Keldon Johnson

Spurs Notes: Hammon, Popovich, Walker, Offseason

Having been hired as the head coach of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces back in December, Spurs assistant Becky Hammon finished the regular season with San Antonio, but left the team this week, head coach Gregg Popovich confirmed before Wednesday’s play-in game vs. the Pelicans.

“She had to go,” Popovich said, according to Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “They had the draft on Monday and camp is going to start. She has to get ready. That’s not a good thing for us.”

When the Spurs’ season came to an end with a loss in New Orleans on Wednesday, the focus shifted to Popovich’s own future. He hasn’t offered any hints about how much longer he’ll coach the Spurs and told reporters it was “inappropriate” to ask about his plans immediately after the club’s season ended on Wednesday.

According to veteran reporter Marc Stein (Twitter link), some people in Spurs circles believe the 73-year-old will coach the team for at least one more season, but they all acknowledge that only Popovich knows for sure.

In a column for The Express-News, Mike Finger writes that when Popovich does decide to call it a career, he’ll probably only make a brief announcement and retire immediately rather than embarking on a year-long farewell tour. But, like everyone else, Finger isn’t sure if that will happen this spring, or a year or two down the road.

Here’s more on the Spurs:

  • Asked after Wednesday’s game about his upcoming restricted free agency, Lonnie Walker said he’s “hopeful to be back,” but indicated he’ll leave those conversations up to his representatives (Twitter link via Matthew Tynan). Walker is San Antonio’s only major free agent this summer — their other four FAs are either coming off two-way contracts (D.J. Stewart Jr., Robert Woodard II) or spent most of the season on two-way deals (Joe Wieskamp, Devontae Cacok).
  • Although the Spurs have missed the playoffs for three straight seasons, this will likely be the first year since 1997 that they’ll have a top-10 pick, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. Their first-rounder will almost certainly land at No. 9 or 10 if it doesn’t move into the top four. The Spurs can’t expect to do as well as they did in ’97 (when they drafted Tim Duncan), but that pick should give them a chance to land a cornerstone player, and they’ll also control two other 2022 first-rounders, from Toronto and Boston.
  • In his preview of the team’s offseason, ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) identifies rebounding as one of the Spurs’ biggest needs and explores their cap situation. Outside of Walker’s free agency, San Antonio also faces an important decision on Keldon Johnson, who will be eligible for a rookie scale extension.

Spurs Notes: Popovich, K. Johnson, Primo, Walker

Although it didn’t happen Saturday night, it’s only a matter of time until Gregg Popovich catches Don Nelson for the most career coaching victories, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. The Spurs‘ overtime win Friday at Washington was the 1,334th of Popovich’s career, leaving him one behind Nelson, who was one of his coaching mentors.

“Suffice to say, being in this position is awkward, surreal, unexpected, never planned and all of the above,” Popovich said.

The Spurs lost Saturday at Miami, extending Popovich’s wait to reach the record. The team will travel to Memphis on Monday, and with upcoming games against the Kings and Hornets he could be alone at the top by the end of the week.

Among the most impressive things about Popovich’s achievement is that all his wins are with one organization. He took over as San Antonio’s coach early in the 1996/97 season and has remained in that position ever since.

“It just shows you his longevity and excellence for decades,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It really is remarkable.”

There’s more on the Spurs:

  • Keldon Johnson is averaging 20.3 points per game in February, but he understands that he has a long way to go to be a complete player, per Mike Finger of The San Antonio Express-News. Johnson, who’s in his third NBA season, said he welcomes constructive criticism, whether it’s from his acerbic coach or Draymond Green, who served as a mentor during Johnson’s Olympics experience last summer.
  • The Spurs are ready to give more responsibility to first-round pick Joshua Primo, Finger adds in a separate story. The youngest player taken in the 2021 draft, Primo divided his time before the All-Star break between the NBA and the G League, but Popovich said he’ll remain with the Spurs for the rest of the season. “He’s going to be a player for us for a long time,” Popovich said. “He shows an uncanny maturity on the court for such a young kid. He’s just getting used to the physicality. He’s playing with men.”
  • Trading Derrick White to the Celtics left a hole in the Spurs’ backcourt, but Lonnie Walker sees an opportunity for himself and the team’s other young guards (video link from KENS5). “Derrick was a huge piece for us offensively and defensively,” Walker said. “Losing him was probably one of the hardest things for our team, but it allows us young guys like Devin (Vassell), myself and Primo to continue to grow and get better and play our game.”

