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NBA Insider Notebook: Time for Magic and Rockets to trade?

NBA Insider Notebook: Time for Magic and Rockets to trade?

Hello NBA fans out there!

AT AN NBA ARENA NEAR YOU – Welcome to another edition of the CSN Insider notebook that’s once again chock full of news nuggets, trade rumors and analysis that you won’t find anywhere else.

This week we start things off with a player who not that long ago seemed to have a bright future in the NBA, but now finds himself in the D-League.

We’re talking about Detroit’s Stanley Johnson, selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2015 draft.

Not only has he fallen out of the rotation, but he now finds himself in the D-League with the Grand Rapids Drive.

In his first game with the Drive, he had 26 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Apparently head coach Stan Van Gundy approached Johnson with the idea of playing in the D-League at the end of last week.

“I was with it because I want to play,” Johnson told reporters. “It’s tough to watch games go by and obviously you want to play and catch a feel. I haven’t played (this much) in months so just to get a feel and hope I get another opportunity in the NBA and I’ll be able to play.”

CSN Chicago Insider Vincent Goodwill sheds more light on Johnson’s situation in Detroit, and the possibility that his days with the Pistons may be numbered.

D-LEAGUE NOW, TRADE LATER FOR JOHNSON?

Whatever is going on in Detroit between Stan Van Gundy and second-year swingman Stanley Johnson looks like it’s headed toward critical mass with the coach/president sending Johnson to the D-League for a short stint over the weekend.

Johnson hasn’t gotten consistent playing time and Van Gundy has called him out publicly, while also suspending him for a violation of a team rule over a week ago. Just a year ago, Johnson was trash talking LeBron James in the first round of the playoffs and was viewed as the Piston with the highest long-term potential.

Now, one has to wonder if he’s on the trading block.

Sources have told CSNChicago.com the Pistons have resisted overtures for Johnson but with the recent developments, expect executives for rival teams to be more aggressive.

No one can deny what Johnson can physically bring to the table and if teams view him as an undervalued commodity by the Pistons, things can get interesting with the trade season kicking off December 15. – by Vincent Goodwill

RUBIO: TIMBERWOLVES PLAYING WITH ‘NO HEART’

One of the biggest early-season disappointments has been in Minnesota, where the young and talented Timerwolves have stumbled to a 6-17 start.

After Friday’s 117-90 home loss to Detroit, the Timberwolves were first booed by the Target Center crowd, then after the game they were called out by veteran point guard Ricky Rubio.

“We can accept making mistakes … but playing with no heart, with no desire, it’s just awful,’’ Rubio told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. “Right now, it’s just bad … it seems like we didn’t care.’’ – by Jason Quick

MEMPHIS HAS THE BLUEPRINT TO BEATING THE WARRIORS?

Golden State’s Stephen Curry probably summed it up best when he said “we sucked” following the Warriors’ 110-89 loss at Memphis.

But as bad as they played, the Grizzlies offered up a clear blueprint for what it takes to beat Golden State.

They played Golden State about as physical as any team has all season. They made timely shots, even getting 3’s from unlikely shooters such as Zach Randolph.

But what Memphis exposed more than anything else, is the dirty little secret that this Golden State team has trouble with aggressive, defensive-minded wing players.

Tony Allen gave Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry fits all game long, and backed up his strong play defensively with 19 points. Memphis’ 6-foot-9 JaMychal Green and 6-7 Troy Williams are also physical wings who stepped up their aggression level at both ends of the floor.

And when you look at their three losses this season to San Antonio, the Los Angeles Lakers and most recently Memphis, strong play from the wing position defensively was a key to the game’s outcome.

Does this mean Memphis has their number?

Of course not.

It wouldn’t shock anyone if the Warriors win each of their next matchups with the Grizzlies.

But Memphis knows that if they play their brand of basketball which they did last week, the Warriors become a very beatable foe.  – by A. Sherrod Blakely

BUYER’S REMORSE IN WASHINGTON?

