Memphis Grizzlies v Phoenix Suns

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.

Nets waive Yogi Ferrell, sign Spencer Dinwiddie

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 13: Spencer Dinwiddie #8 of the Detroit Pistons in action against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on April 13, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Pistons defeated Cleveland 112-110 in overtime.  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 David Maxwell/Getty Images)
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Brooklyn has decided to try something different to provide depth at the guard spot.

They had brought undrafted Yogi Ferrell back for depth after Jeremy Lin went down (Ferrell had been the final cut of camp). The Indiana product got in 10 games for the Nets and averaged 5.4 points a game when he did, but he was clearly a project.

Thursday the Nets waived Ferrell and signed Spencer Dinwiddie to replace him. This was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, and since confirmed by the team.

Dinwiddie has bounced between the NBA and D-League for three years. This season he was playing for the Bulls’ D-League affiliate and averaged 19.4 points, 8.1 assists, and 3.7 rebounds a game, through nine games.

Dinwiddie has a solid all-around game and could be an NBA reserve, but has always struggled with his shot at the NBA level, which has made him defendable and held him back. If he found his shot the Nets have upgraded. They feel it’s worth a shot.

NBA’s new Larry Bird highlight video will blow your mind

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Larry Bird’s birthday was yesterday, and we celebrated with a couple highlight videos.

Then, the NBA released this video today – and it’s to good not to share.

It’s one thing to know Bird’s numbers. It’s another to see how spectacular of a scorer, passer and trash-talker he was.

Carmelo Anthony doesn’t want to talk about Phil Jackson’s ball-hogging critique (video)

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Phil Jackson bothered Carmelo Anthony with his use of the word “posse” last month.

How is the Knicks president agitating the Knicks’ biggest star this month?

Publicly criticizing Anthony’s playing style.

Jackson on CBS Sports Network’s We Need To Talk, via James Herbert of CBSSports.com:

“He can play that role that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant played,” Jackson said. “That’s a perfect spot for him, to be in that isolated position on the weak side. Because it’s an overload offense and there’s a weak-side man that always has an advantage if the ball is swung.

Carmelo, a lot of times, wants to hold the ball longer than — we have a rule, if you hold a pass two seconds, you benefit the defense. So he has a little bit of a tendency to hold the ball for three, four, five seconds, then everybody comes to a stop. That is one of the things we work with. But he has adjusted to it, he knows what it can do and he’s willing to see its success.”

Ian Begley of ESPN:

Anthony, who is normally affable with the media, maintained a smile but began to walk away from reporters when asked about Jackson’s comments before stopping and continuing with questions. He then responded to a query about the timing of the Knicks president’s remarks and whether they were productive.

“I don’t even know what was said, to be honest with you. I just don’t even want to talk about that, what he’s talking about exactly. I want to stay away from that at this point,” Anthony said. “My focus is my teammates and winning. We’ve been playing great basketball, and that’s the only thing I’m focused on. Whatever Phil said, he said it. I have nothing to say about that.”

Maybe Anthony was ruffled for a different reason. New York had just got beaten and embarrassed by the Cavaliers, after all. But it sure seems Jackson’s comments played a part.

Jackson should have known about Anthony before re-signing him to a huge contract two years ago. This is Anthony’s style and long has been. He’s a scorer who sometimes limits ball movement (to far better effect than most ball-stoppers).

As Jackson noted, Anthony has somewhat changed under the Knicks’ triangle offense. Anthony is even deferring more often to Kristaps Porzingis.

Could Anthony go further? Of course.

I’m just not sure public criticism is the way to increase Anthony’s progress.

Jackson has motivated players through the media for years, and sometimes it works. But given Jackson’s previous lack of direct communication with Anthony, this probably wasn’t the ideal method to use here.

Anthony deserves a team president who does more than hold triangle seminars, entertain coaching only home games and critique Anthony in the media.

Jimmy Butler’s ascent continues into superstardom

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31:  Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls signals to his teammates against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Barclays Center on October 31, 2016 in New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Jimmy Butler was in Milwaukee and hundreds of miles from his home of Tomball, Texas. He was trying to fit in with his new Marquette teammates, most of whom he had never met before. He had to change his playing style as he transitioned up a level.

And then it snowed.

“Unbelievable to me,” Butler said. “I don’t know if I was happy or pissed off that it was snowing. I had never seen snow before. I was incredibly cold.

“That was the biggest culture shock of everything. It was hard. But we got through it. We always do.”

He always does.

The Bulls wing called going from junior college to the Big East the most difficult step in his basketball journey. What he’s doing this year, it’s not easy. But Butler has overcome numerous other challenges.

A rough childhood, getting overlooked in recruiting, rising from junior college to top-shelf college basketball, climbing draft boards as a relatively unheralded prospect, carving out a role in the NBA, working his way into stardom.

