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Who Are The Keepers: Atlanta Hawks

Nate Duncan breaks down the Atlanta Hawks roster and looks at who will be part of the next contender in the ATL.

Nate Duncan

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The 2013-14 season has been notable for the number of teams with no real hopes of contention. The first step in a rebuilding process, and one that must continue as long as the rebuild does, is to take stock of what talent the team has. There is one major question that should dominate the inquiry: Which of these players will be a part of our next good team? The player’s skill, age, contract and fit all enter into this discussion, as well as a realistic understanding of when the team can hope to be competitive again. This can generally be defined as the date a team’s young core is collectively projected to provide the greatest production. Finally, teams also need to consider the need to maintain flexibility rather than locking up a mediocre core.

The players are split into three different categories: “Buy His Jersey,” “Maybe, It Depends” and “Don’t Get Too Attached.” Players in the “Buy His Jersey” category are those who almost certainly should be in the team’s long-term plans, unless they are absolutely blown away by a trade offer for a superstar. Such players must either be under team control for quite a while longer on a cheap contract, or project to be a championship-level starter or better once their contract ends. The “Maybe, It Depends” category is reserved for players who have shown some promise, but are not necessarily locks to still be in town when the team is next ready to compete. It all depends on how these players develop and their contract situation. Many players in this category are on rookie contracts; once those end, they can become relative albatrosses if re-signed for more than their production would warrant. “Don’t Get Too Attached” is for players who are very unlikely to be a part of franchise’s next good team. In some cases it is because these players have demonstrated that they aren’t very good and don’t really have the potential to improve. But even solid players can appear on this list due to their age, contract status or fit.

The Atlanta Hawks have made the playoffs since 2007-08, but in none of those years did they have a realistic chance of winning the championship.  In the summer of 2012, newly hired GM Danny Ferry began the process of dismantling those teams, trading away Joe Johnson’s enormous contract to the Brooklyn Nets.  A year later, Ferry made no attempt to re-sign power forward* Josh Smith, instead replacing him with a short-term two-year, $19 million contract for Paul Millsap.  Ferry also re-signed Kyle Korver and matched the Milwaukee Bucks’ offer to point guard Jeff Teague.  Before Al Horford suffered a torn pectoral muscle on December 27, Atlanta was chugging along toward the de rigueur middle seed and second-round noncompete.  Now the Hawks are desperately clinging to the eighth playoff seed, but they do so while maintaining flexibility and assets for the future.

*Yes, Joe Dumars, he’s a power forward.

Ferry now presides over a roster without any bad contracts (Teague’s four-year, $32 million deal comes closest), but the long-term plan appears murky.  Without knowing that plan, determining the Hawks’ target date is difficult indeed.  They tried the cap space route with hopes of signing Chris Paul and Dwight Howard in the offseason, but never appeared to be serious contenders for their services.  With only an outside chance of luring a marquee free agent, Atlanta’s options are to 1) continue signing value free agents and hope to unearth a star drafting in the teens, or 2) blow up the roster entirely and accumulate future assets while Philips Arena lies fallow for a few years of losing.  I do not envy Ferry the difficulty of this choice, nor the ultimate unpalatability of either option.

Buy His Jersey

Al Horford

Age: 27

Contract: 2 years, $24 million

Projected New Contract: 3-5 years, $10-13 million Average Annual Value (AAV)

Horford’s second pectoral injury in three season is a bit concerning, but he remains the franchise cornerstone.  Aside from shooting midrangers he does nothing spectacularly, but everything well.  His contract remains a solid value for a versatile lower-level All-Star player.  The Hawks would be unlikely to get fair trade on a value or talent basis were he shipped out.

That said, Horford is very clearly a complementary player who in turn requires his own special complement, all the more so now that Smith toils in Detroit.  Horford is somewhat miscast as a center, but was able to backline above-average defenses with Smith.  Especially as he ages, Horford really needs a jumping jack center beside him to boost the Atlanta defense to championship levels.  It is possible that 2013 16th pick Lucas Nogueira and his 7’5 wingspan could be that player in time, but he is raw, skinny, and missed most of the year for his Spanish league team with severe knee tendinitis.

