The Extra Pass: Assessing Trade Value (Southwest 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. We’ve looked at the Northwest Division and Pacific Division, so let’s finish up the Western Conference with the Southwest Division.

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San Antonio Spurs33-11, 1st in Southwest Division, $988,000 short of tax

Off-Limits: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard

Nothing new here. You can most likely add Tiago Splitter to this list as well — replacing his size and production with someone on a better contract is close to impossible, and the Spurs have other assets to dangle if they want to make a big move.

Most likely to be dealt: PF DeJuan Blair, ($1 million/1 year)

It’s no secret that the Spurs have been shopping DeJuan Blair for quite some time. With his contract expiring at the end of this season, they’ll be looking to get something — anything — in return. If the Spurs want to a make a move that nets them actual talent right now, Stephen Jackson’s $10 million dollar expiring deal could provide cap relief for a team looking to trade a player on a longer contract.

Player to target: PF Gustavo Ayon, Orlando Magic

Apologies to Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw, but the Spurs could use some real size defensively. Ayon just feels like a Spurs player — he’s a great passer, an excellent cutter, and he understands spacing. He’s one of those guys we’ll really start to appreciate once he gets on a winning team.

Chances of a deal: Low

Blair would likely already be gone if he could be dealt for anything of value. As for the rest of the roster, San Antonio could be a sneaky player in free agency if Manu Ginobili comes back at a reasonable price this offseason. After making some shakeups last year, the Spurs seem likely to sit this deadline out and wait until the summer.

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Memphis Grizzlies: 26-14, 2nd in Southwest Division, roughly $2 million under the tax

Off-Limits: No one

After gutting their bench by trading Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a future first round pick just to get under the tax, the Grizzlies will almost definitely roll with their core for now. That said, Memphis is on an unsustainable path, and eventually they’ll need to trade Rudy Gay (or someone else) to get under the tax going forward. If someone bowls them over with an offer for any player on the roster, they’ll still listen.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Rudy Gay, ($16 million/3 years)

The Grizzlies will almost definitely stay put and ride out the rest of the season, but it’s basically only a matter of time before Gay gets shipped out. Now that they’re under the tax, selling whatever’s left of their bench (Bayless, Arthur) wouldn’t make any sense.

Player to target: The best the D-League has to offer

The Grizzlies will likely rely on D-League call-ups and minimum free agents from here on out, based mostly on the fact that they can’t add substantial salary if they want to stay under the tax.

Chances of a deal: Very Low

Unless they shockingly move a big piece, they’ve accomplished their goal of getting under the tax.

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Houston Rockets: 22-21, 3rd in the Southwest, $18 million short of tax

Off-Limits: James Harden, Chandler Parsons

Harden is already a star, and Parsons is set to make less than a million dollars over the next three seasons. Rockets GM Daryl Morey recognizes the value of that, and although teams may come knocking, he’s a cheap, productive building block going forward.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Carlos Delfino, ($3 million/2 years)

Crazy as it sounds, Delfino has the fourth largest contract on the team at just $3 million a year, which means if Houston wants to do anything big, they’ll likely need his deal to match salaries. Delfino is shooting nearly 39 percent from behind the arc this season so the Rockets likely don’t want to trade him, but their hand might be forced if they target a big piece.

Player to target: PF Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks

Is it worth forfeiting assets to woo a player for a short rental before they hit free agency? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s something the Rockets have to be considering with their hole at power forward and their struggles all year long on the defensive end. Pairing Smith’s athleticism at the 4 with Houston’s fast pace style seems like a match made in heaven, but it all depends on what Atlanta’s asking price is. That said, Atlanta should want to rebuild, and Houston has an enticing package of young frontcourt talent to offer.

Chances of a deal: High

Houston has to address their 19th ranked defense if they want to be taken seriously as a contender, and although waiting out Josh Smith or Dwight Howard to hit free agency this offseason may be the correct big move, there should be a variety of little deals available for Houston given their cap space. Just look how that worked out for Cleveland.

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Dallas Mavericks18-24, 4th in Southwest Division, $10 million short of tax

Off-Limits: Dirk Nowitzki

Mark Cuban has said he won’t trade Nowitzki, and Dirk has a full no trade clause anyway. O.J. Mayo represents great value on his $4 million dollar deal, but he may be the only real attractive bait for opposing teams.

Most likely to be dealt: PG Darren Collison, ($2.3 million, 1 year)

The Mavericks and Rick Carlisle clearly aren’t big believers in Collison, as they regularly opt for Mike James down the stretch of games instead. Collison isn’t a starting point guard in the league, but he could serve as a capable backup somewhere.

Player to target: C DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

The Kings may be having a blowout sale on their roster, and the Bank of Cuban just may want to purchase a few assets on the cheap. Add in that getting a great center is Cuban’s Moby Dick, and the Mavericks could make a very convincing offer for Cousins based around alleviation of long-term salaries. A Dirk-DeMarcus frontcourt pairing would truly be fascinating to watch.

