Five players that need a change of scenery

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Breakups are never fun, but sometimes it just has to be done. Maybe there’s someone new, or things have become stale, or both parties just need to go a different direction. The following is a list of five talented players who could really use the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech from their current teams.

Kevin Martin, SG, Houston Rockets

There was a time when Martin and the Rockets were absolutely perfect for each other. Martin was really the poster boy for “Moreyball” —  he was awkward as could be, but he put up incredible stats. However, after multiple failed (or vetoed) attempts to acquire a superstar, the Rockets have shifted young and are perhaps finally breaking bad — accepting short-term failure for potential long-term gains.

But where does that leave poor Kevin Martin? Although he has played the majority of his career on losing teams (475 regular season games played, but only 6 playoff game appearances) the 28-year-old shooting guard incorporates a style that requires the games to mean something. Despite his slender frame and injury history, Martin led the NBA in made free throws in 2010-2011, and has finished in the top 10 of that category four times in his career. After a huge drop-off in that department last season, it’s clear that Martin could stand to play meaningful basketball again. That’s probably not happening in Houston. As he recently said himself, the Rockets just don’t have a chance to compete with the Thunder and Lakers any longer.

Martin is on a 12.9 million dollar deal that expires this season. He can’t afford to have his minutes jerked around like Kevin McHale did last year. Don’t be surprised if a contender takes a chance on one of the most efficient scorers the league has to offer — so long as he’s healthy.

J.J. Redick, SG, Orlando Magic

The Dwight Howard saga affected a lot of people, but J.J. Redick may have been hurt the most. Not only does Redick lose the post presence that freed him up for his outside sharpshooting, but he also has to fight for minutes with the “big haul” from the trade: shooting guard Arron Afflalo. You can actually make the argument that Redick is a better offensive player than Afflalo, and at least last season, he may have been the better defender as well. Afflalo is a nice player, but there was a Trevor Ariza quality to his play last year, as his defensive performance dipped dramatically (Synergy Sports ranked him the worst wing defender in basketball) as he focused more on expanding his offensive game.

Nevertheless, Orlando has little choice but to give Afflalo the majority of the minutes at the 2 to keep the egg off their face, and that means there is a prime opportunity for a team to swoop in and steal Redick, who is a knockdown 3-point shooter (40% career) who takes nothing off the table. You’d be hard pressed to find a contender that couldn’t use a sure thing like Redick — and because he’s on an expiring contract, Orlando might be wise to see what they can get in return before he leaves town.

Jose Calderon, PG, Toronto Raptors

There’s a clear movement taking place in Toronto. The Raptors want to get younger, and they want to get better defensively. Kyle Lowry starting over Jose Calderon accomplishes both of those things, but that doesn’t mean Calderon can’t be a starting point guard in the league anymore. Calderon is really a coach’s best friend — he gets his teams into their sets, he hardly ever turns over the ball or makes careless mistakes, and he’s an incredible free throw shooter. Calderon could provide plenty of stability to a team that really sticks to their stuff in the halfcourt (think Utah or New Orleans) so long as they’re willing to forfeit a few points on the other end. Calderon is still a swinging door defensively, but point guard is the position where you can most afford a bad defender.

Another player on a big deal that expires after this season, Calderon will probably head the list of available point guard options on the market come trade deadline season.

Ekpe Udoh, C, Milwaukee Bucks

Finally, someone on this list who plays a little defense! Udoh is an incredibly flawed big man that can’t score in the paint or rebound, but pair him with a specific type of frontcourt player (think along the lines of Blake Griffin or Paul Millsap) and Udoh’s rim protection (4th in block percentage last year), pick-and-roll defense, and stretchiness out to 15-feet make him well worth the playing time. The Bucks were much better defensively last season with Udoh on the floor, but they threw another log in the frontcourt jam when they drafted John Henson — another shot blocking specialist. With Ersan Illyasova, Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Larry Sanders and Henson all needing minutes at either the 4 or the 5, Udoh could be left scrapping for leftovers.

With big time decisions on tap for Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis (and Beno Udrih’s contract expiring), Milwaukee might want to sell Udoh’s late bloomer appeal for a viable backcourt option.

DeJuan Blair, PF, San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs were the only team with the chutzpah not to pass on the ACL-less DeJuan Blair in the 2009 NBA Draft, and Blair immediately rewarded the Spurs by posting the league’s best offensive rebounding percentage in 2010-11. Even though Blair is a solid contributor during the regular season, where Gregg Popovich distributes minutes like he’s dealing cards in a poker card game, that all quickly comes to a halt during playoff time. More than ever before, the Spurs are relying on spacing and stretching the floor — which is the main reason why Boris Diaw leapfrogged the other bigs on the roster. With Diaw, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter all commanding time in the frontcourt, there just doesn’t seem to be any room for Blair, despite his impressive 17.5 career PER.

Although the league is trending away from throwback power forwards who gobble up rebounds and score in the paint, Blair could still carry a second unit with his energy and post scoring. Like Martin and Calderon, Blair can’t defend a lick, but it would be a crime to see a young rebounding machine yet again relegated to the end of the bench when the games begin to really matter.

Report: Rival teams expect Paul George to consider 1+1 contract with Thunder

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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Paul George has openly stated the appeal of playing for his hometown Lakers. He has also openly stated the appeal of staying with the Thunder.

