Southwest Notes: Melton, Grizzlies, Silas, Wood

Should Tyus Jones find a lucrative deal in free agency this summer, the Grizzlies might have a replacement who’s already on the roster in De’Anthony Melton, writes Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Melton was a solid contributor for Memphis this season, averaging 10.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.4 steals on .404/.374/.750 shooting in 73 regular season games (22.7 minutes). He’s also an impressive, versatile defender capable of playing both guard positions.

Melton’s postseason stats dropped off considerably, averaging 5.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1 steal on .323/.250/.750 shooting in 10 games (17 minutes). Still, he’s only 23 years old and certainly looks capable of continued improvement.

Ball-handling, getting that one-two go-to getting my shot off,” Melton said when naming offseason improvements. “I think I realized how effective my jump-shooting is this year. I just got to learn how to get to it more and get to it more efficiently.”

Here’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Grizzlies had a wildly successful season despite falling to the Warriors in the Western Conference Semifinals, finishing with a 56-26 regular season record — the second-best mark in the NBA — after many predicted they’d be in the play-in tournament prior to the season. They also have the flexibility to make major moves this summer if they so choose, with a great young roster, cap space, all of their own future first-round picks, and the Nos. 22, 29, and 47 picks in the upcoming draft. Yet all that flexibility might lead to a quiet offseason, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic, who reports that the team has informed agents that it intends to either select a draft-and-stash prospect or a two-way player with the 47th pick due to a lack of roster spots.
  • In an interview with Kelly Iko of The Athletic, Rockets coach Stephen Silas said one of his primary focuses for next season will be improving the team’s defense, which ranked 29th in the league in 2021/22. “I want to be a better defensive team. We just have to be, and for young guys, that’s hard. Hard for them to grasp the defensive end and be able to anticipate what’s coming. To see a set develop and know where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there and be there on time. I want to improve on the defensive end,” Silas said.
  • In a separate article for The Athletic, Iko examines Christian Wood‘s fit on the Rockets‘ roster going forward. Sources tell Iko that rival teams remain interested in Wood’s services despite his sometimes childish behavior, which makes sense considering the 26-year-old averaged 17.9 points and 10.1 rebounds on .501/.390/.623 shooting in ’21/22. He’ll be on an expiring $14.3MM contract next season.

Lakers Hiring Darvin Ham As Head Coach

The Lakers are hiring Bucks assistant Darvin Ham to be their new head coach, sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

The first-time head coach will receive a four-year contract, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic.

According to Wojnarowski, Ham interviewed for the vacancy on Thursday and was offered the job on Friday. He impressed the Lakers’ brass with his “commanding presence, history of coaching stars and toughness.” Ham’s coaching staff is likely to include assistants with prior head coaching experience, Woj adds. (Twitter links).

Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic reported a week ago that Ham was considered the leading candidate for the position. He’ll replace Frank Vogel, who was fired at the end of the team’s disappointing season.

Ham started his NBA career as a player, appearing in 417 games from 1996-2005 and winning a championship as a bit player for the Pistons in 2004.

The 48-year-old has ties to the Lakers organization, as his first role as an NBA assistant coach came with L.A. from 2011-2013. Ham has spent the last nine seasons working under head coach Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta and Milwaukee, winning a title with the Bucks last season.

Ham has received consideration from multiple teams with head coaching openings in recent years and interviewed with the Kings before they hired Mike Brown earlier this month. He was also said to be a “serious candidate” for the Hornets’ vacancy.

Lakers star LeBron James sent out a tweet expressing excitement and congratulating Ham on receiving the job.

Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson and former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts were the other finalists for L.A.’s vacancy. Both reportedly interviewed for Charlotte’s lead job as well.

Although the Lakers won a title just two seasons ago, they’ve struggled since, having been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in 2020/21 and finishing with a 33-49 record this past season, which was 11th in the West and outside of the play-in tournament. Injuries to James and Anthony Davis have certainly played a factor in the downturn, but Ham will have his hands full working with a top-heavy roster that includes Russell Westbrook, who struggled mightily in his first season in Los Angeles.

