Kawhi Leonard

Latest On Jimmy Butler Trade To Philadelphia

The Timberwolves and Sixers agreed on Saturday to one of the biggest trades in recent years. Jimmy Butler is headed to Philadelphia, while Dario Saric and Robert Covington headline the package that Minnesota is receiving.

We have more news to pass along on this blockbuster:

  • Butler had shown an interest in Philadelphia long before Saturday. Butler scheduled a free agent meeting with the Sixers  in 2015, when they were still in the early stages of building a contender, before he re-signed with the Bulls, Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated tweets.
  • If Butler agrees to a max contract with Philadelphia, Markelle Fultz‘s long-term prospects with the organization would be in serious doubt, Zach Lowe of ESPN tweets. There are plenty of other questions regarding how Fultz fits with core group that Philadelphia has assembled and the team’s brass will closely monitor how all the personalities mesh, Lowe adds. The top 2017 pick is averaging just 8.9 PPG and 3.6 APG  in 24.3 MPG and will now have to compete with another All-Star for touches.
  • Minnesota avoided sending Butler to a Western Conference contender, one of the goals it set in trade talks involving the disgruntled swingman, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN notes (Twitter link). The Rockets had been mentioned prominently as a possible destination but even a package of four future first-round picks couldn’t entice the Timberwolves to send him to a conference rival. The Sixers became the most viable trade partner once the Heat pulled Josh Richardson out of trade discussions, Wojnarowski adds.
  • The Sixers were prepared to offer a similar package to the Spurs to acquire Kawhi Leonard this summer, Fischer reports in another tweet. Philadelphia was willing to give up Saric, Covington and a first-rounder to San Antonio before the Spurs opted to deal Leonard to the Raptors. The Spurs’ decision to decline the Sixers’ offer thus far seems like a wise move, considering Saric’s early shooting slump (30% from long range), Jabari Young of The Athletic tweets. Toronto’s package, with DeMar DeRozan as the centerpiece, has helped San Antonio get off to a 6-4 start despite a rash of injuries.
  • Buyout candidates will be even more intrigued to join the Sixers for the stretch run, Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype tweets. Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli joined Philadelphia in that fashion last season, Kennedy adds, and the incentive for players seeking a ring to hop on Philadelphia’s bandwagon has dramatically increased.
  • The Timberwolves considered three offers from different teams before picking the Sixers’ package, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic tweets.
  • Philadelphia will likely move J.J. Redick back into the starting lineup because his 3-point shooting will be needed on the first unit, Keith Smith of RealGM tweets.
  • The earliest that Butler could make his Sixers debut, once the trade is finalized, is Wednesday against the Magic, Wojnarowski adds in another tweet.

Raptors Notes: Roster Balance, Leonard, Ibaka

Speaking to Joshua Clipperton of The Canadian Press (link via Sportsnet.ca), former NBA commissioner David Stern acknowledged that the NBA’s move to Vancouver was one of the failures of his tenure. However, he said that he views the Raptors – Canada’s other 1995 expansion team – as a “great success” and says the idea that players don’t want to land in Toronto is outdated and died long ago.

“Toronto has the most wonderful array of sports assets and a cosmopolitan community and a great building,” Stern said. “It’s a pleasure to see that it is a destination city that players want to go to.”

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • The Raptors’ summer blockbuster with the Spurs allowed Toronto to replace two non-shooters with two quintessential three-and-D wings in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Now, the rotation is loaded with versatile three-and-D players and the Raptors’ roster looks like a model for other teams to emulate, writes Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer.
  • Speaking of Leonard, Blake Murphy of The Athletic takes an early look at the relationship between the star forward and his new team, a topic that will get more and more attention as Kawhi’s 2019 free agency nears. As Murphy observes, the Raptors don’t want to put a full-court recruiting press on Leonard all season, preferring to let the team’s success be the primary selling point. With an 11-1 record so far, Toronto is off to a good start in that regard.
  • Serge Ibaka has reversed some worrying trends so far this season and looks like a rejuvenated player. Frank Urbina of HoopsHype explores what changed for Ibaka and whether those improvements are sustainable.
  • In other Raptors news, Norman Powell is expected to miss the next four to six weeks with a shoulder injury, as we relayed earlier this week.

