Pacific Notes: Kerr, Curry, Payton, Fox, Kings, LeBron

Stephen Curry smiled at his locker on Friday night when he realized Steve Kerr‘s new two-year extension now aligns with his own contract, which expires after the 2025/26 season, per Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic. Curry offered emphatic support for the deal.

There’s a handful of player-coach and trio-coach stories in league history that are comparable to ours,” Curry said. “And that’s not by accident. … He’s been such a consistent presence. Not just the X’s and O’s, but of managing the lows and the highs, mainly the highs, that we’ve been at. People think it’s easy. But with success comes expectation. The nuance of keeping things together and managing not just in here, but managing up as well, it’s hard. It just reminds you of the special personality and character you have to have to do this job.

Draymond Green, another key member of Golden State’s dynasty, was also happy to learn of Kerr’s extension, tweets Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

I think it’s incredible,” Green said. “I wouldn’t want finish my time here with any other coach. The way he’s been to this franchise, what he’s done for us as players, the winning ways that he brought here, you can’t replace that. So, very happy for Steve and his family.”

Here’s more from the Pacific:

  • After missing Thursday’s contest vs. the Lakers, Warriors defensive ace Gary Payton II was back in action on Friday against Charlotte, as Slater relays (via Twitter). Payton, who finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 11 minutes during the victory, has been limited to 21 games thus far in 2023/24 due to calf and hamstring strains.
  • According to Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee (Twitter links), Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox admitted on Tuesday that he’s been battling a right shoulder issue, but said the injury was minor and he hasn’t undergone an MRI because “it was never serious enough for me to do that.” There has been speculation that Fox might have been dealing with an ailment, as his offensive efficiency has waned a bit the past couple months after an excellent start to the 2023/24 campaign. The one-time All-Star had a strong performance in Thursday’s win over San Antonio, recording 28 points, nine assists, five rebounds and two steals while shooting 12-of-18 from the floor in 37 minutes.
  • Head coach Mike Brown has continually stressed that the Kings need to improve their defense to have a shot at postseason success, Anderson writes for The Sacramento Bee. After being ranked No. 25 in defensive rating last season, Sacramento is currently No. 19 in that category this season. However, the offense — which was ranked No. 1 in the league in 2022/23 — has slipped to No. 14. “We know we’ve got to improve the offense back closer to what it was last year,” GM Monte McNair said after the trade deadline. “If we do that, I think we can make some noise, but we’ve got some work to do because the West is tough 1 to 12 or 13 this year and every game is going to be a dogfight.” Anderson considers whether the team’s coach and top front office executive are on the same page when it comes to the balance of offense and defense.
  • As expected, Lakers superstar LeBron James returned to action on Friday vs. San Antonio after missing Thursday’s game with a left ankle injury that has been bothering him for some time. He was upgraded from questionable to probable before suiting up for the contest, tweets ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. The 39-year-old finished with 30 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in 34 minutes.

Eastern Notes: Tatum, P. Williams, Nesmith, Cavs, LeVert

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum says he was “devastated” when Boston lost to Golden State in the 2022 NBA Finals, according to Jared Weiss of The Athletic. Tatum was determined to advance as a play-maker after that experience, something he has continually improved upon over the years.

The easiest way to say it is, I was devastated,” Tatum said. “I got so close and didn’t perform the way I wanted to, and we didn’t win. At that time, besides my family, nothing else mattered but getting better and getting back to that point.”

Tatum had plenty of individual and team success through his first six seasons, with three All-NBA nods and three other trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, as Weiss writes, Tatum knows that the only way to become “the face of the league” is by claiming a championship.

I feel like it’s mine to take,” Tatum said. “I do feel like, if we win a championship, it would be more distinguished and clear. But I understand I’m in that shortlist for sure.”

