Pacific Notes: Leonard, Kings, Lakers, Davis

The Clippers are being cautious with Kawhi Leonard (foot injury recovery) as the playoffs continue to near, Ohm Youngmisuk of details. 

Los Angeles has maintained a minutes restriction for Leonard, who logged 36 minutes in a loss against the Knicks on Sunday afternoon. It was the most playing time Leonard had seen in over a month.

“Right now, Kawhi just can’t play a full quarter, so he can’t play the whole 12-minute stint,” coach Tyronn Lue said when asked about Leonard and Paul George occasionally sitting on the bench together for stretches. “Without having him, it kind of messes up our rotations a little bit.

“So that is where we insert Terance Mann or Luke Kennard in that position and just kind of go from there. But once [Leonard] is cleared to be able to play the whole quarter, we will go back to him finishing the first and third and letting PG play with the second unit to start the quarter.”

Despite the team’s plan, Leonard has assured that he’s in good health and is ready to play. The 2019 NBA Finals MVP has led the Clippers to a 45-23 record through 68 games, good for the third-best in the West.

There’s more from the Southwest Division tonight:

  • The Kings‘ playoff-style game against the Spurs on Friday will help the team in the long run, Jason Jones of The Athletic writes. Sacramento lost the contest 113-104, but the team played meaningful basketball and fought for playoff positioning in the Western Conference. A win would’ve brought the club to 1.5 games behind San Antonio for the No. 10 seed.
  • The Lakers‘ future is now in peril, Mark Whicker of the Orange Country Register writes. Los Angeles is dealing with the uncertain status of LeBron James (ankle) and currently holds the No. 7 seed in the West, trailing the No. 6 seed Blazers by 1.5 games. The team could be forced to compete in the play-in tournament due to an injury-plagued season.
  • Despite seeing his team slip to the No. 7 spot on Friday against Portland, Lakers star Anthony Davis put forth an impressive performance in the loss, Dave McMenamin of ESPN writes. Davis provided the Lakers with some hope in his best game since returning from injury, finishing with 36 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.

Southwest Notes: Ball, Popovich, Griffin, Walker

Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball has shown why he’s so polarizing during the team’s most recent home stretch, Christian Clark of writes.

Ball has delivered both good and bad performances since returning from a hip flexor strain in April, but one thing is certain: New Orleans is a far better team when it receives strong production from the 23-year-old.

“Lonzo is one of the most highly scrutinized players I’ve ever seen,” executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said in March, as noted by Clark. “He has the most polarized narrative around him. He’s either the greatest player in the NBA or the worst player that’s ever played. Apparently, there is no in-between.”

Ball is holding per-game averages of 14.7 points, 5.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds on the season. He’s set to reach restricted free agency this summer.

Here are some other notes from the Southwest Division tonight:

  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich may be the last of his kind, Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News writes. Popovich is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, spending the past 25 years as head coach of the team.
  • The rant delivered by Pelicans EVP of basketball operations David Griffin about the team’s officiating concerns was meant to help Zion Williamson down the road, Scott Kushner of examines. Griffin received a $50,000 fine for criticizing the officiating, noting that Williamson hasn’t received enough respect from many referees this season.
  • Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV enjoys closing out games for the team, though he doesn’t seem to mind coming off the bench to start contests, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News writes. “I could care less about starting,” Walker said. “I could care less about being on the bench. But being able to play in the final few minutes of the game and close it out, that’s my favorite time.”

Eastern Notes: Embiid, Ball, Claxton, Nets

Sixers center Joel Embiid would provide his team with a feel-good matter if he wins the 2020/21 MVP award, head coach Doc Rivers explained, as relayed by Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Embiid is a strong candidate for the award, averaging a career-high 29.2 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 49 games this season. His strongest competition is likely Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, who’s considered by many to be the front-runner.

“I think any individual award, no one does anything by themselves, right?” Rivers said. “So I think it would be a feel-good thing for the entire locker room. You know, obviously for Joel, because it is a hell of an accomplishment.”

