51 Q: Who starts the year on the trade block?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Going into the season, which players are the most likely to be moved?

The obvious answer to this question is Markieff Morris, but the Suns have shown no signs of trading the disgruntled big man anytime soon. They need him, and his very public trade demands have killed his value around the league. For now, it seems unlikely that Morris will get his wish. But there are other players who could help teams around the league that might find themselves available during the season. Here are a few of them.

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets

Faried has been available for a while. All of the Nuggets’ veterans have, really — despite having just been signed to extensions this summer, don’t think Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari couldn’t be had for the right price as Denver hands the keys to the franchise over to Emmanuel Mudiay. Faried is the most likely to be moved, since his skillset is the most redundant to what they already have. He’s entering the first year of a four-year, $50 million deal that will prove to be a good value, especially once the new salary cap kicks in next summer. But the hiring of defensive-minded coach Mike Malone is a bad match for Faried’s limitations on that end. The Nuggets are in a weird place, roster-wise, between going full-on youth movement and having enough veterans to contend for a playoff spot, so if their season starts off slow, they could finally commit to a rebuild. If they do, Faried will be among the first to go.

Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls

Once the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo, Gibson took over his title as the player who was involved in the most trade rumors without actually being traded. The Bulls have a crowded frontcourt between Gibson, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic, and Gibson is on a great contract. If Noah has a bounceback season, it could make it more likely that Gar Forman and John Paxson finally pull the trigger on a Gibson trade. But they’d have to get a player who can help them right now, and it’s unclear who that might be.

Jeff Green, Memphis Grizzlies

Green never fit with the Grizzlies the way they hoped he would last season when they acquired him from the Celtics. It was a great idea: some added versatility for a team that customarily has played an extremely traditional style. But Green struggled in his half-season in Memphis, and going into the final year of his deal, the Grizzlies would be very open to moving him if the right deal came along. There’s no clear destination that makes sense for him, though.

Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers

Crawford’s name as been floated in trade talks for a couple of years, and he’s the only player on the Clippers’ roster who could easily be moved. He’s getting up there in age, but he could still provide enough value with his bench scoring to help a contender. The problem is, who are the Clippers going to get back that makes them better? Doc Rivers will listen to offers, but if they haven’t traded Crawford already, it’s hard to see them doing it now unless a clear upgrade presents itself.

George Hill, Indiana Pacers

This is going to be a transition year for the Pacers, going from a David West/Roy Hibbert-dominated identity to a smallball style that will supposedly see Paul George playing a lot of power forward. As they transition to a new era, Indiana will have to decide if Hill is the long-term answer at point guard. They don’t have an in-house replacement lined up, but if there’s any area where they’ll explore upgrades during the season and beyond, that’s it.

Rockets sign Ben McLemore

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The Kings couldn’t figure out what to do with Ben McLemore, the No. 7 pick in the 2013 NBA draft.

Now, the Rockets will try.

Rockets:

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The link in the Rockets tweet leads to an inaccessible page, which is pretty fitting.

McLemore has talent, athleticism and size. He probably doesn’t have as much talent and athleticism as it seemed when he became a lottery pick. But he still has some. He also plays shooting guard, a common position of need throughout the league. Maybe Houston can find a way for the 26-year-old to become productive for the first time in his career.

It’s a low-risk bet considering the cheap cost, and the upside probably isn’t that high. But it’s still an interesting attempt considering McLemore’s stature when he entered the league.

Report: Clippers tried to trade for James Harden before landing Paul George

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Kawhi Leonard tried to recruit Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Leonard eventually got Paul George to join him on the Clippers.

Two other stars the Clippers tried to land? Bradley Beal and James Harden.

Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic:

The Clippers inquired about Washington’s Bradley Beal and Houston’s James Harden, according to league sources, but neither star was available.

Beal fits the most obvious parameter of an available star: He’s on a bad team. But the Wizards aren’t interested in trading him. For most of the summer, they didn’t even have a general manager to negotiate a potential deal.

