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NBA AM: Who Is Still On The Trade Fence?

With the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline roughly 15 days away, who is looking to make a deal and who is still straddling the proverbial fence?… Will Kansas big man Joel Embiid really stay at Kansas?

Steve Kyler

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Who Is In And Who Is Out?:  The 2014 NBA Trade Deadline is in just 15 days and while the chatter about trades is going to come up several notches as teams kick the tires on what’s possible, there are a few teams that are posturing for a move and likely will make one, while there are few others that still remain on the fence about change.

There is one thing to keep in mind about this deadline, which unlike most has more draft day ties than usual. A large number of teams are looking at their tradable assets as not only bait to make moves now, but possibly the leverage they’ll need to move around on draft day in June.

Here are some of the teams posturing for a move and some of the teams still on the fence:

On The Move

Phoenix:  The Suns made headlines with their play for Lakers forward Gasol, but like most trades that get to the press before the deadline this thing was really sort of dead before it started. The Suns are shopping the ending, insurance-paid contract of Emeka Okafor and one of their late first round draft picks. They are not looking for anything silly, but they do have eyes for an ending contract player that could add something to their playoff push. Gasol was a swing for the fences idea for the Suns hoping the Lakers would relent. Like all deals they are never completely dead until the clock strikes midnight, but the Suns have moved on to other ideas and have been aggressive in trying to find a taker for what amounts to an almost free ending contract. The challenge for the Suns is the kind of players teams would be willing to move for Okafor’s contract have years left on them and that does not seem to be what Phoenix is looking for today. Again, the asking price on a deal 15 days before the deadline can often be very different as the clock ticks away on the trade window. Look for Phoenix to trigger a deal. They have a very tradable asset and with a draft pick in the mix someone is going to bite, it just may not be as big of a name as Gasol.

»In Related: The latest NBA news and rumors

Philadelphia:  Maybe Sixers General manager Sam Hinkie learned this while he was in Houston, but the Sixers have had a toe (or half a foot) in the trade waters all season long. The names are pretty clear – guard Evan Turner, forward Thaddeus Young and big man Spencer Hawes. The problem is much like Houston has done historically, the asking price for the 76ers’ pieces is really high. Unprotected draft picks and rookie scale players are hard to extract when the league knows you need to sell. The 76ers are one of the teams that is looking to trigger something around the deadline and they could move all three of the players they have been fielding offers on. Turner seems to be drawing considerable interest from the Charlotte Bobcats, and Young has been a target of the Rockets’ all year. As the clock becomes Philly’s enemy they may relent on their asking price so you can expect that they’re going to do something. They simply have too many reasons to make a deal, especially if they can swap out talent and contracts that are in tune with their long-term plan.

Charlotte:  The Charlotte Bobcats are somewhat aggressive in kicking the tires. They like Philadelphia’s Evan Turner and they have been kicking around the Detroit Pistons on Greg Monroe. Charlotte is owed a couple of draft picks – one from the Portland Trail Blazers that they look poised to get this year and a Detroit Pistons’ pick that is top eight protected this year. Their own draft pick looks to be headed to Chicago if the ‘Cats make the playoffs and they are angling for a trade to do just that. The Bobcats are also shopping the ending contract of Ben Gordon and there has been talk that they would toss in Bismack Biyombo for the right kind of upgrade, although that might not be much of an inducement. The Bobcats also have the ending contract of Ramon Sessions, who has really struggled to shoot the ball this season. The ‘Cats are in the market. They do have trade chips they are willing to move. The Bobcats as a team are wanting to make a deal, the question is what will they get back for what they appear to be offering in trade?

Cleveland:  The Cavaliers are open for business. The two names mentioned most around the league are second year guard Dion Waiters and veteran forward Alonzo Gee. Waiters and lead guard Kyrie Irving has not meshed well together and the Cavs seem to be accepting that moving Waiters has to happen. The Cavs could hold the line if the offers don’t improve and try to move Waiters around the draft or in free agency, but if they can make a move that returns a good asset they seem open to it. Gee has fallen out of the rotation since the arrival of Luol Deng and with his contract in essence being an ending deal as the final year is not guaranteed. He seems like he’ll be tossed in to clear out the log jam and to try and up the overall value of a deal to return a better veteran. There is of course is the annual Anderson Varejao watch. The Cavs have been reluctant to include him in trade talks, but sources around the situation say the massive dysfunction in Cleveland has them listening to a lot of things they normally wouldn’t. The Cavs look like they are sellers, the question is do they get a deal in at the deadline or does business get pushed off to the draft. Current management may not survive a non-playoff berth, so there is at least some perceived urgency to get something done in Cleveland.

Houston:  The Houston Rockets haven’t stopped shopping for change. The problem is the chips they would move – Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin – won’t return what Houston is looking for: better talent. There continues to be talk that a number of teams like the talent of Asik, but just can’t get their ownership on board with paying his massive balloon payment next season and give up a quality asset as part of the deal. It seems the combination of cost in salary and cost in talent is more than some teams will consider. When you start pulling teams off the board and the field gets smaller, it’s much harder to make a deal that improves the roster. One league source said the Rockets could move Asik tomorrow, but they wouldn’t get much for him. There has been some talk that Francisco Garcia and Donatas Motiejunas could be had at the deadline but combined those two players represent $2.687 million in outgoing salary, that’s hardly enough salary cash to pry lose an impact point guard or an impact power forward. The Rockets seem like they want to make a deal and historically they have been traders at the deadline, so we’ll see if the league’s stance on Asik or Lin changes as the clock ticks to the deadline.

