Top Bloggers

Top Bloggers: Bryan Toporek On The Sixers

Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors with a feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke about the Nuggets with Adam Mares, site manager of SB Nation’s Denver StiffsClick here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.

Next up is Bryan Toporek, a Quality Editor at Bleacher Report. He’s also a contributor to BBALLBREAKDOWN, Hardwood Paroxysm, Today’s Fastbreak and Hoop 76 of the ESPN TrueHoop Network. You can follow Bryan on Twitter at @btoporek. Check out his stories here, here, here and here.

Hoops Rumors: The Sixers have been at or near the bottom of the NBA in payroll the past two seasons as part of the team’s rebuilding plan. With the increase in the salary cap that is set to occur this summer, the salary floor will also go up proportionally as a result. Philly seems unlikely to be a destination for the top free agents this offseason, so what moves do you see the team making to try and get above or close to that dubious payroll demarcation line?

Bryan Toporek: Honestly? I hope they don’t cross the salary floor. The Sixers are set to have over $60MM in cap space this offseason, and since they’re not likely to be a major free agent destination, spending all of that money on second- and third-tier players is a recipe for disaster. Overall, I believe they should follow the model the Portland Trail Blazers did last offseason: target undervalued players in their mid-20s who are on the same developmental curve as their top homegrown pieces. Since the Sixers are currently so frontcourt-heavy, they’ll need to round out their wing and guard rotation in free agency, but they should mainly go after guys who have the potential to develop into reliable 3-point shooters. Building around a Twin Towers lineup necessitates having a bevy of consistent floor-spacers, which the Sixers sorely lack at the moment.

Early on, I’d like to see them be aggressive in restricted free agency, targeting players such as Allen Crabbe, Evan Fournier and Jordan Clarkson. E’Twaun Moore has been on my wish list since January, even before the Bulls made him a starter and drove up his likely asking price. Bradley Beal‘s injury history scares me, but I wouldn’t mind floating a hefty offer his way if only to force the Wizards’ hand. I’m not wild about the prospect of maxing out Harrison Barnes, but I also wouldn’t totally hate it. The free agent point guard market is weak, so I think they’ll have to pursue a trade to fill that void. (The Hawks make sense as a logical trade partner, especially given Philly’s reported interest in Dennis Schroder at the trade deadline.) Fiscal restraint will be hard to come by this summer, but the worst thing the Sixers could do is attempt to accelerate the timeline of their rebuild by handing huge, long-term deals to players who don’t fit the team concept such as Rajon Rondo or DeMar DeRozan. If they stay below the salary floor, the only penalty is distributing the shortfall to the players on the roster, so they should pay no heed to that in free agency.

Hoops Rumors: One major criticism of former GM Sam Hinkie during his tenure was his failure to build a cohesive roster by stockpiling big men (Nerlens Noel, Joel EmbiidJahlil Okafor) instead of addressing other needs. The pairing of Noel and Okafor was not a successful one, with the two players’ skill sets not being especially complementary. With Embiid on track to finally make his NBA debut in 2016/17, the frontcourt looks to get even more crowded in a hurry. Whom do you believe the team will ultimately end up building around moving forward?

Bryan Toporek: Embiid is the one frontcourt member who has the potential to develop into a franchise cornerstone, so the hope is that he can stay healthy and avoid any further setbacks with his foot. Among the remaining bigs, Dario Saric seems like the best fit next to Embiid, as he’s a floor-spacing four with the ability to handle the ball in a pinch, too. That leaves Noel, Okafor or both as possible trade bait. At that point, it comes down to two factors for me: Which player has the higher trade value, and which player is more willing to accept a reduced role? With regard to the former, I’d assume Okafor is more highly valued around the league given his undeniable scoring ability and having three cost-controlled years left on his rookie contract (compared to just one for Noel). Personally, I’d rather have Noel coming off the bench as a rich man’s version of what Bismack Biyombo is providing Toronto this year, as his defensive instincts are second to none. Additionally, I could see him fitting better with Embiid on both ends of the court than Okafor will. I’d love it if Okafor embraced an Enes Kanter-esque role off the bench, readily dominating second-unit bigs, but I’m skeptical of that actually happening. Because Okafor’s defensive deficiencies (particularly guarding pick-and-rolls) make him more of a liability than Noel’s offensive limitations, I’d choose to trade the former and keep the latter.

Hoops Rumors: While it didn’t translate into wins, the arrival of Ish Smith in Philadelphia certainly gave the team a boost and illustrated what a glaring hole the Sixers had at the one spot. Has Smith shown enough to warrant the team re-signing him, and if so, should he be the starter next season?

Bryan Toporek: It all depends on the price. Noel loves Ish, as does Brett Brown, and for their sanity alone, I’d like to see him back in a Sixers uniform next year. That said, I’d be reluctant to give him a contract worth much more than the $5.628MM mid-level exception. He’s a career 29.8% shooter from deep, which is the exact opposite of what the Sixers need, particularly if they wind up with Ben Simmons in June. That said, he’s the Sixers’ only point guard capable of reliably feeding the post, which helps explain why the team went from cover-your-eyes awful to capable of winning the occasional game upon his arrival. Ideally, the Sixers will upgrade the point guard position this offseason, but I’d still like to see Smith brought back as a reserve, so long as the cost isn’t too prohibitive.

Hoops Rumors: It’s extremely difficult to properly judge Brown’s ability as a head coach given the lack of talent he’s had surrounding him. With the regime change that’s taken place with the Sixers, just how safe is Brown’s job?

Bryan Toporek: I don’t think it’s all that safe, which is an outright crime. Given the talent he’s had to work with over the past three years, the fact Brown coaxed 47 total wins out of those squads is remarkable. The Sixers were an above-league-average team defensively in 2014/15 despite relying on Noel and mostly D-League-caliber players. For him to keep the team mostly upbeat and engaged despite the losses rapidly piling up was a herculean task. If Hinkie were still in charge, I’d think Brown would have at least two more years of job security before ever having to worry about the hot seat. New team president Bryan Colangelo is a total wild card, though, particularly if interest in assistant coach Mike D’Antoni heats up.

Hoops Rumors: The Sixers have a 26.9% chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick (including their right to swap first-round picks with the Kings) in this year’s NBA draft lottery. Keeping in mind that Saric, who’s also a frontcourt player, is likely to head stateside in the near future, whom should the team select if it finally nabs that elusive top pick?

