Al Horford To Miss ‘At Least A Few Games’

Celtics big man Al Horford is expected to miss “at least a few games,” head coach Brad Stevens told reporters today (Twitter link). According to the team, Horford – who has already missed Boston’s last two contests – has been diagnosed with patellofemoral pain syndrome, colloquially known as runner’s knee.

It’s the latest in a line of injuries or illnesses for the banged-up Celtics, who were also missing Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Aron Baynes, and Guerschon Yabusele on Monday.

If Boston has four players who all miss three or more games and are expected to remain sidelined for the foreseeable future, the club could apply for a hardship exception to sign an extra player, but that shouldn’t be necessary. Irving, Hayward, and Baynes all appear to be day-to-day, so Horford and Yabusele are the only C’s expected to remain on the shelf for the next several games.

The Celtics have looked just fine without Horford so far, beating the Bulls by 56 points on Saturday and the Pelicans by 13 on Monday. Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, and Semi Ojeleye figure to continue earning extra minutes up front until Baynes and Horford are ready to return. The Celtics also have an open two-way contract slot available if they want to add any more frontcourt reinforcements.

Pacers To Consider Trading Veteran Point Guard?

Executives around the NBA believe that the Pacers may explore trading one of their veteran point guards before this season’s deadline, writes ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

As Windhorst outlines, while Darren Collison has been Indiana’s starting point guard over the last two seasons, he has roughly split the position with Cory Joseph — Collison has averaged 29.0 minutes per game since joining the Pacers, while Joseph has played 26.7 MPG.

Both Collison and Joseph are in contract years, creating some uncertainty about whether they’ll remain in Indiana beyond this season. Meanwhile, rookie guard Aaron Holiday, who entered the team’s regular rotation when Victor Oladipo went down last month, has impressed the Pacers, and Indiana won’t necessarily want to relegate him back to the bench with Oladipo on the verge of returning. Trading either Collison or Joseph would open up minutes for the rookie.

The Pacers, who currently rank fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 17-10 record, will be looking to make a playoff run this spring and won’t want to harm their short-term outlook with a trade. While Collison and Joseph may not be long-term building blocks in Indiana, they’ve been key contributors, with Collison averaging 11.6 PPG, 5.4 APG and a .479/.442/.851 shooting line over the last two seasons, while Joseph has chipped in 7.8 PPG and 3.3 APG on .433/.365/.713 shooting. Any deal would probably have to return immediate help at another position.

There’s no shortage of teams in need of point guard help around the league, though it’s not clear if a trade with a rebuilding club would make the most sense. Collison or Joseph probably wouldn’t welcome a move from a top-four seed to the league-worst Suns, for instance, and even though they’ve sought a reliable point guard, the Suns likely wouldn’t give up much of value for a veteran on an expiring contract. A deal involving a playoff contender like the Sixers, Spurs, or even the Magic might be a better fit, though that’s just my speculation.

Pelicans, Pistons, Kings Among Likely Buyers On Trade Market

The Pelicans, Pistons, and Kings have been among the most active teams calling around in search of potential upgrades to their respective rosters, league executives tell ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. As Windhorst notes, those three clubs are expected to be among the NBA’s buyers leading up to this season’s trade deadline.

New Orleans and Detroit are both in win-now mode, and have shown a willingness in recent years to move first-round picks for immediate upgrades. Anthony Davis‘ uncertain future will motivate the Pelicans to be one of the most aggressive teams on this season’s trade market, and Pistons owner Tom Gores badly wants to see his team back in the postseason, as Windhorst explains.

As for the Kings, this is the second time this week that Windhorst has talked about them being potential buyers. Sacramento, which has traded away its 2019 first-round pick and has no incentive to tank, has exceeded expectations this year and is currently in the hunt for a playoff spot. Plus, the Kings are the only NBA team currently under the cap, and their $11MM in room could open up additional trade opportunities.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Cavaliers remain the NBA’s most noteworthy seller on the trade market, according to Windhorst. Even after moving Kyle Korver and George Hill, Cleveland may continue to be active — J.R. Smith is a prime trade candidate, and even Rodney Hood and Alec Burks could be on the block, Windhorst adds.

