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Jazz, Hawks, Pacers Trade is First Shoe to Drop

Ben Dowsett looks at what today’s three-team trade means for the Hawks, Pacers and Jazz.

Ben Dowsett

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The first major trade bombshell of the 2016 draft season dropped Wednesday, with reports that a three-way trade will send George Hill to Utah, Jeff Teague to Indiana and the 12th pick in Thursday’s draft (formerly belonging to Utah) to Atlanta. Further, reports have indicated that Indiana will pursue an extension for Teague. Let’s break down the deal as reported for each of the three teams involved.

Atlanta Hawks

Many will view swapping a starter for a lottery pick as a clear sign of a rebuild, but this could be entirely the opposite from the Hawks. It’s long been rumored that many in the front office considered Dennis Schroder the superior option at the point as he came of age, and moving Teague for a return that includes no incoming salary doubles down on that bet while also creating additional cap space. The Hawks’ chief priority this summer is retaining unrestricted free agent Al Horford, and the extra cap space opened up by Teague’s departure now leaves them right in the neighborhood of max space available for a potential free agent – one who could convince Horford they were still on a winning track. The room could also serve as a way to retain restricted free agent Kent Bazemore, whom the Hawks will have to dip into cap space for on a new deal.

Of course, should the dominoes not fall their way on the market over the summer, the move actually does allow the Hawks the flexibility to pivot into something of a temporary rebuild. Paul Millsap would be the largest tipping point in determining if they went all the way with this, but the other outlines are there: Atlanta owns all its own picks and now adds another in the lottery, plus has a ton of financial flexibility from the summer of 2017 on forward. Their ideal outcome with this move clearly appears to be to persuade Horford to stay while bringing on another high-talent veteran, and their second preference should Horford leave might just be to attempt to add multiple high-dollar guys (or re-sign Bazemore). Even if neither of these pan out, they’ve left themselves some outs, albeit not fantastic ones. The team is also reportedly shopping the No. 12 and No. 21 picks in tomorrow’s draft, so they may not be done dealing. For more on the Hawks’ angle, check out Lang Greene’s recent piece.

Indiana Pacers

In swapping players at the same position who many consider to be on a similar talent tier, the Pacers are mostly betting on age and their ability to extend Teague, who is two years younger than Hill as both enter the final season on their current deals. If Larry Bird and Pacers brass do indeed believe they can lock Teague up for another few years at a fair deal, and do indeed have him at least even with Hill as a player currently, they’ve made a nice little deal for themselves.

The latter part there could be up for debate in some circles, though. Hill is the better distance shooter and defender of the two, by an amount that just might override the two-year gap in age (expressed another way, Hill has logged just over 3,000 more minutes than Teague in their respective careers). Teague is more capable creating offense, though the degree here might be overstated – he’s a very good passer, but many of the looks he was able to create for both himself and others in Atlanta were at least partially a result of a team system and fantastic gravity from guys like Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap. Hill was consistently good to great playing a slightly deferential role next to Paul George; will Teague fit in the same way?

From a raw value standpoint, though, the Pacers have done well if they can get extra years out of Teague in exchange for an older guy who might be over the hill a year or two earlier.

Utah Jazz

Purely from the perspective of immediate team goals, it’s hard to view the Jazz as anything but clear winners in this deal. A team already loaded with youngsters and without a major draft need, Utah was able to flip a 12th pick that held less value for them than most other teams into a starting-caliber player in their largest clear area of need.

Hill will fit like a glove in Utah, where he can play either with or without returning 20-year-old Dante Exum without forcing the Jazz to sacrifice an inch of size on the perimeter (the Hill-Exum duo would likely have the longest wingspan of any backcourt in the league, actually). He offers 37 percent and change from deep in his career to a team with major shooting and spacing needs last year, and is yet another above average defender to put in front of the menacing Rudy Gobert-Derrick Favors combo at the rim.

Best of all, Hill has proven successful in a situation where wings share in the primary ball-handling duties – exactly the scenario he’ll be entering in Utah. His own skill in the pick-and-roll will lighten the burden on guys like Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood to generate all the offense, and vice versa. He’ll be the perfect soft landing spot for Exum, coming off a torn ACL, allowing the young Aussie to find his legs and his rhythm without an overdose of pressure from a fan base hungry for the playoffs.

