Chuma Okeke

Southeast Notes: Hawks, Butler, Kuzma, Fultz, Okeke

It’s clear that changes are necessary to improve the Hawks‘ defense, but the team’s current personnel may not provide any quite fixes, according to Chris Kirschner of The Athletic, who suggests that it’s an area Atlanta could look to address on the trade market.

Trae Young scored 56 points with 14 assists for the Hawks on Monday night, but it wasn’t enough for a victory, since the club surrendered 136 points to a Portland team missing Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Acting coach Joe Prunty acknowledged after the game that something needs to change on defense.

“There are a lot of things that need to be addressed. A lot of things that we have to do as a team to get better at,” Prunty said, per Kirschner. “There are things we have talked about, things we have worked on, but clearly we need to continue to do it. It’s going to be hard to win a game giving up 136. We’ve done this a few times now. We have to get better across the board as a team, that’s coaches and players.”

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • Jimmy Butler exited the Heat‘s game in the third quarter on Monday due to a right ankle injury and will undergo further testing today to assess the severity of the ailment, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. For his part, Butler – who has already experienced some right ankle problems this season – doesn’t seem to believe it’s a significant injury. “If you talk to Jimmy right now, he says he’s fine,” head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We will have to evaluate it and see how he feels.”
  • Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma had a career night on Monday, putting up 36 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists in a win over Charlotte. As Ava Wallace of The Washington Post writes, Kuzma is getting more and more comfortable with his new team and believes he’s in a “great situation” in Washington. “Fit and opportunity is everything in this league,” Kuzma said on Monday.
  • Magic guard Markelle Fultz, who continues to recover from ACL surgery, is now in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, but forward Chuma Okeke has exited the protocols, tweets Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel. Okeke missed Monday’s game due to return to competition reconditioning, but should be nearing a return.

COVID Updates: Joseph, Jackson, Murray, Johnson, Okeke, Rondo, Ball, Maxey

The league continues to be ravaged by COVID positives with an increasing number of players entering the league’s health and safety protocols. Here are the latest updates:

  • The Pistons, who already had six players in protocols, added guards Cory Joseph and Josh Jackson to the list, James Edwards III of The Athletic tweets. The Pistons are scheduled to play the Spurs on Sunday night. San Antonio will be without Dejounte Murray, who also entered protocols on Sunday, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.
  • The Magic, who already had a handful of players in protocols, won’t have B.J. Johnson and Chuma Okeke available against Miami on Sunday after they joined the list, the team’s PR department tweets. Moritz Wagner has exited the protocols but is going through a reconditioning period before returning to action, per the team (Twitter link).
  • Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo has entered protocols, joining three other Lakers, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register tweets.
  • Two-way player Jose Alvarado became the third Pelicans players to enter protocols, Andrew Lopez of ESPN tweets.
  • Bulls guard Lonzo Ball has entered protocols, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets. The Bulls, who have experienced major COVID issues this month, also have Alfonzo McKinnie and Tony Bradley in protocols, Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic tweets. McKinnie just signed a standard contract and he can be replaced via the hardship exemption, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. Chicago has seen 14 players enter protocols this month.
  • On the positive side, the Sixers’ Tyrese Maxey was spotted at shootaround after exiting protocols, Keith Pompey of  the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets.

Eastern Notes: Rose, Magic Injuries, Jackson, Markkanen

Derrick Rose considered retirement a few years ago due to persistent knee injuries, but he doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes. “Hopefully, I’m going to try to Tom Brady this thing, play as long as possible, make sure I really take care of my body,” he said. “And if I’m playing play with joy. I don’t have to score 30 points a night anymore to affect the game.” Rose re-signed with the Knicks on a three-year deal this summer.

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • Magic fans are irritated by the team’s lack of transparency regarding injury updates on Markelle FultzJonathan Isaac and Chuma Okeke, Josh Robbins of The Athletic writes. Fultz and Isaac are still rehabbing from knee injuries, while Okeke has been out since training camp with a bone bruise in his hip. No timetable has been announced for any of those players.
  • Rookie forward Isaiah Jackson will be “out for a while,” according to Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, due to a hamstring injury, David Woods of The Indianapolis Star reports. The 22nd pick of the draft was injured during the Pacers’ game on Wednesday. “He’s walking in a brace, so that’s good good news, compared to the severity that there could have been,” Carlisle said.
  • Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff credits Lauri Markkanen with making the team’s jumbo lineup effective, Kelsey Russo of The Athletic writes. Markkanen has played small forward in lineups with Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen on the floor. “The biggest shoutout has to go to Lauri Markkanen,” Bickerstaff said of the former Bulls forward. “To me, he’s the reason why it works. His willingness to do that, and again, sacrifice some comfort. He’s the reason why we’ve been able to get away with it so far and why it’s been able to work.”

Eastern Notes: Dinwiddie, Rivers, Young, Hunter, Reddish, Okeke

There was speculation last spring that Spencer Dinwiddie might return from his partially torn ACL during the playoffs. However, Nets coach Steve Nash said that was never on the agenda, Brian Lewis of the New York Post tweets. “I personally don’t like it, I don’t think anyone in the medical staff thought it was fair to Spencer…So we didn’t bring it up,” Nash said. “We thought it was best to let him have his time to heal and further his career.” Dinwiddie has gotten off to a strong start with Washington this season.

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • Sixers head coach Doc Rivers is giving his reserves extended minutes in the early going and there’s a purpose behind it, Gina Mizell of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Furkan Korkmaz and four other reserves turned a nine-point lead into a blowout during the second half of Philadelphia’s win over New Orleans last week. Rivers wants to ensure the team has plenty of reliable options. “That’s why, early in the year, you extend your bench,” Rivers said. “That’s why you do it. It’s so important for your team.”
  • Having De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish healthy and productive is almost like signing two impact free agents, Hawks star Trae Young told Marc Stein of Substack. Both of those players were limited during Atlanta’s postseason run. “We didn’t have them most of the playoffs,” Young said. “And ‘Dre … not having him in the last two series made it a lot tougher for everybody. And then Cam only being able to play the last couple games in the playoffs. Those two guys are key guys for us. Having them healthy is going to be big.” Hunter missed Monday’s game with a non-COVID-related illness.
  • Chuma Okeke‘s return from a bone bruise in his hip remains uncertain, Josh Robbins of The Athletic tweets. Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said of Okeke, “There is no real timetable for him. We’re going to see how he responds to contact and to his rehab.” Okeke did not play in the preseason and has yet to make his season debut.

Magic Exercise Third-Year Contract Options On Anthony, Hampton, Okeke

The Magic announced in a press release (via Twitter) that they have opted to pick up their third-year team options on second-year players Cole AnthonyChuma Okeke and R.J. Hampton. This move will keep them under contract through the 2022/23 season.

The conclusion of October serves as the deadline for rookie scale option decisions for 2022/23. The salaries for all three young Magic players through the ’22/23 season are now guaranteed. That year, Anthony will earn $3.6MM, Okeke will make $3.4MM, and Hampton will pull in $2.4MM.

When healthy, the 6’2″ Anthony, showed plenty of promise at the point. The No. 15 pick in the 2020 draft averaged 12.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG and 4.1 APG across 47 games.

Okeke, the No. 16 selection in the 2019 draft out of Auburn, only made his NBA debut during the 2020/21 season. The 6’6″ power forward averaged 7.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG and 2.2 APG in 45 appearances.

Hampton was drafted with the No. 24 pick and kicked off his NBA career with the Nuggets. After failing to carve out meaningful rotation minutes across 25 games with Denver, Hampton was sent to the Magic. In Orlando, the 6’4″ guard averaged 11.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 2.8 APG over 26 games.

You can track all of the rookie scale team option decisions for 2022/23 right here.

Magic’s Isaac, Fultz Won’t Be Ready For Opening Night

Young Magic cornerstones Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz, who are both coming off ACL tears, won’t be ready to play in the team’s regular season opener next month, sources tell Josh Robbins of The Athletic.

As Robbins explains, the Magic’s organizational policy is to avoid setting specific timelines or return dates for players who are recovering from injuries. However, Robbins has heard that the team will exercise significant caution with both Isaac and Fultz. The front office views getting the two players back into games and getting them through the 2021/22 season without any new health issues as two of its top organizational priorities, Robbins adds.

“Both of those guys have been, as you would expect if you cover our team, relentless in their approach,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said of Isaac and Fultz. “They’ve been working daily grinding. They both look really good. I will not elaborate on timelines. To me as a layman, this is where I just don’t want any setbacks. … But right now, they continue to progress through their rehab right on course and they’re making progress.”

As Robbins observes, Isaac is about 14 months removed from his ACL injury, while Fultz underwent surgery on his ACL only about nine months ago, so the forward may be on track to return a little sooner than the former No. 1 overall pick.

