Giannis Antetokounmpo

Pistons Notes: Griffin, Drummond, Kennard

There’s still plenty of uncertainty regarding Blake Griffin‘s status for the opening round of the playoffs. While Yahoo Sports reported that the Pistons All-Star power forward would likely miss the series against the Bucks, coach Dwane Casey said after practice on Monday that Griffin could play as soon as Game 2 on Wednesday. Griffin sat out Milwaukee’s 121-86 blowout victory on Sunday with a sore left knee.

“We need all hands on deck. He wants to play,” Casey said. “So when his body says he’s ready, whether it’s Wednesday night or Saturday (for Game 3), whenever it is, he’ll be available.”

Griffin, who worked out with the training staff during practice, said after the game that he wanted to play but the medical staff nixed it. Casey confirmed that Griffin is eager to return.

“He’s lobbying. He wants to play,” Casey said. “It’s the medical staff, the doctors are the ones making those decisions. Not me, not Blake.”

We have more on the Pistons:
  • Casey doesn’t think Andre Drummond‘s ejection during the third quarter on Sunday was warranted. Drummond received a Flagrant Two foul for shoving Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo to the court after Antetokounmpo grabbed an offensive rebound. “I’ve seen worse,” Casey said. “What do you expect our defense to do when you’re driving through there 100 miles an hour? Just move out of the way and let you go where you want to go?” Drummond was tight-lipped about the ejection because “I’m not trying to get fined.” There hasn’t been any indication the league will discipline Drummond for the foul.
  • Drummond recorded a minus-45 in the plus/minus category before he was tossed. That was the lowest in playoff history since at least 2001, according to Basketball-Reference. “I was more than ready. Prepared, ready to go,” he said. “I just have to do it a step harder.”
  • Casey felt his team played like it was just happy to be in the postseason while Milwaukee acted as if it had waited all season for the game. “The moment, playoffs, atmosphere, whatever it is, got us out of sync,” he said. The lone bright spot was the play of reserve guard Luke Kennard, who scored a team-high 21 points. “Luke was probably the most aggressive offensively of everybody and he was making the right basketball play,” Casey said.

And-Ones: Silver, Mock Draft, Players’ Poll, Belinelli

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is willing to consider shortening the regular season and even the length of games, he said in a press conference on Friday. Silver’s comments were relayed by the Associated Press’ Brian Mahoney“The format we have in place now — I’m a traditionalist on one hand, but on the other hand it’s 50 years old or so, presenting an 82-game season, and there’s nothing magical about it,” Silver said. He also tossed out the idea of reducing the length of games from 48 minutes to 40, the same as college and international games. Holding mid-season tournaments is something else he’s willing to consider. None of the potential changes are close to be implemented, Mahoney adds.

We have more from the basketball world:

How All-NBA Choices Could Impact Contract Situations

Last month, we outlined how the Anthony Davis saga in New Orleans could significantly impact what Karl-Anthony Towns next contract looks like.

Towns’ new extension, signed last fall, will start at 30% of the cap if he earns All-NBA honors in 2019, as opposed to 25% of the cap if he misses out on an All-NBA slot. With Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid expected to claim two All-NBA center spots, Towns is in position to grab the third, in part due to Davis’ trade request — not only will AD’s role in the Pelicans’ dysfunction be considered, but he’s playing limited minutes down the stretch while Towns puts up some of the best numbers of his career.

Assuming Towns does earn an All-NBA nod, it’ll be a $30MM+ decision by award voters, bumping the projected value of his five-year deal from about $158MM to nearly $190MM. However, KAT isn’t the only player who could have his contract situation significantly impacted by this year’s All-NBA selections.

As Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com and Andrew Sharp of SI.com have detailed this week, there’s a lot at stake for a handful of players who are candidates for this year’s All-NBA teams. Let’s break it down, taking a closer look at some players who could become eligible for a super-max contract this year…

The All-NBA locks:

While there’s some debate over which six guards will get All-NBA nods, Lillard looks like a slam dunk for a spot on the first or second team — Lillard, Stephen Curry and James Harden appear to be the strongest candidates for the two guard spots on that first team.

Assuming he does, in fact, earn All-NBA honors, Lillard will become eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension. His current contract runs through 2020/21, with no options, so he’d be eligible to tack on four extra years to that deal, starting in 2021/22.

For now, i’s impossible to say exactly what the NBA’s salary cap will be in 2021/22, but based on projections for ’19/20 ($109MM) and ’20/21 ($118MM), we can safely assume a max deal for Lillard starting in ’21/22 will be worth a lot more than it would be now. Conservatively, estimating a $120MM cap, Lillard’s super-max extension would start at $42MM and would be worth $188MM+ over four years.

