- After missing Thursday’s contest vs. the Lakers, Warriors defensive ace Gary Payton II was back in action on Friday against Charlotte, as Slater relays (via Twitter). Payton, who finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 11 minutes during the victory, has been limited to 21 games thus far in 2023/24 due to calf and hamstring strains.
- As expected, Lakers superstar LeBron James returned to action on Friday vs. San Antonio after missing Thursday’s game with a left ankle injury that has been bothering him for some time. He was upgraded from questionable to probable before suiting up for the contest, tweets ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. The 39-year-old finished with 30 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in 34 minutes.
Timberwolves point guard Mike Conley will earn $9,975,962 in 2024/25 followed by $10,774,038 in ’25/26 as part of his new two-year extension, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link). It’s a straight two-year contract with no options, and Conley can’t be traded for six months due to the 8% raise in year two of the extension, Marks adds.
Appearing on NBA Countdown, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said (Twitter video link) Conley initially wasn’t thrilled that Utah sent him to Minnesota at last year’s deadline, having instead hoped to land with the Lakers or Clippers. However, he and his family now love the area and he was enthusiastic about staying with the Wolves.
In a story for ESPN.com, Kevin Pelton writes that Conley’s extension looks like a win for the Wolves on the court and off, even though they’re almost certain to be a second apron team in 2024/25. Pelton says the No. 1 seed in the West is well worth spending money on. Minnesota has only paid the tax once in franchise history, but Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez are set to become majority stakeholders next season.
Pelton also examines Minnesota’s free agents this summer and ways in which the team could trim payroll, which seems unlikely barring an unforeseen development.
Here’s more from the Northwest:
- Jazz guard Keyonte George, the 16th pick of last year’s draft, spent the summer watching all 82 of Utah’s games from 2022/23 to prepare for his rookie campaign, he tells Krysten Peek of Yahoo Sports. “I watched as much film as I could just so I knew what my role was going to be coming in,” George said. “I knew Mike (Conley) was gone, so I just had to go into a new situation, trying to be a lead guard, and I was trying to speed up the process. My main goal was to be effective as soon as possible so I wanted to put myself in a position to be knowledgeable and not think about what I was doing in a new system and just play.” Known as more of scorer coming out of Baylor, George knew facilitating would be key to NBA minutes. He says he continues to study other players to gain an edge. “As the year has gone on, I’ve felt way more comfortable and my shot is starting to fall,” George added. “Definitely the game is slowing down for me. I’ve been watching games around the league and seeing how other guards get to their spots and just trying to figure out my spots and my shot selection.”
- The Trail Blazers have reached a five-year “bridge agreement” with the city of Portland that will keep the team in the Moda Center through at least 2030, with the current lease expiring in 2025, per Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. The Blazers own the arena but the city leases the land. President of business operations Dewayne Hankins said the move will keep the team in Portland and owner Jody Allen has instructed the Blazers to get a long-term deal done with the city.
- The Nuggets are 25-8 with all five starters active but just 12-11 when at least one player from the group is unavailable. With that in mind, head coach Michael Malone says he’s more focused on repeating as NBA champions instead of angling for the West’s top seed, as Bennett Durando of The Denver Post writes. “For me, (the top seed) is not a top one or two priority, to be very honest,” Malone said. “We talked about that with our team today. The good thing is Minnesota is No. 1. We play them three more times. We’re three games out (of first place). So we have avenues to become the No. 1 team. It’s definitely attainable. But I don’t want to win that battle and lose the bigger war. … I think having home court in the first round is very, very important. I think having a healthy team going into the postseason is very important. And if we happen to be the No. 1 seed, that’s just a cherry on top. But we’re not gonna put all our cards in just to attain that and to risk being healthy for a very deep playoff run.”
In an in-depth story for ESPN.com, Baxter Holmes looks back at the Warriors‘ efforts to keep their dynasty window open for the past several years, exploring the team’s hits and misses during that time and revisiting the oft-discussed “two timeline” plan.
As Holmes details, Golden State’s philosophy in the draft appeared to shift during those years. The Warriors took home-run swings in 2020 and 2021, drafting relatively raw talents like James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody in the hopes that those prospects would develop into the kinds of stars who could help the team continue to contend for championships after Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green exited their primes.
