Community Shootaround: Warriors Without Durant

When Kevin Durant limped off the court on May 8, there were concerns that his strained calf could end the Warriors’ quest for a third straight NBA title and maybe even knock them out in the second round.

Golden State pulled out Game 5 against the Rockets that night and hasn’t lost since, building a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors have reverted back to a brand of basketball that was successful before Durant arrived, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all taking expanded roles on offense.

That’s important not only for the rest of the playoffs, but maybe for next season as rumors continue  that Durant will leave for the Knicks or possibly somewhere else this summer. Although the Warriors finally have full Bird rights on Durant and can offer him more than anyone else, the challenge of succeeding in a new situation might be more important to him than money.

Although it won’t be easy to replace 26.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, Golden State would essentially go back to the same team that won a title and then 73 games in the two seasons before Durant arrived. Curry has reverted to his MVP form since Durant’s injury, and Thompson and Green have been better as well with more shots available.

There has been talk that the Warriors are better without Durant, but Sam Amick of The Athletic dismisses that as a ridiculous notion. He points out that Durant has been the MVP of the last two NBA Finals and that the team didn’t reach a dynasty level until Durant arrived.

Durant’s teammates don’t believe it either.

“I think everybody in this organization knows that we’re a better team with Kevin,” Quinn Cook told Amick after Thursday’s game. “… He’s been a superstar since he’s been in the league, so there’s a different narrative every day. I think he’s used to that. (But) he has a relationship with everybody on the team, so I think he knows how we all feel about him. … Everybody has to step up in his absence. That’s really the biggest thing. Everybody has been stepping up because we know we don’t have the best player on our team.”

We want to get your opinion on how the Warriors will survive without Durant — during the rest of the playoffs if he can’t return and next season if he signs somewhere else. Please leave your answers in the space below.

Lakers Angling For Antetokounmpo?

The Lakers have stated that they want Jason Kidd on their coaching staff to serve as a veteran assistant to Frank Vogel and a mentor to Lonzo Ball, but the real reason may be more ambitious, according to Steve Popper of Newsday.

A source familiar with the Lakers told Popper at this week’s draft combine that the Lakers are hoping to make a pitch for MVP finalist Giannis Antetokounmpo when he becomes a free agent in 2021. They hope Kidd will provide the personal connection needed to attract the Bucks star.

Kidd was Antetokounmpo’s coach for three and a half years in Milwaukee before being fired in the middle of the 2017/18 season. He helped Antetokounmpo develop from a part-time player as a rookie into one of the NBA’s top talents.

L.A. currently doesn’t have any salary committed past 2021 other than $5MM owed for the final year of Luol Deng‘s stretched contract. LeBron James has a $41MM player option for the 2021/22 season, while Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart will all be eligible for extensions by then.

Although nobody can tell what might happen in two years, the Lakers seem to have a tough sell to convince Antetokounmpo to leave a Bucks team that appears headed for a long run as a title contender. Beyond that, he will likely be eligible for a supermax contract that would pay him 35% of the salary cap, but that’s an offer that only the Bucks can make.

Winning this year’s MVP honors would automatically qualify him for a super-max, as would being named Defensive Player of the Year or making an All-NBA team in 2021 or two of the next three seasons.

Bulls Notes: Bzdelik, Adams, Draft, Dunn

Former Rockets assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik could be a candidate to join Jim Boylen’s staff in Chicago, tweets K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. The Rockets decided not to pursue a new contract with Bzdelik, who is considered the architect of the defense in Houston. He briefly retired from the game last fall before rejoining the Rockets in November.

The Bulls interviewed Bzdelik for an assistant’s job in 2002 and were interested in hiring him before he joined the Nuggets. He also interviewed with executive vice president John Paxson for Chicago’s head coaching position in 2008. Bzdelik hasn’t decided if he wants to keep coaching next season, but Johnson notes that the Bulls still have an opening to fill.

There’s more today from Chicago:

  • Mark Adams, an assistant at Texas Tech and a long-time friend of Boylen’s, had discussions about coming to the Bulls but decided to remain in Lubbock, tweets Jeff Goodman of Stadium.
  • The Bulls are looking at Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, Duke’s Cam Reddish and North Carolina’s Coby White as possibilities in next month’s draft, Johnson writes in a full story. Paxson said after the lottery that he is open to all possibilities with the No. 7 pick, including a trade. If the Bulls keep their selection, they could choose a defensive upgrade in Culver, a shooting specialist in Reddish or address a position of need by taking White. “I’m a point guard,” White said when asked where he projects himself in the NBA. “Put the ball in my hands.”
  • The Bulls may opt to give Kris Dunn another chance rather than chase a crop of free agent point guards that isn’t outstanding, speculates Sam Smith of NBA.com. Dunn only established himself as a scorer occasionally under coach Fred Hoiberg and he never gained the trust of Boylen once he took over the team, Smith adds. However, with D’Angelo Russell and Terry Rozier both being restricted free agents — and Ricky Rubio and Darren Collison as realistic alternatives — Chicago may decide to spend its free agent money elsewhere.

