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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 12/28

Basketball Insiders looks at some of the articles from last week in case you missed any the first time around.

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Playoff Sleepers In The Western Conference

By Susan Bible

As expected, the playoff race in the NBA’s Western Conference is extremely tight yet again with the rankings changing nightly.

The Golden State Warriors were strong out of the gate, and their present 22-3 record puts them atop the conference. The Memphis Grizzlies (21-5) and Portland Trail Blazers (22-6) claiming the number two and three spots, respectively, follow dangerously close behind. The fourth-place Houston Rockets (19-7) and fifth-place Dallas Mavericks (20-8) aim to take over those higher spots with recent acquisitions. In a move the Mavs hope puts them in title contention this year, they traded for point guard Rajon Rondo, who leads the league in assists at 10.7 per game. In addition, reports indicate the Mavs are frontrunners to acquire Jermaine O’Neal. The Mavs topped the San Antonio Spurs 99-93 in Rondo’s first outing with Dallas. He logged six points, nine assists and seven rebounds in 34 minutes of play. The Rockets added wing Corey Brewer for some much-needed perimeter defense off the bench and also landed combo guard Alexey Shved.

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Everyone Wins In Rondo Trade

By Moke Hamilton

Rick Carlisle donned his navy blue Mavericks hooded sweatshirt. He both looked and sounded quite casual sitting next to Mark Cuban, whose demeanor was somewhere between proud and giddy.

“Obvioulsy, having him here is a huge step forward for us,” Cuban said about what it meant for his franchise to land Rajon Rondo. “He’s a winner and he’s a competitor.”

Rondo is a few other things too: another superstar in Dallas and a beaming light that illuminates championship hopes.

And now, he is, best of all, a Maverick.

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76ers Win And Want To Win More

By Steve Kyler

The Philadelphia 76ers did the unexpected last night, coming into Orlando and handing the Magic a body blow of a defeat on their home floor. The win wasn’t the result of a stellar performance or some amazing hot streak from the field. It was a grind-it-out win that ended up in Philly’s favor.

Winning hasn’t happened much for the 76ers; in fact, last night marked their third win in 26 games.

The national narrative on the 76ers is that they are tanking and that the team doesn’t want to win. Ten minutes in the 76ers’ locker room will tell you that’s simply not how the players view what is going on. They want to win and want to win badly.

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Four NBA Trades That Should Happen

By Joel Brigham

Any media member who works NBA games knows that of all the trade rumors that cross the wire in a given year, maybe five percent actually get consummated. Despite that fact, there are few things more fun for basketball fans than dreaming up ideal ways to improve their favorite teams, and in-season trades absolutely are the best options for organizations in need of an immediate shot in the arm.

The following are four hypothetical swaps that make more than enough sense to happen, but just because they should, however, doesn’t mean they will. Still, it’s fun to dream, and these blockbusters would definitely change the fate of all eight teams involved:

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Where Will Josh Smith Land?

By Lang Greene

Citing the need for an adjustment, the Detroit Pistons used the stretch provision on Josh Smith early Monday. Smith signed a four-year, $54 million deal with Detroit in free agency back in 2013, but the forward never made the impact the franchise desired and some would argue that he negatively impacted the Pistons’ young frontcourt of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

But even though Smith’s tenure in Detroit proved to be disappointing, the 29-year-old forward still posted 15.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 105 games with the team. Those stats are hard to ignore, especially for teams around the league looking for frontcourt production.

Smith was owed $27 million the next two seasons. His remaining salary for this year will be paid as scheduled, and the remainder will be spread out in $5.4 million annual payments over the next five years. So, the prospect of signing a high dollar deal likely won’t be at the top of Smith’s priority list.

Smith is talented and can help teams, but where would be a good fit? Here are some options around the league:

 

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The Pistons’ Motivation to Cut Smith

By Yannis Koutroupis

One of the worst kept secrets in the league was that the Detroit Pistons were unhappy with Josh Smith and eager to trade him. Smith, signed by former general manager Joe Dumars to a four-year contract worth $54 million in 2013, went from being known as an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year snub to overpaid and inefficient seemingly instantly after putting his name on the dotted line that summer. Because of that, though, the trade market was extremely bare for him. Only the Sacramento Kings showed any real interest, and they were only offering veterans with multiple years left on their deals in return.

So, in one of the more shocking moves of the season so far, the Pistons exercised their right to stretch Smith’s contract and waive him from the roster. He’s going to be paid the rest of the $13.5 million he was owed this year as scheduled, and then the remaining $27 million will be paid to him in annual payments of $5.4 million over the next five years. After clearing waivers in 48 hours, a mere formality, Smith will be an unrestricted free agent – free to sign with any team of his choosing. The Los Angeles Clippers, Miami HEAT, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and aforementioned Kings have all expressed interest in him, with the Rockets reportedly the most serious suitor. Smith’s childhood friends Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo will serve as lead recruiters for their respective teams. For a more detailed look at Smith’s next destination, make sure to check out Lang Green’s breakdown.

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Irving On Family, Loss and Keeping Life in Perspective

By Jessica Cameratio

Walk a mile in his shoes to understand Kyrie Irving. On second thought, just take a few steps in them to get the picture.