However, that approach had changed by 2023, when the Warriors drafted Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis, two more seasoned college players who were better positioned to complement the current core and contribute right away.
“You can’t hit on everybody,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob said. “We’ve got Kuminga, who’s exploding, and a bunch of other young guys who, I don’t know if they’re going to be stars, but they’re pretty good. “I think we should be able to avoid that total rebuild.”
Here’s more on the Warriors:
- Kuminga’s breakout couldn’t have come at a better time for the Warriors, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, who hears from sources that the team considered trade scenarios involving Pascal Siakam and Dejounte Murray earlier this season. Golden State ended up not making any major in-season deals, but appears to have found its newest impact player internally, with Kuminga averaging 21.1 points per game on .571/.432/.769 shooting over his past 17 games.
- The Lakers and Warriors currently rank ninth and 10th in the Western Conference and haven’t played much better than .500 basketball since their most recent championships, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN. While the two Pacific rivals still have title aspirations this season, Windhorst interprets Golden State’s pre-deadline inquiry about a LeBron James trade as a signal that the Warriors aren’t confident they have enough for another championship run — and as a sign they suspect LeBron may have the same apprehensions about the Lakers’ title potential.
- Anthony Slater of The Athletic explores how the growing chemistry between Thompson and Jackson-Davis in the second unit helped fuel a victory over the Lakers on Thursday. Thompson went just 1-of-9 from the field in his second game off the bench, but he had five assists, including four on baskets by Jackson-Davis.
- Lester Quinones‘ new deal with the Warriors is simply a rest-of-season, minimum-salary contract, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Unlike most other teams that have been promoting two-way players to their standard rosters, Golden State wasn’t in position to offer Quinones multiple years or a salary above the minimum due to its cap situation. Quinones will be eligible for restricted free agency this offseason.
9:34pm: The Lakers are optimistic that Wood’s injury is relatively minor and that he won’t miss more than a couple weeks, a source tells Dave McMenamin of ESPN (Twitter link).
Wood has appeared in 50 of the team’s first 56 games and was able to play 16 minutes last Wednesday in L.A.’s final game before the All-Star break. He’s averaging 6.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in 17.4 minutes per night in his first season with the Lakers.
The team is listing LeBron James as out for Thursday’s game with Golden State due to the peroneal tendinopathy in his left ankle that has been affecting him for a while. He also missed last Wednesday’s contest and sat out the second half of Sunday’s All-Star Game.
James has been receiving treatment on the ankle this week, but it hasn’t responded well enough for him to take the court. Thursday will mark the eighth game he has missed this season, and it comes at a crucial time as the Warriors are just a game-and-a-half behind L.A. in the Western Conference play-in race.
First-round pick Brandin Podziemski has been a revelation for the Warriors, quickly becoming an integral part of the team. The Athletic’s Anthony Slater details how Golden State’s front office became enamored with him and how quickly he earned a spot in the rotation.
However, the Warriors guard feels he has a much higher ceiling.
“I want to be an All-Star,” Podziemski said. “You know, (Jonathan Kuminga) has taken that next step of really being in that conversation. To see his growth just this year has been pretty special. So going into the summer after this year elevating my game to another level, doing the things that I’m deficient in now and making them as efficient as possible, I think I can get there.”
We have more from the Pacific Division:
- While Draymond Green contacted super-agent Rich Paul in an unsuccessful effort to get LeBron James to consider a trade from the Lakers to Golden State, Green told Warriors owner Joe Lacob to hold onto the team’s blossoming young forward in any trade discussions. “The one thing the NBA does not want to see, is Anthony Davis and Kuminga together for the next 10 years. That would be scary!” he said in an NBA on TNT interview (Twitter link).
- Former Sixers coach Doc Rivers was consulted by the Clippers before they acquired James Harden from Philadelphia, he told Tomer Azarly of Clutch Points. Rivers has since taken over the Bucks’ head coaching job. “I was the one, obviously, they consulted,” Rivers said. “They made calls and I was one of the guys who said it would be a great deal for them because I thought he fit them better than he would fit the Sixers team. I think he’s a perfect fit there. It’s a league. We talk. They just talked, asked questions, and I was on board early.”
