Ben Simmons

No Tampering Penalty For Lakers’ Comments On Simmons

The NBA has announced that it completed its investigation into possible contact between Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and Sixers star Ben Simmons and found no wrongdoing.

“We have concluded that Magic Johnson’s statements regarding Ben Simmons do not constitute a tampering violation,” the league said in its statement. “The Philadelphia 76ers initiated the contact with the Los Angeles Lakers by requesting a meeting between Johnson and Simmons. Both organizations ultimately concluded that such a meeting did not make sense at this time but in that context, Johnson’s response to a media inquiry regarding Simmons does not run afoul of league rules.”

Johnson kicked off an unusual news cycle over the weekend by revealing that Simmons had interest in meeting with him during the offseason to pick his brain about playing in the NBA as a point guard with size. While Johnson said he was open to the idea, subsequent reports indicated that both teams had decided it wouldn’t happen. Nonetheless, the league looked into the matter to see if there was communication between Lakers and the Simmons that violated anti-tampering rules.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com and Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times painted a clearer picture of the chain of events, reporting that Simmons initially mentioned his idea to a member of the Sixers. According to Ganguli, that person was Allen Lumpkin, Philadelphia’s director of basketball administration, who reached out to Lakers GM Rob Pelinka. Pelinka, in turn, called 76ers GM Elton Brand, and both GMs decided they were uncomfortable with the idea.

Brand told ESPN that he considers the situation a non-issue, and apologized to the Lakers for insinuating during a Monday radio appearance they they reached out to the Sixers unprompted to ask about a Simmons/Johnson meeting, per Shelburne.

The Lakers were fined $500K in 2017 for tampering with Paul George, and were hit with another $50K fine last year after Johnson made comments about Giannis Antetokounmpo. On Monday, Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry was penalized $25K for publicly discussing Anthony Davis.

Lakers Notes: Simmons, Hart, Ball, Zubac

The Lakers released a statement stating that the Sixers had sought their permission for floor leader Ben Simmons to speak with team president Magic Johnson, Dave McMenamin of ESPN tweets. Philadelphia emailed the Lakers in November, according to the statement, asking if Simmons could speak with Johnson about his Hall of Fame career. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka subsequently told Sixers GM Elton Brand that Johnson could only do that with Philadelphia’s written pre-approval. That was the end of the matter, the release adds. The league has launched an investigation to determine if any communication between the parties violated league rules.

We have more on the Lakers:

  • Guard Josh Hart received a PRP injection to treat tendinitis in his right knee, according to a team press release. Hart will be re-evaluated after the All-Star break, the release adds. Hart didn’t play in blowout losses against Indiana and Philadelphia and only lasted eight scoreless minutes against Boston.
  • Lonzo Ball isn’t considered a defensive specialist but the Lakers have missed him at that end of the court, Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times notes. The Lakers’ defensive rating is the third-worst in the league in the nine games since Ball was sidelined by a severe ankle sprain. “He allows us to switch a lot,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “If they want to run any pick and roll minus the center, the 1-5 pick and roll, we can just switch it. And we feel confident Lonzo can guard most of the other players there. We have Lonzo picking up full-court the other team’s points guard. He’s great at instincts, getting deflections.”
  • Trading young center Ivica Zubac to the Clippers to ‘rent’ power forward Mike Muscala doesn’t make much sense, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report argues. Zubac could have been an inexpensive, long-term contributor for the Lakers, Pincus continues. He would have been a restricted free agent with a modest cap hold of $1.9 million. Muscala’s cap hold is $9.5MM and he might not be any more productive than Zubac would have been the rest of this season.
  • LeBron James claims the reason he drafted Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis for his All-Star team had nothing to do with recruiting, according to another Ganguli story. “That’s all part of the speculation that continues to drive our sport,” he said. “It’s all good and well and dandy, but for me I picked according to my draft board and I picked according to who was the best available.”

Atlantic Notes: B. Simmons, Lakers, Gasol, Knicks

Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson told reporters over the weekend that Ben Simmons had reached out to the team asking if he could get together with Johnson during the offseason to talk to him about playing in the NBA as a point guard with size. While Johnson suggested he’d be on board if the Sixers, the Lakers, and the NBA all signed off, it sounds like it won’t happen.

Appearing on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia (Twitter link), Sixers GM Elton Brand said today that Lakers GM Rob Pelinka contacted him to ask for authorization and Brand said no “over a month ago.” Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times (Twitter link) hears a different account, citing a source who says that the 76ers initiated the discussion about Simmons wanting to meet with Johnson, with Pelinka calling Brand back to say the Lakers weren’t comfortable with it.