»In Related: This week’s NBA power rankings

Milwaukee:  The Bucks are definitely open for business. Almost anything outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo or John Henson is going to get consideration. The Bucks have been as active as almost anyone in gauging what’s out there. They haven’t really gotten to the offering point on anything, but it does seem like they are going to do something at the deadline. Point guard has been mentioned as a need the Bucks are trying to fill for the long-term and the Bucks could be one of the teams on the move for Dion Waiters; although there continues to be talk that the Milwaukee is steering clear of “bad attitude” players, which might red-flag Waiters. There has been talk all season that Houston has eyes for forward Ersan Ilyasova. His numbers on the season have been less than stellar and he is owed a ton of money. It’s unclear if the Bucks would take on one of Houston’s ugly “cash” contracts in order to get out from under Ilyasova but that’s the one to really watch. Milwaukee seems open for business, it remains to be seen how much of the current roster they’d sell.

Sacramento:  The Kings continue to be active in trade talks. The two most mentioned names are guards Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette. Combined they become an interesting salary cap value that could return a major salary player. The problem is there does not seem to be a whole lot of interest in either player. The Kings have been linked to Denver in an Andre Miller-Jimmer Fredette swap and that may still go down as Denver gets closer to the deadline. The Kings already triggered a major move to get forward Rudy Gay from Toronto and it seems that they are continuing to try and add meaningful players to the roster. The Kings have no shortage of interesting trade chips, the question is what can they truly get done at the deadline.

New Orleans:  The Pelicans continue to get hammered with injuries and as much as the team tries to recover they just keep taking steps backwards. The Pelicans are what’s best described as value shoppers. They are open to trades involving core players like Eric Gordon or even Tyreke Evans – if they returned upgrades. That is a tough sell given what both players are making. The Pelicans look like they are going to trade guard Austin Rivers at the deadline, sources close to the situation believe there has been agreement in place all season to move him if playing time and opportunity did not become available. Rivers has seen his minutes increase over the last 14 games, which might be showcasing him for a deal. The Pelicans usually play trades close to the vest, but their posture is one of a team willing to listen to trades and the fact that they have so many duplicated pieces they might be a dark horse to make a splashy move.

On The Fence

Toronto:  The Raptors have not stopped listening to offers. In fact, some say they are fielding more calls than normal for a team sitting in the third spot in the East. There continues to be a sense that Toronto would move guard Kyle Lowry, simply because of the risk of losing him to free agency in July. However, sources close to the Raptors say they are simply doing their due diligence and that moving anyone at this point would be all about getting swept away with an offer. The Raptors have all kind of attractive trade chips, but it does seem with the team pointed in the right direction that Toronto may sit out the deadline and let this roster play itself out. Unlike most playoff teams, Toronto is not out of the trade game, they just don’t seem like they are ready to commit to a trade just yet.

Detroit:  If you can figure the Detroit Pistons out, bravo. If there is a team in the East that needs to make a roster-changing trade it’s Detroit, but more and more teams are saying Detroit is holding the line. The Pistons have several ending contracts that have value – most notably Rodney Stuckey. They have a pending restricted free agent in Greg Monroe that could return real value and the Pistons seem to be sitting this one out. Several teams have called only to find Detroit reluctant to engage. That could clearly change over the next 15 days, especially as the finality of the deadline approaches, but as much as the Pistons need to make a deal they seem the most unwilling to entertain one.

Dallas:  The Mavericks are historically active at the deadline, however this year there’s just not a lot linked to Dallas. There is a clear need for some frontcourt help. They could also use another impact scorer from the bench, but even with needs and ending contracts that could be swapped to fill them, the Mavs don’t seem to be players. The Mavericks have a reputation for shaking every tree in the league so maybe that happens after the All-Star break, but Dallas does not seem as interested in change as they have been in years past.

Orlando:  The Magic are like the pretty girl at the dance. Everyone is calling, but not much is happening. The Magic played the J.J. Redick situation almost exactly like this a year ago, rebuffing calls on their players that clearly do not fit in the long-term. The Magic could and likely will change course as the deadline and the offers get real, but don’t be surprised if Orlando sits out the trade deadline and makes their moves around the draft to jockey for better position or to swap veterans for better fitting rookie scale players. Magic guard Arron Afflalo is the top incoming request; however, it seems unless moving Afflalo yields another lottery pick or a means to thin out the roster, the Magic may pass. Admittedly that was Orlando’s move with Redick, and they ultimately made a trade so don’t count Orlando out. They are just squarely on the fence about making a trade.

Washington:  The Washington Wizards would like to make a trade. In fact sources close to the situation peg Washington as the top suitor for Detroit’s Greg Monroe. The problem is they can’t get any traction. The Wizards have trade chips. They have the ending contract of Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat. Rookie Otto Porter has been mentioned more than once as has second year guard Brad Beal. Not necessarily because Washington wants to move them, but because they are trying to shake loose a real trade. They just are not getting there. As the deadline approaches they might find a dance partner, but the sense is that Washington is only going to do a deal that cements them in the playoffs as a contender and they are unwilling to shake up a team sitting in the fifth spot in the East just for change’s sake, a trade has to make them better today and going forward and it seems they are open to moving ending contracts and maybe a young player to lock themselves in.

