Jared Dudley didn’t really want to play for the Bucks after the Clippers traded him to Milwaukee this summer, but his new team’s training staff, Jason Kidd‘s coaching style, and Milwaukee’s competitiveness helped convince him otherwise, as Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel details. Dudley has a $4.25MM early termination option for next season, and while he hasn’t said what he’ll do with that, he told Nickel that he’d like a long-term deal with the Bucks and that he’s willing to take a discount to sign one, citing Kidd as his top reason why. Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:
- Greg Monroe believes former Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars deserves another chance to run a team, as Terry Foster of The Detroit News relays. Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher wrote in January that Pelicans owner Tom Benson had some interest in Dumars, and Monroe, soon to be an unrestricted free agent, is a New Orleans native. “I mean, yeah,” Monroe said when asked if Dumars should have another shot at team building. “He put together a championship team. Obviously he knows what it takes to get it done. For a stretch he had one of the most successful teams in the league. Obviously he is good at that job. I don’t see how that would be a problem to get back.”
- Derek Fisher says he doesn’t have regrets about taking on the Knicks coaching job even with the team in possession of the league’s worst record and added that he talks daily with team president Phil Jackson, notes Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. Coaching colleagues, like Tom Thibodeau, have no shortage of praise for Fisher, Botte adds.
- Clippers coach/executive Doc Rivers believes the Celtics almost had to trade Rajon Rondo this season with his contract running out this summer, as he told reporters, including Brian Robb of Boston.com. Rivers said a rebuilding team like the Celtics, whom he used to coach, can’t afford to risk that a soon-to-be free agent walks and added that he believes Rondo, and not the Celtics front office, was the catalyst for the move, as Robb passes along.
Tayshaun Prince says that he has two or three more seasons left in him, and that he wouldn’t be opposed to returning to the Pistons next season, Vincent Ellis of The Detroit Free Press relays (Twitter links). The 35-year-old, who is earning $7,707,865 in the final year of his contract, says that his preference would be to play for a contending team. Detroit won’t likely fit that description next season. In 16 games for the Pistons this season, Prince is averaging 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 25.4 minutes per night.
Here’s more from the Central Division:
- One of the turning points of the Cavaliers‘ season was the acquisition of center Timofey Mozgov, who has been stellar since arriving in Cleveland, Steve Aschburner of NBA.com writes. “I think since Mozgov came to the team we’re fifth in pick-and-roll defense, and it’s just because of his length, his size and him protecting the rim,” LeBron James said. “That’s huge for our team, having someone who can get down, guard pick-and-roll and can protect the rim. And also, at the other end, makes the opposing ‘5’ man respect him.“
- Kendrick Perkins believes that all of the drama regarding how well the Cavs‘ players get along has been overblown, Ken Berger of CBSSports.com writes. “What people don’t understand is that this is not a place that requires you to be best friends,” Perkins said. “I think sometimes people don’t realize that this is work for us. So when you go to work every day, that doesn’t mean your co-worker has to be your best friend. This is our job. You don’t have to be best friends to come out here and work together.”
- Bryan Toporek of BballBreakdown.com notes how poorly the trade for Michael Carter-Williams has worked out for the Bucks. The point guard’s shooting woes are stifling the team on the offensive end, Toporek opines. Since pulling the trigger on the deal Milwaukee has gone 6-13, and Carter-Williams has averaged 13.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 5.6 assists. The 23-year-old is shooting 39.3% from the field, and an anemic 11.1% from beyond the arc.
Several sources tell Frank Isola of the New York Daily News that LeBron James is frustrated with the failure of Kevin Love to mesh with the Cavs this season, but James isn’t upset that Love believes Russell Westbrook, and not James, has the edge for MVP, notes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. Love said Wednesday that he believed his comments, which he made on The Dan Patrick Show (video link), were widely taken out of context and that James “could very well be the MVP,” McMenamin adds. Many executives and players don’t think that Love can accept the limited role he’s played on this year’s Cavs team again, writes Michael Lee of The Washington Post, who nonetheless believes that it probably doesn’t matter much that James and Love aren’t the best of friends. As the Love story continues to take on a gossipy edge, here’s more from the Central Division:
- The Pistons plan an all-out push to re-sign Reggie Jackson this summer, and Jackson is hinting that he’s already planning to return to Detroit with comments about playing alongside Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the future, MLive’s Brendan Savage observes.
- The Bucks could have signaled to other players that they would reward those who developed in their system if they’d hung on to soon-to-be restricted free agent Brandon Knight and re-signed him, but trading him set the franchise back, opines Steve Aschburner of NBA.com. Still, coach Jason Kidd told reporters that it’s all part of a plan for the long term. “It’s something much bigger than that that you guys are going to have to wait and write about,” he said. “We’re here to build something, not to do something in six months. There’s a bigger picture. We feel we have a core here that will be around for a long time and have success.”
- Chicago made Nikola Mirotic this season’s highest-paid rookie with a three-year deal worth more than $16.631MM, similar to what the Rockets are reportedly prepared to offer draft-and-stash prospect Sergio Llull. The move is paying off for the Bulls, as Mirotic is making a late push for Rookie of the Year, as ESPN’s Michael Wilbon examines.
No one involved in the process believes Kevin Love will pick up his $16.744MM player option to remain with the Cavaliers as he’s said he plans to do, according to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders. Love nonetheless spoke of a strong camaraderie amongst the Cavs to Ananth Pandian of CBSSports.com, countering a narrative that he’s not getting along with his teammates, an idea that Love seemed to stoke when he said his relationship with LeBron James and other Cavs could be better. Rumors surrounding the No. 2 free agent on the Hoops Rumors Free Agent Power Rankings have intensified, and Michael Rand of the Star Tribune wonders if Cleveland, like Minnesota, will be in the power forward’s past soon. Here’s more from around the Central Division:
- The Timofey Mozgov trade has worked out splendidly for Mozgov, whose offensive numbers are up, and for the Cavs, who’ve taken off since the deal, as Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio examines. Cleveland has a $4.95MM team option on Mozgov for next season. “When we made the trade, everything that he brought is what we needed and wanted,” James said. “He’s going to be huge for our team. Very, very skilled offensively and understands defensively. He’s just a smart basketball player and it’s great playing with him.“
- Nikola Mirotic and Jimmy Butler, a pair of late-first-round picks from 2011, are playing key roles for the Bulls, and trading for the rights to Mirotic took particular effort, as K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune details. “We were bidding against somebody,” Bulls GM Gar Forman said. “Significant money was being laid out. And that’s when [owner Jerry Reinsdorf] really stepped up and included a good chunk of money to make that happen.”
- No team surged higher from last year’s ESPN Insider Front Office Rankings to this year’s than the Bucks, who jumped from 29th to 15th. Chad Ford of ESPN.com, in another Insider-only piece, credits the work of assistant GM David Morway, who joined the team in the summer of 2013, for having been instrumental in the rise.
Most executives from other teams around the league said they wouldn’t have given up Isaiah Thomas and the Lakers’ protected first-rounder for what the Suns acquired in return at the deadline, according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe. Phoenix ended up with Brandon Knight, Marcus Thornton and Cleveland’s 2016 top-10 protected first-round pick, as our trade deadline recap shows.
“Everybody loves the L.A. pick,” Suns GM Ryan McDonough told Lowe. “The concept of a pick is great, but it’s more of a sure thing to get a 23-year-old who is a borderline All-Star in the East.”
That 23-year-old is Knight, the soon-to-be restricted free agent whom the Bucks declined to trade straight-up for the Lakers pick, as Chad Ford of ESPN.com first reported and as Lowe reiterates. There are conflicting reports about whether Milwaukee turned down a Knight-for-Goran Dragic offer from the Suns, but several league sources tell Lowe that the Bucks indeed rejected such an offer. Lowe and others have plenty more from Phoenix:
- Suns coach Jeff Hornacek insisted to Lowe that the idea behind collecting Dragic, Thomas and Eric Bledsoe on the same roster before the season was to afford all three of them rest so they’d be fresh for the playoffs, as Lowe relays in the same piece.
