Jameer Nelson

Five NBA players likely to get traded this season

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When I started compiling this list more than a week ago, Marcin Gortat was the guy on top of it — then his trade happened earlier than anyone expected. The Wizards want to make the playoffs this year, the Suns want to tank and so they had a common ground.

Now who is most likely to get moved this season? Here are the five guys I think are on top of the list (with some honorable mention names below).

Jameer Nelson, Orlando Magic: He doesn’t want to leave Orlando but knows he is being shopped around. The Magic are in full on rebuilding mode and want to give rookie Victor Oladipo time at the point, Nelson is 31 and only $2 million of his salary next year is guaranteed, so he’s basically an expiring contract. That all makes a trade very likely. I could see a contender looking for depth at the point bringing him in for the second half of the season — he’s still strong on the pick-and-roll, can knock down threes and could improve a lot of second units.

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Omer Asik, Houston Rockets: We all know the story here, Asik had a strong season last year as the starting center in Houston but the franchise (wisely) went after an elite talent and got Dwight Howard. Kevin McHale is trying to make this work, but it’s not close yet and may never really get there. Meanwhile, quality big men are in demand and other teams will come calling with pieces the Rockets need to contend. It will be tough to turn a good deal down.

Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia 76ers: He knows he’s being shopped around and basically expects to be moved. Philadelphia is all in on the rebuild and if they can get a decent package of picks and/or young players for Young Sam Hinkie will pull the trigger. He’s just 25, scored 14.1 points a game last season and he can defend at the three or four, I think a few teams could use a guy like that.

Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers: The emergence of Paul George makes this a possibility. Granger is out the first three weeks of the season with a calf strain but this is a team that went to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals without him, so integrating a scoring All-Star who wants his shots back in the rotation is a chemistry experiment. If it goes well the Pacers don’t make a move and they are much better bringing Granger or Lance Stephenson off the bench. If it goes poorly, Granger is a big expiring contract Indy can move for pieces that do fit.

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets: We already have reports that the Nuggets are testing the trade waters, and that new coach Brian Shaw really likes the more polished offensive game of J.J. Hickson at the four spot. This is no lock, but with Faried up for an extension next summer (or restricted free agency in two years) the Nuggets may look to move him.

Just missing the cut… Zach Randolph (he’s 32 and can opt out at the end of this season, if the Grizzlies don’t think they can keep him or don’t want to pay him long term, they may move him at the deadline); Rajon Rondo (Boston is in rebuilding mode and Danny Ainge listened to Rondo offers when he had Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, so you know he’ll listen now); and Evan Turner (the Sixers shopped him last season and again this summer, at some point they may find a taker… or not).

Karl-Anthony Towns beats out Isaiah Thomas to take Skills Challenge title

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 09:  Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves reacts after hitting a basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 9, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — In a new twist to the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the NBA made the decision this year to add big men to a competition that has traditionally focused on point guards. The new wrinkle created new layers of intrigue, an unusual amount of controversy and, ultimately, a new champion: Timberwolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns.

C.J. McCollum beat out Jordan Clarkson in the first round, and Isaiah Thomas took care of Emmanuel Mudiay. In something of an upset, Towns handled Draymond Green, who is the NBA’s leader in triple-doubles.

The other matchup in the first round came with some controversy: DeMarcus Cousins missed all three attempts at the chest pass into the ring but moved on in the obstacle course and ultimately defeated Anthony Davis. This led to widespread criticism on social media for Cousins being allowed to advance without completing all the drills.

But Towns beat out Cousins in the semifinals, thereby preventing a nightmare scenario where a winner might have to have an asterisk next to his title.

Thomas beat McCollum in the guards’ semifinals. McCollum lost his dribble early on in the round and never really recovered.

The final round between Towns and Thomas went down to the wire, but Towns’ three-pointer went down first, giving him the title.

 

Russell Westbrook on Lakers speculation: “Nah, I like where I am now”

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 08:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Thunder defeated the Suns 122-106.  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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TORONTO — No matter what Russell Westbrook does, he cannot escape the rumors that have followed him for years. He grew up in Los Angeles and played college basketball at UCLA—so, it’s only logical that when he hits free agency in the summer of 2017, he’ll look to sign with the Lakers, right?

Westbrook did his best to shut that down on Saturday after practice with the Western Conference All-Stars.

“Nah,” Westbrook said. “I like where I am now. Oklahoma City is a great place for me.”

Westbrook admitted that he grew up a Lakers fan, but said he never thought of playing there as a kid.

“I never thought I’d play in the NBA,” he said. “I was just watching them.”

Westbrook has another full season to go before his contract with the Thunder is up, so it’s going to be a while before there’s any resolution here. A lot, of course, will depend on what Kevin Durant does this summer.

If Durant sticks around and the Thunder make another deep playoff run next season, it becomes more likely that Westbrook will stay. But if Durant goes somewhere else, there’s a good chance Westbrook follows suit. For now, all they can do is deflect the speculation that will be there no matter what they say.

Gregg Popovich says he thinks more about Warriors than any team he ever faced

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Gregg Popovich and his Spurs have gone up against some powerhouse teams in the past 17 years. There were the Shaq/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Steve Nash and the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, The Kobe/Pau Gasol Lakers, LeBron James‘ Miami Heat teams, and the list goes on.

But nobody has given him more to think about than Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

That’s what he said on ESPN Radio Friday, as reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.

“I’ve spent more time thinking about Golden State than I have any other team I’ve ever thought about in my whole career,” Popovich told ESPN Radio on Friday. “Because they are really fun. I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. And when I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.

“So I’m actually enjoying them very much. You try to solve them, but they’re in a sense unsolvable because it’s a particular mix of talent that they have. It’s not just that Steph [Curry] can make shots or that Klay can make shots or that Draymond Green is versatile. Everybody on the court can pass, catch and shoot. And they all get it.”

When you think about those legendary teams Popovich faced, they may have been a little less mentally taxing to gameplan for. The Shaq/Kobe Lakers ran the triangle (an offense Popovich was familiar with), but most of what made them great was exceptional talent — two future Hall of Famers at their peaks. The Spurs tried to bully the Suns, and then they developed a motion offense that eventually shredded the Heat.

The Warriors are different, and Popovich gets to a fundamental problem in defeating them:

“They’re talented. But they’re also very, very smart.”

That’s what’s hard to plan for — smart players and smart teams adjust, and the Warriors by design loaded their roster with high IQ guys. If you adjust, they counter. And for the last season-and-a-half, that has worked brilliantly.

LeBron James on Kevin Love trade rumors: “They’re false”

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TORONTO — The rumors were out there: the Boston Celtics were interested in Kevin Love and were talking trade with Cleveland.

LeBron James would have none of that.

“It’s false,” LeBron said of the rumors when speaking to the media after the Eastern Conference’s All-Star Game practice Saturday. “It’s the only thing I can look at it and say it’s false. That’s the last thing guys are worried about right now are trade talks from our team.”

That echoed what Carmelo Anthony said. The buzz around Toronto (where the NBA has gathered for All-Star Weekend) that there wasn’t a lot of to the talks and if there was any momentum has stalled out.

Still, there will be talks, and there will be plenty of Cavaliers trade rumors in the run-up to the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Cleveland could use some shooting from the wing and quality depth to provide versatility going up against Golden State or San Antonio in the Finals.

LeBron just wants to make sure the talks don’t impact the locker room.

“One thing about this business is you can only control what you can control. Things that you can’t control, you can’t let it bother you, and I’ve learned that over the years,” LeBron said. “There is so much that goes on in professional sports that if you just focus on what you can control, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Love rumors likely will continue to flare up this week, but they are not going to move him unless another team makes a Godfather offer.

The Cavaliers have been 10.1 points per 100 possessions better this season when Love is on the court compared to off it (and their defense does get marginally better when he plays). When Love, LeBron, and Kyrie Irving are on the court together the Cavaliers outscore opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions. Those are massive numbers.

The Cavaliers are a win-now team, if you’re going to break up part of that trio it has to be for something that makes the team demonstrably better. And that kind of superstar trade is rare at the February deadline anymore.