LaMelo Ball

Southeast Notes: Clifford, Ball, Harrell, F. Wagner

A lot changed in the three years that Steve Clifford was away from the Hornets, but the most significant move has been the addition of LaMelo Ball, who appears destined for stardom after being selected with the third pick in the 2020 draft. In an interview with Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer, Clifford talked about the opportunity to coach one of the league’s best young players.

“(With) player development, the misconception is they only get better when they are young,” he said. “The better players have a goal, have a plan for every summer to get better no matter how old they are. And that’s what he’s doing. He has his things in different areas that he’s been working on.

“But I think the biggest thing for him — and I think he would tell you the same thing — is team success. The best players ultimately in our league are always judged by how well their team does. And I know he’s motivated for us to be a playoff team, which would be a good step. And I think in talking with him, that seems to be his vision.”

Ball earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2021 and followed that up with his first All-Star appearance last season while averaging 20.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.6 assists. He has already impressed Clifford with his offseason work ethic.

“He’s been great. He’s been here almost the whole summer,” Clifford said. “He likes to be in the gym. He works hard both on the court and in the weight room. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him, and I think that he’s ready or in a good place to get off to a good start. I mean, I think he’s done all the right things this summer, and I’ve been really impressed with him.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • After Montrezl Harrell agreed to a contract with the Sixers, he tweeted a message of thanks for being able to spend time with the Hornets in his home state. Harrell is headed to his sixth NBA team a few months after Charlotte acquired him from the Wizards at the trade deadline. “Blessed to have played for my home state,” he wrote, “only was 20-25 games but being back in the NC state was a blessing!”
  • Magic forward Franz Wagner is questionable for the EuroBasket quarterfinals after twisting his ankle in Germany’s win on Saturday, according to Eurohoops. Wagner didn’t return to the game after suffering the injury in the third quarter. There has been no official word on his status for Germany’s next game on Tuesday.
  • In case you missed it, we looked at the over/under totals for the Southeast Division this week and examined the extension case for Heat guard Tyler Herro.

Southeast Notes: Magic Pick, Wizards Pick, Ball, Hawks

The Magic probably won’t stray from conventional wisdom when it comes to the top overall pick, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (hat tip to RealGM). They’ll either select Chet Holmgren or Jabari Smith Jr.

“This is the draft lottery of the power forwards and three very different players,” Wojnarowski said. “We’ll see how this shakes out, but certainly I think Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga and Jabari Smith of Auburn… I think the consensus right now is those are really the two players competing for No. 1 with the Magic.”

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • The Wizards are unlikely to trade up in the lottery, due to the high cost of doing so, but they could use the No. 10 pick to facilitate a trade for a veteran point guard, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. However, they have a history of holding onto their first-rounders in recent drafts.
  • With top exec Mitch Kupchak signing an extension, the Hornets‘ biggest task will be hiring a head coach who can get more out of LaMelo Ball, Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer opines. Ball must get much better on defense and cut down on his habit of committing unnecessary fouls.
  • Rudy Gobert would be the kind of impact player that could lift the Hawks to new heights. What would the cost be? A package of Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter, Jalen Johnson and their first-rounder this June would be the bare minimum, according to The Athletic’s John Hollinger. Utah would also likely ask for multiple future first-rounders. Hollinger and Chris Kirschner explore the Hawks’ potential trade, free agent and draft targets.

Hornets Notes: Hayward, Bridges, Coaching Search, Harrell, Washington

Hornets forward Gordon Hayward is a name to watch in the trade market, though injuries limit his value, according to HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto, who conducted a podcast with Charlotte Observer beat reporter Rod Boone.

Hayward is regarded as a “neutral asset” that the Hornets can move. However, it’s unlikely they’ll benefit much in terms of cap space if they deal the veteran, who has two years and $61.5MM remaining on his contract. One executive told Scotto they might be able to move him for two players making around $10-15MM apiece.

The Pacers are an unlikely destination after trading away Domantas Sabonis and building around younger pieces.

