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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 2/9/14

Basketball Insiders takes a look back at some of the articles published from last week in case you missed them the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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Jeremy Lin Finding Himself in Houston?

By Bill Ingram

Jeremy Lin hasn’t exactly had an easy time since the month where he played such amazing basketball that the NBA world dubbed him “Linsanity.” Since becoming an instant star, Lin has moved across the country to Houston, dealt with a barrage of injuries that prevented him from playing his best and heard his name mentioned in months of trade rumors stemming from his inability to live up to his own hype.

This season Lin finds himself in a position that is really ideal as he looks to establish what his identity is really going to be in the NBA. Instead of trying to play the role of a star, he needs only complement Dwight Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons. Most of the time the ball is not in his hands in crunch time and when it is, his primary job is to get it to one of those players.

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Would A Gasol-For-Okafor Swap Be A Win-Win?

By Jabari Davis

Almost six years to the date (February 1, 2008) of acquiring the seven-foot Spaniard from Memphis, rumors of the Phoenix Suns’ interest  in Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol came flooding across everyone’s NBA notification app or Twitter timeline. Just as Super Bowl XLVIII was getting into full swing, and while many were reveling in each and every Bronco mishap, some of us were actively considering the potential of such a deal. Put simply, there are so many ways the Lakers and Suns could reach some sort of agreement for a Gasol swap, we found it difficult to find a reason why they wouldn’t be able to make a deal happen.

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Six Things to Know About the Golden State Warriors

By Nate Duncan

The Golden State Warriors were the darlings of the first two playoff rounds in 2013 before finally succumbing to the San Antonio Spurs in six games. After a blockbuster offseason brought swingman Andre Iguodala from the vanquished Denver Nuggets, the Warriors looked poised to move into the league’s elite. At times the team has looked that way, especially when their dominating starting unit plays together. Other times, the team has played .500 ball. As the season moves towards the All-Star break, here are six things you need to know about the Golden State Warriors.

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Six All-Time Horrible All-Star Selections

 By Joel Brigham

Of all the All-Stars added to the Eastern Conference and Western Conference squads this year, Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson was probably the biggest surprise, but this kind of thing happens almost every year. While Johnson isn’t averaging anywhere near his career-high in points, he’s a recognizable name for the hot Brooklyn Nets, and that was enough to keep arguably more deserving players like Lance Stephenson and Kyle Lowry off the squad.

But while Johnson’s selection was surprising, it was by no means one of the worst All-Star selections in the history of the game. No, there have been much, much worse selections than that; Kobe Bryant’s starting nod this year being one of them.

Bryant is a worldwide megastar, though. If Michael Jordan would’ve only played five games by the time voting ended in, say, 1997, he still would have been voted a starter and everybody would have understood why.

The following players’ selections are not so easy to understand:

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Irving Isn’t Alone In Cleveland

By Steve Kyler

By now you have likely heard something about Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving being unhappy. Brian Windhorst of ESPN has written about it. Jason Lloyd of the Beacon Journal wrote about it. The ground has been covered.

The problem is that the story being cast is that Kyrie Irving is unhappy, as if to suggest that he is the only unhappy camper in Cleveland, when the truth is no one in Cleveland is happy with their 16-31 record and that includes ownership.

The Cavs are in the middle what’s best described as a systemic revolt. Last year the team had Byron Scott as their head coach and the lack of defensive intensity soured the locker room on the coach and a change was made. Out went the “player friendly” Scott and in came the tougher more disciplined Mike Brown. The problem is nothing has really changed in terms of harmony in the locker room.

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76ers Close to Trading Evan Turner?

By Alex Kennedy

It’s no secret that the Philadelphia 76ers are open to moving Evan Turner. The 25-year-old has seen his name surface in trade rumors repeatedly throughout the year, and coming into this season he even told reporters that he was shocked he wasn’t dealt over the summer.

It seems that a split between Turner and the Sixers is inevitable. New general manager Sam Hinkie wants to put his fingerprints on the franchise by adding his own personnel and moving Turner could allow him to get a young asset he values or a first-round draft pick to add to his stockpile.

The latest update on Turner’s future comes from Sean Deveney of Sporting News, who reports that Philadelphia has been “stepping up their efforts to make a move” before the Feb. 20 deadline and that Turner has been involved in those trade talk

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Who’s on the Trading Block?

By Lang Greene

The 2013-14 NBA trade deadline is set for 3:00 p.m. (ET) on February 20, which puts us at just over two weeks away from one of the busiest times of the season. As expected the trade rumor circuit has started to heat up as league executives continue to work the lines to secure a deal for their respective franchise.

Here are some initial names and situations to keep an eye on around the league as the deadline nears.

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5 Things You Didn’t Know about Kevin Durant

By Jessica Camerto

Millions of people know of Kevin Durant. Over 6 million follow the MVP candidate on Twitter. Nearly 1.4 million voted him to his fifth All-Star selection this season. He is one of the most popular figures in professional sports and has a modest demeanor that makes fans feel like they can connect with him, even if they have only watched him play on TV.

