Month: February 2024

Mavericks Notes: Doncic, Green, Lively, Irving

Luka Doncic was dealing with a sore left quad muscle on Saturday night, but it didn’t affect his performance, writes Eddie Sefko of The Mavericks star had 39 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in a win at Golden State after being listed as questionable before the game and not being assured of playing until after warm-ups.

“The first half was really good,” Doncic said. “The third quarter, I started feeling it again. I had to warm up. Obviously, it’s a concern. It’s been (this way) since March. So obviously there’s a concern. I just try to keep lifting in the weight room. That helps me a lot. But obviously there’s a little bit of concern.”

Sefko notes that Dallas is 10-3 this season when shooting at least 40% from three-point range, which is exactly what the team hit on Saturday. Doncic helped by going 5-of-13 from beyond the arc, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his improved three-point shooting has made him more difficult to guard.

“In the past he was 34 (percent) from three and you’d go into the game and you’d trust the numbers (and) we’re not going to chase him off the line,” Kerr said. “But now he’s at 38 (percent) and that’s a pretty dramatic difference, so this is probably the best he’s ever played because of the consistency of that three-point shot setting up the rest of his game.”

There’s more on the Mavericks:

  • Josh Green enjoyed his best game since returning from an elbow injury this week, scoring 18 points in 25 minutes off the bench against Golden State, Sefko adds in a separate story. Green, who missed 12 games while he was healing, was impressed by the players who filled in for him. “I’m so happy for guys like Dante (Exum) and D-Jones (Derrick Jones Jr.),” Green said. “They’ve done an amazing job. It’s been good for everybody and great for our team. But at the same time, I need to continue to progress and get better every game.”
  • In another piece, Sefko examines the progress of rookie center Dereck Lively II, who has been outstanding some nights but often finds himself in foul trouble. “We’re asking a lot of D-Live,” Dwight Powell said. “And he’s doing an amazing job. He’s studying the game and bringing energy and effort. He’s impacting the game on a lot of levels. He’s doing everything in his power to shore up the things he needs to improve on. That’s a big challenge for rookies in this league, but especially centers.”
  • Kyrie Irving has been listed as questionable for Monday’s game at Utah, giving him a chance to play for the first time since suffering a right heel contusion three weeks ago, per Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News.

International Notes: EuroLeague, Exum, Reath, Cauley-Stein, Zizic

Kemba Walker is among several former NBA players struggling to make the adjustment to the EuroLeague, writes Dimitris Minaretzis of Eurohoops. After signing with AS Monaco this summer, the 33-year-old guard is averaging just 4.4 points and 1.1 assists per game as he fights for playing time in a crowded backcourt. Knee injuries plagued Walker throughout the end of his NBA career, and they appear to still be limiting his effectiveness in Europe.

Elsewhere, Minaretzis notes that FC Barcelona’s Jabari Parker is averaging 9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, while KK Partizan has PJ Dozier at 9.2 points and 3.2 assists per night and Frank Kaminsky at 8.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.

The only players who are standing out after being on NBA rosters last season are Serge Ibaka, who’s averaging 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game for Bayern Munich, and Kendrick Nunn, who is at 11.6 points and 2.5 assists per night with Panathinaikos. Ibaka has previous EuroLeague experience, having played in Spain before being drafted in 2008.

There’s more international news to pass along:

  • After making a surprising impact with their NBA clubs, Dante Exum and Duop Reath are in contention for starting spots with the Australian Olympic team, according to Olgun Uluc of ESPN. Exum, who recently moved into the Mavericks‘ starting lineup because of his strong play, is averaging 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists over his last 10 games, and Uluc notes that he’s given Dallas a secondary ball-handler while serving as a strong complement to Luka Doncic. Reath has become a productive weapon for the Trail Blazers after earning a two-way deal in camp. He provides an outside shooting threat and has reached double figures in scoring in seven of Portland’s last 10 games. Reath posted a career-high 25 points against Sacramento this week and may have surpassed Jock Landale as the Boomers’ best option at center.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein‘s first venture in Europe has ended after 20 games, per Dario Skerletic of Sportando. Pallacanestro Varese announced that it has parted ways with the 30-year-old center, who averaged 9.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks for the Italian team.
  • Croatian center Ante Zizic has signed with Virtus Bologna, the team announced in a press release. Zizic, 26, was a first-round pick in 2017 and played 113 total games with Cleveland from 2017 to 2020. He captured a Turkish championship and the President’s Cup last season with Anadolu Efes.