Grizzlies Interview Igor Kokoskov

Former Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov is the latest candidate to interview for the head coaching vacancy in Memphis, tweets Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

Kokoskov was fired last month after just one season with Phoenix, leading the Suns to a 19-63 record, which tied for the second-worst mark in the league. He reportedly had two years remaining on the contract he signed last summer.

[RELATED: 2019 NBA Head Coaching Search Tracker]

Jazz assistant Alex Jensen and Warriors assistant Jarron Collins are the only other known candidates to interview with the Grizzlies. Memphis is also believed to have interest in Lithuania’s Sarunas Jasikevicius.

The Grizzlies and Timberwolves are the only teams currently conducting coaching searches. The Kings, Suns, Lakers and Cavaliers have already filled their vacancies.

Draft Notes: Combine, Langford, Horton-Tucker, Acquaah

The competition to be the No. 4 pick remains unsettled after this week’s draft combine, according to Scott Gleeson of USA Today. Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, Duke’s Cam Reddish and North Carolina’s Coby White all improved their standing through measurements and drills, Gleeson states, but Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter may have helped themselves just as much by skipping the combine.

Duke’s Zion Williamson, Murray State’s Ja Morant and Duke’s R.J. Barrett are believed to have the top three spots locked up, leaving a difficult decision at the fourth pick for the Lakers or whomever they deal the selection to.

Gleeson identifies several players who stock either rose or fell at the combine. Among the winners are UCF’s Tacko Fall, Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, Tennessee’s Jordan Bone, North Carolina’s Nassir Little, Croatian Luka Samanic and Virginia’s Kyle Guy. Gleeson’s list of players who failed to help themselves includes Oregon’s Bol Bol, Kentucky’s Tyler Herro, former Syracuse signee Darius Bazley and St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds.

There’s more draft news to pass along:

  • Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated also chimes in with a list of draft risers and fallers based on their performance at the combine. He believes Georgia guard Nicolas Claxton improved his chances of being selected in the first round with an impressive defensive performance, while LSU guard Tremont Waters helped ease worries about his size and Miami’s Dewan Hernandez showed off his athleticism after sitting out the season because of connections to the FBI investigation.
  • Indiana’s Romeo Langford says he has fully recovered from the back problems that bothered him in college, tweets Scott Agness of The Athletic. Langford met with 13 teams at the combine, including the Pacers, Celtics (Twitter link) and Pistons (Twitter link).
  • Iowa State’s Talen Horton-Tucker is committed to staying in the draft as he hopes to become the Cyclones’ first player taken in the first round since 2012, relays Travis Hines of The Ames Tribune. A top 50 recruit coming out of high school, Horton-Tucker has already interviewed with 14 teams.
  • Milan Acquaah of Cal Baptist has taken his name out of the draft, tweets Jeff Goodman of Stadium.

Rockets Part Ways With Jeff Bzdelik

Rockets associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik has been let go by the organization, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports.

Houston technically took no action, as Bzdelik’s contract expired at the end of this past season. The coach has been with the Rockets since 2016, though he had been publicly noncommittal about his future with the club over the past year.

Bzdelik, who has a background in scouting in addition to coaching, has previously been an assistant in Denver, Memphis, and Washington. He also spent several seasons in the college ranks as a head coach at Air Force, Colorado, and Wake Forest.

Heat Notes: Conley, Nunn, Dragic

The Mike Conley-to-the-Heat talk is just that at the moment. It’s strictly speculation, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel, though the scribe wonders if there’s a potential deal that makes sense for both Miami and Memphis.

Matching salary would be easy if Hassan Whiteside opts in and the Grizzlies are willing to take back the center as a main pillar of the trade. However, what would Miami have to add as an incentive for Memphis to make the move? The Grizzlies would get out of Conley’s contract, which runs through the 2020/21 season, though the franchise would undoubtedly want more than just cost savings if they deal their long-time point guard.

The Heat are not in a position to trade away their first-rounder this year (No. 13 overall), having given away their 2021 selection in the Goran Dragic deal. The organization could offer Dragic (assuming he opts in) in place of Whiteside, but that kind of deal doesn’t really move the needle for Miami.

