Northwest Notes: Connelly, Wolves, Jokic, Trail Blazers

Nuggets president Tim Connelly faces several important decisions if he winds up running the Timberwolves, writes Chris Hine of The Star-Tribune. Connelly is meeting with Wolves owner Glenn Taylor this weekend, and a final announcement could be made soon.

Minnesota gave Chris Finch a four-year extension in March, so the coaching situation is stable. Connelly has experience working with Finch, who served as a Denver assistant in 2016/17. Things are less clear regarding the front office, which has been run by Sachin Gupta since Gersson Rosas was fired in September. Gupta recently made an important personnel move, hiring Steve Senior as assistant general manager.

Connelly could be able to negotiate a super-max extension with Karl-Anthony Towns if the star center is voted onto an All-NBA team, Hine adds. Connelly may also pursue extension talks with D’Angelo Russell, and he would be searching for ways to improve the roster to build on this year’s playoff appearance.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • If Connelly joins the Timberwolves, he might bring a big-name executive from another organization with him, tweets Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News. Taylor isn’t expected to stand in the way of the rumored move, which is supported by incoming owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez.
  • The Nuggets‘ lack of urgency to keep Connelly should make Nikola Jokic think twice about committing to the organization, argues Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post. Kiszla accuses Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which owns the team, of treating everyone like they can be replaced, even Connelly, who built a potential title contender and was responsible for drafting Jokic in the second round. Connelly was upset that the Nuggets failed to offer him a long-term deal during the season, according to Kiszla, and that decision could cost the team one of its most valuable assets.
  • The Trail Blazers may target Charlotte’s Miles Bridges and Cody Martin in free agency, per Ian Begley of Both players will be restricted free agents, so the Hornets can match any offer that Portland makes.

Jimmy Butler Won’t Return To Game 3 Due To Knee Inflammation

10:14pm: Butler’s injury isn’t serious and he may be ready for Monday’s Game 4, a source tells Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link).

9:08pm: Heat forward Jimmy Butler didn’t return to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals after halftime because of inflammation in his right knee, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Butler played nearly 20 minutes in the first half with eight points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. He helped Miami build a 15-point lead at halftime as the team tries to bounce back from a lopsided loss in Game 2. Victor Oladipo started the second half in Butler’s place.

Butler has been the Heat’s leading scorer throughout the playoffs, averaging 29.8 PPG through 12 games, more than double anyone else on the team. He missed Game 5 of the first-round series against Atlanta with the same issue and has been dealing with discomfort in the knee throughout the postseason.

The Celtics had a health scare of their own as Marcus Smart was helped to the locker room with an ankle injury shortly after the second half began, tweets Jared Weiss of The Athletic. Smart suffered a sprain but will try to play through it, a source tells Weiss (Twitter link).

Lakers Notes: Ham, Rivers, Pelinka, Brockington

Bucks assistant Darvin Ham is the only finalist for the Lakers‘ coaching vacancy without previous head coaching experience, but he apparently has the support of LeBron James, according to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report“He’s the guy LeBron wants,” a source from a rival team tells Pincus.

Ham, 48, also has the advantage of a previous relationship with the Lakers. After his playing career ended, his first NBA job was an an assistant coach in L.A., where he stayed for two seasons before joining Mike Budenholder’s staff in Atlanta and later in Milwaukee. Ham possesses a strong personality and plenty of energy, and Pincus believes he could be the best choice to motivate the Lakers’ veteran-laden roster.

Assessing the other finalists, Pincus calls Terry Stotts the “safest choice,” but says he’ll need an experienced assistant to handle the defense, and he views Kenny Atkinson as a “wild card” with a reputation for being rigid in his approach to the game.

There’s more on the Lakers:

  • None of the finalists inspire any excitement, writes Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times, who says the Lakers need to find a way to acquire Doc Rivers from the Sixers. Rivers still has three seasons left on his contract in Philadelphia and recently received a vote of confidence from president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, but Plaschke cites rumors that Morey would prefer Mike D’Antoni, especially in the wake of the Sixers’ second-round exit. Plaschke theorizes that the Lakers would have already hired Rivers if he weren’t under contract with another team.
  • Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and Nets GM Sean Marks were seen meeting at the NBA Combine this week, tweets Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog. While no details of the conversation were made public, it’s worth noting that the Lakers had internal discussions about acquiring Kyrie Irving before he resumed playing in January.
  • The Lakers are part of a growing list of teams that have lined up a workout with Iowa State guard Izaiah Brockington, per Spencer Davies of Basketball News. Brockington wasn’t invited to the Draft Combine or the G League Elite Camp, but he has already worked out for the Hawks and sources tell Davies that as many as 14 teams are interested in seeing him in action. The Lakers don’t have any picks in this year’s draft, so they would have to trade for one or hope to sign him as a free agent if he goes undrafted.

