Isaiah Hartenstein Joins Rockets’ G League Affiliate

Isaiah Hartenstein, the Rockets’ lone 2017 draft pick, is among the players listed on the training camp roster for Houston’s G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Twitter link via Chris Reichert of 2 Ways & 10 Days).

After being selected with the 43rd overall pick in the 2017 draft, Hartenstein didn’t sign an NBA contract, with the Rockets opting not to carry him on their 15-man roster in his rookie season. Instead, it appears Hartenstein signed a straight G League contract, which will allow him to play for the Vipers without the Rockets losing his NBA rights.

The approach is similar to the one the Celtics took with second-round pick Abdel Nader a year ago. Although he wanted to sign an NBA contract, Nader agreed to ink a G League deal and joined the Maine Red Claws, with Boston hanging on to his NBA rights. Nader had an outstanding season for the Red Claws, earning All G League honors, and the C’s rewarded him this summer with a multiyear NBA contract that’s guaranteed for 2017/18.

Hartenstein, who is still just 19, spent most of his teenage years playing overseas in Germany and Lithuania, and was viewed as one of the top international prospects in this year’s draft. The seven-footer remains raw, but is viewed as a versatile big man who is capable of earning an NBA rotation spot in the coming years.

International basketball reporter David Pick first reported back in late July that the Rockets were expected to have Hartenstein play in the G League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Weekly Mailbag: 10/16/17 – 10/22/17

We have an opportunity for you to hit us up with your questions in this, our weekly mailbag feature. Have a question regarding player movement, the salary cap or the NBA draft? Drop us a line at HoopsRumorsMailbag@Gmail.com.

Will the Pistons blow up their roster? — Sundeep Kothari, via Twitter

It all depends on the results. Detroit has just one playoff appearance during the current decade and needs to give fans a reason to keep coming to the team’s new home at Little Caesars Arena. The postseason is certainly within reach in a weakened Eastern Conference, and the Pistons will probably still be in the race when the trade deadline arrives in early February. If something goes terribly wrong, the first player on the trading block will be Andre Drummond, who is owed more than $52.5MM over the next two seasons and has a player option of more than $28.75MM for 2020/21. Next would be Reggie Jackson, who had a disappointing season while battling injuries last year and is owed more than $35.1MM over the next two seasons. Detroit isn’t projected to have any significant cap room until 2019/20, so there’s no way to blow up the team without moving those two.

Are the Suns the worst team in the NBA? — Dalai Llama, via Twitter

Anyone who watched their season opener against the Trail Blazers or Saturday’s rout by the Clippers could certainly reach that conclusion. Phoenix has chosen to rebuild with youth and the results aren’t going to be pretty, especially with so many good Western Conference teams on the schedule. The Suns might have as much talent as the Bulls, Hawks or Nets, but playing in the West will put them in the running for the league’s worst record. With Phoenix so far from contention, it makes sense to find the best possible deals for Eric Bledsoe, who has one year left on his contract at $15MM, Tyson Chandler, who is signed for one more season at $13.585MM, and Jared Dudley, who has another year left at $9.53MM. It’s time to fully embrace the rebuilding process and use those assets to create a brighter future.

What do the Wizards have to do to get a good seed and advance to Eastern Conference finals? — Swaggtastic Jackson, via Twitter

The season-ending injury to Celtics forward Gordon Hayward improved Washington’s chances. Boston and Cleveland both had massive roster overhauls this summer, while the Wizards kept their key pieces together. Markieff Morris is expected to return next month from abdominal surgery, which will put all of last year’s starting unit back in place. The bench remains unremarkable, however, and won’t be easy to improve with Washington already projected to be in tax territory for this season and the next two. The front office will have to be aggressive with trades between now and February for the Wizards to reach the top of the Eastern Conference.

Raptors Waive K.J. McDaniels

12:35pm: The move is official, according to a tweet from the team.

11:56am: The Raptors plan to waive K.J. McDaniels, tweets Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

The fourth-year swingman won a roster spot in Toronto after signing with the team in August. He didn’t play in either of the Raptors’ first two regular season games.

McDaniels only has a $100K guarantee on his $1,524,305 salary, so the Raptors won’t lose much by parting with him. The team, which had a full roster heading into the season, now has one opening.

McDaniels has bounced around the league since being drafted by the Sixers in the second round in 2014. He was traded to the Rockets in 2015, then was dealt to the Nets in February. The 52 games he played with the Sixers as a rookie remain his career high.

