AN ARENA NEAR YOU – Welcome NBA fans to another edition of the CSN Insiders notebook which as you can imagine this time of year, is full of trade talk.
While the next blockbuster move this season in the NBA will be the first, there’s still lots of activity that’s bubbling over into what should be some interesting deals cemented between now and the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
The first deal of this trading season went down over the weekend involving the Portland Trail Blazers sending Mason Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash to Denver for disgruntled big man Jusuf Nurkic (we wrote about him being one of the first to be traded a couple weeks ago), a future first-round pick (it will be Memphis’ 2017 pick) and cash.
This is one of those both-teams-win kind of deals.
The Nuggets are currently in the eighth and final playoff spot out West. The addition of Plumlee who is having a career season, strengthens their chances of sticking where they are or potentially moving up a spot or two as far as playoff seeding.
Portland (24-30) ranks 20th in rebounding which is an area that Nurkic (16.0 points, 11.6 rebounds per 36 minutes) could help. And he gets a chance to play his way into a meaningful role, something he failed to do with the Nuggets in part because of the emergence of Nikola Jokic whose play has been one of the main reasons Denver is thinking how much their young team would benefit from getting to the postseason now even if the NBA’s most powerful team, Golden State, awaits them. Portland was also motivated to unload Plumlee due to his restricted free agent status this summer, and the unlikelihood that they would re-sign him due to luxury tax concerns.
Meanwhile, the Blazers now have the potential to have three, first-round picks in a relatively solid draft class.
As much as we’re all about trade talk, the story that has the league buzzing is the incident involving ex-New York Knick Charles Oakley and Knicks owner James Dolan which involved Oakley being arrested.
CSN Philly Insider Jessica Camerato details how Dolan who clearly screwed this up (just like he screwed up in hiring Phil Jackson which is another story for another time), tried to change the narrative just days after the incident which Oakley has made pretty clear that it isn’t over.
CAN’T WE ALL GET ALONG?
Days after Charles Oakley was escorted out of Madison Square Garden and arrested following an incident with team owner James Dolan, a familiar face was in the arena in an unexpected setting.
Latrell Sprewell sat with Dolan during Sunday’s game against the Spurs. Sprewell and Dolan have a rocky past, so the pairing was surprising especially after what happened with Oakley.
Former Knicks Bernard King and Larry Johnson were also sitting with them.
"I can't tell you why I haven't been back here, but I'll tell you when I left, I was not happy," Sprewell told ABC, per ESPN.com. "New York is like a second home for me. I love the fans here. The fans have embraced me. There's no place like the Garden to play in. I mean, who wouldn't want to play in the Garden?"
Sprewell played five seasons for the Knicks from 1999-2003. – by Jessica Camerato
BRADLEY’S RETURN REMAINS A MYSTERY
Avery Bradley remains out of commission due to a right Achillles strain with the timetable for his return becoming murkier with each passing day. The Celtics maintain that he’s making progress and getting better, but there are growing concerns that Bradley’s injury may render a similar result to what happened with Kevin Garnett in 2009 when he was unable to play in the postseason for the Celtics.
While the two have very different injuries – Garnett was dealing with a knee injury – there is a parallel between the injury taking significantly more time to return from than expected.
Garnett missed 25 games with the knee injury, and was supposed to return near the end of the season. But on the eve of the playoffs, then-head coach Doc Rivers declared that the knee was sound enough to where Garnett could play in the postseason.
“It's not official that he's out for the entire playoffs, but it's official as far as I'm concerned," Rivers told reporters at the time. "I just don't see how. I hope I'm wrong, but I just don't see it."
While the mood isn’t anywhere close to being that ominous regarding Bradley, the longer it takes for him to return the more concern there will be among fans that his injury may be more serious than it’s being portrayed as currently.
Prior to Boston’s game at Dallas on Monday night, head coach Brad Stevens was asked about Bradley’s return which has now been set for some time after the all-star break.