Bryan Toporek: Choosing between Simmons and Brandon Ingram will be incredibly tricky for any franchise, but the Sixers’ clogged frontcourt only further complicates the decision. On one hand, Ingram is the perfect fit as a floor-spacing three who can relieve some offensive pressure from the bigs. He’s the natural evolution of the direction the NBA is heading, making him a tantalizing addition to any roster. On the other, Simmons’ passing ability sets him apart as a potentially transcendent prospect. Selecting him would open the door for unconventional lineups, as it would reduce the Sixers’ need to have a ball-dominant point guard running the offense on every possession. Personally, I’m going Simmons by a hair, even though Ingram is the better fit at the moment. The Sixers not having an established point guard actually works in Simmons’ favor, as he can immediately enter the starting lineup as a true point forward. That said, I’m not throwing my remote through my TV on draft night if the Sixers do go with Ingram at No. 1. So long as they land a top-two pick at the lottery, they’re golden either way. (If they fall to fourth, though, I’m burning my apartment down.)

Hoops Rumors: Now for a trip to the hypothetical side of things. Say you were given the opportunity to go back and reverse one decision the team made over the past three seasons (trade/hire/draft pick/signing). What would you change?

Bryan Toporek: This one’s easy: I’d pick Kristaps Porzingis over Okafor at No. 3 overall last year. It was no secret that the Sixers entered the 2015 draft with their eyes on D’Angelo Russell, so when the Lakers picked him second, taking Okafor seemed like somewhat of a panic move. Sure, he seemed to have a much higher floor, but Porzingis’ skill set is a significantly better fit for the modern NBA game. I don’t think an Okafor-Noel pairing is feasible long-term, which effectively necessitates trading one in the coming years, but Noel and Porzingis would have far better complemented one another. And given Embiid’s ability to step out and knock down mid- and long-range shots, he and Porzingis could have one day ruled the league as a pair of virtually interchangeable 7-footers. Given everything that unfolded over the past year, I now can’t help but wonder if Hinkie wanted to select Porzingis over Okafor only to get overruled by team ownership.

Honorable mention goes to the hiring of Jerry Colangelo, which led to Hinkie’s resignation and the hiring of Bryan Colangelo as team president. The Okafor-over-Porzingis decision likely played a role in that, though, particularly considering the string of negative off-court incidents that the Duke product endured early in the season.

Chuck Myron contributed to this interview.

Top Bloggers: Adam Mares On The Nuggets

Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors with a feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke about the Hawks with Kris Willis, managing editor of SB Nation’s Peachtree HoopsClick here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.

Next up is Adam Mares, site manager of SB Nation’s Denver Stiffs, a Nuggets blog. He’s also a contributor to Nylon Calculus and Hardwood ParoxysmYou can follow Adam on Twitter at @Adam_Mares. Check out his stories here, here and here.

Hoops Rumors: Kenneth Faried‘s production has been steady but unspectacular the past few seasons. Is it time for the team to move on from Faried, or will the remaining three years on his deal be a bargain given the financial feeding frenzy that the increase in the salary cap will likely bring this offseason?

Adam Mares: I think both things are true. $13MM per year for three years doesn’t seem nearly as bad as it did in 2014 when he signed the extension, and by next year’s trade deadline, there will probably be a handful of teams interested in picking him up at that price. Especially since he had something of a bounce-back season this year despite playing the 2nd lowest MPG of his career.

That being said, I’m not sure he fits Denver’s timeline, and he might be a bad fit alongside Emmanuel Mudiay. Neither player has a consistent jump shot, which means the team has to find spacing at the other three spots on the court. I don’t think the Nuggets HAVE to trade Faried right away, but I don’t think he’ll be in Denver for the entirety of his contract. My guess is that he’ll be moved sometime between now and the 2017 NBA draft.

Hoops Rumors: From an outsider’s perspective, there appears to be a noticeable and pronounced difference in the culture of the organization this season. How much of that can be attributed to the presence of coach Michael Malone, and how would you grade his first season in Denver?

Adam Mares: The culture inside the locker room couldn’t be any more different from what it was last season. Some of that has to do with getting rid of players that didn’t want to be here (JaVale McGee, Nate Robinson, Ty Lawson, J.J. Hickson) but most of it has to do with Malone. He earned the respect of the roster, and he had the Nuggets playing hard night in and night out. That alone is enough to earn him the A. He’ll be graded on a much steeper curve next season — especially if the team continues to rank in the bottom third of the league in defensive efficiency — but he’s established a hard-working, no-nonsense culture that the team desperately needed, all while helping all the young players on the roster make big strides throughout the season.

Hoops Rumors: Gary Harris had a solid sophomore campaign, averaging 12.3 points on 46.9% shooting for the season. Has he solidified himself as Denver’s shooting guard moving forward, or does the team need an upgrade at the two spot for 2016/17?

Adam Mares: Harris was one of the big surprises for the Nuggets this season. After hardly getting court time in his rookie season, he led all Nuggets in total minutes played this season and was second on the team in minutes per game. He’s an excellent defender, shooter, and cutter, and he rarely makes mistakes on either end. His biggest issue is that he is a bit too small to defend larger guards and wings. He’d routinely get posted up or out-muscled by tall guards like Kobe Bryant, Andrew Wiggins and Klay Thompson. His size will probably limit his upside and for that, he might be best suited as a backup shooting guard. He can help his cause by becoming a much better ballhandler and playmaker off the dribble.

Hoops Rumors: Darrell Arthur has said he wants to remain with the Nuggets, adding that he would like to do so with a new three- or four-year deal. If Arthur declines his player option for 2016/17, should the team look to re-sign him to a long-term pact? If so, what terms would be fair for both parties?

Adam Mares: I love Darrell and to be perfectly honest, I’m surprised he wants to stay in Denver seeing as how the Nuggets are at least two or three years away from being a serious contender. Darrell would fit nicely on almost any team since he is a tough, hard-nosed defender and rebounder and has a reliable jump shot. He’s a coaches dream in that he is incredibly consistent and brings it every night. So I’d love him in Denver as a backup power forward, but for his sake, I’d be surprised if he didn’t leave for greener pastures.

Hoops Rumors: Point guard D.J. Augustin played well after having been acquired from the Thunder, and he is set to go into free agency this offseason. Should the team look to re-sign him? Would doing so hinder the growth of Mudiay?

Adam Mares: He won’t hinder Mudiay’s development because the team is content to allow Mudiay to play through his ups and downs. However, I don’t think the Nuggets should re-sign Augustin because his game is very limited. He’s a tough shotmaker, an average distributor and an undersized defender. He’ll be 29 years old by the time next season begins, and the Nuggets already have one veteran point guard capable of playing the backup role in Jameer Nelson.

Hoops Rumors: Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post speculated recently that Denver would be a good landing spot for Kevin Love, should the Cavs decide to part ways with him this offseason. Would landing Love, whose numbers never translated to wins in Minnesota, be a wise move for the Nuggets? What package would the team need to give up to snag Love?

