With the holiday upon us, I wanted to take a moment to wish you and your family a safe and Merry Christmas. While what we do is often taken way more seriously than it really is, I do at times like to take stock in where we are and what we do. It’s because of you that we have a place to talk basketball and share thoughts and ideas. We would not be here without you, and sometimes your place in our equation may not get the appreciation it deserves. So thank you for caring about what we do. Enjoy the holiday and know that all of us from the Basketball Insiders family wish you and yours the very best this holiday season.
Let’s get on with the show.
One Man’s Ugly Sweater: In the spirit of gift giving, everyone at some point has been given a gift they are ready to re-gift to someone else. With the NBA trade season in full swing, there are a few players who fit right into that category. Here is what we know.
Is Chicago Ready To Deal?
The Bulls were supposed to get better after their team meeting and public airing of issues. So far that has not been the case and it seems the Bulls are open for business and have a lot of things on the table.
Sources close to the process say that both forward Taj Gibson and center Joakim Noah could be had in trade, especially if an impact player on the perimeter is returned.
Noah is dealing with a tear in his shoulder and could miss two to four weeks and is a pending free agent in July, so that could significantly impact his value in a trade. Gibson is posting reasonable numbers given the dysfunction within the Bulls’ structure and he is under contract for one more season after this one.
There is a sense that packaged together, the combination of Noah and Gibson could return a real player and one to watch might be Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson.
There is also a sense that Chicago would entertain moving Pau Gasol as well, namely because there is an increasing sense he’s going to explore his options in free agency in July and could leave the Bulls with nothing; there is value in trade for him, even as a rental.
The Bulls’ stance is that these talks are exploratory, according to a few teams that have spoken to the Bulls, and they do not appear to have a clear plan yet. But what is clear is that Chicago is listening to offers and shopping situations – they could be significant seller as the February 18 trade deadline nears.
Handing Him A Towel?
With 9:47 to play and a -13 plus/minus, Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Horneck opted to take Markieff Morris out of the game against the Denver Nuggts. In exchange, Morris handed his coach a towel. Okay, maybe he didn’t hand it to him; maybe it was more of an aggressive toss. Some might say it was a full on throw.
After the game Morris was asked about the towel tossing exchange and refused to talk about it, saying the situation was between him and Hornacek. The Suns coach was more direct saying it was about “not playing.”
The truth of the situation is both the Suns and Morris are eager for a change. While there are teams that are interested, there isn’t currently an offer out there the Suns would pull the trigger on, which means trying to make the best of the situation until a deal surfaces.
Throwing a towel at the coach is not going to help the situation at all.
As we have covered in this space, there are three core problems with Morris:
The Player is averaging career-lows everywhere and posting bad numbers. He has a history that suggests he could be serviceable in a new situation, but based on play right now, he is absolutely underperforming.
The Person has a pending felony assault case, vented his personal frustrations to the press and on social media and just threw a towel at his head coach.
The Contract on the surface is not bad, at $8 million this season, but he is owed three more seasons beyond this one. If in a new situation he produces at the same level he is now, or becomes a cancer to his new team, that new team would be stuck with him for the foreseeable future.
Morris has the trifecta of issues. Any one of those issues is enough to kill a player’s trade value, but when you start compounding all of them, he’s almost a bad deal unless it’s for the end of a team’s bench or worse yet a contract dump kind of transaction.
While the Suns’ clearly need to do something, making a bad deal to salvage a bad situation is far from ideal. But if things have devolved to towel throwing, maybe it’s time to cut your losses?
Why Terrence Jones?
To characterize the Houston Rockets as wanting to trade forward Terrence Jones is a little misplaced. Also, assigning a tremendous amount of value to Jones is also a bit misplaced. The Rockets have been sniffing around for a trade and Jones’ name is often attached and for good reason: Jones will likely be a restricted free agent in July and given the prices expected for talent, the Rockets have to decide if they want to give $30-35 million to Jones or if that money is ultimately better used on a different player.
Jones is a very versatile and solid producer for Houston. He has solid tools and size, and he gives the Rockets a ton from the bench or when he has started. He is a good player. The problem is that it’s time to pay Jones and Houston has eyes for bigger fish, which means they ultimately have to trade Jones or risk losing him to a lucrative offer sheet from a competing team.
As a restricted player, the Rockets do have the right to match an offer if they issue the required $3.53 million qualifier, so they have some control, but there is a sense that Jones has suitors outside of Houston and he’s going to get expensive.
The Rockets, like a number of teams, have eyes on a major free agent signing this summer and are reluctant to tie up too much of their future until that plays out.
To characterize the Rockets as wanting to trade Jones is a little misplaced. There is an understanding that Jones could return value and help make a deal happen, and there is a sense that Jones could also get priced out of Houston’s range for him in July.