Herro To Miss Game 6; Smart, R. Williams Active

6:36pm: Smart and Williams will both be active for Boston, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN (via Twitter).


6:06pm: Heat guard Tyler Herro is expected to be sidelined for Friday’s Game 6 against Boston, league sources told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Herro suffered a left groin strain in Game 3 and will now miss Games 4, 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals with the injury. He was a limited participant in the team’s shootaround this morning, but “experienced discomfort while sliding defensively,” Haynes reports.

Head coach Erik Spoelstra confirmed that Herro will be out, tweets Jared Weiss of The Athletic.

He’s definitely made progress, but he’s not quite ready to step into this kind of intensity of a game,” Spoelstra said.

It makes sense to be cautious with a muscle strain, as they can be notoriously tricky to deal with and easily re-injured, like what happened with teammate Kyle Lowry‘s hamstring strain in the previous series. Lowry hasn’t looked like himself since he originally sustained the injury more than a month ago.

After averaging 20.7 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists on .447/.399/.868 shooting in 66 regular season games (32.6 minutes), Herro saw his numbers drop off in the postseason, averaging 13.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists on .413/.232/.926 shooting in 14 games. Still, his absence will certainly be felt by the Heat, as they’ve struggled mightily to score without the Sixth Man of the Year winner, posting just 82 points in Game 4 and 80 in Game 5, both losses.

On Boston’s side, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka told reporters, including Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated (Twitter link), that both Marcus Smart and Robert Williams are game-time decisions for the potential close-out contest. Boston currently leads Miami 3-2.

Smart and Williams had previously been listed as questionable, and it seems we won’t know their status until later this evening. Game 6 tips off at 7:30pm CT on ESPN.

Pacific Notes: Zubac, Curry, Lakers Draft, Coaching Search

As we relayed in our Clippers Offseason Preview earlier today, L.A. holds a $7,518,518 team option on center Ivica Zubac, who’s also extension-eligible this offseason. He said he enjoys playing for the team and hopes to stick around.

I want to stay and I think they want to keep me,” Zubac told Antonis Stroggylakis of Eurohoops.net. “I think I should be there and they’re going to pick it up. I like Los Angeles a lot and I like the Clippers. It’s like a family to me. Hopefully, everything is going to work out.”

Zubac notched several career-high marks in 2021/22, including games played (76, all starts), minutes per game (24.4), points (10.3), rebounds (8.5) and blocks (1.0). He said he hopes his role continues to expand going forward.

It’s great,” Zubac said about the trust he receives from Clippers coach Ty Lue. “I hope that keeps on going. Every year I get more and more minutes so, hopefully, by the next year I’ll get even more. The coach trusts me, the teammates trust me and I’m really enjoying my time there.”

Here’s more from the Pacific:

  • Warriors star Stephen Curry, who was recently named the Western Conference Finals MVP, could have pushed Golden State to trade its high draft picks and prospects to improve the roster the past couple seasons, but he said the team’s patience was rewarded as it heads to the Finals for the sixth time in eight years. “That’s not how I operate,” Curry told Anthony Slater of The Athletic. “There were conversations and different paths to take, and we all had conversations about going different ways. But at the end of the day, I have a lot of trust in (president/GM) Bob (Myers), a lot of confidence in what we’re about. There was no panic. Obviously, it helps that we had won a couple championships. It affords patience. But there was no panic in terms of getting me, Klay (Thompson) and Draymond (Green) another run at it, figuring out how we could get pieces around us to make it work. It’s just patience at the end of the day.”
  • The Lakers don’t currently own a draft pick, but that isn’t stopping them from working out six prospects on Saturday, tweets Jovan Buha of The Athletic. The six players are Villanova’s Collin Gillespie, UConn’s Tyrese Martin, USC’s Drew Peterson, Alabama’s Keon Ellis, Syracuse’s Cole Swider, and Texas A&M’s Quenton Jackson. Ellis, Gillespie and Martin are all in the 60s on ESPN’s big board, while Jackson is No. 95; both Peterson and Swider are unranked. There’s a good chance at least a few of the group will go undrafted going by those rankings.
  • Sean Deveney of Heavy.com queried rival front office executives to get their opinions on the Lakers‘ head coaching search, with some mixed opinions on which candidates might be favored by certain segments of the team.

Mavs Notes: Gobert, LaVine, Brunson, Doncic

The Mavericks remain focused on acquiring another All-Star caliber player to complement Luka Doncic after tacitly acknowledging by trading Kristaps Porzingis in February that he wasn’t the right fit, sources tell veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein. The Mavs won’t have salary cap space to sign a player of that caliber outright anytime soon, so if they’re going to try to acquire a star this summer, it will probably have to be via trade.

Dallas has been linked to Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, but Stein’s sources say the Mavs’ interest in the three-time Defensive Player of the Year has been overstated. As Stein explains, the team knows it needs to improve its rim protection and rebounding, but had success with a five-out approach this postseason and will likely pursue a more “cost-efficient” option at center.

According to Stein, Bulls guard Zach LaVine is a potential target that intrigues the Mavericks, who apparently like the idea of adding another wing slasher and scorer, particularly after seeing how effective Spencer Dinwiddie was this season alongside Doncic.

However, LaVine is a free agent this summer and it would be a challenge for the Mavs to sign-and-trade for him and re-sign Jalen Brunson, since team salary would be well beyond the projected tax apron — any club that acquires a player via sign-and-trade becomes hard-capped at the apron for the rest of that league year. If acquiring LaVine isn’t realistic, Dallas will likely pivot to other options on the wing, Stein says.

Here’s more on the Mavs, whose season ended on Thursday in Golden State:

  • President of basketball operations Nico Harrison downplayed the need to bring in another All-Star caliber player. There’s teams … that have a bunch of All-Stars, and they were sitting at home watching us play,” Harrison said during his end-of-season presser on Friday (Twitter link via Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News). “Yeah, you need to keep upgrading the roster, but I don’t think it’s just about getting a bunch of All-Stars. It’s about getting people that fit.”
  • Harrison said that re-signing Jalen Brunson will be the Mavericks’ “top priority” this offseason (Twitter link via Michael Scotto of HoopsHype). “We want to re-sign him. He knows it,” Harrison said. “We want him back. He’ll be a big part of our future.” Mavs owner Mark Cuban also spoke about the team’s desire to retain Brunson, as we outlined earlier today.
  • As Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News relays, Cuban admitted that he didn’t know what to expect entering the 2021/22 season after the team underwent front office and coaching changes. He was pleased to see the Mavs establish an identity over the course of the year. “Hard-playing. Physical. Multi-talented, able to complement Luka,” Cuban said in describing the type of player that fits that identity. “Knowing how to play with Luka. That probably is number one. But yeah, you saw how we played it. Guys like Reggie Bullock. Spencer, when he came, got it. Davis Bertans. (Dorian Finney-Smith). Dwight (Powell). Everybody. There’s nobody that you can name that that wasn’t just playing as hard as they possibly can and knew their role.”
  • An Eastern Conference executive who spoke to Tim MacMahon of ESPN believes the Mavericks are “one player away” from being a legitimate title contender. According to MacMahon, that opinion is shared by other rival coaches, executives, and scouts he has spoken to about Dallas’ outlook. For his part, Doncic said after Thursday’s loss that he thinks the Mavs are “on a great, great path.”
  • ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) and Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype have published their offseason previews for the Mavericks, while Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report and SI.com’s Chris Mannix and Howard Beck also took a closer look at the team’s roster situation going forward.

Southeast Notes: Wizards, Heat, Hornets, Magic

After several years of mixed results when picking between late in the lottery and in the middle of the first round, the Wizards should aggressively try to move up from No. 10 in this year’s draft, David Aldridge of The Athletic argues.

