What Is He Worth?
As the NBA trade season starts to ramp up this week, there are a few names that will get a little more play in the rumor mill than most. But defining their trade value may be harder than you think, mainly because of their contract status or the season they are having.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento
Let’s start here. DeMarcus Cousins is not asking for or seeking a trade, and the Sacramento Kings are not fielding or talking to teams about a trade involving Cousins. That’s where you have to start with this situation.
There is a reality looming over the marriage of Cousins and the Kings: The Kings are still not contending, and Cousins’ contract is running out.
Cousins becomes an unrestricted free agent in roughly 565 days. The Kings are sitting at 9-15 (.375). The good news is that’s three games out of the eighth seed in the West, but that’s still not good basketball.
The story around the NBA is pretty consistent. At some point, the Kings have to face the reality that Cousins will hit the open market, and history has not been kind to non-winning teams with top level free agents.
Cousins says all the right things when asked about trades. The Kings say all the right things when teams call trying to pry Cousins out of Sacramento. They are both trying to keep the marriage in a good place (which it is), but there is a reality to all of it.
The Kings have listened over the last year to what has come in regarding offers and ideas, and while there are a few teams that would unload a lot to get Cousins for the next year and six months, none of it is equal value for what Cousins is to the Kings right now.
Kings ownership is unwilling to give away arguably the top center in the game for what amounts to a handful of young guys and the promise of future draft picks that amount to a handful of magic beans. Sure, the Kings could land someone new in the draft, but they are invested in Cousins and believe the best scenario for them is to build around him, even if there is risk somewhere down the road.
As one source close to the situation said recently, “If you know the return is bad, why make the deal?” And the Kings know the return is bad.
There is little doubt that the Kings could move Cousins tomorrow if they wanted to. They could get some young guys, some expiring contracts and draft picks, but frankly and honestly, the Kings know that won’t help them in the short-term – not nearly as much as having an All-Star center to build around for another year and seeing where things land.
Maybe the Kings get less in a year if they opt to trade Cousins at a later date. Their view is they’d get less for him now, so what’s the difference.
That’s the problem in trying to extract value for a star-level talent at the end of his contract.
Greg Monroe, Milwaukee
The Milwaukee Bucks and Greg Monroe have not been a very good pairing. Monroe is now a fixture on the Bucks’ bench, and that does not look to be changing anytime soon.
The Bucks tried pretty aggressively to find a trade for Monroe last year, and all through the offseason it was said the Bucks were not looking for much for Monroe, hoping to free up the cap space and a roster spot.
The problem for the Bucks, and to a certain extent for Monroe, is that his contract is a tough one to move.
Monroe holds a player option for next season worth $17.8 million. Ultimately, it’s his choice whether to stay in this deal or opt to explore the market for a longer-term deal. Few around the league expect Monroe to command more than the $17.8 million he’s owed, but would he cash that in for a new multi-year deal with a better fitting team?
The problem for the Bucks is this: Teams that would want Monroe as a straight up rental would pay one price in a trade knowing he likely walks in July. There are teams that would entertain that.
The other side of that are the teams that would want Monroe beyond this current year. Unless Monroe opts into that final year, there is risk for those teams that see Monroe as a longer-term option. It’s the unpredictability that kills the market for Monroe.
The belief is the asking price on Monroe is not very high, and with the Bucks still middling in the East at 11-12, there is a sense that moving Monroe would be more likely than not, even if the return is fairly low.
Milwaukee does have to weigh their options, because moving off $17 million in contract money is not easy without taking some contract money back in return. The last thing the Bucks want to do is litter their future flexibility with a bad contract, so the difficulty in finding the right mix of value, cap flexibility, and a team willing to play both sides of Monroe’s contract is why Monroe is still in Milwaukee. Maybe that changes as the trade market gets underway, but finding that balance is no easy task.
Mario Hezonja, Orlando
The Orlando Magic are one of the teams to watch in terms of an early trade. The team is better in some ways than they were four weeks ago, but they are still struggling on offense, and there is a growing sense they will be aggressive in trying to snag a scoring threat in a trade.