- The Suns won’t spend money for the sake of spending it in free agency this summer, McDonough tells Lowe, who nonetheless believes it’s imperative that the Suns make the most of the additional cap flexibility that their deadline deals created.
- Steve Nash‘s retirement underscores just how well the Suns made out in the 2012 sign-and-trade that sent him to the Lakers, as Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic examines. Knight is the primary asset that the Suns snagged thanks to what they gained in the deal, Coro points out, though president of basketball operations Lon Babby believes there was a subtle cost that lingers. “It was among the most difficult, if not the most difficult, decisions we’ve had to make since I’ve been here…” Babby said of letting Nash go. “We made the right decision. I’m just disappointed it didn’t work out better for [Nash]. He defined our culture. To be honest about it, when you assess a trade like that, we gave up intangibles that we’re still trying to replace.”
Pacers coach Frank Vogel insists that Paul George is not ready to play, Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star tweets. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst reported on Friday that George could return within a week but Vogel told Buckner that’s not the case. “There’s a lot of layers to it,” Vogel said. “He’s not ready. He hasn’t reached our level of what we feel he’s ready to play.” In a separate tweet from Buckner, Vogel added that while George is cleared to practice, he’s not cleared to play, though that refuted what president of basketball operations Larry Bird indicated to ESPN.com’s Mike Mazzeo.
In other news around the Central Division:
- Trading Brandon Knight to the Suns has led to the Bucks’ recent struggles, according to Steve Aschburner of NBA.com. The deadline deal had an emotional impact on the team and hindered the team’s offense because replacement Michael Carter-Williams isn’t as proficient as Knight, in Aschburner’s assessment. Coach Jason Kidd did not view Knight as his long-term solution at the point and Knight’s status as a restricted free agent after the season contributed to the decision to deal him, Aschburner adds.
- Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg could be a candidate for the Bulls head coaching job if they part ways with Tom Thibodeau after the season, Chad Ford of ESPN.com speculates. Thibodeau reportedly has a strained relationship with the team’s management and Ford considers Hoiberg the hottest college coach on the market. Hoiberg played in the league, worked in an NBA front office, and has a more laid-back demeanor than Thibodeau, Ford points out.
- The Cavs turned their season around by making trades for Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer opines. Cleveland started out 19-20 and GM David Griffin fixed its problems by shaking up the roster, which dramatically improved the team’s defense, Pluto adds.
Khris Middleton refuses to bring up the subject of his impending restricted free agency even with his agent, as he tells Grantland’s Zach Lowe. “It’s a little awkward” to share an agent with Bucks coach Jason Kidd, Middleton also admits. The forward’s agent is Mike Lindeman of Excel Sports Management, while Kidd’s relationship with Excel founder Jeff Schwartz has been a flashpoint for controversy. Union executive director Michele Roberts indicated in November that she would take a tougher stance on a rarely enforced rule that bars agents from representing both coaches and players. Kidd also has a significant measure of player personnel control for the Bucks. There’s more on Middleton amid the latest from the Central Division:
- Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird tells Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com that he expects George will play for the Pacers at some point this season, adding that he believes George has received medical clearance to do so (Twitlonger link).
- Middleton told Lowe for the same piece that he loves living in Milwaukee but expressed reservations about the Bucks‘ deadline-day trade that sent out Brandon Knight and Kendall Marshall and netted Michael Carter-Williams, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis. “Yeah. It was tough, man,” Middleton said about learning of the trade. “We had things rolling before the All-Star break. We thought we’d just get back on track rolling after the break, too. But it’s a business. They thought it was a good trade for the team, so, I mean, we’ll see.”
- The Bucks prevailed upon the Pistons to include Middleton in the 2013 Knight/Brandon Jennings trade, and the experience of getting traded left Middleton with some painful feelings at first, as Lowe also details.
- Paul George insisted today that there is no timetable for his return as he continues to recover from his broken leg, and he denied a report that the Pacers were targeting this week for his comeback, tweets Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star.
