Kawhi Leonard

Hiatus Notes: TV Revenue, Benson, Storylines, Clippers

The NBA hopes to play at least 70 regular-season games this season in order to retain 100% of the revenue the league receives from their regional sports network partners, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst (hat tip to RealGM). Those networks broadcast games in local markets. An abbreviated resumption of the regular season would also serve as a way for teams to ramp back up before the playoffs begin, Windhorst adds.

We have more developments related to the league’s hiatus:

  • Pelicans owner Gayle Benson has pledged to give $1MM to various causes, including financial assistance to arena workers displaced by the coronavirus-related stoppage, according to a team press release. The Gayle Benson Community Assistance Fund will also provide assistance to the general New Orleans community. Numerous players and teams have reached out to help their arena workers.
  • LeBron James‘ pursuit of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s potentially historic follow-up to his MVP season are among the storylines that won’t be played out if the season is canceled, Michael Lee of The Athletic notes. The Pelicans’ pursuit of the Grizzlies for the Western Conference’s final playoff berth, with the added intrigue of those teams being led by top rookies Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, would also fall by the wayside.
  • The hiatus could have a silver lining for the Clippers, ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk points out. The prime title contender will have a chance to get fully healthy heading into the postseason, as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will have an extended time to rest, while Lou Williams (calf) and Patrick Beverley (groin) can recover from their ailments. The article breaks down what the hiatus means for each Western Conference club.

Western Notes: Leonard, Beasley, Chriss, Tucker

The All-Star Game provided a glimpse of how dominant the Lakers would have been if Kawhi Leonard had signed with them instead of the Clippers, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times notes. The trio of Leonard, LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 27 of Team LeBron’s first 30 points.

“I didn’t really go there mentally,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “It was an All-Star game. It’s an exhibition. I had fun with that aspect of it, but I love my Lakers team.”

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Guard Malik Beasley has been rejuvenated by getting traded to the Timberwolves, Mike Singer of the Denver Post points out. Beasley was a victim of the Nuggets’ depth but he’s now getting steady minutes with Minnesota, which will pump up his value entering restricted free agency. “It’s good to see him have the opportunity and take advantage of it,” former teammate Jamal Murray said.
  • Reclamation projects such as Marquese Chriss are the types of players the Warriors will need to improve their roster, according to Marcus Thompson of The Athletic. Chriss can eventually complement the trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green by running the floor, finishing at the rim and rebounding, Thompson continues. Chriss has been especially productive since signing a two-year, $2.5MM deal and that’s significant, since the Warriors won’t have salary-cap space to upgrade their roster by many other methods for at least two more seasons, Thompson adds.
  • Former Rockets guard Chris Paul says Houston should give P.J. Tucker a contract extension, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle relays. Tucker, who will earn just under $8MM in the final year of his contract in 2020/21, will be extension-eligible during the offseason. He has been playing center in a very undersized lineup in recent games.

USA Basketball Announces 44 Finalists For 2020 Olympic Roster

USA Basketball has formally announced a preliminary group of 44 players who are candidates to be part of the program’s roster for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The final roster will only consist of 12 players, so most of these finalists won’t actually play for Team USA at the Olympics. Some will likely withdraw from consideration, while others simply won’t make the final cut. However, these players have all expressed interest in being involved in the process.

“This is the first step in USA Basketball identifying the 12 players who will represent the United States as members of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team in Tokyo,” said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo.

“… Over the course of the remainder of the NBA season we’ll continue to monitor all of the athletes. Selecting the 12-man USA roster will obviously be an extremely challenging and difficult process, and we will again attempt to select the very best team possible to represent our country and who we hope will be successful in our difficult mission of repeating as Olympic champions for a fourth consecutive Olympics.”

Although the U.S. men’s team has won three consecutive Olympic gold medals, the program had a disappointing showing at last year’s World Cup, finishing in seventh place. Team USA will be looking for a bounce-back performance in Tokyo this summer, with many players from that World Cup squad among the 44 finalists announced today.