Mirza Teletovic, who signed for three years and $30 million with the Milwaukee Bucks, wasn’t high on the Wizards’ radar in free agency. He dropped 25 points on them in 26 minutes in a 110-105 loss on Saturday night, making 5 of 6 threes.

The forward the Wizards signed instead, Andrew Nicholson, had two points on 1-for-3 shooting in nine minutes. He was signed for four years, $26 million. – by J. Michael

KORVER STRUGGLES, OUT OF THE STARTING LINEUP FOR HAWKS

Kyle Korver has fallen off since two seasons ago when Atlanta won a franchise record 60 games. 

Defenses figured out how to take him away and make him less effective. In fact, before they struggled to get past the Wizards in the East semis until John Wall broke his wrist and then were swept by the Cavs in 2015, the verdict was in.

Korver shifts side to side on the arc on the catch when he’d come off those baseline screens in floppy actions. He doesn’t attack the basket. If he can’t get the three, he’s very unlikely to pull up mid-range.  

After losing 9 of 10 games, coach Mike Budenholzer made the switch to Thabo Sefolosha in the starting lineup as Korver can’t even get off more than seven shots a game as a starter now. – by J. Michael

CELTICS BETTER OFF WITHOUT THOMAS?

The Boston Celtics have had mixed results with Isaiah Thomas out of the lineup, prompting some to wonder if the Celtics are better off without the all-star guard.

Thomas has heard the talk and his reaction is pretty much what you would expect from a guy averaging 26 points per game and dishing out a team-high 6.2 assists for a team that has consistently been in the top-5 of the East. 

“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to (head coach) Brad Stevens.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

LILLARD, STOTTS WITH THE ASSIST … TO THE REFEREE?

Damian Lillard and Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts played a role in coaxing a rare violation Wednesday against Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

With 10:49 left in the third quarter, Antetokounmpo was called for a 10-second violation by referee Gary Zielinski before shooting the second of two free throws.

“The first (free throw), I was like counting, because it was taking so long,’’ Lillard said.

He turned to Zielinski, a veteran referee in his 17th NBA season, and voiced his concern.

“And he looked at me like, ‘Nobody calls that,’’’ Lillard said.

Zielinski was stationed in front of the Blazers’ bench, and before the second free throw, Lillard and Stotts started counting aloud once Antetokounmpo was handed the ball.

“And we got up to like 13 before he called it,’’ Lillard said. “I think he didn’t want to call it just because we were saying something. But once we got to 13 … it was like, we were right. He made the right call.’’

It looked like a crucial call at the time as the Bucks were trailing 60-54. But it turned out to be about the only thing that didn’t go right for Milwaukee and Antetokounmpo in the third quarter.

The Bucks outscored Portland 34-18 in the third quarter and Antetokounmpo recorded 15 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and four blocks -- his second triple double this season and seventh of his career.

Stotts last season in Milwaukee began counting on Antetokounmpo’s free throws -- to no avail – but said he didn’t enter this game intent on getting the violation. – by Jason Quick

[RELATED: Wall balances taking what's given and forcing the issue]

RUDY GAY TRADE CHANGED FORTUNES OF RAPTORS FRANCHISE

In one of the great examples of addition by subtraction, last week marked the three-year anniversary of the Toronto Raptors trading Rudy Gay to Sacramento.

Since then, the Kings have been one of the worst teams in the NBA while the Raptors have ascended to the top of the Eastern Conference standings which includes a pair of Atlantic Division titles to their credit. 

“I think everyone is happy and proud of how far along we have come,” Raptors forward Patrick Patterson told reporters recently. “Everyone is extremely proud of one another and we are happy. It’s crazy — three years ago, the trade was made and I was just here getting to know everybody, starting from scratch, and here we are now, a solid team in the NBA.”  - by A. Sherrod Blakely

SPEIGHTS TO CLIPPER TEAMMATES: LEAVE THE REFS ALONE

The Clippers have spent four seasons as perhaps the most enigmatic and least likable team in the NBA. They earned a reputation for lacking fortitude and trying to bait game officials, and it consistently hurts their cause.

