The Deadline Should Be Fun
The February 7th, 2019 NBA Trade Deadline is just around the corner, and given the number of high profile names said to be available, it could make this one of the more interesting deadlines to watch.
Historically, there are usually 10 to 14 deadline transactions per year, with most of them being cap-related moves to shed an ending contract or to move off unwanted players or contracts. It’s been pretty rare to see a large number of named players dealt at the deadline; those moves usually happen before the 11th hour. The fact that there are so many All-Stars or would-be All-Stars being talked about in the marketplace could make this year’s deadline something of an outlier.
While the trade market is always fluid, here are some of the names to watch over the next six or seven days as teams try and make sense of what’s a real asking price and what is simply fishing for a deal.
The news that New Orleans star Anthony Davis has informed the Pelicans he will not sign a contract extension and has asked to be traded shouldn’t be too surprising. Typically, when a player changes agents before free agency, that usually signals that player isn’t happy, and that’s turned out to be true for the Pelicans.
The Pelicans have cried foul to the league office on the whole ordeal, mainly because there is a sense internally that not only was Davis tampered with, but that his representation may have killed the team’s ability to extract a good return. The Pelicans seem to believe that his agent is responsible for floating the idea that Davis will walk to the LA Lakers when he hits unrestricted free agency.
The Pelicans have issued statements saying they will deal Davis on their terms and timing, but there is a real sense among NBA teams that if a team offered a blow-the-doors-off package, it could get Davis at the deadline. Despite the Pelicans’ stance that they would prefer to explore deals in the offseason when they can do more around the draft or in July in free agency, they have opened a window for a deal now.
There are a few teams to watch. It’s believed the Lakers will make an all-in offer for Davis, as will the Knicks and Raptors.
A dark horse in all of it might be the Portland Trail Blazers. Leagues source have labeled the Blazers as being aggressive in trying to find one more star-level guy to pair with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Given the youth, ending contracts and future picks the Blazers could offer, they could be an interesting option, especially if it does not cost Lillard or McCollum.
A New York Knicks deal is said to be centered on their 2019 first round draft pick and a ton of ending contracts and upside young guys.
The prevailing thought is, barring something silly being offered in the coming days, the Pelicans are more likely to wait out a Boston Celtics offer after Kyrie Irving opts out of his Designated Rookie contract extension. The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits a team from trading for two Designated Rookie contracts as a means to close salary cap loopholes.
Davis can’t be traded to Boston until Irving is out of his deal which is expected in July.
The Celtics are believed by most league insiders to have the best package of players and future picks to offer.
The Pelicans are absolutely open for business on Davis and others; the question is will anyone offer enough value to get the Pelicans off the dime before 3 pm EST next Thursday.
The Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies have kicked the tires on a number of deals for both center Marc Gasol and point guard Mike Conley. The prevailing thoughts from NBA teams that have engaged the Grizzlies is that it is going to take a big deal to get either marquee player, and taking on Chandler Parson’s contract might be a requirement of any eventual deal.
There are a couple of teams to watch specific to Gasol, the top being the Portland Trail Blazers. Sources close to the situation labeled the Blazers as the more likely team to land Gasol if the Grizzlies do a deal, but there was not a sense that anything was close enough to call. Gasol himself has talked about the San Antonio Spurs, and there seems to be some interest on the Spurs’ part in making a deal. But it’s unclear what the Spurs could or would offer to consummate a deal. Gasol has a player option for next season worth $25.5 million.
Conely seems to be the Grizzly that could garner the biggest return, especially given that he is under contract for one more guaranteed year before his $34.5 million team option year in 2020.
The Orlando Magic and the Phoenix Suns were said to have explored a Conley deal. It does not seem like either took it very far, although that could change in the coming weeks.
Both teams have the right combination of young guys, ending contracts and future draft picks to construct a package for Conley, and both could reasonably take on the $24.1 million left on Parson’s deal this year and carry the ending $25.1 million for next year if they didn’t look at buyouts.
The Grizzlies seem motivated to make a deal. The big challenge in any deal is the difficulty in doing three/four player for one deals in-season, as those kinds of deals tend to be easier in the offseason when teams have open roster spots or can carry extra players during the summer.
Portland Is A Team To Watch
With the passing of Blazers’ owner Paul Allen, there was a sense that the days of the Blazers wheeling and dealing would likely be over, however more and more NBA teams label the Blazers as the team to watch at the deadline.
The Blazers currently sit in fourth place in the West and have won seven of their last 10. There is at least a desire by management to explore what they can add to push them legitimately into the championship discussion, because, like other teams, they understand organizationally they are on the clock with Damian Lillard.
The Blazers have a bunch of mid-dollar contracts to offer in trades, most ending after next season. While the Blazers don’t have ending money now, they seem to have a continued appetite to take on money if it pushes them into the NBA elite.
The Blazers are said to have eyes on both Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol; the question is can they cobble together a package to get a deal done that doesn’t include Lillard of CJ McCollum?
The Knicks Have Been Active
The New York Knicks have been trying to find deals to move off big man Enes Kanter and guard Courtney Lee. That’s no big secret. They have been looking for some time with little to no interest that didn’t include the Knicks taking back salary, something they are not open to.
The Knicks have also recently opened the door on deals involving guards Frank Ntilikina and Trey Burke. According to teams that have talked with the Knicks about these players, it seems both could be gone by the deadline.
The Knicks are also one of the teams gearing up for a big offer for Anthony Davis, said to be built around its unprotected first-round draft pick in the 2019 draft, which – if the lottery holds true to the standings – could be the second or third pick.
There is a sense that Davis would be open to an extension in New York, which is why dangling an unprotected pick that could be a top overall selection would make sense.
The Knicks are absolutely a team to watch at the deadline; they seem to be motivated to make a couple of deals, even if they miss out on Davis.
Is Orlando A Seller?
The Orlando Magic have waffled on what they really are as a team all year. Some nights, they look like a playoff team and others, a lottery team. With the Magic sitting at 20-30 with roughly a week to go before the deadline it seems far more likely the Magic sell off their ending contracts than try and add.
The plan all along in Orlando was to develop around Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and rookie Mo Bamba. The hope was the existing core would be good enough to get the young guys some playoff experience and get the franchise back into the post-season in hopes of luring in a top-level free agent guard.
With each passing week, the odds of a playoff berth seem to be dwindling, and most teams that have been after the Magic’s veterans feel like the Magic will be sellers, specifically forward Terrence Ross and Jonathon Simmons.
The X-Factors for the Magic are center Nikola Vucevic and swingman Evan Fournier. It’s hard to envision both in the Magic’s longer term, but there is a sense that the Magic doesn’t want to part with either unless it returned an All-Star level talent.
The Magic have been very active over the last few weeks gauging the market on what they can do, so there is a belief the Magic are going to be sellers. The question is, which guys get sold off?
Will The Lakers Deal?
The LA Lakers’ dream scenario has arrived, Anthony Davis is available, and they are not going to sit this out.
Sources close to the situation are mirroring what’s being reported, that the Lakers are prepared to make a monster offer for Davis that could include anyone not named LeBron James.
The Lakers value a lot of their young guys and wouldn’t include everything they have in a deal for Davis, but there is a belief that the Pelicans could have their choice of three of the Lakers’ young guys to make a Davis deal before next Thursday.
The Lakers have been active in looking at options before the Davis trade request, but with the Pelicans now listening, the Lakers are not going to mess around according to sources close to the situation.
The problem for the Lakers is they can’t force the Pelicans to take a deal; they can only make an attractive offer.
The Pelicans have been direct that it’s going to take something major for them to consider a deal now, and the Lakers understand they have to be aggressive if they want Davis now.
Basketball Insiders will roll out our annual NBA Trade Deadline Diary on Tuesday February 5th. We’ll log and track every rumor and every deal in the all the way up to the 3pm EST deadline, so stay tuned.
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NBA Daily: Examining the Eastern Conference Contenders
Matt John takes a look at the four titans who will be fighting for the Eastern Conference crown this May.
The day after the trade deadline passed, LeBron James had some interesting things to say about the arms race that was going down between the Eastern Conference titans.
“They know they ain’t gotta go through Cleveland anymore,” James said. “Everybody in the East thinks they can get to the Finals because they ain’t gotta go through me.”
It’s notable that the Lakers are currently toeing the line between making the playoffs and playing the lottery odds. That does, however, beg the question: What if LeBron stayed in Cleveland?
Now if that had happened, then a lot of things would probably be different for the Cavaliers right now. There’s no telling if they would have kept the pick the Nets owed them, or if they would be playing Kyle Korver, George Hill, and J.R. Smith right now.
It would have added another intriguing wrinkle to what has been the tightest formerly-five-currently-four-man race going on at the top of the Eastern Conference in quite some time. Whether you agree that Cleveland would still be the frontrunner in the East with James, there doesn’t really appear to be a clear-cut favorite to represent the East anymore. Plenty of fans and analysts would give their takes on who stands out among the pack, but there’s no consensus pick.
In a sense, LeBron’s kind of right. He was a tyrant – or a “King” if you will – that set the bar year-in and year-out for the past decade. It gave his rivals motivation to play at one hundred percent, though it made the East a little predictable. With LeBron gone, the suspense as to who will take his throne makes it all the more fun.
The season is now coming down the home stretch. With less than 25 games left, Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston will fight tooth and nail to get home court advantage over each other. Who has the edge? Well, let’s take a look.
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .465 (27th overall)
Record against competitors: 5-2
They finally did it. After years of looking as incredible as they were inconsistent, the Bucks have hit a breakthrough. It turns out all they needed was to put the right personnel around the Greek Freak (i.e. floor spacers and impact defenders). Oh, and a coach who could bring all of the notable talent together. The pieces are now fitting into place for the Bucks. Giannis is now going full-throttle with a supporting cast who only make Milwaukee all the harder to stop. Their league-leading point differential (9.6) tops the league by a fair margin, which indicates that this may not only be a fluke but the first sign of the glorious future we all believed the Bucks had.
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo – If it weren’t for James Harden putting up legendary numbers, Giannis would be the frontrunner for MVP. So much has been said about him that there’s not much to be added, so let’s leave it at this. Many have said if he starts hitting threes, he’ll be unstoppable. When you see his dominance in the paint – he’s shooting 77.3 percent in the paint – it makes you wonder if he really has to.
X-Factor: Eric Bledsoe – He’s had a nice bounce-back after a rocky half-season in Milwaukee. The record still stands that he was outplayed by Terry Rozier in his first playoff action as a starter. If the Bucks are to maintain their success in the postseason, Bledsoe must avoid a repeat performance from last postseason.
Unsung Hero: Malcolm Brogdon – People can scoff all they want at Brogdon’s Rookie of the Year Award. The fact is, the Bucks absolutely need him. They are +7.1 with him on the court, good for second behind, well, who do you think?
Pivotal Question: Will the supporting cast (including Coach Bud) keep it up in the playoffs?
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .450 (30th overall)
Record against competitors: 6-5
Do you know what’s odd about the Raptors? Going by net rating, they’ve actually taken a step back this season. Last season, the Raptors had the second best offensive rating (113.8) and the fifth best defensive rating (105.9). This season, they have the seventh-best offensive rating (113) and the eighth best defensive rating (107.4). Yet somehow, the genuine belief is that this is the best team they’ve ever assembled. With Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin added to the team, the Raptors have made it clear that they’re not messing around.
MVP: Kawhi Leonard – Remember when Kevin Durant implied that Kawhi was a system player for the Spurs? Maybe that’s why Kawhi wanted out because he’s proven that notion wrong. He hasn’t skipped a beat in Canada and has even averaged career-highs both in scoring and rebounding average. He’d be an MVP candidate if he hadn’t missed 16 games.
X-Factor: Kyle Lowry – If Leonard is going to be the alpha dog of this team, he needs a second-in-command. Lowry’s numbers have dipped, but he’s got the experience. He’s folded in the playoffs before. Perhaps with less pressure, he can step up his game.
Unsung Hero: Serge Ibaka – With everything else that’s gone right for Toronto, Ibaka’s full acclimation to the center position has given him new life offensively. He’s putting up some of the best scoring, rebounding, and assist averages he’s had either ever or in years.
Pivotal Question: Will Nick Nurse get the team finally past its long-lived playoff demons?
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .486 (21st Overall)
Record against competitors: 1-7
We have seen three iterations of the Sixers this season. One with Dario Saric and Robert Covington, one that added Jimmy Butler, then one that added primarily Tobias Harris among others. That’s a lot of talent to integrate in such a short time. Lucky for them, by adding Butler and Harris, the Sixers have the most talented starting five in the East. The Process is now at 100 percent capacity. They may have holes, but their Warriors-esque talent level may make it so that it won’t be a problem.
MVP: Joel Embiid – At age 24, Embiid has now taken his first steps into superstardom. 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists along with 1.9 blocks is sure to Joel among the ranks of the league’s top centers. Perhaps what’s most encouraging is that, before this recent knee ailment, Embiid has only missed five games.