Aldridge suggests specifically targeting the No. 3 pick and making any assets besides Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis available, including a future first-round pick and some combination of recent first-rounders Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, and Corey Kispert. If the Rockets’ asking price is too steep, the Wizards should shift their focus to the No. 4 pick, says Aldridge.

I’m skeptical that the Wizards will be able to pry No. 3 away from Houston, given the relative consensus on the top three prospects in this year’s draft, and I’m not sure how eager they should be to give up any future first-round picks, given their current roster situation. But Aldridge believes it would be worth it to roll the dice to land a player like Paolo Banchero or Keegan Murray.

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • The Heat won’t make any changes to their starting lineup for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference, head coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters today (Twitter link via Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel). That means Kyle Lowry and Max Strus will continue to start, despite calls to bench them.
  • In a mailbag for The Charlotte Observer, Roderick Boone considers whether Deandre Ayton is a realistic free agent target for the Hornets, looks at where their head coaching search stands, and discusses what to expect from 2021 first-rounder Kai Jones going forward.
  • Kai Sotto, a draft-eligible center from the Philippines, had a workout with the Magic on Thursday, tweets Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel. Sotto played in Australia’s NBL last season after initially committing to the G League Ignite in 2020. He didn’t end up playing for the Ignite due to travel and COVID-19 complications.

Draft Notes: J. Williams, Sasser, LaRavia, Houstan, Minott, More

Santa Clara wing Jalen Williams was perhaps the standout of last week’s draft combine in Chicago, while Houston guard Marcus Sasser looked like the best player at the G League Elite Camp, John Hollinger and Sam Vecenie of The Athletic write as part of their analysis of the combine.

Hollinger and Vecenie suggest that Williams’ stock has “exploded into the stratosphere” as a result of his performance in Chicago and that he looks like a safe bet to be a first-round pick. As for Sasser, he got “nearly unanimous praise” from scouts, who believe he has a chance to start his rookie season on a standard NBA contract, rather than a two-way deal.

The Athletic’s duo shares several more combine-related tidbits in their full story, including identifying Wake Forest forward Jake LaRavia as a prospect who is drawing legitimate interest from contending teams in the last 10 picks of the first round.

Hollinger and Vecenie also say that chatter about Michigan forward Caleb Houstan having received a promise continues to circulate among league insiders. Those insiders have speculated that Oklahoma City at No. 30 could be the team eyeing Houstan, given the Thunder‘s history of shutting down their targets well ahead of draft night.

Here are a few more draft-related notes:

  • Josh Minott, the No. 48 player on ESPN’s 2022 big board, will be keeping his name in the NBA draft, according to his uncle (Twitter link via Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports). The freshman forward played fewer than 500 total minutes in his first and only college season at Memphis in 2021/22.
  • Wyoming guard Hunter Maldonado tells Rothstein (Twitter link) that he’ll withdraw from the draft and use his final year of NCAA eligibility. Maldonado had a big senior year in 2021/22, averaging 18.5 PPG, 6.3 APG, and 5.7 RPG and making the All-Mountain West Conference first team.
  • George Washington junior guard James Bishop will withdraw from the draft and return to school for at least one more year, tweets Rothstein. Bishop has been the Colonials’ go-to scorer since transferring for his sophomore season, averaging 17.6 PPG in 47 games over the last two years.
  • Senior guard Emmanuel Bandoumel will also withdraw from the draft as he transfers from SMU to Nebraska, tweets Rothstein.
  • Former Louisiana senior center Theo Akwuba has withdrawn from the draft and Oklahoma State junior guard Avery Anderson III and Tennessee junior guard Santiago Vescovi are expected to do the same, according to Jeff Goodman of Stadium (all Twitter links). Goodman notes that Akwuba will be transferring to Ole Miss for his final college season.

