Month: June 2021

Bulls Notes: Lottery, LaVine, Simmons, Dinwiddie, T. Young

The Bulls were among the unluckiest teams at the draft lottery, losing their first-round pick to the Magic when it failed to land in the top four, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. Chicago wound up sending the No. 8 selection to Orlando as part of the trade deadline deal involving Nikola Vucevic, and it owes another first-rounder to the Magic in 2023.

With only the No. 38 pick remaining in the July 29 draft, the Bulls will have to explore other ways to improve, Mayberry adds. They’re short on trade assets after investing so much in the roster makeover in March, and they may not have enough cap space to add a meaningful free agent.

Mayberry suggests the Bulls may try to trade back into the first round on draft night, using the expiring contracts of Thaddeus Young ($14.19MM) and Tomáš Satoranský ($10MM), both of which are non-guaranteed, as well as Al-Farouq Aminu ($10.183MM). They may also reach out to a couple of division rivals who had better fortune at the lottery. The Pistons landed the top overall pick and are likely to draft Cade Cunningham, which could make point guard Killian Hayes available in a trade, according to Mayberry. If the Cavaliers get Jalen Green at No. 3, they might be willing to part with Collin Sexton, Darius Garland or Isaac Okoro.

There’s more on the Bulls:

  • Zach LaVine‘s inclusion on the Olympic team could be good for the Bulls’ future, states Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. He notes that many star pairings in the NBA began when players got to know each other as Olympic teammates. Cowley cautions it might work the other way, and LaVine, who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, could get recruited to go somewhere else.
  • Ben Simmons‘ playoff struggles and Spencer Dinwiddie‘s decision to turn down his player option for next season create two intriguing options for the Bulls in their search for a point guard, writes Jamal Collier of The Chicago Tribune. Simmons would be an ideal backcourt partner for LaVine, Collier notes, but it would be hard to put together an enticing offer for the Sixers without giving up LaVine in return. Dinwiddie will be seeking more than the $12.3MM he opted out of, but Collier expects concerns about his partially torn ACL to keep the price tag down.
  • Young has been chosen as this year’s winner of the NBA Hustle Award, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. The honor goes to the player who makes the most energy and effort plays during the season.

Kawhi Leonard Ruled Out For Game 3

The Clippers have another 0-2 hole to climb out of, but this time they’ll have to do it without Kawhi Leonard. The star forward has officially been ruled out of Thursday’s Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, tweets Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times.

Leonard hasn’t played since hurting his knee nine days ago in Game 5 of L.A.’s series against the Jazz. The Clippers managed to win the final two games of that series without him, but are staring at a deficit again after dropping back-to-back games in Phoenix.

Coach Tyronn Lue said over the weekend that he’s preparing to play the entire conference finals without Leonard, just to avoid the game-to-game uncertainty of whether he’ll be available.

The Clippers are officially calling Leonard’s injury a sprain, but few details have been released about the severity. There was concern last week that he might have damaged an ACL, but no one has confirmed whether that happened.

Hawks Will Have Bogdan Bogdanovic, Cam Reddish For Game 1

Hawks shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic has been cleared to play in tonight’s opener of the Eastern Conference finals, tweets Malika Andrews of ESPN. He had been listed as questionable because of soreness in his right knee and was a game-time decision.

Bogdanovic, who is in the playoffs for the first time in his four-year career, has been an effective weapon for Atlanta. He averaged 14.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists in the first round against the Knicks and posted a 13.3/3.9/1.7 line in the seven-game series with the Sixers.

Small forward Cam Reddish will return to the lineup after missing the past four months with right Achilles soreness, tweets Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Reddish returned to practice early this month, but he hasn’t appeared in a game since February 21.

Coach Nate McMillan made the announcement in a pre-game session with reporters, but said there’s no guarantee Reddish will see any action, adds Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Twitter). McMillan noted that Solomon Hill and Tony Snell are ahead of him in the rotation and said the team will be careful with Reddish whenever he plays.

In his second NBA season, Reddish averaged 11.2 points and 4.0 rebounds through 26 games before being sidelined with the Achilles issue.

Nets Notes: Udoka, Coaching Staff, Claxton, Durant

The Nets will have to find a new assistant coach to coordinate their defense now that Ime Udoka is finalizing a deal to become head coach of the Celtics, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Udoka only spent one season with Brooklyn, coming to the team from Philadelphia after the Sixers’ coaching shake-up last offseason, but he quickly earned respect throughout the organization.

Lewis describes Udoka, who spent 10 years as an NBA assistant, mostly in San Antonio, as a “no-nonsense, tough-love” coach who demands the best from his players.

“Ime focuses a lot about defense, because obviously when he played that’s basically what he was, a defender, and he liked to be physical,” Nets guard Mike James said. “Just for me personally, he’s always reminded me to do the little things: sprint back, load up, box out, be physical.

“He’s not like a coach that’ll hold back how he feels. He’s going to tell you how he feels, how you’re playing, what you should be doing better. For somebody like me, obviously that might not be the same what everybody else is doing. But I like coaches to be honest and tell me what they want me to do and it works out.”

There’s more from Brooklyn:

  • The Nets may have to replace two more members of Steve Nashs staff this summer, Lewis adds. Mike D’Antoni is a candidate for the Trail Blazers’ vacancy, while Jacque Vaughn has been given permission to interview with the Pelicans. “We have incredible coaches, and they all are really worthy of being head coaches, or already have been. … I’m assuming we will have turnover,” Nash said. “I’m assuming some of these guys will get jobs, because they’re that good and would really add a lot to an organization.”
  • Brooklyn views Nicolas Claxton as its future starting center, according to Michael Scotto and Yossi Gozlan of Hoops Hype. Scotto states that the Nets weren’t willing to move Claxton at the trade deadline unless they got a star in return. He will be eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer worth up to $59MM.
  • Kevin Durant‘s trip to the Olympics will reunite him with Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who will be an assistant on Gregg Popovich’s staff. Kerr raved about Durant during a radio interview this week, relays Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports, calling him more talented than Michael Jordan and saying his former team was supporting him during the Nets’ playoff run. “You think about what he did for this organization,” Kerr said, “not only helping us win titles but to come back and try to play through injuries and then suffer the devastating Achilles injury, we all just wanted to see Kevin healthy and to see him in the playoffs playing at the level he reached, it was really, really gratifying for all of us.”

Magic Notes: Lottery, Weltman, Isaac, Coaching Search

Among the teams with the best odds heading into Tuesday’s draft lottery, the Magic were the only one to fall out of the top three. Orlando slipped into the fifth spot and will have a second lottery pick after receiving the No. 8 selection from the Bulls. While president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman was disappointed with the results, he tells Roy Parry of The Orlando Sentinel that he’s glad to finally have some clarity on next month’s draft.

“I’ll look at it now as we have a lot of work to do, and we get to put a finer point on the work,” Weltman said. “So we kind of are looking just to put this day behind us and really drill down on the two picks that we have now. Knowing that we have two top-10 picks, that part of it’s very exciting.

“And then the other part is the draft, and it very seldom works out in the way that you prognosticate it. You look back on pretty much any draft, and it doesn’t go that way so it’s our job to find the players in the draft and we will. Now that we know where we’re picking and how many picks we’ll have, we’ll be able to kind of get to the next layer of that.”

There’s more from Orlando:

  • In the same story, Parry suggests the team may try to package one of the selections and possibly a veteran such as Gary Harris or Terrence Ross in an effort to move up. “We always explore all options and it’ll be interesting to kind of start to engage with teams (with the Magic) having two top-10 picks,” Weltman said. “Sometimes it ends up in deals that get done and sometimes it’s a lot of close but no calls. So we’ll see how that goes but we will be busy and the busyness starts with evaluating these two draft picks.”
  • Injured forward Jonathan Isaac shared some encouraging news in a recent appearance on The Sixth Man Show podcast (hat tip to Philip Rossman-Reich of Orlando Magic Daily). Isaac missed the entire 2020/21 season with a torn ACL and there’s still not a definite timetable for him to return, but he believes he’s making progress. “I’m turning the corner,” he said. “It’s like every day I feel like I’m moving better and I can do more. I’m like a kid in the candy story wanting to run around and do so much. I feel good. I’m getting better every day.”
  • In the search to replace Steve Clifford, the Magic front office wants someone with previous head-coaching experience, Marc Stein of The New York Times writes in his latest newsletter. Lakers assistant Jason Kidd and Clippers assistant Kenny Atkinson are two candidates that Stein has heard mentioned frequently.

2021 NBA Offseason Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

After acquiring D’Angelo Russell at the 2020 trade deadline and using the first overall pick in last fall’s draft to snag Anthony Edwards, the Timberwolves entered the 2020/21 campaign expecting to be in the play-in mix.

As was the case in 2019/20 though, Russell and franchise player Karl-Anthony Towns had trouble staying healthy at the same time. Through 50 games, Russell and Towns had appeared on the court together in just four of them. By that point, the Wolves owned a dismal 12-38 record, putting them well out of playoff contention.

There were some encouraging signs during the season’s final weeks. Edwards had a big second half, flashing star potential, and the Wolves were actually pretty competitive when both Russell and Towns were on the court — the team had a 13-11 record in games the duo played. Still, Minnesota will have to take a major step forward in 2021/22 to have a realistic shot at a playoff berth.


The Timberwolves’ Offseason Plan:

Despite finishing near the bottom of the Western Conference standings in each of the last two years, the Timberwolves don’t have much cap flexibility going forward. Towns and Russell are on maximum-salary contracts, while Ricky Rubio, Malik Beasley, and Edwards are all earning eight-figure salaries. That means the team is unlikely to be a real player in free agency.

The Wolves badly need a starting power forward, however, and president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas figures to get creative in his quest to land one this offseason. If free agency isn’t a viable path and the draft isn’t an option (Minnesota doesn’t have its first- or second-round pick), the trade market is the the club’s best bet.

Despite the positive impact Rubio had on a young Wolves squad in 2020/21, he’ll be a trade candidate due to his $17.8MM expiring salary. Jake Layman and Juan Hernangomez, whose contract is only guaranteed for one more year, also have expiring deals that could be useful in trades. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wolves are more interested in shopping Beasley, who plays the same position as Edwards and still has $30MM in guaranteed money left on his contract over the next two years.

Although the Wolves had to send the No. 7 overall pick to Golden State to complete the Russell trade, they’re expected to get an infusion of young talent by signing draft-and-stash prospect Leandro Bolmaro, last year’s No. 23 overall pick. And conveying the 2021 first-rounder to the Warriors this season means all of the team’s future first-round picks are freed up for future trades. Rosas has shown a willingness to be aggressive, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s willing to include a first-rounder in a deal for a power forward.


Salary Cap Situation

Note: Our salary cap projections are based on a presumed 3% increase, which would result in a $112.4MM cap for 2021/22.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents

Two-Way Free Agents

Draft Picks

  • None

Extension-Eligible Players

  • Josh Okogie (rookie scale)
  • Jaylen Nowell (veteran)
  • Naz Reid (veteran)
  • Ricky Rubio (veteran)
  • D’Angelo Russell (veteran)
  • Karl-Anthony Towns (veteran)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

The Timberwolves’ $127.7MM in guaranteed money puts them well over the projected cap. They’ll move closer to the projected tax line ($136.6MM) by guaranteeing Nowell’s and Reid’s salaries and by signing Bolmaro to his rookie contract.

While I expect Minnesota to explore moves that cut costs, it looks for the time being as if the team may forgo the full mid-level exception or the bi-annual exception — using either would hard-cap the Wolves at the tax apron, which figures to be in the neighborhood of $143MM, significantly hampering the team’s flexibility.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Taxpayer mid-level exception: $5,890,000 4

Footnotes

  1. Reid’s salary becomes fully guaranteed in mid-to-late August (exact date TBD).
  2. Because he has been on a two-way contract with the Timberwolves for two seasons, McLaughlin is ineligible to sign another two-way deal.
  3. The cap holds for Turner and Brooks remain on the Timberwolves’ books from prior seasons because they haven’t been renounced. They can’t be used in a sign-and-trade deal.
  4. This is a projected value. If the Timberwolves move further below the tax line, they could gain access to the full mid-level exception ($9.5MM) and the bi-annual exception ($3.7MM).

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chris Paul Plans To Return For Game 3

Barring a setback prior to Thursday night, Suns point guard Chris Paul intends to return to action for Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals in Los Angeles, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

A report late on Tuesday night indicated that the Suns were optimistic that Paul – who has been in the NBA’s health and safety protocols since early last week after testing positive for COVID-19 – would be cleared for Game 3.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 noted earlier today (via Twitter) that Paul would have to go through a process that includes a mini-physical and cardiac screening for myocarditis before he received medical clearance. Haynes’ report suggests CP3 has taken that step. Sources tell Yahoo Sports that the point guard passed a cardio exam on Wednesday morning, which Haynes says was the final step to clear the protocols.

We’ll have to wait for an official update from the Suns to confirm Paul’s availability for Thursday, but for now it sounds like he’s trending toward a return.

While Phoenix is on the verge of getting its All-NBA star back, it remains to be seen when the Clippers’ All-NBA First Team forward, Kawhi Leonard, will return. Leonard has missed the team’s last four games due to a knee sprain.

The Suns are up 2-0 on L.A. in the best-of-seven series.

LaVine, Grant Commit To Team USA; Harden Withdraws

Bulls guard Zach LaVine and Pistons forward Jerami Grant have committed to play for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter links).

There were already 11 players who had committed to represent the U.S. in Tokyo, but one of those players – Nets guard James Harden – is withdrawing, Charania reports (via Twitter).

Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press had noted earlier today (via Twitter) that there are still concerns about the hamstring injury that sidelined Harden for part of the second half of the season and several games in the Eastern Semifinals. He’ll focus on getting that hamstring back to 100% this summer.

As a result of the new commitments and Harden’s decision to pull out, the 12-team roster for Team USA now looks like this:

Booker, Holiday, and Middleton are still alive in the postseason. However, Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo previously said that Booker intends to play in Tokyo no matter how late the Suns’ season goes, and he suggested today that Holiday and Middleton have made similar commitments, per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

Even assuming those three players all remain committed, it’s possible the 12-man U.S. squad could undergo more tweaks if players suffer injuries or reconsider their summer plans. For now though, we have a pretty good idea of what the group competing for gold in Tokyo will look like. The Olympics are scheduled to begin a month from today.

Celtics Finalizing Deal To Hire Ime Udoka As Head Coach

New Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has made a decision on his replacement, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, who reports (via Twitter) that Boston is finalizing a deal to hire Nets assistant Ime Udoka as the team’s new head coach.

Udoka, who appeared in over 300 NBA games as a player for the Lakers, Knicks, Blazers, Spurs, and Kings, transitioned into coaching following his retirement in 2012. He spent seven years as an assistant on Gregg Popovich‘s staff in San Antonio before joining the Sixers for the 2019/20 season. He was hired by the Nets last fall and focused on Brooklyn’s defense as one of the top assistants on Steve Nash‘s staff.

Udoka has interviewed for several open head coaching positions in recent years, having been linked to the Bulls, Pacers, Knicks, and 76ers a year ago and to the Cavaliers in 2019. He was due for a shot at a top job and quickly separated himself from the Celtics’ other candidates during the team’s coaching search, tweets Wojnarowski.

According to Woj, a number of Celtics players who participated in the 2019 World Cup for Team USA were impressed by Udoka, who was an assistant on the U.S. staff. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart all played on that team.

The Celtics’ head coaching job opened up three weeks ago when Danny Ainge stepped down from his position as the organization’s president of basketball operations and Stevens was moved into that role. Stevens, who led the coaching search, has had a busy first month on the job — he also completed the first trade of the NBA offseason, sending Kemba Walker to Oklahoma City last week.

Assuming the Udoka hire becomes official shortly, the Celtics will become the first team to fill a head coaching vacancy this offseason. Six other teams – the Mavericks, Pacers, Pelicans, Magic, Blazers, and Wizards – are conducting ongoing searches.

Poll: Milwaukee Bucks Vs. Atlanta Hawks

The two Eastern Conference teams left standing this season, the Bucks and Hawks, took very different paths to the conference semifinals.

Milwaukee, led by two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and All-Star Khris Middleton, has made the playoffs for five straight seasons, making it as far as the Eastern Finals in 2019, but never quite getting over the hump. This represents the club’s best chance to break through and compete for a title for the first time in decades.

Atlanta, meanwhile, last made the Eastern Finals back in 2015, when current Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer was at the helm. That 60-win squad was slowly torn down over the next year or two as the Hawks entered a rebuilding process that saw the team win just 24, 29, and 20 games in the three seasons from 2017/18 to ’19/20.

Even with ascendant young players like Trae Young and John Collins leading the way, and several veteran free agents added to the roster in the 2020 offseason, this season’s Hawks appeared lottery-bound, getting off to a 14-20 start. However, since Nate McMillan replaced Lloyd Pierce as Atlanta’s head coach, this has looked like a different team. The Hawks finished the regular season by winning 27 of their last 38 games and have now made an unexpectedly deep postseason run, upsetting the Knicks and Sixers in the first two rounds.

The Bucks are built to win now, having traded several future draft picks last fall in a blockbuster deal for Jrue Holiday. They’ll enter the Eastern Finals as big favorites to win the series (they’re listed as -460 on BetOnline.ag). And after knocking off the Nets – who had been considered the championship frontrunners – anything short of an appearance in the NBA Finals will be considered a disappointmentin Milwaukee.

The Hawks’ season, on the other hand, is already a huge success, and that won’t change even if the team is swept by the Bucks. That doesn’t mean Atlanta will go down quietly though — this group showed during the second half of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs that it’s for real, and has the luxury of entering the Eastern Finals with the pressure relatively off. The Hawks are essentially playing with house money and shouldn’t have to carry the weight of a looming roster or coaching staff shakeup should they fall short of the NBA Finals.

With Game 1 set to tip off in a matter of hours, we want to get your thoughts on the Eastern Conference Finals. Do you expect the Bucks or Hawks to advance to the NBA Finals? How many games do you think it will take for a team to get to four wins? Do you expect the Eastern winner to ultimately take home the championship?

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

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