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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: Credit Ujiri And Raptors For Taking The Risk

Perhaps emboldened by OKC’s ability to retain Paul George, the Raptors are taking a gamble of their own.

Lang Greene

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In any given NBA season, at the most, there are only five legitimate title contenders in play. The rest of the league could be considered as either on the rise, middle of the pack or in the hunt for a lottery pick.

There are far too many teams around the league that are content with solely making the playoffs while not seriously contending for a title. This is why the Toronto Raptors organization along with team president Masai Ujiri should be given credit for taking the ultimate gamble in acquiring a top-five player, even one who could amount to a one-year rental.

The Raptors shipped four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran wing Danny Green.

The move is the ultimate gamble for an organization that has turned itself into a perennial playoff presence with five consecutive postseason appearances and three straight 50-win campaigns. DeRozan, 28, was locked under contract the next three seasons and the organization could have theoretically decided to ride the DeRozan and fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry duo until the proverbial wheels fell off.

But instead, Ujiri unexpectedly shipped their star player, who wanted to be in Toronto long-term, to acquire Leonard who reportedly has his eyes dead set on joining one of the Los Angeles franchises once he hits free agency in 2019.

Think about this for a moment.

While Toronto has served as LeBron James’ playoff punching bag as of late, make no mistake, Raptors basketball is undoubtedly experiencing the peak of its golden era.

Sure, the team’s former stars such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh will likely go down in history considered better than DeRozan (and Lowry). But none of the aforementioned players led the franchise to a 50-win season while with the organization. None of those guys led the Raptors to a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. DeRozan was a vital cog in breaking new ground while with the team, defiantly re-signing with the Raptors despite overtures from his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in 2016.

Perhaps emboldened by the success the Oklahoma City Thunder recently had in taking a similar risk last summer, the Raptors took the gamble. The Thunder traded for All-Star forward Paul George, who also reportedly also had Los Angeles dreams, last summer, and were able to convince the wing to re-sign earlier this month to a long-term deal.

Toronto has never been a free agency hot spot and the aforementioned stars all forced their way out of town early in their careers. What if Leonard doesn’t buy the soup Ujiri is cooking? There are already some reports stating the forward has no desire to play with the Raptors at all.

Even if this is the case, Ujiri and company still have options. Leonard can still be dealt before next February’s trade deadline. Ujiri could theoretically create a bidding war between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers for Leonard’s services with an attractive.

At the bare minimum, the Raptors are all-in this season for a championship run in an Eastern Conference no longer facing the talents of LeBron James. If things don’t work out, DeRozan’s $54 million owed after this season is off the books. Lowry will be owed $33 million in 2020 but could potentially be an attractive expiring contract. All of this to say, the Raptors are simultaneously preparing for a title run and bracing for a rebuild of their current roster.

Far too many teams become content with just making the playoffs and not rocking the boat. Ujiri took his shot to boost the Raptors up the league’s hierarchy. The ultimate risk. Much respect for taking it.

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NBA Daily: Quality Free Agents Still Available

Many quality free agents are still available nearly three weeks into free agency, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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With the NBA Summer League over and training camps a few months away, the NBA would normally be quiet this time of year. Apparently the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors didn’t get the memo as they agreed to a trade centered around Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan. Additionally, Carmelo Anthony has finally been traded to relieve the Oklahoma City Thunder from a tremendous tax burden.

As the dust settles from these trades, many free agents continue to wait in the wings. The list includes many talented players who will eventually make their way back onto an NBA team’s roster. Some will return to the team they played for last year, which is especially likely for restricted free agents (e.g., Marcus Smart). Some may, for a variety of reasons, not return to an NBA roster. Last year Rodney Stuckey sat the year out and used the time to improve his health in order to make a comeback this year. Former All-Star center Roy Hibbert just announced his retirement at age 31 after not being active last season.

