Pacific Notes: McNair, Achiuwa, Clippers, Johnson

New Kings general manager Monte McNair will be bringing an impressive resume to Sacramento, per Kyle Ramos of Kings.com. McNair served in various capacities with the Rockets for over a decade, mostly recently as vice president of basketball operations under general manager Daryl Morey.

McNair puts a special emphasis on using analytics in his player assessments, thanks in large part to his tenure with Houston. Ramos cites McNair’s discussion of this very topic at various MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conferences. “Organizationally, it helps to have that philosophy where it’s like ‘Hey, we’re going to try stuff until it works’ and you can look across other sports to see what they’ve done to innovate,” McNair said at the 2020 Sloan Conference.

There’s more out of the NBA’s Pacific Division:

  • Energetic Memphis big man Precious Achiuwa could be a great fit for the Kings with the No. 12 pick in this year’s NBA draft, writes James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area.
  • Andrew Greif of the LA Times examines what went wrong for the Clippers‘ ignominious early playoff exit. an executive who spoke with Greif opined that Los Angeles will remain vulnerable without a play-making point guard. “Running it back is great, but the Clippers are beatable,” the executive told Greif. “They need a point guard. They’ve got to get one. They need better chemistry. They’ve got to do a better job scheming and adjusting.”
  • Suns rookie forward Cameron Johnson, the No. 11 pick in the 2019 draft, detailed his experiences on the NBA’s restart campus with Gina Menzell of Valley Tales. He also reflected on what it means to ascend to the next level of basketball talent. “[W]hen you get [to the NBA], now everybody kind of has to play their role, but we still all push to get better in every category,” Johnson said. “For me, it’s a lot of ballhandling, shooting off the dribble, understanding defenses from an offensive perspective and how to attack them.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo Wins MVP Honors

1:05PM: Giannis Antetokounmpo has officially been voted the league MVP for 2019/20, per a tweet from NBA TV.

10:15AM: Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo has been named MVP for the second straight season, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The official announcement won’t come until 2pm Eastern Time on NBA TV, but sources tell Woj that the Bucks’ star will be the winner.

The award officially makes Antetokounmpo eligible to sign a super-max contract with Milwaukee during the 2022 offseason, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN (Twitter link). The Bucks hope Antetokounmpo will agree to an extension this year, but Marks notes that he could elect to sign a one-year deal with an option next summer that would be worth 30% of the salary cap. He could then cash in on the super-max the following offseason, giving him five years at 35% of the cap.

Antetokounmpo could only get those figures from the Bucks, giving them a financial advantage in their hopes of keeping their franchise player. Antetokounmpo hasn’t offered much indication of his plans for the future, but he did say he won’t ask for a trade this offseason, and he met recently with team ownership to discuss the direction of the franchise. 

By winning back-to-back MVPs, Antetokounmpo joins an elite list that includes 10 other players, with Golden State’s Stephen Curry the most recent to accomplish it. Antetokounmpo was also named Defensive Player of the Year, making him the third player to win that award and MVP honors in the same season, along with Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon, according to Michael Scotto of USA Today (Twitter link).

Antetokounmpo posted his best statistical season, with career-high averages of 29.5 points and 13.6 rebounds in 63 games. He also averaged 5.6 assists per night and shot .553 from the floor in leading the Bucks to the league’s best regular season record. LeBron James and James Harden were the other MVP finalists.

Heat Notes: Butler, Adebayo, Robinson, ECF Schedule

Jimmy Butler has been a difference maker since coming to Miami, and he proved in Thursday’s Game 2 that it doesn’t have to be with scoring, writes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. Butler shot just 4-of-11 from the field and was limited to 14 points, but he played a huge role on defense as the Heat held the Celtics to 41 points in the second half and just seven in the game’s final 4:25.

“That was winning basketball tonight from Jimmy Butler,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s not about the final line. … Jimmy did so many things in that second half that impacted winning on both ends of the floor. Either the average fan sees it or they don’t, but we don’t care.”

After a bumpy relationship with teammates and management in both Chicago and Minnesota, Butler has been a seamless fit with Miami, which emphasizes both peak conditioning and unfiltered communication. The “Heat culture” played a huge role in Butler’s desire to join the team when he hit free agency last summer.

