Category: Featured

5 NBA stars playing for big contracts down the stretch

Team-wide success around the NBA can ultimately be a financial boon for individual players set to hit free agency. That’s no different with about two months remaining in the 2019-20 season.

New Orleans Pelicans star forward Brandon Ingram is set to hit restricted free agency after earning his first All-Star appearance. He could potentially get a max deal if the youngster is able to close the season out strong.

The same thing could be said for impending unrestricted free agent Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers. The future Hall of Fame center has seen a career resurgence this season. How will he look over the stretch run?

It’s in this that we check in on five NBA stars who could cash in big time this summer with strong performances to close out the regular season.

Brandon Ingram, forward, New Orleans Pelicans

Coming off his first ever NBA All-Star Game appearance, the 22-year-old Ingram is slated to become a restricted free agent this summer. He’s averaging an absurd 24.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists on 47% shooting from the field this season.

That seems to suggest that Ingram will be in line for a rookie level max contract offer from either the Pelicans or another team. Of course, this is dependent on him continuing at his current pace and remaining healthy. Remember, injuries were an issue for Ingram during his Lakers career. For Ingram, the final two months are about remaining on the court and showing consistency. If so, he’ll get paid big time this summer.

DeMar DeRozan, guard, San Antonio Spurs

The 30-year-old DeRozan has a $27.74 million option for the 2020-21 season that he’s certainly going to decline. Still in the midst of his prime, this former All-Star will want to cash on one final long-term contract. The lackluster summer market for free agents only adds to this.

With that said, can a guy with a limited offensive game earn a max deal on the open market? Still able to go for 20-plus annually on a nightly basis, DeRozan has attempted only 74 three-pointers since the start of last season. He put up 287 in his final season with the Raptors. Expanding his shooting range while continuing to average 23-plus points on a nightly basis will help dictate the market DeRozan receives in free agency.

Fred VanVleet, guard, Toronto Raptors

Set to become a restricted free agent this coming summer, VanVleet can make it clear to the Raptors that he’s a franchise cornerstone to go with Pacal Siakam. The former undrafted free agent from Wichita State has improved leaps and bounds in each of his first four seasons. He’s averaging 18.0 points and 6.8 assists on 40% shooting from distance this season.

Should Toronto continue its remarkable post-Kawhi Leonard run and earn a surprise trip to the NBA Finals, it would not be a shock if they handed VanVleet a rookie-level max contract. If not, we’re darn sure other teams will consider doing just that.

Dwight Howard, center, Los Angeles Lakers

This potential future Hall of Famer is well beyond earning long-term contracts in free agency. Howard, 34, signed a non-guaranteed veteran minimum deal with the Lakers during the summer after appearing in just nine games with the Washington Wizards last season. He’s responded by putting up the most efficient numbers since his Orlando Magic days.

Howard heads into the unofficial second half of the season shooting 74% from the field while averaging 7.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in under 20 minutes of action. With Los Angeles battling it out for the top seed out west, the team might ask for more from Howard as the season comes to a conclusion. How he responds will tell us everything we need to know about how Howard’s market will play out come July.

Evan Fournier, guard, Orlando Magic

His Magic are currently the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference at seven games under .500. It’s been an up-and-down season in Orlando for both Fournier and his team. Though, the 27-year-old guard is putting up the best statistical campaign of his career. Fournier is averaging 18.7 points on 41% shooting from distance.

Bosting a player option of $17 million for next season, it’s clear that Fournier will decline it and hit the open market. Given how weak free agency is going to be this summer, he could cash in big time. How the veteran performs down the stretch will play a large role in the market that greets him.

Winners and losers from 2020 NBA All-Star Game

The 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago was among the most memorable in recent league history. Saturday night’s events were something else.

The game itself the following night did not disappoint in any way. While the early going lacked defense and intensity, the end of the game was absolutely crazy.

As the teams continued to trade shots, it became apparent that this would end up being the greatest All-Star Game in sports history. Maybe a way to pay homage to one Kobe Bryant.

Team LeBron came out on top over Team Giannis by the score of 157-155. It was something else.

Here are the biggest winners from what was a dramatic exhibition game in Chicago Sunday night.

Winner: Magic Johnson, Common and Jennifer Hudson

We knew that the pre-game festivities inside Chicago’s United Center Sunday evening were going to be Kobe-centric. The backstory to this year’s All-Star Game was the tragic passing of Kobe, his daughter and seven others three weeks ago to the day in a helicopter accident in Southern California.

Not a dry eye was left in the building after Magic Johnson paid tribute to both Kobe and former NBA Commissioner David Stern, the latter of whom he credits with helping him overcome his HIV diagnosis more than a quarter-century ago.

From there, Jennifer Hudson performed an absolutely beautiful solo with Kobe and his late daughter, Gianna, featured in the backdrop. The “American Idol” finalist and Academy Award winner put her heart and soul into the performance. Having dealt with personal tragedy in her life, this hit home for the Chicago native. If that wasn’t enough, Common went up on stage and provided an amazing oral history of Chicago basketball. Just some great stuff right here.

Loser: Chaka Khan

We hate to call out this Chicago native for her National Anthem performance Sunday evening. Unfortunately, it was disastrous from the get-go. More often than not, it seemed like Khan was screaming at the top of her lungs rather than actually singing.

It was a cringe-worthy performance, as evidenced by the reaction on social media. Heck, NBA players listening to the rendition were also thrown for a loop. This really did remind us of Fergie’s anthem performance back in 2018. In fact, many concluded that the former “Black Eyed Peas” vocalist was better. Ouch!

Winner: Kawhi Leonard

The reigning NBA Finals MVP meant business early and often Sunday night. It’s not a surprise that Leonard put on his game face while the rest of the players were pretending like this was a pick-up game early on. Kawhi hit seven three-pointers in the first half alone.

When all was said and done, Leonard scored 30 points on 11-of-18 shooting in a dominant offensive performance. It was enough to keep Team LeBron afloat until a crazy fourth quarter of action.

Loser: Luka Doncic

This super sophomore made sweet music with Ben Simmons early in the game. It’s the type of play we’ve become accustomed to from the NBA MVP candidate.

Unfortunately, the rest of his first All-Star Game did not go too swimmingly for Doncic. The youngster scored eight points on 3-of-6 shooting. In a wide-open game of this ilk, we’d expect this wizard to fill up the box score. That will come in due time. It just did not happen on Sunday.

Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Greek Freak translates pretty darn well to an open-court environment. Based solely on his athleticism, Giannis was going to put up numbers in the 2020 NBA All-Star Game. However, we did not anticipate his squad keeping it close against Team LeBron after a lackluster performance in the first quarter. That’s especially true after he was dragged during the All-Star Draft.

Individually, Antetokounmpo scored 25 points on 12-of-21 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out four assists. Even in an exhibition game, he’s proving himself to be a cut above the rest.

Loser: James Harden

Taking part in his eighth consecutive All-Star Game, we’re surprised that Harden has never come away with the MVP. This format seems to benefit a player of his ilk. Sadly, that did not come to fruition Sunday evening.

Harden scored 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting and was on the receiving end of a disrespectful nutmeg from Atlanta Hawks star guard Trae Young. This obviously wasn’t Harden at his best.

Winner: Fourth quarter effort

This had to be the single most competitive All-Star Game environment we’ve seen in some time. After some major issues on defense in the opening stanza and throughout the remainder of the first half, things picked up big time in the second half. Maybe the new scoring format paying homage to Kobe played a role in this.

After the third quarter was complete, the “target” score for each team was 157. Team Giannis held a nine-point lead at that time. Effort picked up. The game was ultimately tied at 152 in a fourth quarter that wasn’t timed.

When all ways said and done, the end of the game was about as crazy as it gets. Multiple offensive fouls. Some elite-level defense. Drama. A coach’s challenge. Everything you could ask for. An NBA Finals environment. This new format was something else. The intensity was also yet another way for the game’s best players to honor Kobe. What an amazing job the Association did in Chicago Sunday night and throughout the weekend.

Bold predictions for second half of the NBA season

The unofficial second half of the NBA season will get going later this week after what has been an event-filled All-Star weekend.

There’s a whole heck of a lot still in play with about two months remaining on the slate.

Just how bad will the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference be once all is said and done? Will the Philadelphia 76ers retain Brett Brown should the team struggle out of the post-break slate?

Over in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets are looking to put both Los Angeles teams on notice. Meanwhile, star rookie Zion Williamson and the Pelicans will continue to make waves.

These are among the six bold predictions for the remainder of the NBA season coming out of the All-Star break.

Eastern Conference team makes the playoffs 10 games under .500 

This conference has not been as bad as we’ve seen in recent seasons. A total of five teams are 10-plus games over .500. With this top-heaviness has come a major divide between those teams and the rest of the conference. In fact, the Orlando Magic are currently the eighth seed at 24-31 on the season. 

It’s crazy to think about. The 20-33 Washington Wizards are just three games out of that final playoff spot. Heck, the Chicago Bulls (19-36) find themselves just five games out. I’m here to predict that one of these three teams makes the playoffs at 36-46, at best. It will ultimately lead to one of the most lopsided playoff series in NBA history when the Milwaukee Bucks come calling.

Nuggets slip past Lakers in the West

The Denver Nuggets were among the best teams in the NBA heading into the All-Star Break. They got red hot, posting a 24-9 record to close out the first half after starting the season 14-8. This included a 24-point road win against the Lakers back in late December. An overtime loss to those very same Lakers this past Wednesday does not change the fact that Denver is for real. 

I’m going to boldly predict that Denver makes up the four games that separates itself from Los Angeles over the final two months of the season. All-Star center Nikola Jokic will finally get into shape. Jamal Murray will continue to play at a high level. Meanwhile, youngster Michael Porter Jr. will be the Nuggets’ ace in the hole. Look for the Western Conference to go through Mile High once the playoffs start.

Sixers head coach Brett Brown is fired 

Following what was a uneven pre-break performance, the Sixers head into the second half as the fifth seed back east. Brown’s coaching has come into question, leading to general manager Elton Brand failing to commit to him for the remainder of the season. While a team in playoff positioning firing its head coach is rare, I’m here to boldly claim that’s going to happen. 

Philadelphia has an experienced assistant in that of Jim O’Brien who coached the team to the playoffs back in 2004-05. Maybe he can light a fire under this star-laden squad, the dramatic Joel Embiid included. After all, the Sixers are going nowhere fast under Brown. If it’s not in the second half of the season, it will be this coming summer. Brown is not long for the job in Philly. That much is clear. 

Pelicans sneak into the playoffs

Boasting a 23-32 record, New Orleans finds itself 5.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. That’s a lot of room to make up with just 27 regular-season games remaining. Though, recent trends seem to suggest that Zion Williamson and Co. could very well sneak into the playoffs. 

New Orleans ended the first half winning 16 of its final 25 games. Williamson is playing at an historical level as a rookie. Fellow youngster Brandon Ingram is a first-time All-Star. Lonzo Ball has improved leaps and bounds over the past month or so. Everything seems to be aligning for Alvin Gentry’s squad to earn the eighth seed out west. Expect it to happen. 

