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NBA PM: Potential First-Time All-Stars

Which NBA players could make their first All-Star team this season? Joel Brigham takes a look.

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All-Star Weekend is still over two months away, but with the All-Star uniforms getting released on Thursday afternoon there has started to be a little bit of talk about who might actually wear those delightfully understated jerseys come February.

There are plenty of great debates to be had about which players will and will not make the All-Star Game, but a good place to start some of those conversations is with which players will be voted to the team for the first time. Obviously there are plenty of All-Star staples in both conferences, while the Western Conference has two waning old men in Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan who might also be given legacy nods.

Whatever happens with the returning All-Stars, here are the five players from each conference with the credentials necessary to get serious consideration for their first All-Star team this season:

Eastern Conference

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons – The closest thing to a shoe-in that exists among first-time Eastern Conference All-Star candidates, Drummond is averaging 18.6 PPG, a league-leading 16.7 RPG, 1.5 BPG and 1.8 SPG, which are strong enough statistics to land just about any player onto the All-Star team. Actually, Drummond has been deserving of a roster spot for a couple of seasons now but the Pistons have been so brutally awful that the coaches couldn’t justify putting him on the squad. This year, the Pistons are above .500 (so far) and Drummond is more dominant than ever. No more excuses. Get this guy on the team.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks – It sounds crazy to talk about a rookie only 20 games into his career as an All-Star candidate because there simply is no way anybody could make that sort of influence that quickly, but we have to consider the fan vote here. Adi Joseph of Sporting News is very persuasive in his argument that Porzingis could make the All-Star roster as a starter, pointing out the 8+ million potential voters in New York and the 2+ million in Porzingis’ home country of Latvia, which already helped middling Latvian NHL star Zemgus Girgensons lead the league in All-Star votes last season. It’s impossible to underestimate just how popular Porzingis already has become in New York, and a strong popular vote there and at home could potentially land him a frontcourt spot in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game.

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets – For his fourth straight season, Walker is averaging between 17.3 and 17.7 PPG, proving that he is the epitome of consistency on the offensive end of the floor. But what makes him so much better this year is the efficiency with which he’s scoring. The numbers have always come in volume on poor shooting in the past, but Walker now is shooting career-highs of 44.2 percent from the field and 37 percent from behind the arc, both of which should earn him consideration for an Eastern Conference All-Star team that doesn’t have as many sure-thing guards as it used to (especially with injuries to Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, etc.).

Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics – It’s not uncommon for 5’9 point guards to go undrafted because, frankly, there haven’t been a lot of 5’9 players in this league that have seen successful at all, let alone at an elite level, but Isaiah Thomas continues to dominate offensively despite his minute stature. Thomas, once the very last player selected in the 2011 NBA Draft, is having his best year as a pro, averaging a career-high 20.8 PPG (sixth in the Eastern Conference) and 6.3 APG (seventh in the Eastern Conference). He’s starting and he’s back up over 30 minutes per game, both of which have had profound influences on his statistical output. An incredibly likeable guy, Thomas would be right at home among the league’s most adored and charismatic stars, so while the Celtics haven’t had an All-Star since Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo made the team in 2013, it might be time to remedy that.

Hassan Whiteside, Miami HEAT – Nobody wants to rob Toronto of the opportunity to boo Chris Bosh at All-Star Weekend this winter, but Whiteside arguably has been even better than Bosh this season and should earn some consideration as the Miami HEAT player most likely to be voted to the team. Both guys won’t get in, but one of them should, and Whiteside’s 13.4 PPG, 11 RPG and league-leading 4.5 BPG are a little more prolific than Bosh’s 17.6 PPG and nine RPG. To have two true centers on the roster (Whiteside and Drummond) would certainly buck the recent small-ball All-Star trend, but crazier things have happened. Whiteside certainly has earned some votes with his play this year, if not an actual nod. For more on Whiteside’s dominant season, check out this recent breakdown of his play.

Western Conference

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors – There is a zero percent chance that Green does not make the All-Star team. Golden State still hasn’t lost a game and Green is closer to averaging a triple-double than anybody has been since LeBron James’ peak. With 12.7 PPG, 8.5 RPG and 7.3 APG, plus a reputation as one of the league’s premier defenders, there’s no way this young man doesn’t make the team. Depending on how the fan vote goes, he could even start. Okay, so Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin will start, but Green deserves it too. A reserve role would be fine, as long as he finds his way on to the team.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs – Especially on the offensive end, Leonard has made “The Leap” this season, jumping up to 21.9 PPG (11th in the NBA) and pretty clearly taking the torch from an aging Spurs roster that needs a star with which to move forward. Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge clearly are the future there, but Leonard is the one serving as the on-floor leader of that team right now in terms of production. He’s never been an All-Star before, but as the best player on one of the league’s best teams, it certainly looks like he will be this year.

Eric Bledsoe and/or Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns – Both of Phoenix’s point guards are having career seasons so far, with Bledsoe averaging 22.2 PPG (ninth in the NBA) and 6.4 APG (11th in the NBA), both career-highs for him, and Knight chipping in 21.8 PPG (12th in the NBA), 5.4 APG and 4.4 RPG. However, the Suns are currently three games under .500 and it’s hard to imagine both of these young gunners making the team in a year where so many more prolific and bigger-name guards are also likely to make the team. Both could be snubbed, but if only one were to be voted in, the smart money’s on Bledsoe.

Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz – While his numbers aren’t dramatically better than they were a year ago, 16.4 PPG and 8.7 PRG both are career-highs for him, as are his almost two steals per game and his 54.8 percent shooting from the field. He has become a leader for that burgeoning young Utah team, which as it stands would be among the Western Conference teams competing in the playoffs. The Jazz need some more wins to garner Favors any sort of serious consideration, and in truth his chances of making the team are slim considering how many other big-name talented frontcourt guys exist in the West, but the fact that he’s on the radar is encouraging.

 

What other potential first-time All-Stars deserve consideration for this year’s All-Star Game after having played the first quarter of the season? Balloting starts later this month, so it’s time to start thinking seriously about who deserves your vote. Perhaps this year’s an appropriate time to give some attention to the newbies instead of the All-Star regulars.

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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.

“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.

In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.

Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.

NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.

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Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons

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According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.

However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.

Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.

On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.

Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.

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