The NBA trade deadline has passed, which means we more or less know what teams will look like in the NBA playoffs. There will be a few new faces who join playoff teams, but the bulk of these rosters are in place. With most of the season behind us, we also know who will likely be making the playoffs and seeded highly for a Finals run.
Keeping in mind the trade deadline activity, here are the top ten contenders to take home the title in June.
10. Utah Jazz
The Jazz were ultimately quiet at the trade deadline despite being linked to Memphis guard Mike Conley. In the end, they will go with what they had, which isn’t bad. Donovan Mitchell is a star, and Rudy Gobert is playing with a point to prove after being a quite egregious All-Star snub. They’re not really deep enough to challenge the best of the West, and they don’t really have enough in the way of top-level talent, but they’re good enough to cause a few headaches.
The Memphis Grizzlies are open to trading franchise stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley as they prepare for a full-scale rebuild, and they have reportedly had discussions about the latter with at least one team.
According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, the Grizzlies have had talks with the Utah Jazz about a possible trade that would see Conley and fellow point guard Ricky Rubio swap teams.
However, Stein notes that Conley’s contract could make a deal difficult, as he is owed $66 million over the next two seasons and Rubio only has $15 million remaining on his expiring contract.
Conley, who appeared in just 12 games last season before undergoing heel surgery, is having a good year and looks healthy. He is averaging 20.2 points per game, which is just shy of his career high of 20.5 two seasons ago. Rubio is averaging 12.8 points and 6.1 assists per game, and Conley would be an upgrade for a Jazz team that is 29-23 and in position to make the playoffs.
Both Conley and Gasol have made their feelings clear about the current state of the Grizzlies, and it makes sense for the team to explore trade options. Memphis is currently 14th in the Western Conference with a record of 20-32 after winning just 22 games and missing the playoffs last season.
Kyle Korver is finally free from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Cavaliers have traded Korver to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Alec Burks and a pair of future second-round draft choices.
As it became clear early on this season that the Cavaliers were not going to be a factor in the playoff race, Korver landed on the trade block. The long-range specialist was due $7.5 million and simply doesn’t profile as the type of player Cleveland needs right now. He hasn’t had much of a role with the Cavaliers, shooting his usual 46.3 percent mark from three-point range but in fewer than 16 minutes per game. Expect him to fill a larger role with the Jazz.
A couple of top Utah Jazz players defended Quin Snyder over the head coach’s supposed grueling 3-hour practices.
Snyder has taken some heat over his practices. Former Jazz player Trey Lyles complained last season about having to practice daily under Snyder, sometimes for three hours.
The topic came back up when former Jazz star Gordon Hayward, who is now with the Celtics, said on the “Pardon my Take” podcast that Brad Stevens doesn’t run 3-hour practices.
Though it seemed like Hayward was mostly talking about Stevens, some thought the mention had something to do with Snyder and the Jazz.
On Wednesday, Snyder defended himself, saying “we believe in working” and suggesting that their work habits have led to their players improving.
Current Jazz sharpshooter Joe Ingles talked about the practices in response to a Twitter question, calling the 3-hour thing a “myth” and saying the players enjoy working hard and improving.
Donovan Mitchell, who emerged as a rookie for the Jazz last season, echoed Ingles’ thoughts.
Coaches need to balance working their players too hard in practice with resting them so they are fresh for games. But it’s hard to deny that Snyder’s methods have worked. His teams seem to have overachieved the last two years, with a number of players showing great improvement.
Rudy Gobert sent an awesome tweet after his Utah Jazz were eliminated from the playoffs on Tuesday night.
The defensive stalwart pointed out just how much the Jazz accomplished in comparison to expectations others had for them.
“So proud of this group… from ‘they won’t make the playoffs’ to competing against the best team in the league for a WCF spot… Keep doubting, we only getting better from this,” Gobert wrote.
Utah may have lost in five games to the Rockets, but they certainly made things competitive. Beyond that, knocking out the Thunder from the postseason was a major accomplishment.
Even though they lost Gordon Hayward last summer, the draft pick of Donovan Mitchell was a major hit. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic entering next season.
Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey was none too pleased about the lack of calls by the referees on Jared Dudley and Marquese Chriss on Thursday.
Tempers flared during third quarter of the game between the Jazz and Phoenix Suns. After Utah inbounded the ball following a missed dunk by Chriss, Ricky Rubio was shoved by Dudley. He was then pushed to the floor by Chriss.
Here’s a view from another angle, which includes the fracas that followed.
Dudley and Chriss were both ejected, but their actions were enough to have Lindsey fuming. During a radio appearance on Friday, Lindsey expressed disappointment with the treatment of his players and lack of protection for them.
“I’m tired, guys, to be honest with you. I didn’t sleep well last night after the two hits on Ricky…coupled with my wife’s snoring…so you’ll have to forgive me,” Lindsey told 1280 The Zone in Utah, via producer Austin Horton. “I’ve got an upset starting point guard, I’ve got an upset coach and reasonably so. Literally, when I say I didn’t sleep a minute [last night] I didn’t. We expect our players to be protected. We think the officials made the appropriate determination, [but] we’ve seen this too many times.
“I don’t think there’s any connection individually. Again, what happened vs. Minnesota was inappropriate…what happened TWICE [last night] is not in the name of good sportsmanship. [Rubio]’s upset. He’s got a contusion on his knee now and we’re in a playoff chase. You expect players to be protected by the league, and we’ll stand on that. Hopefully it won’t cause him to miss any time, but frankly as of today we don’t know. We’re disappointed in the actions and we’re going to express that.
“We get competition brings frustration, but again, what happened last night was uncalled for.”
The incident Lindsey referenced against Minnesota was Jeff Teague giving Rubio a body check that sent Rubio into the Timberwolves bench.
It’s understandable Lindsey would be frustrated with the treatment of one of his better players, especially considering the Jazz are fighting for a playoff spot and Rubio has been diagnosed with a knee contusion. Rubio is considered questionable for Utah’s game against Sacramento on Saturday.
The Cleveland Cavaliers completely overhauled their backcourt at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, and Derrick Rose is on his way out of town in addition to Isaiah Thomas.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Cavs acquired guards Rodney Hood and George Hill in a three-way trade with the Jazz and Kings. Rose and Jae Crowder are heading to Utah, and Joe Johnson and Iman Shumpert are being sent to Sacramento.
But that’s not all. The Cavs are also trading Dwyane Wade to the Miami Heat.
The news came almost immediately after the Cavs traded Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Cleveland has had serious chemistry problems this season, and they are clearer determined to get younger for the stretch run.
2018 is already proving to be quite the year in the sport of basketball: Isaiah Thomas is back, DeMar DeRozan is dropping 50-point games, and the founder of the NBA has officially begun his sacred pilgrimmage to Lithuania. But with that calendar flip comes the realization that the trade deadline is but a month and change away. Here are eight teams likely to be open for business.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are just 17-20 on the year as two prime assets (their top individual defender in Patrick Beverley and their $65 million man in Danilo Gallinari) gather dust on the sideline in suits. To make matters worse, the schedule becomes a meat processor from here — the Clippers will face Golden State (twice), Minnesota, Houston, and Boston, all over the course of the next three weeks. DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams (both of whom can be free agents after the season) are two immensely popular trade targets, and each looks like a legitimate top-10 option at his respective position this year. It may only be a matter of time before Clippers executive Jerry West takes advantage of their peaking value and cashes in on this period of feast before the seemingly inevitable famine.
New Orleans Pelicans
Every passing second is a second that DeMarcus Cousins is closer to free agency this summer. To be fair, there’s a lot of good going in New Orleans right now: Cousins and Anthony Davis are a tyranny, little-known guard E’Twaun Moore has been making a killing lately, and Rajon Rondo is slinging dimes like rhymes a la 2008. But the Pelicans seem to have the scarlet letter of “.500 team” permanently emblazoned on their jerseys, and it’s becoming a fair question to ask just how high their ceiling is with this core. The spacing still stinks, and overall the team is still a few wings short of a full chicken. It’s the worst time in the collective history of our galaxy to be a mediocre team in the Western Conference, and you figure that has to leave open the possibility of Cousins getting whacked by the trade bat for a second consecutive February.
“With great power comes great responsibility,” a fictional arachnid man’s uncle once famously said. Personally, I would revise that adage to say, “With great expectations come great responsbility.” Many an NBA team has lived up to said expectations so far this season, and many others have flopped worse than Marcus Smart. Here’s looking at those who fall into the latter category.
*Stats courtesy of NBA.com and ESPN*
Oklahoma City Thunder
Going back to actual team basketball after Russell Westbrook’s “I AM the Senate” season was always going to be difficult, especially with the arrival of glitzy but needy new running mates in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. But the Thunder have been such mayhem that Allstate won’t even touch them. The ball sticks like velcro, weak-side motion is eschewed in favor of a merry-go-round of isolation play, and fourth-quarter crunchtime is where the entire team goes to die.
Rest assured, there’s reason for optimism — Oklahoma City’s hyper-switching defensive scheme ranks second in the league with a smothering 98.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, and they are still a tremendous offensive rebounding team despite the loss of Enes Kanter. A blowout win over Golden State on national television Wednesday was nice too. But 8-10 is not good for a team that had such high expectations heading into the year, and the luxury of time unfortunately doesn’t exist in the abusive Western Conference.
The departure of Gordon Hayward is an undeniable blow to the Utah Jazz, but the organization isn’t going to panic over it.
General manager Dennis Lindsey says the plan is to build around center Rudy Gobert instead of tearing it all down.
“We feel like we can build defensively around Rudy Gobert,” Lindsey told Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune. “We look at him, and he’s a top 10 player and unique defender. So we wanted to build a team around his talents.”
With Hayward’s departure coming too late in free agency to adequately replace his scoring, the Jazz have focused on solid defensive players to fit into coach Quin Snyder’s system.
“We just felt like we had too much talent to tear it down to the foundation,” Lindsey said. “The main thing with Quin and Rudy is what do we stand for? We feel like we have a great player in Rudy, and we want to showcase his ability.”
Utah will have a lot of skeptics this season, and Gobert is certainly ready to prove them wrong. The Jazz are making the best of what they’ve been left with.