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Los Angeles Clippers 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The LA Clippers have refused to go the tanking route to rebuild after “Lob City.” They may have a roster that can win some games, but are they good enough to go anywhere? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Clippers in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

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The Los Angeles Clippers go into the 2018-2019 season with optimism. The team dealt with injuries throughout last season, often resorting to players called up from the team’s G-League affiliate. Despite the constant roster turnover, the team still played competitive basketball and only had their playoff hopes dashed in the final days of the season. Now the team hopes that bringing back a fully healthy roster plus a few new additions could produce a return to the postseason.

To make it back to the playoffs, the Clippers will have to adjust to the loss of long-tenured center DeAndre Jordan, who finally completed his departure to Dallas this offseason. Also standing in the team’s way is the increasingly competitive Western Conference. Numerous teams have objectively improved this offseason and will also be vying for a postseason berth. Count their locker room rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, among the teams that could squeeze the Clippers out of a lower end playoff berth.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

And just like that, it was over. Just one summer after Chris Paul began the teardown of the once Lob City Clippers, DeAndre Jordan put the final nail in that coffin when he agreed to (finally) sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Coming on the heels of Blake Griffin’s trade to Detroit before February’s deadline, arguably the greatest era in Clippers history has come to an end. A full rebuild, if there’s even interest in such a thing, would likely have to wait a year – high-priced veterans like Tobias Harris, Marcin Gortat and Avery Bradley will be on the books until then, with Danilo Gallinari on for another year after that as well. This doesn’t seem to be a strong enough squad on paper to do much more than threaten for the bottom West playoff seeds, and even that might be asking a lot. There might come a time next offseason where the front office has to choose between a full rebuild around names like Jerome Robinson and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, both acquired in the 2018 draft, and something of a hybrid plan for contention minus a true star on the roster.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Ben Dowsett

The Los Angeles Clippers’ upcoming season will be an interesting experiment in assessing the value of star players. The Clippers have quality players at every position and exceptional depth on their bench, but no star players. The NBA is a star-driven league, so it may be the case that the Clippers will be facing an uphill battle on most nights. However, the Clippers are well-positioned to pivot midseason and prioritize the future rather than chasing the playoffs this season should they lose pace in the Western Conference. Los Angeles has several players on favorable contracts who could be desirable trade targets for contending teams looking for a little help. Give the front office credit for making bold moves that positioned the team to have the flexibility to compete now and be free agent players next offseason, at which time they hope to land a superstar like Kawhi Leonard.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

During the Lob City days, the Clippers had plenty of star power but were held down by their lack of depth. Now that they have moved on entirely, they have done a complete 180. A roster once devoid of depth is now swimming in it, while the star power in Clipperland went from magnificent to non-existent – all due respect to Tobias Harris. The Clippers probably won’t come close to attaining the same success they did years ago. Yet, it’s hard not to like the versatility they added. What may help the Clippers is that now that Lob City is done, there’s not as much pressure on them. Better yet, for the first time in years, the Clippers are likable again.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Matt John

For the first time in a long time, Lob City is no more. With the departure of DeAndre Jordan to Dallas, there is nobody left from that era of Clippers basketball. It’s full speed ahead and a brand new challenge for Doc Rivers, whose roster now boasts a large collection of youth to go with a few veterans to guide them throughout the season. Patrick Beverley is eager to get back from injury and has already said his piece on who the best team in town is. Along with Lou Williams and Avery Bradley, he’ll be mentoring rookie guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson. It’s also a year for Tobias Harris to ascend to the elite level. Unfortunately, the Western Conference will be too difficult to break into playoff contention.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Spencer Davies

Ehh. The Clippers are such a hard team to buy into as anything more than a first-round playoff contender. Outside of Tobias Harris, who do the Clippers have in terms of star-level players? DeAndre Jordan’s exit will impact them defensively. Their draft was decent but lacked an impact player. There just isn’t anything that leads you to believe that the Clippers are gearing up for a serious run. They should be good enough to win 40-45 games, but what’s that mean in the West? The Clippers look more destined for the lottery than a serious post-season run. We’ll see how it ultimately plays out, but there just isn’t much to get excited about.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Tobias Harris

Should the Clippers make the playoffs, they will do so in large part based on their collective offensive versatility. Forward Tobias Harris is in position to lead the way on that end of the court. The Clippers acquired Harris from Detroit midway through last season in a trade that saw Blake Griffin depart from Los Angeles. Having already lost Chris Paul prior to last season, Griffin’s departure left the Clippers suddenly without star power. Lou Williams and Harris stepped up to fill the void. Harris essentially replaced Griffin and showed the ability to score down low when necessary, on the move and from the outside as an acceptable three-point shooter.