Now, Butler – the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2015 – is pushing himself into the NBA’s elite. He’s averaging 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds an 4.1 assists per game. He ranks third in real plus-minus, sixth in PER and fourth in win shares.

MVP? Another MIP?

Butler dismisses the “individual s—” with a grimace, but he’s taking to his elevated stature.

“I figured, ‘Why can’t I be up there with the best of them?'” Butler said. “And I continue to think that way.”

Butler didn’t always carry such confidence, and he doesn’t have to think far back to remember the days he lacked it. Jerel McNeal, Wesley Mathews, Lazar Hayward, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder overshadowed him at Marquette. Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer once dwarfed his presence on the Bulls.

“I wasn’t always a really good player,” Butler said. “I just worked harder than everybody. I just played harder than everybody.”

Butler developed his skills. He gained fame and fortune.

He just never lost his work ethic.

As he continue to practice and study, he learned how far that could take him. Butler has made the last two All-Star games and last three All-Defensive second teams. Now, he’s recognizing his own potential.

“Your confidence comes from your work,” Butler said.

That confidence is spreading.

Say whatever you want about how he has handled his rise into stardom, Butler continues to rise. He deserves more credit for his jump from star to superstar, maybe one of the most difficult leaps in sports. But his continued evolution has warped expectations.

Bulls teammate Dwyane Wade first noticed Butler at Marquette, their shared alma mater. Could Wade envision then Butler turning into an NBA player?

“That was hard to see,” Wade said.

What about once Butler got into the league? Did his star potential show?

“No, didn’t see that,” Wade said.

Then Butler’s leap to superstardom surely must have also caught Wade off guard, right?

“I won’t say surprise,” Wade said. “He’s playing with the talent he has.

“He’s not doing nothing overcomplicated. He’s not crossing people, making them fall. He’s not jumping over tall people. He’s playing his game. He’s getting to the basket, hitting the mid-range pullup, doing things like that.”

Unfortunately for Butler’s MVP chances, he’s doing it in a year so many other players are posting unworldly numbers. His combination of 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds an 4.1 assists per game have been matched over a full season just 56 times in the NBA’s 70-year history. Do that in the right year – especially with Butler’s efficiency: shooting 47.2% from the field, 35.1% on 3-pointers and 88.9% on free throws – and Butler walks away with MVP.

But this season, four players – Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Butler – are on pace to hit that combination scoring/rebounding/passing combination, which would be a record. To win MVP, Butler must fend off those other three and Chris Paul and Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James and…

Still, Butler has a more realistic chance of making history given his humble entry into the NBA. The No. 30 pick in the 2011 draft, he could o become the highest finisher in MVP voting in his lifetime who was drafted so low. The current bar is seventh in MVP voting, done by both No. 35 pick Draymond Green and undrafted Ben Wallace.

Butler could also break records with his sustained improvement.

Several Most Improved Players – Ryan Anderson, Kevin Love, Monta Ellis,* Bobby Simmons, Zach Randolph, Gilbert Arenas, Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady and Rony Seikaly – received votes for the award after winning it. But none seriously contended for a repeat. The closest was 1990 winner Seikaly, who finished 12th in 1997 – with a single vote.

*Ellis received is the only player to receive MIP votes in multiple seasons after winning it. He won the award in 2007 and then made his way onto the ballot in 2008 and 2010.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as a strong frontrunner for 2017 Most Improved player, but Butler belongs in the mix.

To cherry-pick one measure among the many that showcases Butler’s improvement, his PER has risen from 21.3 each of the last two season to 27.8 this year. Only Terry Rozier and Giannis Antetokounmpo have made bigger jumps from their previous career-high PER to a new career high this season (minimum: 200 minutes each season):

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Butler’s ascension has invited greater leadership responsibilities, an area that drew immense scrutiny last season.

Chicago traded Rose and watched Noah walk over the summer. Newcomers Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo declared the Bulls to be Butler’s team.

The pressure was on, and Butler appears to be delivering.

Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg, who drew public criticism from Butler last year, called him a “great leader.” Butler again asked Hoiberg to coach him harder before this season, and his teammates have noticed.

“Is he hard on himself? Is he hard on guys when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to? Yes. He’s supposed to be hard on them,” Wade said. “But I think he’s as advertised.”

That’s because Butler continues to show his genuineness.

“He has a little different personality,” Wade said. “You come in, and everybody talk about it. He’s in the locker room singing country music and all these songs that most people ain’t used to listening to.”

That’s Butler from Tomball, Texas.

He’s now on an effectively max contract, in commercials and headed toward an even higher level of stardom on the court.

Yet, he remains relentless in his approach.

“I’m about right now,” Butler said. “Every single day, what can I do right now to get better for tomorrow – and that’s not even promised. What can I do right now to finish out the day right?”