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NBA Daily: There Are Some NBA Trades To Be Had

The NBA trade winds are swirling. Here are some of the names to watch as things start to heat up.

Steve Kyler

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Time To Make The Phone Call

While NBA teams are typically talking trades and personnel year-round, things in the NBA tend to heat up in mid-December and start to take real shape into the new year.

With less than 52 days until the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline, there are some situations that may warrant exploring and some teams and players that could be ready to deal sooner than later. Here are a few:

Paul George and the Thunder

There is an inevitability to the Thunder’s rocky season so far, which is that it hasn’t been nearly dominating enough to think that Thunder forward Paul George would stay beyond this season.

George’s looming ability to hit free agency and the long-running narrative that he’d like to play in L.A. for the Lakers will weigh heavily on the Thunder as the deadline gets near. However, the same issue the Thunder face faces anyone that could or would trade for George, and that’s he’d likely leave them in July too, making him a playoff run rental on the best of days.

For the Thunder, expecting any real value out of George will be tough, especially when you consider that while the win/loss record isn’t great, the chemistry inside the team has been better than expected.

The Thunder have been hovering at or around .500 for a while and seem close to putting things together. However, if the Thunder doesn’t get a sustained push that gets them out of the middle of the Western Conference, its hard to believe a real offer on George would get dismissed, mainly because of the inevitability that George likely walks in July.

Can the Thunder afford to lose another marquee All-Star for nothing in return? That is something even the Thunder’s massively secure general manager Sam Presti has to factor into his decision-making process.

The reality is that if George is indeed made available in trade—something more insiders believe than not—it likely doesn’t happen until late January, but getting in line now might not be the craziest of ideas, especially for a team that still may be one player away.

DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers

The L.A. Clippers and center DeAndre Jordan have been talking contract extension. In fact, there was a window for several weeks when the narrative out of the Clippers was that they were going to get a deal done. Then the Clippers season fell off a cliff.

Jordan has a player option worth $24.11 million, and while most insiders don’t believe there will be a very robust free agent market for traditional centers, there is something to the idea of trading in $24.11 million for a multi-year deal.

With the Clippers beginning to accept that a rebuild is more than necessary, Jordan’s future with the Clippers is anything but clear, especially with the notion of him expecting a new deal north of $100 million.

There has already been some speculation that Jordan could be on the move to the Milwaukee Bucks in a package built around John Henson and possibly Jabari Parker, who is getting closer to returning to action after a second ACL tear.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have also been in the mix with an offer built around guard Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson and a first-round pick. It’s been reported that pick was possibly the Brooklyn pick obtained in the Kyrie Irving trade, although sources close to the situation say it was never discussed and that the Cavs were open to moving their own pick in any trade scenarios.

On the surface, none of those deals seem to return much value to the Clippers, but the truth of the matter is the Clippers aren’t necessarily dealing from a position of strength and may end up taking what they can get, even though there is a lot of affection for Jordan in the senior leadership of the Clippers.

This one is far from decided, but absolutely one to watch especially as teams in the East try and jockey for the top spot with eyes on how to beat or contain the Warriors.

Nikola Vučević and the Magic

The Orlando Magic got off to a hot start, but have fizzled into the bottom of the East after a nine-game losing streak and now what’s become a new five-game losing streak. Since November 1st, the Magic have lost 18 of 23 games.

There have been few bright spots in the Magic’s journey to the bottom, save maybe the reemergence of center Nikola Vučević, who is posting maybe his most efficient season in the NBA.

Vučević has maybe the most team-friendly deal in the NBA, with $12.25 million owed this season and a fully guaranteed $12.75 million next season.

With the Magic clearly going nowhere fast, Vučević is the name mentioned most in NBA circles as having value.

The Magic’s message continues to be the same in trade talks. They will listen to offers and ideas but are not actively seeking change for change sake, accepting that this season was more about the newly installed front office understanding who and what they really had.

League sources have maintained for some time that to get Orlando off the dime was going to take a significant player hitting the market—something that has not happened yet.

The Magic are absolutely a team to watch as the trade season picks up steam for two big reasons, they have some productive players they can offer, and they have cap money they’d love to shed for the future.

If the Magic end up making a move this trade season, you can expect that Vučević will be the primary name talked about, in part because he may be the best trade asset the Magic have to offer.

Kent Bazemore and the Hawks

The Atlanta Haws are exactly where they were planning to be when they opted to tear apart the roster, sitting dead last in the NBA.

The challenge for the Hawks is they still have some contract dollars and players that may or may not fit the rebuild plan. The biggest name and salary would be swingman Kent Bazemore.

The Hawks owe Bazemore $16.91 million this season and a guaranteed $18.089 million next season. Bazemore has a player option in 2019 worth $19.262 million, which could be problematic for the Hawks to find a real salary shedding transaction.

The fact that Bazemore is 28 years old puts him outside the rebuild window.

League sources say the right combination of ending contracts and a first-round pick, even one highly protected might be enough to get Bazemore in trade, especially for a team looking for a scoring punch.

Of all of the players likely to be moved this trade season, Bazemore may be one of the harder players to trade, but if a team were serious about trying to get him, the word is he could be had and for not a lot in return.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Hornets

The prevailing thought in NBA circles is the Hornets have to move off a salary, with forward Nic Batum, who can’t seem to get and stay healthy or swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist being candidates. Of the two, Kidd-Gilchrist is owed the least amount of money—$13 million a year for the next three years, which isn’t exactly a bargain.

The question for the Hornets is what else they would put into a deal to shed some cap dollars and get far enough under the tax line to add to the team next season?

The Hornets aren’t exactly brimming with promising and expendable young guys they’re willing to trade—rookie Malik Monk is a non-starter according to league sources. Its safe to say it would take a ton to get the Hornets to include fellow rookie Dwayne “Don’t call me Wade” Bacon.

The name to watch may be Frank Kaminsky, although he’s had a couple of really solid games as of late.

If the Hornets genuinely want to shed dollars and try and jump-start a floundering season, they may have little choice but to toss in some youth.

As things stand today, the Hornets are five games out of the eighth spot in the East and not exactly trending in a very good direction. This becomes a real issue when you consider that the face of the franchise, Kemba Walker, has just one more guaranteed year on his deal and has only played in 11 post-season games.

If the Hornets don’t want to find themselves in the same spot the Pacers were with Paul George, last season, they may have to do something.

The prevailing question is what will they really be open to?

Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies

Tick-Tick-Tick.

The Grizzlies hoped that when they fired former head coach David Fizdale, they could right what appeared to be a sinking ship. Since that decision, the Grizzlies have won just two games out of their last 10.

Franchise big man Marc Gasol was labeled as a key reason why the Grizz parted ways with the immensely popular Fizdale, saddling him (unfairly) with the coach-killer label. With point guard, Mike Conley sidelined since mid-November, it’s been all on Gasol to carry a ho-hum Grizzlies roster.

Gasol continues to say all the right things when asked directly about his future, but more and more people in NBA circles are saying the same thing. All it will take for Gasol to be traded is him telling management he wants out—that would give the front office the green light with ownership to move on from Gasol.

With Conley’s return still unclear, there is a sense internally that the Grizzlies could rebound once he comes back and that any talk of trading Gasol before that wouldn’t be seriously considered.

There is little doubt this Grizzlies roster has run its course, especially in a tough Western Conference. The real question is when do the Grizzlies opt to blow the roster up and how much would they really move off in trade?

There is an additional situation worth watching in Memphis, and that’s the ongoing ownership situation.

When the current ownership group came together in 2012, a unique clause was put into the partnership agreement at the behest of then NBA commissioner David Stern. The gist of the idea was that current majority owner Robert Pera and the next two minority owners with most equity (Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus), would have the option to buy each other out in what’s called a buy/sell provision.

The parties have begun this process which started with a normal negotiation window on buying out each other. If a deal cannot be reached (and it has not been), that triggers a valuation process, where any of the three parties can name a valuation for the franchise. That value would force one of the other partners to sell their stake at that defined price or buy out the others at that price – which is expected to be the outcome. The question becomes does Pera, who now has a net worth according to Forbes at over $4.2 billion, go all-in on owning a much bigger share of the Grizzlies?

If majority ownership changes hands, there is a real belief leadership with the Grizzlies changes too. That could change the entire dynamic of the team’s future, so it’s absolutely a situation to watch.

George Hill and the Kings

By most accounts, the Sacramento Kings had a coup of an off-season luring in proven and established NBA veterans like Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and George Hill.

The idea at the time was they would help get the Kings respectable and winning games, while also giving a roster loaded with youth and inexperience a few proven veterans to learn from.

All three were sold on the idea that the Kings were aiming for the playoffs and that this wasn’t going to be a babysitting gig.

The Kings are currently sitting at 9-20, which is tied for the third-worst record in the NBA and increasingly looking like another lost season.

Carter and Randolph seem to be okay with the situation, mainly because they are in the twilight of their careers. However, Hill seems to be the one who may have the most remorse over the deal.

The be fair to the Kings, they massively overpaid Hill. Hill is owed $20 million this season and a fully guaranteed $19 million next season. Considering the rumored situation with Hill’s foot during free agency, the Kings were the best deal out there.

All of that said, the Kings seem open to the idea of trading Hill, and it seems Hill would more than welcome a move. Is there a team that would take on Hill’s contract without the Kings including youth or a future draft pick?

While the season does seem to be slipping away in the win-loss column, it’s hard to argue that the youth of the Kings isn’t improving, which is ultimately why the Kings committed so much cap money to older players.

Like many of the players on this list, the right phone call could put a deal in motion, and for the Kings and Hill, it seems he could be had if an inquiring team really wanted him.

This is by no means the only names to know and watch as the NBA trade season begins to pick up steam, but these are the names that could likely spark a real conversation based on the chatter in NBA circles at this point, and it only looks to get more interesting from here.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

Bobby Krivitsky

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

Drew Maresca

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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NBA

NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?

Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.

Matt John

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Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.

It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.

We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.

The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.

If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.

In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.

TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be

Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.

Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.

For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.

There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.

That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.

Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.

Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.

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