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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 AM: Most Likely All-Star Snubs

Damian Lillard seems to top the All-Star snub list every season. It couldn’t happen again, could it?

Joel Brigham

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This year the NBA has famously decided to mix up the way the All-Star rosters work, while rather infamously deciding against televising the draft that will organize those players into teams, but even as some things change, some things remain the same.

Just like every year, there will be snubs when the All-Star reserves are announced on Tuesday night. Oh, there will be snubs.

The starters already have been selected, chosen by a combination of fan votes, media votes and player votes, the latter of which were taken so seriously that Summer League legend Jack Cooley even earned a single nomination from one especially ornery player voter.

For those that missed the starters, they include LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid from the Eastern Conference and Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and James Harden from the Western Conference.

That leaves seven more reserves from each conference and way more deserving players than that from which to choose. These will be selected by the coaches, per tradition, but it’s anybody’s guess who ends up making the team. There absolutely are going to be some massive snubs this year, so let’s take a quick look at the most likely candidates to earn roster spots this winter, as well as who that might leave out of this year’s event in Los Angeles.

The Eastern Conference

Let’s start with the “sure things,” which almost certainly will include with Indian Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. Not only is he putting up a career-best 24/5/4 line, but he’s also averaging two steals per night for an Indiana team that currently lives in the playoff picture despite dismal expectations. That’s almost entirely because of Oladipo.

In the frontcourt, there was plenty of healthy debate when Embiid was voted the starter over Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis, so there’s a very good chance that those two guys find their way to the roster, as well.

Kevin Love, who also is having a monster statistical season, seems like the most obvious third frontcourt guy, but his defense stinks and the Cavs haven’t exactly proven themselves worthy of two All-Stars. Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris both are having borderline All-Star seasons for a borderline playoff team, but they are the closest contenders to stealing away that third frontcourt reserve slot from Love.

Beyond that, Bradley Beal or John Wall likely will be the “other” guard reserve, but choosing which one is dicey. Wall’s the four-time All-Star, but Beal arguably is having the better year and has been snubbed for this event entirely too many times already. It doesn’t seem likely that both guys will make the team.

The wild cards could be that “other” Wizards guard among Beal and Wall, one of those two Pistons players, Miami’s Goran Dragic (they are fourth in the conference, rather surprisingly), Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, or Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons.

What seems most probable is that Oladipo and Beal earn the Eastern Conference reserve slots, with Horford, Porzingis and Love earning the backup frontcourt positions. Lowry and Wall feel most likely as reserves.

That means the most likely Eastern Conference snubs will be: Goran Dragic, Ben Simmons, Andre Drummod, Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton.

The level of controversy with this group feels fairly low, though if Dragic or Drummond were to make the team over Wall or Love, the conversation would be a lot feistier.

The Western Conference

Choosing the reserve guards in the Western Conference is a no-brainer. It will be MVP candidates Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook, which immediately means that if Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Paul George are not named as Wild Card players, they will be left off of the team. That’s about as “yikes” as “yikes” gets.

The battle for the frontcourt spots are going to be no less brutal, even with Kawhi Leonard effectively out of consideration having missed so much time at the beginning of the season. The Spurs will have an All-Star anyway, though, which makes LaMarcus Aldridge all but a lock.

Towns, who is averaging a 20/12 with over two assists and 1.5 blocks per game on one of the West’s top teams, also feels likely to get in. That means Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic are the two guys expected to battle over that last frontcourt spot, and both deserve real consideration. Green’s importance is less obvious to this Warriors team with Durant on the roster, but he’s no less essential even if his offensive numbers are down. Jokic, meanwhile, has kept Denver in the playoff hunt even without Paul Millsap, and is the best passing big man in the game.

The most likely scenario in terms of Western Conference reserves has Butler and Westbrook getting voted in at guard, Aldridge, Towns and Green voted in as frontcourt players, and Thompson and Lillard voted in as the wild cards.

That means the most likely Western Conference snubs will be: Chris Paul, Paul George, and Nikola Jokic.

Paul has missed 17 games this season, which is just too many when there are so many other great guards from which to choose, and George’s usage has dropped massively in Oklahoma City. As for Jokic, somebody has to get snubbed, and the other reasonable possibility is that he be named a wild card player at the expense of Lillard, and no NBA fan should have to see that happen yet again.

The 2018 NBA All-Star Reserves will be announced at 7:00 p.m. EST on January 23 on TNT.

Tune in Tuesday night to see which players will make the team, and which will inevitably be snubbed.

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NBA Daily: Rockets Might Be Formidable Challenge For Warriors

If nothing else, the Rockets gave everyone, including the Warriors, something to think about by beating the champs.

