The Extra Pass: Assessing Trade Situations (Northwest Division)

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at potential homes for players on the trading block. 

Here’s a look at the trade situations for every team in the Northwest Division:

Oklahoma City Thunder32-9, 1st in Northwest Division, $1 million short of the tax

Off-limits: The Core (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Martin, Nick Collison)

There’s virtually no chance this core gets broken up. That includes Kevin Martin and Nick Collison, who provide unique production that would be very hard to replicate elsewhere.

Most likely to be dealt: PG Eric Maynor ($2.3 mil/1 year)

Maynor has lost almost all of his backup point guard minutes to Reggie Jackson lately, and there was a recent report that Philadelphia was interested in making a move for him.

Potential Trade Partners:

Philadelphia is a good fit, as backup point guard Maalik Wayns is shooting 26 percent and has a PER of 2.2, while Royal Ivey somehow has only 8 assists in 235 minutes played. Although it’s unlikely Philadelphia would bite, swapping Maynor and a second round pick for Lavoy Allen would make some sense, as Allen is an affordable, productive backup big with range out to 17 feet.

Dallas is unlikely, but a straight up swap of Maynor for Rodrigue Beaubois would theoretically put both players in situations better suited for their skills.

Player to target: G Ramon Sessions, Charlotte Bobcats 

Sessions fits right into the Thunder mold — he plays fast and he draws a ton of fouls. Sessions gets to the line 7.6 times a game per36 minutes, which is tied for 5th in the league with Carmelo Anthony. A good scorer, Sessions can play on or off the ball, and he’s on a very affordable $5 million dollar contract over two years.

Chances of a deal: Low

They have the assets, but why rock the boat when you’re clearly a championship contender?

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Denver Nuggets: 25-18, 2nd in Northwest Division, $6 million short of the tax

Off-Limits: Andre Miller and Kenneth Faried

Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri has proven with trades of Nene and Arron Afflalo that he’s comfortable trading players after signing them to long-term deals. Are Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee next?

Faried is hands-off because of his production on a cheap rookie deal, and Andre Miller is the glue that holds the Nuggets together and was one of Ujiri’s personal acquisitions.

Most likely to be dealt: C Timofey Mozgov ($3.1 million/1 year)

Yes, it’s the same guy Blake Griffin turned into a verb a few years back. With JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos playing well at center, the Nuggets don’t have much of a need for Mozgov, who they will likely be let go this offseason due to financial reasons. There’s also this:

“It think it’s logical, you can see that, trading me,” Mozgov said in an interview with FOX Sports Florida. “I’m in my contract year. So if they can get something for me. … I don’t think it would be a surprise for me (to be traded).”

Potential Trade Partners:

Cleveland could use another backup big with Anderson Varejao’s shaky health, and with perimeter shooter Omri Casspi reportedly wanting out, it might make sense for Denver to kick the tires on him and hope he could help on the perimeter.

Chicago is one frontcourt injury away from Nazr Mohammed time (yes, he still plays), so that should be incentive enough for the Bulls to upgrade. The salary matching wouldn’t be easy, but Vladimir Radmonivic and George Karl are soulmates and nothing can get in the way of love.

Player to target: Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks SG

The Nuggets are 29th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage, and desperately need someone to space the floor. Kyle Korver is a 44 percent 3-point shooter on a $5 million dollar expiring contract, and Denver has the young pieces GM Danny Ferry likely covets for his rebuild. Promising scorer Jordan Hamilton (or Evan Fournier) with Mozgov for Korver would likely do the trick.

Chances of a deal: High

Ujiri may be shopping Gallinari, who has yet to fulfill his potential as a shooter. Mozgov is the more likely piece to be dealt, but keep an eye on Gallo — he’s highly coveted around the league.

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Utah Jazz: 22-19, 3rd in the Northwest, $3.4 million short of the tax

Off-Limits: Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward

Utah has been looking at a rebuild for a while now, and these guys represent the future. Favors and Kanter should be dominant up front for years to come.

Most likely to be dealt: C Al Jefferson ($15 million/1 year)

From Chad Ford of ESPN.com:

“(…) virtually every GM in the league believes the Jazz are moving one of their two big men — either Jefferson or Paul Millsap. Because Millsap is a favorite of the team, Jefferson could be the odd man out.”

Keeping Millsap over Jefferson would also likely cost Utah less money this offseason, as Jefferson should demand a higher price as one of the last true back-to-the-basket centers still left in existence.