Bucks win 70 games

Currrently 46-8 on the season, Milwaukee would need to win 24 of its final 28 games to become just the third team to win 70 games in a single season, joining the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and 2015-16 Golden State Warriors in that elite company. Could Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. accomplish this feat? 

First off, the Bucks are surprisingly just 6.5 games ahead of the streaking Toronto Raptors for the No. 1 seed back east. At the very least, the team will be playing meaningful basketball up until the final couple weeks of the season. Of Milwaukee’s final 28 games, almost half of them are against teams under .500. There’s a darn good chance this team will indeed finish 70-12 or better. What an amazing accomplishment that would be. 

LeBron matches Jordan with fifth NBA MVP award

A lot has been made about Giannis Antetokounmpo winning his second consecutive MVP award. Given the Bucks’ success and his absurd numbers, that makes sense. Houston Rockets star James Harden has been a favorite for this individual honor all season.

Neither will come away with the hardware. Instead, it will go to LeBron James. The 35-year-old is playing at an otherworldly level. James is averaging 25.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and an NBA-high 10.8 assists per game. He’s also plus-8.2 per game when on the court. After failing to earn this award since all the way back in 2013, James will hoist the trophy for the fifth time — matching MJ for second on the all-time list.

5 NBA stars who must step up in second half of the season

The NBA is now at its All-Star break. While the second half of the season has already started, the “unofficial” second half represents a time that teams get more serious.

Contenders vie for playoff positioning. Stars attempt to step their game up. Those who struggled through ho-hum starts to the season look to turn the corner.

From Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn to Victor Oladipo in Indiana, multiple star players in the Eastern Conference must step up to put their teams in a better position.

Out west, it’s going to be a dog fight for positioning and playoff spots. Can Kristaps Porzingis continue his recent stellar performance and propel his Mavericks to a top-four seed?

These are among the five NBA stars who must step up big time once the All-Star break comes to a conclusion late next week.

Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn heads into the All-Star Break with Irving having missed 34 of the team’s 54 games. It really is something to behold. He has suffered setback after setback on the injury front.

When on the court, this former NBA champ has not elevated the level of play, either. The Nets boast a 8-12 record in games Irving has suited up in. The backdrop here being some drama between the enigmatic point guard and his new team.

If the Nets are going to make noise come playoff team. Heck, if the Nets are going to make the playoffs. Irving simply must get healthy and prove signing him to a max contract was not a mistake. It really is that simple.

Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas Mavericks

After struggling throughout the season, the Unicorn has picked it up big time for his Mavericks recently. It has also coincided with MVP candidate Luka Doncic’s most-recent ankle injury. Porzingis averaged 28.5 points and 10.5 rebounds on 52% shooting in the six games heading into the break.

Not only does Dallas need Doncic to remain healthy, Porzingis must play at this All-Star level if the team wants to earn home-court advantage in the first round. Dallas finished the first half with a 17-16 record after starting 16-6. Ouch!

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

This is not to say that Simmons has failed to step up recently. The All-Star has been great since the turn of the calendar, averaging 20.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 2.1 steals over the past 18 games. He’s also a top Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

At issue here is drama surrounding fellow star Joel Embiid and Philadelphia’s status as merely the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the break. Heck, head coach Brett Brown is on the hot seat.

In order for the Sixers to make a “second half run,” Simmons needs to elevate his game on offense. It might be too late to expand his shooting this season, but a better and more consistent all-around performance would help Philly live up to what were lofty pre-season expectations.

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Out of shape. That’s been the word surrounding Jokic in the Mile High City thus far this season. His performance in an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers heading into the break added another level to this narrative.

Overall, the Joker is performing at nearly the same basic statistical level as last season. He’s just been too inconsistent for a Nuggets team that’s looking to vie for the Western Conference title.

Consider this. Jokic has scored 15 points or less 14 times this season. That total stood at 17 times all of last year. He’s also finished negative in the plus-minus territory as many times (23) as he did all of last season. If the surprising Nuggets want to be seen as legit contenders, Jokic must step up.

Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers

It’s understandable that Oladipo has struggled out of the gate in seven games since returning from a year-long absence. He must get his proverbial sea legs under him. Maybe the All-Star Break will provide that.

What we do know is this star guard is averaging just over 11 points on a disastrous 33% shooting from the field on the season. He’s also minus-38 when on the court during that span.

Indiana has the talent to make waves in the postseason back east. Unfortunately, recent struggles have coincided with Oladipo’s return to the court. The Pacers lost six of the seven games he suited up in prior to the break. This must change in short order.

5 realistic trade scenarios for Sixers star Joel Embiid

We’ve seen the frustration on his face. We’ve heard the Philadelphia 76ers fans boo him. We’ve watched the team struggle as a whole at times this season.

Things are not going too swimmingly for All-Star center Joel Embiid and his Sixers right now. It has led to speculation that one of the game’s most-skilled big men could be traded during the summer.

If so, I figured it made sense to give an early look at five realistic Embiid trade scenarios for the summer should a deal become imminent.

Embiid to the Pacers for Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and multiple first-round picks

This deal would include Philadelphia ridding itself of Al Horford’s bloated contract while taking on the likes of T.J. Warren and Aaron Holliday as both bench options and salary fillers.

It’s a great move for Philadelphia in that depth and three-point shooting has been an issue. Brogdon is averaging 16.6 points and 7.3 assists. He’d be a perfect fit to take some of the ball-handling duties from Ben Simmons. In turn, the Sixers get a youthful big, Myles Turner, that has fallen out of favor in Indiana and a potentially lethal sixth-man in that of T.J. Warren out on the wing.

From Indiana’s perspective, it’s all about winning now. All-Stars Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo are two nice pieces. But imagine them teaming up with Embiid. We’d be talking a legit NBA title contender in 2020-21.

Embiid to the Thunder for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams and two first-round picks

Ends to a means. That has to be the explanation around what Thunder general manager Sam Presti is building right now. OKC was thrown for a loop when Paul George requested a trade last summer. The team responded by pulling off a tremendous deal with the Clippers, bringing in the talented Gilgeous-Alexander. He could be used as a chip to acquire an even bigger-name player.

The idea here for Oklahoma City would be to get that one true star to team up with the still-impressive Chris Paul. At least for the short-term, a combo of Paul, Embiid and another acquisition this summer could be enough to contend out west.

From a Sixers perspective, they would be adding an uber-talented 21-year-old guard who is averaging nearly 20 points per game and playing efficient basketball (47% shooting). Philly would also acquire a defensive-minded Adams to fortify its front court.

Embiid to the Blazers for C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Trevor Ariza and two first-round picks

We already know that the Blazers are going to have to blow up their star-studded backcourt if they want to be taken seriously in the Western Conference. Even with Damian Lillard putting up some crazy numbers this season, they find themselves at 25-31 and four games out of the No. 8 seed heading into the break.

A huge move is needed in the Pacific Northwest. Teaming Lillard up with Embiid would be that move in more ways than one. Talk about an inside-out game to compete with the big boys in the conference.

On the other hand, Philadelphia adds an outside scoring threat who is capable of going for 20-plus on a nightly basis. It also picks up a center in Nurkic who was on an upward trajectory prior to suffering a devastating injury back in March of 2019. If he can return to form, this would be a tremendous move.

Embiid to the Wizards for Bradley Beal, John Wall and two first-round picks

Why in the world would Philadelphia take on Wall’s contract after he suffered a ruptured Achilles last February? After all, Wall has not suited up in a calendar year and is playing under a four-year, $171.1 million contract. The answer to that is easy. General manager Elton Brand and Co. rid themselves of Al Horford’s deal and pick up two unprotected first-round picks from Washington.

Even if Wall never returns to form, adding one of the game’s best guards to go with those two picks would change the outlook in Philadelphia. Beal, 26, is averaging 29.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists on 45% shooting from the field this season. He’d be a tremendous fit with Simmons.

On the other hand, Washington has to consider blowing it up big time. While giving up two first-round picks to move Wall’s contract would be a bitter pill to swallow, said contract is almost untradeable. Being able to acquire a potential franchise cornerstone in Embiid would also get fans in the nation’s capital excited about this product.

Embiid to the Jazz for Rudy Gobert, Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley and two first-round picks

This is similar to the hypothetical Wizards deal from Philadelphia’s perspective. Taking on Conley’s bloated contract as a way to both move Horford and acquire draft pick assets. It makes too much sense, especially given the fact that Gobert is one of the top interior defenders in the NBA and would be a great replacement for Embiid.

Let’s not even mention the fact that Bogdanovic is in the midst of a tremendous season that’s seeing him average 21.0 points on 40% shooting from distance. Adding that type of talent to go with Simmons would make Philadelphia more balanced and legit title contenders.

Now, why would Utah do this? It’s simple. Salt Lake City has never been an attractive free-agent destination. The team has only been able to find elite talent through the draft. Given the Jazz’ success and likelihood that they will be picking in the bottom third of the first round for the foreseeable future, improvements are going to be hard. Teaming Embiid up with Donovan Mitchell would give this squad an elite one-two punch. Horford provides the inside threat that the Jazz would be missing without Gobert with a much better offensive game.

Top post-NBA trade deadline storylines

The 2020 NBA trade deadline offered us plenty of action with multiple All-Stars being dealt. To an extent, it has helped shake up the Association heading into the final two months of the regular season.

Though, there’s a whole heck of a lot to look at outside of that.

From a grief-stricken Los Angeles Lakers team looking to win one for the late Kobe Bryant to struggles in Philadelphia, let’s check in on the top post-deadline storylines around the NBA.

Win one for Kobe

We have learned first-hand over the past few weeks just how precious life is. Just how unimportant the game of basketball can be, even for the players. Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing at the age of 41 will forever be linked to the Lakers’ 2019-’20 season and the broader NBA.

As LeBron James and Co. look to pick up the pieces, his Lakers are the unquestioned best team in the Western Conference. It might seem like destiny. An all-time great bringing a 17th championship to this organization. The story writes itself. It will be something we’re talking about throughout the end of the regular season and in the playoffs. Just imagine if this happens.

The Sixers’ defining moment 

Currently the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, these Sixers have fallen on hard times recently. No one would have envisioned that Brett Brown’s squad would enter the post-deadline NBA schedule behind the likes of the Indiana Pacers. But that’s where we are at.

This is not only a defining stretch for Brown on the bench. The same thing can be said about stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Specifically, Simmons has received a lot of criticism thus far this season. If the Sixers are not able to get a top-three seed and make a deep run into the postseason, there will be a lot of talk about blowing this thing up during the summer.

Clippers looking to mesh 

It’s crazy to think about it. Los Angeles currently sits at 36-15 heading into the post-deadline slate. This is despite the fact that recent acquisitions Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have missed a combined 33 games and have played together in less than half of the Clippers’ outings this season.

The final two-plus months will be all about these two coexisting better on the court. In a vacuum, each one is a dominant figure. Finding a way to mesh better as a duo could lead to these Clippers challenging their in-city rivals for the Western Conference championship. That’s only magnified by the acquisition of Marcus Morris, who will act as a major reinforcement.

Bucks chasing history 

Currently sitting 44-7 on the season, Milwaukee would have to go 30-1 over the final 31 games to best the 2015-16 Warriors for the most wins in single-season NBA history. That’s not happening. However, there’s a darn good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. could become just the third team in Association history with 70-plus wins. That would required a 26-5 record from here on out.

It’s not like this team has not been dominant. It has scored 100-plus points in its first 51 games. The Bucks are also defeating opponents by an average of 12-plus points per game. With nearly half their remaining games against teams that are currently under .500, it will be fun to watch this squad chase history moving forward on the season.

Luka Doncic’s health 

Two separate ankle injuries have pretty much ended any hope that Doncic could be a surprise MVP winner. When on the court this season, the sophomore has been absolutely dazzling. He’s joined LeBron James in exclusive company and continues to dominate. Here’s a dude that’s averaging 28.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game.

Doncic’s health over the final two months of the season is going to be a major storyline, both in Dallas and around the Western Conference. The Mavericks are on pace to win 50-plus games. Kristaps Porzingis has upped his game big time. A healthy Doncic could lead to this team to make major noise once the playoffs come calling.

More drama in Brooklyn? 

We’ve read the reports. Kyrie Irving is already having issues meshing with his new Brooklyn Nets squad. Multiple injuries to the former NBA MVP has not helped matters here. To say that it has been a disastrous first season for Irving in the Big Apple would be an understatement.

It’s not helping that Brooklyn currently sits at 23-27 on the season and is on pace to be throttled by either Milwaukee or Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. Given Irving’s enigmatic personality and the bright lights of NYC, one has to wonder if the drama we’ve seen thus far is only the start.

The beginning of the end in the Pacific Northwest 

It would not be an absolute shock if general manager Neil Olshey was fired late in the season should the Blazers find themselves out of playoff contention. That’s how far the once mighty have fallen. One season after earning a spot in the Western Conference Finals, Portland sits at 24-28 and is on the outside looking in out west.

More so than a potential front-office shakeup, struggles down the stretch could ultimately lead to Portland breaking up the star-studded backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. With these two leading the charge, these Blazers continue to be largely irrelevant on the broader NBA stage. If that doesn’t change in the final two months of the season, expect major changes in the Pacific Northwest. That would start with McCollum.

South Beach partying like the 2000s 

Pat Riley. We can’t rave enough about just how darn well the front office head did for Miami this past summer. These Heat added to a questionable core by bringing in rookies Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn. The trade for Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo‘s emergence into a star center have been huge, too.

Miami currently sits at 34-16 and is battling for a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference. It has the depth to go up against the conference’s best, especially after adding Andre Iguodala to the mix. We’re highly intrigued to see how the final two months of the regular season and the playoffs are going to play out in South Beach.

It’s Zion Williamson’s world 

Could the 21-31 New Orleans Pelicans earn a surprise playoff appearance? Given Williamson’s performance coming off an injury and the emergence of Brandon Ingram, it’s possible. However, the focus in the Bayou throughout the remainder of the regular season is going to be the progression of this rookie No. 1 pick.

A true freak of nature, Williamson is averaging 19.8 points and 7.5 rebounds on 57% shooting from the field. Those are otherworldly numbers for a teenager. They will also see a major uptick as Williamson gets his legs under him and starts playing more minutes. It’s going to be fun to watch this youngster star as the season concludes.

North of the border domination 

If you’re not surprised and impressed by the Toronto Raptors’ 37-14 start to the season, we’re not too sure what to tell you. Without reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, the defending champs look every bit as good as we saw last season.

Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet have taken on starring roles. Kyle Lowry is playing great basketball. Nick Nurse is a top Coach of the Year candidate. Can Toronto bully its way to a No. 2 seed and threaten Milwaukee’s domination once the playoffs come calling? It’s a major storyline for the next couple of months.

Fall out from D’Angelo Russell blockbuster

One of the bigger midseason trades in recent NBA history saw the struggling Golden State Warriors trade Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Andrew Wiggins and what will be a valuable future first-round pick.

We’re highly intrigued to see how Russell meshes with best bud Karl-Anthony Towns in Minneapolis. Could the two finally form that dynamic duo the Wolves have been missing? In San Francisco, the Warriors are in the midst of a gap year. Once Stephen Curry returns from injury, how is he going to look with Wiggins as his running mate? Despite these being two of the worst teams in the NBA, it’s still an interesting storyline.

Winners and losers from NBA trade deadline

So much for a quiet NBA trade deadline. Thursday’s action around the Association was fast and furious as multiple blockbuster deals were pulled off.

The Golden State Warriors traded All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Andre Wiggins and draft picks. They were blasted for it.

Meanwhile, the previously reported Andre Iguodala deal to the Miami Heat was expanded some on Thursday. Let’s not even mention the Cleveland Cavaliers’ shocking trade for All-Star center Andre Drummond.

It’s in this that we look at the biggest winners and losers from what was a crazy NBA trade deadline.

Winner: Atlanta Hawks

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk knew he needed to add to the supporting cast for super sophomore Trae Young after a disastrous first half of the season. More than appeasing to Young, it was all about making sure this young squad was more competitive.

That started back in January with Atlanta re-acquiring former All-Star guard Jeff Teague to be Young’s backup. All it costed the Hawks was the bloated contract of Allen Crabbe.

Then, a few days before the deadline, Atlanta took part in one of the biggest mid-season deals in recent history. It acquired stud young center Clint Capela from the Houston Rockets in a deal that only cost the Hawks a 2020 first-round pick (from Brooklyn) and the expiring contract of Evan Turner, who was not even in the rotation.

The Hawks continued to improve their roster and future financial flexibility by acquiring Dewayne Dedmon as well as multiple second-round picks from the Sacramento Kings for under-performing and injury-plagued forward Jabari Parker. Job well done by Atlanta here.

Loser: Houston Rockets

Is Robert Covington a good player? Yes. He’s vastly underrated as a three-and-d wing. The issue here is that Houston gave up a whole lot to get him. That included a center in Clint Capela who has proven to be an elite-level rebounder and rim protector. With their eyes on the Western Conference title, the Rockets don’t match up well with teams like the Lakers and Nuggets, who boast tremendous bigs.

Houston attempted to land a big time center to replace Capela at the five. It ended up with a player in Jordan Bell who has not panned out since starting his career strong with the Golden State Warriors. Realistically, the Rockets just didn’t get better at the deadline.

Winner: Philadelphia 76ers

Even Sixers head coach Brett Brown knew that they needed help from the perimeter. Ben Simmons’ inability and unwillingness to expand his game from beyond the paint has continued to be a major issue for this under-performing squad.

In yielding a mere three second-round picks, Philadelphia was able to pick up veteran wings Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III on the cheap. They come in at a combined $4.3 million against the cap. The two are also averaging a combined 29.0 points on roughly 39% shooting from three-point range on the season. Embattled general manager Elton Brand did some major work here.

Loser: Los Angeles Lakers

Even with Kyle Kuzma on the block and an ability to move Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s contract, the Lakers were not able to pull off any move ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline.

In fact, they were beaten to the punch by the Clippers for Marcus Morris. that’s certainly a bitter pill to swallow. Sure these Lakers remain the best team in the Western Conference. They could add through the buyout market. Even then, letting the deadline pass without adding an upgrade has to be seen as a loss.

Winner: Miami Heat

Giving up Justise Winslow to get Andre Iguodala was a high price to pay. While Winslow is sidelined to injury, he’s just 23 years old and has proven to be a great long-term three-and-d option. With that said, Iggy has been in the NBA Finals the past five seasons and provides a wealth of experience. Let’s not even get into the fact that he remains one of the top perimeter defenders in the game.

The same deal enabled Miami to rid itself of the contracts of Dion Waiters and James Johnson while adding a valuable bench option in that of Jae Crowder. Miami didn’t even have to yield a draft pick in this six-player deal. Now looking like a legit contender, front office head Pat Riley has pulled off quite the coup in South Beach.

Loser: Golden State Warriors

Boasting the worst record in the Western Conference, it was not a surprise to see Golden State sell off three assets it acquired in the summer. The Warriors are building for next season, when Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry return from injury.

Even then, acquiring four second-round picks for the likes of Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson and Willie Cauley-Stein is not getting market value. Specifically, one has to believe that the Dubs could have gotten a late first rounder for Burks. He was averaging 16.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 38% from three-point range on the season. Robinson? He was averaging 12.9 points on 40% from distance. Ouch!

Then, on Thursday, Golden State moved 23-year-old All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves for overpriced wing Andrew Wiggins and a 2021 protected first-round pick. While said selection could be of value on the trade market, Wiggins for Russell was a major downgrade. He’s overpriced, one dimensional and is seen as an enigma. Tanking is one thing. Taking on a contract like that in hopes of a career rebirth is another thing.

Winner: Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers beat their Southern California rivals to the punch for star Knicks forward Marcus Morris on Thursday. Los Angeles was aided by the ability to move this year’s first-round pick. Even then, dealing that pick to go with Mo Harkless and an expiring contract proved to be a coup for the Clippers.

Morris, 30, is in the midst of a career season that has seen him average nearly 20 points to go with 5.4 rebounds while shooting 44% from distance. He adds yet another scorer to a stacked group that already includes Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams. Let’s not even mention the fact that they were also able to land backup point guard Isaiah Thomas once this turned into a three-team deal. Just insane.

Loser: Detroit Pistons

We knew that the Pistons were looking to offload All-Star center Andre Drummond. We also knew that the market was not great for him. In no way does that justify Detroit acquiring cap fillers Brandon Knight and John Henson as well as a second-round pick years down the road for Drummond.

Even with Drummond likely to opt out of his contract this summer, the deal made absolutely no sense for Detroit. They might as well have simply let him play out the season and leave this summer. What was the actual point of this trade?

Loser: New York Knicks

When are the Knicks ever not seen as losers? It seems cold, but that’s been the case over the past half-decade. Firing president Steve Mills days ahead of the trade deadline magnified this further.

It’s not a surprise that New York was fleeced by the Clippers in the Marcus Morris trade. Acquiring Mo Harkless and a first-round pick that’s likely going to be in the bottom five is not fair-market value for what Morris brings to the table. This is yet another example of the ineptitude we’re seeing in the Big Apple.

Bold predictions for NBA trade deadline

With the NBA trade deadline quickly approaching, multiple teams are in need of upgrades to be taken seriously as title contenders.

Will the Boston Celtics finally pull off that blockbuster trade for a big man? What about the surprising Denver Nuggets out west? Are they in line for a major trade?

It’s in this that we give you five bold predictions for the NBA trade deadline, including a certain future Hall of Famer heading to South Beach.

Andre Drummond dealt to the Celtics

We already know that Detroit has put this All-Star big man on the trade block ahead of Thursday’s deadline. Unfortunately for the Pistons, they are not receiving a ton of interest in a guy that will likely opt out of his contract this coming summer. That complicates things for contending teams.

In the market for a defense-minded big man after having to rely on Enes Kanter this season, the Celtics seem like a perfect fit. Drummond has led the NBA in rebounding each of the past two seasons and is on pace to accomplish that feat once again in 2019-20. He’s also averaging a career best 17.3 points per game.

A move of this magnitude would force Detroit into taking on Gordon Hayward’s bloated contract to make the salaries work. In turn, Boston sends over multiple first-round picks. That includes the selection it has from the Memphis Grizzlies. It just makes too much sense.

Kevin Love to Mile High

Sitting at 34-16 on the season, the Denver Nuggets have a real shot to earn a top two seed in a stacked Western Conference. What we’ve seen from Michael Malone’s squad seems to suggest that going all in makes sense. Find another star to team up with Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.

That’s where Love comes into play. Sure he’s injury plagued and is playing on a bloated contract. But adding a stretch four to go with Paul Millsap inside would make this team nearly unstoppable and a legit title contender. In this scenario, Denver gives up young stud Michael Porter Jr. in lieu of draft picks. It also sends Gary Harris and the expiring contract of Mason Plumlee to make the finances work.

DeMar DeRozan back to the Raptors

Winners of 11 consecutive games and currently the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, the defending champion Raptors have a darn good chance to return to the NBA Finals come June. Relying on the likes of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, Nick Nurse’s team has been among the most surprising in the NBA.

It’s in this that we expect Toronto’s brass to make a splash ahead of the trade deadline. Why not go back to the well and re-acquire DeRozan in a trade with the Spurs? He’d be a perfect fit with what the Raptors have built since moving the All-Star in the blockbuster Kawhi Leonard trade.

It’s already known that the San Antonio Spurs are looking to start anew with a full-scale rebuild. Moving a player in DeRozan who will likely opt out of his contract this summer makes sense. In return, San Antonio takes on the expiring contract of Marc Gasol, a stud youngster in that of OG Anunoby and a 2020 first-round pick. It’s a match made in heaven for both teams.

Lakers make a splash

We’ve read rumors that the Western Conference’s best team will look to move star young forward Kyle Kuzma ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline. It’s pretty much the only tangible asset the 37-11 Lakers have. But it’s a darn good one.

I am going to boldly predict that the Lakers get more for Kuzma than most people expect. That could come in the form of Marcus Morris from the New York Knicks or Derrick Rose of the Detroit Pistons. Either way, expect general manager Rob Pelinka and Co. to pull off the unexpected this week.

Heat pull of Chris Paul stunner

Miami was previously bandied about as a potential landing spot for Paul after he was acquired by the Thunder last summer. Said rumors quickly died down some. But with the Heat in the midst of a surprising season, we would not be surprised if front office head Pat Riley pulled off a major blockbuster.

Here, the Heat add an All-Star in Paul who is still playing at an elite level. He’d team up with Jimmy Butler to create a tremendous one-two punch. Add in the likes of Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn and Goran Dragic, and this would be a championship-caliber team.

In return for Paul, Oklahoma City nets itself 2019 first-round pick Tyler Herro a 2020 first-round pick and cap fillers in that of James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk. It just makes too much sense.

5 NBA teams that could be surprise sellers at the trade deadline

The NBA trade deadline is quickly approaching with many teams on the fence regarding how they are going to tackle it.

For the first time in a half-decade, everything seems up in the air. We could see some teams act as surprise sellers as a way to change their core or build for the future.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the midst of a surprising campaign. Does this mean general manager Sam Presti is going to blow up his long-term plan?

In New Orleans, the Pelicans have an outside shot at earning a playoff appearance. This doesn’t mean front office head David Griffin is not building for the future with Zion Williamson.

These are among the five teams that could ultimately be surprise sellers ahead of the Feb. 6 NBA trade deadline.

Oklahoma City Thunder

At 29-20 on the season, most figure that the surprising Thunder would look to add to their overperforming core group. Acquired in the Paul George blockbuster, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has upped his game to an elite level. Future Hall of Famer Chris Paul is still playing tremendous basketball.

Even then, general manager Sam Presti has made it clear that the Thunder are all about building for the future. That might not include moving Paul’s bloated contract. Though, we would not be surprised if a combination of Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder or Danilo Gallinari were moved.

Indiana Pacers

We’ve heard rumors that the Pacers might be looking to move talented big man Myles Turner. They seem to like surprise All-Star Domantas Sabonis better. That could lead to the Pacers being surprise sellers ahead of the February NBA trade deadline.

Unlike other teams here, the 31-17 Pacers would want to get back proven talent that can mesh with their talented core. That’s only magnified with Victor Oladipo’s return to action. Maybe another wing to go with Malcom Brogdon, T.J. Warren and Oladipo out on the perimeter.

Brooklyn Nets

At this point, it seems logical to believe that Brooklyn could give up on the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign and start anew once Kevin Durant returns from injury next season. It’s just not working right now for Kyrie Irving and the 20-26 Nets.

If this is indeed the case, it would not be a shocker to see the Nets trade off some of their valuable assets as a way to build around Durant and Irving this coming summer. Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and even Spencer Dinwiddie could net Brooklyn the assets it would need to potentially add a third star behind KD and Kyrie. It’s certainly something to think about.

Houston Rockets

General manager Daryl Morey has not been afraid to pull off the shocking blockbuster. Houston’s acquisition of Russell Westbrook this past summer was the most recent example of this. Despite boasting a 29-18 record, these Rockets are not performing at the level most anticipated.

Sure, common logic seems to suggest that Westbrook should be a trade candidate. That’s just not happening with his bloated contract. Houston could very well decide to find another supporting cast to team up with Russ and MVP candidate James Harden. If so, moving the likes of P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela and Eric Gordon could make sense.

New Orleans Pelicans

NOLA might actually go for it following the return of Zion Williamson from injury. Heck, this squad is currently just five games out of the final playoff spot out west. However, there’s plenty of reason to believe that David Griffin and Co. are still looking to the future. Build around the talented young core of Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Jaxson Hayes.

With that in mind, it would not be a surprise if the Pelicans looked to sell off veteran assets such as Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick ahead of the deadline. Each of these players would net a tremendous return, enabling New Orleans to continue building with either high-upside young players or draft picks.

Five realistic NBA trades we’d like to see this week

The NBA trade deadline is mere days away. It has yet to be active around the Association on this front.

We’re expecting that to change over the course of the next few days, leading up to the Feb. 6 deadline.

Multiple teams are in need of upgrades in order to be considered legit title contenders. On the other hand, bottom-feeding squads will soon look to flip veteran players for assets as a way to help them rebuild.

From a big man making his way from the Big Apple to Boston to an All-Star guard finally ending up in Minnesota, here’s a look at five realistic deals we’d love to see ahead of the NBA trade deadline.

Knicks trade Taj Gibson to the Celtics for Daniel Theis and Carsen Edwards

Two rivals making a deadline deal is not out of the question. A move of this ilk to rid themselves of a veteran that has no long-term future in New York makes perfect sense for a Knicks team that has embarrassed itself this season. In the process, they get back two youngsters with potential long-term futures in the Big Apple. Theis, 27, has started all but one game this season. He’s averaging 8.2 points and 6.1 rebounds. A rookie second-round pick, Edwards could fit into the rotation immediately.

In turn, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge gives his squad a big-bodied veteran with plus-level defensive ability to team up with the defense-absent Enes Kanter inside. Gibson is among the most underrated low-post defenders in the game and would dramatically change the perception of these Celtics on that end of the court.

Spurs trade DeMar DeRozan to the Pacers for Myles Turner, Doug McDermott and future first-round pick

It’s already been noted that the struggling Spurs are looking to start anew with a rebuild. Moving a player in DeRozan who will likely opt out this coming summer makes all the sense in the world. It would be a way to expedite said rebuild by adding a talented young center in Myles Turner who has seemingly fallen out of favor in Indiana. Turner, 23, is averaging 12.1 points and 6.0 rebounds on the season. Meanwhile, McDermott and his 46% three-point mark could fill some of the scoring void.

On the other side, Indiana gets a legit 20-plus point-per game scorer who can make buckets in waves. Teaming DeRozan up with the recently returned Victor Oladipo, Malcom Brogdon, T.J. Warren and an improved big in that of surprise All-Star Domantas Sabonis would make the 31-17 Pacers legit title contenders back east. It might be a lot to pay for a potential rental, but the Pacers are in win-now mode.

Warriors trade D’Angelo Russell and Glenn Robinson III to the Timberwolves for Gorgui Dieng, Robert Covington, Josh Okogie and 2020 first-round pick

It’s not a secret that Minnesota attempted to acquire Russell during the summer to team him up with best bud Karl-Anthony Towns. Once the Warriors showed interest in a sign-and-trade with the Nets for Kevin Durant, Russell pounced on it immediately. No one could have envisioned the struggles we’ve seen from Golden State this season. It could lead to Russell being nothing more than an ends to a means as a short-term option.

The Wolves nab that All-Star in Russell to build for the future. In turn, Golden State picks up one of the best three-and-d wings in the NBA in that of Robert Covington. It adds a young talent in Okogie while creating summer-time cap flexibility by taking on Dieng’s contract. Let’s not even mention a likely top-10 pick to go with their own selection in the 2020 NBA Draft. Win-win for both squads.

Pistons trade Derrick Rose, Luke Kennard and Markieff Morris to the Lakers for Avery Bradley, Kentavius Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma

A lot has been made about the Lakers’ need to go out there and get an upgrade at point guard over Rajon Rondo. In the midst of a career resurgence, Rose would more than provide that. He’s averaging 18.9 points and 6.0 assists on 50% shooting from the field. Adding to the intrigue from Los Angeles’ perspective, it picks up two solid bench options in Kennard and Morris. Kennard can provide more outside shooting while Morris would be a tremendous veteran presence at forward.

For the Pistons, this deal makes a lot of sense. These three outgoing players don’t fit into their long-term future. Given the Pistons have put Andre Drummond on the block, a full-scale rebuild could be in the cards. Why not add a long-term option in that of Kuzma for a combination of players that won’t be long in the Motor City?

Kings trade Bogdan Bogdanović and Richaun Holmes to the Sixers for Zhaire Smith, Mike Scott, Kyle O’Quinn, Raul Neto, 2020 first-round pick and two second-round picks

This would seem to be a pretty high price for Philadelphia to pay. That’s until we realize Bogdanović and his outside shooting ability would be a major boon for a team in need of a three-point shot. Head coach Brett Brown has covered that a ton in recent weeks. Adding Holmes to the mix creates more depth off the bench, especially with Philly sending four players to California’s capital city in this trade.

For the Kings, it’s rather obvious that the current iteration of this squad is not it. Adding Smith’s potential elite play-making ability moving forward would be an absolute boon. The team then takes on three expiring contracts while adding three valuable draft picks. It just makes too much sense.