Month: January 2023

Southwest Notes: Gordon, Washington, Doncic, Sochan

The Rockets have the third-worst record in the NBA and Eric Gordon is discouraged by the lack of progress from his young teammates, tweets Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston. Talking to reporters after Saturday’s 20-point loss to the Knicks, Gordon said “there’s no improvement” when asked about the direction of the season.

“Same old thing all year,” Gordon said after the team committed 25 turnovers. “We have a small margin for error. … It’s a lot of things. It’s mindset. You got to play for one another. Do what’s right by your teammates. If you do that it’d be more fun. You give yourself a better chance to win.”

Gordon is the veteran leader on a team filled with players in their early 20s, and he’s the only member of the roster who has played a consistent role on a contender. Gordon is also a strong candidate to be moved if the Rockets can find an offer to their liking before the February 9 trade deadline.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Rookie guard TyTy Washington believes he was too tentative in his first few games with the Rockets after missing the early part of the season with an injury, writes Danielle Lerner of The Houston Chronicle. The first-round pick recently replaced Daishen Nix as the backup point guard, and he credits coaches and teammates for helping him to stop second guessing himself. “The coaching staff and everybody was telling me, ‘Do what you did to get you to this point,’” Washington said. “At first I was kind of like, just out there nervous just trying to fit in and stuff like that. And they just told me, ‘You never fit in your whole life. Do what you did to get you here.’” 
  • Mavericks guard Luka Doncic continued his scoring barrage on Saturday night with 51 points against the Spurs, per Raul Dominguez of The Associated Press. Doncic has scored at least 50 points three times in his last five games. “It’s incredible,” Christian Wood said. “In my seven years in the league, I’ve never seen anybody do what he’s able to do. He’s on an incredible run. He’s playing like an MVP. Clearly one of the best players in the league.”
  • The Spurs like what they’ve seen from lottery pick Jeremy Sochan, tweets Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express News. The 19-year-old forward has established himself as a starter and a strong defender in his first NBA season. “We’ve seen it from the beginning,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “He plays a great all-around game. He continues to work on his shooting. But he does everything for us defensively, moves the ball, handles the ball, plays some point.”

Central Notes: Dragic, Vucevic, Ingles, Haliburton, Pistons

Goran Dragic believes teammate Nikola Vucevic is being unfairly blamed for the Bulls‘ disappointing season, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Vucevic isn’t putting up the numbers that he did in Orlando before Chicago acquired him in a 2021 trade, but Dragic believes it’s because the big man is on a team with more scorers.

Dragic compares the situation with the time he spent in Miami with Chris Bosh, who was being criticized by fans for his decreased production, even though he adjusted his game to help the Heat win two titles.

“When you have to do what Chris or Vooch is doing, it’s not possible to live up to previous expectations,’’ Dragic said. “There’s only one ball and three guys that can score. Each guy can score in different ways from a different position. At the end of the day it should be just about winning. Miami conquered that. A guy like CB that sacrifices like that, that might be one of the biggest keys to them getting those championships.’’

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Bucks forward Joe Ingles put together his best game Friday since returning from an ACL tear, posting 14 points, five rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Minnesota, per Eric Nehm of The Athletic. The performance in his sixth game back made Ingles feel like all the rehab work was worth it. “I would have gone home very happy tonight if we won, especially after the last few games, but just to feel a bit more like myself, getting up the minutes a little more from what I’ve been able to play,” he said. “In the end, you’re helping these guys out to win a game. That’s what I’m here to do — to help create and playmake for these guys and make shots when I can and be annoying on defense and that’s just what I try (to do). Tonight was probably the most natural I felt out there.”
  • After the Pacers pulled out a one-point win over the Clippers on Saturday afternoon, Tyrese Haliburton suggested that the team has benefited from adversity, tweets Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. “Losing,” Haliburton responded when asked what has made Indiana better at closing out games. “I think as a young team you need that.” 
  • The Pistons‘ only appearance on TNT this season has been taken away, according to Mike Curtis of The Detroit News. A January 10 contest against the Sixers has been replaced by a Thunder-Heat matchup that night. The Pistons’ league-worst record and the loss of Cade Cunningham has made the team less attractive for national television, notes Curtis, who adds that Detroit will still appear on NBA TV on January 19 and March 23.

Warriors Notes: DiVincenzo, Poole, Payton, Jerome, Wiggins

In Friday’s win over Portland, Donte DiVincenzo had his most impactful performance since signing with the Warriors during the offseason, writes Anthony Slater of The Athletic. With 45 seconds left and Golden State leading by two points, DiVincenzo stole the ball from Damian Lillard and followed that with a three-pointer to put the game out of reach.

DiVincenzo got off to an uneven start with his new team, but he has moved into the starting lineup in the wake of injuries to Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins. He has helped to stabilize the team’s perimeter defense and recorded four steals on Friday night.

“He’s a winner,” coach Steve Kerr said. “I mean, two-time NCAA champion. NBA champion with the Bucks. Competes every second of every play. Great rebounds. Just constantly moving toward the ball. Plays with so much energy and activity, and then he’s fearless. He knocks down that big 3. He was 0-for-3 from 3 going into that shot, and it didn’t phase him at all.”

There’s more on the Warriors:

  • Jordan Poole had a game-high 41 points Friday as he continues to fill the scoring void left by Curry’s absence, Slater adds. Poole has produced hefty point totals in the team’s last five wins, and Slater believes his ability to fill in for Curry influenced Warriors management to give him a contract extension.
  • Gary Payton II still hasn’t played this season, but the Trail Blazers guard picked up his championship ring during Friday’s visit to Golden State, per Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area. Draymond Green was excited to make the official presentation to his former teammate. “To understand GP’s journey, to see him go and get his money, but most importantly to see what he was able to contribute to a championship — I’m extremely excited and honored to be the person that’s presenting him something that will matter and that nobody can take for the rest of your life,” Green said.
  • Ty Jerome was flattered to be called “a poor man’s Steve Nash” during an interview on Warriors Postgame Live (video link). Jerome signed with Golden State after being waived by the Rockets in October, and he says the team’s style of play is a perfect fit for his skills.
  • Wiggins was able to take part in a 3-on-3 session Friday morning and Kerr is “hopeful” that he’ll be able to play Monday, Johnson tweets.

Southeast Notes: Porzingis, Gafford, Beal, Magic, J. Johnson

The Wizards have strung together four straight wins with a super-sized starting lineup featuring Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford, writes Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. Both big men have adapted well to the pairing, enabling Washington to climb back into the race for the play-in tournament.

Hughes notes that both players blocked four shots Friday night at Orlando, becoming the first Wizards teammates to reach that total in the same game in 10 years. With Porzingis getting 13 rebounds and Gafford collecting eight, they are the first Washington players with at least four blocks and eight rebounds in the same game since 1987.

Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said earlier this week that he wanted to watch the Porzingis-Gafford pairing for five games before determining whether to make it permanent, but Hughes suggests that Unseld has probably seen enough already to make a decision. Hughes points out that Porzingis has more freedom on offense with Gafford stationed down low, allowing him to look for three-point shots and post up whenever he has a mismatch.

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Wizards guard Bradley Beal missed Friday’s game with a sore left hamstring and is listed as questionable for Sunday night against the Bucks. He has sat out the past two games.
  • After enjoying an 8-2 stretch earlier this month, the Magic have dropped their last three games, observes Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel. The Magic are short-handed because of suspensions imposed after a fight with the Pistons this week, but they also have a lot of young players who are still getting used to the rigors of a long season. “It’s a tricky balance,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “You have a group of young guys that are working every single day but balancing how much they work vs. understanding their bodies need to get the rest. You don’t want to overdo it in practice to the point that in the game that their energy levels are lower. We’ll balance it out.”
  • Hawks forward Jalen Johnson is coming off the best week of his NBA career, averaging 12.3 PPG over his last three games, per Lauren Williams of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Opportunities have arisen for the team’s younger players after injuries to Clint Capela and De’Andre Hunter. “That’s just a part of being an NBA,” Johnson said. “You just got to be prepared for whatever situation like last year, when we had all those COVID cases, like we had a whole new team. So, you just got to be prepared for whatever injuries happen. That’s just a part in this league playing 82 games. So yeah, it’s not really nothing crazy getting adjusted to that.”

Injury Updates: Leonard, C. Johnson, Garland, Brunson

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has been playing under a minutes restriction all season while returning from a partially torn ACL, but that appears to have been lifted, tweets Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times. Leonard logged 35 minutes Saturday afternoon at Indiana after playing 37 and 35 in the team’s past two games, meaning he’s basically back on a regular schedule.

“Still moving up the right track, feeling healthy still and that’s what it’s about,” Leonard said after the game. “Just keep getting better.”

Coach Tyronn Lue didn’t confirm that Leonard’s minutes limit is gone, but he said the increased availability is welcome because it allows him to stagger Leonard and Paul George and keep at least one star on the court throughout the game.

There’s more injury news to pass along:

  • Suns forward Cameron Johnson appears to be getting closer to a return after having meniscus surgery on November 8, tweets Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic, who posted a video of Johnson running before Friday night’s game.
  • Darius Garland, who suffered a sprained right thumb late in Thursday’s game, will miss the Cavaliers‘ contest on Saturday night in Chicago, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Garland has been receiving treatment for the injury since it happened, Fedor adds. Cleveland will also be without big man Evan Mobley, who is missing his first game of the season because of soreness in his right ankle. Lamar Stevens and Kevin Love will start in their place, giving the Cavs their 17th different starting lineup in 37 games.
  • Knicks guard Jalen Brunson will miss his third straight game with a hip injury tonight in Houston, tweets Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. The Rockets will be without starting center Alperen Sengun, who is suffering lower back pain, according to Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston (Twitter link).

Heat Notes: Robinson, Butler, Adebayo, Oladipo

Duncan Robinson is the Heat‘s new career leader in three-pointers, but it’s not a record he expects to keep very long, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Robinson sank three shots from long distance Friday at Denver to give him 807, one more than Tim Hardaway, and while it’s a function of the way the league has changed, it’s notable that Robinson was able to reach his mark in 265 games, while it took Hardaway 367.

Robinson savored the accomplishment, but he acknowledged that the record will eventually belong to Tyler Herro, who already has 491 career three-pointers in his fourth NBA season.

“Tyler is on my heels,” Robinson said. “I just told him that I got it for now, but you’re going to get it soon. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.”

The record comes amid a season of adjustments for Robinson, who has returned to a reserve role after being a starter for the past three seasons. Robinson also faces an uncertain future in Miami, as he’s considered to be an important trade chip as the franchise tries to land another star.

“I haven’t really taken too much time in the process of it. But yeah, I’m proud of the journey,” Robinson added. “A lot of people helped me along the way. A lot of people in this organization, a lot of teammates, a lot of people in my corner. It’s not just me, so I celebrate it with them, for sure.”

There’s more on the Heat:

  • Instead of accompanying his teammates to Utah for Saturday’s game, Jimmy Butler flew to Los Angeles to have a doctor examine his right knee, Chiang adds. Butler hopes to receive medical clearance to begin playing in back-to-back games.
  • Friday’s loss to the Nuggets left Miami with a .500 record through 36 games, and center Bam Adebayo is among the players frustrated at the regression after having the best record in the East last season, per Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel. “The thing about it, we don’t want to be mediocre,” Adebayo said. “We don’t want to be in the middle of the pack.” 
  • Victor Oladipo is still a valuable defender, but his contributions on offense have been minimal since returning from left knee tendinosis, Winderman states in a separate story. In the 10 games he has played this season, Oladipo is shooting just 36.4% from the field and 24.4% from three-point range. Winderman also observes that Oladipo’s first step seems slower and he’s not as controlled on his drives to the basket.

Lakers Notes: LeBron, Supporting Cast, Davis

Just two days after he made comments widely interpreted as a call to the Lakers‘ front office to improve the roster, LeBron James had his best game of the season on Friday in Atlanta. James celebrated his 38th birthday by piling up 47 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists en route to 130-121 victory.

James didn’t do it all by himself though — five of his teammates scored in double digits, with Thomas Bryant grabbing 17 rebounds and Russell Westbrook nearly registering another triple-double (14 points, 11 assists, and eight boards). As Dave McMenamin of ESPN writes, James’ teammates could’ve taken offense to his comments alluding to the roster’s shortcomings, but instead seemed to be galvanized by them.

