Spurs Notes: Gasol, Roster Battle, Denmon, D-League

Pau Gasol may not be the best replacement for the retired Tim Duncan, cautions Jesse Blancarte of Basketball Insiders. In the site’s season preview of the Spurs, Blancarte notes that while Gasol remains an effective passer and all-around player, most of his scoring comes from the midrange area, where San Antonio already produces much of its offense. Gasol left the Bulls to sign a two-year, $30MM deal with the Spurs in July. Although Blancarte picks San Antonio to repeat as Southwest Division champions, he expresses concern about the age of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and states that Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons will have to be ready to take on larger roles.

There’s more news out of San Antonio:

  • The Spurs have 14 players with guaranteed contracts and a four-way battle is shaping up for the final roster spot, Eric Pincus writes in the same story. Patricio Garino, Ryan Arcidiacono, Bryn Forbes and Ryan Richards are expected to compete for the 15th position, with the D-League looming as a consolation prize.
  • San Antonio has waived its rights to Marcus Denmon, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. The Spurs made the former Missouri combo guard the 59th pick in the 2012 draft. He has spent his professional career overseas and played last season in the Turkish Basketball League.
  • An Austin Spurs tryout Saturday attracted 110 players hoping to duplicate Simmons’ unlikely path to the NBA, writes Lorne Chen of NBA.com. Simmons was a semi-pro player who was thinking about giving up basketball when he came to the 2013 tryout. He impressed coaches enough to earn a contract with the D-League team, then graduated to the NBA two seasons later. “Jonathon came from this spot and has been a part of our group ever since,” said Austin GM Andy Birdsong. “And the thing is there are many stories like his coming out of the D-League. It’s a real story. It’s one that’s tangible. And it gives the guys here a lot of hope.”

Atlantic Notes: Dudley, Nets, LeVert, Poeltl

Jared Dudley was interested in joining the Celtics in free agency this summer, but the team didn’t reach out to him, relays Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. Dudley, who averaged 7.9 points per game and shot 42% from 3-point range last season with the Wizards, has ties to the area as a Boston College alumnus. Instead, he accepted a three-year, $30MM offer from Phoenix. “Boston never contacted me, but I made it known I was interested in them,” Dudley said. He added that the Celtics may not have believed they had a role for him because they want to give playing time to first-round pick Jaylen Brown.

There’s more news this morning from the Atlantic Division:

  • Power forward shapes up as the Nets‘ best position battle heading into training camp, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Free agent additions Trevor Booker and Luis Scola will compete for time at the position, along with second-year player Chris McCullough. “A good thing about our situation, I think we have versatile bigs,” said new coach Kenny Atkinson. “I don’t think [of] Scola simply as a four. I’m thinking of Luis Scola as a four and five. I’d even say that with Trevor Booker. Trevor Booker, why can’t he take another step as a player with more responsibility and the talent he has? We look at these guys, we’re looking upside.”
  • The Nets plan to be very patient with the health of rookie Caris LeVert, Lewis adds in the same piece. The first-round pick out of Michigan has broken his left foot multiple times and is still recovering from a Jones fracture. LeVert wasn’t able to use a treadmill until July and is limited to strengthening exercises as camp opens. “We’ll be progressing him slowly and building him in,’’ said GM Sean Marks. “He hasn’t played in six months, so it’s been intermittent for the last couple years with him. … He has a long, long road ahead of him.”
  • Jakob Poeltl should be part of the Raptors‘ rotation at the start of the season, writes Moke Hamilton of Basketball Insiders. In the site’s season preview for Toronto, Hamilton calls Poeltl the team’s best offseason acquisition, citing his footwork, rebounding instincts and international experience.

Thibodeau Discusses Fresh Start In Minnesota

After a year away from the game, Tom Thibodeau is back as coach and president of basketball operations with the Timberwolves, who have one of the most intriguing collections of young talent in the NBA. Minnesota added point guard Kris Dunn through the draft this summer and improved its bench by signing free agents Jordan Hill, Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush.