Here’s the full list of players who are candidates to play for Team USA at the 2020 Olympics:

  1. Bam Adebayo (Heat)
  2. LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs)
  3. Harrison Barnes (Kings)
  4. Bradley Beal (Wizards)
  5. Devin Booker (Suns)
  6. Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers)
  7. Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
  8. Jimmy Butler (Heat)
  9. Mike Conley (Jazz)
  10. Stephen Curry (Warriors)
  11. Anthony Davis (Lakers)
  12. DeMar DeRozan (Spurs)
  13. Andre Drummond (Cavaliers)
  14. Kevin Durant (Nets)
  15. Paul George (Clippers)
  16. Draymond Green (Warriors)
  17. James Harden (Rockets)
  18. Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)
  19. Joe Harris (Nets)
  20. Tobias Harris (76ers)
  21. Gordon Hayward (Celtics)
  22. Dwight Howard (Lakers)
  23. Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)
  24. Kyrie Irving (Nets)
  25. LeBron James (Lakers)
  26. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)
  27. Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
  28. Damian Lillard (Blazers)
  29. Brook Lopez (Bucks)
  30. Kevin Love (Cavaliers)
  31. Kyle Lowry (Raptors)
  32. JaVale McGee (Lakers)
  33. Khris Middleton (Bucks)
  34. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
  35. Victor Oladipo (Pacers)
  36. Chris Paul (Thunder)
  37. Mason Plumlee (Nuggets)
  38. Marcus Smart (Celtics)
  39. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
  40. Klay Thompson (Warriors)
  41. Myles Turner (Pacers)
  42. Kemba Walker (Celtics)
  43. Russell Westbrook (Rockets)
  44. Derrick White (Spurs)

Pacific Notes: LeBron, Kawhi, Warriors, Suns

For LeBron James, the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant last Sunday in a helicopter crash provided a powerful reminder of life’s priorities, Ben Golliver of the Washington Post writes.

The crash also took the lives of eight others, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna. James has three children of his own (Bronny, Bryce and Zhuri, all between the ages of five and 15), and the three-time NBA champion was impacted harder than most by the devastating news.

“Seeing Kobe playing the game of basketball for 20 years,” James said, “you know what’s crazy? Out of all the success he had — five rings, MVPs, first-team everything, all-life, all-world, all-basketball — I felt like the last three years were the happiest I’ve ever seen him. Being able to be with his daughters and his family.”

James gave an inspiring speech prior to the Lakers‘ game against Portland on Friday night, speaking from his heart and remembering the lives of each victim. The game also included various performances, decorations and memorabilia to honor the Bryant family.

“What he said was just beautiful. It was strong,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of James’ speech. “It represented who he is and who we are as a team. [That was] definitely the heaviest game I’ve been a part of.”

For the Lakers, it’ll unquestionably be difficult to progress forward this season. However, in James’ mind, basketball remains second on his list of priorities.

“When you punch your clocks and we punch our clocks, when we’re done for the day, make sure you hug the s— out of your family,” James told the media. “If you have kids, tell them you love them. Try to make it to as much as you can, and don’t feel bad if you happen to go to one of your loved one’s events and [that means you] sacrifice your job.”

There’s more out of the Pacific Division tonight:

  • Kawhi Leonard‘s impressive scoring surge has lifted the Clippers in recent games, Mirjam Swanson of the Orange County Register writes. Leonard has scored 30+ points in his last nine outings, averaging 34.6 points per contest over that span. “Just midseason,” Leonard said. “My teammates are being aggressive. I’m able to get open shots off of their attacks and drives. I’m just able to make shots right now.” 
  • Anthony Slater of The Athletic previews the trade deadline for the Warriors, including their current mindset, which players could be available via trade, and more. The NBA’s annual deadline falls on Thursday, February 6 this season.
  • Gina Mizell of The Athletic examines which players are most likely to be dealt for the Suns, examining the contracts of Aron Baynes, Tyler Johnson and others. Phoenix has had a tumultuous season to date, accruing a 20-29 record through 49 games.

