The relationship between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving was “rocky” at points earlier this season, Irving admits, but it’s grown into a bond that appears much stronger than the one between James and Kevin Love, as Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group details. Love and James say it doesn’t matter whether they become as tight as Irving and James are as long as they can develop a greater on-court connection, Vardon writes.
“People get so infatuated with the best of friends, things of that nature,” James said. “First of all, I’ve got three very good friends in this league, and that’s Carmelo [Anthony], and that’s C.P. [Chris Paul], and that’s [Dwyane Wade] Wade. And after that I have a bunch of teammates. I have guys I ride for every day. But Kyrie is a guy I understand how important he is to this team, how important he is. And the same with Kev as well.”
James and Love can opt out to hit free agency this summer, while Irving will enter year one of his five-year extension next season. Here’s more from the Eastern Conference:
- Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS hears “some Brad Stevens chatter” in connection to the University of Texas coaching job (Twitter link). It’s unclear whether there’s interest on either side, though Texas athletics director Steve Patterson has spoken with NBA coaching agents of late, tweets Chris Mannix of SI.com. Davis identifies Avery Johnson as a possible sleeper for the job. Stevens is just finishing up the second season of a six-year, $22MM deal and there have been no indications that he wants to leave the Celtics. Further, the Celtics would probably deny him permission to go, as Ben Rohrbach of WEEI.com surmises (Twitter link).
- Alexey Shved loves playing for coach Derek Fisher and is open to re-signing with New York after his contract expires this summer, sources tell Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com (Twitter link). The Knicks can make Shved a restricted free agent if they tender a qualifying offer of nearly $4.103MM.
- The Cavs have assigned Joe Harris to the D-League, the team announced. It’s the eighth time Cleveland has sent last year’s 33rd overall pick to its affiliate, though none of the seven previous assignments have lasted as long as a week, as our leaguewide assignments/recalls log shows.
Unsurprisingly, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau thinks Nikola Mirotic deserves to win Rookie of the Year over Andrew Wiggins and Nerlens Noel, as Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald reveals. Mirotic is second among rookies in points per game since the All-Star break behind only Wiggins, and his contributions on a contending team could ultimately help his case for the award. While we continue to see how the race for top Rookie honors shapes up, we’ll round up more from out east..
- Luol Deng has seen heavy time on the court throughout his career, twice leading the NBA in minutes played per night, and the 30 year old admits all the burn has definitely had an effect on him, as Jessica Camerato of Basketball Insiders details. “I feel 45,” Deng said. “I feel old… You’ve got to be smart and realize how your body feels.” The 11th-year veteran has sought advice about playing into his 30’s from Steve Nash and Richard Hamilton, according to Camerato.
- Fred Kerber of the New York Post opines that if the Knicks can find a way to finish with even just a .500 record next season, it would mark one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in NBA history. Landing Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor in the draft this June would certainly help New York’s chances, Kerber believes.
- Andre Drummond‘s offensive game is expanding, and that could help the Pistons offset the likely loss of unrestricted free agent Greg Monroe, David Mayo of MLive.com writes. Drummond has mostly relied on lob dunks and putbacks for his offensive contributions during his three-year career but has shown improved postup moves in recent games, including five made hook shots against the Heat on Sunday, Mayo adds. That is a welcome development, Mayo opines, considering that Monroe — the team’s main post threat — signed a qualifying offer last summer as a restricted free agent so that he could become unrestricted this summer.
Dana Gauruder contributed to this post.
Better late than never. Over the weekend, Shaquille O’Neal expressed regret about the way he left the Magic nearly two decades ago. “We won games and then I made a business decision,” O’Neal said, according to Kyle Hightower of The Associated Press. “It’s never personal. The [team owner Rich] DeVos family knows that. And I accomplished [a championship] somewhere else. It’s not like I didn’t think they weren’t going to be upset or anything. But it’s business. It was all business. Do I regret it? I never fully answer it. I regret it sometimes. Is this where I started and should have stayed? I actually wish they made it a law that whoever drafts you, you gotta stay there your whole career.”
Here’s more from the Southeast Division..
- The Heat are concerned that Hassan Whiteside could miss significant time thanks to a hand injury, Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald writes. The big man split his right hand between his forefinger and ring finger during the Heat’s game against the Bucks on Tuesday and his injury required 10 stitches. There is no timetable for Whiteside’s return, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the team’s center likely would be back for the playoffs.
- Signing Al Jefferson in the summer of 2013 has been a big reason for the Hornets‘ turn toward credibility, Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders writes. In fact, helping them shed their old losing image is part of what motivated him to join Charlotte in the first place. “That’s most definitely the reason why I came here,” Jefferson said. “I saw the young talent that this team had with Kemba Walker and [Michael Kidd-Gilchrist] and Bismack Biyombo, but the main reason I came here was the coach. When Steve Clifford got the job, just sitting down talking to him on my visit, I knew that he was coming here to turn things around. I just wanted to be a part of that.“
- The Heat‘s Henry Walker (who formerly went by the name Bill Walker), after years of battling adversity, has earned the confidence of coach Erik Spoelstra, who has started him seven times and given him regular minutes at both forward positions, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes in a profile of the player. Miami signed Walker to two 10-day contracts, and then eventually to a longer deal which was a two-year, minimum salary arrangement, according to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders (Twitter links). He is averaging 7.9 points and 3.6 assists per game.
Will Joseph contributed to this post.
Kyle O’Quinn‘s future is up in the air as his minutes continue to decrease with the Magic, Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel writes. The big man has spent his entire three year career in Orlando, so he doesn’t know what the free agent process will hold for him, Robbins adds. “It’s my first free agency, so I really don’t know what to expect, to be honest,” O’Quinn said. “My agent [Andy Miller], obviously, he’s been through free agency before with other players. He can give me his analysis and his assumption and his prediction as much as he wants, but I’m the one that has to go to bed at night not knowing where I’ll be next year.” O’Quinn will become an unrestricted free agent this summer if the Magic don’t make him a $1.2MM qualifying offer, or a restricted free agent if the Magic extend the qualifying offer.
Here’s more from the Southeast Division:
- Both Michael Beasley‘s and Henry Walker‘s deals with the Heat are two year, minimum salary arrangements, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders reports (Twitter links). Beasley’s contract includes a team option for 2015/16 that needs to be decided on before July, Pincus notes.
- Walker’s deal includes partial guarantees of $100K if he is still on the Heat‘s roster after August 1st, $300K after November 3rd, and another $500K if Walker is still with Miami after December 1st, Pincus tweets.
- Cody Taylor of Basketball Insiders looked at Elfrid Payton‘s rookie season with the Magic and the point guard’s case to win the Rookie of the Year award. The 21-year-old Payton has appeared in 73 games this season, including 54 as a starter. He is averaging 8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 6.2 assists in 29.5 minutes per contest.
The Lakers, Knicks, Sixers and Hawks have been linked to soon-to-be restricted free agent Tobias Harris, but the belief is that the Magic would match just about any offer of less than $13MM a year, according to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, who looks at Harris and other top free agents. It’s unclear whether those four non-Orlando teams are interested, Harris is interested in them, or both, though the Knicks are reportedly planning a pursuit amid conflicting reports about whether he’s eager to play for them. Kyler wrote earlier this month that there’s a sense that the Sixers will make a play for Harris, too. Here’s more from around the Southeast Division:
- It’s likely that Al Jefferson will turn down his $13.5MM player option for next season, Kyler writes in the same piece, adding that while the belief is that he’d like to remain with the Hornets, there’s also a sense that the 30-year-old will go to the highest bidder in free agency.
- Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel wonders whether the Heat will sign a big man to help a thin frontcourt rotation in the wake of Hassan Whiteside‘s injury. Whiteside is out at least a few more days with a hand laceration that will probably take two weeks to heal completely, as Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post relays. The Heat were reportedly among the teams with interest in signing JaVale McGee earlier this month.
- Coaches rarely last in the NBA, but SB Nation’s Tom Ziller argues that the Wizards have been too patient with Randy Wittman.
Josh McRoberts is traveling with the Heat for the first time since tearing the meniscus in his right knee in early December, Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post writes. “He’s progressing very well, but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves right now and I wouldn’t look too much into this road trip,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s really to help him with his spirits being around the team, and we’re enjoying that, but the larger picture is he’s going to be able to do more work with our training staff. The last couple road trips we left him back there to work with our trainers, but we’ve had so many injuries that we need our full staff here right now. That means Josh has to come with us. But he will not be working with the basketball coaches, not yet.”
When asked about the possibility of McRoberts returning to action this season, Spoelstra said, “He’s still not working with coaches. Everything is with trainers right now. I check in with him every single day. Most of the work is in the training room and the weight room. I’m not thinking about him playing this year.”
Here’s more from around the league:
- The Rockets will learn on Wednesday if Patrick Beverley will need season-ending surgery on his injured wrist, Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports reports (Twitter links). The guard is waiting for doctors to inform him if continued play will risk further ligament damage before making his final decision, Spears adds.
- The Wizards and the Nets are both interested in one-to-one affiliations with D-League teams, Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today tweets. Both franchises currently share the Fort Wayne Mad Ants with the 11 other NBA teams also without one-to-one affiliations.
- LSU sophomore forward Jordan Mickey is leaning toward entering the 2015 NBA draft, Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com reports (Twitter link). Mickey averaged 15.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game for the Tigers this season. The 6’8″ big man is currently ranked as the No. 81 prospect by DraftExpress.
- Sean Deveney of The Sporting News looked at 10 players whose performances in the NCAA Tournament improved their NBA draft stock. Deveney’s list includes Justise Winslow (Duke), Terry Rozier (Louisville), Jerian Grant (Notre Dame), and Jakob Poeltl (Utah).
Ramon Sessions is growing more comfortable with the Wizards, especially offensively, after a deadline-day trade that brought him to Washington ended a brief and unusual tenure with the Kings, as Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post details.
“I’ve been around for a while and I’ve been around with a few different teams and it was probably one of the strangest things, to have three coaches by the All-Star break,” Sessions said. “A lot different things you’re hearing from different people and it didn’t really correlate with what was going on on the court. So it was tough. It definitely was tough. Me being an older guy, it was a little easier, but I know for some of the young guys it had to be real tough.”
Here’s more from around the Southeast Division:
- The Suns reportedly had interest in Luol Deng at last year’s trade deadline and during this past offseason‘s free agency, but they didn’t ask about him as they negotiated the Goran Dragic deal with the Heat last month, Grantland’s Zach Lowe reports.
- The Heat have been planning a free agency push for 2016, but that’ll be difficult unless team president Pat Riley wants to break up the core he has now, as Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel examines.
- Ohio State coach Thad Matta has suggested that Greg Oden will make another NBA comeback attempt, but the former No. 1 overall pick had limited passion for the game last season with the Heat, Winderman writes in the same piece.
- The toe injury that’s sidelined Hawks power forward Mike Scott doesn’t involve a broken bone as previously reported, writes Paul Newberry of The Associated Press. Scott was reportedly expected to miss four to six weeks as of a week ago, but now it’s likely he’ll be back at full strength for the playoffs, according to Newberry. The postseason begins three weeks from Saturday. The team’s 10-day contract with Austin Daye, whom the Hawks signed to offset the loss of Scott, expires overnight tonight.
1:47pm: The deal doesn’t include any NBA escape clauses, Pick clarifies to Hoops Rumors, but it’s unclear if the team would allow him to play toward the end of an NBA season once the Chinese season ends.
MONDAY, 7:47am: The deal is worth a total of $7.5MM, a source tells David Pick of Eurobasket.com, adding that the big man has put pen to paper on the contract. The salary is guaranteed, and Blatche has no interest in returning to the NBA, Pick also hears (Twitter links).
SATURDAY, 8:56am: Former NBA player Andray Blatche is set to sign a three year deal to return to the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association, AsiaBasket.com reports (hat tip to HoopsHype.com). Financial terms have not been disclosed but the deal is reportedly the largest in the history of the CBA, and possibly the largest in overseas basketball history, the report notes. Shams Charania of RealGM.com first reported the possibility of Blatche re-signing with Xinjiang. The 28-year-old big man dominated the Chinese league last season, averaging 31.0 points and 14.5 rebounds in 38.7 minutes per game for the Flying Tigers.
A number of NBA teams were reportedly interested in signing Blatche for the remainder of this season, including the Nets and Grizzlies. Miami had also shown interest in Blatche, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported back in December, though the emergence of Hassan Whiteside likely dampened the Heat’s interest in inking Blatche, speculated Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com. Heat officials reportedly made preliminary inquiries about the Andy Miller client last summer, but Miami reportedly had longstanding concerns about Blatche’s maturity and behavior.
Blatche has appeared in a total of 564 NBA games over the course of his career. His last taste of action in the league came during the 2013/14 campaign with the Nets when he logged 11.2 PPG and 5.3 RPG in 22.2 minutes per game. Blatche’s career numbers are 10.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per contest. His career shooting numbers are .467/.237/.725.
JaVale McGee now prefers a deal that carries only through the end of the season, a source tells Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, who writes in his weekly power rankings. That indicates a turnabout from earlier this month, when he was reportedly seeking a player option for 2015/16 on any deal. That was apparently at the root of failed negotiations with the Celtics, who wanted a team option. Most of the contending teams reportedly inquired about the B.J. Armstrong client earlier this month, and, as Spears reports today, McGee still wants to play for a postseason contender.
It’s unclear if the lack of an insistence on a player option will spark a renewed interest, as chatter about the 27-year-old has slowed considerably after a brief period in which he seemed a prime target following his release from the Sixers. The Mavs were “seriously interested” a few weeks ago, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported then, but Spears reported last week that they were no longer in pursuit. The Rockets, Raptors and Heat also appeared to be teams in the mix for McGee at the time of the strong interest from Dallas, but even at that point, there was “no way” the Raptors would cross the tax line to sign him, according to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.
While Houston, Miami and Toronto likely wouldn’t go over the tax threshold for this season with a multiyear arrangement for the minimum salary, a one-year deal reduces McGee’s cost if he signs for the minimum. That’s because the league would cover the difference between the two-year veteran’s minimum and the minimum for a six-year veteran like McGee if the contract only covered a single season. It would mean a savings of $32,533 for this season for a team that signs him to a one-year minimum deal instead of a two-year minimum deal, and it would come with the cost certainty of knowing that McGee couldn’t force the team to pay him a salary for next season, too.