Kent Youngblood of The Star-Tribune talked with Thibodeau about his return to the game, his reputation as a defensive coach, his expectations for the young Wolves and Ricky Rubio‘s role now that Dunn is in town. Here are some highlights of the interview:

On Rubio’s role in Thibodeau’s offense:

“I think he’ll fit in very well. He’s a good player. He practices hard. He can really pass the ball. Passing and defense are two things that help build your team, brings the best out of people. I think Ricky has the ability to make other people better.”

On Rubio and Dunn as a possible starting backcourt:

“We’re going to get a lot of those questions answered in the preseason as we go forward. You want to go step by step. You don’t want to skip over things. I like guys who can play multiple positions, I like different combinations. There are times when you play two point guards together. I did that a lot in Chicago, just the speed of the game changes.”

On possible improvement from Nemanja Bjelica:

“I’m excited about him. He’s had a great summer. He’s in really good shape. He has a very unique skill set: He can shoot the three, he can put it on the floor. The one thing that is probably overlooked is his playmaking ability. You can run pick-and-roll with him. He’s got great vision, he can pass over people.”

On the additions of Aldrich and Hill:

“The way Cole played the second half of last year, I think he’s figured out who he is. The last two years have been very good for him. He fits in well, plays to his strengths, covers up his weaknesses, makes the team function well. And Jordan has been a very good player in this league. That gives us quality depth up front.”

On playoff expectations:

“I don’t want to put a lid on what we can do, but I want us doing the right things. Concentrate on that improvement and how fast we get there, I don’t know. We’re young and we’re going to improve. I think we’ll be a different team at the end of the year than what we were at the beginning of the year.”

Pelicans Notes: Davis, Holiday, Cook, Demps

Pelicans star Anthony Davis said he felt “amazing” this morning after taking part in his first practice since being shut down for the season in March, relays Justin Verrier of ESPN.com. Davis, who underwent an ultrasonic debridement on his left knee, participated in all of the practice except for some late conditioning work. He said the problems in his knee and shoulder seem to have been resolved. “Of course, in the beginning when you come back, you’re scared to go up with power or anything like that, to be explosive,” Davis said. “But when I’m out there, I just go. Whatever happens, happens. Today, everything felt great. I’m more explosive than what I was. I’m more powerful. I’m just happy to be back on the court.”

There’s more news tonight out of New Orleans:

  • Jrue Holiday‘s wife delivered a healthy baby girl this week, according to Matthew Glenesk of USA Today. Holiday has taken a leave of absence from the team to care for Lauren Holiday, who has a benign tumor near her orbital socket and needs brain surgery to remove it. However, doctors didn’t want to perform that operation before the baby was born. The procedure is expected to take place in about six weeks, and there is no timetable for Jrue Holiday’s return to the team.
  • The Pelicans aren’t concentrating on position as they seek to replace Holiday during his absence, writes John Reid of The Times-Picayune. Former Duke point guard Quinn Cook is the latest addition as New Orleans tries to bolster its backcourt. ”We’ve got versatile players, combo guards more than anything,” coach Alvin Gentry said. ”We’re just putting guys in position, playing point and off guard and we brought in another guy who can do both of those. We want guys running the team and playing off the ball.”
  • An offseason shakeup left the Pelicans with 10 new players for this year’s training camp, writes William Guillory of The Times-Picayune. GM Dell Demps believed changes were necessary after an injury-filled season that saw New Orleans finish 26th in points allowed. “We really wanted to become a better defensive team,” he said. “That was one of our goals heading into the offseason. … We’ve had good defensive players here in the past, but we’re probably gonna put a little more emphasis on it.”

Central Notes: Caldwell-Pope, Bullock, Smith

The Pistons will continue to purse rookie contract extensions with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Reggie Bullock until the October 31st deadline, according to Rod Beard of The Detroit News. A full-time starter in Detroit for the past two seasons, Caldwell-Pope appeared in 76 games last year, averaging 14.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per night. Bullock played 37 games, averaging 3.3 points and 1.8 rebounds. The Pistons are over the salary cap, but Beard reports that the team is willing to use its Bird rights to re-sign both players. “We’re all in agreement it’s an atmosphere and environment where they have good thoughts,” GM Jeff Bower said of negotiations. “We’re going to continue to take those talks a little bit further through the month and see if there’s an opportunity to reach an extension now.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • As the longest-tenured player on the roster and with a max contract now in hand, Pistons center Andre Drummond feels like he’s entering a new chapter of his career, writes Keith Langlois of NBA.com. The 23-year-old has witnessed a lot of turnover in Detroit since he arrived four years ago. He has played for four coaches in that time, but with Stan Van Gundy firmly in place, the Pistons seem ready to commit to their current core. Drummond is happy to be a part of that group. “I signed a five-year deal, so I’m here for the long haul and I’m excited to be here,” he said. “Detroit is now my home and I’m ready to embrace it and try to bring great things to this city.”
  • The Cavaliers are counting on 33-year-old Mo Williams and second-round pick Kay Felder to replace Matthew Dellavedova, notes Bobby Marks of The Vertical. In his “Summer Rewind” on Cleveland, Marks says the Cavs made a wise move by orchestrating a sign-and-trade after Dellavedova committed to the Bucks, creating a $4.8MM trade exception in the process.
  • Unsigned shooting guard J.R. Smith traveled to Cleveland to watch an Indians game on Thursday and posted “#meetings” on his Instagram account, writes Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. While it’s not a sure sign of progress, Vardon speculated that there has been communication between Smith and the team.
  • A rumor that Smith has been negotiating with the Sixers is not true, tweets Derek Bodner of PhillyMag.com.

Rockets Notes: Ennis, Motiejunas, Dekker, Capela

Thursday’s trade for point guard Tyler Ennis is a sign of the new approach that coach Mike D’Antoni wants to bring to the Rockets, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Ennis was acquired from the Bucks in exchange for veteran forward Michael Beasley. While Beasley is a volume shooter and productive scorer, Ennis thrives in running an offense, particularly the pick-and-roll. Feigen sees the deal as a sign that Houston is moving away from the one-on-one philosophy that has marked the team through much of the James Harden era.

There’s more news out of Houston:

  • D’Antoni sounded confident that power forward Donatas Motiejunas will be re-signed, Feigen tweets. The restricted free agent has been in a contract impasse with the Rockets all summer, with no movement other than the team submitting a qualifying offer. That offer will expire October 1st if Motiejunas doesn’t accept it. Last week, B.J. Armstrong, the agent for Motiejunas, charged that the Rockets have yet to make a serious offer. Feigen adds that GM Daryl Morey refused to say much about the Motiejunas negotiations at Friday’s media day.
  • After missing almost his entire rookie year with back problems, Sam Dekker is ready to make up for lost time, Feigen writes in a separate piece. The 22-year-old combo forward said he felt “really good” today after the first practice of the new season and he hopes his physical problems are in the past. The 18th pick in the 2015 draft, Dekker managed just three games and six minutes for the Rockets last season. “I’m a guy that can come in and add energy, add a spark,” Dekker said. “There is a lot I can bring to the table. I’ve been able to show that this summer. I’m looking to keep improving that. I feel much better than I did last year in terms of mentally. The game has slowed down and I know the nuances of the NBA style of basketball. I’m looking to make a splash.”
  • The Rockets are counting on Clint Capela to improve his game to compensate for the loss of Dwight Howard, relays the Associated Press. The Rockets also signed Nene to provide frontcourt help, but they are counting on Capela to handle most of the work. “Clint is going to have to take a big step forward and it’s not an easy step,” Morey said. “To go from playing 15-20 minutes against often not the starting center to playing 25-plus minutes against front-line guys, that’s a big step forward. It’s more physical. It takes a big toll on your body to do that night-in and night-out.”

