Draft Notes: Combine, Haliburton, Francis, Figueroa

If not for the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA’s draft combine would have taken place last week in Chicago, with dozens of this year’s top prospects congregating for workouts, scrimmages, interviews, and medical tests. Instead, that event has been indefinitely postponed, and it’s unclear what form it will eventually take — if it happens at all.

According to Marc Berman of The New York Post, league sources still believe there’s a good chance that a “downsized” combine that includes live interviews could take place in August or September. One report earlier in May suggested that such an event might be held within the NBA’s “bubble” location – possibly Walt Disney World – rather than Chicago, though that’s still speculative at this point.

Of course, before the NBA can even line up tentative plans for a combine, it will need to formally postpone the draft, which is still scheduled for June 25. According to Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link), some teams expect the draft to be delayed until September, with free agency potentially starting around October 1.

Here’s more on the 2020 NBA draft:

  • Within his above-linked piece, Berman notes that Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm believes potential top-10 pick Tyrese Haliburton would benefit from being able to interview in person with NBA teams. “On Zoom, you can only impress so much,” Prohm said. “If he was in person, over dinner, or in the facility or ballroom at the combine, he’d knock it out of the park. His spirit and personality will wow people. He’ll move up on the charts on that alone. … His character and maturity is very high.”
  • Richmond guard Blake Francis, who tested the draft waters following his junior year, has decided to withdraw and return to school for one more season, he tells Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Francis is the third Richmond early entrant to withdraw from the draft pool, joining teammates Jacob Gilyard and Grant Golden.
  • St. John’s guard LJ Figueroa has entered the NCAA’s transfer portal, a source tells Evan Daniels of 247Sports (Twitter link). Figueroa, who declared for the draft in the spring, will continue testing the waters as he explores his transfer options, tweets Rothstein.

Lillard Says He Won’t Play This Summer Without Path To Postseason

As the NBA weighs potential formats for the resumption of its 2019/20 season, some pointed comments from Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard may influence the league’s thinking. Speaking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Lillard said he has no intention of suiting up for games this summer if Portland has no real chance to make the postseason.

“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team,” Lillard told Haynes in a phone interview. “But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that (expletive) in there.”

The NBA is still determining whether it will bring back all 30 teams, only the 16 current playoff clubs, or something in between. The number of teams that resumes play will be tied to the format the league chooses — if just 16 clubs return, advancing directly to the playoffs is the logical move. If lottery teams are asked to participate, the league may give those clubs a chance to make the postseason via a play-in tournament. In that scenario, Lillard would be eager to participate.

“If we come back and I don’t have an opportunity to make the playoffs, I will show up to work, I’ll be at practice and I’ll be with my team. I’m going to do all that (expletive) and then I’m going to be sitting right on that bench during the games,” the Blazers guard said to Yahoo Sports. “If they come back and say it’s something like a tournament, play-in style, between the No. 7 and No. 12 seeds, if we’re playing for playoff spots, then I think that’s perfect.”

When the NBA went on hiatus on March 11, the Blazers had moved into ninth place in the Western Conference. With a 29-37 record, they were 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies for the eighth seed in the conference, and Lillard feels as if the team was positioned well for a late-season playoff push.

“We had our starting center (Jusuf Nurkic) and starting power forward (Zach Collins) coming back, so we had a lot to look forward to and for a great reason,” Lillard told Haynes. “Now, they’re healthy and have extra time to train and rehab while everybody’s rusty. So now, they won’t be coming back as the only rusty players. And if everybody’s rusty, (expletive), we can come in here and beat everybody. I do feel like if we do come back and our mind is right, we can beat anyone.”

On their own, Lillard’s comments may not significantly impact the NBA’s decision-making process, but it seems like a good bet that stars on other lottery teams share his views on the issue. And even if there are some who want to play regardless of the format, their teams may decide to hold them out of action if there’s no upside. For instance, if the Warriors are asked to resume play without a path to the postseason, I don’t expect we’ll see Stephen Curry participate.

Lillard told Haynes that he’s prepared for any scenario, but would be disappointed if the Blazers don’t get a chance to earn a spot in the postseason.

“Right now, I’m just in a space where I want to come back and play. And if we start playing, I’ll be ready to play. But if the league says it’s only taking playoff teams, then I’m off to a head start in my summer training,” he said. “I’ll be pissed off because I feel like they basically stopped the season and went straight into the playoffs. We’re chasing the team with the toughest schedule in the league and we’re in ninth place. That would be weak, but it is what it is.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pistons Seeking GM To Work With Ed Stefanski

The Pistons are beginning a search to hire a new general manager, sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. According to Wojnarowski, the new GM will work with senior advisor Ed Stefanski, who has served as Detroit’s de facto head of basketball operations since joining the franchise two years ago.

As Woj explains, Stefanski and Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem will head up the GM search, with the team planning to start reaching out to potential candidates this week. The newly-hired executive will “work closely” with Stefanski and head coach Dwane Casey on personnel matters, Woj writes. It sounds as if Stefanski would still have the final say on basketball decisions.

ESPN’s report doesn’t identify any potential targets for Detroit. The last NBA team to hire a new general manager was the Bulls, who settled on Marc Eversley about a month ago, so it will be interesting to see whether the Pistons target any of the executives who interviewed with their division rivals in Chicago. Matt Lloyd (Magic), Mark Hughes (Clippers), and Michael Finley (Mavericks) were among those who received consideration from the Bulls before Eversley won out.

The Pistons’ new general manager will be tasked with helping to navigate a rebuilding process for the franchise, which traded longtime center Andre Drummond and waived veteran point guard Reggie Jackson in February.

Blake Griffin‘s massive contract remains on the team’s books, and Derrick Rose has one more year left on his deal, but Detroit figures to fill out its roster with plenty of young talent in 2020/21. Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Bruce Brown, and Khyri Thomas are all under contract beyond this season.

Roberts Informs Players Of Latest Plans To Resume Season

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts is conducting team-by-team conference calls with players as momentum continues toward a resumption of play, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets.

Roberts is providing details on formats to restart the season in Orlando, which has emerged as the likely place where games will be conducted. She is also going over the financial implications of those options and gathering feedback, Wojnarowski adds.

While there’s no word on how the players are reacting to the proposals, it does provide hope that players will soon convene to start training and practicing again. Several teams have opened their training facilities on a limited basis but thus far scrimmages and formal practices have not been permitted.

The NBA’s Board of Governors will conduct a conference call on Friday, which will include commissioner Adam Silver and team owners. It’s expected that by the end of the week, a course of action will be determined. Recent developments suggest that when play resumes, teams currently in the lottery will be excluded.

Eastern Notes: Celtics, Knicks, Bone, Heat

The Celtics are eager to find out how good they can be at full health, according to Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. They rarely had all of their top seven players available at the same time, yet still had fifth-best record in the league when play was halted. Rookie Grant Williams told reporters last week that the team has great chemistry. “We were having so much fun during the year,” he said. Players can’t wait to back in the gym together because of the positive vibes running through the team, Forsberg adds.

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • It’s uncertain whether teams currently outside the playoff picture will be included in a potential resumption of play. However, some Knicks players have recently been told to be ready to report to training camp in early June, according to SNY’s Ian Begley. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that all professional sports teams are now allowed to begin training camps in the state. Since players would be returning from varying sites and presumably going into quarantine once they arrive, some of them are wondering if they should go straight to Orlando, where the games are expected to be played.
  • Pistons rookie guard Jordan Bone has changed agents, Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype tweets. Bone will now be represented by Colin Bryant of Fundamental Sports Management. The Pistons acquired the rights to Bone, a second-round pick, from the Sixers in a draft night trade. He played on a two-way contract this season, appearing in 10 NBA games.
  • The Heat could re-sign players like Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder, Meyers Leonard and Derrick Jones Jr. this offseason and eventually turn them into trade chips, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel opines. If Miami retains those players on contracts beyond a single season, it would cut into its cap space for the 2021 offseason. However, the Heat could use them in sign-and-trades for bigger free agents down the road, similar to what they did with Josh Richardson in the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade with Philadelphia.

George Karl Open To Coaching Again

Longtime NBA coach George Karl has a desire to coach again, Pat Graham of the Associated Press reports.

Following three bouts with cancer, the 69-year-old Karl feels healthy and energized.

“I love the game as much as I ever have,” Karl told Graham. “If the right situation came up, I might coach again.”

Karl is one of nine NBA coaches to notch 1,000 wins in his career. Karl racked up those wins with Cleveland, Golden State, Seattle, Milwaukee, Denver and Sacramento. He hasn’t coached in the league since the Kings fired him in April 2016.

Karl’s son, Coby, is the head coach of the Lakers‘ G League team, the South Bay Lakers. George Karl attended a number of his son’s games this season after recovering from his latest battle with cancer, this time melanoma of the eye.

He admits he still has concerns about a recurrence.

“Once you have cancer, you have a higher risk of getting another cancer. I know that,” he said. “But my health is probably as good as it’s been in about 15 or 20 years.”

Coronavirus Notes: Orlando, Resuming Season, Ewing

Appearing today on ESPN’s Get Up (video link), Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed that Orlando remains the frontrunner to host the NBA’s return this summer and that it may end up being the lone bubble location the league uses.

[RELATED: NBA Enters ‘Exploratory’ Talks To Resume Season In Orlando]

“Everything is pointing toward a return of the NBA this season at a single site in Orlando at Disney World,” Woj said, adding that teams believe they’ll be told to recall players as early as next week.

As Wojnarowski explained, there will be plenty of calls taking place today and throughout the week, culminating with an NBA’s Board of Governors conference call on Friday, which will include commissioner Adam Silver and team owners. According to Woj, by the end of this week or early next week, we should have a better idea of what the format of a potential NBA return will look like.

Here’s more on the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the NBA:

  • Patrick Ewing Jr. issued an update today (via Twitter) saying that his father – former Knicks center and current Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing – is out of the hospital and is improving after having contracted COVID-19. “My father is now home and getting better,” the younger Ewing wrote. “We’ll continue to watch his symptoms and follow the CDC guidelines.”
  • There’s no point in having all 30 NBA teams resume their seasons this summer, according to Steve Popper of Newsday, who argues in a column that the league would be best off minimizing the risk by just inviting the 16 current playoff clubs.
  • As we relayed earlier today, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said during a Monday morning TV appearance that he thinks there’s a good chance only 16 teams will be involved in the resumption of the NBA season (video link). Windhorst suggests there will be “a lot of back-room haggling” over the next few days as the league weighs what proposal(s) to present to team owners on Friday’s conference call.

2020/21 Salary Cap Preview: San Antonio Spurs

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead at the 2020/21 salary cap situations for all 30 NBA teams. Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the NBA, it’s impossible to know yet where the cap for 2020/21 will land. Given the league’s lost revenue, we’re assuming for now that it will stay the same as the ’19/20 cap, but it’s entirely possible it will end up higher or lower than that.

With or without the NBA’s hiatus, the Spurs‘ 22-year postseason streak was likely going to come to an end this year, as the team appears headed to the draft lottery for the first time since 1997.

The last time San Antonio bottomed out, the team lucked into Tim Duncan, but a top draft pick is a long shot for this year’s squad, and there doesn’t appear to be a surefire franchise player in the 2020 draft class anyway. The Spurs probably shouldn’t rely on free agency to turn things around either — the team won’t have much spending flexibility if DeMar DeRozan exercises his $27MM+ player option.

Here’s where things stand for the Spurs financially in 2020/21, as we continue our Salary Cap Preview series:

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

  • Trey Lyles ($4,500,000) 1
  • Chimezie Metu ($1,663,861) 2
  • Total: $6,163,861

Restricted Free Agents

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

The Spurs’ cap outlook for 2020/21 is one of the trickiest to project. With approximately $88.6MM locked in for eight guaranteed contracts and a draft pick, San Antonio doesn’t initially appear to be in terrible shape financially. But if DeRozan opts in, it would increase the club’s guaranteed commitments to $116MM+. And that’s before accounting for the possibility of re-signing players like Poeltl and/or Forbes and filling out the rest of the roster.

There have been rumblings that DeRozan might not be thrilled with his current situation, so he’s not a stone-cold lock to opt in. But given the league’s financial outlook, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t do so. My guess is that he’ll ultimately pick up that option and that the Spurs will try to re-sign at least one of Poeltl or Forbes — perhaps both if the team can get them at reasonable prices or if money can be shed elsewhere.

With so many of their contracts set to expire in 2021, the Spurs won’t do anything rash to cut costs, but they aren’t going to go into the tax for the current roster either. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle this offseason, especially if the cap doesn’t increase at all.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Mid-level exception: $9,258,000 6
  • Bi-annual exception: $3,623,000 6

Footnotes

  1. Lyles’ salary becomes fully guaranteed after June 30.
  2. Metu’s salary becomes partially guaranteed for $500K after August 1.
  3. The cap hold for this pick will depend on where it ultimately falls in the lottery. Currently, the Spurs rank 11th in the lottery standings.
  4. The cap holds for Cunningham, Lauvergne, Lee, Motiejunas, Pondexter, Costello, Hilliard, and Moore remain on the Spurs’ books because they haven’t been renounced after going unsigned in 2019/20. They can’t be used in a sign-and-trade deal.
  5. The 26th overall pick in 2015, Milutinov has yet to sign his rookie scale contract. His cap hold will remain on the Spurs’ books unless the team receives permission to remove it, which would ensure Milutinov won’t be signed in 2020/21.
  6. These are projected values. If the Spurs’ team salary continues to increase, they may be limited to the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5,718,000).

Note: Minimum-salary and rookie-scale cap holds are based on the salary cap and could increase or decrease depending on where the cap lands.

Salary information from Basketball Insiders and Early Bird Rights was used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bulls Notes: Boylen, Loenser, Tanaka, Draft

Although the Bulls‘ ownership group and former executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson have voiced their support for head coach Jim Boylen, they’ve also made it clear to the newly-hired executives in the front office that they’ll allow Boylen’s dismissal if Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley want to go in that direction, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

Cowley, who wrote earlier this month that Karnisovas and Eversley are likely leaning toward making a coaching change, notes that the Bulls will have a clearer sense of a timeline for that decision once the NBA makes an announcement on the fate of the 2019/20 season. If the team doesn’t resume play, the front office could be in position to make a call on Boylen sooner rather than later.

Here’s more on the Bulls:

  • While Boylen’s fate remains up in the air, the Bulls have exercised their 2020/21 option on assistant coach Nate Loenser, reports K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. As Johnson explains, Loenser – whose contract is the only one that required an immediate decision – is well-respected by players and has established a strong reputation for player development.
  • The Bulls aren’t retaining longtime trainer Jeff Tanaka, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Tanaka has been the club’s head trainer since 2014 and was an assistant trainer before that, dating back to 2008. With his contract up, Arturas Karnisovas and the new-look front office decided to go in another direction and intend to bring in someone of their own choosing, per Cowley.
  • The Bulls should be well-prepared for the 2020 draft, according to Cowley, who points out that newly-hired executives Karnisovas, Marc Eversley, Pat Connelly, and J.J. Polk will bring with them intel from three separate franchises. Throw in the research the Bulls’ existing scouts have done and there should be no shortage of information on this year’s prospects as the team sets its draft board.

Andrew Bogut Puts Playing Career On Hold

Former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut isn’t ready to call it a career, but he’s also in no rush to sign a new contract, he said in a statement on Twitter. Citing the uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic, the 35-year-old center is taking a step back from basketball for now.

Bogut, who has spent the last two years playing for the Sydney Kings in Australia – with a brief return to the Warriors sandwiched in between NBL seasons – said he’s enjoying taking a break after 19 straight months of playing basketball. His plan, for the time being, is to spend time with his family and to slowly get back into playing shape before he considers pursuing another opportunity.

“I have decided not to sign with the Sydney Kings, or any professional sporting team for that matter for the time being,” Bogut wrote. “With everything going on in the world, the future does not look too clear, most notably in regards to sporting leagues worldwide.

“This is by no means a retirement note, but simply saying any concrete decisions are too hard to be made at this point in time. The reason I have decided to do this now is to give the Sydney Kings enough notice to act accordingly with free agency being around the corner.”

A 14-year NBA veteran, Bogut holds career averaged of 9.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG, and 1.5 BPG in 706 career regular season contests for the Bucks, Warriors, Mavericks, Cavaliers, and Lakers.

Although he didn’t play in the NBA this season and only appeared in 11 regular season games (plus 19 playoff contests) for Golden State in 2018/19, Bogut has continued to thrive in Australia over the last couple years. He was the NBL’s MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, and earned All-NBL Second Team honors this season.