The Clippers are now the beneficiaries of the consistent year to year progression of Harris’s game. Harris doesn’t draw headlines the way Griffin did, but is an effective substitute who’s both younger and a more cost-effective lead option for the Clippers. Look for Harris to further settle into his lead role on the team and continue to build his game in his first full season with the team.

Top Defensive Player: Luc Mbah a Moute

Clippers fans are quite familiar with the nuances of Mbah a Moute’s game. Mbah a Moute played for the Clippers for two seasons before leaving last offseason to join Chris Paul in Houston. With Houston, Mbah a Moute showed the same defensive versatility and intelligence that made him a valuable contributor until he suffered a shoulder injury. The injury left Mbah a Moute unavailable at the start of the playoffs and unable to make the same contributions in a close playoff series against the Golden State Warriors.

Having just turned 32, Mbah a Moute returns to a deep Clippers squad that has a lot of talent on the offensive end and a few difference makers on the defensive end available to balance the team. Mbah a Moute has the size (6-foot-8), length, mobility and strength to cover on the perimeter and handle bigger players in the post when necessary. So long as injuries and age don’t significantly slow him down, Mbah a Moute is the Clippers’ top defensive option. Guards Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley are the other defensive specialists the Clippers will lean on this season.

Top Playmaker: Lou Williams

In the past, Lou Williams has generally played a more focused role — lead the second unit as a primary scoring option and secondary playmaker. As mentioned, last year’s Clippers squad was not exactly like most teams. The team spent the whole season overcoming injuries to other key players. With players missing left and right, Williams stepped up with one of his finest seasons. In 79 games (only 19 in the starting lineup), Williams averaged 22.6 points, 5.3 assists in 32.8 minutes per game, all career highs. In addition to his career-high assist numbers, Williams also shot and made career-high numbers from three-point range, making him especially potent on offense.

Williams took on a bigger role for the Clippers last season than he has for other teams in the past. He thrived despite often being the focal point of opposing teams’ defenses and, in doing so, earned himself his second NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. While the team has a glut of capable guards, Williams is coming off a career season and will again serve as a key playmaker.

Top Clutch Player: Lou Williams

This title goes to Williams, who is one of the NBA’s best natural scorers. In the clutch, Williams can rely on his ability to break down his defender one-on-one, score from mid-range or effortlessly drop a floater near the basket. The attention Williams draws from opposing defenses can also be used to the team’s advantage with correct play calling. The Clippers have a bevy of options at guard, but none can put opposing teams on their heels like Williams. Also a quick shout out to Harris, whose shooting percentages are quite strong as defined by NBA.com’s clutch numbers, although Harris was involved in far fewer clutch games/minutes as Williams last season.

The Unheralded Player: Montrezl Harrell

This Clippers squad has a few players that have not received a lot of attention for their efforts and impact. With the Clippers having a limited number of national broadcasts this season, that may not change any time soon. Regardless, count Montrezl Harrell as a player that quickly made his impact felt last season when the team needed it the most. At 6-foot-8, 240 pounds, Harrell is quick and surprisingly light on his feet. Harrell measures up as a versatile power forward/center who can make a significant impact on any given night with his intensity, hustle and physicality.

Although he only started three games last season, Harrell was a key impact player for the Clippers despite his lack of shot blocking. In stretches where the team would go stale, Harrell’s intensity, offensive rebounding and knack for finding the ball not only helped to keep the team afloat but often made him the best player on the floor. This season the Clippers will likely start center Marcin Gortat (acquired in an offseason trade for Austin Rivers) with Harrell coming off the bench. However, keep an eye on his minutes as the team will likely rely on Harrell just as much, if not more than, Gortat at center. With the addition of Mike Scott and the return of Danilo Gallinari, Harrell is more likely to play the majority of his minutes at center.

Best New Addition: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

In the 2018 NBA Summer League, fans got their first glimpse of the next crop of the league’s top rookies. Among this year’s lottery picks, Wendell Carter, Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stood out with their play, which raised the question of whether they each should have been picked sooner. Gilgeous-Alexander had flashes of brilliance in Summer League, using hesitation dribbles and off-speed moves to keep defenders off balance while allowing him to get to the basket seemingly at will. Around the basket, he showed a deft touch and the ability to set up teammates through dump off passes or kick outs to shooters on the perimeter.

Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a starting-quality lead guard with some star potential. While not the fastest or most explosive athlete, with his timing and length Gilgeous-Alexander could also grow into a strong defensive presence in the backcourt. The Clippers hope that both he and fellow rookie guard Jerome Robinson grow into the backcourt of the future.

– James Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Tyrone Wallace

Although these are the quiet days of the offseason, the Clippers did make a surprise move recently by matching an offer sheet on restricted free agent Tyrone Wallace. This was a surprise mostly due to the glut of guards the team already has going into next season. With the multitude of injuries that left the team bereft of talent, Wallace provided the Clippers with consistent production. Coming from the Clippers’ G-League affiliate team, Wallace used his length and creativity to score ball despite not having a particularly reliable jump shot. Wallace proved capable of playing heavy minutes later in the season while dealing with the restrictive rules surrounding travel and practice time that G-League call-ups have to deal with. With a new contract to stay in LA, Wallace will have to continue to develop his game and hope for another opportunity through trade or injuries to make an impact this upcoming season.

2. The defensive duo of Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley

Patrick Beverley came to the Clippers last season to help ameliorate the loss of Paul and to lead the way with his defensive intensity and leadership. Unfortunately, Beverley’s season quickly came to a close due to injuries. Likewise, Avery Bradley’s tenure with the Clippers hardly registered a blip as he was quickly shut down due to injury concerns. Now both players are apparently healthy. The duo may serve as the starting backcourt for the Clippers and could help to buoy a team that lacks a defensive anchor in the front court.

3. Boban Marjanovic

Hidden in the large haul the Clippers received for Blake Griffin is center Boban Marjanovic. Marjanovic has been and likely will continue to serve as a situational player capable of scoring in bursts. Unfortunately, when he hits the court, the risk is his slow speed and lack of mobility make him a huge target for opposing offenses. This risk-reward balance keeps Marjanovic from hitting the court on some nights. Regardless, Marjanovic continues to be a fan favorite based on his infectious personality and entertaining friendship with Harris. With Jordan gone, there are still opportunities for Marjanovic to make it on the court, especially if the Clippers are hunting for a few easy buckets against teams who don’t play a traditional center.

4. Jerry West and the Clippers’ front office

With the 2017-2018 season looming, the Clippers were at a crossroads. The team risked a huge backslide if Paul or Griffin, or worse both, would have left and signed elsewhere in free agency. As it works out, the team managed to turn Paul into numerous players and assets and did the same with Griffin a few months later. Instead of being locked far over the cap with a core that had peaked years earlier, the Clippers’ front office orchestrated a rebuild on the fly. The Clippers now have a potential backcourt of the future, numerous trade assets and the ability to sign one or two high profile free agents next offseason.

– James Blancarte

STRENGTHS

Depth, Versatility and Roster Flexibility

Should the injury bug strike again, the Clippers have the depth and versatility to not miss a beat. The Clippers also players on favorable contracts that contending teams may be interested at the trade deadline. The Clippers are well-positioned to compete now and make opportunistic trades mid-season should it become apparent that they are not able to maintain pace in the playoff race.

– James Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

Star power and Defense.

The trades of Griffin and the offseason loss of Jordan leave the Clippers lacking in star power and national recognition. However, even without star power, the team does have the depth and offensive weapons to stay competitive. But the team’s defense may also be an Achilles heel. As mentioned, the team does have notable individual defenders but lacks a reliable shot blocking presence around the rim.

– James Blancarte

The Burning Question

Can the Clippers make the playoffs with this year’s roster or will they look to the future?

As mentioned, the team has talent across the roster to compete for the playoffs after coming close last season. However, injuries could slow down a team that can ill afford to fall behind the intense competition. In addition, the Clippers start their season with an extremely tough first few weeks, which could derail the season early on. If this is too much to overcome, the team might start looking to the future. Despite assurances from the front office that the team will compete at a high level, not making the playoffs will allow the Clippers to keep their top-14 protected first round pick next season. Plus, the team could find it opportune to trade away one of the team’s other guards to make way for the team’s rookie guards.

– James Blancarte

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NBA Daily: Buyers Or Sellers – Southeast Division

Shane Rhodes continues Basketball Insiders’ “Buyers or Sellers” series with a break down of the Southeast Division.