Texas Notes: Jackson, Smith Jr., Clavell, Leonard

Rockets guard Demetrius Jackson can expect a lot of trips to and from Rio Grande Valley over the next few weeks, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Jackson, who is serving as the team’s backup point guard while Chris Paul is sidelined with soreness in his left knee, signed a two-way contract over the summer and is limited to 45 days in the NBA. Every day in Houston will count against that total once G League camps open tomorrow, so Jackson will be making repeated journeys to the Rockets’ affiliate.

Jackson played 17 minutes in Saturday’s win over the Mavericks, delivering four points, five rebounds and two assists. The Rockets may decide to convert his deal into a full NBA contract if Paul’s absence is prolonged and the team can’t find another point guard. “Definitely, a different confidence level after going back, reviewing the film, trying to grow from the positive and the negative,” Jackson said. “I definitely got some good looks. Just have to step up and knock those down.”

There’s more NBA news from the Lone Star State:

  • The left knee effusion suffered by Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. may not be as bad as it sounds, cautions Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. There is concern in Dallas because an effusion, which means swelling due to fluid building up in a joint, is what sidelined Dirk Nowitzki for two months in 2013. However, Sefko notes that Nowitzki was much older, and Smith played a lot in preseason without any knee issues.
  • The Mavericks are getting Gian Clavell, who also has a two-way contract, some NBA experience before G League camps begin, Sefko adds in the same piece. The rookie out of Puerto Rico got into games Friday and Saturday as the third-string point guard. Johnathan Motley, the team’s other two-way player, hasn’t appeared in a game yet.
  • There are indications that Spurs star Kawhi Leonard might return to action sooner than expected, according to Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. Leonard, who has been sidelined since training camp with quadriceps tendinopathy, traveled with the team to Chicago Saturday. “He’s progressing,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “I’ll just leave it at that.”

Knicks Notes: Hernangomez, Hardaway, Porzingis, Ntilikina

Knicks center Willy Hernangomez isn’t hiding his anger after playing less than four minutes in the team’s first two games, relays Fred Kerber of The New York Post. Hernangomez looked like part of the team’s future after a promising rookie season, but he has fallen to third on the depth chart, with Enes Kanter, acquired in the Carmelo Anthony trade, as the starter and Kyle O’Quinn as the backup.

Hernangomez played the final 3:46 of Thursday’s blowout loss in Oklahoma City, then never left the bench in Saturday’s home opener. After the game, he let reporters know that he’s not happy with the current situation. “I’m still mad,” Hernangomez said. “I cannot help the team win if I’m sitting on the bench. Two games in a row. It’s tough. I have to wait my moment. I cannot say nothing more.” Coach Jeff Hornacek met with Hernangomez this week and told him he needs to improve on defense.

There’s more news today out of New York:

  • Tim Hardaway Jr. hasn’t done much so far to ease the concerns of Knicks fans about his four-year, $71MM contract, writes Howie Kussoy of The New York Post. New York’s prize free agent addition of the summer made just four of 16 shots Saturday, following a 3-of-10 performance in the opener. “I missed a couple easy ones here and there, shots that I would normally make,” Hardaway said. “Just tough to see those not go down. My teammates did a great job of keeping me in it, telling me to keep shooting. … I just didn’t get it done. It’s still a new offense, but at the same time, [I] just got to find ways to get to the line, get to the basket a little more, finish around the basket when I’m there. I missed a lot of bunnies I wish I could take back.”
  • Kristaps Porzingis is still getting used to the role of primary scorer in the wake of the Anthony trade, according to Ian Begley of ESPN. Porzingis hit 3-of-7 shots late in Saturday’s game, but passed up a 3-pointer in the final seconds for a layup that was blocked.
  • The early part of Frank Ntilikina‘s NBA career has been marked by injuries, but the Knicks remain excited about the French point guard, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Ntilikina, who was limited to one preseason game because of a bruised knee, sat out Saturday’s contest after spraining his ankle at Friday’s practice. “I think what everybody first saw is I think he can touch everyone out there in TV land, you know his arms are so long,” Hornacek said. “Even this week in practice, when he guards guys, they don’t think he’s close enough to steal the ball, and then he just reaches out and hits the ball and gets a steal.”

L.A. Notes: Teodosic, Gallinari, Randle, Deng

Milos Teodosic, the Clippers‘ 30-year-old rookie out of Serbia, will have an MRI on his left foot today after injuring it Saturday night, according to ESPN.com. X-rays on the foot were negative after Teodosic had to be carried off the court, but he was on crutches after the game. “I just saw him laying down,” said coach Doc Rivers. “I didn’t see what happened. He said that he felt something in his foot. So it’s definitely a foot injury. But we don’t know what it is.” Rookie guard Jawun Evans will be activated while Teodosic is out, and Austin Rivers is expected to take his place in the starting lineup.

There’s more this morning out of Los Angeles:

  • Free agent addition Danilo Gallinari is still trying to get used to his new Clippers teammates after an injury wiped out most of his preseason, writes Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times. Gallinari, who spent the past six and a half years with the Nuggets, strained his left foot in the second exhibition game and wasn’t able to practice until last Sunday. That didn’t keep him from earning a starting role, and now he has to adapt to playing alongside Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in the frontcourt. “I think we did a pretty good job as far as chemistry with us three,” Gallinari said. “But everybody is trying to learn how to play with each other. Everybody is new so it’s going to take a while. It’s going to be a learning process the whole season.”
  • The Lakers are concerned about Julius Randle‘s reaction to the loss of his starting job, reports Bill Oram of the Orange County Register. Coach Luke Walton said he decided to make Larry Nance Jr. the starting power forward because he was playing better with the first team, while Randle fit in well with the reserves. But Walton didn’t like Randle’s effort in the season opener and quickly pulled him from the game. “When he stepped on the court for whatever reason he wasn’t ready to go,” Walton said, “like he has been for the past week [of practices]. So I pulled him out to tell him about it. I know he wasn’t happy with me but that’s my job.” Adding to Randle’s frustrations is the team’s decision not to offer him a rookie scale contract extension this week. He will be a restricted free agent next summer and may be nearing the end of his time with the Lakers.
  • After starting Thursday’s game, Lakers forward Luol Deng was inactive Friday as Corey Brewer took his place, notes Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times. Deng still has two more seasons and $36.81MM left on his contract.

Central Notes: Portis, Doncic, James, Antetokounmpo

Bulls forward Bobby Portis issued a public apology today for the punch that injured teammate Nikola Mirotic, relays K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. The altercation left Mirotic with a concussion and two fractured facial bones that will sideline him for about a month. Portis received an eight-game suspension, cutting further into Chicago’s frontcourt depth.

Portis expressed regret for the punch and said he hopes Mirotic will heal quickly. He has tried calling and texting his teammate, but Mirotic hasn’t responded. There’s a possibility that Mirotic will take legal action, which could extend the story through the rest of the season. “Going forward, I want to make sure that me and Niko are cool and that we can be teammates again,” Portis said. “I’m pretty sure we can. We just have to repair the relationship.”

There’s more news from the Central Division:

  • If Chicago winds up with the top pick in the draft, former Bulls center Pau Gasol knows who they should take, Johnson writes in a separate piece. Gasol, who was in town with the Spurs for a game tonight, offered a hearty endorsement of Slovenian star Luka Doncic, whom he faced in this year’s Eurobasket semifinals. “He’s a very, very talented player. It’s really rare how well this guy plays at his age [18]. He just continues to grow,” Gasol said. “It’s the right path. You see a guy who has done really well so far and is an exceptional young player with great size, great fundamentals, great composure, great poise to his game for his age — for any age for that matter.”
  • Friday’s matchup between the Bucks and Cavaliers was the latest opportunity for Giannis Antetokounmpo to show he’s on LeBron James‘ level, notes Vincent Goodwill of Bleacher Report. Although Antetokounmpo outscored James, 34-24, the Cavs claimed a decisive victory. The “Greek Freak” is posting MVP numbers through the first week of the season, and at age 22 he seems destined to someday become the best player in the league. “You understand the magnitude of it, and you still wanna claim your throne as well,” said Cleveland guard Dwyane Wade. “You don’t want them to push you off it. It was a great matchup watching those two guys do everything that’s needed for their team.”
  • J.R. Smith believes offseason moves have given the Cavaliers the league’s deepest team, relays Dave McMenamin of ESPN.  “You can go around from 6 through 12 or whatever and mark it up against anybody else’s bench, and by far, we got the best bench,” said Smith, who became part of that reserve unit when the Cavs signed Wade. “And we have more experience too.”

Community Shootaround: Boston Celtics

After a summer upheaval that included adding a pair of All-Stars, the Celtics appeared headed for at least another trip to the Eastern Conference finals. Their fortunes may have changed Tuesday when Gordon Hayward took a hard fall less than six minutes into the season opener that left him with a dislocated and fractured left tibia.

It was a shocking way to start the year for Celtics fans and for Hayward, who left Utah for Boston and a four-year, maximum-salary contract. He was expected to be one of the top forwards in the East and part of the foundation for the team’s future, along with newly acquired point guard Kyrie Irving.

The Celtics still have plenty of talent, including the No. 3 picks in the last two drafts, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. They have both moved into the starting lineup and added youthful energy to the team. Still, it’s hard to replace someone who can score [21.9 points per game last season] and shoot [nearly 40% from 3-point range] like Hayward.

The injury plunges the Celtics into a pack of teams that will fight to be the chief challenger to Cleveland in the East. The Wizards took Boston to seven games last season in the conference semifinals, the Raptors are back with a wealth of talent and the young Bucks could be ready for a major step forward.

That brings us to tonight’s question: With the loss of Hayward, are the Celtics still among the two best teams in the East? Please share your thoughts in the space below. We look forward to your responses.

Southeast Notes: Kidd-Gilchrist, Howard, Morris, Payton

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist rejoined the Hornets for practice today following a 12-day excused absence after his grandmother’s death, relays Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. The fifth-year small forward left the team midway through preseason and is working on conditioning so he can return to action. “He’s good, he’s a worker,” said coach Steve Clifford. “I really don’t have any idea when (he can play a significant role again), but he’s going to have to practice some for him to be ready to be play. I think we’ll know better after (Sunday), when we’ll do more contact.”

There’s more today out of Charlotte:

  • Several former teammates of Hornets center Dwight Howard are disputing allegations that he was hard to get along with last season, writes Michael Cunningham of The Journal-Constitution. Amid reports that the Hawks wanted to get rid of Howard’s “negative influence” and that some players were happy to see him leave, at least two players are coming to his defense. Malcolm Delaney denied the accusation on Twitter, and Dennis Schroder says Howard is misunderstood. “Off the court he is a good guy,” Schroder said. “He did a great job trying to bring everybody together, as always. On the court we are too different. That’s on the court. But off the court, I think [he’s] amazing.”
  • Wizards power forward Markieff Morris is making progress in his return from abdominal surgery, according to Candace Buckner of The Washington Post. Morris was part of the team’s weightlifting session today and played one-on-one games against teammates. He still isn’t expected to return to action until mid-November, but the team is encouraged by his progress. “He did everything. He did the entire 20 minutes of one-on-one live, which was great for him,” said coach Scott Brooks. “Playing against other NBA players is the next step of coming back … he’s tired of competing against the coaching staff and playing against us because you get false confidence playing against me and my staff. But it was good, he gave a good 20 minutes. The conditioning is pretty good, considering he’s coming back from the hernia surgery.”
  • Magic guard Elfrid Payton was diagnosed with a “mild to moderate strain” of his left hamstring after an MRI, writes Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel. He was held out of today’s game and the team hasn’t provided an estimate of when he might return.

Celtics Notes: Bird, Tatum, Larkin, Hayward

Jabari Bird, who watched the Celtics’ season opener from his California home, played a key role in Friday’s comeback win over the Sixers, writes Taylor C. Snow of NBA.com. Coach Brad Stevens called on Bird in the third quarter to guard J.J. Redick. He wound up playing 14 minutes and rallying Boston from an eight-point deficit to a four-point lead.

Bird never expected this type of early action after signing a two-way contract in early September. But an opportunity occurred when Gordon Hayward suffered an opening-night injury that is expected to keep him out for the season. Bird boarded a plane that night and joined the team in Milwaukee on Wednesday. He is limited to 45 days in the NBA, but the clock doesn’t start until G League training camps open Monday.

“All the way through preseason and training camp, I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he’s got a huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in the preseason practices and his ability to guard on the ball, especially shooters cutting off screens, is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he would step up.”

There’s more news out of Boston:

  • So far, the Celtics are decisive winners in the June trade that sent the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft to Philadelphia in exchange for the No. 3 choice and a future first-rounder, declares A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports BostonJayson Tatum has shined in the early season, averaging 12.3 points and 9.0 rebounds in three games, while Fultz has struggled with injuries, including a sore shoulder that is affecting his shot.
  • Shane Larkin was an overlooked signing when he inked a one-year deal with the Celtics in late July, but he had the best plus-minus rating on the team in Friday’s win in Philadelphia, Blakely notes in the same piece. Larkin, who played in the Spanish League last season, has been getting an opportunity because of Marcus Smart‘s injured left ankle.
  • Stevens says Hayward is maintaining a positive attitude in the wake of his injury, relays Chris Forsberg of ESPN. Their conversation focused mainly on rehab, and Stevens got advice from Frank Vogel, who coached the Pacers when Paul George suffered a broken leg. “[Hayward is] going to be the best guy shooting out of a chair, with his left hand, with his right hand, perfect his form, and let’s have fun,” Stevens added. “Let’s come up with creative ways to attack this thing.” The coach originally talked about a five-month rehab process, but later clarified that there is no timeline and the Celtics don’t expect Hayward to return this season (Twitter link).
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