The list of available restricted free agents has seriously dwindled now nearly three weeks into the free agency period. RFAs such as Marcus Smart (back to the Boston Celtics) and Jabari Parker (to the Chicago Bulls) have recently signed new contracts. These signings, among others, leaves Houston Rockets RFA center Clint Capela and Los Angeles Clippers RFA center Montrezl Harrell as two of the bigger names left on the board.

Available Restricted Free Agents:

Clint Capela

Clint Capela is coming off of his best and most efficient season averaging 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks in 27.5 minutes a game (all career highs) and he is only 24 years old. Capela also spearheaded a defense that, when combined with James Harden’s offensive mastery, pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals. Reports are that Capela has turned down an initial offer to re-sign for well below his max. While the clock ticks on the Rockets and Capela, Capela finds himself in what remains a punitive free agent market. The Sacramento Kings is the only other team capable of immediately signing Capela to a competitive contract to lure him away from the Rockets. To make matters worse, the Kings have been committed to stocking their roster with as many big men as possible making them a less-than-ideal suitor for Capela’s services.

Montrezl Harrell

Montrezl Harrell won’t generate as many headlines as the other RFAs that have been in the news lately but don’t sleep on him. In a season that never went according to plan for the Clippers, Harrell was one of the bright spots for the team. Harrell, acquired by the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, showed tenacity on offense as he served as a strong offensive rebounder, floor runner and helped the Clippers weather a five-game stretch where center DeAndre Jordan was unavailable. Harrell played especially well in place of Jordan. However, working against Harrell is the Clipper’s roster crunch. The team has 18 players on the roster, not counting Harrell. If the Clippers do ultimately decide to bring back Harrell, the Clippers will have to make several moves to clear roster spots.

Rodney Hood

Cleveland Cavaliers RFA wing Rodney Hood also remains available. Utah Jazz fans can relate to the ups and downs of cheering for Hood who has flashes of brilliant play but remains inconsistent. Hood was acquired during last season to help bolster the Cavaliers’ championship run. However, Hood’s scoring, three-point shooting, overall statistics and minutes went down significantly due to his uneven play. While Hood is still a capable player, his time with the Cavaliers did not end well, which has impacted his stock around the league. It didn’t help Hood’s cause when he was benched in the postseason and he subsequently refused to enter the game when instructed to. The Kings, in need of help on the wing, could be a suitor for Hood’s services. However, Cleveland could match any such offer as the franchise continues to build a new team after the loss of LeBron James.

Available Unrestricted Free Agents:

Dwyane Wade

The group of remaining unrestricted free agents is a mixed bag. As mentioned above, there is at least a chance that one of these players may not even make a roster when the dust settles this offseason. Dwyane Wade has bounced around the league the last few years with stints with the Bulls, Cavaliers and a most recent return to the Miami HEAT under his belt. Wade remains capable of spurts of offense and is a fan favorite in Miami. The most obvious result here is a return to Miami. However, Wade himself commented regarding a potential return or possibly retirement.

“When I get back from China, I’ll focus on that [decision],” Wade said while in China. “The basketball will take care of itself. I’ll sit down and figure that out once I get back from this tour at some point.”

Michael Beasley

Michael Beasley remains unsigned despite a strong outing last season for the New York Knicks. Beasley started 30 of 74 games played. His numbers don’t jump off the boxscore: 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists in 22.3 minutes. However, these are some of the best numbers he’s put up in years and the most consistent he has played since 2012-13. The Knicks may likely move on from Beasley but he remains a viable scorer who could come off the bench and start in a pinch for many teams if the price is right.

Jamal Crawford and Nick Young

Jamal Crawford and Nick Young remain unsigned veterans who offer potential teams a scoring punch off the bench. Young has the benefit of showing that he contributed in spurts to the Warrior’s championship season while not becoming a distraction. Both are known for knocking down difficult outside shots but can be inefficient scorers and potential liabilities on defense.

