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Less than 48 hours to go: Five players, teams to watch heading into trade deadline

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At 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday it will all be over.

That’s when the NBA’s trade deadline hits, and if a trade is not done — we’re looking at you, Anthony Davis — then it’s on hold until after the season and heading into the draft. The flood of rumors dies down too… mostly.

For a few minutes, let’s put aside the Davis trade saga that has mesmerized the NBA. The potential of a Davis trade has developed its own gravity, pulling all NBA discussions in its direction, with countless moving parts and a Game of Thrones atmosphere.

However, there is another NBA universe moving toward a trade deadline, one that has most teams looking for smaller deals to give them a boost on the court at some point (the Dallas Mavericks landing Kristaps Porzingis) or freeing up cap space for future moves (the Knicks trading said Porzingis).

What is left to happen at this deadline? It may be a little quiet, but there will be trades. Here are five teams and players to watch.

1) Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies. When the Memphis Grizzlies finally made their cornerstone players available, there was interest in both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. The problem with both has always been money — both make a lot of it. Gasol is making $24.1 million with a $25.6 million player option for next season. Which he may or may not pick up, complicating matters. Conley is making $30.5 million this season with likely $67 million guaranteed in the two seasons after that. Which is a lot of money for a player who is now on the wrong side of 30 and who has missed significant time two of the past four years with an Achilles issue.

That said, both appear like that can or will be moved.

Memphis and Charlotte are reportedly deep in talks for Gasol, part of Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan’s push to get Charlotte in the playoffs, impress Kemba Walker, and keep him next July (he’s a free agent). The exact terms of the deal are in flux, but Gasol appears to be headed to the Carolinas.

There also is a lot of buzz around the league about Conley being traded to the Utah Jazz. The package back would either be Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors and a first round pick (or picks); or, Rubio, Grayson Allen, a 2019 first round pick, and some other player to balance the numbers. Memphis may want two picks (not sure Utah goes there). The negotiations are ongoing. For the Jazz, Conley would be an upgrade at the point — he’s an All-Star level player just stuck in the deep West — who could help push the Jazz deeper in the playoffs. But that is a substantial financial commitment from a smaller market, and it gives up a couple of young players. Are the Jazz ready for that?

2) The Sacramento Kings. If you’re going to bet on one team to make a move before the deadline, bet on the Kings. Not because of their assets, although they have veterans on expiring contracts such as Zach Randolph, Iman Shumpert, and Kosta Koufos they can deal. And not because of Sacramento’s eagerness to bring in a big wing to help them compete in the West and maybe make the playoffs (they are half a game out of the eight seed as of this writing).

No, it’s because the Kings have $11 million in salary cap room — far more than any other team at the deadline — and can take on a contract another team wants to dump. Sacramento can trade for an expensive player (Kent Bazemore in Atlanta, Harrison Barnes in Dallas) or the Kings can be the third team in a bigger trade, taking on some draft assets to help facilitate a deal.

One way or the other, big or small, the Kings are going to be in on a trade before the deadline.

3) Terrence Ross and the Orlando Magic. There are more than a couple of playoff teams who could use some quality depth on the wing. Terrence Ross is that, he’s on an expiring contract, and is not part of the future in Orlando. Ross has averaged 13.3 points a game this season shooting 39.3 percent from three, and a lot of teams could use him. The question is the return: Orlando is rumored to want a first. The market probably will not offer that, more like a couple of seconds or a young player. Will that be enough to get a deal done?

Orlando also has All-Star center Nikola Vucevic — an expiring contract who can help a team on offense, but who has defensive liabilities. There have been rumors about interested teams. However, with Mo Bamba now out for a while, the Magic may decide to keep Vucevic around.

4) Jeremy Lin, Dewayne Dedmon (and maybe Kent Bazemore) and the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta long has been expected to be a seller at the deadline — the Hawks signed Lin with the intention of trying to trade him mid-season — and there is interest from teams around the league. Both Lin at the point and Dedmon as a forward can provide help off the bench for a playoff team right now, plus both are on expiring contracts. Expect at least one if both to get traded

Kent Bazemore is a more complicated story because he makes $18.1 million right now with a $19.3 million player option that he will likely pick up. That’s a lot of cash, which is why Bazemore has drawn minimal interest. Bazemore has returned from a sprained ankle that sidelined him for a chunk of the season, but that money is keeping teams away.

5) Wayne Ellington and the Miami Heat. Every team can use more shooting. Ellington is a career 38 percent shooter from three who is buried on the Miami bench and is on an expiring $6.3 million contract. That is the profile of a player who gets traded. The one catch is he’s on a one-year contract and because of his Bird Rights he gets to approve any trade. He’d likely welcome the change of scenery, but he can’t just be moved anywhere.

Adam Silver acknowledges ratings drop as NBA tries to connect young viewers to broadcasts

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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One of the NBA’s great strengths is its core audience is younger than the other major American sports.

One of the NBA’s great challenges is its core audience is younger than the other major American sports.

That means a lot of NBA fans are cord cutters — or, never had a cord to begin with — and don’t consume their entertainment the way their parents and grandparents did. Much the way we do a poor job measuring the economy by doing it the same way we did a century ago, using traditional Neilson rating measures is a poor way to judge the number of eyeballs on a game. Viewership is evolving.

But make no mistake, traditional ratings are down for the NBA, both nationally and at the regional level. Nationwide ratings are down by 12 percent, including 13 percent on TNT and 16 percent on ABC. Only three NBA teams — the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies, and Toronto Raptors — have seen a local ratings increase this season, the other 27 teams are flat or down, according to the Sports Business Journal — and down by 13 percent.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver owned the drop during All-Star weekend. He added that while the league could blame injuries to players that would be draws  — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with the Warriors, Zion Williamson with the Pelicans, Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, etc. — the bigger issue is connecting those younger viewers to NBA broadcasts.

“It’s well-known that on one hand we’re celebrated by some because we have such a young fan base, but that young fan base is disconnecting from pay television in record numbers, and by disconnecting, not just simply not subscribing to cable or so-called cutting the cord, they’re not watching traditional paid television the way they used to,” Silver said during his All-Star weekend press conference. “They’re watching over-the-top streaming services. They’re watching screens, but it’s not essentially pay TV.

“So the good news for the league is that, when we look at all other data points, particularly what we see in social media, what we see in terms of distribution of highlights and general chatter around our games, we’ve never been more popular. But we haven’t found a way to connect those young fans to our broadcast through whatever platform they’re going to be delivered.

“Again, I think it’s a very solvable problem. Our two primary media partners, Disney and AT&T, are both very engaged in these issues…

“So it’s not an issue unique to the NBA. We may be affected by it a little bit more compared to some properties because we have such a young fan base, but I’m super confident over time we’ll work through it because there remains enormous interest in our players and our game.”

Silver also showed at the NBA’s tech summit where he thinks the broadcast of NBA games is headed, trying to bring the courtside experience into the home (with an assist from Bill Murray).

Silver isn’t alone in thinking this way. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, for one, said basically the same thing recently.

A well-respected media consultant recently told Forbes magazine he doesn’t think this ratings downturn is going to hurt the league in 2025 when it’s time to negotiate a new broadcast deal.

“This season’s NBA ratings story is silly. It is a small sample size. This is a year-round league with year-round stories,” says sports media consultant Lee Berke of LHB Sports. “The next NBA media agreements will be a substantially evolved set of deals because of streaming. There will be an increasing range of media companies that want the NBA for the U.S. and worldwide.”

The current $2.7 billion per year NBA deal with ESPN and TNT runs through the 2024-25 season, and Berke expects the next deal to roughly double in value.

That’s the vision Adam Silver sees. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to connect those young viewers to the content. Then to stop measuring viewership the way our grandparents did.

Report: Larry Drew wanted to quit as Cavaliers coach during last year’s All-Star break

Former Cavaliers coach Larry Drew
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John Beilein is reportedly considering resigning as Cavaliers coach.

This makes the second straight season Cleveland’s coach contemplated departing at the All-Star break.

After firing Tyronn Lue in October 2018, the Cavs named Larry Drew interim coach. He immediately rejected the the title. Following an awkward week of Drew acting as the Cavaliers’ head coach but insisting he wasn’t head coach, they eventually paid him enough to accept the role. After the season ended, the Cavs and Drew parted ways.

His exit could have come sooner.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

He wanted to quit at the All-Star break last year on Cleveland. He just wanted to leave, wanted to have them promote whoever their G League coach is.

Larry Drew had more than a million dollars coming his way, and he was talked out of this, I think by his agent. Like, “You cannot do this.” Like,” It’s insane. You can’t leave now. Just stick it out.”

Beilein obviously has his own unique issues. But this reflects quite poorly on the Cavaliers.

Losing obviously factors. Cleveland is just starting to build up post-LeBron James. It’ll take time.

But plenty of teams rebuild and lose. They usually don’t have consecutive coaches ready to quit.

Owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman better take a hard look at what’s failing culturally.

‘There’s a possibility’ DeMarcus Cousins returns to Lakers for playoffs

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It remains a real longshot, but Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel isn’t shutting the door.

DeMarcus Cousins has not stepped on the court this season for the Lakers, having torn his left ACL in workouts over the summer. He’s still at Staples Center nearly every game, and is working on his rehab.

Deep into his press availability Saturday, Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel was asked if it’s possible Cousins could return this summer (hat tip to Sam Quinn of CBS Sports for noticing).

“He’s on track to get healthy by the playoffs, and we’ll have to see where he’s at with rhythm and conditioning and timing and all that stuff,” Vogel said. “But there’s a possibility he returns this season, yes.”

As much as Cousins is hungry for a ring, don’t bet on getting any serious run. The Lakers are legit title contenders who have gotten good play out of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard at center this season, and in the playoffs they likely will lean even more on Anthony Davis at the five (with LeBron James playing more four). Mix Cousins into that and it could throw off the rotations and rhythm of the team just as they enter the postseason.

How much Cousins could help the Lakers also would be up for debate. In last season’s NBA Finals, when Cousins was with Golden State, he was forced into heavier minutes because of injuries to Kevon Looney. While he had a strong Game 2 for them in a win — 11 points and 10 rebounds — for most of the series he hurt the Warriors. Cousins averaged 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds a game, but shot 42.5 percent overall, 22.2 percent from three, and was a bigger liability on the other end of the court where the Raptors repeatedly attacked him through the pick-and-roll. The Warriors were offensively better with a very limited Looney on the court, once he was able to return.

Cousins is not the most mobile of players at this point, not surprising coming off an Achilles and ACL injury, but opposing teams will show no mercy.

Still, the door is open. If Cousins can get some run in less-stressful minutes and get his legs under him, who knows what we might see deep in the Lakers’ playoff run.

Luka Doncic says he’ll definitely play for Slovenia in Olympic Qualifying Tournament

Luka Doncic
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Slovenia won the last EuroBasket, in 2017.

But in a stacked European region, Slovenia hasn’t even qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Mavericks star Luka Doncic will try to change that.

Donatas Urbonas:

Slovenia got a tough draw, landing in host Lithuania’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Only one team from each OQT will reach the Olympics. Even Poland in the group stage will be no pushover.

But Doncic is obviously a difference-maker. Not only is he one of the world’s best players, he’s also comfortable with international style of play.

Slovenia needs him after Goran Dragic retired from the national team following the 2017 European basketball championship.

Slovenia’s first OQT game is June 24 against Angola. Dallas seems bound for a first-round loss. So, that should work. But if the Mavericks make a surprising run deep in the playoffs, Doncic could always reconsider – though he sounds quite certain now.