- Reggie Jackson says Pistons coach/executive Stan Van Gundy is “making it easy” as he’s turned him loose for Detroit, observes Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. Jackson hinted that he would have been OK with staying on the Thunder, who have a better shot at the playoffs, but he’s glad that his duties are more well-defined on the Pistons, notes Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. “It’s good,” Jackson said of knowing his role. “That’s one less monkey on my back. Wherever I got my shot was where I was going to get my shot. I was just vocal about what I wanted my shot to be, and some people were mad about that. Some people understood where I was coming from. But it’s always been about getting out there and competing.”
Paul George could return to the court within the next week and possibly as early as Saturday against the Nets, multiple sources tell Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. “A lot of guys know I’m pushing to come back,” George said. “It’s a matter of how I’m feeling and [how] the medical staff thinks I look. I definitely want to play still. … But I want to be fully healthy.” The Pacers are currently tied with Boston for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 30-37.
Here’s more from the Central Division:
- The plan for the arena in Milwaukee is slow moving, yet progressing. A source familiar with the Bucks‘ plan said the team is expected to come up with better cost estimates in the next week or two, which will allow the city of Milwaukee an opportunity to make adjustments to its plan, according to Don Walker of the Journal Sentinel. Walker notes that the franchise is signalling that its owners will not go beyond their $250MM commitment for the project.
- On the court, the Bucks have struggled since acquiring Michael Carter-Williams, but coach Jason Kidd stresses that success will not be measured by wins this year, writes Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel. “We’re here to build something, not to do something in six months. There’s a bigger picture. We feel we have a core here that will be around for a long time and have success,” Kidd said. Milwaukee is 3-9 since the Syracuse product made his debut, but the team still owns the sixth seed in the conference with a record of 34-34.
- Reggie Jackson will be a restricted free agent this offseason and about 45% of our readers believe the point guard will land a starting salary of less than $11MM in his next contract, according to latest poll by Chuck Myron of Hoops Rumors.
Cavs first-year coach David Blatt believes that finishing second in the Eastern Division is a worthy goal the remainder of the regular season, according to Chris Fedor of Northeast Ohio Media Group. Cleveland’s relative lack of playoff experience, other than LeBron James, makes homecourt advantage even more essential, the story continues. The Cavs have not lost a home game since January 7th. Blatt may still rest some of his top players at times but not if it costs the team in seeding, Fedor adds. “I’d like us to finish as high as possible because there’s value in that,” Blatt said to the team’s beat reporters. “We’re going to come out and try to win every game regardless of who we are putting on the floor. If we see the need and we have the ability to rest someone we may do that too. We’re not going to lose sight of the fact that we’re going to compete every single game and not give anything away.”
In other news around the Eastern Conference:
- Knicks first-year coach Derek Fisher says the most frustration he’s experienced this season is trying to instruct and lead players from the sidelines rather than on the court, Fred Kerber of the New York Post reports. “A lot of times, you see things in them that they’re still trying to discover in themselves,” Fisher said. “Being a guy that was just in that position a year ago at this date, there are a lot of things I can relate to and I can offer.”
- The Sixers are winning too much for their own good and need to stay among the top four in the draft to get an impact player, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer opines. Philadelphia, which currently owns the third-worst record in the league, has won three of its last six. It plays the Knicks, who are tied for the worst record, and Lakers, who have the fourth-worst record, this weekend. Pompey notes that Jahlil Okafor, Emmanuel Mudiay, Karl Anthony-Towns and D’Angelo Russell are generally considered by most NBA scouts as the only sure things in the draft. You can track all of the teams in the hunt for the No. 1 overall pick by visiting our Reverse Standings page.
- Miles Plumlee is making the most of his extended playing time with the Bucks, writes Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel. The team likes what the 6’11” center has brought to the court since coming to Milwaukee in a deal with the Suns at the deadline. “I think his athletic ability, his ability to set screens and run the floor [was impressive],” coach Jason Kidd said. “The big thing is rebounding the ball, and he had 11 rebounds in 18 minutes. We have to get him more time on the floor.”
Chris Crouse contributed to this post.