With Lillard in position to gain eligibility for a super-max extension, the big question in Portland this summer could be whether the Trail Blazers will actually put that offer on the table. There have been no indications that either Lillard or the Blazers wants to end their union, but the club might be wary of offering such a massive deal to a player who will be 31 years old when the four-year deal begins — that decision hasn’t worked out well for the Wizards with John Wall.

As for Antetokounmpo, he’s on track to become eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension too, and that decision figures to be a much easier one for the Bucks. However, Milwaukee won’t be able to actually put that super-max offer on the table until the 2020 offseason, once Giannis has seven years of NBA experience under his belt.

The All-NBA guard contenders:

Read more

Central Notes: Bledsoe, Bucks, Porter, Lopez

The Bucks’ decision to give point guard Eric Bledsoe a four-year, $70MM extension was a sensible move by both parties, Bobby Marks of ESPN argues. It’s a worthwhile price to retain Bledsoe and keep the core group together and that should aid their recruiting pitch to All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo as he approaches free agency in 2021. Bledsoe has become a more efficient player in Milwaukee, particularly in coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. With that order of business out of the way, the Bucks front office can now concentrate on re-signing Khris Middleton and restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon this summer, Marks adds.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • The Bucks had a much more sensible plan to build around Antetokounmpo than the Lakers did with LeBron James, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times opines. Milwaukee has a completely different scheme under Budenholzer, surrounding its star with shooters through savvy decisions in free agency and trades. That has opened up driving lanes for Antetokounmpo. Los Angeles’ front office brought in playmakers and ballhandlers around James, Woike notes, which is why the Lakers rank 28th in 3-point shooting.
  • The Bulls have a much brighter outlook than they did at this time last season, when they went into full tank mode, Matt John of Basketball Insiders notes. The addition of Otto Porter has allowed the Bulls to improve its spacing offensively. Improved health for second-year power forward Lauri Markkanen has also made a difference, as he’s enjoying the best stretch of his young career, John continues. Shooting guard Zach LaVine remains a defensive liability but in a recent eight-game stretch, Chicago was a plus-8.2 with him on the floor, Johns points out. The Bulls will still get a high lottery pick and should continue to be on the upswing, John concludes.
  • It’s not out of the question that Robin Lopez re-signs with the Bulls, according to Sam Smith of the team’s website. The veteran center is showing his value as an offensive factor due to Wendell Carter Jr.‘s injury. The front office was concerned that Lopez couldn’t be effective switching and getting out to the perimeter defensively, but recently few teams have beaten the Bulls at his position, Smith notes. Lopez will want to test the market but with the team’s frontcourt needs expanding, his return for next season will be under consideration, Smith adds.

Stein’s Latest: Antetokounmpo, Vucevic, Lakers

Plenty of teams are hoping for the chance to sign Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Warriors, in particular, have thought about pairing him and Stephen Curry should Kevin Durant leave in free agency, Marc Stein of the New York Times writes in his latest newsletter.

Antetokounmpo would have his pick of suitors on an open market, but as Stein notes, the Greek Freak may never make it to free agency. Antetokounmpo loves Milwaukee and the Bucks have to feel they have a chance at getting him to sign a super-max extension with the team during the summer of 2020—a year prior to him hitting the open market.

Yet, the Warriors will always swing big if given just the tiniest of chances. Antetokounmpo and Curry have selected one another first overall in back-to-back All-Star drafts and the two share a mutual admiration for each other, Stein notes.

Stein, who was honored over the weekend by the Basketball Hall of Fame as a Curt Gowdy Media award recipient, has more in his latest newsletter. Here are some highlights:

  • The Mavericks‘ interest in Nikola Vucevic may be overstated, Stein hears, adding that he doesn’t get the sense that Dallas will pursue the big man. The Mavs were rumored to have interest in Vucevic as a free agent target this summer.
  • The Lakers have the ninth-hardest remaining schedule and a playoff birth is no guarantee. “It’s going to be tough, but we shouldn’t want it any other way,”  LeBron James said. “I look forward to the challenge — and I’m getting healthy, too.”
  • Charles Barkley wonders if the advent of super teams will prompt small market owners to try to take back control in future CBA talks. “I hear all these clowns on TV talking about, ‘It’s great that all these players are exuding these powers,’” Barkley told a small group of reporters prior to All-Star weekend. “Let me tell you guys something: Workers ain’t never going to have power over their ownership. Ever. Now it might work for a couple guys here or there, but in the history of the world, no workers have ever overtaken the people who own a business. And when these guys are sitting at home locked out in a couple years, I want y’all to remember I told y’all that.”

