Knicks forward Maurice Harkless
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Maurice Harkless keeps getting traded. He’s unbothered

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Maurice Harkless is a solid NBA starter. He works hard. He fits in. He produces. Just last season, he was starting in the Western Conference finals.

In fewer than nine months since, Harkless has technically been traded two times – effectively three times, and it easily could have been four times. He started this season with the champion-contending Clippers and got sent to the lowly Knicks just before the trade deadline.

None of the deals were primarily about Harkless’ on-court ability. His $11,011,234 salary on an expiring contract just made him highly exchangeable as teams sought to achieve greater objectives.

A prominent casualty of the NBA’s transactions era, Harkless has elicited sympathy. Told of that sentiment, Harkless stared blankly before chuckling.

“Don’t feel bad for me,” Harkless said, breaking into full laughter.

Harkless is a true professional. He has perspective both outside the NBA (“A lot of people that have got worse things to deal with”) and inside the NBA. He has been traded four (effectively, five) times in his eight-year career.

Heck, the first trade came before his career really began.

Harkless is one of just six players in the last 20 years who signed his rookie-scale contract then got traded before the ensuing season.*

The 76ers drafted him No. 15 in 2012 then included him in the blockbuster four-team Dwight Howard trade, which landed Andrew Bynum in Philadelphia.

*The other five:

For the 76ers, the trade as a disaster. For Harkless, it came just in time. He was set to sign a lease his next trip to Philadelphia.

He joined the Magic and showed promise his first couple seasons. But his role shrank his third year.

Still, Harkless left an impression that season on a rookie teammate named Elfrid Payton, who now reunites with Harkless in New York.

“Everybody comes from a position where they’ve always been The Man, so to speak, quote unquote,” Payton said. “But when you get here, everybody’s like that. So, somebody has to sit down. Even when he was in those situations, he still works hard, came to the gym on time, put in extra work.”

After the season, Orlando traded Harkless to the Trail Blazers for a top-55-protected pick – literally the smallest-allowable return, what amounted to nothing. He didn’t take offense.

“All I cared about was I was in a new situation,” Harkless said. “I didn’t care how I got there.”

Harkless blossomed in Portland. He re-signed for four years, $42 million in 2016 – the only big contract the Trail Blazers didn’t quickly regret from that summer’s spending spree.

That contract contained a $500,000 bonus if Harkless made 35% of his 3-pointers in 2016-17. In the final week of the season, Harkless was at 35.1%. Another miss would drop him to 34.9%.

Harless – who’d been attempting a 3-pointer every 11 minutes of playing time – finished the season going more than 100 straight minutes without shooting a 3 to clinch the money.

What an all-time classic example of a player understanding the business.

Harkless helped the Trail Blazers reach the 2019 Western Conference finals and figured the team would remain intact.

Instead, with starting center Jusuf Nurkic injured, Portland landed longtime-target Hassan Whiteside from the Heat last summer. Harkless’ salary got him included in the trade.

But Miami didn’t want Harkless. In order to complete their sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler, the Heat re-routed Harkless – and a first-round pick! – to the Clippers in what became a four-team deal.

Harkless played well in L.A. as the third forward behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. It’s incredible the Clippers got a first-round pick for taking Harkless, a contributor on an expiring contract.

That contract also made Harkless key matching salary when the Clippers upgraded before the trade deadline. They sent him (with draft picks this time) to New York for Marcus Morris.

The Knicks are heading to the lottery and don’t have a clear need for a veteran like Harkless. It wouldn’t have been surprising if they flipped him before the deadline for a worse player and a pick. Maybe they just didn’t have enough time to work out that deal, especially given their chaotic front-office situation.

New York would accommodate a Harkless buyout if he wants, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. Harkless would be playoff eligible elsewhere if waived by March 1.

For now, Harkless – a New York native who played at St. John’s – is excited about joining the Knicks.

There can be a lot of distraction and hassle with playing on a hometown team. It isn’t for everyone. But Harkless just saw firsthand how Leonard and George are handling playing in their native Southern California.

“They love it,” Harkless said.

This is a new experience, even for the veteran Harkless.

So is getting traded during the season. His previous trades all happened during the summer.

Last week, Harkless went from L.A. to New York for a physical then joined his new team in Detroit. Still learning the playbook, he didn’t play against the Pistons. The Knicks continued to Atlanta, but Harkless didn’t play against the Hawks, either, due to illness. New York will host the Wizards on Wednesday.

“It’s a whirlwind,” Harkless said.

Break up the Suns! Phoenix remains perfect in bubble defeating OKC

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points, and the Phoenix Suns rolled past the short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder 128-101 on Monday to remain perfect and improve to 6-0 in the restart and improve their playoff chances.

The Suns have surged in the Western Conference standings. They entered the day just 1 1/2 games behind eighth-place Memphis and a game behind ninth-place Portland in the race to qualify for a spot in the play-in series.

“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “That may sound like coach-speak, but we dug ourselves a hole with our record. We scrapped all year long and won some games, but it’s been an uphill battle.”