Sometimes in the NBA you don’t always want to make a deal, but as in the case of Jones, you might have to make a deal before you lose an asset for nothing.
How ‘Bout Them Lakers?
With five wins so far on the season, the Los Angeles Lakers are approaching the crossroads moment in their season. Sources close to the situation say the front office has been looking at the current roster trying to understand what parts are worth keeping long-term and may be ready to start listening to deals in the new year.
It’s easy to say the Lakers need to keep the young guys because those players are still on rookie-scale deals; however, sources have said when the Lakers open the trade flood gates, they are not necessarily going to turn away trade scenarios that could involve their rookie-scale guys.
Now let’s be clear: the Lakers are not even really shopping at this point, but when they do, they are expected to look at everything that comes their way and they understand that a rookie-scale guy might be required to make a splashy franchise-positioning deal.
There are a couple of Lakers who are expected to be available, most notably forward Brandon Bass. His $2 million salary won’t return very much, but there is a sense that while the Lakers liked Bass a lot in the free agent process, he’s not viewed as a viable long-term piece now.
The same is being said of center Roy Hibbert, who waived a chunk of his trade bonus to get out of Indiana and to the Lakers. Sources close to the process say that moving Hibbert won’t be easy (due to his upcoming free agency), but given his $15.59 million ending contract he could return a combination of ending contracts and a player of value to the Lakers’ rebuild.
Laker fans often talk about moving Nick Young, but league sources label Young as almost untradeable, which is where the concept of moving a rookie-scale guy comes into play. There is a sense that the Lakers would have to package a desirable asset along with Young to get teams to consider it and given how little value Young seems to have around the league, the Lakers may be better off staying the course with the swingman.
Sources close to the process say the Lakers really are not overly engaged in trade talks now, just doing the normal due diligence teams do in December, and that if they are doing anything on the trade front it would a lot closer to the trade deadline.
The Lakers are not necessarily a seller yet, but it seems after the holidays they may start to listen a bit more.
The 2015-16 NBA trade deadline is February 18 at 3 p.m. EST.
Most of the active players in the NBA are trade eligible now. There are roughly 28 players that signed new deals this past summer worth more than 20 percent of their previous deals, which makes them trade restricted until January 14.
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NBA Daily: Luguentz Dort – A Different Kind of Point Guard
The point guard position is a clearly-defined one – perhaps the most defined – in the modern NBA.
At the one, you are either an elite shooter (both inside and on the perimeter), ala Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, an elite passer, ala Chris Paul, Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook, or some combination of the two.
Luguentz Dort doesn’t exactly fit that bill.
The 20-year-old combo-guard out of Arizona State University didn’t shoot the competition out of the gym – Dort managed a field goal percentage of just 40.5 and hit on a meager 30.7 percent from downtown. And he wasn’t exactly the flashiest passer, as he averaged just 2.3 assists per game in his lone season with the Sun Devils.
He’s different. But, according to Dort, he has what it takes to run the point at the next level.
“I know that I can become a really good leader on the court and create for my teammates,” Dort said at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine.
Confidence and an “I-will-outwork-you” competitive attitude are at the center of Dort and his game. Those two aspects drive the engine that has made Dort one of the more intriguing prospects in the back end of the first round. He may not be the most talented player in this class, but Dort is hyper-competitive and can out-hustle anyone on any given night.
“When I play,” Dort said, “I’m really going at people to let them know it’s not going to be easy.”
There is a hunger in Dort – a desire to win that is evidenced in his game. An aggressor on both offense and defense, Dort’s motor is always going. His primary selling point is his defensive ability; built like an NFL defensive end, Dort can bring energy and effort to any defense. He has more than enough speed to stick with smaller guards on the perimeter and more than enough strength to bump with bigger forwards in the paint.
Dort has also shown a knack for jumping passing lanes to either deflect passes or outright steal the ball; Dort was fourth in the Pac-12 as he averaged 1.5 steals per game and 1.9 per 40 minutes.
Dort has made it a point to put that defensive ability and intensity on full display for potential suitors. At the Combine, Dort said he wanted to show teams “how tough I play on defense” and “how hard I play and the type of competitor I am.”
Offensively, Dort is an impeccable cutter. At Arizona State, Dort averaged 1.289 points per possession on cuts, according to Synergy Sports. When he goes to the rim, Dort used his size and power to his advantage in order to get to the basket and either drop it in the bucket or draw a foul. He isn’t Irving with the ball in his hands, but Dort can make a move with the ball to create space as well.
Dort isn’t a superb passer, but he has a solid vision and can make, and often made while at Arizona State, the right pass as well.
