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.
Michael Beasley‘s latest stint with the Heat has been a success, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald. Miami signed him through at least the remainder of the season, after his second 10-day contract expired on Tuesday, and coach Erik Spoelstra believes he can be a contributor down the stretch. “Michael has been very good, and with all the changes and moving parts, we are very fortunate to add a player who is familiar to us and our system,” Spoelstra said. “He has improved a great deal and he has helped us, so he has made the most of the opportunity, and we’ll go from there.”
Here’s more from the Eastern Conference:
- Beasley confirmed that his contract for next season will be a team option, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel (Twitter link).
- The Bucks have signaled that they won’t pony up any more than the $250MM they’ve already committed toward the construction of a new arena in Milwaukee as legislators continue to haggle over public funding, as Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel details.
- The Celtics may be on the verge of making the playoffs, but Jimmy Toscano of CSNNE.com (video link) is looking ahead to the offseason to see which free agents might land in Boston. Toscano believes it would be wise for the franchise to look at Draymond Green and Wesley Matthews as possible free agent targets. Toscano also names Greg Monroe as someone who the team could conceivably land.
Chuck Myron contributed to this post.
Reports last season that made claims of a rift between Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters and alleged that Irving wanted to leave the Cavaliers put a strain on the point guard, as he tells Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. Irving silenced much of the chatter when he agreed to a five-year extension with Cleveland on the first day he could this past July.
“It really got to me,” Irving said of the rumors. “I’m not a big Twitter person and I don’t tweet a lot of my emotions, but last year I was clarifying because there were so many sources. I’m dealing with people coming at my character. Saying I’m detrimental to my teammates and I’m like, ‘Man, that’s not even close to who I am at all.’ It started to get to me because once people start to question the things that you’re doing, and you know you’re not doing them, then it starts to get to you.”
There’s more on the Cavs amid the latest from around the Eastern Conference:
- Dwyane Wade believes Goran Dragic is a fit for the Heat, but even if he re-signs and Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts return healthy for next season, Wade thinks the team would still need to add more to return to contention, as he told Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post.
- Mike Scott is expected to miss four to six weeks with his broken left big toe, league sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The Hawks signed Austin Daye on Saturday to a 10-day contract to help offset the loss. The regular season ends four weeks from this coming Wednesday.
- Kendrick Perkins is enthusiastic about the way he’s fit in with the Cavs and the warm reception his new teammates have given him, as he tells Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders (Twitter links). Perkins, who nonetheless added that he misses his former Thunder teammates, will once more hit free agency in the summer.
- Public funding for pro sports facilities is coming under fire from President Obama, who’s proposed eliminating the ability for states and cities to use bonds that are exempt from federal taxes to raise money for construction, reports Elaine S. Povich of Stateline (USA Today link). It’s unclear whether that would affect the Bucks‘ plan, which is based on a “jock tax” that draws from players.
The Bucks have signed small forward Chris Johnson to a second 10-day contract, the team announced. The move is no surprise, since Bucks coach Jason Kidd said this weekend that a another deal for the 24-year-old was likely. Johnson’s first 10-day contract with Milwaukee expired overnight.
Johnson averaged 20.0 minutes per game in five contests for the Bucks on his initial deal with the team, notching 4.6 points per game. He also saw action with the Jazz on a 10-day contract earlier this year, and he was briefly with the Sixers as the season began after they claimed him off waivers from the Celtics in September.
The signing bumps Milwaukee back up to a full 15-man roster. Johnson and the Bucks would have to commit through season’s end if they want to continue their partnership at the end of their latest deal. Johnson is not to be confused with the three-year veteran NBA center by the same name.
The Bucks are likely to match any offers that restricted free agent Khris Middleton receives during the offseason, according to Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times. One NBA assistant general manager tells Woelfel that he estimates Middleton will receive a multi-year contract that averages around $7MM per year, while another NBA source predicts the 23-year-old will earn $8MM per year.
Those figures would be a dramatic raise over his current league minimum salary, which is slightly more the $915K. The forward has played well for the Bucks this season, averaging 12.9 points per game while shooting 43.8% from behind the arc. Middleton has expressed his desire to remain in town long-term. “I definitely want to stay here,’’ Middleton said. “We got a nice team, a good organization, a great city to play in. I want to be here in the future.’’
Woelfel notes that Middleton is represented by Jeff Schwartz, who is a friend of Bucks owner Marc Lasry. Schwartz also represents coach Jason Kidd as well as several other Bucks players. The forward arrived in Milwaukee during the 2013 offseason as part of a package that sent Brandon Jennings to Detroit. The Bucks also received Viacheslav Kravtsov as well as Brandon Knight, who, at the time, was considered the main prize of the deal. Middleton, who was perceived as merely a throw-in, is the only member of the trade remaining on the team’s roster.
Kyrie Irving‘s recent performance is vindication for former Cavaliers GM Chris Grant, argues Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer. Grant, who was fired in February of 2014, is widely remembered for his misstep in taking Anthony Bennett with the top selection in the 2013 draft. But Pluto contends Grant deserves more credit than he receives for identifying Irving as the best player in the 2011 draft class, then making a deal with the Clippers to acquire an unprotected pick that turned out to be number one overall.
There’s more from the Central Division:
- This hasn’t been the rookie season he expected, but the Bucks‘ Tyler Ennis is finally getting to display his skills, writes Charles F. Gardner of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The 20-year-old out of Syracuse is getting a chance to play after being shipped to Milwaukee from Phoenix in a three-team deal at the trade deadline. Ennis has moved into the reserve point guard role behind Michael Carter-Williams. “I’m feeling a lot more comfortable, not only with the offense but with the speed of the game,” Ennis said. “I’m getting a lot more experience now and my teammates are telling me to be aggressive. With the second unit I try to go out there and make as many plays as possible. Coach (Jason Kidd) is giving me the freedom to do that.”
- The Bucks‘ Khris Middleton is in elite company when it comes to real plus-minus rating this season, according to Bradford Doolittle of ESPN Insider (subscription required). Middleton currently ranks seventh in the league in that category, behind six players who are the leading candidates for MVP. Middleton, who was a topic of conversation at the recent MIT Sloan Analytics Conference, also leads the Bucks in Wins Above Replacement Player.
- The Pistons don’t expect a long negotiation with newly acquired guard Reggie Jackson, tweets Vincent Ellis of The Detroit Free Press. Jackson, who came to Detroit from the Thunder in a deadline-day deal, can become a restricted free agent this summer.
- The Pistons will be without forward Shawne Williams for tonight’s game with the Jazz, according to Ellis (Twitter link). Williams and Blazers center Joel Freeland each received a one-game suspension after an altercation in Friday’s game.