Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson

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?

***

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

Five things Thunder did to go from good to brink of reaching NBA Finals

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 16:  Billy Donovan of the Oklahoma City Thunder high fives Serge Ibaka #9 and Kevin Durant #35 during game one of the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on May 16, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Oklahoma City was a 55-win team — most season’s that win total would have them entering the playoffs considered a contender. They have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, two top five players in the league. But with the 73-win Warriors and 67-win Spurs ahead of them, the Thunder felt more like a good but flawed team doomed to an early exit and a summer of speculation.

Now the Thunder are one win away from knocking off the Spurs and Warriors back-to-back.

What changed? Here are five things the Thunder are doing better now than they did all season, the things propelling them to new heights.

1) Defense. The Thunder were an okay defensive team this season, allowing 103 points per 100 possessions they ranked 12th in the league. That got worse after the All-Star break when the Thunder allowed 105.7 points per 100 possessions, 16th in the league. Over the final month, they would show flashes of how they could play lock down defense, but they could not sustain it.

Now, this is a team that has held the feared Warriors offense to 88.9 points per 100 possessions Tuesday, 98.1 in Game 3. What changed was they have become fluid at switching on picks — both on and off the ball — and they are communicating. More importantly, they are smart in doing it, knowing when to go under or when to ignore the pick whatsoever. Their athleticism lets them make up ground, and their length allows them to get into passing lanes and create turnovers. Mostly the Thunder are playing with a sustained focus and energy on that end of the floor we haven’t seen ever. It has flummoxed the Warriors, who are rushing shots or trying to do things in isolation more than moving the ball.

“I think you have to build up stamina for that,” Warriors coach Billy Donovan said of the improved defensive energy and attention. “I think you have to have stamina to concentrate and focus and do what these guys do.”

2) Dion Waiters. Dion Waiters, in his entire career, has played as well as he has the past couple weeks. He’s like a new player. This is a guy who had a PER of 9.4 this season, the kind of number associated with being sent to the D-League. Credit to Billy Donovan and the Thunder coaching staff, Waiters gets it. Too often before he wanted to shoot like he was Russell Westbrook, now he has accepted the third (or fourth) man role. His shot selection has improved, and with that he is knocking down his jumpers. Like the entire team from item No. 1, his usually unfocused defense has suddenly become good almost every time down. He has become the third perimeter player the Thunder have needed for years.  With Waiters making plays, and more importantly accepting his role, the Thunder become that much harder to stop. The Warriors have not been able to.

3) Solving the Andre Roberson problem. The Golden State Warriors decided to treat Andre Roberson like they did Tony Allen from Memphis last season — put a big on him (Andrew Bogut or Draymond Green), then have said big ignore him to stay near the basket to protect the rim. If Roberson wanted to shoot from the outside, the Warriors would let the notoriously poor shooter (31.1 percent from three this past season) have all the wide open shots he wanted.

Billy Donovan made a great adjustment — he turned Roberson into a power forward/center, then surrounded him with shooters. This allows the active Roberson to set the pick for Westbrook (or whomever), then roll right down the lane to the basket for a dunk.  That and some backdoor cuts had Roberson scoring a career-high 17 points and giving the Thunder the support they need around their big stars.

“It’s funny because after Game 2 people were saying to me ‘is this guy even going to play anymore?’” Donovan said. “Andre’s a good basketball player, and I think one of the things that go missing with him is he makes winning plays and he’s a winning player. There are a lot of things he can do, offensive rebounds and slashing to the basket, I have confidence in him shooting the basketball.”

4) They are one team that could play small and run with Golden State. The Warriors small-ball lineup was so feared around the league it earned the nickname The Death Lineup. It killed teams. Nobody could keep up the scoring machine that was the Warriors going small.

Until the Thunder went small in Game 3 and ran right past the death lineup (which was -22 for the game). The Thunder are the one team with the depth of athleticism to go small with the Warriors and hang, but this lineup had been destroyed by the Spurs so it was a risk to roll it out again. It worked this time around becuase the Thunder become so much faster. The Thunder defense didn’t suffer —  Serge Ibaka (or Steven Adams), plus guys like Kevin Durant have done a fantastic job protecting the rim.

“It’s not about what is or is not going to work, sometimes you just got to put stuff out there based on teams. You’ve got to be willing to take some risks and do that…” Donovans siad postgame

“Sometimes you’ve got to evaluate things within the series you’re playing against. So, why were the numbers bad? And was there any way with adjustments could we make those numbers better.”

5) Billy Donovan has been fantastic. Donovan went toe-to-toe with Gregg Popovich, and now Steve Kerr, and it is the NBA rookie who is making the right adjustments. Like the small ball lineup, or using Roberson like a center.

But more than that, he has gotten buy-in from the team. The Thunder were never this focused, Durant and Westbrook both fought staggering their minutes in the past, and waiters did whatever it is Waiters wanted to do. Donovan has solved all those problems, but none of it works if the players don’t buy in. After a season where Donovan had to learn on the job the hard way — because Monte Williams (the tragic death of this wife) and Maurice Cheeks (injury) — Donovan has figured it out. He’s getting the kind of buy in Scott Brooks never seemed to have.