Warriors Notes: Payton, Wiggins, Curry, Moody

In an article for The Players Tribune, Warriors guard Gary Payton II says there’s no lingering dispute with the GrizzliesDillon Brooks over a hard foul that left Payton with a fractured left elbow. Payton reveals that Brooks apologized outside Golden State’s locker room following the conclusion of their second-round series.

“I give Dillon a lot of credit for that — no text, no social media, nothing indirect,” Payton writes. “He came in person, and we talked like grown men. He told me he didn’t mean to hurt me. I believe him.”

Payton adds that he’s staying positive despite a three- to five-week prognosis that means he may not return before the Warriors’ playoff run is over. He says his attitude is a product of all the work it took for him to make the league and to earn a roster spot with Golden State.

“From Day One, back when I first got with this team, all I wanted more than anything was to just stick around — that was my motto,” Payton writes. “Because I knew that if I could just do that, eventually I was going to play my way into the rotation. I was going to make an impact, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind. Early on, they’d bring guys in to have a look at them or whatever, and I’d D them up like my actual life depended on it. It was like, Nope. No sir. You are not taking my spot. Not today.”

There’s more on the Warriors:

  • Andrew Wiggins is listed as questionable for Sunday night’s Game 3, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Wiggins, who has a sore left ankle, is averaging 17.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in the first two games of the series, MacMahon notes, and he’s been the team’s primary defender against Luka Doncic. Wiggins twisted the ankle late in the first half Friday night (video link from Anthony Slater of The Athletic). Coach Steve Kerr expects him to play, Slater adds (Twitter link).
  • After two years away from the playoffs, Stephen Curry is providing a reminder of how dangerous he can be in closing out games, writes Marcus Thompson of The Athletic. Curry leads all postseason scorers this year with 104 fourth-quarter points, and he’s done it in just 79 minutes. “I thought Steph kind of smelled blood in the water those last five minutes (Friday),” Kerr said, “and he got to his spots. We had good spacing, and he got in in the middle of (the) paint, and he finished. … So Steph did what Steph does, something like that.”
  • Kerr trusted Moses Moody to be part of his lineup that opened the fourth quarter, per Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area. The 19-year-old rookie played nearly 10 minutes in the final quarter and registered a plus-8. “Moses is extremely mature, and what makes him special is he’s ready for any moment,” Jordan Poole said. “For him to come in and step up and play big minutes in the Western Conference finals and help us pull out a win is huge.”

Mavericks Notes: Roster, Kidd, Bullock, Doncic

Letting a 19-point lead slip away Friday night was a reminder that the Mavericks still have work to do on their roster, writes Tim Cato of The Athletic. Dallas controlled much of Game 2 after building an early 26-10 lead, but couldn’t stop the Warriors when it mattered and now faces a 2-0 deficit in the Western Conference Finals.

Coach Jason Kidd only has six players that he can trust for significant minutes, Cato notes. Frank Ntilikina played just four minutes in Game 2 and didn’t score. Kidd tried Josh Green in the second half, but he missed the only shot he took in five minutes. Spencer Dinwiddie had four points and four turnovers as the Mavs’ bench was outscored by Golden State’s 36-13.

Having a healthy Tim Hardaway Jr. might ease the problem, but he’s still recovering after having foot surgery in February. Cato adds that Dallas needs another two-way wing who can match up with the Warriors’ collection of talent at that position, but the team doesn’t have a good option currently on the roster.

