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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: Trail Blazers Come Up Short and Now Search For Answers

The Portland Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the Playoffs and now face tough questions, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The playoffs have been a wild ride so far. On Sunday, all three Eastern Conference playoff games were exciting matches that featured star players stepping up in the clutch. As a result, each series is tied up, two games each. The other game of the day featured the San Antonio Spurs, who stayed in control and never once allowed the Golden State Warriors to take the lead. The Spurs managed to get a win against the defending champs despite missing their best player and now their head coach indefinitely.

For the Portland Trail Blazers, there was no such Game 4 turnaround. In fact, with the Spurs win, the Trail Blazers have the lamentable distinction of being the only team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs. This is just one way to describe how disappointing and surprising this playoff series loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was for Portland. Many NBA observers and Pelicans fans were quick to point out that every ESPN NBA personality chose the Trail Blazers to win the series, as did select writers of the Basketball Insiders team.

The Trail Blazers’ players and front office also made it clear how surprised they were at the result. Forward Evan Turner shared his surprise.

“Obviously finishing so quickly wasn’t definitely the plan and to a certain extent it was shocking,” Turner said.

General Manager Neil Olshey chimed in as well.

“Nobody expected [the playoff sweep] to happen. It did. We had our chances in Game 1, we had our chances in Game 2. Clearly Game 3 was a setback,” Olshey stated when describing his surprise at how the series ended. “Stunned, I think disappointed.”

Credit should be given to the Pelicans and their ability to fully harness their talent and impose their will in the series. Turner was effusive in praising the talent and ability of the Pelicans.

“Unlocked Jrue is pretty dangerous and we all see how Rondo plays. He’s a homerun hitter but he is always solid. He can mess around. He’ll get two or three triple doubles. Anthony Davis is a problem,” Turner said.

When asked how he felt about the playoff exit, starting center Jusuf Nurkic stated that he is beyond disappointed.

“I mean, the way I finish the season, I feel shame. The way we have a season, like a team and group, and being in position to be third in the West, and finish like this, is not good,” Nurkic stated. “It’s not something you should be proud of, because all you do through the year, fight for playoff and to be in position to have a good postseason.”

Despite the early exit, many within the organization were quick to highlight that they continue to see the regular season in a positive light, including Head Coach Terry Stotts.

“I thought we had a very good regular season, I thought we had a very disappointing end of the season,” Stotts stated.

Damian Lillard shared a similar sentiment when reflecting on the season as a whole.

“I think I’ll always remember the way [the season] ended. But I won’t forget the kind of season we had. You can’t ignore the fact we won a division title in a division where there was some great teams,” Lillard stated. “We came out on top.”

Still, the success of the regular season makes the playoff result that much harder to grasp and deal with for some. Nurkic again didn’t hold back when comparing the success of the regular season with the team’s playoff failure.

“Very surprised,” Nurkic stated. “You definitely didn’t see the team who we are in the playoffs.”

Explaining why the Trail Blazers came up short against the Pelicans is no easy task. Clearly Portland’s attempt to feature its two premiere guards failed as the Pelicans were able to clamp down on Lillard and McCollum effectively in each game. Complicating matters further was the inability of the Trail Blazers to effectively utilize Nurkic on both ends of the court. However, there was at least some praise to be heaped on the backup bigs, Zach Collins and Ed Davis.

“I think Zach played really well for us,” Olshey stated. “He had an impact defensively.”

Also, Al-Farouq Aminu was able to do his part as an acceptable defensive option against Davis while spreading the floor with his outside shooting

Regardless, Turner shared his assessment that the team failed to have an adequate game plan for a scenario where their two best players are neutralized.

“One thing that may help, it’s no jabs or anything, but building the identity outside of our two strong scorers,” Turned stated. “[W]e sometimes go downhill when a team fully focuses on a lot of attention on our stars […] But I think we might need certain plays, certain structures that kind of prepare just in case that occurs.”

With their postseason concluded, the Trail Blazers are suddenly left trying to answer questions with no easy answers. Who, if anyone, is to blame for what happened? So far, many head coaches have been let go and unsurprisingly some speculation has turned toward Coach Stotts. Stotts, when asked, focused on the team and deflected any analysis of his performance.

“I’m not going to evaluate the job I did,” Stotts said.

Lillard, on the other hand, was effusive in his praise of his coach.

“Coach Stotts has done a great job from day one. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight,” Lillard said.

For now, there does not appear to be strong rumblings about Stotts. With the offseason just beginning for the team there is still time to reflect and assess what went wrong. Additionally, the team has to resolve what to do regarding its own free agents. No name looms larger than Nurkic, who despite his poor showing, represents one of the team’s top talents and expressed his guarded optimism regarding a return.

