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Is Oladipo the Key to Future Miami Success?

Drew Maresca discusses how adding Victor Oladipo can catapult Miami back to the top of the Eastern Conference.

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The Miami HEAT must have been dying to add the newly-acquired Victor Oladipo to their lineup. Just coming out of a slight tailspin, Miami managed to win the last three games after dropping six straight.

Well, Miami’s wish came true on Thursday night, when the HEAT finally got Oladipo into a game. In the end, the veteran played 23 minutes in his first outing with the team, scoring 6 points on 2-for-8 shooting.

At his pinnacle, Oladipo was a dynamic athlete, capable of leading a playoff team. But he’s failed to fully regain his pre-injury form since returning from a ruptured quad tendon, suffered in early 2019. But quad ruptures are very serious injuries from which athletes require significant time to recover – so this trade was as much about taking a chance for the future as it was securing the present.

And the fact that the HEAT only gave up Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a 2022 first-round pick swap solidifies the idea that this was a move that had to be made.

But what is Miami adding in Oladipo? Will they ever get the ‘Dipo of old? Or will they continue to hunt for another star to put beside Jimmy Butler and Bad Adebayo?

Another guy to get buckets

Butler has been the team’s only consistent go-to scorer. As he’s struggled with his three-point shot for much of the season – and missed a good chunk of time due to health and safety protocols – the HEAT have struggled, too.

Adebayo is versatile, too; but he’s not the kind of player you can rely on to spearhead your offense – yet.

Tyler Herro is another who, when hot, can shoulder the offense. But in just his sophomore season, Herro needs more time to get stronger, develop consistency and figure out how to work through being a focal point of opposing defenses before he can be relied on as a leader.

Enter Oladipo, who was a reliable bucket-getter in Indiana (and a shame he was never at full strength alongside Malcolm Brogdon). While his injury shouldn’t be overlooked, it appears as though there could be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Over his last eight games, Oladipo averaged 25.6 points, 5 assists and 4.5 rebounds. He’s not quite the athlete he once was, he’s demonstrated consistent progress on that front – showing a clear difference between his play late last season in the bubble and this year.

Oladipo is also demonstrating another layer, dishing out 4.7 assists per game on the season –  if he finishes the 2020-21 season at that mark, it will be the second-highest assist average of his career. He hit the ground running in Miami in this capacity, including a beautiful alley-oop to Adebayo off of a pick-and-roll.

Guys like Oladipo are nearly impossible to defend with single coverage. And with Butler, Goran Dragic Adebayo and Herro, it’s virtually impossible to send a double team. That spells trouble for opposing defenses.

And that becomes all the more important come the playoffs when the game slows down and defenses hone in on opponents’ offensive sets.

Unlocking even more versatile lineups

As mentioned above, adding Oladipo improves the HEAT on the offensive end. But it’s not simply because he represents a guy who can score the ball. Oladipo represents another weapon for coach Erik Spoelstra to deploy, offering another guy who can shoot It from deep, pull up off-the-dribble and get downhill quickly and effectively.

Here’s a list of everyone on the HEAT playing 20 or more minutes per game, including Dipo: Oladipo, Butler, Adebayo, Dragic, Herro, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, Trevor Ariza and Andre Iguodala.

Granted, there are no true big men on that list outside of Adebayo – and the HEAT should be scouring the buyout market in an attempt to add size – but the lineup potential should be downright scary to opponents.

If it’s defense that coach Spoelstra prefers, he can run out a lineup with Oladipo, Butler, Ariza, Iguodala and Adebayo. That lineup may struggle a bit with guys like Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic, but aren’t many intimidating big men left in the NBA – and it’s about as good as it gets in terms of hoping to defend the Brooklyn Nets.

And there are even more options offensively. Spoelstra can apply significant pressure to opposing defenses with lineups featuring some mix of Oladipo, Butler, Dragic, Herro, Robinson, Nunn and Adebayo. There are three or four initiators there (Oladipo, Butler, Dragic and Nunn), at least three knock-down shooters (Robinson, Herro and Nunn) and a versatile center that can pop and roll. That’s a luxury most coaches simply don’t have, plus it’s a nightmare for defenses.

Improves an already above-average defense

The HEAT are currently sixth in defensive rating. The addition of Oladipo makes waves for what he adds offensively, but his defensive impact has been largely overlooked. That’s downright disrespectful considering Dipo was named first-team All-Defense in 2017-18. If there’s reason to believe that Oladipo can return to form offensively, then there is no reason to think he won’t become an elite defender again, too.

For those of us who forgot what he can do on the defensive end of the floor, Oladipo gave everyone a sneak peek last night, locking up Stephen Curry on a third-quarter possession in which he displayed good footwork and defensive instincts.