Veteran big man Marreese Speights, who signed with the Clippers after three seasons with the Warriors, offered a searing glimpse into the flaws of his new team.

“First we need to start really just leave the refs alone,” he said after a blowout home loss to the Warriors last week. “Guys just got to sacrifice, do some other things other than scoring, do some other things than your personal goals. Just try something new. They’ve been doing it here for four or five years, and it hasn’t been working. So it’s time to try something new.”

The upcoming months will reveal whether the Clippers actually listened and are better for it, or if they point fingers at Speights for his candid message. – by Monte Poole

OUBRE ON THE RISE

Kelly Oubre is starting to justify the Wizards trading up to get him in the 2015 draft, with teams such as the Rockets and Hornets interested in acquiring him. 

Oubre, who was given the quick hook by coach Scott Brooks for lack of focus just two weeks ago, has posted his first career double-double and set a high of 19 points in a win over the Bucks this weekend. More importantly, the 21-year-old forward is closing games in the fourth – not being relegated to garbage time which was the case in his rookie season under then-coach Randy Wittman. 

Is he going to take the starting job of Otto Porter? No. Porter is having a career-best season and both players will have their moments. But when Porter comes up as a restricted free agent this summer, the Wizards may have options. Both players are best-suited so far with each other on the court. – by J. Michael

ASIK ON THE MOVE?

In Anthony Davis, the Pelicans have a top-5 talent in the NBA. But the rest of the roster serves as a reminder of why collectively they are deserving of their bottom-five status in the league. They are as ripe as any team in the league right now when it comes to being open to making a trade.

Omer Asik, the rim-protecting big man who has not been nearly as impactful in the Big Easy as he was in Chicago, is very much available a league source has told CSNNE.com

While the Celtics were rumored to have had interest in him when he was in Chicago as well as during his time with the Pelicans, another league source indicated they anticipate the Celtics will take a wait-and-see approach with any potential trade that doesn’t significantly enhance their chances at making a deep playoff run and being a contender in the East along with defending champion Cleveland and Toronto.

“Danny has enough good players,” the source said. “He’s looking for a star, or at least someone who is trending in that direction. It makes sense. Look at that team now. That’s the only thing they’re missing, really.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

MAGIC, HOUSTON TRADE ON THE HORIZON?

They’re ailing with bigs Nikola Vucevic (back) and Bismack Biyombo (shoulder) banged up, and so they’ve called up Stephen Zimmerman from the D-League. 

Scoring is going to be a problem for Orlando, but if they’re giving up a lot of points, too, winning will be even more difficult.

"When you're trying to build something, it takes daily work, daily habits. We certainly have slipped on the defensive end,” coach Frank Vogel said after a loss to the Denver Nuggets in which they allowed 121 points. 

If there are two teams that could benefit from talking before the trade deadline to improve their fortunes, it’s the Magic and Houston Rockets. One is heavy on defensive stoppers (Orlando) and the other on scorers (Houston). – by J. Michael

[RELATED: Kelly Oubre breaks out for Wizards against Bucks]

MOTIEJUNAS, ROCKETS CLOSE TO GETTING DEAL DONE … FINALLY

At long last, there is a conclusion to the uncertainty surrounding restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas.

Motiejunas had received a four-year $37 million offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets, which the Houston Rockets matched. Motiejunas then did not report for his physical.

But the Rockets and Motiejunas are heading in the direction of signing a four-deal, which has ranged between $35 and $37 million, according to multiple reports.

The new deal will allow the Rockets to move Motiejunas earlier than the original one, should they choose to trade him. Now the Rockets will be able to deal him when their season ends. In the first deal from the Nets, the Rockets would not have been able to trade Motiejunas until December of 2017. 

Motiejunas averaged 6.2 points and 2.9 rebounds in 37 regular season games for the Rockets last season. He posted 8.8 points and 5.2 boards in the playoffs. – by Jessica Camerato 

WESTBROOK MVP CHASE CONTINUES TO GAIN TRACTION

Russell Westbrook continues to build on his MVP resumé. The five-time All-Star has posted a triple-double in seven straight contests and currently averages an incredible 30.9 points, 11.3 assists and 10.8 rebounds per game on the season.

