Lonnie Walker

Texas Notes: Brunson, Kleber, Rockets, Walker

Mavericks point guard Jalen Brunson, an unrestricted free agent this summer, scored a career-high 41 points during the Mavericks’ 110-104 Game 2 victory over the Jazz Monday night, as Tim MacMahon of ESPN writes. The win knots Dallas’ first-round series with Utah at 1-1.

Dallas explored a five-out offensive attack, capitalizing on a Jazz weakness (guarding the perimeter). Brunson’s performance proved critical for a Mavericks club missing its lone All-Star in Luka Doncic, still sidelined with a left calf strain.

“I know he’s dying to get out there soon, but he’s got to take his time,” Brunson said of his backcourt mate. “I know he’s doing everything in his power to not let his team down, but he has to make the decision that’s best for him. Not necessarily knowing where he is [in the recovery process], but I just know that he’s a competitor and he wants to be out there. We’re trying to hold it down for him.”

Following a breakout fourth season in Dallas and thanks to this playoff start, the market for Brunson should be robust this summer. He’s averaging 32.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 5.0 APG and 1.0 SPG across the first two games of the Utah series. For the regular season, Brunson registered averages of 16.3 PPG, 4.8 APG, and 3.9 APG, along with a shooting line of .502/.373/.840.

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • Mavericks big man Maxi Kleber, dealing with a severe long-range shooting slump, seems to have righted the ship across his first two playoff games with Dallas this season, per Eddie Sefko of Mavs.com. Kleber had been converting 18.8% of his three-point looks since returning from the All-Star break, but is now 10-of-16 from deep over the first two games of the Utah series. “Obviously it is a big boost, but even in the games before when I didn’t shoot well, I think overall I still did many things and we won as a team,” Kleber said. “It doesn’t matter if I get a hot day and make my shots or somebody else does. All we care about is getting the win. Obviously, it feels really good to make those shots because the end of the season wasn’t my prettiest.”
  • The rebuilding Rockets face a variety of roster choices during the 2022 offseason. Kelly Iko of The Athletic previews what could be an action-packed summer for Houston in a new piece. Iko examines the fits of expected high-lottery draft picks Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero and Jaden Ivey; the future of $47.4MM man John Wall; potential extensions for Kevin Porter Jr. and Jae’Sean Tate, and more.
  • The Spurs face an interesting decision during the 2022 offseason, as fourth-year shooting guard Lonnie Walker IV is set to hit restricted free agency, writes Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. The 6’4″ wing has indicated that he is “hopeful” to sign a new deal with San Antonio. “Everyone talks about what I do for the community, but nobody talks about what the community does for us as players — the love and energy and everything they instill in us,” Walker said. “I embrace the fact the community embraced me. I’ve been having a hell of a time.” The 34-48 Spurs finished with the No. 10 seed and a play-in tournament appearance this season. In 70 games for San Antonio, Walker averaged a career-high 12.1 PPG and 2.2 APG, plus 2.6 RPG, in 23.0 MPG. He posted shooting splits of .407/.314/.784 this season.

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.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Southwest Division

For the rest of the regular season and postseason, Hoops Rumors is taking a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents this offseason. We consider whether their stock is rising or falling due to their performance and other factors. Today, we’re focusing on a handful of Southwest players.

Jalen Brunson, G, Mavericks

2021/22: Minimum salary
2022/23: UFA
Stock: Up ⬆️

Brunson will never be considered the Mavericks’ best pick in the 2018 draft – that honor belongs to backcourt partner Luka Doncic – but he has become one of that draft’s best values. Selected 33rd overall, Brunson has gradually taken on a larger role in Dallas and is enjoying the best year of his career in 2021/22, averaging 16.2 PPG, 4.9 APG, and 3.8 RPG on .498/.368/.845 shooting in 73 games (32.0 MPG).

Brunson’s four-year, $6.1MM rookie contract was a great deal for the Mavs, but they’ll have to give him a massive raise if they want to keep him. Because he’s a second-rounder who signed for four years, the 25-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent this summer rather than restricted. That should give him more leverage in contract negotiations, as should the interest he’s reportedly receiving from the Knicks and Pistons.

The rumored asking price for Brunson’s next deal is $80MM for four years, which seems within reach — other guards like Fred VanVleet, Lonzo Ball, and Malcolm Brogdon have signed similar contracts in recent years, and Brunson’s representatives can make a case that his résumé matches up favorably with what those players had accomplished when they finalized their respective deals.

Dennis Schröder, G, Rockets

2021/22: $5.89MM
2022/23: UFA
Stock: Down ⬇️

Schröder’s stock has yo-yo’d up and down drastically in the last two seasons. After famously turning down an extension offer worth a reported $80MM+ from the Lakers, Schröder settled for a one-year, $5.9MM deal with Boston in free agency. He outperformed that contract early in the season, prompting some discussion about how the Celtics – who would have only held his Non-Bird rights at season’s end – wouldn’t be able to afford to bring him back.

However, Schröder eventually fell back down to earth and became a trade chip for the C’s, who sent him to Houston. Initially viewed as a possible buyout candidate for the lottery-bound Rockets, the veteran guard earned some early praise for his impact on the team’s young guards. But Schröder’s overall numbers in 15 games in Houston, including a .393 FG% and a .328 3PT%, probably won’t convince offseason suitors that he deserves a raise on his 2022/23 salary.

Lonnie Walker, G/F, Spurs

2021/22: $4.45MM
2022/23: RFA
Stock: Up ⬆️

After a promising 2020/21 campaign in which he averaged a career-high 11.2 PPG in 60 games (25.4 MPG), Walker got off to a dismal start this season, shooting just 38.5% from the field and 29.3% on threes through his first 51 games (22.5 MPG).

He has played far better since the trade deadline, putting up 18.7 PPG on .471/.388/.667 shooting in 13 appearances (27.2 MPG) before he went down with a back injury on March 18. Having rejuvenated his value as he nears free agency, Walker is set to return from that back issue on Wednesday.

The Spurs have been better with Walker off the court than on it, and his overall numbers this season still aren’t great, but he looks like a much safer bet to receive a $6.3MM qualifying offer (making him a restricted free agent) than he did two months ago.

Kyle Anderson, F, Grizzlies

2021/22: $9.94MM
2022/23: UFA
Stock: Down ⬇️

Anderson’s stock has dipped a little this year, but that’s in large part due to how good he was in 2020/21, when he posted a career-best 12.4 PPG and 3.6 APG and established himself as a legitimate three-point threat for the first time (36.0% on 3.8 attempts per game).

Those numbers are all down this year (7.4 PPG, 2.6 APG, .323 3PT%) as Anderson has moved to the bench and seen his minutes cut back. The Grizzlies’ overall success, including a 53-23 record, works in Anderson’s favor, but his +3.2 net rating is among the worst on the team.

While Anderson is still a versatile defender who provides some value on the wing, teams interested in him this summer will probably view last season’s increased offensive output as an aberration rather than a sign of things to come on that end of the floor.

Tony Snell, G/F, Pelicans

2021/22: Minimum salary
2022/23: UFA
Stock: Down ⬇️

The only player on the Pelicans’ 15-man roster who doesn’t have a contract for next season, Snell was a throw-in the CJ McCollum trade last month. He had a few solid games after arriving in New Orleans, but has since fallen out of the rotation and probably isn’t part of the team’s plans beyond this season.

Snell signed a minimum-salary contract last summer with Portland following a season in which he made 56.9% of his three-point attempts. With that number down to 35.3% in 2021/22, another minimum-salary deal is probably a best-case scenario for him this offseason.

Southwest Notes: Mavericks, Nelson, Doncic, Walker IV, Ingram

The Mavericks issued a statement in response to former general manager Donnie Nelson suing the organization, Tim MacMahon of ESPN shares (via Twitter). As we previously relayed, Nelson alleges he was fired by team owner Mark Cuban as retaliation for reporting sexual misconduct.

Dallas vehemently denied the allegations, claiming that the team was investigated by outside counsel and that Nelson refused to cooperate.

“Nelson’s claims of being terminated because of retaliation are completely unfounded and the lawsuit filed today is baseless and full of lies,” the club said in its statement. “Mr. Nelson is fully aware, as is the NBA, of the reasons for his termination at the end of the 2020/21 season. The Mavs have always intended to hold private the inappropriate actions of Donnie Nelson that led to his termination.”

As relayed by MacMahon (Twitter link), the Mavericks’ formal legal response accuses Nelson of extortion and demanding “in effect, a blackmail payment in exchange for his promises not to expose the sexual orientation of a former Mavericks front-office employee.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division today:

  • Speaking of the Mavericks, Luka Doncic revealed an interesting strategy for keeping his composure and avoiding technical fouls, MacMahon writes in a separate story for ESPN. “It’s a funny thing — I just start singing a song in my head,” Doncic explained. “One of my favorite songs I pick and just start singing and let [the frustration] pass. I think these last couple of games I’ve been great with officials. If I think I’m fouled, I just go to him and talk to him normal. But that’s it. It’s got to be this way.”
  • Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV has been heating up ahead of free agency this summer, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News writes. Walker is set to become a restricted free agent. He’s had a respectable campaign, averaging a career-high 12.2 points and 2.1 assists per game.
  • Pelicans star Brandon Ingram (illness) didn’t travel with the team on its three-game road trip, Christian Clark of NOLA.com tweets. Head coach Willie Green is unsure if he’ll join the club on the trip. New Orleans won 124-91 at San Antonio on Friday and has upcoming games at Golden State on Sunday and Portland on Wednesday.

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.”

Spurs’ Walker, McDermott Enter Protocols; Murray Exits

Spurs guard Lonnie Walker and forward Doug McDermott have entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter links). Wojnarowski also reports (via Twitter) that star guard Dejounte Murray has cleared the protocols.

Murray, who’s missed the team’s last three games, will begin his reconditioning to play again. No target date has been announced for his return. In 31 games this season, he’s averaged a career-high 17.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game, shooting 44% from the field.

Walker and McDermott have both served in vital roles for San Antonio, averaging 22.5 minutes and 24.6 minutes per game, respectively. Walker has played 30 of his 33 games off the bench, while McDermott has started in all 26 of his games this season.

The Spurs next play in Detroit on Saturday night, the team’s second contest of a seven-game road trip. San Antonio currently ranks 10th in the West at 14-20.

Spurs Notes: Players’ Meeting, Landale, COVID Concerns, Walker

The Spurs held a players-only meeting in the locker room after last Thursday’s 25-point loss to the Timberwolves, forward Thaddeus Young informed Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. “We took that butt whooping and we went back into the locker room and we talked for 20, 30 minutes, the whole team,” Young said. “Everyone voiced their issues and their points.”

Second-year lottery pick Devin Vassell was among those who spoke most eloquently.

“He basically said, ‘Come on. Let’s try to figure this thing out. Let’s talk about it. Let’s put everything out there on the table,'” Young said.

Young viewed that as a positive sign for the team building around young players.

“That’s what you want from young guys. I could do it, but at the end of the day, you want these younger guys to start stepping up,” Young said (Twitter links here).

San Antonio had the weekend off and will face Phoenix on Monday.

We have more on the Spurs:

  • Big man Jock Landale has entered the reconditioning phase after being cleared from the league’s health and safety protocols, Orsborn tweets. Landale entered protocols approximately two weeks ago and hasn’t played since November 1.
  • Though the team is fully vaccinated and some have received booster shots, players are wary of contracting the virus and are taking more precautions on the road, forward Doug McDermott told Orsborn. “That (being vaccinated) still doesn’t mean anything because you still see positive tests. I think a good example was in the NFL,” McDermott said. “You are seeing a lot of positive cases there and I think the same will be true of us (in the NBA) around Thanksgiving.”
  • Guard Lonnie Walker IV holds no hard feelings toward Timberwolves forward Taurean Prince, Orsborn writes. Prince was ejected after being issued a Flagrant 2 foul for striking Walker in the chest and face during the second half as Walker drove to the basket. “It was fine,” Walker said. “I’ve gotten hit a lot worse than that. I don’t think it was on purpose. I’m real cool with Prince.”

Western Notes: Murray, Pelicans, Snyder, Walker

Spurs guard Dejounte Murray deserves credit for the team’s impressive road win over Milwaukee on Saturday, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News writes. Murray finished with 23 points, five rebounds and nine assists in 37 minutes, also registering three steals.

“He was great,” head coach Gregg Popovich said of Murray. “His defense is not going to be noticed as much as offense, but he got us in situations where people were getting the ball and scoring. He scored. He disrupts at the defensive end. He played a heck of an all-around game.”

Murray, 25, was drafted by the team No. 29 overall in 2016. He’s averaged an impressive 17.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists through the club’s first six games, shooting 43% from the floor.

There’s more around the Western Conference tonight:

  • The Pelicans are facing a familiar start to the season, Christian Clark of NOLA.com writes. Zion Williamson has yet to play due to injury, leading New Orleans to start the season with a 1-6 record. On top of that, Nickeil Alexander-Walker is dealing with some shooting struggles, making 15 of 57 three-pointers thus far. “Everyone just tells me to keep shooting,” Alexander-Walker said on Thursday. “They trust me to take those shots. Last night [against Atlanta], Zion told me those are shots I need to take. It takes pressure off (Brandon Ingram). It’s comforting to hear they want me to keep shooting even though I haven’t been making shots. To know they have faith in me.”
  • Jazz coach Quin Snyder believes the NBA’s focus on changing its foul rules has unintentionally allowed defenders to be more physical, according to Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter links). The league has made it harder for offensive players to initiate fouls on shots and drives this season. “I don’t think there’s supposed to be increased physicality,” Snyder said. “I don’t think that’s the kind of game we want.”
  • Spurs guard Lonnie Walker has learned from what he calls “The University of Pop,” Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News writes. Referencing Gregg Popovich, Walker acknowledged he missed the final three years of college and discussed what he’s learned from the Spurs’ head coach so far.

Lonnie Walker Motivated By Lack Of Extension

There were 11 players who signed rookie scale extensions prior to the opening-night deadline. The Spurs’ Lonnie Walker IV wasn’t one of them and that’s serving as motivation this season, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News writes.

Walker is headed to restricted free agency — provided San Antonio extends a qualifying offer —  and he’s eager to prove his value within the framework of the Spurs’ system.

“I think I’m more excited, more hungry. I’m starving more than ever,” Walker said. “I’m trying to stay active offensively and defensively and do what Pop (coach Gregg Popovich) wants me to do.”

Walker is averaging 13.3 PPG off the bench heading into San Antonio’s game against the Lakers on Tuesday, though he hasn’t shot it well (39.5%). He’s also averaging 4.0 RPG and 2.3 APG. Last season in 60 games (38 starts), Walker posted averages of 11.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG and 1.7 APG.

“I’ve sacrificed a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of things this offseason to be ready to play this season,” he said.

Walker is in his fourth year after getting selected No. 18 overall in the 2018 draft. Ideally, he’d like to re-sign with the Spurs.

“Absolutely. I think I’m a San Antonio, Texas, guy myself,” he said.

Details On Starter Criteria For 2022 RFAs

The NBA’s rookie scale, which determines the salaries first-round picks earn during their first four seasons, also dictates how much the qualifying offers will be worth for those players when they reach restricted free agency after year four. However, the value of those qualifying offers can fluctuate depending on whether or not a player has met the “starter criteria.”

Here’s how the starter criteria works in a typical year:

  1. A player who is eligible for restricted free agency is considered to have met the starter criteria if he plays at least 2,000 minutes or starts 41 games in the season before he reaches free agency.
  2. A player can also meet the criteria if he averages either of those marks in the two seasons prior to his restricted free agency. For instance, if a player started 50 games one year and 32 the next, he’d meet the starter criteria, since his average number of starts over the last two seasons is 41.

The first method of meeting the starter criteria will remain unchanged this season, but that second method will look a little different due to the truncated nature of the 2020/21 season.

For starter criteria purposes, the number of starts and minutes a player logged last season will be prorated upward by 82/72 to account for the 72-game schedule, Hoops Rumors has learned.

For example, Suns center Deandre Ayton started 69 games last season. Typically, Ayton would require 13 more starts this season to meet the starter criteria, since 82 total starts would get him to the required average of 41 over the last two seasons.

However, Ayton’s 69 starts last season came in just 72 regular season games. Prorated across a typical 82-game schedule, he would’ve made 78 starts. That means he’ll only need four starts this season to meet the starter criteria. In other words, he should get there next Wednesday, barring an injury.

Hornets forward Miles Bridges, meanwhile, only started 19 games last season, but he played 1,932 total minutes in Charlotte’s 72 games. That works out to 2,200 minutes when prorated across an 82-game schedule, meaning he’d require just 1,800 more this season in order to meet the starter criteria. Since he’s part of the Hornets’ starting five now, Bridges could also meet the criteria by simply getting to 41 starts in 2021/22.

A player’s ability or inability to meet the starter criteria can affect the value of the qualifying offer he receives as a restricted free agent, as follows:

  • A top-14 pick who does not meet the starter criteria will receive a qualifying offer equal to the amount the 15th overall pick would receive if he signed for 120% of the rookie scale.
  • A player picked between 10th and 30th who meets the criteria will receive a qualifying offer equal to the amount the ninth overall pick would receive if he signed for 120% of the rookie scale.
  • A second-round pick or undrafted player who meets the criteria will receive a qualifying offer equal to the amount the 21st overall pick would receive if he signed for 100% of the rookie scale.
  • For all other RFAs, the standard criteria determine the amounts of their qualifying offers.

In most cases, a qualifying offer is a mere placeholder that allows a team to retain its right of first refusal on a restricted free agent — very few players actually accept the one-year offer. Still, a player who fails to meet the starter criteria could have his free agency reshaped by an adjusted qualifying offer.

For instance, Kings big man Marvin Bagley III would be in line for a qualifying offer worth $14,762,309 if he meets the starter criteria or just $7,228,448 if he doesn’t.

Bagley would need to start 35 games this season in order to meet the starter criteria, which might be a long shot, given that he’s out of the rotation for now. Still, a $7.2MM qualifying offer could be more palatable to the Kings – or whichever team has him on its roster by the end of the 2021/22 season – than a $14.8MM one would be. Somewhat paradoxically, Bagley may have a better chance of actually receiving his QO if he starts fewer games this season.

Collin Sexton (Cavaliers), Lonnie Walker (Spurs), Donte DiVincenzo (Bucks), and Josh Okogie (Timberwolves) are some of the other top candidates to meet the starter criteria this season. We’ll be keeping an eye on them and the rest of 2022’s RFAs-to-be over the next several months.