The move has larger ramifications outside the specific players impacted on the court, too. With rumors flying about Gordon Hayward’s status as he nears a summer 2017 opt-out he’ll certainly exercise, the trade signifies in part the franchise’s commitment to pushing this core into contention immediately. They’ve added a veteran to fill a specific need. Talk that they’d send core assets to move up in the draft and trigger another minor rebuild was always contrary to this simple line of thinking. This has been the preference of the Jazz front office for some time now.

There could be some fairly immediate roster fallout at the point guard position, however. The Jazz now hold each of Hill (when the deal is consummated, which likely won’t be until July for salary reasons), Exum, Shelvin Mack, Trey Burke and Raul Neto under contract, and there will not be room for at least one of these guys (likely more than one) moving forward. How Dennis Lindsey and his team proceed here will be interesting to see. Burke has felt like an unlikely bet to remain on the team since he was relegated to third string upon Mack’s arrival last year, and that feeling was reinforced Wednesday. Exum isn’t going anywhere, period.

The most interesting debate would appear to come down to Mack and Neto, both of whom did well in the roles asked of them last season – but both of whom are clear backups. Expect Utah to give significant run to both Hill and Exum rather than relegating one of them to the more traditional “backup” point guard role, an easy task as they can play together whenever necessary. This probably leaves room for only one of the other two.

Mack has a non-guaranteed deal that the Jazz have to make a decision on by July 7 – should they choose to let him go, they can do so without costing themselves another dime before that date. Neto is guaranteed, but his deal is so cheap that releasing him (or trading him for whatever thin value they could get back, if such value exists) would be easy enough if they chose to. Both guys can be removed from the roster without much trouble, and which one leaves town probably just depends on who team brass thinks will do a better job in a limited role. Given the extra time on Neto’s contract and the team control it feels like he has a small edge at this point, though Mack’s rapport with coach Quin Snyder and connection to Hayward from their Butler days could play a role.

There’s no question Utah’s move involves a certain degree of risk. Hill is a big upgrade to Utah’s point guard situation, but he’s no superstar and he’s 30 years old. He could walk as an unrestricted free agent after this season, and retaining him might cost a pretty penny in the largest cap summer the league has ever seen. A lottery pick in return is far from nothing.

It’s exactly the sort of gamble the Jazz simply had to take, though. They believe in Exum on a high level, and holding firm in that belief would make a hypothetical Hill departure after just one year much more bearable. The 12th pick could yield a good player, sure, but it comes in a class with a ton of questions and warts after the top two guys – there’s no better than 50-50 odds that the player selected 12th in this draft ever becomes better than George Hill is right now. There’s also the very real chance that a guy labeled a solid teammate and an unselfish player his whole career would see an overwhelmingly positive youth movement taking place in Utah, and decide to return on a bargain deal to play veteran leader on a team chasing glory.

Most of all, though, it’s a signal to guys like Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert that this team is serious right now. Who cares if Hill doesn’t make them a title contender overnight? The time is over for hedging assets and getting younger; the time is now for figuring out what it will take for this core to compete for a title. The Jazz will enter 2016-17 having filled their largest hole, and with perhaps the most menacing defensive starting lineup we’ve seen (on paper) in the league in a few years. This is a great move for Utah, even in realistic worst-case scenarios.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

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NBA Daily: What Should the Raptors Do at the Trade Deadline?

The Toronto Raptors are surging. Bobby Krivitsky examines whether they’ve been good enough to keep their current core intact or if they should take a different approach at the trade deadline.

Bobby Krivitsky

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After losing eight of their first 10 games to start the season, the Toronto Raptors have won 14 of their last 23 matchups, surging to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors had to quickly recharge during a truncated offseason, get acclimated to a new setting and adjust to Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher stepping into the void left by the departures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Despite all of that, they’re scoring the 10th-most points per 100 possessions, are 13th in defensive rating and have the ninth-best net rating in the NBA.