Williams appreciates the position the Suns are in.

“We’ve done a good job of getting to this point,” he said. “No one knew we were going to be here, but we’re here and we’re thankful for that.”

Phoenix center Deandre Ayton sat out the first quarter because he missed his coronavirus test on Sunday. He tested negative on Monday and was cleared. He started the second quarter.

“In an NBA season guys are going to make mistakes,” Williams said. “You have to be able to give people grace. It wasn’t intentional. Thankfully he was able to get tested early enough that he was able to come back and play, and the guys received him with open arms because we all understand we’re human.”

With Ayton out, Oklahoma City led 37-23 at the end of the first quarter. After Ayton entered the game, Phoenix dominated the rest of the way. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds in just over 17 minutes.

Oklahoma City was without four of its top five scorers. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (bruised right calf), Danilo Gallinari (left ankle maintenance), Dennis Schroder (birth of child) and Steven Adams (bruised left leg) sat out. Reserve center Nerlens Noel (sprained right ankle) also did not play.

Rookie Darius Bazley had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

The Suns rallied from 15 points down in the second quarter to take a 65-64 lead at halftime. Phoenix opened the second half on an 11-2 run and controlled the game from there.

“I thought their pressure disrupted us,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought we got a little bit stagnant. We made some pretty decent plays. We were able to get some open looks, but I thought there in the second quarter they turned up their defensive intensity and that probably took us out of some rhythm.”

Rumor: Pelicans will soon fire coach Alvin Gentry

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry works for a lead executive – David Griffin – who inherited, rather than chose, Gentry in the first place. Gentry has had just one winning season in five years in New Orleans, and the Pelicans particularly underwhelmed this season.

Connect the dots.

William Guillory of The Athletic:

The worst-kept secret in the NBA is that Gentry’s time with the Pelicans won’t last much longer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Executive VP David Griffin and Pelicans ownership have a decision to make with a year left on Gentry’s contract, sources said. Consider two relationships Griffin has back to his front-office days in Cleveland and Phoenix, respectively, if there’s a change in New Orleans: LA Clippers assistant Ty Lue and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, sources said.

Zion Williamson was transcendent at times this season. Brandon Ingram blossomed. Youngsters Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Jaxson Hayes showed flashes. Veterans Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors provided reliable depth and versatility.

But New Orleans was never quite as good as the sum of its parts.

Some of that falls on Gentry.

The Pelicans’ defense was often scrambled. An offensive-minded coach, Gentry hasn’t shown he can correct that issue. His lineup decisions rarely maximized the offense, either.

Lue and Kidd are unsurprising candidates. Lue had a great record working for Griffin with the Cavaliers (obligatory LeBron James mention), and Kidd is good at getting his name tied to job searches. Are Lue and Kidd the most likely coaches to replace Gentry? Maybe. Or maybe they’re just the first candidates to emerge publicly. This job search isn’t even officially underway.

But it could be soon.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he expects Joel Embiid (ankle injury) back before playoffs

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Joel Embiid injured his ankle in the 76ers’ loss to the Trail Blazers yesterday.

How serious is it?

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid is out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns with the left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter Sunday vs. the Blazers. He’ll be undergoing treatment and evaluation at the team’s practice Monday night.

Brett Brown said he expected Embiid to play again before the playoffs, though characterized that view as “just one man’s opinion.”

That sounds like great news for Philadelphia, which is already without Ben Simmons.

Embiid can be dominant. With him, the 76ers still have a chance of advancing in the playoffs. It might even be easier to create space around Embiid – where Embiid can really feast – without Simmons (though the loss of the talented Simmons lowers Philadelphia’s ceiling).

However, the 76ers don’t deserve benefit of the doubt for setting accurate injury timelines, particularly with Embiid. There’s an element of “see it to believe it” here.

J.J. Redick loses NBA’s longest-active individual playoff streak (13 years)

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
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As J.J. Redick stared into the distance, he had to see this coming.

Redick will miss the playoffs for the first time in his 14-year career. His Pelicans were eliminated from the postseason race yesterday.

At 13 years, Redick’s playoff streak is tied for the 13th-longest in NBA history. No current player has a longer streak at any point his career. LeBron James also had a 13-year playoff streak (which was snapped last year).

Here are the longest individual postseason streaks in NBA history:

Obviously, some of Redick’s streak was out of his control. He got drafted in 2006 by the Magic, who were rising with Dwight Howard. But Redick’s competitiveness and professionalism made him a steady contributor, and he chose winning situations with the Clippers then 76ers.

But New Orleans was too flawed to make a major leap in this Western Conference.

This clears the way for Bucks wing Kyle Korver to take over the longest active playoff streak. He has played in the last 12 postseasons, and Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff berth.

Here are the longest postseason streaks that could remain active this year.

Players whose teams have already clinched a playoff berth are in blue. Players whose teams are still in the race but haven’t clinched are in gold.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs with their current team, that team is listed in brackets: