During the 1996 draft, the Wolves nearly drafted Kobe Bryant with the No. 5 overall pick, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “We teetered on the idea of getting another [player right out of high school] because we had success with [Kevin Garnett],” said Flip Saunders, who was the coach of the team that year, just as he is now. “But we kind of thought it would be too much having two of those guys who were young at that time and still in the process of developing KG as a young player.” Minnesota ended up drafting Ray Allen and subsequently trading him to Milwaukee for Stephon Marbury.
Here’s more from the Northwest Division
- The request to commit another $24.5MM in public money in order to further renovate the Target Center, which is the Wolves‘ home arena, passed a City Council panel vote, reports Eric Roper of the Star Tribune. Roper notes that there are still potential roadblocks in securing the additional funding, but the latest news is reason for optimism. The city of Minneapolis previously committed $50MM toward the renovation.
- Executives of the Nuggets are “very happy” with the job done by interim coach Melvin Hunt, sources tell Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. Mannix notes that although the team will conduct a thorough search for a new head coach after the season, Hunt’s performance will earn him some consideration for the job.
- Enes Kanter didn’t enjoy being an NBA player until he got to the Thunder, writes Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News. “The difference is I like playing basketball [in Oklahoma City], that’s the most important thing,’’ Kanter said. “I never liked playing basketball before in my NBA career. That’s the first time I felt like playing basketball for my team, for the fans, for my teammates, for coaches — everybody.’’ The center spent his entire career with the Jazz before being traded to the Thunder at this year’s deadline.
6:50pm: The move is official, the Nuggets announced.
4:30pm: The Nuggets have claimed Ian Clark off of waivers, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports (Twitter link). Clark was waived by the Jazz on Thursday in order for the team to ink Chris Johnson for the remainder of the season. The addition of Clark will raise the Nuggets’ roster count to 14 players.
Denver will have to pay the remainder of his $816,482 one-year veteran’s minimum salary once the move becomes official. That’ll amount to a small fraction of that number for the Nuggets, but the entire salary goes on the team’s cap figure. That helps the team move closer to the $56.759MM team salary floor without costing Denver more than a few weeks of pay on his minimum salary deal. The Nuggets have been carrying only about $54.1MM against the cap, so the move wouldn’t bring the team all the way to the floor, but even if Denver doesn’t make up the rest of the difference, the team wouldn’t have to distribute quite as much among its players as penalty for failing to meet the minimum payroll.
The Jazz are also under the cap, but not far enough that the subtraction of Clark from their team salary would bring them under salary floor. So, Utah simply benefits from not having to pay Clark for the final weeks of the season.
Clark’s contract is set to expire at season’s end. The waiver claim would give the Nuggets a chance to tender Clark a qualifying offer worth slightly more than $1.147MM, which would make him a restricted free agent, allowing the team to match any offer he receives this summer. In the short term, the 24-year-old would presumably be behind Randy Foye and Gary Harris on the team’s depth chart.
The guard appeared in 23 contests for the Jazz this season, averaging 1.9 points in 7.0 minutes per game. Clark has made seven appearances this season for the Idaho Stampede, Utah’s D-League affiliate, averaging 14.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists in 32.0 minutes per contest.
Chuck Myron contributed to this post.
Steve Lavin was fired as coach of St. John’s University today after five seasons on the job, Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv reports. “A national search is underway for a candidate who possesses the characteristics to give our program an opportunity to successfully compete at the national level,” St. John’s AD Chris Monasch said. “We will be aggressive in our search for a coach who has a track record of success, understands all the requirements of running a high major basketball program in New York City, including the media demands within this market. We are seeking someone who embraces the St. John’s mission and tradition, including the ability to attract the top talent both nationally and internationally.”
One candidate already being mentioned as a possibility to replace Lavin is Kings adviser Chris Mullin, Zagoria notes. St. John’s has already expressed interest in the former player, Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com reports (Twitter link). “He’s the most famous person in the school history, he’s going to have a decided edge on whatever name comes up,” a source told Zagoria. “Whether he takes it or not, I don’t know. At one point there was mutual interest but that guy’s got a pretty good [expletive] life.”
Here’s more out of the Western Conference:
- The Rockets have recalled rookie Clint Capela from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, their D-League affiliate, the team announced. Capela has averaged 16.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks in 37 D-League contests this season.
- Point guard Petteri Koponen‘s contract with the Russian team Khimki contains NBA out provisions, Emiliano Carchia of Sportando tweets. David Pick of Eurobasket.com (Twitter link) confirms that Koponen’s pact includes an NBA out clause that can be exercised as early as this summer. The 26-year old was originally selected with the No. 30 overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft by the Sixers and his rights are now held by the Mavericks.
- Jameer Nelson likes the situation that he has with the Nuggets, but the veteran isn’t sure if he will exercise his $2,854,940 player option this summer and remain in Denver, Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders writes. “I wouldn’t mind staying here,” Nelson said. “I’m not ready to make that decision just yet. I’ll make that decision with my agency and my family first and foremost when the time comes.”
The Sixers and rookie Glenn Robinson III have mutual interest in working out a deal that would keep the player in Philadelphia beyond this season, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Robinson will be a restricted free agent this summer if the Sixers tender him a qualifying offer worth $1,045,059. The rookie is currently on a one year, minimum salary deal. “They’ve really done a good job with me, just the little time I’ve been here,” Robinson said. “So I would definitely love to come back and play with these bigs [Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel] and this whole team. I think we really have a good chance of being a great team.”
Robinson has only appeared in one contest for the Sixers since the team claimed him off of waivers from the Timberwolves earlier this month. The young swingman said that getting released by Minnesota tested his resolve, Pompey notes. “I learned a lot in regards to how tough and how strong I am,” said Robinson. “I try not to pay attention to that and still keep pushing. I still believe that one day I’m going to be one of the best players in this league. I have no doubt about that.” The Nuggets were also reportedly interested in Robinson.
Sixers coach Brett Brown said the team would need to take a look at what Robinson could do at some point, Pompey adds. “I don’t feel the pressure yet,” Brown said of the need to play Robinson. “I don’t feel that I’m in a rush to make it happen.” Robinson is currently behind Jason Richardson, Hollis Thompson, Robert Covington, and JaKarr Sampson on the Sixers’ depth chart.
The 21-year-old out of Michigan was selected with the No. 40 overall pick by the Timberwolves in the 2014 NBA draft. Robinson appeared in 25 games for Minnesota this season, averaging 1.2 points and 0.6 rebounds in 4.3 minutes per contest.
Nuggets interim coach Melvin Hunt is encouraged by the recent strong play of Danilo Gallinari as the player continues to make his way back from injury, Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post writes. “He could become better, he could become a smarter player,” Hunt said. “Athleticism can be honed. I’m just thankful for him to have time. He may not be the same, but a lot of the great players, when they come back from injury, they add something, they’ll subtract something, they’ll emphasize something. He’s no different. He knows what his weapon is, his ability to shoot the ball. But he’s putting together a nice little package of drives, finding other guys — and he’s an underrated passer. Gallo is going to figure out ways to reinvent himself. I’m not worried about Gallo at all.”
Here’s more out of the Northwest Division:
- Will Barton is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but the swingman has no desire to leave the Nuggets, Dempey writes in a separate article. “No doubt,” Barton said. “I think we can build something here. We have a lot of good talent, a good organization, coaching staff is good. I can see us building and having a strong future here. We can grow together.” Barton was acquired by Denver in a deadline trade, and he has averaged 12.2 points and 4.4 rebounds since joining the Nuggets.
- Hunt believes that Barton possesses the skills to be a productive player in the NBA for years, Dempsey adds. “For sure,” Hunt said. “He has an NBA skill: play hard. As long as he has that, the other things are gravy. In his short time with us, we’ve seen him make threes, we’ve seen him have spectacular dunks, we’ve seen him have big blocked shots, we’ve seen him get a technical because he was just angry. He’s shown that he has a lot of things in his toolkit.”
- The Timberwolves, despite their 16-54 record, aren’t considering tanking for a better draft spot, Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press tweets. Team owner Glen Taylor was at the forefront this preseason in the push for new plans to discourage tanking, Krawczynski notes.
Jeremy Lin will start the remainder of the season but it probably won’t affect the Lakers’ decision whether to re-sign the veteran point guard, according to Bill Oram of the Orange County Register. Oram writes that many people around the league believe it’s a given that Lin, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, will sign elsewhere. Coach Byron Scott told Lakers beat reporters that the team’s draft choices will affect Lin’s chances of returning. “It’s just a matter of what happens in the draft and everything else that determines what we’re going to do with the free agent market,” Scott said.
In other news around the Western Conference:
- Interim coach Melvin Hunt has taken an upbeat approach to improve the Nuggets, Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders reports. Hunt has used positive reinforcement to inspire his players, a stark contrast to predecessor Brian Shaw, who often criticized players in his postgame press conferences, Kyler continues. Ty Lawson told Kyler that he appreciated the change in philosophy. “He is giving everybody confidence,” Lawson said. “He is a very upbeat person. I think he just wants everybody to succeed; you feel it when he walks into the room and when he talks to us. He has us all on the same page, that’s helping us out right now.”
- Wesley Matthews‘ season-ending Achilles injury has had a major impact on the Trail Blazers’ defense, Mike Richman of The Oregonian writes. Portland has gone 3-5 since Matthews suffered the injury and its defense has ranked 27th in defensive efficiency in those games, allowing 110.5 points per 100 possessions, Richman notes. The Blazers were No. 3 in that category up to that point, Richman adds. While all of the Blazers’ defensive problems cannot be attributed to Matthews’ absence, backcourt partner Damian Lillard tells Richman that he definitely sees a difference. “His ability to lock guys up defensively and kind of spark us at that end of the floor,” Lillard said of what the team is lacking. “His passion. Just the fire that he brought to our team is something that we definitely miss.”
- Jazz coach Quin Snyder is less concerned about making the playoffs than showing improvement the remainder of the season, Ryan McDonald of the Deseret News reports. Utah has made a late run but Snyder isn’t worried about wins and losses, McDonald adds. “I don’t think playoff awareness is necessarily going to improve our play as much as a focus on game to game, moment to moment,” Snyder said.
Citing the Celtics’ need for a “true, low post scoring threat,” Greg Monroe, who will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, would be a good fit in Boston, Jackie MacMullan of Comcast SportsNet opines (video link). The Pistons big man is averaging 16 PPG and 10.4 rebounds this season. Only 24, Monroe is expected to receive plenty of interest from potential suitors this summer.
“I think he will fit in with anyone’s style of play,” MacMullan said. “I know the Detroit Pistons will do everything they can to keep him. Imagine Greg Monroe on one block, Jared Sullinger on the other and all those perimeter players you have. Who wouldn’t like that?”
Here’s more from around the world of basketball:
- The head coach of the Italian league team Metta World Peace will reportedly sign with confirmed that the team has been in talks with the former NBA player, Sportando’s Emiliano Carchia relays. “We are talking with Metta World Peace but we have not signed him yet. I did not read what media said. We are talking with a few players and he is one of them. He can bring us experience and also a lot of curiosity around his name. On Monday our GM will sign a player: it could be Metta World Peace or another one,” said Acqua Vitasnella Cantù coach Stefano Sacripanti, according to the report. World Peace last played in the NBA with the Knicks in 2013/14.
- Jameer Nelson, who has a player option on his contract with the Nuggets for next season, said he still feels a strong attachment to Orlando, though he added he has moved on, Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel writes. Nelson, 33, spent his first 10 seasons in the league with the Magic. “My heart is still here for sure,” Nelson said in reference to Orlando.
The Rockets expect to have Dwight Howard back on the court soon, tweets Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston. Howard hopes to play on the upcoming road trip, either Monday in Indiana or Wednesday in New Orleans. Howard said, “That’s a big step” when told his status had been updated from out to doubtful for the Pacers game. (Twitter link). Howard said he hasn’t “circled a day” for his return, but told Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle, “It’s going to depend on how I feel … after the workout I just had.” (Twitter link). Coach Kevin McHale offered little indication about Howard’s return, saying, “As I said to you, I’ll talk to you about (Howard) when I see him out on the floor with us.” (Twitter link). Howard has been sidelined since January 23rd because of ongoing pain in his right knee.
There’s more from the Western Conference:
- It’s time for the Thunder to shift their focus toward next season, argues Michael Lee of The Washington Post. With fears that Kevin Durant is done for the season and the reigning MVP’s free agency a little more than a year away, Lee contends Oklahoma City’s urgency has already moved to 2015/16. With Serge Ibaka‘s status also uncertain after undergoing knee surgery, Lee’s advice to the Thunder is to avoid rushing Durant back and save him for a run at the title next season.
- With all the bad news surrounding the Thunder, Dion Waiters is providing some hope, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman. Waiters broke a long shooting slump Friday with 26 points in a win over the Hawks, giving the Thunder the boost they hoped for when they acquired him from Cleveland in a three-team deal in early January. “He’s a good player,” said coach Scott Brooks. “I told him we’re just going to have to keep working with you.”
- The Nuggets are making no effort to hide their intentions to tank, charges Brian K. Schmitz of The Orlando Sentinel. Far out of the Western Conference playoff race, Denver has been “resting” healthy starters, Schmitz claims, and has little interest in picking up late-season wins that might harm its draft position. The Nuggets rank eighth in Hoops Rumors’ Reverse Standings.
Despite chatter that Masai Ujiri might be gearing up for a pursuit of Andrew Wiggins, Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders doesn’t think there’s much of a chance last summer’s No. 1 pick joins the Raptors any time soon. In order to choose his destination as an unrestricted free agent, Wiggins would have to accept his qualifying offer in 2018, which would likely mean turning down a long-term deal with the Wolves. There hasn’t been a big name player to do that outside of Greg Monroe, as Kennedy notes.
Let’s round up the latest from around the NBA:
- Nick Young has suffered a slight fracture in his knee, the Lakers announced. He’ll be evaluated on a week-to-week basis for the remainder of the year, but it’s unclear whether or not he’ll appear on the hardwood again this season.
- Myles Turner has had an inconsistent freshman season with the Longhorns, but it may not have hurt his stock as much as some think, as Chad Ford of ESPN.com reveals in a chat with readers that some scouts attribute Turner’s up and down production this year to Texas coach Rick Barnes.
- The Nuggets’ decision to rest key veterans has irritated Wilson Chandler, but interim head coach Melvin Hunt insists the choice is one the entire Denver organization is making together and not just an order from the front office like Chandler hinted at, tweets Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post.