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Five players most likely to be on the move before Thursday’s trade deadline

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For all the talk of a tight trade market (and that is still the case in some quarters) we have already seen a blockbuster trade — Blake Griffin is now a Detroit Piston. We’ve also seen an expected trade, with Nikola Mirotic getting moved and the Pelicans stepping up to land him.

Who else could be on the move before the NBA’s trade deadline before Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern? There are a lot of names being bandied about around the league, but here are five to watch closely, the five most likely to have a new address by the end of the week.

1) Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies. If there is one sure thing on this list, it’s that Evans will have a new home, the Grizzlies have already shut him down to avoid an injury before the deadline. Evans is scoring 19.5 points a game and is shooting 39 percent from three in an impressive bounce-back season for the former Rookie of the Year who last summer had so little of a market he could only get a one-year, $3.3 million contract with Memphis. He’s played himself into a much bigger contract next season, one the capped-out Grizzlies can’t afford so they will trade him before the deadline to get something back.

So far the Celtics, Sixers, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Heat and other teams have inquired about Evans, who could be a bench spark for a playoff team, but Memphis is holding out for a first-round pick in the deal. Other teams are not offering that yet (more like a second rounder and a player on a cheap contract) because he is just a rental and teams would need to use cap space to re-sign him next summer (no Bird rights on a one-year contract). Which is why this one could well go down to the wire. Eventually either a team will cave and throw in a first-rounder, or Memphis will cave and take a couple of second-round picks for Evans. One way or another, he is certainly going to be on the move.

2) Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers. After the Blake Griffin trade, logic dictates the Clippers should move on from other veteran stars on their roster (except for Danilo Gallinari and his unmovable deal) and start a full-on rebuild. However, owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t want to bottom out, so the Clippers are holding out for real value at the deadline. Which brings us to Lou Williams — the current leader in the Sixth Man of the Year race averaging 23.5 points per game — who teams are calling about, but the Clippers are holding out for a first-round pick. Boston is the most mentioned team looking at Williams, but Toronto, Detroit, and Miami all also have been mentioned as possible destinations.

Unlike Memphis with Evans, the Clippers may well get a first-round pick for Evans, which is what they are demanding. The reason is that a trade for Williams brings his Bird rights, making it much easier for the team to re-sign him next summer.

3) Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz. I could have put Joe Johnson from Utah here too, because he wants out and his agent and the team are trying to make that happen. However, the reality is anyone not named Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell is available from Utah, and shooter Rodney Hood is drawing a lot of interest. While there are other flaws in his game, Hood can shoot the rock from deep — averaging 16.4 points per game and hitting 38.7 percent from three — and that is a valuable commodity around the league. Denver is said to be interested, as are the Pistons among others.

One other name to watch from Utah at the deadline: Derrick Favors. He also is available and drawing some interest from teams.

4) Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons. An athletic and long wing with a world of potential but still not a reliable jumper, Stanley Johnson has not developed as hoped in Detroit. However, he’s just 21 years old, and other teams around the league think he could be a good player and want to see if a change of scenery and a different coach could break him out. He’s available in a trade, and has been mentioned as someone who could go to Utah for Hood (and Utah has one of the best player development programs in the league). Also reportedly interested are the Spurs among others. Detroit isn’t going to get a lot in return for him (no first-rounder for him in this market), but if Van Gundy is ready to move on a lesser deal may be enough.

5) DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers. Much like Lou Williams, it would make sense for the Clippers to move on from Jordan, especially since he is a free agent this summer and, after the Griffin trade, it’s hard to see him re-signing with the Clips. The challenge in trading him is two-fold. First, he’s a more traditional pick-and-roll big man who can defend the rim, get boards, and finish around the basket for a team, but he can’t space the floor at all and his free throw shooting can make it hard to play him at the end of games. Not every team wants a traditional center like him now, and if a team is going to get DJ they need a good point guard (or ball handler) to run pick-and-rolls with Jordan and use his skill set well. Jordan is an All-NBA level player but he needs to be in a specific system to be truly effective.

The other problem for teams is they don’t want to put a lot of assets into a deal — and since Jordan makes $22 million this season it’s going to take a lot of assets in a trade to make it work — and then lose him as a free agent this summer. Teams will want behind-the-scenes assurances from Jordan he will re-sign (or that he would opt into his $24.1 million for next season, something he has so far been unwilling to do).

The Clippers want a first-round pick and a player for Jordan, and if a team believes it can re-sign him they may well get it. But not yet, and the Clippers may need to make a decision about taking less back or keeping him and then trying to re-sign him this summer.

Among the teams interested are Portland, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Miami, and Orlando.