Horford’s lonely status in the Buy His Jersey category highlights the problem for Atlanta. He remains the Hawks’ best player by a considerable margin, but he is also the team’s best asset.  If Ferry concludes contention is unlikely in the next few years, Horford may be traded before his contract expires in 2016.

Maybe, It Depends

Kyle Korver

Age: 32

Contract: 3 years, $17.2 million

The relative hype of Korver’s NBA record three-point streak has highlighted his best season at age 32.  While his shooting should contribute to far more graceful aging than most players, and his declining contract should mirror his production, it is hard to see Korver as a part of the next Atlanta contender.  With the burgeoning value of shooting around the league, Korver would very likely glean a first-rounder or decent developmental prospect this offseason.

Ferry may wait to deal considering Korver is under contract for three more years, but he should also consider he is unlikely to quite repeat this performance and a high sell may be in order.

Jeff Teague

Age: 25

Contract: 3 years, $24 million

The Hawks swallowed hard and matched the Bucks’ offer sheet for Teague this offseason, making a Mike Conley style gamble that he might grow into the contract as he matures.  After a hot start to the season, Teague has settled in as a slightly below-average starter.  Of particular concern is his 27 percent shooting on threes despite shooting almost three per game.  Only a solid free throw rate saves his efficiency numbers.

At this point, Ferry is in much the same situation with Teague as when he decided to match.  Atlanta has no ready replacement and could not afford to lose the Wake Forest product unless they intend on Sixers-style tanking next year. Yet he remains slightly overpaid, and there is little trade market for him given the glut of point guards around the league.  There are only a few teams that might find him an upgrade.  As a result, Teague may be around for the longer haul.  If he can combine last year’s 35 percent on threes with this year’s free throw rate, he could still live up to that contract, but at almost 26 time is a wasting.

DeMarre Carroll

Age: 27

Contract: 1 year, $ 2.4 million

Once little more than a Renaldo Balkman-style energy player, Carroll has made himself into a solid complementary performer on offense while offering solid wing defense.  He has a 14.3 PER, but more importantly is hitting 38 percent of his threes while taking 42 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.  The Hawks’ player development staff deserves credit for teaching and/or encouraging relatively old dogs like Carroll and Millsap to shoot threes.  Of note, Carroll is 16th in the entire league in Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus (per Stats for the NBA), a plus/minus metric which purports to adjust for the quality of teammates and the opposition when a player is on the floor. Carroll’s is a value contract through next season, although he is not really a keeper with his age and 2015 expiring deal.

Dennis Schroder

Age: 20

Rookie Contract expires 2017

Schroder was listed at 6’2”, 165 in the predraft process, and it looks an accurate weight.  There was hope that Schroder could seize the backup point guard position after a strong summer league, but that fizzled immediately when the real games started.  He started as the backup point guard, but lost the position to Shelvin Mack early on and only recently began playing regular minutes again.  His statistics are among the worst of any player in the NBA, with a net rating of negative 14.9 points/100, a .459 true shooting percentage, and 5.9 PER.

Schroder has two marketable skills right now, namely his vision and ability to pressure the ball. Aside from those, he is not an NBA-quality player at this point.  His lack of strength is a particular problem. He gets bumped off his drives by even the slightest defenders, and his only finishing move is an inaccurate quick flip shot before the defense arrives.  From outside, he shoots a set shot that is not particularly versatile or accurate at this stage. Moreover, only the whimsy of opposing coaching staffs can save him from being posted up.

Schroder has talent, but he remains a lottery ticket. Counting on him as a future starting point guard would be foolish at this stage.

