6 NBA Youngsters Who Could Use a Change of Scenery at 2016 Trade Deadline
The NBA trade deadline is most often viewed from a team perspective, but the transaction period changes individual lives, too.
And for all the personal disruption caused by the swaps, they can be invigorating in certain situations.
That's the hope, at least, for the six 25-and-under players we're putting under the microscope here. All of them could benefit from changing jerseys before the league's Feb. 18 cutoff.
Each found his way on this list for a different reason. Some are blocked in their current rotations and need a legitimate sink-or-swim chance. Others have to find environments better suited to their skills, whether that's a style that fits their talents or a system that promotes their developmental processes.
For all the names that will be swept up in trade winds over the next week-plus, these six shouldn't mind actually hearing theirs called.
Seth Curry, Sacramento Kings
As the son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell and the brother of MVP Stephen, Seth Curry has spent a lifetime in the shadows. Not even three seasons at Duke could put him fully in the spotlight, as he went undrafted in 2013 and spent the next two years in the NBA D-League.
But 2015-16 was supposed to be different. After a scorching sprint through the NBA Summer League, Curry scored a two-year, $2 million contract from the Sacramento Kings.
He's lived up to the shooting portion of his last name, hitting 45.2 percent from the field and 43.3 percent from long range. But he's logged the third-fewest minutes on the team, playing just 248 over 24 games.
Those familiar with the 6'2" scoring guard's background might assume defense has been the issue. But his play on that end has actually drawn rave reviews from Kings head coach George Karl.
"Seth is a guy that—I didn't think I'd be saying (this) a month ago—is our best defensive player," Karl said in early January, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.
Since Karl's statement, Curry has sat out more games (10) than he's played (five).
Given what he's done in limited minutes, Curry deserves a chance to show he can handle a permanent role. And Sacramento has already proved it won't provide that opportunity.
Montrezl Harrell, Houston Rockets
As a 22-year-old rookie hustler, Montrezl Harrell doesn't have the highest ceiling.
But the trade-off is that he entered the league with an NBA-ready game. He's a relentless rebounder and energetic defender, two traits that can transition to any level. And, as his 64.3 field-goal percentage can attest, he rarely steps outside his offensive lane.
"Every time Montrezl has played, he's helped us," Houston Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. "His energy is infectious and the guys love to play with him. We need guys like that on the floor."
Of course, that's only a need because Harrell often isn't on the floor. He's only appeared 26 times this season and logged an average of 10.5 minutes when he does get the call.
Given how lethargic the 27-26 Rockets have looked at times, it's hard to figure out what Harrell is missing. Yes, Houston has a crowded frontcourt. But between Josh Smith's shooting woes (35.3 percent), Donatas Motiejunas' nagging injuries and Terrence Jones' ongoing quest for consistency, the conditions should be right for Harrell to work his way into the fold.
If a change of scenery included more stable playing time, the freshman could showcase the skills that punched his NBA ticket—and helped the Rockets when given the chance.
K.J. McDaniels, Houston Rockets
At one point last season, K.J. McDaniels had cemented himself among the league's most electrifying freshmen. Whether crushing alley-oop dunks or volleyball-spiking opponents' shots, he gave highlights and hope to a Philadelphia 76ers fanbase in need of both.
But McDaniels was moved to the Rockets at the trade deadline and subsequently signed a three-year, $10 million deal with them over the offseason. He's barely been visible since.
He's played just 62 minutes over 16 games this season, including one uncomfortable stint as a designated hacker. He's also made 14 appearances with the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers, averaging 15.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.1 blocks over 36.7 minutes.
Still just 23 years old, McDaniels is a project worth undertaking. He hasn't shown the three-point touch to crack Houston's rotation, but his athleticism and defensive energy should attract some attention on the open market. Plus, no one knows exactly how much his game might expand with the benefit of regular playing time.
"The more you play, the more opportunities you get, the better off you be," Rockets guard James Harden said before the season, per ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins. "He just has to get comfortable and settle down a little bit."
Greg Monroe, Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks should have known what they were getting in Greg Monroe.
The Moose arrived in Milwaukee over the summer as the model of consistency. Over his final four seasons with the Detroit Pistons, he averaged between 15.2 to 16.0 points and 9.3 to 10.2 rebounds.
Through 50 games this year, he's been exactly as advertised—perhaps a tad better. Both his 16.5 points per game and 23.0 player efficiency rating are personal bests, and his 9.6 boards are a tick above his career average.
But the Bucks are quickly figuring out he might not be the interior anchor they need.
Their defense has gone from dominant (second in efficiency last season) to dreadful (26th this year), and their 23rd-ranked offense can't come close to supporting a playoff run on its own. Monroe has never been known for his defense, doesn't have the speed to keep pace with Milwaukee's other athletes and isn't the type of scorer to carry an attack.
"The big question is one of fit," wrote Brew Hoop's Frank Madden. "While Monroe has basically been the exact guy the Bucks signed up for last summer, the team's defense has fallen apart...and having a less savvy help defender in Monroe doesn't seem to be helping."
League sources told Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times that the Bucks have made Monroe available. There has to be a team more in need of his obvious talent than Milwaukee is.
D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers
As brutal as this season has been for the Los Angeles Lakers, perhaps nothing has caused more frustration than the glacial pace of No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell's development.
He's seemingly spent the entire campaign in the crosshairs of head coach Byron Scott, who has called Russell "too loose with the ball," criticized the rookie for "trying to take over" and said he's seen the same mistakes "over and over again," per ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes.
Admittedly, there are some coaching lessons at the heart of these critiques. But the constant public bashing is still a curious way to handle a potential centerpiece.
"The problem is that Scott has not committed himself to developing young players the way the Lakers must," wrote Adi Joseph of Sporting News. "Russell is the future. The Lakers should be focusing on that."
There is no more valuable teaching tool than experience. And Russell isn't getting nearly enough of it. He ranks fourth among Lakers guards in minutes per game (26.9), and he's stuck behind a pair of veterans unlikely to be around the next time L.A. is in playoff contention: Kobe Bryant and Lou Williams, both of whom are shooting below 40 percent from the field.
It's tough to imagine the purple and gold cutting ties with Russell this quickly, though league sources told Hoops Critic's Brian Geltzeiler that Russell's name has surfaced in trade talks. But Scott's failure to help Russell launch his career is begging for some type of change.
Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls have tried to make it work with Tony Snell, the 20th overall selection in 2013.
He landed in former coach Tom Thibodeau's rotation as a rookie, then increased his stats across the board as a sophomore. But he's taken a sizable step back during his first run under new skipper Fred Hoiberg despite receiving a career-high 20.8 minutes a night.
"We've given Tony Snell an opportunity," Bulls vice president John Paxson said earlier this season, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. "And Tony has had a few moments but to be very candid, he has needed to play better and with some more consistency. That's not been the case."
Snell's field-goal percentage has plummeted to a career-worst 37.6 percent. His paltry 6.7 PER is tied for 292nd among the 295 players who've logged at least 500 minutes this season. His minus-1.98 real plus-minus ranks 299th overall, per ESPN.com.
Despite fitting the physical profile of a three-and-D wing, Snell hasn't been consistent enough in either aspect to fill the role. That seems unlikely to change in Chicago, where he appears in danger of slipping out of the rotation. With Mike Dunleavy back in action, E'Twaun Moore moving up the food chain and Doug McDermott getting burn, Snell could soon find himself as the odd man out.
If he's ever going to solve the riddle of his hoops career, finding a fresh start feels like the logical next step.
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