“We look each other in the eye and tell each other when it’s BS,” Butler said. “Spo is going to do it. I’m going to do it. Jae (Crowder) is going to do it. Tyler (Herro) is going to do it. Duncan (Robinson), all the way down the line. … We know when we’re not playing the way that we’re supposed to be playing. And as bad as it sounds, it’s like a switch. It just turns on, and oh, there we go right there. I’m telling you, straight-face communication, move on and get it done.”

There’s more Heat news to pass along:

  • With Miami trailing by 13 points at halftime Thursday, Spoelstra challenged Bam Adebayo to be “All-Defensive team Bam,” according to Manny Navarro of The Athletic. Adebayo responded not only with better defense, but with 15 third-quarter points to help lead the comeback. He’s an emerging star at age 23 and has become a greater pick-and-roll weapon in the postseason. “Bam is set up for how the league is moving forward: big, athletic, can do multiple things,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said. “Really carved out a space for himself in this league.”
  • With shooters being a priority throughout the league, Rob Mahoney of The Ringer examines how the Heat were able to find Robinson as an undrafted free agent. After signing a summer league deal with Miami in 2018, Robinson blossomed as a scorer this season, pouring in 13.5 PPG and shooting .446 from 3-point range.
  • Andre Iguodala sat out the second half of Game 2 with a “tight back,” tweets Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel.
  • Competition from other sports has affected the schedule for the Eastern Conference Finals, tweets Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. The every-other-day rotation would normally have Game 4 on Monday, but it has been pushed back to Wednesday to avoid going head-to-head with Monday Night Football. A potential Game 7 may be September 29 or 30, but ESPN has seven baseball playoff series on those dates.

Nuggets Notes: Millsap, Harris, Barton, Playoff Bonuses

Not only does Nuggets forward Paul Millsap want to reach the NBA Finals, he’d like to know what it feels like to defeat LeBron James in a playoff game, writes Kendra Andrews of The Athletic. When he was with the Hawks, Millsap faced James twice in the postseason and got swept both times. James is in Millsap’s way again as L.A. and Denver get ready to open the Western Conference Finals tonight.

“I told him, ‘Man, I tried to get away from you in the East,’” Millsap said about James’ move to the Lakers last season. “‘Then you came to the West.’ But finally, we’re at this juncture in the Western Conference Finals fighting to get to the championship game. He’s got several championships and I’m trying to get my first and I feel like this is my time to do that.”

Along with their shared playoff history, something else Millsap and James share is the ability to remain productive at age 35. James was an MVP finalist this year, while Denver coach Michael Malone said Millsap was the team’s “best player” during the regular season.

“You always have to have people like that, who set good examples, that you look up to,” Millsap said. “(LeBron) understands it. He wants to be the best. He wants to go out there and try to be the best every time he goes out there. So why not look at a guy like that who’s the same age and who’s doing really well in his career and in his life and take some of that with you?”

There’s more on the Nuggets:

  • Gary Harris, who will be among the players responsible for slowing James down, gets his defensive skills from his mother, notes Nick Kosmider of The Athletic. Joy Holmes Harris was a star player at Purdue three decades ago and her influence can be seen in her son, who has been a difference maker since returning from an injured hip late in the first round. “We had all missed ‘G’ out there a lot, and so when he came back it was no surprise the boost he gave us on both ends of the court,” Michael Porter Jr. said. “We’re just glad he’s feeling good and is with us right now.”
  • The Nuggets aren’t optimistic that injured wing Will Barton will be able to join them for their playoff run, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Barton left the Disney World campus August 19 to get a second opinion on a lingering knee issue, and president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said there’s still “no timetable” for his return. “We’re not here without Will,” Connelly said. “He’s such a huge part of our team. He’s working his tail off to try to get right. We thought the resources that were available outside the bubble would be better suited to get him there. There’s no timetable, but even though he’s not here physically, he’s certainly here in spirit.”
  • Millsap and Harris picked up bonuses for reaching the conference finals, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN. Millsap received $200K and Harris got $100K.

Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown Clash After Celtics’ Loss

The Heat rallied Thursday night to take a 2-0 series lead over the Celtics, but the real action was after the game in Boston’s locker room. Malika Andrews of ESPN and Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe both sent out a series of tweets describing angry exchanges and the sound of things being thrown, with much of the yelling coming from Celtics guard Marcus Smart, writes Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Smart, a fiery leader both on and off the court, was reacting after his team let a double-digit lead slip away for the second straight game in the conference finals. Boston led by 17 points in the first half and held an eight-point edge early in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t hold off Miami.

