The Extra Pass: Five teams to watch closely as the trade deadline nears

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With just more than 48 hours left until the NBA’s trade deadline, it feels like the biggest deals may be behind us — Rudy Gay and Luol Deng have already been moved. Rumors are swirling, but the feeling around the league is it is all a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Still there are a number of teams trying to make deals. While there are more hoping to get something done, here are five teams to watch as they are pushing hard to make something happen in the next two days.

1) Denver Nuggets. They are trying hard to move Andre Miller, who has landed deep in Brian Shaw’s doghouse, and there are certainly a lot of teams that could use a veteran point guard who can start or come off the bench. He is popular in the locker room, his teammates love him. The Nuggets are likely just holding out for the best possible deal here but it’s hard to imagine they keep him past Thursday. The other name to watch is Kenneth Faried — the Nuggets have been shopping him around pretty hard. They aren’t sure he is worth what he is going to get offered as a restricted free agent, so they are trying to move him and let that be another team’s problem.

2) Philadelphia 76ers. They have three players they want to move — Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes — and what is more important they are $11 million under the salary cap so they can absorb more salary than they send out. They are the most flexible trade partner out there. The problem is Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie wants draft picks in exchange for his players or to take on some salary and teams are incredibly reluctant to part with picks this year. So we wait. Hinkie has not been the kind to cave so we could get through the deadline without a deal, but more likely somebody comes around and presents a deal Hinkie likes.

3) New York Knicks. Their activity stems from this fact: Carmelo Anthony is going to opt out of his contract this summer. He said over All-Star weekend his “first priority” is to remain with the Knicks but he needs to see a plan that will return the Knicks to contender status. Most of that plan will be “look at all this cap space in 2015” but they are trying to make moves now, specifically they want to add a point guard in the face of Raymond Felton’s struggles. The Knicks are calling everyone; they desperately want to make a move (even if it means bringing back Jeremy Lin). The problem is they don’t have picks they can dangle to tempt teams (not for five years, anyway), and the only tradable player they have is Iman Shumpert (other teams keep asking about Tim Hardaway Jr. but New York refuses to move him). The Knicks are trying, it’s just the reality of them getting a deal done is far less likely than flexible teams like the Sixers.

4) Phoenix Suns. They are one of the few potential buyers on the market, and that gives them some leverage. The Suns have been the NBA’s biggest surprise this season and now they want to continue that — at 31-21 they are just 1.5 games ahead of nine seed Memphis, so the Suns want someone to help solidify them as a playoff team in the West (and make them more dangerous in the first round). Also, they have four firsts round picks and are willing to part with one in the right deal — and that deal might yet be for Pau Gasol. That would be the biggest deal of the deadline, by far. The Suns have the expiring deal of Emeka Okafor ($14.5 million) plus those picks to make it work (the problem has been the Lakers demanding one of the Suns two higher ranked picks and Phoenix is only offering something much smaller if any pick at all, they don’t really want to help a team in their division). If it is not Gasol, look for the Suns to make some kind of deadline deal, they may be rebuilding but they are now in for this season and want to make the playoffs.

5) Boston Celtics. It’s not just Rajon Rondo — although he can be had, you’re just going to have to give something of real value up to get him. Boston decision maker Danny Ainge is rightfully concerned about his ability to re-sign Rondo in the summer of 2015 (not that Rondo is looking to bolt, he just wants to keep his options open) and if Ainge can get something for Rondo in a deal he’ll consider it. However, I expect Rondo to be a summer move (after teams have seen him play more post ACL surgery). Instead, look for Brandon Bass to be on the move — he is the kind of solid big that can help a playoff team immediately but isn’t much use to Boston right now. Also, if Ainge can find a sucker… er, team to take on the two years left on Gerald Wallace’s contract he would do it in a heartbeat.

Report: Knicks owner James Dolan considering firing Phil Jackson as Knicks president

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Kristaps Porzingis skipped his exit meeting with the Knicks to express his frustration with the way the organization is being run. He is spending the summer working out in Latvia rather than the Knicks’ facilities. If a franchise cornerstone unicorn of a player skipped the exit meeting with 29 other franchises, the team president and GM would have been knocking on his door the next morning looking to talk about his concerns, listen, and make a guy the team should be building around feels appreciated and listened to.

Instead, Phil Jackson took it as a slight and threatened to trade Porzingis to send a message.

Add that to a treatment of Carmelo Anthony that has other free agents seeing the Knicks as a last resort, and forcing a triangle offense on the team players do not want, and there’s a lot of reasons to question Phil Jackson’s leadership of the Knicks. James Dolan, the Knicks owner, has apparently heard this and is considering making a change, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

New York Knicks owner James Dolan is weighing the future of embattled president of basketball operations Phil Jackson, league sources told The Vertical.

No final decision had been made on Jackson’s future late Tuesday night, but Dolan is harboring uncertainties about how much longer to commit to Jackson as the organization’s top basketball decision-maker, league sources told The Vertical.

Dolan has become increasingly concerned about Jackson’s fitness for the job and the long-term prospects of success for the franchise, especially in the aftermath of Jackson entertaining trades for Kristaps Porzingis, the franchise’s 21-year-old burgeoning star, league sources told The Vertical.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN added:

Jackson is still owed two years and $24 million on his contract.

When Jackson took over the Knicks it was hoped that for $12 million a year he could keep James Dolan at arm’s length from basketball decisions — he has done that — and that he would finally provide a direction and for the Knicks. The latter part has not happened. He hired Derek Fisher as coach, who realized the Knicks were not ready to run the triangle so he tried to run a hybrid offense, but that never clicked. Fisher also never clicked with the players, and got into a spat with Matt Barnes that was very public. Fisher was let go and Jeff Hornacek was brought in to run his more modern, up-tempo offense, but then he was given Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to go with the aging Anthony, with little else but Porzingis around them, and that didn’t work. Now the Knicks are back to the triangle, and players are not happy.

Jackson is unquestionably one of the great coaches the game has ever seen, a man with a great basketball mind, but the skills of coaching and the skills of running basketball operations are different things.

You can say it’s time for the Knicks to move on from Jackson but:

Do the Knicks really want to fire your front office and start fresh days before free agency begins?

If not Jackson, then who? Go ahead and joke that “anybody is better” but we have seen Dolan’s hires before and know that’s not true. Much like Dan Gilbert in Cleveland, you don’t want to just fire your GM at this point of the year unless you have the next guy lined up. Does anyone believe Dolan has thought that far ahead? There are plenty of quality candidates, including the released David Griffin from Cleveland, but how fast can the Knicks get a man with a plan in place.

The Knicks gonna Knick.

Report: Rockets becoming “increasingly serious threat” to sign Chris Paul

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The Houston Rockets are one of only a handful of teams in the NBA with a legitimate ability to add a couple of key pieces and try to make a run at the Golden State Warriors.

Chris Paul would be that kind of piece, and the Rockets are ramping up efforts to land him.

From Marc Stein of ESPN.

The Houston Rockets have emerged as an increasingly serious threat in the chase for soon-to-be free agent Chris Paul, according to league sources.

The Rockets still have work to do in terms of clearing sufficient salary-cap space to make a representative offer for Paul, but sources told ESPN that Houston star James Harden has been advocating hard in favor of the Paul pursuit and has made his interest in teaming with the Los Angeles Clippers’ point guard known directly to Paul.

Sources say Houston also remains at the heart of the trade hunt to acquire Paul George from the Indiana Pacers, despite the fact George is only under contract through next season and is known to be angling to sign with his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in July 2018.

The challenge in all of this is the Rockets have just about $10 million in cap space this summer, which is about a third of what it will take to land Chris Paul. That means they need to trade Ryan Anderson and his $19.6 million owed next season and take no salary back, and while there are a few teams in a position to be able to take on that salary — Philadephia, Brooklyn, Sacramento and others — they are going to want a young player or first-round pick as a sweetener. The Rockets also are considering moving Lou Williams and his $7 million salary, or Patrick Beverley and his $5.5 million. However, even moving both of the later two is not getting near the salary Paul will demand.

Chris Paul met with the Clippers front office on Tuesday to talk about the future, but he’s expected to meet with a number of teams in free agency, with the Rockets and Spurs being key suitors. The question is, will any of these teams bring him closer to toppling the Golden State Warriors, and is it worth it to take less money for that chance? Especially after he got the CBA changed so that as of July 1 the “over 36” rule becomes the “over 38 rule” so the Clippers can give him one more five-year max contract.

How much will Dion Waiters earn as a free agent?

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Dion Waiters had the best season of his career last year at age 25 in Miami. The Heat pushed Waiters to get in the best shape of his life (just check out his Instagram), and combine that with the fact that Justise Winslow went down Waiters got the ball in his hands more with a chance to create for himself, and you had a little rush of scoring. He’s still not the most efficient player ever (to be kind), but he’s close to average.

Waiters opted out of his $3.2 million he is owed next season, and he is now a free agent. How much is he will he get now on the open market? Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote this:

One scout said he would be surprised if the bidding for Waiters soars much above $10 million, if that, because of his small sample size of high-level play this past season. One prominent agent who does not represent Waiters predicted he would get $8 million to $10 million annually.

That number seems about right, if it’s a two-year deal (or a team option on the third year). The league average salary will be around $8.5 million, and that’s where Waiters should fall next year.

Whether Miami has that money to spend comes down to whether they land a big free agent such as Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin (both max guys). If so, the Heat will not have the money, and what they do have would be more focused on keeping James Johnson. However, if the Heat strike out then Waiters could be back in Miami.

One way or another Waiters is going to get a raise. That doesn’t mean teams are not still leery.

Report: Knicks have “legitimate” interest in re-signing Derrick Rose

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Were they watching the games last year?

Derrick Rose put up decent numbers last year — 18 points per game, PER of 17, true shooting percentage of 53 — but was a mess defensively and does not fit in the triangle offense. He’s a decent point guard now, a replacement level player who can help in the right system.

Since the Knicks point guard rotation right now consists of rookie Frank Ntilikina plus whoever the team signs this summer, turns out Rose is not out of the picture, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

The New York Knicks have “legitimate” interest in re-signing Derrick Rose, league sources familiar with the matter said….

The Knicks’ interest in the point guard is dependent on several factors, including his health and his asking price. When asked last week about New York potentially re-signing Rose, team president Phil Jackson said “we’re listening.”

Money will be the key — it’s not going to be anywhere near the $21.3 million Rose made last season. No team is going to offer that.

Can the Knicks get him for less than $10 million? Will another team come in and offer $12 million or more for him? The market for point guards this summer is going to be interesting because after the big name on the free-agent market — Chris Paul (we’re not counting Stephen Curry, he’s not leaving) — there are some quality players out there that can help teams such as Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Patty Mills, Jeff Teague and Shaun Livingston. There aren’t that many teams with money to really spend on free agent point guards, so while a couple (Holiday, maybe Lowry) re-sign with their old teams there are a number of guys who may find the market softer than they expected. Rose is among them.

And that’s where the Knicks come in. Rose is far from a perfect fit, but if the soft market drives his price down closer to the midlevel ($8.4 million) or just above, that may be worth it for the Knicks for a year while they try to develop the rookie.