While it’s not clear which team shot down the idea first, neither side appears to be on board, so presumably Simmons and Johnson won’t meet this summer. The fact that the young 76er is represented by Rich Paul is sure to generate some speculation, but Ganguli tweets that Simmons’ desire to talk to Johnson was simply due to their on-court similarities, and he intends to be a Sixer for a long time.

Ganguli’s report won’t necessarily satisfy the NBA though. According to league spokesperson Mike Bass, the NBA is looking into whether there was any communication between Simmons and the Lakers that violated league rules (Twitter link via Ganguli).

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Marc Gasol waived the 15% trade kicker on his contract to help finalize the trade sending him to Toronto last week, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks on The Lowe Post podcast. While the trade bonus would only have been worth about $1.29MM, Gasol’s decision could save the Raptors about $3.2MM in projected tax penalties, as Blake Murphy of The Athletic notes (via Twitter).
  • Speaking of Gasol, the Raptors are still experimenting with a fluid frontcourt rotation as they figure out how to best use Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Pascal Siakam, head coach Nick Nurse said today (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca).
  • Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic takes a wide-ranging look at what the summer could bring for the Knicks and their two maximum-salary contract slots, from the “utopia” outcome to the “doomsday” scenario.

Magic Johnson Discusses Trade Deadline, Free Agency

Magic Johnson spoke to the media prior to the Lakers‘ game against the 76ers on Sunday, discussing several topics that ranged from the trade deadline to the team’s upcoming free agency plans. Below are a sample of his comments.

Asked about the trade deadline – and implicitly the negotiations with the Pelicans for Anthony Davis – Johnson said that the Lakers didn’t feel as if they’d entered good-faith negotiations. “At the end of the day, what happened happened,” Johnson said (video link via Kyle Goon of The Southern California News Group).

Johnson also downplayed the idea that players would be negatively impacted by having had to deal with the possibility of being traded, suggesting that it’s part of the business. “A lot of people got traded on Thursday and Wednesday,” Johnson said (video link via Bill Oram of The Athletic). “Guess what’s going to happen next year? A lot of players are going to get traded.”

Johnson also indicated that the lack of success negotiating a trade for Davis won’t affect the Lakers’ free agency plans (Twitter link via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com).

Finally, Johnson revealed that Ben Simmons reached out to the Lakers about the possibility of working with Johnson over the summer, as Simmons hopes to learn from the best big guard in league history. Johnson expressed his willingness to work with Simmons, but only if the league approves such an arrangement (video link via Oram).

LeBron, Giannis Draft 2019 All-Star Teams

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo drafted their teams for the 2019 All-Star Game on Thursday, officially finalizing the rosters for this year’s contest. James and Antetokounmpo were chosen as captains because they were the All-Star starter from each conference with the most fan votes.

Both James and Antetokounmpo first had to select from a pool of starters, then from a list of reserve players. The starters, which consisted of eight other players, were voted on by the fans, players and media this season. The reserve players were voted on by the NBA’s 30 head coaches.

James drafted Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden as starters, choosing Durant as his first selection. His reserves were Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal and Dwyane Wade.

Antetokounmpo drafted Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Paul George and Kemba Walker as his starters, selecting Curry with his first pick. He drafted Khris Middleton, Nikola Jokic, Ben Simmons, Blake Griffin, D’Angelo Russell, Nikola Vucevic, Kyle Lowry and Dirk Nowitzki as his reserves.

James later traded Westbrook to Team Giannis in exchange for Simmons, making an effort to repair the relationship of Westbrook and Embiid.

The 68th NBA All-Star Game is set to commence on February 17 at Spectrum Center, featuring 26 of the best basketball players in the world.

Sixers Unlikely To Pursue Anthony Davis

The Sixers have the pieces to put together a competitive offer for Anthony Davis, but the team currently has no plans to pursue a deal, sources tell Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

It’s hard to envision the Pelicans coveting a package centered around Jimmy Butler, and Joel Embiid simply isn’t going anywhere. That leaves Ben Simmons as the blue-chip asset which makes the most sense and a Simmons-led package would likely beat any other offer should the Sixers put it on the table.

Davis and Simmons are both represented by Rich Paul and a swap of the two is “highly unlikely,” Haynes writes. Philadelphia would be taking an incredible risk by dealing Simmons for Davis without assurance that Davis will stick around long-term.

Philadelphia could ostensibly put together a package without including their big three. Davis will bring in approximately $25.43MM this season and the Sixers a bevy of players on mid-sized deals, such as Wilson Chandler ($12.80MM), J.J. Redick ($12.25), Markelle Fultz ($8.34MM), and Mike Muscala ($5.00MM), whose salaries could be aggregated to match Davis’ figure.

The issue comes down to providing New Orleans value. Fultz was a former No. 1 overall pick but his struggles have deflated his price tag on the trade market, and the team’s veterans hold no value to a franchise that will ultimately begin a rebuild.

The Sixers wield draft capital, as they possess all their future first-round picks, though a closer look at the cupboard and the assets appear more glittery than golden. The Pelicans know that trading Davis to the Sixers would help them win more games and decrease the value of any of Philadelphia’s pick they receive.

The Sixers have an outside chance at landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft should the Kings win the lottery (Sacramento’s pick will go to the Celtics if it’s not the top selection as part of 2017’s Fultz trade). The Kings currently sit 13th in our Reverse Standings, meaning if the season ended today, the odds of the pick becoming the top selection would be one percent.

The pick simply isn’t that valuable, given how the odds are to receive nothing (there would be a zero chance at keeping the pick if the Kings make the playoffs). On the other hand, if Davis is still available on the trade market in late spring and the pick becomes the top selection, is it worth trading the No. 1 pick for a player who may bolt in a year?

The team does own Miami’s 2021 unprotected first-round pick and it could be the key piece in making a splash that doesn’t involve its trading away a current member of its big three. Still, unless Davis adds Philadelphia to its wish list, Elton Brand & Co. will look elsewhere for another big addition.

O’Connor’s Latest: Spurs, Porzingis, Sixers, Wolves

The Spurs are viewed by front office sources around the NBA as a team with “significant interest” in Kristaps Porzingis, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. Porzingis will be a restricted free agent this summer and while the Knicks are expected to retain him, they may be pushed by rival suitors if they’re unwilling to put a fully guaranteed maximum salary offer on the tables themselves.

Of course, as O’Connor acknowledges, San Antonio isn’t particularly well positioned to make Porzingis a lucrative long-term offer. Even if they waive and stretch Pau Gasol, who has a partially guaranteed salary for 2019/20, the Spurs will have about $96MM+ in guaranteed contracts on their books for next season.

That $96MM+ figure doesn’t account for San Antonio’s first-round pick or any other cap holds. Assuming a projected salary cap of $109MM, the team would need more than $27MM in room to offer Porzingis his maximum salary. In other words, even if the Spurs’ does have serious interest in the Knicks’ young big man, they’d have to reshape their roster substantially to go after him — New York’s top competition for Porzingis may ultimately come from elsewhere.

Here’s more from O’Connor:

  • While Jimmy Butler‘s issues with the Sixers‘ offensive system appear real, league sources tell O’Connor that the All-NBA swingman has “developed a good relationship” with Philadelphia stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. On Monday night, we passed along Butler’s comments on Brett Brown and the coach’s system.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns said on Monday that no one saw the firing of Tom Thibodeau coming, and it seems that doesn’t just apply to the Timberwolves‘ players — sources tell O’Connor that the decision came as a shock to many in the organization, and some staffers are “in limbo with no idea about what will happen next.”
  • According to O’Connor, league sources believe Fred Hoiberg will be a top candidate for the Timberwolves‘ permanent head coaching position, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Sunday. However, there have been no formal conversations between Hoiberg and owner Glen Taylor about the job, and the club is expected to wait until the offseason to make any decisions on its full-time coach and general manager. For now, coach Ryan Saunders and GM Scott Layden will remain in those roles.

Jimmy Butler Challenges Brett Brown Over Role

Just a few months after his trade request endlessly dominated headlines in Minnesota, Jimmy Butler has “aggressively challenged” Sixers head coach Brett Brown on his role in Philadelphia’s offense, league sources tell Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com. The situation has complicated an “already tenuous” chemistry among Butler and star teammates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, according to Shelburne and Wojnarowski.

Since joining the Sixers, Butler has averaged 18.0 PPG in 31.7 minutes per contest (21 games). Both of those marks would be his lowest averages since 2013/14. His usage rate (23.1%) is also down from recent years.

Butler would prefer to play more traditional pick-and-roll and isolation sets, rather than trying to find his place in the Sixers’ free-flowing offense, Shelburne and Wojnarowski write. As he works through those concerns, Butler has met privately with Brown and his assistants, as well as GM Elton Brand, per ESPN’s report.

Sources tell the ESPN duo that Butler has been “vocal” in questioning Brown and his system, including a recent film session in Portland that some witnesses viewed as “disrespectful.” However, Brown has told people within the 76ers’ organization that he had no issues with that exchange and considered it within the confines of the relationship he has developed with his new All-NBA swingman. As for Butler, a source close to the 29-year-old points out to ESPN.com that his direct style of communication can come off as combative when he expresses an opinion.

Despite posting a 17-8 record since acquiring Butler, the Sixers have been slow to assimilate the former Timberwolf into their system and have yet to find the perfect on-court role for him alongside Embiid and Simmons, which has caused some concern about his “long-term viability and fit” with the franchise, league sources tell Shelburne and Wojnarowski. According to the ESPN duo, Brown had already dedicated significant time working on the relationship between Embiid and Simmons, and incorporating Butler as well has compounded those challenges.

Still, the Sixers remain focused on making things work in this season and beyond. Ownership and management is also still very fond of Brown, so there’s an urgency around the organization for the head coach and his staff to stabilize the situation and get everyone on the same page, according Shelburne and Woj.

Since Butler will be a free agent this summer, he’d have an opportunity to join a new team if things don’t work out in Philadelphia. According to ESPN, his preference has been to sign a lucrative, long-term deal with the Sixers, who can offer more years and money than any other suitor, but it sounds like the club will need to get more comfortable with the fit before it’s ready to put that kind of offer on the table. Sources tell Shelburne and Woj that rival teams believe Butler will ultimately decide to meet with other teams in July, in addition to the 76ers.

Atlantic Notes: Ntilikina, Horford, Sixers, Irving

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina is set to return to the rotation after sitting out of the team’s game on Christmas, Marc Berman of The New York Post writes. The Knicks will play the Bucks on Thursday night, the second matchup between the teams this week.

“He’s a pro, man,” coach David Fizdale said of Ntilikina. “He says, ‘Coach, don’t you worry about that.’ That’s how he talks. He says, ‘I don’t want you to worry about that. I know you are going to get me back in there at some point and I won’t let you down.’

“For a 20-year-old kid to think that way and talk that way even though I know it hurt him, and I know it was hard on him, and I didn’t want to do that to him — he just handled it great. I want him to have a shot back at these guys.”

Ntilikina’s sudden benching likely harmed his confidence, but the 20-year-old has stayed ready for a second opportunity. His mother traveled to New York for the Christmas Day game, according to Berman, making the sudden DNP sting even more for the second-year player.

Ntilikina has averaged 6.3 points per contest in 31 games this season, shooting 34% from the field and 29% from 3-point range. The Knicks drafted him with the No. 8 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Al Horford‘s return brought a calming effect to the Celtics this week, Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports writes. Horford returned to Boston’s lineup on Christmas against the 76ers, producing nine rebounds, six assists and solid all-around leadership. “[Horford] just brings a calming presence,” said teammate Kyrie Irving. “[There’s] nothing like having a plus-12[-year] vet out there that knows how to play basketball. He makes the game a lot easier with screening, rebounding, defense, all the intangibles that just demand that effort. And he’s just always locked in, in the game plan.”
  • Despite Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid not being a flawless fit together, the duo still has several years to work out the kinks and improve as members of the Sixers, David Murphy of Philly.com opines. Philadelphia currently owns a 22-13 record behind the production of Simmons, Embiid and Jimmy Butler, good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
  • Despite the Celtics‘ recent success, All-Star Kyrie Irving will need more help if the team hopes to make a late postseason run, Sean Deveney of The Sporting News writes. The Celtics were expected to be at the top of their conference entering 2019, but the team holds just a 20-13 record and the fifth seed 33 games into the season. Boston sports a talented mix of players around Irving that includes Horford, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward.

Sixers Optimistic Butler Will Stay Put

Sixers managing partner and owner Josh Harris is both determined and optimistic that Jimmy Butler will remain with the team beyond this season, as he told USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt and The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

The Butler trade was made to give the franchise a third star alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and become a serious championship contender. It wouldn’t have happened unless the Sixers were convinced they could keep Butler, who can opt out of his contract this summer, in the long run.

“We’ve been saying since the summer we’ve been looking for another star and we felt we needed another shooter, a three-and-D wing, someone like Jimmy,” Harris told Zillgitt. “They’re hard to find at this elite level. We know who we have to get through to win the East. It’s obvious who it is. We think this is a piece we needed.”

While Butler became a major distraction around the Timberwolves, he’s been a model citizen since joining the Sixers. And Philadelphia anticipates that its gamble will pay off in the long run in the form of a multi-year contract.

“Our goal is to have elite talent under contract for a long time,” Harris told Charania. “That’s what we’re interested in.”

Both reporters offered insights into the trade discussions involving Butler. The Sixers eventually agreed to deal Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a future second-rounder for Butler and throw-in Justin Patton.

  • The Timberwolves initially asked for another starter in addition to the trio the Sixers dealt, according to Zillgitt.
  • Minnesota narrowed its offers to three teams, with the Pelicans and Rockets being the other finalists, according to Charania.  New Orleans dangled forward Nikola Mirotic and a first-round pick, while Houston was willing to part with guard Eric Gordon and two first-rounders.
  • The Sixers initially offered draft picks and other large contracts, Harris told Charania. Markelle Fultz was discussed in the Butler talks.
  • Other suitors, such as the Lakers, wanted to wait until the December 15th date when signed free agents could be included in a deal for Butler, Charania added.