The Extra Pass: Assessing Trade Situations (Pacific 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. Yesterday, we looked at the Northwest Division. Today, we head out to the Pacific Division.

Los Angeles Clippers: 32-10, 1st in Pacific Division, $440,000 short of tax

Off Limits: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul

Since the Clippers have a great early season record, tons of depth, and a roster that is right at the tax line, any big deal would be a shock. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are obviously excluded from any conversation. The Clippers are gunning for a championship.

Most likely to be dealt: PG Eric Bledsoe ($1.7 million/2 years)

With his suffocating defense and his 22.2 PER, Bledsoe has earned a starting opportunity somewhere, and Chris Paul has said as much. However, trading Bledsoe for a proven wing (which would likely be the target) would be difficult given his low salary and the Clippers lack of desire to go into the tax. Most likely, they’d have to combine Bledsoe with someone like Caron Butler, an average small forward but a perfect fit as an outside shooter. Also, with Paul still not having signed on with the Clippers long-term (even though everyone expects he will), Bledsoe represents an insurance policy. Although it’s likely he’s traded eventually, doing it this season doesn’t make much sense for the Clippers.

Player to target: SG Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

The Clippers’ previous regime was high on Afflalo in Denver, viewing him as the perfect corner shooter (51% on corner 3-pointers this year) and wing defender to put next to Paul and Griffin. With Orlando rebuilding completely after the 2013-14 season and needing a young franchise point guard, there would almost certainly be mutual interest. There will be plenty of suitors for Bledsoe and getting a strong two-way player on the wing in return will likely be the priority down the line.

Chances of a deal: Low

The Clippers have done much of what they’ve done through great chemistry and depth. With little needs to address and very little financial flexibility, it’s unlikely the Clippers make a move now.

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Golden State Warriors25-15, 2nd in Pacific Division, $1.2 million in tax

Off limits: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes

Curry was just signed to a very reasonable long-term deal (averaging around $10 million a year) and has a good chance at making the All-Star team this year. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are productive players on rookie deals, and there’s a reason why those types of players rarely get dealt. You can probably add David Lee and Carl Landry to this list because they’ve played so well, but they aren’t quite as hands-off as these three.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Richard Jefferson ($10 million/2 years)

Can the Warriors somehow find a sucker for Jefferson’s contract? They have reportedly shopped Jefferson recently, trying to get Memphis to take on his contract in exchange for Rudy Gay. While it makes sense the Grizzlies balked, Jefferson will only become more valuable as a trade asset as his contract nears expiring status for the 2014 offseason, which should be a free agent frenzy. With teams like Orlando already gearing up for the free agents available during that time, Jefferson might be easier to move than his contract and lack of production suggests.

Player to target: SF Tayshaun Prince, Detroit Pistons

The Warriors were on the right track with Gay, but the Grizzlies needed to cut cap now (which they’ve done). The Pistons can be one of the biggest players in free agency two years from now if they unloaded forwards Prince ($6.7 million over 3 years) and Jonas Jerebko ($4.5 million over 3), clearing over $10 million total. Swapping Jefferson for Prince and filler would work from a positional standpoint, although the Warriors would almost certainly have to throw in draft picks to account for the difference in talent. Unless the Pistons really think they’re contending for the playoffs, the Warriors could add a nice piece and maybe even get under the tax themselves.

Chances of a deal: High

It’s not very often a playoff run happens in Oakland, so don’t be surprised if Warriors management makes an extra move to help in the push for a homecourt advantage. That’s something that would make the Warriors a very scary first round opponent. 

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Los Angeles Lakers: 17-24, 3rd in Pacific Division, $29 million in the tax

Off-limits: Kobe Bryant

You can’t trade Kobe without his consent, he makes $27 million a year, and the thought of seeing Bryant in another jersey for Lakers fans is sickening. He’ll play his massive contract out. As for everyone else? Given the team’s performance this season, it’s hard to imagine anyone else is untouchable.