LA Lakers:  Ahh, The Lakers. Are we ready to stop jumping at every Pau Gasol rumor yet? The Lakers have arrived at the point we knew they’d get to. They have to trade Gasol for something; the problem is they simply want too much in return for a player making $19 million. If the Lakers would take back contract money they’d get a lot more value out of Gasol than the rumored deal for Emeka Okafor and a late first round pick they were offered by Phoenix. The fact that Gasol is going to miss even more time to nagging injuries only impacts the return the Lakers can extract for him. Internally the message has been pretty consistent – Gasol gets moved if it returns future value and no long term contract money. That deal is going to be really hard to pull off for the Lakers. Don’t rule the Lakers out of the trade market. The writing on the wall says they are going to do something with Gasol, the question becomes what do they ultimately settle for and when you settle in trades those usually happen at the last minute. That could always change, but with Gasol hobbled, the Lakers are holding firm on flexibly this summer and wanting solid draft picks in a deal, they may not find that in the next 15 days.

»In Related: Could Dante Exum force his way to the Lakers like Kobe?

There will obviously be a lot of trade chatter as we march to the trade deadline, make sure you are checking The Latest NBA News section of the site, we’ll keep you posted on everything going on, especially around rumors and roster moves.

» Are You Ready For The 2014 NBA Trade Deadline? Basketball Insiders has you covered. Later this week our first Digital Magazine issue will drop, featuring the most comprehensive look at the NBA Trade Deadline you will find anywhere. The magazine will be available on your smartphone, tablet or desktop. If you are an Apple user, you can grab the Digital Magazine app here. For our Android users you can grab the Digital Magazine app here. When the issue is ready it will automatically appear in your App for purchase. If you do not want to download the App, we will have a web-based solution for you that works great on smartphones and tablets as well as other computing devices. The links for that will drop when the issue is available. We have made the pledge to keep our content free from annoying auto-play ads and content lockers, so buying the magazine is how we’ll keep up our end of the deal. Download the app today and get ready for 110 pages of trade deadline knowledge, exclusively from Basketball Inisders.

Keeping The Noise Out:  Kansas big man Joel Embiid could be the top overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. His draft stock has soared all season and with that has come an unbelievable amount of pressure for a decision on his future.

Embiid is still very new to basketball, the world of money and power brokers that surround it. Kansas head coach Bill Self has tried to shield his big man and has tried to keep him as insulated as possible. However, it’s become almost a daily question in Embiid’s life – will he be one-and-done and head to the NBA?

Embiid was asked again last night about his mindset on the NBA, and again he played the same cards he’s been playing regarding this topic.

“I’m not even thinking about it right now,” Embiid said to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. “I’ll make a decision after the season, but I’m definitely considering coming back to school.”

»In Related: The latest full 2014 NBA Mock Draft

The prevailing thought from Embiid is that he’s not sure he’s ready for the NBA and the pressures of being a top overall pick candidate.

Embiid is from Cameroon and has been playing organized basketball for just three years. While he’s displayed a lot of athleticism and progress at Kansas, there is still a lot of learning that Embiid needs and it seems he understands that.

Given how brutal things have gone for Anthony Bennett, this year’s top overall pick, its not hard to understand why Embiid, who may be more of a project in his rookie year than most, might be fearful of the big stage of the NBA.

Embiid has said a few times that it will be hard for him to pass on the guaranteed money being a high level draft pick will mean for him and his family, but that staying in school of another year is very possible in his mind.

We have seen this before. Chicago’s Joakim Noah opted for another year at Florida and a chance at a second national championship despite rumors he could have gone number one overall in 2006. Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart passed on a possible top three selection this past year in the 2013 NBA Draft.

The problem with buying into the “I’m going to stay” quotes that surface around all of the top college players is that for the most part they are designed to end the questions every day. Embiid can’t declare for the draft today even if he wanted to and he really is not supposed to have contact with NBA teams or agents that could really inform him of his options.

There is no doubting that Embiid is a little overwhelmed by how big his world has gotten in just a few months of stellar play. It’s easy to understand why he’d want to consider staying in a safe and secure environment like Kansas, especially for a kid that has craved coaching and hard work. When you factor in how new all of this is to him, the doubts about being ready should be natural responses.

The truth however is that going number overall is a rare. The financial windfall Embiid can provide to his family is going to be more than the contract money he earns from his future NBA teams; it’s going to be the endorsement possibility and additional money that comes from being the top pick.

Will the kid from Cameroon that wasn’t on the NBA radar as a top prospect four month ago really turn down what could be $30-$40 million in guaranteed money for another year at Kansas?

He might, but it’s extremely unlikely.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

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NBA Daily: Why Boston Rebuffed Indiana

Many reports have come out explaining why Boston didn’t trade Gordon Hayward to Indiana when they had the chance. Matt John provides an alternative theory for why Danny Ainge didn’t take Indy’s offer.

Matt John

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Let’s be clear on this: There is some valid intrigue to one Myles Turner.

He is one of the rare hybrid bigs who can block shots (at a high clip) and shoot threes (at an average clip) – and all in a league that values that sort of skillset in bigs now more than ever. He’s a seven-foot rim-runner that jumps like his legs are made out of pogo sticks with arms long enough to make Mr. Fantastic jealous.

Although he hasn’t grown much as a player over the last three years, you can make the case that none of that is on him. The Indiana Pacers outgrew him for reasons out of his control, which, in turn, has limited his effectiveness and made him a little underrated.

And best of all, had the Celtics acquired him for Gordon Hayward, Turner would have strengthened their frontcourt on depth alone. Their frontcourt weaknesses definitely showed itself in the postseason when it mattered the most. Turner was attainable, is a better fit in Boston than he currently is in Indiana and he fits with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s timeline, so why didn’t the Celtics agree to take him from Indiana when they had the chance?

At first glance, the simple answer is that they just didn’t want him that badly. More and more details have come out saying that the Celtics gauged trade interest around the league for Turner and didn’t really get anywhere, so they wanted more from Indiana.

Not too long after the Hayward debacle, it was announced that the Celtics were bringing in Tristan Thompson – a starting-caliber big who rebounds better, costs half as much as Turner and has championship experience – further reinforcing that Boston just wasn’t that into the center.

That sadly doesn’t really answer the question, since, all things considered, getting someone like Turner surely would have been a better alternative than letting Hayward walk for nothing. Even if the Celtics didn’t have much interest in Turner to begin with, why this route?

Well, maybe it wasn’t about the prospect of getting Myles Turner. Maybe it was more about what kind of asset they were letting go of. Maybe, just maybe, Boston didn’t want to make an Eastern Conference rival potentially stronger than them.

If everything went Boston’s way, Gordon Hayward would still be suiting up for the Celtics. They were willing to pay Hayward upwards of nine figures to keep him as the fourth guy in their pecking order. Evidently, Hayward didn’t want that, and it’s not hard to see why.

Besides getting a bag so expensive that pretty much everyone unanimously agrees that it was a gross overpay, Hayward’s injuries combined with the unexpectedly rapid growth spurts of Tatum and Brown greatly diminished his role in Boston since first joining back in 2017. Remember that when Gordon Hayward signed a max contract with the Celtics, nobody second-guessed it from either side because he was supposed to be a featured player on a team aiming for a title. Subsequently, that went *poof* just six minutes into his first season in Boston.

You know the rest.

Fast forward to the end of this season and it was clear that Hayward wasn’t a featured player anymore and just part of the supporting cast. Being the fourth option has its perks, like not having the pressure to be the guy night-in and night-out. Especially when you’re being paid $30 million to do it. Alas, no player signs a max contract intending to be a complementary piece on a contender. Hayward wanted a bigger role and that wasn’t happening in Boston.

He’s going to get just that in Charlotte, probably would have gotten that in Indiana, and Myles Turner, Doug McDermott and a first-rounder isn’t the worst return for someone who was leaving anyway.

But know why the Gordon Hayward era in Boston turned out to be a dud? Hayward never quite figured out what he was supposed to be on the team. He was the most overqualified fourth option in the league and, yet, never quite ran with that role. Hayward brought more good than bad, but the inconsistency was maddening.

There were moments where the Celtics saw the Hayward of old, but they were flashes in a pan. Upon further inspection, there was a pattern. Almost every time Hayward put on a retro performance, someone else on the team happened to not be playing.

The first one of these performances came during the comedy of errors that was Boston’s 2018-19 season. His first season post-leg injury, Hayward wasn’t exactly the bucket-getter he was during his Utah days. He managed to eclipse the 20-point mark only seven times in the 81 games he played for the Celtics that season – and that included the postseason. So, whenever he had it going, it was safe to say that it was a rare occasion. Such an occasion happened on Jan. 2, 2019.

Hayward’s 35 points off the bench helped the Celtics rout the Minnesota Timberwolves, 115-102. This wasn’t Hayward’s first 30-point performance of the season. Hell, it wasn’t even his first 30-point performance against the Timberwolves that season. What made this even more surreal was that Hayward managed to do this without mercurial star Kyrie Irving. Well, it wasn’t like Minnesota was exactly the team to beat so there wasn’t too much to take from it. But then, on Feb. 12, it happened again.

Gordon Hayward put up yet another excellent performance – and this time against the twice revamped and very legitimate Philadelphia 76ers with Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler. Yet again, no Kyrie, no problem. The Celtics won 112-109 going away, and they wouldn’t have done it without Hayward.

Any Celtics fan would tell you that it was a Kyrie thing seeing how badly that relationship ended. In fact, he had his best performance as a Celtic against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 5, 2019, where he hung a career-high 39 points on them.

This time though, there was no Jaylen Brown. Huh. So maybe it didn’t have much to do with Kyrie. Maybe Hayward played better when more touches were available. Hayward never put up a performance quite as strong as that one again – but anytime he had a standout performance, it usually fell under the exact same conditions. If Hayward had a great game it was because a vital player on the Celtics had been absent, and he was good enough to make up the difference.

For instance, on Jan. 28, Boston faced off against their future conference finals opponent Miami HEAT without the blossoming Jayson Tatum – moreover, it was in South Beach, where the home team had lost on their home floor only twice beforehand. Boston prevailed 109-101. How did they do it?

A month later, it happened again. This time against old friend Minnesota and this time without Kemba Walker. It didn’t matter then either. Hayward looked like himself.

Sure, Hayward had some fantastic games when the squad was at full strength and had some not-so-fantastic games when featured players were out, but this didn’t feel like a string of coincidences. At that time, it didn’t seem as evident, but in light of his departure, it stands out more now: The bigger role Gordon Hayward had in the offense, the likelier he was to perform better.

That was the conundrum with sending him to Indiana. Should he have been sent to the Pacers, there would have been more touches for him. Indiana already has some impressive offensive talent between All-Star center Domantas Sabonis and bubble-darling TJ Warren. Even with how good those two have been, theoretically, they wouldn’t have demanded the ball enough to limit Hayward’s role on the team like Boston inadvertently did with the Jays and Kemba.

With the ball in his hands more, the Hayward that showed up oh-so-sporadically in Boston may have been a mainstay in Indiana. That’s not a sure thing, but Ainge may not have wanted to take that chance.

It’s also worth mentioning that with the emergence of Sabonis, Indiana had less and less use for Turner. They’ve tried to make the pair work for the last three years. Their two-man net rating together is plus-2.1, which is fine, but it doesn’t show much progress compared to the plus-2.8 the year prior. With Sabonis’ emergence as their center of the future, it seems much more apparent that Turner is the odd man out.

