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The Next All-Stars: Northwest Division

Ben Nadeau kicks off Basketball Insiders’ The Next All-Stars series by examining four potential options in the Northwest Division.

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Reaching an All-Star Game is no easy feat, particularly so if the world has not crowned you as a unanimously-famous face. Sure, megastars like LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving typically have an appearance on-lock as soon as the season tips off, but for others – hello to Kemba Walker, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, etc – their worthy and stat-stuffing campaigns are not always enough. When only 12 from each conference can be selected, there will be names left out – that’s a given.

And when the roster omits three or four snubs per season, it becomes even tough to be a Next-Up All-Star. For far too long, Booker fit the criteria as a prolific scorer with a high-profile and a seller of jerseys. But in a stacked Western Conference, it was nearly impossible for him to break in until the 2019-20 season. With Booker no longer in play – who might be next?

CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

Incredibly, one of the league’s top-notch Robins has never made the midseason dance and that seems like near insanity. In fact, this year, he wasn’t really close at all despite notching 20-plus points for the fifth consecutive season. Thankfully, McCollum, 28, still has plenty of peak-level basketball left ahead of him so there’s still time to reverse this unexplainable error. Up until the stoppage, Portland had gone a stellar 8-2 when McCollum dropped 30 or more points in a game, while also matching his career-high of 4.3 assists.

It’s possible that playing alongside Damian Lillard has dampened McCollum’s fan vote potential, but that never slowed down other multiple-All-Star-led teams before. Surprisingly, an elevation in league-wide presence didn’t occur for McCollum after his consistency helped the Trail Blazers reach the Western Conference Finals one year ago. At No. 19, McCollum finished with just 174,709 votes and behind Tim Hardaway Jr., Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green. Fan voting always leads to shaky-at-best conclusions – but, sheesh, must we start a #VoteCJ campaign in 2020-21?

Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

If McCollum’s first appearance is overdue, then we can only hope that Jamal Murray’s best chance hasn’t just sailed away.

Murray is a 6-foot-4 sharpshooter, one half of a refined two-headed pick-and-roll monster with Nikola Jokic. And although the Nuggets have shot up the conference hierarchy by embracing a team-first style of play, it’s been Jokic, a two-time All-Star, soaking up the individual accolades. Overlooked at times, however, Murray has been a consistent, reliable and healthy contributor to a near-powerhouse.

The Canadian isn’t just a punchy scorer either, and any time he tallied six or more assists in 2019-20, Denver owned a 15-6 record. Better, perhaps: When Murray went for 22-plus points, the Nuggets won 14 games and lost just five. But, like McCollum, Murray will need to make strides in the popularity department, especially if he intends to make headway in a conference that’ll welcome back Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to the fold next fall.

It’s a tight list already – one that fails to mention up-and-comers like De’Aaron Fox, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant – so it’s not impossible to wonder if Murray will always find himself on the outside looking in.

Without question, the guard has the necessary talent, statistical outbursts and team-ready successes on his resume – but will he have the popularity to break into the uber-competitive top 12 during any given season? Let’s collectively cross our fingers because a Blue Arrow hot-streak would be truly wonderful to behold.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

In any serious conversation, Gilgeous-Alexander would’ve been right at home with the younger players listed above…but that would’ve spoiled the surprise down here.

Yes, before you can even blink, Gilgeous-Alexander may just become your next big All-Star Game staple. As a 21-year-old, the former collegiate standout doubled his points (19.3) and rebounds (6.1) while forming a strong 63-game partnership aside Chris Paul, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Mentioned in last week’s column of the Northwest Division’s Most Underrated, Gilgeous-Alexander has a laundry list of blossoming intangibles already going his way – but how high can he go?

To wit, Oklahoma City went 9-1 – including wins over the Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz – when the guard scored 25 or more points this year. Moreover, Gilgeous-Alexander ranked first in minutes (35.1), first in points, fourth in field goal percentage (47.3 percent), second in rebounds, third in assists (3.3) and second in steals (1.1) across the entire Thunder roster this year. And that’s for a team that finished the shortened campaign in fifth – and over veteran leaders like Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams.

All-Star appearances – yes, plural – are in Gilgeous-Alexander’s near future, but the only thing left up for debate is the total amount.

D’Angelo Russell, Minnesota Timberwolves

And then there’s D’Angelo Russell, a technicality, certainly – but an intriguing situation nonetheless.

Last year, of course, Russell earned a well-deserved bid to the All-Star Game…but as Victor Oladipo’s injury replacement. This isn’t to take away from Russell’s breakout season at all – but the remainder of the division is weak outside of the current and multi-year crop of All-Stars.

So Russell, now back in the bigger and stronger conference, remains a compelling case study.

Sadly, Russell only got 12 games with Minnesota this year post-trade deadline but the lefty guard averaged 21.7 points and 6.6 assists on 41.2 percent from the floor. He’ll finally play for a city that has invested in him long-term for the first time ever – his fourth team in five years – and alongside one of his best friends, Karl-Anthony Towns. Needless to say, Russell is primed for an even better 2020-21 and his star status should continue to rise as well.

Russell knocked down four or more three-pointers in 24 games between Minnesota and Golden State this season, even reaching the hallowed 50-point plateau once too. On a league-worst Warriors squad, Russell had more green lights than a NASCAR race track – but there are few that can fill it up like him.

If this partnership between Russell and Towns work out, the pair could make multiple All-Star Game appearances together – just as they’ve always dreamed of.

Reaching the midseason festivities is no easy task and, more often than not, a few big-time names get left off the invite list every year. With unmovable members like James, Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Curry in the Western Conference, earning that honor has never been more difficult. But if a spot opens up via injury, trade or conference vacancy, it’d be wise to bet on McCollum, Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander or Russell to slide on in.

On Basketball Insiders, our team will take a crack at the other division’s up-and-comers – but these four alone will add some much-needed drama to the voting process in the following years.

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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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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