Afterward, a Celtics assistant coach and a team security official mistakenly opened the locker room door and let reporters hear the raw emotions inside. It took nearly 30 minutes before the media were given access to players, Amick adds.

Much of the commotion involved a confrontation between Smart and Jaylen Brown, who had to be separated by teammates, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. Sources tell Charania that Smart came into the locker room complaining that he gets too much blame when things go wrong and saying that other players need to be held accountable as well. As Smart got louder, Brown responded that the players needed to stick together and told Smart to calm down. Sources also noted that Smart had verbal confrontations with assistant coaches during the game.

Sources confirmed that objects were thrown in the exchange between Smart and Brown, but teammates were able to separate them before the dispute turned physical. A source said they have already smoothed things over and are focusing on Game 3.

Brown downplayed the incident when talking to reporters, saying Smart was just trying to motivate the team for the rest of the series.

“A lot of emotions flying around,” Brown said. “I think that’s why we love Marcus. You know, he plays with passion, he’s full of fire, and that’s what I love about him most, to be honest. He has that desire and will, and we need him to continue to have that. It’s ups and downs with families all the time, but we embrace each other for who we are. And who Marcus is, I love him for it. So you’ve got to get ready to come back, take that same fire, (and) add it to Game 3.”

Warriors Notes: Kerr, Wiggins, Trade Exception

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr plans to take a relatively relaxed approach to the team’s offseason mini-camp, scheduled to start next Wednesday. Anthony Slater of The Athletic spoke with Kerr about his approach to the workouts, as well as his thoughts on the recent additions of former team guards Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa to the team. Livingston will be joining the team in a front office role, while Barbosa will serve on the coaching staff.

“We need some young legs on our coaching staff and our players need mentors,” Kerr told Slater. “That’s one of the things I’m so excited about for both Leandro and Shaun joining us. The players need someone they can talk to, go to and ask what it’s like and get an answer from someone who has been in their shoes, literally, in the last couple years.

Here are more Warriors notes:

  • Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area makes the case for why the Warriors should retain, not trade, wing Andrew Wiggins during the 2020 offseason. Wiggins has three years left on the five-year, $148MM contract extension he signed in Minnesota circa 2017.
  • Assuming that the capped-out Rockets will look to make the bulk of their roster transformations through trades that could help the team and save money, Grant Lill of NBC Sports Bay Area thinks that the Warriors could use their $17MM trade exception on either Houston forward Robert Covington and guard Eric Gordon. Covington will collect $25MM over the next two years. Gordon inked a four-year, $75MM extension that will compensate him through the 2023/24 season.
  • In case you missed it, several front offices believe the Warriors would prefer to use their pick in the 2020 draft on a wing. Should Georgia swingman Anthony Edwards be selected with the top pick by the Timberwolves, the team may trade down rather than select point guard LaMelo Ball or center James Wiseman.

Celtics Notes: Raptors Series, Restart Campus, Langford

An intense seven-game war of attrition against the Raptors in the Eastern Semifinals helped prepare the Celtics for their conference finals matchup against the Heat, per Taylor Snow of Celtics.com.

“We lost on a game-winner, we lost a double-overtime game [during the Raptors series], and while we are frustrated, [the Game 1 overtime loss to Miami is] just one game,” starting Celtics center Daniel Theis opined. “We’ve got to do our adjustments, and it’s easy; we’ve just got to get back in transition.”

There’s more out of Boston:

  • The NBA’s Orlando restart campus atmosphere has more or less neutralized a home court advantage for higher-seeded teams, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today“Obviously, as much as the NBA has tried to make the home stuff matter, it just doesn’t,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens observed. “It has no impact, unfortunately.”
  • Celtics rookie shooting guard Romeo Langford left Game 2 of Boston’s Eastern Conference Finals series against Miami early with a right adductor strain. The team tweeted that he was doubtful to suit up again for the contest.
  • In case you missed it, we discussed the gradual progress of forward Gordon Hayward as he continues to rehabilitate from a right ankle sprain.

Heat Notes: Roster, Haslem, ECF

Zach Lowe of ESPN tracks the Heat‘s impressive front office maneuvering that took them from the lottery in 2015 back to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020, despite having traded away a number of their draft picks during that time. Lowe applauds the team’s savvy drafting of All-Star Bam Adebayo and potential future All-Star shooting specialist Tyler Herro in the 2017 and 2019 drafts, respectively.