Don’t Get Too Attached

Paul Millsap

Age: 29

Contract: 1 year, $9.5 million

The former NCAA rebounding champion is having perhaps his best year in Atlanta.  He has made up for declining activity on the offensive glass by blossoming into a stretch four this year through tireless work on his long-range shot.  But his All-Star selection, though deserved, was more a product of a weak Eastern Conference than a marker of Millsap’s ascension to superstar status.  He will never be a stopper, and his frontcourt pairing with Horford is unlikely to bear the sort of defensive fruits that might push the Hawks to new heights.

At the expiry of his contract next season, Millsap will likely move on for one more David West style payday assuming he can duplicate this year. Such a contract could make sense for a contender, but not for the Hawks at his age.  As a result, he could well be traded in-season or over the summer if the Hawks conclude that next year will not bring contention.  Millsap is perhaps the ultimate weathervane that will reveal when Ferry will decide to bite the rebuilding bullet, and how hard.  A full season of his services on a value contract would likely fetch far more assets to that end than a move at the deadline if the Hawks are out of contention.

Mike Scott

Age: 25

Restricted Free Agent

Projected New Contract: 1-3 years $1.5-2.5 million AAV

The second-year stretch four has had a breakout year of sorts, and is actually third on the team in PER on the strength of solid jump-shooting.  But he really struggles to hold up defensively and on the boards against first unit players, and the Hawks get torched when he is on the floor.  Moreover, he is a restricted free agent at the expiration of his two-year second round rookie deal this summer, and is nearing prime age already so we can’t expect as much improvement as you might expect from a second-year player.

Shelvin Mack

Age: 24

Restricted Free Agent

Projected New Contract: 1-2 years, $1-3 million AAV

It somehow seems that Mack has been around forever, but he is still relatively young.  He has proved an adequate backup point guard this year after Schroder proved unequal to the task early on, with a 13.7 PER in 19.9 minutes per game.  Mack too is a restricted free agent, and could even glean an Eric Maynor-style contract in free agency which the Hawks would likely be wise not to match.  He still lacks the athleticism to improve much beyond his current level unless he can become an elite shooter.

Elton Brand

Age: 35

Free Agent

Projected New Contract: 1 year, veterans’ minimum

Brand started the year well, but has been stretched far too thin once Horford went down.  With Millsap and Antic injured on the Hawks recent miserable road trip, Brand conclusively proved he can no longer play over 30 minutes per night. Though he still remains smart enough to hold his own as a second unit big, he lacks the quickness to play four and the explosion to play five at his height.  Brand’s contract expires after the season and one would posit he is unlikely to be in Atlanta’s plans going forward.

John Jenkins

Age: 23

Rookie Contract Expires 2016

This has been a lost season for Jenkins as he struggled through 13 miserable games, tried to rehab, and finally succumbed to back surgery in February. He will miss the remainder of the season.  The 23rd overall pick in 2012 out of Vanderbilt showed some encouraging signs as a shooter off the bench in his rookie year, but he probably lacks the height, length, athleticism, or defensive mentality to ever be more than a bench gunner even when healthy. The Hawks have guaranteed his contract for next year, but seem unlikely to pick up his fourth-year option after that unless he can prove he is healthy and effective in camp next year.

Gustavo Ayon

Age: 28

Restricted Free Agent

Projected New Contract: 1 year veterans’ minimum

Hopes were high for Ayon coming off a spectacular performance for Mexico in the FIBA Americas over the summer, but alas he has been unable to stay healthy.  He has played only 26 games this year and is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.  He will be a restricted free agent over the summer should the Hawks extend him a qualifying offer, and he may still be able to catch on as a fifth big man somewhere on the strength of his rebounding and effort.

Pero Antic

Age: 31

Contract: 1 year, $1.25 million team option

The 6’11, 260 lbs Macedonian has a surprisingly outside-oriented game, launching 58 percent of his shots from beyond the arc at a decent usage for a shooting specialist. He hits 38 percent from out there as a true stretch five.  Antic provides little rim protection and is a below-average rebounder, but considering his shooting he holds up well enough in traditional center duties to be a useful bench big man. At his age, Antic is unlikely to be part of the next Hawks contender, but he is a solid value contract and is under team control through 2015, after which he will be a restricted free agent.  Antic is precisely the type of player the Hawks should look to move for future assets, although it is hard to see anyone parting with a first-rounder for him.

