Month: February 2024

Central Notes: Hill, Prunty, James, Porter

The Cavaliers got their first real payout from the George Hill acquisition during Game 7 against the Pacers on Sunday, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes. Hill returned from a back injury to score 11 points in 19 minutes but his health remains an issue in the upcoming series against the Raptors, Pluto continues. Hill was a pricey acquisition from the Kings, as Cleveland picked up a contract that will pay the veteran point guard $20MM this season and $19MM next year.

In other news around the Central Division:

  • Interim Joe Prunty will be a candidate to retain the Bucks’ head coaching job but there will be an open, active search to fill that spot, Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. There’s no timeline on the coaching search, but the Bucks will likely make a decision prior to the free agency period in July, Velazquez adds.
  • LeBron James run of seven straight Finals appearances will end abruptly in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Martin Rogers of the USA Today predicts. James’ heroics won’t be enough against the top seeded Raptors, who are better, younger, fresher, and more technically sound than Cleveland, Rogers adds.
  • Landing Michael Porter Jr. in the draft would be a best-case scenario for the Bulls, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times opines. Chicago wants to improve at the wing and Porter would fill that need as long as the medical reports on the Missouri freshman are positive, Cowley continues. The Bulls are not far enough along in their current rebuild to attract a top-level NBA wing player, so the draft is probably the best place to upgrade that area, according to Cowley.

Bucks Could Challenge Knicks For Budenholzer

The Bucks pose a threat to the Knicks in the pursuit of ex-Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

The Knicks are reportedly focused on Budenholzer and ex-Cavs coach David Blatt to replace Jeff Hornacek, who was fired after the season. But if Milwaukee decides not to remove the interim tag from Joe Prunty, several league sources told Berman that the Bucks would join the Budenholzer sweepstakes. The Bucks are already a playoff team and have a young superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo, adding to their appeal, Berman continues.

Prunty was named interim coach of the Bucks in late January when they fired Jason Kidd. The Bucks responded by making the playoffs and testing the Celtics to the limit in the opening round of the playoffs. Milwaukee hasn’t made any announcement regarding Prunty’s status.

The Bucks’ president is former Knicks executive Peter Feigin.

Southwest Notes: Davis, Leonard, Spurs, Bickerstaff

Grizzlies center Deyonta Davis is heading into a make-or-break offseason, according to Michael Wallace of the Grizzlies’ website. Davis has one more guaranteed year on his contract at $1.544MM but the Grizzlies might use their top-five lottery pick on another big man to eventually take Marc Gasol‘s place. Davis needs to be more assertive and dominate in Summer League games in order to solidify his NBA future, Wallace continues. His passive play and lack of energy was a big reason why he showed little to no progress in his second season, Wallace adds.

In other news around the Southwest Division:

  • The Spurs had two members in their organization in New York while Kawhi Leonard rehabbed his quad injury there, David Aldridge of reports. That shows the team and Leonard’s representatives had regular communication despite the rift between the two parties. However, the disconnect appears to go well beyond whether Leonard should have returned to action, Aldridge adds.
  • The Spurs’ string of 21 straight postseason appearances could end next season if Leonard forces their hand and they trade him, Sean Deveney of Sporting News opines. The player option decisions of guard Danny Green and forward Rudy Gay will also impact where the team’s future is headed, Deveney continues. The team needs to add younger players and draft picks, especially if they put Leonard on the block, Deveney adds.
  • Removing the interim tag from J.B. Bickerstaff was the right move for the Grizzlies, Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal opines. He earned the respect of the team’s top veterans, Gasol and Mike Conley, and the younger role players showed improvement after he replaced David Fizdale, Calkins continues. The franchise is intent on returning to the playoffs next season and there was no need to have the current roster adjust to a new voice, Calkins adds.

Community Shootaround: Pacers’ Future

The future looks bright for the Pacers. They surpassed expectations this season, making the playoffs and pushing the Cavaliers to the brink of elimination before LeBron James willed Cleveland to a Game 7 victory.

Indiana’s blockbuster trade with the Thunder turned out better than anyone could have anticipated. Victor Oladipo blossomed into a star, while Oklahoma City crashed in the first round and could lose Paul George in free agency.

The next step is how the Pacers approach the offseason. There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding other rotation players. The salaries of Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison are not guaranteed for next season. Thaddeus Young and Cory Joseph hold player options on their deals while the team has a contract option on Lance Stephenson.