Adam Mares: It’s such a fascinating question because I don’t see the Nuggets front office pushing all of their chips forward this offseason … unless it’s for Love. The front office seems content to let this young core of players develop for another year before they decide which way to go, but Love might be the perfect piece to complement Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic and Mudiay. The Nuggets desperately lack shooting and Mudiay thrived this season in the rare instances that he was surrounded by 3-point shooters. Mudiay, Harris, Will Barton and Wilson Chandler are all excellent cutters with high basketball IQs and would thrive cutting off of Love in the post or spacing the floor. The same goes for Jokic, who is already one of the best passing big men in the NBA. Nurkic could be the rim protector that hides some of Love’s defensive deficiencies.

Danilo Gallinari and Barton would both fit nicely in Cleveland. Throw in one of Denver’s three first-round draft picks and Cleveland might be willing to make that deal. But Denver would lose a lot of depth, especially if Chandler continues to miss games with injuries. They’d also have to find a home for Faried, since he probably wouldn’t accept a bench role. There are lots of pros and cons to such a deal, but ultimately I think Love would be a good fit in Denver. The young Nuggets roster complements Love’s skill set much better than Love’s teams in Minnesota, and the Nuggets have enough assets, youth and draft picks to add even more pieces around him in the years to come. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s intriguing.

Eddie Scarito contributed to this interview.

Top Bloggers: Kris Willis On The Hawks

Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors with a feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke about the Magic with Zach Oliver, managing editor of SB Nation’s Orlando Pinstriped PostClick here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.

Next up is Kris Willis, managing editor of SB Nation’s Peachtree Hoops, a Hawks blog. You can follow Kris on Twitter at @Kris_WillisClick here to check out his stories.

Hoops Rumors: The Hawks can open up approximately $20MM in cap room if they let Kent Bazemore walk as a free agent this summer. Bazemore is certainly in line for a decent raise over the $2MM he earned this season, which means Atlanta will have a difficult call to make. Do you think the team should re-sign him, and if so, how much will it need to pony up to keep him?

Kris Willis: There are a lot of similarities in Kent Bazemore’s situation and that of DeMarre Carroll‘s last offseason. Unfortunately for the Hawks, it could play out the same way with Bazemore signing a more lucrative deal elsewhere. Atlanta values its continuity, so I am sure they would like to keep Bazemore. However, the asking price is going to be high and that may limit what the Hawks can do in other areas to improve the club. Since Bazemore is on the final year of a two-year deal, the Hawks don’t have full Bird rights. Re-signing him will mean cutting into a good portion of what cap space they will have available.

Carroll ended up getting around $15MM a season. I still don’t have a good feel for what the cap explosion is going to mean for contracts. I have seen things that suggest that Bazemore could get anywhere from $12-15MM annually which to me seems high and may ultimately lead the Hawks to go searching for the next Kent Bazemore.

Still I think there is interest from both sides to keep him in Atlanta. If the Hawks do invest heavily in Bazemore, I’d like to see him playing more at the shooting guard position with the team bringing in a bigger option to help at small forward.

Hoops Rumors: Both Dennis Schröder and Jeff Teague are under contract for two more seasons. Which point guard should the team focus on retaining and building around? Why?

Kris Willis: Next to Al Horford‘s free agency, I expect this to be one of the biggest storylines of the offseason. The Hawks were rumored to be gauging the value of both players at the trade deadline. While Teague and Schröder are a solid one-two punch for the team, this is an area of strength and might be a way the team can shore up deficiencies in other areas.

Teague has been the engine that drives the Hawks for the last two seasons. He was an All-Star in 2015 and was the driving force behind the team’s good play down the stretch this season. He is still young enough to have some value but is going to be looking for a big contract when his current deal expires at the end of next season.

I think the smart choice is to pick Schröder, whose upside is higher than Teague’s and is currently a younger and cheaper option. He has been inconsistent at times, but he may not realize his potential playing as a backup. The Hawks could opt to deal him as well, but his smaller salary will limit the return. At any rate, this is an area of strength that the Hawks have, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see one of Teague or Schröder dealt this summer.

Hoops Rumors: Horford’s numbers this season are remarkably similar to what he put up in 2014/15, which is a positive omen as he heads into free agency this offseason. Given the expected salary cap surge and likely competition from other teams, should the Hawks break the bank if necessary to keep him, considering big men don’t traditionally hold up well once they enter their 30s and he turns 30 in June?

Kris Willis: I have felt for a while now that this summer will be a pivotal offseason for the Atlanta Hawks franchise. The biggest decision they have to make is what to do with Horford. I have no doubts that he is going to get a max offer, and if Atlanta wants to keep him, that is most likely what it is going to take. His value goes beyond the stats. He is still today the single most important player on the team and is the team’s anchor on the defensive end of the floor. If the Hawks don’t keep Horford, then they are going to take a sizeable step back next season, and I have argued that it would be time to clear the deck if that happened.

Still, is it smart to pay max money to a big man who will be 30 in June? Probably not, but if the team wants to continue to retool on the fly and maintain their recent success, I think that it is likely that they will give Horford whatever it takes to keep him.

Hoops Rumors: The draft-night trade for Tim Hardaway Jr. didn’t quite pay off for the Hawks this season as he was buried on the bench for much of the year. What are your thoughts on the trade, given the benefit of hindsight, and what can Atlanta expect from the swingman next season?

Kris Willis: I was intrigued with the move on draft night simply because I wanted to know what Mike Budenholzer and Wes Wilcox saw in Hardaway that the rest of us didn’t. I was very high on Bobby Portis in last year’s draft, but it was pretty obvious that the Hawks weren’t blown away by anyone.

Hardaway has had an interesting season. I thought he’d likely get multiple chances early simply because they paid such a high price to acquire him, but he opened the season on the inactive list and had to earn his way on the court. The results, particularly in the second half of the season, have been positive.

I think it is still kind of hard to say if it was the right move or not, but I believe Hardaway will have the opportunity to play a much bigger role for the team next season.

Hoops Rumors: The Hawks are one potential destination for Dwight Howard, especially if Horford departs as a free agent. Would Howard be a good fit in Atlanta, and if not, whom should the team target in the event Horford doesn’t re-sign?

Kris Willis: The Dwight Howard rumors were circulating around the trade deadline but I never bought into them very much. I think Howard would be a very risky investment due to his age and his injury history. Horford has been hurt as well, but Howard has had issues with his back and knee, and I think that raises a few more red flags.

Some in Atlanta clamor for a more traditional center, and Howard’s presence alone would help with the Hawks’ rebounding issues. However, I question the fit offensively and think the risk is too high to heavily invest in a player like Howard.

Hoops Rumors: Venturing into the purely hypothetical for a moment, if you were given the opportunity to reverse one decision (signing/draft pick/trade) the Hawks have made over the past three years, what would you change?

Kris Willis: There are a couple of things that come to mind. When Danny Ferry signed Paul Millsap and Carroll to short two-year deals, we celebrated the contracts for the value and the flexibility. However, it turned out that both players outperformed the deals to such a degree that the team couldn’t keep both due to not having their full Bird rights. I don’t know if it was possible to get either Millsap or Carroll on a longer deal but that would have made a big difference last offseason and would have likely kept a 60-win club together.

Eddie Scarito contributed to this interview.

Top Bloggers: Zach Oliver On The Magic

Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors with a feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke about the Clippers with Lucas Hann, who is the editor-in-chief of SB Nation’s Clips NationClick here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.

Next up is Zach Oliver, the managing editor of SB Nation’s Orlando Pinstriped Posta Magic blog. You can follow Zach on Twitter at @ZachOliverNBAClick here to check out his stories.

Hoops Rumors: There has been some talk that Dwight Howard may seek a return to Orlando as a free agent this offseason. Could this reunion work for both sides? What odds do you give this of happening?

Zach Oliver: I do think this is a reunion that could work for both sides. The Magic are clearly a piece, if not more, away from being true contenders, and some of the things Dwight brings would help fill that void for the Magic. Obviously Dwight isn’t the same player he used to be, and that’s probably going to have an impact on it, as well as him likely wanting the four-year max.

That being said, if there is clear interest from Dwight, and he is going to come back and be engaged, the Magic are in no position to say no. They need a guy who is a splash and can make an impact, and Dwight would be that guy.
As for odds, I’d say they’re pretty slim, just based on the things that happened previously between the sides. If he’s willing to take less than the max, and the Magic could still get another free agent, then I think it would be a no-brainer.

Hoops Rumors: The trade of Tobias Harris so soon after he signed a new deal came as a surprise to many. Was this trade a signal that the power is shifting from GM Rob Hennigan to coach Scott Skiles, as Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post recently suggested?

Zach Oliver: I don’t think so. This was something that was likely going to happen either way. The deal that Tobias signed was very cap friendly, and a deal that would clearly be movable in a year or two.

The fact that they moved on from him that soon is surprising, and I think it shows more of a power shift between Hennigan and Magic CEO Alex Martins. They’re in a position where they need to take the next step, and getting an impact guy in free agency is the next step.

Now, if this is the summer that’s right for doing that is a completely different conversation for a completely different day.

Hoops Rumors: Skiles has the reputation of wearing out his welcome rapidly, thanks to his gruff demeanor and no-nonsense approach. Given the Magic’s core of young players, who will need stability as they grow together, was Skiles the right choice for the long term in Orlando?

Zach Oliver: Long-term? No. Short-term? I think so.

Skiles is a guy who’s going to come in and try to set an example and get the team in the right direction with a clear path to becoming a real contender. That hasn’t happened, and at this point, I think that you have to start asking questions about the players.

It’s been up and down already, and it’s probably going to continue for another season before the sides part ways.

Hoops Rumors: After a promising rookie season, Elfrid Payton has regressed in several areas. Is he the team’s long-term answer at point guard? If not, who is?

Zach Oliver: Yes and no. I think, if you keep Evan Fournier this summer, then Payton can be your long-term answer. If they keep Victor Oladipo, they might need to move on from Payton, unless either he or Oladipo becomes, at the very least, a league-average shooter.

He’s shown some real upside but has been so inconsistent this season, and that raises a lot of questions about if he can be the guy.

At the end of the day, unless they’ve got a clear chance to get someone like a Mike Conley in free agency, I think Payton is going to be their guy. When he’s engaged, he’s a threat in a lot of ways, and his shooting is starting to come around, albeit slowly.

Hoops Rumors: The Magic have drawn mention as a potential trade suitor for Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler this summer. What sort of package would Orlando need to put together to land Butler? Would it be worth surrendering all those assets to land the two-way star?

Zach Oliver: I’ve talked with some people about this, actually.

If the Magic are to go and try to get Butler, they’re going to have to give up a sizable package. It’s going to have to start with Nikola Vucevic because of salary reasons, but beyond that, they’ll likely need to part with Oladipo to get the deal done as well. I also think they’d likely throw in their first-round selection, because Chicago moving on from Butler would be a clear sign they’re going to rebuild.

Now, another option could be packaging Vucevic, Ersan Ilyasova — who has just $400K guaranteed next season — and their pick, plus another future pick, for Butler. That could give the Bulls some cap space this summer, and more future assets to move forward with their rebuild.

The Magic, along with the Celtics, have the assets to get Butler. It’s just a matter of them being willing to. If they’re serious about accelerating their rebuild, they should be. If they aren’t, then they’d be better off standing pat.

Hoops Rumors: The Magic are currently slotted No. 11 in the draft lottery order but seem to have a reasonable shot at moving up to No. 8 before the end of the season. Assuming they don’t luck out in the lottery, who do you think the team should target in that range come June?

Zach Oliver: I don’t think they keep the pick. They’re in a position where they need to bring in guys who can make an impact right away, and there’s just not going to be anybody in that range that can do that to the extent they need it.

If they did keep it, then maybe someone like Skal Labissiere would fit some of their needs. Even Ivan Rabb or Diamond Stone could be options, should they keep the pick, the chances of which I think are slim.

Eddie Scarito contributed to this interview.

Top Bloggers: Lucas Hann On The Clippers

Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors with a feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke about the Rockets with Ethan Rothstein, who is the managing editor of SB Nation’s The Dream ShakeClick here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.

Next up is Lucas Hann, the editor-in-chief of SB Nation’s Clips Nationa Clippers blog. You can follow Lucas on Twitter at @LucasJHannClick here to check out his stories.

Hoops Rumors: Paul Pierce retirement talk came up again lately. Do you think Pierce will walk away after the season, and if he does, would the Clippers be better off?

Lucas Hann: I think it’s time for Pierce to walk away from the game. Last season, he was able to contribute as a shooter and he had enough of a resurgence to justify running it back — this year there’s been no such contribution. He’s shot just 30% from deep on a high volume of good looks, and the rest of his game continues to suffer as he ages. It would certainly be best for both the player and the team.

Hoops Rumors: While there is no denying his talent, Blake Griffin has seemingly been more of a distraction than a leader this season. Should the Clippers look to trade Griffin this summer? If so, which team would be the best fit?

Lucas Hann: There is no way on Earth that the Clippers should trade Blake Griffin.

Hoops Rumors: LeBron James has said that he hopes to play alongside Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony at some point in his career. Say Cleveland were to offer Kyrie Irving straight up for Paul this summer. Should the Clippers pull the trigger on this hypothetical swap?

Lucas Hann: I don’t think that an Irving-Paul swap would be advantageous for the Clippers. While Irving is much younger, Paul is still the better player, defender, and leader, and his game certainly seems well-equipped to age gracefully.

Hoops Rumors: Small forward has been the Clippers’ weak spot the past couple of seasons. Whom can they realistically target to shore up the three spot this summer?

Lucas Hann: The reality of the situation is that with three max contract players, the Clippers’ options to fill roster holes have been incredibly limited over the last few years — not just at small forward, but in the search for a third big as well. They’ve had minimum-level players perform relatively well (Wes Johnson, Matt Barnes), but nobody available for the league minimum can really help in the way that the Clippers have needed. In essence, even though he’s less than perfect, Jeff Green has to be the guy at long-term small forward. If the fit is good — and it’s safe to say the jury is still out — his Bird rights will be the best tool they have to acquire any player this offseason. It’s either Jeff Green, or running it back with Wes Johnson and Luc Mbah a Moute (if you can even afford to re-sign those guys).

Hoops Rumors: How would you grade the performance of Doc Rivers as a coach and as an executive?

Lucas Hann: Grading Doc is very hard because it’s a complex situation, and when you’re as close to it as I am, it’s a lot harder to look at the track record and give him an F. The Spencer Hawes signing, Jared Dudley trade, Lance Stephenson acquisition, etc. — they’ve all been flops. Hawes was a waste of the mid-level and became salary dump fodder, and the Clippers had to give up future firsts in trades where they got rid of Dudley and Lance. There have been other, minor mishaps, like the Jordan Farmar signing and the ineffective minimum guys (Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and a million others). I’m firmly pro-Doc, so let me explain myself: the Hawes/Dudley/Lance moves, while bad in retrospect, seemed anywhere from good to acceptable at the time, not just to me but across the board. We don’t know how the Jeff Green move will pan out yet but hopefully it will be a step in the right direction. The small failures shouldn’t really be considered failures at all, seeing as minimum-salary players can’t have huge expectations. He should also get credit for a few things: creating the J.J. Redick we know today, and finding solid cheap guys like Matt Barnes, Darren Collison, Wes Johnson, and Cole Aldrich. The Reggie Bullock-for-Austin Rivers trade was clearly a good move for the Clippers as well, cries of nepotism be damned.

As far as his draft record, it’s bad but limited. Picks in the 20s have about a 30% chance of turning into NBA players — he’s chosen 2 guys in that range: Reggie Bullock, who is looking like he’s not in that mold, and C.J. Wilcox, who is still a second-year player developing on the Clippers. He also made a move to buy a second round pick and select Branden Dawson, and it makes him look brilliant if Dawson ever becomes something and can’t be held against him if Dawson flares out. I’m of the opinion that it’s too early to label him a “bad drafter,” but he’s running out of leash.

Overall, on the executive side, Rivers has to be given a C. He hasn’t made many indefensible bad moves, and he’s made some minor moves that turned out far better than expected (Rivers/Aldrich). The draft record is bad, but it’s still early. I think that Doc’s concerns lie primarily year-to-year as the coach of this team, and the organization would benefit from a GM with a more long-term, asset management perspective.

On the coaching side, it’s simpler. Rivers remains a very good basketball coach, while probably not top-tier in the NBA. Certain substitution patterns can be frustrating at times (he often refuses to stagger starters with the bench, letting up huge runs) but overall he uses the regular season as an 82-game development course, readying certain players and lineups for postseason minutes. The game-to-game impatience of fans is often a source of valid criticism, but Doc’s playing a different game. I’d give him a B-plus on the coaching front.

Hoops Rumors: Say you were given the ability to alter one decision the Clippers have made the past three seasons, be it a signing, draft pick, trade, hiring or any other move. Which would you change?

Lucas Hann: The easiest redo would be a draft pick — in 2013, Rudy Gobert, Allen Crabbe and a few more serviceable guys went after Reggie Bullock, and in 2014, the story remains true for C.J. Wilcox. That said, I think it would be a cop-out, because every year every team misses on guys. It’s just the nature of the draft. So I’ll be a little more creative and go with the offseason signings of Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar in the summer of 2014. The Clippers had two opportunities to add above-minimum level guys to the roster — the mid-level exception and the much smaller biannual exception. They convinced Hawes, a hot commodity who was offered far more and starting roles, to take a pay cut to be a backup on a good team, and brought in Jordan Farmar with the biannual to be a capable backup point guard and provide depth shooting. We know how the story goes — Hawes flares out, shooting poorly and finding himself out of the rotation come playoff time. Jordan Farmar’s fate was worse, exiting the rotation less than halfway through the season before being cut. The Clippers then moved on to win an amazing first-round series against the Spurs before collapsing, fatigued against Houston in the second round. Doc Rivers relied solely upon his starters and three reserves (Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and Glen Davis) in those two series, and the lack of depth was ultimately what did the Clippers in. If they had an opportunity to redo those two signings (or at least the Hawes one, which was more significant salary-wise), they could potentially have had another big-time contributor in those playoff series.

Eddie Scarito contributed to this interview.

Top Bloggers: Ethan Rothstein On The Rockets

Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors with a feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke about the Sixers with Jake Pavorsky, who is the managing editor of SB Nation’s Liberty BallersClick here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.

Next up is Ethan Rothstein, the managing editor of SB Nation’s The Dream Shake, a Rockets blog. You can follow Ethan on Twitter at @ethanrothsteinClick here to check out his stories.

Hoops Rumors: Ty Lawson recently told reporters that he thinks the Rockets didn’t use him properly and that he would have preferred to have seen more time as the primary ball handler. While Lawson may not have been an ideal fit in Houston, James Harden‘s propensity to dominate the ball makes finding a playmaker to pair alongside him a tricky proposition. Who do you feel the team needs to go after this offseason, either via trade, draft or free agency, in order to find a long-term backcourt partner for Harden?
Ethan Rothstein: I think the dream scenario, but unlikely, is Mike Conley. He’s a good enough shooter to play off the ball and lacks the defensive and character flaws that doomed Lawson in his time here. But, frankly, Patrick Beverley is a fine point guard. The Rockets’ issues that need to be resolved lie on the wing and in the frontcourt.
Hoops Rumors: One of the most significant questions for the team heading into the summer is what will happen with Dwight Howard. Is Howard’s intention to opt out of his deal a blessing in disguise, seeing as he and Harden don’t appear to be a great fit and it would provide Houston with another $23MM+ to rebuild this summer, or do you believe the team needs to hang on to the big man however it can?
Ethan Rothstein: I think if he opted in to his contract, it wouldn’t be terrible for the Rockets, but signing him to a long-term, high-paying contract would be. He’s clearly on the decline — he’s still effective on the glass and protecting the rim, but his quickness has left him on both ends — and the Rockets no longer play best when he’s on the floor. He’s been great in the playoffs two years in a row now, but Clint Capela has played well enough that the Rockets could spend their money elsewhere and not regret it too much.
Hoops Rumors: Houston landed both Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell on draft night last year. Harrell was projected by many, Hoops Rumors included, as a potential first-rounder, and Dekker was slotted anywhere from the late lottery on down. I know it’s difficult to properly judge Dekker thanks to his injury, but which of the pair do you see having the better long-term future in the NBA?
Ethan Rothstein: It’s frankly impossible to say, but I will say that Harrell has surprised me with how good he’s looked this year, and Dekker’s early back problems, combined with just how skinny he is, make me nervous. He’ll have a summer with NBA trainers and hopefully will bulk up and recover further. If I had to put my money on one, it’d be Harrell right now.
Hoops Rumors: We’ve long been fans of K.J. McDaniels‘ abilities and thought the Rockets landed a steal when they re-signed him to a three-year, $10MM deal last offseason, but that contract isn’t looking so great for the team right now with McDaniels buried on the bench. What went wrong? Is it a matter of him regressing or is the coaching staff not using his talent properly?
Ethan Rothstein: I feel it’s definitely the latter. For whatever reason, J.B. Bickerstaff and Kevin McHale before him have remained hopelessly devoted to Corey Brewer and Jason Terry getting minutes as backup wings over giving K.J. a shot. He’s still shot horribly from the perimeter, but he’s such a better, more athletic defender than anyone else on the team that it’s become ridiculous that his playing time hasn’t increased.
Hoops Rumors: What do you think of the job that Bickerstaff has done this season? What are the odds that he’ll earn the removal of the interim tag from his title and remain head coach?
Ethan Rothstein: I think Bickerstaff has been a total nonfactor. The team has had the same issues it did with McHale, except they’ve gotten healthier. There’s clearly discord of some sort in the locker room, and if there isn’t, it’s even more inexcusable, the job he’s done. I’d put the odds on him coming back next year, barring a miraculous postseason run, at close to nil.
Hoops Rumors: Time to take a turn to the purely hypothetical. Say you’re given the opportunity to go back in time and alter one decision, player move, hire, etc., that the Rockets have made the past three seasons. What would you change?
Ethan Rothstein: The decision to fire McHale. The Lawson trade was a gamble that didn’t pay off, but the Rockets gave up so little that if you went back in time and kept McHale, it might have figured itself out. I think McHale’s a good, not great coach who deserved more of a leash. The 11-game stretch at the beginning of the season might have been turned around. But after months of play that has been as low-intensity and disappointing as the first 11 games, it’s clear he wasn’t the problem.
Eddie Scarito of Hoops Rumors contributed to this interview.

Top Bloggers: Jake Pavorsky On The Sixers

Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors with a feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke about the Warriors with Nate Parham, who is the managing editor of SB Nation’s Golden State of MindClick here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.

Next up is Jake Pavorsky, the managing editor of SB Nation’s Liberty Ballers, a Sixers blog. You can follow Jake on Twitter at @JakePavorsky. Click here to check out his stories.

Hoops Rumors: I see that Liberty Ballers is planning a lottery watch party. That sounds like a fun idea that speaks to the unusual position the Sixers have put themselves in. What’s it like writing about a team that’s so much about the future and so little about the present?
Jake Pavorsky: It can be as weird and challenging as it is entertaining. Obviously, the current results don’t really matter at all, so it allows us to have a little more fun with our content then we usually would if the team was good. You can’t be serious all the time about a team that might win two games in a month. The Sixers’ terribleness also allows us to shift some of our focus on the draft and draft prospects, and people have responded well to that type of content because the team’s future is riding on some of these yet-to-be-drafted guys. With all that said, it would be nice for the team to actually be good or show improvement so we don’t have to take just about every game with a grain of salt.
Hoops Rumors: Jerry Colangelo seems to have made only a few tweaks so far. Are you surprised by this? What do you think the moves, or lack there of, say about Colangelo’s vision for the team?
Jake Pavorsky: I think Colangelo’s vision was always going to be shaped in the summer leading up to next season. He’s not going to handle another season of mindless losing, and Philadelphia has the cap space and other assets to swing some deals via free agency or trade. I don’t really have an idea for what Colangelo wants this roster to look like next year, but my hope is that he signs some quality veteran role players that can help in the short term while focusing on building the core of the team around their draft picks. The last thing I want to see from the Sixers is throwing max contract money to guys like DeMar DeRozan or Harrison Barnes.
Hoops Rumors: The Sixers could have as many as four first-round picks from this year’s draft plus Dario Saric and Joel Embiid take the floor for the first time next season. How pivotal do you think the next 12 months are for this rebuilding effort?
Jake Pavorsky: I think these next 12 months really determine whether or not these three years of misery were really worth it. Joel Embiid is the one guy who I think can really turn things around for the team, because the superstar talent is absolutely there. I know that’s hard to say that about a guy who hasn’t played in two years, but people outside of Philadelphia are going to be stunned at how good he is if he ever gets on the floor (which I think he will in October). But once you get Saric here, Embiid playing and your three first-round draft picks from 2016 on the team, that’s the core of the team. There’s no more waiting games. Now they’re gonna have to make it work.
Hoops Rumors: Can Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor successfully coexist on the floor?
Jake Pavorsky: I just can’t see it. Noel is completely useless as a floor spacer and as a defender out on the perimeter, and if he can do anything, it’s block shots and throw down lobs. He’s not going to be able to do either if he’s on the court with Okafor. Jahlil is a very complicated fit. His iso-heavy tendencies make it hard for Philly to effectively pair him with anybody, and Noel has struggled with him on the floor. You can’t put Okafor at the five because he’s a horrendous rim protector and can’t play the pick-and-roll, so they’ve tried moving him to the four. He’s shown some decent range, but he’s struggled with smaller and faster power forwards. I think the best thing for this team to do is find a floor-spacing power forward (possibly Dario Saric) to start with Noel, and then bring Okafor off the bench to feast on bad second-unit bigs.
Hoops Rumors: We recently posed this question to our readers, so we’ll ask it of you: Can Ish Smith be the point guard of the future in Philadelphia?
Jake Pavorsky: Definitely not. He was good last year and a lot of fun when they first brought him back, but he doesn’t have the tools to be a good starting point guard. He’s a very mediocre shooter and has been forcing up his own shots a little too much these days. Smith is also a pretty atrocious on-ball defender, getting beat on a consistent basis. What I do like about him is that he gets the Sixers playing at the high tempo Brett Brown is looking for, and he’s a pretty good passer. I might be willing to give him a one- or two-year deal despite T.J. McConnell‘s strong play, but I don’t expect Smith to have a big, long-term role with the Sixers.
Hoops Rumors: How do you think the NBA should resolve situations like the one that cost the Sixers the rights to JaKarr Sampson when the three-team trade with the Pistons and Rockets fell apart?
Jake Pavorsky: It’s unfortunate, but I’m not sure what there is for the NBA to do there. Technically, cutting Sampson was a separate move that had no real connection to the Donatas Motiejunas trade, although it did. If the league were to develop some sort of contingency rule for a situation of a failed physical, that would be nice, but I don’t see it happening. Situations like that don’t arise all that often. Guess it’s just the Sixers’ luck.

Top Bloggers: Nate Parham On The Warriors

Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors in a new feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke with Troy Tauscher, who is a writer for Fansided’s Valley Of The Suns. Click here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.

Next up is Nate Parham, who is the Managing Editor of SB Nation’s Golden State Of Mind. You can follow Nate on Twitter at @NateP_SBN and click here to check out his stories.

Hoops Rumors: Do you sense that the Warriors have picked up a lot of bandwagon fans since winning the title? Do you find that those fans are being embraced by the Warriors community at large or is there some sort of divide between them and those that have been fans for years?

Nate Parham: There’s no question that the Warriors have picked up a large group of bandwagon fans as a result of the championship.  As a Warriors fan, I feel that “We Believe” was a flash in the pan that was exciting, but mostly in a way that diehards were best positioned to appreciate because it happened so fast after years of mediocrity. In this case, I’ve never seen so much Warriors merchandise or excitement in the Bay Area and that is definitely a sign that the Warriors have finally become cool.

Along those lines, I think the Warriors were in a unique position to expand their base.  For the majority of the target demographic (18-35 year olds), they’d never really known much but losing and, as a result, a general lack of respect. And I have personally never met anyone who holds that up as a badge of honor; there’s nothing to really celebrate as valued knowledge during that time and I wouldn’t wish that torture on anyone. When the team is suddenly the “Brand New Hotness,” it’s mostly just sort of nice to have this thing you’ve invested so much emotion into finally get any type of respect. That bandwagon fans joining the party just makes it more exciting.

Hoops Rumors: Where is the expectation level for Warriors fans now? Is it title-or-bust?

Nate Parham: I think that depends on who you talk to.  I think this whole thing is still sort of surreal for most people. Since the late ’70s, it’s not just that the Warriors didn’t make the playoffs much, it’s that they were never close to being a contender. Again, you sort of just have to appreciate the fact that the team is in the mix. I think another title would just be gravy at this point.  

The West is tough, LeBron has a pretty easy path through the East, and there are a number of variables that could work against the Warriors this year that would lead to falling short. I fully expect this team to repeat, but if they don’t, there’s no reason that this group can’t grow from the experience and contend again next season. To me, it’s about continuing to grow and making moves to keep themselves at the top for as long as possible rather than winning every single year.  It’s always interesting to note that the Spurs have never won back-to-back titles despite being considered one of the top franchises in all of U.S. pro sports.

Hoops Rumors: David Lee is out, Jason Thompson is in. What do you think the Warriors have gained in Thompson and how will the loss of Lee affect them?

Nate Parham: Well, I don’t think the loss of Lee will affect them much at all…but there are certainly Warriors fans who think that’s a huge loss. I just think that he did little for the team defensively and Harrison Barnes has been so effective as a small ball four that Lee really didn’t have a place on the team. The hope was that Thompson would be a defensive presence off the bench, but even with Bogut injured he has hardly played. So right now, all I can say we’ve gained is salary cap room because Thompson isn’t necessary to beat another team some consider a contender by 50.

Hoops Rumors: Big man Festus Ezeli did not sign an extension prior to the deadline. What was your reaction to that news? What do you think would have been a fair deal for both sides?

Nate Parham: There’s risk involved, certainly, as I really don’t think Ezeli’s value can go anywhere but up.  He hadn’t played 82 games over a two year span due to injury so he had no leverage by signing now. Conversely, consider that a player like Enes Kanter got a four-year, $70MM contract to come off the bench for the Thunder this year; if Ezeli proves that he can be a functional starter for a contender this year, he’s going to command a lot of money. I’m sure he knew that. And with Bogut’s body only getting more worn down, it would make a ton of sense for the Warriors to be thinking about Ezeli as his homegrown replacement for the future.

Ultimately, reasonable money for Ezeli is probably in the $15MM per year range.  Capable bigs are hard to find and if you’ve already invested the time and money developing one, you might as well hold on to him if possible.

Hoops Rumors: Barnes also broke off talks with the Warriors prior to the deadline. How do you see things playing out with him as he heads towards restricted free agency?

Nate Parham: Barnes is tricky. I’ve taken the position that not only does he fit the system but he’s also an extremely unique player in his 3-and-D versatility. I’m not one who believes he’ll be an All-Star, but he’s already becoming an elite role player and when you have Steph, Klay and Dray as your core, a young player like Barnes to go with them, that seems like a great recipe for success.

The big question is whether Barnes believes he could blossom elsewhere in an environment where he would be given more freedom to be his own man. I honestly believe that the big limiting factor for him is his handle and ability to consistently create offense: it’s nice to see him dunk on Dwight Howard, but it’s troubling to see Jamal Crawford shut him down in the post the next week. It’s hard to read minds, but if the Warriors do repeat it just seems silly to leave a championship situation. He has time to chase individual glory with his next contract; it makes far more sense right now for him to stick with a contender. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Warriors sign him for the exact contract that was turned down this summer.

Top Bloggers: Troy Tauscher On The Suns

Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors in a new feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke with Philip Rossman-Reich, who is the Managing Editor of Fansided’s Orlando Magic Daily. Click here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.

Next up is Troy Tauscher, who is a writer for Fansided’s Valley Of The SunsYou can follow Troy on Twitter at @tt_sports and click here to check out his stories.

Hoops Rumors: Publicly, it seems that Markieff Morris has backed down from his trade demands or, at the very least, he’s not saying much about it.  Do you think this is the last we’ll hear about Morris being dissatisfied in Phoenix? How do you see everything playing out? (Note: We asked this question before the latest comments from Marcus Morris).

