- The Hornets have been hit hard by the injury bug this month, but got a key player back on Sunday, when PJ Washington (right ankle sprain) returned and played 34 minutes in a win over Portland. As Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer writes, Devonte’ Graham (left quad contusion) didn’t play, but had been listed as questionable for that game, suggesting his return is close.
Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan has been a major success with Atlanta since taking over for Lloyd Pierce earlier this season, prompting Chris Kirschner of The Athletic to wonder if McMillan could get the club’s permanent head coaching gig.
Atlanta, playing against the Raptors tonight, is 15-5 since Pierce was fired on March 1. The team boasts a plus-16.2 net rating in the fourth quarter in its 20 games with McMillan at the helm, the second-best mark in the league. The Hawks had a minus-8.2 net rating in the fourth quarter during Pierce’s stewardship this season.
Kirschner notes that McMillan has thrived during his head coaching stint despite having to deal with injury issues. Rotation players Cam Reddish, Kris Dunn, De’Andre Hunter and John Collins have each missed seven or more games for Atlanta during McMillan’s tenure. At 29-25, the Hawks are currently the No. 4 seed in the East.
There’s more out of the Southeast Division:
- After losing four starters and roughly 80 points of offense per game to injury, the Hornets have had to get creative to find scoring, details Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. Starting center P.J. Washington, starting guards LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, and starting small forward Gordon Hayward are all currently absent with various maladies, as is core bench player Malik Monk. Washington and Rozier are expected back soon, though the timelines for the other three are murkier. “There are going to be a number of guys who get opportunities tonight who may not have expected it,” head coach James Borrego conceded. “At the start of the week, we never anticipated this type of rotation. But this is where we’re at.”
- Veteran Heat reserve point guard Goran Dragic has struggled through an injury-plagued 2020/21 season thus far. He’s not thinking about the possibility of returning to his role as as a starter come playoff time, as he did for the Heat’s 2020 Finals run, Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald writes.
- Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution details how Hawks starting center Clint Capela could be inching his way into the 2020/21 Defensive Player of the Year mix after helping vastly improve the club’s defense. Capela acknowledged that he would like to be considered as a DPOY and All-Defensive Team candidate this season. “I’m a guy who definitely thinks about that, because this is what I do and this is how I help my team win,” Capela said. “And this is how I also get to have a huge impact on the game, that’s defensively, and I think I’m definitely one of the best at doing it. … I feel that I’m playing the best defense of my career this season, yes, simply because I feel the guys give me the confidence to do so.”
In an early look at the NBA’s 2021 free agent period, Sam Amick and John Hollinger of The Athletic write that three NBA teams – the Knicks, Thunder, and Spurs – project to have more than enough cap room for a maximum-salary contract this offseason, even if they were to win the draft lottery.
Besides those clubs, the Mavericks and Hornets should be among the clubs with the most space, according to Amick and Hollinger. The Athletic’s duo projects Dallas to be about $35MM below the cap if Josh Richardson opts out, while Charlotte will have about $26MM of room.
Other teams could create cap room, but that will hinge on one or two major roster decisions. For instance, the Raptors could get up to about $25MM in space, but not if they intend to re-sign Kyle Lowry. The Suns (Chris Paul) are in a similar position, with the Heat, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Hawks, Cavaliers, Bulls, and Pistons among the other teams whose cap space – or lack thereof – will depend on what happens with certain free agents.
Here’s more from Amick and Hollinger on 2021 free agency:
- Although Kawhi Leonard projects to be the top free agent on the market this summer, team sources and rival executives widely expect him to re-sign with the Clippers, per The Athletic. It’s possible that could change if Los Angeles exits the postseason early, but there’s no indication at this point that Leonard’s free agency will be as dramatic as it was in 2019.
- A source with knowledge of DeMar DeRozan‘s outlook tells The Athletic he’ll take a “wide open” approach to free agency. That doesn’t necessarily rule out a new deal with the Spurs, though a March report suggested DeRozan has interest in playing elsewhere next season and perhaps returning to the Eastern Conference.
- Amick and Hollinger believe both DeRozan and Paul will keep Jrue Holiday‘s new four-year deal ($135MM guaranteed, $25MM in incentives) very much in mind when they negotiate their next contracts. However, it’s not a perfect comparable for either player, since Paul is five years older than Holiday and DeRozan isn’t the defender that Holiday is.
- Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer examines where the Hornets could find offensive production with LaMelo Ball (wrist fracture), Gordon Hayward (foot sprain), and Malik Monk (ankle sprain) sidelined. The trio has combined for 44% of the team’s scoring, meaning other players will have to step up in order for the franchise to sustain success. Charlotte holds the fourth-best record in the East at 25-23, but the club is also just one game ahead of the No. 7 Knicks.
- Chris Kirschner of The Athletic examines a number of Hawks-related topics in his latest mailbag, including coach Nate McMillan, star big man John Collins and more. Atlanta has climbed back into the playoff picture and currently holds a 25-24 record, trailing the Hornets by half a game.
Hornets star forward Gordon Hayward has suffered a right foot sprain and will miss at least four weeks of action, according to a team press release. Hayward will be reevaluated after that four-week period.
The injury was suffered during the second quarter of Friday’s win over the Pacers. The initial diagnosis was confirmed via a physician’s exam and studies in Indianapolis on Saturday.
Hayward is averaging 19.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 4.1 APG in 34.0 MPG over 44 appearances.
Charlotte has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks. Rookie of the Year candidate LaMelo Ball could miss the rest of the season after undergoing wrist surgery, while top reserve Malik Monk will miss at least two weeks with a right ankle sprain.
Charlotte will have to lean heavily on Cody Martin and Miles Bridges in Hayward’s absence. The Hayward acquisition was one of the biggest moves last offseason, as he agreed to a four-year, $120MM contract and officially joined the team in a sign-and-trade with the Celtics.
Monk was injured when he landed awkwardly after colliding with Brooklyn’s Jeff Green during the fourth quarter on Thursday.
Charlotte entered Friday’s action with a tenuous hold on the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference.
For the fourth straight season, Monk is one of the Hornets’ key reserves. He’s averaging a career-best 13.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG and 1.9 APG in 21.7 MPG while appearing in 32 contests this season. Monk has knocked down a career-best 42.4% of his 3-point attempts.
He enjoyed one of the best games of his career last Friday, pouring in 32 points in 26 minutes in a five-point win over Miami. Monk is headed to free agency this summer — Charlotte could make him restricted if it extends a $7MM+ qualifying offer.
Having announced last week on Instagram that he contemplated retirement after being traded to the Hawks, Lou Williams expanded on that subject during his Tuesday media availability, explaining that it “hurts” to have been traded by the Clippers.
“I had a lot of investment there. We had some success,” Williams said, per Paul Newberry of The Associated Press. “We were gearing up for another deep run, a championship run. That was my mentality. I thought I would finish the season there.
“… (But) I don’t want to look back and say I retired prematurely, be asking myself what could have been or what I could’ve done. This is an opportunity to finish out the season with this team (Atlanta) and go from there.”
Williams was cleared to play on Tuesday night, but didn’t take the court. Having just met most of his teammates, he wanted to take a game to get his bearings before entering the fray, Newberry writes.
“I want to get an understanding of how they play,” Williams said. “See their sets, get a feel for their rotations, understand how this group of guys mesh, see where I might fit. It would be unfair to this group of guys to just throw me out there.”
Here’s more from around the Southeast:
- The Hawks provided a minor update on Cam Reddish (Achilles) on Tuesday night, announcing in a press release that he has increased his lower limb weight room work and will add limited low level impact work. Reddish isn’t close to returning and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.
- After falling out of the Hornets‘ starting lineup and seeing his minutes dip, Cody Zeller resolved to try to earn back those minutes rather than sulking, writes Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. “My high school coach used to say, ‘If you want to play more, play better,'” said Zeller, who had 16 points and 13 rebounds in just 24 minutes on Tuesday. The big man has assured head coach James Borrego that he’ll remain engaged regardless of how much playing time he gets, Bonnell adds.
- With the Magic in position to get a high lottery pick in this year’s draft, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic identifies Cade Cunningham, Jalen Suggs, and Jalen Green as the top prospects the team should target if given the opportunity. Evan Mobley has positional overlap with Wendell Carter and Mohamed Bamba, but he and Jonathan Kuminga would both be good fallback options too if Orlando gets a top-five pick and those first three prospects aren’t available, Vecenie says.
The Mavericks ended up making just one relatively modest move at the trade deadline, acquiring J.J. Redick and Nicolo Melli in a trade with New Orleans. However, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, that deal may have been a fail-safe option for Dallas as the team explored other options leading up to last Thursday afternoon.
As Fischer explains, the Mavericks also explored a trade that would have sent James Johnson and two second-round pick to Orlando in a package for Evan Fournier. The Magic ultimately chose a similar offer from Boston that allowed them to create a $17MM+ trade exception instead of taking back a matching salary like Johnson’s.
The Mavericks also spoke to the Rockets about Victor Oladipo, sources tell Fischer, but those talks didn’t gain momentum.
Here’s more from Fischer:
- During the James Harden trade talks earlier in the year, the Rockets never projected much interest in hanging onto Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert as part of that deal, Fischer says. Houston didn’t view Allen as a long-term frontcourt fit alongside Christian Wood and wanted to roll the dice on Oladipo recapturing his All-NBA form, a gamble that didn’t work out.
- Fischer lists the Raptors, Bulls, Mavericks, Clippers, Celtics, Heat, Hornets, Nets, Knicks, and Lakers as teams that showed some level of interest in Cavaliers center Andre Drummond before he was bought out, but none of those clubs could ultimately put together a package that matched the big man’s $28.75MM salary and also appealed to Cleveland. After he was bought out, Drummond was intrigued by the Celtics and spoke to Boston point guard (and fellow UConn alum) Kemba Walker, but ultimately decided to sign with the Lakers.
- With Drummond now in Los Angeles, some executives are wondering whether the Lakers will consider buying out Marc Gasol, per Fischer. “When they get fully healthy, it’s gonna be a logjam,” one assistant GM said, referring to a frontcourt that also features big men Anthony Davis and Montrezl Harrell, along with power forwards LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma. It’s worth noting Gasol has a second guaranteed year on his contract, though it’s only worth the minimum.
The Hornets sought to upgrade their center at last week’s trade deadline, expressing interest in a number of big men on the trade market, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.
As Fischer details, Charlotte was eyeing Andre Drummond, but couldn’t reach an agreement with the Cavaliers on a viable trade, then lost out to the Lakers on the buyout market. In addition to Drummond, the Hornets also expressed interest in veteran centers such as Myles Turner, Montrezl Harrell, and Richaun Holmes, sources tell Fischer.
A previous report indicated that the Pacers and Hornets discussed a trade involving Turner and P.J. Washington during the 2020 offseason, and Fischer says Charlotte revisited those talks at last week’s deadline, exploring a deal centered around Turner, Washington, and Cody Zeller‘s expiring contract. However, the team had no luck.
Having not addressed the center position via trade, the Hornets figure to be on the lookout for a big man this summer when Zeller’s and Bismack Biyombo‘s contracts expire, and Fischer identifies Holmes and Drummond as two players likely to be on Charlotte’s radar. Both players will be unrestricted free agents after the season.
Holmes is under contract at a bargain price ($5MM) for the rest of 2020/21, but could seek upwards of $20MM per year in free agency, according to Fischer. Meanwhile, league executives polled by Bleacher Report estimate that Drummond’s next deal could look something like Steven Adams‘ two-year, $35MM extension with New Orleans. The Hornets talked to Drummond following his buyout from Cleveland, and the 27-year-old was intrigued by the idea of playing with LaMelo Ball, says Fischer.
Charlotte has the ability to open up some cap room this offseason, though that space would be extremely limited if the team extends Malik Monk a qualifying offer and keeps his $16MM+ cap hold on its books. Monk is in the midst of a career year, but his name was involved in the trade conversations the Hornets had for Harrell and Holmes, per Fischer.
If it’s the simplest path to creating the room necessary to sign one of this summer’s top free agent centers, the Hornets could be willing to make Monk unrestricted. Re-signing him to a deal worth less than his cap hold would be another path to generating a little flexibility.