Month: July 2020

Northwest Notes: Thunder, Nuggets, Lillard, Branch

The Thunder are slated to return to NBA action on August 1 against the Jazz in the NBA’s Orlando bubble restart, and that date will be an opportunity for OKC to reassert itself as a top defensive squad, per Nick Gallo of OKCThunder.com.

Throughout their first 64 games in 2019/20, the Thunder ranked among the league’s upper third across several defensive categories, Gallo goes on to observe. These impressive top-10 rankings included slotting first in opponent fast-break points (10.5 per game), first in opponent free throw attempts (18.6 per game), sixth in three-point defense (34.4% allowed) and ninth in defensive rating (108.4 points per 100 possessions). At 40-24, the Thunder are currently the No. 5 seed in the crowded West.

The starriest new Thunder acquisition for the 2019/20 season, All-Star point guard Chris Paul, observed that the team’s strength is not just predicated on their athletic prowess. “You can’t just have the athleticism,” Paul said. “You can be as tall as you want to and all that stuff but guys that know how to play are going to manipulate the game on you so the only way you can get that knowledge is to study it and watch games.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Among the Nuggets‘ anticipated team traveling party for the NBA’s Orlando restart, two members tested positive over the weekend and a third had a positive test since then, though all are presently asymptomatic, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post. The team closed its practice facility in response to the news. The Nuggets as an organization have been dealt with six COVID-19 cases since March.
  • Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard, who does intend to play for the season restart, spoke about the Orlando bubble with Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium (Twitter video link). “I don’t think I’m ever going to be 100% comfortable, just because I understand there’s no way that this can be kept 100% safe,” Lillard said.
  • Timberwolves assistant GM Joe Branch has been a big asset for the team both inside and outside of the basketball court, according to The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski“He’s really caught the vision that I had for our group and how we want to treat our players in going above and beyond,” team president Gersson Rosas raved. “He’s got incredible rapport with players and their families and a very proactive team-first approach with the staff.”

Cameron Payne Signs With Suns

7:18pm: The Suns have officially signed Payne, per Gina Mizell, most recently of The Athletic (Twitter link).

6:20pm: Well-traveled point guard Cameron Payne, a current free agent most recently with the Cavaliers during the 2018/2019, has agreed to a two-year contract with the Suns, per Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic (Twitter link).

Since being drafted at the bottom of the 2015 lottery with the No. 14 pick out of Murray State by the Thunder, Payne has logged time – primarily as a backup – with Oklahoma City, the Bulls and the Cavaliers. He holds averages of 6.0 PPG (he is connecting on just 39.7% of his looks from the field but a decent 77.5% from the charity stripe), 1.8 RPG, and 2.5 APG.

The 26-39 Suns, led by All-Star Devin Booker, will be joining the NBA’s season restart in Orlando. The 6’3″ Payne can help the team shore up their guard depth as an end-of-bench/practice addition at either position.

No corresponding move is required, as the Suns have an open spot on their 15-man roster.

Zhaire Smith Suffers Bone Bruise, Will Miss Orlando Restart

Sixers wing Zhaire Smith has suffered a bone bruise in his left knee, per Derek Bodner of The Athletic (Twitter link). He will skip the NBA’s season restart, which kicks off on July 30 in Orlando. Bodner also notes that Smith should make a full recovery by the start of the 2020/21 NBA season.

According to Bodner (Twitter link), Smith began feeling pain in the knee ahead of the team’s restart training camp last week. The Sixers won’t be able to sign a substitute player, since injured players aren’t eligible to be replaced. After adding shooting guard Ryan Broekhoff, the team is currently carrying 17 players.

Smith, the No. 16 pick by the Sixers in the 2018 draft out of Texas Tech, has been hampered by lower-extremity injuries since entering the league. The 6’3″ shooting guard has played in just 13 of a possible 147 games.

Though Smith’s injury should not greatly affect the current Sixers roster’s depth in a season restart, the fact that he has suffered another season-ending malady after sporadic play in his sophomore campaign cannot be comforting to the Philadelphia front office.

Nuggets Sign Tyler Cook

JUNE 30: The Nuggets have officially signed Cook to a replacement two-way contract, the team announced today in a press release.

JUNE 26: After promoting PJ Dozier from a two-way deal to a standard contract, the Nuggets are expected to sign power forward Tyler Cook as their substitute two-way player, reports Nick Kosmider of The Athletic (via Twitter).

Cook, who received a two-way contract from Denver last summer, spent training camp and the preseason with Denver last fall, but was released before the regular season began. Cleveland claimed him off waivers and he spent most of the 2019/20 season either in the NBA or G League with the organization, later signing a pair of 10-day contracts with the Cavaliers.

Cook only played very limited minutes in 11 NBA games, but had a bigger role in the NBAGL, posting 12.9 PPG and 5.7 RPG in 29 games (21.3 MPG) for the Canton Charge and Oklahoma City Blue.

NBA teams typically aren’t permitted to fill their two-way contract slots with newly-signed players after January 15, but the 22 clubs participating in the restart have been given the opportunity to do so for depth purposes. Once Dozier is moved to the 15-man roster and Cook has been signed, Denver will have a full roster.

Restart Notes: Coronavirus, Announcers, Team Employees

In an appearance today on Time 100 Talks, commissioner Adam Silver once again expressed confidence in the NBA’s restart plan, but reiterated that the league won’t go “full-steam ahead” with that plan if there’s a significant spread of COVID-19 within the Orlando campus.

“Never full-steam ahead no matter what,” Silver said, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. “One thing we are learning about this virus as much is (it’s) unpredictable, and we and our players together with their union look at the data on a daily basis. If there were something to change that was outside of the scope of what we are playing for, certainly we would revisit our plans.

“We are testing daily,” Silver continued. “We haven’t put a precise number on it but if we were to see a large number of cases and see spread in our community, that would of course be a cause to stop as well.”

Here’s more on the NBA’s return to play:

  • Although local play-by-play announcers and analysts won’t be on site at Walt Disney World to call games, the expectation is that network announcers will be in attendance, tweets Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. According to Jackson, 79-year-old Marv Albert won’t participate, so TNT’s games will be handled by Kevin Harlan, Brian Anderson, or Ian Eagle. ESPN’s Hubie Brown, who is 86, may also not be on site, per Andrew Marchand of The New York Post.
  • Teams around the NBA have extended the contracts of basketball operations employees that would have expired on July 1, according to Jake Fischer (Twitter link), who hears from league sources that those deals have been extended through November 1.
  • In an interesting piece for ESPN.com, Baxter Holmes examines the difficult conversations that a number of NBA general managers are having with employees. As Holmes writes, some staffers who may be uncomfortable about going to Orlando are worried that their commitment to the team may be viewed differently if they opt out, potentially complicating their job security. Other staffers, meanwhile, want to participate but may be at greater risk due to their age or health issues. GMs are telling employees that they shouldn’t feel pressured to participate, per Holmes.

Southeast Notes: Iguodala, Beal, Magic, Hornets

Andre Iguodala turned 36 years old in January, but that didn’t stop him and the Heat from agreeing to a contract extension when he was dealt to Miami at the February trade deadline. Speaking to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, Iguodala said that the new deal, which provides a $15MM guarantee for 2020/21 and a $15MM team option for ’21/22, was something both sides pushed for at the time of the trade.

“Both sides knew the window we have — my window and the team’s window,” the Heat forward said. “We all know about when teams want cap space. It’s hard to get acclimated with a group of guys in two months. The locker room is a special place. I wanted to be somewhere where I could grow with the guys, a lot of the young talent that I have a good impression of, help them grow, especially Bam (Adebayo), Kendrick Nunn, Tyler (Herro) and Duncan (Robinson). I didn’t want it to be a two-, three-month thing.”

As Jackson points out, the Heat hadn’t expected to be a major player on the 2020 free agent market, so adding $15MM for Iguodala to next season’s books shouldn’t hurt the team. And in the 2021 offseason, the $15MM team option can be turned down with no penalty if the club needs to create cap room.

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • General manager Tommy Sheppard said this week that the Wizards will be “very protective” of star guard Bradley Beal during the NBA’s restart, but there’s no indication Beal won’t play as the team pushes for the final playoff spot in the East, writes Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington.
  • Magic head coach Steve Clifford still isn’t committing one way or the other on whether Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu will be available this summer, per Josh Robbins of The Athletic (Twitter link). Asked today about the two injured forwards, Clifford replied, “They’re both in here working every day. … I just think it’s really early to try to make an intelligent decision on anything like that.”
  • Joe Wolf, who has been the head coach of the Hornets‘ G League affiliate for the last two seasons, won’t have his contract with the Greensboro Swarm extended, the club announced today in a press release.

And-Ones: TBT, Daniels, Whittington, Newman

A number of former NBA players are set to take part in 2020’s edition of The Basketball Tournament, an annual, winner-take-all tournament with a prize of $1MM.

As Carmine Carcieri of ESPN details, veteran guard Joe Johnson is playing in The Basketball Tournament after winning a championship and an MVP award in the BIG3 in 2019. Malachi Richardson, Tony Wroten, Johnny O’Bryant, and Markel Brown are among the others with NBA experience who will suit up for the event, per Carcieri.

More recently, a couple more notable names have joined the list of participants, with veteran guard Jarrett Jack joining Johnson’s Overseas Elite squad (Twitter link), while former lottery pick Hasheem Thabeet will be a member of the Playing For Jimmy V team.

With most professional sports still on hiatus, The Basketball Tournament should be under a larger spotlight in 2020. ESPN announced its broadcast schedule for the event today, starting with four games on July 4 and culminating in a July 14 championship.

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

  • CAA Sports is hiring Evan Daniels of 247Sports to become an agent in its college basketball coaching division, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Daniels has long been one of the most well-connected and reliable sources for college basketball and NBA draft news.
  • Free agent forward Greg Whittington, who had a strong year in Turkey in 2019/20, isn’t eligible to join an NBA team for the summer restart, but continues to receive strong offers from EuroLeague teams, including Panathinaikos BC, agent Jerry Dianis tells JD Shaw of Hoops Rumors (Twitter links).
  • Former lottery pick Derrick Williams has received interest from international teams, including Khimki, but no deal is imminent, reports JD Shaw of Hoops Rumors (Twitter link). Williams, who last played in the NBA in 2017/18, spent the ’19/20 season with Fenerbahce.
  • Malik Newman, who spent a little time with the Cavaliers this season, has signed with Turkish team Bursaspor, as Emiliano Carchia of Sportando writes. Newman appeared in just one game for Cleveland, spending most of 2019/20 with the Canton Charge in the G League.

Nuggets Sign PJ Dozier To Multiyear Contract

JUNE 30: The Nuggets’ deal with Dozier is now official, per the NBA’s transactions log. According to John Hollinger of The Athletic (Twitter link), Dozier is believed to have received more than $1MM in guaranteed money on his new contract.

Denver is now expected to sign Tyler Cook as a substitute two-way player for Dozier.

JUNE 24: The Nuggets will move two-way player PJ Dozier to their standard 15-man roster during this week’s transaction window, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (via Twitter). Dozier will sign a multiyear deal, according to Nick Kosmider of The Athletic (via Twitter).

Dozier, 23, has appeared in 21 games (11.1 MPG) for the Nuggets this season, averaging 4.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, and 1.4 APG. He was a regular rotation player for a few weeks in January and February when Jamal Murray and Gary Harris were banged up, but otherwise hasn’t seen much action in 2019/20.

Still, Denver likes his size and potential impact as a combo guard, per Mike Singer of The Denver Post, who tweets that he wouldn’t be shocked to see the South Carolina native play in Orlando.

With an open spot on their 15-man roster, the Nuggets won’t have to waive anyone to add Dozier. On top of that, as of Saturday, Denver will be able to sign a player to a two-way contract to replace Dozier, though that player will become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Bol Bol, whose contract runs through 2020/21, currently occupies the club’s other two-way slot.

Nets Notes: Durant, Practice Facility, Chandler

Nets star forward Kevin Durant, who won’t participate in the NBA’s restart as he continues to rehab his Achilles injury, won’t accompany the team to the Walt Disney World campus, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link).

The news doesn’t come as a real surprise. Teams’ traveling parties are limited to 35 people and Durant has said he’s not sure he’d want to participate in the Disney restart even if he were fully healthy. Since he now won’t make his Brooklyn debut until December, there’s no urgency for KD to ramp up his 5-on-5 work in July and August, so it makes more sense for him to continue his rehab program away from the team for now.

Here’s more on the Nets:

  • Brooklyn’s practice facility reopened on Tuesday after being closed for several days following DeAndre Jordan‘s and Spencer Dinwiddie‘s positive coronavirus tests, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Brooklyn is one of a handful of NBA clubs that has closed its facility amid COVID-19 cases, as we detailed earlier today.
  • Appearing on The Court Vision podcast with Jameer Nelson and Ben Stinar, Nets forward Wilson Chandler further explained why he has decided to opt out of the NBA’s return. “For me, personally, I think like the unknown of this whole COVID thing and just having a grandmother who’s 87 – she just turned 87 – and battling all types of illnesses and having young kids, I think it’s more important for me to be at home with my family and taking care of my family,” Chandler said, as Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype relays.
  • Alex Schiffer of The Athletic explores how the Nets will fill the hole in their rotation created by Jordan’s opt-out, and briefly touches on Jacque Vaughn‘s candidacy for the team’s permanent head coaching job.

NBA’s Transaction Window Closes On Tuesday Night

The NBA’s week-long transaction window, which opened last Tuesday at noon eastern time, will close tonight at 11:59 pm ET, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweets.

A number of teams have taken advantage of the opportunity to sign, claim, and waive players within the last seven days, including the Thunder, who agreed to a new long-term deal with two-way player Luguentz Dort, the Knicks, who claimed Theo Pinson and Jared Harper while waiving Allonzo Trier, and many others. We’ll have a full recap of the week’s transactions on Wednesday morning.

Here’s what happens when this week’s transaction window closes:

  • Teams can no longer sign a player to a contract (unless he’s a substitute player).
  • Teams can no longer convert a two-way player to their standard roster.
  • Luxury tax penalties are calculated based on team payrolls as of June 30.

I wouldn’t expect a huge flurry of last-minute moves today, but it’s worth noting that a few teams still have roster spots available, including the Suns, Trail Blazers, Hornets (two), Warriors (two), and Timberwolves. Some – but not all – of those clubs have luxury-tax concerns.

For the 22 teams headed to Orlando to participate in the NBA’s restart, there’s one exception to the roster freeze. Starting on July 1, teams will still be able to sign a substitute player to replace a player who voluntarily opts out, contracts COVID-19, or is ruled out due to being at higher risk of serious coronavirus symptoms.

So far, six players have opted out of the restart — they’ll be ineligible to return this season, but eligible to be replaced by substitute players. In most cases, those players’ teams have already lined up those substitutes and will be able to sign them as of noon ET on Sunday.

J.R. Smith will replace Avery Bradley for the Lakers; Jerian Grant will replace Davis Bertans for the Wizards; Jaylen Adams will replace Trevor Ariza for the Trail Blazers; Justin Anderson will replace Wilson Chandler for the Nets; and Trey Burke will replace Willie Cauley-Stein for the Mavericks. Brooklyn still needs to line up a second substitute player for DeAndre Jordan.

This form of substitute-player transaction is permitted through August 14. After that, teams can still sign a replacement for a player who contracts COVID-19, but the substitute must have no more than three years of NBA service, ruling out a number of veterans.