Aleksej Pokusevski

International Notes: Jokic, Antetokounmpo, Yurtseven, Pokusevski, Jovic

Nuggets star Nikola Jokic is looking forward to representing Serbia on the basketball court for the first time in three years, writes Johnny Askounis of EuroHoops. The two-time MVP will join the national team for a pair of 2023 FIBA World Cup qualifying games, hosting Greece August 25 and traveling to Turkey August 28.

“I feel great, similar to every time I reunite with these guys. I just met some of them,” Jokic said in advance of the Serbian team’s training camp. “We are preparing, we just started and we will see how far we can go. Up first are the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers and the goal of helping Serbia qualify to the World Cup.”

Jokic also plans to participate in EuroBasket next month, and he could return for both the 2023 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics if Serbia qualifies. Jokic cited a special pride in being able to play for his home nation.

“It means a lot, I talked with my family, it’s a totally different feeling when you play for the national team,” Jokic said. “I felt different when I came here than when I go to Denver.”

There’s more international news to pass along:

  • Another MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and his brother and Bucks teammate, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, are in Athens waiting to join the Greek team for training camp, per Aris Barkas of EuroHoops. An agreement limits NBA players to 28 days of preparation before major FIBA tournaments and 14 days before the Olympics. The other Antetokounmpo brothers, Alex and Kostas, are already training with Greece. New Mavericks signee Tyler Dorsey is under the same restrictions as Giannis and Thanasis and can’t start training until Thursday.
  • Heat center Omer Yurtseven elected not to join the Turkish national team’s training camp in Italy, but he didn’t inform team officials of his decision or seek permission in advance, according to a EuroHoops report. The decision was made by Yurtseven rather than the Heat, the story adds, as the rookie center chose to stay in Miami and focus on preparing for training camp. The report notes that Yurtseven was suspended for eight games in 2018 for skipping national team activities without providing notice.
  • Thunder forward Aleksej Pokusevski and Heat rookie Nikola Jovic were denied permission by their respective teams to join Serbia for EuroBasket and the World Cup qualifiers, Askounis states in a separate story. Hawks forward Bogdan Bogdanovic is also unavailable because he’s recovering from knee surgery.

Thunder Notes: Dort, Bazley, Giddey, Salary Cap, Draft

The Thunder are interested in reaching contract extension agreements with Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley but only if the price is right, GM Sam Presti told The Oklahoman’s Joe Mussatto and other media members on Monday.

“They’re both great guys,” Presti said. “I want to hear what they’re thinking, and I need them to understand we have to also balance the interest of the team as well.”

Presti indicated extension talks with Dort haven’t begun, Mussatto tweets.

“We’ll definitely have a conversation on that,” Presti said. “I don’t know when those conversations will pick up. We’ll have some different options. I don’t want to get into all of them.”

Here are some other highlights from Presti’s annual end-of-season press conference, via Mussatto:

  • Dort (shoulder), Bazley (knee) and Josh Giddey (hip), among others, didn’t finish the season due to injuries but Presti expects everyone on the roster to be ready for training camp.
  • The Thunder will play in two summer leagues, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Giddey and Aleksej Pokusevski will play in Salt Lake City.
  • The Thunder have only $54MM on the books for the 2023/24 season and will continue efforts to keep their salary sheet clean leading up to a new CBA in the summer of 2023.
  • If they’re not playing meaningful games as next season progresses, the Thunder plan to once again go into development mode as the season winds down. “We’re not just trying to figure out how to win two more games next year,” Presti said. “We could do that, but that solution doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best long-term solution for the team.”
  • There’s a slim chance the Thunder could hold onto all four picks it currently possesses in the draft. “One thing I don’t think has been explored enough in the NBA is just drafting everybody and then figuring it out,” Presti said.

COVID-19 Updates: Vogel, Lue, Pelicans, Raptors, Pokusevski

One Los Angeles team is getting its head coach out of the NBA’s health and safety protocols today, while the other has placed their coach in the protocols.

The Lakers got the good news, as Frank Vogel has cleared the protocols and will be back on the sidelines for the team on Friday night vs. Portland, according to Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times (Twitter link). David Fizdale will return to his role as Vogel’s lead assistant after serving as the acting head coach for the last 12 days.

Meanwhile, Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue has entered the protocols, according to an announcement from the team. Lue, the 10th head coach to be affected by the protocols this month, will be replaced in the short term by assistant Brian Shaw.

Here are more protocol-related updates from across the NBA:

  • The Pelicans got Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Naji Marshall, and Jose Alvarado back at practice today following their respective stints in the COVID-19 protocols, tweets Christian Clark of NOLA.com. New Orleans isn’t entirely out of the woods though — center Jonas Valanciunas has entered the protocols, per Andrew Lopez of ESPN (Twitter link).
  • According to Blake Murphy of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link), Raptors rookie Justin Champagnie has exited the protocols, leaving Isaac Bonga as the only player from the team’s standard roster still affected. However, one of Toronto’s replacement players – D.J. Wilson – has now entered the protocols, Murphy notes.
  • Thunder forward Aleksej Pokusevski is no longer in the protocols and will be available for Friday’s contest vs. the Knicks, says Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman (Twitter link).