Potential Trade Partners:

Toronto has long been rumored to be chasing Pau Gasol, but Al Jefferson is younger and his expiring deal would allow Toronto flexibility in their direction. Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields for Al Jefferson would land Utah a really underrated point guard on one of the league’s best contracts ($5.75 million/2 years). Although Utah would sacrifice cap space, it’s unlikely they’d find a better bargain or player in free agency than Lowry.

Milwaukee only really makes any sense if they don’t want to match whatever offer Brandon Jennings fetches in restricted free agency. If they can use Jennings to shed Drew Gooden’s ridiculous $6.6 million a year 3-year contract, they might be tempted. An offer of Jennings, Ekpe Udoh and Drew Gooden for Al Jefferson and Randy Foye could be a “we’re not going to sign this guy” swap.

Player to Target: Kyle Lowry

I honestly think Toronto is a little desperate to get a “star” and Lowry has been hidden behind Jose Calderon most of the year. There are lots of exciting young point guards in the league for Utah to target, but not many teams will readily make them available like Toronto likely will with Lowry.

Chances of a deal: Very High

Utah should move either Jefferson or Millsap so they don’t anger a whole new group of frontcourt players. It would be silly to lose them and receive nothing but cap space in return — free agents aren’t going to be flooding to Utah, folks. It ain’t exactly Miami.

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Portland Trailblazers: 20-20, 4th in Northwest Division, $14 million short of the tax

Off-Limits: Damian Lillard

Portland GM Neil Olshey will never shy away from a blockbuster, but Lillard might be on the best contract in all of basketball right now. He’s going nowhere.

Most likely to be dealt: PF J.J. Hickson ($4 million/1 year)

It’s always a good idea to sell high. Hickson doesn’t help you at all defensively, but his work on the offensive glass, gaudy PER of 20, and cheap expiring deal could make him good bait for Portland to bring in a piece for the future. Here’s the problem though — Hickson has to approve of the trade because he’s on tap for bird rights next year. Basically, he would need to go to a contending team (likely) where he’d still get the chance to get monster minutes and stats (unlikely).

Potential Trade Partners

Because Hickson holds the keys, he’s unlikely to get dealt. With Portland unexpectedly chasing a playoff spot, they could stand to upgrade their bench but it’s highly unlikely Olshey does that at the cost of future assets. If they were worse off in the standings, selling LaMarcus Aldridge or Wes Matthews might make sense, but that’s very hard to justify with where Portland sits now.

Player to Target: PF Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves

If Portland does get involved in the trading market, why not give Timberwolves GM David Kahn another call about Derrick Williams, who was reportedly offered up during the offseason? The Blazers don’t have an awful lot to offer, but Hickson, Luke Babbitt and a draft pick for Williams might get them in the ballpark.

Chances of a deal: Low

Olshey works the phone with the best of them, but there just aren’t a lot of movable assets on the roster.

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Minnesota Timberwolves: 17-20, Last in the Northwest Division, $8 million short of the tax

Off-Limits: Ricky Rubio

The Wolves saved their “super-max” contract for Ricky Rubio instead of Kevin Love, which tells you something about who they value more. Love has clashed a bit with management in the past, and he’s been vocal about playing for a winner. He should be an untouchable talent, but the time may come where he demands out. Scary stuff.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Andrei Kirilenko ($9.7 million, 2 years)

AK-47 is a wonderful fit with Rick Adelman, and he’s played up to his contract on both sides of the ball this season. That said, Kirilenko is 31-years-old, and he doesn’t help the Wolves at all with their perimeter shooting, which is part of the reason why Minnesota is dead last in 3-point percentage this year. He could certainly be moved for a younger, better shooting piece.

Potential Trade Partners:

Houston just gives off the vibe that they’re ready to push some chips towards the center of the table any second now, and putting a great cutter and defender like AK-47 in that high-octane system would be fun to watch. Kirilenko’s big salary could be cause for concern, but Carlos Delfino and Patrick Patterson for Kirilenko would give Minnesota a young, promising big man and a pretty decent outside shooter who create his own opportunities.

Memphis wants to avoid the luxury tax and still compete. Trading Rudy Gay for Kirilenko, Greg Steimsma and a draft pick would accomplish just that. For Minnesota, they could absolutely compete for quite a few years with a healthy core of Rubio, Shved, Gay, Love and Pekovic.

Player to target: SG Marcus Thornton, Sacramento Kings

Thornton’s contract will scare away a lot of suitors ($7.25 million over 3 years), but you have to think Sacramento is willing to part with him on the cheap given their change of ownership. Thornton is a 36 percent career 3-point shooter and 15 PPG guy, and he could likely excel in a 6th man role going forward.