NBA Super-Max Candidates To Watch In 2018/19

The Designated Veteran Extension, as we explain our glossary entry on the subject, is a relatively new addition to the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. It allows players with 7-9 years of experience, who would normally qualify for a maximum starting salary of 30% of the cap, to qualify for a “super-max” contract that starts at 35% of the cap, a level normally reserved players with 10+ years of experience.

A player who has seven or eight years of NBA service with one or two years left on his contract becomes eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension if he meets the required performance criteria and hasn’t been traded since his first four years in the league. A Designated Veteran contract can also be signed by a player who is technically a free agent if he has eight or nine years of service and meets the required criteria.

The performance criteria is as follows (only one of the following must be true):

  • The player was named to an All-NBA team in the most recent season, or in two of the last three seasons.
  • The player was named the NBA MVP in any of the three most recent seasons.
  • The player was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in the most recent season, or in two of the last three seasons.

With those criteria in mind, it’s worth keeping an eye on several players who could qualify for a super-max veteran contract with their play this season. Let’s dive in and examine a few of those guys…

Players who already qualify for a super-max contract:

Davis can’t yet sign a Designated Veteran Extension, but his All-NBA appearances over the last two seasons have ensured that he’ll qualify, even if he somehow doesn’t earn another All-NBA nod in 2018/19.

As of next July, the Pelicans will be able to offer Davis a contract extension that tacks an additional five years onto his $27.09MM salary for 2019/20. Based on the NBA’s latest cap projection for 2020/21 ($118MM), that five-year extension would be worth a staggering $239.54MM.

Players who could qualify for a super-max contract by meeting the criteria in 2018/19:

Technically, any player who earns an All-NBA spot in 2018/19 and meets the contract criteria can qualify for a super-max, but the players listed above are probably the only legitimately viable candidates. And even in this group, guys like Beal and Drummond are a real stretch — if they were to improbably make an All-NBA team, their clubs still probably wouldn’t put Designated Veteran Extension offers on the table, since they’re not bona fide superstars.

Thompson and Walker will both be unrestricted free agents in 2019, so if they meet the DVE criteria, they’d be eligible for five-year contracts with their respective teams worth up to a projected $221.27MM. Lillard and Green are still under contract for at least one more year beyond this season, but they’d qualify for super-max extensions if they meet the criteria — Lillard could get an extra four years, while Green could get five.

A team can only give Designated Veteran Extensions to two players, so the Warriors wouldn’t be able to offer both Thompson and Green super-max contracts, since Stephen Curry already has one. On the plus side, Kevin Durant won’t figure into this equation for Golden State, since he has 10+ years of experience. A deal starting at 35% of the cap for Durant wouldn’t count toward the Dubs’ super-max limit.

Finally, while Antetokounmpo can qualify for a super-max by earning All-NBA honors this season, he wouldn’t actually be able to sign such a deal until 2020, since he’ll only have six years of experience at the end of the 2018/19 campaign. Essentially, he’d be in the same spot that Anthony Davis is in now.

Players who can no longer qualify for a super-max contract because they were traded:

Butler, Irving, and Leonard are probably more worthy of a super-max investment than most of the players in the above group, but they no longer qualify because they were traded while on their second contracts — Butler from the Bulls, Irving from the Cavaliers, and Leonard from the Spurs. They’ll need to reach 10 years of NBA experience before qualifying for a starting salary worth up to 35% of the cap.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Kyle Lowry Talks DeRozan, Kawhi, Raptors

When the Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs in July in a package for Kawhi Leonard, it broke up one of the NBA’s most likeable duos, leaving Kyle Lowry in Toronto while his best friend DeRozan headed to San Antonio.

