Division.

David Yapkowitz

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We kick off a new series this week at Basketball Insiders. With the Jimmy Butler saga finally over, we’re taking a look at other players in each division who are possible trade candidates.

Some teams have holes in their respective rosters that they need to patch up. Others have contracts that are expiring or just don’t make sense for the team anymore. Some players and teams just need to move on at this point for a variety of reasons. Here’s a look at some of those situations, starting with the Northwest Division.

1. Tyus Jones – Minnesota Timberwolves

There’s an argument to be made that when he actually receives regular playing time, Tyus Jones is the best overall point guard on the Timberwolves’ roster. He’s been the primary backup for Minnesota for the time being with Jeff Teague out with an injury.

However, with Derrick Rose’s reemergence this season, it remains to be seen what happens once Teague returns. It’s no secret that Tom Thibodeau has his preference for veteran guys and Jones has often found himself as the odd man out. The Phoenix Suns, desperate for a point guard, have been rumored to have interest in him.

Jones was apparently close with Butler, if that means anything, and it just seems like his future is elsewhere. If the Timberwolves aren’t going to use him properly, then maybe a split is necessary. Should Minnesota really look to deal him, they probably won’t have any shortage of suitors.

2. Gorgui Dieng – Minnesota Timberwolves

A few years ago, Gorgui Dieng looked like an up and coming prize for Minnesota. He ended up being rewarded with a big contract based off of that. But since then, he’s seen both his playing time and production decrease.

The Timberwolves reportedly tried to include Dieng in possible deals for Butler in order to offload his contract. Obviously that didn’t happen, and Minnesota is locked into his contract for two more seasons after this one.

Backup big man Anthony Tolliver has surpassed Dieng in the rotation at this point as he’s a better fit as a stretch big man in today’s NBA. It’s hard to imagine any team trading for Dieng straight up with that contract but the Timberwolves could try and include him any potential Jones deal.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder – In Need of Outside Shooting

The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have any bad contracts per se, nor do they have any players that they’re aggressively looking to move on from. They do, however, have a glaring need and that is three-point shooting.

Currently, they’re shooting 30.1 percent from the three-point line as a team. That’s not going to get it done in today’s league if they truly want to be among the Western Conference’s elite. They do have Patrick Patterson reemerging as one of the better stretch fours in the league (38.6 percent), but after that everyone just kind of drops off a bit.

The Thunder could certainly use the addition of another outside shooter as the season goes on. Kyle Korver is rumored to be available although he’s been linked to Philadelphia recently. Perhaps they could put in an inquiry with the Miami HEAT about Wayne Ellington if the HEAT continues to struggle. Either way, unless the guys they already have step up, perimeter shooting will need to be addressed.

4. Meyers Leonard – Portland Trail Blazers

It’s not that Meyers Leonard has been bad for Portland, he’s actually been decent so far this season. But with the contract he has, Portland isn’t getting the value they expected when they entered that deal.

Instead, Zach Collins has supplanted him in the rotation, and Caleb Swanigan is close to doing so as well. Leonard has been mentioned in trade rumors for some time, so perhaps this season is the one where he and the Blazers part ways. His contract is expiring next season so that might be enticing to some teams.

He isn’t a bad player, and there might be a team out there willing to take a chance on an athletic big man who can run the floor and even stretch defenses out to the three-point line. At any rate, it might be time for both parties to go their separate ways.

5. Tyler Lydon – Denver Nuggets

The writing was on the wall when the Nuggets declined Tyler Lydon’s third-year option prior to the start of the season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

He suffered an unfortunate injury early in his career and just hasn’t been given an opportunity to prove his worth as an NBA player. He played well in the G-League last season and has promise as a stretch big man. It’s just obvious that it won’t be realized in Denver.

He’s worth taking chance on for a team looking to add intriguing, youngish talent – especially since it shouldn’t cost too much to acquire him in a deal.

As the season progresses, there will be other situations around the division that might emerge on the trade front. But, as of now, these are arguably some of the most active situations to keep an eye on.

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