Clippers Still Working Through Chemistry Issues

Some players on the Clippers are not thrilled with the team’s preferential treatment to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, sources tell Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic. This sort of handling is common in the NBA nowadays. Stars play by different rules, however, that doesn’t mean things are always smooth behind the scenes.

Look across the Staples Center to LeBron James to see another example of stars getting different treatment. James frequently sets the Lakers’ practice and shootaround schedules, coordinating with coach Frank Vogel as they try to figure out what works best for the team. Yet, LBJ’s situation is generally accepted by teammates because of his leadership style; he has an ability to inspire and connect with his teammates in a way that facilitates it.

Leonard and George have different personalities. Leonard is a lead-by-example type and with George having the same approach, there’s a bit of uncertainty about whose voice should be the loudest.

“I think it boils down to Kawhi not talking, and so who is their true leader?” one source with knowledge of the Clippers’ dynamics said. “How do you get around that?”

After a loss to the Grizzlies earlier this month, Montrezl Harrell was particularly vocal about the team’s performance, telling the media that the Clippers were not a great team” while explaining that the club needed to “wake up and figure it out.” Harrell was asked about the vibe in the locker room and the center’s response was noteworthy.

“I don’t know, brother,” Harrell said at the time. “I don’t know. And that might be another problem right there.”

Doc Rivers addressed Harrell’s comments and Buha and Amick hear that tension had been rising in the locker room leading up to those remarks. The big man’s words also rubbed some teammates the wrong way as they felt Harrell’s post-game mood was, at times, reliant on his individual box score.

Harrell is in a contract year and could be in line for a major raise in free agency. However, sources tell The Athletic duo that the 25-year-old remains focused on the team’s goal of winning a championship over any sort of personal agenda.

“Everything he does is out of his passion for winning,” one source said. “He kind of walks to his own beat a little bit, but it’s not from a selfish perspective at all.”

Buha and Amick spoke to over a dozen sources and the entire piece is worth a read. Here are more highlights from the duo’s latest:

  • Multiple Clippers players don’t feel the team practices as hard or as seriously as it should be. Leonard’s load management plays a role in that.
  • The Clippers prefer to call the strategy with Leonard “injury management.” Los Angeles’ medical team still doesn’t consider Leonard a fully healthy player and maintains that Leonard should not play back-to-backs.
  • Leonard has become more vocal recently. He’s coordinated player-only film sessions that many around the team believe have been a key to the Clippers’ recent surge in the standings. “It wasn’t one of those crazy players-only meetings, but they started doing it two or three games ago,” Rivers said earlier this month. “They just felt like watching the game together instead of everybody watching their iPads, watching it alone, would be better.”
  • The team’s success over the next week or so (which includes games against the Heat and Lakers) could determine what Los Angeles does at the trade deadline. Many players and team employees feel the dynamics have improved and the team has begun to jell over the past few weeks.
  • Buha and Amick write that Leonard most frequently speaks with George, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and Maurice Harkless. The pair notes that Leonard is not standoffish to others, but has grown the most comfortable with that group.
  • As a reminder, both Kawhi and PG can hit the free agent market in the summer of 2021, as each player’s deal contains a player option for the following season.

Los Angeles Notes: Howard, Kawhi, Trades, China

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t surprised by Dwight Howard‘s turnaround season with the Lakers, praising the veteran for his commitment to Los Angeles and the work he’s put in.

“Dwight’s a very talented basketball player,” D’Antoni said, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “If he is happy and willing to do it, which obviously he is, there’s no reason he wouldn’t be successful.”

Howard has happily accepted his role off the bench this season, posting averages of 7.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in just 20 minutes per contest. His production behind the likes of Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee has helped propel the Lakers to a 34-8 record.

“It’s impressive, it also shows, when everything’s right, a person’s talents come through and he is a talented guy,” D’Antoni said of Howard.

“You’re talking about the NBA. Anything is possible. Nothing surprises me. There’s no reason not to. I don’t think he left on bad terms. It was a tough year on everybody. A little bit (surprised) but not (a great deal.) Same with Melo (Carmelo Anthony) shows up in Portland and (is) having a great year. The NBA is all about finding an opportunity and making the most of it.”

Here are some other notes out of Los Angeles tonight:

  • Clippers star Kawhi Leonard has been pouring it on during the team’s latest five-game surge, Mirjam Swanson of the Orange County Register writes. Leonard has scored 180 points in his last five games, good for an average of 36 per contest. “He’s an All-Star, man,” teammate Montrezl Harrell said of Leonard. “He’s done it in this league for a number of years. He doesn’t get a lot of credit just because of how quiet that he is, but I don’t think he looks for it. He’s a guy who comes to work and just comes looking to do his job, day in and day out.”
  • Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report examines the potential trades for the Clippers ahead of this season’s Feb. 6 deadline, with the team not quite dominating the way most envisioned through the first half of the season. The team holds a 30-13 record despite facing various injuries. “They just haven’t had their guys. George and Pat (Beverley) have been hurt, Kawhi has his load management,” one Eastern Conference executive told Pincus. “We’ve seen what they can do at full strength against the Lakers on Christmas.”
  • The Lakers expressed no interest in commenting on the Rockets-China conflict that emerged roughly three months ago, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register writes. Los Angeles defeated Houston 124-115 on Saturday. “That has nothing to do with me or with the Lakers – I’m going to stay away from that,” Howard said when asked about the situation. “Stay away from China questions. … No offense.”

Clippers Notes: George, Kawhi, Trade Ideas

The inciting incident for the union of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George during the summer of 2019 was a congratulatory phone call from George to Leonard a few days after the Raptors‘ championship victory, writes Ramona Shelburne in a cover story for ESPN.

“It was congratulating him on winning,” George said. “That’s how it started … then it took on a life of its own.”

As Shelburne details, that one phone call turned into multiple phone calls, text messages, and even in-person meetings at Drake’s house in Los Angeles, where the rapper let Leonard stay while the San Diego native was in town for free agent meetings.

By July 1, Leonard and George had decided they wanted to team up, preferably with the Clippers, and kept in constant communication during that first week of free agency, even meeting at Drake’s house following Kawhi’s meeting with Toronto. Although the Thunder engaged in George trade talks with both the Clippers and Raptors, as reported in July, the Clips were “clearly the favored destination” for the star duo and were the team most willing to pay the high price to get a deal done, per Shelburne.

Here’s more on the Clippers:

  • Shelburne’s story is worth checking out in full for a more in-depth explanation of why returning to his hometown of Los Angeles meant so much to George. “[People] think it was a basketball move,” George said. “And for a lot of reasons, it was a basketball move. But that’s not where it comes from. It was a lot deeper than me coming here for basketball reasons.”
  • In an Insider-only article for ESPN.com, Kevin Pelton examines the Clippers’ trade options, noting that the team will want to load up for a potential playoff matchup with the Lakers. Pelton views Marcus Morris as a more worthwhile trade target than Andre Iguodala if the Clips are willing to give up their 2020 first-round pick. He also briefly explores the idea of a Lou Williams trade, unlikely as it may be.
  • The Clippers are in almost exactly the same spot the Raptors were last season, according to Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times. As Woike points out, the Clippers’ 2019/20 first half (28-13, sixth in net rating) is nearly a statistical match for Toronto’s ’18/19 first half (29-12, sixth in net rating). Leonard has also missed almost exactly the same number of games (11 of 41, compared to 10 of 41 last season).
  • Those similarities to last year’s title team may be one reason why Leonard is preaching patience to his Clippers teammates, as Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN details. “We just can’t be in a rush,” Kawhi said when asked about the Clippers’ continuity, or lack thereof. “That’s what I’m [telling them]. Just be patient. It’s hard to win a championship. The pressure isn’t even on us now. Just enjoy the process and have fun.”

Pacific Notes: Warriors, Kawhi, LeBron, Lakers

Despite injuries draining the Warriors’ chances of competing for a title this season, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have done their best to maintain the uplifting atmosphere the franchise has generated in recent years, writes Mark Medina of USA Today.

Curry last played on October 30 and is expected to miss several more weeks due to a broken left hand, with Thompson still likely to miss the rest of season rehabbing from a torn ACL. Both players have been seen on the sidelines giving advice and firing up teammates despite their injuries.

“They’re just supportive with their antics and are goofy,” teammate Omari Spellman said, as relayed by Medina. “They’re trying to keep it uplifting and loose instead of it being so hectic and chaotic. It’s definitely appreciated that the older guys are taking the time to talk to us younger guys.”

The Warriors have also missed D’Angelo Russell, Draymond Green, Willie Cauley-Stein and others periodically this season, owning the league’s second-worst record at 9-31. Nonetheless, Golden State still sports one of the league’s most formidable cores when healthy, especially when coupled with the positive atmosphere that comes with it.

“That’s what our team has been in the last five years, in terms of taking a lot of joy out of a game and joy in each other’s accomplishments,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “When you see Steph jumping around on the sidelines when one of these young guys is doing something well, it’s a reminder that the foundation has been built.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division tonight:

  • Clippers coach Doc Rivers believes Kawhi Leonard‘s health is trending upwards, and the 2019 NBA Finals MVP agrees, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN writes. “You know, he’s been doing it a lot lately,” Rivers said. “I think he is in a far better place now than he was in Game 1 [of the regular season], let’s just put it like that. You can see it with him, you can see it in the practices, it’s just going up. You can feel it, you can see it, he has a better thrust now. And it’s good, it has been really good to see.”
  • Lakers star LeBron James passed Michael Jordan for fourth in career field goals made, converting a layup in the first quarter of Friday’s game to reach 12,192 total makes, Dave McMenamin of ESPN details. James passed Jordan in makes on 324 fewer attempts, McMenamin notes. “Any time you’re in a marathon and you’re able to have feats throughout that marathon, I think it’s just pretty cool to be linked with the greats,” James said postgame. “You said the name Michael Jordan; it just means so much to me. Any time I’m linked with his name, with his greatness and what he was able to do with the game. Hopefully, I continue to make him and all the other greats proud. Any time I’m linked with them. Hopefully, I can continue to make my family and my fans proud, as well.”
  • The Lakers are willing to trade virtually anyone to construct a championship-caliber roster this season, Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times writes. With an emphasis on “willing,” Los Angeles is unlikely to make any earth-shattering trades before the Feb. 6 trade deadline, as the team has started the season with an impressive 32-7 record.

Atlantic Notes: Raptors, Siakam, Gallinari, C’s, Sixers

While some pundits still believe the Raptors might target future assets at the deadline, that’s clearly not the plan, according to Bruce Arthur of The Toronto Star, who argues that the team should prioritize upgrading its roster and securing its spot among the Eastern Conference contenders.

Before the Raptors make any roster changes, it would benefit the front office to see the team’s full roster in action, something that hasn’t happened much this season. Currently, four of Toronto’s top six players in minutes per game – Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, and Fred VanVleet – are sidelined, but the club may begin to clear its injured list soon.

Siakam, Gasol, and Powell all took part in practice on Friday on a limited basis, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski hears that there’s hope Siakam could be back in the lineup within the next week or so. A Sunday return would be a bit ambitious for Siakam or Gasol, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said today, but Powell is on track to be back on Sunday (Twitter link via Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca).

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Danilo Gallinari is among the potential trade targets the Celtics have monitored, a source tells Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. Pincus lays out how Boston could acquire a player like Gallinari or Andre Drummond, but since it would almost certainly involve moving Gordon Hayward or a package headed by Marcus Smart, I’m skeptical the C’s will seriously pursue either player.
  • The Sixers were victorious on Thursday in the first game of what could be a multi-week absence for Joel Embiid, but Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports argues the team should still be worried about not having its star center active. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Bobby Marks point out (via Twitter) that Norvel Pelle only has five NBA days left on his two-way contract and will have to return to the G League soon if Philadelphia doesn’t open up a 15-man roster spot for him.
  • After Kawhi Leonard denied having any offseason interest in the Knicks, the club found a way to put a positive spin on those comments, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. According to Berman, Kawhi’s uncle Dennis Robertson was in touch with the Knicks in the summer and wanted Leonard to listen to the team’s pitch. The Knicks claimed they canceled their scheduled meeting because they felt they were long shots for Leonard and believe the forward’s recent comments validate that decision, Berman notes.

Atlantic Notes: LeVert, Irving, Siakam, Gasol, Leonard

Nets guard Caris LeVert made his highly-anticipated return against the Raptors on Saturday night, seeing his first in-game action with the team since November 10.

LeVert, who had missed the last 24 games after undergoing surgery to address ligament damage in his thumb, finished with 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting off the bench despite being on a minutes restriction.

“I felt pretty good out there. Obviously we wanted to get a win, but just me personally, I felt pretty good,” LeVert said, as relayed by Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

LeVert is widely considered as one of the most talented players on the Nets when healthy, and it’s possible he’ll rejoin the team’s starting lineup in the coming weeks. He averaged 13.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game in 40 contests last season.

“Just adds one of our best players to the lineup quite honestly,” head coach Kenny Atkinson said of LeVert’s return. “A dynamic player, athleticism, quickness, speed. A guy that knows our system too. It’s not like some guy we signed out of the blue. I feel comfortable once he gets his rhythm. He knows what we’re doing on both sides of the ball so that’s a big comfort level.”

The Nets have been plagued with injuries to start the season, playing without Kevin Durant (torn Achilles’ rehab), Kyrie Irving (right shoulder; 11 games played), LeVert and others. Brooklyn owns the seventh-best record in the East at 16-18.

Here are some other notes from the Atlantic Division tonight:

  • Alex Schiffer of The Athletic details what we know about Kyrie Irving‘s lingering right shoulder injury, which has forced the six-time All-Star to miss the past 23 games. Irving recently received a cortisone shot for the shoulder impingement, opting to go this route instead of having arthroscopic surgery — for now. “I’m in a better place now that it’s been some significant time,” Irving said. “I tried to go without any anti-inflammatories, which is why it took so long. Now I’m at a place where the next step was to either get a cortisone shot or get surgery. So that was the ultimatum I was fixed with. So now I’m just doing the best I can to live off this cortisone and move forward if I need surgery in the future.”
  • Raptors big men Pascal Siakam (groin) and Marc Gasol (hamstring) still aren’t close to returning to action, head coach Nick Nurse said, as relayed by Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link). “I would still say, if I was guessing, the order of comeback would probably be Matt [Thomas] and Norm [Powell], Marc and then lastly Pascal if that’s the case,” Nurse said. “But I think we’re still, I mean, we’re still a ways away with Marc and Pascal. I think Norm and Matt are in the front-view mirror, let’s put it that way.”
  • Kawhi Leonard said he never considered joining the Knicks in free agency and denied scheduling a meeting with the team, Ian Begley of SNY.tv writes. “I never said I was considering going to the Knicks. Everybody knew where I wanted to go once I requested the trade so I don’t know where that came from,” Leonard said. New York lost out on Kawhi, who signed with the Clippers, as well as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, who signed with the Nets. The Knicks claimed they pulled out of a scheduled meeting with Leonard.