International

Isaiah Whitehead Signs With BC Astana

1:06pm: Whitehead has officially joined Astana, the team announced today on its website.

10:11am: After finishing the 2018/19 season on a two-way contract with the Pistons, free agent guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with BC Astana, a source tells Adam Zagoria of Forbes (Twitter link). The club is based on Kazakhstan plays in Russia’s VTB United League.

Playing in the VTB United League won’t be a new experience for Whitehead, who signed with Lokomotiv Kuban in August of 2018 and spent the first half of the season with the club. He parted with the Russian squad in January and caught on with the Pistons about a week later.

Whitehead, the 42nd overall pick in the 2016 draft, has appeared in a total of 89 regular season NBA games for the Nets, but didn’t see the floor at all for Detroit last season. Instead, he played for the Grand Rapids Drive, the Pistons’ G League affiliate, averaging 18.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 3.8 APG in 25 games (29.2 MPG).

Several other players who spent the ’18/19 season in the NBA have signed with Russian teams this offseason. Whitehead will join players like Timofey Mozgov (Khimki), Kosta Koufos (CSKA Moscow), Jonas Jerebko (Khimki), and Sam Dekker (Lokomotiv Kuban) in the Russian league this season, as our list of overseas signings shows.

Olympiacos Parts With David Blatt, Eyeing Scott Skiles

Greek team Olympiacos recently parted ways with one former NBA head coach and now may be eyeing another to replace him.

Olympiacos confirmed in a press release earlier this week that David Blatt, former coach of the Cavaliers, would no longer be coaching the team. Blatt spent the 2018/19 season with the club, but left his post just one game into the EuroLeague season in 2019/20 in a departure the two sides classified as mutual.

“After a long and respectful discussion between the owners and myself, our two parties have decided it’s in the best interest of both sides to part ways,” Blatt said in a statement.

The veteran coach, who was diagnosed earlier this year with multiple sclerosis, spoke to Lenny Megliola of The Boston Globe about his decision, admitting that he “had to be honest about certain limitations” he had. There were no hard feeling between him and the team, Blatt added.

With the European season underway, Olympiacos is in the market for a new permanent head coach, and according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter), former NBA coach Scott Skiles has been contacted to gauge his interest.

Coaching still interests Scott,” agent Keith Glass said of Skiles, who last worked in the NBA when he coached the Magic during the 2015/16 season. Skiles previously served as the head coach for the Suns, Bulls, and Bucks, compiling a record of 478-480 (.499) and winning a pair of playoff series in 14 NBA seasons. It’s not clear whether or not he intends to pursue the Olympiacos job.

Kęstutis Kemzūra, who had been an assistant coach under Blatt, is currently serving as Olympiacos’ interim head coach.

Salah Mejri Signs With Real Madrid

OCTOBER 10: Real Madrid has formally announced that Mejri will join the club until the end of the 2019/20 season.

OCTOBER 5: Tunisian big man Salah Mejri is reportedly finalizing a deal to join the European team Real Madrid, as first reported by El Espanol’s Jorge Calabres.

Mejri had inked a temporary contract with Liaoning of the Chinese Basketball Association in September to replace the injured Brandon Bass, per the report. However, Mejri had been seeking another opportunity in the NBA or a chance to play in Europe. Mejri is currently in Dallas awaiting the completion of his Real Madrid deal, the report notes.

The 33-year-old has spent the past four years as a rotation piece for the Mavericks. The 7’2″ center enjoyed his best year during the 2016/17 campaign, averaging 2.9 PPG and 4.2 APG in 73 games.

Mejri suited up for Tunisia during the FIBA World Cup in China where he averaged 16.2 PPG and 10.2 RPG. He has previously played for Real Madrid in 2013 and 2015.

NBL Prospects Ball, Hampton Drawing Significant Interest

After initially telling NBA teams that they wouldn’t be permitted to scout practices involving top prospects LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton this season due to the league’s no-contact rules, the league office allowed clubs to attend a pair of New Zealand Breakers practices in Memphis this week to get a look at Hampton, according to a pair of reports from Jonathan Givony of ESPN.com.

As Givony details, scouts and executives from NBA teams had hoped to attend a total of five Breakers practices this week in Memphis and Oklahoma City to scout Hampton as part of the New Zealand club’s preseason tour. However, the league prohibited teams from attending sessions on Sunday and Monday morning before opening up Monday night’s practice as well as Tuesday morning’s shootaround. Teams will also be allowed to attend the Breakers’ morning shootaround on Thursday in OKC, Givony adds.

As Givony explains, the NBA’s no-contact rules prohibit teams from having contact with draft-ineligible players outside of a few approved settings, including official games and select college practices. Non-college prospects like Ball and Hampton are still considered draft-ineligible for 2020 at this point since they haven’t officially declared through the league office.

The league’s latest memo related to non-contact rules extensively addressed college and international prospects, but Ball and Hampton technically don’t fall into either category since they’re not attending college and haven’t lived outside the U.S. for three years — they’re essentially in a grey area, leaving the NBA to interpret their status based on the league’s existing rules.