That has created significant confusion about his upcoming free agency.

Could George find a compromise outcome?

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

More than one rival team has suggested to me that they expect George to strongly consider a two-year deal with the Thunder at $30.3 million next season and $32.7 million in 2019-20 that includes a player option to return to free agency next summer.

This makes sense on paper.

A 1+1 contract would give George more time to determine whether he and Russell Westbrook can win together in Oklahoma City without getting stuck there long-term if they can’t. The Thunder were starting to put it together when Andre Roberson got hurt. Perhaps, Roberson getting healthy would swing Oklahoma City’s fortunes.

George would also be eligible for a higher max salary in two years – 35% of the salary cap, up from 30% if he signs now. So, a short-term contract would allow him to maximize his potential earnings.

But George said he wanted to sign somewhere long-term this summer. He also suffered an extremely gruesome leg injury just a few years ago. He might not want to bypass guaranteed money to gamble for a little more later.

Are these rival teams just looking at the general outlook for a player in George’s position without considering his specific circumstances? Or do they know something? George could have informed teams he might become available in 2019 or 2020 so they should prepare.

I’m skeptical this is more than speculation by opposing teams. But the possibility that they’re basing their expectations on inside information makes this worth monitoring.

Heartbreaking: Watch Mikal Bridges explain joy of joining hometown 76ers while they trade him to Suns (video)

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Mikal Bridges‘ mom jumped up, pumped her fists and screamed “Yes!” through her giant grin.

The 76ers – the organization she works for in human resources – had just drafted her son No. 10 overall. Bridges, a Philadelphia native who played at Villanova, seemed as if he’d stay home for his pro career.

Bridges:

She’s very, very excited. She’s been wanting this. She’s probably more excited than I am. She was about to cry and all that. She said she didn’t want to ruin her makeup, so she’d try to hold it in. But no, she’s very excited. I’m her only son. I’m a little mama’s boy. Her son is right there around the corner again, and it’s just really cool.

Except, as Bridges was talking, the 76ers were trading him to the Suns for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder.

That extra pick carries major value. Even if you like Bridges much more than Smith – which I did, especially considering their fits in Philadelphia – that’s hard to pass up. The NBA is a business after all.

But it’s lamentable how this played out.

Kings GM Vlade Divac: ‘My team is a super team. Just young’

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Kings drafted Marvin Bagley No. 2 last night (seemingly for bad reasons, which doesn’t at all eliminate him from being the right pick but makes it less likely he is). He’ll join a young core also comprised of Bogdan Bogdanovic, De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles.

That group excite you?

Kings general manager Vlade Divac isn’t reducing expectations.

Lina Washington of ABC 10:

To be fair, in 2012, the Warriors were coming off a 23-43 season with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson already on the roster and had just drafted Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. Everyone would’ve laughed at calling Golden State a “super team, just young” then. But those four (plus Andre Iguodala) eventually led the Warriors to a championship.

But, really: Nah.

Entering the 2016-17 season, then-Knicks guard Derrick Rose said, “They’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams.” We mocked Rose relentlessly, and of course, the Warriors went 73-9 while New York finished just 32-50.

How long until Divac’s young super team reaches even 32-50?

Spurs GM still optimistic relationship with Kawhi Leonard can be salvaged

Associated Press
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — General manager R.C. Buford acknowledges star forward Kawhi Leonard is unhappy with the Spurs.

He remains optimistic the relationship can be salvaged.

Leonard has requested a trade from San Antonio because he is unhappy after missing most of last season with a right quadriceps injury. Buford would not comment on “speculation” of a trade demand, but agreed there is a fractured relationship between Leonard and the only franchise he has played for.

“Kawhi and his family mean a lot to the organization and to the community and while none of wish we are where we are, we’re going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him,” Buford said Thursday night as the Spurs made two late picks in the NBA Draft. “We’ll explore all of our options, but the first one would be to do what we can to keep Kawhi as part of our group.”

Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season but returned to play in nine games. He complained of discomfort and pain in the leg in his final game. Leonard sought an outside opinion after the Spurs cleared him to play, working with his own medical team in New York in an attempt to return to the court. The 6-foot-7 forward reportedly grew upset that the Spurs had questioned his rehabilitation process.

The Spurs listed him as out on their injury reports for much of the year citing “injury management.” While San Antonio was in the playoffs, losing in the first round to eventual repeat champion Golden State, Leonard was rehabbing in New York – which meant that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, when asked for the situation, deferred all comment to “Kawhi and his group.”

“I think all of us would wish that things would have gone differently,” Buford said.

The Spurs held a team meeting late in the season where veterans, led by Tony Parker, implored Leonard to return. Leonard said he was unable to due to the injury.

In the 2016-17 season, Leonard averaged a career-best 25.5 points and was third in the MVP voting. The 2014 NBA Finals MVP and two-time NBA defensive player of the year is due just over $20 million next season, and can become a free agent in the summer of 2019. He is eligible to sign a $220 million extension with San Antonio.

He is reportedly willing to walk away from that to play elsewhere, possibly in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know that timing is a factor in this from today … he’s under contract for another year, our goal is to keep him as part of our program for a long time,” Buford said.