Isaac Okoro

Central Notes: Hayes, Theis, Okoro, White

Rookie Pistons point guard Killian Hayes discussed his first game for Detroit in almost three months with reporters, as captured by The Detroit News (video link). “It’s a whole different team from when I left,” Hayes said. Detroit has subtracted Blake Griffin and added Hamidou Diallo and Cory Joseph since the rookie last played.

The No. 7 pick in the 2020 draft, Hayes has missed 41 games thus far this season with a right hip subluxation. In his first game back on the court since January 4 (and eighth overall) against the Knicks yesterday, Hayes went scoreless on 0-of-3 shooting, but pulled down five rebounds and dished out three assists.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic assesses how new Bulls big man Daniel Theis can make an impact in Chicago. Theis is already impressing his teammates. “He’s a difference-maker,” All-Star shooting guard Zach LaVine raved. Mayberry contends that adding the 6’8″ Theis, the starting center for the Celtics across the past year-and-a-half, was a coup at the deadline. “Whenever I step on the court I just want to give everything I’ve got,” the 29-year-old said. “I just want to help the team, whenever I’m out there, get better and win games.” 
  • Although the Cavaliers fell 115-104 to the Heat yesterday, rookie shooting guard Isaac Okoro scored 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and won the respect of star Heat wing Jimmy Butler, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. “His potential is out of this world,” Butler said of 2020’s fifth overall pick drafted out of Auburn. Okoro has had an erratic 2020/21 season (averaging a relatively modest 8.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG and 1.7 APG), but he has started in all his 44 games with Cleveland thus far.
  • Second-year Bulls reserve point guard Coby White has entered the NBA’s coronavirus health and safety protocols, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago tweets.

Cavaliers, Pistons Among Definite Deadline Sellers

Because there’s now a potential path to the postseason for the top 10 teams in each NBA conference (via the new play-in tournament), it’s taking longer this season for clear sellers to emerge on the trade market, writes Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“Most teams are still in the playoff chase, which makes everyone bunched together and the trade market less active,” a high-ranking team official told The Athletic.

However, as Charania reports, at least two teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings look like definite sellers, according to rival teams. The 13th-seeded Cavaliers and the 15th-seeded Pistons appear to be open for business.

Cleveland’s most obvious trade candidate is Andre Drummond, who has been pulled from the rotation as the team looks to find a taker for him. According to Charania, there have been some exploratory calls on Drummond, with the Bulls among the teams to express some interest, but there’s still skepticism that the Cavs will find an appealing deal for the big man, who has an unwieldy $28.75MM cap hit.

Drummond isn’t the only Cavalier on the trade block. The club has also been open to discussing JaVale McGee, Cedi Osman, and Taurean Prince, according to Charania, who hears that multiple teams have inquired on the Cavs’ wing players. Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, and Isaac Okoro are viewed as the club’s core pieces and are presumably off-limits.

Like the Cavs, the Pistons have an expensive big man who is sitting out as the team attempts to move him. However, Blake Griffin, who is making more than Drummond ($36.8MM) and has another guaranteed year left on his contract, will be even harder to trade. Sources tell Charania and James Edwards III of The Athletic that Detroit will likely work toward a buyout with Griffin.

Veteran shooting guard Wayne Ellington is expected to draw interest from contenders on the trade market and should be a far more valuable trade chip than Griffin, given his affordable minimum salary and his strong production in 2020/21 (10.6 PPG, .435 3PT%).

According to Edwards, combo guard Delon Wright and big man Mason Plumlee have also registered interest from rival teams, but both players are under contract beyond this season, so the Pistons won’t necessarily feel compelled to move them. As Edwards explains, while Detroit will be a deadline seller, the sense around the league is that GM Troy Weaver won’t be as aggressive this month as he was during his first offseason on the job, when he remade nearly the entire roster.

Cavaliers Notes: Okoro, Garland, Dellavedova, Porter

It didn’t take long for rookie Isaac Okoro to establish himself as a difference maker for the Cavaliers, writes Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. The fifth player taken in this year’s draft won the starting small forward job in training camp and was effective in his first two games before suffering a sprained foot. He was recently placed in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol, so the Cavs aren’t sure when he can return, although they’re hoping he’ll be back before their road trip ends next Saturday.

