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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.

The time Shaq peed in Suns teammate Lou Amundson’s shoes – and worse!

Suns players Lou Amundson and Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq)
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
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Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation as the NBA player who relieved himself in a teammate’s shoe (Wizards forward Andray Blatche’s).

But Arenas’ tactic wasn’t unique.

Shaquille O’Neal got into a prank war with Suns teammate Lou Amundson during the 2008-09 season. It got intense as Phoenix, coached by Alvin Gentry, reached the final game of its season.

ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on “The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” local hour, hosted by Mike Ryan:

Shaq is the big prankster, the big joker. But if you do something against him, there’s no tit for tat. There’s tit for nuclear war.

He goes to Lou’s locker, grabs his sneakers, pees in them.

That’s the start, right? He then goes and let’s just say “messes with” some of Lou’s haircare devices, like his brush and his comb and stuff. Messes with them. Let me put it this way: Messes with them in a way that – I was comfortable telling you he peed in the shoes. I’m not comfortable telling you what he did to the hair stuff. And then this part, I will tell you: He tampers with Lou’s mouth guard.

He tampers with it.

He tampers with it.

Lou shows up at like 8 or whenever he usually shows up. And he’s skittish and nervous. And Suns.com is there like, “What do you think Shaq is going to do?” “I don’t know. I think he’s going to do something, though.”

So, I’ll never forget this. He’s sitting at the locker, and he opens – he starts to reach for the sneakers and then looks at them and says, “Nah, something doesn’t feel right.” Opens the door up, pulls out a fresh pair of sneakers for the last game of the year, right? Again, this is irregular behavior. Usually, you have a couple of sneakers. You break them in for the year, and you switch between two or three or three or four, whatever. So to break out a whole brand new pair … was weird.

Most of the time when you’re an NBA player, you don’t put on the mouth guard immediately. You have it in a case, and you give the case to the trainer. Then, you go out to the bench. Then, when you’re about to come into the game, that’s when you grab your mouthpiece.

There’s no funnier image than Alvin drawing up a play, kneeling down, coaches standing around him. Lou is sitting there, because now he’s in the game. The guys who are in the game are usually seated. Sitting there just staring at the clipboard, like, “OK, coach. I got you.” And everyone else is just staring at Lou. No one’s paying attention.

Puts the mouth guard in. One, two [sounds of disgust], takes the mouth guard out and flings it with tremendous accuracy at the bench. Everyone starts dying. I remember going back and watching the broadcast, “Oh, Suns bench seems to be getting a lot of fun.” They had no idea what’s happening.

What did Shaq do to Amundson’s mouth guard? My imagination is running WILD.

Elhassan also explains why Grant Hill took 25 shots – his most in four years – in that game. Hill needed to score 26 points to average 12 points per game for the season, which would trigger a large bonus in his shoe contract. Hill’s gunning got him 27 points.

It’s a good podcast with other fun anecdotes and worth a listen.

Magic: Mo Bamba out for playoffs, undergoing post-coronavirus evaluation

Magic center Mo Bamba
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
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Mo Bamba contracted coronavirus, fell out of shape, recovered, joined the Magic in the bubble then struggled to contribute on the court.

Now, he’s departing the bubble for good.

Magic:

The Magic are huge underdogs in their first-round series against the Bucks. This doesn’t really change the equation. Bamba had already fallen from the rotation, which is now comprised of Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch at center.

But it raises thorny long-term questions.

Bamba was the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Though he has underwhelmed so far, the Magic were still hoping he’d grow into a quality NBA player. Bamba at least improved from his rookie season.

His progress has obviously been halted. For how long? Will he face lasting effects?

Everyone is trying to get to the bottom of these difficult questions.

Reported Bulls coaching candidates: Kenny Atkinson, Stephen Silas, Darvin Ham, more

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The Bulls fired Jim Boylen. 76ers assistant Ime Udoka was reportedly frontrunner for the job, but Chicago will conduct a full search.

Who else is in the mix?

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

The broad search is expected to include former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas, Bucks assistant Darvin Ham and 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, among others, sources said.

Atkinson is the only former head coach on that list. Like Tyronn Lue for win-now teams, Atkinson is the top available coach for rebuilding teams. (If fired by the 76ers, Brett Brown could supplant Atkinson.) Atkinson had a strong record of player development before Brooklyn shifted priorities.

The Bulls – with Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and a high first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft – could use someone like him.

But Atkinson could have options, and Chicago might not be the most desirable opening.

Udoka, Silas, Ham and Unseld are all rising assistants who have earned head-coaching consideration. Interviews should help determine whether they’re ready for that step.

PBT NBA All-Bubble Awards

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and Rockets star James Harden
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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The NBA will announce seeding-game awards tomorrow.

But the play-in is already set. Other playoff matchups are already set. The final seeding games today are just glorified scrimmages.

So, why wait to name the top performers in the bubble?

Here are our picks using the same format as the league – a Most Valuable Player, two five-player teams (no positions) and a coach:

Bubble MVP

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

Kurt Helin: It isn’t simply that Damian Lillard led the bubble in scoring at 37.6 points per game. It wasn’t how he got those points, with ridiculously deep threes and driving layups. It was when he did it that makes him bubble MVP: When the Trail Blazers had a rough outing (as did Lillard) and looked like they might fade from postseason contention, he came back next game and dropped 61. Then 51 the game after that. Then 42 in the final bubble game with the playoffs on the line. Lillard was the ultimate leader and willed his team to the play-in series, and that’s what makes him MVP of the seeding games.
Dan Feldman: James Harden was more consistently good and even sometimes great. But nobody hit higher levels than Lillard, who stepped up in the biggest moments to lead Portland into the play-in with the eighth-place advantage. Lillard set an emotional tone for a team constantly vulnerable of falling from the playoff race, and he delivered on the court with brilliant offense. He wasn’t perfect, but he went to great lengths to ensure the Trail Blazers met their goal. That’s the bubble MVP.

All-Bubble teams

First team

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)
Devin Booker (Suns) James Harden (Rockets)
T.J. Warren (Pacers) Devin Booker (Suns)
Luka Doncic (Mavericks) T.J. Warren (Pacers)
James Harden (Rockets) Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

Second team

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Jayson Tatum (Celtics) Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks) Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)
Kawhi Leonard (Clippers) Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
DeMar DeRozan (Spurs) Paul George (Clippers)
Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks) Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks)

Kurt Helin: It was difficult leaving Antetokounmpo off the first team, he played brilliantly but his team was in cruise control (plus he took himself out of the last game by headbutting Moe Wagner). A few players such as Fred VanVleet and Michael Porter Jr. also almost made the cut.

Dan Feldman: Lillard, Harden, Booker and Warren were first-team locks. Antetokounmpo was absolutely dominant when he wanted to be, which was limited with the Bucks locking up the No. 1 seed early. Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, Chris Paul, Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet were among the contenders for the final second-team spots.

Coach of the Bubble

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Monty William (Suns) Monty William (Suns)

Kurt Helin: Every young team talked about it heading into the restart (and developing teams not invited to the restart begged for the same opportunity): Using the bubble games as a chance for a young core to grow and take a step forward. Except teams like Sacramento and New Orleans didn’t do that. Phoenix, behind Monty Williams did — they became the story of the bubble at 8-0. Devin Booker exploded and got himself in MVP talk, Deandre Ayton played brilliantly, and the Suns came from six-games back of Memphis to almost make the playoffs. Williams set the Suns up to be a playoff team in the West next season.

Dan Feldman: Phoenix went 8-0! That alone is pretty darned impressive, and the context reflects even more favorably on Williams. The Suns entered the bubble with the lowest playoff odds among the continuing 22 teams. Needing to make up 2.5 games and – more significantly – jump four (!) teams, Phoenix could have easily arrived unmotivated and ripe for distraction. Instead, Williams had the Suns playing fearlessly, cohesively and joyously. Williams even leaned heavily on his young players rather than his veterans, taking excellent advantage of a player-development opportunity and positioning Phoenix to ascend next season.