Giannis Antetokounmpo

Central Notes: Bledsoe, Giannis, McKinnie, Cavs, Bulls

After a report earlier this week suggested the Bucks would be willing to trade starting point guard Eric Bledsoe, Jon Horst told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report in no uncertain terms that’s not the case.

“We have no talked to any teams about trading [Bledsoe], since the day that we traded for him,” the Bucks GM said. “And I think it’s evident, pretty strongly, in the fact that we extended Eric, what he means to us.

“The fact that we currently have the best record in the NBA, had the best record last year in the NBA, he’s an All-NBA First Team defender and a guy that we feel strongly should be an All-Star for the Milwaukee Bucks this year. We have not had those conversations, and we are not going to trade Eric Bledsoe.”

It’s hard to imagine the Bucks doing anything too drastic to shake up their roster at the trade deadline next month, considering the team is on a 71-win pace. Bledsoe did struggle in the postseason last spring, so he’ll be under the microscope in this year’s playoffs. If he underperforms again, perhaps Horst’s stance changes, but the veteran point guard looks safe for now.

Here’s more from around the Central:

Central Notes: Carter Jr., Giannis, McKinnie, Bulls

Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. believes he could return from his severe ankle injury ahead of schedule, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes.

Carter injured his ankle on January 6 and was initially given a four-to-six week timetable after undergoing an MRI. The 20-year-old was posting season averages of 11.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 30 minutes before going down to injury.

“Definitely closer to the four[-week side],’’ Carter said on his potential return, as relayed by Cowley. “My progress has been really good lately, so definitely closer to the four than the six.’’

The Bulls have a 3-4 record since losing Carter, who emphasized that he’s been working on his upper-body strength and watching film during rehab. He’ll likely return just before All-Star Weekend, which is set to commence between on February 14.

“It’s still pretty frustrating, but at the same time, I think everything happens for a reason,’’ Carter said. “That’s something I strongly believe in, so it’s frustrating because I’m a competitor, but on the back end it’s like, ‘OK, this happened for a reason or it could have been worse.’ Just take it in and try to get it better every day.’’

There’s more out of the Central Division tonight:

  • Sam Amick of The Athletic examines how the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo have quieted speculation regarding his 2021 unrestricted free agency, where he’s expected to garner interest from multiple teams. Milwaukee has the league’s best record at 38-6, winning its last six games. Their success has been fueled by Antetokounmpo and his MVP-caliber season (30 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 5.5 APG on 55% FG).
  • Alfonzo McKinnie is fighting to prove he belongs with the Cavaliers on a 10-day contract, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com writes. Cleveland is likely to sign McKinnie to a second 10-day deal after his current contract expires on Sunday, according to Fedor, with the 27-year-old originally signing on January 9. “I’m just excited for the opportunity,” McKinnie said. “Best league in the world so however you get in, you just have to go with that and try to stick. This is my first time ever signing a 10-day. It really ain’t no different mindset-wise. Just trying to put forth everything that you can do on the court to show the organization that you belong, that you want to be around. For me, every year that I’ve been in the league trying to solidify a spot that’s pretty much how I approach it. Just coming out and doing what I can do and leaving it all on the floor and then leaving it into the front office’s hands. Hopefully it’s good enough.”
  • The Bulls could look to ramp up trade discussions involving Thaddeus Young and Denzel Valentine as the February 6 deadline approaches, Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago writes. Schaefer examined different trade scenarios with both players, evaluating Chicago’s potential options.

Poll: Will Giannis Repeat As NBA MVP?

After winning his first Most Valuable Player award in 2018/19, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has arguably been even better so far this season.

Despite playing just 30.9 minutes per game, his lowest mark since he was a rookie in 2013/14, Antetokounmpo is establishing new career highs in PPG (29.8) and RPG (12.8) to go along with 5.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, and 1.1 BPG.

Giannis has also managed to convert 55.0% of his field goal attempts even though he’s launching 5.1 threes per game, nearly double his previous career high. He’s hitting 32.5% of those outside attempts, which isn’t an above-average rate, but is an encouraging step forward for a player who had made 27.7% of his career three-point attempts entering the season.