Honorable Mentions

A few notable big men remain available as well. Phoenix Center Alex Len never became the elite big man the Suns had hoped for when they used the fifth pick in the 2013 draft to acquire him. However he remains a serviceable player. For his career, Len averages 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes. He is somewhat mobile and could be a strong option for a team looking for a backup center. Centers Al Jefferson and Jahill Okafor can both score the basketball but have to directly combat the notion that they have become antiquated. The modern game calls for mobile centers that shoot reliably from the outside to stretch the floor, are efficient on offense, can guard the rim as well as being at least somewhat capale of covering ball handlers on switches. Okafar and Jefferson don’t fit that profile and will have to convince potential suitors that despite their meager contributions over the last few seasons that they can sufficiently adapt to the modern game and make a positive impact.

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NBA: Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan Makes Sense

In an unexpected move, DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard swapped teams, and it makes complete sense.

Dennis Chambers

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The Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio is finally over.

In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, news broke via Twitter that Leonard was about to be shipped across the Canadian border to the Toronto Raptors for — get this — DeMar DeRozan.

Leonard, and his deteriorated relationship with the San Antonio Spurs, dominated the offseason headlines, and while reports constantly whizzed around about where the All-Star small forward would wind up — maybe Los Angeles, maybe Philadelphia, maybe Boston — his final destination is one that came completely out of left field (despite the current odds).

While many people viewed the situation with Leonard as a chance for San Antonio to start fresh and plan for the future, the Spurs appeared to have no interest in that avenue. The entirety of the deal, Leonard and Danny Green for DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick displays a win-now outcome for each party.

After winning 59 games and obtaining the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors eventually were bounced by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a sweeping fashion. Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 Coach of the Year, was fired after not being able to extend the franchises’ best season to an NBA Finals appearance. It appeared, with LeBron moving West, that the Raptors were going to run it back one more time to see if they could finally break through to the game’s biggest stage.

On the other side, the Spurs were coming off of a season in which they won 47 games and were two games out of the Western Conference’s third seed — all of which they achieved without Leonard. In the waning years of Gregg Popovich’s career, it appeared his team was still talented enough, and system still effective enough, to make relevant noise in the playoffs without a superstar player.

At its core, this deal comes down to each team swapping their best player for the other’s. Leonard gets out of San Antonio, to a team whose core won 59 games in the East. DeRozan gets the benefit of fitting into a system with the best head coach in the league, on a very competitive roster.

Now, it remains to be seen how happy each player will be in their situations. Reports surfaced early Wednesday morning that both players were dissatisfied with the trade outcome. But, as we all know, winning cures everything.

On the Spurs’ front, it’s interesting how little they considered trade packages for future picks and quality role players. ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported San Antonio rebuffed offers from the Sixers and Celtics that were centered around future assets, in turn focusing their trade efforts on the likes of Ben Simmons, and the Celtics’ young core. Instead of landing a handful of assets or players that may not materialize until Popovich is gone, the Spurs reeled in a player who is a year removed from averaging 27 points per game. Oh, by the way, he’s also under contract for the next three seasons.

DeRozan keeps the Spurs relevant. Maybe he doesn’t help them beat the Golden State Warriors (in fact, he most certainly doesn’t), but he allows his new team the chance to win meaningful games in the postseason over the next three years.

From everything that’s been reported, there was no way Popovich was going to commit the final few years of his NBA life to a rebuild. With a man like that at the helm, and a star player like DeRozan under contract, who knows what other tricks San Antonio might have up its sleeve.

Up in Toronto, if the Raptors can convince Leonard to play this season, their core plus an upgrade on the wing might finally be enough to break through to the Finals. New head coach Nick Nurse suddenly has a player widely regarded as a top-five talent in the league on his roster to accompany a deep and talented core. Although, just like in San Antonio, Leonard might not add enough to the Raptors to dethrone the Warriors. However, he suddenly has a better supporting cast to try and give Golden State a run for its money.

Plus, given Toronto’s inability to get out of the East, a Finals appearance in its own right would be considered a success next season.

All around, maybe this wasn’t the deal we expected to get Leonard out of San Antonio, but digesting the move from all angles, it appears to be the most sensible.

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