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A year ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Victor Oladipo to the Indiana Pacers. Oladipo went on to have the best season of his young career and win Most Improved Player.
Then OKC traded Enes Kanter to the New York Knicks. He went on to average 14.1 points and 11.0 rebounds, shooting a career-high 59.2 percent.
For some players, all they need is a change of scenery to shine. While Kanter and Oladipo got their chances through trades, some players this season could have improved their situations by signing with another team.
Here are five such guys.
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Kevon Looney is hardly the centerpiece the Warriors are built around. On a team studded with stars, he’s barely even in the rotation.
Last season, he played only 13.8 minutes per game, and youngster Jordan Bell looks like he’s going to leapfrog him on the depth chart next season. The freshly signed Jonas Jerebko is probably going to be eating more of his minutes as well, since Jerebko’s three-point shooting makes him a better fit.
Looney’s defense was an important part of the Warriors’ postseason run, particularly against the Houston Rockets. He’s a mobile big man who can guard the ball-handler in switches. For his career, according to Basketball Reference, he’s averaged 10.7 points and 9.1 boards per 36 minutes.
His offense isn’t bad, as his true shooting percentage was 58.8. It is scarce, though, as his usage percentage was just 12.5. That’s part of the issue in Golden State: With so many options, it’s not like Looney is ever going to get many touches.
On a lesser team, he might be ready for a greater role. Considering the Dubs only paid him $1.6 million, it’s not as if he couldn’t have gotten a deal elsewhere, either. He might not be making the All-Star Game if he switched squads, but he would get a better chance to prove himself.
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Dante Exum’s career has not gone the way most in Salt Lake City would have hoped.
The No. 5 pick in the 2014 draft had a solid rookie season but then tore his ACL playing for Australia’s national team in the summer of 2015, missing his entire second season as a result.
He played 66 games in 2016-17, but considering he had only played one season and missed a year, his development was curtailed.
Last preseason, he injured his shoulder and had to have surgery. The result was another 68 missed games to start the season. When he did finally play, he looked better, but still not like something you’d want from the No. 5 pick in what should have been his fourth season.
He spoke with Benyam Kidane of Sporting News about his coming back to the Jazz.
“Even though I haven’t been on the court much, I’ve been around, I’ve been working out with them, and they’ve shown that they believe in me and what I can do and what I’ve shown.
“So that’s all you can hope for when going to a team, and that’s why I’m going back.“
Exum will be behind Ricky Rubio on the depth chart. He’ll split minutes with Raul Neto, Alec Burks and perhaps Grayson Allen.
With a three-year, $33 million deal, Exum got paid, but he’s probably not going to get the minutes needed to hit his stride.
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Will Barton was a throw-in via a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers. Since then, he’s matured into a legitimate scoring threat and all-around player, averaging 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists last season.
His four-year, $54 million deal was reasonable for Denver, and the Nuggets will likely let him hold onto the starting spot he earned last season. However, with Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and the now-healthy Paul Millsap, there are only so many opportunities out there.
As a fourth option offensively, Barton is ridiculous. Still, it might have been better for him if he’d gone to another team more in need of scorers, particularly one that can hit threes and create off the bounce (such as the San Antonio Spurs).
It might have been loyalty that brought him back, per the Nuggets’ official site:
“I couldn’t be happier to be back in Denver, and I want to say thank you to the Kroenke family and Tim and Arturas for believing in me. This entire organization has shown a lot of faith in me, and I just feel blessed to be in this situation. I love playing for this city and this team and can’t wait to get back to work.“
It’s hard to find fault there, but he’d put up bigger numbers elsewhere and get more recognition. You could make the same argument for someone such as Kevin Durant, but Durant isn’t suffering for accolades. Barton has flown a bit under the radar for the quality of his performance.
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After a lot of waiting, Marcus Smart re-signed with the Boston Celtics, which is what he wanted all along. Per Chris Forsberg of ESPN, Smart said: “This is where I want to be, and I’m ready to put a green jersey back on and get to work. I’m determined to help my teammates bring another championship to the best fans in the world.”
One has to wonder, though, why Smart wants to be there. He’s fated to be a bench player. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris are all likely to be getting more touches than him.
Smart is hardly an elite shooter; he made just 30.1 percent of his threes last year. But he has also steadily improved his shot over the years, and he’s not that far off from being average.
In addition, Smart is emerging as one of the league’s better defenders at the point of attack. He has a chance to cultivate his game into a Patrick Beverley type of player who can be a bulldog on defense and play off a playmaker.
Smart isn’t likely to be an All-Star, but in the right situation (such as in Minnesota next to Jimmy Butler), he could be All-Defense. He’s going to have a hard time making that happen in Boston, where he’s not going to have much of a chance to win a starting job.
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
He and Westbrook worked well together last season, especially when they didn’t have Carmelo Anthony sagging them down. When they were both on the court and Melo sat, the Thunder had an impressive plus-14.6 net rating, per NBA.com. Getting rid of Anthony in itself is an upgrade, and landing Dennis Schroder is a bonus.
Still, they’re not good enough to get past the Rockets, and they’re a long way from catching the Warriors. George is going to be looking at an annual first- or second-round exit, and the Thunder don’t have the money or the flexibility to get much better.
Had he gone to the Philadelphia 76ers, there would have been a much different picture. Sandwiched between stalwart defenders Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who both also happen to have All-NBA talent, George could have punched his ticket to at least yearly appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In fact, it’s not far-fetched to see that 76ers team upending the Warriors in a year or two if they had that combination of talent, especially if Markelle Fultz has his shot fixed.
George’s best chance to win a championship was leaving OKC. Now he has almost none.