The Extra Pass: Five teams to watch closely as the trade deadline nears

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With just more than 48 hours left until the NBA’s trade deadline, it feels like the biggest deals may be behind us — Rudy Gay and Luol Deng have already been moved. Rumors are swirling, but the feeling around the league is it is all a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Still there are a number of teams trying to make deals. While there are more hoping to get something done, here are five teams to watch as they are pushing hard to make something happen in the next two days.

1) Denver Nuggets. They are trying hard to move Andre Miller, who has landed deep in Brian Shaw’s doghouse, and there are certainly a lot of teams that could use a veteran point guard who can start or come off the bench. He is popular in the locker room, his teammates love him. The Nuggets are likely just holding out for the best possible deal here but it’s hard to imagine they keep him past Thursday. The other name to watch is Kenneth Faried — the Nuggets have been shopping him around pretty hard. They aren’t sure he is worth what he is going to get offered as a restricted free agent, so they are trying to move him and let that be another team’s problem.

2) Philadelphia 76ers. They have three players they want to move — Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes — and what is more important they are $11 million under the salary cap so they can absorb more salary than they send out. They are the most flexible trade partner out there. The problem is Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie wants draft picks in exchange for his players or to take on some salary and teams are incredibly reluctant to part with picks this year. So we wait. Hinkie has not been the kind to cave so we could get through the deadline without a deal, but more likely somebody comes around and presents a deal Hinkie likes.

3) New York Knicks. Their activity stems from this fact: Carmelo Anthony is going to opt out of his contract this summer. He said over All-Star weekend his “first priority” is to remain with the Knicks but he needs to see a plan that will return the Knicks to contender status. Most of that plan will be “look at all this cap space in 2015” but they are trying to make moves now, specifically they want to add a point guard in the face of Raymond Felton’s struggles. The Knicks are calling everyone; they desperately want to make a move (even if it means bringing back Jeremy Lin). The problem is they don’t have picks they can dangle to tempt teams (not for five years, anyway), and the only tradable player they have is Iman Shumpert (other teams keep asking about Tim Hardaway Jr. but New York refuses to move him). The Knicks are trying, it’s just the reality of them getting a deal done is far less likely than flexible teams like the Sixers.

4) Phoenix Suns. They are one of the few potential buyers on the market, and that gives them some leverage. The Suns have been the NBA’s biggest surprise this season and now they want to continue that — at 31-21 they are just 1.5 games ahead of nine seed Memphis, so the Suns want someone to help solidify them as a playoff team in the West (and make them more dangerous in the first round). Also, they have four firsts round picks and are willing to part with one in the right deal — and that deal might yet be for Pau Gasol. That would be the biggest deal of the deadline, by far. The Suns have the expiring deal of Emeka Okafor ($14.5 million) plus those picks to make it work (the problem has been the Lakers demanding one of the Suns two higher ranked picks and Phoenix is only offering something much smaller if any pick at all, they don’t really want to help a team in their division). If it is not Gasol, look for the Suns to make some kind of deadline deal, they may be rebuilding but they are now in for this season and want to make the playoffs.

5) Boston Celtics. It’s not just Rajon Rondo — although he can be had, you’re just going to have to give something of real value up to get him. Boston decision maker Danny Ainge is rightfully concerned about his ability to re-sign Rondo in the summer of 2015 (not that Rondo is looking to bolt, he just wants to keep his options open) and if Ainge can get something for Rondo in a deal he’ll consider it. However, I expect Rondo to be a summer move (after teams have seen him play more post ACL surgery). Instead, look for Brandon Bass to be on the move — he is the kind of solid big that can help a playoff team immediately but isn’t much use to Boston right now. Also, if Ainge can find a sucker… er, team to take on the two years left on Gerald Wallace’s contract he would do it in a heartbeat.

Pascal Siakam scores 37, Raptors remain red hot with win vs. Suns

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TORONTO (AP) — Pascal Siakam had 37 points and 12 rebounds and the Toronto Raptors beat the Phoenix Suns 118-101 on Friday night for their 16th victory in 17 games.

Serge Ibaka scored 16 points, Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis each had 14, Kyle Lowry had 13 points and 10 assists and OG Anunoby aded 12 points for the defending NBA champion Raptors.

After Toronto’s franchise-record 15-game winning streak ended with a loss at Brooklyn in the final game before the All-Star break, the Raptors bounced back by starting the second half with their eighth consecutive home victory.

The Raptors have not lost back-to-back games since an overtime loss at Indiana on Dec. 23 and a home loss to Boston on Christmas Day. Toronto has gone 19-1 since.

Siakam connected on 12 of 19 attempts, going 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

That was just one fewer than the six 3-pointers the Suns managed on 34 attempts. Phoenix shot 17.6%t from long range, its lowest mark of the season. No Suns player made more than one shot from distance.

Devin Booker scored 21 points and Deandre Ayton had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix. The Suns lost for the seventh time in nine games.

Ayton returned to the starting lineup after missing the final two games before the All-Star break because of a sore left ankle.

Phoenix trailed 93-78 through three quarters, but the Suns cut the gap to six points, 96-90 on a basket by Ayton with 8:08 left to play. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made a pair from the line, and VanVleet and Siakam both scored to put the Raptors up 102-90 with 6:58 remaining.

Booker missed a 3 with 4:45 left that would have made it a four-point game. Anunoby scored on a dunk and, after another missed 3 by the Suns, Ibaka banked home a 3-pointer to restore Toronto’s 12-point cushion.

Moe Harkless says no buyout with Knicks: “I’ll be here the rest of the year”

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Moe Harkless went from a guy often starting and playing critical minutes for a contender in the Clippers to being the matching salary in a trade and finding himself on the woeful Knicks.

“It is definitely an adjustment with the way things are,” Harkless told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “Everything is different, the culture and everything.”

If there was a player nobody would blame for wanting a buyout and the chance to get back to a team playing for something, it would be Harkless.

That’s not happening. Multiple reports have surfaced that he is not talking buyout with New York running up to the March 1 deadline. The latest comes from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Then Harkless was even more direct speaking to Bondy.

“I’ll be here the rest of the year,” he said.

Harkless has fans in NBA front offices, with the Lakers rumored to be among them (although they are about to land Markieff Morris in a similar role). Harkless could play good defensive minutes on the wing down the stretch for a team, buying rest for key guys, plus in the playoffs he could be advantageous in certain matchups.

Morris and the Knicks have time to change their minds, but it sounds like he will play out the season in New York then be a free agent next summer.

Lakers reportedly will waive DeMarcus Cousins to clear roster spot

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If the Lakers are going to add Markieff Morrisas has been rumored — or anyone else via free agency, they are going to need to clear out a roster spot.

That has the Lakers looking to waive DeMarcus Cousins, a report broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Cousins signed with the Lakers over the summer but never set foot on the court with them after tearing his ACL during summer workouts (which led to a scramble and L.A.’s fortuitous signing of Dwight Howard). He was around the team and rehabbing, and while they would never officially rule him out, Cousins was never expected to play.

He was not waived before because his $3.5 million salary might have been useful in a trade. When that didn’t materialize at the deadline it, became likely he could get waived.

It’s highly unlikely a team picks up Cousins this season, while he continues to rehab from his injury. However, it might be a good roll of the dice this summer by a team to sign him to a minimum contract for next season. Cousins still has some NBA basketball in him, if he can just stay healthy.

Karl-Anthony Towns has fractured wrist, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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Karl-Anthony Towns was a surprise scratch from the Timberwolves last game before the All-Star break, a “left wrist injury” delaying the home debut of him with D'Angelo Russell (they did play a road game together in Toronto). Then came the rumors he could miss a few games when play started up again.

It’s going to be more than a few games, more than a few weeks.

Towns has a fractured left wrist, the team announced Friday. He is out and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. From the team press release:

“While Towns has been diligent in treatment with a goal of return to play, he has been assessed by multiple specialists over the last several days and the team continues to gather information on the optimal management strategies.”

Towns had been playing through wrist pain for a couple of weeks before this diagnosis.

Towns is having a career year on offense, averaging  26.5 points a game while shooting 41 percent from three (on 7.9 attempts per game), plus grabbing 10.8 rebounds a night. That has not translated into wins for Minnesota, however.

Towns being out doesn’t hurt the Timberwolves in the short term, they have fallen far out of the playoff chase in the West. However, this cuts into time Towns and Russell could have used to grow accustomed to each other’s games. It’s time lost for the coaching staff and front office as they evaluate the fit of players they have around Towns and Russell.