Kings GM Vlade Divac: ‘My team is a super team. Just young’

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The Kings drafted Marvin Bagley No. 2 last night (seemingly for bad reasons, which doesn’t at all eliminate him from being the right pick but makes it less likely he is). He’ll join a young core also comprised of Bogdan Bogdanovic, De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles.

That group excite you?

Kings general manager Vlade Divac isn’t reducing expectations.

Lina Washington of ABC 10:

To be fair, in 2012, the Warriors were coming off a 23-43 season with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson already on the roster and had just drafted Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. Everyone would’ve laughed at calling Golden State a “super team, just young” then. But those four (plus Andre Iguodala) eventually led the Warriors to a championship.

But, really: Nah.

Entering the 2016-17 season, then-Knicks guard Derrick Rose said, “They’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams.” We mocked Rose relentlessly, and of course, the Warriors went 73-9 while New York finished just 32-50.

How long until Divac’s young super team reaches even 32-50?

Spurs GM still optimistic relationship with Kawhi Leonard can be salvaged

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — General manager R.C. Buford acknowledges star forward Kawhi Leonard is unhappy with the Spurs.

He remains optimistic the relationship can be salvaged.

Leonard has requested a trade from San Antonio because he is unhappy after missing most of last season with a right quadriceps injury. Buford would not comment on “speculation” of a trade demand, but agreed there is a fractured relationship between Leonard and the only franchise he has played for.

“Kawhi and his family mean a lot to the organization and to the community and while none of wish we are where we are, we’re going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him,” Buford said Thursday night as the Spurs made two late picks in the NBA Draft. “We’ll explore all of our options, but the first one would be to do what we can to keep Kawhi as part of our group.”

Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season but returned to play in nine games. He complained of discomfort and pain in the leg in his final game. Leonard sought an outside opinion after the Spurs cleared him to play, working with his own medical team in New York in an attempt to return to the court. The 6-foot-7 forward reportedly grew upset that the Spurs had questioned his rehabilitation process.

The Spurs listed him as out on their injury reports for much of the year citing “injury management.” While San Antonio was in the playoffs, losing in the first round to eventual repeat champion Golden State, Leonard was rehabbing in New York – which meant that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, when asked for the situation, deferred all comment to “Kawhi and his group.”

“I think all of us would wish that things would have gone differently,” Buford said.

The Spurs held a team meeting late in the season where veterans, led by Tony Parker, implored Leonard to return. Leonard said he was unable to due to the injury.

In the 2016-17 season, Leonard averaged a career-best 25.5 points and was third in the MVP voting. The 2014 NBA Finals MVP and two-time NBA defensive player of the year is due just over $20 million next season, and can become a free agent in the summer of 2019. He is eligible to sign a $220 million extension with San Antonio.

He is reportedly willing to walk away from that to play elsewhere, possibly in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know that timing is a factor in this from today … he’s under contract for another year, our goal is to keep him as part of our program for a long time,” Buford said.

 

NBA Draft Winners, Losers: Big nights for Phoenix, Dallas

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Let’s start with the obvious — this whole story is a fool’s errand. It really takes about three years to accurately assess who are the winners and losers in the NBA draft. Guys we thought were locks will turn out to be pretty pedestrian, guys we wrote off as projects down the board will impress. In three years, we’ll have a real sense of which teams read this draft well and nailed it.

But we don’t live in that world.

So here are my projections on the real winners and losers Thursday night in Brooklyn, starting with the guys who didn’t screw up the No. 1 pick.

 

Suns small icon Winner: Phoenix Suns.

It isn’t just that they didn’t screw up the top pick and landed in DeAndre Ayton, the guy most likely to be a franchise cornerstone star in this class. Although they did that. Also, it was their move later to trade their pick at No. 16 (Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith) for Mikal Bridges — most likely the best “3&D” prospect in this draft (it cost them a future first via Miami). By the time everyone was trying to get an Uber outside Barclays Center the Suns had put together a starting lineup of Devin Booker, Bridges, Josh Jackson, and Ayton (plus a point guard to be named later). That’s a group worth watching — and they hired Igor Kokoskov as their new coach this summer because he’s strong on player development. It’s the start of something.

Phoenix also drafted French point guard Elie Okobo at 31 in the second round when a lot of teams thought of him as a first-round talent. Another smart move.

Loser: Michael Porter Jr.

A couple of weeks ago, Porter was mentioned as a potential No. 2 selection to the Kings. But after teams got a look at his medical reports from last Friday’s workout — remember, he missed all but three games at Missouri following back surgery — they backed off. Reports about his attitude didn’t help. Porter slid all the way down to Denver at 14. What that means to him besides getting to play at altitude in Denver: The No. 2 pick is slotted for a $7.3 million salary next season, the No. 14 makes less than $3 million. We’ll see if Porter can use this as motivation — and stay healthy.

