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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 2/15

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

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Can the Atlanta Hawks Keep Their Team Together This Offseason?

By Nate Duncan

When word began to leak out about the NBA’s new television deal late on Sunday night, October 5, the focus immediately turned to the league’s free agent landscape.  Cap dorks immediately began feverish calculations. The eventual conclusion is that the salary cap could rise to as much as $90 million for the 2016-17 season, when over $2 billion per season in TV money will line the league’s coffers.  While reports have indicated that the NBA has engaged the players’ union in talks to “smooth” the impact of the new deal over successive seasons, it now appears that the players are unwilling to acquiesce to such a scenario.  It now appears that the summer of 2016 will be a free agent free-for-all unmatched in league annals.

But for those who follow the league closely, contracts signed in the 2015 offseason could have nearly the same intrigue despite a comparatively modest projected increase from $63.065 million to $67.4 million.  A number of converging factors make this summer absolutely fascinating.  One, of course, is that looming 2016 offseason.  Maximum contracts are delineated as a percentage of the salary cap at the time they are signed, but do not adjust upward based on a rising cap in subsequent seasons.*  With the cap set to rise by almost a third in 2016, max contracts signed in 2015 could look relatively cheap in subsequent years.

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Can The Oklahoma City Thunder Turn The Corner?

By Susan Bible

The Oklahoma City Thunder may not make the playoffs for the first time since the team’s inaugural season in 2008-09. That’s a near-unbelievable statement given the Thunder’s roster contains two of the league’s elite players in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the latter being the reigning Most Valuable Player. Yet the reality of the situation can’t be ignored. Yes, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for those who support them. Welcome, Oklahoma City, to the heartache of having your own professional basketball team. Though always the ultimate goal of all NBA teams, it’s extremely difficult to land in title contention every season.

It’s not all doom and gloom; the Thunder may go on a run like they’ve not done in a long while and climb up in the rankings. It’s possible. If Westbrook and Durant can carry this team – as they’ve done in the past – and if no other injuries to key players occur, they have time to rack up enough wins to qualify for the postseason. It’s not going to come easy, especially in this highly-competitive Western Conference.

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A Disconnected Derrick Rose?

By Steve Kyler

After pulling out a tough win last night in Orlando, most of the Chicago Bulls players slowly dressed by their lockers. Some were taking their time icing sore body parts, some were a little quicker to get in the shower. But a glance around the locker room revealed something out of place. Where was Derrick Rose?

As groups of teammates sat around the locker room talking to each other or to the media, Rose was nowhere to be seen. A glance toward the door revealed a completed dressed Rose, who seemed to be trying to slide out the side door before he realized (or was told) he had to talk to the media.

For weeks, the subject of what’s wrong with the Bulls circled the team, especially during the latest losing streak, and there it was right in front of you.

Something is not quite right with Derrick Rose.

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Greg Monroe Thriving

By Moke Hamilton

It was a simple enough play, one devoid of any special flash or any highlight-reel-worthy material.

Kyle Singler’s missed three-pointer caromed off of the back rim and found its way into the big, waiting hands of Greg Monroe, who was stationed at the top of the key.

It was the first offensive rebound of Monroe’s career-high 21 rebounds that came on Friday night, where he led the Pistons to a 98-88 victory over the visiting Denver Nuggets.

Monroe secured the rebound and jab-stepped twice while Kenneth Faried closed in on him. Realizing that his defender was slightly off-balance, Monroe, the southpaw, put his head down and drove toward the basket from the top of the key. With Faried on his hip, Monroe took two dribbles and floated a one-handed lefty hook shot over the outstretched arms of his defender.

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Orlando Magic Adjusting to Coaching Change

By Cody Taylor

Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said on Sunday that a coaching change is never an easy process, especially one that takes place midseason.

Thibodeau knows firsthand the pressure that comes with winning at the highest level and performing to expectations. With those expectations, it’s believed that if the Bulls don’t make a deep run in the playoffs that he could be on the hot seat.

It’s because of Thibodeau’s current state and prior experience that he knows Orlando Magic interim head coach James Borrego is in a challenging place. Thibodeau commented that Borrego will need to be a pro about leading his team and added that he’s not the head coach by mistake.

 

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Cavaliers’ Early Season Trades Paying Dividends

By John Zitzler

After losing six straight games in early January, including a shocking defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers, many were starting to wonder if the Cleveland Cavaliers would ever come around. Following that six-game skid, they were just 19-20 and tumbling down the Eastern Conference standings.

It was in the final game of that losing streak, a game on the road against the Phoenix Suns, when LeBron James returned to the lineup to reunite the Cavs’ trio of stars. While they were unable to pull out a victory over the Suns that night, they have been nearly unbeatable since – losing only once in their last 14 games. Their big three of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love seems to be much more comfortable playing together as of late and their string of recent wins has reflected that. James, Irving and Love have been most responsible for the Cavs’ turnaround, however, there are three other players who have played a major role as well. The additions of Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith have really paid off for Cleveland. While these players certainly aren’t as revered or talented as James, Love or Irving, their contributions since joining the team have made a major difference.

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Minnesota Timberwolves Shuffle the Deck

By Eric Pincus

The Minnesota Timberwolves were busy on Tuesday, completing two separate trades.