Mike Muscala

Age: 22

Contract: Rookie minimum, team options through 2016

The Hawks’ second round pick was signed mid-season as the big man injury crisis grew, but they probably would have been better off trying someone like Carroll at power forward. Muscala has a -17.2 net rating and 6.8 PER. He gets freight-trained in the post and does nothing offensively to make up for it.  Little indicates he has an NBA future at this point.

Lou Williams

Age: 27

Contract: 1 year $5.45 million

The former Sixers draftee was once one of the league’s best bench scorers, but he has struggled to return to form following a torn ACL.  He has been out of the rotation the last few games as Coach Mike Budenholzer has gone with Mack, Schroder, and Cartier Martin off the bench instead.  Williams takes almost half his shots from three now and hits a respectable 36 percent. He also gets to the line at a reasonable rate, but will need to return his 40 percent two-point shooting to respectable levels to become a valuable contributor again.  It is appearing less likely that will be in Atlanta.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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Payton Blocking Out Trade Talk, Believes Magic Will Turn It Around

Spencer Davies sits down with Elfrid Payton to discuss his fourth year, trade rumors and a trying season for Orlando in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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It’s hard for a team to look for positives when it’s living in the basement.

The Orlando Magic have had a rough go of it this year. They’re 13-32 at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve have had a ton of setbacks, and they currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating.

There is a bright spot hidden in there, though, and head coach Frank Vogel sees it growing as the season progresses.

“We’re frustrated with our record, but we’re encouraged with the development we’ve had with our young players,” Vogel said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “Aaron Gordon, Mario [Hezonja], and [Elfrid Payton] have all had strong individual seasons and continue to get better. All those guys are improving individually and at some point, it’s gonna lead to more Ws.”

While Gordon stands out more to some than the others because of his star appeal, Payton is right up there with him as far as making the next step goes.

“Elfrid’s shooting the ball better from the perimeter and at the rim,” Vogel said. “He’s worked on his left hand. He’s worked on his floaters. Shooting 52 percent from the field and that’s pretty darn good for a point guard, and the 39 percent from the three as well.”

Those are your more traditional statistics that don’t address the leap he’s taken in efficiency. Sure, Payton’s scoring the same amount of points per game, but it’s the way he’s been getting that’s been most noticeable.

According to Basketball-Reference and NBA.com, he’s making nearly 70 percent of his tries between 0-3 feet and ranks third among point guards in restricted field goal percentage (min. four attempts).

But Payton doesn’t like to evaluate himself using numbers, so he doesn’t know how to feel about how he’s played for Orlando this year.

“It’s tough to say because I like to measure my success by winning and we haven’t been doing that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “So tough to say.”

He’s not kidding. Since starting out the season 8-4, the Magic have taken a hard fall, only winning five games since November 10. In this stretch, there have been three hefty losing streaks—two 9-game slides and most recently a 7-game skid.

“Not to make excuses—we had a lot of injuries,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of what happened. “Haven’t really been playing with the group of guys that we started the season with, so kinda derailed us a little bit.”

As the losses pile up, so does the chatter. Indicated by multiple recent reports, Orlando has made it clear that many players on the roster are available on the trade block. Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, and Payton were recently brought up as names who could possibly on the move if the right deal presents itself.

When asked about the rumblings, Vogel claimed he doesn’t have a message for his guys.

“They understand it’s part of the business,” he said. “Just focus on playing the game.”

Like his coach, Payton doesn’t have a reaction to the noise.

“I don’t get caught up into the things like that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Today I’m an Orlando Magic. I play for the Orlando Magic and I’m gonna give them 100 percent of me. I’m somebody that likes to finish what I started, so I definitely would like to see this through and try to turn this organization around.”

So who does he see on this team that can help jump-start the process in flipping the script?

“Everybody,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I like Vuc. I like AG. Evan [Fournier] is somebody who can fill it up. T Ross is somebody who can fill it up when healthy. I think we have a lot of talent on this team. Even the rookies—Wes [Iwundu] plays well for us in stretches. Jon [Isaac] when he was playing he’d do well.

“You could see the potential there. So I think we have a lot of weapons on this team. I’m very confident in the group we have here. I think we have a lot of talent, we just have to do it.”

Saying you’re going to right the ship is one thing. Actually doing it is a whole other challenge. With where the Magic sit in the standings currently, their work is cut out for them. That being said, Payton isn’t giving up.

In fact, he’s still got his eyes on making it to the postseason, and it starts with him.

“Definitely trying to get a run going,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Make a playoff push. It’s definitely not out of sight right now, especially with the way the East is. We win a few games and we right back in the thick of things.

“Do whatever I can to help us to get more wins, man. I think that’s what it all boils down to. I figure if I’m playing well, that means we’re winning for the most part.”

Defense matters the most, and it’s something Payton and his group know they need to get better at if they have a chance to play past mid-April.

“Just be tied in together a little bit more,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I think sometimes we have too many breakdowns on the backside. So just being more in-tune with each other.”

One thing is for sure—Orlando is going through this difficult time as a team, but refuses to fold. Payton says Vogel has constantly stayed in their ears with uplifting advice.

“Keep fighting,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of his words. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No one’s gonna feel sorry for you, so just keep fighting.”

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NBA Daily: Three Teams Treading Water In The West

While the Clippers have surged into the playoff picture, the Blazers, Nuggets and Pelicans are barely staying afloat out West.

Buddy Grizzard

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While the L.A. Clippers have surged into the Western Conference playoff picture on the crest of a six-game win streak, the Trail Blazers, Nuggets and Pelicans are stumbling toward the All-Star break with records around .500 over their last 10 games.

All four teams are within a game of each other and hovering around the playoff cut line. For teams that are treading water, the second half of the season will be a struggle for consistency in a brutal playoff race that promises to leave a good team on the outside looking in.

Although Richard Jefferson is winding down a storied career and barely playing for the Nuggets, he often takes the role of elder statesman in media scrums. After the Nuggets became the latest victim of the red-hot Clippers Wednesday, Jefferson said they should not be underestimated.

“They’ve been a playoff team for many, many years,” said Jefferson. “They’ve dealt with some injuries but, for the most part, I think they’re going to be in the hunt for the playoffs just like we are.”

Jefferson was also asked about the Nuggets’ late-game execution and pointed to the team’s overall youth with major addition Paul Millsap missing extended time due to injury.

“We’re getting to a spot of being a little bit more consistent in those moments,” said Jefferson. “But ultimately, I think guys are still learning. Most of the guys that are in these positions are in these positions for the first time. I think we’ll continue getting better as the season goes on.”

Meanwhile, the Pelicans experienced its own setback Wednesday in a loss to an Atlanta Hawks team that’s tied for the second-worst record in the league. For now, the Pelicans hold the seventh seed. It will be up to the continuing evolution of the Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins pairing to keep New Orleans trending in the right direction.

“For us, we’re two guys who can shoot the ball, handle it, pass,” said Davis after the loss in Atlanta. “We’ve got a lot of guys around us who are capable of making plays. I think we compliment each other. There’s still some stuff we still want to get better at as a unit.”

Davis went into further detail about what makes the rare pairing of two elite big men work.

“Cuz is always spacing the floor,” said Davis. “One guy’s inside, the other one’s outside. We set screens for each other, throw lobs for each other. So it’s tough for bigs to try to play that. When we set a pin-down for myself or DeMarcus, most four or fives are not used to that.”

