Ekpe Udoh

International Notes: Australia, China, Turkey, EuroLeague

After canceling the remainder of their best-of-five Grand Final series earlier this week due to the coronavirus pandemic, Australia’s National Basketball League announced today that the Perth Wildcats have been crowned champions for 2019/20. Perth was leading the Sydney Kings 2-1 in the series when it was canceled.

In a statement, NBL owner and executive chairman Larry Kestelman and commissioner Jeremy Loeliger explained the decision and announced that former standout Providence guard Bryce Cotton has been named the Grand Final MVP.

The NBL’s press releases this week have made it clear that the league’s decision to cancel the rest of the Grand Final series was made in large part because the Kings expressed they weren’t comfortable with continuing to play those games. Bogut, who said Sydney’s decision was made after “almost three hours of back and forth (and plenty of tears),” registered his displeasure with the way the NBL handled things.

“I want to go on record to say I am beyond embarrassed and disappointed in regards to how this was handled by our league from the week leading up to the Grand Final series. More to come at a later date re: that,” Bogut wrote in a Twitter note.This has nothing to do with the result announced today and I wish to congratulate the Perth Wildcats on being crowned Champions.”

Here’s more international news from basketball leagues around the world:

  • Jeremy Lin, Ekpe Udoh, and Antonio Blakeney are among the players who have now returned to China and will begin a two-week quarantine before returning to their respective CBA teams, per Emiliano Carchia of Sportando (Twitter links).
  • The Turkish government has made the decision to suspend all sports in the country, including basketball, Carchia writes in a story at Sportando. Players in Turkey expressed dismay last week that games were continuing amid the coronavirus outbreak, as we noted at the time.
  • The EuroLeague issued an update on the postponement of its season, addressing whether or not players are allowed to leave their respective cities, what will happen with this year’s EuroLeague Final Four, and much more. Carchia has the full memo at Sportando.

World Cup Updates: Lithuania, Joseph, Nigeria, France

The Lithuanian national team has announced its roster for the 2019 World Cup, according to Donatas Urbonas, who tweets that the 12-man squad will include Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas and Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis in the frontcourt. Former Knicks forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas is also on the roster.

Lithuania is viewed as a contender to make a deep run in this year’s tournament, but it won’t have an easy path to even make it out of the first round. The Lithuanian national team is part of a group that also includes Australia, Canada, and Senegal — only two of those clubs will advance to the round of 16.

Here’s more on the 2019 World Cup, which will tip off in just four days in China:

Ekpe Udoh To Play In China

Free agent Ekpe Udoh has agreed to a one-year deal with the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association, per a report from Nikos Varlas of Eurohoops.

Per Varlas, the 32-year-old big man who last played for the Jazz during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons after being drafted No. 6 overall by the Warriors back in 2010, will become the highest-paid non-Chinese player in the CBA.

Confirming Eurohoops’ report, Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News adds that Udoh was strongly considering a return to the EuroLeague (where he played from 2015 to 2017), with reportedly up to five multi-million dollar offers from strong franchises in Spain, Italy and Turkey on the table.

A seven-year NBA veteran, Udoh holds career averages of 3.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 0.7 assists in 14.8 minutes per game. In addition to the potential financial incentive of heading overseas, Udoh also figures to play a more prominent role in China than he did in the NBA. After all, he was successful enough to earn Final Four MVP during his previous stint overseas.

Free Agent Rumors: Clippers, Nets, Knicks, Kyrie, KD, More

While the Clippers are generally grouped together with the rest of the Los Angeles and New York teams leading up to free agency as the big-market franchises looking to make a major splash on the free agent market, the Clips’ plans may look a little different than what those other clubs have in mind, writes Jovan Buha of The Athletic.

As Buha explains, the Clippers are unlikely to pursue top point guards like Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker due to their “steadfast belief” in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has been considered untouchable in trade talks.

Additionally, the Clippers likely won’t attempt to sign a second- or third-tier free agent like Khris Middleton or Tobias Harris unless it’s on a short-term deal, according to Buha, who points out that the team traded away Harris because it didn’t want to cap the roster’s ceiling at “good” instead of “great.”

