The Extra Pass: Assessing Trade Value (Southwest 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. We’ve looked at the Northwest Division and Pacific Division, so let’s finish up the Western Conference with the Southwest Division.

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San Antonio Spurs33-11, 1st in Southwest Division, $988,000 short of tax

Off-Limits: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard

Nothing new here. You can most likely add Tiago Splitter to this list as well — replacing his size and production with someone on a better contract is close to impossible, and the Spurs have other assets to dangle if they want to make a big move.

Most likely to be dealt: PF DeJuan Blair, ($1 million/1 year)

It’s no secret that the Spurs have been shopping DeJuan Blair for quite some time. With his contract expiring at the end of this season, they’ll be looking to get something — anything — in return. If the Spurs want to a make a move that nets them actual talent right now, Stephen Jackson’s $10 million dollar expiring deal could provide cap relief for a team looking to trade a player on a longer contract.

Player to target: PF Gustavo Ayon, Orlando Magic

Apologies to Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw, but the Spurs could use some real size defensively. Ayon just feels like a Spurs player — he’s a great passer, an excellent cutter, and he understands spacing. He’s one of those guys we’ll really start to appreciate once he gets on a winning team.

Chances of a deal: Low

Blair would likely already be gone if he could be dealt for anything of value. As for the rest of the roster, San Antonio could be a sneaky player in free agency if Manu Ginobili comes back at a reasonable price this offseason. After making some shakeups last year, the Spurs seem likely to sit this deadline out and wait until the summer.

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Memphis Grizzlies: 26-14, 2nd in Southwest Division, roughly $2 million under the tax

Off-Limits: No one

After gutting their bench by trading Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a future first round pick just to get under the tax, the Grizzlies will almost definitely roll with their core for now. That said, Memphis is on an unsustainable path, and eventually they’ll need to trade Rudy Gay (or someone else) to get under the tax going forward. If someone bowls them over with an offer for any player on the roster, they’ll still listen.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Rudy Gay, ($16 million/3 years)

The Grizzlies will almost definitely stay put and ride out the rest of the season, but it’s basically only a matter of time before Gay gets shipped out. Now that they’re under the tax, selling whatever’s left of their bench (Bayless, Arthur) wouldn’t make any sense.

Player to target: The best the D-League has to offer

The Grizzlies will likely rely on D-League call-ups and minimum free agents from here on out, based mostly on the fact that they can’t add substantial salary if they want to stay under the tax.

Chances of a deal: Very Low

Unless they shockingly move a big piece, they’ve accomplished their goal of getting under the tax.

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Houston Rockets: 22-21, 3rd in the Southwest, $18 million short of tax

Off-Limits: James Harden, Chandler Parsons

Harden is already a star, and Parsons is set to make less than a million dollars over the next three seasons. Rockets GM Daryl Morey recognizes the value of that, and although teams may come knocking, he’s a cheap, productive building block going forward.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Carlos Delfino, ($3 million/2 years)

Crazy as it sounds, Delfino has the fourth largest contract on the team at just $3 million a year, which means if Houston wants to do anything big, they’ll likely need his deal to match salaries. Delfino is shooting nearly 39 percent from behind the arc this season so the Rockets likely don’t want to trade him, but their hand might be forced if they target a big piece.

Player to target: PF Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks

Is it worth forfeiting assets to woo a player for a short rental before they hit free agency? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s something the Rockets have to be considering with their hole at power forward and their struggles all year long on the defensive end. Pairing Smith’s athleticism at the 4 with Houston’s fast pace style seems like a match made in heaven, but it all depends on what Atlanta’s asking price is. That said, Atlanta should want to rebuild, and Houston has an enticing package of young frontcourt talent to offer.

Chances of a deal: High

Houston has to address their 19th ranked defense if they want to be taken seriously as a contender, and although waiting out Josh Smith or Dwight Howard to hit free agency this offseason may be the correct big move, there should be a variety of little deals available for Houston given their cap space. Just look how that worked out for Cleveland.

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Dallas Mavericks18-24, 4th in Southwest Division, $10 million short of tax

Off-Limits: Dirk Nowitzki

Mark Cuban has said he won’t trade Nowitzki, and Dirk has a full no trade clause anyway. O.J. Mayo represents great value on his $4 million dollar deal, but he may be the only real attractive bait for opposing teams.

Most likely to be dealt: PG Darren Collison, ($2.3 million, 1 year)

The Mavericks and Rick Carlisle clearly aren’t big believers in Collison, as they regularly opt for Mike James down the stretch of games instead. Collison isn’t a starting point guard in the league, but he could serve as a capable backup somewhere.