Although Hood and Burks are both in contract years, there would be some complications if the Cavs want to move either of them. Hood doesn’t become trade-eligible until January 15 and has the ability to veto any deal, while Burks can’t be aggregated with any other players until January 29.

Clippers Keeping Close Eye On Kawhi, Durant

The Clippers are “transparently obsessed” with chasing 2019’s top two free agents, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who writes that the franchise has treated Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant like college recruits, frequently sending executives to Raptors and Warriors contests this season to scout the stars and ensure that the Clips are visible at those games.

Raptors officials have noticed at least one Clippers employee at about three-quarters of their games this season, per Windhorst. President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank has been among those Clippers employees spotted at Toronto’s contests, even though top execs rarely attend NBA games that don’t involve their teams.

As Windhorst details, the approach appears to be part of team owner Steve Ballmer‘s master plan. In Ballmer’s perfect world, the Clippers would land Leonard or Durant – or both – during the 2019 offseason, making them the face(s) of the franchise as the team prepares to eventually move into a new arena in Inglewood. Ballmer alluded to this plan on Tuesday, as Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times relays.

“We’re just stacking it up,” Ballmer said. “We’re stacking it up with Jerry [West], stacking up with Lawrence, stacking it up with Doc [Rivers], stacking it up with a new arena. We’re headhunting in a place where this team has not been before.”

The Raptors and Warriors will hold the Bird rights for Leonard and Durant, respectively, allowing them to offer more years and more money to their stars than any other suitor could put on the table. Still, the Clippers are in position to make a strong pitch to both players — L.A. should have the cap flexibility to create two maximum-salary slots, and has added a veteran executive in West – as well as former SI.com scribe Lee Jenkins – to its front office “in an effort to prepare a grand slam pitch when the time is right,” writes Windhorst.

While it remains to be seen whether the Clippers will be successful in their efforts to add a star, they may have another prime opportunity to continue their scouting efforts on Wednesday night, with the Raptors in Golden State to face the Dubs. Leonard is day-to-day with a sore hip, though Toronto had no problem thrashing the Clippers in L.A. on Tuesday night without him.

Jimmy Butler Talks Infamous Timberwolves Practice

We’re nearly a full month removed from the blockbuster trade that sent Jimmy Butler from Minnesota to Philadelphia in a package that included Dario Saric and Robert Covington. With both the Sixers and Timberwolves playing well since completing that deal, Butler sat down with teammate J.J. Redick for an appearance on Redick’s podcast for The Ringer, revisiting the trade request that ultimately ended his time as a Timberwolf.

In addition to discussing his trade request and his initial thoughts on heading to Philadelphia, Butler also provided some new details on the year’s most-discussed scrimmage. Here are a few highlights from the All-NBA swingman:

On whether Philadelphia was on his radar as a possible destination after he requested a trade:

“It was. When they were talking, Minnesota and Philly, they liked the deal that they were starting to get and then put together. So that’s when I became kinda aware that I could end up in Philly. Did I think this was gonna be where I ended up? I didn’t think so. And the only reason I didn’t think so was because it’s like, Philly is already a really, really good team. If you put me on there, I would like to think I’m a good enough player to add a little something and maybe get us to the hump of Eastern Conference finals, maybe even Finals.”

On whether scheduling a one-on-one sitdown with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols on the same day as his infamous performance in practice was premeditated:

“Look, I did go to Marquette University, so I know you think I’m really that smart, but that’s not what happened. What happened was: This interview was planned three weeks ahead of time to talk about what was going on. So I would keep going into the office talking with management, talking with Thibs, and they would be like, ‘Hey, you need to come in and practice.’ I was like, ‘Thibs, what I need to come in and practice for? Y’all gonna trade me.’ What’s the point of practicing — going in there, getting up and down — and then I’m gonna be gone in a day. ‘Cause it was always like: ‘We almost got a deal, we almost got a deal, we almost got a deal.'”