“I want to be here, it’s no secret,” Nurkic stated when asked if he wants an extension in Portland. “Yes, definitely.”

Nurkic ended the thought by stating, a bit ominously, that he did his part and a deal may or may not get worked out.

“My agent and people here are going to figure out the rest, or not,” Nurkic said.

Complicating the desire to retain Nurkic is the team’s financial situation as the team is currently over the cap and under obligation to center Meyers Leonard, who has struggled to stay in the rotation and is earning roughly $21.8 million over the next two years.

“It’s our job to be measured and not to overreact. [Because] when you overreact is when you make mistakes,” Olshey stated.

Lillard was quick to emphatically shut down the notion of splitting up him and McCollum when asked if that would be a good idea.

“I mean, I don’t agree with it. I think it’s that simple,” Lillard declared.

When asked what the team plans to do going forward, Olshey expressed optimism but tried again to pay credit to the season’s effort overall.

“We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade the roster as we always do but we also aren’t going to lose sight of the success throughout the course of the season,” Olshey said.

“I don’t have all the answers for you today,” Olshey surmised. “A lot of times you don’t know where your help is coming from.”

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The Problem With ‘Championship Or Bust’

Should an NBA Title be the only measuring stick when we’re talking about a team’s success?

Spencer Davies

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In this day and age, there’s a constant need for instant gratification. It goes for everything, really, but especially for sports.

Before the 2017-18 NBA season kicked off, the general outlook on the league was that the regular season would be a waste of time. People dubbed the Golden State Warriors as clear-cut repeat champions. Other then that franchise, there were maybe one or two others that could put up a fight with such a juggernaut.

While that story has yet to play out, others are developing quickly.

The all-of-a-sudden dangerous New Orleans Pelicans are the only ball club to have advanced to the second round of the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are deadlocked in a tied series with an Indiana Pacers team that everybody seemed to believe was lottery-bound before the year began.

After falling nine games under .500 in late January, the Utah Jazz have caught fire and are up two games to one against the league’s reigning league MVP and a re-constructed Oklahoma City Thunder roster. We’d be remiss to leave out the sensational play of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as the Philadelphia 76ers continue to show how dominant they’ve been in a hard-hitting affair with a gritty Miami Heat bunch.

The start to this postseason trumps last season’s already. There is a competitive fire within the majority of these encounters. It’s all on the line to prove who will be the best of the best.

And having said that, there can only be one that takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy.

One. That’s it. In the last 18 years, there have been a total of eight different organizations that have earned the right to call themselves champions. All things considered, it’s not that many.

But there’s a giant misconception about parity in the NBA that needs to be thwarted.

This league is filled with talent, top to bottom. Just like in any sport, you have the basement dwellers still trying to right the ship. Whether it be coaching, injuries, or inexperience—they’re attempting to find their way. That’s why those players are sitting at home in late April.

Then there are those who are not merely spectators, but are involved in the remaining field of 15 teams (sorry, Portland Trail Blazers). Of course, in their minds, there is a common goal of winning a title, as it should be.

However, is it fair to quantify the success of every one of these franchises simply based on whether they accomplish that goal or not? Heck no.

Are we supposed to just forget about the progress made from end-to-end? What if — hear this out — both teams have talent and one just beat the other?

Building championship basketball takes patience. There has to be some semblance of playoff experience involved. Continuity is a must have. You might not want to hear it, but the postseason is where the seeds are planted, where the understanding of the stage really starts.

There can be a collection of young players who have been teammates for years, but have never taken part in the playoffs before. Sometimes there can be a team that’s full of veterans that have been there, but they may not have played together as a collective unit. Each one of them has a different background in a different setting.

It’s a whole different beast at this point. Some are so naive to see how elevated and intense the environment really is, so they assume a team that loses a few games isn’t championship material. Newsflash: Not one team in the history of the NBA has gone 16-0 in the playoffs.

And then, the ones who fall—whether it be in The Finals, conference finals, or in first two rounds—those organizations didn’t accomplish anything. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

So in this basketball world we live in where everything has to be a 20-point victory with zero losses and it’s “championship or bust” as the measuring stick, take a step back and appreciate the work it took to even get to the postseason.

Win or lose, many of these teams are building towards bigger things in the future. These experiences will make that clear in the years to come.

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NBA DAILY: Who’s the Next Donovan Mitchell?

Donovan Mitchell provided elite value at the back end of the lottery. Who might that player be this summer?

