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Central Notes: Jones, Cavs, Johnson, Bulls

Cavaliers swingman James Jones plans to retire after the 2017/18 season, Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal reports. Jones, 36, becomes a free agent after this season but would likely remain with Cleveland, given LeBron James affinity for Jones as a teammate, Lloyd adds. “I know playing 15 years is a number where I can look back and I can be like, ‘I accomplished something,’ ” Jones told Lloyd. “Fourteen vs. 15 may not be much, but to be able to say I played 15 years, that’s enough for me to hang ’em up.”
In other news around the Central Division:
  • The Cavaliers are in the market for a backup point guard and could fulfill that need later this month, according to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. That potential acquisition will likely come after December 15th, when free agents who signed contracts over the summer can be traded, Vardon adds. Cleveland doesn’t have a true point guard to back up Kyrie Irving other than rookie Kay Felder, who has played sparingly.
  • Stanley Johnson needs to improve his work habits in order to reclaim his rotation spot, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy told Aaron McMann of MLive and other beat reporters. Johnson, a 2015 lottery pick, was benched in two games the last two weeks and also served a one-game team suspension after showing up late for the morning shootaround, McMann continues. Johnson only played four garbage-time minutes against the Hawks on Friday. “He’s got to be a better practice guy,” Van Gundy told McMann. “He’s got to be a better workout guy. He’s got to be better with all that stuff. Really working to get better. Once he’s out there competing, you don’t have a problem with that. He’ll play as hard as anybody, but he’s got to understand that’s not the whole thing. It’s preparing to play.”
  • Bulls forward Doug McDermott could return sometime next week from a concussion that has sidelined him the last eight games, Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com writes. McDermott has suffered two concussions this season and the might practice with the team’s D-League affiliate, the Windy City Bulls, as well as the NBA team before he returns, Goodwill adds. “It’s gonna take him at least a couple days to have full practices,” Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg told Goodwill and other reporters.

Trade Candidate: Nerlens Noel

In the months leading up to February’s trade deadline, Hoops Rumors will be taking a closer look at several players we consider trade candidates, discussing their value, speculating on potential destinations, and explaining why they are – or should be – available. These players won’t necessarily be dealt in advance of the deadline, but it won’t be surprising if they are.
Nerlens Noel vertical

Nerlens Noel, F/C
Philadelphia 76ers
2016/17 salary: $4,384,490
Eligible for restricted free agency in 2017
Trade restrictions: None

Since the 2016 offseason began, trade rumors have surrounded Sixers centers Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, and while those rumblings grew awfully loud around the time of the draft, both Noel and Okafor remain in Philadelphia. The team’s inactivity surprised many observers, including Noel, who kicked off training camp in September by calling the Sixers’ logjam at center “silly” and suggesting that something “needs to happen” to resolve the situation.

“I feel like it definitely needs to be figured out,” Noel said at the time. “I think at the end of the day, again, you have three starting-caliber centers (Noel, Okafor, and Joel Embiid). And it’s just not going to work to anybody’s advantage having that on the same team. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated.”

The Sixers’ logjam sorted itself out during the first several weeks of the season, as Noel was sidelined after undergoing to a knee procedure, and Embiid and Okafor were on minutes limits due to injury concerns of their own. However, Okafor’s minutes limit has been lifted, Embiid’s has been increased, and Noel appears close to returning to the lineup. With Embiid thriving in his first healthy season, and Noel ready to make his season debut, the 76ers’ frontcourt is more crowded than ever. That fact wasn’t lost on Noel, as Marc Narducci of Philly.com detailed this week.

Noel’s public griping about the situation in Philadelphia so far has been somewhat subdued — it’s not as if he’s come out and demanded that the Sixers move him. Still, ESPN’s Marc Stein recently suggested that the big man would “prefer to be shipped to a new address,” and Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders has heard similar whispers.

According to Kyler, all indications are that Noel wants to be traded this season, and the Sixers will do everything they can to accommodate that (Twitter links). If all things were equal, Philadelphia may have a tough call on which player to trade between Noel and Okafor, but Noel “does not want to be there” and would like to have his own situation somewhere, according to Kyler (Twitter links). The only problem? The former sixth overall pick doesn’t currently have a ton of trade value, per Kyler (Twitter link).