It’s possible the NBA will alter its interpretation of those rules or tweak them slightly to allow teams more freedom to scout Ball and Hampton over the course of the 2019/20 season. Givony points out that 27 NBA scouts attending the NBL Blitz in Tasmania last month and many of those scouts attended practices involving Ball and Hampton, which may lead to fines.

The Breakers practices that were open to NBA execs and scouts this week were heavily populated, according to the NBL, which estimates that over 100 reps from teams were on hand on Monday night to get a look at Hampton. Another top 2020 prospect, James Wiseman, had his pro day at the University of Memphis earlier on Monday, so many scouts and execs attended both events.

Meanwhile, Ball, who is also playing in the NBL as a member of the Illawarra Hawks, is drawing plenty of attention from fans in addition to NBA teams. According to Adam Zagoria of Forbes.com, Ball’s NBL debut became the most-watched game in league history, with one million viewers streaming the game on Facebook in the United States.

Zagoria also wrote in a separate Forbes article that the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Nets, and Raptors are among the teams that have reached out to the Spire Academy in Ohio – where Ball played last season – for information on the young point guard. The Cavaliers have also been evaluating him, sources tell Zagoria.

In ESPN’s latest mock draft, Givony had Wiseman coming off the board at No. 1, followed by Ball at No. 3 and Hampton at No. 6.

And-Ones: India, Johnson, Robinson, Ball

Commissioner Adam Silver would like to start a professional basketball league in India, perhaps in the next five years, Marc Spears of ESPN reports. India would have to build state-of-the-art arenas to make that happen. The NBA had to make numerous additions — including seats, big video screens and lights — to stage a preseason game there between the Kings and Pacers on Friday.

“I think it’s inevitable that there will be state-of-the-art arenas in major cities in India, in part because these are multi-use facilities and live entertainment is increasingly important here as well. … We do need to see those arenas over time in order to play more games,” Silver said.

There’s growing interest in the league in India and its youngsters are harboring NBA dreams, Reid Forgrave of the New York Times reports.

We have more from the basketball world:

  • Joe Johnson is fighting for a roster spot with the Pistons and the veteran forward hopes other players can use the BIG3 as a springboard to relaunch their careers, Eric Woodyard of ESPN writes. “That was another reason why I thought it was very important for me to take this opportunity, because those guys in the BIG3, a lot of them anyway, have hopes to at some point to be able to get back in the league,” said Johnson, who signed a partially guaranteed contract with Detroit. “So I just wanted to let everyone know that it’s possible just to get to this point.” Johnson was the BIG3 MVP this year.
  • Former NBA forward Thomas Robinson has drawn major interest from two Chinese teams, Zhejiang Guangsha and Liaoning, according to a report from Sportando’s Emiliano Carchia. The 2012 lottery pick last played in the NBA during the 2016/17 season, when he saw action in 48 games with the Lakers.
  • Big Baller Brand co-founder Alan Foster has countersued Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball and his father, LaVar Ball, for alleged fraudulent concealment and breach of contract, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. Foster alleges that LaVar Ball embezzled more than $2.6MM from Big Baller Brand and other companies associated with the family to fund an extravagant lifestyle. The Balls sued Foster in April for more than $2MM for alleged embezzlement.

And-Ones: Rockets, Olympics, Cole, B. Rush, Goodwin

An NBA rule that threw a wrench into the Rockets‘ plan on a holiday weekend last season has been altered, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

Previously, the league required teams interested in completing a trade on a weekend or holiday to inform the NBA of its plans on the preceding business day. That practice will still be encouraged, but it will no longer be required, according to Feigen, who says the league will now look to approve and process trades on weekends or holidays even without prior notice.

On Martin Luther King Day last January, the Rockets needed to open up a roster spot to sign Kenneth Faried and had agreed to a trade sending Carmelo Anthony to Chicago. However, the NBA didn’t approve the trade on the holiday, and Houston instead waived James Nunnally to create room for Faried. If a similar situation arises in 2019/20, it shouldn’t be a problem.

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

  • The Rio Grande Valley Vipers have named a new general manager and head coach for the coming season, the club announced in a press release. Travis Stockbridge, who is just 25 years old, will be the GM of the Rockets‘ G League affiliate, while Mahmoud Abdelfattah will coach the team.
  • Despite the program’s disappointing World Cup turnout, there has been no shortage of NBA stars this fall expressing interest in playing for Team USA at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. “The reality is the World Cup, although it’s very big around the world, it doesn’t have the same status in the States,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo told Joe Vardon of The Athletic. “Our focus is apparently on the Olympics, and I expected a different response.”
  • Veteran NBA free agents Norris Cole and Brandon Rush are joining Maccabi Haifa for the Israeli team’s upcoming exhibition contests against the Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, and Timberwolves, reports Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link). Those games will take place on October 6, 10, and 13, respectively.
  • Former first-round pick Archie Goodwin has signed a contract with Turkish team ITU Basket, as Emiliano Carchia of Sportando relays. The 29th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Goodwin appeared in 165 regular season games with three NBA teams, but hasn’t played in the league since 2017.