The Magic have some assets they can move. Center Nikola Vucevic is no longer a focal point for the team and is on one of the more favorable team-friendly contracts in the NBA. The Magic are highly invested in other players in the front court that match their defensive mindset, and Vucevic seems to be the odd-man out.
The Magic still hold some favorable draft picks, not only from their cache of picks but from picks they have acquired in trades.
The Magic have some youth in guard Elfrid Payton, who has been relegated to the bench by head coach Frank Vogel. They have the all-energy tweener in Aaron Gordon and they have last year’s fifth overall pick Mario Hezonja, who is not even seeing playing time.
Hezonja is the interesting one because his camp is growing frustrated with his lack of a role and there is growing pressure to either find a role for him or find him a new home. The Magic like Hezonja a great deal, but they are trying to win games and Hezonja has regressed a great deal this year, so much so that the coaching staff won’t put him in games despite a need for scoring.
The Magic have been sniffing around the league doing early due diligence on trades, so it’s likely they trigger something sooner than later, but the question becomes: What do the Magic get in return?
Hezonja’s value could not be any lower given his 3.8 points per game average and downright dreadful 3.41 PER. Had Hezonja posted a monster rookie year he might hold more value, but even as a rookie Hezonja job-shared, logging just 17.9 minutes per game and averaging 6.1 points. There were some flashes, but hardly the sustained presence that could command a lot in return.
The Magic have eyes on a postseason run and something more than just eighth seed fodder this year. To reach that goal, the Magic clearly will need more than they currently have. The question becomes, what can they really move and what kind of value does it return?
Stanley Johnson, Detroit
Like Hezonja in Orlando, Detroit’s Stanley Johnson has fallen out of the picture for the Pistons. The situation is a little different because Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy would like to use Johnson more, he just has not been nearly as effective as the team hoped coming into the season.
The Pistons recently sent Johnson to the D-League to get him some extended minutes and a chance to play his way out of the funk he’s been in for most of the season. Johnson delivered a huge 26-point, five-rebound and four-assist showing in his first D-League game. Johnson returned to the Pistons for their matchup against the 76ers on Sunday but didn’t necessarily bring the magic back with him.
The Pistons are in a tough spot because they genuinely believe in Johnson’s potential, but they can’t afford to waste game minutes if Johnson is going to struggle, especially defensively.
Sources close to the situation say the Pistons are not ready to give up on the promise of Johnson, but they may have to consider other options if Stanley can’t turn the corner.
Johnson said he is open to shuttling back and forth between the NBA and the D-League every so often to get extended minutes, which is smart, because if he can’t get minutes for the Pistons at least he keeps his value up if they opt to move in a new direction.
Monta Ellis, Indiana
As if things were not bad enough for Pacers guard Monta Ellis this year, he’s been ruled out for the next four games due to a groin injury and will not travel with the team.
Ellis has posted a gruesome season so far, notching the second-lowest scoring average of his career at 9.7 points game. Ellis’ assists are down, his steals are down and his PER is by far the worst of his career at 9.61.
To make matters worse, Ellis has three years left on his deal: $10.76 million this season, $11.27 million next season and a player option in the 2018-2019 season worth $11.69 million.
It is becoming clear the Pacers are a much better team without Ellis, which is why his name is mentioned so frequently in trade talk. The problem for the Pacers is, who trades for him given the situation? He is injured, owed a ton of money and not producing. Any one of those scenarios kills a possible trade, but Ellis may have the trifecta of deal-killing circumstances.
There is a belief that Ellis has not been right physically all year, and that the decision to leave him home for the next six days isn’t just about giving him time to heal, but to give him a chance to re-focus as well.
The Pacers are one of the teams right there in the Eastern Conference hunt, so every game matters. If the Pacers continue to play well without Ellis, it gets easier and easier to justify a trade. The problem is that Ellis may have very little trade value given all the circumstances of his situation.
While these are by no means the only names we’re going to hear about over the coming weeks, these are some of the names we’re talking about now and there will be more to come.
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NBA Daily: Three Teams Failing Expectations
Expectations were extremely high for three teams entering this season. A variety of factors have derailed their trajectory but there may still be time to address their issues and turn their seasons around.