Westbrook is tied with Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson for second most consecutive triple-doubles and he is two away from tying Wilt Chamberlain’s record of nine straight triple-doubles. With 12 triple-doubles through 23 games, Westbrook’s on pace to challenge Robertson’s record of 41 triple-doubles in a season set during the 1961-62 campaign.

Riding the hot play of their star player, the Thunder have won 6-of-7 coming into Sunday’s matchup against the Boston Celtics. – by James Ham

ROUGH TIMES FOR LAKERS, WILLIAMS’ PLAY A BRIGHT SPOT

After three weeks as a budding Cinderella story, the Lakers have been undone by a litany of injuries. Since spending two weeks in November at or above .500, they’ve tumbled, losing 10 of 13, including the last five in a row.

The one bright spot during that stretch was the scoring of Sixth Man Lou Williams.

The veteran guard scored 137 points over a recent four-game stretch – the highest total ever for a player coming off the bench in a four-game span, according to the statistics gurus at Elias.

“Usually if you score a lot of points, you probably get some wins out of it,” Williams said. “We haven’t gotten any wins out of it, so there’s not a lot to take from it either.” – by Monte Poole

GOOD … BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN

Sacramento is in every game, but they can’t seem to find that missing ingredient that would put them over the top. The Kings have lost 4-of-5 heading into Utah on Saturday night and they currently sit at 8-14 on the season. 

Matt Barnes sat out Friday night’s game against the New York Knicks for “scheduled rest.” The veteran forward is currently under investigation by the NYPD for his role in an early morning fracas at a New York City nightclub. Both he and center DeMarcus Cousins have already been sued over the incident, but as of Saturday, no criminal charges have been filed against either player. – by James Ham

IGGY’S BOUNCE? IT’S BAAAACK!

Veteran wing Andre Iguodala is back, according to his teammates. Not that he actually disappeared.

Iguodala has been active with the Warriors all season, but rarely during the first few weeks did he display the explosive hops that have helped define him over a 13-year career.

That has changed of late, as Iguodala has been driving to the bucket with relish and soaring for dunks. This has not gone unnoticed.

“Oh, man, he looks amazing,” forward Draymond Green said recently. “Three weeks ago, I thought his bounce was gone. We kept messing with him, telling he can’t jump any more. He’s definitely got the bounce back.”

“He went back in his bag and found it somewhere. I don’t know where it was at, but he got it though.”

In the final year of his four-year, $48 million contract and turns 33 in January, Iguodala would like to earn another sizable pact. He’s going to need all the lift he can find. – by Monte Poole

BLEDSOE GETS A NICE B-DAY GIFT: A RARE SUNS WIN

The Suns celebrated Eric Bledsoe’s 27th birthday Friday evening by snapping a three-game skid with a 119-115 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Phoenix still sits at the bottom of the Pacific division at 7-16.

Third leading scorer, T.J. Warren, has missed nine straight games with a minor head injury and there is still no date set for his return. – by James Ham

BUTLER ON TIBS: ‘I RESPECT THE (BLEEP) OUT OF THE GUY’

It’s time for “The Return” in Chicago!

No, not Derrick Rose; that happened already.

But Tom Thibodeau will march back into Chicago as an opposing coach for the first time, leading the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves into the United Center Tuesday.

Thibodeau had become sort of a cult figure in Chicago with how tough his teams played and how controversial his departure was after the 2014-15 season. The fact that Minnesota is 6-17 as of Sunday afternoon probably won’t dampen Chicago’s affections for the man who went 255-139 with the Bulls from 2010-15.

“I would say it’s another game but I think everybody knows how I feel about Thibs,” Jimmy Butler said. “I respect the (bleep) out of the guy. And what he’s trying to do over there. I spent some time with him with USA basketball. He was here for the beginning stages of my career and I’ve gotten better since then. I want to show him what I’m capable of.” – by Vincent Goodwill

[RELATED: Wall balances taking what's given and forcing the issue]

JAZZ HUMMING ALONG DESPITE RASH OF INJURIES

 Has there been a team more riddled with injuries than Utah?