- Speaking of Harden, Mark Medina of Sportsnaut.com describes how the Clippers guard has made changes to his game to fit in with his current teammates. That includes his mindset on the offensive end. “My job for this team is to touch the paint and get the shot, make the shot and make the game a lot easier for teammates,” Harden said. “Whether I have my step-back going or getting to the paint, I’m going to make a play for a teammate.”
Will Barton, who reportedly reached an agreement with CSKA Moscow last month, will return stateside without having played for the Russian club, per an announcement from CSKA (Twitter link). Barton’s contract was terminated via an early exit clause.
An 11-year NBA veteran who appeared in 56 games last season for Washington and Toronto, Barton could be a candidate to return to the league down the stretch. However, Alessando Maggi of Sportando hears from sources that the wing’s departure from CSKA Moscow was related to failed medical tests. If that’s accurate, any NBA teams with interest in Barton will be sure to do its due diligence on his health situation.
CSKA Moscow indicated in its announcement that it remains on the lookout for a player who can help out at shooting guard and small forward.
Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:
- Ten basketball writers for The Athletic shared their thoughts on how the NBA could improve its All-Star Game. Some of their ideas? Combining All-Star weekend and the in-season tournament final four into one event; turning the All-Star game into a two-on-two or three-on-three tournament; or simply naming All-Stars and not playing the game.
- In an Insider-only article for ESPN, Bobby Marks and Kevin Pelton take a closer look at what sort of impact the NBA’s rule tweaks have had on the buyout market and consider which player will be the most impactful buyout-market addition this season. Of the veterans who have already found new homes, Pelton views Lakers guard Spencer Dinwiddie as the player capable of making the greatest impact.
- Joe Vardon, Sam Amick, and David Aldridge of The Athletic polled several players at All-Star weekend on a variety of topics, including the best player and team in the NBA, whether the league has become too offense-heavy, and what rule changes they’d implement if they had Adam Silver‘s job for a day. The Celtics earned the most votes (five) for the NBA’s best team, with the Clippers (four) coming in second.
The Lakers may be without star forward LeBron James for their first game after the All-Star break, as he’ll be undergoing left ankle treatment this week, tweets Dave McMenamin of ESPN. L.A. faces Golden State on Thursday.
An All-Star starter, James played 14 minutes in Sunday’s exhibition game but sat out the second half to manage the ankle injury. He missed his seventh game of the season last Wednesday, the final contest before the break.
Here’s more on the Lakers:
- James set a record by being named to his 20th All-Star game in 2023/24. Several young players at All-Star weekend said they were amazed by his remarkable longevity, according to Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times, who notes that seven Rising Stars participants were born after James made his NBA debut, including Jazz rookie Keyonte George. “It’s crazy. There’s a stat when we played him the first time that he was older than our coach (Will Hardy),” George said Friday morning with a laugh. “… All the young guys coming into the league know who Bron is. To me, he’s the best that ever touched the basketball. … The main goal coming into the league is, ‘How can I stay in it for as long as possible?’ Being a good teammate, with your play. The name of the game is longevity. … I think the shot-making ability, not going to the rim all the time, get to their spots, pick them, play with a good pace. I think that helps with longevity and your body. And then it comes down to skill.“
- Appearing on TNT’s Inside the NBA before the All-Star game, James said his son, Bronny James, has yet to decide whether he’ll declare for the 2024 draft, as McMenamin of ESPN relays. Bronny is a freshman guard at USC. “It’s up to him, it’s up to the kid,” LeBron said. “We’re going to go through the whole process. He’s still in season now. He has the Pac-12 tournament coming up. … We’re going to weigh all options and we’re going to let the kid make the decision.”
- Jovan Buha of The Athletic lists five reasons to be optimistic about the Lakers down the stretch, including the new starting lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, James and Anthony Davis. L.A. is 8-2 when those five players have shared the court together, Buha notes, including 5-0 with them starting.
LeBron James is hopeful to remain with the Lakers as his career winds down but he’s not sure how many more years he wants to play, he told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and other media members during a press conference prior to the All-Star Game.
Speculation about James’ future has ramped up since it became public that the Warriors had inquired about James’ availability prior to the trade deadline. Talks didn’t get serious, as the Lakers had no interest in trading James.
James holds a $51.4MM option on his contract for next season. While stating that his preference is to remain in the organization, he didn’t tip his hand whether he’ll exercise the option.
“I am a Laker and I’m happy and been very happy being Laker the last six years and hopefully it stays that way,” James said. “But I don’t have the answer to how long it is or which uniform I’ll be in. Hopefully it is with the Lakers. It’s a great organization, so many greats. But we’ll see.”
James was similarly vague on how many more seasons he’ll suit up. It’s been reported in recent years he’d like to play with son Bronny James, currently a freshman at USC.
LeBron is also unsure whether he wants to have a farewell tour in his final year or just go quietly.
“I was asked this question a couple days ago,” James said. “‘Will you kind of take the farewell tour, or will you kind of just Tim Duncan it?’ I’m 50-50, I’m going to be honest, because there’s times when I feel like I guess I owe it to my fans that have been along this journey with me for two decades plus, to be able to give them that moment where it’s every city and whatever the case may be and they give you your flowers or whatever the case may be. That seems cool. But the other side of that, I’ve never been that great with accepting like praise. It’s a weird feeling for me.”
James claimed during a TNT interview prior to the game that he was unaware of the Warriors’ interest in him.
“I actually heard about it when everybody else heard about it,” James said. “Sometimes there’s conversations that happen behind closed doors that you don’t even know about it. And I guess until it’s real or not, then they’ll bring it to you. But it never even got to me.”
In the short run, James wants to maximize the remainder of the season. He arrived in Indianapolis on Sunday, rather than on Saturday like the other All-Stars, because he was seeking treatment on his left ankle. James missed the Lakers’ last game before the break on Wednesday. He’ll receive more treatment before L.A.’s next game on Thursday against Golden State.
“Trying to get my ankle as strong and as back to where I feel confident that I can finish off this last third of the season,” James said. “I won’t be playing the entire game (Sunday), for sure. I can get out there and run around with the young guys for a little bit and then shut it down at some point to give my body, and my ankle more importantly, another opportunity to rest.”
Following the NBA season, James intends to play for Team USA at the Paris Olympics this summer.
“I told myself before the season when I committed to being a part of the Olympic team, obviously it was all predicated on my health,” he said. “As it stands right now, I am healthy enough to be on the team and perform at a level that I knew I could perform at.”
Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton and Lakers center Anthony Davis are willing to be part of the U.S. Olympic team in Paris if they receive invitations, writes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. Reynolds talked to both players at today’s All-Star media event, and they’re excited about participating.
“My goal is to play for USA until the wheels fall off,” Haliburton said. “If I get that call to go, I’ll be there.”
Haliburton was one of the top players for Team USA at last summer’s FIBA World Cup, leading the team with 5.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game across eight contests. He also played for the U.S. in the Under-19 World Cup in 2019.
Davis won gold medals in the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 World Cup.
There’s more news from around the basketball world:
- Harrison Barnes and Garrett Temple have been reelected to their positions as secretary-treasurer and vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, the union announced in a press release. Their new terms will last for three years. “I’m thrilled to have Harrison and Garrett return as members of the NBPA Executive Committee,” NBPA president CJ McCollum said. “Harrison and Garrett have a wealth of knowledge and insight on our players’ experiences, and their leadership has been an invaluable resource during critical periods in our union’s history. I am excited to continue working with them in their respective roles to shape the direction of the NBPA and better serve the collective group of players.”
- George Hill talks to Marc J. Spears of Andscape about finding peace at his Texas ranch as he waits for another NBA opportunity. Hill, who spent time with the Bucks and Pacers last season, is away from the NBA for the first time after a 15-year career. “I just had a baby boy, so it’s good being here,” he said. “But at the same time, you miss basketball and going to camp every year. So, to not finally do it this year, it’s a big crack on the head. But I’m going to just keep control of what I can control. Stay positive and have fun. You know this journey. There are opportunities to get back there. If it doesn’t, I’m OK with myself. I never beat myself up. … I don’t think I’m ever going to stop working out. I hope to get back in, God willing. And I’ll be ready when opportunity comes for sure.”
- Long-time Maryland basketball coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell died this morning at age 92, the university announced. He ranks 15th among NCAA Division I coaches with 786 career victories and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018. Our deepest condolences go out to Driesell’s family and friends.