Knicks Notes: Fournier, Anunoby, Achiuwa, Flynn, Defense, McBride

As Knicks players became aware of the team’s trade with Toronto Saturday morning, Evan Fournier grabbed his phone to see if he was involved, writes Steve Popper of Newsday. Fournier has been stuck in limbo for about a year, seeing little playing time as he’s kept outside coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation, but still valuable because of an $18MM expiring contract that could be useful for salary matching in a major deal.

Fournier explained to Popper that he’s not looking for a way out of New York, but when he heard about the Raptors deal he wanted to know if he was part of it.

“Well, the thing is the way I learned it, I think it said it was a trade package surrounding RJ,” Fournier said. “So of course you see that, you’re like, ‘Oh.’ You check your phone and stuff. I sleep well at night. I don’t check my phone to see if there’s a trade or anything. I just focus in on the moment because that’s the business.”

There’s more from New York:

  • The Knicks will host Minnesota Monday afternoon, so some of the players acquired from Toronto might be in the lineup without practicing with their new team, Popper adds. “I don’t know what the logistics of everything are yet,” Thibodeau said. “But whatever it is, we just gotta find a way.” New York is listing Malachi Flynn as out for tomorrow with a right ankle injury, tweets Ian Begley of, but OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa aren’t on the injury report.
  • The Knicks’ need for a defensive presence like Anunoby was evident in Saturday’s loss at Indiana, observes Peter Botte of The New York Post. New York surrendered 140 points overall and 76 in the second half while dropping its third straight game. “Just as simple as I can: terrible,” Jalen Brunson said. “We can do a lot better defensively. Offensively, it is not a problem right now. I can be better defensively. We can be better defensively. We just need to step it up on that side of the ball.”
  • Miles McBride can’t be traded for six months after signing his new extension, Begley points out (Twitter link). Begley’s sources confirm that McBride’s new deal is front-loaded and that his salary will decline each season.

Central Notes: Cunningham, Pistons, Giannis, Lillard, Bucks, Pacers

If there’s a bright side to the Pistons‘ 28-game losing streak, it’s that Cade Cunningham has firmly established himself as the team’s leader, writes James L. Edwards of The Athletic. The No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft delivered another outstanding performance as Detroit snapped the streak Saturday night, with 26 of his 30 points and seven of his 12 assists coming in the second half. He managed to play 38 minutes without a single turnover.

“I’ve always liked when everyone is tuned in,” Cunningham said. “It’s not that I change my approach or feel any different. (Having people watch) does something to me. The stakes were getting higher and higher. I know I had to up my play. I just had to figure out what else my team needed from me. I needed to elevate my game (to end this losing streak). This is where it took me.”

Cunningham did some soul searching during the losing streak, Edwards adds, as his play during the first 14 games of the slide wasn’t up to the standards he set for himself. That changed about a month ago, and he’s averaging 25.6 PPG since November 30 while shooting 50% from the field and 36% from three-point range. Cunningham no longer seems rusty after missing most of last season, Edwards notes, and he’s determined to help the Pistons win more often.

“It wasn’t that I questioned myself if I was ‘the guy’ (to help turn a franchise around) because my faith has been strong and has gotten stronger with this,” Cunningham said. “I know God put me in this position for a reason. However, I knew I wasn’t doing enough. My game wasn’t at the level it needed to be to help turn this franchise around. As much as it sucked, this streak, I feel like I learned a ton about myself, which is something I want to live with forever. I did a lot of reflecting every night.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The relief of finally getting a victory after two months of losing led to an emotional post-game scene for the Pistons, according to an ESPN report. “I’ve been in a ton of locker rooms my whole life, but that’s a first for me,” coach Monty Williams said. “Guys were screaming. I was almost in tears. I’m just so happy for our guys and for everyone in the locker room.”
  • Bucks coach Adrian Griffin credits the chemistry between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard for helping the team overcome a 15-point deficit Friday night at Cleveland, per Eric Nehm of The Athletic. A little more than two months into their partnership, the two All-Stars have figured out the best way to attack opposing defenses. You could see Giannis started to trust Dame and they go into the two-man game and it’s hard to stop,” Griffin said. “They went into our pitch action and that was beautiful and we need more of that from those two guys. And I had nothing to do with that. They took it upon themselves. There’s times where I’m trying to manufacture that type of action, where I can call a play or whatnot, but in the flow of the game, for them to just take the initiative amongst themselves, I mean, that shows our growth.”
  • The Bucks will host the Pacers on Monday in their first meeting since the game ball incident on December 13, Nehm tweets. Bobby Portis gave a lighthearted answer when asked if he expects any bitterness to carry over. “Nah, man. It’s a new year. It’s 2024,” Portis said before laughing.

Bulls Notes: DeRozan, White, LaVine

With two starters and one reserve sidelined due to long-term injuries, Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan has assumed a bigger responsibility offensively, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Star shooting guard Zach LaVine, center Nikola Vucevic and reserve forward Torrey Craig are all on the shelf, which has compelled DeRozan to play an average of 38.7 minutes per game this month.

DeRozan suggested that his veteran awareness has helped him find moments in a game where he can tactically rest, even when he’s on the hardwood.

“Me just knowing when a TV timeout is coming,” DeRozan said. “Me knowing a foul is going to happen at some point. Me understanding if you need to tie your shoe, it’s a lot of little things that go into it. If you’re not in the penalty, you can take a foul… Playing so long, you kind of understand when a stoppage is going to come and take advantage of those moments. When a timeout comes, sit there until that two minutes, 30 seconds is up. Just take advantage of the little gaps when you can because you know you want to be out there.”

Head coach Billy Donovan acknowledges he is somewhat worried about the mileage he’s putting on the 34-year-old.

“I’m concerned about that,” Donovan said. “I mean, he’s great. I talk to him all the time. But it’s kind of the situation we’ve been in with Torrey out, Vooch out and Zach out. I want to be mindful of that and always talk and communicate with him. He has played a lot of minutes and I probably need to look at that.”

There’s more out of Chicago:

  • Bulls point guard Coby White praised his teammates for their resilient resurgence following the team’s nadir thus far this season, a 124-97 blowout loss to the Celtics on November 28, writes Johnson in a separate piece. “At that moment, when adversity hit and we were at our lowest this season, we could’ve all grew apart,” White said. “Instead of doing that, we all came together. I think that contributes to how we played in the month of December.” Chicago has gone 9-5 this month. In December, White is averaging 22.6 PPG on .469/.402/.815 shooting, along with 6.4 RPG and 5.7 APG, across 14 bouts.
  • Billy Donovan revealed that LaVine, still dealing with right foot inflammation, could participate in contact practice for the Bulls late next week, Johnson writes in an additional article. “If (his recovery) continues to go like it’s going, I think that’s a very, very strong possibility,” Donovan said. After a two-game East Coast road trip, Chicago will return home for a game against the Hornets on Friday. “He has responded well [to treatment],” Donovan added.
  • In case you missed it, the present trade market for LaVine, a maximum-salaried former All-Star, remains fairly limited.

Northwest Notes: Thunder, Finch, Gordon, Hardy

At 21-9, the Thunder are currently the second seed in a deep Western Conference. The team’s excellence is in part a credit to the ongoing greatness of its Big Three, as Joel Lorenzi The Oklahoman details.

Oklahoma City’s triumvirate of top-tier talent is made up of All-Star point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, rookie center Chet Holmgren, and power forward Jalen Williams. Williams put on an offensive masterpiece in a 129-120 win against the Knicks Wednesday, scoring a career-most 36 points.

“He just gets more comfortable — every game, every week — with his reps,” Gilgeous-Alexander raved of the second-year forward. “Biggest thing with him was just him being aggressive early in his career. He’s starting to get around to that and trust his work.”

Williams also noted that his two-man game with Holmgren is improving by leaps and bounds.

“We’re trusting each other a lot more than we had been earlier in the year,” Williams said.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Although the Timberwolves are current a Western Conference-leading 24-7, head coach Chris Finch is convinced the team still needs to improve its scoring attack, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. “There’s a lot of ways to be immature,” Finch said. “And generally, this team has been very mature. But we’ve got to grow up offensively. It’s time.” 
  • After suffering a dog attack on Christmas night that left him with hand and face lacerations, Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon is set to return to the team, informing Bennett Durando of The Denver Post (Twitter link) that he will be able to play on Monday against the Hornets. His own Rottweiler is the dog responsible for biting him on Christmas, Gordon reveals. “He’s a good boy,” Gordon claimed. Prior to the news, reserve point guard Reggie Jackson indicated that Gordon was more focused on the reigning champs’ progress this season than his own recovery, per Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports. “Aaron’s still concerned about the team,” Jackson said. “He wants to be back with the group, but we just want what’s best for him.”
  • With three wins in their past four road games, the Jazz are in an improved headspace, in the view of head coach Will Hardy, writes Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune. “Overall, it’s been a good road trip,” Hardy said. “We’ve been playing much better basketball the last three weeks than the beginning of the season… I do think our team is trending in the right direction.”

NBA Dates, Deadlines To Watch In January

At the start of the 2023/24 campaign, we looked ahead and identified several dates and deadlines to watch on the NBA calendar this season. While that list covered the general highlights, it’s worth taking a closer look at some of those key dates to keep an eye out for in January, which should be a busy month.