“The doubt was whether [Adebayo] could really do much on offense,” said Heat senior adviser of basketball operations Chet Kammerer. “I just felt like, with his love for the game and his work ethic, he’s going to be OK in that area.”

The Heat also hit on three undrafted free agent role players in point guard Kendrick Nunn this season, shooting guard Duncan Robinson last year, and forward Derrick Jones Jr. in 2017 after a brief stint with the Suns. Miami was apparently one of two contenders for Dorian Finney-Smith after the 2016 draft, but lost out to the Mavericks.

Of course, All-Star Jimmy Butler was the key addition this offseason. During the 2016/17 “Three Alphas” Bulls season – when Dwyane Wade teamed up with Butler and Rajon Rondo in Chicago – Wade and Butler discussed just how special the much-ballyhooed “Heat culture” really was. That conversation apparently set the stage for Butler prioritizing the Heat above all other suitors in free agency during the summer of 2019, despite Miami lacking any room to sign a maximum-salaried free agent. Miami made a four-team sign-and-trade for the team’s now-top star.

There’s more out of South Beach:

  • The Heat’s playoff-ready roster, comprised by acquiring key under-regarded prospects and never fully bottoming out, is also examined by HoopsHype’s Frank Urbina in another quality piece.
  • 17-season Heat lifer Udonis Haslem, a crucial role player for each of Miami’s three titles, remains noncommittal on whether or not 2019/20 will prove to be his final season as a player, per Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. “There is a value and a need for me here,” Haslem said. “It doesn’t have to be the way that everybody thinks it should be. If I have to put on a suit and stand on the sideline, just because everybody else thinks I should. I found value in this locker room, and I’ve been able to move the needle and help us win games, and that’s what it’s all about.”
  • Ahead of the first game of the Heat’s Eastern Conference Finals series against the Celtics, we asked you who you expected to advance to the NBA Finals from Eastern Conference. As of this writing, the third-seeded Celtics have received 54% of over 1,300 votes.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Memphis Grizzlies.


Salary Cap Outlook

Though they were initially projected to have some cap room this offseason, the Grizzlies all but eliminated that possibility at the trade deadline when they moved three players on expiring contracts – Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, and Solomon Hill – in exchange for three – Justise Winslow, Gorgui Dieng, and Dion Waiters – who have eight-figure salaries for 2020/21.

As a result, the Grizzlies have more than $112MM in guaranteed money on their books for ’20/21, so they’ll operate as an over-the-cap team. They won’t have the bi-annual exception available after using it this past season, but they should be able to utilize the full mid-level exception ($9.26MM) if they so choose.

Our full salary cap preview for the Grizzlies can be found right here.


Roster Decisions To Watch

Options:

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

  • None

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:


2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • None

Second Round:

  • No. 40 overall pick

The Grizzlies finally conveyed the first-round pick they owed to Boston as a result of a 2015 Jeff Green trade. It was protected multiple times and would have been protected again in 2020 if it had landed in the top six, but it came in at No. 14.

Memphis traded its own second-round pick (No. 44) to Chicago but acquired the Suns’ second-rounder (No. 40) in last July’s De’Anthony Melton/Jevon Carter swap.


Three Key Offseason Questions

1. What role do the Grizzlies envision for Justise Winslow?

The Grizzlies got a head-start on their offseason at the 2020 trade deadline when they acquired Winslow in a three-team, seven-player trade with Miami and Minnesota.

Because the Grizzlies had to take on two pricey multiyear contracts in addition to Winslow’s as part of that deal, it eliminated any chance they had of creating cap room this fall, changing the look of the coming offseason.

The organization’s willingness to give up its 2020 cap room by taking on a pair of unwanted contracts signals its fondness for Winslow, who missed most of the 2019/20 campaign due to back and hip issues. While his injury history isn’t particularly encouraging, the former 10th overall pick is still just 24 years old, and the comments out of Memphis following February’s trade suggest the team views him as a foundational piece.

With Winslow on track to return for the start of the ’20/21 season, the Grizzlies will have to come up with a plan for how they want to use him. Some of his best games as a pro came when the Heat moved him into more of a ball-handling role, making him their de facto point guard.

