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: Cavaliers, Larry Nance Jr. talking contract extension

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When the Cavaliers made the trade deadline deal with the Lakers last February, they got Larry Nance Jr. (the son of a Cavs legend) and Jordan Clarkson (surrendering Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas and a 2018 1st round draft pick that became Moritz Wagner).

Nance is the one the Cavaliers seem intent on keeping, and they may extend him, reports Tom Withers of the Associated Press.

This seems like a good fit for both sides, if they can find a number that works. The Cavaliers are committed to not bottoming out right now — which is why Kevin Love got a new massive contract — and Nance fits with that.

This is not going to be a max contract, but Nance has made it clear he likes playing in Cleveland and wants to stay. After he came over last season he averaged 8.9 points on 55 percent shooting, 7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.4 steals a game. Those numbers could go up with LeBron James no longer in the picture.

LeBron James on earning Lakers’ fans loyalty: ‘I signed a four-year deal’

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Living in Los Angeles, with most of my friends Lakers’ fans, I can tell you that the majority of the city is excited and on board with the LeBron James era. They get that he’s right, the Lakers are not yet on the Warriors’ level, but they like the idea of the game’s best player with the Lakers’ young core, and the potential of that with another star player in the next 10 months or so. They are excited.

Most Lakers fans that is. There is a segment, best described as the “Kobe Bryant could walk on water” crowd, who are not sold on LeBron as a Laker. Who see him somehow as a threat to their Kobe worship. They question LeBron as a “real Laker” and his loyalty.

That took all of two days of training camp to come up, and for LeBron to shoot it down. Via Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated.

LeBron nailed this. He has signed on and trusted Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka more than he had anyone since Pat Riley — LeBron never signed long-term deals in Cleveland and trusted Dan Gilbert. He trusts Magic and Jeanie Buss. That is huge.

LeBron’s Laker era is ultimately going to be judged by winning a title, because all Lakers’ eras are judged that way. Kobe would talk about nothing else. LeBron understands that reality. But the era of being able to buy an NBA title is gone — the Lakers have free agency advantages few other franchises do (thanks to the location and the brand) but that is not enough. The biggest question for the Lakers is not can they land another star before next season, but rather can the core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and the rest be the guys that stand with LeBron? If at the end of games this season it is LeBron sharing the court with Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley, the Lakers have much bigger problems than who is the next star they sign.

LeBron is all in. He can help cement his legacy with a title in Lakers’ Forum Blue and Gold, but he knows he needs help. And he’s willing to wait for them to get it. At age 33, what else can you ask of the man?

Kevin Durant says he is taking free agency ‘year by year’

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Talk to sources around the league about the Warriors and they think Kevin Durant — not Klay Thompson, who is also a free agent next summer, or Draymond Green in the summer of 2020 — will be the first to leave the team. It may not be this summer, especially if they three-peat, but he was last in and will be first out.

Durant, for his part, is not playing the speculation game.

When asked about it, Durant was vague, reports the USA Today’s Erik Garcia Gundersen.

“Just one of those things where you’re confident in your skills and taking it year by year. And keeping my options open was the best thing for me. I could have easily signed a long-term deal but I just wanted to take it season by season and see where it takes me. And I think this year is going to be a fun, exciting year for us all. I’m looking forward to just focusing on that and we’ll see what happens after the year.”

Golden State owner Joseph Lacob admitted he would have given Durant whatever deal he and his agents wanted. They chose the short-term option, keeping a lot of doors open.

The conventional wisdom around the league is that this summer Durant will opt-out this summer then sign a five-year contract. Probably with the Warriors, but the door is open, and there are a lot of teams with max salary slots. Maybe Durant is ready to have his own team again and move on. Maybe he is happy where he is.

Durant doesn’t know the answer to that question, yet. Nobody does. But that has other teams ready to pounce, just in case one of the world’s top two players decides it’s time to move on.

What if the Timberwolves don’t trade Jimmy Butler?

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I expect the Timberwolves to trade Jimmy Butler soon. Most people expect the Timberwolves to trade Jimmy Butler soon.

But they’ve thrown enough uncertainty into the process that nothing should be taken for granted. Tom Thibodeau said he expects Butler to report to training camp if not traded within a week, and as of yesterday, the president-coach was reportedly still trying to convince Butler to stay in Minnesota.

What happens if the Timberwolves don’t trade Butler and he refuses to report?

If he withholds playing services for 30 days after training camp begins, he won’t accrue a year of service and can’t become a free agent next offseason. He couldn’t sign with another professional basketball team unless Minnesota agreed.

That 30-day clock seemingly isn’t ticking, as Butler is excused while recovering from offseason hand surgery. But if the Timberwolves want to get serious about keeping Butler, they could press the issue.

But Butler would have options, too. He could – a la Mo Williams with the Cavaliers – undergo surgery and claim he’s not healthy enough to report. Players, especially ones as damaged as Butler, often have medical issues to clean up. That could mean embellishing the effect of the hand surgery or undergoing a new surgery altogether. An elective surgery could legitimately sideline Butler. Claiming Butler is actually healthy enough to report when he says he isn’t could get quite messy if the team objects.

Again, I don’t expect it to get that far. I doubt the Timberwolves, particularly owner Glen Taylor, desire to hold Butler hostage like that. Even if they do, Butler could just report and play. He can become an unrestricted free agent after the season and leave then.

But these are the extreme options on the table if this situation devolves further.