Dan Feldman

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 6: Avery Bradley #0 of the Boston Celtics defends Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half at TD Garden on January 6, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Nerlens Noel: ‘At this moment in time, I’m definitely satisfied’ with role on 76ers

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After complaining and complaining and complaining, Nerlens Noel has finally found a modicum of happiness with the 76ers.

He’s back in the rotation, playing 21 minutes per game in Philadelphia’s last six games. The 76ers have even won four of their last five.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

“At this moment in time, I’m definitely satisfied with where I’m at and the team’s rotation,” Noel said. “I think I’m able to go out there and still affect the game, change the game multiple ways.”

“At this moment in time” sounds like a warning to the 76ers: Noel appreciates them treating him well, but that doesn’t buy them leeway to downgrade his status later without upsetting him.

Meanwhile, Jahlil Okafor has fallen from the rotation. Though he’s saying the right things, he has acknowledge he’s not happy to be sitting.

This is an untenable situation.

The probable solution is a trade, which I’d guess Noel would still welcome. And by buying into the team’s plan, he might even draw more suitors after some teams were concerned about his attitude.

Report: Magic interested in trading for Heat’s Goran Dragic

ORLANDO, FL - OCTOBER 26: Goran Dragic #7 of the Miami Heat drives on Elfrid Payton #4 of  the Orlando Magic on opening night on October 26, 2016 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. 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 Manuela Davies/Getty Images)
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The Heat reportedly might trade Goran Dragic. The Magic reportedly want to trade for a scorer.

Let’s combine trade rumors.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Teams will express interest in Dragic ahead of the trade deadline — a bunch, including the Magic, already did, per league sources — but Miami can hold out for a hefty return.

If the Heat are tanking, they have little use for Dragic, who’s on the wrong side of 30. Better to deal him now to a team that will get value from him while he’s still productive. It’s far from guaranteed he’ll still be helpful once Miami is ready to win again.

But why does Orlando want anything to do with him?

The Magic have fared better when starting offensive-minded D.J. Augustin and bringing Elfrid Payton off the bench. Dragic would be a talent upgrade in the Augustin role and fit well in the short term.

But Orlando is 16-24, 12th in the East and four games out of postseason position. The playoffs are a pipedream, and the Magic should focus on building for the future.

Trading for Dragic would reek of another desperate attempt to accelerate their rebuild, perhaps a last-ditch chance for general manager Rob Hennigan to save his job.

Hennigan’s history of making such moves gives reason to believe he’d actually deal for Dragic. But it also creates cover for Miami to leak Orlando interest (even if it’s not real) and drive up the asking price for Dragic. So, I’m a little skeptical about this report. But Magic fans should have trepidation, just in case.

Hassan Whiteside: All-Star voting about Twitter jokes, not talent

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 21:  Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives on Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat during a preseason game  at American Airlines Arena on October 21, 2016 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Hassan Whiteside is excelling for the Heat this season, averaging 17.5 points, 14.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.

But you wouldn’t know it from All-Star fan voting, where Whiteside doesn’t even crack the top 15 among Eastern Conference frontcourt players.

Whiteside, via Shandel Richardson of the South Florida SunSentinel:

“It’s more so a gimmick,” Whiteside said. “I look at guys and they just do stuff to win the fans over, make jokes on Twitter to get people to vote for them. It ain’t got nothing to do really with talent.”

I quibble with that. Talent matters, and most superstars get votes without begging for them. But for the next class of players – which includes Whiteside – teams and players campaigning can make a difference for otherwise-similar candidates.

But, mostly: Yeah. The real question is why it took Whiteside so long to figure this out.

Derrick Rose: ‘I was going to take the fine’ to go home, because family comes first

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 04:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks in action against the Milwaukee Bucks during their game at Madison Square Garden on January 4, 2017 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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Derrick Rose ignored the Knicks’ calls because he wanted “space” and then got fined about $200,000 by the team.

As he tells it, his AWOL night almost sounds thought out.

Rose, via Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

“My family is first,” Rose told The Vertical. “I didn’t make the decision off the strength of people caring about what I did. I went home, did what I had to do, because my family is before anything. I was going to take the fine of whatever it may be.”

But he admitted that tales of him being homesick in New York might be a tad overblown. “I know I left room for that, like space for people to think like that, but [Monday’s incident] had nothing to do with it. It doesn’t have anything to do with it,” Rose told The Vertical. “The great thing is, [Knicks president Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills], they knew exactly what it was and they knew where I was coming from. We had an understanding after I talked to [them].”

At every chance, Rose has been adamant about wanting to stay in New York after his contract expires this summer. Rose is hopeful that his brief disappearance won’t prohibit the two sides from reaching an agreement on a long-term deal. “When I was in the room, I felt like they understood where I was coming from,” Rose said. “I hope one incident didn’t change their mind. Who knows? This is a business. If it was to happen, I still would want to play the way I normally know how to play wherever I’m at.”

Here’s the problem with Rose’s explanation: If he had communicated better with the team, he probably wouldn’t have gotten fined. Players sometimes miss games for personal reasons, and it’s rarely a problem. This became an issue because he disappeared without telling his bosses.

Obviously, Rose will deny homesickness. In sports culture, that detracts from his desired image of toughness.

And of course this will dampen the Knicks, or any team’s desire, to sign him. He left his team in the dark during a game. The only question is how much – though no matter the answer, free agency will likely disappoint Rose if he’s seeking a max contract.

