Trade Deadline: DEFCON Central Division

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A quick look at the league, division by division, at where all the teams
in the NBA are as the trade deadline hits zero hour. DEFCON indicates
how close they are to a major move, with 5 means standing pat and 1
means already have a deal in place. Here’s the Central Division.

Cleveland Cavaliers:
Why
They’ll Make A Move:
Because if they don’t prove to LeBron they can win a title this year, he may walk leaving their franchise is in complete ruins and collectively sending the state of Ohio into a depression that would make “Atonement” into Saturday Morning Cartoons.

Why They Won’t:
They have the best team in the league, the best player in the league, and they’re going to need space to re-sign that player.

Verdict: Currently talking to Phoenix, Washington, Golden State, and potentially the People’s United Republic of Uzbekistan.*

DEFCON: 1

*not a real country, much like the Warriors are not a real franchise

More after the jump.

Chicago Bulls:
Why
They’ll Make A Move:
They have to either create enough room to sign
two free agents or bring in an impact player that will help convince one
of the top free agents to come in. Also, Kirk Hinrich’s contract is
like a red hot gigantic chain around their necks, and the relationship
of their coaching staff to Tyrus Thomas is the polar opposite to that of
the fans to Tyrus Thomas.

Why They Won’t:
Because they’re only willing to pull the trigger if the deal is right,
and this is the team that signed Ben Wallace, let Ben Gordon go, and
gave Luol Deng a huge extension.

Verdict:  Behind the Knicks for the McGrady deal and unable to
find suitors for Hinrich, but Thomas is readily available and wanted.

DEFCON: 3

Milwaukee
Bucks:

Why
They’ll Make A Move:
Because they can. They have good young players
at reasonable salaries and enough cap room to absorb someone.

Why They Won’t:
They don’t have THAT much room under the cap, none of their big
contracts are movable (Bogut too valuable, Redd hurt), and the market
just isn’t there.

Verdict: All’s quiet on the northern front.

DEFCON: 5

Detroit Pistons:
Why
They’ll Make A Move:
They’re a terrible team with veteran players
that can still contribute with sizable contracts that are closer to the
end than the beginning of their term.

Why They Won’t:
Because Hamilton and Prince are no longer drumming up interest, no one
sees them as final pieces, and because their cap situation puts them
into pretty tight conditions.

Verdict: Haven’t heard a thing out of them, though Ben Wallace is
rumored to be out there.

DEFCON: 4

Indiana
Pacers:

Why
They’ll Make A Move:
Everyone likes Troy Murphy as a Plan C in the
Amar’e-Jamison sweepstakes. And due to the fact that their team is quite
possibly the worst in the league if you factor in talent, playmakers,
and upside. Getting worse would take an achievement in FAIL the likes of
which haven’t been seen since the Great Chicago Fire.

Why They Won’t:
Larry Bird has written off this season just like he wrote off last
season, and outside of Murphy, their players are untouchable, in the bad
way.

Verdict: Murphy could end up being the midnight hour target if
the Suns decide they haven’t gotten an offer good enough to move
Stoudemire.

DEFCON: 3

Wes Unseld Jr., Kenny Atkinson reportedly top list for next Chicago coach

Chicago coach
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Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, the two guys at the top of Chicago Bulls basketball operations, fired a coach in Jim Boylen that the team owner liked. Which means they have to nail the next hire.

Chicago in on to the second round of interviews and four names stand out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Bulls are narrowing to finalists for their head coaching job and expect to conduct final interviews soon, sources said. Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Philadelphia assistant Ime Udoka, Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham and former Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson are among the coaches who have had strong interviews so far.

Atkinson has a more proven resume after what he did in Brooklyn, but the other three are top assistants who have earned their shot in the big chair. Unseld Jr. is a hot name right now because his team is still in the bubble and playing well — he’s Mike Malone’s lead assistant on the Denver Nuggets — but every name on this list is qualified.

Whoever lands the job will head a team with plenty of potential but also plenty of questions. The Bulls have quality young talent on the roster — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter — but do they are fit together? How good Chicago is next season may depend more on the growth of White and the health of Markkanen than it does on who gets selected as coach.

Expect Karnisovas to spend a year putting his stamp on this roster and moving players around. First, however, he’s got to find his coach.

Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin form NASCAR racing team with Bubba Wallace driving

Michael Jordan NASCAR
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Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.

The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.

Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCARincluding the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.

Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.

Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

NBA executives pick Luka Doncic as best player under 25 to build around

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Luka Doncic, in his second season, made the leap into the NBA’s elite — fourth in MVP voting and First Team All-NBA. All at age 21.

Not surprisingly, he’s the player under 21 NBA teams would want to build around.

Michael Scotto of Hoopshype polled 15 league executives (including four general managers) and players under 25 they want to build around and Doncic was the unanimous choice.

“To me, Luka is the clear No. 1,” one scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a guy who can be a lead ballhandler. He’s good enough to score and create at a high level, has the right mental makeup and is incredibly smart. He’s been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in the league.”

It’s hard to argue when Luka Doncic is already doing this in the playoffs:

Boston’s Jayson Tatum came in second, Phoenix Devin Booker was third, followed by Ja Morant (Memphis) fourth and a tie at fifth between Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Bam Adebayo (Miami).

An interesting note about that top five: None of them was a No. 1 pick.

Zion Williamson had been on top of this poll a year ago, but after a season where he played just 19 games then looked a step slow in the bubble there are concerns about his long-term health.

“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Offensively, he can finish at an elite rate. He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”

One healthy dominant season from Williamson and those opinions could shift, but even then Doncic will be an MVP level player the Mavericks can build a contender around. He’s the guy under 25.

Report: Raptors coach Nick Nurse earning $8M salary on extension

Raptors coach Nick Nurse
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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich reportedly had an $11 million salary in 2015 then signed a contract extension in 2019 that keeps him the NBA’s highest-paid coach. Doc Rivers was earning $10 million annually with the Clippers before his latest extension. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also signed extensions in recent years.

What about Nick Nurse, who just signed an extension with the Raptors?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Raptors coach Nick Nurse signed a new multiyear contract extension on Tuesday — a deal that pays him around $8 million per year, sources say.

That’s a lot for a coach, especially in these times.

But Nurse has proven his value. He might even be the NBA’s best coach right now. He checks so many key boxes.

He has shown the ability to prepare his team for the playoffs then adapt through a long playoff run. His players have developed under his watch. He has dealt with roster upheaval and kept everything humming.

After just two seasons as head coach, Nurse still must prove himself in more situations, especially as opposing teams become more familiar with his strategies. But Toronto should want to keep him.

Credit Raptors ownership for paying to make it happen.

Now onto Raptors president Masai Ujiri