COVID-19 Updates: Whiteside, Adams, Barton, Hornets, Spurs, More

Jazz center Hassan Whiteside has entered the league’s health and safety protocols, per Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune (via Twitter). Utah’s frontcourt depth is extremely depleted; in addition to Whiteside, Rudy Gobert, Rudy Gay, and Udoka Azubuike are all in the protocols, while 10-day hardship signee Norvel Pelle is out Wednesday against Cleveland with a non-COVID illness, Walden tweets. Whiteside is now the sixth Jazz player currently in the protocols.

Here are more COVID-related updates from around the NBA:

  • Grizzlies center Steven Adams is listed as questionable with a non-COVID illness for Thursday’s contest against Minnesota, Memphis’ PR department tweets, so he has cleared the protocols.
  • The Nuggets received two pieces of good news, as Will Barton has exited the COVID-19 protocols and Markus Howard, who was supposed to be sidelined at least six weeks with a sprained knee, is listed as questionable for Thursday’s contest against Portland, per Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports (Twitter link). Howard has missed the past four weeks.
  • The news out of Charlotte is a mixed bag, as Vernon Carey Jr. has cleared the protocols, but rookie big man Kai Jones has entered for the Hornets, per the team’s PR department (Twitter links).
  • Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell have cleared the protocols for the Spurs and are available Wednesday night against Houston, Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News tweets.
  • Bucks guard Grayson Allen said he was fortunate to have an asymptomatic case of COVID-19 and will be available Thursday against the Warriors, according to Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Twitter link). Allen also mentioned that the time away helped him recover from the flu.
  • Rockets guard Armoni Brooks has cleared the health and safety protocols and is available Wednesday against the Spurs, tweets Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Spurs Sign Anthony Lamb After Four Players Enter Protocols

4:27pm: The Lamb signing is official, according to a team press release.


1:32pm: The Spurs plan to sign Anthony Lamb to a 10-day contract via a hardship exception after Keldon Johnson, Derrick White, Thaddeus Young and Devin Vassell entered the league’s health and safety protocols, tweets Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News was the first to break the four players entering the COVID-19 protocols (via Twitter). The good news is that Lonnie Walker has cleared the protocols and could return to action Friday against the Sixers, a league source told Orsborn (Twitter link).

Lamb, 23, played in the G League bubble with the Canton Charge and Rio Grande Valley Vipers in 2020/21 after going undrafted out of Vermont in 2020. His solid showing for Houston’s G League affiliate (the Vipers) earned him a two-way deal with the Rockets last March. He averaged 5.5 PPG and 2.9 RPG in 24 games (17.3 MPG) for Houston, then accepted his two-way qualifying offer this offseason. However, he was waived on October 18 so that the Rockets could claim Garrison Mathews.

Lamb has spent this season playing with the Vipers, putting up 15.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 2.8 APG on .460/.415/.821 shooting in 13 games (10 starts). The Spurs now have five players in the protocols (the fifth being Doug McDermott), and Lamb will be their third 10-day hardship deal, along with Tyler Johnson and Jaylen Morris.

Central Notes: Johnson, Donovan, Dosunmu, Pistons

Spurs forward Keldon Johnson was apparently almost drafted by the Cavaliers. Johnson discussed his near-selection in an interview with Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter video link). The Cavaliers instead opted to draft Dylan Windler with the No. 26 pick in the 2019 draft, while Johnson was ultimately drafted by San Antonio with the No. 29 pick.

Injuries have limited Windler’s availability across two NBA seasons. Windler missed his entire 2019/20 rookie season with a leg injury. In just 48 games, Windler holds career averages of 4.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, and 1.1 APG over 14.5 MPG.

“I was expecting to go the Cavs,” Johnson said. “Going back to draft night, I just feel like it’s a blessing I landed with the Spurs.”

The 22-year-old small forward out of Kentucky is averaging 14.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 2.0 APG for the Spurs. He boasts a slash line of .469/.410/657.

The 13-10 Cavaliers have enjoyed a breakout 2021/22 season, currently good for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. One can only imagine what Cleveland would look like had the club selected Johnson instead of Windler, though in so doing the team may have played its way out of the third pick in the 2021 draft that netted them breakout rookie big man Evan Mobley out of USC.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Bulls head coach Billy Donovan expects the NBA will adopt stricter COVID-19 policies with the winter holidays on the horizon, writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago is currently missing guard Coby White and forward Javonte Green due to COVID-19 diagnoses. ‘‘I think that’s happening,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘I don’t think there’s any question that’s happening. My guess is stricter policies than there have already been this year. ‘‘[The holidays], people are going to be around family. The way it’s moving right now, it’s getting a little stricter. For us right now it’s a lot stricter because we have two players that are positive.’’
  • Bulls rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu, a second-round draft pick out of Illinois, has earned rotation minutes in the season’s first quarter. K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago examines how Dosunmu is adjusting to playing at the NBA level. “I think I’m getting better each game,” the rookie said. “One thing I love about Coach Donovan is he shows so much tough love to me. After every game, whether I play a lot or I don’t play a lot, he always calls me over and gives me words of encouragement. Sometimes it may be good. Sometimes it may be bad. I take the constructive criticism and try to help myself become a better player because I know that he obviously sees something in me if he’s coaching me hard.”
  • The end result of the 2021/22 season for the Pistons will be measured more by player improvement than by the year-end win-loss tally, opines Rod Beard of the Detroit News. The youth-oriented club, led by forward Jerami Grant and 2021 top pick Cade Cunningham, is currently the bottom seed in the East with a 4-18 record.

Southwest Notes: Johnson, Wood, Porter Jr., Augustin, Harrison

Keldon Johnson is open to signing a rookie scale extension with the Spurs, he told The Athletic’s Shams Charania in an interview (video link). Johnson can sign an extension next offseason. “I love being in San Antonio, I love the Spurs, I would definitely love to be there (long-term),” he said. “We’ll cross that road when we get there.” Johnson is averaging 14.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG and 2.1 APG this season.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • If the Rockets get a solid offer that includes a prospect or two, they should consider trading Christian Wood, Rahat Huq of the Houston Chronicle opines. The club has to look at the big picture and the next two drafts are crucial to the franchise, due to the picks owed in the ill-fated Russell Westbrook trade, Huq notes. A report earlier this week declared the Wood would generate significant trade interest before the deadline.
  • Wood is currently dealing with an ankle sprain but it’s not considered serious, Tim MacMahon of ESPN tweets. He’s considered probable to play against Orlando on Friday. However, guard Kevin Porter Jr. could miss a little time after aggravating a thigh contusion, MacMahon adds in another tweet. He’s listed as questionable to play on Friday, according to the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen (Twitter link). D.J. Augustin is not on the injury report, an indication he’s cleared the league’s health and safety protocols.
  • New Mavericks GM Nico Harrison says he’s not concerned about rival executives trying to take advantage of his inexperience and fleece him in a trade, as he told Dwain Price of the team’s website. “I would imagine that if people can take advantage of me, they will, for sure. But I always tell people this is not the Nico Harrison Show,” he said. “There’s a team of people that’s surrounding me. There’s (Michael) Finley, obviously (owner) Mark (Cuban). There’s Jason Kidd. There are so many people around the team that are going to influence what we do, so it’s not just Nico making decisions.”

Spurs Notes: Johnson, Popovich, Murray, Poeltl, Eubanks, Young

Spurs forward Keldon Johnson has signed with Klutch Sports for representation, the agency announced earlier this week (via Twitter). Johnson is still on his rookie contract, but will become extension-eligible for the first time during the 2022 offseason.

As Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News writes, Johnson was previously represented by Fundamental Sports Management, an agency based in San Antonio. Johnson said he has “nothing but good words to say” about FSM, but decided that a change in representation was the best business move for his career.

“It was long and thought-out, but at the end of the day, I am up and coming, and I just wanted the best representation,” Johnson said.

Here’s more on the Spurs:

  • The Spurs’ 4-11 record is tied for the third-worst mark in the NBA, but head coach Gregg Popovich is still having a good time working with his young roster, Orsborn writes for the Express-News. “They are growing, doing little things better all the time,” Popovich said after Tuesday’s loss to the Clippers. “Frustrating to lose, but when a team is working that hard and willing to learn, it’s enjoyable as hell, even in a loss. I’m proud of the way they are competing. Now we just have to make fewer mistakes and have a couple of guys play better.”
  • Dejounte Murray, who is in the second season of a four-year contract with San Antonio, has been a bright spot for the team so far, as Orsborn says in another Express-News story. “We haven’t exactly amazed the world, but if we didn’t have him we would be in big trouble,” Popovich said on Thursday. “He’s looking for other teammates to join him in playing as well as he is.” Murray struggled in the Spurs’ Thursday loss to Minnesota, but still has impressive season-long averages of 18.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 7.8 APG, and 2.0 SPG.
  • After missing seven games due to a symptomatic case of COVID-19, Jakob Poeltl returned to action on Thursday. However, he’s facing a minutes restriction and was limited to a season-low 15 minutes in his return. “I honestly felt pretty good conditioning-wise,” he said after the game, per Orsborn. “But I feel like I still need to get my rhythm again. It’s kind of weird playing these short, limited minutes. It’s tough to get into the game.”
  • In yet another story for the Express-News, Orsborn takes a closer look at the bond that has developed between young center Drew Eubanks and veteran forward Thaddeus Young, who has served as a mentor to Eubanks. “We have a great relationship,” Eubanks said. “He’s always in my ear.”

Texas Notes: Wood, Theis, Forbes, Johnson

Rockets big man Christian Wood has used a perceived Team USA Olympic selection slight and a positional switch from center to power forward as fuel for his own development, per Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

“(The move to power forward from center) allows me to show what I can do, and it allows the floor to be open, and I can create for other guys and I can create for myself,” said Wood, who connected on 37.4% of his 5.0 three point looks per night during the 2020/21 season. “I wanted to be one of the best bigs in this league, and I have to go out every night and show that.”

“There’s been big-time growth, there’s been big-time maturity, there’s been a lot,” head coach Stephen Silas raved following a 31-point, 14-rebound, three-block performance from Wood in a 124-91 victory over the Thunder on Friday. “I think another part of it is the fact that this is the first time he’s been on the same team for two consecutive years. And you see the growth from year to year, you see the trust that goes back and forth between he and I, the trust that goes back and forth between him and his teammates who know him and know what he can do.”

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • Newly-acquired Rockets center Daniel Theis hopes to stick around Houston to watch the club’s exciting young core develop, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “I want to help them grow and get better on court, off court,” Theis said. “I have a good relationship with Jalen (Green). He listens a lot on the court, off the court he’s going to learn a lot. The same with Scoot (Kevin Porter Jr.)… Just help them to grow and get better.” The 6’8″ Theis is starting at center after signing a four-year, $36MM contract with Houston in a sign-and-trade with the Bulls over the summer. The addition of Theis has allowed for the 6’10” Wood to move to the power forward position.
  • On Saturday night, Spurs shooting guard Bryn Forbes reunited with his last club, the Bucks, with whom he won the NBA title this summer. Ahead of the game, he expressed his eagerness to collect his championship ring, per Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. “I’m excited to have that in my possession and hold it,” Forbes said. “It’s an accomplishment you dream of your whole life.”
  • Young Spurs small forward Keldon Johnson appears to be developing nicely during this early portion of his third NBA season, writes Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. The 22-year-old Johnson, selected with the No. 29 pick out of Kentucky in 2019, set a career high for points in a half with 18 against the Nuggets Friday, finishing with 27 for the game. “I just keep pressure on the rim,” Johnson said. “That’s what I do.” In recent comments, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich offered a frank appraisal of Johnson’s strengths — and weaknesses. “When he catches and makes quick decisions — shoots it or passes it — that works best for him,” Popovich said. “When he’s just dribbling and trying to beat somebody, that doesn’t work out very well.”

Spurs Exercise Options On Johnson, Vassell

The Spurs exercised their fourth-year option on forward Keldon Johnson, as well as their third-year option on swingman Devin Vassell, for the 2022/23 season, according to a team press release.

Johnson will make approximately $3.87MM next season, while Vassell will take in nearly $4.44MM.

Neither move came as a surprise.

Johnson has emerged as one of the team’s top players. He appeared in 69 games last season and averaging 12.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 1.8 APG in 28.5 MPG. Johnson, the 29th pick of the 2019 draft, was a member of this summer’s Team USA squad that captured the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Vassell, a lottery pick last year, averaged 5.5 PPG and 2.8 RPG in 17.0 MPG over 62 games during his rookie campaign. He projects to be one of San Antonio’s mainstays on its second unit this season.

Spurs Rumors: Popovich, RFAs, Simmons, Ginobili, Young

In the years leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, there had been speculation that the event would be Gregg Popovich‘s swan song. However, even after leading Team USA to gold in Japan following a one-year delay, Popovich is returning to the Spurs‘ sidelines for the 2021/22 season. And several sources who know him told Zach Lowe of ESPN in recent weeks that they wouldn’t even be surprised if Popovich sticks around for ’22/23 too.

With 26 more victories, Popovich would pass Don Nelson for the top spot on the list of the NBA’s all-time winningest coaches. Although the Spurs don’t necessarily project to be a playoff team this season, winning at least 26 games seems like a realistic goal. However, Popovich isn’t “running out the string” just to claim that record, Lowe writes.

While it remains unclear when Popovich will retire, there are some potential heir apparents within the organization, according to Lowe, who says that Will Hardy and Manu Ginobili are the two mentioned most frequently in NBA circles. Becky Hammon would also be in the mix, but Kansas coach Bill Self – previously cited as a possible candidate to succeed Popovich – has “faded” from those conversations, Lowe notes.

Here’s more on the Spurs:

  • The Spurs “sniffed around” restricted free agents like John Collins and Lauri Markkanen this offseason and could be an intriguing suitor for Jaren Jackson Jr. next summer if he and the Grizzlies don’t agree to an extension before then, says Lowe. The Spurs also have the assets to make a run at a player like Ben Simmons and have talked to the Sixers about him, but those discussions haven’t gotten far and it’s unclear whether San Antonio wants to re-engage with Philadelphia, sources tell ESPN.
  • The Spurs have turned down offers of single protected first-round picks for some of their core young players, Lowe reports. Lowe doesn’t name specific players, but Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Lonnie Walker are among those who could fit the bill.
  • Popovich suggested this week that Ginobili’s new role with the Spurs will be even more wide-ranging than initially reported, as Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News writes. “He is going to help (general manager) Brian (Wright) with management,” Popovich said of Ginobili. “He is going to help me with coaching. He is going to help the players with development. He is probably going to go scout some people. I think he is probably going to figure out a two-week trip to Italy to scout some players. I might go with him. But I am being serious — he is going to do all those things. See what he feels comfortable with. It’s just great to have him in the program for all kinds of reasons. But mainly because we love the guy. He is Manu Ginobili, so who wouldn’t want to have him around?”
  • Thaddeus Young wasn’t sure after he was traded to San Antonio whether the team intended to keep him and still doesn’t sound positive that he’ll spent the whole year with the Spurs, but he plans to be a mentor to the club’s young players as he long as he’s with the team (Twitter links via Orsborn). I am going to show up each and every day and make sure I am working, and make sure I am bringing the guys along and getting them better as well,” Young said. A previous report suggested Phoenix is among the contending teams with trade interest in the veteran forward.