Let’s dive in…

Non-guaranteed contracts become guaranteed

January 10 is the date that all non-guaranteed NBA contracts for 2023/24 will officially become guaranteed, but January 7 is really the day to watch.

If a team wants to avoid having a salary become guaranteed, the player must clear waivers before January 10, which means he needs to be cut by January 7 — at the latest.

Many players without fully guaranteed salaries are in no danger of being waived by next Sunday, but some teams will take the opportunity to save a little money and open up a roster spot.

It’s worth noting that players on two-way deals (which are non-guaranteed) are subject to that January 7 waiver deadline as well, and will have their salaries become fully guaranteed if they’re still under contract as of January 8.

In past seasons, the salary guarantee date for players on two-way contracts has been January 20, but that changed in the NBA’s latest Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Teams can begin signing players to 10-day contracts

As of January 5, clubs will be able to sign players to standard 10-day contracts, which count against team salary for cap and tax purposes and require an opening on the 15-man roster to complete.

Prior to January 5, teams were able to sign players to 10-day contracts only if they qualified for a hardship exception. As our 10-day contract tracker shows, only the Grizzlies have met that bill so far this season.

Rebuilding teams generally use 10-day contracts to audition G League standouts or other prospects to see if they might be worth investing in beyond this season. Contending clubs are more inclined to use 10-day contracts to bring in veterans who can step in right away to address a need or provide depth at a position hit hard by injuries.

Currently, nine teams have an open spot on their 15-man rosters, making them candidates to sign a player to a 10-day deal. That number could increase after next weekend’s salary guarantee deadline.

More players become trade-eligible

A significant portion of the NBA’s offseason signees became eligible to be traded on December 15, but there are still many players who can’t be dealt. By the end of January, that list of players ineligible to be traded will shrink further, since there are 24 players currently on track to have those restrictions lift between now and January 31.

January 15 is the key date, with 17 players becoming trade-eligible as of that Monday. That group includes some players who almost certainly aren’t going anywhere, but a handful of players on the list could be involved in trade rumors in 2024, including some who have already been popular subjects of speculation. Jerami Grant, Kyle Kuzma, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, and Miles Bridges are some of the headliners.

A number of other offseason signees have unique trade-eligible dates in January, since they signed as free agents in October or inked a veteran extension in July. That list features names both big (like Domantas Sabonis) and small (such as Ish Smith). Notably, Jordan Clarkson and Dejounte Murray, who have each been at the center of some trade speculation, will become trade-eligible on January 7 and Jan. 9, respectively.

Last day to apply for a disabled player exception

January 15 is the last day that teams can apply for a disabled player exception to replace an injured player who is deemed unlikely to return this season.

A disabled player exception can give a club extra cap flexibility, but not an extra roster spot, so they often go unused. So far this season, the Bulls, Grizzlies, and Trail Blazers have been granted DPEs, while the Knicks have reportedly applied for one.

NBA Looking At Nets For Possible Load Management Violation

The NBA is reviewing the Nets‘ roster decisions for this past Wednesday’s game, reports Brian Lewis of The New York Post. According to Lewis, the league is evaluating whether Brooklyn opting to rest most of their top players qualifies as a fineable offense.

As we previously covered, the Nets held out starters Cameron Johnson, Nic Claxton, and Spencer Dinwiddie vs. Milwaukee in the second game of a back-to-back set after all three played on Tuesday. Johnson and Claxton were listed as out due to “injury maintenance,” while Dinwiddie was simply listed as out due to “rest.”

Brooklyn also didn’t use Mikal Bridges, Royce O’Neale, or Cam Thomas after the first quarter, giving their other starters a de facto rest day too. The move irked Bridges, who said after the game that he would’ve been fine handling his usual workload and pushing harder for a victory.

The new “player participation policy” instituted by the NBA this season only affects players who were named to an All-Star or All-NBA team in the past three seasons. The lone player on Brooklyn’s roster who meets that criteria is Ben Simmons, who has been sidelined since early November due to a back issue, so the team didn’t violate that policy on Wednesday.

However, the league has other rules related to resting healthy players that were implemented in the past in an effort to curb load management. Notably, the NBA discourages its teams from resting multiple healthy players in the same game.

As Lewis points out, the Nets were previously fined $25K last December when they held out eight regulars in a game against Indiana.

Knicks Notes: Anunoby Trade, Murray, Barrett, Quickley

The Knicks will remain active on the trade market after acquiring OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa, and Malachi Flynn from Toronto on Saturday, league sources tell Michael Scotto of HoopsHype.