But who is Kevin Durant to those who really get to know him? The ones who are with him from training camp through the playoffs, for the practices, the long road trips, the day-to-day grind.

The Oklahoma City Thunder chimed in to share five things only they know from playing with him and spending so much time around him.

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Trade Updates On Lopez, Gasol, Sanders

By Yannis Koutroupis

The Brooklyn Nets are in the midst of turning things around and salvaging their season. At 21-25 they’re back in the Eastern Conference’s top eight after going 10-3 in January, a run that earned the oft-criticized head coach Jason Kidd the Coach of the Month award in the Eastern Conference.

There are several factors behind the Nets’ resurgence, starting of course with their play of the defensive end. After their early season struggles, everyone appears to be much more willing to buy into the role that Kidd has for them, and the team, outside of Brook Lopez, has started to get healthier.

Lopez was playing the best basketball of any Net before going down with a season-ending foot injury on December 20. He was putting up 20.7 points a game along with six rebounds and nearly two blocks. His play was so strong that the Nets were still rejecting trade offers for him after even his severe injury.

However, with how well the team has been playing without him, Lopez’s stock may have actually dropped a bit in the eyes of the Nets.

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The Contracts To Move At The Trade Deadline

By Eric Pincus

The NBA’s trade deadline is rapidly approaching.  Typically the rumor mill will churn until the final hours on February 20.

Teams look to make deals for a variety of reasons.  Some are hoping to land the final piece that will push their franchise into the playoffs (or true postseason contention).

Others look to shed long-term contracts, or even expiring contracts simply to get out of the NBA’s punitive luxury tax.

The following players have contracts that could lead to a deal before the deadline.

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J.R. Smith’s Return to Respectability

 By Tommy Beer

There hasn’t been much for Knicks fans to cheer about this season. Currently riding another three-game losing streak, New York has slid an embarrassing 11 games under .500.

Carmelo Anthony is playing at an incredibly high level on the offensive end, but other than Anthony’s exploits, there are been very few positives.

And over the first few months of the season, one of the biggest net negatives was the shockingly terrible play of J.R. Smith.

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Time’s Up: Five NBA Players Who Must Be Traded

By Moke Hamilton

Only the strong survive, and as life continues on under the new economic era that the NBA’s 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement has brought forth, it is not the general manager who has the most money that will ultimately prevail.

No, it is the GM who has spent the most time with the barbell. But we, obviously, are not talking brute force strength here, we are talking mental muscle.

So you, Mr. GM, do you know how to survive in this new era? Do you know what you can do to get your team over the hump?

We do! Follow two simple rules.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench

Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.

David Yapkowitz

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When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.

But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.

On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.

“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”

As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.

This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.

“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.

This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”

Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.

Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.

“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”

Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.

“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”

And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.

He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.

“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”

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NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch

Will we see Rudy Gobert win another Defensive Player of the Year Award? Or will we have a new winner this year?

Dylan Thayer

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In the fourth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Rankings, Basketball Insiders continues to look at the players excelling on the defensive side of the ball. The Utah Jazz continues to be a powerhouse in the Western Conference amidst a surprising season, and they will still be well represented in these rankings. But there’s another newcomer to the list, an MVP-caliber player looking to lead his team to the NBA Finals. Ready to take look at the rankings? Let’s get into it.

1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 2)

The 28-year-old center out of France is one of the best defensive big men the game has seen in recent years – and this year is another example of that as Gobert has been the anchor of the best team in the NBA. Better, he has been a vital piece to their unanticipated success by taking part in all 35 of the Jazz games thus far.

Looking at Gobert’s numbers, he is still second in the league in blocks with 2.8 blocks per game, trailing only Myles Turner in that category.  Gobert has had three or more blocks in 18 games, even reaching four in 12 of them. 

In the defensive rating category, Gobert ranks third in the league with a rating of 103.0, per NBA Advanced Stats. This number is just enough behind Lebron James at 102.6 and teammate Mike Conley, who leads the NBA with a rating of 100.8. These three players are also in the top three for defensive win shares, with Gobert sitting in third with a DWS of 0.154. Gobert should be the current frontrunner as he has led the best team in the NBA on defense through the first half of the season. 

2. LeBron James (Previous: 4)

As a reminder, LeBron James has not made an All-Defensive Team since 2014. How about breaking that streak with a DPotY award as well? He very well could.

Without Anthony Davis, James is unarguably the tone-setter for the defense. The Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26 is a prime example of this. During that contest, James had 3 blocks and 4 steals as the Lakers won by 9. Furthermore, James has managed to average 1 block and 1.3 steals per game since the injury to Davis.

Notably, James ranks in the top three in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. James is just behind Conley in defensive rating at 102.6 compared to Conley’s 100.8 rating. Keep an eye on James’s defensive impact for the defending champs as the season continues to unfold.

3. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)

Embiid has been very neglected on this list, but now is the time for him to make his appearance. Yes, it is very high for a player to debut on this list, but he’s been on a tear as of late. 

In his career-high night on Feb. 19, Embiid went off for 50 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls. This is the game that put the league on notice of Embiid’s brilliant season, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the first-place Philadelphia 76ers. As things stand right now, he’s averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.

Taking a deeper dive into Embiid’s floor presence is what makes him stand out. He’s 13th in the NBA in defensive rating at 106.6. He also ranks 10th in defensive win shares with 0.131, per NBA Advanced Stats. The coaching change in Philadelphia has allowed Embiid to run the Sixers’ offense and, as things stand right now, he’s certainly in both the MVP and DPotY conversation. 

4. Mike Conley (Previous: 1)

Since an extended absence, Conley returned to make an instant impact in the Jazz lineup, averaging 2.0 steals over his last five games. The unexpected success has been due in large part to Conley’s improved play. Of course, Conley is high up on this year’s All-Star snub list, but his significant individual improvements won’t go unnoticed here.

Conley is currently tied for third in the league in steals per game at 1.5. He is also first in defensive rating with a rating of 100.8. Beyond that, he then ranks second in defensive win shares with 0.168. Without Conley, it’s hard to see the Jazz having the success they’ve enjoyed this year. Watch out for him as the season approaches the midpoint as he tries to become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton during the 1995-96 season. 

5. Myles Turner (Previous: 3)

Despite a slip in the standings for the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner has been a very bright spot for the team defensively. He leads the league in blocks with 3.4 per game and has a pretty sizeable lead over Gobert in that category. Add in the fact that he is averaging 1.1 steals per game, it’s easy to see why Turner is so high in these rankings.

If the Pacers can manage to get things back in order amidst a sub-.500 record thus far, Turner could rise into the upper part of these rankings again.

Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: N/A)

While voter fatigue may hinder the chance of Giannis earning his second consecutive DPotY award, he should be in the conversation again. The Milwaukee Bucks are amongst the top three in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to the stellar defensive play from the two-time MVP. 

It will be interesting to see where he finishes in the voting after the season’s end. Maybe he gets this award for a second-straight year, while the voter fatigue towards him takes place in the MVP ballots.

While these rankings have gotten competitive as of late, there’s still plenty of time for rising and falling in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Defensive Player of the Year rundown.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are Good Now?

The Washington Wizards went from 5-15 to 13-18 out of nowhere. Much improved from their early-season play they make a run? Dylan Thayer examines.

Dylan Thayer

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After the swap of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards did not look like they were going to be a playoff team. 20 games into the season, the team found themselves at 5-15 with trade rumors constantly buzzing. At one point, they even had the worst record in the NBA, while looked like a trade of Westbrook, Bradley Beal or even both was a certainty with the team was set to pivot into a true rebuild.

Now, all of a sudden, Washington has the look of a team that could make the postseason play-in game. 8-5 in their last 13 with wins over the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards have started to climb the conference, now just 2.5 games back on the Charlotte Hornets for the East’s eighth seed.

But what’s changed? Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly made them start the season out so slowly.

Early in the year, the former MVP Westbrook was playing through a left quad injury. He wasn’t nearly explosive with the ball as he’s always been, settling for low-percentage jumpers and outside shots, perhaps the biggest weakness in his game. Between the injury and COVID-19 postponements, Westbrook and many other Wizards were away from the court for a significant time — the whole team was in flux.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, the team took the floor in Boston and destroyed the Celtics; the 104-91 final doesn’t truly reflect that, but at one point the Wizards led by as many as 25. A national game beatdown, their play led into the best stretch the Wizards have seen this season.

Westbrook, over his injury, looked like his former explosive self. He’s posted six triple-doubles since, while he came within a point or assist of doing so in three other contests. And, back on the court, the entire team was also able to spend some time together, which allowed them to further jell as a unit and build some momentum toward future games.

It was a surprise when Beal came out and said he did not want to be traded from Washington, with more than a few curious as to how the NBA’s leading scorer could be satisfied with such subpar play from the rest of his roster. But he “shared a consistent viewpoint” with the team, according to Shams Charania, as to what they have done to build around him. The Wizards’ clear leader, Beal has signaled he’s in it for the long-haul, while additions like Westbrook should only serve to solidify that commitment.

Beyond their two stars, the Wizards roster has also stepped up in their most recent stretch. Sophomore Rui Hachimura has proven capable alongside the star-duo in the first unit, while Robin Lopez has stepped up in the absence of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews have both flashed as well, with Matthews shooting 41.3 percent from three and even earning a starting role.

If they can sustain their recent success, Washington could easily make the postseason in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, the tightly-packed nature of the East — while they’re 2.5 games behind Charlotte, just four games separate the Wizards and the fourth seed Celtics — should only serve to benefit Washington in their quest for their first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. And, if the Wizards want to bolster their team for a playoff run and look to buy at the deadline, they certainly have the pieces to make some interesting moves. With most of their draft capital for the foreseeable future, along with some interesting contracts they could flip for more win-now type players, anything could happen.

The Beal-Westbrook, while it started rough, has not nearly been as bad as most people would think. For the team, the 2020-21 season has proven more promising than they may have thought and, if they can continue to elevate their game, don’t be shocked to see the Wizards on the big stage come May.

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