- When the Nuggets clinched a playoff spot earlier this week, Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap locked in bonuses worth $431K and $150K respectively, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN.com, who adds (via Twitter) that both players will receive additional bonuses if Denver wins a postseason series. As Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports observes (via Twitter), Jokic and Millsap will have slightly higher cap hits next season now that those incentives shift from “unlikely” to “likely.”
Isaiah Thomas made an emotional return to the TD Garden on Monday, a place where he helped carry an up-and-coming Celtics team to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“There were times after I got traded where I sat back and really thought about things that I did as an individual, the things that we had done as a team, and those were amazing moments that I will cherish for the rest of my life,” Thomas said via Tim Bontempts of ESPN.com.
Boston dealt Thomas away months after that pinnacle, and after stops in Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Denver, he hasn’t been able to find his next major role.
“I just want a legit opportunity,” Thomas said. “Whatever the role may be, it’s going to be. But I know I can play at a high level again. And if given the opportunity, I can be an All-Star, I can be All-NBA, I can be all that, because I physically feel great.”
Thomas underwent hip surgery in 2017 and his recovery has taken some time. He missed the first half of this season and he hasn’t shown the same burst on the court in 10 games with the Nuggets that he had in his peak-Boston days. Still, he’s confident that he’ll be able to thrive if given the chance to have a bigger role
“If I get an opportunity, I’m going to be ready for it,” he said. “I’m going to take full advantage of it. And when this summer comes, I’m going to just figure out what’s the best opportunity, what’s the best situation for myself and my family, and then go from there.”
Thomas has played fewer than 20 minutes in all but one appearance for the Nuggets this season. He’s no longer in the regular rotation and – barring an injury – he’s not expected to be reinserted prior to the team’s first playoff appearance since 2013.
The former All-Star is on a one-year deal that pays him slightly over $2MM. Thomas, who at one point in 2017 was expected to seek a maximum-salary deal, will be a free agent again this summer.
Thunder star Russell Westbrook will be suspended one game after picking up his 16th technical foul of the season on Saturday, the league announced today. Westbrook will serve his one-game suspension on Monday night against the Heat.
League rules mandate that any player who receives his 16th technical foul receive a one-game suspension and a $5,000 fine. For Westbrook, every other technical foul between now and the end of the regular season will result in another one-game suspension.
Westbrook, known as a highly expressive player during his 11 NBA seasons, was upset over a questionable no-call in the team’s game against Golden State. Westbrook attacked the basket and drew some contact from Klay Thompson, receiving a technical shortly afterward.
The Thunder are battling for a high playoff seed in the Western Conference, currently leading the No. 6 Spurs by one game and trailing the No. 4 Blazers by a half-game. Westbrook’s poor shooting could’ve played a role in his frustration on Saturday, with the 30-year-old scoring just seven points on 2-for-16 shooting.
In addition to his fine, Westbrook will lose $245,891 in salary by sitting Monday’s game, ESPN’s Royce Young tweets. The Thunder will save $522,518 toward the luxury tax.
There’s more from the Northwest Division today:
- Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was ejected Saturday after accruing two technical fouls, expressing his frustration to the media after the game. “It’s extremely hard because it’s not equal for everybody,” Jokic said, according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post. Jokic was adamant that he didn’t say anything to referee Tony Brothers, who assessed Jokic his second technical. “I didn’t say nothing, I don’t know what he was talking (about).”
- Jazz owner Gail Miller sent an important message to Utah fans following the incident with Russell Westbrook and a disruptive fan last week, sharing the importance of keeping a respectful atmosphere while attending home games. “We do not permit hate speech, racism, sexism or homophobia,” Miller said as part of a larger statement. “We also do not allow disruptive behavior, including bullying, foul or abusive language, or obscene gestures. Violators may be subject to ejection and other penalties, including a lifetime ban.”
- Jazz players have rallied around Dante Exum after the 23-year-old suffered yet another injury last week. Exum, who already missed 25 straight games due to injury this year, suffered a torn patellar tendon in his right knee and will be out indefinitely. “They’ve been very supportive,” Exum said, as relayed by Aaron Falk of Jazz.com. “Just every day they wanted to make sure I was right.” Exum, the No. 5 pick in 2014’s draft, has only appeared in 42 games with the team this season.
Celtics guard Terry Rozier has formed a strong bond with president of basketball operations Danny Ainge even though he has been on the trading block this year, writes Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. Rozier shined while Kyrie Irving was sidelined with an injury during last year’s playoffs, but has struggled to fit into a backup role this season. With restricted free agency looming this summer, Rozier seemed like a natural candidate for a deal.
“I know he had some thoughts about trading me this year,” Rozier said. “I respected the business side of it. I don’t ever try to get too much in other people’s jobs. I try to do my job, which is on the court. Like I said, I know he had thoughts, but it didn’t happen.”
Ainge has been a believer in Rozier since drafting him with the 16th pick in 2015 when he was projected as a late first-rounder at best. He resisted trading Rozier because of his potential value in the playoffs, but there’s still no guarantee that the fourth-year guard will remain in Boston beyond this season.
There’s more Celtics news to pass along:
- Isaiah Thomas can expect a warm reception when he returns to Boston tomorrow night, both from fans and former teammates, relays Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports. Thomas, who has fallen out of the Nuggets’ rotation, may finally get a tribute video. He was injured in his only other trip to the city since being traded and requested that the Celtics not produce a video then. “One of the reasons I came here (to Boston) was to play with him, and one of the things I always admire about Isaiah is his heart,” Al Horford said. “Just leaving it all out there. It didn’t matter if he was hurt or there was something wrong. He’s a guy that loves to compete, that plays hard, that plays to win, and it was just a lot of fun to play with him.”
- An injury scare for Horford during yesterday’s win over the Hawks showed why the Celtics want to give him some rest before the playoffs, notes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Horford left the game after banging knees with an Atlanta player in the third quarter. He was able to return, but Boston plans to give him three or four games off to ensure his health for the postseason.
- The Celtics’ G League affiliate in Maine has officially added former NBA forward Thomas Robinson, tweets Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe, who suggests that Robinson might be considered for Boston’s open roster spot. The Red Claws play four more games before their season ends Saturday.
Isaiah Thomas‘ comeback has hit another dead end, writes Nick Kosmider of The Athletic. The former All-Star will have his playing time sharply reduced as coach Michael Malone trims the Nuggets‘ rotation for the rest of the season.
Thomas has appeared in just nine games since returning last month after his latest hip surgery. He is averaging 8.6 PPG, but is shooting just 37.3% from the field and 27.3% from 3-point range.
Malone broke the news to Thomas before Tuesday’s game.
“You definitely talk to him, and I will keep that conversation between myself and IT,” Malone said. “Not an easy conversation, but that’s my job. It’s never about Isaiah or any individual. It’s about what’s best for our team. I made the decision to shorten the rotation, only play eight guys in the first quarter, and I’m going to continue to do that for the time being. Sixteen games to go, I’m trying to find a rhythm and a rotation that I feel like will give us the best chance to win now and into the playoffs.”
Thomas will be a free agent again this summer after signing a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal with Denver last summer. The Nuggets knew he wouldn’t be available right away because of the surgery, but hoped he could develop into a backup point guard in time for the postseason. However, Monte Morris seized that slot while Thomas was sidelined, leaving the veteran guard with an uncertain future once again.
Thomas appeared on the verge of a max contract after a pair of All-Star seasons with the Celtics, but he was sent to Cleveland in the Kyrie Irving trade in 2017 and has never been able to overcome a lingering problem with his hip. Thomas, who turned 30 last month, has now had brief, unsuccessful stays with the Cavaliers, Lakers and Nuggets, playing a total of 41 games since leaving Boston.
- Nuggets point guard Isaiah Thomas has Monday, March 18 circled on his calendar, according to Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. He will play against Boston for the first time since he was traded to Cleveland prior to last season. “I can’t wait,” Thomas said. “That’s going to be a special moment for me. Even if they don’t do a video or whatever, just being back in that city and that arena is going to be unbelievable. I had the best basketball moments of my career in that arena. Boston’s always going to be in my heart, no matter what.”
The 25-year-old got into seven games for Denver before being waived in mid-December and replaced by Brandon Goodwin. Akoon-Purcell also played in two G League contests, averaging 24.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
He signed with Hapoel Tel Aviv of the Israeli Premier League a few days later, but appeared in just eight games before parting ways with the team in February.
Here are Sunday’s G League assignments and recalls from around the NBA:
- The Nuggets assigned power forward Tyler Lydon to Washington’s affiliate, the Capital City Go Go, Adam Johnson of 2Ways10Days tweets. The 2017 first-rounder has appeared in just 24 NBA games this season, averaging 3.8 MPG.
- The Hornets recalled forward Dwayne Bacon and guard Devonte’ Graham from the Greensboro Swarm, the team’s PR department tweets. Neither player saw action in Charlotte’s loss to Portland on Sunday. Graham had 21 points and seven rebounds against the Long Island Nets on Saturday.
- The Thunder assigned and then recalled guard Hamidou Diallo from the Oklahoma City Blue, according to team press releases. Diallo supplied 21 points and seven rebounds in the Blue’s win over Northern Arizona on Sunday. Diallo has appeared in 46 games for the Thunder, averaging 4.1 PPG in 11.2 MPG.
With only about a month and a half left in the 2018/19 regular season, we’re getting a clearer picture of what this year’s draft order might look like. We’re also getting a clearer sense of which of the traded 2019 picks with protections will or won’t change hands this spring.
Using our 2018/19 Reverse Standings as a reference point, here’s our latest check-in on where things stand for those traded 2019 first-rounders, based on their protections.
Locks to change hands:
- Kings‘ pick to Celtics or Sixers (unprotected)
- Current projection: No. 14
- Nuggets‘ pick to Nets (top-12 protected)
- Current projection: No. 27
- Raptors‘ pick to Spurs (top-20 protected)
- Current projection: No. 29
The Nets and Spurs may not be thrilled by how well the Nuggets and Raptors are playing this season, since it assures those first-round picks will fall in the mid-to-late 20s. But Brooklyn and San Antonio can at least be confident that they’ll actually receive those selections this year, which will allow them to better prepare for the draft.
As for the Kings‘ pick, it will almost certainly end up with the Celtics, but the Sixers will still be keeping an eye on it — if Sacramento ends up in the lottery, there will be a very slim chance of that pick vaulting up to No. 1 overall. In that scenario, Philadelphia would receive it and Boston would instead get the 76ers’ first-rounder.
At this point, the far more likely scenario is the Sixers keeping their own pick and the Celtics getting a Kings pick in the teens.
Locks to be protected:
- Cavaliers‘ pick to Hawks (top-10 protected)
- Current projection: No. 3
- Bucks‘ pick to Suns (top-3 and 17-30 protected)
- Current projection: No. 30
The Cavaliers have been playing better lately, but there’s still essentially no way their pick will fall out of the top 10 — there are 13 games between Cleveland and Miami, the 10th team in the reverse standings. So the Cavs can rest assured that they’ll retain their 2019 first-rounder. Subsequently, they’ll owe the Hawks their top-10 protected 2020 first-round pick.
On the other end of the draft, it’s the Bucks‘ success this season that guarantees they’ll keep their selection. The pick they agreed to trade to Phoenix has unusual reverse-protection criteria that provides only a small window for the Suns to snatch it. Since that pick won’t change hands this season, the Bucks will owe the Suns their top-7 protected first-rounder in 2020.
Still up in the air:
- Grizzlies‘ pick to Celtics (top-8 protected)
- Current projection: No. 6
- Mavericks‘ pick to Hawks (top-5 protected)
- Current projection: No. 8
- Clippers‘ pick to Celtics (top-14 protected)
- Current projection: No. 19
- Rockets‘ pick to Cavaliers (top-14 protected)
- Current projection: No. 21
Of these picks, the Grizzlies‘ and Mavericks‘ selections are the most intriguing. Both project as top-10 picks, and neither has full top-10 protection. For now, Memphis appear likely to keep its pick rather than sending it to the Celtics, while the Hawks have a good chance to receive Dallas’ pick. That outlook could quickly change though, if the Grizzlies get on a hot streak and/or the Mavs slump.
It’s worth noting that the new lottery format could be a wild-card factor here. Let’s say the Grizzlies finish seventh in the reverse standings. In previous years, the likelihood that their pick would slide to ninth from that spot would be less than 2%. This year, those odds would increase to over 14%.
Similarly, suppose the Mavericks finish seventh in the reverse standings. Under the old system, the Hawks could be confident of receiving the Mavs’ selection, since Dallas would only have a 15% of moving up into the top three and retaining the pick. In the new system, those odds are all the way up to 32%.
Meanwhile, the Clippers and Rockets will surrender their first-rounders if they earn playoff spots. After some early-season struggles, Houston looks like a fairly safe postseason bet at this point, meaning the Cavaliers should be confident they’ll get the Rockets’ pick. The Clippers, who moved up to seventh in the West on Monday, are less certain of a spot, so the Celtics will be closely watching the playoff race.
Information from RealGM was used in the creation of this post.
- Isaiah Thomas‘ return to action adds one more player to an already deep Nuggets backcourt and could present Michael Malone with his greatest coaching challenge of the season, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. In two games since returning from his latest hip surgery, Thomas has scored 24 points in 29 minutes and could be a valuable weapon off the bench for the rest of the season. Malone, who already had five guards that were getting regular playing time, unveiled a three-guard lineup Friday that had Thomas, Monte Morris and Gary Harris on the court together. “If we have to adjust, we will,” Malone said, “but playing small, you got three playmakers out there that can all generate shots for their teammates and get their own shot in Monte, in Isaiah, in Gary Harris. That’s a pretty good bench unit, if you ask me.”