Every offseason presents the opportunity for organizations to revamp their rosters in hopes of improving their team for the upcoming season. Between the NBA Draft and the free agency period, executives are busy around the clock. The flurry of phone calls and internal discussions among management is key to molding the future.
But the league found itself in an unfamiliar position this past year with the delayed season, the playoffs in the Orlando “bubble” and a shortened offseason that went by in the blink of an eye. The first preseason game tipped off exactly two months after the final game of the NBA Finals. The turnaround was quick and complicated for everyone involved.
That said, several teams were able to capitalize on the abbreviated turnaround. The Phoenix Suns knocked it out of the park with the Chris Paul trade and signing of Jae Crowder. The Charlotte Hornets nailed the draft and free agency, as Michael Jordan landed both Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball. The New York Knicks found success in the draft with Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin. The Brooklyn Nets added excellent role players in Bruce Brown and Jeff Green while re-signing Joe Harris, who has been worth every penny.
Some teams appeared as though they had hit a home run, only to see the ball being caught at the warning track. The hype and buzz surrounding these teams were well warranted at the time, but things just haven’t panned out for a variety of reasons. With the All-Star break finally here, these three teams would welcome the idea of hitting the “undo” button on their offseason moves.
The Raptors find themselves sitting two games under .500 entering the All-Star break. While they are certainly not out of contention, they are a far cry from where most people thought they would be at this point. It began with a rocky start to the season, where they dug themselves a massive hole with a 2-8 record.
The crux of their struggles came with their frontcourt issues. Both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka took the Kawhi Leonard route from Toronto to Los Angeles in the offseason. Losing one of their big men hurt, but losing both of them was crippling. The signings of Aron Baynes and Alex Len looked okay on paper, but the fit could not have been worse. Toronto currently ranks dead last in rebounding as a team.
Toronto ended up waiving Len, while Baynes has seen his role reduced even more. Fortunately, the emergence of Chris Boucher and Norman Powell has helped the Raptors turn their season around. Draft picks Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris haven’t had a major impact, but Pascal Siakam finally snapped out of his bubble fog and Kyle Lowry is healthy once again as well.
One good thing that the Raptors were able to do in the offseason was retain their sensational guard Fred VanVleet. Toronto has seemingly turned things around over the past few weeks and, considering they are playing all of their home games 1,400 miles away from their arena, they are positioned for a much better second half of the season.
Last season, the Mavericks boasted the best offense in the entire league, led by MVP-candidate Luka Doncic. The goal for them in the offseason was to acquire a defensive presence that could get this team more balanced. It appeared as though they addressed that when they traded Seth Curry to Philadelphia for Josh Richardson. Unfortunately, that has not been the case early on.
Dallas was also looking for an upgrade at the center position, but they missed out. They ended up having to settle for bringing back Willie Cauley-Stein on a two-year deal for $8.2 million. As a team, the Mavericks rank 24th in rebounding. James Johnson has been a solid addition, but he alone was not nearly enough to upgrade their porous defense.
Kristaps Porzingis has been quite inconsistent this season, so it is difficult to know what they are going to get from him every night. He is nowhere near the defensive presence that he was during his time in New York. Richardson is the guy that Dallas has been waiting on to provide outstanding perimeter defense, but he too has been unable to piece it together on a nightly basis.
The Mavericks did not find anything in the draft and it seems as though, once again, Doncic is having to do everything for this team in order for them to have success. His 36.2 percent usage rate is the highest in the league and that doesn’t appear to be going down anytime soon. If you are going to give the keys to the entire offense to someone, he is a good choice but Dallas struck out in terms of giving their franchise player more help this season.
No team had won the offseason quite like the Hawks. The organization was able to surround its franchise player with truckloads of talent in free agency. They added elite shooters like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari. They added key defensive guards in Kris Dunn and two-time champion Rajon Rondo. They even scored more talent in the draft, taking Onyeka Okongwu with the sixth overall pick.