So if the Celtics agreed to sign and trade Hayward for Turner among others, they’d be doing the Pacers potentially two favors:

1. Giving Indiana the better player and fit who would thrive in a bigger role.
2. Ridding Indiana of an already expendable player, talent and all.

Let’s now point out the obvious. Of course Danny Ainge didn’t want to lose Hayward for nothing. No one in his shoes would. But evidently, he didn’t think acquiring Turner as the centerpiece was worth possibly making the Pacers, an Eastern Conference rival, not only better with Hayward, but potentially better than the Celtics too.

Indiana was a mere 3.5 games behind Boston for the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Hayward, even with his injury history, could have conceivably raised their ceiling high enough to supplant Boston. If Boston believed he wasn’t capable of that, then maybe they would have pulled the trigger on this deal – or more definitively, wouldn’t have been offering him $100+ million to keep him around.

Here’s a better way of putting it: The Celtics are much more likely to fear a team with Gordon Hayward if his supporting cast has the likes of Sabonis, Warren and Malcolm Brogdon than they are if his supporting cast has the likes of LaMelo Ball, Devonte’ Graham and PJ Washington.

Optimistically, Hayward makes Charlotte a borderline playoff team. There’s no telling what he could have done for Indiana if all they had to give up was Turner, McDermott and a first-rounder.

Ultimately, too, Hayward was moved by Charlotte’s out-of-the-park mega-offer – and that’s why he’ll be donning a Hornets uniform next season.

In the end, Boston did get something out of Hayward. A league-record $28.5 million trade exception. One so big that it took forking over two second-round picks to get Charlotte to comply. It’s hard to believe that Boston won’t use an exception that large – look at what Golden State just did with the exception they got for Andre Iguodala – just like it’s hard to believe that they’ll get someone of Hayward’s caliber on the trade market. A star is probably out of the question, but a young player with upside definitely isn’t. Someone like Myles Turner comes to mind. As stated earlier, there’s definitely some intrigue to Turner.

Just not enough intrigue to trade Gordon Hayward for – as Boston has made so abundantly clear.

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NBA

2020 NBA Draft and Free Agency Roundable

Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler discuss winners and losers of the NBA Draft and free agency.

Drew Maresca

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ALERT. ALERT. ALERT. The NBA’s 2020-21 season is scheduled to begin in less than a month.

If it feels like we just crowned the 2020 NBA Champions, that’s because we did. The Los Angeles Lakers secured their 17th championship on October 11, just over a month ago. Still, the new season kicks off in less than a month, on December 22; and the preseason could start almost two weeks earlier (December 11). And while there is much to look forward to pertaining to the new season, there is also much to assess.

November brought us trade season, the 2020 NBA Draft and a flurry of free-agent moves – all of which kicked off within days of one another, beginning on November 16. Basketball Insiders begins its 2020-21 coverage with Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler assessing the abbreviated 2020 offseason:

NBA Draft Winners:

The draft had its share of surprises, but nothing outdid Tyrese Haliburton slipping to 12th. Haliburton shot up draft boards since the NCAA season came to an abrupt stop in March. His size and versatility were highlighted over and over again, and he was billed as an ideal running mate to pair with a score-first point guard. It seemed all but certain that he’d be a top-6 pick, with the Pistons at 7 being his assumed floor.

Well, this one was a mind-bender. Not only did he fall past the Atlanta Hawks — who he was linked within the lead up to the draft surprisingly — he was passed up by Detroit (who took another point guard in Killian Hayes) AND New York (who selected the 2019-20 Naismith Player of the Year, Obi Toppin) — both of whom were in the market for a point guard of the future.

But while it’s surprising that he fell to Sacramento, it’s far from a bad thing for Haliburton. He’ll line up next to point guard phenom De’Aaron Fox, who just inked a 5-year max extension. The Sacramento backcourt will look to move the ball up the court (FAST), and Sacramento could have found its backcourt of the future.

And it looks like Sacramento will give Haliburton more responsibility than originally assumed as they opted to pass on matching an offer sheet for shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanović (who will head to Atlanta). Further, guard Buddy Hield has a notoriously tumultuous relationship with head coach Luke Walton, making it look as though Haliburton can begin leaving his mark on the NBA immediately. Keep an eye on the rookie from Iowa State as a dark horse in the rookie of the year race.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If we’re being completely honest, the fact that this draft wasn’t renowned for its upfront talent and more renowned for its deep pool of solid players makes it difficult to determine who really are the big-time winners of this go-round. So for this year, I think I’ll label the teams that usually get maligned for their draft decisions that definitely made the right choice.

Let’s start with the Charlotte Hornets. Michael Jordan has been routinely made a laughingstock for the moves he’s made for the Hornets, but instead of playing it safe, he went with the high upside pick. Out of all the prospects in this draft, LaMelo Ball arguably has the highest ceiling. There are definitely red flags to his game but the Hornets swung for the fences here because Ball may very well have the best chance at becoming a star. If he flops, he flops but that’s not relevant here. For the Hornets, drafting him at the very least signifies that they really do want to change their fortunes.

Then there’s the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland has made some… interesting draft choices with their lottery picks over the past decade, most recently with their 2019 pick, Darius Garland. This time, however, they actually picked the guy who actually fit with what they needed. Cleveland’s been sporting a piss poor defense over the last few years, so they brought in one of the draft’s most talented defenders. Isaac Okoro’s probably not going to be a star, but he definitely aids a big weakness of Cleveland’s. There just might be a light at the end of the post-LeBron tunnel.

Finally, as Drew pointed out, the Sacramento Kings made the perfect selection with Tyrese Haliburton. The do-it-all guard should be an excellent backcourt partner with De’Aron Fox, and his selection eases the pain of the recently departed Bogdan Bogdanovic. No one exactly knows what to make of the Kings’ current roster makeup with all the personnel and roster shakeups, but Haliburton should be another step in the right direction for them.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

They say the true test of an NBA Draft is not known for two maybe three years, and that likely will be true of the 2020 NBA Draft class. To that end, there were a couple of picks that jumped off the page, so let’s start with LaMelo Ball to Charlotte.

From a talent perspective, Charlotte may have gotten one of the best players in the draft. When you combine Melo’s natural ability with having Michael Jordan in his ear, the Hornets could end up with the top player in the class when it is said and done. The risk on Melo is two-part – first, durability, which we have seen with his brother Lonzo’s NBA career. Melo has played a lot of high-level basketball and his body does not reflect high-level physical development, and that could catch up to him as it did with Lonzo.

There is also a side-show factor.  There are enough things going on in an NBA season, but to have the sideshow that comes with the Ball family in Charlotte is a risk. James Borrego has built a strong foundation for Charlotte’s youth — will the spotlight and the bully pulpit Melo’s father Lavar Ball receives be a distraction? Time will tell, but the pick was an excellent one.

With the 15th pick, the Orlando Magic selected Cole Anthony, and while on the surface Anthony had an underwhelming season at North Carolina, its easy to forget he was one of the top scorers coming out of high school and was, by his own account, playing at 70 percent at UNC. If that’s true and Anthony can rebound to his stature coming out of high school, Orlando may have nabbed exactly what they were looking for — namely, an impact scorer. Time will tell if Anthony can be that guy at the NBA level, but getting Anthony’s offensive punch with the 15th represents incredible value.

With the 20th pick, the Miami HEAT selected Precious Achiuwa out of Memphis. Talk about the prototypical HEAT player. Achiuwa checks so many boxes for the HEAT; they now have interchangeability with Bam Adebayo, as they have similar physical styles of play. Achiuwa is a quality defensive presence that can guard four positions. To get such a perfect fit at 20 is uncommon and for Miami, it could be a nice selection.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

NBA Draft Losers:

Most teams drafted pretty well this year, or they strategically swapped their pick(s). But the Hawks’ selection of Onyeka Okongwu was curious for a few reasons. Before I get into the downside of the pick, let’s make one thing clear — this is no way means I think Okongwu wasn’t deserving of the 6th pick. On the contrary, Okongwu is a long and athletic big man who will probably affect the NBA game beginning on Day 1. But the Hawks didn’t need him. They just completed a trade for an athletic, shot-blocker in Clint Capela in February. Regardless of Okongwu’s upside, the Hawks simply don’t need another starting-caliber center. But they could have used a big, versatile forward like Deni Avdija.

The NBA is moving toward a positionless game. Avdija fits that mold to a T. He is a 6’9″ point forward who can score and create for others. Further, he’s a high IQ player who competes hard, plays on and off the ball and possesses strong defensive fundamentals.

Ultimately, the Hawks set themselves up for the future in free agency, so a wonky – but still productive – draft pick won’t set them back too much. But Avdinja’s upside is substantial. And he could have been inserted into the rotation immediately without stealing too many minutes from major players  (whereas Capela will obviously lose minutes to Okongwu).

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

As I said earlier, a draft like this makes it hard to decide who are the winners, and the same goes for the losers. For example, the Bulls definitely reached when they picked Patrick Williams, but a draft like this was the perfect time to reach for a prospect if you really liked him. In a case like this, if the other prospects aren’t good enough to make you think they’ll come back to haunt you, then go for the guy you like the most no matter what anyone else thinks.

In an offseason where pretty much everything uncharacteristically went their way, the Suns made an odd choice when they selected big Jalen Smith seeing how they already have a talented frontcourt and were perhaps better off with a guard like Kira Lewis or a swingman like Haliburton. However, if they think that developing DeAndre Ayton’s backup is the way to go, then go right ahead! We also have to remember that everyone thought that the Cam Johnson pick was terrible last year, and he made the whole NBA world eat their words.

There are definitely guys picked later in this draft who might wind up being better overall than Aaron Nesmith, but the Boston Celtics needed someone who can help them now. The Celtics’ second unit was desperate for a shooter and that’s exactly what Nesmith brings to them. The guys who could wind up being better than Nesmith will need time to develop, and Boston’s not waiting anymore. Maybe in previous years, but not now.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were not a lot of crazy questionable picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. Maybe we had too much time to micro analyze the class, or maybe teams just went more with popular opinion  That said there was one pick that sort of stood out as something of a reach – Patrick Williams at four to the Chicago Bulls.

To be fair, Williams is a quality NBA prospect and he could go on to have a fruitful NBA career; but at four with Killian Hayes and Tyrese Haliburton still on the board (and able to solve more pressing needs), Williams seems to be a stretch.

Every year there is a pre-defined order that most believe the draft will go in, so Williams going several spots higher isn’t out of the ordinary. The question is will Williams be a game-changer for a Bulls team desperate for a player in the draft that really moves the needle?

They say the draft should never be about solving positional needs, rather grabbing the best player available. I’m not sold on the idea that Williams was the best talent available at the four spot, so time will tell.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency Winners:

The rich seemed to get richer in the NBA this offseason. Very few elite teams lost marquee players, and many actually added one or more. But one outlier is the Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta had an impressive offseason, first adding elite prospect Onyeka Okongwu in the draft, and then adding Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanović, Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondon in free agency. That’s an impressive haul for any team, but the Hawks just sped up their rebuild considerably, placing themselves squarely in the playoff discussion. Their new additions join an incredibly young core of Trae Young, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins and Clint Capela. Rondo will be especially important for Young’s development, as Rondo is known to be an incredibly high-IQ player and cut-throat competitor. Gallinari and Bogdanović add versatility and shooting to a team in need of it. The Hawks were probably going to take a step forward and fight for one of the final playoff spots in the East prior to these signings. They’ll be even better now.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

It’s tough to decide who really are among the biggest winners in free agency because it depends on what the team sought out to do and also because this free agency class was so weak that it was seen as basically the calm before the storm that will be next year’s class. If even. It honestly wasn’t too impressive.

Keeping what goals they had in mind, more teams won than lost. Atlanta got the best pool of players in free agency by a landslide. Houston got the best economic value for the players they added in the offseason. Utah and Miami for the most part ran it back while adding some new faces that should serve to make them better. Those guys were among the biggest winners, but not the winner of free agency. That belongs to the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Not a lot of NBA champions can brag that they got better after winning a title, but the Lakers have definitely been the exception. While it was not perfect, the free agency period went as fantastically as they could have hoped. Signing Wes Matthews was their most key signing of the summer because a. the Dennis Schroder trade makes even more sense now and b. Matthews will do everything Danny Green did for the Lakers at basically 1/5th of the price. Coming in at a close second was re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was brought back at a reasonable deal after an awesome playoff performance.

Honestly, they didn’t have to bring in Marc Gasol, but getting him for chump change, even on the back end of his career, was a steal. They were better off keeping Markieff Morris than letting him walk so they did just that. The one head-scratcher was giving Montrezl Harell the full mid-level exception. On the one hand, Harell’s better than the no-show he put up for the Clippers when they got spanked by the Nuggets, so that might be a good value for the Sixth Man of the Year. On the other, it’s hard to see Harell play in their closing lineups alongside LeBron and Anthony Davis. They learned that the more spacing they had during their title run, the better.

At best, Harell adds second unit scoring to a team that didn’t exactly have a whole lot of that last season, and at worst, he’s an expendable asset to dangle at the deadline. No matter what happens, the Lakers have had one of the best offseasons a reigning champion can have to the point where it’s really not a hot take to say that they are a considerably better team now than they were back in October.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Free agency winners? The Lakers.

Seriously, to see the 2020 NBA Champions deepen their roster with Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol without giving up anything that truly mattered to their core? That is incredible front office work.

Here are a couple of other situations worth mentioning:

The Atlanta Hawks have completely remade their team and did so without doing anything break the bank silly. The veteran additions of Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill and Tony Snell are solid pick-ups and nabbing Bogdan Bogdanović will be a great get, maybe on the high side money-wise, but given his talent so far, it was a solid signing and what you have to do to steal another team’s player.

The Miami HEAT running it back with functionally the same core is smart, too. The HEAT are just scratching the surface of their potential given how young so many of their core guys are. They wisely structured their deals to remain flexible, although the Bam Adebayo extension takes them out of the direct free agent market next summer, they won’t be tied to long-term boat anchor type deals and could always trade into a free agent they covet because of how many great assets the HEAT have.

Overall, all three teams did a really good job in such a compressed chaotic timeframe.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency Losers:

To Matt’s point above, winners are tough to crown without seeing a finished product on the hardwood. Losers are a little easier. And there are a few clear losers. But the team that hurt itself the most is the Charlotte Hornets. It’s a weird pick because I do actually like their roster, and I think it’s significantly improved from last year’s team. And the guy that’s most to blame for the Hornets’ hate will probably be their best player in 2020-21, but the Hornets also grossly overpaid to get him.

The announcement that Gordon Hayward was signing with the Hornets took most of the NBA universe by surprise. Hayward waited until (essentially) the last minute to announce he would opt out of the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $34.2 million. It was widely assumed he did so to secure more long-term money, not to essentially duplicate his salary AND stretch it. But that’s exactly what he did.

Hayward ultimately announced his intention to sign with the Hornets for 4 years/$120 million. Now, signing a 30-year-old, former all-star is usually celebrated, but Hayward hasn’t been able to re-establish himself after suffering a brutal foot injury in the first game of the 2018-19 season. He did manage to 17.5 points per game last season, and he averaged a career-high in rebounds (6.7), but he averaged only 2.8 free throw attempts per game (down considerably from what he tallied in Utah). He also suffered more injuries last season, breaking a bone in his hand in November and suffering nerve pain in his foot during the playoffs. So exactly what player are the Hornets getting? And worse still, what will he be in 2023-24?

Numerous reports state that the Hornets and Boston Celtics are still working on a sign-and-trade deal, which could improve the Hornets’ future cap situation. But either way, they’re still on the hook to pay Hayward the entirety of this massive contract — and that’s not ideal.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If they manage to win the championship anyway, then the following won’t matter, but man oh man, the Bucks really missed out on such a golden opportunity when their sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic fell through.

For a couple of days there, it really felt like Milwaukee had added the last piece of the puzzle. Bogdanovic’s abilities as a combo guard felt like such a perfect fit for what the Bucks are all about. His abilities as a scorer would have taken more pressure off of Khris Middleton, and his abilities as a shooter should have complemented Giannis’ game like a glove. As an added bonus, his 6’6” frame and his playmaking abilities would have further strengthened the Bucks’ motion offense and positionless basketball. This was it. The Bucks were going to be better than ever.

Until the rug got pulled right out from underneath them. The tampering debacle canceled everything, and the Bucks at this point can only wonder what could have been. Failing to acquire a superstar is one thing. Having a superstar then failing to get the guy that definitely would have made your championship aspirations the strongest they’ve been in years is another. That’s why they are my pick for the biggest loser in free agency.