Shane Rhodes

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The trade market has been an active one this season and, on December 15, trade chatter should only increase; players that signed contracts prior to September 15 will become eligible to be traded.

While some big names have already been moved — Jimmy Bulter, Kyle Korver, George Hill, etc. — anything could happen between now and the February Trade Deadline. One team could go on a hot streak and look to add talent, while another could watch their season nose dive and look to acquire assets to either retool or rebuild. But which teams should look to buy and which should look to sell?

Basketball Insiders has started a “Buyers and Sellers” series to find out just that. We’ve already looked at the Atlantic, Central and Northwest divisions, and today we will focus in on the Southeast.

So, which teams are poised to make a postseason run and which should look to strip down the roster?

Charlotte Hornets

The Charlotte Hornets are in a tough spot.

Kemba Walker has played at an MVP level this season and any team with that kind of talent should be able to grab a top-eight seed with ease in the weaker Eastern Conference. However, the Hornets aren’t exactly a powerhouse; while they sit atop the Southeast Divison and sixth in the conference, they do so with just a 14-13 record. Their roster is middling at best, and most in their position would look to retool for next season, if not start a complete teardown.

But they can’t exactly do that now.

The Hornets made a win now move this offseason when they brought Tony Parker aboard. If they decided to tear it down now, not only would it be a slap in the face to Parker, but to the fans and, most importantly, Walker as well. Walker is on the last year of his deal and will look to cash in next offseason. If Charlotte can’t win some games, they could hurt their chances of retaining that All-Star point guard.

So, what should the Hornets prioritize as trade season looms? Rebounding.

Charlotte is eighth in the NBA in points per game and, while their defense could use some work, they are good enough that it shouldn’t be their top priority. However, they have some serious rebounding issues; Cody Zeller is the Hornets leading rebounder with just 5.6 per game. As a team, they are 21st in the NBA with just 43.8 per game.

The Hornets have plenty of bigs on the roster — Zeller, Marvin Williams, Willy Hernangomez, Bismack Biyombo — but none of them are having a big impact on the glass. If the team has an opportunity to swap out one of the duds for an interior threat, they should take it while they can.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Tony Parker

Orlando Magic

Like the Hornets, the Orlando Magic are at best a middling roster that, as of now, is vying for a playoff spot. But, unlike the Hornets, they aren’t in a position where the need to win now.

The future in Orlando resides with Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba, but they aren’t already to make an impact at the highest level. So, at 13-15, the Magic should go into asset collection mode and sell off some pieces while they still have value. Draft compensation should be the primary goal, but it wouldn’t be the worst if Orlando took a chance on some young could-be contributors.

Nikola Vucevic, an unrestricted free agent next season, has increased his value with a dominant season thus far and could return some premium assets. His departure would open up heavy minutes to be split amongst Isaac and Bamba, which could be a major boon to their development, and it would provide the Magic with some sort of return rather than losing him for nothing next offseason.

Evan Fournier is another piece that could be a major boost for a contender — the 26-year-old has averaged 14.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists this season — and could probably be had for a reasonable return. With the Magic expected to find their home in the lottery in a forward-heavy draft, the absence of Fournier could open up immediate playing time for whomever they select.

D.J. Augustin, Terrance Ross and Jonathon Simmons are just a few of the other role players that could be had from the Magic roster.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Isaiah Briscoe

Miami HEAT

The Dwyane Wade farewell tour, thus far, has been a success. The same can’t be said for the Miami HEAT season.

After they made the postseason a year ago, the HEAT find themselves at just 11-16 on the year. And, with no major reinforcements on the way, things probably won’t get much better from here. That being said, they have some quality pieces they could move for future assets.

Goran Dragic could be a major addition for any team looking for point guard help. While the contract may be tough to stomach, Hassan Whiteside could be a major force inside if active and engaged on both ends. James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk could provide major depth for any team looking to make a playoff push.

Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo are a solid core to build around and, while it may be sad to see the last season of Wade squandered, it would be best for the HEAT to focus on those three and build around them for the future. If they can add another young, impact guard to the mix — either via trade or the draft — that future could be a bright one.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Wayne Ellington, Udonis Haslem and Derrick Jones

Washington Wizards

The sky was falling for the Washington Wizards at the start of the season. Things haven’t improved much since, but they have perked up a bit.

The Wizards are in a No Man’s Land of sorts; the postseason is within reach — and they have the NBA talent to get there — but how far could they really go? John Wall hasn’t looked himself at times, but he and Bradley Beal are still one of the better one-two punches in the NBA. But, while the rest of the roster may do enough to get them to the postseason, it may not do enough to push much further.

So what should the Wizards do? It starts with Otto Porter Jr.

The Wizards signed Porter to a max-deal in 2017, and their return on investment hasn’t been great; Porter averaged 14.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and shot 44.1 percent from three in the first year of his new deal, but has seen the majority of his numbers — most importantly, his scoring numbers and shooting percentages — dip this season.

Porter has to prove to the Wizards that he is worth the money, and the Wizards have to push Porter to be the best player he can be. If one or the other can’t do their job, then a split may be best for both parties.

Beyond that, the Wizards have plenty of other problems to deal with. They rank just 27th in the NBA in three-point percentage and 28th in rebounding — that has to change if they want to compete. The sheer amount of money already tied into Wall, Beal and Porter will make any significant upgrades difficult, but the Wizards will have to try something; if they don’t, a roster reboot will be waiting for them.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Dwight Howard and Jeff Green

Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks are bad. They know it, the league knows it. If anyone on their roster, outside the trio Trae Young, Taurean Prince and John Collins, isn’t able to be had for a future asset, they are doing this rebuilding thing wrong.

The Hawks should be hunting for draft picks, but looking for some depth on the wing wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. Vince Carter is 41 going on 1 million, Kent Bazemore should be on the move and Justin Anderson and DeAndre Bembry are lower-level rotation players at best. There are some solid pieces in place, but the Hawks have a long way to go before they are buyers again.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Vince Carter, Alex Len and Daniel Hamilton

Trade season is long, and there is plenty of time for things to go the other way for some of these teams. And this is only the Southeast; teams all over the NBA could see their fortunes reversed between now and February. Either way, an interesting few months lie ahead, and they could have a major impact on the NBA landscape come seasons end.

Be on the lookout for the rest of our “Buyers or Sellers” breakdowns as well.

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NBA Daily: Buyers Or Sellers – Atlantic Division

Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ “Buyers or Sellers” series with a break down of the Atlantic Division.

Drew Maresca

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While teams are technically allowed to trade prior to December 15, NBA trade season really heats up on that day. And with trade season comes lots of goodies like rumors to sort through, player activity on Twitter and other social media sites and – most importantly – the changes to rosters across the league.

December 15 is the line of demarcation because as of then, free agent signees from last offseason are eligible to be traded. This means teams that may have buyer’s remorse can move on from deals they regret and other teams that may have missed on a free agent target get a second chance to land their player.

The Atlantic Division features three teams in a full-on arms race – Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto – and two others preparing their rosters to make a run at free agents this coming offseason.

The Sixers already drew first blood with their trade of Robert Covington and Dario Saric for Jimmy Butler. Meanwhile, the Raptors are sitting pretty with the league’s best record through 30 games and the Celtics, at 7-3 in their last 10 games, seem to have figured out the rotational issues that have plagued them thus far.

We at Basketball Insiders began a new series examining each NBA team by division and identifying which teams should be looking to move or add salary as we quickly approach December 15. Let’s take a closer look at the teams in the Atlantic Division. 

Boston Celtics

The Celtics roster is still in a delicate state. They just recently began playing consistently good basketball. They have a gluttony of talent, but there is probably limited interest in moving any of their core pieces for anyone not named Anthony Davis – as evidenced by their apprehension to involve themselves in dealings with the Pacers for Paul George prior to last year or with the Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler prior to his trade to Philadelphia.

The one player that they should seriously consider moving, however, is Terry Rozier. Rozier is due for a raise. They could issue him the qualifying offer after the season and match the offer sheet he chooses to sign, but it is virtually an inevitability that someone will make him a lucrative offer – and one the Celtics would probably prefer to avoid paying due to luxury tax implications.

If the Celtics truly feel that Kyrie Irving is the long-term solution at point guard and that he will re-sign as he said he will, then they need to cash in Rozier. While his stock isn’t quite as high now as it was coming off of his play in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, he did nothing to hurt the perception of him. The Celtics could still probably pry some assets away from a team desperate for a point guard of the future. And considering the four first-round draft picks they control in 2019 and how onerous onboarding four rookies would be for a veteran team, the prudent move may be to package Rozier and picks for someone that fits better with the roster its timeline.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Aron Baynes, Jabari Bird and Brad Wanamaker

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are in prime position to be sellers as they try to scrape together as much cap space for the free agency gold rush of 2019 as possible. Gone are the days of taking on overpaid role players in exchange for draft picks and other assets – even though they look to be a fringe playoff team and would love to get their young stars some playoff experience.