It’s safe to say some, if not all of those players will return. The bigger question is how to improve the surrounding cast around Oladipo. The team will have the cap room to sign at least one, if not two, impact free agents depending upon those contract decisions.

Trades could also be pursued, and Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer suggests a bold approach. He feels the club should pursue the Rockets’ Clint Capela and then put Myles Turner on the trade block. O’Connor also brings up Magic forward Aaron Gordon, a versatile defender, and the Bucks’ offensively-gifted though injury-prone forward Jabari Parker as potential upgrades to the current unit.

That leads to our question of the day: If you were the Pacers’ GM, what changes would you make to turn them into a serious contender?

Please take to the comments section and let your opinion be heard. We look forward to what you have to say.

Southeast Notes: Larranaga, Anthony, Whiteside, Weltman

Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga is on the Hawks’ radar in their search for a head coach, Sam Amico of Amico Hoops reports. Larranaga has been an assistant with the Celtics since 2012 after being a head coach in the G League. The son of college coach Jim Larranaga has also coached in Ireland. The younger Larranaga is also on the long list of candidates for the Knicks’ coaching vacancy, Amico adds.

In other developments around the Southeast Division:

  • Trading for disgruntled Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony wouldn’t make any sense for the Heat, Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel argues. Miami already has a better defensive power forward in James Johnson and Anthony has already indicated he doesn’t want to come off the bench, Winderman continues. Anthony’s expiring contract wouldn’t give the Heat notable cap relief in 2019 because of the salary commitments they already have, Winderman adds.
  • Those salary commitments are also why it’s unlikely the Heat will deal Hassan Whiteside for an expiring contract or two, Winderman writes in a separate blog. In essence, they’d simply be giving away their center for nothing if they chose that route, Winderman continues. Whiteside has two years and $52.5MM remaining on his $98MM deal. The Bucks, Trail Blazers and Mavericks are among the potential landing spots for Whiteside if a trade goes through, according to Bryan Kalbrosky of Hoops Hype.
  • Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman will have final say in the head coaching hire, Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reports. Orlando is searching for a coach after firing Frank Vogel. “If you’re asking do I have autonomy to do this job, I can tell you simply that I would not have come here had I not,” Weltman told Robbins.
  • The Hornets’ coaching search could get complicated if they chose to pursue former Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer notes. Reuniting Budenholzer with center Dwight Howard wouldn’t be a good idea, given how their relationship deteriorated in Atlanta, Bonnell adds.

Thunder Rumors: Westbrook, Anthony, Donovan, George

The Thunder need to change their offensive system if they’re ever going to get deep in the playoffs again, Zach Lowe of ESPN argues in a detailed look at the team’s scheme over the years. Their overreliance on Russell Westbrook proved to be their downfall once again in the series against the Jazz. Westbrook used up 38% of their possessions in the series, a higher rate than even LeBron James had for the Cavaliers in the first round, Lowe notes. The Thunder need their other star players to have more coherent roles as well as build a better bench, so that they can hold their own when Westbrook rests. Lowe adds.

In other Thunder-related news and musings:

  • Trading Carmelo Anthony is the least likely outcome this offseason as the team tries to figure out what to do with the aging and disgruntled forward, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman writes. Not only would it be tough to trade his contract if he picks up his $27.9MM option, he also has a no-trade clause, Horne notes. A buyout or utilizing the stretch provision are more viable options, or the team could simply retain him and hope for better results, Horne adds.
  • Making a decision whether to retain coach Billy Donovan ranks as the biggest issue immediately confronting the team, Sean Deveney of the Sporting News opines. Trying to hold onto impending free agent Paul George and figuring out a way to shed Anthony are two of the other major issues hanging over their head, Deveney continues. The recovery of defensive ace Andre Roberson from a knee injury is another concern, Deveney adds.
  • Donovan will probably keep his job but it could be even more difficult next season, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman argues. While the players generally respect and like Donovan, they don’t always follow his orders, Tramel continues Things could get even dicier next season if George doesn’t re-sign.However, Donovan still has two years and $12MM left on his contract, and that should work in his favor, Tramel adds.
  • George is quite aware how important he is to the organization and its future, Horne writes in a separate piece. George has been impressed with the franchise during his first season in Oklahoma City but there’s no telling if he’ll return. “We’ve had the high moments where we’ve seen what we can be,” George told Horne and other media members. “That’s the consistency part of just getting an identity as a group. I think we’re close. I think we’re close to accomplishing something bigger here.”

Draft Updates: Early Entrant Decisions, Peters, Daum

More than 50 NCAA underclassmen have already hired agents – or plan to – and have forfeited their remaining college eligibility, but there are another 100+ early entrants who will have to decide in the next month whether to keep their names in the draft or return to school.

In his latest piece for The Athletic, Michael Scotto took a closer look at five of those underclassmen who have decisions to make, speaking to three NBA general managers, four executives, and a scout about Tyus Battle (Syracuse), Khyri Thomas (Creighton), Jarred Vanderbilt (Kentucky), PJ Washington (Kentucky), and Bruno Fernando (Maryland).

While all eight talent evaluators who spoke to Scotto believe that Thomas should go pro, they were divided on Battle and Vanderbilt, and the majority felt that Washington and Fernando should head back to their respective programs.

Here are a few more draft notes and updates:

  • Mississippi State guard Lamar Peters, who entered the 2018 NBA draft without hiring an agent, has decided to withdraw from the process and return to school for his junior year, he announced on Twitter. Peters will rejoin teammates Aric Holman and Nick Weatherspoon, both of whom considered testing the draft waters but ultimately didn’t enter their names.
  • South Dakota State forward Mike Daum will also withdraw from the draft process and head back to school for the 2018/19 season, he announced over the weekend (via Twitter). Daum will look to follow up a junior year that saw him average 23.9 PPG and 10.3 RPG for the Jackrabbits.
  • There’s no consensus among elite high school prospects on whether the elimination of the one-and-done rule for draft prospects would be a good thing, as Jason Jordan of USA Today details. While most players who spoke to Jordan were in favor of giving prospects more freedom by adjusting the rule, others worried that doing so could result in a flood of early entrants who aren’t yet ready for the next level.

Wolves Will Prioritize Adding Wings In Offseason

The Timberwolves will look to improve their depth on the wing this offseason, head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau told reporters today. As Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic tweets, Thibodeau indicated that acquiring wing players who can shoot three-pointers and guard multiple positions is Minnesota’s top priority during the offseason.

Most of the Wolves’ top contributors – including Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford, and Nemanja Bjelica – shot a little from the outside in 2017/18, but no player on the roster made more than 1.5 threes per game. As a team, the Wolves made 8.0 three-pointers per contest, which ranked dead last in the NBA.

By comparison, Minnesota’s first-round opponent – the let-it-fly Rockets – led the league with 15.3 threes per game and had six players who knocked down at least two per game. So it’s no surprise that adding more three-point shooting on the wing will be a key focus for the Wolves this offseason.

Here’s more out of Minnesota:

  • Krawczynski and Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune (Twitter link) both interpreted Thibodeau’s comments today as good news for Derrick Rose‘s potential return to the team. Thibodeau called Rose – who is an unrestricted free agent this summer – a “terrific addition,” Zgoda notes.
  • Timberwolves GM Scott Layden suggested there will be a lot of activity around the draft, acknowledging that the club could explore trading its first-round pick, tweets Krawczynski. Zgoda expands on Layden’s comments, tweeting that the GM believes that first-rounder represents a chance to “get in the game” when it comes to making a trade offer for an impact player. However, Layden did say Minnesota would be happy to use the pick if there’s a player on the board who can “help us now.”
  • Layden expressed some regret that he wasn’t more active at the trade deadline, indicating he expects to be more aggressive this summer (Twitter link via Krawczynski).
  • Thibodeau anticipates Wiggins will have a good offseason entering the 2018/19 campaign, since he won’t have to deal with the distraction of working out a contract extension this time around, like he did a year ago (Twitter link via Krawczynski).
  • Butler was just dealing with general soreness in his right knee at the end of the season, and won’t require any additional procedures on that knee, Thibodeau said today (Twitter link via Zgoda).

Pat Riley Talks Roster, Whiteside, Wade, Ellington

Addressing reporters at his end-of-season press conference on Monday, Heat president Pat Riley said he and the team’s front office will continue to work on improving the roster this summer, adding that he’d not bothered by a relative lack of cap flexibility heading into the offseason.

“We’re not going to stop and it doesn’t make any difference how we do it,” Riley said, per Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald. “Whether you’re a room team, whether you’re capped out, whether you’ve got a lot of guys under contract, whether you’re limited with your picks, you keep working toward your goal. That’s what we’re going to do. How we’re going to do it is irrelevant.”

While Riley said the Heat would like to keep their “core guys” together and give that group more help, he acknowledged that he’ll be open to virtually any avenue that could make the team better, confirming that no one on the roster is untouchable.