Here’s more from the Eastern Conference:

  • Bulls forward Patrick Williams is undergoing season-ending left foot surgery. He told reporters on Saturday that he had been trying to get back on the court by the end of February, but imaging revealed a fracture in his injured foot (Twitter link via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago). Williams is scheduled for surgery on March 6 in New York, with an expectation that he’ll resume basketball activities in July. As Johnson writes in a full story, the 22-year-old said he’s open to returning to Chicago as a restricted free agent this summer. “I don’t think anybody knows what their future is to be honest,” Williams said. “I would love to continue to be a Bull. I love it here. I love the opportunity we have to build culture, to build something special with this group and this team. I think I could really be a cornerstone piece for this team. But you never know what the future holds, and I understand it’s a business.
  • Fourth-year forward Aaron Nesmith, who is having a career-best season for the Pacers, was sidelined for Thursday’s win over Detroit due to an ankle injury and is considered day-to-day. Head coach Rick Carlisle said the 24-year-old was able to increase his activity a bit during Saturday’s practice, tweets Tony East of SI.com. The Pacers’ next game is Sunday against the red-hot Mavericks, winners of seven straight.
  • The Cavaliers dropped their first two games after the All-Star break without Donovan Mitchell, who has been battling an illness. Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com (subscriber link) says the Cavs need more from their bench unit, particularly from Caris LeVert, who was just 3-of-21 from the field in those two losses. “I liked my looks tonight, especially in the second half,” LeVert told Fedor after going 1-of-11 on Friday. “I’m happy with how the ball is leaving my hands. Sometimes you go through that. Is what it is. It’s the NBA. Try not to think too much about it. Just continue to do what I do and be who I am. Do the same stuff outside of games and things like that. Just gotta keep going. I’m due for a big game.”

Hawks’ Okongwu Out At Least Two Weeks With Toe Sprain

FEBRUARY 24: Okongwu has been placed in a walking boot and will miss at least two weeks, which is when he’ll be reevaluated, the Hawks announced in a press release.


FEBRUARY 22: Hawks big man Onyeka Okongwu will be sidelined “for the foreseeable future” with a left big toe sprain, head coach Quin Snyder said on Thursday, per Lauren L. Williams of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link).

I don’t want to speak out of turn as far as a timeline goes, but he’s not going to be available for the foreseeable future,” Synder said (Twitter link via Brad Rowland of Locked On Hawks).

Okongwu had only missed one game this season prior to last Monday’s loss to Chicago, which is when he sustained the injury. Unfortunately, it sounds like he could miss a good deal of time.

The 23-year-old played one college season at USC before being selected sixth overall by Atlanta in 2020. Okongwu is a key reserve for the Hawks, averaging 10.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG and 1.1 BPG on .610/.338/.800 shooting in 53 games in 2023/24 (25.8 MPG).

Snyder also said starting center Clint Capela will be back in action on Friday vs. Toronto after dealing with a left adductor strain. However, the Swiss big man will be on a minutes restriction. Capela had missed the past six games with the injury, with Feb. 3 being his last appearance.

With Okongu out, the Hawks will likely continue to lean on Jalen Johnson and Bruno Fernando for minutes at the backup five spot.

The Hawks are currently 24-31, the No. 10 seed in the East.

Grizzlies Release Gilyard, Sign Goodwin To Two-Way Deal

The Grizzlies have released Jacob Gilyard and filled his two-way spot by signing Jordan Goodwin, the team announced in a press release (via Twitter).

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was first to report the moves (Twitter link), noting that Gilyard made a “positive impression” on Memphis despite being waived. He initially signed a two-way deal with the Grizzlies last April, making one appearance as a rookie in 2022/23.

Players on two-way contracts can only be active for 50 NBA games in a season. As we relayed a few days ago, Gilyard — a 5’9″ point guard who went undrafted in 2022 out of Richmond — was nearly at the 50-game limit, and the Grizzlies have a full 15-man standard roster.

Instead of converting him to a standard deal and having to waive someone on a guaranteed contract, they decided to cut Gilyard, who averaged 4.7 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 42.5% from deep in 37 games this season (17.7 minutes). He’ll still receive his full two-way salary, but two-way deals don’t count against the salary cap, whereas standard deals do.

Gilyard will become an unrestricted free agent on Monday if he clears waivers.

Memphis initially signed Goodwin to a 10-day hardship contract before the All-Star break. That deal expired after last night’s loss to the Clippers, but the Grizzlies will keep him around on a two-way contract.

A third-year guard out of Saint Louis, Goodwin has previously played for the Wizards and Suns. He has averaged 10.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals in two appearances thus far with Memphis (26.5 minutes).

The Grizzlies have a full 18-man roster, with all three two-way slots filled.

Atlantic Notes: Achiuwa, Hartenstein, Lowry, Barnes, Quickley

Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa took over the starting power forward position over the past 10 games in Julius Randle‘s absence and has played some of the best basketball of his career during that stretch, The Athletic’s Fred Katz writes. Achiuwa is averaging 14.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.5 blocks in his last 10 outings, including three games with more than 15 rebounds.

Achiuwa flew under the radar when he was moved to New York in the trade for OG Anunoby, but he’s been one of the team’s steadiest contributors after uneven stops in Miami and Toronto to begin his career, Katz writes. Playing under coach Tom Thibodeau has unlocked aspects of Achiuwa’s game, including effective fake dribble handoffs.

You knew there was versatility to his game,” Thibodeau said. “But we didn’t understand the dribble handoff part of it, all those things. And the offensive rebounding is something that we liked from the start. We knew he was very effective with that.

The Knicks will have some decisions to make once Randle returns to the lineup, but Achiuwa is making a strong case to be included in a fully healthy rotation, according to Katz.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein returned to the court on Thursday after missing three games with injury. However, according to New York Post’s Stefan Bondy, Hartenstein left the arena with “a little frustration” about his minutes because they differed from his ramp-up plan. Hartenstein said he was supposed to hit the 21-minute mark but he only played 11 in a win over the Sixers.
  • Kyle Lowry made his debut with the Sixers on Thursday, scoring 11 points, four rebounds and five assists while receiving a standing ovation in front of his hometown crowd. “It was an amazing atmosphere and the ovation that I got was awesome. I was happy,” Lowry said, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “I was pissed that we lost and we were in that situation, but it was a great moment. Now for me it’s about winning basketball games.” Lowry was born in Philadelphia and played college ball at Villanova.
  • When the Raptors acquired Immanuel Quickley, they added an athletic guard who can shoot the ball — an ideal complement on paper to star Scottie Barnes. While there have been some bright spots with the pairing, The Athletic’s Eric Koreen observes that it’s still a work in progress. Each player is playing individually well, but Toronto is looking for more synchronicity with the duo, per Koreen.

Southwest Notes: Wembanyama, Jackson, Mavs, McCollum

Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama became the youngest player to record an elusive 5×5 on Friday, recording at least five points, five rebounds, five assists, five steals and five blocks in the same game. Wembanyama joined Jamaal Tinsley as the only rookies in league history to accomplish the feat and he became just the second player, behind Michael Jordan, to record back-to-back games of five steals and five blocks.

What Wembanyama is doing as a rookie is unheard of, as emphasized by his stat line against the Lakers: 27 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, five blocks and five steals. In his last four games, the rookie is averaging 24.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.8 blocks, 5.5 assists and 3.3 steals.

Still, Wembanyama’s postgame comments suggest he’s more concerned about trying to win games than individual stats. When asked about joining Jordan in the history books, Wembanyama said “I wonder if he did it in wins,” according to ESPN’s Andrew Lopez.

Lakers superstar LeBron James had high praise for the 20-year-old rookie phenom after the game, calling Wembanyama one of the best rookies he’s ever seen.

He doesn’t have a ceiling,” James said. “He can do whatever he wants to do with his career. It seems like he enjoys the game. It seems like he puts in the work. Just from the outside looking in, I’m not with him on a day-to-day basis, but I said a long time ago how special he was, and it’s literally that simple.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies rookie GG Jackson II has been one of the bright spots of an unusually tough season in Memphis and it looks like his offensive role with the team is going to continue to grow. According to Damichael Cole of The Commercial Appeal, coach Taylor Jenkins said the team will look to transition Jackson from a secondary creator to a primary one and will put the ball in his hands more, though he’ll likely continue to come off the bench. “I feel like they put a lot of trust in me and they see the confidence in my game,” Jackson said.
  • The Mavericks are on a seven-game win streak despite having dealt with a plethora of injuries all season, writes Tim Cato of The Athletic. To illustrate just how unhealthy the Mavs have been, Cato points out that Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic have played fewer total games together (45) since Irving joined the team midway through last season than Bucks stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard have. Now, after trading for P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford at the deadline and getting players healthier, head coach Jason Kidd will have rotation questions to sort through. “We’re deep,” Kidd said. “This is the first time the Mavs have been deep in a long time.” Outside of Doncic, Irving and their new trade acquisitions, Dereck Lively, Josh Green and Derrick Jones Jr. are among those who have impressed this year.
  • Pelicans guard CJ McCollum suffered a left ankle injury on Friday night against Miami and did not return after initially being deemed questionable, according to team PR (Twitter link). McCollum is averaging 18.8 points and 4.6 assists per game this season for New Orleans.

Pistons Notes: Williams, Rotation, Wiseman, Grimes

The Pistons went 11 deep into their rotation through the first 13 minutes of their Thursday loss to the Pacers. According to James L. Edwards III of The Athletic, it felt like Detroit was auditioning for players who might be on next season’s roster, even though coach Monty Williams denied that was the case a day earlier.

I’m not going to be throwing combinations on the floor to just be looking at certain combinations,” Williams said Wednesday. “We’re done with that, in my opinion. We’re trying to develop guys, for sure, but we’re going to try and win every game we can so that we can create what we feel [will give us momentum] going into the summer.

In Edwards’ view, it doesn’t feel like there’s much synergy with the rotations Williams is putting on the floor. If the team is prioritizing winning, Edwards writes, it doesn’t make sense that James Wiseman is earning minutes over Mike Muscala and there’s been no staggering the minutes of franchise guards Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey. But it doesn’t feel like development is the priority in the rotation either, according to Edwards, because rookie Marcus Sasser played fewer minutes than Evan Fournier and Malachi Flynn.

The deep rotations and new faces are making it difficult for any consistency to develop in Detroit and too many minutes are being given to players who might not be on the roster next season, Edwards writes.

In response to questions surrounding his 11-man rotation on Thursday, Williams explained that he told the coaches he’d prefer to run with about nine rotation players but Sasser bumped his knee and that’s why he ended up using Flynn more (Twitter link via Omari Sankofa II of Detroit Free Press).

We have more Pistons notes:

  • Williams also explained his decision to play Wiseman over Muscala (Twitter link via Sankofa). “I like what he’s giving us, especially on the defensive side,” Williams said of the former No. 2 overall pick. According to Sankofa, Williams said that the rim protection Wiseman provides is more important when smaller guards like Sasser and Flynn are on the floor.
  • Wiseman is hoping to shed the bust label he picked up after being traded away for a modest return at the 2023 deadline after he was drafted second overall in 2020, according to FOX Sports’ Melissa Rohlin. “I believe I can be a great player,” Wiseman said. His career has been derailed by a combination of injuries, illness and a lack of NBA preparedness, Rohlin writes.
  • Quentin Grimes, acquired by the Pistons at the deadline, is listed as probable ahead of their Saturday matchup against Orlando, according to Sankofa (Twitter link). Grimes hasn’t played since being traded due to a right knee sprain, but averaged 8.6 points per game while connecting on 37.9% of his three-pointers in his first three seasons in the league.

Northwest Notes: Conley, George, Blazers, Nuggets

Timberwolves point guard Mike Conley will earn $9,975,962 in 2024/25 followed by $10,774,038 in ’25/26 as part of his new two-year extension, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link). It’s a straight two-year contract with no options, and Conley can’t be traded for six months due to the 8% raise in year two of the extension, Marks adds.

Appearing on NBA Countdown, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said (Twitter video link) Conley initially wasn’t thrilled that Utah sent him to Minnesota at last year’s deadline, having instead hoped to land with the Lakers or Clippers. However, he and his family now love the area and he was enthusiastic about staying with the Wolves.

In a story for ESPN.com, Kevin Pelton writes that Conley’s extension looks like a win for the Wolves on the court and off, even though they’re almost certain to be a second apron team in 2024/25. Pelton says the No. 1 seed in the West is well worth spending money on. Minnesota has only paid the tax once in franchise history, but Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez are set to become majority stakeholders next season.

Pelton also examines Minnesota’s free agents this summer and ways in which the team could trim payroll, which seems unlikely barring an unforeseen development.

Here’s more from the Northwest:

  • Jazz guard Keyonte George, the 16th pick of last year’s draft, spent the summer watching all 82 of Utah’s games from 2022/23 to prepare for his rookie campaign, he tells Krysten Peek of Yahoo Sports. “I watched as much film as I could just so I knew what my role was going to be coming in,” George said. “I knew Mike (Conley) was gone, so I just had to go into a new situation, trying to be a lead guard, and I was trying to speed up the process. My main goal was to be effective as soon as possible so I wanted to put myself in a position to be knowledgeable and not think about what I was doing in a new system and just play.” Known as more of scorer coming out of Baylor, George knew facilitating would be key to NBA minutes. He says he continues to study other players to gain an edge. “As the year has gone on, I’ve felt way more comfortable and my shot is starting to fall,” George added. “Definitely the game is slowing down for me. I’ve been watching games around the league and seeing how other guards get to their spots and just trying to figure out my spots and my shot selection.”
  • The Trail Blazers have reached a five-year “bridge agreement” with the city of Portland that will keep the team in the Moda Center through at least 2030, with the current lease expiring in 2025, per Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. The Blazers own the arena but the city leases the land. President of business operations Dewayne Hankins said the move will keep the team in Portland and owner Jody Allen has instructed the Blazers to get a long-term deal done with the city.
  • The Nuggets are 25-8 with all five starters active but just 12-11 when at least one player from the group is unavailable. With that in mind, head coach Michael Malone says he’s more focused on repeating as NBA champions instead of angling for the West’s top seed, as Bennett Durando of The Denver Post writes. “For me, (the top seed) is not a top one or two priority, to be very honest,” Malone said. “We talked about that with our team today. The good thing is Minnesota is No. 1. We play them three more times. We’re three games out (of first place). So we have avenues to become the No. 1 team. It’s definitely attainable. But I don’t want to win that battle and lose the bigger war. … I think having home court in the first round is very, very important. I think having a healthy team going into the postseason is very important. And if we happen to be the No. 1 seed, that’s just a cherry on top. But we’re not gonna put all our cards in just to attain that and to risk being healthy for a very deep playoff run.”

Steve Kerr Signing Two-Year Extension With Warriors

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is signing a two-year, $35MM contract extension, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Kerr will reportedly become the highest-paid coach in the league when his new deal kicks in next season. As Wojnarowski observes, Gregg Popovich technically makes more annually, but he’s also San Antonio’s president of basketball operations.

Now in his 10th season as the Warriors’ lead coach, Kerr holds a career regular season record of 501-264 (.655) and has accumulated a 99-41 (.707) playoff record, winning four championships and making six Finals appearances during that span.

Kerr also won five championships with the Bulls and Spurs across 15 seasons as a role player in the NBA, with other stops in Phoenix, Cleveland, Orlando and Portland. While he was limited in other areas, he was an elite shooter, with a career slash line of .479/.454/.864 across 910 regular season games (17.8 MPG).

Owner Joe Lacob has expressed confidence about retaining Kerr for the past several months, including as recently as last week, and now a deal has finally come to fruition. The 58-year-old was in the final year of his contract.

While Kerr’s coaching record speaks for itself, the Warriors have certainly had their challenges in 2023/24, with Draymond Green being suspended multiple times and at one point Jonathan Kuminga reportedly losing faith in Kerr. However, after discussing the situation with the veteran coach, Kuminga has gone on to play the best stretch of basketball of his career.

Kerr’s extension aligns with the remaining years that Stephen Curry is under contract, observes Anthony Slater of The Athletic (Twitter link), who confirms the news. Both Kerr and Curry now have deals that run through 2025/26.

Kerr’s contract situation is now resolved, but Klay Thompson — another key member of Golden State’s dynasty — remains an impending free agent. Lacob has said he hopes Thompson will remain a Warrior for the rest of his career.

After going 9-2 over their past 11 games, the Warriors are currently 28-26, the No. 10 seed in the West.

Sixers’ Melton Returns Friday After Lengthy Absence

Sixers guard De’Anthony Melton returned from an 18-game absence on Friday vs. Cleveland, tweets Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Melton, who last played on January 12, has been dealing with a lumbar injury in his back.

The 25-year-old had started all 33 games in which he appeared this season prior to Friday, when he came off the bench on a minutes restriction. Melton, one of the team’s best defenders, has averaged 11.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.2 APG and 1.6 SPG on .393/.363/.827 shooting in 29.1 MPG through 33 contests.

Veteran forward Nicolas Batum had also missed the past nine games leading into the All-Star break with a hamstring injury prior to Thursday, when he played 18 minutes in the loss to New York. While he was technically available for the back-to-back Friday, he hasn’t actually played through three quarters, likely just to be cautious because he’s 35 and soft-tissue injuries are tricky.

As our tracker shows, Melton and Batum are two of a possible 14 free agents for the Sixers in 2024. That’s the highest FA total in the league — the Lakers are second with up to 11.

Melton, who is also eligible for a veteran extension, is making $8MM in 2023/24, while Batum makes $11.7MM.

The Sixers are currently 32-23, the No. 5 seed in the East.