Ty Lawson Returning To China

Veteran NBA point guard Ty Lawson appears set to return to the Chinese Basketball Association for the 2019/20 season, according to a pair of reports from Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. After initially writing that Lawson was close to signing with the Fujian Sturgeons, Carchia said in a follow-up tweet that it’s a done deal.

Lawson, who was said to be drawing interest from the Xinjiang Flying Tigers earlier this month, has spent most of the last two seasons with China’s Shandong Golden Stars. In 2018/19, the 31-year-old averaged 26.5 PPG and 8.7 APG in 24 games with Shandong.

An NBA first-round pick in 2009, Lawson spent eight seasons in the league and enjoyed a productive run with the Nuggets, but hasn’t appeared in an NBA regular season game since the 2016/17 season.

While he did sign with the Wizards on the last day of the 2017/18 campaign and appeared in five playoff games for the club that spring after returning from China, he hasn’t received an NBA contract since then. It’s possible that a successful run with Fujian will put him on NBA teams’ radars again this spring.

Antonio Blakeney Expected To Play In China

Former Bulls guard Antonio Blakeney is expected to continue his career overseas, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando, who hears from a source that Blakeney has agreed to terms with the Jiangsu Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Blakeney, who will turn 23 next month, has spent the last two years with Chicago, playing on a two-way contract in 2017/18 and a standard contract in 2018/19. In 76 total games (15.0 MPG) for the club, he averaged 7.5 PPG and 1.8 RPG with a shooting line of .406/.357/.696.

Although Blakeney’s contract for the 2019/20 season was guaranteed, the Bulls opted to move on from him. He was released earlier this month, opening up a spot on the 15-man regular season roster that’s expected to be filled by Shaquille Harrison. Blakeney gave up $100K of his salary in a buyout agreement with the team.

As our roundup of this year’s notable international signings shows, many players who spent last season in the NBA are taking their talents to China for the 2019/20 campaign. However, Blakeney will be the first player on that list to join Jiangsu.

Chinese Team May Release Jerian Grant

Jerian Grant, who reached an agreement last month to play in China after four years in the NBA, may no longer be wanted by his new team, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. The Qingdao Eagles are considering releasing Grant before he ever takes the court for them.

Grant began last season as the backup point guard for the Magic, but slid down the rotation as the year progressed. Shooting woes were among the reasons for his demotion, as he hit just just 41.8% from the field and is a career 41.2% shooter. He averaged 4.2 points and 2.6 assists in 60 games.

Grant was taken by the Wizards with the 19th pick in 2015 and shipped to the Knicks in a three-team trade on draft night. He lasted just one season in New York before being dealt to the Bulls, who sent him to Orlando in 2018. The Magic decided in June not to extend a qualifying offer to Grant, making him an unrestricted free agent.

With training camps set to open in a few days, there may not be any immediate opportunities available for Grant in the NBA. If the Chinese deal falls through, he will likely try to find another opening overseas.

Michael Beasley Ineligible To Sign With Chinese Team

SEPTEMBER 18: The Chinese Basketball Association has notified Shanxi that Beasley is ineligible to sign in China due to his NBA drug suspension, a source tells Carchia (Twitter link).

SEPTEMBER 17: The Shanxi Loongs are interested in bringing free agent forward Michael Beasley back to China, a source tells Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. According to Carchia, Shanxi would look to part ways with Malcolm Thomas if the club is able to sign Beasley.

This is the second time this offseason we’ve heard about Beasley drawing overseas interest. A report in early August suggested that the 30-year-old had an offer in the range of $5MM on the table from a team in the Chinese Basketball Association. It’s not clear if that team was Shanxi — or if Beasley would still be able to land a payday in that range.

Rather than accepting that reported offer, Beasley reached a tentative agreement to sign with the Pistons in mid-August. However, he never technically finalized that deal. With Detroit now poised to bring in Joe Johnson to fill the final spot on its offseason roster, the former No. 2 overall pick is the odd man out and won’t sign with the club after all, forcing him to resume his search for a new home.

Beasley has had multiple stints in the CBA in the past, playing for Shanghai in 2014/15, Shandong in 2015/16, and Guangdong earlier in 2019. So if he does sign with Shanxi, he’d be returning to a familiar setting.

It’s worth noting that Shams Charania of The Athletic reported last month that the CBA was in the process of implementing a new guideline that would bar a player facing a drug- or violence-related ban or suspension in another league from signing with a CBA team.

Charania cited Tyreke Evans, who has been banned from the NBA for at least two years due to drug violations, as a player who would affected by this rule, but it’s not clear if Beasley – who is facing a five-game NBA suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug policy – would also be impacted. Presumably, if Shanxi is interested, the rule either hasn’t been made official or wouldn’t specifically apply to a short-term suspension like Beasley’s.