In all fairness, their offseason wasn’t a total failure for them. In fact, props to them for not stubbornly trying to run it back when it was clear that something had to be done. Jrue Holiday is definitely an upgrade over the likes of Eric Bledsoe and George Hill. Getting a haul of buy-low additions like DJ Augustin, Bobby Portis, Torrey Craig, and Bryn Forbes will help fill out the bench, but none of those guys compare to what Bogdanovic could have done for them. With what’s at stake, it could very well haunt Milwaukee knowing that Bogdan Bogdanović slipped through their fingers.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were a few head-scratchers in free agency…

Not sure what the Detroit Pistons were thinking. They let their best free agent walk in Christian Woods, then turned around and gave a big deal to a slightly-average guy. Jerami Grant is a quality player, but three years and $60 million is a ton.

If the motivation was to go all in for one more run with Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, mission accomplished; but I’m not sure that means anything, even in the East.

The Orlando Magic stayed largely quiet in free agency, which was surprising given that it seems the current squad has run its course. The Magic have long valued the idea of growing youth in an environment built around trying to win, but it’s clear that Evan Fournier who opted in to a massive final contract year worth $17 million, is primed to be moved and looks to be in camp next week.

The Magic do have some injury concerns specifically Jonathan Isaac who is recovering from an ACL tear and the questionable outlook of Mo Bamba, who had to leave the Orlando bubble unexpectedly back in August, due to physical struggles related to the Coronavirus.

With so much uncertainty around the Magic’s youth, their lack of movement in free agency was a surprise.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

One Move We’d Like To See:

Kevin Love to the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland enters 2020-21 with a bit to be excited about. They’re looking forward to a full season with Jusuf Nurkic in the middle, they re-signed Rodney Hood and they added a high-ceiling youngster in Harry Giles (as well as Derrick Jones Jr.). But even if they also bring back Carmelo Anthony, they’ll still need help at the forward spot. Enter Kevin Love.

Love is badly mismatched with the rest of Cleveland’s roster. He is 32, whereas nine of their players are 25 or younger. Further, Love is a five-time all-star and NBA champion, whereas the Cavaliers are in a full-on rebuild. It’s not an ideal match, and the Cavs should cash Love in before it’s too late.

Love to Portland makes perfect sense. He hasn’t been seen as a primary option in a number of years, but he still adds incredible value as a scorer, rebounder and passer. And that works perfectly considering Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum appears poised to stick in Portland for at least the next few seasons. Portland could sit tight, but adding Love would put them in the conversation with teams like the Nuggets and Clippers who hope to knock off the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Even if Portland can’t make a deal for Love, they should look to add a versatile power forward like Julius Randle. They can’t rely on Anthony and Giles to hold down the four spot and expect to compete for a championship. But if they maneuver correctly, Dame-time could translate to championship time in the Rose City.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

DeMar DeRozan/LaMarcus Aldridge to the Charlotte Hornets. By drafting LaMelo Ball and maxing out Gordon Hayward, the Charlotte Hornets are out to prove that they really want to be… not subpar! There will be no argument here that Charlotte paid above and beyond for Hayward’s services, but his contract is in the same ballpark as Tim Hardaway Jr’s- As overpaid as he is, he’s not going to take the money and run. He’ll do his best to live up to the deal Charlotte gave him even if it’s not very likely.

Alas, adding Hayward and Ball only puts Charlotte in discussion for one of the lower playoff seeds, and in no way does it guarantee that they’ll get one of them. If MJ and co. truly are serious about getting the Hornets back to the playoffs, what harm could it do to go all in and pry DeRozan and Aldridge from San Antonio? They have the expiring and near-expiring deals to make it work, like Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, and Terry Rozier, as well as appealing enough young talent without sacrificing the most appealing assets like Miles Bridges Malik Monk to pull it off. Aldridge’s and DeRozan’s names aren’t as sexy as they were three years ago, and that, along with their contracts expiring, is what makes a possible trade for them feasible. All signs are pointing to San Antonio moving on from both of them, so Charlotte needs to strike while the iron is hot- er, lukewarm in their case if we’re being really honest here.

Those two don’t make Charlotte a contender in the east – again, if it was 2017, it would be a different story – but they do make the Hornets more formidable as a playoff team. If there aren’t many better options for Charlotte, and from the look of things, there really aren’t, acquiring those two at least puts Buzz City back in the postseason, and might just complete the most talented Hornets teams we’ve seen in ages.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Let’s go with Houston…

When Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey left the Rockets, you knew the clock was ticking. It really hasn’t stopped, the question is when is Houston going to pull the trigger on a Russell Westbrook trade, and how soon after will James Harden follow?

The talk in NBA circles is Westbrook could be headed to Washington in a package for John Wall. Wizards president Tommy Sheppard has said that deal is not happening – that does not mean it couldn’t resurface later.

There was talk of James Harden wanting to be in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but Houston at this point seems set on waiting out the process and seeing if they can get both Harden and Westbrook back on board… How frequently has that worked out? Typically, when guys ask for the door, they usually get it, and the return usually goes down before it goes up.

Trying to move some $82 million in committed salary during the season is nearly impossible. This is why if Houston wants all the Nets’ and Wizards’ cookies, they need to make the move now or risk the offers or even the opportunity to dwindle away fast.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

The 2020-21 NBA season could end up just as chaotic as last season; but looking past the many challenges facing the league’s schedule, player movement has once again shifted the balance of power. There are new favorites this season, and more importantly, there will be surprise teams to look forward to, also. But regardless of which team you root for, NBA fans have much to be thankful for right this holiday season.

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful.

Please send all of this to: openings2021@basketballinsiders.com

 

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