Jared Dudley Trade Invites Major Risk for Los Angeles Clippers

With first-round picks at a premium around the league, the Los Angeles Clippers made a curious decision to include one in their latest trade with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Here are the preliminary details, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

The Los Angeles Clippers have traded swingman Jared Dudley and a 2017 protected first-round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks for swingman Carlos Delfino, center Miroslav Raduljica and a second-round pick, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

Dudley, who averaged 6.9 points in 23.4 minutes per game last season, had fallen out of the Clippers’ plans and is owed $4.25 million each of the next two seasons, but has a player option for 2015-16. Dudley, 31, was a double-digit scorer from 2010-13 with the Phoenix Suns.

Delfino, 31, is owed $6.5 million for the next two seasons — with a team option for 2015-16 — but missed the 2013-14 season because of a right foot injury. He is expected to miss part of the 2014-15 season as he recovers from the injury, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

Why would the Clippers trade Dudley and a first-round pick for a 32-year-old wing who didn’t play last year and may not be ready to start the season? Cap flexibility.

By dealing Dudley, the Clippers will get out from the two years and $8.5 million owed to him. Dudley had a player option for the 2015-16 season, which would have absorbed valuable cap space in an offseason where DeAndre Jordan is slated to be an unrestricted free agent.

With the Clippers facing the possibility of having three max or near-max deals, clearing space to stay under the luxury cap may have been viewed as a priority.

Both Delfino and Raduljica have non-guaranteed deals for 2014-15, and according to Sam Amick at USA Today, neither player might end up with the Clippers long-term.

Yet according to a person with knowledge of the Clippers’ situation, it’s likely that Delfino – who is owed $3.25 million next season and has a team option for the 2015-16 campaign – will be waived using what’s deemed the “stretch provision.” The provision allows the payment of a player’s contract (and the related salary cap hit) to be stretched out over several years, and would allow the Clippers to make another addition via free agency (or perhaps even two). Because the Clippers used their non-taxpayer midlevel exception on center Spencer Hawes in July, they are operating with a hard salary cap and have less than a million dollars remaining to work with because of it. 

One strong free agent possibility is 27-year-old shooting guard Chris Douglas Roberts, though he can’t sign until the aforementioned moves are made. Roberts averaged 6.9 points and 20.7 minutes for the Charlotte Hornets last season in 49 games. Another possibility is big man Ekpe Udoh, the 27-year-old who visited with the Clippers on Tuesday. Udoh, who was taken sixth overall by the Golden State Warriors in the 2010 draft, spent the last three seasons coming off the bench for the Milwaukee Bucks. Raduljica is also likely to be waived by the Clippers, and his possible buyout (he’s owed $1.5 million) could also create more salary cap space.

If you’re keeping track at home, the Clippers essentially traded Dudley and a protected future first-round pick to clear all salary commitments for next year while gaining a bit of flexibility under the hard cap.

While it’s hard to judge the trade before all the moves are finalized, it’s worth wondering if the sacrifice and risk are worth it for the Clippers.

 

It’s interesting that the Clippers were so quick to give up on Dudley, particularly after the team traded Eric Bledsoe for him last offseason. Dudley suffered through an injury-riddled campaign, and you would think there was hope that his numbers would return to the mean with better health.

Here’s what Doc Rivers said in a statement, via Arash Markazi at ESPNLosAngeles.com:

‘Jared is a great teammate, I thank him for all his hard work on and off the floor on our behalf,’ Clippers president of basketball operations and head coach Doc Rivers said in a statement. ‘Jared is a true professional and we wish him all the best in Milwaukee.’

The timing of the trade may be the most interesting aspect of it all.

While it’s understandable that the Clippers want to fill holes now, particularly if there are free agents available that they covet, increasing Dudley’s trade value might have been as simple as giving him playing time early on this season. With the Clippers all but guaranteed a playoff spot, that might have been worthwhile in order not to sacrifice a future asset like a draft pick.

It’s also important to remember that the Clippers don’t exactly have great depth at small forward. While Matt Barnes and Reggie Bullock should be able to handle the duties, the rest of the Clippers’ options at the 3 are awfully small and don’t provide the defense or rebounding that should be desired at that spot.

Ultimately, the Clippers may feel that the roster and cap flexibility this season is worth what’s likely to be one of the last picks in the first round in 2017, and it’s easy to see the logic behind that.

With Steve Ballmer taking over as owner, the Clippers should be able to buy early second-round choices rather easily going forward. We’ve seen something similar happen with the Brooklyn Nets this season, another team that had no issue sacrificing future first-round picks in trades only to purchase second-round choices on draft day.

Of course, there’s still plenty of risk involved. If Blake Griffin or Chris Paul suffer major injuries in 2017, and the Clippers just sneak into the playoffs or miss out, then the pick becomes incredibly valuable. The protection alleviates some concerns, but they’re still present.

The Clippers not being an elite team in 2017 isn’t a likely outcome, but as the Indiana Pacers and Paul George found out this offseason, perfect health shouldn’t always be counted on.

You just have to think of it this way: Is the risk here worth the reward?

Chris Douglas-Roberts and Ekpe Udoh are decent role players who would fill some needs in terms of youth on the wing and defensive potential up front, and maybe Raduljica will prove to be a valuable contributor if he’s not waived. Still, as it stands, the Clippers now don’t have a first-round pick to trade until 2019 because their 2015 pick will be headed to the Boston Celtics as part of the Rivers acquisition.

When you think about future trades the Clippers could now make, the options are more limited than they once were. Movable assets were already scarce, and with a roster that will likely be over the cap for the next few years at least, that draft pick could have been useful for a few different reasons.

Even if the Clippers don’t view a late first-round pick as a major asset, rebuilding teams tend to treat them like gold. Any way you slice it, the Clippers have less buying power in trades now than they did before.

Dudley was the best player in this deal, and the draft pick was by far the best asset. The Clippers can create some roster and financial flexibility now, but they failed to maximize full value for their assets and invited some unnecessary risk in order to do so. 

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Lakers Rumors: Michael Beasley Would Be Worth the Risk for LA

The Los Angeles Lakers won’t turn Michael Beasley‘s career around overnight if he becomes the newest member of the purple and gold, but it would be a risk worth taking for a team sorely in need of added weapons entering 2014-15. 

The former No. 2 overall pick—yes, second overall—in the 2008 draft has posed more questions than answers about himself in stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns and two with the Miami Heat. A player once compared side-by-side with Kevin Durant is now a free agent generating little interest as August wears on. 

But one team very much interested in “B-Easy” is the Lakers, ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin reported on July 30. McMenamin‘s source said of Beasley: “(He) looked very good and he has been working out.”

Of course, plenty of time has passed since the workout—indicating that if the sides are in fact still interested, something is holding up a deal.

Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler elaborated on Twitter:

The risk outside of basketball in bringing in Beasley pretty much goes without saying. His problems started right after entering the league when he was fined $50,000 for sneaking out of a rookie symposium. Beasley is also not a year removed from a marijuana citation, per USA Today, that led to his dismissal from the Suns before last season. 

All of those factors obviously make guaranteeing a contract—rather than signing him to a 10-day deal—a tough sell for the Lakers. 

But he was the No. 2 pick for a reason, even if he didn’t deserve to be. His athleticism and pure talent on the wing is up there with some of the league’s better players, he can torment defenders in isolation and—gasp—might even provide somewhat of a veteran presence on the bench unit.

Exonerated after his poor season in Phoenix, Beasley significantly improved last year in Miami. In 55 games, he shot his best field-goal percentage of his career and improved his three-point percentage to .389—up from .313 the year before. 

Critics will be quick to note Beasley played his way out of the rotation in Miami. That was also a two-time defending NBA champion bench he was submerged in, with enough veteran role players to operate a Drew League team. Among players he was competing for time with—Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, and oh yeah, LeBron James. 

Let’s compare that to whom Beasley would be going up against for time in L.A.

Nick Young is comfortably in the starting lineup at the 3 position. But likely backing him up is Xavier Henry—a natural shooting guard—and Wesley Johnson. Something tells me he cracks that rotation. 

Not only can Beasley put the ball in the hoop as well as any of his potential competition at the 3, but he is a worlds-better rebounder to make a valuable impact on a team that finished 25th in rebounding last season (and lost leading rebounder Pau Gasol). 

As LakersNation.com’s Johnny Navarrette shared, Beasley’s numbers alone prove he belongs:

Last year, then-head coach Mike D’Antoni was in extreme need for a player like Beasley to come in and jump-start the offense by himself at times. And although the team seems much better after this offseason, that need will still present itself.

A starting lineup of Jeremy Lin, Kobe Bryant, Young, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill won’t win you very many games without the right personnel on the bench to carry the team during stretches.

Are Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Henry and Johnson going to do that against Western Conference powers with championship-level bench units? Not likely.

This isn’t to say that Beasley would be the answer to all of L.A.’s problemsor any of them, even. Whether he stays out west or not, the Lakers’ bench isn’t great and they are more than likely in for another long season. 

But with the Lakers’ need for bench production and new head coach Byron Scott’s reputation as a disciplinarian, signing Beasley may end up being a risk that pays off—even if it’s just in the form of eight points and four rebounds a game. 

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NBA draft too deep to risk top pick on hurt center

Joel Embiid might be the most talented player in the 2014 NBA Draft. But the Cavaliers can’t afford to take him.

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Will Any NBA Lottery Teams Take Risk on Joel Embiid?

Just when the beginning of the 2014 NBA draft was going to be easy to predict…

Usually, there’s a bit of controversy among the top three picks, but we seemed to be heading toward a June 26 announcement that Joel Embiid was coming off the board first, followed by Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins. 

Now, Embiid‘s foot injury has thrown a wrench in those plans, as first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski

To his credit, Embiid, the freshman phenom from Kansas, has stayed optimistic, even if the Cleveland Cavaliers drafting him at No. 1 now seems quite unlikely: 

Optimism aside, there are no longer any guarantees. 

Embiid, once considered the prohibitive favorite to follow up Anthony Bennett as the NBA draft’s top overall selection, now has a major red flag next to his name. Could it scare away more than just the teams selecting at the very beginning of the draft? 

What if no lottery teams are willing to take a risk on him? Is that possible? 

 

The Injury

Over the next week— really even longer than that, as the discussion isn’t just going to go away once the Kansas standout is drafted—you’re going to hear Embiid compared with quite a few players who have suffered major injuries. 

And for good reason. 

While Embiid‘s back injury was concerning enough, this foot malady thrusts his ability to stay healthy into a whole new light. 

“More worrisome is that Embiid suffered a second stress fracture in less than a year,” wrote Will Carroll, Bleacher Report’s sports injuries lead writer, in the wake of the news. “Given how little he has played, there has to be a worry that his body can’t handle the stresses of the game. Another, even more concerning possibility is that Embiid has some systemic issue that makes his bones brittle.”

The primary concern rests around one simple inquiry. 

If Embiid couldn’t stay healthy during a shorter season at Kansas while playing against collegiate competition, how is he going to withstand the rigors of an NBA season that lasts 82 games and is played against players that are—as a whole—bigger and stronger than the ones he faced with the Jayhawks? 

Injuries are always causes for concern among big men, whose bodies aren’t necessarily built to be subjected to such intense physical treatment. In the wake of Greg Oden becoming a huge draft bust, Andrew Bynum’s career fizzling out and Brook Lopez failing to stay healthy for the Brooklyn Nets, they’re even more concerning. 

But it’s not as though this is a new problem.

Sam Bowie’s career was derailed by injuries to his lower extremities. Yao Ming‘s tenure in the Association was dramatically shortened. Bill Walton went from superstar to bench fodder in a matter of years when his feet gave him trouble. 

The list goes on, and Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Mannix provides more detail: 

Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in the [navicular] bone in 2008 and again in 2009, and it was the primary cause for Yao’s forced retirement in 2011. Bill Walton battled fractures of the navicular bone that robbed him of all but 14 games between 1978 and 1982 and ultimately forced him into retirement. Zydrunas Ilgauskas dealt with a navicular fracture early in his career but went on to finish with nine healthy seasons.

However, Mannix goes on to explain that it’s not necessarily a death knell. 

There are many variables that go into the recovery, none of which are anything but up in the air at this stage. How quickly will he recover? Will there be relapses? Is this solely from overuse? 

Hell, we don’t even know the exact bone structure of his foot. And as Dr. Mark Adickes explains for ESPN Insider (subscription required), that’s reason for a twinge of optimism: 

Finally, Yao had extremely high arches in his feet, which, when placed under stress, compressed his navicular bone like a nutcracker. While I have neither examined nor seen the X-rays of Embiid, it is highly unlikely that he has similar anatomy as Yao.

A number of studies have shown successful returns to sport after a navicular fracture. The average return is four months whether surgery is performed or the bone is allowed to heal in a cast with the athlete placed on crutches. Given Yao’s troubles, it does not surprise me that Embiid‘s team has decided to choose surgery in an effort to reassure NBA executives that he will be ready to play by the start of the 2014-15 season.

Although it is a worrisome injury to be sure, given Embiid‘s age, body type and lack of mileage, I fully expect him to heal well and have a solid NBA career.

Positive expectations or not, there are serious questions now. Questions that could very well knock him outside that group of elite prospects that seemed to be comprised solely of himself, Wiggins and Parker prior to this injury news. 

But there’s one thing no one questions—his talent. 

 

The Talent

Should these injury concerns prove to be minor setbacks, some team will land quite the steal. 

Not only is Embiid the most talented player in this draft class, even evoking comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon, but he’s one of the better prospects in years. The combination of his athleticism, defensive ability, shot-blocking habits, footwork on the blocks and smooth touch on mid-range jumpers is just absolutely incredible. 

When the back injury was the only medical red flag, Embiid had emerged as the prohibitive favorite to go at No. 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even if general manager David Griffin opted to draft Wiggins or Parker, Embiid surely wasn’t going to fall out of the top three. 

He was that good. 

Actually, he still is that good. There’s just a question of how much he’ll be able to play and whether his career is going to be dramatically shortened by this devastating blow, one that came just a week prior to the June 26 festivities. 

ESPN Insider Chad Ford has been analyzing prospects for a long time. That gives him the ability to look back at the top incoming players since the turn of the century and rank how they stack up, based solely on expectations leading up to the draft, not their performance in the NBA. 

Yes, that means guys like Darko Milicic and Greg Oden are going to be featured in the rankings. 

It’s quite telling that in his list of the 25 best prospects he’s scouted since 2000, Embiid is quite high up. Here’s the top 10 (subscription required): 

  1. LeBron James, 2003
  2. Greg Oden, 2007
  3. Yao Ming, 2002
  4. Kevin Durant, 2007
  5. Anthony Davis, 2012
  6. Darko Milicic, 2003
  7. Carmelo Anthony, 2003
  8. Jay Williams, 2002
  9. Joel Embiid, 2014
  10. Andrew Wiggins, 2014

That’s what teams are looking at passing up on, due to the injury concerns. 

He will drop out of the No. 1 spot. Even if the Cavs haven’t publicly stated as much, that’s practically a guarantee. 

But given his talent, he won’t fall out of the lottery. Not even close. 

 

The Needs

Will the Cavaliers draft Embiid at No. 1? 

Absolutely not, as stated above. This franchise needs to nail the top pick, making up for the Anthony Bennett gaffe one year prior. Wiggins and Parker are just safer selections at this stage, and both fill the small forward hole that’s been kept open for LeBron James in case he decides to return to his hometown team, which seems increasingly unlikely. 

Small forward is a need. Center is as well, but not to the same extent. Why fill the latter with the questionable selection when the former can be shored up by following a safer route? 

Things get more interesting at No. 2, though. 

The Milwaukee Bucks could certainly take a risk on Embiid, even if it’s unlikely as well. With Larry Sanders starting to play under his ginormous contract and John Henson still waiting for a legitimate shot to shine in the starting lineup, there are other needs that should be addressed.

A top scorer, for example. 

So while Milwaukee’s time at the podium will be interesting, it won’t be the end of Embiid‘s draft-day worries.

Could the slide end when the Philadelphia 76ers are on the clock? 

Though Tom Moore never specifically says so while writing for The Intelligencer, the exploration of other options by general manager Sam Hinkie makes it clear that Embiid is not a high priority: 

If Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie is determined to land Wiggins, who spent one year at Kansas, Embiid’s injury could necessitate trading up via combining picks Nos. 3 and 10 — which he supposedly doesn’t want to do — or packaging No. 3 with a player. Thaddeus Young probably wouldn’t be enough for the Cavs or Bucks and NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams would be too much. It could take No. 3 and Nerlens Noel to get it done.

Hinkie could consider moving down, especially if he targets Vonleh. In addition, he could try to move up from No. 10 if there’s somebody he’s intrigued by at No. 7 or 8 by sending No. 10 and No. 32, which is the first of the Sixers’ five second-rounders.

Pairing Embiid with Noel would work, but it’s not as advantageous as adding that wing scorer that Philly so desperately needs.

So let’s continue moving down the board. 

Despite needing a rim protector, the Orlando Magic finding a franchise point guard is a bigger priority. Marcus Smart or Dante Exum should still be the pick, though the Embiid news makes it more unlikely the mysterious Australian guard will still be on the board at No. 4.   

We can look past the Utah Jazz at No. 5, seeing as they have Enes Kanter on the roster and consider Derrick Favors a center as well. Adding Embiid just creates a mess in the frontcourt, and his presence would hinder the potential development of everyone involved, seeing as there’d be a significant dearth of available playing time. 

Then come the Boston Celtics.

Right now, GM Danny Ainge has to be sitting at his desk and covering the wood with a pile of drool, as he can’t help but salivate over the prospect of Embiid falling to him at No. 6. 

In fact, a source tells CSNNE.com that the Celtics will give some serious thought to potentially moving up in the draft to select him,” reports A. Sherrod Blakely

If the C’s are giving “serious thought” to sacrificing assets and moving up in the order after the news of the stress fracture, it’s easy to imagine them waiting only a nanosecond to pull the trigger should he fall to No. 6. Boston has shown no compunction when it comes to drafting injured players in the past; Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger can both testify to that. 

The prospect of adding a potential superstar is too much to pass up during a rebuilding period. Embiid could be the center the C’s have been seeking for quite some time. 

But even if Boston does inexplicably look the other way, rolling with Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon or another close-to-elite prospect, Embiid still isn’t making it all the way through the lottery. Even in a class this deep, the reward greatly outweighs the risk once we move out of the top five. 

The Los Angeles Lakers would surely love to take a chance on him, even if he’d make it tougher to complete an immediate rebuild during this offseason. I’m sure the Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Hornets would love to pair him with DeMarcus Cousins and Al Jefferson, respectively. 

From this point on, every team would take him. The “best player available” strategy is awfully appealing when the expected No. 1 pick is on the board around the 10th selection of the proceedings. 

Will Embiid fall out of the lottery? 

Absolutely not. That’s about as likely as Kyle Anderson, Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams breaking Kentucky’s record for most consecutive players taken from the same school to begin the draft. And seeing as none of those three are guaranteed lotto picks, that’s saying something. 

Speaking of guaranteed lottery picks, Embiid still qualifies. 

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At What Point Does Russell Westbrook Become a Major Risk to OKC Thunder?

The Oklahoma City Thunder have done everything they can to protect All-NBA point guard Russell Westbrook and his problematic right knee, but the health of that joint clearly remains beyond their control.

Forget the minutes limitations, restrictions on his availability for back-to-back sets or even that supersized supply of bubble wrap that now sits inside the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Once Westbrook hits the NBA hardwood, all control is lost. Crossed fingers and wishful thoughts can only do so much, something the Thunder were brutally reminded of during their marathon 119-118 double-overtime victory over the Toronto Raptors Friday night.

Despite a 51-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist performance from Kevin Durant, all eyes were on Westbrook and his three-time surgically repaired joint, which buckled during a third-quarter collision with Raptors guard Kyle Lowry:

The initial diagnosis was a right knee sprain, per Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, officially ending his night after only 19 minutes. Whether the end of Friday’s game is all that he’ll lose should become clearer after further evaluation Saturday.

Westbrook didn’t sound concerned after the game.

“I don’t expect to miss no time,” he said, via Mayberry. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

Maybe that isn’t a lack of anxiety, though. Maybe it’s an attempt at optimism with an all-too-deep understanding of what could go wrong.

Westbrook seemed fine after weathering a shot from Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley midway through the second quarter of Game 2 during the teams’ opening-round meeting last season. Westbrook logged 37 minutes during that contest.

Two days later, OKC discovered he had suffered a torn meniscus during his run-in with Beverley.

By June, the point guard publicly ditched his crutches and made it seem as if his rehab couldn’t be going any better. By October, he was back under the knife, this time to address some swelling in the knee.

Westbrook was supposed to be sidelined the first four to six weeks of the regular season. He wound up missing just two games, erupting for 21 points and seven assists in his 2013-14 debut.

Everything seemed to be going to plan.

After missing those first two games, Westbrook appeared in 25 of OKC’s next 26. Besides some struggles with a shooting form that wasn’t the best to begin with, his game looked all the way back. He averaged 21.3 points, 7.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds over those 25 games, a line that only four-time MVP LeBron James has notched in the last decade.

After a 14-point, 13-rebound, 10-assist triple-double in OKC’s Christmas Day rout of the New York Knicks, Westbrook looked like he had rediscovered all of his pre-injury ability—or maybe even added to it.

As quickly as it had returned, though, it was ripped away once again.

On Dec. 27, Thunder general manager Sam Presti announced that Westbrook had undergone a third operation on the knee, via ESPN:

On the most recent MRI, it was determined by the surgeon that there was an area of concern that had not previously existed nor was detectable in the previous procedures, and it was necessary to evaluate Russell further. The consulting physician determined that arthroscopic surgery was necessary to address the swelling that was taking place. We know that Russell’s work ethic and commitment will help him return to the level of play that we have all come to appreciate.

There was no rapid recovery after this procedure.

Westbrook missed 27 games in a row, a stretch that saw Durant force his way to the front of the MVP race. Reggie Jackson, perhaps as close to a Westbrook clone as you’ll find in the league, slipped into Westbrook’s starting spot, and sharpshooting swingman Jeremy Lamb occupied the sixth-man spot vacated by Jackson.

The Thunder rattled off 20 wins over those 27 games, proving they’d at least learned how to survive a regular-season stretch without Westbrook. With championship thoughts running rampant through the Sooner State, though, the importance of his return was impossible to overstate.

“It’s like trading for an All-Star,” Durant said, via Sam Amick of USA Today. ”We’re looking forward to it, we’re definitely excited for him to get back.”

It took for a while for that excitement to reach the stat sheet.

OKC dropped three straight games after Westbrook’s return and six of its first 11 after the All-Star break. The defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed (eight of those 11 opponents broke triple digits), and the offense sputtered as complementary pieces slid back down the totem pole.

Jackson has struggled to find his form out of the break (41.5 field-goal percentage). Lamb has had a hard time finding minutes (12.6 over his last 14 games) or doing anything with the ones he’s received (3.8 points on 29.9 percent shooting).

Westbrook himself has been more hit than miss (21 points on .452/.413/.846 shooting since the All-Star break), but there’s only so much he can do on limited minutes. Not to mention how these repeated trips to the training table make it hard to believe he’s anywhere close to 100 percent.

