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ICYMI: Southeast Division

Next up in our ICYMI series, Dylan Thayer takes a look at the Southeast Division and goes around the horn with some news.

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For this edition of ICYMI for Basketball Insiders, we’re looking at the Southeast Division. This breakdown follows the recent publications of ICYMI on the Atlantic, Pacific, Central and Northwest. 

Starting off, this division is the only one in the NBA that has a single franchise above .500, the Atlanta Hawks. This should come as a big surprise as the Miami HEAT are coming off a legendary NBA Finals run, but this year things look very bleak for them thus far.

The Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic make up the second and third seeds in the division and should be in the mix for a play-in berth. Elsewhere, the Washington Wizards sit at the bottom of the standings and do not look like a very capable team this season. 

The last NBA Champion to come from this division also happens to be the HEAT, but that was in the 2012-13 season with the Big 3. Looking at the division, there’s no team with realistic title chances this season – although Miami certainly proved everybody wrong last summer.

Anyways, let’s take a look at each team in the Southeast division and some things that you may have missed.

Cole Anthony Taking Over For Markelle Fultz

At the start of the season, Markelle Fultz looked to be the spark that the Magic needed from their point guard. Fultz was a big part of the Magic’s 4-1 start to the new season and looked to have rejuvenated his career with the team. Three games later, he tore his ACL in his left knee. During the eight games Fultz played, he averaged 12.9 points and 5.4 assists per game.

Since the injury to Fultz, Cole Anthony has stepped in as the de facto starting point guard. Heading into the season, many people around the NBA said Anthony could be capable of a starting position eventually but ponded if he could do it efficiently. In the 20 games he has played, this has been the case: Anthony is currently averaging 10.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. 

The Magic once again looks like a borderline playoff team in the weaker Eastern Conference – but if they want to keep that energy going, the exciting rookie must continue to improve and fast.

The Hawks Back In The Playoff Picture

In the offseason, the Atlanta Hawks went out and added two shooters in Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari. These guys were brought in to surround third-year star Trae Young while also adding range to a roster that severely lacked it last season. These additions have helped boost the team three-point percentage a little bit from 33.3 to 35.1 percent, so clearly, there is still some work to be done. 

One thing that has been working very well for the Hawks is rebounding the basketball. Clint Capela has been a monster on the boards by averaging 14.5 rebounds per game, which is good enough for second in the league.

John Collins has continued to be a presence on the boards too, as well as scoring consistently by averaging 16.7 points per game. Collins and Capela make up a very formidable frontcourt and the core looks poised to be the next league-wide darlings.

The Lamelo Ball Hype Is Real

Leading up to the 2020 NBA Draft, Anthony Edwards was considered to be the unanimous No. 1 overall pick with James Wiseman and Lamelo Ball also in consideration. So far this season, Ball is the clear frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year Award. 

He is currently fourth in rookie scoring with 12.2 points per game, but he leads rookies in rebounds (5.9) and assists (6.1) as well. As a very flashy passer, Ball can create shots for anyone on the floor. Crafty too, the youngest Ball knows how to use his handles to get to the rim at ease. Looking ahead, he’ll be the face of the Hornets for years to come and should earn a starting spot sooner than later.  

On Jan. 30, Ball had a career night against the Milwaukee Bucks finishing with 27 points, 5 rebounds and 9 assists.

Gordon Hayward has also been a very bright spot for the Charlotte Hornets. After an eventful offseason where many thought he would end up playing for the Indiana Pacers, Hayward took his talents to Charlotte. He had previously signed an offer sheet with the Hornets in July 2014, but it was ultimately matched by the Utah Jazz.

This season, Hayward is posting averages of 23.2 points, 5.2 rebound and 3.6 assists per game. As the go-to scorer in Charlotte, he is currently rocking a career-high in points per game this season. 

What Happened To The HEAT?

After their run to the NBA Finals in the bubble, the HEAT have not been a good team this season. The team has only had Jimmy Butler for six games this year due to health and safety protocols – and, obviously, it has hurt them. Butler is the clear leader of the team and without his presence on the floor, there is a clear negative effect on the roster.

Bam Adebayo has continued his ascension as a star in the league posting averages of 19.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, per Basketball-Reference. The blossoming stud should easily garner an All-Star nod and, if his play remains steady, maybe even an All-NBA team selection. 

The shooting duo of Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson has continued to be a lethal long-range tandem by knocking down about five three-pointers a game between the two. Herro has elevated his play from this past season, but there is still more to be desired after such great play in the bubble. 

What’s Going On In Washington?