Then there are the financial repercussions for Miami in taking back Conley. He’ll collect approximately $32.5MM and $34.5MM in each of the next two seasons (Conley has an ETO on the 2020/21 season, but it would be shocking if he opts out). As it currently stands, the Heat’s first shot at sizeable cap space is prior to the 2020/21 season and trading for Memphis’ point guard would delay that eureka moment by an entire calendar year.

Here’s more from Miami:

  • Kendrick Nunn is guaranteed $50K if he’s on the roster come July 1 and Winderman contends (in the same piece) that Nunn’s future with the Heat could be tied to the team’s draft. If Miami acquires a second-round pick—Minnesota owns their 2019 selection—then Nunn’s spot on the team may be in jeopardy.
  • A source close to Dragic would be “very surprised” if the point guard opts to hit the free agent market this summer, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald relays. Dragic likes playing for the Heat, though the decision could come down to whether his camp gets the sense that a long-term lucrative deal awaits him this offseason.
  • The Heat are operating under the assumption that both Whiteside and Dragic will opt into their respective deals for next season, Winderman writes in a separate piece. Whiteside’s player option for 2019/20 is worth approximately $27.1MM while Dragic’s comes in at roughly $19.2MM.
  • Patience with Dion Waiters and James Johnson was wearing thin during the 2018/19 campaign, Winderman adds in the same article. Both players have had injury woes throughout their respective contract with the Heat, though Winderman writes that it doesn’t mean there isn’t an “avenue for redemption” next season. Each players’ contract runs through the 2020/21 season, though Johnson’s pact contains a player option on that final season.

Rival Teams Wary Of Signing Kyrie Irving?

Multiple teams that were said to have interest in pursuing Kyrie Irving this summer are having second thoughts, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald writes. Irving will undoubtedly land a max contract, though his list of suitors may not be as long as anticipated just months ago.

The pause on Irving is a byproduct of how he ended his campaign with the Celtics. Two clubs are telling people around the league that they will only go after the point guard if another marquee free agent says he wants to play with Irving. Bulpett writes that the main target for each of these franchises is a different player and one of the teams had concerns that ownership would overrule the front office and dictate an Irving pursuit, though those concerns have been alleviated.

The talk behind the scenes is all over the place. Bulpett heard months ago that a source within the Knicks‘ front office was convinced that Irving and Kevin Durant were coming to New York. However, the scribe hears from an NBA agent that Irving wants the Nets and Durant favors the Knicks, thus causing a dilemma in the duo teaming up. Someone within the Warriors‘ organization tells Bulpett that Irving and Durant definitely spoke about the possibility of joining forces and Bulpett hears from another source that the Brooklyn talk is just a smokescreen.

The Celtics continue to hold out hope that Irving will re-sign with the team. It was reported earlier in the week that the front office believed that trading for Anthony Davis would make Irving warm up to the idea of returning. Irving has a Nike commercial in which he has his number retired in Boston and the organization hopes that becomes reality.

Two summers ago when Irving demanded a trade from the Cavs, some front offices were told by his camp that he would not re-sign with them. Some executives got the feeling that Irving got exactly what he wanted with the trade to Boston.

“We were told that the team he wanted to go to was getting ready to trade for him,” one general manager tells Bulpett. “And that team was Boston. So the Celtics were where he wanted to go. He got what he wanted. Now here we are two years later. Crazy.”

Hoops Rumors Originals: 5/11/19 – 5/18/19

Every week, the Hoops Rumors writing team creates original content to complement our news feed. Here are our segments and features from the past seven days:

Northwest Notes: O’Neale, Jazz, Nuggets, Wolves

While the Jazz‘ 2019 playoff run was short-lived, Royce O’Neale‘s performance in the team’s five-game series vs. Houston was encouraging. A role player who averaged 20.4 minutes per game during the regular season, O’Neale increased his averages across the board against the Rockets, recording 10.6 PPG and 4.6 RPG in 27.4 MPG.

The 25-year-old forward was also frequently tasked with the defensive assignment of guarding James Harden, and said that the MVP candidate gave him words of “encouragement and motivation” at the end of the series, as Aaron Falk of UtahJazz.com details.

“Just goes to show all the hard work that I’ve put in isn’t taken for granted,” O’Neale said. “A lot of people are showing respect when it’s due. Earning that respect from him was one of the good moments. It made me feel like I’m becoming somebody in this league.”

The Jazz enter the offseason prepared to make some changes to a roster that hasn’t been able to get over the hump in the playoffs over the last two years. However, it’s unlikely that they’ll part ways with O’Neale, despite the fact that his 2019/20 salary is non-guaranteed — at a rate of $1,618,520, he’ll likely be one of the league’s better bargains next season.

Here’s more from around the Northwest: