Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: Thunder don’t look like playoff team yet

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while taking your deceased parent to the bank to make cash withdrawals….

1) Oklahoma City does not look like a playoff team yet. They have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back healthy, plus both are playing at an elite level. Yet they have lost two in a row (including Sunday to Cleveland), are 5-5 in their last 10, and now have fallen back to .500 again. Sunday on national television it looked like the Cavaliers are finally getting it together — LeBron James is explosive and the Cavs are defending better — while the Thunder… we’re still waiting. Their defense isn’t sharp, although it’s not terrible. The offense on the other hand… They shot just 39.4 percent as a team Sunday and key guys were not efficient (Westbrook was 7-of-26, Dion Waiters 5-of-15). In their last 10 games they have the 21st ranked offense in the league. Despite those two studs. You can say there is half a season to get it together before the playoffs, but they have to make the playoffs. They are three games back of the Suns and not making up ground of late. OKC needs to find it’s groove sooner rather than later.

That said, Kevin Durant can still do this:

2) New Orleans doesn’t know it can’t make the playoffs, only two games out. This is like when his trainer Duke leans into Apollo Creed in Rocky and said “He doesn’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks it’s a damn fight!” We did it in the paragraph above — assumed that if anyone is going to catch the Phoenix Suns for the last playoff spot in the West, it’s the Thunder. Why not the Pelicans? They beat the Mavericks on Sunday, their third straight win, and they are now just two games back of the Suns (who lost to the Clippers). The Pelicans are in front of the inconsistent Thunder. New Orleans has the superstar in Anthony Davis and he played like it Sunday (28 points, 10 boards) but they also got 24 points out of Tyreke Evans (who will have the ball in his hands a lot until Jrue Holiday returns) and 18 from Ryan Anderson. If I had to bet I’d still put my money on OKC to finish ahead of Phoenix and New Orleans, but we shouldn’t be counting the Pelicans out of this race.

3) Hassan Whiteside is not another Miami fad. Miami fans have been hyped on Whiteside since he came to South Beach and started putting up numbers — he has a PER of 26, which is normally the kind of thing that gets one mentioned for the All-Star Team. He has been a defensive force and very efficient on the offensive end, shooting 68.4 percent. But would it last? It looks like he is not another Miami fad gone in a week. Sunday Whiteside had his coming out party on national television with 14 points, 13 rebounds and a Heat record 12 blocks. His energy and athleticism have been something they needed and he can get some easy looks as the defense focuses on Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. The Heat have found something here.

4) Monta Ellis and D.J. Augustin did their best (but it wasn’t enough). Two of the best performances of Sunday night came in a losing effort. One was from Dallas’ should-be-but-will-not-be All Star Monta Ellis who had 36 points on 27 shots and was at his best when attacking the rim or shooting threes from the left side of the court. He gave the Mavs a chance in their loss. (Sorry Mavericks fans, he’s been fantastic but in the deep West he just can’t make the All-Star cut. Nowitzki is on the outside looking in, too. Just can’t see a Mav on the team.)

D.J. Augustin got thrust into the Pistons’ starting lineup due to the Brandon Jennings injury, and he put up 35 points on 20 shots in Detroit’s loss to Toronto. He was 5-of-9 from three and 7-of-9 when he attacked and got inside eight feet of the rim. Augustin also dished out eight assists. He played well opposite Kyle Lowry, but it wasn’t enough.

5) Kyle Lowry pulled off the old fake timeout trick. We see this about once a season, this time it was Lowry’s turn to break it out.

Dwight Howard challenges Shaq on Instagram, Shaq roasts him

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Shaquille O’Neal is still not Dwight Howard‘s biggest fan. And Shaq still loves the tired “ringzzzz” argument.

It all started because Shaq was watching a couple of guys roast Howard on MTV’s Wild N’ Out. Shaq liked it so much he decided to post it to Instagram.

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Dam lol

A post shared by DR. SHAQUILLE O'NEAL Ed.D. (@shaq) on

Howard took the bait and responded in the comments. He should have known better.

Let’s be clear: Dwight is a future Hall of Famer. No question. The Orlando version of Howard was an MVP-level player who was a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, eight time All-NBA and All-Star, who was a beast on the boards and averaged 17.4 points and 12.7 rebounds a game for his career.

And yet Shaq’s right, Howard’s not on his level. Not close.

As Sunday winds down, Miami heats up talk of Jimmy Butler trade

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There has been much speculation over the past 48 hours about where disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler will end up once owner Glen Taylor finds a suitable trade partner for him. We have already discussed at length where Butler might fit best, and Sunday morning saw an influx of new teams ready to come to the Timberwolves with an offer now that it is known that Butler is on the table.

As Sunday came to a close, it became apparent that yet another team is trying to work their way into the Butler sweepstakes.

According to multiple reports, the Miami Heat have been active and are trying to get a deal done for Butler. Once thought of as a middle-of-the-pack suitor, the Heat have apparently been one of the more engaged teams as a deal for the Timberwolves guard is sought before the team opens training camp on Tuesday.

Via Twitter:

Miami joins the Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers, Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers in teams looking to exchange parts for the next season on Butler’s contract.

No doubt league GMs are trying to weigh the risk vs. reward when it comes to Butler. His contract has a player option for the 2019-20 NBA season, which he will almost certainly opt out of in order to become a free agent. That means that without a guarantee that Butler will re-sign, any team trading for him will need to be careful with what young assets they leverage for the present.

For example, one report out of Portland says that the Blazers are unwilling to give up who they see as their young main core for a one-year rental on Butler. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic are all off the table for the Blazers.

We still don’t know what the asking price for Butler will eventually be, or how the Timberwolves prioritize getting a solid return for him vs. shipping him outside of the Western Conference. For now, we have to wait and see what happens.

At least until Tuesday.

Elton Brand on 76ers contending for a championship: ‘I think we still need a piece’

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Elton Brand last played in the NBA in April of 2016. Now, in September of 2018 he is the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 17-year NBA veteran helms one of the best young teams in the NBA, and takes over a GM position that has previously been under turmoil. Brand has perhaps been blessed with the departure of LeBron James from the Eastern Conference, but so too will other teams try to take over that perennial top spot.

The Boston Celtics have similar assets to Philadelphia, with proven stars mixed with an excellent supporting cast and young players who could develop into stars themselves. The Toronto Raptors are a very good team who just added a Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard. The road ahead will be tough.

But the Sixers still have cap space and they are still looking for a third star to fill a necessary role on their team. Brand said as much during a recent appearance on ESPN, and from all indications it looks like he’s not going to be shy about pulling the trigger either in free agency or in the trade market if he feels he can solidify the Sixers’ position in the east.

Via ESPN:

Everyone talks about free agency, but we may have to pull the trigger on something else before free agency. If we feel we can’t get one of those stars that I can’t name. I still think we need a piece. We’re close. If you ask Joel [Embiid] we have enough and if you ask Ben [Simmons] we have enough, because that’s the chip they have on their shoulder … they don’t want to hear that, but I think we still need a piece.

Brand went on to say that he felt like development was also important in this process, and that it’s possible that Philadelphia has their additional star in Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, or both.

Philadelphia has reportedly been one of the teams that has jumped into initial conversations with the Minnesota Timberwolves about trading for Jimmy Butler. Whether or not Butler is the right move for the Sixers notwithstanding, that Brand appear is ready to wheel and deal certainly is interesting.

Anthony Davis picks new agent, signs with LeBron James’ rep Rich Paul

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The NBA offseason isn’t over just quite yet, so people are naturally ready to jump at any rumor they can get their hands on. On Sunday, it was announced that New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis had signed with Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports Group, and the Twittersphere exploded.

Davis, 25, has two seasons left on his current contract until he can use a player option to end his deal early and choose another location if he pleases.

Of course, the rampant speculation here — which is baseless, I might add — is that Davis could be looking to jump ship from the Pelicans, with Paul helping to create pressure for such a deal.

Via Twitter:

There is some speculation that Davis could become trade bait as soon as next summer if the Pelicans fail to meet the expectations foist upon them after their first round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers during last season’s playoffs. New Orleans no longer has the talents of DeMarcus Cousins, although they played spectacularly without him following his Achilles injury going into the end of the year. The West got tougher, and the Pelicans will also have to play without Rajon Rondo, currently of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The coming season will be Davis’ seventh in Louisiana, and it has long been rumored that he could be a trade prospect or might want to sign in a different market. Signing with Klutch Sports Group puts Davis at the center of speculation that he could join LeBron James on the Lakers, as James is a good friend of Paul and a fellow Klutch client.

Players exchange agents all the time, and just because an agent has a specific track record doesn’t mean that anything is set in stone. The NBA is weird like that. However, It’s not completely unreasonable to raise an eyebrow at Davis joining up with Paul after leaving longtime agent Thad Foucher earlier in September. What Paul does have a rep for is getting his players paid handsomely, which is probably the main thing Davis will be looking for.

New Orleans can offer Davis the vaunted super max contract once he is up for an extension.