COVID-19 Updates: Wizards, Billups, Thunder, Hornets, Raptors, More

The Wizards now have five players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, according to head coach Wes Unseld Jr., who told reporters today that Anthony Gill and Thomas Bryant are the latest players to enter the protocols (Twitter link via Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington).

Bryant is coming off an ACL tear and has yet to play this season, so being in the protocols won’t affect his availability. However, Gill will no longer be an option in the short term for the Wizards after appearing in eight of the team’s last 11 games.

Here are more COVID-19 updates from around the NBA:

  • Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups has entered the COVID-19 protocols, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter links), who reports that assistant Scott Brooks is expected to become Portland’s acting head coach as long as Billups is unavailable.
  • Aleksej Pokusevski and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl of the Thunder have entered the health and safety protocols, according to the team (Twitter link via Wojnarowski). Aaron Wiggins also briefly entered the protocols, but has since been listed as available, tweets Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. Oklahoma City now has four players in the protocols.
  • The Hornets announced some good news and some bad news on Monday. While Cody Martin has exited the protocols and has been cleared to play on Monday vs. Houston, rookie Scottie Lewis is now in the protocols, according to the team (Twitter link).
  • Three Raptors players – Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch, and Gary Trent Jr. – have exited the protocols and are listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game vs. Philadelphia as they go through a reconditioning period, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. Toronto still has seven players in the protocols, but may finally be trending in the right direction.
  • Celtics forward Grant Williams boarded a flight to Minnesota earlier today and expects to play tonight vs. the Wolves, according to Jared Weiss of The Athletic (Twitter link). Williams has been in the health and safety protocols since December 17.
  • Although Ziaire Williams remains on the shelf due to an ankle sprain, he’s no longer listed in the protocols in the Grizzlieslatest injury report, suggesting he has been cleared.

Thunder Exercise Options On Bazley, Pokusevski, Jerome

The Thunder exercised their 2022/23 contract options for forwards Darius Bazley and Aleksej Pokusevski and guard Ty Jerome, the team announced in a press release.

There was nothing surprising about the rebuilding club with a good cap situation securing the rights to three young players through next season.

Bazley has appeared in 119 career games, including 67 starts, and was fourth on the team in scoring (13.7 PPG) and second in rebounding (7.2 RPG) last season. He’s due to make approximately $4.265MM next season.

In 48 games with Oklahoma City last season, Pokusevski averaged 7.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 2.1 APG in 23.5 MPG. He’ll take in approximately $3.26MM in 2022/23.

In 33 games with the Thunder last season after being acquired from the Suns, Jerome averaged 10.7 PPG and 3.6 APG. He’ll received $4.22MM in guaranteed money next season.

Northwest Notes: Conley, Rosas, Pokusevski, Gobert

Jazz All-Star point guard Mike Conley enjoyed a solid comeback game after missing nine contests with a sore right hamstring, writes Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune. In what amounted to a playoff tune-up game for Conley, an unrestricted free agent this summer, he scored 10 points in just 16 minutes during the first half of a 109-93 victory against the Thunder. Conley, 33, could be in line for one last big multiyear payday thanks to his stellar season in Utah.

“It was great to have him back,” Conley’s All-Star Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert said. “I feel like he was quick, he was making the right decisions. Obviously, he didn’t play the second half, but I thought in the first half, he really gave us a lift. That’s what we expect him to do. He’ll find his rhythm and hopefully get back to the level that he is comfortable playing [at]. If he plays the way he played tonight every night, I’m totally fine with that.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves team president Gersson Rosas is confident that he is building a long-term winner in Minnesota, writes Chris Hine of the Star Tribune“We’ve had what we’ve had the last two years for whatever reasons there are,” Rosas said. “Things we can control, things we can’t control, and our record is what it is and that’s who we are. We really feel confident about the core, the roster we have in place. … Even though it’s a small sample size, when our top guys are on the floor, we’re a winning team and that’s our belief.” The Timberwolves are currently 22-49, tied with the Cavaliers for the league’s fifth worst record. The team’s 2021 draft pick will be sent to the Warriors unless it moves into the top three during the draft lottery.
  • Thunder rookie power forward Aleksej Pokusevski, the No. 17 pick in the 2020 draft, saw his season trajectory benefit from a G League assignment, per Joe Mussatto of the Oklahoman. “The first 10-15 [NBA] games I was just shooting the ball, wasn’t even reading the defense,” Pokusevski said. “The game slowed down after the G League for me. I started reading the game.”
  • Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert has unlocked his second consecutive $250K bonus for having his minutes-to-rebounds ratio being less than 3.2, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN. Gobert, the likely Defensive Player of the Year, will make an additional $500K if he is named an All-Defensive First Teamer. Marks adds (Twitter link) that none of Gobert’s potential bonuses will impact the team’s projected luxury tax bill, since those incentives were deemed likely entering the season.