Chances of a deal: High

It’s hard to imagine Kahn sitting on his hands while his entire roster fights for spots on the trainer’s table. The question is, will Minnesota try to salvage this year with a trade for immediate help, or will they play for the future?

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Check out tomorrow’s Extra Pass for a look at the Pacific Division.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: “I did a s–t job defensively against LeBron”

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.

DeMarcus Cousins on re-signing with Pelicans: ‘I’m very open to that’

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New Orleans Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins is still nursing a torn Achilles injury, the one that kept him from being part of his team’s sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs this year. But he’s getting better, and this summer should be a big one for the 27-year-old. It’s the first time Cousins will be a true free agent, having signed an extension with the Sacramento Kings back in 2013.

There have been rumblings that the Pelicans might not want or need Cousins back. They played incredible small ball against the Blazers, although they fell apart while matched up against the Golden State Warriors in the second round. Cousins, meanwhile, is one of the best centers in the NBA and should demand a sizable salary. Signing Cousins would put the Pelicans deep into the luxury tax without other moves to cut money from the books.

Then there’s the question of whether Cousins wants to be back in New Orleans. He’s said all the right things, but Cousins recently unfollowed the Pelicans on Instagram and it caused folks around the NBA to shift their biases every so slightly on his re-signing in Louisiana.

Still, Cousins says he would gladly return to New Orleans. Speaking to The Undefeated, Cousins maintained that he was going to look out for himself but that he did not hold any grudges, and he would be happy to be a Pelican.

Via The Undefeated:

Are you open to re-signing with New Orleans if the deal is right?

Oh yeah, for sure. This is my first time in free agency, but I’ve been around this business long enough. I know how things work. I’m not out here trying to hold a grudge or anything like that. I’m going to make the best decision for me, and I believe teams are going to do the same thing.

What’s your mindset, your view of how to approach free agency? Do you feel like you owe it to yourself to do your due diligence and hear what everybody has to say?

Yeah, like I said I don’t plan on rushing through this process. I’m going to make the absolute best decision for DeMarcus Cousins. We’ll see what that is. As of right now, I don’t really know. I can’t answer that. Would I like to go back to New Orleans? I’m very open to that. I love what we created. I love what was created after I went down. I would love to be part of it. But I’m going to do what’s best for me, and I feel they’ll do the same.

These are basically the things you expect to hear from a pending free agent, but the NBA is a business and obviously Cousins made reference to that several times.

The “grudge” part is the most interesting part to me. Why would Cousins hold a grudge against the Pelicans? Or is this a reference to the fact the Kings have significant cap space this summer?

I’m mostly kidding about that, but the NBA is crazy. Where Cousins ends up is anyone’s guess, and it’s hard to get true free agents to sign there, even with Anthony Davis on board. The Pelicans are in a position like many other teams in the NBA, where the harsh reality is you need to pursue the best talent you have available to you.

This summer is going to be wild, man.

Could Kansas City be potential expansion city for NBA?

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Most talk around expansion or team movement revolves around one city: Seattle. Obviously, the league hurts from not having the Sonics among its ranks, and the move of the team during the last decade was one of the messier business storylines of that era.

As a resident of Seattle, it always strikes me how odd it is a metro area of this size — one that’s still focused on basketball — doesn’t have an NBA team. It just feels weird, even considering the context of Howard Schultz, Clay Bennett, and Key Arena. “Soon but not that soon” is the general feeling about getting an NBA team here in Washington.

Then again, some other cities may be in the mix, too.

According to a rumor from SEC Network’s Jarrett Sutton, at least one NBA executive thinks that Kansas City is another potential spot for expansion.

Via Twitter:

Kansas City does have the advantage of already being a sports town, a top 33 TV market, and it has an NBA-sized arena in the Sprint Center. KC is also the host city for the Big 12 tournament.

Still, the city hasn’t had an NBA team since the Kings left in 1985, and Adam Silver has said that expansion isn’t really on the docket for the league in the near future.

The question is also whether the NBA needs more teams or fewer. Some folks have started to take the stance that they would actually prefer contraction away from markets that never seem to compete. I’m not sure if that’s realistic, but re-arrangement by teams moving also seems less likely in this day and age, too, especially after the last-ditch effort to keep the Kings in Sacramento in 2013.

When will Seattle get an NBA team? Will Kansas City get a team? Will it be in tandem? This is fun speculation at this point, but we won’t get our answer for some time.