Veteran point guard Mo Williams, along with second-year guard Troy Daniels, were sent to the Charlotte Hornets for guard Gary Neal and a 2019 second-round pick.

Minnesota also acquired rookie forward Adreian Payne from the Atlanta Hawks for a protected first-round pick.

In the deal with the Hornets, the Wolves also agreed to send $344,462 in cash.

The second-round pick will come from the Miami HEAT, which was originally dealt to the Hornets for the draft rights to Shabazz Napier.

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Cavaliers Showing How Good They Can Be

By Alex Kennedy

Playing for a contender that’s led by LeBron James can be tough at times, since everything (on and off the court) is over-analyzed and anything short of a championship is considered a failure. Some drama is inevitable, and James and his teammates will be put under the microscope. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have experienced that this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and this campaign is very different from their first few years in the NBA (since neither has made the playoffs, much less been on a contender with a target on their back). They’ve also had to adapt their games and make sacrifices for the good of the team.

With that said, playing for a LeBron-led team can also be an amazing experience. He’s arguably the best basketball player on the planet and he makes everyone around him better. Also, any team with James will have a chance to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in June.

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Aldridge Putting It All On The Line

By Lang Greene

Portland Trail Blazers All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge always figured to be in the franchise’s long-term plans, but just where team officials had him pegged in those grand designs could be debated. After all, the Blazers at one point were led by former All-Star guard Brandon Roy and had pinned their hopes on former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden becoming the most dominant big man in the game.

While Aldridge was around during the Oden and Roy era, most figured the big man would be the third cog on a Portland team that seemed to have the talent neccessary to contend. But fast forward and Aldridge is the last man standing out of the trio after injuries effectively ended the careers of Oden and Roy.

With the Blazers (36-17) sitting third in the Western Conference standings heading into the All-Star break, Aldridge is the dominant force averaging 23.6 points and 10.3 rebounds. Even more impressive is the fact Aldridge has been playing the past few weeks with a torn ligament in his left thumb. The team initially issued a press release stating their star would miss six-to-eight weeks of action after undergoing surgery, but in a surprise twist Aldridge has put out off the procedure until after the season.

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Coming to America: How International Players Survived in NBA

By Jessica Camerato

Each year, a growing number of international athletes come to the United States to pursue a career in the NBA.

The 2014-15 NBA season kicked off with a record-setting 101 international players from 37 countries and territories on opening night rosters. This number has more than doubled from 45 international players during the 2000-01 season.

During All-Star Weekend, the format of the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge has changed from all rookies vs. sophomores to a United States vs. World competition. The All-Star team also features international players including Marc and Pau Gasol, the first two Europeans voted in as starters by fans.

The transition of international players is judged by how they perform on the court, but their real challenges are encountered away from the game. From language barriers to cultural differences to living alone in a new country to trying to fit into a new environment, their learning curve goes far beyond basketball.

 

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Breakout Players Who Are Flying Under the Radar

By Ben Dowsett

With so many games, players and narratives to keep track of in a given NBA season, it’s easy for even the most observant to find things falling through the cracks. It’s just tough to keep track of everything with so much happening every night.

As a result, a number of pleasant surprises around the league end up remaining mostly under the radar as far as public perception goes. Some have superstar teammates drawing all of the attention, others toil away in more obscure markets, and further still are perhaps excelling in areas that are tougher for the casual eye to readily identify.

But these players deserve love, too! So without further ado, here are four guys well exceeding their expectations this year, through both a statistical and an on-court lens:

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Minnesota’s Shabazz Muhammad is a ‘Rising Star’

By Jabari Davis

To call Shabazz Muhammad’s rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves rough might just be an understatement when taking everything into consideration.

He was kicked out of the NBA’s annual Rookie Transition Program for violating the rules, wasn’t in the best of shape, really struggled find his natural position at the pro level and received more DNP-CDs (Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision) than expected. He entered the league as a lottery pick, coming off of a freshman year at UCLA where the 6’6 swingman was a star and averaged about 18 points and five rebounds per game.

He was too heavy, lacked a lot of the burst and versatility that is absolutely necessary at shooting guard and small forward in the NBA and even endured his fair share of early scrutiny over whether he belonged at this level from due to his perceived lack of professionalism.

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John Wall Gunning for All-Star Assists Record

By Joel Brigham

Most NBA players when asked what they’d like to accomplish in an All-Star Game, give some typical stock response like, “I just want to go out there and have fun” or “I just hope we can give the fans a good show.” But not Washington Wizards guard John Wall. No, he has bigger plans for Sunday’s All-Star Game in New York:

“I would love to break Magic [Johnson]’s all-time assist record,” Wall said with a grin.

That record, set by the former Los Angeles Lakers great in 1984, is 22 dimes, a tall order even for one of the league’s most talented point guards.

Still, if anyone knows how to dish the rock in one of these exhibition games, it’s Wall, who had 22 assists during the 2011 Rising Stars Challenge between the rookies and sophomores. The closest anyone has come to breaking Johnson’s record in recent memory is Chris Paul, who had 15 assists in 2013.

But Wall wants to put his name in the record book. He actually has been talking about it since before All-Star Weekend even got underway. Now that he’s there, though, he figures he may as well go for All-Star MVP while he’s at it.

 

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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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