Instead, the Clippers will focus on the top two free agents in this year’s free agent class – Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard – as well as top trade candidate Anthony Davis. If L.A. is unable to land one of those superstars, the organization figures to remain patient, avoiding a reactionary signing or trade and instead shifting its attention to re-signing its own free agents and making smaller moves, says Buha.

As we wait to see how that plan plays out, let’s round up a few more rumors and notes related to free agency:

  • Within his full report on Kyrie Irving‘s agent change, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski shares some intriguing tidbits on two of this summer’s top free agents. Sources tell Wojnarowski that Irving remains “intensely interested” in the Nets, with the Knicks expected to remain competitive for the star point guard. Both New York teams are still interested in signing Irving and Kevin Durant together, even after KD’s Achilles tear, according to Woj.
  • There’s a feeling in both NBA circles and in the Nets‘ front office that Brooklyn will land at least one star free agent this offseason, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post.
  • Marc Berman of The New York Post explores some potential Plan Bs for the Knicks in the event that they miss out on Durant or back off their pursuit of the two-time Finals MVP at all following his Achilles injury.
  • The Jazz appear likely to lose veterans Ekpe Udoh and Thabo Sefolosha in free agency, according to Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune, who examines the impact the duo had on Utah’s locker room over the last couple seasons.

Ekpe Udoh Considering Return To EuroLeague

Jazz center Ekpe Udoh will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and there’s no guarantee he’ll remain in the NBA. According to Eric Woodyard of The Deseret News, Udoh is drawing significant interest from a handful of EuroLeague teams.

A source tells Woodyard that Udoh has “up to four or five multi-million-dollar offers” on the table from teams in Spain, Italy, and Turkey. Woodyard adds that if Udoh is interested in playing overseas, he could look to reach an agreement within the next week.

Udoh, who began his career with the Warriors in 2010 after being selected sixth overall in that year’s draft, remained in the NBA through the 2014/15 season, then joined Turkish team Fenerbahce for two years. He won a EuroLeague title with the club in 2017 and was named the EuroLeague Final Four MVP before heading back to the NBA with the Jazz.

Now that his contract with Utah is set to expire, the veteran big man could be intrigued by a return to Europe, where he’d have a more sizable role than the one he has had in the NBA. In 114 total games for the Jazz over the last two seasons, Udoh averaged 2.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG, and 0.9 BPG in limited minutes (9.9 MPG). He’s open to staying in the NBA, depending on his role, sources tell Tony Jones of The Athletic (Twitter link).

If Udoh remains in the NBA, he and his representatives will be able to talk to and meet with potential suitors beginning at the end of June. There’s nothing stopped European teams from reaching out to his camp before then, since they’re not subject to the NBA’s anti-tampering rules.

Jazz Notes: Favors, Ingles, Sefolosha, Udoh

The Jazz have until July 6 to decide whether to keep Derrick Favors for another season, but the 27-year-old power forward is certain that he wants to stay in Utah, writes Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. The Jazz hold a team option on Favors’ $17.65MM salary for next season and will have close to a week to examine the free agent market before making a final decision.

“I have a team option; I need that option picked up! I would prefer to come back here,” Favors told Walden. “The grass is not always greener on the other side. … I’m happy in the situation that I’m in, in the position that I’m in — I think it’s good for me and the organization.”

Utah can open enough cap room to make a maximum offer by letting Favors go. While that’s enticing, several Jazz players are lobbying for the team to keep Favors, and GM Dennis Lindsey admits that he has enormous value.

There’d be no playoffs this season without Derrick, no playoff advancement the two previous years,” Lindsey said. “I get it, I get it — obviously, Jae [Crowder] comes in and we have some more mobility and spacing. … [But] Derrick Favors isn’t part of the problem, he’s part of the solution.”

There’s more today from Utah:

  • After winning 50, 48 and 51 games the past three seasons, it’s time for the Jazz to take some chances to reach the next level, contends Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. That may mean parting with Favors, along with Kyle Korver and Royce O’Neale, who also have non-guaranteed contracts, and letting unrestricted free agents Ricky Rubio and Raul Neto move on. Deveney suggests finding a Rubio replacement by resuming talks with the Grizzlies about Mike Conley or targeting Nets restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell. While Tobias Harris would fit perfectly, Deveney believes he will stay with the Sixers and sees the Bucks’ Malcolm Brogdon as a possible alternative.
  • Joe Ingles could be switched to a sixth-man role if the Jazz are able to make an upgrade at the wing this summer, according to Mike Sorensen of The Deseret News. Ingles improved as a playmaker this year and his durability makes him valuable however the team decides to use him.
  • As free agents over the age of 30, Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh both face uncertain futures in Utah, Sorensen adds in a separate story“I’m going to keep my options open and see what makes sense,” Sefolosha said. “Like I say, I had a great experience here for two years and I think it would be great if I can come back and keep working with this group and keep evolving.”

Northwest Notes: McCollum, Diallo, Udoh, Thomas

Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey doesn’t seem inclined to break up his smallish backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Dan Feldman of NBC Sports notes. Olshey recently said he plans to keep his core group together, despite the team’s first-round flameout in the Western Conference playoffs last season. It might be wise to deal one of them for an impact forward but either Olshey has great faith in his guards or he’s tested the market and couldn’t find a worthwhile deal, Feldman adds.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Hamidou Diallo feels a sense of relief after signing a contract with the Thunder but isn’t sure what kind of role he can carve out, Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman reports. The second-round rookie shooting guard was acquired in a draft-night deal. “We haven’t even spoken about a role yet,” Diallo told Dawson. “We’re still playing pickup ball and stuff like that, still training. Guys are just coming in, veteran players, and trying to teach us as much as possible as early as possible.” Diallo, who received a three-year, $4MM contract, will compete with newcomers Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Abdel Nader for backup minutes.
  • The Jazz brought back big man Ekpe Udoh because of his defense and positive attitude, according to Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune. Udoh was signed by Utah last season because of his reputation as a strong defender and he lived up to that billing, posting an average of 1.2 blocks per game. He also showed a superior ability to guard on the perimeter during switches and pick-and-rolls, Jones continues. Udoh, who will serve as the team’s third center, never complained last season when his role diminished, Jones adds. Udoh had his $3.36MM salary guaranteed last month.
  • Nuggets guard Isaiah Thomas had to settle for a one-year, $2MM contract in free agency but he’s determined to be a major bargain for his new team, as he told Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports“This has been tough, but it was only a tough year because I wasn’t healthy. My job is to get as healthy as I possibly can and then show the world what I’m capable of doing,” he said.

Jazz To Guarantee Ekpe Udoh’s 2018/19 Salary

The Jazz have informed center Ekpe Udoh and his representatives that they intend to keep him on their roster, guaranteeing his salary for the 2018/19 season, league sources tell Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune.

Udoh, 31, returned to the NBA in 2017 after a two-season absence, inking a two-year deal with the Jazz. However, that contract was only guaranteed for the first year. Utah could have avoided the second-year guarantee for Udoh by waiving him today. Instead, his $3.36MM salary will become guaranteed.

Udoh didn’t have a significant role with the Jazz in 2017/18, averaging just 12.6 MPG in 63 contests. However, he showed off his impressive shot-blocking ability in those limited minutes, posting 1.2 BPG. As Jones writes, the big man also provided veteran leadership to younger teammates in the locker room.

With Udoh set to return, Utah’s roster for 2018/19 is all but set, according to Jones. The Jazz entered the offseason with seven players on guaranteed contracts. They’ve subsequently drafted Grayson Allen, re-signed Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto, and guaranteed salaries for Thabo Sefolosha and Udoh.

Royce O’Neale‘s non-guaranteed salary is also a lock to be guaranteed, which increases the club’s roster count to 14 players, leaving one spot on the projected 15-man roster. For now, David Stockton occupies that spot, but he also doesn’t have a guaranteed salary. If the Jazz do add a 15th man in Stockton’s place, it figures to be a younger player, sources tell Jones.

Georges Niang, who is a two-way restricted free agent for the team, could be a candidate for that last roster spot based on his Summer League play so far.

Northwest Notes: Udoh, Thunder, Tolliver, Blazers

The Jazz have been relatively generous during free agency so far this summer compared to most teams, handing out a two-year, $36MM contract to forward Derrick Favors, agreeing to a three-year, $33MM deal with backup guard Dante Exum, and reaching terms on a two-year, $4MM pact with seldom-used guard Raul Neto.

Furthermore, Utah has already guaranteed the 2018/19 salary of Thabo Sefolosha, who was limited to only 39 games last season. As such, it would appear that the Jazz are intent on sticking with their 2017/18 roster for now, which means that both Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh can be cautiously optimistic while waiting for their 2018/19 salary to become guaranteed.

Udoh in particular, who averaged 2.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 63 games for the Jazz last season, and whose $3.36MM salary becomes fully guaranteed if he remains on Utah’s roster past July 9, is trying to remain positive while awaiting Utah’s decision on his future, writes Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News.

“You know, we’ll see what happens,” Udoh told the Deseret News. “I’m grateful. I’m getting great workouts at the facility. I’ve been here pretty much since the season has been over outside of a couple trips, but I’ve just been getting in good work.”

Per Woodyard, Udoh is excited and prepared to return in a Jazz uniform next season, but also understands the business-like nature of the NBA.

“It’s gonna be a fun season,” Udoh said. “The West has gotten better but we’ve gotten better and we’re gonna be the same team next year. Starting last year, you didn’t know what you were going to get with so many new pieces, but now we’ll be ready from the beginning.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes that although Paul George did in fact want to be a Laker at this time last year, he is now happy in Oklahoma City after signing a four-year, $137MM max contract with the Thunder on the eve of free agency.
  • According to Jerry Zgoda of the Star TribuneTimberwolves’ free-agent signee forward Anthony Tolliver chose a return to Minnesota over four other pursuing teams because of the familiarity he has for the franchise – he played for the Wolves from 2010 to 2012 – and because “(he) want(s) to win.”
  • While it’s probably a bit bold to get too excited about the free agent signing of a backup, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes that the addition of 24 year-old center Nerlens Noel on a minimum-salary deal is a low-risk, high-reward move by the Thunder.
  • Per Joe Freeman of The Oregonian, a couple of key subplots have emerged for the Trail Blazers during the team’s summer league minicamp. First, it’s an opportunity for Portland to get a first-hand look at rookies Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. in an NBA practice. Moreover, both Wade Baldwin and Georgios Papagiannis are fighting for their NBA lives while Jake Layman looks to secure a more prominent role for next season.

Jazz Notes: Team Options, Coaching Staff, Williams-Goss

The Jazz will look internally to improve over the course of the upcoming offseason rather than chase major acquisitions via trade of free agency, general manager Dennis Lindsey said. Ryan McDonald of The Deseret News writes that there are plenty of players on board with room to grow.

Not only will Jazz fans wait with anticipation as Donovan Mitchell rounds out his game for his sophomore season but for returning veterans like Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio to raise theirs for 2018/19, too.

All told, even without making a major transaction splash, it’s conceivable that the vastly improved Jazz take another leap forward next season. Not bad considering that they won’t have the luxury of picking in the lottery this year given their success.

McDonalds writes that one area that the club should be particularly focused on improving is offensive production off the bench. Outside of oft-injured guard Dante Exum there aren’t many players on the current roster who pack a strong scoring punch off the bench.

There’s more out of Utah tonight:

  • When free agency resumes, the Jazz will have to make decisions on three veteran players. Jody Genessy of The Deseret News writes that all of Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh and Jonas Jerebko have team options in their contracts for 2018/19 and will have to wait until July before they find out whether they’ll be back on board for next season.
  • Despite the loss of assistant coach Igor Kokoskov, who will serve as the head coach of the Suns in 2018/19, the impression for now is that the Jazz will return the same coaching staff next season, Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune tweets.
  • Draft-and-stash prospect Nigel Williams-Goss, selected by the Jazz with the 55th pick in 2017, has drawn attention from a number of EuroLeague teams for next season, Orazio Cauchi of Sportando writes.