The NBA news cycle moves faster than the shutter on D’Angelo Russell’s camcorder. So every Monday this season, we’ll be looking at the most important story lines, trends, and talking points for the week ahead. Welcome to the NBA’s Biggest Questions of the Week.
Below we’ll touch on the buyout market, the Raptors’ win streak, the new-look Miami Heat, and more. Let’s get to it.
Darren Collison Is Out. What Will the Buyout Market Bring?
As the Lakers hosted the Rockets on Thursday, Jeanie Buss channeled her inner Nick Saban and hosted a potential recruit, inviting Darren Collison to sit next to her to watch the game. After abruptly retiring this past offseason, Collison was reportedly experiencing a change of heart and mulling a return with either the Clippers and Lakers. But while all signs seemed to be pointing to a comeback (particularly with the Lakers), Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday that Collison had told both teams he plans to remain retired.
Both L.A. teams could use another ball handler and shooter to bolster their rosters, and even though the Lakers boast a better record, they need Collison more since their offense is reduced to rubble when LeBron James leaves the floor. So, what’s the backup plan? Enter the buyout market, which is already bustling. While there’s plenty of familiar names, the players in this group aren’t expected to have an oversized impact; in fact, if any team is hanging its playoff hopes on a buyout player, it’s probably a sign of bigger problems.
As soon as the trade deadline passed, buzz began to circulate about buyout candidates stranded on losing teams. Charlotte did not hesitate in reaching deals with and releasing both Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist—the former is headed to Milwaukee, the latter likely going to Dallas. While there was some discussion around the Cavs potentially buying out Tristan Thompson after trading for Andre Drummond, it appears that’s not going to happen. Thompson would have been easily the most impactful buyout player, especially for center-starved teams like the Celtics and Clippers. Instead, it’s the guard market that appears to present the most buyout options. There are rumors that Reggie Jackson may finally be on his way out of Detroit since the Pistons have decided to go all in on the tank. With Collison out of the picture, Jackson is a strong alternative. If Matthew Dellavedova is more your speed, he should be available as well (please give me a LeBron-Delly reunion). Evan Turner will also be hitting the buyout market after getting moved to the Wolves, and he could add both decent backup minutes for a contender and a veteran presence.
Moe Harkless likely isn’t going to stay with the Knicks for long, and although the Clippers felt he was expendable, he has had plenty of impressive moments this season and could be one of the more useful players available. The remainder of the buyout market is less robust. Tyler Johnson? Brandon Knight? Isaiah Thomas? Bismack Biyombo? If you’re expecting Mike Breen to shout any of these players’ names come playoff time, don’t hold your breath (Biyombo! BANG!). That being said, if these candidates don’t quite do it for you, here’s a couple of treats: Dion Waiters is available and the Lakers are interested. And they are also reportedly giving free agent J.R. Smith a tryout. Enjoy the rest of your week with those glorious possibilities in mind.
Are the Raptors Real Contenders?
The Raptors are not playing basketball. They are making art. That’s the only way to properly explain the kind of performance they have stitched together over the past 14 games, all of which they have won. They have done it by dropping 140 points on the Wizards. They have done it by holding the Sixers to just 95. They have come back from double-digit deficits. And they have done it all without Kawhi Leonard. It is impossible to understate this last fact: Toronto lost Kawhi this summer and has a better record than the team that added Kawhi this summer. This is a team that has lost nearly every player on its team to some kind of injury at some point this year, yet is still the 2-seed in the East. Art, I tell you.
Toronto seemed like an intriguing team heading into the deadline, with expiring contracts and assets to work with, but the fact that it stood pat says a lot. A year after their dream NBA Finals run, this Raptors season feels charmed. Without expectations and with a team that remains impressively deep, flexible, and well-coached, the Raptors are somehow more of a darling than they were when they went up against the Warriors last spring. The question of whether they can be more than a fun story has already been answered, but can they be a contender? Again?
Pascal Siakam’s leap has continued in earnest after a groin injury sidelined him for 11 games earlier this season, and get this: When Siakam plays, the Raptors are 33-9. Just because expectations dropped after Kawhi left doesn’t mean we can’t recognize Toronto for what it is: an elite team with a star. Sure, the Bucks are on another level in the East, putting together a historic run fueled by another MVP year from Giannis Antetokounmpo, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have doubts about how they will fare in the playoffs. Remember, they lost four straight games in the Eastern Conference finals to … the Raptors. Maybe Giannis will bowl everyone over on his way to his first Finals, but if I had to bet on any team in the East blocking his way, it would be the one in the North.
What Are Some Pre-All-Star Story Lines to Watch?
In case you were too busy making Oscars picks or enjoying your Sunday night, let me fill you in on what you missed: Joel Embiid yelled at the Philly crowd to “shut the fuck up.” And for the second game in a row, Furkan Korkmaz saved the Sixers. Hey, at least they won! Something does feel awry in Philly, though, and really it has felt like that for most of the season. The team heads into All-Star week with a disjointed roster, little to no chemistry, and a 33-21 record (somehow) that feels propelled by talent alone. Despite all their flaws, they’re one of more intriguing teams to watch down the stretch. Anything is possible with this roster: They could suddenly jell and look like the best team in the league, they could continue to be maddeningly inconsistent, or they could truly implode. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
The chase for the no. 8 seed in the West also remains tight as can be and really, it’s likely the only exciting race we’ll have in the second half. The Grizzlies aren’t just hanging on to that last spot, they’ve built a two-and-a-half-game lead on the backs of their thrilling team and just added Justise Winslow. Damian Lillard and the Blazers are not going to go quietly, and with Zion Williamson beginning to look unstoppable, the Pelicans are looking like the team we expected to see, just five games behind. The Kings, Suns, and Spurs are also within striking distance. Here’s where I admit that while I want to see either Ja Morant or Zion go up against the Lakers in the 1 vs. 8 matchup, I cannot in good conscience bet against Dame.
And finally, at the bottom of the conference, can I interest you in … the 12-41 Warriors? The Andrew Wiggins redemption tour has begun, Steph Curry says he’s coming back in March, and the discussion around the potential no. 1 pick and what they’ll do with it will also start in earnest. Someone get me a Klay Thompson update ASAP!
Can Andre Iguodala Swing the East?
Andre Iguodala had the most Andre Iguodala debut for the Heat on Sunday. He played 23 minutes, took two shots, scored only two points, collected six rebounds, three assists, a block, a steal and finished a plus-10—good for second best on the Heat. Miami was without Jimmy Butler and fell short against Portland, but it’s these kinds of intangibles that Miami was banking on when it decided to trade away Winslow for Iggy.
The former Warriors sixth man has been away from the game since the Finals, so it will be fascinating to watch how he acclimates to NBA speed. Since he’s on the back nine of his career, I imagine we won’t see Iguodala’s true impact until the postseason begins. And really, that’s what this trade was all about. Pat Riley clearly sees a window in the East, but will Iggy be enough for Miami to force its way through? When you consider that the Heat were also reportedly on the cusp of trading for Danilo Gallinari, it feels like they missed a chance to not just bother the Bucks—but beat them.
For now, Iguodala brings another defensive-minded wing to throw at opponents who has [First Take voice] been there before. A trio of Iggy, Bam Adebayo, and Jimmy Butler has some serious lockdown potential. Couple that with Miami’s deadly outside shooters in Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, and a perfect off-the-bench guard in Goran Dragic, and the Heat have gone from being a nuisance to being a fringe contender.