But it’s not just Oladipo’s ability to lock down opposing guards that is enticing. He’s quick and smart enough to disrupt passing lanes, taking strategic chances at picking off cross-court passes. Oladipo led the league in steals in 2017-18, so a return to that level of play would be great for the HEAT, who are currently 15th in steals per game.

Indiana Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren communicated his enthusiasm about Oladipo’s defensive impact to Michael Pina of Sports Illustrated just prior to the trade that sent Oladipo to Houston.

“He is an extremely elite, high-level player,” Bjorkgren said. “He’s coachable, and he plays both sides of the floor. Like, I’m telling you, I don’t know what he’s better at, offense or defense . . . So absolutely he is in that All-NBA, elite-level category.”

That’s a big statement. Although it came from an Oladipo advocate, there’s no reason to believe that coach Bjorkgren’s statements were insincere.

The Miami HEAT’s present and future is considerably more secure after trading for Oladipo. This season, they’ve constructed a roster that’s versatile enough to potentially get them back to the NBA Finals – a feat seen as impossible prior to the deal. And moving forward, most of Miami’s core is in their control.

It’s still a long shot, but if the HEAT succeeds in their quest to return to the championship, Oladipo will have had a lot to do with it.

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Jazz agree to trade Derrick Favors, first-round pick to Thunder

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First reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Utah Jazz are trading power forward/center Derrick Favors and a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-round pick. The goal here was to help reduce their tax bill. While the six-foot-eight Georgia native does not have any notable NBA awards or honors on his basketball résumé, in the 2020-21 NBA season, Favors averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 63.8 percent. The 11-year NBA veteran also recorded a free throw shooting percentage of 73.8 percent last season.

The 2020-21 Thunder finished 27-50 (.306), ranking 14th overall in the Western Conference. They could use another first-round pick. Plus, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, this trade will put Utah $13 million below the luxury tax. On November 24, 2020, Favors signed a three-year, $29.2 million contract with the Jazz. Favors is set to earn $9,720,900 next season. This is the second time in his career he has left the Jazz.

He played with them from the 2010-11 season to the 2018-19 season, before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on July 7, 2019 for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick. For the 2022-23 season, he has a player option of $10,183,800. The Jazz plan to also re-sign Mike Conley, so this was somewhat of a drastic move to help clear up cap space. On July 6, 2019, Conley was traded by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Jazz, in exchange for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick.

Moreover, scoring-wise, the 33-year-old point guard has not lived up to his performances from his last few seasons on the Grizzlies, but the Jazz need all the help they can get. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik will make it a top priority to re-sign Conley here soon. Conley earned $34,504,132 in the 2020-21 season.

According to Spotrac, Conley has a cap figure of $39,344,900. Center Rudy Gobert and shooting guard Donovan Mitchell have a combined percentage of 47.61 percent of Utah’s total salary cap. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five year, $205 million extension with the team. He will earn $35,344,828 next season.

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Wizards, Lakers agree to Russell Westbrook and Three-Player Trade Deal

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The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed with the Washington Wizards to acquire Russell Westbrook in a three-player trade, sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft to the Wizards. According to ESPN, the Wizards are also giving up their 2024 and 2028 second-round picks as well. During last night’s draft, at pick No. 22, the Lakers sent Wildcats’ center Isaiah Jackson to the Pacers via the Wizards. At pick No. 15, the Wizards drafted Gonzaga’s forward Corey Kispert. In the second round, at pick No. 31, the Milwaukee Bucks traded NBA G League player Isaiah Todd to the Wizards via the Pacers.

On Thursday, Harrell decided to pursue his $9.7 million player option for next season. Yesterday, rumors surfaced across social media regarding a possible Lakers-Kings trade involving Harrell. Despite all the wrong predictions and mindless speculation over these last couple of days, this trade move could work out for both teams.

After all, Westbrook is a 9-time NBA All-Star and three-time assists leader. In his MVP season back in the 2016-17 season, over the course of 81 games, he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. On Twitter, Westbrook tweeted, “I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game in 67 games started for the Lakers. The 28-year-old shooting guard will make $13 million next season. As for Kuzma, in 68 games played last season, he averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Kuzma is set to earn $13 million next season. For Harrell, in 69 games played last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. The six-foot-seven power forward/center is also a six-year player. Instead of having one or two notable super stars, the Wizards having several contributing players might work out better in their favor.

