- After missing the playoffs last season, the Clippers are making a strong statement with a 10-5 start and will be in position to get even better next summer, notes Tom Ziller of SB Nation. The team is 5-1 since inserting rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander into the starting lineup and ranks first in the league in opponents’ effective field goal percentage. With only five players signed beyond this season, L.A. could have up to $63MM in cap space in July, enough to offer two max contracts. However, Ziller states that the Clippers’ ultimate plan is to attract Kawhi Leonard, re-sign Tobias Harris and add a few complementary players around them.
- The Clippers are expected to add another key piece tomorrow when Avery Bradley returns from an ankle injury, according to Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times. “I still don’t feel like I’ve been able to get a consistent offensive flow here in this game and what I can bring to the team,” said Bradley, who has missed the past six games. “I still think there’s an area of shot-making that I can contribute to this team.”
This week’s trade that brought Jimmy Butler from the Timberwolves puts the Sixers in win-now mode, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. It gives the team a third star to join with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but removes the luxury of developing younger players such as Markelle Fultz.
Butler displayed his ability to be a difference maker in Saturday’s win over the Hornets. He blocked a shot by Kemba Walker late in overtime, then sank a game-winning 3-pointer.
“I think it’s the beginning of something different now,” coach Brett Brown said. “I think there’s a cleansing and sort of a base that has been built. We are very proud of the culture, the standards, the rules and all that stuff. … I think there is a starting point now that’s more pronounced as far as a base to take off than there has ever been.”
There’s more from the Atlantic Division:
- There was a tense atmosphere in the Celtics‘ locker room following Saturday’s one-sided loss to the Jazz, relays Jay King of The Athletic. Coach Brad Stevens inserted his end-of-the-bench players with about nine minutes left in the game, then questioned his team’s toughness in a post-game interview. It’s the latest bump in the road for the Celtics, who have stumbled to a 9-7 start after being the preseason favorites to win the East. Kyrie Irving suggested the problem may stem from younger players forcing shots because they’re trying to duplicate the success they had last year when they had their roles expanded because of injuries.
- Tobias Harris would be a sensible free agent target for the Nets, especially if he continues playing the way he did Saturday, writes Bryan Fonseca of NetsDaily. The Clippers forward and Long Island native lit up Brooklyn for 27 points and eight rebounds, showing that he would make a nice addition to the Nets’ lineup. “I’m just focused on the team that I put a jersey on every single night for,” he said when asked about the possibility of coming to Brooklyn. “I think it wouldn’t be fair if I had my mind somewhere else at this time. I’m just focused on helping this team and let’s see how far we can go.”
- Someone will be pulled from the Nets‘ rotation when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson returns from his ankle injury, tweets Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Lewis adds that coach Kenny Atkinson doesn’t want to give regular minutes to more than 10 players per night.
Here are Sunday’s assignments and recalls from around the NBA:
- The Kings assigned rookie big man Harry Giles to their G League affiliate in Stockton, according to a press release from the team.
- The Hornets recalled rookie point guard Devonte’ Graham from the Greensboro Swarm, per a press release from the team.
- The Magic recalled Isaiah Briscoe and Melvin Frazier Jr. from their Lakeland affiliate, according to a tweet from the team’s PR department.
- According to a tweet from the Clippers‘ PR department, the team has assigned rookie guard Jerome Robinson and Sindarius Thornwell to the Agua Caliente Clippers.
- The Timberwolves recalled rookie Keita Bates-Diop from their G League affiliate in Iowa, according to a press release from the team.
- The Grizzlies assigned rookie point guard Jevon Carter to the Memphis Hustle, per a tweet from Grizzlies’ PR.
- The Wizards have assigned Chasson Randle to their G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go.
- The Thunder announced in an email that they have assigned Abdel Nader to the Oklahoma City Blue.
- The Pistons recalled both Henry Ellenson and rookie guard Khryi Thomas, according to an email sent from the team.