In addition to Embiid’s impressive averages, Philadelphia also holds the best record in the Eastern Conference at 47-21.

There’s more from the Eastern Conference tonight:

  • Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer examines how Hornets guard LaMelo Ball has been grabbing at his wrist and whether it should be a concern for the team. Ball recently missed 21 games after fracturing the same wrist, returning to action on May 1.
  • Nets center Nicolas Claxton tested positive for COVID-19 but didn’t experience any symptoms, Brian Lewis of the New York Post writes. Claxton entered the league’s health and safety protocols on April 19. “I was testing positive for COVID,” Claxton said of his recent absence. “But I didn’t have any symptoms. I was just stuck in Miami, just there quarantining for about 10 days so I wasn’t really able to do much. I did a few quarantine workouts, but it’s just tough having to sit like that and then coming out here having to play. It’s just another obstacle. It’s nothing that I can’t conquer. This last week, it’s been a challenge, but it hasn’t been too tough … I’m just trying to get my rhythm back, get my wind back right before the playoffs so we’ll be able to make that push.”
  • Speaking of the Nets, the team will be focused on its health and continuity as the playoffs near, Peter Botte of the New York Post writes. Brooklyn has dealt with significant injuries throughout the season, failing to sport a consistent starting lineup and effectively build chemistry. The team still has one of the most talented rosters in history, particularly on offense, making its future playoff journey intriguing.

Max Abmas Enters 2021 NBA Draft

Oral Roberts sophomore Max Abmas has entered the 2021 NBA Draft while maintaining college eligibility, he told ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. Abmas, a 6’1″ point guard, is a potential first-round pick.

“My plan is to enter the draft and get as much feedback as I can,” he said. “I’m hoping to work my way into the first round or get some type of guaranteed contract to help me decide whether to stay in.”

The 20-year-old Abmas played a key role in Oral Roberts’ success during the 2021 NCAA Tournament. He averaged 24.6 points, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals in 28 games last season, shooting 48% from the floor, 43% from deep and 89% from the charity stripe.

“For me going to Oral Roberts — I’ve seen players like Steph Curry [Davidson] and Damian Lillard [Weber State] who went to mid-majors and showed you can make it from those schools as well,” Abmas said. “I decided to control what I can control and let the rest play out. It came a whole lot faster than I expected.”

As mentioned, Abmas will retain the option to return to school — a decision that’ll largely be based on the feedback he receives from NBA teams. Abmas is one of over 100 college freshmen, sophomores and juniors who are expected to enter the July 29 draft.

Mid-Level, Bi-Annual Projections For 2021/22

Under the NBA’s previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, the values of various salary cap exceptions like the mid-level and bi-annual were established years in advance, but the league’s current CBA tweaked how those exceptions are calculated.

Rather than being determined ahead of time, the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions – along with several other cap-related figures and exceptions – are dependent on the movement of the salary cap from year to year. If the cap increases by 5% from one league year to the next, the exceptions increase by the same rate.

As such, we don’t know yet exactly what those exceptions will be worth in 2021/22, but we can make an educated estimate. When the NBA updated its salary cap projections last November, the league said the cap would increase by a minimum of 3% and a maximum of 10% in ’21/22.

While that’s a pretty wide range, there’s a general belief that an increase on the lower end (3%) is the most likely outcome, given the projected revenue the league has lost this year due to not being able to fill arenas. If the cap does increase by 3%, the values of the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions would increase by 3% too.

[RELATED: Maximum Salary Projections For 2021/22]

Based on a 3% cap increase, here’s what the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions would look like in 2021/22:

Mid-Level Exception

Year Standard MLE
Taxpayer MLE Room MLE
2021/22 $9,536,000 $5,890,000 $4,910,000
2022/23 $10,012,800 $6,184,500 $5,155,500
2023/24 $10,489,600 $6,479,000
2043/25 $10,966,400
Total $41,004,800 $18,553,500 $10,065,500

The standard mid-level exception is available to over-the-cap teams that haven’t dipped below the cap to use room and don’t go over the tax apron. It can run for up to four years, with 5% annual raises. Once a team uses the standard/non-taxpayer MLE, that team is hard-capped at the tax apron for the rest of the league year.