“He makes you feel comfortable. He makes you feel like you can trust him because of the way he plays,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of Okoro. “He’s safe with the basketball. He doesn’t mess up many assignments. He executes offensively where he’s supposed to, and he just does all the little things that make the game of basketball easy. He made us feel extremely comfortable that we can rely on him while he’s out there on the floor.”

Cleveland has started three different players at small forward in the three games since losing Okoro. Larry Nance Jr. got the assignment first, followed by Cedi Osman and then Dante Exum in what Bickerstaff called a “matchup thing” against the Pacers. Damyean Dotson may also be in the mix until Okoro returns, Fedor adds.

There’s more from Cleveland:

  • The Cavaliers are seeing significant improvement from second-year guard Darius Garland, notes Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com. After a rough rookie season, there were reports that Garland stepped up his game at the team’s voluntary mini-camp. He’s carried that over to the new season, averaging 19.0 points, 7.2 assists and 3.6 rebounds through five games.
  • The Cavs are being careful with veteran guard Matthew Dellavedova, who hasn’t played since suffering a concussion during the preseason, Pluto adds in the same piece. Dellavedova has experienced several concussions in his career, and the team wants to make sure he’s completely ready to play.
  • Kevin Porter Jr. is dealing with personal issues and Cavaliers officials aren’t sure when he’ll resume playing, sources tell Pluto. Charges against Porter from a November incident were dropped last month, but the front office remains concerned about his maturity level.

Health Updates: Leonard, Trent, Okoro, Claxton, Gallinari

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard will return to the lineup tonight, five days after being struck in the face by an accidental elbow from teammate Serge Ibaka, tweets Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Coach Tyronn Lue made the announcement in a pre-game session with the media.

Leonard missed two games with the injury, which caused him to bleed profusely from his mouth and required eight stitches. L.A. split the games, defeating the Timberwolves Tuesday night and losing by 51 points to the Mavericks on Sunday.

A second-team All-NBA selection last season, Leonard is off to another strong start, averaging 23.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals in his first two games.

There’s more injury-related news to pass along:

  • The Trail Blazers will face the Clippers tonight without guard Gary Trent Jr., Portland coach Terry Stotts told reporters (Twitter link from Vardon). Trent suffered a strained calf in Monday’s game with the Lakers.
  • Rookie swingman Isaac Okoro didn’t travel with the Cavaliers as they start a six-game road trip, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. The fifth pick in this year’s draft suffered a sprained left foot in Saturday’s game and was recently placed into the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol. The league announced today that there have been no new positive tests since December 24, so Fedor believes Okoro likely came in contact with someone who tested positive, which limits his ability to travel. The Cavs hope he can join them before the trip ends January 9.
  • Nets coach Steve Nash said Nicolas Claxton is “steadily improving,” but remains “weeks away” from playing, tweets Malika Andrews of ESPN. The second-year center is dealing with tendinopathy in his right knee and hasn’t played yet this season.
  • Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari had to leave tonight’s game with a sprained ankle, according to Andrews (Twitter link). It was his first game since suffering a contusion in his left foot in last week’s season opener.

Central Notes: Hayes, Bey, Gores, Brogdon, Love

The Pistons are easing their young players into the rotation and that’s to be expected, James Edwards III of The Athletic writes.

Veterans Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, both of whom sat out Monday’s game at Atlanta, played heavy minutes in the double overtime loss to Cleveland on Saturday. Lottery pick Killian Hayes sat during crunch time, while Saddiq Bey has played only six minutes. The Pistons’ other first-round pick, Isaiah Stewart, didn’t play at all in the first two games.

It’s unrealistic to expect all of the Pistons’ developmental players to log 15-plus minutes a game at this point but their playing time will increase as the season progresses, Edwards adds. Hayes and Bey started against the Hawks.

We have more on the Central Division:

  • Pistons owner Tom Gores rubber-stamps new GM Troy Weaver’s roster moves, according to Rod Beard of the Detroit News. Detroit has only four holdovers on its 15-man roster and Weaver engineered trades to draft Bey and Stewart. “To get three first-round picks I think was a win for us,” Gores said. “We have to see how those young men develop, but I’d say the thing Troy did right away was he really owned this. He didn’t sit back and worry about it. He was thoughtfully aggressive, and he owned it.”
  • Malcolm Brogdon wasn’t thrilled with the Pacers’ previous coach but he has been quick to praise new coach Nate Bjorkgren, Akeem Glaspie of the Indianapolis Star writes. Bjorkgren drew up the game-winning play on Sunday, a Domantas Sabonis basket against Boston. “It takes a high-IQ coach and a patient coach to draw something like that up there,” said Brogdon, who was reportedly the Indiana player who was most outspoken and displeased with Nate McMillan’s coaching style.
  • Kevin Love and lottery pick Isaac Okoro are among a handful of Cavaliers players who will miss Tuesday’s game against the Knicks, Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer tweets. Love has a calf strain that kept him out of the team’s opener and limited him to nine minutes against Philadelphia on Sunday. Okoro will sit out for the second straight game with a foot sprain.

Central Notes: Cavs, Giannis Effect, Mad Ants, Pistons

Thanks to the intriguing addition of rookie swingman Isaac Okoro, drafted with the No. 6 pick out of Auburn, the Cavaliers will suddenly face some fun wing rotation questions, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Fedor speculates that Collin Sexton will most likely remain the starter at the shooting guard slot, pointing to head coach J.B. Bickerstaff‘s recent praise of Sexton. Bickerstaff declined to officially confirm whether or not Sexton would start.

“I think his performance last year, and at the end of last season, was above and beyond,” Bickerstaff said. “I think he’s one of those guys who earns the opportunity to play extended minutes.”

Fedor opines that the tough, defensive-minded Okoro’s strong showing in training camp and the preseason suggests that he deserves the opportunity to start over incumbent starting small forward Cedi Osman.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • The Bucks are benefiting from a “Giannis effect” merchandise boon, according to Jabari Young of CNBC“The phone calls started both ways,” Matt Pazaras, chief business development and strategy officer for Milwaukee, said. The team’s sponsored jersey patch is now open for new bidders after its deal with Harley-Davidson expired this offseason. Interest in a sponsorship is strong now that MVP forward Giannis Antetokounmpo inked a record five-year, $228MM contract extension.
  • The G League affiliate of the Pacers, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, intend to take part in the proposed G League “bubble,” according to team president Tim Bawmann in a conversation on 1380 The FAN’s Sports Rush with Brett Rump, (hat tip to Caitlin Cooper of Indy Cornrows). Bawmann notes that the bubble’s locale could be Atlanta or Orlando.
  • With the 2020/21 NBA regular season fast approaching, James L. Edwards III of the Athletic assesses the depth chart for the Pistons and, in a surprise, speculates that oft-injured power forward Blake Griffin and new small forward Jerami Grant could play the most minutes per game (28) for a rebuilding Detroit team.

Eastern Notes: Okoro, Pistons, Smith, Ball, Hayward

An early conversation with Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff helped 19-year-old rookie Isaac Okoro control his first-game jitters and secure a 107-104 preseason win on Saturday, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com writes.

Okoro, who scored 18 points (including 16 in the fourth quarter), converted an and-one layup with 0.3 seconds left to help the team defeat the Pacers. He also impressed the franchise with his defensive work, guarding the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Holiday throughout the game.

“I wanted him to shoot the ball every time he was open. Pretty simple,” Bickerstaff said of what he told Okoro. “Obviously he’s capable of making shots. I think he was uncomfortable in those moments, still trying to search and catch a rhythm. But I wanted him to have the confidence and I wanted his teammates to give him that confidence as well that when he’s open, take those shots, knock those shots down and then the rest of the game opens up.

“He had an opportunity to take shots early on that I thought he turned down. Because of his ability to attack the rim and high level-finishing, if people have to press up on him, he’s going to be a nightmare to guard.”

Okoro and the Cavaliers will play Indiana at home for a second straight time on Monday, then travel to New York to play the Knicks on Wednesday. The team’s final preseason contest will commence on Friday against New York.

