Darko Rajakovic

And-Ones: Coaching Candidates, Kirkwood, Garuba, Embiid

Suns assistant Kevin Young, Bucks assistants Darvin Ham and Charles Lee, Celtics assistant Will Hardy, Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajakovic, Heat assistants Chris Quinn and Malik Allen, and Warriors assistants Mike Brown and Kenny Atkinson are among the assistants around the NBA who are viewed as potential head coaching candidates by league insiders, according to ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz (Insider-only link).

A number of the names on Arnovitz’s list have been linked to one or more of the NBA’s three current head coaching openings. Ham and Brown, for instance, all believed to be under consideration by all three of the Hornets, Lakers, and Kings.

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

  • Harvard senior guard Noah Kirkwood, who declared for the 2022 NBA draft as an early entrant, has decided to remain in the draft and go pro rather than using his final year of college eligibility, according to agent Ronnie Zeidel (Twitter link via Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports).
  • Rockets forward/center Usman Garuba said in an interview with Spanish outlet AS.com that he’s committed to representing Spain at this year’s EuroBasket competition, as Eurohoops relays.
  • In an intriguing bit of international basketball news, an RMC Sport report indicates that Sixers center Joel Embiid is exploring the possibility of obtaining French citizenship and representing France in future international events. Embiid was born in Cameroon, but has family from France and has never suited up for the Cameroonian national team.

Grizzlies Notes: Bane, Morant, Rajakovic, Harmony

Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane recently spoke to Sam Amick of The Athletic about a number of topics, including his upbringing, his breakout second season, the team’s success (56-26, the No. 2 seed in the West), and more. Here are a couple highlights:

On the pride he feels to find success despite unstable parents (he was raised by his great-grandparents):

“I’m super proud. I mean, it’s hard for me to even put into words. From a young age, from the very beginning, I didn’t really have any stability. My great-grandparents gave me that. My mom was in and out of jail, and I never met my dad.

“… So to be able to accomplish what I’ve accomplished and have a career and, like you said, be able to affect so many people, it’s hard to put into words. When (my great-grandparents) passed last year during my first season, there was a lot of change there too. I mean, that’s kind of been the story of my life. I moved to Memphis, a place I’d never been, (my great-grandparents) pass, I get a new house and I’ve got my girl over there, but you know, just a lot of moving parts. But I feel stable now. And like I said, Memphis has wrapped their arms around me, and I love it here.”

On the Grizzlies’ belief that they can win a title this season:

“We definitely think that we’re more than capable of doing it. I mean, we’re a young team. But like you said, we carry that chip on our shoulder and we move around like a team that has been here before. So we’re definitely excited and looking forward to the opportunity.”

As a former first-round pick (No. 30 overall in 2020), Bane will be eligible for a rookie scale extension after his third season in 2022/23 and is sure to receive a significant raise. The 23-year-old averaged 18.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals on .461/.436/.903 shooting in 76 games (29.8 minutes) this season.

Here’s more on the Grizzlies:

  • Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times spoke to an aerial artist, a skateboarder, a BMX rider and a skateboarding instructor about Ja Morant‘s gravity-defying dunks. All of the aforementioned interviewees see parallels between Morant’s acrobatics and their own.
  • Assistant coach Darko Rajakovic has been instrumental to the team’s player development, according to Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. “Darko just doesn’t care who you are, what your role is on the team,” Ziaire Williams said. “He just wants you to be the best you possibly can be. That’s what I love him about the most.” The Grizzlies went 4-1 under Rajakovic this season when head coach Taylor Jenkins was in the league’s health and safety protocols.
  • Mark Giannotto of The Memphis Commercial Appeal details how the team has found organizational harmony under the leadership of GM Zach Kleiman and Jenkins. “The synergy is unbelievable,” Jenkins said. “The trust that (team owner) Robert (Pera) has for Zach, myself, in obviously building the team and coaching the team. The trust that Zach has in me. We do a great job of pushing each other because if we want to elevate this organization, this team to do great things and win championships, we’ve got to push each other.”

Grizzlies Notes: Trade Deadline, Rajakovic, J. Brown

The Grizzlies have been one of the NBA’s most pleasant surprises so far this season. Despite missing star guard Ja Morant for nearly a third of their games, the Grizzlies have a 28-14 record, good for fourth in the Western Conference. Memphis has a five-game cushion on the No. 5 Mavericks and is currently riding a nine-game winning streak.

Although the Grizzlies’ success makes them a candidate to be a buyer at the trade deadline next month, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said during an appearance on NBA Today on Monday that he doesn’t expect the club to take a big swing.

“They love this roster right now,” Wojnarowski said (video link). “I think it would take a pretty unique opportunity for them to do anything dramatic. There’s always some things around the edges.”

As Woj points out, the Grizzlies may be better positioned to do something more significant in the offseason, when they could have approximately $20MM in cap room and as many as three first-round picks — in addition to their own first-rounder, they control Utah’s pick (top-six protected) and the Lakers’ selection (top-10 protected).

Here’s more on the Grizzlies:

  • Assistant coach Darko Rajakovic will serve as the Grizzlies’ acting head coach on Tuesday night vs. Golden State, reports Wojnarowski (via Twitter). With Taylor Jenkins and Rajakovic both in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, assistant Brad Jones filled in as the acting head coach for one game on Saturday. Rajakovic has since cleared the protocols.
  • Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian considers how the Grizzlies should approach the trade deadline, pointing out that the team has enough assets to make a major trade, but could find itself caught between its present and future goals. As much as Memphis may want to upgrade the current roster, the team also recognizes that many of its players still have room to improve and might not reach their prime for a couple more years. Herrington identifies Jaylen Brown as one player he’d be prepared to go “all-in” for, but acknowledges the Celtics are very unlikely to move Brown at this year’s deadline.
  • In case you missed it, Ja Morant was named the Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday for the second week in a row — he’s the first player to earn the honor in back-to-back weeks so far this season and is the only player in the West to win the award so far in 2022.

And-Ones: Coach K, Fan Conduct, Williams-Goss, Coaching Candidates

Longtime Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski has decided to retire following the upcoming 2021/2022 college basketball season, reports Jeff Goodman of Stadium (via Twitter). Coach K has helmed the Duke program since 1980, and has been key in ushering in the era of one-and-done college players and collegiate recruiting battles.

During his tenure as head coach, Krzyzewski led the team to five national titles and 12 Final Fours, and with two potential top freshman on next year’s roster in Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin, he will look to end his storied career with one final title run.

Goodman also reports that assistant coach Jon Scheyer is the leading candidate to replace Krzyzewski. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirms (via Twitter) that Scheyer is considered Duke’s coach-in-waiting.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • As fan-related incidents continue to occur around the league, the NBA has instituted new measures in an attempt to prevent fan misconduct, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets. These policies include: encouraging teams/arenas to pursue legal recourse against such actions, enhanced security, and a “code of conduct” message to be broadcast multiple times throughout the game.
  • Former Jazz point guard Nigel Williams-Goss has agreed to a two-year deal with Real Madrid, per Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. The 6’2″ point guard played 15 games for PBC Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia this season, averaging 17 points and 5.9 assists while shooting 46% from three.
  • Although the Celtics are the only team with a head coach vacancy so far this summer, there are plenty of enticing first-time head coach options available, writes Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN. Among them: Patrick Ewing, Chauncey Billups, Will Weaver, and Darko Rajakovic. Arnovitz uses present success stories to detail what front offices are looking for in a first time head coach and what attributes can make them successful.
  • Now that the first season of the Basketball Africa League has ended and Egypt’s Zamalek has been crowned champions, the league is looking ahead and planning its 2022 season, writes Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated.  “The biggest triumph? Maybe it was just making it to reality,” BAL President Amadou Fall said, regarding the first season of the new league. “Just a long time coming and just being the culmination of many decades of work and engagement by the NBA across the continent, committed to growing the game. And now, it has established a complete pathway for basketball development from grassroots to elites and just league.” Those in and around the league are hoping that as the BAL grows, it will attract more and more viewers and participants from around the country. Though none of the players this season are expected to draw attention from NBA teams, Fall expects that to change soon. “This is the first time that this league is here,” Zamalek’s Walter Hodge said upon receiving the Hakeem Olajuwon MVP award. “And it’s going to be here for a long time.”

Darko Rajakovic Joins Grizzlies’ Coaching Staff

The Grizzlies have added former Suns assistant Darko Rajakovic to Taylor Jenkins’ coaching staff, according to Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. It’s the second hire in three days for Memphis, which welcomed Sonia Raman on Friday.

Rajakovic, 41, spent one season in Phoenix after joining new coach Monty Williams’ staff last summer. He served as an assistant with the Thunder from 2014-19 and coached Oklahoma’s G League affiliate from 2012-14. Rajakovic will replace Neven Spahija, who has accepted an overseas coaching job.

“I’m very excited to join Taylor’s staff and the Grizzlies organization,” Rajakovic said in a prepared statement. “This is a unique opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the growth of a highly competitive and sustainable program in Memphis.”

Rajakovic was as an assistant on the Serbian national team during last year’s FIBA World Cup. He has built a reputation for developing players, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, which makes him a perfect addition with all the young talent in Memphis.

“We are all so excited to be welcoming Darko to the Memphis Grizzlies,” Jenkins said. “He has shown a passion, drive, high basketball IQ, and love for teaching the game of basketball at a high level both internationally and in the NBA. His addition to our great coaching staff will continue to help enhance the development of our players, staff and team for the future.”

Pacific Notes: Henry, Suns, Landry, Buss

Pierria Henry, the most recent EuroCup regular season MVP winner, worked out for the Suns today, Emiliano Carchia of Sportando reports (Twitter link). Henry has plans to work out for at least two additional teams over the weekend.

The 6’5″ combo guard spent four years at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, becoming the school’s all-time leader in assist and steals. Henry didn’t hear his name called in the 2015 Draft and ended up carving out a career overseas. Henry has had stops in Georgia, Germany, Israel, Turkey, and Russia.

Henry is now a candidate for an NBA roster spot next season. As the West Virginia native attempts to make it in the league, let’s take a look at some notes from the Pacific Division:

  • Coach Monty Williams has finalized his staff, as he announced on the Suns‘ podcastWillie Green, Darko Rajakovic, Mark Bryant, Randy Ayers, Larry Greer, and Steve Blake will all serve as assistant coaches in Phoenix.
  • Landry Shamet has been invited to participate with the Select Team at Team USA’s National camp, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com tweets. The Clippers guard will join Zion Williamson in the younger group come August.
  • Lakers owner Jeanie Buss admits that Magic Johnson’s resignation caught her off-guard, as Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register relays. Buss added that once the executive stepped down, she needed time to “figure out what the process was going to be.” Los Angeles decided that Rob Pelinka leading the front office would be best for the franchise.

Pacific Notes: Barnes, Suns, Rajakovic, Kings

Harrison Barnes can hit the open market if he turns down his $25.1MM player option and the Kings would like to have him on the roster next season one way or another. If Barnes stays with Sacramento, it could be an indicator that the organization is on the upswing after years of perceived dysfunction, Jason Jones of The Athletic writes.

Kings’ management envisioned Barnes playing the small forward position when they traded for him at last season’s deadline. Dave Joerger had different plans, playing Barnes heavy minutes at the four spot next to Bogdan Bogdanovic at the three. Barnes at power forward also took time away from Marvin Bagley and made it more difficult for the rookie to rise to the starting lineup. Joerger has since been fired.

The Kings are hoping that their switch to Luke Walton as well as a renewed alignment between the coaching staff and front office will be viewed favorably around the league, particularly with agents. Here’s more from around the Kings and the Pacific Division:

Western Notes: Miller, Kings, Bledsoe, Pelicans

Mike Miller is scheduled to meet with the Nuggets today, reports John Martin of ESPN929.com. The article also notes that the Grizzlies made an initial offer of two-years and an annual salary between $2.4MM and $2.9MM. The Thunder, Rockets, and Trail Blazers are all reportedly interested in Miller’s services, notes Martin.

More from the west:

  • The Kings are looking to clear up their overstock of power forwards through the trade market, reports Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee (Twitter links). The team is seeking a defender and a shot blocker to shore up their interior, and also want to free up some of the cap space tied to that position, notes Jones.
  • The Suns and Eric Bledsoe‘s agent Rich Paul are in early stages of contract talks, tweets Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports. Spears also notes that many of Bledsoe’s other suitors are in a holding pattern until Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James make their decisions.
  • Bogdan Bogdanovic signed a four-year deal with Fenerbahce that contains an NBA out clause in 2016, reports Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. Bogdanovic was the 27th overall pick of the Suns in this year’s NBA Draft.
  • The Pelicans lack of action on the free agent front is disconcerting, writes Jimmy Smith of the Times Picayune. One stopping block is the team’s need to clear enough cap space to complete the trade of Omer Asik, notes Smith.
  • Jeff Withey’s minimum salary for this coming season became partially guaranteed for $100K when he remained on the Pelicans‘ roster through Saturday. It’ll become fully guaranteed if the Pelicans decline to waive him before the end of July 22nd, as our Schedule of Contract Guarantee Dates shows.
  • The Thunder has named Darko Rajakovic as an assistant coach, the team announced via a press release. Rajakovic led Tulsa to a combined 51-49 record over two seasons, including a 27-23 record and NBA D-League Semifinals appearance in 2012/13. Coach Scott Brooks had this to say, “Darko’s diverse basketball background, knowledge of the game and ability to develop players at a high level were clearly apparent during his time in Tulsa, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to add him to our staff. His understanding of the core tenants of what we do, thanks to his time in Tulsa, will maintain a level of consistency that we value and his various head coaching experiences internationally will provide another layer to our coaches.”