Chronically undervalued Zaza Pachulia key cog and sudden ‘star’ for Warriors

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2004: Magic general John Weisbrod called Zaza Pachulia into his office and told Pachulia his value to the team.

It wasn’t necessarily much, but Pachulia had just finished his rookie season and was on a minimum contract. Charlotte was entering the NBA that summer, and Pachulia said Weisbrod assured him Orlando would protect him in the expansion draft.

The Magic didn’t. Charlotte picked him.

2016: Warriors coach Steve Kerr called Zaza Pachulia on the phone and told Pachulia his value to the team.

Golden State couldn’t offer much, just the room exception, but the team wanted Pachulia badly. Kerr assured him he’d start at center to complete a star-studded lineup that just added Kevin Durant to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

“I just told him, I knew that he could make more money elsewhere and that we were lucky that he was even considering coming here,” Ker said, “but that we had a real need for him.”

After being misled earlier in his career, Pachulia trusted.

“That was a deal-maker for me,” Pachulia said. “I kind of feel like I always wanted to go somewhere where I’m wanted.”

*****

Pachulia, who has spent about half his career as a starting center and most of the rest as a prominent backup, has never earned more than $5.3 million in a season. His salary this year: $2,898,000.

He won’t say how much he left on the table to join Golden State – he was reportedly discussing a two-year, $20 million deal with the Wizards – but calls it a “pretty significant amount” between repeatedly saying it doesn’t matter.

“The decision I made, I told myself, and I told my wife and close people who I’m with and my family members, that we’re not going to look back and say I wish,” Pachulia said. “Because it’s a risk. There’s nothing guaranteed. So, we’re never going to look back and say I wish we’d taken the other offer. I thought about it. I had time to think about it wisely, make the right decision.”

Pachulia will be a free agent next summer, and the Warriors will be squeezed to re-sign Curry, Durant and maybe Iguodala. Fitting in Pachulia will be a challenge, and the offseason could become another referendum on his value – if he chooses to test the market.

There are at least indications he’ll have suitors. Zach Lowe of ESPN:

But if those executives valued Pachulia so greatly, why did they never pay him more or trade for him? All those years as an undervalued commodity opened the door for the Warriors to poach him.

Pachulia is glad they did.

It helps that he spends most of his minutes with the Curry-Thompson-Durant-Green foursome on the floor, but Pachulia is doing his part. He plays sound positional defense, crashes the glass, sets effective screens and passes well out of the high post. He’s a little sloppy with the ball and his subpar athleticism limits him, but the Warriors will gladly take the entire package. Their starting lineup has been about as good as their vaunted death lineup (with Andre Iguodala in for Pachulia).

Pachulia does all the little things a super team needs, playing the role that never receives enough credit.

Except, paradoxically, Pachulia is getting outsized credit in All-Star fan voting.

With help from his native Georgia (the country), he ranks second to Durant among Western Conference frontcourt players. In previous years, Pachulia would be on track to start the All-Star game. But, likely with an eye on Pachulia’s stunningly strong finish in last year’s voting, the NBA changed its process this season. Now, players and media also have a say, making Pachulia a huge longshot to start.

“I respect it,” Pachulia said of the format change.

The league never appeared bothered by fans voting in Kobe Bryant years after he declined far below star production. Dwyane Wade getting similar, though far less pronounced, treatment now doesn’t cause an uproar.

Yet, a little recognition for Pachulia turns the system on its head – and he doesn’t complain.

Pachulia doesn’t gripe about any of the times he’s received the short end of the stick.

Immediately after picking him in the expansion draft, Charlotte flipped Pachulia to the Bucks, and he embraced it.

“Milwaukee is a perfect place,” Pachulia said. “Nothing much to do there. It’s cold, so you’re thinking about basketball. You can spend as much time as you want in the gym.”

After one year with the Bucks, he signed in Atlanta and played a supporting role in the Hawks’ rise. He eventually signed back with Milwaukee and was quietly instrumental in the Bucks’ breakout 41-41 season two years ago. They outscored opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and got outscored by 3.1 per 100 when he sat – hardly a coincidence. Pachulia’s basketball intelligence boosted that team.

Yet, Milwaukee essentially gave away Pachulia, trading him to the Mavericks for a top-55-protected second-round pick – or, as new teammate Dirk Nowitzki joked, for “a case of Gatorade.”

Does Pachulia hold a grudge about the trade or feel insulted by the return? Nope. He still raves about Bucks coach Jason Kidd – “I learned so much from that guy. Genius” – and appreciates Kidd sending him to Dallas, where Rick Carlisle (who previously coached Kidd) taught Pachulia even more.

Pachulia stresses how badly he wants to keep improving, even at age 32. He finds the Warriors’ players and coaches to be a wealth of knowledge, and his fifth-Beatle status allows him to fly under the radar and enjoy Golden State’s strong basketball culture.

It’s a long way from Orlando and Weisbrod, who – seemingly to Pachulia’s delight – now works for the Vancouver Canucks (yes, the hockey team). Pachulia takes a rare moment to gloat about his staying power in a league that has only lately – and still reluctantly in important corners – revered him.

“The guy was obviously doing his own things,” Pachulia said. “Not necessarily was the smartest thing to do, I think about it looking back.”