Western Notes: Giannis, Conley, Durant, LeBron

Giannis Antetokounmpo could be the next superstar prize on the Warriors’ radar screen. In a speculative piece, Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic dives into the possibility of Antetokounmpo joining Golden State when he becomes a free agent in 2021.

As Thompson outlines, pursuing Antetokounmpo would hinge on Kevin Durant departing and would also necessitate cutting ties with Draymond Green. That would give the Warriors enough cap room to sign Giannis and keep the backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson together. The possibility of Antetokounmpo wanting to leave Milwaukee could increase if the Bucks experience postseason disappointment, Thompson adds.

We have more from around the Western Conference:

  • Mike Conley admits the trade rumors took a toll on him until the deadline passed, James Herbert of CBS Sports reports. The Grizzlies held on to Conley but longtime teammate Marc Gasol was dealt to Toronto.  “It was emotional, man,” he said. “It was hard, ’cause part of me, obviously, is trying to lock in on my job and just worry about Oklahoma (City) and really, like, watch film and prepare. But I can’t help but, like, the other 90 percent of me is like I’m about to get traded or Marc’s about to get traded.”
  • Kevin Durant claimed his relationship with ex-Oklahoma City teammate Russell Westbrook was never as strained as it was portrayed in the media, Eric Horne of The Oklahoman relays. “I don’t think it was ever in a bad place,” Durant said. “I think a lot of you guys just got in the way and tried to make it something bigger than it was because you needed a story. I understand because that’s your job, but that’s not really your job. I understood what that was like now thinking back on it, because I never had a problem with nobody in this league, or to a point where I didn’t like anyone or hated someone. It wasn’t even that deep.”
  • The Lakers are privately a little concerned about LeBron James‘ health, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic. They’re not quite sure he’s fully healed from the groin injury that cost him 18 games, as he’s not moving at the same speed, nor engaging at the point of attack, Vardon continues. However, James denies he’s aching. “I feel great,” he said. “Looking forward to the second half of the season. Looking forward to seeing what we can do to get back in this playoff race. That’s my only mindset.”

Atlantic Notes: Russell, Giannis, Knicks, Mudiay, Irving

For D’Angelo Russell, getting traded from the Lakers to the Nets in 2017 was a blessing in disguise. Russell has excelled with the team this season, leading the Nets in points, assists and minutes played through 59 games so far.

“I came here with open arms,” Russell said, as relayed by Leo Sepkowitz of Bleacher Report. “I always knew I could do what I’m doing, it’s just all about opportunity in this league. For [Nets GM] Sean Marks and those guys to come get me and make it happen here, give me the opportunity to help myself thrive, I think it was more than necessary.”

Russell, who has held averages of 20.3 points, 6.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game in his first All-Star season, then went on to call the trade the “best thing that happened” in his career.

The Lakers, of course, moved Russell to Brooklyn as part of a salary dump that included the contract of Timofey Mozgov, and saw several of their young players featured in rumors around the trade deadline this month.

“I can’t imagine what they’re trying to block out,” Russell said, later adding, “if [the Lakers] didn’t let me go then, they were gonna let me go now, and I’d be going through what they’re going through. Best thing that happened in my career.”

Russell understood why the Lakers made the move, but immediately became motivated to lead a team in Brooklyn. The Nets now hold the sixth-best record in the East at 30-29, surprising many league observers and fans with their success.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division tonight:

  • Every NBA team except the Knicks scouted Giannis Antetokounmpo as a prospect in Greece, according to Greg Joyce of the New York Post. “Scouts started flying to Greece,” Antetokounmpo’s agent Giorgos Panou said. “Every day at practice, at games, executives, GMs, assistant coaches — every team came. Twenty-nine teams, except the Knicks, New York Knicks.” The Knicks have since refuted this claim, as relayed by ESPN’s Ian Begley (Twitter link).
  • Speaking of the Knicks, Emmanuel Mudiay is unsure of his current role with the team’s new rotation, Marc Berman writes for The Post. New York traded for starting point guard Dennis Smith Jr. earlier in the month, likely taking minutes away from Mudiay. “That’s out of my control,’’ Mudiay said. “That’s something you have to ask [coach] Fiz. I’m going to support my teammates.”
  • Celtics guard Kyrie Irving will be joined by team physical therapist Brian Dolan and personal trainer Robin Pound during the All-Star break in Charlotte, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald writes. Irving will continue rehab from a strained right knee suffered against the Clippers last Saturday, but his status for Sunday’s All-Star Game with Team LeBron has yet to be announced.

LeBron, Giannis Draft 2019 All-Star Teams

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo drafted their teams for the 2019 All-Star Game on Thursday, officially finalizing the rosters for this year’s contest. James and Antetokounmpo were chosen as captains because they were the All-Star starter from each conference with the most fan votes.

Both James and Antetokounmpo first had to select from a pool of starters, then from a list of reserve players. The starters, which consisted of eight other players, were voted on by the fans, players and media this season. The reserve players were voted on by the NBA’s 30 head coaches.

James drafted Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden as starters, choosing Durant as his first selection. His reserves were Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal and Dwyane Wade.

Antetokounmpo drafted Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Paul George and Kemba Walker as his starters, selecting Curry with his first pick. He drafted Khris Middleton, Nikola Jokic, Ben Simmons, Blake Griffin, D’Angelo Russell, Nikola Vucevic, Kyle Lowry and Dirk Nowitzki as his reserves.

James later traded Westbrook to Team Giannis in exchange for Simmons, making an effort to repair the relationship of Westbrook and Embiid.

The 68th NBA All-Star Game is set to commence on February 17 at Spectrum Center, featuring 26 of the best basketball players in the world.

Eastern Notes: Kaminsky, Maker, Giannis, Cavs

Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday that no decisions have been made about pursuing a contract buyout with young forward Frank Kaminsky, with the 25-year-old still on the Hornets’ roster after the trade deadline.

“He wants to play,” Kupchak said of Kaminsky, as relayed by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. “He’s under contract. Short of that, no decisions have been made addressing that situation.”

Bonnell also relayed that Kupchak, hired by the Hornets last April, is sympathetic to a remedy if Kaminsky is looking to play elsewhere.

The Hornets explored moving Kaminsky in the hours leading up to the trade deadline Thursday, but failed to find a suitable deal for the fourth-year player. Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported (via Twitter) that Kaminsky would likely become a buyout candidate in the near future, but it’s unclear where the possibility stands right now.

Charlotte also held strong trade discussions with the Grizzlies on a deal centered around Marc Gasol, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link), but talks eventually broke off. The Hornets ended up not making a single trade on deadline day.

There’s more from the Eastern Conference today:

  • The Bucks traded Thon Maker to the Pistons for Stanley Johnson this week, sending away one of Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s closest teammates in an effort to upgrade the roster. “Thon is like my little brother, this one hurts more than any trade that happened that I’ve been a part of but this is the business we work in,” Antetokounmpo said, according to Cassidy Hubbarth of ESPN (Twitter link). The Bucks eventually flipped Johnson, Jason Smith and two second-round picks to acquire sharpshooting forward Nikola Mirotic.
  • For Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo could be the next star involved in rumors as the 2019/20 season draws closer, Dan Feldman of NBC Sports notes. Antetokounmpo is eligible to receive a super-max extension in the summer of 2020, but could become a free agent in 2021 if he chooses not to sign the extension. Antetokounmpo has cemented himself as one of the league’s top stars, leading the Bucks to a 40-13 record through 53 games this season. “He has been incredibly loyal,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think that’s something that’s important to him. So, he’s a gift, for sure.”
  • The Cavaliers renounced the free agent rights to Deron Williams and Dahntay Jones today, Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports tweets. Cleveland made multiple trades in the past week, acquiring Brandon Knight, Marquese Chriss and a 2019 first-round pick in a multi-team deal on Wednesday.

Central Notes: Pacers, Love, Dunn

The Pacers, fresh off of a season-worst four-game losing streak, lack swagger without star Victor Oladipo, J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star writes. And it’s not just at the end of close games.

Michael notes that plenty of the Pacers’ struggles could be addressed by the addition of an established shot-maker, the likes of which could very realistically be available when the buyer’s market typically ramps up after the trade deadline.

If a player like Wesley Matthews, who was recently acquired by the Knicks in their Kristaps Porzingis‘ trade, has his expiring contract bought out, he could be of great service to a team like the Pacers.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • For the first time in over three months, Cavaliers forward Kevin Love is taking part in 5-on-5 contact practices, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com writes. Love’s last taste of action was on Oct. 24, prior to undergoing surgery to repair a toe injury. Guard David Nwaba, who has missed 18 games of his own, did not fare as well in the practice — the Cavs have pulled back somewhat on his rehab process.
  • Despite reports that the Bulls will be gauging Kris Dunn‘s worth over the final 30 games of the regular season, the 24-year-old former fifth-overall pick is unfazed. The third-year-guard tells Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times that he’ll compete anywhere he ends up, just as he has this year, through a knee injury and mid-season coaching change.
  • Newly appointed All-Star Khris Middleton had high praise for the Bucks organization, Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets. “For us,” Middleton told Velasquez, referring to himself and Giannis Antetokounmpo,”It’s not being in the right market, it’s being with the right team. This organization laid down everything that they can to make sure we succeeded.”