Atlanta lost no players of significant value, either, as general manager Travis Schlenk added to his already loaded young nucleus of Trae Young, John Collins, Clint Capela, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter. The problem here is that there are just too many overlapping pieces.
The veterans that were brought in either haven’t been able to get on the floor or are taking up valuable minutes for the younger players, potentially stunting their growth. The workload has been spread thanks to their depth as they deal with all of the injuries but there is no chemistry on the floor. In a season where practice time is near non-existent, that is a real problem.
Kevin Huerter on Lloyd Pierce: “Obviously, our problems extend a lot further than Lloyd, so in a lot of ways, he was the one that kind of took the hit for it.”
Huerter says he sent Lloyd a text thanking him for his time in Atlanta.
— Sarah K. Spencer (@sarah_k_spence) March 3, 2021
The Hawks hit the All-Star break in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with a disappointing 16-20 record. The game is being played in their backyard, yet they don’t even have a player to represent them. And, in recent days, it’s gotten even worse; the team officially fired head coach Lloyd Pierce on Monday, with Nate McMillan set to take over as interim coach.
Atlanta has played 36 games this season. Their nine best players have missed a combined 143 games. Not including Dunn, who hasn’t played all season, that number is still well over 100 games missed. This locker room is a mixed bag of players that lack leadership and desperately need guidance. Pierce wasn’t the answer and Vince Carter isn’t walking through those doors anytime soon.
NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – March 5
Two rookies have pulled away from the rest of the pack in the hunt for the Rookie of the Year award. Tristan Tucker breaks down how the rookie pyramid is shaping up halfway through the season.
The All-Star break is nearly upon the NBA, and the Rising Stars rosters were just announced with several rookies leading the charge. Two players have pulled away by a significant margin in recent weeks, with several first-year players making impacts on winning teams. Let’s take a look at how the rookie ladder has changed over the last two weeks.
1. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets (Previous: 1)
February was kind to the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, who’s ascended to another level of stardom in the NBA in just his first season. The rookie is averaging 20.1 points, 6.7 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game during that span. Since Basketball Insiders’ last update to the rookie ladder, Ball put up a stretch of five 20-plus point games, including a 30-point showing against the Portland Trail Blazers and a 24-point, 12-assist game in Charlotte’s wild win over the Sacramento Kings.
WILD sequence at the end of Hornets-Kings as Malik Monk wins it with an and-one 😳pic.twitter.com/FNEhgdRVr0
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) March 1, 2021
One of the concerns surrounding Ball when he entered the league was his ability to knock down jump shots at an effective rate. The 6-foot-6 point guard has shattered those concerns with his recent play and knocked down 40.7 percent of his attempts from downtown in just under seven tries per game.
When Charlotte parted ways with Kemba Walker in the summer of 2019, it would’ve been far-fetched to imagine that the Hornets would be stacked at the point guard position in just two years. However, with Ball and Terry Rozier, the Hornets are looking at a legitimate shot at the postseason.
2. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings (Previous: 2)
Together with Ball, Haliburton has all but cemented this Rookie of the Year race as a two-party contest. It gets harder to not give Haliburton the top nod with each passing week; the rookie out of Iowa State is completely dominating off the bench for the Kings. Though he’s missed the last three games for Sacramento, Haliburton is averaging 17.4 points, 6 assists and 2.4 steals per game while shooting a very impressive 47.9/39.4/85.7 line in five games over the last two weeks.
Haliburton’s excellence extends beyond his scoring, as the Kings are 1.5 points better when Haliburton is on the floor. Furthermore, the 6-foot-5 guard boasts an assist percentage of 24.6, which ranks in the 97th percentile of all NBA players and a 1.33 assist to usage clip, which ranks in the 100th percentile.
The Kings have to feel good about their young core in spite of their record, especially with Haliburton earning Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors and a spot on the Rising Stars roster.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 24, 2021
3. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks (Previous: 5)
Before the season, nobody would’ve guessed that the Knicks would be the fifth seed at the halfway point of the season. Head coach Tom Thibodeau and improved veteran play from All-Star Julius Randle and others have sparked the franchise’s turnaround. No player, however, is more synonymous with that spark of energy than Quickley.