Most likely to be dealt: C Pau Gasol ($19 million/2 years)

Notice how I listed Gasol as a center? That’s because he is one, and that’s how opposing teams will view him as a potential acquisition. The Gasol-Howard combo should have been deadly, but it’s a defensive combo that’s far too slow to defend anything well. Pair them with a slow, incapable perimeter defender in Nash and an aloof off-ball defender in Bryant, and you’ve got the 20th ranked defense in the league. Will moving Gasol fix all of that? No. But getting someone who can actually move a bit defensively and stretch the defense in exchange for the scapegoat seems like a course of action the Lakers might take.

Players to target: PF Ersan Ilyasova, C Samuel Dalembert, SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

The Bucks should be the first team on speed dial for the Lakers. They have a stretchy 4 in Ilyasova who is a career 36 percent 3-point shooter, a good shotblocking center who is buried on the bench in Dalembert, and a really good individual defender who can guard just about anyone on the floor in Mbah a Moute. If those pieces don’t fit, Mike Dunleavy is an ace perimeter shooter and Beno Udrih is a solid backup point guard on an expiring deal. Gasol would add the low-post scoring the Bucks desperately need — something that might finally vault them off the treadmill of mediocrity. The Lakers could use the depth and plus defenders, but more importantly, the tax relief the expiring deal of Dalembert or Udrih would provide next season. I know the TV deal was huge and the Lakers’ pockets run deep, but the incredibly punitive repeater tax will hurt them down the line. They can’t keep this up.

Chances of a deal: Very High

The pitchforks are out. Lakers fans don’t take too kindly to losing, and Dwight Howard’s future with the franchise is at stake. Now is not the time to sit back and do nothing.

***

Sacramento Kings16-26, 4th in Pacific Division, $12 million short of tax

Off-Limits: No one

The Kings may say they’re holding on to DeMarcus Cousins, and with the change of ownership and the move putting things up in the air, that may be true. Still, it’s easy to imagine a blowout sale here that puts the team right at the minimum salary. New owners typically like the cupboard bare and the paychecks light to start their franchise. Cousins could be used as the piece that sends out less desirable contracts.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Francisco Garcia ($6.1 million/2 years, with last year being a team option)

That team option essentially makes Garcia an expiring contract, as no GM in their right mind would pick him up at $6 million per. That said, Garcia is still a useful player in the “3 and D” mold. His career 36 percent 3-point shooting should make him a target for teams looking to add to their benches for a playoff run.

Player to target: Anyone on a rookie contract

As we’ve said, those contracts are the most valuable in sports. They don’t even need to be particularly productive players — it might be better for the Kings if they’re not. The sad truth is that in the NBA, you usually have to get really bad before you can get really good. I would be shocked if the Seattle version of this team looks anything remotely similar to the Sacramento version.

Chances of a deal: TBD

Kind of a cop-out, I know, but we need to know more officially about the change of management, how much the Maloofs will be invested, and who will be making the decisions for the rest of the season. Either way, cutting salary seems like a mutually beneficial option for the old ownership group and the new guys.

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Phoenix Suns13-28, Last in Pacific Division, $17 million short of tax

Off-Limits: Luis Scola

Not because Scola is this unattainable asset or anything — he just can’t be acquired until a year after his amnesty claim date, meaning Phoenix can’t trade him to anyone this season. Everyone else can probably be had for the right price.

Most likely to be dealt: C Marcin Gortat ($7.7 million/2 years)

Gortat may say that he doesn’t want to escape the sinking boat, but it’s clear he’s unhappy in Phoenix. As one of the few assets who can actually bring back something substantial, whether it be draft picks or a young player, the Suns would be crazy not to shop Gortat. It’s nice to think he’s a piece for the future, but he’s already 28 years old and highly unlikely to stay when the choice truly becomes his.

Player to target: PG Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

This, of course, is crazy. But if for some reason the Celtics decide the combo of Gortat and Dragic is more valuable than Rondo and a salary dump (like Courtney Lee or Brandon Bass), then it might be worth exploring. Rudy Gay becomes a free agent the same time Rondo does, and the two apparently want to play together, so maybe Phoenix represents their best shot. All hypothetical trades aside, Phoenix either needs to find a way to acquire a true star on a long-term deal, or bottom out and rebuild through the draft. Going halfway with signings like Dragic and Michael Beasley isn’t the way to do it.

Chances of a deal: Medium

With Lindsey Hunter replacing long-time coach Alvin Gentry, it’s a period of change for the Suns. Despite the lost season, there are some valuable assets still on board. Jared Dudley is shooting 39 percent from behind the arc and should be a hotly pursued commodity as a solid role player. If someone comes along with the right package of draft picks for one of their bigger pieces, the Suns’ brass would be hard pressed to say no.

Report: NBA’s minor league won’t allow potentially eligible college players

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USC’s De’Anthony Melton, Louisville’s Brian Bowen and Auburn’s Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy haven’t played this season due to the FBI’s probe into college basketball. Mitchell Robinson left Western Kentucky before his freshmen season started to train for the NBA draft.

But they’re all potentially eligible to play college basketball again someday.

So, they can’t play in the NBA’s minor league.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

That ineligibility stems from a rule that prevents players who were enrolled in college during an academic calendar year from being offered a contract in the same season, unless they have been ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA with no opportunity of being reinstated (as was the case with P.J. Hairston in 2013).

“We’re not looking to compete with college basketball for their players,” a G League source said. “The NBA, specifically NBA lawyers, are concerned about the optics of NCAA players being disgruntled with minutes or coaching decisions and leaving college with the hopes of joining the G League. This is a blanket rule unfortunately that applies to all players. Like all of our rules, we are open to revisiting them if needed, but at the moment any player that was enrolled in a college this season is ineligible to play in our League.”

NBA executives and scouts are griping because they can’t evaluate these prospects in games. I don’t care about that.

This is an affront to capitalism. The basis of our economy should be competition, and the NBA is handing the NCAA – a cartel – a monopoly in this level of basketball. And it’s the workers (players) who lose.

So what if a freshman is disgruntled with his minutes and wants to turn pro during the season? He can’t join the NBA due to the age minimum. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to at least enter the NBA’s minor league, for which he’s old enough? We should trust him to manage his future, not protect the almighty college coach from facing consequences to his rotation.

I don’t know whether or not the NBA and NCAA colluded, but the NBA’s stance is the exact one it would take if it colluded. The NBA has worked to improve the quality of play in its minor league by increasing salary to compete against foreign leagues for players. It’s strange to just willingly take a backseat to college basketball when there’s a great opportunity to compete for top talent.

The players could legally challenge the policy, but they’ll be eligible for the NBA draft in June, and there’s risk in upsetting a potential future employer. And would anything be decided quickly enough in court to matter for the challenging player?

Players like Melton, Bowen, Wiley, Purifoy and Robinson aren’t allowed to let the market set their compensation as college basketball players, because NCAA schools have colluded to cap wages. Those players aren’t allowed to seek employment in the comparable American professional league, because that league doesn’t want to compete with the NBA.

It’s a travesty for capitalism and these workers.

LeBron James has tepid response when asked about Tyronn Lue’s job safety

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LeBron James was no fan of David Blatt, so he was let go around the All-Star break with the Cavaliers a couple of years ago when the team had the best record in the East.

Now the Cavaliers have fallen to third in the East and have lost 8-of-11, were blown out by the Thunder on national television on Saturday, have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and have a brutal stretch of games against good teams ahead.

Is Tyronn Lue’s job in danger? That question has been asked around Cleveland, and when LeBron was asked about it after the OKC loss his response was tepid (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com)

Is a coaching change really the answer? I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, I think Cleveland’s offense has too much isolation and can get simplistic, but he’s got an older team that lost Kyrie Irving (and replaced him with Isaiah Thomas, who just returned to the rotation a couple of weeks ago and is still getting his legs under him).

Maybe that wakes the team up, but the more likely change is a trade or two at the deadline. If Cleveland isn’t willing to put the Brooklyn pick in the mix (reportedly they will only do that for an elite superstar) it’s hard to see them getting a player that really makes a difference. However, get one who wakes the team up out of its malaise and plays a little defense, and the Cavaliers become more likely to out of the East.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Cleveland.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.