“We met as a staff (Sunday) and every indication is he’s feeling as good as he’s felt, right now,” Stevens told reporters in Dallas. “What that means, I don’t want to speculate nor do I know.”
In other words, nobody knows when he’ll return which has to be troubling for Celtics fans who know a deep playoff run, barring a blockbuster trade, has to involve Bradley in some capacity beyond cheering from the bench. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
OKAFOR TRADE COMING SOON?
Trade talks surrounding Jahlil Okafor have progressed to the point head coach Brett Brown has decided not to play him while they are ongoing. Brown sat Okafor against the Heat on Saturday. That night, a deal was not imminent but talks were progressing, according to a source.
“There were trade rumors that were happening before the game,” Brown said. “I was aware of those. In those situations, I felt that it was best to not complicate things and not play Jahlil. We talked about it together before the game and I explained to him that this was going to happen for this reason. That’s why I made the decision.”
Okafor did not travel with the Sixers to Charlotte for Monday's game against the Hornets. They only have one more game after that (Wednesday in Boston) before the All-Star break and trade deadline.
The Sixers had been involved in previous discussions surrounding Okafor, including with the Bulls and Pelicans. The talks on Saturday were more advanced than those, per a source. – by Jessica Camerato
RAPTORS SEARCH FOR POWER FORWARD HELP CONTINUES
The Toronto Raptors, once considered the biggest threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers, is now playing its way out of even having home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Every team has holes of some sort that need to be addressed, but few are as blatantly obvious as the power forward position for Toronto. Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com that the Raptors have set their sights on Denver’s Danilo Gallinari and Orlando’s Serge Ibaka, both of whom would be essentially rental players as they each hit the free agent market this summer.
Of the two, Gallinari might be the better fit.
While both players can stretch the floor, Gallinari is a better offensive talent which would take some of the scoring load off of All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And while conventional thinking says that Ibaka would make Toronto’s defense better, that’s not necessarily true. Look at the team he plays for now, the Orlando Magic.
They are a bottom-10 team in almost every statistical category on defense. And while that certainly shouldn’t be totally attributed to Ibaka, he hasn’t exactly played well or made those around him better which is why he’s on the trading block just months after Orlando acquired him.
For Toronto, either player would be an upgrade at this point compared to what they have. The issue becomes what are they willing to give up?
Teams love how Terrence Ross is really starting to come into his own, which is why the Raptors up to this point have been reluctant to include him in any fruitful trade talks. But for them to land that much-needed power forward, Ross may have to be included in the deal. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
MILWAUKEE CAN’T BUCK BAD LUCK TREND
For the Milwaukee Bucks, they can't seem to get it right, through no fault of their own.
One big piece comes back, one goes down--indefinitely.
The day swingman Khris Middleton debuted after a hamstring injury this summer prevented him from starting the year, they lose up and coming star Jabari Parker to an ACL injury--the same ACL he tore his rookie year and threatened to derail his promising career.
Now, he's out for the year and the Bucks have to think long-term about where they go from here.
But now, they have to replace Parker and it could be with the mercurial Michael Beasley in the meantime--as adjusting is something they're used to this year.
"Just going through the process of playing without Khris, we understand how to play without someone," head coach Jason Kidd said to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Now we've got to learn how to play without Jabari. We don't have training camp or time to waste. We've got Friday and Saturday with games. We've just got to be pros.” – by Vincent Goodwill
KORVER: ‘WHO WOULDN’T WANT TO PLAY WITH THE BEST PLAYERS IN THE WORLD?’
When finding ones rhythm happening to coincide with wanting to stay put, it's no such thing as a coincidence, right?
In the case of Cavaliers' new acquisition Kyle Korver, it's been a few weeks in the making but he's finally located his groove and indicated he wanted to stay with the franchise as he becomes a free agent this summer. It's the same week he connects on 12 of 14 3-pointers in his last three games, including an 8-for-9 masterpiece against the Pacers, scoring a season-high 29 points.
"I mean, who wouldn't want to play with the best players in the world?" Korver told Cleveland.com.
Or more specifically, who doesn't want to play with the best passer in the world, one LeBron James?
Keep cashing those checks, Korver. – by Vincent Goodwill
PISTONS (FINALLY) MOTORING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
The Detroit Pistons seem intent on this stop-start process where they can't figure out what they're doing.
But what if they've finally found their groove?
Sunday night's 16-point fourth-quarter comeback win over the Toronto Raptors was their biggest such comeback win in regulation since moving from Fort Wayne in 1957-58, and more importantly, gives them five wins in their last seven games as they tied the Bulls for the seventh playoff spot in the East.
Stanley Johnson has struggled in his second year but if he and Tobias Harris can find their rhythm off the bench, one wonders if they can do more than take up the rear in the playoff race. Johnson scored 11 and played critical minutes in the win over the Raptors.
“I just have to figure out a way to play my game within the system. Offensively, it’s a little tougher for me,” Johnson told the Detroit News. “Even last year, I feel like I found more shots within the system.”
If the system can find a way to make Johnson more effective, Detroit can be dangerous down the stretch. – by Vincent Goodwill
PACERS REMAIN INCONSISTENT, TIME FOR LB TO MAKE A TRADE?
If anybody can get a handle on the Indiana Pacers, call Vegas because not even the experts have a good enough feel for them.
One week ago, they were on the rise and Paul George had been reasserting himself as a bona fide swingman in the league, on a seven-game winning streak and being downright scary as a playoff opponent.
But since then, they've lost three straight, including a thrashing from the Cleveland Cavaliers and what's probably a little worse, they were beat up on the boards late by the Washington Wizards, causing George to call his teammates out for a lack of toughness--the worst thing a team can be called as a whole short of quitting.
“We got stops. Made them miss shots, but we couldn’t secure the rebounds. We’re not tough enough," George said after a 112-107 loss to the Wizards Friday night. "This has been an issue for us all season long. We’re really struggling and we’re just not tough enough. We’ve got to get grittier. We’ve got to get nasty on these boards. We’re just not tough enough.”
If the answer isn't on the roster, one wonders if it'll cause Larry Bird to hit the phones before the trade deadline. – by Vincent Goodwill
D-WADE: ‘YOU KNOW I GOT AN OAK STORY’
No matter the walk of life or a person’s status, coming across Charles Oakley means there’s an experience, an “Oak story” that’s embedded in your brain.
As long as you’re not the topic of an Oak story, it’s probably pleasant in some ways.
“Do I got an Oak story? You know I got an Oak story,” a wide-eyed and smiling Dwyane Wade said to CSNChicago.com Friday afternoon.
Wade was a soon-to-be-rookie in the summer of 2003 when he was working out at famed trainer Tim Grover’s gym in Chicago.
“Oak just randomly came in and played. Open gym,” Wade said.
The directives were clear from the regulars to the novices who hadn’t experienced Oakley in his glory in an open gym with no television cameras, no coaches and most importantly, no referees.
“And everybody was like, "Oak is in here today, you shoot jumpers". I'm like, man (screw) that,” Wade said. “You know me, I'm an aggressive guy, go to the basket.”
“First time I get the ball, I go to the basket.”
From there, Wade’s education on the scrappy big man who didn’t take kindly to high-flying young players coming to his territory began.
“Oak picked me up. I jumped in the air to finish and he grabbed me out the air and said, "don't come in here. Respect.’”
As for the unfortunate situation at Madison Square Garden, Wade stands firmly behind Oakley.
"From an organization standpoint, I thought it was handled poorly,” Wade said. “And I don't condone violence either. I thought it could've been handled better." -by Vincent Goodwill
WIZARDS’ NEED FOR BACKUP BIG MAN, NOT AS GREAT NOW
With Ian Mahinmi back playing after a couple of setbacks with his knees, the Wizards have a clearer path ahead going into the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
That is they don’t require a big man to stabilize the frontcourt behind 32-year-old starter Marcin Gortat.
Defensively, the second unit has been stable. Before Friday’s game vs. the Pacers, the Wizards’ bench had a plus-9.3 points net rating per 100 possessions in the previous 10 games.
The key decision to be made is whether or not they can rely on rookie Sheldon McClellan or veteran Marcus Thornton for scoring from the shooting guard spot behind Bradley Beal – by J. Michael
ZELLER, HORNETS SUFFER YET ANOTHER SETBACK
Even with Cody Zeller, the Hornets were struggling. He returned from a right thigh contusion after missing seven games, played against the Rockets and had another setback and sat out vs. the Clippers.
His injury occurred against the Wizards, and it appears to be similar to one that Washington forward Otto Porter had a season ago.
Zeller said his entire leg had bruising, according to a report from the Charlotte Observer, “from my knee to my hip.”
Porter took a knee in his quad and there was the actual injury that he played through and then bruising and blood pooling in other areas that didn’t knock him out of action until a few games later.
The Hornets already made a trade to acquire Miles Plumlee for Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes. They’ll need Plumlee’s skill set more than ever with Zeller’s situation because he fills the voids that Hibbert and Hawes could not.
“Miles’ strengths fit into what we need,” coach Steve Clifford said. “He can bring physicality, rim protection and versatility in pick-and-roll coverages at the defensive end. I also think that he plays in a very similar fashion to Cody at the offensive end where I think he has a roll game that will allow him to play well with most of the perimeter players on our team.”
JOHNSON’S VERSATILITY, SPOELSTRA’S COACHING KEYS TO RED-HOT PLAY BY MIAMI
At $4 million for this season, James Johnson has been one of the NBA’s best bargains and has keyed a 13-game winning streak for the Heat going into Saturday’s game vs. the Sixers.
“I don’t know if there’s another guy in the league — maybe LeBron (James) and him — who can play the position one to five,” point guard Goran Dragic said.
Johnson is on his fifth NBA team. His overall averages are modest but represent career-highs: 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 35.6% three-point shooting.
Using him at the five spot has been a matchup problem for everyone, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra deserves a chunk of the credit, too. The Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are gone (technically, Bosh hasn’t been released yet), D-Leaguers have been major contributors and Spoelstra still has them in the playoff picture after an 11-30 start.
“I’ve said it for years, but because I worked with him I'm biased and nobody writes it: but there’s not a better coach in the league than Erik,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who used to coach the Heat, told reporters recently.
“People discounted him because he had LeBron and Wade and Bosh. Gregg Popovich is one of the best ever, Phil Jackson. But nobody goes to four straight finals. Nobody. He did. Those other great teams have not. But even before he had those guys, he had them in the playoffs. And now look what he’s doing in Miami.” – by J. Michael
KINGS REMAIN HARD TEAM TO FIGURE OUT
Break up the Kings. Sacramento has won two straight and three out of four this week, including victories over the elite of the Eastern Conference in the Cavs, Celtics and Hawks. Now if they could only beat teams like the Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls, they might be onto something. … All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins sat out in the win over Boston due to league suspension after picked up his 15th and 16th technical fouls of the season against the Bulls. He wound up picking up technical foul No. 17 on Sunday in Sacramento’s 105-99 win against New Orleans. If (when) he picks up No. 18, he will have to serve another one-game suspension. … Ty Lawson strained an adductor muscle against the Celtics and missed Friday’s win over the Hawks. He joins Garrett Temple (torn hamstring), Omri Casspi (calf strain) and Rudy Gay (ruptured Achilles) on the injury list. – by James Ham
D-LEAGUER JONES SET TO STAR IN SLAM DUNK CONTEST
Rookie Derrick Jones Jr. is set to participate in the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend. He’s played in just five games with the Suns this season, but shown a flare for the dramatic in the D-League. … Alex Len missed the Suns win over the Bulls on Friday after being suspended for leaving the bench during an altercation in Phoenix’ loss to the Grizzlies. Rookies Tyler Ulis and Marquese Chriss were each fined $15K for their part in the altercation. … Rookie Dragan Bender is out 4-6 weeks after undergoing ankle surgery this week.