Chances of a deal: Very High

The Mavericks want to get Dirk some help in his last few years, and being a known buyer when teams are in fear of the tax that’s looming should grease the wheels a little bit. It’s hard to imagine the Mavs not making a move at the deadline.

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New Orleans Hornets: 14-27, Last in Southwest Division, $6 million short of the tax

Off-Limits: Anthony Davis

Davis is a given, but it’s probably safe to pencil in Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith for now as well. Eric Gordon is likely available, but if he can stay healthy and if the Hornets keep rolling, he’ll be much harder to have conversations about.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Al-Farouq Aminu, ($2.9 million, 1 year)

The Hornets oddly declined to pick up the option on Al-Farouq Aminu for next season, making him a free agent after this year. If a team were interested in taking a flier on the 22-year-old forward, it probably wouldn’t take much to pry him free. Although Aminu’s offensive game is still raw, he’s a terror in transition. The slow, grind-it-out pace of head coach Monty Williams doesn’t do him any favors. It would be fun to see a young, fast team like Charlotte take a chance on Aminu’s defensive potential.

Player to target: SG Anthony Morrow, Atlanta Hawks

How about an Aminu for Morrow swap? Aminu gets to go back home to Georgia where he’ll help fill Atlanta’s void at the 3. Anthony Morrow goes to New Orleans for a shot at more playing time (if he can’t beat out Austin Rivers and Roger Mason, he doesn’t deserve it) and the chance to prove he’s one of the most underutilized pure shooters in all of basketball. I’m a fan of surrounding Anthony Davis with as many shooters as humanly possible.

Chances of a deal: Low

It might just be a vibe, but I get the sense New Orleans is perfectly happy letting their core gel, regardless of what’s going on in the standings. Maybe that’s smart. Until Gordon, Davis and Anderson play with each other more, it’s hard to get a sense of what they’ll need next to them going forward.

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We’ll hit the Eastern Conference next week, but check back tomorrow for analysis on how a few All-Stars have changed the pick-and-roll.

Cavaliers were clutch all season, then again in it’s biggest moment

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The Cleveland Cavaliers had the point differential of a 43-39 team this season, just a couple of games above .500. Yet they finished the season 50-32, seven games better than their differential suggested — the highest variance in the NBA.

Why? Because LeBron James and the Cavaliers were clutch. In games that were within five points in the final five minutes this season, Cleveland was 30-15 with a +18.2 points per 100 net rating (second best in the NBA, behind Houston).

That has carried over to the playoffs, where the Cavaliers came into Game 7 Sunday night 6-1 in clutch games with an insane +36.2 per 100.

Game 7 was another clutch one — it was 76-72 Cleveland with five minutes to go — and once again the Cavaliers won, advancing to the NBA Finals. This is the fourth straight year for this team, and the eighth year in a row for LeBron to make it to the NBA’s biggest stage.

In the final five minutes of Game 7, LeBron had six points, while the Boston Celtics team had 7. When we say the Cavaliers are clutch, it all starts with LeBron (as do all things Cavaliers at this point).

“He craves those moments. He loves those moments,” Kyle Korver said after LeBron was clutch in the Cavaliers’ Game 6 win that set up Sunday’s showdown, but what he said applies now, too. “When the game’s on the line, when the season’s on the line, he’s been rising up. That’s what the great players do.”

LeBron accepts that challenge, and through the postseason he has had an impressive 58 true shooting percentage, with a ridiculous 44.3 percent usage rate. Bottom line, he has had to carry the Cavaliers in the clutch, and he has done so efficiently.

“I’m the leader of this team, and I’m going to give what I’ve got,” LeBron said. “My teammates, they respect that.”

It’s going to take more than clutch LeBron and friends to win in the Finals — both of the teams in the West are much tougher than anything the Cavaliers have seen so far. However, we know that LeBron is going to give everything he has left.

And if the game is close late, don’t bet against the Cavaliers.

 

 

 

Jayson Tatum throws down epic dunk on LeBron James (VIDEO)

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The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers held a barnburner of a Game 7 on Sunday, with Boston’s Jayson Tatum going head-to-head with LeBron James.

For his part, LeBron was everything we expected in a Game 7. The King played spectacularly, willing his Cavaliers squad to yet another NBA Finals appearance as Cleveland edged Boston.

But before things were sealed, and the game decided, Tatum got off a raucous dunk right in James’ eye that made many wonder if the torch was on the cusp of being passed.

The play came with 6:45 left in the fourth quarter with Tatum driving down the lane and LeBron moving over to help recover on defense. It would have been easy to anticipate another big LeBron playoff block, but Tatum continued his surprising season by dunking all over The King.

Via Twitter:

Cleveland won the game, 87-79, but Tatum’s dunk on the big stage is just one of many reasons why the Celtics are going to be a complete hassle next year when they’re back to being fully healthy.

LeBron James is the greatest player of all-time

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He’s done it again. LeBron James, the King in the East, played 48 minutes en route to his eighth straight NBA Finals appearance after beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 at TD Garden on Sunday, 87-79.

Bow down to the greatest player of all-time.

Much has been made of LeBron’s place in history as his legacy has began to galvanize toward the end of his career. The conversation has raged on about LeBron vs. Michael Jordan, or Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Preference varies greatly between fans, while some still pick the centrist route and say there’s no simple way to compare across eras. There’s been mathematical attempts to rank the two, and even MJ’s old teammates have said LeBron is a more complete player.

On Sunday, James bounced yet another Eastern Conference Finals opponent, carrying his teammates on his shoulders and playing without All-Star Kevin Love. There was never a doubt for many watching Sunday’s matchup in Massachusetts. Before the final buzzer, LeBron had won 23 straight Eastern Conference playoff series. His determination was absolute, and the cards were always stacked against Boston even given their postseason record at home.

You could sort of just see it coming.

James was the motivating force in the first half for Cleveland, scoring 17 points while no other teammates tallied in double digits. The Cavaliers shot an abysmal 12 percent from beyond the arc, and the Celtics looked like they would be able to control the rest of the game as the crowd at home motivated them forward.

But Cleveland came roaring back in the second half, continuing to put on a defensive show, the kind we would not have expected of them during the regular season. Without Love, the Cavs had to make do with Jeff Green, who turned in a surprising performance. Green scored 19 points, shot 50 percent from the field, and grabbed eight rebounds.

In the face of a strengthening Cavaliers attack, the Celtics seems to retreat. Boston’s final offensive possessions in the fourth quarter were hectic, slow, and unsuccessful. While the Cavaliers tried their hardest during the final eight minutes to get Al Horford switched on to LeBron in isolation sets, the Celtics surprisingly mirrored the same offensive tactics. Instead of playing their regular offense, or running plays to get shooters free, or trying to attack the paint against James (who was in foul trouble) Boston resorted to trying to exploit any mismatches found through Cleveland’s switches.

The result was four field goals inside the 3-point line for LeBron in the fourth quarter, as much as the entire Celtics roster combined.

The play of the game came with 1:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers leading by nine. LeBron was out on the break, with Marcus Morris trailing behind him. Morris went to foul LeBron, making no obvious attempts on the ball as he grabbed onto the Cavaliers star’s shoulders. Even with all of his might, Morris couldn’t stop James from scoring while drawing the foul. It was indicative of the entire fourth quarter for the Celtics, who scraped, clutched and grabbed as much as they could but did not have an answer for LeBron.

So here we are, with LeBron having won another Game 7 out in the Eastern Conference as he heads to another Finals. He probably won’t match Jordan’s championship mark. But Jordan didn’t match Russell’s. Or Horry’s. Or Havlichek’s, either.

Instead, we have to rely on what we see in front of our eyes combined with their dominance, weighted for context. Sunday night’s performance should help push LeBron over Jordan, if he wasn’t there already. James is a more complete player, which has always been apparent, and now he’s survived every challenge that’s been thrown at him. Declaring James the best player of all-time did not come because of Sunday’s game. It’s been years in the making, throughout the entirety of his 15-year career. The win over Boston was just an indication of his place in history.

LeBron has gone nuclear with 40+ point performances. He was part of the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history against the Golden State Warriors. He beat the Indiana Pacers all by himself, in the playoffs, just this very season. James has had a career season at age 33, playing 48 minutes in the 100th game of the 2017-18 season. LeBron has willed his way to yet another NBA Finals, with perhaps his worst team since the 2006-07 squad that was swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the season’s final series. To add to the accomplishment, LeBron pushed this Cavaliers squad past a stunningly good team in the Celtics, on the road, and without Love.

James is the greatest American sports story of our generation, and he’s the best player the NBA has ever seen. If you disagree, that’s OK. But after Sunday night, you’d be hard pressed to convince me otherwise.

Watch Victor Oladipo drive the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 (VIDEO)

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Victor Oladipo is Indiana’s favorite son after the Indiana Pacers guard blasted through the competition during the 2017-18 NBA season.

Oladipo averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and led the league with 2.4 steals per game. Oladipo’s 3-point shooting improved year-over-year, and his VORP skyrocketed in his new leadership role. Many feel the Pacers won the Paul George trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder thanks to Oladipo.

Thanks in part to his stellar play, Oladipo was invited to drive the pace car at the start of the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Turns out he was pretty good at it.

Via Twitter:

Oladipo is apparently going to be honored with the steering wheel from the pace car he drove. No doubt taking part in a classic local sporting event like the Indy 500 will help ingrain Oladipo into the sports fabric in Indianapolis even further.