With the NBA Draft less than nine days away, things in the NBA are starting to heat up as NBA teams zero in on trade scenarios and the players they will ultimately have a real shot at drafting.
There is a very important disclaimer/concept worth re-stating.
Rumors, like the ones we’ll dig into in a moment, typically come from agents and other teams. It is pretty rare that a team will tip its own hand to the media at this point in the calendar.
Other teams and agents get information based on either a team trying to involve them in a trade, or in the case of an agent, explaining their plan in order to get a player in for a workout, especially if that player may not fit the current roster.
As a result, you should always take rumors and speculation for what they are – evolving and developing concepts and situations. Until deals and transactions become final, some of these things are just as likely not to happen as happen, as teams evaluate what they want to do. At this point in the process, there are a lot of fluid things that play off the domino effect of the draft and the looming free agency window.
With all of that in mind, let’s dig into a few things:
The Anthony Davis Situation
The New Orleans Pelicans have started to field calls and offers on forward Anthony Davis. The prevailing thought from teams who have tried to engage in a deal is that the Pelicans would like closure as soon as it’s practical, with most believing closure will come around the draft.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the asking price for Davis appears to be some combination of a current All-Star player, a young player with All-Star potential and several draft picks.
While that appears to be the desired return, there are not many in NBA circles that believe Pelicans president David Griffin will get all of his wish list.
League sources say that more than half of the league has logged interest in obtaining Davis for themselves, and while the teams most commonly linked to Davis – New York, Brooklyn, the LA Clippers and Lakers – appear to still be in the hunt, there are a lot of conversations taking place.
The expectation is that the Pelicans will move quickly to find closure to the situation and that could make the next week fairly interesting, especially as teams try to land Davis as a means to lure in another marquee player in free agency.
Davis has one more fully guaranteed year worth $27 million and a player option for 2020-2021 worth $28.7 million left on his deal.
The Kyrie Irving Situation
It has been well chronicled that Kyrie Irving’s love affair with Boston may have run its course and that he may not only look at signing with a new team, but he may also open the process up to several teams with the prevailing belief being that the Brooklyn Nets may be his desired landing spot.
Sources close to the situation say that the Celtics are not operating like they have Irving coming back, but they are fully prepared to offer him a full max deal and let him turn that deal away.
The Celtics do have somewhat of an advantage in that Irving is their own player, and they are allowed to have conversations with him about his future. They cannot offer a new deal or new deal terms directly, but they can gauge his view on deals and trades they might do, with an understanding of how Irving would react or if a specific deal would change his thinking.
For example, before giving away the farm for say Anthony Davis, they can ask Irving if that would sway his thinking. Irving clearly doesn’t have to engage on that, but unlike other teams, the Celtics can at least ask before making a huge gamble type deal.
The Celtics are operating on a lot of fronts and seem to be lining up options.
Some of those options include deals that would bolster a roster built around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, players who seem to be the centerpiece of any Davis trade discussion.
The Houston Rockets have been looking for ways to shake up their roster, and sources have said the Celtics have expressed considerable interest in big man Clint Capela, likely as a fall back if they do not land or aggressive pursue Davis.
The Rockets have been trying to get first-round level prospects in for workouts, baiting agents with the idea that can and likely will trade for a pick in the top 20.
The Celtics currently are sitting on three first-round picks: the 14th, 20th and 22nd.
League sources have doubted that Boston will keep all three of those picks, so it will be interesting to see what Boston ultimately does with those selections.
The common characterization of the Celtics from other teams is that they are working all of the angles and, given how much they could do, that’s no small order.
The Sixers Situation
Like the Celtics, the 76ers have a lot of options on the table. There is a sense that the 76ers will make full max contract offers to both of their pending free agents, Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler. Both are unrestricted free agents so they can pick any team they like, but the belief is if both are offered the full max, they would re-sign.
Time will tell if that’s how it will play out, but the 76ers seem to be making sure teams, and ultimately their players, know they are serious about keeping the core together.
The 76ers are also one of the teams holding a huge portion of the draft in their control (for now) with one first rounder (the 24th pick) and four second-rounders – the 33rd, 34th, 42nd and 54th picks.