They must fight that urge. And for now, the Nets will probably stand pat. I’m sure they would like to get out from the Allen Crabbe contract considering is effect on their cap space moving forward, but that’s a tough pill for any team to swallow without sending out additional assets.

Like the Celtics, the Nets have two quality point guards and should considering moving one. The Celtics situation is far more cut and dry, though. The Nets need to first identify who they hope to build around – D’Angelo Russell or Spencer Dinwiddie. Russell will cost more, but Dinwiddie is a bit more of a scoring point guard than a facilitator. Dinwiddie just signed an three-year, $34 million extension Thursday. While they could re-sign Russell and retain both guys, it would be prohibitive to their plans in free agency. And losing Russell for nothing would be a real missed opportunity to return future assets.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Ed Davis, Treveon Graham and Shabazz Napier

New York Knicks

The Knicks plan to try their hand at shopping soon, too, but not yet. Now is actually prime time for the Knicks to be sellers. The team would obviously like to sign at least one superstar – if not more – this offseason. While they will likely have enough cap space to do so, part of their pitch will likely be the ability to sign a few contributors.

To make that a reality, the Knicks must trade either Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway has been more productive this season than ever before, but he is owed more money on a longer deal, so it’s more likely that Lee is the easier of the two to trade.

When healthy, Lee is still a productive and efficient wing who can still defend and who has shot at least .400 from three-point range in each of the last three seasons. He would be a welcome addition to virtually any contender.

Furthermore, the Knicks have at least one too many point guards. Moving on from or including either Trey Burke or Emmanuel Mudiay in a Courtney Lee trade would be ideal. While moving on from Burke or Mudiay doesn’t clear future cap space, they could make taking a gamble on Lee more appealing to a team like the Spurs or 76ers.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Mario Hezonja, Luke Kornet and Noah Vonleh

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers just added Jimmy Butler to their roster in a blockbuster deal on November 11. They are 19-10 overall and 10-4 since adding Butler. They should be happy with their roster and should fight the urge to infuse it with more, new players.

I seriously doubt that the 76ers will make any other major deals. But don’t be surprised if Markelle Fultz’s name remains in trade rumors right up to the trade deadline. As recently as Thursday, Fultz was mentioned as a target of the Detroit Pistons by the Detroit Free Press. Both Fultz and the 76ers seem ready to move on. A Fultz trade seems likelier now than ever before.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Amir Johnson and J.J. Redick

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors’ major move came over the summer when they dealt DeMar DeRozan and netted Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The team has played even better this season than they did last year when they were the number one seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. What more do they need? They boast the best record in the league (23-7), they swept the defending champion Golden State Warriors in their season series (including a win Wednesday night sans Leonard) and they own the second-best margin of victory in basketball.

While crazier things have happened, don’t expect Toronto to make any trades. They do need more time together, though. They will continue to improve as they learn each other’s preferences and tendencies. How scary of a thought is that?

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Lorenzo Brown and Greg Monroe

The Atlantic Division is among the most interesting given the depth of top-tier talent. One move can swing the balance of power in the division – and the conference – considerably. It will be interesting to see if any of the division’s juggernauts make any major moves, or if either of the New York-area teams can either nab a star or clear more space.

Make sure to follow along here at Basketball Insiders with the rest of the divisions as well as any trade news and reactions as they happen.

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Noah Vonleh is Making His Mark on New York

Noah Vonleh is having a breakout season for the New York Knicks. Will he be a part of the team’s future or will he land elsewhere?

Drew Maresca

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New York Knicks’ Coach David Fizdale has described Noah Vonleh as the team’s most versatile player numerous times in recent conversations with the media. In fact, Fizdale believes that Vonleh is the key to the Knicks’ success.

“It kills us (when he doesn’t play well). It hurts us big time,” he said following the team’s recent loss to the Charlotte Hornets. “We rely on him for a lot of different aspects of the game. For the most part, he’s been playing well for us this year. And he’s a huge part of our success when we win. And when we struggle, he’s usually not having his best games.”

Vonleh’s potential has been evident for some time. And while he was thought of highly enough to be selected ninth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, his transition to the NBA has been anything but seamless. But Vonleh is clearly beginning to realize his potential and if he remains on his current trajectory, he could justify his draft status and then some.

