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.

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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: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.