And with that, Donovan and the Thunder are within a game of the NBA Finals.

Watch Russell Westbrook drop 36 on Golden State in Oklahoma City win

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Once again, Russell Westbrook was the force of nature the Warriors could not solve.

The athletic point guard forced turnovers, threw it down in transition, and drove right past Stephen Curry or  was guarding him. The result was 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists — Westbrook’s first triple double of these playoffs.

“He’s got such great force and great will,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after the Thunder’s Game 4 win. “And he’s really a high IQ basketball player, he sees a lot of things going on out there… As a coach, you have great respect and admiration for a guy who plays the game that hard and gives to our team what he gives.”

He helped give them a win that has the Thunder on the verge of a return to the NBA Finals.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder defense again overwhelm Warriors 118-94, take commanding 3-1 lead

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts in the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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.  (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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One year ago, it was the Warriors’ adjustments, the Warriors’ defense that was propelling the franchise to its first title in 40 years.

This season, the Thunder turned the tables on the champs.

The length and switching of the Thunder defense resulted in 16 steals Tuesday night — and that means easy transition buckets for OKC. That swarming defense had an off Stephen Curry open the game 1-of-10 shooting, turning the ball over six times on the night, and finishing 6-of-20 shooting, 2-of-10 from three. The Thunder defense has made the Warriors shooters tentative; they are hesitating before making a play rather than just shooting in the flow, something that has seemed impossible to do to Golden State for a couple of seasons now. As a team, the Warriors shot just 30 percent from three and 41.3 percent overall, with Klay Thompson in the second half being the only guy who could knock down shots.

Curry was also asked to guard Russell Westbrook for long stretches of the game and that didn’t go well. Westbrook was the Thunder engine again and finished with a triple-double of 36 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds.

Once again the Thunder played fast, aggressive and beat the Warriors at their own game — a 118-94 Thunder win. Oklahoma City now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out Thursday night in Golden State. If not, it feels like Saturday night will be the end of the Warriors 73-win season.

And maybe just the beginning for a talented Thunder team that is just now coming together.

Right now, everything the Thunder try works.

For example, on offense, Billy Donovan made another smart adjustment — if the Warriors were going to ignore Andre Roberson (allowing bigs like Draymond Green or Andrew Bogut to patrol around the rim), the Thunder would start using Roberson like a power forward who set picks, rolled to the rim, and surrounded by shooters he and his teammates could make plays. Roberson finished with career high 17 points on 12 shots.

“He’s a pretty active player so he got some offensive boards and he snuck behind our defense a couple times and we did not guard him correctly,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

It all worked in the first half again, when the Thunder were attacking the rim — leading to 28 first half free throws from the Thunder — and after a tight first quarter OKC stretched the lead out to 20 points behind a 16-point quarter from Westbrook. This is when the Thunder took charge of the game.

“He’s got such great force and great will,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of Westbrook. “And he’s really a high IQ basketball player, he sees a lot of things going on out there… As a coach, you have great respect and admiration for a guy who plays the game that hard and gives to our team what he gives.”

Golden State made a comeback in the third that was all Klay Thompson — he had 19 consecutive points for the Warriors, and the lead got cut down to 6 at one point. Thompson finished the night with 26 points on 17 shots and was clear and away the best Warrior (with Harrison Barnes second).

But then Westbrook led a push back that again stretched the lead out, and he got help from Dion Waiters with a three (Waiters played well again and had 10 points on the night). The Thunder never looked back.

Kevin Durant added 26 points (but on 8-of-24 shooting, not his best night), while Serge Ibaka added 17. The Thunder may be the only team in the NBA with the depth of athletes to run with Golden State, and they are doing it and making it work.

The Warriors defense has no answer for the Thunder attack, and Golden State is getting away from some of their identity. They have always switched nearly every pick with their small lineup, but because of rebounding concerns this series they have gotten away from that. The Thunder have figured out how to exploit that.

The Warriors have just not adjusted to the length of the Thunder defense — Golden State turned the ball over 21 times, 19.9 percent of their possessions. If you give it away one every five times down the court to a good team, you lose.

“I thought we competed again tonight, I just thought we didn’t play very intelligently,” Kerr said postgame. “Too many turnovers, careless passes. This is probably the longest team in the league we are facing and we continue to try and throw passes over the top of their outstretched arms. Probably not a great idea.”

In addition to Curry, Draymond Green had his second poor game in a row — 1-of-7 shooting with six turnovers, and again he was out of position on defense too often. He has played like a guy flustered by the opponent.

A lot of the Warriors have, while the Thunder just gain confidence. The kind of confidence that will carry them back to the NBA Finals.

 

Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant put on first-half show at Warriors’ expense

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I’d say Warriors fans are stunned, but more than that Warriors players look stunned — they are getting steamrolled by Oklahoma City again, giving up 72 first half points and being down by 19.

I guess we tell Warriors’ fans what we have told the fans of teams they have steamrolled the past couple years — enjoy the show, you don’t get to see many like this.

Above was a Kevin Durant to Russell Westbrook fastbreak assist and bucket. Now check out the fantastic Steven Adams pass, and a highlight package of Westbrook dropping 16 in the second quarter on the Warriors (21 in the first half).