[RELATED: Hoops Rumors Glossary: Mid-Level Exception]

The taxpayer mid-level exception is for in-the-tax teams, or teams that want the flexibility to surpass the tax apron later. It can run for up to three years, with 5% annual raises.

The room exception is for teams that go under the cap and use their space. Once they’ve used all their cap room, they can use this version of the mid-level exception, which runs for up to two years with 5% annual raises.

Bi-Annual Exception

Year BAE Value
2019/20 $3,732,000
2020/21 $3,918,600
Total $7,650,600

The bi-annual exception – which can be used for contracts up to two years, with a 5% raise after year one – is only available to teams that are over the cap and under the tax apron.

It can also only be used once every two years, which will disqualify the Nuggets, Lakers, and Bucks from using it in 2021/22 — they all used their BAE in 2020/21.

Bradley Beal Out Monday Due To Hamstring Strain

4:45pm: Beal has been ruled out for Monday’s game in Atlanta due to his left hamstring strain, the team announced (via Twitter). He will be listed as day-to-day going forward and his status is uncertain for the team’s final three games of the season, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

9:50am: Wizards guard Bradley Beal will undergo testing to determine the severity of a strained hamstring he suffered Saturday night, according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

Beal said he tweaked the hamstring early in the second half and it became more painful as the night went on. He left the game with 21 seconds to play in the fourth quarter and was held out of overtime as Washington defeated Indiana to move into ninth place in the East. Coach Scott Brooks told reporters that Beal’s status will be determined over the next few days.

“I knew it was a little tight in the second half,” Beal said. “First play of the second, I twisted my ankle … I went back out there, my left hammy felt a little tight. I didn’t think anything of it, kept playing. I think the layup on (Doug) McDermott put us up one, it kind of intensified a little bit, and then the floater I missed at the end, it definitely kind of put me over the top.”

Washington has four games remaining as it tries to move into the upper play-in game. The Wizards will play twice in Atlanta, then will finish the season at home against the Cavaliers and Hornets. They are currently a game and a half behind eighth-place Charlotte.

In addition to the playoff race, Beal’s injury could affect the battle for the scoring title. He poured in 50 points last night and is averaging 31.4 PPG, trailing the Warriors’ Stephen Curry, who is at 31.9 PPG.

“Let’s hope for good news and that he is all good to go,” Russell Westbrook said. “His night can’t go unnoticed either. He had 50 … He has been keeping us together along the season and (been) very exceptional. I am grateful to have him as a teammate.”

Magic Sign Donta Hall For Remainder Of Season

MAY 9: The Magic have officially signed Hall for the rest of the season via a hardship exception, the team announced today in a press release. The deal, which covers eight days, will be worth $79,216.

MAY 8: The Magic will sign forward Donta Hall to a rest-of-season contract, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

Orlando signed Hall to a pair of 10-day contracts, the second of which was set to expire on Sunday. Before that deal ran its full course, the club inked Ignas Brazdeikis to a 10-day contract and released Hall.

The 23-year-old Hall has played eight games for the Magic, averaging 3.1 PPG and 4.4 RPG in 11.5 MPG. Hall also played in a total of nine games for Detroit and Brooklyn last season.

Orlando turned back to Hall after an apparent agreement with Admiral Schofield failed to materialize. It’s believed the injury-riddled Magic will sign Hall using the hardship exception.

Former Pelican Will Magnay Resumes Career In Australia

Former Pelicans big man Will Magnay, who was on a two-way contract with New Orleans until he was waived last month, has returned to his home country of Australia, signing with the Perth Wildcats for the rest of the 2020/21 campaign, per a press release from the team.

“The opportunity to play basketball again, at such a historic team like Perth, is exciting,” Magnay said in a statement. “I’m just dying to get back on the court.”

A 6’10” center, Magnay appeared in just one game for the Pelicans as an NBA rookie, going scoreless in three minutes. He also averaged 9.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 1.5 BPG in 10 appearances (22.2 MPG) for the Erie BayHawks in the G League. He was released in April when New Orleans signed James Nunnally to a two-way deal.

Magnay, who will turn 23 next month, played one year of college ball at Tulsa in 2016/17 before heading back to Australia, where he spent his first three professional seasons under contract with the Brisbane Bullets in the National Basketball League. He was named the NBL’s Most Improved Player in ’19/20 and was the runner-up for the Best Defensive Player award, earning him a shot in the NBA this season.

Knicks Notes: Vildoza, Thibodeau, Payton, Barrett

Although Argentinian guard Luca Vildoza will join the Knicks soon, he may not start playing until next season, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. The team signed Vildoza to a four-year, $13.6MM contract this week, but coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t have much to say about him during a session with the media before Friday’s game.

“It’s going to take some time for him to get over here,” Thibodeau said. “Our scouts really liked him. We’ll have time to evaluate him over the summer.” He later added, “There’s a whole process that he’s going to have to go through, so it’s going to be more of a summer thing.’’

Thibodeau’s statements seem to indicate that he will stick with Elfrid Payton as his starting point guard, Berman adds, even though Payton hasn’t been effective lately. He was a minus-23 in Friday’s loss to Phoenix and has posted negative ratings in seven of the past 12 games. Still, Thibodeau likes the size and agility Payton brings on defense and doesn’t want to damage his confidence heading into the playoffs.

Sources told Berman that Thibodeau’s attitude toward Vildoza is a show of support for his current players, who will each miss out on a $200K bonus because the Knicks reached the salary cap floor by signing Vildoza. It will take time for Vildoza to get immigration clearance because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s not certain when he will join the team.

There’s more from New York:

  • In an interview with Gigantes del Basket, Vildoza said he has always dreamed of playing in the NBA, relays Ennio Terrasi Borghesan of Sportando. “For me it’s like living a dream,” he said. “I don’t like leaving in the middle of the season. … (But) it’s a unique opportunity that may never happen again, I didn’t want to miss it.”
  • RJ Barrett‘s improved shooting in his second NBA season has contributed to the Knicks’ turnaround, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Barrett spent the offseason focusing on his shot after being disappointed with his performance as a rookie. “You just have to keep working,” Barrett said. “If you can just get the results you want that easily, everybody would be where they want to be.”
  • The strong defensive mentality that Thibodeau has installed is drawing comparisons to the best teams in Knicks’ history, states Steve Popper of Newsday.

Pelicans’ David Griffin Fined $50K

The NBA has fined Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin $50K for “public criticism of the officiating and comments detrimental to the NBA,” the league announced (via Twitter).

Griffin’s comments came Friday in response to a fractured finger that could keep Zion Williamson out for the rest of the  season, writes Christian Clark of Griffin called the injury “avoidable” and said referees are allowing opponents to enjoy an “open season” on the second-year forward.

“We told the NBA through every means available to us … that the way they were officiating Zion was going to get him injured,” Griffin said. “Quite frankly, he’s injured because of the open season that there’s been on Zion Williamson in the paint. He has been absolutely mauled in the paint on a regular basis to the point where other players have said to him, ‘I’m going to keep doing this to you’ because they don’t call it. There is more violence encouraged on him in the paint than any player I’ve seen since (Shaquille O’Neal). It was egregious and horrific then. The same is true now.”

Griffin said Williamson’s injury didn’t occur on a single play, but was the result of excessive contact “over a period of time.”

“It’s a blunt-force injury,” Griffin said. “He was being beaten on the hand over and over and over again. For me to tell you one time, I don’t think I can do that. I don’t think he knows one time.”