Domantas Sabonis

Central Notes: LaVine, Turner, Cavaliers Draft, Sabonis

All-Star Bulls shooting guard Zach LaVine appears intent to earn a maximum contract extension with Chicago, but whether or not that happens this summer will have a significant financial impact on the deal, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. A standard extension for LaVine this offseason could only be worth up to about $105MM over four years, so he seems unlikely to accept such a deal — Chicago could offer him significantly more in a renegotiation or once he reaches free agency.

“I definitely want what I deserve, and whatever that is I’ll have it coming to me,’’ LaVine said of a possible extension after the Bulls’ 2020/21 season concluded.

K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago notes that LaVine’s fate this summer could be directly affected by the Bulls’ lottery luck. Should the team move into the top four in Tuesday’s lottery drawing ahead of the 2021 draft, it will be committed to paying at least $7.2MM to the rookie prospect it drafts. Depending on how some decisions shake out across the rest of Chicago’s roster, this will likely mean the Bulls, who have not made the playoffs in four seasons, will be operating over the salary cap, which would preclude a renegotiation with LaVine this season and make an extension less likely.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Pacers center Myles Turner weighed in on his perceived snub from the NBA’s All-Defensive teams this season, writes Nat Newell of the Indianapolis Star. Turner tweeted, in part, “Right back to it next season, [I’m going to] make it to where it ain’t even a debate.” Newell notes that all of the forwards who made the cut ahead of Turner played at least five more games than he did during a truncated 72-game season, where every appearance counts that much more. Newell observes that, in the last 20 years, the league leader in blocks has not made either All-Defensive team just six times — and Turner accounts for two of those omissions.
  • A lot is riding on the Cavaliers landing some lottery luck, again, in the 2021 draft lottery next week, writes Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Over the last two decades, Cleveland landed the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003, 2011, 2013, and 2014 drafts. The club hasn’t fared as well lately in the lottery, but is hoping its luck turns ahead of a starry draft.
  • Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis proved he was one of the best big men in the league through his play this season, per Wheat Hotchkiss of Pacers.com. The 25-year-old deservedly made his second straight All-Star game, and boasted a sparkling stat line of 20.3 PPG (on 53.5% shooting from the floor), 12 RPG, and 6.7 APG. Hotchkiss highlights just how valuable Sabonis was on offense, both as a ball-handler and an expert pick-setter, and notes that Sabonis was often tasked with guarding players beyond the paint while Turner manned the middle, resulting in Sabonis traveling 2.7 miles a night on the floor, more than any other big man in the league. Sabonis will suit up for Team Lithuania during a six-game qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics, and potentially the Olympics themselves, before his focus returns to the NBA.

Pacers Rumors: Turner, Budenholzer, Shaw, Bjorkgren, More

Prior to the 2021 trade deadline, J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star reported that the Hornets, Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, and Pelicans were among the teams to express interest in Pacers big man Myles Turner. With Turner possibly available again this summer in trade talks, many of those teams could renew their interest in the NBA’s shot-blocking leader.

Exploring that possibility, Michael tweets that the Hornets and Timberwolves are the teams that seem to “really” want Turner. Michael speculates (via Twitter) that Charlotte would be the team most likely to make an aggressive trade offer for the 25-year-old if the Pacers are willing to move him.

Here’s more out of Indiana:

  • If the Bucks decide to move on from Mike Budenholzer after their season ends, he’d move to the top of the Pacers’ list of potential head coaching candidates, league sources tell J. Michael. Michael adds that G League Ignite coach Brian Shaw, formerly a Pacers assistant, is also expected to be a serious candidate for the job.
  • In a subscriber-only piece for The Indianapolis Star, Michael takes a look at the factors that led to Nate Bjorkgren‘s ouster after just one season. One league executive described Bjorkgren’s coaching style as “fake positivity,” according to Michael, who also provides details on Bjorkgren’s tendency to micro-manage and his failure to hold players accountable. Michael adds that the first-year coach “made sure those beneath him knew their place,” which lines up with a May report that stated Bjorkgren didn’t treat his assistants particularly well.
  • Although the Pacers haven’t ruled out blowing up their roster, team owner Herb Simon may be averse to that idea, according to Michael, who suggests the club seems likely to bring back Domantas Sabonis, Caris LeVert, Malcolm Brogdon, and T.J. Warren.

Kevin Pritchard: “It’s My Fault” Nate Bjorkgren Didn’t Work Out

Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard accepts responsibility for Nate Bjorkgren’s unsuccessful stint as head coach, writes Bob Kravitz of The Athletic.

The team fired Bjorkgren on Wednesday after one season on the job, but the decision has seemed inevitable for weeks. Reports began circulating in early May that management was unhappy with Bjorkgren’s coaching style and his relationship with his players and staff.

With only one season remaining on his two-year contract, there was little reason not to move on.

“It’s my fault,” Pritchard said after the decision was made. “It’s our organization’s fault. We’ve got to do better.” He later added, “When we hired Nate, we wanted to take a risk. We wanted to try something new … I’m thankful for Nate; he worked his tail off. There were some things he did well. And there were some things I think he wished he had done differently.”

Bjorkgren, 45, is a former G League coach who spent two years as an assistant with the Suns and two years with the Raptors before the opportunity arose with Indiana. He led the Pacers to a 34-38 record and a spot in the play-in tournament despite significant injuries, but they were eliminated after two games.

Bjorkgren got a reputation in the locker room for not being tough enough, tweets J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star. Although there were numerous complaints about Bjorkgren, Michael adds there’s no evidence that the team’s best players, Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, ever asked for him to be fired.

Pritchard repeatedly took matters into his own hands, Michael adds (via Twitter). A source said Pritchard went to the locker room following games at least four times this season to berate the players for what he viewed as poor effort. Pritchard had never done that before, according to Michael.

After being burned by the Bjorkgren hiring, Kravitz expects Pritchard to be far more conservative next time. Former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts has been mentioned as a candidate, and Kravitz suggests the team might also look at Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni, Clippers assistant Kenny Atkinson and Sixers assistant Dave Joerger, who all have previous head coaching experience.

Central Notes: Lopez, Plumlee, Bjorkgren, Sabonis, Turner

Bucks center Brook Lopez will be facing his former team in the conference semifinals and Nets coach Steve Nash believes he could be a key player in the series, according to Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “He could be one of the wild cards,” Nash said. Lopez, who is signed through the 2022/23 season, averaged 15.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG and 1.3 BPG during the first-round sweep of the Heat.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • The Pistons raised a lot of eyebrows when they signed Nuggets reserve center Mason Plumlee to a three-year, $24MM+ contract last fall but Plumlee justified it with a productive season, Keith Langlois of Pistons.com writes. Plumlee averaged 10.4 PPG, a career-high 9.3 RPG and 3.6 APG while serving as a post facilitator and setting solid screens. He’ll remain a rotation fixture in his second season with the franchise, Langlois adds.
  • The Pacers’ offseason appears to be on hold until the front office decides what to do with head coach Nate Bjorkgren, Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files writes. It’s the biggest decision that team president Kevin Pritchard will make to date and he’s pondering all his options.
  • If the Pacers decide to break up their frontcourt duo of All-Star Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, it’s generally assumed the front office will move Turner. Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel (subscription required) explores a variety of metrics and concludes that it’s not a clear-cut decision.

Pacers’ Pritchard Talks Bjorkgren, Frontcourt, FAs, More

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said no decisions have been made yet on the future of head coach Nate Bjorkgren, as J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star writes. Bjorkgren isn’t the only one whose future is up in the air, according to Pritchard, who pointed out that his own performance is still being evaluated by team ownership as well.

“I’m being evaluated. I’m being evaluated every day,” Pritchard said. “(Pacers owner) Herb (Simon) has to decide if I’m fit for this job and what I need to improve on. Then Nate and I will have a long conversation over many days on what he needs to improve on. … He is our coach as of now and I’ll have a fair discussion with him.”

The Pacers’ president of basketball operations acknowledged that Bjorkgren’s first year on the job was far from perfect. While Pritchard liked Bjorkgren’s handle on X’s and O’s, he said that the first-year coach did have a tendency to micromanage. Still, Pacers players didn’t express during their exit meetings that they were unhappy with Bjorkgren, Pritchard added.

Pritchard also pushed back against the idea that the Pacers hadn’t adequately done their homework on Bjorkgren before hiring him last summer, as Michael tweets.

We probably did 15 interviews around Nate,” Pritchard said. “We knew that he’s very specific in the way he likes things. We knew that. You got to give a coach some flexibility to do what he likes to do.”

Here’s more from Pritchard’s end-of-season presser:

  • Pritchard remains convinced that the Pacers can succeed without moving one of Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis (Twitter link via Michael). We like them both,” Pritchard said of the frontcourt duo. “They can definitely play together. You can stagger them.
  • Pritchard referred to Doug McDermott and T.J. McConnell as “core to what we’ve done” (Twitter link via Michael). Both players will be unrestricted free agents this summer, but it sounds like there’s mutual interest in continuing those relationships.
  • Although Pritchard stressed that the Pacers won’t be desperate to make deals this summer, he said he’d prefer not to get stuck in the “middle ground” between contending and rebuilding. I want to get in or get out,” Pritchard said, according to Michael (Twitter links). “Out means getting picks (and revamping the roster).”
  • Pritchard referred to the Pacers’ defense as “by far the most important thing that we have to take a look at,” as Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files tweets. It remains to be seen whether that means addressing the personnel or the coaching staff and schemes.
  • Caris LeVert is one Pacer who has yet to have his exit meeting with team management, since he remains in isolation due to the COVID-19 protocols and wants to conduct his meeting in person (Twitter link via Agness).

Caris LeVert In Protocols, Will Miss Tuesday’s Game

Pacers guard Caris LeVert has been placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols and won’t be available for tonight’s play-in game against the Hornets, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic.

LeVert is expected to miss multiple games if Indiana advances in the tournament and reaches the playoffs, sources tell Charania (Twitter link). He will likely be in the protocols for 10-14 days, Charania adds (Twitter link).

LeVert has been a valuable part of Indiana’s lineup since returning in mid-March from surgery to treat renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer. A small mass was discovered on LeVert’s kidney as part of a physical after he was traded from the Nets in January.

In 35 games with the Pacers, LeVert is averaging 20.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists per night.

The Pacers were already expected to be shorthanded on Tuesday, with Myles Turner, Jeremy Lamb, and T.J. Warren among the players sidelined due to injuries. Malcolm Brogdon (right hamstring) and Domantas Sabonis (left quad) are listed as questionable, per the team (Twitter link).

Pacers Rumors: Bjorkgren, Warren, Bayno, D’Antoni, More

Amid multiple reports suggesting that Nate Bjorkgren‘s job as the Pacers‘ head coach is in danger, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report is the latest journalist to take a deep dive into what appears to be an untenable situation in Indiana.

One league executive who has previously worked with Bjokrgren told Bleacher Report that the Pacers’ coach is “completely out of his element as a leader,” and Fischer suggests that Bjorkgren’s struggles could even end up jeopardizing the job security of veteran executives Kevin Pritchard and Chad Buchanan as well.

As Fischer explains, the Pacers may not have done enough research during the hiring process into Bjorkgren’s background or how he treated people. The head coach has been described as abrasive, particularly with assistant coaches and other staffers, with Domantas Sabonis even encouraging Bjorkgren on one occasion to be kinder to the team’s staff, per Fischer.

Bjorkgren also reportedly has a tendency to become overly agitated by minor issues, such as a ball rack being out of place during practice or a team flight being delayed for de-icing purposes, Fischer adds.

“When he was hired, I was surprised, because he’s not the easiest to work with just on anything,” said one player who previously played for Bjorkgren in the G League. “He’s kind of stubborn, won’t listen, even though it might be good conversation. He’s a micromanager and he’s not for everyone.”

Here’s more on Bjorkgren and the Pacers:

  • Sources tell Fischer that T.J. Warren, who played for the Suns when Bjorkgren was an assistant in Phoenix, requested a trade following the Pacers’ hiring of the head coach. However, a person with knowledge of the situation tells J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star “that’s BS” (Twitter link).
    [UPDATE: Fischer has now cited a source close to the situation who says Warren never formally requested a trade.]
  • When assistant coach Bill Bayno resigned in February, mental health issues were cited as the reason for his departure. Fischer hears that the veteran assistant left in large part because he was no longer able to work with Bjorkgren.
  • Assistant coach Greg Foster – who received a one-game suspension for a sideline altercation with Goga Bitadze – has also “grown agitated” by Bjorkgren’s attitude toward the staff, according to Fischer. “He doesn’t mind embarrassing his coaches,” one league executive said of the Pacers’ head coach.
  • Bjorkgren’s reluctance to call out his top veterans has impacted his credibility in the locker room, sources tell J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star, who says that even if the Pacers ultimately decide to retain their head coach for 2021/22, there will almost certainly be an overhaul of his coaching staff. Some of those coaches may want to leave voluntarily, Michael notes.
  • If Bjorkgren is let go, Mike D’Antoni is expected to once again be a candidate for the Pacers’ head coaching job, sources tell Fischer. D’Antoni drew interest from Indiana last fall.

Bjorkgren, Stotts, Budenholzer Among Coaches On Hot Seat

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Tuesday that Nate Bjorkgren‘s future as the Pacers‘ head coach is uncertain, and Shams Charania and Sam Amick echo that point in their latest report for The Athletic. According to The Athletic’s duo, Bjorkgren’s “abrasive” style and a tendency to be controlling with assistants and other staff members has been a cause for concern.

Sources tell Charania and Amick that multiple Pacers players have expressed dissatisfaction with Bjorkgren this season, with Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis among those who haven’t been on the same page with the first-year coach. Those same sources tell The Athletic that several Pacers players feel the analytical style Bjorkgren has employed doesn’t suit the team’s personnel.

The growing pains Bjorkgren has experienced in Indiana don’t necessarily mean that the Pacers will make a coaching change at season’s end, but the situation is worth keeping a close eye on, per Charania and Amick.

The two Athletic reporters also singled out a few other coaching situations worth watching around the NBA. Here are a few highlights from their report:

  • The Trail Blazers are increasingly likely to part ways with head coach Terry Stotts this offseason unless he can “pull a rabbit out of his hat” and make a deep playoff run, according to Charania and Amick. Sources tell The Athletic that Stotts has less player support this season than he has in past years. Charania and Amick identify Jason Kidd, Dave Joerger, Chauncey Billups, Brent Barry, and – if he becomes available – Nate McMillan as potential targets for Portland if the team makes a change.
  • There’s significant pressure on Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer entering the postseason, according to Charania and Amick, who say Budenholzer’s job will be in serious danger if the team is eliminated in the first two rounds. Budenholzer has one year left on his contract after 2020/21, per The Athletic’s duo.
  • Luke Walton of the Kings and Scott Brooks of the Wizards are other coaches whose job security isn’t exactly rock solid, but Charania and Amick point to financial considerations in Sacramento and a recent hot streak in D.C. as factors working in favor of Walton and Brooks keeping their jobs. Walton has a strong relationship with Kings GM Monte McNair, while Brooks is well-liked in Washington, note Charania and Amick. Still, the long-term future of Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard is also somewhat uncertain, which further clouds Brooks’ status.

Pacers’ Pritchard Talks Holiday, McMillan, Small Market, More

It’s fair to say the Pacers have underachieved relative to expectations this season. After going 45-28 and finishing fourth in the East a year ago, the team is currently just 29-32 and will likely have to win one – if not two – play-in games to earn a postseason berth next month.

Still, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard isn’t disappointed with his team’s play, telling Bob Kravitz of The Athletic that it’s hard to properly evaluate the roster, given the outsized impact the coronavirus has had on the season, as well as all the injuries Indiana has endured.

“This season has been unlike any I’ve been a part of, and it’s proven to be challenging on many fronts. I’ve got a lot of scar tissue from this season; we all do,” Pritchard said. “In some ways, it’s been less about basketball than a lot of other things. But look at it, we’re a few games within fourth, and to go through what we’ve gone through as far as injuries, I want to see how this one plays out. We could have shut it down, but we’re playing hard; we’re just severely undermanned right now.

“We’re not that far away,” Pritchard added, “but because of all these injuries now, it feels like we’re miles away.”

T.J. Warren has been sidelined for nearly the entire season, while Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, and Caris LeVert are among the others who have missed time due to injuries.

As a result, Pritchard tells Kravitz that he still isn’t sure whether the roster will require a major overhaul or just a few tweaks this offseason. He’s also not ready to draw any conclusions about the long-term viability of the Turner/Sabonis frontcourt pairing.

“I’d like to answer that after the playoffs because that’s when it really counts,” Pritchard said of the two centers. “Hopefully, Myles will be back in time.”

Here are a few more highlights from Kravitz’s Q&A with the Pacers’ president, which covers plenty of ground and is worth checking out in full if you’re an Athletic subscriber:

On Aaron Holiday‘s down year:

“We still believe in Aaron. Sometimes in a year, for whatever reason, you prepare but you have some guys playing very well at his position. I know (head coach) Nate (Bjorkgren) wants to reward the guys who played well this year, and Aaron simply hasn’t played as well. We’ll need him at some point in time, believe me. Players who stay prepared almost invariably get another shot, and he’ll get another shot, but he’ll have to hit shots and play within our system.”

On whether there are any regrets about firing Nate McMillan, who is thriving in Atlanta:

“Look, Nate is a great friend; we worked together for more than a decade. I want him to do well. He’s got a really good team, good chemistry, and they’re going to be a tough team in the playoffs. But no animosity and no regret at all. This is a transitory business. If we were dismayed by people leaving us and having success elsewhere, what would that say about us? I’m happy for Nate, just the way I’m happy for Frank Vogel.”

On Paul George and Victor Oladipo both pushing their way out of Indiana, and whether there’s concern about a perception that stars don’t want to play for the Pacers:

“I think they’re all independent situations, first of all. We obsess with making this a great place for players. … Great training facility, the best doctors in the world. And look, Malcolm (Brogdon) chose us, the Rookie of the Year chose us, and he’s had a great experience.

“We get it; we’re not for everybody. We don’t have the beach and the big city, but it’s a great place to play basketball in front of people who truly appreciate when you play the right way. Great fans, educated fans, great facilities, and I always say this now: Players get marketed all around the world. Social media could be the great equalizer. You can be in a smaller market and still have a national profile.”

On how to deal with the challenge of being a small-market team:

“We’ve done some things well and haven’t done some things well, but for us, it almost feels like you have to play a perfect game to be hyper-competitive. There are teams who can make personnel mistakes; we really can’t. Our biggest source of players is trades, and that’s really tough. Trades are challenging. I feel good about the ones we’ve made, and we have to draft better, and we will, but I still have a ton of confidence in our scouting staff. It’s just, yes, it’s a major challenge given the fact that the bifurcation of the top teams seems to be getting greater in comparison with the mid- and small-market teams. That’s something we’re always going to have to deal with.”

Central Notes: Osman, Holiday, Pacers, Pistons Rookies

Cedi Osman has temporarily regained a rotation spot, giving the Cavaliers forward another shot to prove his value before the season ends, Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes. Due to injuries, Osman made his first start since March 26 and his first appearance since April 14 on Sunday. Osman, whose front-loaded contract lasts through the 2023/24 season, had 19 points and five assists in 37 minutes.

“It was a lot of him putting the time in and working on his own game,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “I think he had some struggles early on, but I believe that Cedi is a good basketball player. And when given the opportunity, when playing with confidence and playing assertive, he can have an impact on the game.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Jrue Holiday is the biggest reason why the Bucks are a different team than last season, according to Eric Nehm of The Athletic, and Nehm breaks down some of Holiday’s plays over the weekend to demonstrate his impact. Holiday signed a four-year extension worth up to $160MM earlier this month.
  • The Pacers have played well using small-ball lineups with Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner sidelined by injuries and that should help them in the postseason, according to J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star“It makes us a better team because guys get time on the floor, which means, come playoff time, if those guys play they’ll be ready,” Justin Holiday said. “Whatever happens I think we’re going to be ready for it.”
  • Pistons rookies Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart are all receiving rotation minutes, prompting Pistons.com’s Keith Langlois to review past drafts to see how other teams with three or more first-rounders in the same year fared with their selections — so far, Detroit stacks up favorably to those clubs.