Bulls Signing Stanley Johnson With Hardship Exception

The Bulls are signing forward Stanley Johnson by using a hardship exception, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). Johnson was playing in the G League for the South Bay Lakers, but was with the Bulls during training camp.

The Bulls evidently applied for and were granted the hardship exception after Matt Thomas became the fourth member of the team to enter the league’s health and safety protocols.

Johnson, 25, was the No. 8 pick in the 2015 draft by the Pistons. He spent his first three-plus seasons in the league with Detroit before being traded to the Pelicans in 2018/19. Johnson played for the Raptors the past two seasons and was a regular rotation player last season, averaging 4.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG, and 1.5 APG in 61 contests for the club (16.5 MPG).

Johnson is a strong, physical athlete and solid defender, but shooting has limited his effectiveness in the NBA. In 331 career games (19.7 MPG), he holds averages of 6.2 PPG 3.1 RPG, and 1.4 APG on .375/.298/.761 shooting.

In six games with South Bay this season (30.5 MPG), Johnson put up 15.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, and 2.2 SPG with a .405/.286/.750 shooting line.

Hawks’ Solomon Hill Out For Season With Torn Hamstring

Hawks forward Solomon Hill will miss the remainder of the 2021/22 season with a right hamstring tendon tear, the team announced. Hill suffered the injury on Sunday against Charlotte and a subsequent MRI revealed the tear. He will undergo surgery to repair the injury.

Hill, 30, has played for the Pacers, Pelicans, Grizzlies, Heat and Hawks over the course of his nine-year career. This season with the Hawks, he’s appeared in just 13 games (10.7 MPG), with modest averages of 0.9 PPG and 1.8 RPG. At 6’6″ and 226 pounds, Hill is primarily known as a burly defensive presence.

Hill was the No. 23 overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft by the Pacers. Across 448 career games (189 starts), he holds averages of 5.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 1.5 APG in 21.5 MPG, with a .388/.331/.797 shooting line. Hill re-signed with the Hawks over the summer on a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

The Hawks have dealt with a number of injuries to wings this season. Starting small forward De’Andre Hunter had right wrist surgery in mid-November and is expected to be sidelined for several more weeks, Bogdan Bogdanovic suffered a sprained ankle, and Cam Reddish is dealing with a sprained wrist. Coach Nate McMillan said Wednesday that Bogdanovic has been limited to shooting-only as he recovers from the injury, per Chris Kirschner of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Matt Thomas Latest Bulls Player In Protocols

Guard Matt Thomas is the latest Bulls member to enter the NBA’s health and safety protocols, per Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago (Twitter link). In a follow-up tweet, Schaefer notes that Thomas was in Cleveland for the match-up Wednesday against the Cavs, but will travel back to Chicago.

Thomas is expected to miss several games, per Shams Charania of The Athletic (via Twitter), so he likely tested positive for COVID-19, although that has not been confirmed yet. If he did test positive, Thomas will be out for at least 10 days, or until he returns two negative tests a minimum of 24 hours apart.

Thomas is now the fourth Bulls player in the protocols, joining Coby White, Javonte Green and DeMar DeRozan. With those four sidelined, Patrick Williams out four-to-six months, and Alex Caruso out at least a week with a hamstring strain, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago tweets that the Bulls could apply for a hardship exception in order to sign a player.

Thomas is playing on a non-guaranteed contract with the Bulls. He played 19 minutes in the team’s win over Denver on Monday, but had seen only 30 minutes of action across seven games prior to that contest. The 27-year-old holds career averages of 3.8 PPG and 1.2 RPG (8.7 MPG) across 94 games for the Raptors, Jazz, and Bulls, with a .432/.404/.808 shooting line.

The Bulls will have just 11 active players Wednesday night. Rookie Ayo Dosunmu played a team-high 41 minutes against Denver and should continue to see a heavy workload. Troy Brown also figures to see an uptick in playing time with the backcourt depth so thin at the moment.

Pacific Notes: Vogel, LeBron, Lue, Warriors, Iguodala

Lakers coach Frank Vogel has faced increased scrutiny recently, but owner/governor Jeanie Buss said she’s going to reserve judgment until the team is completely healthy, according to Mark Medina of NBA.com.

Until we’re 100% healthy, I don’t think you can really make any judgment,” Buss told NBA.com at halftime of the Lakers-Celtics game on Tuesday. The Lakers won the game, 117-102, to move to 13-12 on the season.

Buss seemed a bit perturbed by the question, but said the Lakers are connected as an organization, noting that Vogel attended a season-ticket holder event Monday with Buss.

We’re as connected as any organization can be,” Buss said. “I really don’t know what you’re looking for me to say. I would say until we’re 100 percent healthy, I won’t make any judgments about anything.”

The Lakers have dealt with several injuries this season; LeBron James has missed 12 games (various reasons), Talen Horton-Tucker was sidelined for 13 games after thumb surgery, and Trevor Ariza (ankle) and Kendrick Nunn (knee) have yet to suit up this season.

Here’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • LeBron James would still love to play in the NBA with his son Bronny, writes Kyle Goon of the Southern California News Group. Bronny is a 17-year-old junior for Sierra Canyon High School.
  • Not many things excite Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, but perfectly executed plays are among them, Mirjam Swanson of the Southern California News Group relays. Swanson notes that Lue prefers to stay impassive during games for strategic reasons.
  • With the returns of Klay Thompson and James Wiseman on the horizon, Warriors coach Steve Kerr will face challenging, yet desirable choices, writes Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area. The Warriors are tied with the Suns for the best record in the league at 20-4, and their depth has been a major strength.
  • Warriors veteran Andre Iguodala, who’s missed the last 10 games with knee swelling, could return Wednesday against the Trail Blazers. Kerr said it’s a “possibility,” per Anthony Slater of The Athletic (Twitter link). Slater also notes that rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody will play a couple games in the G League before returning for the team’s five-game road trip, which starts Saturday.

New York Notes: Claxton, Kemba, Noel, Thibs

The return of springy young Nets big man Nicolas Claxton to action could help improve the uneven play of All-Star shooting guard James Harden, per Mark W. Sanchez of the New York Post. Claxton, much like Harden’s former Rockets running mate Clint Capela, can serve as a prime rim-rolling recipient of Harden lobs. Claxton has appeared in just six Brooklyn games for the 2021/22 season due to a non-COVID-19 illness.

“It would be great to get Nic going again, getting him fully functioning again,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said of Claxton’s return. “We saw him Friday night and obviously it looked like he hadn’t played in a while, was fouling and just a little out of rhythm. And that’s normal for a guy who has had that much of a layoff, lost a bunch of weight, is trying to get himself back in shape. By the end of the year, we would love Nic to be a great add to what we do on both ends of the floor.”

On Tuesday night, in a 102-99 defeat of the Mavericks, Claxton suited up for nearly 21 minutes off the bench. The 6’11” big man logged six points and nine boards in just his second game back from his illness.

There’s more out of the Big Apple:

  • The Knicks would likely consult Kemba Walker were they to seriously consider trading the veteran point guard, per Ian Begley of SNY.tv. Walker, a former four-time All-Star with the Hornets and Celtics, has been demoted from starter to DNP-CD, and has not suited up for New York at all since November 26. The 31-year-old is averaging career lows of 11.7 PPG, 3.1 APG and 2.6 RPG.
  • Knicks center Nerlens Noel returned to New York’s starting line-up, replacing Mitchell Robinson in the role, ahead of Tuesday night’s 121-109 victory over the 8-15 Spurs, per Steve Popper of Newsday. Noel took and made just one field goal, but also chipped in eight rebounds, three dimes, one steal and a block in the win. Robinson, on the other hand, enjoyed a terrific night with the second unit, notching 11 points and 14 boards. The Knicks snapped a three-game losing streak with the victory and returned to .500 on the season with a 12-12 record. Robinson conceded that, as a result of an offseason surgery and subsequent weight gain, he has struggled with his conditioning, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News“I’m getting tired real quick,” Robinson said before Tuesday’s game. “I run for about six or seven minutes, and then boom — I’m gassed. So it’s something I need to work on real bad … I wish I could jump right back into it and be who I was before the injury.”
  • Much like his former boss Jeff Van Gundy in the 1998/99 NBA season, current Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau may have to figure out major rotational changes to improve the up-and-down Knicks this year, per Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post. Among those adjustments, Vaccaro suggests potentially exploring more run for emerging second-year power forward Obi Toppin and rookie shooting guard Quentin Grimes, and possibly reducing the role of defensive sieve Evan Fournier, whom New York added on a four-year, $78MM contract via a sign-and-trade with the Celtics this past summer.

Central Notes: Cunningham, DiVincenzo, LeVert, Pacers Trade Options

The 4-19 Pistons, losers of nine straight games, are currently sole owners of the NBA’s worst record. Happily from a big-picture perspective, intriguing rookie guard Cade Cunningham is already showing early signs of development, details James L. Edwards III of The Athletic.

Cunningham was shelved for Detroit’s entire preseason and the early portion of the 2021/22 regular season with an ankle injury, but has come on in a big way across the Pistons’ last four games. In that time frame, Cunningham has averaged 22 PPG while shooting 51% from the floor and 50% from deep, along with 7.7 RPG and 3.2 APG. Overall, the 6’6″ point guard is averaging 14.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG and 4.6 APG across the 18 games he has played this season.

“I feel like my voice is heard in the locker room,” Cunningham said of where he stands on the Pistons roster. “That hasn’t been a problem for me. We have a good group of guys.”

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Injured Bucks starting shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo will continue to rehabilitate with Milwaukee’s G League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd per The Athletic. DiVincenzo will practice with the Herd ahead of an anticipated return to the floor for the Bucks. The 24-year-old tore an ankle ligament during the first series of the Bucks’ 2020/21 title run. Last year, the Villanova alum averaged 10.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG and 3.1 across 66 regular season games for Milwaukee.
  • After it was floated earlier today that the Pacers would be open to offloading players following an underwhelming 10-16 season start under the stewardship of new head coach Rick CarlisleEvan Sidery of Basketball News has cooked up some intriguing potential trade destinations for swingman Caris LeVert. Clubs like the Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Jazz Mavericks and Pelicans are all considered fits by Sidery. Sidery notes that LeVert has become movable thanks in part due to the emergence of rookie wing Chris Duarte.
  • As the Pacers look to shake up their roster, Clark Wade of the Indianapolis Star wonders which Indiana players the club should trade. The markets for big men Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, plus lead guard Malcolm Brogdon, all good players on agreeable contracts, should be robust.

CJ McCollum Has Collapsed Right Lung

8:53PM: McCollum released an optimistic statement addressing the injury on his personal Instagram page.

7:32PM: Trail Blazers starting shooting guard CJ McCollum has suffered a collapsed right lung, according to a team press release. A CT scan revealed the injury.

Per Portland, McCollum incurred the injury, also known as a pneumothorax, during a 145-117 loss to the Celtics on December 4. The team went on to disclose that McCollum would undergo further testing before determining a recovery timeline for the 6’3″ vet. The 30-year-old is averaging 20.6 PPG, 4.5 APG, 4.1 RPG and 1.1 SPG across 35.3 MPG for the 11-14 Trail Blazers, currently the N0. 10 seed in the Western Conference and losers of three straight games. McCollum owns a shooting line this season of .424/.393/.700.

Portland is also missing All-Star point guard Damian Lillard, still recuperating from a lower abdominal tendinopathy. The 31-year-old Lillard is in the first season of a four-year, $176.3MM maximum contract with the Trail Blazers. This summer, Lillard is eligible for a two-year maximum extension to that deal.