The Magic will also be missing veteran guard Michael Carter-Williams to start the regular season, putting point guard duties in the hands of youngsters Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony.

Here’s more on the Magic:

  • Isaac confirmed on Monday that he has yet to take the COVID-19 vaccine, but suggested that a recent Rolling Stone report misrepresented his views. “I am not anti-vax,” Isaac told reporters, including Robbins. “I’m not anti-medicine. I’m not anti-science. I didn’t come to my current vaccination status by studying Black history or watching Donald Trump press conferences. … But with that being said, it is my belief that the vaccine status of every person should be their own choice, and completely up to them without bullying, without being pressured, without being forced into doing so. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m uncomfortable with taking the vaccine at this time.”
  • Suggs and fellow lottery pick Franz Wagner are both candidates to begin the season in the Magic’s starting lineups, but new head coach Jamahl Mosley isn’t prepared to speculate about the makeup of his starting five quite yet, according to Robbins. “I think it’s a little early to tell which way we’re going to go with lineups and the roster and rotations,” Mosley said on Monday. “We want to get that first part of training camp started just so we can see what the different combinations look like.”
  • Chuma Okeke won’t be participating in full-contact drills at the start of training camp, since he recently sustained a right hip bruise during a voluntary workout, per Weltman (via Robbins).
  • The Magic are expected to have “thorough” discussions with Wendell Carter Jr.‘s reps about a possible rookie scale extension before opening night, says Robbins. “I would love to be here for a long time,” Carter said. “I love Orlando. I love the city. I love my teammates. I love the people here, the weather, everything. So I would love to be here, but right now, I’m just focused on training camp.”

Injury Notes: Ingram, Vucevic, LeBron, Magic

An MRI has revealed that Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram suffered a left low-ankle sprain during the team’s 108-103 victory over the Warriors on Tuesday, the team has announced via Twitter. Ingram is set to miss Friday night’s contest against the Sixers and is considered day-to-day with the injury beyond that.

Losing Ingram, the club’s second-leading scorer behind All-Star forward Zion Williamson, could be a major blow for New Orleans as the team strives to qualify for the play-in tournament in a crowded Western Conference field. With a 30-36 record, the Pelicans currently sit just two games behind the Spurs for a shot at the play-in tournament in the West this season.

There’s more injury news from around the league:

  • Bulls All-Star center Nikola Vučević (adductor) was able to fully participate in a team practice today, tweets K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Head coach Billy Donovan commented that the sharp-shooting big man, who has missed the club’s last two games, “looked fine.”
  • Lakers All-Star forward LeBron James will miss at least the next two games and potentially more as he grapples with fresh, sharp pain in his sprained ankle, Dave McMenamin told Rachel Nichols and Richard Jefferson on ESPN’s The Jump (Twitter video link). A source informed McMenamin that James is “focusing on the big picture” right now. “Does ‘big picture’ mean two more games missed? I’m not so sure,” McMenamin said. “He is clearly prioritizing using every bit of time he can to… get back for the playoffs.”
  • Magic head coach Steve Clifford has indicated that five injured players could miss the rest of the 2020/21 NBA season, tweets Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams and power forward Chuma Okeke are both sidelined with ankle sprains. Wing James Ennis is unavailable with a sore calf. Injury-prone forward Otto Porter Jr., who has played in just 28 games this season for the Magic and Bulls, is struggling with foot pain. Swingman Terrence Ross has been felled by back spasms. “I don’t even know what the time frame [is],” Clifford conceded. “If you look at the schedule now, it’s seven games, I think it’d be 12 days, and I’m not sure even if any of those guys are that close, to be honest with you.”

Southeast Notes: Westbrook, Magic, Oladipo, Okeke/Carter

Wizards point guard Russell Westbrook supplied a lengthy response to ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, who claimed (video link) that Westbrook still needed a championship to cement his legacy. “You’ve played with some great great players over the years. Talent. And not a single title to show for it,” Smith said. “The numbers are the numbers… It ain’t about that no more.”

Fred Katz of The Athletic tweets Westbrook’s full statement. “I’m happy,” Westbrook said in part. “I was a champion once I made it to the NBA. I grew up in the streets. I’m a champion. I don’t have to be an NBA champion… My legacy is what I do off the floor, how many people I’m able to impact and inspire along my journey, man.”

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • Now that the Magic have fully committed to rebuilding their club through their young players and future draft assets, Josh Robbins and Sam Vecenie of The Athletic have opted to assess Orlando’s expected plans for the 2021 draft and beyond, as well as tantalizing new players R.J. Hampton and Wendell Carter Jr. Vecenie and Robbins both feel that Orlando should have perhaps pivoted to a full-tilt rebuild sooner than it did, and agree that the top-heavy 2021 draft should have several intriguing prospects for the Magic.
  • New Heat shooting guard Victor Oladipo is set to debut for Miami on Thursday opposite the Warriors, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel“We’ve had several Zoom sessions,” head coach Erik Spoelstra noted, “just to review and try to fast track our system. But he’s a savvy, high-IQ veteran player.”
  • Magic rookie forward Chuma Okeke and new center/power forward Wendell Carter Jr. are doing their best to capitalize on rotational opportunities with Orlando, writes Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. Both players flashed some of their promise down the stretch of a surprise 103-96 win over the Clippers Tuesday.

Southeast Notes: Okeke, Wizards, Heat, Vucevic

Magic rookie Chuma Okeke has been earning rave reviews from his veteran teammates, as Josh Robbins of The Athletic details. Okeke, the No. 16 pick out of Auburn in 2019, missed all of the 2019/20 season as he rehabilitated from a torn left ACL. Fifteen games into his pro career this year, the 22-year-old has already endeared himself to the rest of the club.

“I love Chuma,” Magic shooting guard Evan Fournier said. “I like the player, but I just like the person even more, because he does the right things and he has the right mindset.”

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • The Wizards have clawed their way back towards a respectable record thanks to five consecutive wins. Chase Hughes of NBC Sports unpacks how the ascent of second-year forward Rui Hachimura and the club’s hot streak can be traced to a decisive team meeting. The Wizards hope to extend their winning streak to six games tonight as they play the Clippers. Team leaders Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal reviewed their expectations of their teammates’ roles with the players themselves. “Everybody had to talk about it. Everybody started talking and I mentioned, I said ‘I can guard one through five,'” Hachimura said. Since then, he has taken his versatile defense to another level.
  • The Heat are doubling the allowed fan capacity for their home court, AmericanAirlines Arena, from 1,5000 fans to 3,000 people starting with a game tomorrow against the Raptors, according to Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald.
  • Magic center Nikola Vučević has been named to his second All-Star team. Josh Robbins of The Athletic explores the steps Vučević took to improve his play this season and become the absolute fulcrum of an injury-depleted 13-19 Orlando club. “He’s an elite decision-maker,” head coach Steve Clifford raved. “He shoots when he should shoot. He passes when he should pass. And he makes his teammates better just by the very nature of how he plays.”

Florida Notes: Mason, Bamba, Heat, Okeke

Newly-signed Magic guard Frank Mason III should be able to provide some offensive firepower to an injury-depleted Orlando squad, according to Josh Cohen of Magic.com.

As a two-way player during the 2019/20 season, Mason played 23 games for the Bucks’ NBAGL affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd. The 5’11” University of Kansas alum was the leading scorer in the G League last year, averaging 26.4 PPG. Cohen anticipates Mason’s biggest scoring contribution to the Magic will be via pull-up jumpers off of pick-and-rolls.

There’s more out of the Sunshine State:

  • Magic head coach Steve Clifford has indicated that center Mohamed Bamba has been feeling a minutes squeeze as a result of Orlando’s significant depth at his position, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic“As I explained to him, the reality is this: Our best position by far is the five spot,” Clifford said. “[Nikola Vucevic] is playing at an All-Star level. Khem Birch is not just good now; Khem Birch is having a terrific year. So a lot of it is that. (Bamba) is playing behind two guys who (are excelling).”
  • Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald considers whether the Heat, losers of seven of their last eight games, should pursue an upgrade at the power forward position, and which players could be available. Miami, who made an exciting Finals run in 2020, are currently the No. 13 seed with an 8-13 record. All-Star Jimmy Butler was absent for 10 of those games, however, wherein the club went 2-8. Veteran Spurs forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay, Rockets forward P.J. Tucker, and 2017 draftees John Collins and Lauri Markkanen all merit mention.
  • In a 123-108 loss to the Raptors Tuesday, rookie Magic forward Chuma Okeke displayed his scoring prowess, according to Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. The game marked Okeke’s first action since suffering a bone bruise in his left knee on December 31, which kept him out of commission for 16 games. “It feels really good because coming back after being away so long you don’t know how you’re going to play,” Okeke said.