Kawhi Leonard

Atlantic Notes: Kawhi, Harris, Dolan, Stevens

Many of the players on the current Raptors roster weren’t a part of the team during its repeated playoff failures in recent years and won’t have that weight on their shoulders this spring. Plus, the fact that LeBron James is no longer in the Eastern Conference bodes well for a deeper postseason run for Toronto in 2019.

Still, as Sporting News’ Sean Deveney outlines, the Raptors will face a different sort of pressure this year, since their success in the playoffs figures to go a long way toward determining whether Kawhi Leonard sticks with the franchise beyond this season.

“I think the Lakers are out, but the Clippers are the ones who think they have a shot at him if they decide to go that route,” one front office executive told Deveney when asked to handicap Kawhi’s future. “You hear a lot, he still wants to be on the West Coast. But give that group in Toronto all the credit in the world. They’re making it a tough decision for him. It might come down to just, ‘All right, how did the playoffs go, and how far are we from a championship?'”

In an effort to make Leonard more comfortable in Toronto this season, the Raptors have carefully managed his workload, holding him out of the lineup once every week or two to make sure he’ll be at 100% by the time the postseason rolls around. So far, it’s working — the Raptors hold the No. 2 seed in the East, Leonard is fully healthy after missing all but nine games a year ago, and the star forward sounds pleased with how the plan has played out.

“We’ve been doing a great job of making sure that nothing flares up or gets out of control,” Leonard said this week, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link). “It’s just been great. I’m just happy that I’m able to play… It’s amazing. I feel good and we have something to look forward to.”

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Within his look at several contenders for the 2019 NBA championship, Sam Amick of The Athletic writes that a source close to Tobias Harris has “raved” about Sixers general manager Elton Brand. While that doesn’t guarantee that Harris will re-sign with Philadelphia in free agency, it’s certainly a positive sign, Amick notes.
  • During a Tuesday radio appearance, Knicks owner James Dolan strongly hinted that the club has heard from certain players and/or agents, and suggested that he believes the Knicks will have a “very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.” While those comments raised some eyebrows, a lawyer familiar with the NBA’s tampering policy tells Marc Berman of The New York Post that Dolan worded them carefully enough to avoid running afoul of the league’s policy. “If an agent walks up to [president] Steve Mills and says, ‘Clear cap space, player X wants to come,’ and Steve doesn’t engage, then it’s not tampering,” the lawyer said. “It appeared Dolan was pretty careful to make it seem like that was the deal.”
  • Count former Celtics head coach Doc Rivers among those who isn’t ready to place the blame on Brad Stevens for Boston’s struggles this season. In fact, Rivers still has full confidence in the C’s despite their up-and-down year. “They’re going to be fine,” the Clippers’ coach said, per Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. “They are as good as anybody in the East and as talented as anybody in the NBA. And when the playoffs start, I think everybody will see that.”

Raptors Notes: Lin, VanVleet, Kawhi, Green

When the Raptors landed Jeremy Lin on the buyout market last month, it looked like a perfect fit. Toronto had just lost backup point guards Fred VanVleet (to injury) and Delon Wright (in a trade), opening the door for Lin to play a key role off the bench. However, the veteran hasn’t looked comfortable with the Raps so far — entering today, he was a minus-46 in 140 minutes and made 0-of-17 three-point attempts, as Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca writes.

“We’ve gotta get him more comfortable,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s just a little uncomfortable with me, I think, more than anything. I like to let those guys [have freedom]. I say to him, ‘Jeremy, hey, call something. You know, you get the ball in your hands and you look like you don’t know what you want to do out there.’

“I say, ‘You don’t have to look at me, just call this, this or this, pick one.’ He’s got to get a little more comfortable. Even though I’ve tried to shorten it down to three things, he’s so new that he can’t quite come up with one. I need to give him more help. I need to give him more help until he’s more comfortable with that.”

Lin admits that he has more freedom in Toronto than he’s accustomed to, suggesting that he hasn’t had this sort of “empowerment” since he played for Mike D’Antoni in New York, as Lewenberg relays. The 30-year-old welcomes the opportunity to return to that style of play.

“That is kind of how I always played,” Lin said. “I was always more of a free space, free-flowing playmaker. That’s just kind of who I am by nature. That’s my personality. That’s probably what attracted me to this team and obviously vice-versa. We got to just make the pieces fit and [we] will.”