“I don’t think anyone took that as a slight,” head coach Darvin Ham said. “I think they took it as, ‘You know what? He’s right. We need to pick up our stuff up and really try to apply it in unison, all pulling in the same direction and go compete our butts off.'”

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Rohan Nadkarni of SI.com and Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times responded differently to James’ comments from earlier this week about not wanting to finish his career “playing at this level, from a team aspect.” Nadkarni believes the onus is on the front office to listen to LeBron and upgrade the roster, while Plaschke says the Lakers should tell their superstar “no” and focus on retooling the roster by trading him in the offseason. As we outlined earlier today, James is ineligible to be traded during the season.
  • On paper, the contract extension James signed in August seemed like it should take some pressure off the Lakers and give the front office some additional time and freedom to operate as it sought roster upgrades. However, that hasn’t really been the case, according to Kyle Goon of The Southern California News Group, who notes that the team is now under scrutiny for how it manages the end of an all-time great player’s career when he’s dissatisfied with how things are going.
  • The Lakers “desperately need a shooter,” an executive tells Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com, but Anthony Davis‘ recovery timeline will play a large part in dictating the team’s path at the trade deadline. “The question is, can another big-time player put them in the mix, because they’re not going anywhere with the way they are currently constructed,” the exec said. “So they have to ask, do you want to borrow against the future to see if you can maximize the present? And then you deal with the future when it comes up. But if Davis isn’t going to be able to play, or he’s playing but not himself, then none of this will really matter anyway.”
  • In case you missed it, Davis spoke to reporters about how his recovery from a foot injury is progressing.

Knicks Notes: Quickley, Toppin, Randle, Dolan

While Evan Fournier and Cam Reddish are considered the most available trade candidates in New York, one league executive who spoke to Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com pointed to another Knicks player who would bring back a far greater return if the team were willing to move him.

“The one guy who is really their trade asset is the one guy they’d like to keep, and that’s (Immanuel) Quickley,” the exec said. “Great kid. But he sees himself as a starting point guard, and the Knicks see him as a combo guard. Thibs (head coach Tom Thibodeau) doesn’t like to play young guys, but he’s embraced Quickley.

“The problem is Quickley sees what Tyrese Maxey is doing 80 miles south of there and he thinks, ‘Hey, I’m every bit as good as Tyrese. The only difference is he’s had opportunity and I haven’t.’ So he’s worried that the Knicks will never commit to letting him do what he wants to do. But he would bring back some value if they ever decided to trade him.”

It’s probably safe to take the anonymous executive’s commentary on Quickley with a grain of salt, since there’s no reason to think he’d have any inside insight on the 23-year-old’s thinking. Still, it’s worth noting that Quickley has posted some of the best numbers of his career in the Knicks’ last two games with Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett unavailable, racking up 15 assists on Tuesday and 36 points on Thursday.

“He’s not going to get those opportunities when they’re whole,” the exec added.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • An Eastern Conference executive who spoke to Sean Deveney of Heavy.com believes the Knicks have spoken to the Pacers about a possible Obi Toppin trade. “There has been some talk between the Pacers and Knicks about Obi,” the exec said. “He fits in Indiana, especially if they keep (Myles) Turner. Obi is a rim-runner, he has some toughness, he has athleticism. He needs minutes and a team that is rebuilding with young talent like Indy is a really good match.”
  • A productive December has increased Julius Randle‘s season-long averages to 23.8 PPG, 9.7 RPG, and 3.7 APG, but he’s not thinking about the possibility of earning a second All-Star nod, writes Peter Botte of The New York Post. “I’m just trying to focus on the team, helping us get wins, day by day, how I can improve as a player and a leader, and how we can improve as a team,” Randle said. “Those things, if they happen, whatever it is, it’s great. But I’m more focused on the team.”
  • Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News identifies five moments that defined a disappointing 2022 for the Knicks.
  • Writing for his Substack (subscription required), Ethan Strauss takes a closer look at troubling reports and stories about Madison Square Garden security using facial recognition technology to turn away fans based on James Dolan‘s personal vendettas. Botte passes along some of the highlights of Strauss’ story in an article for The New York Post.

NBA Players Who Can’t Be Traded This Season

As we explained when we identified the players who will become trade-eligible on unique dates this season, there’s a small group of players whose trade restrictions won’t lift until sometime after the February 9 trade deadline. These players meet one of the following criteria:

  1. They signed a free agent contract after November 9.
    • A player who signs a free agent contract doesn’t become eligible to be traded for at least three months.
  2. They signed a veteran contract extension (meeting certain criteria) after August 9.
    • A player who signs a veteran extension that keeps him under contract for more than three total years (including his current contract) and/or includes a raise exceeding 5% doesn’t become eligible to be traded for six months.
  3. They signed a super-max contract contract.

We identified all the players who fell into these three categories in our previous story on unique trade dates, but they may have slipped through the cracks amid the larger list of players we discussed in that article.

For that reason, we want to specifically single them out today to make sure it’s clear which players won’t become trade-eligible at all until sometime after the 2022/23 regular season.

Here are the players who fall into the three aforementioned groups and who can’t be traded this season:


Players who have signed free agent contracts since November 9:

There has been little action on the free agent market since the regular season began, with most players who have signed with NBA teams receiving two-way contracts rather than standard deals. Technically, three players have signed standard free agent contracts since November 9, but one of those players (Alize Johnson) was waived since then.

More names will join this list if more free agents sign standard contracts between now and February 9.

Players who have signed veteran contract extensions meeting certain criteria since August 9:

This is the most notable group of the three, if only for the presence of James at the top of the list.

It’s extremely unlikely that the Lakers would ever trade LeBron unless he asked to be moved, but his recently signed extension eliminates even the remote possibility of a deal until at least the 2023 offseason. If you’re advocating for the slumping Lakers to blow up their roster, you’ll have to leave James out of any hypothetical pre-February 9 trade scenarios.

Before they signed extensions, any of the rest of the players in this group – with the exception of McCollum – could have become viable trade candidates this season. Now, they’re all ineligible to be dealt until after the season.

Players who have signed super-max contracts:

Booker and Jokic were never going to be traded this year, and the same can probably be said for Towns, even as messy as Rudy Gobert‘s integration has been so far. Still, their newly signed super-max extensions make them officially ineligible to be moved until at least next July.

Bulls Notes: LaVine, Ball, Inconsistent Play

After getting off to an up-and-down start this fall and resting his surgically repaired knee multiple times in the first month of the season, Bulls guard Zach LaVine hasn’t missed a game since November 6 and appears to be hitting his stride. LaVine scored a season-high 43 points in Friday’s win over Detroit, emphatically showing that he’s in midseason form, writes Jamal Collier of ESPN.

“Go look at my last 10, 15 games,” LaVine said after the game. “I been feeling good.”

In his last 13 games, LaVine has averaged 25.5 points, 4.2 assists, and 4.1 rebounds in 35.8 minutes per night, with a scorching hot shooting line of .536/.432/.830.

One of the most encouraging signs, Collier writes, has been LaVine’s soaring field goal percentage around the rim — he has shot 79.5% in the restricted area in December, a major step up from his 58.8% mark in October and November.

“I give him a lot of credit of just sticking with the process and just continuing to work,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “I think when you’re as elite as he is offensively and you start the year off the way he did offensively and just trying to find himself. He put a lot of work into it just to stay the course.”

Here’s more on the Bulls:

  • Should LaVine’s best stretch of the season restore faith in this Bulls core? That remains to be seen, but his “noticeably improved health” is the best reason for optimism that the club is better than it showed in the early part of this season, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic.
  • Donovan provided an update on Lonzo Ball‘s recovery from left knee surgery on Friday, telling reporters that the point guard has been doing some light jogging, shooting, and a “little bit” of jumping while shooting, writes Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago. “(Since) we last talked, it is progressing, it’s just really slow,” Donovan said. “But there has definitely been some improvements and he’s actually doing more physically than the last time we spoke.” As Schaefer observes, there are still several major hurdles for Ball to clear in the rehab process, including sprinting, cutting, and taking contact without pain.
  • The most frustrating part of the Bulls’ season to date has been their inexplicable losses to some of the NBA’s worst teams despite impressive wins against several contenders, says Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago has a 5-8 record against sub-.500 opponents, including losses to Orlando, Houston, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio, but has gone 5-1 against Boston, Brooklyn, and Milwaukee, the East’s top three seeds.