The Wizards have the worst record in the NBA. Yes, they do still have two superstars in Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook and a winning coach in Scott Brooks, but they’re an abysmal 3-12. 

The major cause of this is the woes the team has suffered on defense. Right now, the only team who has been worse on defense is the Sacramento Kings with 118.4, followed by the Wizards at 114.7. To win games, this team has to shore up their defensive side of the ball.

The trade of John Wall for Russell Westbrook has not been too helpful for the team as a lot of fingers are being pointed at the latter for any woes. Westbrook has been inefficient in scoring the ball, shooting at 38.1 percent from the floor, and it has hurt the overall product. His numbers might not indicate that he is having an awful season, but he is. The last time he averaged under 20 points per game was with the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2009-10 season, 12 years ago. 

Bradley Beal has somehow managed to look happy on the floor with this team falling lower and lower. Beal has molded himself into a relentless scorer and he has taken that to the next level with this struggling roster. He leads the NBA in points this year with 34.7 points per game and would be an immediate contributor to any contender. 

The Wizards are the worst team in the NBA right now, but things could change as the season progresses. Looking at this roster outside of the two stars, there are two promising young players in Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura – at this point, Washington must focus their efforts on developing them.

Ultimately, the Wizards need to blow up the team and, even though this has been said for years now, it has yet to be done.

With the addition of the play-in games this year for the ninth and tenth seed, we could see the Hornets or the Magic make a run for it, sadly, the division’s subpar start to the decade will only continue. In the end, this division has promise though and should be more competitive in future seasons.

Dylan Thayer is a Contributing Writer for Basketball Insiders, and a Sport Management student in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

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Rockets decline Avery Bradley’s $5.9 million team option

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First reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Houston Rockets are declining Avery Bradley’s team option for the 2021-22 NBA season. On November 23, 2020, the 30-year-old guard signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat. He signed a two-year, $11.6 million deal. On March 25, 2021, the Heat traded Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, and a 2022 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for two-time NBA All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The 2022 first-round pick is an option to trade for a potential Heat or Nets pick. Plus, Houston received a trade exception, too.

Moreover, Bradley earned $5,635,000 this previous season; the Rockets declined his 2021-22 team option of $5,916,750 for next season. In other words, both sides have mutually agreed to part ways, so the six-foot-three guard is now an unrestricted free agent. In early February, it was first reported that the Washington native would miss three to four weeks due to a calf strain. Before this injury, he averaged 8.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game for Miami. Furthermore, he also shot a career-high percentage of 42.1 percent from behind the arc last season.

Though, Bradley disappointed both of his teams last season, leading to the Rockets finishing 17-55 (.236), ranking 15th overall in the Western Conference. Last season was the first time since the 1982-83 season that Houston failed to win at least 20 games. Since the 2011-12 season, it was the first time the Rockets had failed to qualify for the playoffs. In only 27 games played, the 11-year NBA veteran averaged 6.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game. He shot 37.4 percent from the field as well.

Likewise, the Miami Heat finished 40-32 (.556) last season, regressing from the team’s 44-29 (.603) record and sixth NBA Finals appearance from the 2019-20 season. Fans across social media are already speculating that the 2010 19th overall pick will end up playing for the Los Angeles Lakers next season. If this happens, he would join the team’s newly established big three: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook.

After Bradley signed with the Lakers for the 2019-20 season, he joined the list of players in the league’s history who played for both the Celtics and Lakers. The list includes Brian Shaw, Clyde Lovellette, Mel Counts, Rick Fox, Don Nelson, Bob McAdoo, Isaiah Thomas, Charlie Scott, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal, and Rajon Rondo. According to Bleacher Report, the Lakers are also interested in signing Carmelo Anthony this offseason.

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Mavericks are expected to pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option

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Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.

On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.

This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.

However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs’ organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.

Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.

Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings, or Philadelphia 76ers.

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Lakers Need More Than Big Three

The Lakers have their “big three” after trading for Russell Westbrook but is he the right fit in Los Angeles? The former MVP has had an incredible career but he may not be the point guard the Lakers desperately need.

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The Los Angeles Lakers have formed their three-headed monster as they pursue the franchise’s 18th championship next season. Just as the NBA Draft was getting started, the Lakers completed a deal with the Washington Wizards that landed them the 2016-17 league MVP, Russell Westbrook.

The deal sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft to Washington, paving the way for Westbrook to join fellow superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While the Lakers added a dynamic point guard, not everyone is sold on the idea that the Lakers are the team to beat in the loaded Western Conference.

Over the past several weeks, the Lakers were rumored to be seeking perimeter shooting. Some reports had Los Angeles linked to guys like Chris Paul, Buddy Hield and DeMar DeRozan. When the dust settled, it was Washington that made the deal as Westbrook informed the front office that he preferred the Lakers as a destination.

The move is a homecoming of sorts, as Westbrook grew up in the area and spent two seasons playing at UCLA, leading the Bruins to the 2008 Final Four. He had a solid 2020-21 season, averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game for the Wizards, who earned the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Oddly enough, this is the third straight offseason in which the 9-time All-Star has been traded. After leaving Oklahoma City, Westbrook was not able to find postseason success in Houston or Washington. Will that now change in Los Angeles?

For all of his accomplishments, Westbrook’s legacy has been defined by his play during the regular season. This past season, the point guard passed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in the history of the game. Out of his 184 triple-doubles, only 12 have come in the playoffs. By comparison, Magic Johnson has the most playoff career triple-doubles with 30, and James is next with 28. Now all three will have played for the Lakers during their careers.

The thing about triple-doubles (and this is especially the case with Westbrook) is that they don’t always translate to wins. They clearly help the team overall but some would argue that a more balanced attack is tougher to stop. History has shown that having a “big three” is almost a requirement to be considered a legitimate championship contender, but this trio in Los Angeles doesn’t exactly fit together like many of those others.

As talented and valuable as Westbrook has been over the course of his career, he needs to have the ball to be effective. His poor perimeter shooting has been the big hiccup in his game, and that is something that this Lakers team desperately needs. The problem isn’t that any of these three won’t share the ball. In fact, they had already discussed checking their egos even before this trade went down.

Westbrook has never had a problem sharing the ball. He was able to co-exist with Durant in Oklahoma City, Harden in Houston and Beal in Washington. The difference in this scenario is that he will be occupying the same space as James and Davis. The concern is efficiency. Out of 34 players to average at least 20 points per game over the last four seasons, Westbrook ranked 33rd in true shooting percentage.

When James drives to the rim or when Davis is facing a double-team inside, how confident will they be in passing out to Westbrook for a three-pointer? Better yet, how patient will they be if the shot isn’t falling? We have already seen what happened with Danny Green and Caldwell-Pope.

Now that the Lakers have assembled their trio of stars, many fans are hopeful to witness an NBA Finals matchup where James and the Lakers meet Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. As juicy as that series would be, the Western Conference is a gauntlet. There is no guarantee that the Lakers will make it there.

What helps their path is that the crosstown rival Clippers will likely be without Kawhi Leonard next season. The Denver Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray and the Golden State Warriors might not be the Warriors from four years ago. There is also uncertainty surrounding Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and some potential roster changeup with the Utah Jazz.

Considering all of the top-tier point guard talent available in free agency this summer, the Lakers may have been better off trying to do a sign-and-trade. Such a scenario would have hard-capped them but after this deal, they are just $12.6 million below the hard cap with just five players on the roster. Putting together a deal for Hield is still possible, but the Lakers will have to get creative. Adding a third team to this trade, in particular, is one way to accomplish that. Again, it is possible but it will be complicated.

In a perfect world, the Lakers could have worked with Toronto on a sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry. Even though Lowry is older than Westbrook, the current window for Los Angeles to win with this group is closing fast. Lowry would be cheaper and a much better fit overall. His durability, toughness, defense and high basketball IQ would pay dividends for the Lakers. Adding in the fact that he is a much better shooter, one has to wonder why the Lakers wouldn’t pursue this route instead.

Westbrook is still going to help this team. He is a tremendous asset for them in the regular season, especially when James is on the bench or unable to play. Having another floor general on the court to generate offense is something they have not had since James arrived. If Los Angeles can land some above-average shooting to the roster, Westbrook could flourish in this role.

With James sliding to the power forward position and Davis playing more at center, the key for Los Angeles will be to surround these guys with shooters. The Lakers ranked 21st in three-point percentage and 25th in makes last season. Expect the organization to be busy when free agency starts next week. Targets will include guys like Duncan Robinson, JJ Redick, Norman Powell, Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, Patrick Mills, Reggie Bullock, Kendrick Nunn and Alec Burks.

Obviously, the Lakers are counting on their individual talent and figuring out the rest later. It likely means the end for Dennis Schröder. Can Alex Caruso fit in and where does this leave Talen Horton-Tucker? The rest of the roster is in limbo, but the star players and the front office both feel confident that they will land the other pieces that they need to raise another banner next summer.

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