 The Jazz last week were down to one regular starter when they played host to Golden State, as only center Rudy Gobert has remained healthy throughout the first 23 games. Still, the Jazz are keeping their heads above water, maintaining a winning record.

“The injury thing … it hasn’t smiled on us,’’ coach Quin Snyder told the Deseret News. “I think we’ve handled it really well up to this point and that’s why we’ve had a little bit of success. We have to keep grinding and not feel sorry for ourselves.’’

The most recent injury was Gordon Hayward re-aggravating the broken left ring finger, which he first suffered in the preseason.  He joined George Hill (toe), Rodney Hood (hamstring) and Derrick Favors (knee) as starters out. Top reserve Alec Burks (ankle) hasn’t played this season. – by Jason Quick

WINNING NOT ENOUGH TO PLEASE POPOVICH

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich demands excellence from his team, which is why he has a 1107-490 (.693 percent) career record in the regular season and five Championships since taking over the Spurs during the 1996-97 season.

Following San Antonio’s 95-91 loss Thursday to the Chicago Bulls, Popovich had some pretty harsh words for his team.

“I don’t remember playing tonight, I didn’t play. Guys get a lot of money to be ready to play.”

The Spurs have won 13-of-15 coming into Saturday and the loss to Chicago was their first road defeat of the season. – by James Ham

LEBRON CONTINUES TO REACH ALL-TIME MILESTONES

LeBron James certainly has his credentials in the Greatest of All Time argument, although many concede he’ll never catch Michael Jordan for actual honors. However, he’s in a party of one in terms of a milestone he passed earlier last week.

James is the only player in NBA history to amass more than 27,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 7,000 assists, passing the 7,000-assist threshold most recently while also passing Elvin Hayes on the all-time scoring list.

In the micro sense, he’s also shooting from long-range at a higher clip than he has in recent seasons when many believed his 3-point shooting had abandoned him.

As of Sunday, following a 40-point explosion against the Charlotte Hornets, James is shooting 36.5 percent from the 3-point line. The mark, if it holds, would be the third-highest of his career, bested only by the 2012-13 and 2013-14 season in Miami when he was a near-40 percent shooter.

If he continues to shoot like this, it makes the Cavs’ margin for error that much wider for the postseason and the inevitable rubber match against the Golden State Warriors. – by Vincent Goodwill

WESTBROOK MATCHES M.J.

Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook on Friday against Houston recorded his seventh consecutive triple-double, matching Michael Jordan for the longest triple-double streak since 1989. – by Jason Quick

GREEK FREAK DELIVERING ACROSS THE BOARDS FOR THE BUCKS

Quiz time!

Who’s the one player in the NBA to lead his team is scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks?

The lazy, or easy player to select would be Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, but the answer would be wrong thanks to Anthony  Roberson leading the Thunder in blocks and having a couple other players before Westbrook’s 0.3 blocks per game.

So…the answer has to be Giannis Antetokounmpo for the Milwaukee Bucks, a player who cannot be forgotten in the best all-around player argument.

Averaging 21.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.1 blocks and 2.0 steals, he might be putting together the most unique season in NBA history—if anyone decided to notice. – by Vincent Goodwill

SIXERS (BARELY) AVOID ANOTHER HISTORICALLY BAD STREAK

The Sixers have been on many streaks over the last few seasons, and not for the best reasons. They teetered on setting another record Thursday, but avoided it with a win over the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Entering that game, the Sixers had lost 23 straight on the road, dating back to Jan. 27 of this year, which tied a franchise mark. They had also lost 23 in a row from March 29 to Dec. 23 of 2015. 

A loss to the Pelicans would have been 24, a new franchise record. Instead, they pulled out a victory despite being shorthanded without Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid shooting 5 for 15 from the field. 

Some of the players said they were unaware of the streak, but all were relieved to have broken it.