Last season, in 65 games played in his only season spent on the Wizards, Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. The 32-year-old point guard finished the 2020-21 season with 38 triple-doubles, ranking first in the league and second highest in his own playing career. Westbrook also surpassed Oscar Robertson last season for the most all-time assists; Robertson accumulated 181 triple-doubles in 14 seasons. Now, the two-time NBA scoring champion has 184 career triple-doubles, the most all-time for any player. Furthermore, this is Westbrook’s fourth team in his NBA career.

He is the fifth former MVP in league history to play on four different teams over the course of four seasons or less, adding to the existent list of Bob McAdoo, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derrick Rose. Moreover, on December 2, 2020, Westbrook was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 first-round draft pick. He is set to earn $44.2 million in the upcoming season. His player option for the 2022-23 season is $47 million. This trade deal will not be official until August 6th.

Per Bovada’s NBA Futures odds, the Lakers now have +300 odds of winning their eighteenth championship in the 2021-22 season. This is a move from 4/1 odds before the trade, leaping the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, and they now have the second best odds behind the Brooklyn Nets (+250). Westbrook also has the best odds of leading the league in assists next season, with first place odds showing EVEN. He is ahead of James Harden (+150), Trae Young (+450), and Luka Doncic (+600). With +6600 odds, he also ranks 19th in the NBA for next season’s MVP odds, trailing Lakers’ teammates such as James (+1200) and Davis (+2800).

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NBA veterans are offseason targets for LeBron James and Lakers

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From Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the reporter mentioned, “Lakers have a ton of veteran-type players ready and interested to come sign on minimum deals.” Now, this is not necessarily breaking news near the end of July, but this gives fans a reason to believe that Los Angeles is going all in this offseason to win their eighteenth championship next season. Concerning trade rumor speculation, the Trail Blazers, Kings, Wizards, Lakers, and Suns have all been involved and mentioned by NBA analysts across the Internet.

LeBron James is turning 37-years-old this December, and Anthony Davis suffered a few injuries last season, such as a strained calf and groin. Davis is a 9-year NBA veteran, but of course, him and James are not getting any younger. As they continue to age, these players will be placed at a greater risk of sustaining more injuries. The organization will need all the fire power they can acquire this offseason, if they hope to remain at the top of the competition in the Western Conference.

According to another report by Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, the Los Angeles Lakers have “stepped up their efforts” in their pursuit of Kings‘ shooting guard Buddy Hield by including the No. 22 pick to an existent trade deal that would also be comprised of Montrezl Harrell and either Kyle Kuzma or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Harrell has a player option this offseason, and he may even be interested in playing in Sacramento.

Sources say he has strong connections with Kings’ developmental coach Rico Hines. On November 22, 2020, the 27-year-old center/power forward signed as a free agent with the Lakers. The contract he signed was a two-year, $19 million deal. Regarding the trade rumors, Harrell reacted on Twitter tweeting, “Lmaoo this is wild man!”

Last season on the Lakers, Harrell averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 69 games. In 71 games played in the 2020-21 NBA season, Hield averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. The 28-year-old Bahamian also shot 40.6 percent from the field last season. On October 21, 2019, Hield signed a four-year, $94 million contract extension with the Kings. He will earn $22.4 million next season.

This news about Hield comes one week after the story broke concerning Wizards’ guard Russell Westbrook’s potential trade to the Lakers. The trade was pertaining to a Westbrook sign-and-trade for Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Schroder, and Talen Horton-Tucker. Suns’ guard Chris Paul was another mentioned player target on the Lakers’ offseason list. In 65 games played last season, Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. The 13-year NBA veteran led the league in turnovers last season (312), but he also has the most career triple-doubles (184) and the highest assist percentage in the league (48.6 percent).

Westbrook is also projected to lead the league in assists and triple-doubles in the upcoming season as well. He finished his performance last season with 38 triple-doubles, the second most in a season in his NBA career. On December 2, 2020, the 32-year-old point guard was traded from the Houston Rockets to the Washington Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 first-round pick. However, Westbrook is set to earn $44.2 million in the 2021-22 season. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka will have to make a big decision on this one.

Additionally, Chris Paul, who finished third in assists per game (8.9) last season, is set to earn $44.2 million in the upcoming season, too. This amount is recognized as Paul’s player option. Either way, the organization might have to overpay for their talent. Referencing Spotrac, the current contracts of Davis and James consume nearly 63 percent of the Lakers’ total salary cap. If Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope get traded, this will clear up $26 million of cap space.

Plus, Harrell’s salary represents almost 8 percent of the team’s total salary cap. With all things considered, the Lakers are much better off working out a trade with the Kings to acquire Hield rather than Paul or Westbrook. Team chemistry is a notable factor in this discussion, and LeBron might not be on board with an isolation-style player, similar to that of Westbrook. Head coach Frank Vogel hinted back in earlier January that randomness was the key to the team’s offensive scheme.

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