McCollum and the remaining three years and $100MM guaranteed on his deal have long been considered a viable candidate for a trade to improve the team alongside his All-NBA backcourt running mate. Prior to this injury news, a deal for embattled Sixers All-Star Ben Simmons seemed possible.

This news is very scary for one of the NBA’s most dynamic players. We at Hoops Rumors wish McCollum a speedy and full recovery and can’t wait to see him lighting up box scores very soon.

Florida Notes: Suggs, Miami Backcourt, Butler, Spoelstra

Magic rookie guard Jalen Suggs continues to develop his skills at the next level with Orlando despite remaining sidelined due to a fractured right thumb, writes Dan Savage of Magic.com. Savage notes that the injury will not require surgery, and the club will continue to monitor it with check-ups every other week.

Rather than rehabilitate at home, Suggs wanted to travel with his Magic teammates for the club’s recent Western Conference road trip. “For me, the biggest part was still being around the team, hearing what the coaches are saying, being on the bench, and being engaged into the game,” Suggs said. “That was the biggest piece for me for wanting to come and hoping they’d let me come. Again, just continuing to build the camaraderie because I love to be around these guys.”

Savage reports that Suggs is going through game film with head coach Jamahl Mosley and assistant coach Nate Tibbetts as he hopes to take strides even while unavailable for the Magic. “Just trying to see the flow, see where certain shots come in, see how I can better control the game in certain situations,” Suggs said. “I think they’ve done a great job of keeping me involved and keeping me engaged.”

Across 21 games thus far this season, the 6’4″ 21-year-old point guard out of Gonzaga is averaging 12.3 PPG (albeit on lackluster shooting percentages), 3.6 APG and 3.4 RPG.

There’s more out of the Sunshine State:

  • Due to a rash of injuries early in the 2021/22 NBA season, the Heat have been compelled to tinker with lineup optionality, writes Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald. The backcourt tandem of veteran point guard Kyle Lowry and up-and-comer Gabe Vincent has emerged by necessity, and may become a favorite for head coach Erik Spoelstra going forward. “You have toughness and that defensive disposition from both of them,” Spoelstra said. “Either one of them can play on the ball or play off the ball and they feel equally comfortable in that role. I think the different roles that Gabe has had to play for us the last year and a half have really prepared him to be able to complement Kyle very well.”
  • Heat All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler, in his first game back from a tailbone injury that kept him sidelined for four contests, appeared to re-injure himself after suffering a hard fall in an eventual 105-90 defeat against the Grizzlies Monday night, per ESPN.com. “It is a contact sport,” head coach Erik Spoelstra noted. “But he definitely re-aggravated it. You can tell from that point on he was not his usual self. So we’ll reevaluate him [Tuesday] and see where we are.” When available, the 32-year-old swingman has looked like his usual All-Star self, averaging 22.8 PPG on 50.9% shooting from the floor and 85.2% from the charity stripe, while chipping in 5.8 RPG and 5.2 APG across 18 games.
  • Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra discussed his frustrations with himself as a coach in the wake of Miami’s recent slump, per Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The team has lost four of its last five contests overall, including three games on its home court. “I have to do a better job getting the team organized and getting the team comfortable, where the ball’s going, how we’re going to play offensively,” Spoelstra said. To be fair, the team has been without All-Stars Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo, out with injuries, for most of those games. The Heat are currently still the fourth seed in the East at 14-11. The lead man in Miami since 2008, Spoelstra is the second-longest-tenured NBA head coach, behind just Gregg Popovich of the Spurs.

Rockets Notes: Wood, Mathews, Fertitta, Injury Timetables

Rockets center Christian Wood discussed his role in Houston’s recent turnaround, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. The Rockets, winners of six straight games, have moved their way up to a still-bad 7-16 record on the 2021/22 season, in no small part thanks to Wood becoming the lone big man for much of his time on the floor. The 6’10” 26-year-old is currently averaging 16.5 PPG, 11.1 RPG, and 1.1 BPG, with a shooting line of .466/.368/.574. In the win streak, Wood has boosted those counting stats to 19.3 PPG, 11.3 RPG and 1.8 BPG.

