Domantas Sabonis

Harden, Giannis, George Named MVP Finalists

Defending champion James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George are the finalists for this season’s Most Valuable Player award, the league announced in a press release.

The voting is expected to be close between Harden, who averaged 36.1 PPG and 7.5 APG during the regular season, and Antetokounmpo, who carried the Bucks to the best record in the league while averaging 27.7 PPG, 12.5 RPG and 5.9 APG. George averaged 28.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 4.1 APG.

[RELATED: Hoops Rumors’ 2019 NBA Award Picks: Most Valuable Player]

The league also released the finalists for its other awards. The winners will be revealed during a TNT broadcast on Monday, June 24.

Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Trae Young are the finalists for the Rookie of the Year award, while Lou Williams heads the field for the Sixth Man award. His Clippers teammate, Montrezl Harrell, and Domantas Sabonis are the other finalists.

Antetokounmpo and George are also finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year award along with Rudy GobertDe’Aaron Fox, D’Angelo Russell and Pascal Siakam will vie for the Most Improved Player honor, while Mike Budenholzer, Michael Malone and Doc Rivers received the most votes for the Coach of the Year award.

Pacers Notes: Free Agency, Bogdanovic, Oladipo

Heading into the 2019 offseason, the Pacers expect to have about $43-45MM in cap room available to spend, president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said today at his end-of-season press conference, per Scott Agness of The Athletic (Twitter link).

“I think that brings a lot of excitement and I think that allows for us to be super aggressive,” Pritchard said of the team’s financial situation, adding that the Pacers expect to highlight their strong culture as a primary selling point to free agents.

Asked about the Pacers’ potential spending power, Pritchard indicated that no significant restrictions have been placed on him by ownership, as Agness relays (via Twitter)

“(Team owner) Herb (Simon) wants to win. We set a budget. It’s a very high budget, I’ll tell you that,” Pritchard said. “Herb has never told me ‘No’ if it makes the team better. Not one time. … I want to think big.”

Here’s more on the Pacers:

  • Bojan Bogdanovic will be the Pacers’ most notable free agent this summer, and Pritchard expects plenty of competition for the veteran swingman. “We would like to have extensive talks with Bojan. The truth is he’s a complete (unrestricted) free agent so he’s gonna have interest. You can feel that already,” Pritchard said today (Twitter link). “On July 1, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a long conversation with Bojan.”
  • There’s still no timeline for Victor Oladipo‘s return to the court, but Pritchard said Indiana’s injured star is “coming along nicely,” with the focus still on his ongoing physical therapy (Twitter link via Agness).
  • Pritchard feels good about the No. 18 pick in the draft, but suggested that the team would be “open-minded” and “aggressive” about moving up or down in the draft, tweets Agness. “I would not be surprised if that pick is not the pick we pick,” Pritchard said.
  • Pritchard praised young big man Domantas Sabonis, suggesting that the team would like to find a way to get him a bigger role next season (Twitter link via Agness). Sabonis will be eligible for a rookie scale extension starting in July.

Eastern Notes: Celtics, Giannis, Dragic, Heat, Pacers

The Celtics picked up their defensive intensity to seal an impressive Game 1 road win over the Bucks on Sunday, swarming the paint and putting an emphasis on slowing down Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo’s primary defender, Al Horford, recorded three blocks (two of which were on him). The Celtics as a whole held the Bucks to just 35% shooting from the floor, including a 7-for-21 performance from Antetokounmpo. Boston’s energy drained Milwaukee, leading to the dominate 112-90 win.

“They were loading [the paint] a lot,” Antetokounmpo said, according to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “Lots of guys in the paint. Whenever I got in the paint, when I spin or try and change direction, the second guy was right there.

“I’ve just gotta go watch tape. If they are going to play like this the whole series, I have to be able to make the right pass, trust my teammates to knock down shots.”

For Horford and the Celtics, containing Antetokounmpo was the game plan entering Game 1. The next challenge for Boston is dealing with Milwaukee’s adjustments entering Game 2 on Tuesday night.

“I just think that our group, we all understood how we needed to defend and how dangerous he is once he gets it in the paint,” Horford said of Antetokounmpo. “So constantly tonight, we had a couple of breakdowns, but for the most part, I feel like everyone was very aware. Our guards really did a good job of helping and closing down lanes and things like that, and we just wanted to challenge and contest every shot as best we could.”

There’s more out of the Eastern Conference tonight:

  • The Heat could wait it out with Goran Dragic entering the final season of his contract, Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel writes. Dragic will decide in the coming weeks whether to exercise his $19.2MM player option for next season, though Winderman notes it wouldn’t be beneficial for the team to extend him on a cheaper, multi-year deal that cuts into future cap space. Should Dragic opt into his player option, he’d become an unrestricted free agent in July of 2020.
  • Miami has a long way to go before achieving star status in the East, Winderman writes in a separate article for The Sun Sentinel. The Heat essentially have the same roster situation they did a year ago (minus the fact that Dwyane Wade has retired), leaving more questions than answers about the organization entering this summer. The team is coming off a disappointing 2018/19 season that saw them finish at 39-43, the sixth worst record in the conference.
  • The Pacers would be smart to consider trading one of Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis this summer, Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star opines. Indiana was swept by Boston in the first round of the playoffs this spring, failing to effectively play without injured star Victor Oladipo.

Central Notes: Sabonis, Middleton, Griffin, Pitino

After giving Myles Turner a four-year, $70MM extension last summer, the Pacers will likely be reluctant to make a similar move this year with Domantas Sabonis, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Both players are primarily centers and it’s difficult to use them together in a league where downsizing is the trend. Sabonis is extension-eligible this summer and will hit free agency next year if the Pacers don’t work out a deal.

Coach Nate McMillan put Turner and Sabonis on the court together occasionally this year to gauge their effectiveness. That strategy worked during the regular season, Bontemps notes, as the Pacers outscored opponents by 3.1 points per 100 possessions, but the Celtics have exploited the pairing in the playoffs.

This offseason will be vital is charting the future in Indiana, where six key players will be unrestricted free agents. Starters Darren CollisonWesley MatthewsBojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young will be joined on the market by rotation members Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans. Bontemps notes that owner Herb Simon is reluctant to go into the luxury tax, so some difficult decisions will have to be made.

There’s more this morning from the Central Division:

  • Bucks swingman Khris Middleton, who is headed for a major payday in free agency, learned about the business side of the league as a rookie with the Pistons in 2013, writes Vince Ellis of The Detroit Free Press. Detroit legend Tayshaun Prince was traded during the season, then Middleton got shipped to Milwaukee over the summer. “You get a reminder of what this league is about, how it’s a business and business decisions are made,” Middleton said. “It’s nothing personal. It’s all about the organization. You see stuff like that, right in front of your face, you always hear about it, but hey, you learn anything can happen in this league. You got to be prepared for it and be ready to move on.”
  • Blake Griffin returned to action last night, but he couldn’t help the Pistons overcome the Bucks, relays Rod Beard of The Detroit News. Griffin, who missed the first two games of the series with swelling and pain in his left knee, wore a heavy brace under a leg sleeve as he scored 27 points in 31 minutes.
  • The Cavaliers are denying a report that they have talked to Rick Pitino in their coaching search, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com“False. We are, respectfully, not interested in him at all,” a source told Fedor. “No conversations with him by (team chairman) Dan (Gilbert) or anyone else.”

Central Notes: Pistons, Bullock, Bucks, Pacers

Although the Pistons traded Reggie Bullock to the Lakers at last month’s trade deadline, Vince Ellis of The Detroit Free Press says he gets the impression that Bullock would be open to returning to Detroit as a free agent this offseason (Twitter link). The Pistons would likely reciprocate that interest, though it would depend on Bullock’s price tag, Ellis adds (via Twitter).

With the Pistons projected to be over the cap next season, they’ll be limited to a few modest exceptions, including the mid-level, as they attempt to upgrade their roster. Signing a three-point shooter like Bullock – or perhaps current Piston Wayne Ellington – will be a priority, but Detroit figures to commit part of its MLE to a point guard, Ellis notes. Reggie Jackson remains under contract for another season, but Ish Smith, a key part of the club’s rotation, will be a free agent.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • After officially signing Tim Frazier today, the Bucks are now only about $250K below the tax line, tweets cap expert Albert Nahmad. As Nahmad explains, Tony Snell can earn up to $400K in bonus money if Milwaukee wins the Finals, but the team should be on track to stay out of the tax if it falls short of a title — or if Christian Wood is claimed on waivers tomorrow.
  • In a pair of recent pieces by Sam Amick and Scott Agness of The Athletic, Indiana executives revisited the Paul George trade that turned into a rare win-win for both the Pacers and Thunder. “I think it worked out good for Paul, and I think it’s working out pretty well for us,” consultant Donnie Walsh said of the deal, per Amick.
  • In Agness’ story on that trade with the Thunder, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard raves about Domantas Sabonis, who gets somewhat overlooked as the only non-All-Star (so far) involved in the swap. “When we looked at all the deals, once we heard ‘Sabonis’ is when I said, ‘I’m in. I want to do this,'” Pritchard said. “And I asked everybody around the room, ‘Is everybody on board?’ As soon as that happened, we got pretty excited about that.”
  • Dwane Casey‘s ability to respond to adversity, which has been on display throughout his first season with the Pistons, is one reason why owner Tom Gores hired him as the club’s head coach last spring, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com. Despite a 9-22 stretch earlier in the season, Detroit currently holds the East’s No. 6 seed.

Pacers Notes: Free Agency, Sabonis, Oladipo

Struggling would-be contenders like the Celtics and Lakers could learn a lesson from the Pacers, who have bounced back impressively after losing star guard Victor Oladipo for the season, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com.

Within his examination of the Pacers’ ability to battle through adversity, Windhorst notes that the club’s leaders – head coach Nate McMillan, president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard, and GM Chad Buchanan – have an “open-door policy” when it comes to discussing players’ upcoming free agency — they aren’t afraid to sit down and talk to a player about his situation if he wants to, and have attempted to be transparent in those discussions.

As Windhorst observes, the Pacers’ rotation is stacked with players in contract years. Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, and Tyreke Evans are among those who will be unrestricted free agents this summer. With long-term uncertainty facing so many of Indiana’s vets, the work McMillan has done to keep them all on the same page this season is impressive.

Here’s more from out of Indiana:

  • Chris Sikich of The Indianapolis Star provides the latest updates on a piece of legislation aimed in part at keeping the Pacers in Indiana for the next 25 years. As Sikich explains, the bill, which the Indiana Senate voted in favor of this week, would see the Pacers chip in about $63MM in new money for facility upgrades and would give the team until next April to negotiate a new long-term lease for the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
  • Domantas Sabonis has been diagnosed with a left ankle sprain and may be forced out of action for the Pacers’ next few games, as J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star details. “He’s got a lot of swelling,” McMillan said. “He’s going to be out for a couple games. He’s not walking with crutches, but he can’t put a lot of pressure on it.” In Sabonis’ absence, frontcourt players like Kyle O’Quinn and T.J. Leaf could get the opportunity to play increased roles.
  • Speaking of injured Pacers, while Oladipo won’t be able to return this season, he’s making progress in his rehab work. As Ameer Tyree of Sporting News passes along, Oladipo’s trainer recently posted a video of the All-Star guard working on his handle while wearing a leg brace.

Latest On Mike Conley, Marc Gasol Suitors

The Jazz and Grizzlies have explored a trade involving Mike Conley and Ricky Rubio, and Zach Lowe of ESPN.com hears that Utah’s interest in the former No. 4 overall pick is “very real.” The organization could feasibly build a package around Rubio and Derrick Favors, who are both on expiring deals, while peppering in a draft pick or two.

Utah is reportedly unimpressed with the 2019 draft class and their first-round pick is on the table in trade talks. It’s unclear if the Jazz would toss in a second first-round pick for Conley, though it would be a surprising development. Lowe speculates that Dante Exum could be in the mix as part of a package, adding that the Jazz could move on to more affordable targets, such as Nikola Mirotic, if the price for Conley remains too high.

The Conley sweepstakes are expected to heat up as we get closer to the deadline and surprise suitors could emerge. Lowe passes along more from Memphis regarding their two biggest stars:

  • Marc Gasol is hoping for a trade and teams are waiting to see if the Grizzlies lower the asking price for their long-time center, Lowe reports. As for a potential Pistons-Grizzlies deal, Memphis has not shown any interest in acquiring Andre Drummond yet and Lowe hears that Detroit may be saving its trade chips for someone else.
  • The Pistons and Grizzlies have talked about a Conley deal, though discussions did not get very far. Detroit would likely have to ship out Reggie Jackson is a trade for Conley.
  • While Conley would be a nice on-court fit for the Pacers, Indiana has stepped away from Conley talks, sources tell Lowe. Lowe speculates that the Grizzlies would likely ask for Domantas Sabonis is a Conley deal, something that wouldn’t appeal to the Pacers.
  • The Jazz would have interest in signing Tobias Harris this summer should they not trade for Conley or make a major move at the deadline that utilizes their future cap space. The Clippers have received calls for Harris, per Lowe, though rival teams get the sense that they have no interest in trading him. Lowe adds that Los Angeles would be happy to re-sign Harris in the offseason.
  • The Kings are not as interested in Gasol as reports and speculation might suggest. Sacramento doesn’t appear to be willing to hand over a future first-rounder in exchange for the big man, as the club owes its 2019 pick to Boston (Philadelphia gets the selection if it’s the No. 1 pick).

Central Notes: Budenholzer, Sexton, Sabonis

The Bucks credit new coach Mike Budenholzer for their hot start, as Nick Friedell of ESPN relays. The Bucks’ offense has more structure than it did under former coach Jason Kidd and interim coach Joe Prunty, multiple players told Friedell and other media members. “We have multiple sets we can get into, we have — just more of a foundation to play off of rather than just freestyle,” guard Malcolm Brogdon said. The players are displaying trust in the system, which emphasizes 3-point shots and ball movement, Friedell adds. “I think teams are starting to take notice and realize we’re not the Bucks that we were when I first got here six years ago,” small forward Khris Middleton said. “We’re a totally different team even from last year.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Cavaliers coach Larry Drew is going to ride the team’s first-round pick and he’s told the rest of the team to buy in. Drew has instructed his veterans that they need to allow rookie point guard Collin Sexton to work through his mistakes, according to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer“I actually pulled some guys to the side when we were in Orlando (on Monday),” Drew said. “That was my exact point — having to be patient with a 19-year-old kid.”
  • Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis is off to a hot start and that presents a tricky dilemma for the front office, Zach Lowe of ESPN notes. Myles Turner signed a four-year, $72MM extension last month but Sabonis has thus far outplayed him. Statistics bear out that Indiana’s offense suffers when both are on the court, though Turner has a higher ceiling because of his 3-point shooting and rim protection, Lowe continues. Sabonis is eligible for an extension prior to the start of next season but it’s tough to pay big bucks for two players at the same position, Lowe adds.
  • The Pistons rank among the top 10 in the league in open 3-point attempts, yet they’ve done a poor job of making them. Meanwhile, the Bulls have been bit hard by the injury bug. Spencer Davies of Basketball Insiders takes a closer look at some of the areas of concern for Central Division clubs.

Central Notes: Turner, Hill, Bucks, Sabonis

Pacers center Myles Turner has struggled since signing his contract extension with the team, averaging 11.3 points and 4.8 rebounds in 12 starts this season. He faced criticism after Wednesday’s game against Joel Embiid and the Sixers, only to have a teammate immediately jump to his defense.

“I think he shouldn’t concern himself with what people are saying or thinking,” Victor Oladipo said of Turner, according to Jim Ayello of the Indianapolis Star. “He’s just got to play within himself. He’ll figure it out. He’s still young. I’m not making no more excuses for him, but the truth of the matter is he’s just got to find it within himself.

“He’s perfectly fine,” Oladipo continued. “He’s going to find his groove, and then everybody’s going to be like, ‘Whoa, he’s playing great. So what do you think about him playing great?’

“Everybody’s so quick to judge someone when they don’t play well. But everybody’s not in here. Nobody is in his shoes. Nobody’s putting on the jersey he’s putting on. Nobody’s out there playing the game he’s playing. So you can’t really judge him. We have no right to. But people are going to anyway. Me, personally, I really don’t care what people think about him. I love him to death. His upside is huge, and he’s just going to continue to keep getting better. And when he figures it out, watch out.”

Turner is well-liked in the Pacers organization and is in his fourth season with the team. Despite struggling to effectively rebound, he remains an intriguing two-way player with plenty of room to grow in his NBA career.

Here are some other notes from the Northwest:

  • Cavaliers guard George Hill will miss approximately one to two weeks with a shoulder sprain, the team confirmed. Hill was evaluated at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health on Thursday, where he underwent an MRI that revealed the sprain. He will now undergo a period of treatment and rehabilitation.
  • Stephen Curry believes this season’s Bucks are similar to the Warriors in their first season without Mark Jackson. “They’re very similar to four years ago here,” Curry said, according to Mark Medina of the The Mercury News (Twitter link). “A change of scenery sometimes helps. You get a little boost of energy, a little shift in focus and perspective. And that little bit (of a) difference can unlock something. It’s still early. They’re taking care of business like they should. It’s important when you have that much potential to get off to a good start.”
  • Domantas Sabonis‘ solid play could shift the Pacers‘ rotation this season, Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star contends. Sabonis could work his way into the starting center position, which would force Myles Turner to either play off the bench or share the frontcourt with him.

Pacers Exercise 2019/20 Options On Sabonis, Leaf

SEPTEMBER 26: The Pacers have officially exercised their 2019/20 options on both Sabonis and Leaf, the club confirmed today in a press release.

SEPTEMBER 24: The Pacers will exercise their options on the rookie contracts of Domantas Sabonis and T.J. Leaf, tweets Scott Agness of The Athletic. Team president Kevin Pritchard confirmed the moves, which are contingent on both players passing physicals.

Sabonis, who will have a cap charge of $3,529,555 in 2019/20, was a pleasant surprise in his first year with Indiana after being acquired in a trade with the Thunder. He averaged 11.6 points and 7.7 rebounds in 74 games, mostly as a reserve. He’ll be extension-eligible as of July 1, 2019.

Leaf, the 18th pick in the 2017 draft, got into 53 games as a rookie, averaging 2.9 PPG and 1.5 RPG. He will have a $2,813,280 cap hit for 2019/20. The Pacers will have to make a decision on his fourth-year option next fall.