Month: July 2024

Southeast Notes: Westbrook, Magic, Oladipo, Okeke/Carter

Wizards point guard Russell Westbrook supplied a lengthy response to ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, who claimed (video link) that Westbrook still needed a championship to cement his legacy. “You’ve played with some great great players over the years. Talent. And not a single title to show for it,” Smith said. “The numbers are the numbers… It ain’t about that no more.”

Fred Katz of The Athletic tweets Westbrook’s full statement. “I’m happy,” Westbrook said in part. “I was a champion once I made it to the NBA. I grew up in the streets. I’m a champion. I don’t have to be an NBA champion… My legacy is what I do off the floor, how many people I’m able to impact and inspire along my journey, man.”

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • Now that the Magic have fully committed to rebuilding their club through their young players and future draft assets, Josh Robbins and Sam Vecenie of The Athletic have opted to assess Orlando’s expected plans for the 2021 draft and beyond, as well as tantalizing new players R.J. Hampton and Wendell Carter Jr. Vecenie and Robbins both feel that Orlando should have perhaps pivoted to a full-tilt rebuild sooner than it did, and agree that the top-heavy 2021 draft should have several intriguing prospects for the Magic.
  • New Heat shooting guard Victor Oladipo is set to debut for Miami on Thursday opposite the Warriors, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel“We’ve had several Zoom sessions,” head coach Erik Spoelstra noted, “just to review and try to fast track our system. But he’s a savvy, high-IQ veteran player.”
  • Magic rookie forward Chuma Okeke and new center/power forward Wendell Carter Jr. are doing their best to capitalize on rotational opportunities with Orlando, writes Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. Both players flashed some of their promise down the stretch of a surprise 103-96 win over the Clippers Tuesday.

Northwest Notes: McDaniels, Thunder, Jazz, Pokusevski

Rookie Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels, the No. 28 pick in the 2020 draft, has earned the trust of head coach Chris Finch and his teammates to tackle Minnesota’s top defensive assignments, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune.

“At times I’ll say that people just aren’t knowing how long my arms really are,” McDaniels said of his defensive attributes for the Timberwolves. “The first time we played Houston, at the end of the game I had blocked Ben McLemore. I’m cool with him and he was like, … ‘I didn’t think your arms was that long.’ Just hearing little things like that is kind of uplifting.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Many Thunder players and staffers received their first COVID-19 vaccines yesterday, now that everyone aged 16 and up is eligible in the state of Oklahoma, according to Royce Young of ESPN.
  • The Jazz faced a recent scare in transit. One of the engines blew on the team’s plane during a recent road trip, forcing the team to return to Salt Lake City, per Mark Medina of USA Today (Twitter link). Head coach Quin Snyder called the experience “traumatic and eerie.” He added, “The pilots, you have their appreciation for their expertise and training to keep us safe.” All-Star point guard Mike Conley elaborated, per Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter link). “Sounded like there was an explosion,” Conley said. “It felt like the plane was breaking apart in midair.” Reserve guard Jordan Clarkson added, “A lot of us came to a point where it was like, ‘This might be over for us,'” tweets Mark Medina of USA Today.
  • Thunder rookie power forward Aleksej Pokusevski has entered the league’s coronavirus health and safety protocols, tweets Joe Mussatto of the Oklahoman.

Joel Embiid Could Return Saturday

The Sixers anticipate that they will have All-Star center Joel Embiid back in action as early as this Saturday against the Timberwolves, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets. The 27-year-old has been unavailable for Philadelphia since March 12, when he suffered a bone bruise in his left knee.

Embiid had been a frontrunner for 2020/21 season MVP honors before a knee injury waylaid him for three weeks. Across 31 games thus far with Philadelphia this year, the seven-footer out of Kansas is averaging 29.9 PPG (a career high), to go along with 11.5 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.4 BPG and 1.2 SPG. His shooting has grown by leaps and bounds this season, as his slash line of .525/.422/.859 (all career-bests) reflects.

The Sixers have held their own in Embiid’s absence. Philadelphia boasts an 8-8 record across the games Embiid has missed thus far this season, thanks to his fellow All-Star Ben Simmons and the contributions of starters Tobias Harris, Danny Green and Seth Curry (though Curry, too, has missed time), plus intriguing young players like Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton. The team also recently added sharpshooting veteran point guard George Hill to help shore up its backcourt depth.

At 32-15, Philadelphia is currently perched atop of the Eastern Conference. With a healthy Embiid in tow this spring, the Sixers could be a threat to make their first NBA Finals in 20 years.

Atlantic Notes: Aldridge, Ujiri, Fournier, Powell

The Nets just added former seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge to their gallery of decorated vets, prompting Alex Schiffer of The Athletic to examine how the power forward/center can fit on such a deep roster — especially one with a suddenly-crowded frontcourt. Aldridge figures to serve as a floor-stretching small ball center and a competent defender around the basket.

Meanwhile, Kevin Pelton of ESPN details why Aldridge may not be such a smooth fit on a club that may struggle to parse out minutes effectively among veterans like Aldridge, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, plus ascendant young big man Nicolas Claxton and even switchable forwards Kevin Durant and Joe Harris.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Raptors team president Masai Ujiri has made plenty of incredible moves during his tenure with the club, but his failure to improve the team’s center rotation this season has to be considered one of his biggest oversights, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic. After losing big men Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol to star-studded Los Angeles teams in the 2020 offseason, Ujiri signed Aron Baynes and Alex Len as their primary replacements. The Raptors cut Len in January (he has since proved productive in a limited role with the Wizards), and have had trouble scoring with Baynes on the floor.
  • Ahead of his arrival in Boston, new Celtics shooting guard Evan Fournier had a false positive COVID-19 test, according to Tom Westerholm of An unrestricted free agent this summer, Fournier has remained relatively mum when it comes to addressing his future with the Celtics. “My focus right now is just to learn the plays, learn how to play with my teammate[s], and win games,” Fournier said. ” I like to stay in the present, stay in the moment.” Fournier is currently on an expiring $17.5MM contract.
  • Trail Blazers shooting guard Norman Powell, a longtime Raptors fixture, penned an emotional goodbye to Toronto in the Players’ Tribune. “I kept it together for a while,” Powell said of hearing about the deal. “And then I saw Jama Mahlalela. Jama is one of our assistant coaches, and he was also my very first coach when I got to Toronto. He’s known me literally since Summer League, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with him super closely. And he came in to give me a hug, and, man … I just heard it in his voice… and that was it. After that, it was a wrap. It was straight-up waterworks. I started breaking down crying … all the memories that I’d been holding back for those last couple of days, they came rushing back in.”

Kyle Lowry Out At Least 7-10 Days With Toe Infection

Decorated starting Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry will be sidelined for the next 7-10 days as he deals with a toe infection on his right foot, Blake Murphy of The Athletic tweets. Head coach Nick Nurse was candid about Lowry’s recovery to this point. “It’s not going very well,” Nurse said, per Murphy (via Twitter).

The subject of significant trade deadline noise, Lowry was ultimately not moved by Raptors team president Masai Ujiri at the deadline last Thursday. The 35-year-old six-footer, a six-time All-Star in Toronto, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Losing Lowry tonight ahead of a matchup against the 19-27 Thunder could make Toronto’s March historically rough, as the 18-29 club is currently 1-12 in games played this month.

Lowry has not shown many signs of aging this season, averaging a stellar 17.0 PPG, 7.3 APG, and 5.4 RPG on a sparkling .436/.394/.881 shooting line.

Okafor Practices With Pistons, Return Imminent

After undergoing surgery on his left lateral meniscus in February, Pistons reserve center Jahlil Okafor practiced with Detroit yesterday, per James Edwards III of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Pistons head coach Dwane Casey noted that he expects Okafor to be suited up and back on the court for Detroit within the next few days. Okafor’s recovery was expected to take six-to-eight weeks following the procedure, reported on February 10, so an imminent return fits with that projected timeline. Okafor has not played for the Pistons since January 30.

The No. 3 pick by the Sixers in the 2015 NBA draft, the 25-year-old Okafor has become a journeyman reserve as the league has moved away from score-first centers without a long-range shooting stroke. 2020/21 marks his first season with Detroit, on a two-year veteran’s minimal deal.

The 6’10” center has appeared in 12 games for the club, averaging 10.0 minutes per night, as rookie big man Isaiah Stewart has replaced Okafor in the rotational slot backing up starter Mason Plumlee.

One Positive COVID-19 Test Among Players Since March 24

The NBA and NBPA have announced their COVID-19 testing results for the past week, stating in a press release that just one player of the 481 tested since March 24 returned a confirmed positive result.

The league had a couple weeks in January where the number of positive cases was in the double-digits, resulting in several postponed games, but March’s testing results haven’t come close to approaching those figures.

[RELATED: 2020/21 NBA Game Postponement Tracker]

Since the All-Star Game earlier this month, no more than three players have tested positive for the coronavirus in a single week. This is also the second consecutive week with just one confirmed positive test.

The low number of cases among players means that no games have been postponed since March 2 — that 29-day stretch without any postponements is the longest of the season so far. The NBA would love to see that streak continue throughout the second half, since making up a handful of games near the end of the season would be a challenge.

Knicks Rumors: Robinson, Bell, Maker, Cousins, Whiteside

The Knicks‘ contract with Mitchell Robinson allows the team to retain the young center in 2021/22 for just $1.8MM, assuming his option is exercised. But in that scenario, he’d become an unrestricted free agent in ’22. New York could assert more control over Robinson’s free agency by turning down the team option and issuing a qualifying offer to make him restricted this summer.

Now that a broken foot is likely to sideline Robinson for the rest of the 2020/21 season, Marc Berman of The New York Post cites league sources who believe the Knicks’ decision has become simpler — the club doesn’t have enough information yet on Robinson to send him to free agency so soon, those sources say, arguing that picking up his option for ’21/22 is the right move.

Exercising Robinson’s team option would still allow the Knicks to negotiate a possible extension during his contract year. In that scenario, they could go as high as about $54MM over four years with a straight extension offer, or even higher with a renegotiation-and-extension. However, ESPN’s Bobby Marks tells Berman that he’d be surprised if New York is that aggressive in extension talks.

“Coming off a serious injury, I’m not paying him what Christian Wood got in Houston,” Marks said, referring to Wood’s three-year, $41MM contract with the Rockets. Marks suggests something in the three-year, $30MM range would be more realistic.

One source tells Berman that he believes the Mavericks will have interest in Robinson if and when he reaches free agency.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • With Robinson out, the Knicks will probably add a center for “insurance” purposes, per head coach Tom Thibodeau, Berman writes in the same story. Berman confirms a previous report that John Henson and Norvel Pelle are among the options being considered by the club and says New York has also had internal talks about Jordan Bell, Thon Maker, DeMarcus Cousins, and Hassan Whiteside.
  • Cousins appears likely to join the Clippers for at least 10 days, while Whiteside – a buyout candidate – remains a King for now. Berman notes that the Knicks’ brass likes the team’s chemistry and would want a player who fits “seamlessly” into the locker room, so Cousins and Whiteside may be lower on the wish list for that reason anyway.
  • While the Knicks seem likely to add a center, Nerlens Noel believes he and Taj Gibson are capable of handling the five in Robinson’s absence, writes Steve Popper of Newsday. “I feel like we have it covered, but that’s not my department,” Noel said. “That’s (the front office’s choice). … If Coach, management wants to add another piece, that’s all up to them. I definitely feel we’re comfortable with what we have. “We have depth in Kevin (Knox) and Obi (Toppin) staying available at the four, five spots and that helps as well, so I like the versatility we have.”

Key Rest-Of-Season NBA Dates, Deadlines

The 2021 NBA trade deadline is now behind us, but it’s not the last notable date on the 2020/21 regular season calendar.

Here are a few more dates and deadlines to keep an eye out for over the next couple months:

April 9

  • Last day a player can be waived by one team and remain eligible to appear in the postseason for another team.

This rule is often the source of confusion. A player who is released by a team doesn’t have to sign with a new team by April 9 in order to be playoff-eligible this spring. He simply has to be waived by his current team before the end of the day on April 9.

As long as he’s no longer under contract by 11:59 pm ET on April 9, a player could theoretically wait until the last day of the regular season to sign with a new club and would still be postseason-eligible. But if he’s cut on April 10 instead, he loses that postseason eligibility.

We’re keeping an eye on the 2021 buyout market in this space.

April 19

Five teams were granted a total of six disabled player exceptions this season (the Magic got two) and none of those exceptions were used at the trade deadline.

The Heat lost their $4.7MM disabled player exception for Meyers Leonard when they included Leonard in a pre-deadline trade.

The Warriors ($9.26MM), Magic ($6.14MM and $3.68MM), and Wizards ($4.17MM) all made trades at the deadline, but none of those deals saw them take on a player on an expiring contract who would have fit a DPE. The Nets, meanwhile, still have their $5.73MM exception despite completing two signings on the buyout market (Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge).

At this point, those disabled player exceptions seem unlikely to be used. Maybe a surprise buyout in the next week or two changes that, but it looks like most of this season’s DPEs will expire without being touched.

For more info on how DPEs work, be sure to check out our glossary entry.

May 16

  • Last day of the regular season.
  • Last day players can sign contracts for 2020/21.
  • Last day two-way contracts can be converted to standard NBA contracts.
  • Luxury tax penalties calculated based on payroll as of this day.

Although we don’t always see a flurry of last-minute activity on the very last day of the regular season, teams around the NBA figure to be active leading up to this date.

Playoff clubs will typically make sure their rosters are fully stocked for the postseason. Even a team with tax concerns that has avoided carrying a full 15-man roster all season will consider filling that 15th spot on the last day of the season, since the prorated minimum-salary cap hit would only be about $11K and the accompanying tax penalty would be very modest.

Meanwhile, lottery-bound teams will often fill their rosters by taking a flier on a prospect or two, signing them to multiyear contracts that include little to no guaranteed money for 2021/22. That way, they can hang onto them for next season if they want, or cut bait during the offseason without any real impact to their cap for next season.

These end-of-season roster moves often fly under the radar, but they’re worth keeping an eye on. Just ask the Heat, who signed Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn to team-friendly three-year contracts at the very end of the 2018/19 regular season and continue to reap the benefits.

It’s also worth noting that in most years there’s a midseason deadline for signing players to two-way contracts, but teams can sign two-way players all the way up until the end of the regular season in 2020/21. As such, some of those openings could be filled down the stretch too.

May 18-21

  • Play-in tournament for the seventh and eighth playoff spots in each conference.

We got a preview of the NBA’s play-in tournament at the Walt Disney World bubble in 2020 when the Trail Blazers beat the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the West. But 2021 will be the first time we get the full-fledged version of the event.

The plan is for each conference’s seventh and eighth seeds to play one another, while the ninth and 10th seeds face each other. The winner of the 7/8 game will earn the No. 7 seed, while the loser will play the winner of the 9/10 game. The winner of that second game will be the No. 8 seed.

In other words, as long as you finish the regular season in a “standard” playoff position (seventh or eighth seed), you’ll get two shots to win a play-in game. The ninth and 10th seeds will have to win two games to make the postseason.

If the season ended today, the Celtics and Heat would play in the East’s first play-in game, with the winner making the playoffs and the loser facing the winner of a Pacers/Bulls contest. In the West, it’d be Mavericks vs. Spurs, with the loser facing the winner of Grizzlies/Warriors.

Redick: Pelicans’ Front Office Didn’t Honor Their Word

Former Pelicans guard J.J. Redick asked New Orleans’ front office for a trade back in November around the time the team dealt Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee, Redick said today on the latest episode of his Old Man and the Three podcast (video link).

As Redick explains, the opportunity to play with Holiday was one of the main reasons he initially signed with the Pelicans in 2019. Holiday’s departure – and an expectation that his own playing time would be cut back under Stan Van Gundy – played a part in Redick’s decision to ask for a trade. The distance from his family in Brooklyn was also a major factor, since various league and local COVID-19 protocols prevented him from getting many opportunities to see them.

Redick, now with the Mavericks, said he had “transparent” conversations with Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin and GM Trajan Langdon and felt as if they had reached an understanding.

“Griff basically says to me, ‘Come down for a month. If you still want to be traded, I give you my word, I’ll get you to a situation that you like,'” said Redick, who added that he had four conversations directly with Griffin after that point. “… Obviously he did not honor his word.”

Redick made it clear that his comments aren’t intended as a slight toward Dallas. He said he’s looking forward to bringing leadership and shooting to Dallasand playing alongside Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, adding that he told team owner Mark Cuban, “In any other year, I’d be thrilled to be traded to the Dallas Mavericks.” However, the Mavs weren’t one of the teams that Redick and the Pelicans had discussed as a potential landing spot.

According to Redick, he thought that if he wasn’t going to be traded by the “aggregate deadline” of February 2 (the last day a player could be traded and still have his salary aggregated in a second trade at the deadline), he was headed for a buyout agreement with New Orleans. That would allow him to sign with any team, and he suggested he would have considered a handful of teams in the northeast.

“(My understanding was) if I was going to be traded, it was going to be a team in the northeast where I was closer to home and I’d be able to see my family for the last two or three months of the season,” Redick said. “Obviously that didn’t happen.

“… I look at the buyout situation not as me just specifically being like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get bought out and go to Brooklyn,'” he added. “I just wanted to be able, on an off day, to go see my family and to be within sort of driving distance. … Geographically, you can sort of think of the teams where that’s the case.”

Although Redick said he had an “amazing” year-and-a-half with the Pelicans, he admitted that the way the relationship ended was far from ideal.

“I don’t think you’re going to get honesty from that front office. Just objectively speaking — that’s not an opinion, I just don’t think you’re going to get that,” Redick said. “I don’t think what happened with me is necessarily an isolated incident either. I do think across the league, front offices, they act in their own best interest. I get that, I understand that.

“Truthfully, and it’s hard for me to admit this, but I think I was a little naive in thinking that because I was in year 15 and I had at least attempted to do things right throughout my career and I honored my end of the bargain (that the Pelicans would reciprocate)… but in terms of this front office, it’s not something where I would expect certainly the agents who worked on this with me to ever trust that front office again.”

Redick will speak to reporters in a Zoom press conference on Thursday and expects to be with the Mavs on Friday, though he said he’s still rehabbing his heel issue and is likely “a little ways away” from returning to the court.