The Extra Pass: Assessing Trade Situations (Northwest Division)

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at potential homes for players on the trading block. 

Here’s a look at the trade situations for every team in the Northwest Division:

Oklahoma City Thunder32-9, 1st in Northwest Division, $1 million short of the tax

Off-limits: The Core (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Martin, Nick Collison)

There’s virtually no chance this core gets broken up. That includes Kevin Martin and Nick Collison, who provide unique production that would be very hard to replicate elsewhere.

Most likely to be dealt: PG Eric Maynor ($2.3 mil/1 year)

Maynor has lost almost all of his backup point guard minutes to Reggie Jackson lately, and there was a recent report that Philadelphia was interested in making a move for him.

Potential Trade Partners:

Philadelphia is a good fit, as backup point guard Maalik Wayns is shooting 26 percent and has a PER of 2.2, while Royal Ivey somehow has only 8 assists in 235 minutes played. Although it’s unlikely Philadelphia would bite, swapping Maynor and a second round pick for Lavoy Allen would make some sense, as Allen is an affordable, productive backup big with range out to 17 feet.

Dallas is unlikely, but a straight up swap of Maynor for Rodrigue Beaubois would theoretically put both players in situations better suited for their skills.

Player to target: G Ramon Sessions, Charlotte Bobcats 

Sessions fits right into the Thunder mold — he plays fast and he draws a ton of fouls. Sessions gets to the line 7.6 times a game per36 minutes, which is tied for 5th in the league with Carmelo Anthony. A good scorer, Sessions can play on or off the ball, and he’s on a very affordable $5 million dollar contract over two years.

Chances of a deal: Low

They have the assets, but why rock the boat when you’re clearly a championship contender?

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Denver Nuggets: 25-18, 2nd in Northwest Division, $6 million short of the tax

Off-Limits: Andre Miller and Kenneth Faried

Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri has proven with trades of Nene and Arron Afflalo that he’s comfortable trading players after signing them to long-term deals. Are Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee next?

Faried is hands-off because of his production on a cheap rookie deal, and Andre Miller is the glue that holds the Nuggets together and was one of Ujiri’s personal acquisitions.

Most likely to be dealt: C Timofey Mozgov ($3.1 million/1 year)

Yes, it’s the same guy Blake Griffin turned into a verb a few years back. With JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos playing well at center, the Nuggets don’t have much of a need for Mozgov, who they will likely be let go this offseason due to financial reasons. There’s also this:

“It think it’s logical, you can see that, trading me,” Mozgov said in an interview with FOX Sports Florida. “I’m in my contract year. So if they can get something for me. … I don’t think it would be a surprise for me (to be traded).”

Potential Trade Partners:

Cleveland could use another backup big with Anderson Varejao’s shaky health, and with perimeter shooter Omri Casspi reportedly wanting out, it might make sense for Denver to kick the tires on him and hope he could help on the perimeter.

Chicago is one frontcourt injury away from Nazr Mohammed time (yes, he still plays), so that should be incentive enough for the Bulls to upgrade. The salary matching wouldn’t be easy, but Vladimir Radmonivic and George Karl are soulmates and nothing can get in the way of love.

Player to target: Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks SG

The Nuggets are 29th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage, and desperately need someone to space the floor. Kyle Korver is a 44 percent 3-point shooter on a $5 million dollar expiring contract, and Denver has the young pieces GM Danny Ferry likely covets for his rebuild. Promising scorer Jordan Hamilton (or Evan Fournier) with Mozgov for Korver would likely do the trick.

Chances of a deal: High

Ujiri may be shopping Gallinari, who has yet to fulfill his potential as a shooter. Mozgov is the more likely piece to be dealt, but keep an eye on Gallo — he’s highly coveted around the league.

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Utah Jazz: 22-19, 3rd in the Northwest, $3.4 million short of the tax

Off-Limits: Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward

Utah has been looking at a rebuild for a while now, and these guys represent the future. Favors and Kanter should be dominant up front for years to come.

Most likely to be dealt: C Al Jefferson ($15 million/1 year)

From Chad Ford of ESPN.com:

“(…) virtually every GM in the league believes the Jazz are moving one of their two big men — either Jefferson or Paul Millsap. Because Millsap is a favorite of the team, Jefferson could be the odd man out.”

Keeping Millsap over Jefferson would also likely cost Utah less money this offseason, as Jefferson should demand a higher price as one of the last true back-to-the-basket centers still left in existence.

Potential Trade Partners:

Toronto has long been rumored to be chasing Pau Gasol, but Al Jefferson is younger and his expiring deal would allow Toronto flexibility in their direction. Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields for Al Jefferson would land Utah a really underrated point guard on one of the league’s best contracts ($5.75 million/2 years). Although Utah would sacrifice cap space, it’s unlikely they’d find a better bargain or player in free agency than Lowry.

