Anfernee Simons

Northwest Notes: Hyland, Gordon, Towns, Blazers

Nuggets guard Bones Hyland would be open to a trade that allows him to secure a larger role on a new team, Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report stated during Tuesday night’s broadcast of the Pelicans/Nuggets game in Denver (Twitter video link).

While Haynes’ info is new, it lines up with what we’ve heard during the last week from other reporters. Jake Fischer said last Friday that “occasional clashes” between Hyland and Nuggets head coach Michael Malone were a factor in Denver’s willingness to gauge his trade market, while Marc Stein alluded this week to “tensions” about the second-year guard’s playing time.

Hyland averaged 19.0 minutes per game during his rookie season in 2021/22 and has played a similar role in year two, logging 19.5 MPG so far in ’22/23. He’s tied for seventh among Nuggets players in minutes per game, but is one of the team’s top five scorers with 12.1 PPG.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • In a conversation with Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic, Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon spoke about the importance of continuity in Denver, his experience playing alongside Nikola Jokic, and the odds of earning his first All-Star nod. “It would mean a lot to me,” Gordon said of the All-Star possibility. “I hope I make it.”
  • There’s still no set return timeline for injured Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns, who remains out indefinitely due to his calf injury, president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said on Tuesday during a radio appearance on KFAN 100.3 (Twitter link via Dane Moore). However, the team’s “full expectation” is that Towns will return at some point this season, Connelly added.
  • After resetting their roster last season with a series of major trades, the Trail Blazers – tied for 11th in the West with a 24-26 record – seem to be back in no-man’s land, writes Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. O’Connor considers what moves Portland can make around star point guard Damian Lillard to become a contender, arguing that center Jusuf Nurkic is a weak link and that the team should be open to the idea of moving any of Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, and Shaedon Sharpe if the return is right.

Northwest Notes: Wolves, Simons, Adelman, Conley

The Timberwolves are off to a disappointing 22-24 start this season, but Rudy Gobert‘s former teammates continue to preach patience and still believe the center can be successful in Minnesota, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Gobert’s fellow All-Star in Utah, Donovan Mitchell, says he let friends Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell know that building rapport with the big man on both sides of the ball wouldn’t be an overnight process.

“I told them, ‘It’s not just going to happen,'” Mitchell said. “‘You’ve gotta stay building that bond and chemistry. It’s going to take time to see it continuously build gradually.'”

Meanwhile, ex-colleagues of Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly have faith in the former Nuggets executive’s ability to right the ship in Minnesota, raving about his ability to stay positive in the face of adversity, as Krawczynski details in another story for The Athletic.

“This may sound strange, but in a long, emotional NBA season, he’s going to find a way to bring some comedy and some lightness to it, which I think is needed,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said of Connelly. “I’m sure everybody here in Minnesota is not happy with their play. Getting down and getting negative will not help that. That will only make it worse. So Tim is definitely the guy that can get this team out of that.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Appearing on the Rip City Radio 620 show in Portland, Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report said he hasn’t heard anything so far about the Trail Blazers dangling players in trade talks, though he acknowledged that could change within the next three weeks (story via Matthew Legros of Blazer’s Edge). Haynes added that the team considers guard Anfernee Simons close to untouchable.
  • Filling in this week for Michael Malone, who was placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, Nuggets assistant coach David Adelman received a strong endorsement from two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post (subscription required). Jokic believes it’s just a matter of time before Adelman is named a permanent head coach by an NBA team. “I really think that DA’s a guy who’s gonna be next head coach because he has that, I’m gonna say ‘head’ for a head coach,” Jokic said. “… He knows the answers. He reads, reacts.”
  • Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune explores the rumors linking Jazz point guard Mike Conley to the Clippers and considers what a trade package might look like. Larsen suggests that a combination like Robert Covington, John Wall, and one minimum-salary or near-minimum player might work, adding that Utah could seek a second-round pick depending on who that third player is.

21 More NBA Players Become Trade-Eligible

Today is Sunday, January 15, which means that nearly two dozen players who signed free agent contracts meeting specific criteria this past offseason are now eligible to be traded.

Most offseason signees became trade-eligible on December 15, but players who met the following criteria were ineligible to be moved for an extra month:

  1. The player re-signed with his previous team.
  2. He got a raise of at least 20%.
  3. His salary is worth more than the minimum.
  4. His team was over the cap and used Bird or Early Bird rights to sign him.

The following players met that criteria and are eligible to be traded as of Sunday:

(* Players marked with an asterisk have the ability to veto trades.)

Most of the players on NBA rosters are now eligible to be moved, though a small handful still can’t be dealt. That group includes Thunder guard Isaiah Joe, who becomes trade-eligible on Monday, Bucks swingman Pat Connaughton (trade-eligible on Wednesday), and Thunder forward Kenrich Williams (trade-eligible on Friday).

There are also several players who won’t become trade-eligible before this season’s February 9 deadline, including Lakers star LeBron James. Players on 10-day contracts are also ineligible to be dealt.

Northwest Notes: Porter Jr., Payton II, Simons, Agbaji

Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. participated in practice on a limited basis Monday for the first time since he suffered a heel injury, Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports tweets. Porter is unlikely to play Wednesday against the Wizards but the team is hopeful he can keep progressing at practice this week, including contact and live drills. He hasn’t played since Nov. 22.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Guard Gary Payton II is targeting his season debut in the next week or two, Shams Charania of The Athletic reports. Payton signed a three-year, $26MM contract with the Trail Blazers as an unrestricted free agent in July, then had core muscle surgery during the offseason. Payton was a key rotation player on the Warriors’ championship team and the Blazers view him as a valuable reserve.
  • Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups has invested more time with Anfernee Simons than anyone else on the roster and it’s paying off, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes. Simons, who signed a four-year, $100MM extension during the summer, is averaging 24.2 points and is shooting 39.2% from 3-point range. “He’s still like PlayDoh; we are still shaping him,” Billups said. “He’s still scratching the surface, in my opinion.”
  • It’s been a rough rookie campaign for the Jazz’s Ochai Agbaji thus far, Sarah Todd of the Deseret News notes. The No. 14 overall pick has only appeared in 11 games, averaging 9.5 MPG, and has also struggled at the G League level. The Jazz are still sold on the former Kansas standout’s raw talent and athleticism.

Western Notes: Simons, Popovich, Markkanen, Payne

Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons erupted for 45 points against the Jazz on Saturday and jokingly lamented he wanted more, Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian writes. “Back of my mind, I wanted 50,” Simons said. “There’s going to be plenty of opportunities for it. But it’s alright. We got the win.” Simons, who is filling the scoring void for injured Damian Lillard, is in the first season of a four-year, $100MM contract.

We have more Western Conference news:

  • Gregg Popovich may return to the Spurs bench on Thursday when they host Houston, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News tweets. Popovich underwent a minor medical procedure. “He is fine. That’s what people should hear the loudest,” said Brett Brown, who is filling in as San Antonio’s head coach. “It was just a minor situation, and you’ll have to deal with me for another night, another afternoon. But he is fine.”
  • Lauri Markkanen needs to realize he’s now the top offensive option with the Jazz and should be just as aggressive with the ball when he’s having an off night as he is when filling up the nets, Sarah Todd of the Deseret News opines. Markkanen’s unselfishness is admirable but he needs to think like an All-Star, Todd adds.
  • Cameron Payne was disappointed in himself for making four turnovers despite a 20-point, 12-assist night against Houston on Friday. But Payne has continued to impress with Suns starting point guard Chris Paul sidelined by a heel injury, Dana Scott of the Arizona Republic writes. “I love his balance. I love what he’s done for our team,” coach Monty Williams said. Payne’s $6.5MM salary for next season is only guaranteed for $2MM.

Damian Lillard To Return Monday For Trail Blazers

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (right calf strain) is officially listed as questionable for Monday’s matchup at Miami, but league sources tell Chris Haynes of TNT (Twitter link) that the veteran star will return tonight after a four-game absence.

Lillard suffered the injury on October 26 in a loss to the Heat, so it’s fitting that he’ll make his return against them tonight. The team previously announced that he would be reevaluated in one-to-two weeks, and Monday is 12 days removed from the injury date, so he’s right on target.

An iron man for much of his NBA career, Lillard missed more than nine games in a season for the first time in 2021/22 when he underwent abdominal surgery, which limited him to 29 games. He’d gotten off to a terrific start in ’22/23 prior to sustaining the calf strain, averaging 31.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists on .495/.392/.929 shooting in five games (35.0 minutes per night).

In addition to Lillard, fellow starting guard Anfernee Simons – who re-signed with Portland on a four-year, $100MM contract over the summer – has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable against the Heat with left foot soreness. He has missed the past two games with the injury.

The Trail Blazers are currently 6-3 through nine games, including handing the top-seeded Suns their only two losses.

Damian Lillard Listed As Questionable To Play Monday

Damian Lillard could make a swift return from his right calf strain. The Trail Blazers star guard is listed as questionable for Monday’s game against Miami, the team’s PR department tweets.

Lillard suffered a calf strain while playing against the Heat on Oct. 26. At the time, Lillard was reportedly going to be reevaluated in one-to-two weeks.

He has missed the last four games and Portland has gone 2-2 during that stretch. During the first five games this season, Lillard averaged 31.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per night.

Until last season, Lillard had never missed more than nine games in a season. He appeared in only 29 games in 2021/22 before he underwent abdominal surgery.

If Lillard returns on Monday, it will come at an opportune time. Gary Payton II continues to be listed as out due to reconditioning, while Anfernee Simons is considered doubtful due to left foot inflammation.

Northwest Notes: Timberwolves, Gobert, Towns, Simons, Lillard

The star-studded Timberwolves have stumbled out of the gate to begin the 2022/23 NBA season, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. The 2-2 Wolves have now dropped games against the Jazz and Spurs in what had been projected as a fairly easy opening stretch for a team that reshaped its roster by adding former Utah All-Star center Rudy Gobert in a blockbuster deal this summer.

Krawczynski observes that, in the Wolves’ third home game of the year against San Antonio, they looked particularly listless defensively, star shooting guard Anthony Edwards appeared disengaged on offense, Gobert struggled to hold onto rebounds, and the club was playing through boos from the Target Center crowd in Minneapolis. Gobert posited after the game that the club needed to improve its communication on the floor.

“It doesn’t take much energy to talk,” Gobert offered. “You just gotta want to do it. We’re not there yet. Hopefully, you know, we’re gonna get there soon, and we’re gonna learn.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • One big issue for the Timberwolves‘ new jumbo-sized starting lineup has been its transition defense, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Starting two nominal centers in the frontcourt, Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, could be part of the trouble. Hines notes that the team is permitting opposing clubs to score 21 fast-break points per game, which is the worst such average in the NBA. “We have to understand what our flaws are and how we have to cover them,” head coach Chris Finch acknowledged. “Such as, we may not be the fastest of foot from end line to end line, but we’ve got to make a better effort.” 
  • A huge sharpshooting night for Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons on Monday serves as an indicator that Portland’s hot 4-0 start to the 2022/23 season has nearly as much to do with the newly-revamped club’s role players as it does with the constant brilliance of point guard Damian Lillard, opines Jason Quick of The Athletic. Simons connected on his first eight straight shots, which included six triples, to help Portland blow out the Nuggets 135-110.
  • Lillard has been a big part of the team’s undefeated start. As such, the Trail Blazers guard has taken an early leap in the NBA’s MVP race, per Cole Huff of The Athletic. His odds have risen from +6600 to +2500.

Northwest Notes: Paschall, Nnaji, Simons, Little

The long process of waiting for a phone call in free agency caused Eric Paschall to consider a career change, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Paschall didn’t receive a qualifying offer after playing for Utah last season and he spent nearly a month as an unrestricted free agent before signing a two-way contract with the Timberwolves in late July.

“It was just a lot, you know what I’m saying?” Paschall said. “I feel like mentally I wasn’t in the greatest place. Just tired. I was like, ‘I might just stop playing basketball.’ … You see the other players getting picked up, you’re not getting a call. You’re calling your agent every day. So I was at a point where I was like I might walk away.”

Paschall credits former teammate Donovan Mitchell and other players with helping him stay focused on the game. Dell Demps, who joined Minnesota’s front office over the summer, was a strong advocate for signing Paschall.

“It wasn’t really the easiest decision. Had to have a lot of tough conversations about it,” Paschall said of accepting the two-way offer. “But I feel like I’m in a pretty good place now. Pretty happy that I’m here.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • After spending the summer in the weight room, Nuggets power forward Zeke Nnaji has added 10 pounds of muscle and increased his vertical leap by four inches, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Nnaji will be competing with veteran center DeAndre Jordan for backup minutes in the front court. “I’ve really taken a giant leap coming into my third year,” he said. “This is an important year for me.”
  • After running the Trail Blazers’ offense during the second half of last season, Anfernee Simons has to adjust to playing alongside Damian Lillard, notes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. Simons has gotten off to a rough start to the preseason, making just six of 25 shots from the field, as he settles into his new role. “It’s a different kind of dynamic from last year because, obviously, I was like the primary ball-handler at all times,” Simons said.
  • Nassir Little is in a battle for the Trail Blazers’ starting small forward spot after injuries wiped out his summer, Fentress adds in a separate story. Little suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder in January, then had core muscle surgery in May and wasn’t able to play 5-on-5 until last week.

Blazers Notes: Lillard, Small Forward, Little, GPII, Simons

The Trail Blazers signed Damian Lillard to a two-year extension this offseason despite the fact that there were still three years remaining on the point guard’s current deal. Speaking today to reporters, including Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report (Twitter link), general manager Joe Cronin explained why the team was comfortable moving forward with a new deal for Lillard.

“If Dame only has one or two years left, that turns up the urgency,” Cronin said. “Now we have a little more time to get the perfect mix rather than pushing all the chips in on one big piece. We’re going to figure this out the right way.”

Lillard, meanwhile, was asked if he felt as if Portland has made the roster changes necessary to be a contending team going forward, and offered a positive assessment of the team’s summer, as Highkin relays (via Twitter).

“I believe in Joe, I believe in (head coach) Chauncey (Billups),” Lillard said. “I think what we did with our roster gave us a much better chance than what we’ve had prior to that. The way it looks and feels, we’re much closer.”

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkic are virtually locked in as starters for the Blazers, but the small forward spot will likely be up for grabs in training camp and the preseason, Billups acknowledged today. “The way I see it, it’s gonna play out in camp,” Billups said (Twitter link via Highkin). “There’s three guys — Josh Hart, (Nassir Little) and Justise (Winslow). It’s not about the best player, it’s who plays best with that unit.”
  • The Blazers have had “brief” conversations with Little’s camp about a potential rookie scale extension, but haven’t gotten deep into the numbers yet, Cronin said today, adding that there’s mutual interest in reaching a long-term agreement (Twitter link via Highkin).
  • Gary Payton II, who is recovering from a core muscle surgery, is the only Blazer who isn’t a “full go” for training camp, according to Cronin, who reiterated that the newly-signed guard is expected to be ready for opening night (Twitter link via Highkin).
  • Billups is hopeful he can reduce Lillard’s workload during the 2022/23 season, telling reporters today that he’d to keep the point guard between 32 and 34 minutes per game. “He wants to play 42 minutes,” Billups said, per Highkin (Twitter link). “If we have it where we want it, I’m hoping around 34. But we’ll see.”
  • After signing a new four-year, $100MM contract this summer, Simons said today that one of his next personal goals is to become an All-Star, according to Highkin (Twitter link).