Here are Friday’s assignments and recalls from around the NBA:
- The Hornets assigned rookie guard Devonte’ Graham to the Greensboro Swarm, according to a team press release. Graham has appeared in two games with Charlotte, averaging 3.5 PPG and 1.5 APG in 9.5 MPG. The 6’2 Kansas product, an early second-round pick, has averaged 23.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 8.0 APG in two outings with Greensboro.
- The Sixers recalled forward Jonah Bolden from the Delaware Blue Coats prior to their game against the Hornets on Friday, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. The 6’10” Bolden, a 2017 second-rounder, has appeared in four NBA games this season but none this month.
- The Spurs recalled forward Chimezie Metu from the Austin Spurs after assigning him to the G League on Thursday, according to a team press release. The 6’10” Metu, a second-round pick in June, is averaging 1.6 PPG and 1.2 RPG in 4.0 MPG over five games with San Antonio.
- The Thunder assigned forward Abdel Nader to the Oklahoma City Blue, the team announced in a press release. The 6’6” Nader, acquired from Boston in July, has seen just seven minutes of action with OKC.
- The Clippers assigned guards Jerome Robinson and Sindarius Thornwell to the Agua Caliente Clippers, then recalled Thornwell, according to the team’s PR department (Twitter links). The 6’5” Thornwell has yet to make his season debut with the Clippers after appearing in 73 games last season. The 6’5” Robinson, the 13th overall pick in this June’s draft, has appeared in seven games and averaged 2.9 PPG in 5.0 MPG.
The Raptors, Nuggets, Bucks, Grizzlies, and Kings are among the NBA teams that have made the strongest impression in the first month of the 2018/19 season, outperforming expectations early in the year. On the other end of the spectrum, the Cavaliers and Mavericks have been among the league’s worst teams, underperforming expectations that weren’t all that high to begin with.
These teams all have something in common — they’ve traded away their 2019 first-round picks, often with protections on them. We still have about 70 games to go in ’18/19, so it’s way too early to determine exactly where those picks will fall, or even whether or not they’ll changes hands in many cases. However, based on what we’ve seen from those teams so far, we have a better idea of what to expect the rest of the way than we did a month ago.
Let’s take a look at how some of those early-season trades may affect 2019’s traded first round picks…
Toronto Raptors (11-1)
First-round pick traded to Spurs (top-20 protected)
Even with top-20 protection, this pick looks like a very safe bet to change hands. If the season ended today, it would be No. 30, since Toronto has the NBA’s best record.
Denver Nuggets (9-2)
First-round pick traded to Nets (top-12 protected)
After a season in which the Nuggets narrowly missed the playoffs, it wasn’t unreasonable for Brooklyn to hope this pick would fall in the mid-teens. Instead, with Denver looking like one of the Western Conference’s best teams so far, it may land well into the 20s.
Milwaukee Bucks (9-2)
First-round pick traded to Suns (top-3 protected; 17-30 protected)
The unusual protections on this pick will likely to prevent it from changing hands for a second consecutive year, since it projects to fall in the 17-30 range. If Milwaukee’s 2019 first-rounder doesn’t convey, the Bucks would owe the Suns their 2020 first-rounder, with top-7 protection.
Memphis Grizzlies (6-4)
First-round pick traded to Celtics (top-8 protected)
After finishing last season with a 22-60 record, the Grizzlies were no lock to take a major step forward in 2018/19. In the early going though, the club looks like a legitimate playoff contender. Assuming Memphis can remain in the postseason mix, even if it’s just on the outskirts, this pick should stay out of the top eight and get sent to Boston.
Sacramento Kings (6-5)
First-round pick traded to Sixers (if it’s No. 1 overall or if it’s less favorable than Sixers’ pick) or Celtics (if it’s more favorable than Sixers’ pick and isn’t No. 1 overall)
The Kings, who were expected to be one of the NBA’s worst teams entering the season, would generate some fascinating drama between the Sixers and Celtics if their pick ends up in play for No. 1 overall. However, Sacramento’s young roster has created more problems than anticipated for opponents so far, with the team occupying a playoff spot for now.
Despite the Kings’ hot start, a finish in the lottery still seems likely, but if Sacramento keeps exceeding expectations, the team’s first-round pick will almost certainly end up in Boston instead of Philadelphia, avoiding that No. 1 spot.
Los Angeles Clippers (6-5)
First-round pick traded to Celtics (top-14 protected)
This could be one to watch all season long — the Clippers currently hold a playoff spot in the West by one game, but teams like the Jazz, Lakers, Pelicans, and Rockets are right on their tail. If the Clips eventually fall out of the top eight in the West, they’ll keep their 2019 pick and would owe Boston their top-14 protected 2020 first-rounder. If L.A. keeps winning, the Celtics have a real shot at ending up with four first-rounders next spring.
Dallas Mavericks (3-8)
First-round pick traded to Hawks (top-5 protected)
After drafting NBA-ready prospect Luka Doncic and signing DeAndre Jordan, the Mavericks hoped to contend for the postseason and expected to lose this pick. Given the way Dallas has struggled so far, that no longer looks like a sure thing. I don’t view the Mavs as a bottom-five team in the NBA, but if they don’t turn things around soon, an aggressive second-half tank is a possibility. The Hawks would love for this pick to land in the back half of the top 10.
Cleveland Cavaliers (1-10)
First-round pick traded to Hawks (top-10 protected)
While Atlanta may luck out with the Mavs’ pick, the Hawks will probably have to wait at least one more year to get anything from the Cavaliers, who have the NBA’s worst record so far and aren’t exactly in position to turn things around. If the Cavs keep their 2019 first-rounder, they’ll owe the Hawks their top-10 protected 2020 pick.
The Clippers could have enough cap room in 2019 for two maximum-salary free agents, and one rival executive believes that the franchise – often viewed as an afterthought in Los Angeles in the shadow of the Lakers – could be the “most attractive free agent situation of all of them” next summer, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report.
“None of the available free agents want to be LeBron [James]‘s caddy,” the executive told Beck, explaining why a star player may choose the Clippers over the Lakers and other teams. “And they can become the greatest player in the history of a franchise in an unbelievable market with the wealthiest owner in the league. Why would that not thrill you?”
The “wealthiest owner in the league,” Steve Ballmer, spoke extensively to Beck for an in-depth feature that explores the Clippers’ plans for the 2019 offseason and beyond, while also looking back on a few major decisions that have shaped the organization’s direction during Ballmer’s tenure.
Beck’s piece is excellent and is worth reading in full, but here are a few of the highlights:
- One top agent tells Beck that he’s eager to steer clients toward the Clippers, pointing out that Ballmer won’t mind going into luxury-tax territory and “wants to win.” The Clips have “definitely changed” their image in recent years, according to that agent.
- In a speech to Beck, Ballmer previewed what a pitch to an elite free agent might look like: “You wanna have a legacy? You wanna really say you were involved in doing something super special? You come here. You be in L.A., the greatest market in the world, and you show people: ‘I’m the guy! I went to a franchise who’d never been there! I’m the guy! I made it happen! I get a legacy!'”
- Ballmer regrets waiting as long as he did to restructure the front office, since he now believes the president of basketball operations job is “all-consuming” and requires someone who can focus on it full-time — head coach Doc Rivers held that position until Lawrence Frank was promoted to fill it last year, allowing Rivers to focus on coaching. “There were too many [basketball operations matters] where I really wanted to talk to Lawrence, not Doc,” Ballmer said. “Doc was, as I would have said at Microsoft, an unnecessary middle layer.”
- Having everyone in the proper management roles should help the team maximize its assets and avoid making short-sighted moves, as Ballmer explains: “We want a team where we get maximum value out of the guys that we have, that we’re not dummies. I think if you look over the last five, six years, there’s some moves with hindsight I say, ‘God, now that I’ve been around longer, I wouldn’t make a move to give up a first-round pick to get Jeff Green.’ Because we weren’t as close to being a championship contender as we thought we were. So we gave up a pick we shouldn’t have.”