Oh, and his Bucks posted a 35-6 record in the first half, putting them on pace for a 70-win season.

It all adds up to make Antetokounmpo the MVP frontrunner halfway through the 2019/20 campaign. NBA.com’s Sekou Smith has Giannis atop his MVP ladder, while Basketball-Reference’s model also views him as the favorite.

Still, we’ve still got 40+ games to play this season, and it’s not as if Antetokounmpo has left his competition in the dust.

James Harden is having another historic scoring season, with 37.7 PPG through 37 games. If the Rockets guard maintains that pace, it would be the fourth-highest scoring average in NBA history and the best single-season mark by anyone not named Wilt Chamberlain.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis each have strong MVP cases for the 33-7 Lakers. James’ impressive on/off-court splits, as well as his 25.5 PPG and league-leading 10.7 APG, might make him the better pick of the two.

Second-year Mavericks star Luka Doncic is also in the conversation, with a near-triple-double average through 35 games (29.1 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 9.0 APG) as his team exceeds preseason expectations and looks to secure a playoff spot.

While Antetokounmpo is putting up insane per-36 stats, it’s possible some voters will dock him for playing fewer minutes than other MVP candidates. He has appeared in 38 games to Harden’s 37 this season, but has logged 200 fewer minutes than the Rockets’ star. If that gap continues to widen by season’s end, with Giannis potentially getting some rest after Milwaukee secure the No. 1 seed, it could be a factor worth considering in the MVP race.

Still, for now, Giannis looks like the odds-on favorite to be named the NBA’s 2019/20 MVP. What do you think? Will he finish strong and win the award for a second consecutive year?

Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Trade Rumors app users, click here to vote.

And-Ones: 2020 Draft, Giannis, Curry, Silver

The 2019 NBA draft, like many in recent years, had an obvious hierarchy at the top, with No. 1 prospect Zion Williamson followed by clear top-tier options like Ja Morant and RJ Barrett. However, things don’t project to be quite so simple in 2020, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony (Insider link), who suggests that the this year’s draft might be the weirdest one in years.

As Givony explains, James Wiseman‘s departure from the University of Memphis, Anthony Edwards‘ inconsistency at Georgia, and a handful of unknowns surrounding LaMelo Ball have ensured there’s no clear-cut favorite to be the No. 1 pick in June. Wiseman’s absence, along with injuries to Ball, Cole Anthony, and R.J. Hampton, have also resulted in a dearth of opportunities for evaluators to scout many of this year’s top prospects.

With so much uncertainty about the top of the 2020 class, a chaotic draft night is possible, according to Givony, who thinks teams might have big boards that look very different.

Despite Givony’s assertions, there seems to be at least a rough consensus among experts on the top of the draft order for now. In their latest mock drafts, Givony and Sam Vecenie of The Athletic each have Edwards, Wiseman, and Ball going 1-2-3, in that order. The two mock drafts do diverge significantly from there, however.

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

  • After his postgame conversation with Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo on Wednesday went viral, Warriors Stephen Curry claimed to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (video link) that he wasn’t talking to Giannis about teaming up in Golden State in the future — he was giving him his gamer tag for the online game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. “Don’t shoot the messenger,” Haynes said, perhaps recognizing that some fans will find Curry’s explanation dubious.
  • Former NBA first-round pick Jared Cunningham, who had been playing for the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G League, has opted to return to China and sign with the Shanghai Sharks, tweets Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. Cunningham, who has appeared in 84 regular season NBA games, played in the Chinese Basketball Association for Jiangsu in 2016/17.
  • Ethan Strauss of The Athletic identifies five issues facing commissioner Adam Silver in the coming years, including the NBA’s next TV rights deal and the league’s delicate relationship with China.
  • The National Basketball Players Association is creating an accelerator program to help current and former players invest in and create startup companies. Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg has the story and the details.

Fournier Could Be On The Move

Magic swingman Evan Fournier is the player most likely to be moved before the trade deadline, according to an ESPN Insider report from Bobby Marks.

While there’s no indication Fournier is being shopped, a straw poll of NBA executives believe that the Magic will need to start exploring their trade options on the veteran, who is likely to leave $17.2MM on the table and opt out this summer. Orlando is currently battling for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Fournier is enjoying a career year, averaging 19.6 PPG and shooting 42.3% from long range.

