Month: May 2019

Warriors Clinch Fifth Straight Division Title

The Warriors, aiming for their fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, have clinched the first step in that process.

After a 137-90 blowout win over the Hornets on Sunday, Golden State clinched its fifth straight Pacific Division crown. In the process, head coach Steve Kerr joined Pat Riley as the only coaches in NBA history to win division titles in each of first five seasons at the helm.

Led by a powerhouse lineup that features former MVP’s Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, along with near-perennial All-Stars Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors are poised for another deep postseason run. Cousins, whom the Warriors signed last summer despite suffering a torn Achilles, has slowly been rounding back into All-Star form.

The 2018/19 season, while still having Golden State at the forefront, has been arguably the most challenging for the current core. The back-to-back NBA champions — and winners of three of the past four titles — have faced constant questions on the future of Durant, who may depart in free agency. Despite that, the Warriors’ 52-24 record has the team one game ahead of the Nuggets for the best in the Western Conference.

Luke Walton To LeBron James On Playing Rest Of Year: “Not Worth It”

LeBron James first season in Lakers purple and gold did not go to plan, as he will miss the postseason for the first time in 2005. Earlier this week, the team announced James would be shut down for the rest of the year.

“After consulting with our team doctors and medical staff, we have decided to hold LeBron out of games for the remainder of the season,” the team said in a statement released by president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka.“This decision will allow his groin to fully heal, and is best for the future success of both LeBron and the Lakers.” (Twitter link)

Head coach Luke Walton expanded on the team’s decision shut down its superstar. Despite James’ desire to play and compete, the team wanted the 34-year-old to rest up and enjoy a healthy offseason. James missed over a month due to a serious groin injury earlier in the season, which limited him to just 55 games this season.

“He wants to play,” Walton told reporters. “My understanding from the medical staff, they finally said, ‘Look, it’s just not worth it anymore. Let’s make sure you have a healthy summer.'”

James still posted solid numbers, averaging 27.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG and 8.3 APG for Los Angeles. Given the Lakers’ reported interest in pairing LeBron with another superstar this summer, the team wants him healthy if that happens.

Lauri Markkanen On Season-Ending Health Scare: “I Felt Weird”

The Bulls shut down big man Lauri Markkanen on Wednesday after he experienced “an episode of rapid heart rate and fatigue” during Tuesday’s contest against the Raptors. Markkanen was kept overnight in a Toronto hospital following Chicago’s game before being ruled out for the remainder of the season.

As NBC Sports Chicago’s Mark Strotman writes, Markkanen was “not worried” but felt off during Tuesday’s contest. After a sluggish first half, he did not return to the game.

“I wasn’t really worried at any point,” Markkanen said. “Just felt really weird. How you are after a workout and a couple minutes in (to the game) I felt like I already finished a workout. It was kind of tough stuff but I’m still alive. It wasn’t scary but it felt pretty weird.”

Markannen, 21, appeared in 52 total contests for Chicago this season after missing 23 games earlier in 2018/19 due to an elbow sprain. The Finnish center said he wanted to finish out the regular season on a high note, but the unexpected medical episode did not permit that.

“I took a lot of pride on if I had something small just playing through it and not missing any more games,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate, but health is the most important. So I’m frustrated I can’t play but it is what it is.”

While Markkanen’s season ended prematurely, he certainly showed some sophomore year improvements. He set career-highs across several categories, most notably PPG (18.7), RPG (9.0) and MPG (32.3).

Pacific Notes: Bell, Chase Center, Oubre, Kings

Following a one-game suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team,” Warriors big man Jordan Bell has apologized to the team and hopes to move on from the incident, ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes.

“I made an error of judgment,” Bell said to NBC Sports Bay Area. “And I thought I was doing something funny, and it wasn’t. But I apologized to the individuals involved, and I hope to continue to move forward from this mistake.”

The incident in question involved Bell making unauthorized charges to assistant coach Mike Brown’s hotel room, as Friedell confirms. While the nature of the incident reportedly stems from a rookie hazing Bell underwent himself, the Warriors are also concerned about Bell’s work ethic this season.

Check out more Pacific Division notes:

  • The Warriors are in the midst of building a new home arena, Chase Center, which is set to open later this season. However, the new venue has generated over $2 billion in revenue before it’s official opening, according to a Bloomberg report.
  • Suns wing Kelly Oubre has nothing but fond memories of his tenure with the Wizards in Washington, Josh Luckenbaugh of NBC Sports Washington writes. “It’s always love,” Oubre said. “D.C. fans have embraced me from day one, and I have nothing but love for them.” 
  • After Saturday’s loss to the Rockets, the Kings were officially eliminated from postseason contention. As Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee writes, the loss ended a promising season that generated plenty of optimism for the team’s future.
  • ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Subscription required) dives into the Kings‘ next moves, which includes key decisions on the long-term futures of Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein

Southeast Notes: Beal, Waiters, Graham, Hornets

Despite missing out on the playoffs, Wizards star Bradley Beal refuses to blame his team’s shortcomings on owner Ted Leonsis or upper management.

Washington fell to 31-46 on the season by losing to the Jazz on Friday, holding just a 22-16 record at home and 9-30 record on the road. Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld — overseen by Leonsis — put together a roster that many league observers were confident would make the playoffs when the season started. However, a series of injuries, shuffled pieces and bad chemistry eventually ended the team’s chances at making the tournament this year.

“And for me, my higher calling – I’ve let people down this year with the Wizards,” Leonsis said, according to NBC Sports Washington. “I want every one of our teams to make the playoffs and win a championship.”

Coming into the season, the Wizards sported a projected starting lineup of John Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard. However, Wall underwent season-ending heel surgery in December (in addition to rupturing his Achilles in January), Porter was traded to Chicago, Morris was traded (and then waived by New Orleans), and Howard has been forced to miss all but nine games due to injuries this year.

“He’s not playing, so I can’t sit here and just allow him to take all the credit for it,” Beal said of Leonsis. “We can just continue to move forward, continue to get better, but it’s not just on him, it’s on everybody.”

The Wizards only have four players under contract entering the 2019/20 season, with forward Jabari Parker holding a $20MM team option and Howard holding a $5.6MM player option. Trevor Ariza, Wesley Johnson, Tomas SatoranskyJeff Green, Thomas Bryant and Chasson Randle are all set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, with Bobby Portis and Sam Dekker likely to become restricted free agents.

There’s more today out of the Southeast Division:

  • Heat guard Dion Waiters plans to vigorously focus on his weight once the season comes to an end. Waiters, who underwent a major transformation after his first season in Miami, has taken a step back in his overall health since undergoing ankle surgery. “My whole mindset after the playoffs is getting right to it,” Waiters said, according to Ira Winderman of the Sen Sentinel. “I took a year and a half off. This season for me is more about getting back in the feel and things like that, trying to find my rhythm and get acclimated by playing.”
  • Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham is proving to be a keeper for the team, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer contends. Graham’s development has been boosted by the veteran presence of Tony Parker, with the 24-year-old point guard improving on both ends of the floor in his rookie season. Charlotte’s future at point guard is mostly uncertain outside of Graham, with Kemba Walker reaching free agency in July and Parker set to turn 37 in May.
  • With less than two weeks left of the regular season, the Hornets‘ biggest challenge might be finding definitive roles for Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bonnell wrote in a separate story for the Charlotte Observer. “Where they fit in the rotation, I don’t know,” head coach James Borrego said when asked about the two players. Batum has missed each of the last four games (largely due to an illness), while Kidd-Gilchrist has played in just one of his last five outings because of a concussion. Kidd-Gilchrist saw just eight minutes in a loss to the Lakers on Friday.

Sixers Notes: Butler, O’Brien, Embiid, Bolden

Jimmy Butler returned to Minnesota on Saturday for the first time since being traded from the Timberwolves, helping the Sixers take a 118-109 victory in a hostile environment.

Butler’s departure from the Wolves was a shock for both the team and its fans this season. The 29-year-old being vigorously booed during pre-game intros and every time he touched the ball during Saturday’s contest.

“I don’t care about being loved all the time,” Butler said postgame, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN. “It’s no fun that way.”

Butler has thrived in situations like these during his career, raising his effort level and becoming a fiercer competitor. Although he struggled shooting the ball (just 4-of-17 from the floor), he finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals to help seal the Sixers’ victory.

“He thrives under blankets of controversy,” coach Brett Brown said before the game. “I greatly respect it, and I think when you look at the high-level competitors, it is part of their DNA. It is certainly part of his DNA.”

Butler has carried this gene throughout his eight-year career, and it’s that competitive nature he’ll bring to the table with the Sixers as they look to make a deep playoff run this spring. He’s scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency on July 1.

There’s more out of Philadelphia today:

  • Brett Brown will bring in senior advisor Jim O’Brien to replace assistant Billy Lange on his coaching staff, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Lange left the Sixers this week to become the next head coach at Saint Joseph’s. O’Brien served as an NBA head coach for nine seasons, including one campaign with the Sixers in 2004-05.
  • Resting Joel Embiid for three games is a smart decision for the Sixers as they prepare for the playoffs, Brown said Saturday night, as relayed by ESPN.com. “This is not sort of a reaction to symptoms,” Brown said. “It’s just load management. Again, we’re just trying to be smart and deliver him to play in the playoffs ready to go.” Embiid sat out of Saturday’s game and has already been ruled out of Monday’s game against Dallas and Wednesday’s game against Atlanta. He’ll be re-evaluated before the team’s home contest against the Bucks on Thursday.
  • Jonah Bolden will look to seize his opportunity as the postseason nears, writes Brian Seltzer of NBA.com. Bolden started in place of Embiid on Saturday, recording 19 points, 8 rebounds, three blocks and a game-high plus-22 net rating. “When it comes down to playoff time, the rotation does shorten up,” Bolden said. “The opportunity is now, whether the opportunity is now or in the playoffs, just making the most of it whenever it comes.”

And-Ones: Age Limit, Watson, Loyd, Overseas Signings

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is calling on the NCAA to develop a plan in response to the NBA’s expected rule change that would lower the draft eligibility age from 19 to 18, relays Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. The NBA has submitted a proposal to its players union that would make the change effective in 2022.

“The NCAA is not prepared right now,” Krzyzewski said. “They need to be in concert with the NBA in developing a plan that is specific for men’s college basketball. And that should include what an athlete gets, how he’s been taken care of, whether or not there’s a re-entry if something – really, it’s deep. And if we only look at it shallow, then we’re doing a disservice to the kids. And that’s why I would hope that the NCAA has someone leading this to figure it all out.”

Krzyzewski asked whether the G League would start attracting blue-chip players and providing more competition for college basketball and how the NCAA will adapt once the one-and-done rule is gone. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo shared some of the same concerns and worried that too many players will be pressured to turn pro before they’re ready.

There’s more NBA-related news to pass along:

  • Former Suns coach Earl Watson has interviewed for the head coaching position at UCLA, tweets Jordan Schultz of ESPN. A former Bruins player, Watson was fired by Phoenix three games into last season. Schultz reports that longtime college and NBA coach Larry Brown would join Watson as a top assistant.
  • Jordan Loyd is this year’s 2 Ways & 10 Days pick for NBA G League MVP, writes Adam Johnson. He’s the second straight player from the Raptors 905 to claim the honor, following Lorenzo Brown‘s MVP season in 2017/18. Loyd is playing on a two-way contract and has appeared in 10 games at the NBA level.
  • Three players with NBA ties have signed contracts overseas. Hollis Thompson, who played four NBA seasons and was with the Pelicans two years ago, is joining Crailsheim Merlins in Germany, according to Emiliano Carchia of SportandoXavier Rathan-Mayes, who appeared in five games for the Grizzlies late last season, has signed with Bnei Herzelia in Israel, tweets Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports. Brad Newly, whose rights are owned by the Lakers, has signed with Sydney in Australia, Smith adds (Twitter link). Newly was drafted in 2007, but has never played in the NBA.

Lakers Sign Jemerrio Jones To Two-Year Deal

MARCH 31: The signing is official, according to a tweet from the Lakers.

MARCH 30: The Lakers will sign Jemerrio Jones to a two-year deal, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). The second-year of the pact contains a team option.

Jones will have six games to further make his case for a roster spot next season. The combo forward most recently played for the Lakers’ G League affiliate, leading the team in rebounds per game.

Jones will take over the roster spot currently held by Scott Machado, who will see his 10-day deal with Los Angeles expire on Sunday. Machado appeared in four games for the Lakers, seeing a total of 19 minutes.

Central Notes: Lemon, Hoiberg, Brogdon, Cavaliers

Walter Lemon Jr. is making a strong early impression on the Bulls after signing a 10-day contract Friday, writes K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. Injuries to seven rotation players gave Lemon a chance to play 31 minutes last night and he responded with 19 points, six assists, four rebounds and four steals.

“If you would have told me a couple of days ago that I was going to play 30 minutes against the Raptors — the No. 2 team in the East — on the Bulls’ floor, let alone play 30 minutes in an NBA game, period, I wouldn’t believe you,” said Lemon, a Chicago native. “This is definitely a surreal moment for me. And I’m going to never forget it. I’m going to cherish this moment for the rest of my life.”

Lemon is making a push for a longer contract after signing with the Bulls for the rest of the season. The 26-year-old has been waiting for an opportunity since leaving Bradley in 2014, playing extensively in the G League and overseas.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Jim Boylen is thrilled to see his predecessor back in the coaching ranks, relays Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago. Fred Hoiberg was officially hired Saturday as the new coach at Nebraska, a little more than four months after his firing in Chicago. “I know he loves coaching college basketball. We’ve had many of those conversations,” Boylen said. “He did a terrific job at Iowa State. It looks like Nebraska is right in his wheelhouse and I’m sure he’ll take that program to the next level. Happy for him and his family.” The hiring is also good news for the Bulls, who can offset Hoiberg’s $3.57MM salary from the $5MM they owe him for next season.
  • Injured Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon is getting around without the aid of crutches or a walking boot, tweets Matt Velazquez of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It’s an encouraging sign of progress for Brogdon, who has a minor plantar fascia tear in his right foot and is expected to miss at least the first round of the playoffs.
  • The Cavaliers are hoping to trade away some salary so they can try their luck in the free agent market this summer, according to Sam Amico of AmicoHoops.

JaKarr Sampson Signs 10-Day Contract With Bulls

The Bulls have added JaKarr Sampson on a 10-day contract, the team announced in a press release. Sampson was signed with a hardship exception, so a corresponding move won’t be necessary.

It’s the latest effort to provide reinforcements for a squad that is missing seven rotation players because of injuries. On Friday, Chicago signed Walter Lemon Jr. for the rest of the season.

Sampson had been playing for the Bulls’ Windy City affiliate, averaging 21.1 points and 9.1 rebounds in 24 games. The 26-year-old forward joined the G League team after being cut by Chicago in the preseason.

Sampson was a two-way player with the Kings last year, appearing in 22 NBA games. He signed with the Bulls after Sacramento withdrew a qualifying offer last summer. Sampson has also spent time with the Sixers and Nuggets.