There’s more on the Mavericks:

  • Kidd believes his team helped Golden State by taking too many three-point shots, per Tim McMahon of ESPN. Friday’s game turned around in the third quarter as the Mavs scored just 13 points and shot 2-of-13 from long distance. “If you make [threes], that’s great, but you just have to understand, if you miss four in a row, you can’t take the fifth,” Kidd said. “You’ve got to make it. That just puts too much stress on yourself and on your team because, if you’re not getting stops on the other end, it turns into a blowout.”
  • The Warriors won by controlling the area near the basket on both ends of the court, according to Eddie Sefko of Dallas was outscored in the paint, 62-30, and was outrebounded by a 43-30 margin. “Small, small-ball,” Kidd said. “When you say the overall playoffs, we did start off without Luka (Doncic), who is our best rebounder. But just being small. Sometimes, we’ll give up the rebound to take advantage of the offensive side. But when we do win, we rebound the ball, and we have to do a better job of that.”
  • Hardaway is the only player listed on the Mavs’ injury report for Game 3, tweets Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News, who adds that the stitches Reggie Bullock received in his right eyebrow and the lingering pain in Doncic’s right shoulder don’t appear to be serious concerns.

Kyle Lowry Intends To Return In Game 3; Robert Williams Unlikely To Play

5:22pm: Williams is expected to miss tonight’s game, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

1:03pm: Heat star Kyle Lowry plans to go through his pre-game routine with the intention of returning in Game 3 on Saturday night, head coach Erik Spoelstra said, as relayed by Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel (Twitter link). Spoelstra also confirmed that P.J. Tucker intends to do the same thing, as we relayed.

Lowry has missed Miami’s last four games due to a strained hamstring, while Tucker is dealing with a knee contusion. Lowry did return for Games 3 and 4 against Philadelphia last round, but it caused him to re-aggravate the hamstring. He originally suffered the injury in Game 3 of the first round against Atlanta.

The Celtics added a player to their injury report for Saturday’s contest, as Robert Williams III (knee soreness) is now questionable to play, according to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps (Twitter link). Most players listed as questionable during the playoffs wind up being activated – several Heat players have been listed as questionable to this point – but Williams has been dealing with the soreness for quite some time.

The 24-year-old underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus at the end of March. He then suffered a bone bruise in the same knee in Game 6 of the second round, causing soreness and swelling. Williams has averaged 11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 24.1 minutes through the first two games this series, shooting 8-of-11 (73%).

Provided he’s healthy and conditioned enough, Lowry should give the Heat a valuable point-of-attack in its starting unit. He averaged a team-high 7.5 assists per game this season and could help the club push the ball in transition, which is essential toward not allowing Boston’s elite defense to set up.

Williams has served as one of the best rim protectors in the league this season. He allows the Celtics to play big and slots alongside Al Horford at center, anchoring one of the best defensive groups in recent memory. He’s also been impactful as a lob threat and strong screen-setter. After Game 3, the Heat and Celtics will meet for Game 4 in Boston on Monday night, then again for Game 5 in Miami on Wednesday.

And-Ones: Riller, Offseason, Micic, Thunder, BIG3

Former Sixers guard Grant Riller has fully recovered from shoulder surgery and plans to work out for teams ahead of free agency this summer, a league source told Hoops Rumors. Riller spent time on two-way contracts with Philadelphia this season and Charlotte last season.

The 25-year-old started this season with Philadelphia, but he was waived upon needing surgery. The operation cost Riller over four months of action and ultimately ended his campaign. He averaged 13.1 points and 3.5 assists in 11 G League games, shooting an efficient 49% from the floor and 46% from deep.

Here are some other odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Bobby Marks of ESPN examines the offseason for all 30 teams, naming every club’s biggest questions and priorities. The NBA draft will be held on June 23, while free agency is set to commence in early July. Some of the biggest free agents will include Bulls guard Zach LaVine, Suns center Deandre Ayton (restricted) and Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson. Nets star Kyrie Irving, Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Sixers guard James Harden also hold player options that could be declined.
  • Donatas Urbonas of examines how Vasilije Micic appears ready to make a jump to the NBA. Micic, whose draft rights are held by the Thunder, played in Turkey this season and could soon join the NBA if the Thunder make it happen. “I’m in a situation where I have two more years of the contract no matter what happens. But of course, I like to look at all kinds of challenges. If this option comes out, I would be ready to risk,” he said.
  • Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports shares the schedule for this year’s BIG3, which is set to tip-off on June 18 in Chicago. The season will last 12 weeks and feature the league’s first-ever All-Star Game, according to Haynes. The draft will be held on May 25.

Magic Notes: Draft, First Pick, Mosley, Weltman, Howard

By securing the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft, the Magic may finally get the impactful big man they’ve been searching for, Zach Kram writes for The Ringer. Orlando has taken chances on young frontcourt players in recent years, drafting Jonathan Isaac sixth overall in 2017, Mohamed Bamba sixth in 2018 and trading for Wendell Carter Jr. in 2021.