“[It feels] good,” Nik Stauskas said. “Obviously you never want to be on the wrong side of the record.” – by Jessica Camerato

PACERS SLOWED BY UP AND DOWN PLAY THIS SEASON

If anyone can figure out what’s going on with the Indiana Pacers, raise your hand.

Clearly owning the title for team “up down, up down”, they’re the one team in the Central Division that’s right at .500 but their point differential is in the negative, and in a big way (-2.7).

They beat the Portland Trailblazers at home but lost to the Dallas Mavericks on the road. They lost to the Golden State Warriors by 36 points, but beat the L.A. Clippers two times by a total of 30 points.

Paul George is back at full strength it appears after a few nagging injuries, and has averaged 28 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.6 steals in his last three games. This team is still a hard one to figure out outside of George, and given their inconsistent play, it was no wonder a goofy internet rumor about George being shipped to the Detroit Pistons was given some level of credence. – by Vincent Goodwill

[RELATED: Film study: Wizards well-schooled on offense]

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Wizards set to represent NBA on global stage, hope to keep momentum rolling in London vs. Knicks

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Wizards set to represent NBA on global stage, hope to keep momentum rolling in London vs. Knicks

The Wizards enter Thursday's matchup with the New York Knicks, set for 3 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington, with several factors working in their favor. For one, they have been playing quite well lately and have some momentum. Also, they are facing the Knicks, whom they have dominated for years, winning 17 of 19 meetings going back to 2013.

It's also technically a home game and the Wizards have been much better in those (13-8) than they have in road games. The problem is that this game is not actually at home, it's in London, England where many of the advantages the Wizards would otherwise hold are out the window.

The Wizards' recent upswing of five wins in eight games, all since it was revealed John Wall will miss the rest of the season due to left heel surgery, will be put to the test due to an unorthodox schedule. They last played on Sunday, a two-overtime loss to the Raptors, meaning they will have three off-days in between games.

They have only had three days off in between games one other time this season and that wasn't disrupted by a 3,700-mile flight across the world. They will also be dealing with a five-hour time change that was compounded by a seven-hour flight.

This game will be the only one for the Wizards across a stretch of seven days. After playing the Knicks on Thursday, they return home to see the Pistons on Monday, Jan. 21. They then have two more off-days before hosting the Warriors on Thursday. Staying sharp through all of this could be a challenge.

The fact the Wizards have to burn a home game is not ideal, given they are so much better in Washington than elsewhere. The same factors road games provide like travel and hotel rooms will still apply. The crowd could also be neutral or even pro-Knicks, removing what is usually a benefit of playing at Capital One Arena.

Several things should still work in the Wizards' favor, however. Not only have they owned the Knicks in recent years, but they won't have to face Enes Kanter, who did not travel with the team due to a dispute with the Turkish government. He has been particularly good against the Wizards this season with averages of 14.0 points and 15.5 rebounds per game.

Tim Hardaway Jr. (hamstring) and Mitchel Robinson (groin) are also banged up and did not play in the Knicks' last game on Sunday, a loss to the Sixers.

The Wizards also have a host of guys playing their best basketball of the season. Bradley Beal is looking like an All-Star with averages of 29.8 points (41.4 3PT%), 6.6 assists and 5.3 rebounds during the Wizards' eight-game surge.

Otto Porter Jr. has averaged 16.0 points while shooting 45.7 percent from three during that stretch and Trevor Ariza hasn't been far behind with 15.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. 

The Wizards are fifth in the NBA in scoring (119.8), eighth in offensive rating (113.9) and 11th in defensive rating (109.4) in their past eight games. They are third in threes made per game (13.5) and seventh in three-point percentage (39.3).

Washington has reached a new level in recent weeks. Now they just have to keep it going despite all the unusual factors at play. They have a unique opportunity to represent the NBA on the global stage. Getting a win would make it all that much better.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

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2019 NBA Trade Deadline: Will the Wizards be buyers, sellers, or standing pat?

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USA TODAY Sports

2019 NBA Trade Deadline: Will the Wizards be buyers, sellers, or standing pat?

The Wizards are in the midst of their best basketball of the season. That only makes the upcoming decisions surrounding the Feb. 7 trade deadline more challenging.