The 76ers second-rounders have some interesting trade value as they do not carry a cap hold until those players are signed, making the ones in the 30’s a little more valuable in a flat draft than picks in the mid-twenties that carry cap implications.
With the 76ers expected to be way into the tax next season, it will be interesting to see how the 76ers use all those picks and if some combination of them can yield another veteran piece as teams try to clear cap space.
Picks On The Move
At this point in the calendar, most teams have met with or worked out the players they have serious interest in. The next part is gauging if the picks they hold will return more or better fitting value in trade than the players they can draft with them.
There are a few picks said to be obtainable, and are the ones worth watching:
The New York Knicks just had Duke forward RJ Barrett in yesterday, and while he is openly campaigning to be a Knick, there is a sense that New York would look at trade down scenarios in order to open more cap space. The third overall pick in this draft carries a $6.46 million cap hit, so that’s not an inconsequential number. The Knicks are one of the teams believed to be in the Anthony Davis discussion, and the number three is a centerpiece to a Knicks based deal.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been pegged as the team in the top five to most likely make a pick-based trade. There is a belief that the Atlanta Hawks are trying to move up and that the Cavaliers could be the team that makes the deal.
Like the Cavaliers, the Phoenix Suns seem more open to trading their pick than keeping it. There was an odd workout with Coby White in Minnesota last week that lead many to wonder if the Suns and Minnesota were cooking up a swap. The Suns are said to covet a veteran guard and, through Minnesota, they might be able to get one.
The Atlanta Hawks pulled off a very early deal last week, and that actually won’t be consummated until the new cap year kicks in this July. That deal now gives the Hawks control of the 8th, 10th, 17th, 35th, 41st and 44th picks. The Hawks are believed to working on a couple of fronts, the biggest being moving up into the top five, while the other is putting themselves into the Anthony Davis discussions to extract value out of their excess picks and cap flexibility. The Hawks seem way more likely to deal picks than use them.
As for additional picks in the first round, there is a sense that Minnesota, Orlando, Charlotte, Miami and Boston are all open to trading their picks for the right veteran return, meaning most of the picks in the 5 to 16 range could be in play on draft day.
While there are a lot of things in motion, there is a growing sense that this year’s draft transaction window could be one of the busier ones we’ve seen this decade, which will make for interesting rumors and conversation leading up to draft next Thursday.
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NBA Daily: Crabbe’s Arrival Brings Wolves Needed Shooting
The Minnesota Timberwolves trading for Allen Crabbe was not simply to move Jeff Teague or to create future trade possibilities, but mostly to give Robert Covington a chance at a few more clean looks. Douglas Farmer writes.
By trading away Jeff Teague and his $19 million expiring contract, the Minnesota Timberwolves clearly created more time for Shabazz Napier and perhaps opened a pathway to increasing the aggression from Andrew Wiggins, as seen earlier in the year. But to hear head coach Ryan Saunders tell it, acquiring Allen Crabbe from the Atlanta Hawks will help forward Robert Covington more than anyone else.
Teague’s return to Atlanta has little effect on either team’s salary cap structures moving forward. All three pieces — Teague and Crabbe, along with Treveon Graham — are on expiring contracts, and the combination of Teague and Graham out-costs Crabbe by only $2.6 million. The lack of long-term effect has created some speculation Crabbe may be a part of another deal for the Timberwolves before February’s trade deadline, but more likely, he is on hand to create the spacing Minnesota has lacked all season as it implements a modern offensive system.
That may sound counterintuitive since Crabbe is in the midst of a career-worst shooting season, hitting only 32.3 percent of his attempts from deep while taking barely half as many per game as he did the last two seasons. Combining that with Covington’s season-long struggles from beyond the arc — and adding a scuffling shooter to a scuffling shooter — seems a poor way to strengthen the league’s No. 23 offense.
Looking at Crabbe in terms of his career, though, a 38.9 percent three-point threat better fits Saunders’ thoughts.