Joel Brigham

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The entire reason that so many non-playoff teams worked so diligently to blow their seasons was to get the best odds possible for the first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Watching LeBron James (a former first overall draft pick) do what he’s done to the league for the last 15 years, the desire to land a top pick is understandable. Ben Simmons, the heir apparent and likely Rookie of the Year, also was a first overall draft pick a couple of seasons ago.

In fact, of the 38 former first overall picks dating back to 1980, 28 of them would evolve into All-Stars, and it seems like only a matter of time before Simmons is added to that list, too. A higher percentage of top picks have been named All-Stars than any other slot in the draft. Numbers don’t lie. There is no pick more valuable than the very first one.

But…

Donovan Mitchell is good, too. Like, really good. He’s so good that there’s just as strong an argument for him as this season’s Rookie of the Year as there is for Simmons. Mitchell, though, was not a first overall pick. He was picked 13th, at the back end of the lottery.

He isn’t alone in landing elite value for teams picking outside of the lottery’s top half. Devin Booker was picked 13th in 2015. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th selection in 2013. In 2011, Klay Thompson was picked 11th, while Kawhi Leonard was chosen with the 15th pick that same year. Paul George went 10th overall in 2010.

In other words, there are plenty of really good prospects every summer to give late-lottery teams hope. They might not generate the same hype as the guys vying for that top overall selection, but they’re also clearly a lot better than the tiers of players that start coming off the board in the 20s and 30s. All-Stars lurk in the 10-to-15 range of the draft, especially in a loaded class like the one we’re looking at this summer.

That begs the question: who is this year’s Donovan Mitchell?

Here are three possibilities:

Collin Sexton

Back in November, a series of unfortunate circumstances in a game against Minnesota led to a mass ejection of Alabama players that resulted in just three players being allowed to play the final ten minutes. Sexton was one of those three players and led a Crimson Tide rally despite the lopsided Minnesota power play. ‘Bama outscored the Gophers 30-22 in those final 10 minutes despite being down two players, and Sexton finished the game with 40 points. That’s how good he is.

Of course, he could slip in this draft if only because there are so many flashier names ahead of him. It appears as though seven players (DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Marin Bagley, Michael Porter, Mo Bamba and Trae Young) likely will be drafted before him, which puts him in a category with guys like Mikal Bridges, Wendell Carter, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Miles Bridges, and Kevin Knox. Sexton probably will fall somewhere in that range, which means he would fall somewhere between the eighth and 13th pick.

He is competitive, charismatic and incredibly driven, so there’s a really good chance he does well in interviews and workouts and shows how elite he is. On the other hand, if he falls to the Sixers or Hornets or Clippers, some non-tanking team could end up with one of the biggest stars of the draft.

Miles Bridges

Coming into his sophomore season, Bridges was considered one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball, and while that is still true to a certain extent, his stock dropped a bit this past season while several players—including his teammate Jaren Jackson, Jr.—saw their own stocks rise.

Despite a minor loss in momentum, Bridges is one of the most NBA-ready players projected to be selected in the lottery. He’s still young enough to have a high ceiling, but he’s older and more physically mature than a lot of the other players vying to be drafted in his neck of the pecking order. He does nearly everything well, from ball handling to rebounding to shooting, and he can play both ends of the floor. His athleticism is his calling card, and that added to everything else he does well makes him a lock for some measure of NBA success.

He has his flaws, but he’s probably an All-Rookie First Teamer that will be selected after ten players that aren’t. That makes him a potential steal on the back-end of the lottery.

Jontay Porter

This time last year, Porter was a 17-year-old kid deciding whether or not to reclassify and play at the University of Missouri with his older brother Michael Porter, Jr. and under his father Michael Porter, Sr., who is a member of the coaching staff there. Obviously big bro is a high lottery pick, but the younger sibling was the 11th rated prospect in his high school class (the one with Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett) before reclassifying.

He has declared for this summer’s draft but hasn’t yet hired an agent. If he stays in, he’ll be the youngest player in the draft, and mid-first round is where teams start gambling on the uber-young players with mountains of potential rather than older, more proven college players.

In Porter’s case, that could mean a mid-to-late first-round team ends up with a tremendous bargain, even if it takes him a few years to grow into himself. He’s 6-foot-11 but is incredibly smart and well-rounded on offense. He shoots threes (he hit 110 of them as a freshman at Mizzou), but he’s know for his vision and passing more than anything. That’s a modern-day stretch-four or stretch-five if ever there was one, and getting him a year before his time could be a way for a team to steal a deal in the middle of the first round.

With the playoffs in full swing, most observers are focused in on the battles for conference supremacy. For many of the NBA’s other teams, though, the draft preparation process has begun.

In short order, we’ll see which teams end up snagging the next Donovan Mitchell.

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