At age 22, Noel is still young and has plenty of promise. Last season, in 67 games for the Sixers, he averaged a solid 11.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.8 SPG, and 1.5 BPG, shooting 52.1% from the floor. Still, there are a few reasons potential suitors will be wary of giving up a whole lot of value to land Noel.

First and foremost, Noel’s injury history is a concern. A torn ACL wiped out his entire NBA rookie season, and another knee injury has kept him out of action so far this season. While the former Kentucky Wildcat doesn’t as extensive a history of health problems as his teammate Embiid, clubs will want to see him get back on the floor this season to make sure he looks 100% before anything happens on the trade front.

When Noel does get back on the court, teams will keep an eye on his continued development at both ends of the floor. Known for his defense, rebounding, and rim-protecting ability, Noel has the potential to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in his prime, and that type of player remains very valuable in today’s NBA. On the other end of the floor though, his offensive game is extremely limited. It’s worth watching to see if he shows improvement on offense, but possible trade partners for the Sixers will have to take Noel’s current limitations into account.

Finally, Noel’s contract situation will play a big part in upcoming trade talks. On one hand, a young player still on his rookie contract has plenty of appeal — any team conscious of cutting costs will love that Noel is only earning about $4.384MM this season. Since he’s in the fourth and final year of his rookie deal though, Noel is about to get much more expensive. Eligible for restricted free agency in July, Noel could command an annual salary exceeding $20MM on a new deal, given the free agent prices we saw this past summer for older centers with less upside such as Timofey Mozgov and Ian Mahinmi.

Noel’s looming free agency makes it tricky for certain teams to construct a deal that makes sense. The Trail Blazers, for instance, could use a big man with Noel’s skill set, and the Sixers’ ability to take on some extra salary would benefit Portland in the short term. But could the Blazers afford to extend Noel next summer, considering the club already has nearly $130MM in guaranteed money on its books for 2017/18? Sending a big contract or two to the Sixers would help reduce that number, but an extension for Noel would likely put the franchise right back in tax territory.

Teams like the Raptors and Warriors would be in the same boat as Portland, facing financial challenges when it comes to extending Noel, but both teams would be solid fits for the young big. Toronto could offer a package that includes Terrence Ross, while Golden State could perhaps offer Ian Clark, Kevon Looney, and/or draft picks.

Of course, the Celtics have long been mentioned as a potential landing spot for Noel, and Boston could use a shot-blocker in the middle. Despite the C’s wealth of assets though, GM Danny Ainge may be reluctant to part with some of them for Noel until he determines whether he needs to hang onto all of them to pull off a bigger trade for a star. If no star-level player is available, perhaps the C’s get more serious about someone line Noel. The Sixers would likely target a guard such as Avery Bradley or Marcus Smart.

One intriguing potential trade partner for Philadelphia is the Suns. Phoenix has the cap flexibility to comfortably afford a long-term contract for Noel, and the team has a crowded backcourt at the moment, with starters Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker pushing Brandon Knight to the bench. It’s not clear if the Sixers would have interest in Knight, but he’s under contract through 2019/20 at a reasonable rate ($14.125MM per year) and could provide the sort of backcourt scoring punch Philadelphia has been lacking.

Ultimately, Noel is right that the Sixers’ logjam at center is untenable, and with his contract set to expire at season’s end, Philadelphia will likely have to move him by the deadline to recoup some value for him. Even if the team only gets 50 cents on the dollar, that’s a better outcome than losing Noel for nothing next summer, since it doesn’t appear as if he has a long-term future in Philadelphia.

What do you think? Should the Sixers trade or keep Noel? Weigh in below in the comments section with your thoughts and possible trade ideas.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Western Notes: Calderon, Miller, Durant

With D’Angelo Russell out of the Lakers‘ lineup due to knee woes, Jose Calderon has assumed the role of starting point guard and has pleased coach Luke Walton with his play, Mark Medina of The Orange County Register writes. “He helps stabilize the first unit that has been a different lineup way too many times this year already,” Walton said. “Just having a veteran that knows how to play and can run an offense and knock down open shots, it’s been nice to have him to lean on when D’Angelo is out.