Here are more nuggets from the ESPN report:

O’Connor’s Latest: Heat, CP3, Holiday, Gentry, Giannis

The Heat inquired about a trade for Chris Paul during the offseason but never came close to an agreement with the Thunder. And at this point, Miami’s interest in Paul is “extinct,” league sources tell Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.

A trade involving the Heat and CP3 always seemed like a long shot, since Miami and Oklahoma City didn’t see eye-to-eye on the veteran point guard’s trade value and Pat Riley didn’t want to compromise his club’s cap flexibility for the 2021 offseason. However, O’Connor’s suggestion that the Heat’s interest is now non-existent is perhaps a significant reason why the Thunder and Paul’s camp reportedly have “no belief” that a trade will happen this season.

Here’s more from O’Connor:

  • Rather than going after Paul, the Heat are considered more likely to pursue a trade for Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, O’Connor hears from multiple league executives. Any major trade may be tricky for the hard-capped Heat to pull off, but Marc Stein of The New York Times reported on Tuesday that New Orleans is open to inquiries on Holiday.
  • Before the Pelicans make any significant roster moves, they’re probably more likely to make a head coaching change, two front office sources tell O’Connor. Multiple reports earlier this month indicated that Alvin Gentry‘s job was safe for now, but the club’s ongoing losing streak has extended to 13 games since then, so Gentry’s seat may be getting hotter.
  • It’s no secret around the NBA that the Heat are among the teams hoping to make a run at Giannis Antetokounmpo if he reaches free agency in 2021, O’Connor writes. While he cautions that it might be a “pipe dream,” O’Connor argues that Miami will be well-positioned to make a strong pitch to a star free agent that summer, since the team could theoretically retain Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Justise Winslow, and Duncan Robinson and still open up enough cap room for a max player like Giannis.

Bucks Co-Owner Discusses Team’s “Lack Of Drama”

In a conversation with Sam Amick of The Athletic, Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry admitted that he was “very pissed off” after his team fell to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals last spring. Lasry said he fully believed Milwaukee was headed for the NBA Finals after the club took a 2-0 lead in the series and was “pretty upset” when the Raptors won the next four straight games.

“We had a lot of meetings with (GM) Jon (Horst) and with Bud (head coach Mike Budenholzer), and it’s, ‘OK, what happened?'” Lasry said. “And you know, you sort of look at how they shot lights out. I mean (Fred) VanVleet shot – what was it? – 60 or 70 percent from 3-point land? You (had) guys who weren’t supposed to make those shots, or at least shoot their average – not double the average.”

While it took Lasry some time to get over that loss, the Bucks’ hot start to the 2019/20 season has certainly helped the club and its owners move on. It has also limited speculation about the future of reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is under contract through next season. If the Bucks had struggled out of the gate, we might be hearing a lot more whispers about Antetokounmpo’s next contract right now.

In his discussion with Amick, Lasry addressed that topic and a handful of others. Here are some of the highlights from the Q&A:

On the fact that there hasn’t been constant speculation from fans and media about the Bucks’ future:

“People want issues, and we don’t have any issues. And you know what, we didn’t have any issues last year either. If you think about it, we had four free agents (from last season). You had Khris Middleton, you had (Eric) Bledsoe, you had Brook Lopez, and then you had Malcolm (Brogdon). And you know, we re-signed who we needed to re-sign. So I think the great thing about the Bucks, good or bad, is that there’s very little drama. And I think we have surprised people with the lack of drama, and how good we are.”

On whether Bucks ownership has sought advice on retaining Antetokounmpo from others who have been in similar situations:

“No. No. I think the approach is that you have a relationship, and you rely on that relationship. So, you know, at the end of the day, my view is that people are going to do what they think is in their best interests. And I hope their view ends up being the same as our view, right? We’re going to do whatever we can. Others will do whatever they can. It’s fine.”

On not getting caught up in rumors about other teams eyeing Antetokounmpo:

“Whether it sounds dumb or not, I’m very comfortable with the relationship that we have with everybody on this team. And I think at the end of the day, what players want is stable ownership. They want a culture which is focused on winning. They want a coach who they respect. They want to play in a city that they love. It’s what we all want. Let’s be serious. You just want consistency, and you want to know that what you’re being told is reality. So I think as long as we do what we’re supposed to do, everything is going to be fine.”

Woj, Lowe On D-Lo, Mavs, MPJ, Love, VanVleet, More

Approximately 120 players around the NBA became trade-eligible on Sunday, signaling the unofficial start of the NBA’s 2019/20 trade season. To celebrate the occasion, Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe hosted an ESPN special to survey the trade market, discussing which teams are most likely to make moves and which players are most likely to be dealt.

Here are several of the highlights from that discussion between Woj and Lowe:

Western Conference:

  • The Warriors may field trade inquiries on D’Angelo Russell leading up to February’s trade deadline, but they’re unlikely to actively shop him and probably won’t move him before the 2020 offseason, according to Wojnarowski (video link).
  • Wojnarowski believes the Mavericks would like to acquire a standout center to complement Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis (video link). He cites Montrezl Harrell as one player who might fit that bill, though Dallas would have to wait for the Clippers‘ big man to reach free agency.
  • The Nuggets essentially view Michael Porter Jr. as “untouchable,” says Wojnarowski (video link).
  • Wojnarowski and Lowe expect contenders to keep a close eye on Pelicans guards Jrue Holiday and J.J. Redick as the deadline nears (video link). According to Woj, Holiday loves New Orleans, but it’s not clear how patient he’ll be with the team’s rebuilding process.
  • Woj and Lowe note that the Clippers pursued Marcus Morris in free agency and could have interest in him again on the trade market. Lowe wouldn’t be surprised if the club tries to see what it can get using a package of Maurice Harkless, Patrick Patterson, and its first-round pick (video link).
  • Wojnarowski views 2019/20 as a pivotal year for the Rockets, adding that GM Daryl Morey seems to have given up trying to find a way to trade for Grizzlies wing Andre Iguodala after exploring multi-team scenarios earlier in the year (video link).

Eastern Conference:

  • Wojnarowski thinks the best the Cavaliers can realistically expect in a Kevin Love trade is a protected first-round pick, an expiring salary, and another throw-in player (video link). Woj adds that it seems as if Love is “ready to go,” having lost patience with the rebuild in Cleveland.
  • Count the Raptors and Heat among teams that will be reluctant to make any moves that compromise their 2021 cap flexibility (video links). According to Wojnarowski, Toronto wants to re-sign Fred VanVleet this summer, but continues to eye Giannis Antetokounmpo for ’21. As for the Heat, they seem less likely to trade young players for veterans than they have been in the past.
  • Pistons owner Tom Gores “loves” Andre Drummond, but the club will soon have to have a serious conversation about whether to go all-in on the veteran center or whether to try to shop him, per Woj (video link).
  • Lowe thinks players like Timberwolves forward Robert Covington and J.J. Redick will be on the Bucks‘ radar if they’re available, adding that Milwaukee appears willing to go over the tax line for the right deal (video link).

And-Ones: LaMelo, MVP Votes, Warriors, Fratello

LaMelo Ball doesn’t mind a little campaigning in his effort to be the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft, writes Krysten Peek of Yahoo Sports. The buzz around Ball continues to grow as he strings together impressive performances in Australia’s National Basketball League. Over the weekend, he became the first NBL player since 2005 to post back-to-back triple doubles.

“Most definitely,” Ball responded when asked whether he thinks he should be the first pick. “I believe in myself and I’ve worked hard to get here. The other guys at the top of the draft, James [Wiseman] and Anthony [Edwards], are very talented too. But just in the way I believe in myself, I think I’m the top pick.”

Several scouts were in New Zealand recently to watch Ball go up against another projected lottery pick in R.J. Hampton. Many came away impressed, with one scout saying, “The fact that he’s putting up numbers like this in a league full of former NBA players is forcing every team to look at him as a potential No. 1 pick.” 

Ball addressed rumors that he might end his season early to protect his health for the draft. He insists he’s “committed to the whole season,” even though his team is off to a 3-9 start.

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

  • Roughly a quarter of the way into the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo is in good position to repeat as MVP, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN. In a poll of 101 media members, Antetokounmpo received 48 first-place votes and was the only player listed on all the ballots. LeBron James (29 first-place votes), Luka Doncic (14) and James Harden (nine) were next in line.
  • Declining ratings continue to be a concern, and the NBA has started taking action to address the problem. One solution is fewer national TV games for the Warriors, who have the NBA’s worst record after five years as its marquee team. Golden State’s next two scheduled ESPN games have been replaced, tweets Anthony Slater of The Athletic, who speculates that more are likely to be removed.
  • Former NBA coach and long-time broadcaster Mike Fratello will be back on the sidelines soon, according to Nicola Lupo of Sportando. Fratello will serve as head coach for USA Basketball in February’s qualifying games for the FIBA AmeriCup.
  • Commissioner Adam Silver addressed the China controversy today, saying a “culture clash” was almost inevitable, tweets Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic. NBA games haven’t returned to China Central Television, the main broadcaster in Mainland China, but they are back on Tencent, which Silver called a “thawing” in tensions (Twitter link).
  • Sources tell Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated that March 20 has been set for the debut of the NBA’s Basketball Africa League (Twitter link). The first game will take place in Dakar, Senegal.
  • The NBA will consider allowing corporate investors to hold passive minority stakes in more than one team, tweets Alex M. Silverman of MorningConsult. The measure will be part of the agenda at April’s Board of Governors meeting.

Giannis On Brogdon: “Wish He Was Still Here”

As Malcolm Brogdon thrives in his first season for the division-rival Pacers, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo admitted on Thursday that he’d like to still be teammates with the former Rookie of the Year, writes Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

“Definitely wish he was still here,” Antetokounmpo said. “One of my friends, one of the guys that I always teased every day when I see him – call him ugly, we’re just going back and forth. I’m going to miss that, but at the end of the day, you got to do what’s best for you. I wish him the best, I wish his team the best and I’m excited to play against him.”

Antetokounmpo’s comments are noteworthy because Brogdon’s departure from Milwaukee has been a hot topic for the last several months. The 26-year-old guard was a restricted free agent, so the Bucks could have kept him if they’d wanted to. However, there were questions about how re-signing Brogdon would impact the team’s ability to keep other key free agents, and whether or not Bucks ownership was willing to pay a big tax bill.

Of course, with Antetokounmpo eligible for a super-max extension in 2020 or free agency in 2021, the Bucks will be looking to do all they can to keep the reigning MVP happy and convince him to stick around long-term. Which is why Giannis’ follow-up comment on Brogdon, relayed by Nehm, is perhaps even more interesting.

“Can you imagine this team with also Malcolm?” Antetokounmpo said after the Bucks improved their record to 8-3 on Thursday. “But hey, man, everybody takes their decision. His decision was to go to Indiana and build a team over there. I think that was best for him.”

As Nehm points out, Giannis’ framing of his teammate’s departure as a decision made by Brogdon rather than by the Bucks seems to suggest he doesn’t blame the team for the move, even though Milwaukee essentially controlled the process. Nehm notes that Brogdon used similar language recently when discussing his move with Scott Agness of The Athletic (podcast link).

“I had to figure out what my options were,” Brogdon told Agness. “I had two or three teams in the mix that we were really considering, but Indiana was by far the best. It was the team I was really pushing for and my agents made it work.”

Brogdon’s comments indicate he may have been more interested in landing with the Pacers than in re-upping with the Bucks, which is perhaps one key reason why Milwaukee was willing to negotiate a sign-and-trade. The Bucks netted multiple draft picks, including a lottery-protected first-rounder, in the deal and still insist they’ll be willing to pay the tax when it becomes necessary.

Meanwhile, Brogdon – like Antetokounmpo – is looking forward to the first Bucks/Pacers game of the season on Saturday in Indiana, but is downplaying its significance, per J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star.

“It’s just another game for me,” Brogdon said. “Looking forward to seeing those guys. Competing against them. I had a lot of good games in there, a lot of good memories in there. That’s all I got to say about it.”