When Nike debuted Irving’s first signature shoe, the Kyrie 1, this month, it revealed small glimpses into his personal world — the acronym for his motto “Just Be You,” a pattern inspired by his native country of Australia and, most telling, his late mother’s name with her dates of birth and death scrolled on the sole.

Irving is known for his job of leading the Cleveland Cavaliers on the court. The point guard has another team he also plays for in those sneakers.

Kyrie’s mother, Elizabeth, passed away from organ failure when he was four years old. His father, Drederick, was suddenly a single parent of two. Kyrie’s sister, Asia, is 14 months his senior.

 

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Knight’s Big Season Comes at Perfect Time

By John Zitzler

The Milwaukee Bucks’ surprising start can be attributed to a number of different factors. You could point to Jason Kidd, who has done a terrific job in his first year as the team’s head coach. Jabari Parker, who prior to suffering a season-ending knee injury looked like a favorite to win Rookie of the Year, deserves credit as well. The healthy return of Larry Sanders and the massive impact he has made on the defensive end has been big, as well as the continued growth of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has made tremendous strides in his sophomore season.  They all have played a significant role and have the Bucks unexpectedly thinking about the playoffs. However, with that said, you could also argue that no player has been more important to Milwaukee than point guard Brandon Knight.

Knight has been the engine that has driven the Bucks early on this season. He is the only player who has started in every one of the team’s 28 games. He is averaging 17.5 points, 5.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game, leading the team in all three categories. Knight has the team’s highest PER at 18 and the highest win shares on the team at 2.1.

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K.J. McDaniels’ Hard Work is Paying Off

By Alex Kennedy

K.J. McDaniels had just spent several hours working out and doing drills in a gym full of NBA executives and coaches at the 2014 NBA Draft Combine, but he didn’t feel satisfied with the work he had put in. He wanted to go through the drills again and put up some shots. So while other draft prospects were exploring downtown Chicago with friends or lounging at the NBA hotel, McDaniels purchased a basketball from a nearby sporting goods store and asked his trainer, Joe Abunassar of Impact Basketball, to meet him at a local gym late that night.

That evening, McDaniels spent two hours going through an NBA-level workout and shooting from the areas where he felt he struggled during the combine drills. He went through his workout on one end of the floor, while a pair of high school kids were shooting on the other (oblivious that they were sharing the court with an NBA prospect). The forward from Clemson worked out until the gym’s employees told him that they were closing. McDaniels seemed disappointed to leave, but he finished up his final drill, grabbed his ball, wiped off his sweat-covered face and trekked back to the hotel. He was finally ready to call it a day.

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Draymond Green Making Strong Case for Most Improved

By Cody Taylor

Oftentimes the key for winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award is an increase in playing time, a trade or an injury to the player ahead of them on the depth chart. Countless hours in the gym over the offseason is the one common necessity among winners. The short list for this season’s most improved candidates includes  Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, Evan Fournier, Klay Thompson and Iman Shumpert to name a few, but one candidate that is beginning to cement his place in the discussion is Thompson’s teammate, Draymond Green.

The Warriors finished last season by going 51-31 and earning a first-round playoff matchup with the Clippers. The Warriors would go on to lose that series in seven games, signaling the end of the Mark Jackson era in Oakland. The Warriors wasted no time in firing Jackson, opting to let him go just days after the team was eliminated by the Clippers. Shortly after Jackson was let go, the Warriors brought in Steve Kerr to take over the team. The Warriors recognized that little change was needed and opted to keep much of the team’s core players as they brought in only Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday and Brandon Rush over the summer to fill out the roster.

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NBA Rookie Of The Year Watch: Wiggins On Top After Parker Injury

By Jesse Blancarte

Before this season started, many NBA analysts and fans believed this year’s class of rookies was one of the most talented in the last decade. Unfortunately, many of the most heralded rookies have been sidelined for extended periods of the season, while others have suffered season-ending injuries.The most recent rookie to suffer a significant injury is Jabari Parker, who tore his ACL on December 15 in a game against the Phoenix Suns.

Parker has been at the top of these rankings all season, and was showing gradual improvement in his game until the injury. Parker is the second top rookie to suffer a season-ending injury. Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a broken leg in his NBA debut against the Houston Rockets back in October.

With Parker out for the season, Andrew Wiggins takes over the top spot by default. There are no clear challengers to Wiggins at this point, but there are some new faces in this week’s ranking, including Wiggins’ teammate Zach LaVine.

Now let’s take a look at who else made the top 10 this week:

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Josh Selby Nearly Retired, Now Attempting NBA Comeback

By David Pick

Josh Selby was sitting in the upper deck of a small high-school gym with one-side seating when he challenged a bench-warming teammate to hit a three-pointer from the bleachers. The stakes weren’t high, in the neighborhood of $130 per shot, make-or-miss.

The kid missed. Twice. Selby was up $300, but he never had any intension of collecting the cash. It was his way of making sure his team doesn’t fold under pressure.

It wasn’t long ago that Selby, once the No. 1 NCAA recruit in the nation and former NBA draft pick, hit rock bottom.

Selby, once the highest ranked high-school baller in the United States, led a class that featured some of the NBA’s current-and-future stars. In a sense, he went from hero-to-zero. Selby bounced around the NBA and the respected D-League before heading overseas for stints in China, Croatia and now Israel. At one point, the 23-year-old Baltimore native began to mull over retirement.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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