Davis came into the game with 30 or more points in three straight games and seven of the previous 10—he’s been on a massive roll. However, that streak came to an end as Davis hit only two of eight shots for eight points. Hawks rookie John Collins scored 18 while dealing with the issues Davis described.

“You’ve got A.D. on the one hand and then you’ve got Boogie on the other hand,” said Collins. “[They’re] some of the best bigs in the league, very skilled guys, obviously a handful to deal with.”

Hawks shooting guard Kent Bazemore led Atlanta with 20 points and hit the final shot in the waning moments to secure the victory. Bazemore is a player the Pelicans could conceivably pursue at the trade deadline to address wing issues.

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are dealing with questions of whether a team built around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can become competitive with the West’s upper echelon. Marc Stein of the New York Times went so far as to predict that Portland’s backcourt could be broken up this year.

“No one’s suggesting it’ll happen before the Feb. 8 trade deadline,” Stein wrote. “But Portland’s latest so-so season threatens to be the impetus that finally pushes the longtime Blazers owner Paul Allen in a new direction.”

This is the time of year when NBA teams take stock and have to decide if they are properly constructed or need to look at changes. With the Pelicans, Trail Blazers and Nuggets barely keeping pace in the playoff race, few other teams will be more heavily scrutinized — internally as well as externally — as the trade deadline approaches.

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NBA Daily: Things To Watch Heading Into Trade Season

Two of our experts identify four teams and four players to keep an eye on during trade season.

Basketball Insiders

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With memories of DeMarcus Cousins being told that he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans during his postgame availability at last season’s All-Star game, the NBA moved the trade deadline up.

This season, the deadline falls on February 8, and all there has been a lot of discussion leading into next month’s deadline.

We asked Moke Hamilton and Lang Greene to weigh in on some items to keep an eye on over the next three weeks.

Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors

This year’s trade deadline will probably lack big names getting moved, but teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets are within sniffing distance of a playoff berth for the first time in years. It will be interesting to see if their respective front offices swing for the fences to achieve the goal.

There are three ways to improve a roster or prepare for the future in the NBA. The methods are free agency, trade and the annual draft. Trade deadline deals are risky. There are a lot of deals each season which involve players on the verge of hitting the free agent market. Teams acquiring these take the risk that they’re only “renting” those guys until the season concludes.

At the end of the day, though, the two biggest names we may see moved are Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors.

Mirotic has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career, but the fourth-year forward is by far having his best season as a professional despite his minutes remaining flat. On a per 36 minute basis, Mirotic is averaging 25.1 points and 9.9 rebounds.

Mirotic and teammate Bobby Portis made headlines before the season for their fight, which led plenty of missed time for the forward. Mirotic’s name has been mentioned on the block ever since this incident, but it’s clear the Bulls have integrated him back into their rotation fully. Still, the team is believed to simply be waiting for the right time and trade partner and that Mirotic’s days in Chicago are numbered.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls plan to be patient in fielding calls for Mirotic, while the player has deflected all talks to his representatives.

“I didn’t talk to [the Bulls’ front office recently],” he said. “Probably my agents are talking, so I don’t know so far what’s going on, but I know my name is going to be out there. I’m doing my job, and I’m sure they’re doing their job, and we’re both going to do what’s best for the team.”

Mirotic has a no-trade clause built into his contract and would have to waive it prior to completing any deal, unless the Bulls were to guarantee the team option on the final year of his contract for 2018-19. Don’t count on that, though.

With respect to Favors, he battled injuries the past two seasons but has remained relatively healthy to begin this campaign. The forward is shooting a career high from the field, but according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Utah Jazz have dangled him in trade talks since the beginning of the season.

Favors was one of the central parts of the Deron Williams trade years ago, but could be expendable because of the emergence of center Rudy Gobert in the Jazz’s frontcourt. The forward is on the books for $12.5 million this season and was most recently linked to the aforementioned Mirotic in trade talks between Utah and Chicago.