Moke Hamilton

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For those that had any lingering doubt as to the authenticity of the Houston Rockets, Saturday afternoon’s win over the Golden State Warriors should serve as a bit of a wakeup call.

Sure, championships aren’t won in mid-January, but by virtue of the win, the Rockets won their season series against the Warriors, 2-1.

Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season—the year the Warriors won the first of three consecutive Western Conference Finals—they’ve lost a season series to just one other team: the San Antonio Spurs.

A review of the tape suggests that those that believe that Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are truly the team that has the best shot of beating the Warriors is founded in some fact. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have lost a total of 39 games.

In total, during that span, seven teams have failed to beat the Warriors even once, while 12 teams have beaten them one time. Four teams have beaten the Warriors twice and only the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies have beaten them thrice.

The Spurs, though, have managed to beat the Warriors five times, with Popovich leading his team to a 2-1 regular season series win over the Warriors during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.

It’s safe to say that they have been the only team worthy of calling themselves anything near a worthy adversary to Stephen Curry and company.

At least, that was the case until Saturday night.

* * * * * *

With all due respect to Michael Jordan, if the Warriors win the NBA Finals this season, they can legitimately claim to be the best team in NBA history.

Two titles in three years is nothing to sneeze at, but the claim holds no weight whatsoever without ever having won two in a row, especially when scores of other teams have been able to accomplish the feat.

Aside from the two championships, the Warriors can claim the best regular season record in the league’s history and the distinction of being the only team to ever win 67 or more games for three consecutive seasons.

It is true that the Warriors have been almost invincible since the 2014-15 season, but things have changed now that Chris Paul has joined forces with James Harden.

This season, the Mike D’Antoni coached team ranks 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions, a marked improvement over last season’s rank of 18th.

With Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, Luc Mbah a Moute, they have four defensive stalwarts, one of whom (Ariza) who wasn’t able to suit up due to being suspended.

At the end of the day, beating a team in the regular season doesn’t really count for much, especially when you consider the greatest irony: in each of the seasons the Spurs beat the Warriors in their season series, the Warriors won the NBA Finals. The obvious asterisk there is that the Warriors didn’t play the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Playoffs and only managed to sweep them once the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard in 2017.

Still, beating the defending champs in any game, much less a season series, has got to feel good. Whether they want to admit it or not, Saturday’s game against the Warriors was one that the Rockets wanted to get, that’s probably why Mike D’Antoni opted to reinsert James Harden into the game after he surpassed his 30-minute playing restriction.

In the end, Harden logged 35 minutes and ended up making what was the game’s clinching three-pointer.

Poetic, indeed.

* * * * * *

With the season a little more than halfway over, the Warriors still appear to be head and shoulders above those competing for their throne. Of the other contenders, the Rockets and Boston Celtics, at least for now, appear most formidable.

At the end of the day, what the Warriors have to fear more than anything is their own arrogance. As a unit, the team believes that it’s the best at playing small ball and that no other team can beat them as their own game. While that may be true, there have been a few instances over the past few years where that belief has ended up costing them.

What the Warriors seem to struggle with is understanding that not every possession can be played the same way, and as some possessions become more and more valuable, it would be wise for the team to play more conservatively and traditionally.

For example, when the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving made one of the most incredible shots we’ve ever seen, but it was Stephen Curry who helped leave the door open for the Cavs with a pitiful final five minutes of the game.

Among the worst atrocities he committed was an ill-advised turnover that came as a result of an off target behind the back pass to Klay Thompson. In such a situation, any second grader could have and would have known that a simple bounce pass to the flashing Thompson would have sufficed.

Steve Kerr’s message to his team, though, is to play like themselves and not overthink their execution.

While that’s fair, it does at least leave room to wonder if the Warriors will have the humility to play conservatively when the game is on the line.

Curry himself admitted to playing too aggressively and making poor reads and decisions down the stretch versus the Rockets. The team passed up wide-open two-point shots for three-pointers that didn’t fall, and those botched opportunities played a direct role in causing the loss.

Fortunately, for the Warriors, not much was at stake, but their performance and decision-making in those tight minutes leave us to wonder what will happen if and when they find themselves in another tight moment or two…

And by virtue of the Rockets becoming just the second team to take a season series from the Warriors since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, we can also fairly wonder whether they truly have what it takes to take down the Golden Goliath.

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NBA

G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.

Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.

Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.

With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.

1. Christian Wood

Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.

His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.

2. Jameel Warney

Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.

With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.

3. Melo Trimble

After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.

He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.

4. Joel Bolomboy

Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.

At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.

5. Jeremy Evans

Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.

With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.

Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.

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