Thunder Notes: Westbrook, McGary, Presti, Oladipo

Russell Westbrook‘s efforts to become a more vocal leader have already given him laryngitis, writes Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. The star point guard could barely speak after the first of two practices today, a result of his plan to talk more on the court in the absence of Kevin Durant. That commitment to leadership started with the three-year extension Westbrook signed in August, one month after Durant announced that he was leaving for the Warriors. “He, I think, is setting a tone in terms of that, at least from a defensive standpoint, we’ve got to communicate,” coach Billy Donovan said of Westbrook. “And I think when you’re the caliber of player like Russell who’s doing it every single time and communicating it and expressing and pointing out the value and the importance of that, I think it carries a large weight.”

There’s more news from Oklahoma City:

  • Mitch McGary vows he has “turned over a new leaf” after two drug suspensions this summer that will sideline him for the season’s first 15 games, relays Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. McGary confirmed that the five-game ban he received this summer was for failing a drug test, while the 10-game suspension imposed last week was for not taking enough tests to comply with the NBA’s drug program. The third-year center may be near the end of his time in Oklahoma City. He is guaranteed more than $1.5MM this season, but has a team option worth more than $2.4MM for 2017/18. “I’d love to stay with this organization,” McGary said. “This is hands down like the best organization that had treats for you, cares for you, does everything for you, pretty much hand feeds you. I’ve known that from guys around the league have said this is the organization to be with, so obviously I don’t want to leave.”
  • “Disappointed” was the word GM Sam Presti used to describe his reaction to McGary’s latest drug issues, according to Cliff Brunt of The Associated Press. Presti also insinuated that the Thunder have lost patience with McGary. “We’re not privy to the NBA’s program, so I don’t have a whole lot of information,” Presti said. “All I can say to you is that I’m disappointed. Then from there, I don’t think I have to expand past that.” 
  • Victor Oladipo said he had thoughts about joining the Thunder a year before the draft-day trade from Orlando. In a video posted on The Oklahoman’s website, the new OKC guard addresses a number of topics, including his longtime interest in joining the Thunder. “I literally thought about being here a year ago,” Oladipo said, “and thought what it would be like to be on this team. And for it to actually happen is a surreal experience, and I know that it’s supposed to be the way it is now.”

Heat Notes: Dragic, Bosh, Babbitt

Goran Dragic, who was excited to be teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh when he was swapped to the Heat at the 2014 trade deadline, may finish his career in Miami without either one, writes Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel. Wade signed with the Bulls over the summer and Bosh faces an uncertain medical future after failing his training camp physical. That leaves Dragic as the team’s new leader, and he says he wants to embrace that role. “When you have D-Wade next to you, or C.B., then they can take the game in their hands immediately,” Dragic said. “Now, probably it’s going to be a little bit different. I’m ready. I already felt great last year at the end of the season.” Dragic has four seasons and more than $70MM left on his contract.

There’s more news out of Miami:

  • Miami has the option to apply for a Disabled Player Exception if its medical staff decides Bosh can’t play this season, notes Bobby Marks of The Vertical. If an NBA-designated doctor agrees, the Heat would receive a $5.6MM exception that they can use until March 10th. The exception can be used to sign a free agent to a one-year contract or acquire a player with one season left on his current deal, either through trade or waivers. The Heat have 15 players with guaranteed contracts, including Bosh, so a roster spot would have to be cleared before the DPE could be used. However, the Heat may be looking to get the rest of Bosh’s remaining salary removed from their cap, which they can’t do if they use this exception.
  • Luke Babbitt may have changed teams, but his role will be the same, Winderman writes in a separate piece. Babbitt, who was acquired in a July trade with New Orleans, was used as a stretch four with the Pelicans to create room in the paint for Anthony Davis. With the Heat, he expects to create room for Hassan Whiteside and driving lanes for Dragic. “That’s what NBA offense is, is spacing,” Babbitt said. “So to give guys, to maximize those guys, Hassan, Goran, to open up driving lanes, you have to have people to space it out that can shoot, that’s the way the league is going now.” Babbitt, who just re-signed with the Pelicans last summer, said the trade caught him by surprise. “I didn’t really know it was coming,” he said. “But once I got the news, mentally it just totally shifted over and I was excited. I had a good couple of years in New Orleans, but with this kind of rebuilding group I feel like I kind of fit with what we’re trying to do here.”