Harden is the far more interesting target. The Rockets have built around him, but they reached a rough spot with Harden and Chris Paul. Houston could have viewed that as the end of the road. The Clippers parted with an elite package for George – five first-round picks, two pick swaps, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. That’s the kind of offer that can open many doors. Instead, the Rockets went the other way by acquiring Russell Westbrook.

Still, a Leonard-Harden pairing would’ve been quite interesting. Both work best as offensive focal points, not contributing much off the ball. Harden’s defensive deficiencies would’ve put more pressure on Leonard. But the talent level would’ve been astronomical.

I think the Clippers are just happy with Leonard and George, who fit better together and still carry elite talent.

Report: NBA opens investigation into tampering following ‘tense’ owners meeting

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Kyrie Irving (Nets), Kemba Walker (Celtics) and Derrick Rose (Pistons) appeared to have their next teams lined up before free agency officially began. The Celtics reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford. Several other players agreed to terms so quickly after free agency began 6 p.m. June 30, it’s impossible to believe the deals weren’t pre-arranged.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said free-agency rules should be revised and enforced.

The league will also investigate.

Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN.

In the midst of it, Rick Buchanan, the NBA’s longtime general counsel, issued an evenhanded but sobering message to the room, multiple sources said.

Buchanan told the governors that as partners they were entitled to expect all teams to abide by a common set of enforceable rules for free agency — and that the league office would come back with a proposal for a revised set of rules that would then be strictly enforced. He asked the group if they were comfortable with the league “seizing servers and cellphones,” a line that stuck with many in attendance, according to sources who recounted the scene later.

It’s unclear whether this investigation will be punitive, exploratory or both.

Teams and players are absolutely violating the written rules. Some teams occasionally get punished. The rules are arbitrarily enforced, which is unfair. This investigation could lead to widespread punishment, though proving which teams did and didn’t tamper would be difficult. If it goes this route, expect uneven enforcement.

I’m with Silver: The rules should be enforced. An easy way to do that is writing the rules to match what currently occurs. As much griping as everyone does, the system mostly works. It’d work even better if everyone were on the same page about what is and isn’t allowed. So, this investigation could uncover details of how free agency actually happens. Then, the rules could be tailored around that.

This is clearly trending toward allowing contact with free agents sooner. That’s already happening, anyway. And billionaire team owners sure don’t want their privacy invaded for strict enforcement of a more-prohibitive system.

Tricky questions remain, though.

How will the NBA handle players tampering with each other? That’s forbidden by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but Silver has practically said he’ll allow it. And it happens plenty. I’d prefer it becomes officially allowed. Having unenforced rules can lead to selective enforcement.

When will teams and free agents be permitted to contact each other? Seasons end at different times, depending how far teams advance. Even with the starting period moved up, some teams will still seek an edge.

So, there’s no perfect solution.

But there are obvious problems with conditions now. It sounds like the NBA might finally be addressing them.

Report: Damian Lillard out, Julius Randle and Jaylen Brown in for Team USA consideration

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Team USA is losing its best player.

Again.

After Anthony Davis then James Harden withdrew from consideration for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Damian Lillard is also pulling out.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

This is a major drop in star power for the Americans. Their best player on the World Cup roster could be Kemba Walker? Kyle Lowry? Khris Middleton? This is no Dream Team.

The United States also went from stacked to thin at point guard in a hurry. Walker and Lowry remain – if Lowry is healthy. Donovan Mitchell and Marcus Smart are combo guards. But that’s a big drop from an expected 1-2 punch of Harden and Lillard.

Julius Randle and Jaylen Brown won’t help there.

Brown is a solid addition to the roster pool. He’s a versatile wing who can fit into many lineups and styles. That malleability will be important as Team USA can longer rely on a huge talent disparity.

Randle probably makes less sense. He’s an impressive individual scorer with passing ability. But his ball-stopping tendencies and woeful defense as a big leave major questions about his ability to contribute with other top players. He’s more of a floor-raiser. If the Americans need a floor-raiser, they’re in trouble.

DeMar DeRozan apparently withdrew from the training-camp roster before anyone knew he was even added, which is pretty fitting for this team.