With Bradley Beal’s elite play fueling a surge before the team’s trek to London, Washington went 3-2 in five games against NBA contenders. Even one of the losses, Sunday’s double-overtime thriller against the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors, provided hope for a playoff push and a bit more should the Wizards qualify.

The Wizards, 18-26 and two games back of a playoff berth entering the week, must pass three teams for the eighth seed. Six teams are currently jockeying for the final three spots in the Eastern Conference horse race. With a Secretariat-level kick, Washington could gallop all the way to sixth.

Remain bullish and perhaps the Wizards seek help rather sell off assets. Pulling that off without adding to the luxury tax bill would make team president Ernie Grunfeld quite the contortionist. If reaching the postseason for the fifth time in six years remains the goal, get twisty.

Now for some reasons why the organization might choose another path despite the ample pluck shown by the active players.

Since the 2012-13 season, a team sitting two or more games back of the eighth seed as of Jan. 1 reached the playoffs only three times, according to the website Basketball-Reference.

The idea of trading away players, namely those on expiring contracts, isn’t appealing for those focused solely on the current season’s potential. Doing so accomplishes several goals: 

  • Acquiring draft picks and player assets for a franchise with only five players under contract for the 2019-20 season and without a second-round selection until 2023. 
  • Potentially increase the team’s 2019 NBA Draft lottery odds. Washington currently has the sixth-best odds at the No. 1 overall selection. Landing that pick likely means selecting Duke’s runaway top prospect, Zion Williamson. 
  • Targeted trades could create future salary cap space. Washington’s projected 2019-20 salaries total $111 million, eclipsing the $109 million salary cap and leaving little wiggle room below the $132 luxury tax line. Of the five players under contract, only Beal, John Wall and Otto Porter are established building blocks. 
  • Eliminate some or all of this season’s entire $8.6 million luxury tax burden. Erasing the luxury tax altogether keeps the Wizards a bit further away from paying a higher tax rate as a repeater tax squad.

The key for league observers is proper self-evaluation, including fair expectations for Wall coming off another surgery. The latest occurred this month as repairing bones spurs digging into his left heel ended the five-time All-Star’s season.

Making moves for coveted first-round draft picks means taking on future salary, a likely scenario for most deadline trades involving rentals like Trevor Ariza.

“I don't think you can worry about clearing money for next year. You just need to avoid the tax,” a former NBA general manager told NBC Sports Washington. “If taking on money next year means getting close to (avoiding) the luxury tax threshold this year I'd be comfortable with that because I think they're more than one year away from fixing this. I would start to accumulate assets as quickly as I could.”

Whatever the future thoughts, there are current realities ranging from that luxury tax payment to season ticket plan renewals.

“Can’t separate basketball from business,” a current NBA team executive said. “We don’t play the game of basketball. We’re in the business of basketball.”

There’s also the playing of basketball. Try telling Beal the Wizards should regroup for next season when hopefully a healthy Wall returns and assets acquired at the trade deadline mature.

Beal, sensing external expectations dropping immediately after Wall’s surgery news, suggested doubters should stay tuned.

“I’m trying to shoot for the playoffs,” Beal said.

Since then he has recorded his second triple-double of his career with 45 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists in 55 minutes against the Raptors. Beal is averaging 30.2 points over his last nine games.

This isn’t a one-man effort. Guard Tomas Satoransky also recorded a triple-double over the weekend while Ariza fell a rebound shy against Toronto. Big moments for Otto Porter, Thomas Bryant and Jeff Green come regularly.

Beal’s hopes and forewarning for doubters won’t stop many outside the organization from focusing on the allure of salary cap flexibility and asset gathering above all. Both sides have merit. Washington can only make substantive moves in one of those directions before the Feb. 7 trade deadline.

Winning a seven-game playoff series is a lofty goal for a team yet to win more than three games consecutively all season and currently poised for the draft lottery. However, as state lottery promotions might say, you also cannot win if you don’t play.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: