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NBA Insiders Notebook: Paul Millsap to Toronto? A move for Wizards?

NBA Insiders Notebook: Paul Millsap to Toronto? A move for Wizards?

AN ARENA NEAR YOU – Here we are, back for another edition of the CSN Insiders notebook. We’re creeping up on the midway point of the season, a time when teams really start to separate themselves from one another and the rumor mill starts to heat up.

One team that’s not just talking trade – they’re making it happen – is the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Despite standing atop the East most of this season, they too have holes to fill.

One of the most significant needs between now and the playoffs for them, was to add another shooter to help fill the void left by J.R. Smith whose thumb surgery will likely keep him out for most if not all of the regular season that’s remaining.

So what do they do?

They don’t just add another guy who can knock down shots.

They go out and get Kyle Korver from Atlanta, one of the best 3-point snipers in the game. … Or so we thought.

Here we shed some light on why the Cavaliers’ newest addition may not in fact wind up playing for them after all.

RELATED: VIDEO: Kid has meltdown during danceoff at Wizards game

ATLANTIC DIVISION

SOURCE: SIXERS TO WORK OUT D-LEAGUE POINT GUARDS

The Sixers have been down a point guard since Jerryd Bayless suffered a season-ending wrist injury. They cleared up a roster spot by waiving Hollis Thompson, and now they could use it to find another floor leader.

According to a source, the Sixers will work out four D-League point guards on Monday:  Cat Barber, Yogi Ferrell, Chasson Randle and Briante Weber.

Bayless was signed to be the starting point guard. Sergio Rodriguez had been starting in his place, but recently third option T.J. McConnell stepped in when Rodriguez was sidelined by an ankle sprain. - by Jessica Camerato

SMART ON THE TRADE BLOCK?

Lately, Boston Celtics fans don’t cringe nearly as much as they used to when Marcus Smart raises up for a 3-point shot. His defense remains at an elite level. He’s improving as a scorer, ball-handler and decision-maker on the floor. And while that’s good for his growth, it’s not necessarily going to be what keeps him in Boston.

The Celtics have a logjam in the backcourt that doesn’t seem to be easing up anytime soon, in part because all of their guards are playing well.

Isaiah Thomas will be selected to his second all-star game next month. Avery Bradley has played at a level to where he’s in the conversation, although unlikely to be selected. Terry Rozier has had some ups and downs, but he too has shown growth from where he was a year ago.

But what separates the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Smart from the other three is his combination of size, strength, versatility and potential which is why he will be a player that Celtics president of basketball Danny Ainge will continue to get calls on as we get closer to the trade deadline next month.

Thomas isn’t going to get any taller, and Bradley’s ball-handling and court vision is better but not on Smart’s level. Rozier has talent, but isn’t close to delivering the physical presence that Smart does.

So why would the Celtics trade him?

Because in Boston’s never-ending pursuit of a superstar-caliber player, there has to be a sacrificial lamb and Smart could very well be the chosen one for the aforementioned reasons.

Smart is well-versed on trade rumors and how as a player it shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing.

“It just means somebody else wants you, likes your game,” he said recently. “That’s a good thing in this league.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

RELATED: 5 must-see moments from Wizards' win over Bucks

SIMMONS TRAVELS WITH TEAM, NO TIMETABLE FOR HIS RETURN

The Sixers have a new addition on the road.

Ben Simmons joined the team for games against in Boston and Brooklyn, his first road trip of the season. Simmons was on the court for individualized work pregame and had his own locker at Barclays Center. [LINK: http://www.csnphilly.com/philadelphia-76ers/ben-simmons-makes-his-first-road-trip-sixers-boston ]

Incorporating Simmons into the team away from Philadelphia is another step in his rehab (right Jones fracture). There is no timetable for his return.

“There’s a different light at the end of his road,” Brett Brown said. “There’s a bounce to his personality, there’s a bounce to his step and you do feel like there’s a new way he sort of sees the world when he’s with the team.” – by Jessica Camerato

PORZINGIS: ‘IT’S NOT COMING TOGETHER YET’

After adding an aging all-star in Joakim Noah and an injury-riddled one in Derrick Rose, the Knicks knew health would be an issue to keep an eye on.

Turns out, the same can be said for chemistry which the Knicks seem to be in short supply of lately.

And to hear it from arguably the most optimistic Knick of them all, Kristaps Porzingis, speaks to how serious an issue this is for a New York team that has lost seven of its last eight games.

Even when they were four games over .500 (14-10), Porzingis wasn’t sold on them being on the right track.

“In the moment we were four games (over) .500, I said it — I don’t see ourselves as that good of a team yet,’’ Porzingis told reporters following a 123-109 loss at Indiana on Saturday, a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might indicate. “We were still growing. We were winning games, but we still had a lot to learn. It was a good moment based on our talent, but we weren’t there yet and now it’s showing. I don’t see ourselves as that good of a team yet.

Porzingis added, “We got to figure this out and keep growing as a team. It’s not coming together yet. It’s frustrating.’’ – by A. Sherrod Blakely

KILPATRICK BREAKOUT PERFORMER FOR NETS

Very little has gone right for the Brooklyn Nets this season, but certainly the play of Sean Kilpatrick doesn’t fall in that category.

Since being signed by the Nets to a 10-day contract (he was new GM Sean Marks’ first signing), Kilpatrick has just gotten better with time.

He’s averaging a career-high 14.9 points per game this season, averaging career highs in rebounds (4.3) and assists (2.6) as well.

And while those numbers are decent, the statistical difference in Brooklyn wins and losses tells you just how valuable he is to this team’s success.

In wins, he’s averaging 22.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

When Brooklyn loses, his numbers plummet to 12.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

His current contract has one year remaining and it’s non-guaranteed if Brooklyn decides to waive him prior to June 30.

Considering how he has played in wins and the fact that the one year remaining is worth just $1.05 million, Kilpatrick should feel pretty confident that he’ll be donning a Nets uniform next season. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

RELATED: Oubre tries to pronounce Antetokounmpo, has trouble

RAPTORS IN MILLSAP HUNT?

With Kyle Korver on the move, all signs point toward Hawks forward Paul Millsap as Atlanta continues to gut out the squad that won a franchise-record 60 games just two years ago. The Raptors are among the many teams that would make a lot of sense for Toronto to pursue.

They have the second-best record in the East, but they’re not fooling anybody but themselves if they think their roster, as it is currently constructed, is good enough to get past Cleveland.

But adding Paul Millsap to a core that includes DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and DeMarre Carroll (his ex-teammate in Atlanta) certainly solidifies them as the No. 2 club in the East and one that won’t go away quietly in the playoffs.

And maybe more than anything else, the window of opportunity for Toronto is shrinking which should make them an aggressive pursuer of Millsap who right now is the most talented player who in all likelihood be traded. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

CENTRAL DIVISION

BUTLER FOR MVP, OR BEING TRADED?

Jimmy Butler completed one of the more impactful weeks of his career while enduring the seemingly never-ending trade talk that was stirred up by a Bleacher Report stating the Bulls were listening to offers on their growing superstar, days after a 52-point showing against the Charlotte Hornets and a day after taking over the fourth quarter against the champion Cleveland Cavaliers on the road.

Butler probably sealed Player of the Week honors by averaging 38 points, 9.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists, and who knows if the trade talk will die anytime soon, but Butler is elevating himself to even greater heights after turning himself into an All-Star two years ago.

“I think so,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg when asked if Butler deserved MVP consideration.

“Just what he’s done for this team. This stretch he’s got going. Continues to add to his game. He’s playing with the ball in his hands a lot. He’s been phenomenal.”

If these numbers and this production continues, voters will have to take notice and put him in the same class as the presumed frontrunners, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

“I don’t know about all that,” Butler said. “Take that one step at a time. All that’s way down the road from here. We have to continue to win for that to ever be a question.” – by Vincent Goodwill

SECOND ROUND PICK, BROGDON A FIRST RATE SUCCESS STORY

The underwhelming rookie class from the 2016 draft has a sleeper--and the Milwaukee Bucks just so happened to unearth second-round pick Malcolm Brogdon at the right time.

Brogdon, the 36th pick out of Virginia, is making a name for himself at just the right time. With the Bucks having injury problems in the backcourt, Brogdon has received more playing time, resulting in increased production every month. In addition to putting up a triple-double in a win over the Chicago Bulls to end the calendar year 2016, he's averaging 11.3 points, six assists and 4.7 rebounds in his first three games of 2017.

While dunking on LeBron James and Kyrie Irving during an early-season Cavs visit to Milwaukee, it underscores his savvy (age 23) and rapid growth in a short time.

“He just knows how to play,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “There’s no panic in his game.”

And while the Bucks are dangerous due to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, having a stable young player isn't hurting their chances come postseason. – by Vincent Goodwill

RELATED: Who are the top 3 NBA players under 25?

VAN GUNDY COACH, PREZ STRUGGLES TO FIND ANSWERS

The duality of Pistons coach and president Stan Van Gundy seem to be conflicting at the moment, thus highlighting the dangerous land organizations walk when choosing to hand all the power over to one figure with no real accountability aside from ownership.

President Van Gundy put together a team with young players on the upswing with locked-in contracts, making them a preseason favorite to elevate themselves to the middle to top of the East. But one wonders if coach Van Gundy can get through to a team that's underwhelmed and can't seem to get on the same page.

“It’s not hard to separate the big picture. It’s a frustrating time because I know that our players and our group are better than what we’re showing over the last month,” Van Gundy said Wednesday. “As a coach, what you’re trying to do is maximize the talent you have — and I’m not doing that right now.”

And if President Van Gundy decides that coach Van Gundy isn't doing a good enough job--as the Pistons have a 17-21 record as of Sunday afternoon--will the president fire the coach?

No, of course not.

But it makes things much more murky and thus highlights the urgency for the Pistons to follow up on preseason expectations with some actual production. – by Vincent Goodwill

PACERS STREAKING, WIN FIVE STRAIGHT

Who's the hottest team in the Eastern Conference?

The Indiana Pacers, who seem to also double as the team most observers have no idea what to expect from on a night-to-night basis. But five straight wins--all by double figures--show that perhaps Jeff Teague is the key to this team realizing its true potential as a party-crasher in the East.

Teague, in the last four wins, has shot over 56 percent in every game and averaged 10 assists, including a 21 and 15 performance against the Brooklyn Nets Thursday night.

Paul George is undeniably the Pacers' best player and a guy who has to come up big every night, but Teague, acquired from the Hawks over the summer, is likely their most important player at their most important position. – by Vincent Goodwill

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

THORNTON’S FUTURE IN WASHINGTON ON SHAKY GROUND?

After a disastrous road trip that led to Marcus Thornton quickly dropping from the rotation and Tomas Satoransky no longer in it, the Wizards don’t appear ready to move with a roster shakeup. If they do, it’s unlikely it would be rookies Sheldon McClellan, Daniel Ochefu or Danuel House.

The bench production usually is between 18-22 points a game on most nights for the Wizards, which means they’re relying heavily on the starters to do the scoring. President Ernie Grunfeld’s two biggest free agent acquisitions in Ian Mahinmi (knees) and Andrew Nicholson haven’t panned out. Mahinmi will be re-evaluated at the end of this month before settling on a return date and Nicholson has been below standard.

"Ernie and I are always in communication trying to figure out ways that we can improve our team," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "We're very comfortable with what we have right now. An important piece was Ian. ... We're always looking. We have guys that we're going to continue on our team, our younger players. Nothing is in the works.”

Ochefu has to stay because Brooks is short on big bodies sans Mahinmi. McClellan may have solidified himself above Thornton in the rotation, making two extra passes for assists late in the fourth quarter of a comeback win vs. the Timberwolves. He is a better athlete and has a better defensive IQ as Thornton botched several rotations late in a loss at the Houston Rockets. House is recovering from a broken right wrist and has value as a future stretch four option. 

While all are on minimum deals (another reason to keep them), the Wizards have preached commitment to development and won't s sacrifice the long-term for a short-term fix. If they were to make a roster move, Thornton is more likely to be waived than any of those rookies to make room. He’s on a $1.3 million vet minimum deal that’s already fully guaranteed and while the Wizards are over the salary cap they’re an under-the-tax team so they’d have wiggle room for a pro-rated deal. – by J. Michael

MIAMI SWAMPED BY INJURIES

A 27-point loss to the L.A. Lakers made a bad ending to the week that much worse after the Heat had to request an injured player exception for forward Justise Winslow, who’d recently returned from a wrist injury only to require season-ending surgery to his right shoulder.

Winslow only appeared in 18 games for Miami which also lost Josh McRoberts to a stress reaction, a precursor to a season-ending fracture, in his left foot. Hassan Whiteside has been out with a bruised retina and to make matters worse, Goran Dragic was ejected in the Lakers loss.

Dragic responded to a shove in the back from Jordan Clarkson and both were given the boot. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra repeatedly called Dragic’s second career ejection a “bailout” and “disgraceful.”

Come Feb. 9, the Heat could request cap relief because of Chris Bosh.

That date represents exactly one year from his last game and that would open a roster spot but they're on such a downward spiral it probably won't make a huge difference for this season.

"To say I am disappointed is an understatement," Winslow said. "It hurts that I can't be there for my teammates, the coaching staff and our fans. After a lot of thought, this surgery is what is best for my career." – by J. Michael

RELATED: Who says John Wall isn't All-Star worthy?

ROUGH TIMES FOR HAWKS

The first block in the restructuring of the Hawks has been shifted with the agreed upon deal that has yet to become official that will send Kyle Korver to the Cavs. Now Paul Millsap is on the clock, too, but the organization also is dealing with another public-relations crisis.

Hawks GM Wes Wilcox told a joke in a meeting with season ticket-holders about his interracial marriage that didn’t go over well with fan Clarenton Crawford. Danny Ferry, whom he replaced two years ago because of racially insensitive remarks made about Luol Deng in a scouting report, lost his position and was replaced by Wilcox two years ago.

“At an early December chalk talk, I made a self-deprecating comment at my own expense regarding my family, which is multi-racial,” Wilcox said in a statement. “This joke offended Mr. Crawford and his wife and for that, I apologize.”

Who knows what more changes could be ahead or if this is the end of the situation with Wilcox. But Millsap is the lone player remaining from the franchise-setting 60-win team in 2014-15 that was the No. 1 seed in the East. DeMarre Carroll was first to depart in free agency, then Al Horford and Jeff Teague was traded and now Korver.

Millsap has a player option for 2017-18 at $21.4 million so if Atlanta believes that he’s likely to opt out it’s more prudent to move the stretch power forward now rather than waiting until the offseason and have him walk for nothing. – by J. Michael

PACIFIC DIVISION

FAN VOTING MAKES ‘ZAZA RULE’ NECESSARY

Fan voting for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game is under way, which means the sun is shining brightly upon Warriors center Zaza Pachulia.

Upon the release of early ballot returns, Pachulia is in second place among Western Conference frontcourt players, behind only teammate Kevin Durant. This is the second consecutive season in which Pachulia is on the brink of All-Star status, as he also posted a strong showing last season as a member of the Dallas Mavericks.

How does this happen for the 14-year journeyman center from the Republic of Georgia? He benefits from an abundance of social-media based national support. The NBA changed the voting rules in part because Pachulia’s showing last season nearly mocked the marquee event. Fan voting is 50 percent of the tally, with players and media accounting for 25 percent apiece.

“The Zaza Rule,” says Pachulia’s teammate Draymond Green, who trails Pachulia in the voting.

Pachulia is delighted by the support but understands it may not be enough to lift him to All-Star status.

“I don’t care about All-Star (status) and the fame that comes with it and the recognition that comes with it,” he says. “I care about the support and the love I’m getting.” – by Monte Poole

MOZGOV: ‘I NEED TO PICK IT UP’

Look out below. Timofey Mozgov, the 7-foot-1 Lakers center, is about to get mean. Or so he says.

The Lakers added the veteran big man over the summer, at a cost of $64 million for four years, to fill in the middle as the team’s young core develops around him. Early results have been mixed, and Mozgov says he plans to intensify.

“I need to pick it up, be more physical and hit people around,” Mozgov told Southern California reporters. “It’s not like killing someone, but being stronger.”

Size aside, the Mozgov has never been a brutish player. But the Lakers may benefit from a new Timo. They were unusually physical in their next game, crushing Miami, 127-100. If Mozgov keeps his word, and the Lakers benefit, things could get interesting in LA. – by Monte Poole

RELATED: LeBron is tired of asking Cavs to trade for point guard

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Morning tip: At least 44 wins if Wizards can do this before All-Star break

Morning tip: At least 44 wins if Wizards can do this before All-Star break

At 21-19, the Wizards finally are on the verge of creating a new identity as a team that is defense-first, offensively potent and to be reckoned with beause of their home-court.

But they have 15 games left before the All-Star break to create the separation needed to give them breathing room in a muddled Eastern Conference and there are plenty of tiebreakers to be had, too.

They play the Memphis Grizzlies at Verizon Center tonight, where they've won 12 games in a row. But in the next week alone they can secure their season series with the N.Y. Knicks, take 2-0 leads over the Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons and go up 2-1 vs. the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks. Two of the last three games before the break are against the Indiana Pacers, who they're tied against 1-1.

A 10-5 stretch from now until the break for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game in New Orleans would put Washington at 31-24 with 27 games left in the regular-season.

If the Wizards can go no worse than 13-14 from that point, they'd finish the season 44-38, the minimum win total required for a No. 8 seed in last year's playoffs. 

Because of the shaky bench play, the Wizards have been an inconsistent road team. Reserves tend to play better at home so banking the wins now becomes more crucial.

To end the season, the Wizards have two games left with the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors. They have five-game road trip in early March against teams they've already beaten: Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

But it's those games out of All-Star break that will set the tone. After playing the Philadelphia 76ers are their first meetings with the Jazz, Warriors and two dates with the Toronto Raptors in less than a week.

There never are truly easy stretches, but it's all relative. Go into the All-Star break playing out of any kind of hole with that death lineup to kickstart the stretch run -- the Wizards lost 109-102 in Philadelphia minus Joel Embiid already -- puts everything in jeopardy. 

[RELATED: Kelly Oubre shows signs of development on both ends vs. Blazers]

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Film study: Wizards put forth best 48 minutes of defense this season

Film study: Wizards put forth best 48 minutes of defense this season

You can have effort and hustle on defense, but without smarts and proper communication, it's all just wasted energy. The Portland Trail Blazers aren't a good team record-wise, but they have two elite scorers in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum who gave the Wizards fits in sweeping them last season. 

They'd recently beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers by 16 points, but the Wizards had their best defensive showing for 48 minutes of the season. 

The evidence:

The pick-and-roll action between Lillard and Mason Plumlee leaves much to be desired. Wall uses lock-and-trail technique to take away the three-point shot. Lillard gives it up to Plumlee being defended by Marcin Gortat. Markieff Morris digs in to help prevent a clean layup, forcing the ball out to Al-Farouq Aminu. Quickly, Morris jumps out to prevent the clean look by a solid three-point shooter and Gortat is behind him in support. Where Plumlee is standing during all of this, he's not a threat. As Aminu can't turn his shoulders square to the rim for a finish, he tries a pass out to Plumlee on a bad angle which makes Morris' steal an easy one.

Bradley Beal does the same on McCollum. He locks and trails around the screen from Plumlee. This technique allows the guard to recover provided he stays low, absorbs contact from screener and has support from the big to stop the ball until recovery. Unfortunately for the Blazers, Plumlee isn't a spread five. Him being this high allows Gortat double the ball and not have to vacate his spot. Beal can get the strip from behind.

Otto Porter is following Mo Harkless as he curls into the paint but doesn't allow him to turn into the rim. Lillard cuts baseline and it appears Porter is destined to collide with Wall, which creates an open look. They switch out and Lillard is forced to take a contested fade on a 6-8 small forward with long arms. This isn't a complicated play, but the kind of play earlier this season that the Wizards would defend well but not finish the possession because they'd relax thinking the play was over by stopping Harkless.

Kelly Oubre was on the ball with Lillard but gets screened off. Tomas Satoransky makes the switch, bodies up Lillard as he tries to turn the corner to the rim which slows him. Markieff Morris leaves Aminu in support to smother the ball. That's a 6-7 guard and a 6-10 big and the baseline serving as a third defender. When Lillard figures out he took it one step too deep before passing back out to Aminu, it's too late. It's a turnover. 

Meyers Leonard screens Oubre to get Lillard free vs. Gortat. Using the sideline, Gortat moves his feet and is aggressive in keeping him pinned until Oubre can recover underneath to the ball. Also see how Gortat is physical with Leonard, giving him a left stiff arm to take away any possibility that he can roll to the basket. By the time Lillard tries to shoot, the 6-7 Oubre, who has a 7-2 wingspan, is in his face to contest and it's a brick.  

Beal gets his hands out of the cookie jar, knowing Lillard likes to sweep through to force contact on his arms and draw a whistle (a smart, legal play). Anticipating he'd get that contact that never came, Lillard elevated and realized there'd be no whistle. He makes an emergency pass out to Allen Crabbe who swings it to Aminu. Also note, Oubre immediately shades Crabbe to his left hand. He doesn't dribble and finish well in that direction. Aminu goes at Morris who doesn't allow him to get to the rim or square for a decent shot. The Wizards gang rebound to get out in transition. Lillard puts up no resistance as Wall goes end to end. 

Wall stays connected to Lillard through the first screen from Jake Layman. He anticipates the pin down coming from Plumlee on the reversal and tries to go over the top, but Lillard breaks off his route and tries to cut across the lane to fill the opposite slot for a potential three. Porter switches with Wall as a result, but see what Gortat does to allow Porter to get into position. He won't allow Lillard to run freely into his spot for a catch-and-shoot. He doesn't hold him, which would be illegal, but interrupts his route. That throws off the timing and Crabbe has to send the ball back to Layman, now being covered by Wall who has to deal with a third screen set by Plumlee. He gets the strip from behind for a breakaway.

Wall hops into the ball to take away Plumlee's screen. This forces Lillard to make the read to drive away from the screen, but Gortat is there. What makes this easier – again – is Plumlee's positioning and that Lillard doesn't temper his speed. He's going too fast, rendering Plumlee a non-factor, rather than manipulating the spacing and putting pressure on the Gortat to make a decision to stop the dive or double-team the ball.  It's 1 vs. 2, a turnover and a runout for Beal.

MORE WIZARDS: AFTER BEST GAME OF CAREER, TOMAS SATORANSKY HAS HIS CONFIDENCE BACK