“A lot of times you see, just for example, a pick-and-roll, the ball will be in Andrew [Wiggins]’ hands, with [Karl-Anthony Towns] the screener,” Saunders said Saturday. “A lot of times [Covington] is in the high [quadrant]. If you put another high-level shooter in the opposite corner, defenses when they’re coming in to help on the roll, they have to make a choice between Cov and who they want to get the shot up.”
With Towns missing more than a month before this weekend, Saunders’ exact scenario has been rare of late, but the concept holds up.
As Napier spurned Gorgui Dieng’s screen and drove, he looked past Wiggins at the break and instead fired to Covington in the high quadrant just as Saunders suggested. Covington hit the contested shot, part of a recent uptick from the six-year veteran, but it was by no means the open shot a system based on spacing is supposed to provide.
“Certain positions, maybe we have guys at a significantly lower percentage than Cov that [defenses] heavily shade to Cov,” Saunders said. “So I think it’ll really help Cov.”
Saunders tried to be political — not the only time in the availability, as he danced around criticizing some poor calls in Friday’s loss at the Indiana Pacers — but even the coachspeak made the reality clear. The Timberwolves do not have shooting on the roster, and they know it; that has only further hampered the shooting they do have in Covington.
Crabbe’s career mark would rank third on Minnesota’s roster this season, behind only Towns’ 40.6 percent and Dieng’s 39.2. Of Timberwolves attempting at least three 3’s per game, only Towns and Covington are shooting better than even Crabbe’s current 32.3 percent. (That excludes Jake Layman, who has appeared in only 14 games due to a sprained toe.)
Whether Crabbe spots up in the corner or at the break, a la Wiggins above, or Covington does so with Crabbe at the top, the Minnesota newcomer will offer much better shooting than has been available through the first half of the season. Even if it is not in a pick-and-roll situation, an added shooter will give Napier both a better chance to find a marksman and better spacing to get to the rim.
Despite no genuine complementary shooters, Covington has already begun to change his season’s tide. Through the year’s first 32 games, he was shooting only 33.7 percent from beyond the arc on a little under five attempts per game. Those would both be his second-worst career marks for a season.
Something shifted in the new year. In the last nine games, Covington has hit 39.5 percent of his threes on over eight attempts per game. Those would both be career-highs for a season.
All along, a significant portion of Covington’s attempts has been contested. His shooting motion may as well have become a default pump fake, welcoming a defender and then popping.
“Cov has always been a tough shot maker,” Saunder said. “Some guys have that.”
If Crabbe’s arrival has the intended effect, Covington may not need to prove that skill as often moving forward.
NBA Daily: Gary Clark Hopes To Stick In Orlando
David Yapkowitz chats with Orlando Magic forward Gary Clark about his time in Houston and showing what he’s capable of in the duration of his 10-day contract.
Life on a non-guaranteed contract in the NBA can be a little bit stressful. Players have to work just a little bit harder and be just a little more efficient than everyone else. They’ve got to do about their daily grind with the thought they can be cut at any moment in the back of their minds.
Sometimes there isn’t any advance warning. They could have put in all the necessary work and gone above and beyond what was asked of them, but still end up being cut. It’s no fault of their own and they may be left wondering where they went wrong.
There are also contract deadlines they need to be cognizant of. Depending on the roster outlook at various points in the season, teams may have to make quick decisions regarding contracts. The first major hurdle players have to overcome is the initial opening night roster deadline. Once they make it past that, they’re still not out of the woods just yet.
The next deadline is in early January when all contracts become guaranteed for the remainder of the season. After impressing the organization enough last season to make the Houston Rockets’ opening night roster out of training camp, Gary Clark didn’t survive this season’s January deadline.
He played a key role at times for the Rockets as a rookie, but found himself on the outside looking in this season. Houston had three players on non-guaranteed contracts: Clark, Ben McLemore and Isaiah Hartenstein. Clark kind of knew his time in Houston was coming to an end when he was the only one of the three who was on the bench most of the time.
“I kind of expected it, just knowing how the basketball world works when it comes down to trigger dates and stuff like that with contracts. Being a guy that wasn’t playing much at that time, I figured it was kind of between me and two other guys, the three of us,” Clark told Basketball Insiders. “That week, I was the only one that wasn’t playing out of us three. It was obvious what the business decision had to be, but you just take it for what it is and keep going forward.”
Clark didn’t remain a free agent for long. Just a couple of days after being cut by the Rockets, the Orlando Magic signed him to a 10-day contract. An injury to Jonathan Isaac precipitated a need for additional help on the wing and in small ball situations as the Magic find themselves entrenched in playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference.
Clark joined the Magic for their current west coast road trip, and he’s immediately been inserted into the rotation. Head coach Steve Clifford has been impressed so far by what he’s seen from Clark, and he’s eager to see how Clark responds while playing on a 10-day contract.
“He can shoot and he’s got good toughness. I think he’s got a good feel for how to play,” Clifford told reporters after a recent game against the Clippers. “I want to see what he can do. We need somebody at that spot that’s skilled like that.”
Clark had his best game of this three-game stretch in his first game with the Magic, a big win over the Los Angeles Lakers. He had 10 points off the bench on 4-for-6 shooting from the field, including 2-for-4 from the three-point line. He didn’t score against the Los Angeles Clippers, but he pulled down four rebounds and gave the team an all-around toughness on the court.
In the Magic’s most recent game against the Golden State Warriors, he shot well again, hitting two of his three attempts — including one from the three-point line. Clark’s early role in Orlando has been similar to what he brought in Houston. That’s a wing who can space the floor and play some power forward in small-ball situations.
“Just bringing some energy and knocking down shots. Being versatile defensively, being able to switch on multiple guys if need be, and use my athleticism,” Clark told Basketball Insiders. “Knocking down shots is one thing, but my activity on the glass on both ends has been solid.”
When Isaac went down, the Magic lost one of the best defensive players in the NBA this season. Isaac was certainly a candidate for First Team All-Defense and had even played his way into the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. Bringing some of that same defensive effort is something that Clark can definitely do.
He was a standout defensive player while in college at Cincinnati. He was a two-time AAC Defensive Player of the Year and displayed a similar skill-set to Isaac in being able to guard multiple positions. In his early stint with the Rockets, he showed his ability to defend at the NBA level as well.
In his first couple of games with the Magic, he saw himself opposite players like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. It’s the defensive end of the floor where he feels he can make a solid impact.
“I think this team gives me an opportunity as a young guy to show that I’m capable of doing that,” Clark told Basketball Insiders. “The times that I did get those opportunities, I think I did solid against those guys. It’s going to come, when the opportunity comes I’ll be ready for it.”
While Clark started out as a rotation player as a rookie in Houston, he eventually hit the rookie wall and saw himself sent down to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the G League for seasoning. This season, he found himself on the end of the bench but saw some opportunity when Danuel House Jr. went down with an injury.
Although his role was a bit inconsistent, Clark believes he learned some things with the Rockets that will help him in his professional journey. One of the biggest takeaways for him is being able to communicate effectively with the rest of the team, especially when you’re unfamiliar with the team’s plays.
“It’s communication no matter what,” Clark told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t know most of the stuff that guys run or fully know all the schemes, but just being able to talk on the floor on both offense and defense and be there for guys and guys being there for me as well.”
This stint with Orlando is nothing new to Clark in terms of having to prove himself. The Magic have two options once his 10-day runs out. They either release him or sign him to another 10-day. If he makes it past the second 10-day, the Magic have to sign him for the remainder of the season or release him.
No matter what happens, Clark is confident that he’s shown enough both with the Rockets and the Magic to prove that he belongs in the NBA.
“I think any guy that comes from a trade or being waived struggles to make the transition like I’m going through. I can’t be too high or too low in this stint that I’m here, or in the 10-day,” Clark told Basketball Insiders. “I think I did enough in Houston to show my versatility and my ability to knock down shots. I think in the long haul, what I bring to the table is good enough to be here.”
NBA Daily: Ricky Rubio Raising Expectations in Phoenix
The momentum train in Phoenix may have slowed down, but the Suns are still rolling along nicely. There has been a myriad of changes since last season, but one acquisition, in particular, has been invaluable to the franchise’s major turnaround.
When Ricky Rubio signed a three-year contract with the Phoenix Suns for $51 million in July, it was immediately deemed an overpay. The point guard was rumored to be headed to Indiana, but the Suns simply made him a better offer. The offseason addition quickly paid off for the Suns, who were one of the darling surprise teams in the first couple months of the season.
This move was met with criticism because heading into free agency, the biggest need for Phoenix was perimeter shooting. Notoriously known as a guard that can’t shoot the ball, Rubio has shown over the past two seasons that is a false narrative. Rubio is shooting over 41 percent from the floor and 34 percent from distance — those are both near career-highs for the 29-year old floor general.
Some of that can be attributed to the spacing that has opened up with the additions of Dario Saric and Aron Baynes, and, of course, the franchise’s best player, Devin Booker. The other part though is the work that Rubio has put in during the summer and over the course of the season. After six entertaining years in Minnesota and a couple of seasons in Utah, Rubio has truly excelled in Monty Williams’ system.
After a rough month of December, the Suns have been much better as of late. They have won four of their last five games, including last night’s contest in Boston. Rubio, in particular, has been stuffing the stat sheet. In New York City on Thursday night, Rubio served up 25 points, 8 rebounds, 13 assists and 4 steals. Better, he was 10-for-18 from the floor including 3-for-5 from downtown.
Now in his ninth year in the league, Rubio’s 13.6 point scoring average is a career-high. The points are what people will take notice of, but it is his distribution that should be getting the attention. Rubio is averaging a career-high 9.4 assists per game, which ranks second in the league behind only LeBron James. This is what is has been fueling the turnaround in Phoenix.
There is something to be said for shot creation, but also the effectiveness being paired with Booker. The notion early on was that it wouldn’t work because they both need the ball. It is this exact reason though that both are having more success this year. Booker no longer has to handle the ball for the bulk of possessions and create shots for himself and for others. The duo has been lethal in transition. Only LeBron and Giannis Antetokounmpo have scored more fast-break points than Booker this season.
Last season Booker had the third-highest usage rate (32.9) in the league, behind only James Harden and Joel Embiid. Through 41 games this season, Booker now ranks 19th in that category. Booker has been reaping the rewards in a lot of areas. His scoring is still right where it was last year, but his efficiency is up tremendously. In the 38 games that he has played this season, Booker is shooting 51 percent from the floor which is nearly five percent higher than any of his previous four seasons.
The pace (9th) and offensive rating (14th) have vastly improved with Rubio running the point. The emergence of Kelly Oubre Jr has been building for a couple of years now, but Rubio has brought out the best in him. Surrounding him with capable shooters in the form of big men has helped as well. Both Baynes and Saric have thrived in their roles, and rookie Cameron Johnson has been a solid contributor in that regard.
Amid all of this happening, keep in mind that the Suns have been doing all of this essentially without their franchise big man Deandre Ayton. The No. 1 overall pick in 2018 has played just 11 games this season due to his 25-game suspension. He exploded for his first 20-20 game on Thursday in New York, posting 26 points and 21 rebounds. He was perfect from the free-throw line but he has surprisingly only taken 17 attempts this year.
Perhaps the best quality of Rubio’s presence is just how contagious his style of play has become. Last season the Suns ranked 20th in team assists — and this year they are second in the league. Once everyone is able to see the ball move and they can trust that their teammates will keep moving the ball to find the open man, it really puts pressure on the defense. San Antonio has been notorious for this style of play, while Brad Stevens has been doing the same thing in Boston.
When the ball moves where it is supposed to, great things happen.
The road ahead doesn’t look pretty for Phoenix. Now they will face San Antonio twice, Indiana, Memphis, Dallas, Oklahoma City and Milwaukee. They also have matchups with Houston, Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers before the All-Star break.
Realistically, the Suns could be well out of the playoff picture at that point — but considering where they have been for the past few years, the season could still be considered a success. They could have more wins by the break than they have won in total for each of the last four seasons. Williams is building something special in the desert and most of it began with the acquisition of something they have been missing for several years: A quality starting point guard.