• Welcome loyal Hoop Ball readers! This is The Week Ahead, where I will be dissecting the upcoming week in the NBA and helping you get one step closer to being prepared for the fantasy season.  The NBA season is only a few weeks away so who’s ready for some trades, drama, tweeting, posterizers, and some genuinely good basketball (except for the Warriors)? Although not many prominent players have changed locations this offseason, DeMarcus Cousins did join the reigning champion Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard and DeMar Derozan swapped places in San Antonio and Toronto.  Of course, no one can forget that LeBron James joined the Lakers and left his beloved home town of Cleveland as well.

    By now, you are likely preparing your fantasy league to draft and hopefully you decide to use the Hoop Ball Draft Guide.  The NBA season is lengthy, so even if you are a step ahead of the competition for the draft, you must try to remain ahead one week at a time. This column will help you take that “one week at a time” mindset and bring it to fruition with helpful tips and information that can help you dress a dominant fantasy team each week.

    PRE-SEASON WATCH LIST

    This is a list of players that I believe are slated to make a big leap this year.  Some players on this list might already be established talents that I think are making improvements in their game heading into next season.

    D’Angelo Russell –  I think Russell will have an entire season like the first ten games he had last season.  He was phenomenal early in the season for the Nets prior to getting hurt.  If he is able to return to that form, he has a real shot at becoming an All Star in the Eastern Conference.

    Dejounte Murray – Without Tony Parker taking minutes away, Murray will only have Patty Mills to fend off for minutes at the point guard position.  I believe he will have a great season and will play very well alongside new backcourt partner DeMar Derozan.

    Markelle Fultz – With a new jump shot that looks as smooth as it did in college, there is nothing standing in his way of becoming the player that the 76ers drafted at No. 1 overall in the 2018 NBA Draft.

    Jamal Murray – He has shown that his scoring ability is his best tool and that tool improved from his first season to his second season. I expect similar improvement from his second season to his third season and we might be looking at a 20+ points per game scorer next season.

    Kevin Love – Unlike the rest of the guys on this list, Love is on the older side.  Without LeBron in Cleveland, Love should become the man and take a huge step forward in the stat sheet next season.

    TRADE WATCH

    As you all probably know, Jimmy Butler is on heavy trade watch right now as he demanded a trade off of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The 29-year-old averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.0 steals last year to help the T-Wolves reach the playoffs. He had decided that the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, and Los Angeles Clippers were his top three destinations for trade where he would sign an extension. Butler believes that one of these three locations will be easy for him to recruit another max contract free agent such as Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving to next season. There have been countless rumors about Butler and Leonard teaming up in Los Angeles on the Lakers or Clippers, but there have also been plenty that have Butler and Irving teaming up on the Knicks. Therefore, there is no real truth behind these rumors and it is possible that wherever he lands is not one of these three desired locations.

    The latest rumors have a couple of teams that Butler did not include in the three team list trying the hardest to land him. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was seen meeting with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor at the NBA Board of Governors meeting last week. General Manager of the Miami Heat Pat Riley has been the most aggressive in pursuit of Butler. Butler and his agent Bernie Lee have since said that he was most interested in joining the Heat even though they were not one of the three mentioned teams. Wojnarowski reported that the Suns or Kings could potentially play a role in the trade as a third-team partner. The Sixers tried to make a push for Butler, but the asking price was reportedly 2018 Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons so they are no longer in the running. The last team that has been noted for making a run at Jimmy Butler is the Houston Rockets, but there has been no real traction on a deal thus far.

    This trade demand brought up a whole whirlwind of emotions from his current teammates and started a lot of drama.  Andrew Wiggins’ brother said “Hallelujah!” upon Jimmy Butler requesting a trade. Taj Gibson is upset that Butler was willing to quit on them so fast and same the demand hit him “like a right hook.” Also, Karl-Anthony Towns just received a lucrative extension from the T-Wolves of five years and $190 million.  Towns and Butler never got along, so when Towns signed the extension it was basically a guarantee that Butler was on his way out of Minnesota.

    Prediction: Jimmy Butler and Iman Shumpert to the Miami Heat, Gorgui Dieng and Rodney McGruder to the Sacramento Kings, Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, and 2020 First Round Pick and 2022 Pick Swap (Best) to the Minnesota Timberwolves

    *Prediction is just a guess*

    Injury Report

    Lauri Markannen (high-grade lateral elbow sprain) will miss six to eight weeks for the Chicago Bulls. Markannen was a member of the 2017-2018 All-Rookie First Team, so this is a big blow for the Bulls to start the season.

    Gordon Hayward (dislocated ankle and fractured tibia) said he’s “basically 100 percent” and told reporters on Tuesday that he dunked off his left foot in practice. He played in the Celtics’ first preseason game and scored 10 points in 22 minutes.

    Wilson Chandler (strained hamstring) left Friday’s preseason opener for the 76ers during the first half and did not return.  He has battled hamstring injuries throughout much of his career. There will be more updates on the injury going forward.

    Kyrie Irving (left knee) said he feels great and is ready for the season to start.  Irving was sidelined for much of last season due to the knee injuries. He scored nine points in 22 minutes during the Celtics’ first preseason game.

    Denzel Valentine (sprained ankle) will be re-evaluated in one to two weeks. He suffered the injury in practice on Tuesday and had surgery on the same ankle in 2017. He averaged 10.2 points last season for the Bulls.

    Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL) is making a slow recovery and has no timetable for return.  He said that there is no real protocol for a 7’3” guy with a torn ACL so it is very hard to speed this process up. “It’s already been 7-plus months so obviously I’m getting itchy and want to be back on the court as soon as possible, but it won’t happen until I am 110 percent and I’m medically cleared,” Porzingis said.

    DeMarcus Cousins (torn Achillies) will do non-contact work for the Warriors.  Some believe that the Warriors will save Cousins for the playoffs, but General Manager Bob Myers said that he will play when he is ready. When Cousins is back, Golden State will have five 2018 All-Stars in their starting lineup.

    Russell Westbrook (knee surgery) will miss four weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.  He will likely be ready for the first game of the season, but they will hold him out until he is 100 percent to ensure he is healthy for the long haul.

    Devin Booker (hand surgery) is set to be out until late October, which would indicate that he misses the first few games of the season.  His timetable from September 11th was six weeks and he is on track with that timetable thus far, so he should be ready by the end of October.

    Dwight Howard (back soreness) will miss the Wizards’ first preseason game.  Howard is losing time that he could get to know the offense and gain chemistry with his new teammates.  Unless there is a setback, he should be ready for the season opener.

    James Johnson (hernia) might miss the start of the season as he is not 100 percent recovered from his hernia surgery.  Johnson said on Friday. “I’m getting better every day. I’m getting stronger every day and I can’t wait to come back healthy.” The Heat will proceed with caution and allow Johnson as much time as it takes to be ready to return to the court.

    Isaiah Thomas (hip) has not fully recovered from his surgery in March.  His hip has become a major concern since the end of his days with the Celtics and he has not been nearly the same player he was with them.“If I could do it all over again, I wish I would have sat out a little longer for sure,” Thomas said.  He might have put his career in jeopardy by returning before he was fully recovered, but we will see which Isaiah Thomas is on the court when he returns for Denver.

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