Having previously named Dejounte Murray as a possible Knicks trade target, Scotto reports that New York is still interested in Murray following this weekend’s deal. However, the team would no longer be able to offer Immanuel Quickley, who might have been a key piece of any outgoing package for the Hawks guard.

Scotto also spoke to multiple NBA executives to get their thoughts on the Anunoby trade for the Knicks. One of those execs questioned whether it might have been overpay, but acknowledged that the team remains well positioned to make another big move and said that justified the decision to part with two talented scorers in Quickley and RJ Barrett. A second exec is curious to see what New York’s front office has up its sleeve for its next move.

“There’s not a lot of shot creation for other players on the roster now, and there’s a lot of pressure on (Jalen) Brunson,” the exec told Scotto. “I get why New York made the trade. The team was playing selfishly. Anunoby is a better fit with what they have than Barrett.”

Here’s more on the Knicks and their latest trade:

  • The Knicks players who weren’t involved in Saturday’s deal had mixed feelings about the move, as Peter Botte of The New York Post details. “This probably for me is one of the toughest ones just because of the relationship I built with those two,” Julius Randle said, referring to Barrett and Quickley as “little brothers” and suggesting he’ll continue to root for them. Taj Gibson expressed excitement for the addition of Anunoby but said that it “kind of sucked” to say goodbye to the two departing Knicks: “I’ve been around them since they came into the league. Great young men. It’s just tough, one of the tough parts about the business. Being able to see them this morning and talk, it was tough.
  • Zach Kram of The Ringer, John Hollinger of The Athletic, and Keith Smith of Spotrac took a closer look at the five-player trade from both the Knicks’ and Raptors‘ perspectives, breaking down why it could be a win-win move for the two Atlantic rivals. Smith also explores each team’s financial situation and considers how new deals in 2024 for Anunoby and Quickley will affect their cap outlooks going forward.
  • Frustration about roles and playing time had been mounting in the Knicks’ locker room, according to Fred Katz of The Athletic, which is one key reason why the front office was motivated to make a consolidation trade sooner rather than later. Within Katz’s story, which examines the trade in greater detail, he cites league sources who say the Knicks and Celtics briefly discussed a deal centered around Quickley and Marcus Smart in the offseason before Smart was sent to Memphis. In other words, the team has been mulling swapping Quickley for an elite defender for a while.

Goran Dragic Officially Announces Retirement

DECEMBER 31: Dragic has officially confirmed his retirement in a statement of his own, published in a story on Instagram.

“I am officially announcing my retirement from professional basketball. I have lived my greatest dream and I am extremely grateful for the countless people in my life who have enabled me to play and to play this long,” Dragic wrote before specifically thanking several of the people who have aided him in his journey, as well as the fans who supported him.

“… I am prepared to pursue my next challenge and I’d love to stay involved in the game of basketball, which is and always will be something I love. I also want to spend as much quality time as possible to raise my children. … All good things come to an end but this dream of basketball will always be with me.”

DECEMBER 30: Fifteen-year NBA veteran and Slovenian basketball legend Goran Dragic has announced plans to retire in 2024, with a farewell game set for August, according to Mozzart Sport.

The August farewell event, hosted by Spontanzo and the Goran Dragic Foundation, is set to take place over the span of two days in Ljubljana and, according to BasketNews, the details of the match are to be unveiled on Jan. 4.

It’s unclear if Dragic, currently a free agent, intends to call it a career immediately or if he still plans to seek out an opportunity before the end of the 2023/24 season. In November, we wrote Dragic was looking for an NBA job and; a report in September indicated that he had interest in playing for the Heat. However, he has remained unsigned.

Dragic, 37, most recently suited up for the Bucks last season. He spent 51 games with the Bulls in 2022/23 before being waived in February and joining Milwaukee in March.

Dragic made his NBA debut in 2008 with the Suns, then was traded to Houston in 2011. The Slovenian point guard returned to Phoenix in 2012 and it was there he emerged into one of the league’s top floor generals.

In ’13/14, Dragic was named to the All-NBA Third Team and earned the league’s Most Improved Player award, averaging 20.3 points and 5.9 assists with Phoenix. Then, in the ’14/15 season, the Suns traded Goran and his brother, Zoran Dragic, to the Heat. Goran aided the Heat to four playoff appearances, including a run to the Finals in 2020. He was named an All-Star with Miami in ’17/18 and also had stints with the Raptors and Nets.

In 946 career NBA games (530 starts), Dragic holds career averages of 13.3 points, 4.7 assists and 3.0 rebounds.