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • The Raptors’ bench will get some reinforcement when VanVleet returns, and according to Lewenberg (via Twitter), he’s ahead of schedule in his recovery from a thumb injury. Nurse expects VanVleet to return to Toronto’s rotation at some point within the next couple weeks.
  • Appearing on the Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective podcast, ESPN’s Michael C. Wright reiterated a point he’s made before, suggesting that he doesn’t believe Kawhi Leonard is interested in heading to the Lakers to play alongside LeBron James this offseason. “I do not,” Wright said, per RealGM.com. “That’s just what I’ve been told. It’s what I’ve been told going back to last summer. I don’t see that as something that’s happening. … I think he goes to the Clippers.”
  • While Leonard’s free agency will be the biggest storyline in Toronto this summer, his longtime teammate Danny Green will also be an unrestricted free agent, and Green’s impact on the Raptors this season shouldn’t be overlooked, writes Dan Feldman of NBC Sports.

Atlantic Notes: Durant, Hayward, Harris, Leonard

The Celtics have been slumping but Kevin Durant believes they’ll be dangerous when the playoffs arrive, as the Warriors star told a group of reporters, including ESPN’s Nick Friedell. Durant, whose team faces Boston on Tuesday, believes the Celtics are “still getting used to each other” but they’ll be a tough out in the postseason. “They’re right up there at the top,” Durant said. “They’ve been losing a couple games, but they’ve got the top talent, some of the top talent on that team, so they’ll be fine once the playoffs start.”

We have more from around the Atlantic Division:

  • Gordon Hayward‘s agent promises that his client will return to All-Star form next season. Mark Bartelstein made the comments in a WEEI interview that were relayed by NBC Sports Boston’s Nick Goss. “My guess is he doesn’t get his game all the way back where we’re accustomed to seeing it until next year,” Bartelstein said of the Celtics forward. “He’s going to need a summer to get back in the gym and get back in the laboratory and the weight room and build on everything he did last year. But there’s not a doubt in my mind. He’ll be an All-Star in this league many, many times over.”
  • Sixers coach Brett Brown is a big Tobias Harris fan and hopes the team re-signs him, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Brown praises Harris not only for his play on the court but his off-court persona. “I hope he’s a Philadelphia 76er for a long time,” Brown said. Harris, who will enter unrestricted free agency this summer, has enjoyed the ride with his new team since being dealt by the Clippers. “I like it here,” he said. “It’s been a good start that we’ve been able to have, a good group of guys, and the team has a lot of potential.”
  • The Raptors’ load management strategy with star Kawhi Leonard shows disrespect to the team’s fans, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star argues. Leonard has sat out 18 games this season, including an overtime loss in Detroit on Sunday in which many Raptors fans crossed the border to see the game. While the ultimate goal is to have a healthy Leonard for the playoffs, he’s making a huge salary and fans buy full-price tickets to watch him play. To simply shrug off his participation in regular-season basketball is a snub to fans, Cox contends.

Raptors Notes: Roster, Gasol, Leonard, Lowry

The Raptors have agreements to add a pair of players on 10-day contracts, but they might not join the team right away. A franchise has to have 12 players with standard contracts before it can issue 10-day deals, tweets Keith Smith of Real GM, and Toronto is down to 10 after after the trade deadline.

Malcolm Miller and Ben McLemore have both committed to joining the Raptors on 10-day contracts as soon as the situation is resolved. A 25-year-old forward, Miller was a two-way player in Toronto last season and appeared in 15 games. He suffered a dislocated shoulder during Summer League and has been doing rehab work with the Raptors’ G League affiliate. McLemore, the seventh pick in the 2014 draft, was waived by the Kings this week.

GM Bobby Webster tells Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports that the team plans to be aggressive on the buyout market. It will comply with league rules about roster size, but several moves may not come until after the All-Star break. (Twitter link). The Raptors have compiled a ranking of buyout prospects and have talked with several of their agents to express interest (Twitter link).

There’s more from Toronto:

  • Newly acquired center Marc Gasol doesn’t mind that the Raptors plan to experiment with him to determine his best role, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. The former Grizzlies star came off the bench Saturday in his Raptors debut, posting seven points and six rebounds in a win over the Knicks. Coach Nick Nurse plans to use Gasol’s passing skills to expand the offense and will make him “captain” of the defense. “I’m not going to rush anything,” Gasol said. “As a player you just want to help a team accomplish their goals. That’s what this is about.”
  • Knicks fans have interest in Kawhi Leonard‘s future now that their team has room to offer two max contracts, but the Raptors forward didn’t want to discuss the topic after Saturday’s game in New York, relays Steve Popper of Newsday. “I’m not talking about that right now,” he told reporters. “We’re going to get there. I’m focused on this season. We can talk about the game.”
  • Team president Masai Ujiri doesn’t expect Kyle Lowry to be rattled about hearing his name in trade rumors, according to Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun. There were whispers that Lowry might be headed out of Toronto if the team could acquire Mike Conley from the Grizzlies. “I had a very good conversation with Kyle, and rumors are rumors, to be honest,” Ujiri said. “I see no issues, honestly, with him. Zero. We’re good, and I think his mind is focused on this run.”

Clippers May Pass On Pursuing Jimmy Butler

The Clippers may not pursue Jimmy Butler as a free agent this offseason, as the team doesn’t view him as a top-tier target, sources tell The Athletic’s Sam Amick.

Los Angeles traded Tobias Harris to the Sixers at the deadline in a deal helps the franchise obtain their goal of adding two max-level players. The team reportedly plans to pursue Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, though should one or both sign elsewhere, other stars will be prioritized over Butler.

Butler will be a free agent after the season and it’s no lock that the Sixers will make maximum salary offers to both Butler and new addition Tobias Harris, Zach Lowe of ESPN.com hears. Lowe adds that it’s nearly certain that both players will find a max deal if they look outside of Philadelphia.

The Clippers will have approximately $53.19MM in cap space this summer, which is just short of the two projected maximum salary slots. Amick writes that the front office already has a plan in place that carves out the additional cap space needed to bring in two stars (approximately $65MM total) without shipping out Danilo Gallinari, who is set to make $22.62MM next season.

Rival teams believe Leonard will sign with the Clippers should he leave Toronto. Durant’s future remains a mystery with the former MVP unwilling to delve into free agency hypotheticals.

Owner Steve Ballmer will angle to bring both in and he has a promising pitch. The Clippers are stocked with resources. Los Angeles has several first-round picks outside of their own selections and Ballmer’s personal net worth, which comes in at $38.4 billion—the most among all North American franchise owners—indicates that the team won’t be phased by potential luxury tax hinderances akin to LeBron James‘ super teams in Miami and Cleveland.

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.

Western Notes: Clippers, Durant, Mavericks, Blazers

The Clippers‘ decision to trade Tobias Harris was part of their larger plan to sign Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard this summer, writes Sam Amick of The Athletic. With its current roster, L.A. can create up to $53.19MM in cap room, enough for one maximum contract and about $20MM to chase a second star. But Amick reports that the Clippers have a plan to open space for two max deals, even if they can’t find a taker for Danilo Gallinari before today’s trade deadline. Gallinari is owed $22.6MM for next season.

The Clippers are also excited about the assets they received in the Sixers deal, Amick adds. They weren’t committed to giving Harris a max offer this summer, so they moved him for four draft picks (Miami’s first-rounder in 2021, Philadelphia’s first-rounder in 2020 with three years of lottery protection, plus Detroit’s second-rounders in 2021 and 2023) plus a promising rookie in Landry Shamet.

Amick also notes that Steve Ballmer’s willingness to spend gives the Clippers an edge in building a contender. He’s by far the wealthiest owner in the NBA and has connections to the tech industry that many players find appealing.

There’s more from the Western Conference:

  • Free agency is nearly five months away, but Durant is already testy about speculation over his future, relays Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic. Breaking a week-long silence with the media, Durant lashed out at reporters after Wednesday’s game. “I have nothing to do with the Knicks,” he said. “I don’t know who traded (Kristaps) Porzingis. That’s got nothing to do with me. I’m trying to play basketball. Y’all come in here every day, ask me about free agency, ask my teammates, my coaches, rile up the fans about it. Let us play basketball. That’s all I’m saying.”
  • The Mavericks have traded four of their five starters over the past week as they start to build a new team around Luka Doncic, notes Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News. Harrison Barnes was sent to Sacramento last night after last week’s blockbuster that brought in Porzingis for Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews“This week is a zoo,” coach Rick Carlisle said, “but that’s part of the compelling business of our league.”
  • The Trail Blazers have a $3.5MM trade exception remaining if they want to swing one more deal before the deadline, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link). Portland declined the chance to create a pair of small exceptions worth $1.5MM in the trade for Rodney Hood.
  • Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor has chosen an agent after being without representation since September, tweets Liz Mullen of Sports Business Journal. He signed with Excel Sports and will have Sean Kennedy as his agent.

Pacific Notes: Clippers, Kawhi, Rivers, Suns

Of the teams on Anthony Davis‘ reported wish list, the Bucks and Knicks likely don’t have the necessary assets to make a viable offer for the All-Star big man at this time. That leaves the Clippers as the biggest threat to the Lakers among those four preferred destinations. And while the Clips reportedly haven’t made an offer, Johan Buva of The Athletic argues that going all-in for Davis should be the franchise’s new Plan A.