WHERE DO THE SPURS FIND THESE GUYS?
Winners of five out of their last six, the Spurs are once again rolling and they are getting a big boost from an unlikely source.
DeWayne Dedmon appears to be getting his sea legs as a starter. The fourth-year big dropped in 17 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks Friday night against Andre Drummond and the Pistons. Since taking over the starting job six games ago, Demon has posted three double-doubles.
In need of more depth up front with Pau Gasol out of action, San Antonio inked veteran center Joel Anthony for the remainder of the season. – by James Ham
HELP ON THE WAY FOR DAVIS?
Anthony Davis has been New Orleans’ lone hope when it comes to making an impact among frontcourt players, but that may not be the case for much longer. Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor is on his way out with New Orleans appearing to be the front-runner.
The Sixers have been negotiating with a number of teams, but the Pelicans appeared to have jumped to the front of the line after the Denver Nuggets – another team the Sixers were discussing a possible trade with – moved on to engineer a deal that netted them Mason Plumlee from Portland in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic.
If an Okafor trade falls through, look for the Pelicans to make a hard push for Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez. The Nets have the worst record in the NBA, but they won’t benefit from having a high pick in this year’s draft courtesy of the 2013 trade they made with Boston that included, among other things, Boston having the right to swap first-round picks in this year’s draft. They may be inclined to move Lopez now and get a lottery pick in return either from New Orleans or potentially from a third party if the potential trade is expanded.
Regardless, the Pelicans have made it clear that they are searching far and wide for ways to give their franchise player, Anthony Davis, some assistance right now. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
JAZZ TO HAVE JERSEY PATCH WITH CHARITABLE TWIST
The Utah Jazz have always been seen as one of the classier organizations in the NBA, and their latest endeavors will only enhance that image.
Qualtrics, a Utah-based data and analytics research firm will have a patch on the Jazz uniforms for the next three seasons, joining other NBA teams such as the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings.
But the Jazz and Qualtrics are doing something radically different.
Qualtrics will not put its brand logo on the jersey.
Instead, it’ll be a 5 For The Fight logo for at least the first season of the three-year pact.
5 For The Fight is a charitable organization focused on eliminating cancer with $5 donations with the goal being to raise at least $50 million.
“This is the right thing to do,” Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith told USA Today. “As much as I would love to put Qualtrics on it, this idea of raising $50 million for cancer research was something we couldn’t stop thinking about it. The Jazz were open to our ideas and how we wanted to use the patch.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely
PARSONS ROUNDING INTO SHAPE
Other than some Twitter beef earlier with Portland’s C.J. McCollum, we haven’t really heard much from Chandler Parsons this season. Injuries once again limited his impact for long stretches. But the 6-foot-10 wing is relatively healthy now, which could make the Grizzlies a much tougher out once the playoffs roll around.
Memphis signed him to a four-year, $94.4 million contract in part because of his versatility at both ends of the floor. The Grizzlies have been a grind-it-out type of team for years that lacked the kind of firepower in the postseason needed.
Parsons gives them that, while not being a major detriment to what Memphis is about defensively.
Of course the key with him as is the case all the time, is his health.
Injuries have limited him to just 25 games this year while averaging just career-low 6.6 points per game with a minutes restriction of 24 minutes or less.
With 20-plus games left to shake off the rust and improve his conditioning from sitting out most of this season, you can count on the Grizzlies to be one of those teams few want to see in the postseason with the play of Parsons being a factor. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
DURANT GETS LOTS OF BOOS AND THE WIN IN RETURN TO OKC
Kevin Durant stopped by on Saturday night for his first game back in OKC since leaving over the summer. The Warriors throttled the Thunder 130-114 with Durant dropping 34 points and nine rebounds on his former teammates.
Durant’s return was the focus, but Russell Westbrook put on a show as well, scoring 47 points, handing out eight assists and grabbing 11 rebounds in the loss. He also turned the ball over 11 times in an emotional game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. – by James Ham