Through Toronto’s ups and downs this season, they’ve been able to count on Fred VanVleet. After signing a four-year, $85 million contract to remain with the Raptors, the fifth-year guard from Wichita State has once again taken his game to a higher level. He’s averaging 20 points, 6.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds — all career-bests — and eighth in the NBA with 1.7 steals per contest. It’s discomforting to imagine where this team would be if he had left.

Then there’s Pascal Siakam, who’s finally shaken off a rough second-round series against the Boston Celtics last postseason and thawed from an icy start to his 2020-21 campaign. Siakam is averaging 20.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. One of the main reasons for his turnaround has been Siakam’s growth as a facilitator: those 4.8 assists represent a career-best. And, with the Raptors shifting more towards small-ball, Siakam is thriving working off a screen from guards, spotting where the defense is vulnerable and taking advantage of it.

Another crucial component of Siakam’s improvement is him playing with more energy on the defensive end. Effort can only take a defender so far, but when that individual is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and has the strength, quickness and intelligence to guard positions one-through-five for varying amounts of time, doing so can have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

 

 

While Siakam’s production has more of an impact on the Raptors’ ceiling than any other player on the team, Kyle Lowry, alongside VanVleet, establishes Toronto’s floor. Lowry, who turns 35 in March, is averaging 18 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this season. He remains the heart and soul of the team. That makes it even more impressive that, despite losing him to a thumb injury during a Feb. 16 matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto went on to win that night and again two days later, stretching their winning streak to four games (including a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers).

One major change stemming from the Raptors playing small more often is Norman Powell entering the starting lineup. He’s started his last 17 games and is averaging a team-high 21.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals. During that stretch, the sharpshooting Powell is also knocking down 44.4 percent of his 6.4 threes per game and shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. Toronto has won 10 of those 17 games.

Powell gives the Raptors more offensive firepower, allows them to play faster and, when they don’t have a traditional center on the floor, has made it easier for them to switch on defense. It’s an adjustment that’s worked so well for Toronto, even in Lowry’s absence, Baynes came off the bench while DeAndre’ Bembry joined the starting lineup.

So, with the Raptors finding their footing and the March 25 trade deadline inching closer, what’s Toronto’s best course of action? That decision revolves around their plan with Lowry.

Lowry, whose $30 million deal is set to expire after the season, is interested in playing at least two more seasons at a similar value, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Are the Raptors willing to meet those demands, paving the way for the franchise icon to spend the remainder of his career with them? Secondly, the Raptors aren’t a title contender right now, which could lead to the two sides working together to send Lowry to a team meeting that criteria by the trade deadline, which also happens to be his 35th birthday.

If it comes to that, Pompey listed the 76ers, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Clippers as Lowry’s preferred destinations, noting the North Philadelphia native would like to return to his roots. For the Raptors to go through with trading the six-time All-Star, it would likely take multiple first-round picks and promising young players along with any contracts included for salary-matching purposes to be expiring after this season. 

Considering Toronto’s current place in the NBA’s hierarchy, if Lowry intends to leave for a title contender or the Raptors aren’t willing to meet his contractual demands, it’s clear what they should do at the deadline. Trading Lowry isn’t going to net Toronto the return necessary to vault them into the league’s top tier, but it would still figure to serve them better in the long term, even though the Raptors’ resurgence suggests if he’s still on the team after Mar. 25th, they’re once again going to be a difficult out in the playoffs, and they could go as far as the Eastern Conference Finals.

If they want to play the long game, it would also make sense for them to trade Powell, who has an $11.6 million player option he’s likely to decline in the offseason. Granted, he’ll be 28 next season, so it’s not as if re-signing him would be short-sighted.

There’s nothing wrong with preserving the possibility Lowry never dons another team’s jersey — and parting with a franchise icon is never easy. But trading Lowry may be the best bet for the franchise’s future, while it would neither change the fact that the team will someday retire his jersey, nor would it take away from his legacy. In fact, doing right by him and giving Lowry another opportunity to compete for a title may just be the best parting gift the Raptors could give him while also strengthening their own long-term outlook.

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NBA Daily: Don’t Forget About Romeo Langford

Once a top-five high school recruit, Romeo Langford has yet to make an impact in his brief NBA career.

Dylan Thayer

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As a highly-touted high school prospect, Romeo Langford found himself at the fifth spot in the 2018 ESPN Top 100. His play earned him a spot in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game among big-name recruits such as Zion Williamson, and after a very successful high school career, the five-star shooting guard decided to take his talents to Indiana over both Kansas and Vanderbilt. 

Langford’s time as an Indiana Hoosier was short-lived as he only spent one year with the team before declaring for the draft. He played in thirty-two games despite tearing a ligament in his thumb. His shooting percentages reflected this injury as he shot a meager 27.2 percent from three and 44.8 percent from the field, per Sports-Reference. Both of these percentages were not reflective of the electric, efficient scorer he was at New Albany High School. 

Selected with the No. 14 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, there was a lot to be excited about. For starters, the Celtics were able to draft a player just inside the lottery who many thought would be a top-five pick before the 2018-19 NCAA season. They were also able to get a resilient player that grinded through his injury and was still able to pace the BIG 10 in freshman scoring with 16.5 points per game. The potential with a healthy Langford is there, and that’s what led to him being a Boston Celtic.

During a 2019 interview with Boston.com, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens spoke highly of their rookie. 

“If they would have been more on the national radar, and he would have not hurt his thumb, he probably would have been even more discussed,” Stevens said at the Celtics practice facility. “He’s a guy we were all well aware of before his first game at IU.”

If it was not clear by this quote, big things were expected from the former Indiana Mr. Basketball. 

Unfortunately, his first season on the Celtics was not much of one to write home about. Across 32 games, he managed to average only 2.5 points with 1.3 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game, often finding himself with Boston’s G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

This should not be a big indicator of how things will end up for Langford though – as flourishing Charlotte Hornets star Terry Rozier was also an afterthought off the Celtics’ bench in his first season, even though many people saw his future potential. In a Feb. 7th matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, Langford made the most of a starting opportunity, dropping 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-5 from three-point range, and 3 blocks. Later, he would then undergo season-ending surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament of his right wrist during the team’s playoff run in the bubble.

As the 2020-21 season heads towards the All-Star break, Langford has yet to suit up as he still is recovering from surgery. But according to a report by NESN, Langford should be healthy enough to return following the pause. 

This then leaves the question: where does Langford fit on the Celtics roster, if at all? Amidst a disappointing start to the season, many fans and people around the Celtics have begun to sound the alarm. When the owner even comes out to 98.5 The Sports Hub and acknowledges the fact that the young Eastern Conference finalists are not currently a contender, there should be plenty of reason to panic.

The Celtics’ troubles have been all over the place this season, but the one that seems to be the most glaring is the lack of explosive scoring outside of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. There has been some great play off the bench by Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams, but players like Grant Williams, Jeff Teague and Semi Ojeleye have struggled to be consistent factors. 

As the Celtics continue to look for splashes in the trade market, there is a lot of uncertainty around Langford’s future as the team now seems to lack tradable assets outside of the core. 

Despite his long injury, Langford is still a much more desirable piece than Javonte Green or Grant Williams. Moving on from Jeff Teague may be a route that the Celtics opt to take as well because he has failed to make much of an impact off of the bench, and this would open up playing time to test out a 100 percent healthy Langford. 

Langford could bring a great burst of energy off the bench for the Celtics if healthy, and so exciting to see how he fits alongside the outstanding rookie point guard in Pritchard. With Langford on the second unit, it would open up the floor for Tatum as he would have another solid scorer to kick the ball out to. 

Could Langford end up being the guy that fixes the bench scoring problem for the Celtics? Only time will tell, but based on his high school and collegiate careers, he very well might be 𑁋 if he’s still on the team past the deadline.

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NBA Daily: Luke Walton’s Uncertain Future

Could this be it for Luke Walton in Sacramento? David Yapkowitz examines.

David Yapkowitz

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There’s one big question surrounding the Sacramento Kings this season: what, exactly, will become of head coach Luke Walton? Walton, in the second year of a four-year deal he signed back in 2019, has often headlined the group of coaches that are thought most likely to be let go next.

Brought in by the previous regime, Sacramento’s situation has changed considerably since they brought in Walton. Former general manager Vlade Divac has since stepped down and been replaced with Monte McNair. And, often, new management will look to build their team, coaching staff included, in their own mold — that’s nothing really against the current personnel, just that different voices sometimes have different visions and want to construct a team within that vision.

If the team plays well, the new management team may be inclined to ride it out with the current staff. In a somewhat recent example, when Masai Ujiri first took over in the Toronto Raptors front office, the Raptors started surging in the standings and Ujiri held on to Dwane Casey for a while before ultimately replacing him with Nick Nurse. Casey had been hired by former executive Bryan Colangelo.

The Kings are in an interesting scenario in that, despite being a perennial bottom-dweller, expectations have existed for the team for over a decade now, the main expectation being that they would eventually improve beyond that bottom-feeder status. Now, that expectation may be more warranted than ever, as Sacramento has some seriously talented pieces in place, including franchise cornerstone De’Aaron Fox and Rookie of the Year contender Tyrese Haliburton.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Kings looked like they might actually be turning things around. On a four-game win streak, with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, they looked like a different team.

Since then, unfortunately, they’ve reverted to the Kings of old. Now, they’re on an eight-game losing streak, their first such skid since 2019.

There are plenty of good teams in the Western Conference and, because of that, at least a couple of them are going to be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Of course, it can be hard to fault teams that show consistent effort and improvement. But that just hasn’t been the Kings, for quite some time now.

The main area of concern for the Kings where they haven’t shown real improvement is on the defensive end. They were already among the bottom half of the league on that end before their most recent skid, while it’s been significantly worse during their last eight games.

It’s always a possibility to bring in a defensive-minded assistant to help with that end, much like Sacramento tried to do on offense this past offseason. To spark the team on that end of the court, the Kings added Alvin Gentry to Walton’s staff and for the most part, it’s worked out: Sacramento is 12th in the league in scoring, up from 22nd last season. They’re also shooting better from three-point range while playing at a quicker pace.

But in order to win in this league, you need to do it on both ends. And that’s something the Kings haven’t shown the ability to do.

Sacramento is allowing 119.6 points per game, dead last in the NBA. Their defensive rating of 118.7 is also last. And, at this point, simply adding an assistant might not do the trick; at this point, it might just be easier (and more effective) for management to simply cut ties with Walton and set up a new staff under a new head coach.

Walton’s popularity and potential as a head coach first piqued during the 2015-16 season with the Golden State Warriors. When he stepped in for Steve Kerr, who took leave from the team to recover from back surgery, Walton guided the team to a 24-0 start and a 39-4 record upon Kerr’s return. While the Warriors were in their second of what would be five-straight runs to the NBA Finals and had a strong foundation already in place, Walton’s involvement in the feat can’t be discounted, while it opened the league’s eyes as to his potential as a head coach.

But later, during Walton’s years as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team showed slight, if minimal improvement each year at best. In fact, those Lakers were similar to these Kings in that they were a young team with no real experience just trying to get better. And, obviously, it’s much easier to look good when you already have an established unit.

Coaching in the NBA is a tough and often thankless job. When things go right, they get little credit. When they go wrong, the blame lies almost squarely on their head. As with players, sometimes a coaching situation just isn’t the right fit for either party; maybe this Kings’ roster just isn’t built to maximize Walton’s system.

That said, in this particular case, it would probably be best for the Kings to ride the current situation out. Sacramento has shown some improvement from last season and Walton deserves some credit for that. He’s shown constant faith and trust in his rookie, Haliburton, while he has Fox playing at a near All-Star level and Richaun Holmes looking like one of the NBA’s best in the painted area (and an absolute steal, given his contract).

Going forward, it’s worth rolling the dice and seeing if they can’t end this skid and get back to their strong play earlier in the year. Further, it might not be that great an idea to make such a radical structural change halfway through the season when your team might still have a realistic shot at the postseason.

That said, should the team continue to struggle, then it would be wise to revisit the matter in the offseason. If they do, it wouldn’t be much of a reach if McNair decides that two years is enough and that he wants to bring in a head coach of his own choosing.

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