Kevin Garnett Announces Retirement

SATURDAY, 4:14pm: The Wolves have waived Garnett, tweets Shams Charania of The Vertical.

4:50pm: Garnett will indeed be retiring from the game, Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports (Twitter link). The veteran posted a video to his personal Instagram account announcing his intentions.

3:46pm: The Wolves are going to waive Garnett in a move similar to what the Spurs did with Tim Duncan this summer, Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press reports (via Twitter). This will allow Garnett to collect his full salary he was due for 2016/17.

FRIDAY, 2:53pm: Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves have reached an agreement on a buyout, according to Kent Youngblood of The Star Tribune, who reports that the future Hall-of-Famer won’t play out the second and final year of his contract with the team. A league source tells Youngblood that Garnett is expected to officially make a retirement announcement soon.

[RELATED: Nikola Pekovic won’t play for Wolves this season]

A Wednesday report first suggested that the Wolves and Garnett were nearing an agreement on a buyout that would remove him from the roster. The 40-year-old had been under contract through the 2016/17 season and was owed an $8MM salary this year, but there has been uncertainty for the last several months about whether or not he’d want to continue his career.

Having spent 12 seasons in Minnesota earlier in his long career, Garnett returned to the Wolves at the 2015 trade deadline, agreeing to waive his no-trade clause in order to reunite with Flip Saunders, who was the club’s head coach at the time. KG signed a two-year deal with Minnesota that offseason, but lost his strongest ally within the organization before the start of the 2015/16 campaign, when Saunders passed away.

If this is indeed the end of Garnett’s Hall-of-Fame career, his final averages will be 17.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals through 1462 regular season contests. His shooting line will stand at .497/.275/.789.

Celtics Notes: Thomas, Horford, Ainge, Zeller

Isaiah Thomas believes the Celtics might have landed Kevin Durant if they could have gone into their meeting with a commitment from Al Horford, relays Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders. In a wide-ranging interview, Thomas discusses the bright future in Boston, the additions the Celtics were able to make and how close he believes they came to getting Durant. “In our meeting, he was a fan of what he had going, was a fan of [coach] Brad Stevens and [president of basketball operations] Danny Ainge and those types of things,” Thomas said. “I honestly felt like we probably didn’t have enough for him in that situation. He’s trying to win a championship now. Like I said, if we had Al Horford going into that meeting, I think that would have been enough.”

There’s more today out of Boston:

  • The Celtics recognize that they could use another shooter and a rim protector, but Ainge tells The Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett that chemistry is a concern when it comes to making moves. “It would be nice to add a rim protector that didn’t hurt our offense,” Ainge said. “It would be nice to have a shooter that didn’t hurt our defense. But I feel like we have a lot of guys that are good shooters. But the kind of guys you’re talking about, those guys are hard to find.”
  • After appearing in a career-low 60 games last season, center Tyler Zeller hopes his new contract brings a larger role, writes A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com. Zeller re-signed with Boston for $16MM over two seasons after becoming a restricted free agent this summer. Even though the second year of the deal is not guaranteed, it represents a significant raise for Zeller, who earned a little more than $2.6MM last year. Zeller often got overlooked in the Celtics’ crowded frontcourt last season, playing 10 minutes or fewer 28 times. “It was a frustrating year for me, but at the same time it was a time where I could work on my game,” Zeller said. “I was able to work out a lot, put a lot of time in the gym. Hopefully I continue to grow as a player and be even better this year.”
  • Evan Turner‘s decision to sign with the Trail Blazers has created an opportunity for Marcus Smart, according to Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com. The third-year guard made it into 61 games last season, mostly as a reserve, but Stevens believes he has earned a shot at more playing time. “I think his greatest strength will always be that he’s a guy that makes winning plays that sometimes aren’t quantified,” the coach said, “whether that’s guarding a [Paul] Millsap for eight minutes, or guarding [Kristaps] Porzingis for six minutes, or guarding the point guard for the next four. He’s just a guy that will do anything you ask to help this team win.”

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