More highlights from the podcast:

  • Both Scotto and Boone anticipate Miles Bridges will get $25MM or more annually in restricted free agency. Scotto sees Bridges as being coveted due to his status as a young, two-way, big wing. The Trail Blazers could pursue him if they can’t trade for Jerami Grant and teams with cap space, like the Pistons, could also be a factor. Boone believes he’ll return to the Hornets due to unfinished business with an improving team. The fact that he’s close with LaMelo Ball also works in Charlotte’s favor.
  • Neither Scotto nor Boone believe Mike D’Antoni is a viable option in the search for a head coach. Former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, Bucks assistant Darvin Ham and Mavericks assistant Sean Sweeney are names to watch there. However, D’Antoni could wind up in Philadelphia if the Sixers let Doc Rivers go, according to Scotto.
  • Free agent Montrezl Harrell generally enjoyed playing with Charlotte this season and could return to the Hornets, depending upon the coaching hire. Harrell probably wouldn’t command more than the taxpayer mid-level on the open market, according to Scotto.
  • P.J. Washington, who is extension-eligible, is a movable piece and his name will pop up in trade rumors.

Mark Jackson Frontrunner To Become New Kings Coach?

The Kings are interviewing the three finalistsMark Jackson, Steve Clifford and Mike Brown — for their vacant head coaching position this week, and it looks as if one might have the upper hand. League sources tell Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report that Jackson appears to be the frontrunner for the job and the favored choice of owner Vivek Ranadive.

Ranadive, who was the vice chairman of the Warriors when Jackson was their head coach from 2011-14, has long been an admirer of Jackson and pushed Sacramento’s front office to consider him for the lead assistant/associate head coach position that ultimately went to Alvin Gentry in 2020, sources tell Fischer.

It has been previously reported that the Kings are searching for a defensive-minded coach with previous head coaching experience, and all three finalists check those boxes. However, Ranadive is said to be looking for a vocal, public face for the franchise to create a day-to-day identity, according to Fischer, who notes that Jackson is popular among players.

A report last month indicated that LeBron James would be “enthused” to see Jackson as a candidate for the Lakers‘ vacancy, and sources tell Fischer that LaMelo Ball also favors Jackson for the Hornets‘ opening.

One major wrinkle to the notion that Jackson appears to be the favored choice of Ranadive is that the owner has repeatedly told colleagues around the league that general manager Monte McNair has full authority over the team’s basketball operations. Fischer points out that the decision to fire Luke Walton early in the season came from McNair, not Ranadive.

McNair appears to be leaning toward Brown as his top candidate for the position, multiple sources tell Fischer. Brown also has Warriors ties – he has been an assistant coach for Golden State for the past six years – and used to work with Kings assistant GM Wes Wilcox when the two were with Cleveland.

Fischer writes that if Jackson isn’t selected for the position, it could be partly because Joe Dumars left the organization to work in the league office — Dumars wanted to hire Jackson to become Detroit’s head coach in 2011. Dumors reportedly wanted more control over Sacramento’s front office, with McNair reporting to him instead of Ranadive, but the owner wasn’t interested in that arrangement.

As for former interim head coach Gentry, sources tell Bleacher Report that he’s been offered a role in Sacramento’s front office, but Gentry is looking into pursuing a job as a consultant, similar to the role Clifford recently held with the Nets.

Southeast Notes: Wizards, Morris, Bamba, Ball, Thomas

Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. blasted his team’s defensive effort after Saturday’s 127-118 loss to the Blazers, Ava Wallace of the Washington Post writes. Washington allowed Portland to shoot 52% from the floor and 37% from three-point range. The Blazers were led by Josh Hart, who scored 44 points.

“It’s not something schematic, it’s some of the same issues,” Unseld explained. “We talked about the one-on-one containment, there’s no scheme for transition defense. “You can say okay, well, let’s take care of the ball, we can do that better. But when the shot goes up, there’s no scheme to say, ‘You have to be here, you have to be here, you have to be here,’ it’s an effort, a level of focus, communication that takes care of that.”

The Wizards also allowed 122 points in a loss to the Lakers on Friday. Los Angeles, led by LeBron James (50 points), shot 53% from the floor. On the season, Washington ranks just 24th in defensive rating and 18th in points allowed per game (111.2).

There’s more from the Southeast Division tonight:

  • Heat veteran Markieff Morris returned on Saturday for the first time since November 8, but the forward has no interest in hearing from Nikola Jokic, as relayed by Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Jokic’s hard shot on Morris caused whiplash for the 32-year-old, forcing him to miss most of the season. The hit came after Morris delivered a hard foul just seconds earlier. “F– nah, I don’t want to hear from him,” Morris snapped, according to Vardon. “He did what he did and it is what it is.”
  • Magic center Mohamed Bamba has stepped up for the team in recent games, specifically in the paint, Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel writes. Bamba recently finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks against the Timberwolves on Friday, helping his club win 118-110. He was drafted No. 6 overall in 2018 and is in his fourth season with the organization.
  • Hornets veteran Isaiah Thomas is impressed with young star LaMelo Ball, Rod Boone of the Charlotte Observer writes. “I mean, he’s going to be the face of this league,” Thomas said of Ball. “He’s already an All-Star. Give him two or three years and he’s going to be top-five, top-10 in this league easily. He’s a special talent. He’s very young. He has great energy. His pace to the game, you can’t teach his pace. And he’s, what, 6-foot-7? He has the full package.” Thomas is currently on his second 10-day deal with the Hornets and could be part of the rotation moving forward, Boone notes (via Twitter).

Southeast Notes: Porzingis, Gafford, Hachimura, Ball, Martin

The combination of Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford at center could produce big results for the Wizards, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. They combined for 33 points against the Clippers on Wednesday. They also give the team a consistent shot-blocker presence on defense.

“I think it’s a different feel,” Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “K.P.’s able to stretch the defense and Gaff obviously puts a lot of pressure on the rim as a roller. Both have good length and size up front. But just the ability to mix and match, kind of give offenses and our offense a different feel, the defense a different look.”

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • Rui Hachimura has shown expanded range offensively, Ava Wallace of the Washington Post writes. Known for his midrange game, Hachimura has made half of his 3-point attempts this season. “For me, it’s more confidence,” the Wizards forward said. “I’m more confident shooting threes.” Hachimura, who has appeared in 24 games after sitting out for personal reasons, is extension-eligible this summer and the improved perimeter shooting should pump up his value.
  • LaMelo Ball‘s slump will doom the Hornets if he doesn’t snap out of it soon, Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer opines. Ball’s inconsistent play has been a big reason why Charlotte has lost 13 of its last 17. He had six first-half turnovers against Boston on Wednesday. “I’m not playing my game,” he said. “Trying to do other stuff. Pretty much letting people get in my head.”
  • Heat reserve Caleb Martin injured his left knee on Wednesday but it doesn’t appear to be serious. The Heat decided an MRI was not required on his hyperextended knee, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel tweets. He’s questionable to play on Friday, Winderman adds in another tweet.

And-Ones: Young Point Guards, Henson, Holmgren, Draft

Rising Grizzlies star Ja Morant has enjoyed a breakout year in Memphis, but 11 of 15 scouts and executives polled by Tim Bontemps of ESPN would still take Mavericks star Luka Doncic over Morant if they were picking a young point guard to build around.

Bontemps asked those 15 scouts and execs to rank Doncic, Morant, Trae Young, LaMelo Ball, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Darius Garland, and got some interesting responses. Doncic was the overwhelming top pick, with Morant (who had the other four first-place votes) coming in second, followed by Young in third. Ball and Gilgeous-Alexander were neck and neck for the fourth spot, with Garland bringing up the rear.

The question engendered plenty of debate, according to Bontemps, who notes that the respondents’ evaluations of certain prospects varied significantly. For instance, one Eastern Conference executive believes that Gilgeous-Alexander could be “potentially be doing a lot of the same things” as Morant if their situations were flipped, while an East scout said SGA is “clearly last” of the six in his view, since the others are better at passing and making plays for teammates.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Former NBA lottery pick John Henson has signed with Mets de Guaynabo for the upcoming season in Puerto Rico, tweets agent Christian Santaella. Henson, who has appeared in 445 regular season NBA games, signed a 10-day contract with the Knicks last April, but hasn’t played in an NBA game since the 2019/20 season.
  • In an Insider-only story for ESPN, Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz explore why Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren is such a polarizing player for NBA scouts. As ESPN’s duo explains, Holmgren is a one-of-a-kind prospect who can’t be easily compared to current or former NBA players, making it more difficult to evaluate both his potential upside and his potential risk.
  • Givony and Schmitz have also updated their top-100 prospect list for the 2022 NBA draft and discussed some of the players who have recently risen up that big board.
  • Jeremy Woo of takes an in-depth look at Amen Thompson and Ausar Thompson, identical twins who are candidates to be drafted in the lottery in 2023. The Thompson twins, who are currently playing for Overtime Elite, both went in the top 10 of ESPN’s most recent 2023 mock draft.

Southeast Notes: LaMelo, Young, Heat, Kuzma

The Hornets find themselves armed with a freshly-minted All-Star in point guard LaMelo Ball and a 2022 Most Improved Player candidate in forward Miles Bridges. Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer wonders if the club will be able to maximize Ball while he remains in his prime.

Fowler is skeptical of that happening this season at least. The 29-31 club has lost nine of its last ten contests, due in part to the absence of small forward Gordon Hayward and a few other key players. Fowler notes that the shorthanded Hornets are struggling to close out games.

“The way we are right now, we’re in a place of confusion a little bit at times during the game,” forward Kelly Oubre reflected following the team’s seventh straight home loss. “More veteran teams come in and capitalize on that.”

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • In an interview with Dotun Akintoye of ESPN, Hawks All-Star point guard Trae Young discussed his rise through his college run at Oklahoma to the ranks of the NBA’s best. Head coach Nate McMillan praised Young. “I think he has a special talent that we haven’t really seen at that position, his ability to score, as well as facilitate,” McMillan said.
  • The Heat could benefit from the addition of another stretch four to help space the floor and draw opposing big men away from the basket, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Winderman cautions that the buyout market is currently somewhat barren. 36-year-old starting power forward P.J. Tucker fulfills that role at present, though given his advanced NBA age, is only playing 28.6 MPG. The 6’5″ veteran is connecting on 45% of his 3.1 three-point attempts per game.
  • The Wizards‘ front office may want to make power forward Kyle Kuzma, who is thriving in the first year of a reasonable three-season, $39MM contract, part of the team’s long-term future, opines Josh Robbins of The Athletic. Kuzma has a player option for the 2023/24 season, but if he keeps up this output, Robbins anticipates that the forward will opt out to test the free agent market in 2023. The 26-year-old is averaging 16.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG and 3.1 APG on .452/.334/.703 shooting splits this season.

LeBron Chooses Giannis, Curry In All-Star Draft; Durant Picks Embiid, Morant

After James Harden was traded away from the Nets on Thursday, former teammate Kevin Durant opted not to pick him in the All-Star draft conducted on Thursday night. Harden was the last player chosen by LeBron James for Team LeBron, as the league announced (via Twitter).

LeBron’s starters, besides himself, are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Jokic.

Durant, who won’t play in the All-Star Game at Cleveland due to his knee injury, chose Joel Embiid, Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, Trae Young and Andrew Wiggins as Team Durant’s starters.

James selected Luka Doncic as his top reserve. His guard-heavy team also features Darius Garland, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Donovan Mitchell, Fred VanVleet and Harden.

Team Durant’s bench includes Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, Dejounte Murray, Khris Middleton, LaMelo Ball and Rudy Gobert.

Thus, numerous teammates will be on opposing clubs for the All-Star game, including the Jazz’s Gobert and Mitchell and the Suns’ Paul and Booker.

The game will be played February 20 in Cleveland.

LaMelo Ball, Dejounte Murray Named All-Star Replacements

Hornets guard LaMelo Ball will replace injured Nets forward Kevin Durant in the All-Star Game, while Spurs guard Dejounte Murray will take the place of injured Warriors forward Draymond Green, the NBA announced today in a press release. Commissioner Adam Silver named Ball and Murray as replacement players.

Previous reported had indicated that Durant (MCL sprain) and Green (back/disc) would miss the All-Star Game in Cleveland on February 20 due to their respective injuries, so it comes as no surprise that a pair of replacements have been added to the 12-man rosters for the event. There’s no indication at this point that any other All-Stars will have to miss the game, though that could change in the next couple weeks.

Ball has averaged 19.6 PPG, 7.5 APG, and 7.1 RPG in 47 games (32.1 MPG) this season for the Hornets. He beat out a handful of worthy candidates – including teammate Miles Bridges, Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen, Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, Pacers center Domantas Sabonis, and Raptors forward Pascal Siakam – to be named Durant’s replacement.

Like Ball, Murray has filled up the box score this season in a breakout season in San Antonio. He has put up 19.6 PPG, 9.2 APG, and 8.4 RPG with a league-leading 2.1 SPG in 47 games (34.4 MPG). Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram, Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, Lakers big man Anthony Davis, and Suns forward Mikal Bridges were among the other candidates to be named Green’s replacement.

Since Durant was a starter, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum has been moved into the starting lineup, per the league. Tatum was the next-highest vote-getter among Eastern Conference frontcourt players.

Durant is still one of the two All-Star captains, along with LeBron James, and will be responsible for drafting his All-Star roster.