One winner in this: The Denver Nuggets for grabbing him at 14. That is a good team (they just missed the playoffs) with strong players already where Porter can be brought along slowly without unreasonable expectations.

Mavericks small icon Winner: Dallas Mavericks.

Mark Cuban and company traded up from No. 5 to No. 3 and landed Luka Doncic — the player they had highest rated on the board. This is a win for the Mavs and for Doncic because he lands with a brilliant Xs and Os coach in Rick Carlisle who will put him in positions to succeed, plus Doncic gets mentored by Dirk Nowitzki. This pick also is a strong move because he should pair well with young point guard Dennis Smith Jr. — Doncic can run the pick-and-roll at times with Smith cutting and moving off the ball, and in the reverse Doncic has a good catch-and-shoot game. Dallas has options for playmaking now.

Also, nice second-round pickup of Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson. That’s a high IQ player who can step in as a reserve and help immediately.

Loser: Robert Williams.

The Texas A&M big man has the talent of a late lottery pick — the Clippers met with him a couple of times — but concerns about his attitude and work ethic saw him plummet all the way down the board to 27. Will he use this as motivation to play with a high motor all the time, or will he continue to coast? If he brings it, he could be the steal of this draft. That brings us to…

Celtics small iconWinner: Boston Celtics (because they got Robert Williams).

This was an Oceans 9 level robbery (that’s the next movie, right?) for Danny Ainge this late in the first round. At No. 27 you’re usually just hoping to get a guy who can develop into a role player in a few years. Williams is much more than that, he has the tools to be an elite NBA defender, and in college he was a defensive and rebounding force. In the NBA he’s going to be a rim running big, ala DeAndre Jordan — except Jordan fulfilled his potential. It’s up to Boston to get that out of Williams (and it’s up to Williams himself to work), but if they do this was another brilliant Ainge pick.

Loser: Golden State Warriors.

They tried to buy into the second round as they did a year ago and pick up someone who fits their style — and this year they had $5.1 million to do it (more than the $3.5 million a year ago). However, other GMs remember how much heat the Bulls front office took for selling their pick to Golden State last year and watching the Warriors draft Jordan Bell — Mr. “cash considerations” was playing a role in the NBA Finals. No GM wanted to repeat that mistake. No early second-round pick for the Warriors this year.

However, their first-round pick of Jacob Evans was a good one, he’s the kind of versatile wing player who fits into their rotation.

Winner: Puma.

The German soccer cleat maker shoe and apparel company wanted to get back into the basketball game, and the did it with a splash — their guys Ayton and Bagley went No. 1 and 2. That’s going to be a lot of free publicity and a lot of eyes on their players starting in Summer League and beyond. The company also landed guys with real potential in Michael Porter Jr. and Zhaire Smith.

Oh, and they hired Jay-Z as well. That’s a good week whatever else happens.

Winner: NBA Twitter

The guys in suits up the executive food chain tried to put an end to Woj bombs this year — ESPN was trying to clamp down on their news breakers Tweeting out the picks before they happened (as had been the case for a few years, with Twitter often two or three picks ahead of Adam Silver and the broadcast). Other major news breakers (such as Yahoo’s Shams Charania) agreed to play along. We all thought we would have to wait around for Adam Silver to saunter up to the table.

But if there is one thing NBA Twitter has taught us it’s that it will not be contained. It breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously. NBA Twitter, uh… finds a way.

Before long Twitter picks were leaking and Twitter was a pick ahead of the broadcast again, and Adrian Wojnarowski was dropping bombs, cleverly not saying who the pick was but….

NBA Twitter is the best.

Lonnie Walker’s Spurs hat appears as if it’s floating above his head (photo)

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Basketball players don’t wear hats.

White Men Can't Jump (1992)

OK, scratch that. NBA players don’t wear hats.

But it has become tradition for draft picks to don a cap of the team that selected him.

So, even though Lonnie Walker‘s hair looks like this (via AP):

Pittsburgh Miami Basketball

…he put on a Spurs hat when they selected him No. 18:

NBA Draft Basketball

Even Elfrid Payton did a much better job cramming his do into his hat on draft night:

Walker, an athletic shooting guard who underperformed at Miami, was a surprising choice by San Antonio. The Spurs generally prioritize basketball intelligence over athleticism (though, to be fair, that’s hardly an absolute).

But no matter how Walker fits in San Antonio goes, it probably won’t be more awkward than this.