There’s more from the Eastern Conference:

  • The Pistons have hired Travon Bryant as an assistant coach with a focus on player development, his agency, Career Sports & Entertainment, announced on social media. Bryant spent the past three seasons serving as an assistant with the Nets.
  • Wizards guard Ish Smith is dealing with lower body soreness, coach Scott Brooks said, as relayed by Ava Wallace of the Washington Post. Smith missed the team’s first preseason game against the Nets on Sunday, with Brooks expecting the soreness to heal in the coming days.
  • Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer examines the Hornets‘ preseason game from Saturday, along with the debuts of both LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward. Ball went scoreless and registered four turnovers in 16 minutes off the bench, but he also grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out four assists and made multiple highlight plays. Hayward scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds in 19 minutes, shooting 4-of-8 from the floor.

Central Notes: Rose, Hayes, Osman, Pacers, Wright, Gafford

Derrick Rose is eager to mentor Pistons lottery pick Killian Hayes, according to Keith Langlois of Pistons.com. Rose, who is entering his walk year, plans to make Hayes “uncomfortable” in camp to get the French point guard prepared for the rigors of the NBA. “My job is to push him and to groom him,” Rose said. “Coming from overseas, guys are going to try to play aggressive with him, so it’s my job to play aggressive on him throughout this whole camp so when he gets in a game he won’t feel that much pressure.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • The Cavaliers’ small forward starting job is up for grabs, as Chris Fedor of The Cleveland Plain Dealer details. Rookie Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman and Dylan Windler are the candidates, with Osman trying to holding onto the spot he’s occupied over the past two seasons. “Minutes have to be earned,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “You’ve got to earn everything here.”
  • The Pacers won’t have fans for their December home games but they’re hoping that changes as early as January, according to a team press release. Pacers Sports & Entertainment’s statement read in part, “We look forward to having fans back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in January, and we will provide updates in the near future.”
  • Guard Delon Wright wanted to rejoin Dwane Casey for the last two or three years, Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press tweets. Wright was traded last month to the Pistons, where he’ll be coached once again by Casey. Wright played three-and-a-half seasons with Toronto – mostly under Casey – before he was dealt to Memphis in February 2019. Wright thought he might get traded to Detroit before he wound up with the Grizzlies. He played for Dallas last season.
  • Bulls big man Daniel Gafford said he contacted former coach Jim Boylen to “clear the air” after Gafford made some remarks this summer criticizing Boylen’s personality and coaching methods, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. “I had contact with Jim, just made sure I cleared the air that it wasn’t anything intentional, that I was just trying to bash him or anything like that,’’ Gafford said. “It was nothing like that at all. … That was just basically constructive criticism, in my opinion.”

Isaac Okoro, Cole Anthony Sign Rookie Contracts

The Cavaliers and Magic have both signed their first-round picks, the teams announced today.

Cleveland came to terms with Auburn forward Isaac Okoro, who was the fifth overall selection. Orlando reached a deal with North Carolina guard Cole Anthony, who was taken with the 15th pick.

Neither team announced the terms of the deals, but both players are eligible to receive up to 120% of the rookie scale. That would be $6,400,920 for Okoro and $3,285,120 for Anthony.

Draft Rumors: Warriors, Smart, Wolves, Thunder, Cavs, More

The Warriors and Celtics had some discussions about a deal that would have involved the No. 2 pick and guard Marcus Smart according to Matt Moore of ActionNetwork.com. Sources tell Moore that those talks didn’t ultimately gain traction and aren’t expected to resume after the Celtics rejected a counter-offer from Golden State.

Michael Scotto of HoopsHype confirms that the Celtics called the Warriors to gauge their interest in moving the No. 2 pick and made Smart available, but talks “didn’t escalate.”

Here’s more on the draft as we prepare for what should be a fun night:

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer (Twitter link) is hearing that the Timberwolves will likely remain at No. 1, barring a “blockbuster” move. However, it sounds like the No. 17 pick is still very much in play. Jeremy Woo of SI.com reports (via Twitter) that the Thunder are exploring a deal for the No. 17 pick.
  • Isaac Okoro is rising on the Cavaliers‘ board, according to Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report (Twitter link), who says if Cleveland trades down to No. 8, it would likely hinge on the team’s ability to land Okoro at that spot.
  • The Clippers are looking to buy a second-round pick and/or trade up from No. 57, league sources tell Scotto.
  • The Suns could still trade down from No. 10 or use the pick in a deal for a veteran player, but they’re unlikely to move up, tweets John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7.