2022 NBA Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers had one of the NBA’s most expensive rosters in 2021/22, but with Kawhi Leonard spending the year recovering from the ACL tear he sustained in last year’s playoffs, the team’s ceiling was never as high as its payroll suggested.

Even with Leonard unavailable and with George limited to 31 games due to injury issues of his own, the Clippers stayed competitive all season. Head coach Tyronn Lue had an impressive year, getting the most out of minimum-salary players such as Terance Mann, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Amir Coffey and veterans like Reggie Jackson, Ivica Zubac, Nicolas Batum, and Luke Kennard.

A .500 record (41-41) put the Clippers in the play-in tournament, where they still could have been dangerous if Leonard and George were available. But Kawhi wasn’t yet ready to return from his long rehab process and an ill-timed positive COVID-19 test for George prevented him from suiting up for the second play-in game, which L.A. lost.

Given how much money they spent on the roster and how little they had to show for it as season’s end (their lottery pick was sent to Oklahoma City as part of the 2019 George deal), it’s easy to view 2021/22 as a lost year for the Clippers. But the opportunities that some of the team’s role players received, and the strides they made, could pay dividends going forward as the roster gets healthier.


The Clippers’ Offseason Plan:

The Clippers got a head-start on their offseason at the trade deadline in February when they sent Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, and a second-round pick to Portland in exchange for Norman Powell and Robert Covington.

It was the sort of move the Clippers couldn’t have waited until the offseason to make, since Bledsoe’s non-guaranteed contract for 2022/23 would’ve complicated salary matching. And it essentially allowed the team to make a pair of veteran “free agent” additions without having the cap space to do so this summer. Powell is under contract for four more seasons, while Covington recently signed a two-year extension that allowed L.A. to secure his rights through 2024. It’s safe to assume both will be key parts of next season’s roster.

With Powell and Covington locked up, Leonard and George hopefully healthier going forward, and Marcus Morris, Kennard, Jackson, Zubac, Mann, and Brandon Boston Jr. all still under team control, the Clippers have a roster capable of seriously contending even without any further additions. However, the team will still have some cap- and roster-related questions to answer.

For one, just how much tax is Steve Ballmer willing to pay? If we assume the Clippers bring back all 10 players listed above, along with 2021 second-rounder Jason Preston, the team’s salary is already up to $168.6MM, far beyond the projected luxury tax line of $147MM. Filling out the roster, including potentially negotiating new deals for Batum, Coffey, and/or Hartenstein, will only push that figure higher.

If Ballmer is willing to pay up, the Clippers have the flexibility to bring their own players back and continue pursuing roster upgrades. Batum’s Early Bird rights and Coffey’s Bird rights should allow for new deals, even if Batum turns down his $3.3MM player option.

L.A. only has Non-Bird rights on Hartenstein, so bringing him back might be trickier, but the team could use some or all of its $6.4MM taxpayer mid-level exception to make him a competitive offer or to sign an adequate replacement. If the team would rather not spend more than the minimum on its backup center, that MLE could be used to address another position.

Should Ballmer feel at all uneasy about his growing tax bill, a trade to shed salary is a possibility. Morris and Kennard are good players, but they may be a little more expendable following the additions of Covington and Powell — one or both could be shopped this offseason.

Even if cutting costs isn’t a priority, the Clippers figure to explore the trade market, since adding one more play-maker – potentially at point guard – has long been on their to-do list. They have a pair of trade exceptions worth between $8-10MM that could come in handy in certain scenarios. If there are no viable trades out there, the Clippers may have to rely on the free agent market to add a lower-cost solution — Ricky Rubio would be an intriguing target if and when he’s healthy.


Salary Cap Situation

Note: Our salary cap figures are based on the league’s latest projection ($122MM) for 2022/23.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

Non-Guaranteed Salary

  • None

Restricted Free Agents

Two-Way Free Agents

Draft Picks

  • No. 43 overall pick (no cap hold)

Extension-Eligible Players

Note: These are players who are either already eligible for an extension or will become eligible before the 2022/23 season begins.