But can Dort overcome the inconsistencies that plagued him at Arizona State? Dort was, at times, reckless with the ball in his hands. Whether he drove into a crowd just to throw up an ill-fated shot attempt or forced an errant pass, Dort’s decision-making must improve. His shooting is suspect and his touch around the rim – two skills critical to the modern point guard – weren’t exactly up to snuff either.
There were lapses on the defensive end as well. Sometimes Dort would fall asleep off the ball or he would be too aggressive one-on-one. If he is too handsy or unaware, NBA veterans will take advantage of every chance they get against him.
But, according to Dort, he has worked on those issues.
“My decision making got a lot better,” Dort said. “My shot, my free throws, everything. I really worked on all that this season.”
But in order to truly make an impact at the next level, he’ll have to continue to work and refine those skills further.
More work has never been an issue for Dort. However raw he may appear, he has the look of and the work-ethic required of NBA-caliber talent. Dort’s ultimate goal for the Combine, other than draw interest from NBA teams, was simple: “learn about everything, get feedback and go back to Arizona and continue to work on my game.” Whether or not teams view him as a point guard, shooting guard or something else entirely is a matter for debate, but, standing at just over 6-foot-4, 222 pounds with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and high motor, Dort has the versatility and ability to stick at, and is willing to play, a variety of different spots on the floor.
“I want to play any position a team would want me to play,” Dort said.
He may not be the prototypical point guard, but with that kind of willing, team-first attitude, Dort, at some point or another, is almost certain to make it to and have an impact at the next level.
NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Working From The Ground Up
Because of the unusual path he’s taken to get here, Brandon Clarke has established himself as one of the more unique prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft, writes Matt John.
When the draft time comes along, teams who have the higher picks usually look for guys who have the highest ceiling. Because of this, they usually decide to take players on the younger side because they believe those who have less experience have more room to improve.
This puts Brandon Clarke at a slight disadvantage. Clarke is 22 years old – and will be 23 when training camp rolls around – and only just recently came onto the scene after an excellent performance for Gonzaga in March Madness this season.
Competing for scouts’ attention against those who are younger and/or deemed better prospects than him would be quite the challenge, but because of what he’s been through, said challenge didn’t seem to faze him one bit at the combine.
“It was a different path for me,” Clarke said. “ I’m 22 and there are some guys here that are only 18 years old. With that being said, I’m still here.”
The Canadian native has clearly had to pay his dues to get to where he is. Clarke originally played for San Jose State, a school that had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times in its program’s history – the most recent entry being 1996 – whose last alum to play in the NBA was Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Props to you if you know who that is!
Playing under a program that didn’t exactly boast the best reputation wasn’t exactly ideal for Clarke. In fact, according to him, it was disheartening at times.
“There were definitely times that I felt down,” Clarke said. “When I first went there, I was kind of freaking out because I was going to a team that had only won two or three games prior to me getting there.”
No tournament bids came from Brandon’s efforts, but the Spartans saw a spike in their win total in the two seasons he played there. The team went from two wins to nine in his freshman year, then went from nine wins to fourteen his sophomore year. Clarke’s performance definitely had a fair amount to do with San Jose State’s higher success rate, but the man praised the program for the opportunity it gave him.
“We did some really big things for that college so I’m really grateful for the stuff I could do for them,” Clarke said.
After spending two years at SJS, Clarke then transferred to Gonzaga where he redshirted for a year before getting himself back on the court. When he did, he put himself on the map.
Clarke dominated in his lone year with the Bulldogs, averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds – including 3.1 offensive boards – as well as 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. The man clearly established himself as a high-energy small-ball center at 6-foot-8 ¼ inches, and it paved the way for Gonzaga to get a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and go all the way to the Elite Eight.
Brandon loved the experience with the Bulldogs, both for the opportunity they gave him and for what he was able to do for them on the court.
“It was a great year,” Clarke said. “I got to play with some of the best players in the country… It was everything that I ever dreamed of. I’m going to miss it a lot. From a personal standpoint, I was just really blessed that I was able to block shots… I felt that I was really efficient too and I really helped us on the offensive end taking smart shots.”
Both his age and the small sample size, unfortunately, go hand in hand so that it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly Brandon Clarke will be taken in the draft. The latest Consensus Mock Draft from Basketball Insiders has all four contributors disagreeing where he will be selected, ranging from being picked as high ninth overall to as low as 21st.
Where he will get selected will all depend on who trusts what could be his greatest weakness – his shotty jumper.
In a league where spacing is so very crucial to consistent success, Clarke’s inability to space the floor hurts his stock. His free throw shooting at Gonzaga saw a drastic improvement from San Jose State, as he went from 57 percent to almost 70. That’s not as much of a liability but not much of a strength either. His three-point shooting in that time took a dive in that time, going from 33 percent to almost 27, which definitely does not help.
To be a hotter commodity at the draft, Clarke had to prove he could shoot the rock from anywhere, which is what he set to do at the combine.
“That is my biggest question mark,” Clarke said. “I’ve been working really hard on it. So I’m hoping that they can see that I can actually shoot it and that I have made lots of progress on it, and that they can trust me to get better at it.”
The journey that Clarke has been on to get to where he is had made him all the wiser as a player. With him expected to enter the NBA next season, he had a simple yet profound message to aspiring young ballers everywhere.
“Trust yourself. Trust your coaches. Trust everybody around you that you love… Make the best out of the situation that you are in.”
NBA Daily: Nassir Little’s Climb Back up the Draft Boards
Nassir Little’s measurements and personality shined through at the Combine, leading many to believe he may be better suited for the NBA than he was for the NCAA, writes Drew Maresca.
From highly-touted prospect to reserve player and back, Nassir Little’s path to the pros has been an unusual one.
Little was a McDonald’s All-American and five-star prospect. And yet, he didn’t start a single game in his lone season at North Carolina.
He demonstrated the ability to take over a game at times – averaging 19.5 points per game through UNC’s first two games in the NCAA tournament. He also broke the 18-point barrier in six games this past season. But he also scored in single digits in 18 of the Tar Heels’ 36 games, resulting in him being labeled inconsistent by many professional scouts.
Luckily for Little, his skillset is highly sought after by NBA personnel. He is a 6-foot-6, 220 pound forward. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as UNC’s sixth man, demonstrating the versatility to switch between both forward positions fairly seamlessly.
And he very well may be one of the few players better suited for the modern NBA game than he was for the NCAA.
Little told reporters at the NBA combine that much of his struggles can be attributed to the hesitancy he developed in his own game through the lack of clarity provided to him by the North Carolina coaching staff.
“The coaching staff didn’t really understand what my role was, especially on offense,” said Little. “So it created a lot of hesitancy, which didn’t allow me to play like myself.”
But Little assured reporters that he’ll look more like the five-star recruit we saw when he was a senior at Orlando Christian Prep.
“Throughout the year I didn’t feel like I played like myself. The guy that people saw in high school is really who I am as a player,” Little said. “And that’s the guy that people will see at the next level.”
Not only does Little expect to be back to his old self, he sees greatness in his future.
“I feel like I am going to come in as, like, a second version of Kawhi Leonard and be that defensive guy,” Little said. “Later on in the years, add [additional] pieces to my game.”
And while a Leonard comparison represents a tall order, Little’s physical tools have fueled discussion about his defensive potential – which has resulted in his climb back up draft boards. Little measured in with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and posted an impressive 38.5-inch vertical jump (second amongst all 2019 participants), a 3.09-second shuttle run (third) and a 3.31-second ¾ court sprint (fourth) – all of which translates perfectly to the NBA.
While his physical prowess will certainly help him gain additional visibility throughout the draft process, Little claims to possess another attribute that everyone else in the draft might not necessarily have, too.
“A lot of guys talk about skill set, everyone’s in the gym working on their skillset. But me being able to bring energy day in and day out is something a lot of guys don’t do.”
To Little’s point, he projects extremely well as an energetic, defensive pest. He is an aggressive and physical defender who has drawn comparisons to guys like Marcus Smart and Gerald Wallace – both of whom are/were known for their high-energy play and dedication on the floor. While his athleticism and potential can open doors, his personality will ensure that teams fall in love with the 19-year old forward. Little came across as extremely likable and candid, which should factor into the overall process, especially when considering that other prospects with less personality project to be more challenging to work with. Moreover, the fact that he was named to the Academic All-ACC team speaks volumes to his discipline and dedication.
Little alluded to the fact that he already sat through interviews with 10 teams as of a week ago, including one with the San Antonio Spurs, which makes the Leonard comparison all the more intriguing.
“Each team has different needs,” Little said. “But they like my [ability] to score the basketball in a variety of ways and my defensive potential to guard multiple positions, they really like that. And my athleticism to be on the court and finish plays.”
If Little is lucky, he’ll be selected by the Spurs with the nineteenth pick. And if that happens, he would be wise to pay close attention to the advice given to him by Coach Gregg Popovich – and not only because he sees similarities between himself and former Popovich-favorite, Leonard. Coach Popovich has a long history of developing lesser known draft picks into borderline stars – Derrick White being the most recent example.
Considering Little’s physical tools, academic achievements and easy-going personality, he has everything one would need to have a long NBA career. Just how successful he ends up being is mostly up to him.