Khris Middleton

Knicks Notes: Ntilikina, Mudiay, Middleton, Kanter

The Knicks are about to have an overcrowded situation at point guard, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Frank Ntilikina is close to returning from a groin strain and Emmanuel Mudiay has nearly recovered from a strained left shoulder. Mudiay practiced today, tweets ESPN’s Ian Begley, while Ntilikina was held out of practice and will be re-evaluated Friday.

When they’re cleared to play, both guards will be sharing time with Dennis Smith Jr., who took over the starting role after being acquired from the Mavericks in late January, and possibly Kadeem Allen, who has impressed coaches since being signed to a two-way contract last month.

Allen could be sent to the G League once everyone is healthy, Berman notes, or the Knicks may want to see more of what he can do at the NBA level. Mudiay could be the odd man out as he’s headed toward free agency and seemingly has little prospect of re-signing in New York now that the organization has committed to Smith.

There’s more Knicks news to pass along:

  • If Kyrie Irving is unavailable, New York might target Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in hopes of pairing him with Kevin Durant, Berman speculates in a separate story. Middleton had a 20-point performance in his first All-Star game, then sidestepped questions about free agency. “I’m having a great career so far — that’s all I’m worrying about,” Middleton said. “I’ll think about the summertime in the summertime. We have a lot more work to do, hopefully. We’re playing great basketball. That’s all I’m worrying about.” Because Middleton doesn’t necessarily project as a full max player, Berman suggests the Knicks could sign him and have money left over to keep DeAndre Jordan, who is a friend of Durant’s.
  • The Knicks might find it more difficult to lure Durant as long as James Dolan remains the team’s owner, states Frank Isola of The Athletic. A rumor that Dolan might have interest in selling the team was dismissed as “100% false” by MSG Co. on Monday. Isola notes that the organization’s long history of failure under Dolan could make Durant think twice about coming to New York.
  • Although his time with the Knicks didn’t end well, Enes Kanter would still endorse the franchise to any free agents who ask him, tweets New York sportswriter Brian Heyman. “It’s a very good organization. Good people. … Amazing city,” Kanter said. “So I think that they have a really good chance to get good superstars.”

Central Notes: Middleton, Bulls, Boylen, Cavs

Asked after the All-Star Game about his upcoming free agency, Bucks swingman Khris Middleton deflected the question, as Matt Velazquez of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel relays (via Twitter).

“I’ll think about the summertime in the summertime,” Middleton said. “We have a lot more work to do, hopefully. The second half of the season is going to be tough. We’ve been playing great basketball, so that’s the only thing I’m worried about.”

While Middleton may not want to talk about it yet, he figures to draw a ton of interest in the offseason — he’d be an ideal complementary piece for a handful of teams with cap room, and may be a fall-back option for other clubs that miss out on stars like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. If they want to retain Middleton going forward, the Bucks will likely have to double his $13MM salary.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer lauds the Bulls for their traded-deadline acquisition of Otto Porter, arguing that the veteran forward is exactly the sort of piece the team needed, since he has the ability to make players around him better.
  • The Bulls haven’t had a ton of on-court success since Jim Boylen took over as the team’s head coach, but he has done what the team’s management group asked of him, instilling a “blue-collar identity,” writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. According to Cowley, Boylen, who could earn up to $1.6MM next season, with $1MM guaranteed, currently looks very likely to return to Chicago’s bench for 2019/20.
  • Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com takes an early look at potential candidates for the Cavaliers‘ permanent head coaching job. According to Fedor, Larry Drew should receive consideration if he wants it, but Cleveland figures to cast a wide net and may target an up-and-coming coach that can grow with the team’s players during the rebuild.

Central Notes: Pistons, Pacers, Bulls, Knight

When they explored the market for Reggie Bullock prior to last week’s trade deadline, the Pistons had options beyond the Lakers’ offer of a second-round pick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com. According to president of basketball operations Ed Stefanski, the Pistons could have instead had two second-round picks in exchange for Bullock, but liked Mykhailiuk enough to take him in place one of those picks.

“Instead of getting two seconds, we got Svi and a second,” Stefanski said. “We know he’s a prospect. We know he can flat-out shoot the basketball and we’re excited about seeing if we can develop him. The idea of putting a name to a player and getting a second-round pick was intriguing to us as opposed to bringing in two second-round picks.”

As Langlois relays, one of the Pistons’ goals has been to acquire controllable – and cheap – players on rookie contracts, since the team’s cap is otherwise loaded with pricey veteran deals. The club achieved that goal at the deadline by landing Mykhailiuk and Thon Maker, who is one more year left on his rookie contract after this season.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders shares some details on the cash changing hands in a pair of Central trades. According to Pincus (Twitter links), the Pacers sent $110K to the Rockets in the Nik Stauskas/Wade Baldwin trade, and the Bulls received $2,610,464 from the Thunder in their trade involving Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Chicago, which has now maxed out the cash it can receive in 2018/19 trades, will receive that money from OKC in three installments worth about $870K apiece on the first of March, April, and May, Pincus notes (via Twitter).
  • In a podcast discussion with ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Bobby Marks mentioned in passing that Khris Middleton‘s name is one the Pacers have “circled” as a potential offseason target (Twitter link via Eric Nehm of The Athletic). Re-signing Middleton will be a top priority for the Bucks, who will also see Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez, and Nikola Mirotic reach free agency.
  • The Pacers‘ style of play and the promise of a starting job were key factors in luring Wesley Matthews to Indiana, as the veteran swingman confirms to J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star.
  • Brandon Knight has barely played over the last two seasons, and has seemingly become known more for his contract than his play on the court, after the Rockets dangled him in trade talks for much of the season. Now a member of the Cavaliers, Knight tells Ben Stinar of AmicoHoops that he remains confident he can recapture his previous form. “I had a full year off, but I’m still the same player,” said Knight, who averaged 19.6 PPG as recently as 2015/16.

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.

Central Notes: Pacers, Love, Dunn

The Pacers, fresh off of a season-worst four-game losing streak, lack swagger without star Victor Oladipo, J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star writes. And it’s not just at the end of close games.

Michael notes that plenty of the Pacers’ struggles could be addressed by the addition of an established shot-maker, the likes of which could very realistically be available when the buyer’s market typically ramps up after the trade deadline.

If a player like Wesley Matthews, who was recently acquired by the Knicks in their Kristaps Porzingis‘ trade, has his expiring contract bought out, he could be of great service to a team like the Pacers.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • For the first time in over three months, Cavaliers forward Kevin Love is taking part in 5-on-5 contact practices, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com writes. Love’s last taste of action was on Oct. 24, prior to undergoing surgery to repair a toe injury. Guard David Nwaba, who has missed 18 games of his own, did not fare as well in the practice — the Cavs have pulled back somewhat on his rehab process.
  • Despite reports that the Bulls will be gauging Kris Dunn‘s worth over the final 30 games of the regular season, the 24-year-old former fifth-overall pick is unfazed. The third-year-guard tells Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times that he’ll compete anywhere he ends up, just as he has this year, through a knee injury and mid-season coaching change.
  • Newly appointed All-Star Khris Middleton had high praise for the Bucks organization, Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets. “For us,” Middleton told Velasquez, referring to himself and Giannis Antetokounmpo,”It’s not being in the right market, it’s being with the right team. This organization laid down everything that they can to make sure we succeeded.”

Bucks Notes: Lopez, Ilyasova, 2019 Cap Space

The transformation and development of the Bucks has been one of the hottest storylines of the season, as Mike Budenholzer has implemented a more modern offensive system and surrounded Giannis Antetokounmpo with enough floor spacers to make his rim attacks unstoppable. As a result, the Bucks own the league’s third-ranked offense which, when coupled with the sixth-ranked defense, makes for a potent combination.

One of the key additions this season has been Brook Lopez, who has transformed his offensive game to mainly be a spot-up shooter, a vast difference from the Lopez of a couple seasons ago. As Jonathan Tjarks writes for The Ringer, Lopez has been a huge part of the Bucks’ offense, as the team is significantly better with him on the floor. In fact, the Bucks “go from having what would be the highest offensive rating in NBA history with Lopez (115.6 in 832 minutes) to a bottom-five offense in the league without him (103.9 in 618 minutes).”

However, Tjarks also points out that due to Lopez’s limited athleticism, the Bucks have designed a defensive scheme that could easily be exposed come playoff time, as it has already been attacked throughout the regular season. It will be interesting to see what the trade-off is come the playoffs, as Lopez provides significant offensive value for the Bucks.

There’s more from the Bucks:

  • Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN had a feature on the Bucks’ ascension to the upper echelon in the league, detailing the additions of Budenholzer and Lopez and how they both relate to Antetokounmpo’s rise to becoming a potential MVP. Within his story, Arnovitz reports that the Bucks came “tantalizingly close” to acquiring both George Hill and Kyle Korver from Cleveland before the Cavs sent Korver to Utah instead.
  • Unfortunately for the Bucks, they will be without their other main offseason addition in Ersan Ilyasova, as the floor-spacing big man recently underwent surgery to repair a fractured nose, an injury he suffered during practice.
  • While the Bucks are certainly a feel-good story of the season, Dan Feldman of NBC Sports points out that the summer of 2019 could bring some changes to their core, with Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon all becoming free agents. As Feldman reveals, the Bucks will have around $67MM under the luxury tax to spend on bringing those four players back, but it certainly isn’t set in stone.

Giannis Not Looking To Join Forces With Other Stars

While small-market NBA teams constantly have to worry about the possibility of their best players leaving town to team up with other stars in a bigger market, the Bucks may not need to be overly concerned about that scenario playing out for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Howard Beck of Bleacher Report writes in an in-depth figure on the Milwaukee forward.

As Beck outlines, Antetokounmpo didn’t grow up playing on the AAU circuit and isn’t part of the Team USA program, so he’s less accustomed to the superstar model of team-building than many of his American contemporaries. One rival executive suggests to Beck that it could give the Bucks a big advantage down the road that Giannis “is not around All-Stars all summer.”

Antetokounmpo has also shown little interest in working out with fellow star players, according to Beck, who suggests that Giannis has turned down those invitations and “sees no point in sharing anything with his rivals.” Jason Terry, Antetokounmpo’s teammate for two seasons in Milwaukee, tells Beck that he could “never in a million years” imagine the All-NBA forward seeking out a super-team and joining forces with other stars.

“Giannis, his DNA, his makeup is, he has the ability to carry a team to the championship level himself,” Terry says. “I think he’s still enjoying the challenge of trying to take on the world’s best, like LeBron [James], head to head. Trying to take on guys like [Kevin Durant] head-to-head. And he’s really enjoying that matchup and embracing it. I mean, he wants to be the best player in the NBA. I’ve heard him say that on multiple occasions.”

Antetokounmpo reiterated that sentiment to Beck, telling him that his goal is to become “one of the best players to ever play the game.” Giannis also stressed that his number one goal is winning and contending for championships, something he believes the Bucks are capable of even without going out and acquiring another star.

“You don’t have to have a lot of [stars],” Antetokounmpo told Beck. “I definitely think that, because I think we have great pieces in this team, and every guy in this team knows what his role is and is having fun and is enjoying his role. And that comes from the coach. You know, if the coach gives you confidence, gives you the green light and tells you what your role is and you accept it as a player, and you’re happy with it, that’s big for every team. I don’t think anybody on this team wants to do more, wants to do less.”

Here’s more out of Milwaukee:

  • Although there may be speculation about Antetokounmpo’s future in Milwaukee from rival executives, Bucks GM Jon Horst isn’t preoccupied by thoughts of Giannis’ next contract, writes Beck. “The truth is, it really isn’t the biggest thing on our mind,” Horst said. “The biggest thing on our mind is how do we take a step from last year to this year and continue to improve? And if we do all the right things along the way, and we take the appropriate steps … it will take care of itself.”
  • Here’s more from Horst on the Bucks’ long-term outlook, via Beck: “We want to build something sustainable. We want to compete for multiple championships over a long period of time. … I think if we just take all those kind of intentional, organic steps along the way, I think we can position ourselves to have long-term success. And Giannis is the key ingredient to that. You gotta have one of those. We have one.”
  • The Bucks took a step toward retaining their core by moving Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson for George Hill earlier this month, creating additional cap flexibility for 2019. According to Beck, the Bucks believe they’ll be in good financial shape going forward even if they re-sign Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, and Brook Lopez, their four key free agents next summer.
  • Speaking of Middleton, a Bucks official tells Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports that the club plans to do “everything we can” to retain the standout swingman when he reaches free agency in 2019.

Central Notes: Pacers, Middleton, Bucks, Pistons

The Pacers will be the latest NBA franchise to reach an agreement with a corporate sponsor to add an advertisement patch to their jerseys. Indiana issued a press release today announcing its deal with Motorola, a mobile communications company which is based in the Midwest. The Pacers will debut their new jerseys with the Motorola patch in Tuesday night’s game against Cleveland.

As a result of the Pacers’ new deal, the Thunder are now the only NBA team without a sponsored patch on their uniforms, as our tracker shows. The NBA just introduced its jersey sponsorship initiative in 2017, so it hasn’t taken long for nearly all the league’s franchises to get on board.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • As Bucks swingman Khris Middleton nears free agency, he’s unconcerned about the idea that he’s underrated, telling Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, “Teams know who I am.” Middleton also contended that he and Giannis Antetokounmpo are “one of the most dynamic duos in the East.”
  • After adding George Hill to their roster, the Bucks have something of a logjam in their backcourt, according to Matt Velazquez of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who explores how coach Mike Budenholzer is handling that logjam. “It is a good problem,” Budenholzer said. “All of them have played, all of them have helped us. It’s part of, I guess, one of the harder parts about coaching is you have to make some tough decisions.”
  • While Pistons fans may be anxious to shake up a team that has lost seven of its last eight games, major changes won’t come quickly for the franchise, writes Rod Beard of The Detroit News. As Beard observes, it will be tricky for the Pistons to find players to complement Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond on the trade market, since the other players on their roster don’t have a whole lot of trade value.

Central Notes: Boylen, Smith, Bucks, Pacers

New Bulls coach Jim Boylen is trying to rebuild the struggling team on the fly, explaining his thoughts this past week on where the club stands. Boylen was promoted to head coach two weeks ago when the team suddenly fired Fred Hoiberg.

“My focus is that we’re not where we need to be to compete, and so obviously we want to win but I want us to be at a level where we get the full force of what we do,” Boylen said, according to Mark Strotman of NBC Sports. “I don’t think our conditioning allows us to do that.

“We’re on the first floor, We’re on ‘A.’ I’d like us to get to ‘D’ and ‘E.’ Maybe in two weeks we’ll see. We can’t get to ‘D’ and ‘E’ if we’re not in shape.”

These comments from Boylen came before his team lost 133-77 against the Celtics on Saturday, giving Boston its largest margin of victory in franchise history. Boylen ripped his team’s effort after the game, clearly trying to motivate his young squad and change their mindsets. The team held a lengthy meeting on Sunday to discuss their play.

Boylen, a veteran assistant with several NBA teams, has the opportunity to prove to management that he deserves to coach past this season. The Bulls are currently 6-21 and have lost eight of their last 10 games.

Here are some other notes from the Central Division:

  • Pistons guard Ish Smith is said to be drawing interest on the trade market, according to Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. Smith is expected to miss roughly three to six weeks with a right adductor muscle tear. Before getting injured, Smith was averaging 9.2 points and three assists per contest.
  • Steve Aschburner of NBA.com stresses the importance of retaining Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton in free agency for the Bucks, with both talents playing key roles on the team around Giannis Antetokounmpo this season. “It is our mission statement,” Bucks GM Jon Horst said, explaining the importance of building around Antetokounmpo. “What Giannis means to our team, our franchise, our city, our state kind of goes beyond words. We have to make the most of the opportunity to find and build things that fit with him.” Milwaukee is 16-8 on the season and holds the No. 2 spot out East, sporting an impressive 12-3 record at home.
  • The Pacers have found strength in numbers this season, using a collective approach to overcome the loss of All-Star Victor Oladipo, writes Mark Montieth of NBA.com. Oladipo has missed the team’s last 10 games to injury, but the Pacers are 6-4 this season without him. Last season, Indiana held a 0-7 record in games Oladipo missed.

Khris Middleton In Line For Significant Raise In 2019

While much of the speculation about the 2019 NBA free agent class has focused on stars like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and Kyrie Irving, Sean Deveney of The Sporting News points to Bucks swingman Khris Middleton as another free-agent-to-be who could command a star-level salary next summer.

Although Middleton has flown somewhat under the radar during conversations about 2019 free agency, Deveney says there’s speculation around the NBA that the 27-year-old will be able to land a maximum-salary – or near-max – contract.

[RELATED: Early Maximum Salary Projections For 2019/20]

According to Deveney, it’s a “foregone conclusion” that Middleton, who is earning $13MM this season with a $13MM player option for 2019/20, will opt out next summer, since he could very well double his salary. His market could be similar to Klay Thompson‘s, in the view of at least one NBA general manager.

“He is as good a two-way wing as Klay,” the GM told The Sporting News. “Nearly as good a shooter, as good a defender, a better playmaker. You can run things through him more than you can do with Klay. Khris would be as big a star as Klay if he were playing in Golden State, and he’s probably going to get similar money.”

The Bucks, off to a great start this season with Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way, are prepared for Middleton to reach free agency and plan to be aggressive in their attempts to re-sign him, writes Deveney.

Milwaukee will likely face plenty of competition though, given the amount of teams projected to have cap room. Sources tell The Sporting News that the Lakers and Clippers figure to be among the clubs with interest, while Deveney also cites the Knicks, Mavericks, and Cavaliers as possible suitors.

For his part, Middleton – who has posted 19.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.4 APG, and a .460/.423/.919 shooting line through 17 games – admits it’s “good to hear” that he’s highly valued around the NBA. However, he downplayed his interest in looking ahead to a potential payday.

“I have always been the kind of guy who just takes it one day at a time,” Middleton said to Deveney. “Focus on what needs to be done that day. Don’t think too far ahead. Once you start thinking too far ahead, you get distracted by things that don’t matter on that day. So that doesn’t matter.”