More on that scrimmage, in which Butler teamed up with the Wolves’ third-stringers to beat the starters:

“We go into the practice, and I’m telling Thibs, ‘I just wanna hoop,’ like I just wanna get up and down. See if I can go. And we start doing some drills, and at the end we start hooping. Now that’s when all of the stuff goes on. We play, we win, and I’m yapping. I’m yapping, I’m yapping. I always talk, anyways. If you can’t tell, I’m always talking, talking about how somebody can’t guard me, or nobody can beat me. I do that. That’s what I do. This time it was just a little bit different ’cause of whose team I was on and I ain’t been around, so it was just taken up a notch and it didn’t help who was watching—ownership, management, all of that good stuff.”

On “the most interesting detail of that whole scrimmage that nobody knows”:

“I only shot the ball one time. I only shot the ball once. … I was dominating, but I only shot the ball once. Dimes, boom, boom, boom. Steals, blocks. I only shot the ball one time.”

Rivers: Lou Williams Could Miss 2-3 Weeks

Clippers guard Lou Williams, who left Monday’s game against Phoenix with a hamstring issue, could miss the next two or three weeks due to that injury, head coach Doc Rivers said on Tuesday night before the club’s game against Toronto (link via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com).

“My guess, two weeks,” Rivers said, per Youngmisuk. “I don’t know. Honestly. They said it was not a bad hamstring, but I have never heard of a good one. I think when you hurt those things, those are really tough injuries.”

Williams has struggled a little with his shot so far this season, posting a .398 FG% which would match his career low. However, he’s still a go-to option for the Clippers in the clutch, and is averaging 17.2 PPG.

While the Clips will miss Williams in his absence, they have a deep roster and shouldn’t find themselves too shorthanded over the next couple weeks. Patrick Beverley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Avery Bradley will continue to play major roles in the backcourt, with Milos Teodosic, Tyrone Wallace, and Sindarius Thornwell among the candidates to pick up a few extra minutes.

NBA G League Assignments/Recalls: 12/11/18

As we detailed earlier today in a full story, the Knicks assigned veteran wing Courtney Lee to the G League to get in some minutes and improve his conditioning. Lee struggled a little with his shot for the Westchester Knicks on Tuesday night, scoring 16 points on 7-of-21 shooting (1-of-9 on threes).

Here are the rest of today’s G League assignments and recalls from around the NBA:

Assignments:

  • The Jazz assigned Grayson Allen and Georges Niang to the Salt Lake City Stars in advance of the team’s game tonight against Austin, the team announced in a press release.
  • Rookie point guard Elie Okobo was assigned to the G League today by the Suns, as Gina Mizell of The Athletic relays (via Twitter). Okobo, who has been in and out of Phoenix’s rotation this season, started at the point for Northern Arizona tonight.
  • The Bucks assigned D.J. Wilson to the G League in advance of the Wisconsin Herd’s two-game road trip this week, according to the club (Twitter link). A first-rounder in 2017, Wilson still isn’t part of Milwaukee’s rotation, having played just two games for the Bucks this season.
  • Sixers rookie Jonah Bolden was recalled from the G League this morning, then re-assigned several hours later, per Derek Bodner of The Athletic (Twitter links). Bolden has averaged a double-double in four G League contests, posting 15.5 PPG and 12.3 RPG in Delaware.

Recalls:

  • After helping lead the Memphis Hustle to a Monday victory with 25 points and 10 boards, Ivan Rabb was recalled to the NBA today by the Grizzlies, according to the club (Twitter link).
  • The Hawks recalled Daniel Hamilton from Erie, as Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets. Hamilton posted back-to-back double-doubles for the BayHawks during his latest G League stint.
  • 2018 first-round pick Troy Brown was recalled to the NBA by the Wizards, the team announced today (via Twitter). Brown has averaged 18.3 PPG on 47.5% in four NBAGL games this season.
  • The Pelicans have recalled Frank Jackson from the G League, per a team press release. New Orleans doesn’t have its own affiliate, so Jackson had been with the Texas Legends, Dallas’ NBAGL squad.
  • The Bucks recalled Christian Wood from the Wisconsin Herd today, according to RealGM’s transactions log. Wood has appeared sparingly in just six games for Milwaukee in 2018/19.

And-Ones: China, 2019 Draft, FAs, Carmelo

During the 2018 offseason, NBA veterans like Cole Aldrich, Al Jefferson, and Marreese Speights were among those to sign contracts in China. As Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype notes in an excellent, in-depth look at Chinese basketball’s free agent system, teams in the Chinese Basketball Association can offer players more money than clubs in just about any other non-NBA league in the world, which appeals to unsigned vets.