- Ballmer also admitted that the Lob-City-era Clippers often came off as “whiny” by complaining too often about calls on the court. “I think that was known for the Clippers,” he said. “I don’t want to be that way. That’s not who we want to be.” Ballmer added that, in order to help sell the team to top free agents, he wants to make it clear to the rest of the NBA what the present-day Clippers stand for: “I want us to be playing defense. I want us to be resilient.”
The Clippers, who hosted the Timberwolves on Monday, were reportedly on Jimmy Butler‘s list of preferred destinations when he requested a trade in September, and the Lakers, who will face Minnesota tonight, have also been identified as a potential suitor for the 2019 free-agent-to-be. However, Butler was in no mood to answer questions about a possible future in Los Angeles this week, as Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com relays.
“No, I’m in Minnesota for the time being,” Butler said after Monday’s loss. “I’ll enjoy the sunshine for a couple days, and then if we go back there, we go back there.”
Butler also turned away inquiries on whether or not he’d even play in the game against the Lakers on Wednesday. The All-NBA swingman has only appeared in two of the Wolves’ last four contests, missing games against Utah and Portland due to what the team referred to as “general soreness” and “precautionary rest.” He’s listed as questionable for tonight.
Here’s more on Minnesota:
- With Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau under fire for his handling of the Butler situation, Michael Rand of The Star Tribune revisits all of Thibodeau’s major personnel moves during his time in Minnesota, assigning each a grade. Karl-Anthony Towns‘ rookie scale extension received the highest marks of any transaction Thibodeau has overseen.
- Speaking of Towns, Chris Herring of ESPN.com explored whether he and Andrew Wiggins are strong enough franchise cornerstones to make the Wolves a legit contender in the West once Butler departs.
- Although he has started two of his last three outings for the Wolves, including last Wednesday’s 50-point game, Derrick Rose recently suggested that he’s aiming to win the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award this season, as Nick Fridell of ESPN.com writes. Rose, who has come off the bench in eight of his 10 games, is averaging 17.4 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 3.5 RPG.
Here are Monday’s G League assignments and recalls from around the NBA:
- The Suns assigned rookie guard De’Anthony Melton to the Northern Arizona Suns, according to a team press release. Melton has already played a game for Northern Arizona this season, posting 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 45 minutes. The second-round pick has appeared in two games with Phoenix.
- The Knicks assigned big man Luke Kornet to the Westchester Knicks, the NBA team tweets. Kornet has appeared in four games with the Knicks this season, going scoreless in 13 minutes.
- The Wizards recalled guard Chasson Randle from the Capital City Go-Go, according to a team press release. Randle will travel with the team on its upcoming road trip to Dallas, Orlando and Miami. Randle led all scorers in the Go-Go’s home opener on Saturday with 37 points.
- The Pacers assigned center Ike Anigbogu to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, according to a team press release. The 2017 second-rounder has made one brief appearance with Indiana this season.
- The Clippers recalled guard Jerome Robinson and guard Sindarius Thornwell from the Agua Caliente Clippers, the team tweets. Robinson, the No. 13 overall pick in this year’s draft, has made five appearances with the Clippers this season, averaging 2.4 PPG in 4.2 MPG. Thornwell, a 2017 second-round selection, has yet to make his season debut with the Clippers after appearing in 73 games last season.
Here are Saturday’s G League assignments and recalls from around the NBA:
- The Celtics recalled rookie center Robert Williams from their Maine affiliate, according to a tweet from the team.
- The Nets have sent rookies Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa to their Long Island team, tweets Brian Lews of The New York Post. Kurucs is returning from a sprained ankle he suffered October 20.
- The Suns shipped rookie guard De’Anthony Melton to their affiliate in Northern Arizona, the team announced on its website.
- The Clippers assigned guards Tyrone Wallace and Jerome Robinson to Agua Caliente, relays Mirjam Swanson of The Orange County Register.
- The Bucks sent Sterling Brown to their G League affiliate in Wisconsin, the team announced on Twitter.