“Right now we have a bunch of guys that can still get better,” Riley said. “While internal improvement and development is a huge part of our organization, going outside and looking around, now is the opportunity to have those conversations — trying to find a transformative player, maybe, is probably what our challenge is going to be.”

Here’s more from Riley on the Heat, via Navarro and Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald:

  • Riley stated that Hassan Whiteside had “a bad year” in 2017/18, but he believes in the young center’s ability to bounce back next season, suggesting that Whiteside and head coach Erik Spoelstra need to get on the same page for that to happen. “I still think and believe Hassan can anchor in spite of what a lot of people believe,” Riley said.
  • Riley recently spoke to Dwyane Wade, but didn’t broach the subject of retirement. “I don’t like to talk to a player about retirement because when start talking to a player about retirement, guess what? He retires,” Riley said. “So I don’t want to talk to he or UD (Udonis Haslem) about retirement because I think both players are still in great shape. They both can play.”
  • There’s “no doubt” that the Heat want to re-sign Wayne Ellington, according to Riley. However, the team president admitted that it’ll be tricky to do so without going into tax territory. “If we signed Wayne, OK, next year and he takes us into the tax, then that guy right over there (GM Andy Elisburg) has 15 months to get us out,” Riley said.
  • Riley isn’t bothered by not having a first-round pick in this year’s draft, noting that he’s “not a draft pick guy” and feels like the Heat only really need a first-rounder once every two years. “We hope one of the guys we really like that we can sign on July 1 might be tantamount to a first-round pick this year,” Riley said. He also observed that when Miami can acquire a player like Goran Dragic using mid-first-rounders like this year’s (No. 16 overall), he’d “much rather have” the Dragic-type veteran than the rookie.

Poll: Toronto Raptors Vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Although there’s plenty of intrigue among the NBA’s four Conference Semifinal matchups this spring, most of those series look like they have clear favorites.

A panel of nearly two-dozen ESPN experts unanimously selected the Rockets and Warriors to earn spots in the Western Conference Finals by defeating the Jazz and Pelicans, respectively. Utah and New Orleans looked great in the first round and could still give the favorites a run for their money, but their Game 1 performances didn’t inspire a ton of confidence.

In the East, ESPN’s panel heavily favors the Sixers over the Celtics in the first of two Eastern Conference series. If Kyrie Irving and/or Gordon Hayward were healthy, this would be a more fascinating matchup, but as well-coached as the Celtics are, they may not have the talent to keep up with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid for seven games. Despite holding home court advantage, Boston enters the series as a major underdog, with 18 of 21 ESPN experts picking the 76ers to win.

That leaves one series, the Raptors vs. the Cavaliers, as a potential toss-up. The analytics data – along with each team’s performance in the regular season and first round – favors the Raptors, but history favors the Cavs. After all, Cleveland has eliminated Toronto in each of the past two postseasons, winning eight of 10 games over the Raptors in those two series.

There’s reason to believe that this year’s Raptors squad can end that streak. The club is deeper than ever, featuring the NBA’s best five-man bench unit. Additionally, star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have bought into an offensive system that features more ball movement and less isolation play. That system has been a huge success all season long, including against the Cavs — the Raps averaged nearly 123 points per game vs. Cleveland in three regular season contests.

Still, the Cavs won two of those three games during the regular season. While LeBron James‘ play keyed those victories – particularly in a 35-point, 17-assist, 0-turnover performance in March – Cleveland’s supporting cast came up big too. Kevin Love, Jose Calderon, and Jeff Green played particularly well in the Cavs’ two wins over Toronto, and George Hill racked up 22 points in March’s game. If Cleveland’s role players can keep up that sort of production against the Raps in the postseason, it would take a huge load off James, who carried the team to a first-round win.

This will be a fascinating series to watch. Does LeBron still have Toronto’s number? Will he get more help vs. Toronto than he did against Indiana? Will the Raptors’ home-court advantage be a deciding factor? (Both of their regular-season losses to the Cavs came in Cleveland).

ESPN’s experts favor the Cavs by a 12-7 margin, but the oddsmakers at view the Raptors as a 2-to-1 favorite. Which side do you fall on? Is this the year the Raps dethrone the King and end James’ streak of seven straight NBA Finals appearances, or will LeBron and the Cavs eliminate Toronto for a third straight season?

Vote below in our poll, then jump into the comment section to share your thoughts!

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