“So my job is just to make sure everybody touches the ball,” Wood said of his role as a calming influence in the Rockets offense. “Make sure everybody’s not going to so many isos and it’s not as contagious. Because once you start getting contagious, it gets a little bad, gets a little stagnant. We start taking bad shots, and my job is just to make sure everybody’s cool, everybody’s touching the ball and tapped in.”

There’s more out of Houston:

  • The Rockets appear to have uncovered a new floor-spacing threat in their win streak, thanks to the emergence of Garrison Mathews, writes Rahat Huq of the Houston Chronicle. The 6’5″ shooting guard is averaging 11.9 PPG and 3.1 RPG across ten games with Houston. He owns a slash line of .488/.420/.800. The three-point percentage is particularly encouraging, as the 25-year-old is taking a volume 6.9 triples per game. Beyond simply excellent percentages, Matthews also has helped open up the club’s offense as the team’s only real catch-and-shoot threat who can operate on the run. Huq observes that Matthews now boasts the best efficiency differential for the Rockets, meaning that the team’s offensive output is better with him on the floor than without him at a level beyond anyone else on the team.
  • Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has discussed how the team’s approach to a full-on tank will help the club re-shape its roster for the long haul, per Rahat Huq of the Houston Chronicle. “We don’t want to be one of those building programs that are just mediocre for four years or five years,” Fertitta said of the team’s plans going forward. “And when you’ve been as good as we were for so many years, yeah we could have had the eighth seed in the playoffs or the ninth seed. But it’s better to tear it apart and start over and build up again. It will last for many years to come.” Huq praises Fertitta for acquiescing to deals that sent out veteran win-now players like P.J. Tucker and Victor Oladipo last season. Along these lines, Huq wonders if the team will look to ship out current veterans like Christian Wood and Eric Gordon in exchange for either young players with upside or future draft equity.
  • There is no return timeline yet for the starting Rockets backcourt of Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Green continues to recuperate from a hamstring injury that has kept him on the shelf for the Rockets’ five previous games, all victories. Porter suffered a thigh injury and missed Sunday’s contest. “Kevin, we’re still kind of evaluating what is necessary but he is doing his treatment and we’ll have an update sooner or later,” head coach Stephen Silas said.

And-Ones: Toronto, Seattle, Ramasar, Lakers’ Arena

The NBA sent out a memo to its teams on Tuesday updating them on the changes to the cross-border travel rules that the Canadian government announced last month and confirming that unvaccinated players won’t be permitted to play in Toronto.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link), a player who misses a game in Toronto due to his vaccination status would be subject to a salary reduction for that game. The amount of that reduction would presumably be 1/91.6th of the player’s salary, as reported in October.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Most NBA insiders view it as a “mere formality” that if and when the NBA expands, Seattle will get a team, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic. Hollinger adds that most people he has talked to believe that Climate Pledge Arena – a renovated version of the SuperSonics’ Key Arena – would be the home of Seattle’s eventual expansion team. The arena is already hosting the NHL’s Seattle Kraken.
  • In an interesting piece for The Athletic, Mike Vornukov spoke to veteran agent Todd Ramasar about what his job entails beyond negotiating contracts, how he navigates the draft and free agency, and what impact the new NIL rules for NCAA players will have on his recruiting process.
  • Steven Kalifowitz, the chief marketing officer for Crypto.com, talked to Bill Shea of The Athletic about why the company was willing to pay $700MM for the naming rights to the Lakers‘ arena despite the fact that he knows many fans will keep calling it the Staples Center.
  • Over 60% of the NBA players eligible for booster vaccines have received them, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press, who tweets that there will be a push to get that number higher before the holidays.