To this point, Isaac, Bamba and Carter haven’t been game-changers, though all of them are 24 years or younger. Orlando will select first in the draft, likely choosing from a consensus top-three in Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr. and Paolo Banchero, all of whom are power forwards or centers.

Outside of their big men, the Magic also have young players Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, R.J. Hampton, Chuma Okeke and Franz Wagner. The team is clearly trying to figure out the best combination for the future, a group that could be headlined by whoever it drafts at No. 1 this year.

Here are some other notes from Orlando:

  • Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel examines who the team should draft as it continues its rebuild, specifically with the top selection. The Magic are coming off a 22-60 season, which was the worst record in the Eastern Conference and the second-worst record in the league.
  • Mike Vorkonuv of The Athletic explores the night of the draft lottery, which awarded the team with the No. 1 pick. Head coach Jamahl Mosley replaced president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman on the stage because he “felt lucky”. As it turns out, Mosley had good reason to feel lucky.
  • By securing the top pick, the Magic put the decade-long “Dwightmare” to an end, Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel opines. Bianchi, referring to former Magic center Dwight Howard, explores how Orlando hasn’t received a No. 1 selection since drafting Howard in 2004. Howard had six All-Star seasons in a Magic uniform, with perhaps his best coming in 2010/11 (22.9 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game). The Magic also haven’t won 50 games since then, which was one of the last years Howard played with the team.

New York Notes: Brunson, Stoudemire, Baldwin, Sotto

The Knicks’ top executive, Leon Rose, needs to go all out this summer to sign free agent Jalen Brunson, Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post opines. The Knicks settled for Kemba Walker last summer instead of engaging in an all-out bidding war for Fred VanVleet. The same mistake can’t be made, so Rose must figure out a way to clear more cap space and give Brunson a competitive offer. Vaccaro also notes Brunson’s father, Rick Brunson, was Rose’s first-ever client as a player agent.

We have more on the New York teams:

  • Amar’e Stoudemire clarified comments he made on ESPN shows regarding Kyrie Irving and the Nets organization in an Instagram post (hat tip to Chris Milholen of Stoudemire told coach Steve Nash he was leaving his post as a player development coach due to his religious obligations prior to his TV appearances and has no issue with Nash or GM Sean Marks. He also said he wasn’t trying to blast Irving when he said Irving “hurt us” due to his lack of availability during the season. “You’re not going to turn me against Kyrie. You’re not going to turn me against the Nets. You’re not going to turn me against anyone. So you can forget about it,” Stoudemire said.
  • The Knicks have quietly added Vince Baldwin — a longtime Nike talent scout — as a “talent evaluator,” Marc Berman of the New York Post reports. Baldwin has extensive contacts in the high school and college ranks and is close with Knicks senior executive William Wesley. The Knicks also hired Tim Hardaway Sr. as a scout without making an official announcement.
  • Center prospect Kai Sotto will work out for the Knicks on Monday, Adam Zagoria of tweets. The 7’3” big man from the Philippines spent last season in Australia’s National Basketball League, averaging 7.5 PPG and 4.5 RPG for the Adelaide 36ers.

Draft Notes: Diabate, Branham, Davis, Moore

Following a strong showing at the Draft Combine this week, Michigan freshman forward Moussa Diabate is mulling whether to stay or go, Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News writes.

“It’s a situation where I feel like I’ll be able to rise and get better,” Diabate said. “I don’t want to just go in there and just end up staying in the league for three years and just get out. I’m trying to get something where the structure is going to be solid and it’s going to help me grow as a man and as a basketball player.”

Diabate is ranked just 67th on ESPN’s Best Available board but may have improved his stock since the latest update. Diabate averaged 9.0 PPG and 6.0 RPG as a freshman.

We have more draft-related notes:

  • Malaki Branham created more buzz at the combine than any other player and it’s likely he’ll go in the lottery, Mike Babcock of Basketball News tweets. The Ohio State shooting guard is currently ranked No. 14 on ESPN’s Best Available list. He averaged 13.7 PPG for the Buckeyes as a freshman and made 41.6% of his 3-point attempts.
  • Kendric Davis is withdrawing from the draft and will play for Memphis next season, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports tweets. He averaged 19.4 PPG and 4.4 APG for SMU last season.
  • Isaih Moore is also withdrawing from the draft, Rothstein adds in another tweet. Previously at St. John’s and Southern Miss, Moore will transfer to Fresno State.