Month: December 2021

Atlantic Notes: Durant, Walker, Kanter, Riller

Ahead of the Knicks‘ eventual 112-110 loss to their cross-town rival Nets on Tuesday night, New York All-Star forward Julius Randle praised Brooklyn All-Star forward Kevin Durant, per Peter Botte of the New York Post.

“He’s the best player in the league, for sure,” Randle raved on Monday. “[I’ve] never seen a 7-footer that skilled… [He can] do anything, everything, on the court. No weakness. That’s him. He’s tough. Great player, but I love competing against him.”

In an MVP-level season for the Nets, Durant is averaging 28.6 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 5.6 APG in 35.8 MPG, with a shooting line of .539/.389/.863.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • The demotion of Kemba Walker from starting Knicks point guard to a DNP-CD serves as clear evidence of head coach Tom Thibodeau‘s zeal to win, per Ian O’Connor of the New York Post. Though the move for the 31-year-old hometown hero may not be a popular one, Thibodeau knows it will help the club’s defense significantly. “I just don’t like the way we’ve been trending, the inconsistency of our team,” Thibodeau said. “I want to get bigger. I want our defense to get bigger at the point of the attack.” The six-foot Walker, never a good defender, has seen his efficacy on both sides of the ball decline following knee injuries while with the Celtics. Fred Katz of The Athletic notes that the disparity in points per possession when Walker plays as opposed to when he sits represents the difference between what would be the best defensive efficiency in the NBA (when he sits) and what would be the worst (when he plays).
  • Upon becoming a US citizen on Monday, Celtics reserve center Enes Kanter has officially changed his name to Enes Kanter Freedom, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN (Twitter link). “It was really important to me” to acknowledge the freedom that the Turkish native gets to enjoy as an American citizen, the freshly-anointed Kanter Freedom said.
  • Sixers two-way player Grant Riller injured his right shoulder during a contest for Philadelphia’s NBA G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats, this past Sunday, tweets Derek Bodner of The Athletic. Bodner adds that Riller’s health status will be reassessed in a week. The No. 56 pick in 2020 out of the College of Charleston, Riller has yet to appear in a game for the Sixers this season. The 6’2″ point guard is averaging 5.5 PPG, 2.3 APG and 1.5 RPG across four games for Delaware.

Lakers Notes: Ariza, Vogel, Bradley, Westbrook

As Lakers forward Trevor Ariza continues to recover from an October 6 scope of his right ankle, he will remain unavailable for Los Angeles for the immediate future, per Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register (Twitter link). Goon notes that an Ariza reincorporation into lineups for L.A. would help the club use big man Anthony Davis at the center position more frequently.

Head coach Frank Vogel said that Ariza remains “a ways away” from suiting up for Los Angeles, Goon writes. Without an explicit timeline for Ariza’s 2021/22 season debut, the 6’8″ veteran will soon be re-assessed by team doctors when he officially has been out for eight weeks, writes Mike Trudell of Lakers.com.

“I don’t have a definite date or anything like that,” Ariza said. “It’s all on when the doctors clear or the way my body feels and responds to more loading, more work. That’s kind of the gauge on when I’ll be able to be out there safely.”

There’s more out of the soon-to-be-Crypto.com Arena:

  • With the Lakers having sputtered to an 11-11 start, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated contends that blaming head coach Frank Vogel for the team’s problems is short-sighted. The team’s significant roster churn appears to be the prime culprit. The Lakers’ main errors this season, Mannix writes, appear to have been the front office’s trade for pricey former All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook and the decision to let guards Alex Caruso and Dennis Schröder depart in free agency.
  • An MRI has revealed that Lakers combo guard Avery Bradley has suffered a UCL sprain in his right thumb, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com. As a result of the injury, Bradley will miss tonight’s contest against the Kings. The 30-year-old has started 16 games of the 21 games he has played for the Lakers this year, averaging 5.0 PPG and 2.5 RPG over 22.2 MPG.
  • New Lakers starting point guard Russell Westbrook has put up typically impressive, albeit inefficient, counting stats during his first two months with his hometown club, but Malika Andrews, Richard Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins of ESPN’s NBA Today (video link) wonder if L.A. might already be regretting its decision to go all-in for the aging vet.

Spurs Notes: White, Young, Three-Point Shooting, COVID Testing

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said this week that guard Derrick White, in the first year of his new four-year, $68MM contract, is showing significant improvements thanks to his newfound confidence after injuries and the coronavirus derailed his 2020/21 season, writes Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. White, 27, dealt with a toe surgery, an ankle sprain, and a COVID-related absence last year.

“With those injuries, it really wrecked his confidence,” Popovich said of the fifth-year guard. “He had to sit around for a long time. When he came back, he just had no rhythm and wasn’t really confident.”

The 6’4″ White, selected with the No. 29 pick out of Colorado in 2017, is averaging 12.1 PPG, 5.2 APG, and 3.4 RPG in 19 games this season.

There’s more out of San Antonio:

  • New Spurs forward Thaddeus Young spoke with Alex Kennedy of Basketball News on Kennedy’s podcast about his surprise at being traded from the Bulls to the Spurs, as well as several other topics. “Definitely caught me off guard for the simple fact [that]… my agent had just talked to everyone in Chicago, and we were being told that I was coming back,” Young said. “The only thing I had wished was that I had [gotten] the heads-up before [finding out on] social [media].” When asked about how long he hoped to continue playing in the NBA, the 15-year vet remained open-minded. “For me, it’s just a matter of just getting minutes,” Young said. “So far this season I haven’t really played as much as I’ve played in the past, but with the time I have been given I’ve been productive.”
  • San Antonio continues hoping to improve its three-point shooting, several years removed from the tenure of ex-Spur and three-point specialist Davis Bertans, writes Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. McDonald notes that the Spurs are last in the NBA in triples for the second consecutive season thus far. Having made 9.9 three-pointers per game last season, the Spurs are currently converting even fewer threes than that in 2021/22, at 9.7 a night. “You have to keep up with threes or you are in trouble,” Popovich said. “In today’s game, that’s the deal.”
  • The Spurs have been receptive to the league’s more frequent COVID-19 testing around the Thanksgiving holiday, writes Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. “I don’t want to get my kids sick,” said Spurs shooting guard Bryn Forbes. “I don’t want to get my family sick. I would never want to risk any of their lives or any of their health for anything. I think it’s important we test.” Spurs big man Drew Eubanks echoed these concerns. “I don’t go out too often … trying to wait until things die down a little bit to go shopping and stuff,” Eubanks said of exercising caution due to the ongoing pandemic. “I just got my (COVID) booster (shot) the other day and am just trying to stay up to date on what to do and what the new developments are.”

Pacers’ Holiday In COVID-19 Protocols, Out Several Games

Pacers wing Justin Holiday has entered the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, per Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files (Twitter link). Agness adds that Holiday will be sidelined for at least 10 days of action with Indiana, which will cover the club’s next four contests.

A player in the league’s health and safety protocols for 10 days or more has typically tested positive for the coronavirus, though no official confirmation of Holiday’s health status has been confirmed. Holiday has been in and out of the starting lineup this season, most recently replaceng rookie Chris Duarte as the club’s starting small forward.

The 6’6″ swingman, 32, is averaging 9.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, and 1.7 APG for the Pacers. He is boasting a .398/.357/.727 shooting line, relatively comparable to his career numbers of .399/.364/.819, besides the notably lower free-throw percentage.

Holiday is in the second year of a three-season, $18MM contract he signed with the Pacers in the 2020 offseason.

LeBron James Enters COVID-19 Protocols

6:24pm: Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets that James will be sidelined for at least 10 days unless he tests negative for COVID-19 twice within a 24-hour span. Though it’s not confirmed, this timeline generally indicates a positive test.


5:39pm: Lakers All-Star forward LeBron James looks set to miss even more time in this young 2021/22 NBA season. Shams Charania of The Athletic reports (Twitter link) that James has entered the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols and will be unavailable for Tuesday’s contest against the Kings.

With this absence tonight (and potentially more to come, depending on his coronavirus testing status over the ensuing days and weeks), James will have now been sidelined for 12 of the Lakers’ 23 contests already this season, and it’s still only November.

The 36-year-old future Hall of Famer has put up gaudy numbers when available this year, his 19th in the league. He is averaging 25.8 PPG, 6.8 APG, and 5.2 RPG on .484/.344/.755 shooting across 11 games this season. The shorthanded Lakers are also without combo guard Avery Bradley and forward Trevor Ariza tonight.

Entering coronavirus protocols does not necessarily mean James, who is vaccinated, has tested positive for COVID-19. It does, however, at least indicate exposure to someone else who registered a positive test. Tim Bontemps of ESPN notes (via Twitter) that, should a player have a confirmed positive test, they will be sidelined for at least 10 days. During that timeline, the Lakers are set to play only four games, though three of those will be against playoff-caliber clubs in the Clippers, Celtics and Grizzlies.

Thunder Notes: Roby, Watson, Deck, Player Development

After playing a regular role for the Thunder in 2020/21, Isaiah Roby has been one of the odd men out of the frontcourt rotation so far this season, appearing in just 10 of the team’s first 20 games. However, with Derrick Favors and Kenrich Williams unavailable on Monday, Roby logged a season-high 27 minutes. He put up 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting and was a plus-five in a game the Thunder lost by 13 points.

As Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes, Roby has accepted his reduced role, telling reporters on Monday that he understands it and is just doing his best to stay ready. While Roby made a case for more playing time on Monday, head coach Mark Daigneault said there are still some things he wants to see from the forward on a consistent basis before reinserting him into the rotation.

“The things we’ve talked about is his rim protection and pick-and-roll coverage, which I thought was good at times (on Monday),” Daigneault said. “And then offensively just kinda being a floor-spacing, ball-moving, drive-and-kick player.”

The Thunder can make Roby a free agent in 2022 by turning down the team option on his minimum-salary contract, so if he continues to play limited minutes going forward, it’s possible his days in Oklahoma City are numbered.

Here’s more out of OKC:

  • Paul Watson, who is on a two-way contract, made his Thunder debut on Monday. Oklahoma City is a young team and two-way deals are typically reserved for younger players, so the choice to fill one of the club’s two-way slots with Watson (27 next month) is somewhat unusual. “You can’t develop 10 20-year-olds at the same time,” Daigneault explained, per Mussatto. “You’ve gotta have a level of functionality and allow people to develop in context. Otherwise you’re just kinda rolling the balls out and just hoping that the experiences are just adding up.”
  • Here’s more from Daigneault on the Thunder’s rebuild and the decision to try to develop players like Watson and 26-year-old Gabriel Deck: “It’s not a requirement moving forward that all of our players have to be 22. We have to continue to mine for opportunities with everybody.”
  • Having played in just five games with the Thunder this season, Deck has been assigned to the G League to get him more playing time, tweets Mussatto. The Argentine forward is a EuroLeague veteran, but has appeared in just 15 NBA contests since arriving in Oklahoma City late last season.

Knicks Have Reportedly Received Trade Inquires On Kemba Walker

After removing Kemba Walker from their rotation on Monday, the Knicks have received inquiries from three teams asking about potential trades for the point guard, sources tell Jordan Schultz of the Pull Up Podcast (Twitter link).

According to Schultz (Twitter link), it’s unclear whether or not Walker is on the trade block after signing a two-year, $18MM deal in the summer. A. Sherrod Blakely of Bleacher Report wrote last night that league sources believe New York will look to trade Walker, but it’s not clear whether those sources have any inside info or are just speculating.

Walker, who was an All-Star as recently as 2020, has been slowed by knee issues in recent years and was off to a slow start in his hometown this season. He averaged 11.7 PPG, 3.1 APG, and 2.6 RPG in 18 games (24.5 MPG) before being removed from the Knicks’ starting lineup and rotation.

Although Walker’s shooting numbers – including a .413 3PT% – remain solid, his defensive shortcomings have been especially glaring in New York. The Knicks have a 116.3 defensive rating and a -13.3 net rating with Walker on the court, compared to a 99.0 defensive rating and +11.2 net rating when he sits.

It remains to be seen how long the Knicks intend to keep Walker out of their rotation and whether he’ll benefit from resting his knees. If the team does consider moving him, it can’t happen yet — as an offseason signee, he doesn’t become trade-eligible until December 15.

Walker is under contract for another year beyond this season, but his $9MM annual cap hits would make him much easier to move than someone like John Wall, who is earning $45MM+ per year.

Rockets Notes: Wall, Augustin, Sengun, Simmons, Theis, Gordon

As we previously detailed, John Wall met with Rockets management on Sunday, including general manager Rafael Stone and head coach Stephen Silas. Wall informed his bosses he would like to return to the court and be a starter again. Since the Rockets would prefer to have him play a limited role off the bench, the two sides reached an impasse.

However, the situation remains fluid, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Silas said the Rockets will continue to have conversations with Wall while he works himself into game shape over the next couple weeks.

Rafael and I did meet with John (on Sunday) and he had indicated that he wants to play and work towards that so right now we’re in that phase as far as getting him back in game shape,” Silas said. “He’s been doing a lot of one-on-oh type stuff and one-on-one type stuff but nothing up and down, nothing four-on-four, five-on-five.

Right now is the ramp-up time. That’ll probably take a couple weeks. We’ll continue our conversations and try to determine what it looks like.”

Here’s more from Houston:

  • Silas said backup point guard D.J. Augustin is in the health and safety protocols, tweets Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston. It’s unclear how long Augustin will be sidelined.
  • In his latest mailbag, Kelly Iko of The Athletic tackles a number of topics. He believes rookie Alperen Sengun will stay in his current bench role, especially since the Rockets have finally found some success (winning three straight after starting 1-16). He thinks Sengun will eventually get more minutes as the season progresses, but writes that Christian Wood is playing too well right now as the lone big man to disrupt his rhythm.
  • Within the same column, Iko says he doesn’t think the Rockets have any interest in Ben Simmons, but they could potentially help facilitate a deal involving multiple teams. He says Houston is committed to Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green as its backcourt of the future.
  • Iko also believes that offseason addition Daniel Theis and shooting guard Eric Gordon will be available if the price is right. Theis has fallen out of the rotation recently, but he’s a veteran with a proven defensive presence, and his contract (four years, $35MM, with $26MM guaranteed) will likely be easier to move than Gordon’s (two years, $37MM guaranteed).

Bucks Sign Javonte Smart, Waive Justin Robinson

November 30: The Bucks have officially signed Smart to a two-way contract and requested waivers on Robinson, the team announced in a press release.


November 29: The Bucks intend to sign guard Javonte Smart to a two-way contract and will waive Justin Robinson to create an opening on their 17-man roster, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (via Twitter).

Smart, who went undrafted earlier this year, averaged 16.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, and 3.7 RPG as a junior for LSU in 2020/21. The 6’4″ guard posted an impressive shooting line of .460/.402/.857 in 28 games (35.6 MPG), earning All-SEC Second Team honors.

The Heat signed Smart to a training camp contract and made him an affiliate player for the Sioux Falls Skyforce after he was waived during the preseason. He has played well at the G League level so far, putting up 22.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 3.6 APG on .488/.396/.917 shooting in his first five games (35.1 MPG) for the Skyforce.

Robinson had already appeared in 17 games for the Bucks this season while on his two-way contract, but wasn’t especially effective in his limited role. The 6’1″ guard averaged 2.8 PPG and 1.2 APG on .316/.270/1.000 shooting in 11.6 minutes per contest.

The Bucks are making a handful of tweaks to their roster this week. They’ve also reached an agreement to sign DeMarcus Cousins to a standard, non-guaranteed contract. He’ll fill the open spot on their 15-man roster.