Since the last ladder update, Quickley is averaging 13.5 points on a staggering 48.4 percent clip from deep. When the team acquired Derrick Rose, Quickley’s playing time was in the air, but the rookie’s resilience and determination have kept him in the lineup as he continued to exceed expectations.
4. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons (Previous: 6)
Bey’s placement here should be representative of the overall fantastic job the Detroit Pistons have done with all of their young pieces. Bey is obviously playing great — more on that later — but other draftees Isaiah Stewart and Saben Lee are playing phenomenally as well. Then there’s the case of resurgences in Josh Jackson — averaging a career-high 13.5 points per game — and Dennis Smith Jr., who was just acquired and posted a triple-double in a blowout win.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) March 4, 2021
But, in a year that many thought would be a throwaway for the Pistons, especially with seventh overall pick Killian Hayes sidelined, Bey and the rest of the young corps along with Jerami Grant and company have stepped up and delivered exciting basketball to Detroit.
Over the last two weeks, Bey is averaging 11.7 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting an impressive 37 percent from deep on just under eight attempts per game. If Hayes pans out, the 2020 NBA Draft is shaping up to be a turning point for the Pistons.
5. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Previous: 3)
If Edwards could hit shots at even a 45 percent clip, there’s little doubt that he would be running away with the scoring title of all rookies and perhaps the Rookie of the Year award itself. However, it continues to be a hindrance, as Edwards is shooting a horrid 32.8 percent from the field and 25.4 percent from 3 in the last two weeks.
It’s unfortunate that the shooting is so inconsistent, as he’s put together a string of four 19-plus points per game contests and several highlight-reel plays across the span of the last two weeks.
ANTHONY EDWARDS…DUNK OF THE YEAR. 😳😳😳
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) February 20, 2021
The last two weeks brought a lot of turmoil to light for the Timberwolves, with the team undergoing a head-coaching change, bringing in Chris Finch from the Toronto Raptors to replace Ryan Saunders. But that’s not all, as Ricky Rubio recently voiced displeasure with the team’s performance and D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley continue to be out.
With all the drama surrounding Minnesota, it’s hard to envision any rookie seeing much success there. The fact that Edwards is able to put these high-scoring performances together at all is telling of how special a talent he can be.
6. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets (Previous: 4)
Tate’s on-court production has dipped slightly in conjunction with the Houston Rockets’ losing streak, but the hyper-athletic forward is still giving it his all on a nightly basis. Look no further than the fact that the team is parting ways with DeMarcus Cousins for proof that Houston believes in Tate as a member of its future.
Houston plays better when Tate is on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. And with that comes rejuvenated energy from all points on the court. When Tate is on, the team’s offensive rebounding percentage increases by 8.1 percent, which ranks in the 98th percentile of the entire NBA.
Even though the Rockets are in a slump, Tate is averaging 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on 47.9 percent shooting from the field. Most recently, he enjoyed a double-double in James Harden’s return to Houston.
Honorable Mention: Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers (Not Ranked)
Okoro gets his first rookie ladder nod after the Cleveland Cavaliers saw a fantastic stretch in which the team won four straight games. During that span of time, Okoro averaged 10.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals while seeing season-best shooting figures of 49.1 percent from the floor and 41.4 percent from three.
The 6-foot-5 forward out of Auburn has played the second-most minutes of any rookie and has started in every game for the Cavs, a promising start to Okoro’s career. Okoro is also playing strong defense for a Cleveland team that desperately needs good defenders and his stock could rise as the weeks go on.
With a multitude of highlight-reel dunks, passes and plays in just the last two weeks, several rookies are making big impacts on teams in a year where young depth is crucial. While Ball and Haliburton are currently leading the race, don’t sleep on James Wiseman to make a resurgence, as he scored 14, 11 and 16 points, respectively, in his first three games since returning from injury. Be sure to check back with Basketball Insiders for the next rookie ladder to see how tight this competition gets!
NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench
Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.
When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.
But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.
On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.
“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”
As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.
This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.
“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.
This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”
Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.
Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.
“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”
Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.
“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”
And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.
He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.
“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”