And-Ones: Referees, Play-In Tourney, Iverson Classic

While the NBA and its players’ union have provided weekly updates on the number of positive COVID-19 tests among players, we haven’t heard much about how the league’s referees – who travel commercially – have been affected by the coronavirus this season. Baxter Holmes of ESPN fills in some blanks, reporting that 10 of the NBA’s referees are currently sidelined, primarily due to COVID-related issues, and adding that 24 refs have missed at least one game this season due to the league’s health and safety protocols.

A league spokesperson tells Holmes that most of the current absences are related to contact tracing and that the NBA expects all 10 affected referees to be available for the start of the postseason next month.

In the interim, however, the league has had to “call up” six referees from the G League. According to Holmes, a number of teams and executives around the NBA have complained about the performance of those refs, prompting NBA VP of referee development and training Monty McCutchen to defend their performances.

“These were our top six G League officials who would have been getting some NBA games anyway this year. They had to be pressed into some more service, but they are knocking on the door to being staff members,” McCutchen told ESPN. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, let’s just call any random G League (official) because they live in Portland and we’ll pull them up that night.’ They had already reached levels of excellence that meant they were ready for this.”

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • NBA executives believe that flattening the lottery odds and introducing the play-in tournament has helped reduce league-wide tanking among non-playoff teams, according to Howard Beck of SI.com, who says that league sources think the play-in tournament will be adopted on a permanent basis beyond this season.
  • The Iverson Classic All-American Game, which will take place on May 8 in Memphis, has received NBA approval as a certified event, meaning team scouts can attend and evaluate prospects, reports Jonathan Givony of ESPN (Twitter link). Top 2022 prospects such as Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren headline the list of participants.
  • A little over five months after the 2020 draft took place, Sam Vecenie, John Hollinger, of James L. Edwards III of The Athletic completed a re-draft of the ’20 class. Among the big risers in The Athletic’s re-draft are LaMelo Ball (No. 3 to No. 1), Tyrese Haliburton (No. 12 to No. 5), Isaiah Stewart (No. 16 to No. 7), Aleksej Pokusevski (No. 17 to No. 7), and Jaden McDaniels (No. 28 to No. 10).

Northwest Notes: McDaniels, Thunder, Jazz, Pokusevski

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

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

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

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

Northwest Notes: Muscala, MPJ, Lillard, Blazers, Wolves

Veteran forward/center Mike Muscala has been a regular, reliable rotation player for the Thunder so far this season, averaging a career-high 9.7 points per game to go along with 3.8 RPG and a .368 3PT% in 34 games (18.6 MPG). However, he received a DNP-CD in the team’s first game of the second half, with youngsters Aleksej Pokusevski and Moses Brown inserted into the rotation following their time in the G League.

“It took Mike out of the rotation, but Mike’s a pro and he’ll stay ready,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said. “Those conversations with Mike are easy, and he makes it easy because of how professional he is.”

It was just one game, but both Pokusevski (14 points, eight rebounds) and Brown (eight points, 12 rebounds) looked good, and there’s no reason to expect the rebuilding Thunder to dial back their young players’ minutes the rest of the way. A playoff team may have more use for a low-cost bench player like Muscala, so he’ll be worth keeping an eye on as the March 25 trade deadline nears.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. will be eligible for a rookie scale extension during the 2021 offseason, and ESPN’s Zach Lowe (Insider link) says he’d be shocked if Porter’s representatives don’t open negotiations with a “max or nothing” stance. That looming payday is one reason why Denver may be wary of taking on much long-term salary in trades, Lowe notes.
  • Despite Damian Lillard‘s repeated insistence that he wants to spend the rest of his career in Portland – and the contract extensions he has signed to back up that stance – it sometimes seems as if everyone wants him to seek a title elsewhere, according to Chris Mannix of SI.com, who explores why that’s the case and what a title with the Trail Blazers would mean for Lillard and the franchise.
  • In his list of players returning from injuries who could impact the playoff race, Matt Eppers of USA Today has Trail Blazers teammates CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic sharing the top spot. Neither play was active on Thursday, but they’re both believed to be close to returning.
  • After a dismal first half, the Timberwolves got off to a promising start in the second half, with young building blocks Jaden McDaniels and Jaylen Nowell playing key roles in head coach Chris Finch’s first win on Thursday, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

Northwest Notes: Wolves, Pokusevski, Thunder, Jokic

Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gerson Rosas has struggled to build a winning culture around a weak supporting cast for star center Karl-Anthony Towns, Chris Hine of The Star Tribune argues. Hine posits that Rosas’ decision to prioritize maximum roster flexibility over more veteran leadership has hurt the development of the team’s young players.

Ricky Rubio and Ed Davis are the only true-blue veterans populating the otherwise very youthful roster, Hine notes. The team has stumbled to the league’s worst record, 7-29, thus far this year.

“There is some evidence it may work like what happened with Philadelphia, I guess,” Rubio said, referring to bottoming out for multiple years while building a roster. “I kind of don’t believe in that kind of system. We have to build good habits from Day One, and I don’t think we are in the right way to be honest.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division: