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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.

Wizards hire former Cleveland Browns exec Sashi Brown, former Georgetown coach John Thompson III

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The Wizards chose Tommy Sheppard as their new general manager.

Now, they’re filling the rest of the front office.

Wizards release:

Sashi Brown will serve as chief planning and operations officer for Monumental Basketball and Daniel Medina will serve as chief of athlete care & performance for Monumental Basketball.

Brown will manage efforts relating to technology, finance, communications, security, research and player engagement and Medina will head up medical, training, mental health, strength and conditioning, nutrition and physical therapy/recovery.

Leonsis also announced a new athlete development & engagement department which will be led by former Georgetown and Princeton Head Coach John Thompson III. Thompson will use his vast experience to lead a team that will focus on maximizing player potential both on and off the court for all Monumental Basketball athletes. Employing a holistic development approach, the department will focus on financial literacy, post-playing career opportunities and the overall empowerment and development of the athletes.

In addition to Sheppard’s promotion and the addition of Brown, Medina and Thompson, Leonsis also announced two promotions of current staff. Sashia Jones, who previously served as vice president of community relations, was promoted to vice president of player engagement and will work with Thompson to provide services to players for all teams. Brett Greenberg, who previously served as vice president of basketball analytics/salary cap management, was promoted to assistant general manager for strategy and analytics.

When the Cleveland Browns hired Brown to run their front office in 2017, it was an unconventional choice. He’s a Harvard Law grad whose apparent football connection was serving as the Browns’ and previously Jaguars’ general counsel.

Now, he’s getting hired to work for an NBA team with even fewer obvious basketball ties.

That might be fine. Employers should more often consider untraditional candidates. Maybe Brown’s intelligence will translate.

It is a weird fit, though.

Under Brown’s watch, Cleveland essentially imitated imitated Sam Hinkie’s Process. The Browns went 1-32 in Brown’s two seasons in charge, accumulated assets, didn’t draft particularly well and still rose into a budding power under the next general manager.

Now, Brown will work for Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, who said his team would never tank.

To be fair to Brown, he might have more than one gear. Just because he thought that strategy was right for the Browns at that time doesn’t make it the only way he can contribute. It’s also possible Leonsis is more open to new ideas.

Thompson is part of basketball royalty in Washington. Both he and his father coached Georgetown. Though the younger Thompson had his ups and downs on the job, it’s still a prestigious position – especially in D.C.

It’s a little surprising Medina landed with with another NBA team so quickly. The 76ers had plenty of issues with Joel Embiid‘s, Zhaire Smith‘s and Markelle Fultz‘s health. But evaluating medical personnel is extremely difficult. Results say only so much. The counterfactual is hard to assess.

Why did Jimmy Butler choose Miami? It started playing dominoes in Little Havana

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Jimmy Butler‘s push to get himself to Miami in a sign-and-trade caught the NBA off guard.

The basketball cultural fit made sense — the Heat’s focus on hard work and conditioning as a foundation for winning are very Butler — but with the Sixers, Lakers, Clippers, Rockets and other teams interested in him Butler could chase a ring next season. The Heat were a year or two and a couple of big moves away from that level. Yet Butler chose Miami after meeting with the Heat staff and canceled other meetings. Soon enough, the deal got done and Butler was a member of the Heat.

How did butler come to that moment? It started when he played dominoes in Little Havana. Anthony Chaing at the Miami Herald put together a fantastic look at how Butler — with some help from Dwyane Wade — came to love Miami.

As for Butler’s fit with the city of Miami, he started exploring that in April with a tour through Little Havana. With the 76ers in town to take on the Heat in the final home game of Wade’s career on April 9, Butler used the first part of that day to learn about the area.

Butler was determined to experience “the real Miami” and settled on Little Havana as the neighborhood to tour…

On April 9 during a tour of Little Havana, Butler was looking forward to proving he was a better dominoes player than those at Domino Park that day. Not aware that double-nine dominoes were used at the park, Butler was thrown off because he grew up playing with a double-six set…

The group ended up playing double-six dominoes. And of course, Butler won.

Butler spent the first part of that end-of-the-season day trying to get a feel for Miami, its people, their love of basketball, and if he would be happy there. He ultimately decided yes, he would. Wade had planted the seed with Butler that the Heat organization and Miami would be a good fit for him, but Butler had to explore and figure it out for himself.

Butler started that months before he met with teams, but by the time he walked out of the room where Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, and the rest of the Heat brain trust had been to pitch him on June 30, Butler knew where he wanted to play. He left it to the Heat and 76ers to figure out the sign-and-trade (which sent Josh Richardson among others to the Sixers, a move that cleared out enough cap space for Philly to sign Al Horford).

Now it’s on that Heat brain trust to add a lot more talent to the roster.

Bucks GM Horst says keeping Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez was summer priority

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Milwaukee made the leap last year — won 60 games last season, had the MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, was top five in offense and defense, reached the conference finals, and became a serious title contender. It was an amazing season and run, one that earned GM Jon Horst Executive of the Year honors, as voted by his peers.

But a GM’s job is never done.

The Bucks went into the summer with three starters as free agents and a lot of questions about keeping the roster together. Milwaukee retained two of those starters — Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez — and those two were the top priorities, Horst told Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

Khris was always a focus… He’s our second superstar, our second star. He’s an All-Star. He’s been one of our best players for a long period of time here. Fits our culture, fits our style of play, fits our aging curve. He’s become a leader of our team. For us, we want to try to recruit with him and play the culture fit, winning. Create an environment he wanted to play in for a long, long time. A place where his family is happy with Sam and the baby and everything…

When we got Brook last offseason, we understood, at some level, how important he was going to be to us and how important he was going to be and what the value was going to be. We also understood if he’s as good as we think he’s going to be, it’s going to present a lot of challenges.

The challenges Horst is referring to are about money. The Bucks got Lopez on a one-year steal of a contract at $3.4 million, but he played his way into an eight-figure salary. Keeping Lopez meant roster changes were needed to create cap room.

The ultimate upshot of that is Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic are no longer with the team. The Bucks could have matched the four-year, $85 million offer Indiana put on the table for Brogdon, but doing so would have put them deep into the luxury tax and tied their hands in other ways. The Bucks signed Wesley Matthews as a stopgap instead.

Malcolm is very, very important and we knew how important he was to our team. It will be hard to replace him. I think we’ve done the best that we can and we’ll continue to work in ways to be creative and fill that gap.

Horsts’ moves this summer should keep the Bucks as title contenders next season, they head into the season as the favorites in the East.

That’s not the biggest question facing Milwaukee, however. That is: Did the moves keep Antetokounmpo happy? Next summer he can be offered a super-max contract extension to stay with the Bucks through his prime, if he turns it down the Bucks have to consider trading him. Will Antetokounmpo take the money? Every move Horst made this summer needed to bring Antetokounmpo closer to answering yes to that question.

We’ll see how it went in a year.

Chris Paul says players don’t really talk about money in locker room

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Locker room banter flies all over the conversational map: Clubs/restaurants to first cars to rappers to Fortnite to why Player X never has any lotion and always has to borrow someone else’s.

What doesn’t come up? Money.

That according to Chris Paul, who should know after 14 years in the league and now serving as the players’ union president. He was talking about his campaign to help players become more financially aware and said this to Clevis Murray of The Athletic.

“I think the reason why I’m so passionate about this is because I’m finishing up my 14th year in the NBA, and I’ve been around long enough to realize that guys in our league, we talk about everything in the locker room except for finance, except for money,” he said. “Nobody talks about money, because it’s one of those uncomfortable things.”

It’s a strange dynamic in an NBA locker room because everybody knows what everybody else makes, it’s very public, and that provides a certain measuring stick of worth.

Yet how does one player tell another “man, your entourage is too big, you’re blowing your money.” Players finally making money understandably want to take care of family and close friends, but other people come into their life and things can spiral fast. CP3 says he gets it, and he is working with Joe Smith — who made $60 million in NBA earnings and lost all of it — to help prepare rookies.

The stories of NBA players blowing through their money absolutely happen, but they also are not the majority, and the numbers are shrinking. More and more players are learning to be smarter with their money and set themselves up on some level for life after basketball. Not all, but guys who stick in the league a few years tend to learn. If Paul and the union can come up with ways to reach players at an earlier age and prepare them for what is to come, all the better.