Player to target: C DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

The Kings may be having a blowout sale on their roster, and the Bank of Cuban just may want to purchase a few assets on the cheap. Add in that getting a great center is Cuban’s Moby Dick, and the Mavericks could make a very convincing offer for Cousins based around alleviation of long-term salaries. A Dirk-DeMarcus frontcourt pairing would truly be fascinating to watch.

Chances of a deal: Very High

The Mavericks want to get Dirk some help in his last few years, and being a known buyer when teams are in fear of the tax that’s looming should grease the wheels a little bit. It’s hard to imagine the Mavs not making a move at the deadline.

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New Orleans Hornets: 14-27, Last in Southwest Division, $6 million short of the tax

Off-Limits: Anthony Davis

Davis is a given, but it’s probably safe to pencil in Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith for now as well. Eric Gordon is likely available, but if he can stay healthy and if the Hornets keep rolling, he’ll be much harder to have conversations about.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Al-Farouq Aminu, ($2.9 million, 1 year)

The Hornets oddly declined to pick up the option on Al-Farouq Aminu for next season, making him a free agent after this year. If a team were interested in taking a flier on the 22-year-old forward, it probably wouldn’t take much to pry him free. Although Aminu’s offensive game is still raw, he’s a terror in transition. The slow, grind-it-out pace of head coach Monty Williams doesn’t do him any favors. It would be fun to see a young, fast team like Charlotte take a chance on Aminu’s defensive potential.

Player to target: SG Anthony Morrow, Atlanta Hawks

How about an Aminu for Morrow swap? Aminu gets to go back home to Georgia where he’ll help fill Atlanta’s void at the 3. Anthony Morrow goes to New Orleans for a shot at more playing time (if he can’t beat out Austin Rivers and Roger Mason, he doesn’t deserve it) and the chance to prove he’s one of the most underutilized pure shooters in all of basketball. I’m a fan of surrounding Anthony Davis with as many shooters as humanly possible.

Chances of a deal: Low

It might just be a vibe, but I get the sense New Orleans is perfectly happy letting their core gel, regardless of what’s going on in the standings. Maybe that’s smart. Until Gordon, Davis and Anderson play with each other more, it’s hard to get a sense of what they’ll need next to them going forward.

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We’ll hit the Eastern Conference next week, but check back tomorrow for analysis on how a few All-Stars have changed the pick-and-roll.

LeBron James: Reporter warned me about question on Gregg Popovich’s wife before live TV interview

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In her on-court interview with LeBron James following the Cavaliers’ Game 2 win over the Pacers last night, TNT sideline reporter Allie LaForce asked him about the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife.

LeBron appeared emotional as he gathered his thoughts.

That prompted some to criticize LaForce for ambushing LeBron on a sensitive subject on live TV. But that’s not what happened.

Uninterrupted:

LeBron:

I’m not on social media right now, but I was made aware through some friends through texts that a question was asked to me postgame, and a lot of people feel I was blindsided. That is absolutely false. Allie LaForce told me that she was going to ask the question and if it was OK.

And once I started talking about it, once we were on air, actually my emotions kind of took over. And that was just my emotions coming straight from my heart about the late Erin Popovich.

It’s unfortunate. It’s a tragic loss. My thoughts, my prayers, once again goes out to the Popovich family, to Gregg, to the Spurs family, to the whole Spurs fan base.

And also guys, please get off Allie LaForce’ back, because she followed the proper protocol and she warned me. So, get off her back, man. She’s very professional, and she does a great job at her work.

Like I said, thoughts and prayers to the heavens above. We all know the man above never makes mistakes, even when we question it. But it’s a sad, tragic time right now for the NBA family, and we’re all praying and hoping for the best.

It would have been surprising if LaForce hadn’t done that. Somewhere between nearly nobody and absolutely nobody in her position is trying to embarrass players.

PBT Extra: If Portland is going to turn series around it starts with Damian Lillard

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This was the year the Trail Blazers were going to break through. They were defending better as a team. There was some depth on offense. And Damian Lillard was playing at a level that will get him on many voters’ MVP ballots.

Instead, they are down 0-2 to Anthony Davis and New Orleans, having dropped both games at home to open the series. Portland is on the verge of being bounced in the first round for the third time in four years.

If Portland is going to turn this series around, it starts with Lillard, something I discuss in this latest PBT Extra. C.J. McCollum needs to get more buckets, Jusuf Nurkic needs to contribute more on both ends, but for Portland it all begins and ends with Lillard and it’s on him to start the turnaround.

Rockets easily overcome James Harden’s horrid shooting night, win Game 2 over Timberwolves

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James Harden shot 2-for-18 – the worst field-goal percentage (11%) on so many attempts in a playoff game in nearly a decade and the worst ever in a first-round game.

The Rockets still won by 20 because of their stout defense, a strong supporting star in Chris Paul and Harden’s foul-drawing ability.

Houston’s took a 2-0 series lead with a 102-82 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday. Game 3 will be Saturday in Minnesota, but the top-seeded Rockets have seized firm control.

Every No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seed to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven first-round series have won it. There’s little reason to believe Houston will become the exception.

The Rockets are no longer as reliant on Harden, the likely MVP who seemed to wear down last postseason.

They buckled down defensively before letting up in a fourth quarter that was entirely garbage time. Houston forced more turnovers (16) than allowed assists (15) and contested shot after shot.

It’s becoming increasingly clear the Timberwolves have no quick solution to the Karl-Anthony Towns problem, and it’s not simply a matter of deciding to feed him more. Yes, he can get favorable post matchups against the Rockets’ switching scheme. But Minnesota lacks quality entry passers. The Timberwolves are also short on shooters and need him to spread the floor – even if that skill is less-helpful after a switch. Towns scored just five points in 24 minutes tonight.

His teammates were barely, if at all, better. The focus has turned to Towns, but this was a far-wider letdown.

On the other hand, Paul (27 points and eight assists) led Houston’s offense. Gerald Green (21 points and 12 rebounds) got hot. Even Harden (7-of-8 on free throws) chipped in thanks to his elite foul-drawing ability.

The Rockets aren’t always the most enjoyable team to watch, and that was the case tonight. Mostly, because they put this game out of reach long before it actually ended.

Donovan Mitchell outplays Thunder Big 3 in fourth, Jazz win to even series

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Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell had 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Oklahoma City’s big three — Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony — were 0-of-15 shooting in the fourth.

That, in a nutshell, is how the Jazz bounced back from a 19-0 Thunder run in the third quarter that had OKC in charge of the game. It’s how Utah got the win Game 2 win, 102-95, to even the series as it heads to Salt Lake City.

“There was a time out (after the OKC run) where there was a just a determination, and we felt like we would rely on our defense, and that’s what we did,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “Donovan, obviously, his aggressiveness on the offensive end fueled us there.”

It was what fueled them all night. In Game 2, the Jazz defense was more settled and like itself than the opener, and that forced more isolation ball out of Oklahoma City — they had eight assists and nine turnovers in the first half. The Thunder were still getting buckets because Playoff P and Westbrook are just great scorers, but it wasn’t nearly as efficient as it had been.

For the Thunder, it was often the Russell Westbrook show, and he was scoreless in the second quarter and had just a couple of free throws in the fourth.

All of that made this a game it felt like the Jazz needed to win — there are few chances to steal a game on the road against a good team, and this was one. The game was defensive and played in Utah’s style.

Which is why it was devastating when the Thunder had their 19-0 third quarter run, turning a deficit into a 10-point lead. In that stretch, the Jazz missed shots, took a few bad ones, and turned the ball over in that run. Mitchell even missed an uncontested dunk in there.

When Mitchell struggled, other guys stepped up.

Derrick Favors had a huge game for Utah, finishing with 20 points and 16 rebounds, eight of them offensive. He was particularly impressive in the first half, when Mitchell struggled (with George draped all over him). Utah had nine offensive rebounds in the first half, six of those by Favors. Utah’s dominance on the glass was big for them, Utah got a second chance on 37.5 percent of their missed shots in the first half, which is far too high a percentage. Steven Adams battling foul trouble had a lot to do with that.

“The biggest thing for us, Derrick Favors played his ass off,” Mitchell said after the game. “When we were missing shots he was getting rebounds, I think he had a double-double almost at the half [note: he had 10 points, 8 rebounds at the half]. Without Fav we wouldn’t even be at this point.”

The other key was Ricky Rubio. He was being more judicious about when to shoot and was looking to set up teammates. However, when left open and able to shoot in rhythm, Rubio was hitting, he was 5-of-8 from three on his way to 22 points and nine assists. Rubio struggled with his shot inside the arc (1-of-8) but he hit the big buckets and kept the floor spaced when asked. he had seven fourth-quarter points.

But the fourth belonged to Mitchell, who showed exactly what he meant to this team all season — they are not in the postseason without him. Mitchell finished with 28 points to lead the Jazz.

For the Thunder, the shots that fell in Game 1 did not in Game 2, much as it has been night to night for this team all season. George had 18 points on 21 shots, Anthony had 17 points on 18 shots, and Westbrook had 19 points on 19 shots. Combine that with Adams being in foul trouble most of the night and it was not the Thunder’s game.

Now the onus is on them to steal one in Utah, starting Friday night.