Milwaukee only really makes any sense if they don’t want to match whatever offer Brandon Jennings fetches in restricted free agency. If they can use Jennings to shed Drew Gooden’s ridiculous $6.6 million a year 3-year contract, they might be tempted. An offer of Jennings, Ekpe Udoh and Drew Gooden for Al Jefferson and Randy Foye could be a “we’re not going to sign this guy” swap.

Player to Target: Kyle Lowry

I honestly think Toronto is a little desperate to get a “star” and Lowry has been hidden behind Jose Calderon most of the year. There are lots of exciting young point guards in the league for Utah to target, but not many teams will readily make them available like Toronto likely will with Lowry.

Chances of a deal: Very High

Utah should move either Jefferson or Millsap so they don’t anger a whole new group of frontcourt players. It would be silly to lose them and receive nothing but cap space in return — free agents aren’t going to be flooding to Utah, folks. It ain’t exactly Miami.

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Portland Trailblazers: 20-20, 4th in Northwest Division, $14 million short of the tax

Off-Limits: Damian Lillard

Portland GM Neil Olshey will never shy away from a blockbuster, but Lillard might be on the best contract in all of basketball right now. He’s going nowhere.

Most likely to be dealt: PF J.J. Hickson ($4 million/1 year)

It’s always a good idea to sell high. Hickson doesn’t help you at all defensively, but his work on the offensive glass, gaudy PER of 20, and cheap expiring deal could make him good bait for Portland to bring in a piece for the future. Here’s the problem though — Hickson has to approve of the trade because he’s on tap for bird rights next year. Basically, he would need to go to a contending team (likely) where he’d still get the chance to get monster minutes and stats (unlikely).

Potential Trade Partners

Because Hickson holds the keys, he’s unlikely to get dealt. With Portland unexpectedly chasing a playoff spot, they could stand to upgrade their bench but it’s highly unlikely Olshey does that at the cost of future assets. If they were worse off in the standings, selling LaMarcus Aldridge or Wes Matthews might make sense, but that’s very hard to justify with where Portland sits now.

Player to Target: PF Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves

If Portland does get involved in the trading market, why not give Timberwolves GM David Kahn another call about Derrick Williams, who was reportedly offered up during the offseason? The Blazers don’t have an awful lot to offer, but Hickson, Luke Babbitt and a draft pick for Williams might get them in the ballpark.

Chances of a deal: Low

Olshey works the phone with the best of them, but there just aren’t a lot of movable assets on the roster.

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Minnesota Timberwolves: 17-20, Last in the Northwest Division, $8 million short of the tax

Off-Limits: Ricky Rubio

The Wolves saved their “super-max” contract for Ricky Rubio instead of Kevin Love, which tells you something about who they value more. Love has clashed a bit with management in the past, and he’s been vocal about playing for a winner. He should be an untouchable talent, but the time may come where he demands out. Scary stuff.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Andrei Kirilenko ($9.7 million, 2 years)

AK-47 is a wonderful fit with Rick Adelman, and he’s played up to his contract on both sides of the ball this season. That said, Kirilenko is 31-years-old, and he doesn’t help the Wolves at all with their perimeter shooting, which is part of the reason why Minnesota is dead last in 3-point percentage this year. He could certainly be moved for a younger, better shooting piece.

Potential Trade Partners:

Houston just gives off the vibe that they’re ready to push some chips towards the center of the table any second now, and putting a great cutter and defender like AK-47 in that high-octane system would be fun to watch. Kirilenko’s big salary could be cause for concern, but Carlos Delfino and Patrick Patterson for Kirilenko would give Minnesota a young, promising big man and a pretty decent outside shooter who create his own opportunities.

Memphis wants to avoid the luxury tax and still compete. Trading Rudy Gay for Kirilenko, Greg Steimsma and a draft pick would accomplish just that. For Minnesota, they could absolutely compete for quite a few years with a healthy core of Rubio, Shved, Gay, Love and Pekovic.

Player to target: SG Marcus Thornton, Sacramento Kings

Thornton’s contract will scare away a lot of suitors ($7.25 million over 3 years), but you have to think Sacramento is willing to part with him on the cheap given their change of ownership. Thornton is a 36 percent career 3-point shooter and 15 PPG guy, and he could likely excel in a 6th man role going forward.

Chances of a deal: High

It’s hard to imagine Kahn sitting on his hands while his entire roster fights for spots on the trainer’s table. The question is, will Minnesota try to salvage this year with a trade for immediate help, or will they play for the future?

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Check out tomorrow’s Extra Pass for a look at the Pacific Division.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.