“If you talk to players who aren’t in the NBA, just about every player’s first choice is China,” one agent told Kennedy. “The vast majority of players outside of the NBA want to sign in China. There are a lot of players who make seven figures in China. Even the smaller deals are solid, paying at least $300K after taxes. It’s also a relatively short season compared to other leagues. … When the CBA season ends, players can try to join an NBA team for the remainder of the season. It’s attractive for many reasons.”

While heading to China might be appealing to undrafted players who were unable to catch on with NBA teams, most Chinese clubs are focusing on players who have previous NBA experience, as another agent tells Kennedy.

“They think, ‘If this guy played in the NBA, he must be good,'” the agent said. “They also understand that fans will be more interested in a player if they can use the word ‘NBA’ to market him. It helps them sell tickets and things like that. I always tell players if they want to sign in China, they either need NBA experience or they need to be absolutely dominating wherever they’re currently playing.”

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

Trade Rumors: Ntilikina, Kings, Rockets, Davis

Despite some recent chatter about teams with interest in second-year point guard Frank Ntilikina, Marc Stein of The New York Times gets the sense that the Knicks aren’t actively exploring the trade market for the 20-year-old. While New York will almost certainly be willing to field inquiries on Ntilikina, there’s a difference between listening and shopping, Stein observes.

While Ntilikina recently fell out of the Knicks’ rotation for three games and has struggled immensely on offense, he’s coming off one of the best games as a pro, as he scored a career-high 18 points in just 20 minutes on Sunday. If he can produce anywhere close to that level on a more consistent basis, he’ll likely secure his place as a long-term building block in New York.

Here are a few more trade-related rumors and notes from around the NBA:

  • In a podcast discussion about the Kings, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggested that Sacramento could actually be buyers, rather than sellers, at the trade deadline, since the team has exceeded expectations and doesn’t have its own first-round pick this year. “Sacramento is not incentivized to lose,” Windhorst said, per Sam Amico of AmicoHoops.net. “If anything, Sacramento will be gunning to think they have a chance to make the playoffs. Sacramento is actually one of the teams I’ve heard is out there on the trade market looking to improve itself because they have no incentive to tank.”
  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer explores a few potential trade options for the Rockets, arguing that the team needs wings and forwards with size and experience. O’Connor lists James Johnson, DeMarre Carroll, Markieff Morris, and Jeff Green as some veterans that could appeal to Houston.
  • With the Pelicans playing in Boston on Monday night, Anthony Davis trade speculation has been a popular subject so far this week. Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com explained why those whispers aren’t going away anytime soon, while Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry made light of the topic by joking with Celtics GM Danny Ainge about it, as Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald relays. As for Davis, he once again dismissed that chatter, telling Bontemps that he’s just focused on getting New Orleans back into the playoffs and making a deeper run than last year.
  • In an excellent, Insider-only breakdown for ESPN.com, Bobby Marks takes a team-by-team look at the trade market, identifying trade candidates, restrictions, and much more.

No Plans To Put Trail Blazers Up For Sale

Longtime Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen passed away in October, but his sister Jody Allen has no plans to sell the franchise anytime soon, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic.

“Nothing is for sale right now,” said Chris McGowan, the Blazers’ president and CEO. “We are operating business as usual and [Blazers president of basketball operations] Neil [Olshey] and I are collaborating regularly with her on all major organizational decisions.”

As Quick details, Jody Allen has decisively ruled on a handful of major decisions facing the team within the last couple months, including giving the front office the go-ahead to make a potential trade. Although that deal had ownership approval, it ultimately didn’t materialize.

According to McGowan, any rumors that Allen – who was named the executor and trustee of her brother’s estate after his death – is not in favor of keeping the Trail Blazers are “crazy talk and speculation.” McGowan also noted that he shared a three-year business plan for the Blazers with Allen and that the business side of the franchise is flourishing.

“Jody has empowered me and Neil to do our jobs,” McGowan said. “She makes the final decisions, but there has been no handcuffs … she has been a quick decision maker.”