“It takes an uber-optimist not to be concerned by the fact Westbrook’s right knee has required three surgeries in the space of eight-plus months,” ESPN’s Marc Stein wrote after news broke of Westbrook’s third surgery. “Worrisome is putting it mildly after three operations to repair one injury.”

Especially when it seems that one injury still hasn’t been corrected.

The Thunder appear to be (understandably) overly cautious in their handling of Westbrook. He’s the player capable of drawing defenders away from the three-time scoring champion, Durant, a necessary piece to OKC’s championship puzzle.

Westbrook is also wildly unpredictable—and no longer solely for a shot selection that teeters between questionable and shameful.

He has the volatility of an X-factor, but the responsibility of a featured star. His ceiling, when healthy, is high enough that his basement blunders have to be overlooked.

But when is the last time he was truly healthy? When can the Thunder expect him to get back to that point?

Presti has done a masterful job of building around Westbrook and Durant, but the executive needs his two-man centerpiece for this championship plan to come to fruition.

That’s the reason behind the playing-time precautions, why the state of Oklahoma now holds its breath whenever a defender enters Westbrook’s personal space. Whatever is going on with the point guard’s right knee is clearly something this team has yet to get a handle on.

The longer these injury concerns linger, the harder it becomes for this franchise to win something of significance—the most convincing negotiating chip the organization could use to keep its transcendent talents happy in their small-market home.

It doesn’t get any riskier than that. The real question here is, at what point is Westbrook no longer a risk? When can we stop worrying about his knee, and go back to worrying about his itchy trigger finger again?

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Kentucky Fan Takes Big Risk by Getting ’2014 National Champions’ Tattoo

Getting a tattoo to proclaim your team champions before it happens is a risky move.

One Seattle Seahawks fan’s risk of getting a Super Bowl XLVIII tattoo before the 2013-14 NFL season paid off. A Kentucky Wildcats fan is hoping he gets lucky as well.

The Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the preseason, so it would have been more reasonable had he gotten the tattoo done before the season. Now that Kentucky is unranked, it looks like a very risky move.

He’s hoping he doesn’t turn into the Denver Broncos fan who got a Super Bowl champions tattoo before this year’s big game. 

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Are the Indiana Pacers taking a risk with Evan Turner acquisition?

The Indiana Pacers looked as if they would allow the NBA’s trading deadline to come and go quietly yesterday afternoon, but things changed at around 3:30 PM. Adrian Wojnarowski put out a tweet that the Indiana Pacers had traded Danny Granger to the 76ers, and multiple reports followed that the Pacers were getting a package of Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen back in return. Did the Pacers take a major risk and make a mistake by pulling the trigger on this trade?
Evan Turner has averaged 17.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game this season with the 76ers in 54 games played. Those numbers do look very good, but those numbers don’t show the true numbers that he has really been putting up this season. Keep in mind that Turner is playing for a very bad team in the 76ers, and his shot numbers are inflated because of that. He is shooting just 42.8% from the floor, which is a bit concerning.
Danny Granger has proven that he can stay healthy so far this season in 29 games, averaging 8.3 points and 3.6 rebo

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Golden State Warriors Taking Huge Risk in Andrew Bogut Deal

Another offseason is nearly in the books, and another big extension has been handed out by the Golden State Warriors

Last year, it was Stephen Curry getting locked up to a long-term deal. This time around, it’s Andrew Bogut pulling down the big payday.

Offering an extension to an injury-prone player is always risky business, but perhaps the Warriors were feeling invincible after the way last season’s gamble on Curry paid off.

Curry is now widely considered one of the most underpaid players in the league, and surely the Warriors are hoping the same will be said about Bogut next year.

This is another leap of faith for the Warriors, but the distance to cover is a little more drastic than it was with Curry’s extension. Bogut played in just 32 games last season for the club, and he didn’t exactly have your typical “contract-year performance” that you might expect given the size of this new deal.

Bogut‘s 8.5 points per 36 minutes, 13.8 PER and 46.3 percent true shooting percentage were all the worst numbers of his eight-year career. Unfortunately, that was just a continuation of a downhill trajectory. 

Since dislocating his elbow back in 2010, Bogut has failed to shoot over 50 percent from the field for a full season. Bogut has also shot just 46.4 percent from the foul line since that time.

More importantly, the Australian native has missed 104 games over the past two seasons due to injuries, which he has failed to dodge his entire career. In addition to the gruesome elbow injury, Bogut has also broken his left ankle and been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back. A lot of his injuries have resulted from bad luck and hard falls, but either way, Bogut hasn’t been able to stay on the court.

Armed with that knowledge, you would think that Golden State would push for a deal that was largely incentive-based, but Bogut balked at the suggestion. The $36 million base extension includes incentives that could push the salary to $42 million if Bogut remains healthy, but there is no easy way out for Golden State if Bogut can’t stay on the floor.

Taking a risk on Bogut‘s health is one thing, but ignoring his decline since the injuries is another. Bogut simply isn’t the offensive player he once was, and he has yet to show any signs that he ever will be again. While he’s an incredibly skilled passer and great at setting screens, Bogut is very limited as a scorer and is a liability late in games at the line.

Of course, the big man is getting paid almost solely for his tremendous impact on the defensive side of the ball. There’s no doubting that Bogut is still an excellent rim protector and defensive rebounder, and those type of players fetch a pretty penny on the open market. 

Still, it is odd that Golden State wasn’t able to receive a discount whatsoever during this negotiation, unlike it did with Curry.

Tiago Splitter’s extension with the San Antonio Spurs for $9 million per year would seem like a more appropriate benchmark, as the two big men provide similar production and are the same age. How Bogut commanded $3 million more per season, fully guaranteed, with his health issues, with incentives, coming off the worst year of his career is a bit of a mystery. 

The problem is, Golden State is paying full price for a player who is never at full health. The leverage should have been with the Warriors, but the fear of being without a center in the future might have been enough to nix that. Extending for three years instead of four is a victory, but it’s a minor one given the size of the deal.

Golden State is set up nicely for the future, no doubt, and the type of defense Bogut can bring is sorely needed with any team that starts David Lee at power forward. The match is right, but it’s still hard to shake the feeling that the price was wrong. 

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Michael Beasley: Risk or reward?

It has been reported that forward Michael Beasley will no longer be a part of the Phoenix Suns organization as he becomes a free agent weeks after he was recently arrested in Arizona for possession of marijuana. The former 2nd overall pick from the 2008 NBA Draft lasted no longer than one year in Phoenix after Beasley signed a three-year $18 million contract this past offseason in a city where he did not live up to the high expectations that were expected of him. While averaging a career low 10.1 ppg along with 3.8 apg, many are convinced that he is a bust.
The Los Angeles Lakers enquired about Beasley via trade while he was playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 2011-2012 season, however, no deal could be reached before the deadline. Now a free agent, he could come along and make a strong contribution for the Lakers.
With the Lakers’ recent signings of Elias Harris and Wesley Johnson, it appears that their current plan going forward is to play the small forward position …

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Miami Heat and 5 NBA Teams That Should Take a Risk on Michael Beasley

The Phoenix Suns have released Michael Beasley after reaching a termination agreement with the troubled small forward, according to NBA.com.

While it wasn’t a shocking move considering Beasley’s August arrest, it doesn’t mean that his NBA career is over.

Beasley is an exceptionally gifted player who has the potential to be a real difference maker for an NBA team. To shift from having a negative impact on his team to having a positive one, Beasley needs more structure and leadership than most teams are willing to give to a player who’s had as many chances as Beasley has.

The good news is that there are teams who need the kind of explosive scoring off the bench that Beasley can bring. The bad news, though, is that there are only a handful of teams that should even consider taking a stab at him.

Because the Suns and Beasley agreed to a contract termination, a team would be able to pick Beasley up for a very low cost.

Could a return to South Beach be just what Beasley needs to restart his troubled career? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. 

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