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.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

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What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.

Tampering is common in the NBA, but proving it is very difficult

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Want proof there is tampering in the NBA: Free agency starts on July 1 at midnight Eastern every year, and every year a number of new contracts for players with new teams are announced at 12:01 a.m. There is no way that a complicated NBA contract — even one where the two sides are both interested and will agree quickly on the price — is negotiated faster than it takes to get an In-N-Out Burger (or Five Guys burger, if you prefer the inferior).

Those deals are announced that fast because everything’s already been agreed to through back channels. Same with meetings when a major (or even mediocre) free agent starts talking to teams on July 1. Yet, the NBA rarely investigates, and even more rarely punishes a team for tampering. Why? Because it’s very difficult to prove.

The Lakers are being investigated for tampering with Paul George while he was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, an investigation reportedly started at the request of Pacers’ owner Herb Simon. Teams are not allowed to recruit or entice players under contract. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing. Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and, with a wink, joked about what he’d tell George if they met this summer, and that ticked Simon off. The Pacers had to trade George, and because everyone around the league knows he more likely than not is a Laker next summer (long before Magic went on TV), his trade value was diminished. The Pacers got back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him the day before free agency opened (although there may have been better offers on the table, and the choice and timing were odd). The Pacers think if there is an agreement in place between the Lakers and George that would have driven down the trade market (because he was a one-year rental, that market was already depressed).

Good luck proving tampering. Unless Magic did something stupid like text George directly, it will be almost impossible to prove.

NBA agents and front offices know how to avoid tampering using “back channels” — not unlike how governments who are public enemies still communicate. Someone, a couple of people removed from the agent/GM, can talk with someone a couple of people removed from the other side and set something up that gets brought back and agreed to. Or, an agent can have one of his other players do some of the work for him — players recruit each other all the time on social media (and off it), and the league doesn’t see that as tampering, unless specifically ordered by a GM/owner. James Harden recruited Chris PaulDraymond Green and other Warriors recruited Kevin Durant, and the league shrugged, but GM Bob Myers could not have done that (or directed the players to do that… again, good luck proving it if you think he did).

There are a few reasons it will be hard to prove the Lakers did anything. First, the Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka is a former agent and knows how to work the system — he’s not getting caught. Look what another agent told Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer.

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.”

To prove tampering, Magic needs to have left a “paper trail,” which more accurately is a digital trail of texts or emails. But even that can get tricky. If Magic was texting with George’s agent Aaron Mintz that alone proves nothing, he also represents Julius Randle on the Lakers and D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers traded a week before the George trade. It will take an email or text specifically talking about George for the Lakers to get in trouble, and Magic is smarter than that. Well, we think he is.

The bottom line is tampering is common and almost impossible to prove. Unless Magic screwed up, it will be unprovable here. Maybe the Pacers made their point, maybe Simon feels better, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be tampering.

Joakim Noah talks of “bounce back” year for himself, Knicks

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In a season of disappointments in New York, none was bigger than Joakim Noah.

There was plenty of scoffing around the league in the summer of 2016 when Phil Jackson signed the oft-injured, already declining Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract that was seen as one of the worst of a summer (and it was an ugly summer for contracts). He only played in 46 games, averaging 5.5 points on 49 percent shooting, plus 8.8 rebounds a game in those (and basically being averaged on offense and a step slow defensively). He missed time with a rotator cuff surgery and got a 20-game suspension for testing positive for Androgen (he has 13 of those games left and can’t play until Nov. 13).

Noah realizes how poorly last season went he told the “Truth Barrel’’ podcast, doesn’t think Jackson deserves all the blame, and said his goal is to make it up this season (hat tip The New York Post for the transcription).

“It’s tough, man, because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil,’’ Noah said. “He gave me an opportunity to play back home. Somebody I read all his books as a kid. I was just a big fan and still am. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn’t work out. That sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me, and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrating. He got a lot of blame that it was his fault. But we didn’t lose all those games because of Phil Jackson…

“I went through a lot of adversity,’’ Noah said. “You go through injuries. I lost my confidence this year. It’s about bouncing back and showing who I am through these tough times. It can really show what you’re made of.”

This is the only attitude Noah should have — look forward, get healthy, and look to right his wrongs next season.

Once he finishes his suspension, Noah likely will come off the bench behind Willy Hernangomez. (The Knicks should spend more time with Kristaps Porzingis at the five, but that’s another discussion.) Noah is going to get his chances, but nothing he has shown the past few seasons should have Knicks’ fans expecting a return to form. Noah has been an average to below-average player for a couple of seasons, he’s not moving the same way, and he’s not getting younger.

Noah can still have a positive impact on this team, he has a role to play, but it has to start with him getting back on the court.

Add Milos Teodosic to long list of stars missing EuroBasket

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The last Olympics in Rio saw a long list of NBA players sitting it out, either due to injuries, concerns about Zika virus, a serious dislike of açaí berries or just choosing to do something else with their time.

Now it looks like EuroBasket is suffering the same fate.

The latest name to come up is Milos Teodosic, who signed this summer with the Clippers, could never get healthy, and is out for Serbia. He joins a long list — Sportando put together a list of NBA players and stars who are out.

More than just one someone is missing, guys such as Ivica Zubac, Mario Hezonja, Paul Zipster, and others are out as well.

Spain, led by Pau Gasol, remain the heavy favorites to win EuroBasket 2017, with Serbia, France, and Lithuania potential contenders. There may be a lot of players missing, but there is still a lot of talent, and when guys are playing for national pride there is plenty of emotion and fire as well.