Vonleh entered the NBA as an 18-year old after only one season at Indiana. While in college, Vonleh averaged nearly 12 points and nine rebounds per game, shooting a scorching .485 from deep. His hands measured biggest in his draft class and his wingspan was 7’ 4.25”. His potential was noted, as was how unpolished he was.

Entering the draft, Vonleh was cited for his length, rebounding ability, speed on the break and his potential to stretch the floor by NBADraft.net. The only real criticisms of his game were a lack of confidence and inexperience. Bleacher Report was even higher on Vonleh, projecting his ceiling to be between Chris Bosh and Harrison Barnes.

Fast forward to the present and Vonleh has played for four teams in his four and a half seasons in the league, but a good deal of the rationale behind that is simply a lack of opportunity. Vonleh hasn’t played more than 19 minutes per game until this season. Vonleh’s game may have been raw, but he has been on a carousel of border-line playoff teams hoping to add established talent, not projects.

He was drafted by Charlotte; however, he was included in a deal that returned Nic Batum after only one season with the team. He was then dealt from Portland to Chicago in a deal in which the Blazers were attempting to avoid the luxury tax. Unfortunately for Vonleh, he didn’t stick with the Bulls for more than the second-half of the 2017-18 season either. And while his time with those three clubs was mostly unspectacular, he has begun to turn heads in New York.

Vonleh has earned a spot in the Knicks’ starting lineup. He is averaging career highs in points (8.2) and rebounds (8.1) in 25.6 minutes per game. His is also posting a career-best PER (15.5).

But the key to Vonleh’s strong play very well may be his three-point shooting. He is shooting .440 from downtown through 28 games; his next best three-point percentage was .303 last season. And while he’s only attempting 1.8 per game, his shooting prowess presents a threat to opposing defenses, forcing them to extend out to him on the perimeter.

While he’s always been an above average shooter, three-point shooting was a point of emphasis for Vonleh this past offseason.

“I worked on the three-ball a lot this offseason. I work on it each offseason so as to not limit myself as a player and to keep expanding my game,” Vonleh said. “This summer, I put in a lot of work. I did some work in Atlanta and some more time back here in New York and the results are starting to show. In the summer time, I was doing some stuff like that (shooting 1,000 shots a day) after an on-court workout. Get in there, get up a bunch of threes. Now during the season, it’s just staying in rhythm. Playing shooting games with some of the guys on the team: Emmanuel Muddiay, Ron Baker sometimes Luke Kornet.” And while the process seems tedious – Vonleh said it was “Countless hours. Way too many to keep track of” – it appears to now be paying dividends.

And despite all of the progress and the praise from Coach Fizdale, Vonleh is only 23 years old. He could still make improvements to his game, or he could remain the productive player he’s been so far this season – either course of action is a good one for whichever team he ends up with long term. Vonleh signed a one-year deal with the Knicks this past offseason; the Knicks will likely explore re-signing him to a longer-term arrangement in the near future.

Vonleh has been embraced by the Garden faithful and coaching staff alike. And the feeling seems to be mutual.

“New York is a great city. It’s a great opportunity (for me) here,” Vonleh said. “Great coaching staff. Great teammates. Coach Fizz believes in some of the things I can do. He lets me go out there and just play, play through mistake and show what I can do as a player.”

Vonleh represents the future of the NBA: he is a long, athletic big who can stretch the floor, push the ball up the court and switch off on guards in the pick-and-roll –  as evidenced by Coach Fizdale’s initial takeaways of him

“(I told him) If you rebound the ball, you’ve got to push it. I don’t want you outletting the ball.’ And his eyes lit up and I think from there he saw that I was going to have a lot of confidence in him to try some stuff. Now he’s shooting the 3, he’s posting. He does everything. I think I’ve said it before, he’s our most complete player.”

He is far from an All-Star, but Vonleh compliments Kristaps Porzingis on the Knicks’ front line. He gives the Knicks a second big who can shoot and who boasts a wingspan greater than 7’4”. That makes for an excellent rebounding and shot blocking front court. And even if he ends up coming off the bench in favor of Kevin Knox or whomever they sign in free agency this season, versatility is a premium in the NBA, and Vonleh is nothing if not versatile. The only question remaining is if the Knicks gamble to sign him to a one-year deal will pay off beyond this season.

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