Lloyd Pierce

Southeast Notes: Bamba, Heat, Hawks, Vucevic

Magic center Mohamed Bamba is eager to leave his coronavirus difficulties in the past after having to depart Orlando early due to complications from the virus, Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel writes.

Bamba underwent a comprehensive post-coronavirus evaluation after leaving Orlando, with results indicating that he’s on the right track to recovery, Parry notes. He’s since been cleared to return to basketball activities, which includes shooting and running.

“It’s kind of tricky because we’re in the offseason, so I’m not sure what 5-on-5 is going to look like,” Bamba said, recognizing the uncertainty of doing full-contact work. “I’m really eager to hear back from the team what their vision for me is in the near future. We don’t even know when the season is going to start. … I’ll be ready.”

Bamba contracted the virus on June 11 and began experiencing issues related to his conditioning in Orlando. It was later determined that he should leave the campus and undergo additional tests for his safety, with the 22-year-old playing just 10 minutes across two games in the league’s restart.

“Absolutely. Getting all those tests done was probably the most important thing that I’ve done all year, besides vote,” he said. “It was really important. It’s a matter of just making sure that I’m taking care of my body and making sure I’m ruling out anything that could be harmful.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division today:

  • In his latest mailbag, Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel ponders whether the Heat should roll with their current roster moving forward. Miami currently owns the best postseason record in the NBA at 7-1, with the team’s Game 5 against Milwaukee coming on Tuesday.
  • In his own mailbag, Chris Kirschner of The Athletic examines a number of topics related to the Hawks, including the rising expectations for head coach Lloyd Pierce and what will happen if the team fails to make the playoffs next year. Atlanta is set to sport a core consisting of Trae Young, John Collins, Clint Capela and a number of young players next season, including the No. 6 pick in this year’s NBA draft.
  • Magic center Nikola Vucevic earned redemption after a record-setting first-round playoff series against the Bucks, Parry writes in a separate story for the Orlando Sentinel. Vucevic averaged 28 points and 11 rebounds in five games, shooting 51% from the field and 40% from deep — a noticeable improvement from last year’s dismal first-round performance against the Raptors. “He’s been inside and outside,” coach Steve Clifford said of Vucevic. “He’s done it all. He creates so much offense for our team and he puts so much pressure on the defense because of the nature of how he plays.”

Southeast Notes: Hornets, Pierce, Jones, Wizards

Addressing the Hornets‘ upcoming offseason in a recent conversation with Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer, president of basketball operations Mitch Kupchak reiterated many of the points he has made before about his team’s priorities. According to Kupchak, the Hornets won’t be a major player in free agency this fall and won’t be drafting for positional need with their lottery pick.

“We have some nice pieces that we like, but to compete in this league at a high level, our talent level isn’t where we need it to be,” Kupchak told Bonnell, referring to the Hornets’ need to draft for talent over fit. “I don’t feel we have the luxury of being able to, at this point, pick-and-choose the position (of greatest need).”

While Kupchak acknowledged that the Hornets should have a chunk of cap room available this offseason, he stressed that he doesn’t feel as if free agency “is the answer for us at this time,” hinting that the club could instead use its cap space on the trade market.

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce spoke to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype about a number of subjects, including his hope that Atlanta will improve its depth this offseason by adding veterans who can help the club on and off the court. “We have to add some veterans, rotational, professional depth, and experience to complement our young guys,” Pierce said. “We have nine guys, I believe under contract right now, so we have roster spots to fill.”
  • Just four days after sustaining a scary-looking neck injury, Heat wing Derrick Jones was cleared to return to action today, as Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel writes. Jones has been part of Miami’s rotation during this afternoon’s game against Indiana.
  • Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the group that owns the Wizards, is indefinitely furloughing 232 full-time employees due to the coronavirus pandemic, reports Scott Allen of The Washington Post. The furloughs affect over a third of approximately 600 full-time employees that work for the company in departments such as sales, marketing, game day operations, and community relations, Allen adds.
  • The Wizards are parting ways with four performance and medical staffers, including head athletic trainer Jeff Bangs, writes Fred Katz of The Athletic.

Pierce: Exclusion From NBA’s Return Would Hurt Hawks

If the NBA moves forward with a plan to have its top 22 teams resume the 2019/20 season, the Hawks would be one of the eight clubs left out. Amidst reports that the proposal has growing support, Atlanta head coach Lloyd Pierce told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols today that he’s still hoping his team will get a chance to be part of a return to play this summer.

“I coach the youngest team in the NBA,” Pierce said. “And the biggest thing we can benefit from is playing basketball, and the game has been taken away from all of us at this point. … If the season is going to resume and we’re still not a part of it, it hurts our growth, it hurts our product, it hurts our ability to continue the momentum that we need going into next season.”

A desire to be part of the NBA’s resumed season has apparently been unanimous throughout the Hawks’ organization — general manager Travis Schlenk has said he’s in favor of the franchise finishing the season, and team owner Tony Ressler reportedly expressed a similar sentiment on last Friday’s Board of Governors conference call.

As we noted in that story on Friday’s call, some of the NBA’s lottery-bound teams are concerned about facing a nine-month gap between games. Besides the potential impact such a lengthy layoff would have on fan interest, those clubs also don’t want to be apart from their players for so long.

That’s of particular concern for a young team focused on player development like Atlanta. Schlenk said last month that the Hawks would “play our guys” rather than sitting stars like Trae Young and John Collins, since the team wants those building blocks to get as much time on the court together as possible.

“I play young guys, I have young guys,” Pierce told Nichols. “They need game experience and so we need to play basketball, we want to play basketball.”

And-Ones: Yabusele, British League, Jones, NBCA

Former NBA forward Guerschon Yabusele has signed a one-year contract with LDLC Asvel, according to a press release from the French club (hat tip to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando). Yabusele appeared in four games for Asvel before the pandemic suspended play after beginning the season in China. Yabusele was drafted in the first round by the Celtics in 2016 and played 74 games over two seasons with Boston.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • The British Basketball League has canceled the remainder of its season, according to a statement from the league. “We looked at every option, including playing behind closed doors or restarting the season in the summer, in order that we could get to a league and playoff winners, but with the continued uncertainty, we just ran out of time and options,” BBL Chairman Sir Rodney Walker said. “The clubs were united that now was the right time to bring the current season to a close.”
  • Veteran NBA forward Terrence Jones has signed with Team Washington for TBT 2020, JD Shaw of Hoops Rumors tweets. The Basketball Tournament is a 5-on-5, winner-take-all event with a grand prize of $2MM. Jones has played with Houston, New Orleans and Milwaukee since being drafted 18th overall back in 2012.
  • A number of prominent coaches have been selected by the National Basketball Coaches Association for a committee on racial injustice and reform to pursue solutions within NBA cities, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, Lloyd Pierce, David Fizdale and Stan Van Gundy were among the coaches selected to a committee in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and a continuing pattern of violence and intolerance toward African Americans in the U.S.

Hawks Rumors: Pierce, Bembry, FAs, Collins

In a look at some of the offseason questions that the Hawks will have to address later this year, Chris Kirschner of The Athletic points to head coach Lloyd Pierce‘s job status as one of those unanswered questions. As Kirschner explains, Pierce has done a good job developing Atlanta’s young players, but there are other factors that could impact his job security.

For one, star guard Trae Young hasn’t always been on the same page with Pierce, according to Kirschner, who suggests the All-Star guard has disagreed with some coaching decisions and didn’t love Pierce’s comments about Young not being named a finalist for Team USA’s roster. Sources with knowledge of the Hawks star’s thinking “have confirmed that his relationship with Pierce isn’t strong,” Kirschner writes.

Some Hawks players have also questioned Pierce’s in-game decisions and rotations. According to Kirschner, one player even offered the following assessment when discussing those decisions: “It’s almost as if we actually are tanking on purpose.”

Here are some other subjects that Kirschner touches on in his story for The Athletic:

  • DeAndre’ Bembry has been a personal favorite of Pierce’s, but he may have played his last game for the Hawks, according to Kirschner, who hears from sources that the RFA-to-be was “readily available” leading up to the trade deadline.
  • Kirschner is also skeptical that Jeff Teague or Damian Jones, who will be free agents this offseason, will be back with Atlanta in 2020/21. However, he believes Skal Labissiere is a candidate to be re-signed, despite not yet playing a game for the Hawks, since the recently-acquired big man has long been a favorite of GM Travis Schlenk.
  • If the 2019/20 season doesn’t resume, the Hawks won’t get a chance to evaluate the on-court fit between Clint Capela and John Collins before the latter becomes extension-eligible, and Kirsher thinks it’ll be hard for the team to offer Collins a massive long-term deal without having seen whether that frontcourt pairing works.
  • Given the lack of a clear-cut hierarchy at the top of this year’s draft, Kirschner speculates that the Hawks would be open to trading down or trying to trade that pick for an impact player, even if they were to land the No. 1 selection. Schlenk showed a willingness to move down in 2018, passing on the chance to select Luka Doncic.

Hawks Frustrated But Pierce Not On Hot Seat

The Hawks have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams this season, with Tuesday’s blowout loss to the Knicks dropping them to the very bottom of the Eastern Conference at 6-22. League sources tell Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that frustration has been building within Atlanta’s locker room during the team’s first-half slump.

As Haynes details, teammates have complained to one another about selfishness, accountability, and not putting in the necessary work to turn the Hawks’ season around. Sources tell Haynes that the roster is missing a “true vocal leader who command the respect of his peers” and that the club needs to put in work to “strengthen the connection with a few significant players.”

Despite a dismal couple months, head coach Lloyd Pierce is not on the hot seat in Atlanta, according to Haynes, who notes that the organization is remaining patient with Pierce in part because the team has been without big man John Collins since early November. Collins was suspended for 25 games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug program and will be eligible to return next Monday.

If the Hawks’ struggles and locker-room issues continue after Collins’ return, Pierce’s seat may begin to heat up, Haynes writes. Atlanta’s head coach has a guaranteed contract through the 2020/21 season, with a team option for ’21/22.

Southeast Notes: Johnson, Turner, Jones, Wizards

James Johnson‘s agent Mark Bartelstein said his client has been absent from the Heat’s training camp because of his weight rather than his conditioning, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports.

Johnson hasn’t been allowed to participate in camp until he reaches that weight goal set by Heat president Pat Riley. Bartelstein said Johnson passed the team’s conditioning test and will return to the team “shortly,” Jackson adds. Johnson has a $15.3MM salary this season with a $16MM player option next season.

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce wants to take advantage Evan Turner‘s versatility, Kevin Chouinard of the team’s website tweets. Turner will serve as the backup point guard and will also be employed as a small-ball power forward along with playing the wing. Turner was acquired from the Blazers for Kent Bazemore.
  • Forward Jemerrio Jones is trying to gain a role with the Wizards via his rebounding and hustle, as Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington details.  Jones, who played six games with the Lakers last season as a rookie, has a $1,416,852 salary, but less than $200K is guaranteed. “I go hard in the paint,” he said. “[Fans] are going to like the hustle in me. You gotta pay people to play hard now, but it’s in me.” Jones was acquired in the three-team blockbuster that brought Anthony Davis to Los Angeles.
  • Thomas Bryant inspires his other young Wizards teammates to exceed expectations, Candace Buckner of the Washington Post writes. Bryant, who was cut loose by the Lakers, earned a three-year, $25MM contract after replacing injured Dwight Howard as the starting center last season. “The opportunity that he got, making the best of getting cut, it’s incredible for me to observe,” second-year center Moritz Wagner said. “I’m very happy to do this with him together.”

Hawks Notes: Draft, No. 8, Reddish, Fernando

The Mavericks agreed to send their top-5 protected 2019 first-rounder to the Hawks as part of the Luka Doncic draft night trade last June. Entering the NBA draft lottery, Dallas had hoped to keep this year’s pick and delay conveying the selection.

Assistant GM Keith Grant told Chris Kirschner of the Athletic that the Mavs would have liked to add another young piece to the Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis nucleus. Still, the team views last year’s trade as a win for both parties.

“We actually do believe that,” Grant said about both teams getting the guy they wanted. “We evaluated every player and thought Luka was our guy. Atlanta obviously had Trae as theirs, and so we had a deal.”

The trade between Dallas and Atlanta had been agreed to prior to the actual draft but was contingent on both Doncic and Trae Young being available at No. 3 and No. 5, respectively.

The Hawks are armed with two top-10 draft selections in this year’s draft and Kirschner passes along more from Atlanta:

  • It would be surprising if the Hawks didn’t pick a wing, assuming they stay at the No. 8 spot, Kirschner hears from sources within the organization. Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver has been linked to Atlanta but it’s hard to envision him falling out of the top seven.
  • Zion Williamson and Ja Morant are widely expected to be the top two picks in the draft. One Hawks executive told Kirschner that he expects three other players—R.J. Barrett, Darius Garland, and Coby White—to be unavailable when Atlanta makes its first selection at No. 8. The Suns and Bulls both covet upgrades at the point guard spot and Garland and White are the best available after Morant.
  • The Hawks have interest in Cam Reddish. While he failed to live up to lofty expectations at Duke, there’s “not much doubt” within Atlanta’s organization that playing alongside Young, John Collins, and Kevin Huerter would allow him to reach his potential, Kirschner adds.
  • Coach Lloyd Pierce prefers a center who can stretch the floor but that wouldn’t stop the team from selecting Jaxson Hayes if he’s the best player on the board at No. 10. “Roster building isn’t always about trying to perfectly pair up guys,” a source tells Kirschner.
  • Multiple sources tell Kirschner that the team likes Bruno Fernando out of Maryland. The big man likely isn’t in play with one of the Hawks‘ two top-10 selections, but the franchise holds three second-round picks (No. 35, No. 41, No. 44).

And-Ones: Early Entrants, Ball, Pierce, Diaw

After releasing a 233-player list of early entrants for the 2019 NBA draft on Tuesday, the league followed up today by adding a few more names to that list. According to an announcement from the league, “timely letters” were received from three more prospects who declared for the draft. Those players are as follows:

Leading up to the early entry deadline, there were reports that Cham, Lamb, and Sneed all intended to enter the draft, so it was a little surprising not to see them on the NBA’s official list this week. They’re on there now though, and the additions of those three names mean that this year’s early entrant total is up to 236 players, matching a record set in 2018.

As we noted on Tuesday, there were still several players who reportedly intended to declare for the draft as early entrants and aren’t on the NBA’s list, so they either had second thoughts or missed the deadline. The next deadline will arrive on May 29, when NCAA prospects will have to either withdraw from this year’s draft pool or officially forfeit their remaining college eligibility.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • Alan Foster, a former associate of Lonzo Ball and the Ball family, is under FBI investigation, according to a report from Tania Ganguli and Richard Winton of The Los Angeles Times. The Bureau is looking into whether Foster defrauded the Ball family out of millions of dollars, according to Ganguli and Winton, who say the investigation has been going on for more than two months. Foster was already facing a lawsuit accusing him of embezzling over $2MM from Big Baller Brand for his personal use.
  • Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce has taken the place of Pacers head coach Nate McMillan as an assistant on Team USA’s coaching staff for 2019/20, according to a press release. McMillan withdrew due to scheduling conflicts, opening the door for Pierce to claim a spot on Gregg Popovich’s staff for the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics.
  • Longtime NBA forward Boris Diaw is reportedly poised to take over as the president of French team Levallois Metropolitans. The news was reported by Le Parisien, and relayed by Sportando and Eurohoops. Assuming it becomes official, Diaw will become the second notable NBA player to assume the role of team president for a French club, joining former teammate Tony Parker, who runs ASVEL Villeurbanne.

Hawks Notes: Free Agency, Carter, Pierce

A report from Sam Amick of The Athletic last month indicated that the Hawks intend to be aggressive in free agency this summer, pursuing meetings with “everyone from Kevin Durant on down.” However, head coach Lloyd Pierce and general manager Travis Schlenk tell Robby Kalland of Dime Magazine that the team has no plans to force the issue or spend its cap room irresponsibly.

“I think what’s really important is a lot of times mistakes are made when teams go, ‘We have this cap space, we need to use it,'” Schlenk said. “You can’t spend it on the wrong guy. Right? I say all the time, if you make a mistake in a draft, it doesn’t kill your franchise. Obviously you don’t want to make mistakes, but you’re talking about a two-year guaranteed contract with a small dollar amount. You make mistakes and free agents, and now you’re talking, to today’s world, a four-year contract at $25-30MM. Those can be [killers].”

Schlenk suggested that the Hawks will most likely target players who slip through the cracks and are available on shorter-term or team-friendly deals. A one- or two-year big-money contract – like what the Sixers did with J.J. Redick – could make sense for Atlanta, Kalland notes. Pierce believes the Hawks have taken the steps necessary to receive serious consideration from that sort of veteran free agent.

“We feel like we’re in a position now where we feel like people are going to look at the Atlanta Hawks and say, ‘They’re onto something,'” Pierce said. “Young guys that are really good. Young culture that they’ve established that everyone loves, and that’s what we’re talking about. The arena, ownership, GM, coach are all aligned. They came in at the same time, they’re on the same page, year after year after year. They turned it around, they added these three young guys to it, they’re headed in the right direction. But we can’t skip that step either. I don’t know what the next step is, if there’s a perfect free agent or the perfect locker room guy that can come in and help us, that’s great. But if there isn’t, we can’t force it.”

Here’s more on the Hawks from Kalland’s deep dive:

  • Hawks minority owner Grant Hill and young big man John Collins both spoke to Kalland about being encouraged by the progression of the team’s rebuilding process. “How we approach the game is different from other teams I feel like who are sort of in similar (rebuilding) situations,” Collins said. “And I feel like our situation is we’re light years ahead of where we’re supposed to be and where people think we are regardless of our record. I feel like when you watch us play and you see how we play offensively, defensively, the way we move a ball, the way we run the floor. It paints a pretty bright future. I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
  • Although he’s not a long-term building block like Collins or Trae Young, Vince Carter has been an important part of this season’s Hawks team, according to Pierce, who tells Kalland that the 42-year-old swingman has created “a different atmosphere” in Atlanta’s locker room.
  • For his part, Carter says he has tried to impart the lessons he has learned over the course of his career on the Hawks’ young players. “For Trae, he’s one of the faces of this franchise along with John Collins, so there’s more responsibility,” Carter told Kalland. “… There’s a lot of things that come with wanting to be ‘The Man’ of a franchise. I’ve been there for a lot of years, so I’ve seen a lot. So I’m just trying to share my wisdom, both in conversation and on the court, because I feel like in the world today you have to do a little more than just have a conversation. I like to lead by example and by showing the young guys the way.”
  • Speaking about the decision to hire Pierce as Atlanta’s new head coach last year, Schlenk tells Kalland that the former Sixers assistant has “exceeded our expectations.”