[RELATED: Latest Anthony Davis Trade Rumors]

As Buva outlines, the Clippers have a plethora of assets that could interest the Pelicans, including young prospects with upside (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Montrezl Harrell), productive veterans (Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, and Patrick Beverley), and all but one of their own future first-round picks. The team has had its eye on the 2019 free agent market as it considers how to take advantage of its cap flexibility, but acquiring Davis would perhaps be a more worthwhile gamble than rolling the dice in free agency, Buva writes.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • One of the Clippers‘ offseason free agent targets, Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, didn’t notice that Clips owner Steve Ballmer was sitting courtside for the club’s game in Toronto on Sunday, writes Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun. The Clippers have sent representatives to Raptors games throughout the season as they prepare to make a summer pitch to Leonard. “I’m not thinking about it right now. I’m just focused on the season,” Leonard said. “I didn’t know [Ballmer] was at the game until you guys told me. I’m focused and when that time comes we’ll have to talk and sit down with everyone and have meetings.”
  • Last week’s Kristaps Porzingis trade could have a ripple effect on teams like the Lakers and Clippers, as Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times explains. In addition to making the Knicks a more significant offseason threat for the same top free agents those L.A. teams will be chasing, the deal also turns a veteran like DeAndre Jordan into a buyout candidate. If Jordan is bought out, a reunion with the Clips would be a “definite possibility,” says Woike.
  • When he was traded from Washington to Phoenix earlier this season, Austin Rivers had a very brief stay with the Suns before being bought out. As Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic relays, Rivers explained this week that he and the lottery-bound Suns were on the same page when they acquired him. “They understood where I was at,” Rivers said. “I’m not old. I’m only 26, but where I’ve been. I’ve been on playoff teams the past five years. That’s kind of the route I wanted and I felt like was best for me, especially in a contract year. I want to be in the playoffs. I want to compete for something.”
  • Bob Young of The Athletic recently took a look at the Suns‘ trade-deadline plans and their approach to finding a long-term answer at point guard.

Atlantic Notes: Stevens, Raptors, Musa

There’s no denying that Brad Stevens wasted little time establishing himself as one of the best strategically minded coaches in the NBA. Now, amid rampant Anthony Davis discussion and speculation that Kyrie Irving will renege on his verbal commitment to re-sign with the Celtics, Stevens is getting a taste of a big league coach’s other responsibility: managing melodrama.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News writes that even though the Celtics have been winning games at an elite rate (nine of their past 10), Stevens will need to manage the personalities in his locker room more carefully than he ever had to during his time coaching in the NCAA.

Deveney writes that it’s been said that Stevens “tends to handle his players with too much emphasis on Xs-and-Os and not enough TLC.” The fate of this Celtics team could depend on him striking a balance.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Pressure is mounting on the Raptors to click and establish themselves as the legitimate title contenders that stakeholders hoped they would be after the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard. As Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star writes, if Leonard does choose to leave the organization, the stakes will be lower than they’ve been in years. That ought to make the time leading up to the decision particularly tense.
  • Recent comments from Anthony Davis‘ father have cast new light on one of the teams most commonly linked to the superstar. Thomas Lott of Sporting News writes about Davis’ father slamming the Celtics organization for their treatment of former star Isaiah Thomas during the summer of 2017. Davis’ father says that although he would not want his son to play for the franchise, that’s not necessarily how the youngest Davis feels.
  • Rookie guard Dzanan Musa will remain with the Nets‘ G League affiliate in Long Island for the foreseeable future, Brian Lewis of the New York Post tweets. The 19-year-old will stay with the minor league squad to get minutes. Musa is recovering from a shoulder injury that sidelined him in December.

Western Notes: Ball, Davis, Clippers

The Suns could benefit from Anthony Davis‘ trade request, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic explains. If Davis gets his way and lands in Los Angeles, Lonzo Ball could be shipped elsewhere and chatter out of Ball’s camp is that he prefers to go somewhere without an established point guard.

Phoenix is one of the few teams in immediate need of a starting floor general. Rankin identifies Josh Jackson as a player who could be sent to the Pelicans in a potential Lakers-Pelicans-Suns three way trade. Dealing Jackson for Ball makes sense for a team with a bevy of young prospects on the roster.

Here’s more from the Western Conference:

  • Davis didn’t earn a starting spot in the All-Star game in the crowded Western Conference and Marc Stein of The New York Times (via his latest newsletter) hears that it’s reasonable to conclude that his reserve status in the game is among the “frustration factors” that helped convince him that now is the time to push for a trade from the Pelicans.
  • Stein (in the same newsletter) gets the sense that the Clippers are genuinely confident that they can land Kawhi Leonard this summer. The team isn’t allowed to publicly say anything about Leonard, per tampering regulations.
  • The Jazz are looking for a third option behind Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert and Brad Rock of The Deseret News examines whether they have a favorable enough situation to keep a top player should the team make a deal. Rock argues that it remains difficult to attract top talent if a franchise doesn’t have name brand, good weather, or reside in a major city.