Kenneth Faried

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.

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.