– Lang Greene

DeAndre Jordan and Paul George

Heading into deadline season, there’s not much out there to suggest that we’ll see any superstar-caliber players moved. With the likes of Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving among the players that switched teams over the summer, it seems that most NBA teams that have difference-makers on their rosters are in construction mode—they’re trying to compete with the Cavs or the Warriors.

The two superstar players who merit some discussion, though, are DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan.

With respect to Jordan, the Clippers find themselves in a very peculiar situation. With Chris Paul having defected to the Houston Rockets, it’s easy to conclude that the Clippers are no longer a true contender. Still, they’ve played so well over the past few weeks (including scoring a victory over Paul and his Rockets) that it seems a difficult proposition to proactively pull the plug.

Still, though, as written in this past Sunday’s column, it’s time for the Clippers to trade Jordan, mainly because a team that is heading toward a rebuild can’t afford to lose a player of his caliber for nothing, and that’s quite possible unless the Clippers fork over a max contract to Jordan this summer. The proposition wouldn’t be wise, particularly because it could cost the Clippers a first round pick in one of the upcoming drafts.

He’s definitely a player that should be watched.

Paul George, on the other hand, doesn’t appear likely to be headed out of Oklahoma City. The team is reportedly committed to keeping him for the duration of the season, with the hope being that the Thunder will get their act together and win a round or two in the playoffs. With the team still hovering around .500, it seems a long shot.

There are some, however, that believe that the Thunder should at least see what might be available to them in exchange for George, especially with the team trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him. That’s especially true with Oladipo closing in on what certainly appears to be his first All-Star selection.

– Moke Hamilton

Dallas Mavericks Are Open For Business

The Dallas Mavericks are in a clear rebuild and the prospect of making the playoffs is more dream than reality this season, but the team does have some things going for it.

The Mavs have roughly $13 million in cap space, which puts them in a prime spot to acquire talent at the deadline without giving up any of their players in return. In fact, Mark Cuban went on the record and said exactly that.

“I would say we are looking to use our cap space actively,” Cuban told the Dallas Morning News earlier this week. “We will take back salary to get picks or guys we think can play.”

The Mavericks have the second-lowest payroll in the league, but Cuban has been known to spend money to acquire relevant talent. The team hasn’t had much success in in attracting free agents in recent years, and with the Hall of Fame career of Dirk Nowitzki coming to an end, the team is undoubtedly looking to retool.

– Lang Greene

Cavs and Lakers Each Likely To Do Something

It’s a poorly kept secret that the Los Angeles Lakers have had their sights set on acquiring a superstar or two this coming summer. With Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and LeBron James among those who could hit the market in July, the Lakers have quite a bit of incentive to try to rid themselves of the contracts of Luol Deng and Jordan Clarkson.

Where things get interesting for the Lakers is with the emergence of several of their young players this season. Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma and to a lesser extent Josh Hart have each given the team impressive minutes this season. If the Lakers feel they have a real shot at signing James and, say, DeMarcus Cousins, it may be enough for them to package Deng and/or Clarkson with one of their promising young players and perhaps a future draft pick.

It’s certainly something I’d keep my eyes on.

And speaking of future draft picks, with the Cavs not taking their standing in the Eastern Conference for granted, one can only wonder the extent to which the Nets’ first round pick this coming season is burning a hole in their pockets. Aside from the Nets pick, though, the Cavs do own their own first round pick, which could be enough for them to pry the likes of a player like Mirotic or Favors from their current team.

There has also been some conjecture revolving around the availability of Tristan Thompson, with one interesting scenario having the Cavs and Clippers at least contemplating a trade involving Thompson and Jordan.

The Cavs and Lakers each have too much at stake to not do something.

– Moke Hamilton

Only 21 Days To Go…

With the trade deadline exactly three weeks from today, talks will certainly heat up.

For now, though, the Mavs, Cavs and Lakers appear to be the teams most involved in conversations, with Nikola Mirotic, Derrick Favors and DeAndre Jordan among those most likely to be dealt.

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