  • Marcus Morris (veteran)
  • Ivica Zubac (veteran)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Clippers aren’t a taxpayer in 2022/23. To get below the tax line, they’d have to turn down Zubac’s option, let all their free agents walk, and then shed at least $20MM+ more in guaranteed salary before filling out their roster with minimum contracts.

I don’t see that happening, so the Clips will be limited to the taxpayer portion of the mid-level exception this offseason and won’t be able to use the bi-annual exception or acquire anyone via sign-and-trade.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Taxpayer mid-level exception: $6,392,000 1
  • Trade exception: $9,720,900
  • Trade exception: $8,250,000

Footnotes

  1. This is a projected value.

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post.

Gary Payton II Expected To Return In NBA Finals

The Warriors have been without their best backcourt defender, Gary Payton II, since he suffered a fractured left elbow early in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals vs. Memphis. However, it appears that Payton is on track to return to the court during the NBA Finals.

Sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium (video link) that Payton is expected to be play in the Finals and could even be available as soon as Game 1 next Thursday.

The Warriors never put out an official announcement estimating Payton’s recovery timeline, but Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports was among those who reported that the 29-year-old was expected to be sidelined for three-to-five weeks — that was a little over three weeks ago. If Payton is able to suit up for Game 1 of the Finals next week, he’ll be 30 days removed from having sustained the injury.

While it remains to be seen whether or not Payton can be as effective as he was before breaking his elbow, he could help the Warriors out significantly on defense if he’s anywhere close to 100%, giving them another option to throw at players like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart (if the Celtics advance) or Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and Victor Oladipo (if the Heat make a comeback).

As we detailed last weekend, Payton has said there’s no lingering bad blood with Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks, whose hard foul resulted in the awkward fall that caused Payton’s injury.

Nuggets Notes: Jokic, Connelly, Morris, Booth

Echoing Mike Singer’s reporting from earlier this week, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic confirm that Nikola Jokic remains fully committed to the Nuggets and intends to sign a five-year, super-max extension this offseason.

According to The Athletic’s duo, Jokic’s brothers Strahinja and Nemanja have met with general manager Calvin Booth and assistant GM Tommy Balcetis in the days since Tim Connelly‘s departure to discuss the team’s future, while Booth and head coach Michael Malone have spoken on the phone to Jokic, who is in Serbia. Everyone is in the same page going forward, per Charania and Amick.

As the Nuggets continue to build around Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr., the focus for Booth and the new-look front office this offseason will be to add long, versatile, defensive-minded players, sources tell The Athletic.

The team will be open to surrendering more of its draft assets if that helps open up favorable opportunities to acquire win-now talent, according to Charania and Amick, since the goal is to compete for a championship and make the most of Jokic’s prime years.

Here’s more on the Nuggets:

  • The Timberwolves’ willingness to include equity in their offer to Connelly was viewed by the Nuggets as an obstacle they couldn’t overcome, say Charania and Amick. In addition to the Nuggets, the Kroenkes own franchises in other sports – including the NFL’s Rams and the NHL’s Avalanche – and had no interest in setting a new precedent on equity that might affect future negotiations with team executives.
  • John Hollinger of The Athletic takes a close look at the Nuggets’ situation going forward, wondering if the team will be open to trading Will Barton and/or Monte Morris this offseason. Hollinger suggests Morris could be more expendable due to Murray’s return and Bones Hyland‘s emergence.
  • Within his story, Hollinger notes that Connelly’s salary during his last season in Denver put him in the bottom half of the NBA’s lead basketball executives and suggests that the Nuggets have a history of investing minimally in their basketball operations department and organizational infrastructure.
  • Mike Singer of The Denver Post takes a closer look at what Calvin Booth will bring to the Nuggets’ head of basketball operations job, speaking to several people who have worked with him over the years. One source told Singer that Booth is more “structured” than Connelly and predicted he’ll have a lower tolerance for “locker room headaches.”