Winslow isn’t going to become the primary ball-handler for a Grizzlies team that features Ja Morant, but does the team view him as someone who could run the second unit? Or will Memphis prefer to keep him on the wing, in what would be his more traditional position? Answering those questions will help determine how the Grizzlies approach the offseason and fill out their bench.

2. Will the Grizzlies re-sign De’Anthony Melton and/or Josh Jackson?

The Grizzlies don’t have any core players hitting the free agent market this fall, but Melton emerged as a solid contributor off the bench and Jackson showed a little upside after eventually being promoted from the G League. Since Melton is a combo guard and Jackson spent most of his time at small forward, Winslow’s role could dictate how aggressive Memphis is in attempting to re-sign either player.

Melton should be the first priority. He’s a talented perimeter defender who had the best net rating (+5.1) of any of the Grizzlies’ full-season rotation players. At age 22, with just two years of experience under his belt, he has plenty of room to improve, and Memphis will have the ability to match any reasonable offer for him, since he’ll be a restricted free agent.

ESPN’s Bobby Marks projects a three-year contract in the $18MM range for Melton, which I think would be a good deal for the Grizzlies — he’d be movable at that price if the team decides in a year or two that he’s not part of the long-term plan.

If his cost exceeds that figure, Memphis will have to be careful. In Morant, Tyus Jones, and possibly Winslow, the team already has several ball-handlers, and Melton isn’t a strong enough shooter to effectively space the floor when he’s playing off the ball, so investing too heavily in him based on his defensive abilities would come with some risk.

As for Jackson, he made positive strides over the course of the season with the Memphis Hustle and later with the Grizzlies, but he still wasn’t close to delivering on the potential that made him the No. 4 pick in the 2017 draft. While Memphis would probably welcome the chance to continue his development on a minimum-salary contract, I’d be surprised if the team went much higher than that to retain him.

3. Will the Grizzlies be active on the trade market again?

Executive VP Zach Kleiman and the Grizzlies’ new-look front office made some of the most impressive and creative trades of the 2020 offseason. They cashed in their Mike Conley stock, moved up in the draft to select Brandon Clarke, acquired a lightly-protected future first-round pick from the Warriors for helping them move Andre Iguodala, and turned Chandler Parsons‘ oversized expiring contract into two expiring deals that could be moved more easily.

While I didn’t like the Grizzlies’ deadline acquisition of Winslow quite as much, the team did well to flip Iguodala – and Jae Crowder‘s expiring deal – for a potentially valuable asset after getting a first-rounder for taking him on just seven months earlier.

With no cap room available this fall, it may be a quiet offseason in Memphis, especially compared to Kleiman’s first summer running the show. However, if the Grizzlies do make any sort of splash, it’s likely to happen on the trade market rather than in free agency.

Without control of their own 2020 first-round pick, the Grizzlies’ assets are somewhat limited, but Gorgui Dieng‘s $17MM expiring contract could help grease the wheels if the team has any targets any mind. And once the draft is over, any of Memphis’ future first-round picks – including the future Utah first-rounder the team controls – would be movable.

I don’t expect the Grizzlies do anything drastic on the trade market this fall, but Kleiman has shown a willingness to be active, so the possibility can’t be ruled out.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NBA Sends Guidelines For Pre-Draft Process To Teams

With the 2020 NBA draft now scheduled to take place on November 18, the league has sent teams a series of revamped guidelines for the pre-draft process, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

With no in-person draft combine taking place this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, 85 prospects will conduct in-market medical exams and testing and will shoot a 45-minute “Pro Day Video” between September 21 and October 16 as part of the first phase of a two-part process, Charania explains.

According to Charania (Twitter link), the plan is for prospects to travel by car to the nearest NBA team market to undergo medical, strength, and agility testing, as well as to take part in eight on-court shooting drills. No team personnel will be permitted at those sessions, as the league will oversee the process and will distribute the info and videos to teams.

Virtual interviews will continue to take place during this time, with teams getting the opportunity to talk to 20 prospects each for 30 minutes apiece, Charania adds.

Charania previously reported that after this first phase of the pre-draft process ends, the expectation is that in-person interviews will be permitted between mid-October and the draft as part of the second phase. Teams reportedly still won’t be able to conduct in-person workouts during that time though.

The annual draft combine had been scheduled to take place in Chicago in May. However, with the coronavirus pandemic still making large in-person gatherings impractical, the NBA has been working for much of the summer on an alternative format that will ensure teams still receive important medical and testing information for most of this year’s top prospects.