Three things to know: Aldridge (Miami?), Drummond (Lakers?) headline buyout class

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The NBA season is into its second half, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Aldridge (Miami?), Drummond (Lakers?) headline buyout class

With a hectic trade deadline in our review mirror, the NBA turns its attention to buyouts: Mostly veteran players with larger contracts on struggling teams who didn’t get traded — or did, to a team where they are not a fit — who now are willing take a little bit of a haircut in a buyout to become a free agent midseason, allowing them to jump to a contending or playoff team.

Usually, that’s a small pool of players, but this season it could look a lot more like a Vegas hotel pool party. A lot more players than normal seem buyout candidates. The teams they jump to generally offer minimum contracts just for the rest of this season, although this year Brooklyn ($4.6 million), Indiana ($7.5 million), Philadelphia ($3.9 million), Golden State ($2.8 million), and others have exceptions or cap space so they can offer a little more than the minimum.

The two biggest names on the buyout market, the two that can potentially impact winning, are LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Drummond.

Aldridge has already reached a buyout with the Spurs and, once he clears waivers, has long been expected to sign with the Miami Heat (a team in need of his stretch four/five skills). However, the Lakers, Clippers, and Nets want to have a conversation with him, too, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.

Drummond is the center from Cleveland who was no longer part of that franchise’s future after the Cavs picked up Jarrett Allen in the James Harden trade. He averaged 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds a game this season, is an elite rebounder and a solid drop-back rim protector, but he brings an old-school game that does not space the floor, and he can be exposed defensively by top pick-and-roll tandems. Drummond had been linked to the Lakers, and they are still the favorite, but in recent days a lot of Knicks buzz has come up because they are under the salary cap and could sign him to as much as a four-year, $64 million contract as soon as he clears waivers. Will Drummond want to try and raise his value with the Lakers or take the Knicks’ cash?

Or does he choose door No. 3 with the Celtics or Hornets or some other team?

Other players traded yesterday who may become available on the buyout market include Otto Porter Jr., Kelly Olynyk, Cory Joseph, Rodney Hood, Austin Rivers, and Avery Bradley. Other names to keep an eye on include Hassan Whiteside, Gorgui Dieng, Wayne Ellington, Jeff Teague, Sterling Brown, and James Ennis.

Fans usually have high expectations for these players, and they can help — Markieff Morris was a boost to the Lakers last year — but they are being waived for a reason. These are role players at this point, not players who change the fortune of a team.

2) De'Aaron Fox takes his star turn, scores career-high 44

Most of the attention in Sacramento on Thursday was on the Kings standing pat at the trade deadline — they didn’t sell on Harrison Barnes or Buddy Hield. Instead — while they did trade  Nemanja Bjelica to Miami — they added Delon Wright and made the moves of a team wanting to make playoffs this season. That’s possible, but the Kings would need to make up ground in the West and leap three teams just to get into the play-in games.

Beating Golden State on Thursday helped that cause — the Warriors are the current 10 seed in the West, and following a 141-119 win the Kings are now just two games back of that final play-in slot. De’Aaron Fox sparked Thursday’s blowout with a 44-point game, a new career-high for the Kings’ face of the franchise.

Sacramento has a legit star in Fox. Whether the Kings are doing the right things to build around him is up for debate, but Fox himself is unquestionably special.

3) Philadelphia now 6-1 without Embiid after beating Lakers

Knocking off a Laker team without LeBron James or Anthony Davis is not a season-defining moment for Philadelphia.

However, that win on TNT Thursday night lifted the 76ers to 6-1 since Joel Embiid went down with a bone bruise in his knee. It’s an excellent sign for a team trying to prove that Ben Simmons Tobias Harris, and the rest of the roster help make the Sixers a worthy contender.

Danny Green had a revenge game against his former team, scoring 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting, plus hitting a dagger three late in a 109-101 win.

However, what everyone is talking about is Dwight Howard‘s ejection. Howard bumped Montrezl Harrell — the kind of thing Howard does a lot to try to get under an opponent’s skin. Harrell pushed back and walked off. Then referee Kane Fitzgerald jumped in and sent Howard packing.

Howard was the instigator, no question, but was that really worthy of an ejection? A lot of quick triggers on officials around the NBA recently.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.

Doncic calls Antetokounmpo ‘the best player in the NBA right now’

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It was a matchup of two of the NBA’s top five players and two guys high in the way-too-early mix for MVP this season: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

Doncic carried the Mavericks again with 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting plus 12 assists.

Antetokounmpo was a force of nature with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting plus 11 rebounds, plus he had more help around him leading the Bucks to a 124-115 win.

There is a mutual admiration society between these two players, and after the game Doncic called Antetokounmpo the best player in the NBA. Via Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.

“Enjoy [competing against him] is hard because I want to win, so it’s hard to go against a guy like that,” Doncic said after the Mavericks’ fourth consecutive defeat. “He’s the best player in the NBA right now. He’s almost impossible to stop. It’s really fun to see him play, but it’s not that fun to go against him.”

Antetokounmpo had praise for Doncic as well.

“That’s a great compliment and I appreciate that,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you play against the best players in the league, being able to say something like that feels good. No matter wins or losses, just being respected by your peers, it’s always a good feeling.”

We have many years of these two players testing each other, and someday it may be Antetokounmpo calling Doncic the best in the NBA.