J.J. Hickson is at the center of everything

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The Cleveland Cavaliers, as is, are among the best teams in basketball. That much is undeniable. And with how they’ve started the new year, they’re playing at a higher level than any other team in the league.

So naturally, Cleveland has been linked in all kinds of trade rumors, with targets ranging from Antawn Jamison to Troy Murphy to Andre Iguodala. Such is the nature of the trade deadline beast; the NBA’s artificially created evaluation point inspires the rich to get richer and the poor to clear cap and step out of the way.

But none of this is too much of a surprise. The Cavaliers were considered to at least be in contention for the Eastern Conference crown when the season began, and a few months later, they’re doing just that.

The Cavs’ rumored trade targets? Also not much of a surprise. Cleveland’s “need” for a stretch four is well-documented, and natural when you consider the Cavs’ other frontcourt pairings.

But the fact that the key to Cleveland going from a great team to a truly incredible one is J.J. Hickson? Can’t say I saw that one coming. Hickson has been a contributor since early in the season, but only in recent weeks has he made the evolution from athlete to basketball player. There’s always been potential, but it looks as though Hickson is making a legitimate breakthrough in his game. I wouldn’t say that the J.J. Hickson Era has begun just yet, but that’s apparently not a concern to other GMs in the league looking to deal with the Cavs. From Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

League executives who have been speaking with the Cavs and other sources also involved in talks say that whether or not the Cavs make a deal may come down to J.J. Hickson. Simply, several teams want Hickson included in any trade package and, to this point, the Cavs have been balking at many of them. Hickson is not untouchable, but the team has made it clear in talks that it would take a special offer to get him.

The Cavs had hoped to force some teams to make a decision on offers by this week, prior to the All-Star Game. But right now, executives say, the market is frozen as everyone is waiting for the first move. The Cavs, however, have stood firm to the position that they are willing to take on money past this season but unwilling to offer up their talented young forward.

Deals are supposedly in the works for the likes of a Jamison, a Murphy, an Iguodala, and it’s Hickson that’s gumming up the machinery. On paper, it’s a no-brainer, but what we have here is a savvy front office in Cleveland keen on capitalizing on Hickson’s production and potential. Or, perhaps even more preferably, Cavs GM Danny Ferry could end up with one of those players and Hickson; most of Cleveland’s trade partners are more desperate to move salary than the Cavs are to improve, giving Ferry quite the booster seat at the negotiating table.

Report: Pistons claim Beno Udrich off Miami’s waivers

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Beno Udrih #9 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Miami felt set at point guard with Goran Dragic starting and the up-and-coming Tyler Johnson as his backup. They decided veteran Beno Udrih wasn’t part of the future and waived him.

Detroit, looking for some help at the one until Reggie Jackson returns, saw a dependable veteran guard on the market. So they snapped him up, reports Shams Charnaria of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

At age 34 we are seeing Ulrich’s game start to slip. Still, he has valuable NBA skills as a point guard: he doesn’t turn the ball over, can run an offense, and if you ignore him coming off a pick he will bury the shot.

Jackson is expected to be out at least another six weeks after getting PRP therapy to deal with knee tendonitis (he hopes to be back sooner). That leaves Ish Smith as the starting point guard in the short term; Udrih will help provide solid depth at the position.

The Pistons need to keep their heads above water until Jackson can return.

NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement could run to 2024

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The first 12 years of the NBA’s salary-cap era went without a lockout. The league again avoided a lockout for a dozen straight years between 1999 to 2011.

Now, with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement coming soon, the NBA is setting itself up for another 12 years of labor peace.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are working on a seven-year extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, with a mutual opt-out in six years, league sources told The Vertical.

The seven-year deal could potentially deliver the NBA labor peace through the 2023-24 season, unless the opt-outs are exercised in 2022, league sources told The Vertical.

The new CBA will begin with the 2017-18 season.

Expect an opt out after six years. By then, there’s usually something to renegotiate.

Hope for another quick resolution, like we’re getting now.

And if neither the owners nor players opt out, be pleasantly surprised at an unprecedented 13th straight year without a lockout in this era.

Rockets waive Gary Payton II and reportedly Tyler Ennis

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Gary Payton II #0 of the Houston Rockets poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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The Rockets entered the day with five point guards with guaranteed salaries: James Harden, Patrick Beverley, Pablo Prigioni, Tyler Ennis and Gary Payton II.

That seemed like too many, but Houston had just 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries. There didn’t seem to be urgency to drop a player with a guaranteed deal.

Yet, the Rockets will drop two.

Rockets release:

Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey announced today that the team has waived guard/forward P.J. Hairston, forward Le’Bryan Nash, and guard Gary Payton II.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Barring another move, this opens the door for Houston to keep Bobby Brown (whose biggest impact in the preseason was causing an international incident) and Kyle Wiltjer, a stretch big who went undrafted out of Gonzaga.

The Rockets come out behind in their trade for Ennis. They have could have just waived the player they dealt, a lower-paid Michael Beasley, and saved a little money.

Payton, undrafted out of Oregon State, is an intriguing project. But Brown is probably more capable of helping now, a bigger factor for that roster spot with Beverley injured.

Thunder waive Ronnie Price and Mitch McGary, keep Semaj Christon

2014 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day
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The Thunder waived a former No. 21 pick who still had two years left on his rookie-scale contract and a 33-year-old journeyman.

The latter was the surprise.

Thunder release:

The Oklahoma City Thunder waived forwards Mitch McGary and Chris Wright along with guard Ronnie Price and center Kaleb Tarczewski, it was announced today by Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti.

At this point, Oklahoma City waiving Mitch McGary was completely expected. Facing 15 games of drug suspension with no proven track record of NBA sustainability, McGary was an easy cut on a team with a roster crunch.

Price signed a fully guaranteed two-year contract worth nearly $5 million this offseason, and teams don’t generally waive players so soon after guaranteeing them multiple seasons (even if guaranteeing them multiple seasons was questionable in the first place). This opens the door not only for Semaj Christon to make the regular-season roster, but to serve as Russell Westbrook‘s primary backup at point guard with Cameron Payne injured.

Christon, the No. 55 pick in the 2014 draft, also signed this summer (with just a $200,000 guarantee). After leaving Xavier, he spent a year on the Thunder’s D-League affiliate then a year overseas. Perhaps, he’s ready for a regular role without the safety net of a veteran like Price behind him, but this sure seems like another case of Oklahoma City overrating its developmental system. See previously: Josh Huestis.