Troy Tauscher: It’s really hard to write this paragraph given Markieff Morris’ rough start. Anyway, I’ve maintained that he’s still upset with Phoenix. However, I also think he values winning and playing well, and is truly prepared to make that his priority. The market for him isn’t favorable, so I don’t think he gets traded this season. If the Suns can eventually package him with other assets for a deal that improves the team, I don’t think they hesitate and I don’t think Morris will be upset that he’s leaving.

Hoops Rumors: The Suns didn’t land LaMarcus Aldridge, but they did add Tyson Chandler and Mirza Teletovic. What did you like about the Suns’ offseason? Were there any additional moves that you wish they made?

Troy Tauscher: I liked both signings, even though Teletovic can’t hit a shot to save his life right now. I also really liked the Devin Booker pick. If I could add one thing, I would have signed a backup point guard who can manage the offense but doesn’t demand time. Ronnie Price is a good locker room guy and a hound on defense, but he can’t manage the offense. If Bledsoe or Knight get hurt, I think that might be an issue. I also obviously wish Aldridge would have joined the Suns.

Hoops Rumors: How do you think Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe will mesh in the same backcourt?

Troy Tauscher: I think the Bledsoe-Knight pair is built to be a productive combination. The numbers say Knight was a very efficient spot-up shooter last season. He can work around Bledsoe attacking the rim. Knight can also create for Bledsoe by finding off-screen cuts that Bledsoe can finish. I like versatility, and the two have complementing skill sets that allow the Suns to diversify their offense. Defensively, I think it’s just a matter of Bledsoe taking the athletic challenge and giving Knight the secondary assignment.

Hoops Rumors: The Suns appear to have a lot of depth but they don’t have an elite star player. How do you see them addressing that in the years to come?

Troy Tauscher: The honest answer is that I have no idea. I’ve mentioned frequently that [GM] Ryan McDonough has some kind of dark wizard powers that allow him to just conjure up deals out of thin air. It’s impossible to guess who the available player will be. I mean, Aldridge was likely to stay with the Blazers for most of last season. The Suns do have good assets and a smart front office. I think it’s just a matter of waiting until they find the right guy at the right time.

Hoops Rumors: Playing in the Western Conference and in the Pacific Division isn’t an easy draw. What kind of record do you see the Suns winding up with in 2015/16?

Troy Tauscher: I have the Suns at 45 wins and the No. 8 seed, mostly because I’m not all in on the Jazz. I think it’ll be hard sometimes and I certainly don’t see that prediction as a lock. The more balanced attack they bring fixes some of their biggest flaws from previous seasons. It’s just about how much they want it and how much discipline they have on a nightly basis.

Top Bloggers: Philip Rossman-Reich On The Magic

Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors in a new feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke with Brian Robb, who is the owner and editor-in-chief of Celtics Hub, part of ESPN’s TrueHoop Network. Click here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.

Next up is Philip Rossman-Reich, who is the Managing Editor of Fansided’s Orlando Magic DailyYou can follow Philip on Twitter at @philrsquared and click here to check out his stories.

Hoops Rumors: What are your thoughts on Scott Skiles? Are you worried at all that his strict approach might not fit with the Magic?

Philip Rossman-Reich: Skiles has been pretty consistent everywhere he has gone. He has built his team up into consistency and competitiveness and then leveled off. That is about what we are expecting in Orlando in this latest coaching stint. As long as those are the expectations, I think things will be fine with Skiles overall. You just have to know and accept what he is at the end of the day.

I would have preferred to see the Magic hire a coach who had some potential long-term prospects. But the Magic really need a coach like Skiles, even if it lasts just three years. They need someone who is going to demand a bit more and light a fire under them. Jacque Vaughn and the previous coaching staff were very much a nurturing group; they allowed players to make mistakes and grow through experience. Now they have expectations to produce. They need a coach who will sit a player down when he makes a mistake and get someone in there who will get the job done.

Hoops Rumors: We’ve been hearing buzz about Mario Hezonja all summer long. Who would you say is his NBA comp? Where is his ceiling?

Philip Rossman-Reich: I haven’t been able to think of a good player comparison for Hezonja. Maybe he is a more athletic Peja Stojakovic? Probably not as good of a shooter. Hezonja still feels a bit of a blank slate. I am not quite sure what kind of player he can become.

His floor is pretty high though. He is a great shooter. A really good shooter and an underrated passer too. He has the famous bravado but he also seemed willing to learn throughout the preseason. He might have superstar ceiling. I think he still has to prove himself as a driver and offensive creator. In any case, I see him as a solid contributor as a rookie and moving forward through his career. He should be a solid guy for the Magic to have fill an important role for the team.

Hoops Rumors: Were you surprised at all that the Magic gave Tobias Harris a four-year, $64MM deal this offseason?

Philip Rossman-Reich: I really was not surprised. I expected Harris to get about $16MM per year. Whether he was actually worth that depends on what you think of Harris as a player. Even in that regard, I am not sure. Harris is just 23 years old and there are so few players who have put up his numbers at his age – there have been only 17 seasons since 2010 where a player 23 years old or younger has averaged 17 PPG and 7.0 RPG like Harris did last year. It is hard to let that go without getting something in return. From an asset retention standpoint, the Magic could not just let Harris walk. And where they are in their development, they needed to keep the talented and productive player rather than letting him walk. The price tag is just the cost of doing business.

Hoops Rumors: Victor Oladipo has been working on his outside shot this offseason. How scary will he be if he becomes a reliable 3-point shooter?

Philip Rossman-Reich: He will become very scary. The Dwyane Wade comparisons are apt, although he is not nearly the finisher that Wade is. Wade is an all-timer, but his lack of a 3-point shot has probably cut short some of his effectiveness and taken away a development of his game that could push him even further into the stratosphere. A 3-point shot would add so much to his game. It would add so much to the team. The Magic are desperate for shooters, so if Oladipo can become a competent 3-point shooter, that makes the team that much better. It adds another scoring outlet for Oladipo so he does not have to throw himself at the rim desperately.

Hoops Rumors: If you had to call it today, what kind of record do you see the Magic finishing with in 2015/16?

Philip Rossman-Reich: I think the Magic could finish anywhere from about 40 wins to back down to 28 wins again. They could show modest improvement, extreme improvement, or no improvement. This is largely the same roster as last year, so to expect the team to take a huge step up seems pretty far out there, though not impossible. Internal improvement and a better, more directed coach should mean improvement from last year. And significant improvement at that. I have the Magic winning about 32-36 games and I think they take a step forward as a team and improve pretty significantly this year, bringing a lot of promise for 2017.

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