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NBA Daily: Trade Deadline Notebook

One day away from the NBA Trade Deadline, Matt John analyzes the blockbuster trade involving Tobias Harris going to Philadelphia and the latest rumors around the league.

Matt John

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Remember when the consensus with the NBA Trade Deadline was that it was going to be pretty boring with more buyers than sellers? Those were some good times, because a lot has changed since then.

Suddenly, the Grizzlies decided to end their golden age of basketball, Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks divorced and rumors are swirling around Anthony Davis. In a matter of weeks, the trade deadline suddenly could have major implications for what happens this summer. We are now one day away from the deadline, and we could be in for one epic one a little over 24 hours from now.

Kudos to the NBA for moving the deadline up a few weeks earlier. It forces teams to think quicker, it gives players who are traded to their new teams more time to acclimate and players don’t have worry about getting traded while they’re enjoying the All-Star break.

At first, it seemed as though nothing was really happening. Besides some updates on Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol, little was going on besides the Lakers trading for swingman Reggie Bullock. Then, Wednesday at 2:17 a.m. EST, we received news that changed everything, and that’s exactly how we’re starting this off.

The Sixers Are Going All In

We all thought that was the case when they traded for Jimmy Butler back in December. We were wrong. NOW they are all in.

The Sixers broke NBA Twitter earlier this morning when they reportedly acquired Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott from the Clippers for Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, their 2020 first-round pick and Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick.

First things first, wow. Those picks were the last assets Philly had left over. The Process is now complete, and Philly has shown everyone their hand. What they just paid for those guys is a substantial amount, a big risk considering Harris and the players coming with him are on expiring contracts. But if that gives you an edge in the top-heavy Eastern Conference, then do it.

One theory for why else Philly did this: Things haven’t gone as swimmingly as the Sixers had hoped with Jimmy Butler. They haven’t been bad, but Butler hasn’t had the most seamless transition to the team. Trading for Harris substantially increases their ceiling, which in turn leads to more success, which would help their chances in retaining him – and Harris for that matter.

Harris also should be the perfect fit to put next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. With all due respect to Butler, Harris is one of the best floor spacers in the league who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be the most effective. Tobias is also playing the best basketball of his career, putting up career-highs in almost every category. That’s probably not going to continue now that he’s the fourth option.

Read that again. The same man who was getting a lot of All-Star buzz in the loaded Western Conference is now the fourth guy in Philly. This is going to be fun.

Two more notes: Philly got some solid depth in Marjanovic and Scott, which is good for them because depth has been one of their fatal flaws. Finally, who’s to say the Sixers are done dealing? They still have Markelle Fultz. They could still get more needed depth should they find a trade for him.

The Anthony Davis Sweepstakes

There has never been, and may never be, another player who has prompted just about every person associated with the NBA to frantically refresh their Twitter feed just to find any updates on his situation like Anthony Davis. Since his trade request, we’ve all hungered for the next update.

Tuesday, we got our latest twist: It appears the Lakers, who have been the long-standing favorite since Davis’ trade request last week, have pulled out of trade talks with the Pelicans because of “outrageous” requests made by New Orleans. This request included six to eight first-round picks on top of their entire farm of young talent, including Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Ivica Zubac as well as cap filler.

This could be legitimate, or it could just be a negotiation tactic. By doing this, the Lakers are probably banking on Davis’ value as a player decreasing as each hour passes, which will force the Pelicans to compromise. If the Pelicans call the Lakers’ bluff, then the Lakers would have to compete with the Celtics for Davis, who can’t trade for him – due to the Designated Rookie Extension rule – until Kyrie Irving opts out of his contract this summer.

What makes this new wrinkle so intriguing is that so much is riding on this year’s deadline. For the first time ever, the offseason plans of the three most storied franchises of all time are all linked together. The Lakers, Celtics and Knicks are all going to be linked to Anthony Davis.

The Lakers want Davis because pairing him with LeBron would make them relevant again and could form another super team. Boston wants Davis because snagging him would help their chances of re-signing Irving, which would, in turn, keep their status as a contender.

New York is kind of a wild card. Of course, they want Davis aboard – Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t – but what they would prefer is him not going to Boston above all else, because if he doesn’t, that helps New York’s chances of getting Kyrie, who they plan to chase in free agency.

Even if the Lakers are playing the waiting game, they may be losing leverage. The team is coming off a 42-point loss to Victor Oladipo-less Indiana Pacers, which was LeBron’s worst loss ever as a pro. The image below paints a worse picture.

There appears to be a real disconnect between LeBron and his young teammates, which may have been fueled by the trade rumors surrounding the Lakers and Anthony Davis. Since LeBron is represented by Klutch Sports, the same agency as Davis, this could point to LeBron pushing for the trade, which may have rubbed his teammates the wrong way. Maybe the trade rumors were not correlated with what happened at Indiana, but that’s not a good look either way.

No matter what the case is, the Anthony Davis sweepstakes are going to get a lot more interesting between now and 3 p.m. EST on Thursday.

Marc Gasol Is On The Move…Or Not?

We’ve been wondering for a few weeks now about what was going to happen with Marc Gasol. Big Spain’s name came up in a rumor with the Raptors, but that was quickly squashed because the Grizzlies were not interested. A few hours later, it appeared we finally got our answer in the afternoon.

Until we didn’t several hours later.

It only gets more confusing, too. Deals fall through all the time, which appears to be the case here. What makes this instance different, though, is that while Gasol may not be headed to the Hornets after all, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be playing for the Grizzlies once the deadline passes.

Even though Charlotte has been linked to Gasol for some time now, that still would have made for a puzzling trade. Marc would definitely be an upgrade over who they have manning the center position currently, but would it be worth risking Miles Bridges and/or Malik Monk for half a season of an aging Gasol? And have those two shown enough that they are a satisfactory return for Gasol? And obviously, what contracts would have been sent back to match with Marc’s?

For now, no deal is imminent between the two, but something’s gotta’ give with Memphis. The atmosphere in the Grizzlies’ locker room felt like Gasol and Mike Conley were playing their last home games with the franchise. It’s going to be really awkward if they wind up staying on a team whose fate has already been sealed this season.

This all happened within 12 hours. It goes to show that the NBA never sleeps, and if things are like this in such a short time span, imagine what they’ll look like on Feb. 7.

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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.

Matt John

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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.

Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 44-14
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?

Toronto Raptors
Record: 43-16
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?

Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 38-21
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?

Boston Celtics
Record: 37-22
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.

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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.

Jordan Hicks

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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.

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How The NBA Became The Most Betting-Friendly League In American Sports

Basketball Insiders

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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.

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