X-Factor: The Bench – The Sixers also loaded up the second unit by adding Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, Jonathon Simmons and James Ennis III. By doing so, they really are committing to positionless basketball. It honestly could work if they use it to the best advantage they could.
Unsung Hero: Jimmy Butler – Butler’s fit with the Sixers hasn’t been smooth, but, even with the decreased scoring numbers, Butler is quietly putting up some of the most efficient percentages he’s ever had this season, both from three and the field itself.
Pivotal Question: Will they be able to stop any elite point guards?
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .516 (10th Overall)
Record against competitors: 6-3
The Celtics are somehow a team that’s played badly enough that they’re a disappointment yet played well enough that people shouldn’t give up on them. After a mediocre start, most of the results that have come from the Celtics have been positive. That’s come with some frustrating losses, but the team has been resilient after every bad stretch they’ve had. A common characteristic of Brad Stevens teams is that they play at their best as the season approaches its end. With their guys finally getting past their injury issues, we may see more of the same in the best way yet.
MVP: Kyrie Irving – Kyrie’s chaotic free agency plans have gotten in the way of what’s been a great season for him. He’s put up his usual scoring numbers, but his passing, rebounding and defense have been the best they’ve ever been. The Celtics have proven their fine without him. They’re still better off having him on the court.
X-Factor: Gordon Hayward – It’s been reported to death by now that Hayward’s made some encouraging process in recent weeks. Let’s leave it at this – if he is 100 percent by the playoffs, that makes the Celtics so much scarier. People forget just how good Gordon Hayward was merely two years ago.
Unsung Hero: Al Horford – After the last Celtics-Sixers game, many believe Horford is going to be a matchup problem for Embiid. Correction: Horford’s skillset and IQ make him a matchup problem for everyone.
Pivotal Question: Will they find a consistent rhythm by the season’s end?
Some of you are probably going to be outraged that Indiana is not included on this list, and for good reason. They still are the third-seeded team in the East, they’ve just recently had a six-game winning streak snapped, and they have one of the league’s best defenses.
With all due respect, it’s pretty simple. No Victor Oladipo, no contest. The Pacers are still one of the most well-liked and well-rounded teams in the league. It doesn’t change the fact that in the playoffs, having star power gives a huge advantage. Without Oladipo, Indiana is completely deprived of it.
If it’s any comfort, with a fully healthy Oladipo next season, they are more than worthy of being put with this group.
Here’s to hoping that by next year, this group will stay the same when he does.
NBA Daily: Are The Kings Destined For The Playoffs?
As the season starts up again after the All-Star Break, Jordan Hicks looks into the Sacramento Kings and what it will take for them to end their playoff drought.
Sacramento Kings fans should be incredibly happy regardless of how this season ends.
For the first time in what seems like forever they have a promising young team that is not only winning games, but maintaining a certain form of consistency doing so. With the foundation of youthful stars like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Marvin Bagley III, how can Kings faithful not be hyper-optimistic?
The Kings are geared for success over the course of the next few years, but could their time come sooner than that? Do they actually have a shot at making the playoffs this season? The trade deadline acquisitions of Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks, two vets that can make an instant impact, make it seem like they believe their time is now.
Breaking things down, the question becomes – what actually needs to happen for the Kings to make the playoffs this season? The simple answer is to win games.
What have they been doing thus far to put more ticks in the W column? Shooting the three efficiently jumps out. They are currently fourth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.7 percent. While this number is oddly similar to last season’s percentage, they are shooting about seven more threes per game.
Sacramento is also playing incredibly quick basketball. They are second in the league in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes). Some could argue that this doesn’t always translate into a positive outcome, but for Sacramento it does. They are leading the NBA in fastbreak points at 21.7 points per game and are sixth in the league at points in the paint. Their defense is translating into offense as well, as they are second in the league at points off turnovers.
While their strengths are definitely elite, they clearly have weaknesses, too. They sit in 18th for both offensive and defensive rating, good for a -1.2 net rating. They are an abysmal 28th in free throw shooting.
Apart from Willie Cauley-Stein – who likely isn’t a major part of their future – they lack an elite rim protector. This leaves their defense prone to giving up more points in the paint. They are currently 26th in the league at opponent points in the paint. The lack of rim protection clearly correlates with their inability to grab defensive boards. They are tied for last in the league at opponent second-chance points.
One would assume that if the Kings simply tighten up their defensive focus that they would be able to close out strong and make the playoffs. They are currently ninth in the West, only one-and-a-half games behind the Clippers who just traded away their best player in Tobias Harris and two-and-a-half games behind the Spurs, who are somehow putting together a strong season despite losing Kawhi Leonard via trade and Dejounte Murray to injury.
As the season gets deeper, however, the Kings won’t be the only team tightening things up for a final playoff push. Every other team will likely be doing the same thing. While the Kings are just a small shot from the playoffs, both the Lakers and Timberwolves are nipping at their heels as well.
The Warriors, Nuggets and Thunder have done enough to separate themselves from the pack, to a degree at least. So that essentially leaves eight teams fighting for the remaining five slots. You can likely write off the Clippers, as they traded away their star player for future assets, and quite possibly the Timberwolves, as they may not have enough depth on their roster. This leaves the Kings and Lakers. If history has taught us anything, it’s that LeBron James likes to play in the postseason.
Sacramento has 24 games left to play this season. Their next two are at Oklahoma City and Minnesota. If they can somehow manage to squeak out one win in that stretch that will keep them above .500 and still fighting for a spot. After that stretch, 11 of their final 22 games are against teams projected to make the playoffs. Apart from two games against the Knicks, one against the Suns, and one against the Cavaliers, none of the remaining 11 games not against playoff teams will be “gimmes.”
Their final three are away against Utah, home against New Orleans and away against Portland. For sure they will be battling with two (and potentially three) of those teams for playoff positioning.
As far as the Lakers – who after their head-to-head win Thursday are a game behind Sacramento and two games out of the playoffs – their schedule isn’t much easier. 15 of their final 24 games are against projected playoff teams. That victory over Sacramento at Staples could actually end up being incredibly important for who makes the playoffs and who loses out.
Whether or not the Kings make the playoffs is anyone’s guess. If Fox and Hield play elite ball to close out the season, that will definitely increase their chances. Strong play from deadline acquisitions Burks and Barnes will also play a huge role in the Kings’ final push.
Like previously mentioned, Kings’ fans should be happy either way. This is the brightest the team’s future has been in well over a decade.
But the Kings likely won’t settle for “promising” or “up-and-coming.” They want success now, and making the playoffs will give them the reward that they’ve been working so hard for.
How The NBA Became The Most Betting-Friendly League In American Sports
The NBA has become synonymous with betting conversations during the Adam Silver era, with the league frequently being at the forefront of those discussions. Compared to the other professional sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has not only appeared to be the most progressive with regard to the topic, but it has also looked like the league that is the most likely to get further involved in the industry.
Of course, the league has placed a focus on sports betting, given that they have a vested interest in the continued legalization of that. They have mentioned that they would like a cut of NBA wagers placed, with the industry’s growth in the United States being something that the league could see improving the bottom-line.
Whether or not the NBA gets a piece of the action from a financial perspective, it is still surprising to see a major professional sports league in the United States willing to entertain the conversation at all. By comparison, the NFL has been largely afraid to discuss sports betting, while Major League Baseball has banned its all-time leading hitter for life for gambling-related offenses.
And it isn’t as if the NBA is only interested in gambling in the context of betting on NBA games. The league has relationships in the daily fantasy sports industry as well, with visibility for brands in that space seen in NBA arenas as well. And the NBA-subsidized WNBA is also a part of this betting-friendly basketball landscape, most notably in the form of a team named after a casino.
The Connecticut Sun is that team, as they play in the home of a popular casino in their area. Both the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury play in a venue named after a casino as well. And it is the casino industry that the NBA may conceivably expand into as their relationships in the betting industry appear to be growing in both quality and quantity. With the growth of online casinos, it isn’t impossible to envision the NBA encouraging its fans to compare the best casino bonuses to increase its market share in this growing industry.
Of course, with the betting renaissance that is going on in the United States at this time, the league is making sure that everyone knows that its integrity is not to be questioned. The league has made clear that they are going to ramp up the enforcement of its betting policies, to make sure that players aren’t compromising the game’s integrity. That move by the league is a smart one, as it makes sure that fans know that there is no reason to question the sport even if the league embraces betting.
The NBA is seeing progress across the sport, from its on-court evolution that prioritizes ball movement and long-range shooting, to its off-court stances on betting. Unlike the other major American sports, that willingness to evolve is part of what has caused the popularity of the NBA to skyrocket in recent years.