While he’s happy with his recent bump in playing time, Calderon was content being a mentor to his much younger teammates, Medina adds. “I’m happy with the way things have been going. I’m comfortable out there every day and I’m feeling more comfortable with my teammates. I’m ready for whatever role,” Calderon said. “I’m here to help this team to win. It doesn’t matter what. If I’m on the bench, it’s the bench. If I’m playing five or 30 minutes, I’m good.

Here’s more from out West:

  • Mike Miller, 36, is happy with his role as an older veteran on the Nuggets and says he’s still having too much fun playing to walk away from the game, Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel relays. “I think the one thing you’ve got to learn in this league as you get older, is there’s different roles and responsibilities and you’ll be asked to do different things,” Miller said. “For me, I’m just thankful to be in a position to still be playing this game, and still get to practice against these guys every day, still get in the games, still a lot of fun for me.
  • In a piece by Michael Pina of RealGM, the scribe examined what Eric Gordon brings to the Rockets, his value as a player and what he can do to successfully resurrect his career in Houston this season.
  • Warriors offseason signee Kevin Durant is finally getting used to his new home in Golden State, and the forward chatted with Chris Haynes of ESPN.com about a number of the issues and difficulties he faced in relocating from OKC to the West Coast.

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Eastern Notes: James, Wade, Meeks, Bullock

The partnership of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James (along with Chris Bosh, of course) was an extremely successful one for the Heat, resulting in four appearances in the NBA Finals and two league titles. In advance of tonight’s matchup of the Bulls and Cavs, Wade spoke to the media about his time with LeBron in Miami. The shooting guard told Nick Friedell of ESPN.com that he was the one who altered his game the most after James took his talents to South Beach, adding that he wouldn’t change a thing about the time he spent alongside James. “I definitely changed mine more,” Wade said. “It’s not even a conversation. There’s no conversation to have. I definitely had to change mine more.”

We all knew the sacrifice that was going to be [made],” Wade continued. “Obviously, you sit down and you talk about playing together. You think you know what’s [going to happen], you try to cover things in that moment, but then once you start playing together you realize it’s harder than what you thought. But we all knew we had to sacrifice. Chris Bosh, too. He’s somebody who they don’t talk about, he had to sacrifice a lot too. But at the end of the day, we sacrificed points, article hits, but what we gained was championships, friendships and brotherhoods that last a lifetime. So I’m sure if we could do it all over again we’d do it exactly the same way.

Here’s more from out of the Eastern Conference:

  • Offseason trade acquisition, Jodie Meeks, is set to make his season debut for the Magic this evening, the team announced. The 29-year-old underwent foot surgery back in July after missing all but three games in 2015/16, and will become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
  • Staying on the injury front, Pistons executive/coach Stan Van Gundy confirmed that swingman Reggie Bullock will go under the knife on Saturday to repair his torn left meniscus, Rod Beard of The Detroit News relays (via Twitter). Bullock is expected to be sidelined for two to four months following the procedure, per a report by Shams Charania of The Vertical, but Van Gundy did not give an official estimate on when the player may return to action in his statement today, Beard adds.
  • Paul George, who has missed six of the last seven Pacers contests with an ankle injury, says he has to reestablish himself as the team’s leader once he is able to return to game action, Nate Taylor of USA Today relays. “I think just sitting out and watching, I’ve got to get back to being the guy for us,” George said. “I’ve got to have the trust of the team, I’ve got to have the trust of the organization. This has been my group, this has been my team. I’ve got to get back to that. That’s what I’m looking forward to, being our leader.” The swingman intends to play in Indiana’s contest against the Clippers on Sunday, Taylor notes.

Nets Sign Donatas Motiejunas To Offer Sheet

DECEMBER 2nd, 6:52pm: Brooklyn has signed Motiejunas to a four-year, $37MM offer sheet, international journalist David Pick reports (via Twitter). The arrangement includes non-guaranteed seasons in years three and four, Wojnarowski tweets. Houston will have until Monday to match the offer.

DECEMBER 1st, 11:16am: Motiejunas could sign an offer sheet from the Nets as soon as Friday, league sources tell Wojnarowski. The Rockets, who would have 72 hours to match, have “held a strong interest” in matching any offer and retaining Motiejunas, though the money and guaranteed years included in the Nets’ offer will obviously be crucial, says Wojnarowski.

10:52am: Five months after the top free agents of 2016 began meeting with teams, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reports (via Twitter) that the Nets hosted restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas for a visit and a physical. According to Wojnarowski, Brooklyn is weighing the possibility of signing Motiejunas to an offer sheet.Donatas Motiejunas vertical

ESPN’s Marc Stein, who has been on top of the Motiejunas situation throughout the fall, adds (via Twitter) that nothing will be finalized before Friday, but a deal with the Nets seems likely. Per Stein (via Twitter), the Nets are “comfortable” with Motiejunas’ medical situation and are currently planning an offer sheet for the veteran forward.

Motiejunas, the NBA’s last unsigned RFA of 2016, received a qualifying offer worth about $4.4MM from the Rockets back in June. However, the 26-year-old didn’t reach an agreement with Houston or sign an offer sheet with a rival suitor during the offseason, and that qualifying offer expired in October. Motiejunas can no longer sign his one-year QO, but remains a restricted free agent, meaning Houston still has the right of first refusal should he strike a deal with another team, such as the Nets.

The Rockets reportedly put a two-year offer on the table for Motiejunas, worth about $7MM guaranteed in year one. However, as of November 23, the team was no longer able to re-sign Motiejunas and trade him prior to this season’s February 23 trade deadline, since players signing new contracts can’t be traded for three months. When that date passed, Houston reportedly pulled its offer, leaving Motiejunas’ reps to engaged other potential suitors about a deal.

Since Motiejunas appears to be seeking more than $7MM annually on a multiyear contract, only teams with cap room have the flexibility to make him a competitive offer, assuming he stays in the NBA. A club like Brooklyn, which is still well below the salary floor for 2016/17 and doesn’t have a long-term answer at the four, is a logical fit for the veteran power forward.

Of course, the Nets ventured into the restricted free agent market earlier this year, signing Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe to lucrative four-year offer sheets. Those offer sheets were matched by the Heat and Trail Blazers, respectively, leaving Brooklyn somewhat empty-handed in free agency. However, the club is in a good position to put pressure on the over-the-cap Rockets. As our salary cap snapshot shows, the Nets currently have more than $18MM in cap room. They also don’t have a ton of money committed in future seasons, with about $58MM in guaranteed salary on their books for 2017/18, and just $5.5MM for 2018/19.

[RELATED: 2016/17 Salary Cap Snapshot: Houston Rockets]

Although Motiejunas struggled to stay healthy last season and his production took a significant hit, he looked like a player on the rise in 2014/15, when he averaged 12.0 PPG and 5.9 RPG to go along with a .504 FG% and a .368 3PT%. He has been plagued by back troubles in recent years, creating some long-term uncertainty about his health and limiting his market.

If Brooklyn signs Motiejunas to an offer sheet that Houston is unwilling to match, the Nets need to create an opening on their 15-man roster in order to officially add the RFA forward.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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NBA D-League Assignments/Recalls: 12/2/16

Here are Friday’s D-League assignments and recalls from around the NBA:

  • The Clippers recalled forward Diamond Stone from the D-League earlier today, the team announced. Stone appeared in four games for the Santa Cruz Warriors, where he was sent via the flexible assignment rule, and averaged 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.0 block in 17.0 minutes of action per outing.
  • The Sixers sent Nerlens Noel to their D-League affiliate in Delaware earlier today in order for the big man to participate in the 87ers’ practice, the team announced. The center was subsequently recalled this afternoon, Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com tweets.
  • The Hawks have recalled small forward DeAndre’ Bembry from the D-League, the team announced via press release. Bembry’s stint in the D-League was spent with the Salt Lake City Stars, Utah’s affiliate, since Atlanta does not possess an affiliate of its own. The 2016 first-rounder has appeared in seven games for the Hawks this season, averaging 1.3 points on 33.3% shooting.
  • Chris McCullough has been assigned to the Nets‘ D-League affiliate, the team announced via press release. McCullough has averaged 18.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 29.1 minutes per contest in six games on assignment with Long Island this season.
  • The Pelicans sent rookie forward Cheick Diallo to the Austin Spurs of the NBA Development League via to the flexible assignment system, the team announced. Diallo has appeared in six games with Austin already this campaign, averaging 14.3 points on .553 shooting from the floor, 6.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

Heat’s Luke Babbitt May Be Out Two Weeks

The injury-ravaged Heat got more bad news Thursday night when forward Luke Babbitt suffered a hip-flexor strain, writes Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra describes the injury as similar to the one that has sidelined shooting guard Dion Waiters for at least two weeks.

“Probably a little bit similar to Dion,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll find out more. But it’s a hip-flexor strain. It’s not a contusion. So we’ll evaluate him.”

The seventh-year forward is averaging 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds through 19 games, playing about 16 minutes per night. He has been in and out of the starting lineup as Spoelstra searches for the best combinations.

Babbitt was traded to Miami in July after spending the past three seasons in New Orleans. He is earning a little more than $1.2MM and will be a free agent when the season ends.

The Heat may be down to nine players for Saturday’s game after Josh Richardson was sent back to Miami on Thursday for treatment on his sore ankle. Waiters didn’t make the trip, nor did Justise Winslow, who has an injured wrist.

Southwest Notes: Conley, Parsons, Evans, Motiejunas

The Grizzlies never gave any thought to tanking, even as Mike Conley was added to their long injury list, according to Ronald Tillery of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Conley will miss at least six weeks after fractures were discovered in his lower back. He joins injured teammates Vince Carter, Chandler Parsons, James Ennis and Brandan Wright, while Zach Randolph is on the bereavement list. “It’s obvious that we have done everything to stay competitive,” said GM Chris Wallace. “Ownership has given us the financial commitment for our intent to be competitive at a high level over the past several years. That just doesn’t stop with the injury to Mike Conley.”

There’s more news from the Southwest Division:

  • Parsons admits coming to Memphis was a “culture shock,” but he liked the talent the Grizzlies had in place and wanted to be part of the organization, relays Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders. Injuries have limited Parsons to six games so far after signing a four-year max contract over the summer. “The real reason why I went there was the current players that they have on their team,” Parsons said, “guys like Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, Z-Bo [Randolph], Tony Allen. See, they’re all guys that have had so much success, and I felt like plugging me into that lineup, being able to play with those guys as kind of the piece they’ve been missing [would be great]. And with the new coaching staff with [David] Fizdale and J.B. Bickerstaff, those are two guys I’ve had previous relationships with and I just hit it off with them. Those are guys that I’ve trusted, and I think we’re going to have special seasons as soon as we get fully healthy. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up right now, but I think we’re going to be a tough team to beat come playoff time.”
  • The Pelicans will have to wait longer for Tyreke Evans‘ season debut, tweets Justin Verrier of ESPN.com. Evans, who is recovering from two surgeries on his right knee last season, reported tightness in his calf. New Orleans was hoping to have him back by Thanksgiving, but GM Dell Demps said Evans will not take the court until he is fully healthy. Once he returns, coach Alvin Gentry envisions Evans taking on a role similar to what Lance Stephenson did before he was injured and waived (Twitter link).
  • The Rockets are very interested in keeping Donatas Motiejunas, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. The Lithuanian power forward has been meeting with the Nets and is expected to receive an offer sheet, possibly by today. Even though Houston pulled its latest offer to Motiejunas last month, the organization will strongly consider matching whatever offer Brooklyn presents. “We’re big fans of Donatas,” said GM Daryl Morey. “We hope to have him at some point this year.”

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