Speaking to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated on Wednesday night after the Raptors beat the Kings, Lowry opened up about that trade and about his club’s offseason. While Lowry’s unwillingness to speak to reporters about the deal at a Team USA mini-camp during the summer was viewed as a sign of his possible unhappiness, the veteran point guard tells Spears that he never does any interviews in the summer, and that his silence wasn’t directly related to that trade.

Acknowledging that he was “a little emotional” when he first learned of the blockbuster deal, Lowry said that “everyone made peace with it” and is in a good place now. He also shared his thoughts on several other topics in his conversation with Spears. Here are some of the highlights:

On the eventual returns to Toronto for former head coach Dwane Casey and DeRozan:

“I’m not looking forward to seeing coach next week. It’s weird. Then seeing DeMar is going to be different. It’s going to weird. And I’m sure they are going to show a video tribute, and I might get emotional. I won’t cry. I won’t do that. We have always talked about it by saying that we’re going to reflect on our careers when we are done and sitting on our porches chilling sipping on some lemonade.”

On how he feels about the Raptors’ changes now that the dust has settled:

“Our record is good. We’re playing well. For me, it’s long-, long-term. Stay level[-headed]. You can’t worry about this and that. You got to make sure that when the time comes, April, May, June, that we are still playing. That’s when you get asked about what the team is and what this year is. Right now, we’re just 12 games in. It’s too early to tell. We got to just stay the path.”

On playing with Leonard:

“He’s a great player. He’s still getting his feet under him. I still believe he has some work to do. Like today, he was a little off a little bit. But he’s doing his job and he is going to continue to get better.”

On whether he still wanted to be in Toronto after the team traded DeRozan:

“That’s a good question. I just wanted to be where I could win and I was wanted. And it was here. They didn’t trade me. So, I guess this was the situation I was going to be in. And as a professional with the situation I am going to be in, I’m going to do my job.”

Charania’s Latest: Butler, Grizzlies, Dirk, Kemba

No resolution appears imminent on the Jimmy Butler front, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, who reports that the Timberwolves “never” showed any willingness to accept the Rockets‘ previously reported offer of Brandon Knight, Marquese Chriss, and four first-round draft picks. Accepting a package that featured a pair of probable non-rotation players and a handful of picks with uncertain conditions was a “non-starter” for Tom Thibodeau, league sources tell Charania. Charania also reaffirms something we’ve heard within the last week or two, writing that there’s a belief around the NBA that the Heat and/or Sixers could re-engage the Timberwolves at some point on Butler.

Charania’s latest article for The Athletic includes several other noteworthy tidbits, so we’ll round up the highlights below…

  • The Grizzlies, who have an open spot on their 15-man roster, are prioritizing signing a veteran center to fill that opening, sources tell Charania.
  • Mavericks big man Dirk Nowitzki is hoping to make his 2018/19 debut in about three weeks, per Charania. Nowitzki continues to recover from ankle surgery.
  • Teams that asked about Kemba Walker during the offseason were told that the Hornets are committed to contending for the playoffs and view Walker as the face of their franchise, league sources tell Charania. Team owner Michael Jordan has a “strong desire” to re-sign Walker when he reaches free agency in 2019, Charania adds.
  • The Hawks have been reluctant to move Dewayne Dedmon to this point, according to Charania. However, with his free agency approaching in 2019, teams are expected to ask Atlanta about Dedmon’s availability leading up to this season’s trade deadline.
  • Before Kawhi Leonard was traded to Toronto in July, the Nuggets were “on the periphery” late into the Leonard sweepstakes, but opted to hang onto their young core, says Charania. That decision has paid off so far this season, with Denver off to a 9-1 start.
  • The NBA’s lone remaining restricted free agency, Patrick McCaw, remains in discussions with multiple teams, including the Warriors, Charania reports.

Raptors Notes: Powell, Richardson, Kawhi

Raptors swingman Norman Powell left Monday night’s win over Utah with a left shoulder injury, and the initial diagnosis from the team is a subluxation of that shoulder, as Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun tweets. Powell will undergo further evaluations to determine the severity of the injury, but Wolstat notes that a subluxation translates to a partial dislocation, which doesn’t sound like great news.

If Powell is forced to miss some time, the Raptors have the depth to handle his absence. Second-stringers like C.J. Miles and Delon Wright could see a little more action with Powell out, while Lorenzo Brown and Malachi Richardson would be among the candidates to play a few minutes on nights when Kawhi Leonard sits.

Here’s more out of Toronto:

  • Malachi Richardson was one of eight players who had his 2019/20 rookie scale option turned down last week, leaving him at a crossroads, writes Blake Murphy of The Athletic. As Murphy observes, Richardson still has a little intrigue as a prospect, but his minor role in Toronto and the possibility of a large tax bill next season led to the team declining that option.
  • One person within the Raptors’ organization tells Paolo Uggetti of The Ringer that the expectation for Kawhi Leonard is that he’ll be fully healthy sometime around the All-Star break. The jammed foot currently sidelining Leonard isn’t considered a major issue, but even before suffering that injury, the former Finals MVP was only playing one game during back-to-back sets. Uggetti’s source seems to be suggesting that could change later in the season, if necessary.
  • On Monday, we relayed a few details on how the Raptors hope to sell Leonard on sticking in Toronto beyond this season, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com.

Lakers May Be Slipping In Battle For Kawhi Leonard

Playing in front of Kawhi Leonard Sunday night, the Lakers didn’t make a strong case to attract the impending free agent, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Leonard sat out the game with a sore left foot, but watched his Raptors teammates take an early 41-10 lead on the way to a comfortable victory.

A Southern California native, Leonard has reportedly expressed a desire to return to the West Coast once he opts out of his contract next summer. However, there has been talk that he prefers the Clippers, where he could be the top star, rather than joining the Lakers and serving as a sidekick to LeBron James.

Leonard has been guarded in his public statements, but he did mention the Lakers in a weekend interview, saying he wasn’t a fan of the team while growing up.

“I wasn’t at all,” he said. “My family was, but I wasn’t. I liked Allen Iverson, I was an A.I. fan, so I didn’t like the Lakers.”

That statement could be interpreted as bad new for the Lakers, who will be in the market for a second star to team with James. At one time, they were hoping Paul George would be headed to L.A., but he was traded to the Thunder and opted to re-sign there. According to Bontemps, the Raptors are confident they can repeat that scenario with Leonard.

At 9-1, Toronto is tied with Golden State for the league’s best record. The team is two-deep at every position and has plenty of talent for first-year coach Nick Nurse to adjust the lineup to fit the opponent. Raptors officials believe a full season of success will encourage Leonard to re-sign with the organization, which will have the Bird rights advantages of being able to offer him a longer contract and larger raises than anyone else.

Bontemps envisions a sales pitch where team president Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster emphasize the advantages of playing with a young roster that can be an Eastern Conference contender for several years, along with a rabid fan base that has already welcomed Leonard as a hero. It’s still uncertain whether that will be enough, but Toronto’s plans for keeping Leonard couldn’t be working out any better.

Raptors’ Leonard Will Sit Back-To-Backs As He Suffers Jammed Foot

The Raptors‘ prized offseason acquisition, Kawhi Leonard, left the team’s Friday night win with a jammed foot, head coach Nick Nurse told reporters, including ESPN’s Tim Bontemps.

“He jammed his foot,” Nurse said. “It didn’t seem to be too bad. They are still evaluating it. But we figured, end of the game, leave him out and let them evaluate it. But it’s not an ankle, or anything. It’s a jammed foot.”

Leonard appeared to suffer the injury late in the fourth quarter as he battled in the paint during a Toronto possession. Both he and Nurse appeared to be under the same impression that the injury is minor.

“I think it’s going to be all right, nothing major,” Leonard said postgame. “I just pushed off on it and kind of rolled it and I wanted to get it looked at.”

The 27-year-old has played well this season, averaging 27.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 5.0 APG for the Raptors in seven games. He has sat out two games as part of back-to-backs for Toronto.

While this injury does not appear serious, Leonard did play in just nine games for the Spurs last season due to a right quad injury. It will be important for the Raptors to monitor Leonard’s health as they attempt to hold onto the Eastern Conference’s best record.

As Bontemps noted in the story, the Raptors will continue resting Leonard on back-to-back days to ease him back into the grind of the season.

“I feel healthy now, and they just don’t want to rush into things,” Leonard said. “I don’t either. It’s a long season, so we’re thinking about the long road.”

Atlantic Notes: Leonard, Celtics, Splitter, Korkmaz

The Raptors are taking a long view on Kawhi Leonard, ensuring that he remains in good health throughout the rest of the season, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports writes. The team rested Leonard against the undefeated Bucks on Monday, the first half of a back-to-back set against Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

Leonard missed most of last season with a quad injury and has spent this season regaining his stamina, working to get back into a consistent game shape. He’s averaged 27.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 3.2 APG so far on the year.

“It feels good, [I] just don’t want to overdo it too early since I missed out on a year,” Leonard said about his quad. “It’s just injury prevention, so [I’m] just not playing back-to-backs for right now.”

When healthy, Leonard is a top-tier defender who’s improved vastly on the offensive end. The Raptors acquired him in a trade with the Spurs this past offseason, labeling him as a player who could lead the team to a deep playoff run.

Toronto is scheduled for 12 back-to-backs on the season. It’s unclear how long Leonard will rest for these sets, with the 27-year-old in his eighth NBA season.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Several Warriors players have labeled the Celtics as the biggest threat in their quest to a three-peat this season, according to The Athletic’s Sam Amick. Players such as Kevin Durant and Draymond Green recognized the strengths of Boston, including the team’s ability to switch on defense and their depth off the bench.
  • Former NBA center Tiago Splitter has spent this season with the Nets sharing coaching and scouting duties. “Our goal this year is to improve last year’s result when we had 28 wins,” Splitter said, according to Nets Daily. “We want to do more than that, but we also think about the long run.” Splitter retired last February and joined the Nets in a dual role shortly after.
  • Derek Bodner of The Athletic examines the Sixers‘ decision to decline the third-year option in Furkan Korkmaz‘s contract. Philadelphia will have an extra $2MM in cap space next summer as a result, and Korkmaz will reach free agency on July 1.

Injury Updates: Theis, Giannis, Harkless, Harris

The Celtics may be without big man Daniel Theis for the next few weeks, head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged today (Twitter link via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston).

While Stevens said Theis’ injury won’t require surgery and isn’t necessarily as bad it sounds, the 26-year-old is dealing with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot and has been ruled out indefinitely (Twitter links via Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald and the Celtics’ official account).

Theis doesn’t play a major role for the Celtics, but has been productive in limited minutes. So far in his second season with the franchise, he has averaged 6.0 PPG and 3.4 RPG in just 12.2 minutes per contest.

Here are a few more noteworthy injury updates from around the NBA:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo, who initially returned to Saturday night’s game after taking a blow to the head, has been placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol and will miss at least Monday’s game against Toronto, the Bucks announced today. The Raptors will be without their own star player, having announced that Kawhi Leonard will rest in the first game of the club’s back-to-back set.
  • Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless continues to deal with the effects of the arthroscopic knee surgery he underwent in March. As Joe Freeman of The Oregonian details, Harkless’ left knee pain recently resurfaced and will keep him out of Monday’s game against Indiana. It’s not clear whether Harkless will continue to miss more time beyond that contest.
  • Mavericks guard Devin Harris, who remains out of action due to a hamstring injury, has been targeting Wednesday’s game against the Lakers as a potential return date, but that’s not set in stone, writes Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. “I ran on it for the first time,” Harris said on Sunday. “The next step is to run on it comfortably. It didn’t feel quite right.”