Luka Doncic

Western Notes: Thunder, Rockets, Morey, Doncic, LeBron

Over half of the NBA’s teams are either currently hosting fans at their home games or have announced plans to do so soon. However, the Thunder won’t be joining that list. The team sent out an email to season ticket holders confirming that fans won’t be allowed to attend games at Chesapeake Energy Arena for the rest of the season, as Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman tweets.

The decision was based on several factors,” the Thunder said in their email, according to Mussatto (Twitter link). “The ultimate one being that the overall health and safety of our fans and our community is the most important thing to us.”

Let’s round up a few more items from around the Western Conference…

  • Multiple sources within the Rockets organization believe that former general manager Daryl Morey decided to leave the team last fall in part because he expected James Harden would want out, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN. According to MacMahon’s sources, Morey had expressed reservations last summer about his ability to “keep James happy” without the assets necessary to keep upgrading the roster.
  • Mavericks guard Luka Doncic has been downgraded to doubtful for Wednesday night’s game vs. Oklahoma City, but a source tells ESPN’s Tim MacMahon that Doncic is still expected to play in this weekend’s All-Star Game even if he sits out tonight. Doncic is also tentatively on track to participate in the Skills Challenge.
  • Lakers star LeBron James, who ranks fourth in the NBA this season in total minutes played, will sit out the second half of the team’s back-to-back set on Wednesday, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). According to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, James will receive treatment on his left ankle, but like Doncic, he expects to play in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

Simons, Stanley, Toppin To Compete In Dunk Contest

Anfernee Simons of the Trail Blazers, Cassius Stanley of the Pacers, and Obi Toppin of the Knicks will compete for the annual Slam Dunk title at halftime of the All-Star game on Sunday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, the NBA announced in a press release.

Simons, a 6’3” guard, is averaging 8.2 PPG in his third NBA season. Stanley is a 6’5″ rookie guard on a two-way contract after being selected in the second round last fall. He recorded a maximum vertical leap of 44 inches in the 2020 draft combine. Toppin, a 6’9″ rookie forward and lottery pick, is averaging 4.6 PPG in 25 games off the bench.

The 3-Point Contest, which will be held prior to the game, has a lot more star power. Suns guard Devin Booker and Warriors guard Stephen Curry, former winners of the long-ball contest, head the list of participants. The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Bulls’ Zach LaVine and the Jazz‘s Donovan Mitchell round out the six-man field.

The Skills Challenge, which will also be held prior to the game, also has plenty of All-Star firepower. Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Suns guard Chris Paul head that six-man listKnicks forward Julius Randle, Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis, Magic center Nikola Vucevic and Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington round out the field.

Super-Max Candidates To Watch In 2021

The Designated Veteran Extension, as we explain our glossary entry on the subject, is a relatively new addition to the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. It allows players with 7-9 years of experience, who would normally qualify for a maximum starting salary of 30% of the cap, to qualify for a “super-max” contract that starts at 35% of the cap, a level normally reserved players with 10+ years of experience.

A player who has seven or eight years of NBA service with one or two years left on his contract becomes eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension if he meets the required performance criteria and hasn’t been traded since his first four years in the league. A Designated Veteran contract can also be signed by a player who is technically a free agent if he has eight or nine years of service and meets the required criteria.

The performance criteria is as follows (only one of the following must be true):

  • The player was named to an All-NBA team and/or was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in the most recent season, or in two of the last three seasons.
  • The player was named the NBA MVP in any of the three most recent seasons.

Technically, players like Gary Harris and Evan Fournier meet the criteria related to years of service with one team and could theoretically become eligible to sign a super-max extension this year, but they’re obviously not viable candidates to make an All-NBA team in 2021.

There are, however, a few players who are more realistic candidates to qualify for a super-max veteran contract based on their All-NBA candidacy. Let’s dive in and examine a few of those cases…

Joel Embiid (Sixers)

When Embiid first signed his five-year, maximum-salary contract with the Sixers back in 2017, he had appeared in just 31 games over the course of his first three NBA seasons, making the investment a risky one. The deal included some injury protection for Philadelphia, giving the team the ability to waive Embiid without fully guaranteeing the salaries in later years of the deal if one of the injuries he experienced early in his career became a recurring issue.

The idea of the Sixers waiving Embiid seems absurd now. While the former third overall pick hasn’t exactly been an iron man since the start of the 2017/18 season, there are no longer any concerns about his career being derailed by health issues before it could really get off the ground.

Embiid will have seven years of NBA service under his belt at the end of the 2020/21 campaign and if he earns a spot on an All-NBA team, he’d have done so twice in the last three years, having made the Second Team in 2019.

For now, he looks like an awfully safe All-NBA bet — his 30.0 PPG, 11.3 RPG, .519/.415/.858 shooting line, and solid defense have made him a legit MVP candidate. Health is always the wild card for Embiid, but as long as he stays on the court for most of the second half, an All-NBA spot should be a lock. That would make the big man eligible to sign a super-max extension with the Sixers this offseason.

Embiid remains under contract through 2023, with a $31.6MM salary in ’21/22 and a $33.6MM figure for ’22/23. A super-max extension would tack on four years to those two seasons and would start at 35% of the ’23/24 cap.

It’s too early to know exactly where the cap will end up in 2023/24, but if we use a conservative estimate and assume it will rise by 3% annually in each of the next three summers, that would result in a four-year total of up to $187MM on a new Embiid deal that runs through 2027. It will be fascinating to see how eager the 76ers would be to put that extension – which would cover Embiid’s age-29 to age-32 seasons – on the table.

Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)

Like Embiid, Jokic has played like an MVP candidate and is a lock for an All-NBA spot, barring an injury or another unexpected development. Jokic, who was the All-NBA Second Team center in 2020, is making a case for a First Team spot this season, averaging 26.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, and 8.5 APG on .564/.421/.879 shooting through 33 games for the Nuggets.

Unlike Embiid, however, Jokic will only have six years of NBA experience at the end of the 2020/21 season. That means that even though he can technically gain super-max eligibility by earning an All-NBA nod for the second straight season, Jokic wouldn’t officially be able to sign a new extension with Denver until 2022, once he has his seven years of service.

This is the same situation Giannis Antetokounmpo found himself in last year — he gained super-max eligibility following the 2018/19 season based on his multiple All-NBA spots and his MVP award, but wasn’t able to actually sign that super-max contract until the 2020 offseason, once he had seven years of service. The Bucks, of course, planned all along to offer him the super-max as soon as they could, and it’s probably safe to assume the Nuggets will do the same for Jokic.

Jokic’s current contract is virtually identical to Embiid’s, with matching $31.6MM and $33.6MM cap hits for the next two seasons after ’20/21. Because Jokic wouldn’t be able to sign a super-max until 2022 though, he could get a five-year extension at that point — if we once again assume annual 3% cap increases, that deal could be worth up to an eye-popping $242MM.

Zach LaVine (Bulls)

While Embiid and Jokic have clear paths to All-NBA spots in 2021, LaVine is a longer shot to get there. The Bulls guard is having the best year of his career and currently ranks sixth in the NBA with 28.7 points per game, but he’s not a strong defender and Chicago’s place in the standings is unlikely to do him any favors with All-NBA voters.

Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, and James Harden look like the top contenders to fill the guard spots on the first two teams, which means LaVine would be competing with stars like Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, and Jaylen Brown, among others, for a Third Team spot.

LaVine’s current deal pays him well below the max, at just $19.5MM annually, so earning an All-NBA spot would make him eligible for a massive raise. If we once again count on annual 3% salary cap increases, a super-max extension for LaVine would could be worth up to $235MM over five years, starting in 2022/23.

Even if he beats the odds and earns an All-NBA spot, LaVine seems unlikely to receive that sort of offer from the Bulls, who traded Jimmy Butler to Minnesota when his super-max eligibility loomed a few years ago. But the super-max wrinkle would further complicate LaVine’s contract situation, which should be very interesting to monitor even if he falls short of an All-NBA team.

Because he’s earning just $19.5MM next season, LaVine would typically only be eligible for a four-year, $104.8MM veteran extension — the Bulls would almost certainly put that offer on the table, but LaVine would probably pass, since he’d be eligible for a far higher salary as a free agent in 2022.

It’s worth considering, however, that Chicago projects to have a significant chunk of cap room available during the 2021 offseason, giving the team the option of renegotiating the final year of LaVine’s contract to give him a raise and a more lucrative extension. That may be the most likely outcome for the first-time All-Star, who is a super-max long shot but is still likely to command more than the $26MM annual salary the Bulls can offer without a renegotiation.

Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

To be clear, Doncic will not be eligible for a starting salary worth 35% of the salary cap on his next contract. But the Mavericks star is being mentioned here because he’ll likely become eligible for a lesser form of the “super-max” contract.

When a former first-round pick is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, he’s eligible to sign a rookie scale extension that starts at 25% of the cap. But if that player has met the super-max performance criteria listed at the top of this story (based on MVP, DPOY, or All-NBA honors), his rookie scale extension can instead start at 30% of the cap.

Most of the time, a player who signs a rookie scale extension that can start at 30% of the cap does so conditionally — for instance, Jayson Tatum was on the 2019/20 All-NBA Third Team, then signed a rookie scale extension prior to the ’20/21 season. Because his extension will go into effect next season, Tatum still has to earn an All-NBA spot again this season to meet the super-max criteria (an All-NBA spot in the most recent season, or in two of the past three seasons) and to qualify for that 30% starting salary.

Doncic, on the other hand, has a chance to pull off a rare feat. Because he was named to the All-NBA First Team in just his second season, he’ll become eligible for a 30% starting salary if he earns All-NBA honors again this year, in his third season. It wouldn’t matter whether or not he’s an All-NBA player again in 2022, because he would have already met the necessary benchmark — two All-NBA berths in three years.

Assuming Doncic earns an All-NBA spot this season, which looks like a safe bet, he’d be eligible to sign a five-year rookie scale extension worth a projected $201.5MM, which would begin during the 2022/23 season.

Like Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, and De’Aaron Fox all signed rookie scale extensions in 2020 that will increase in value if they meet certain performance criteria, so they’re worth keeping an eye on this season too.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2021 NBA All-Star Game Starters Revealed

The NBA has revealed its 2021 All-Star Game starters. Here are those names:

Eastern Conference

After missing all of the 2019/20 season while he recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon, Durant is making his triumphant return to the All-Star Game. In his first appearance as a Brooklyn player, the 11-time All-Star will captain a team, having led the Eastern Conference in fan votes.

[RELATED: Community Shootaround: Eastern All-Stars]

This is the seventh All-Star appearance for Durant’s teammate Irving. Antetokounmpo, the reigning two-time MVP, has just made his fifth All-Star game. A frontrunner for the 2021 MVP award, Embiid is appearing in his fourth such contest. Beal will be making his first All-Star start after playing as a reserve in the 2018 and 2019 All-Star contests. The Wizards are the No. 13 seed in the East.

Western Conference

James, who was the top vote-getter in the Western Conference and the entire NBA with 5,922,554 fan votes, will again be a team captain. He will be suiting up for his 17th All-Star appearance, the third-most ever behind only fellow Laker legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19 appearances) and Kobe Bryant (18). James was previously tied for making the third-most cumulative All-Star contests alongside Hall of Fame Nets and Sixers wing Julius Erving, who was selected into five ABA All-Star games and 11 NBA All-Star games.

Jokic, an early top MVP contender along with James and Embiid, will earn his first All-Star start in his third appearance in the game. Curry will partake in his seventh All-Star contest, while Leonard has just been voted into his fifth All-Star game.

[RELATED: Community Shootaround: Western All-Stars]

Doncic barely edged out Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard to be the second All-Star guard next to Curry among the starters, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports tweets. Despite extended absences from starters CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Zach Collins, the Blazers boast an 18-10 record, good for the No. 4 seed in the crowded West, largely thanks to Lillard. The Mavericks, meanwhile, are 13-15, the No. 10 seed in the West.

As was the case during the last two years, the top vote-getters of each conference will captain a team, and will be able to draft players from either conference. The “Elam Ending,” which made the conclusion of last year’s game much more entertaining than it had been in recent years, is set to return again this year.

Earlier today, the league officially announced that the 2021 All-Star Game is set to take place at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, as a one-night event on March 7. The evening will also include its three All-Star weekend mainstay events: the Skills Competition, the Three-Point Contest and the Dunk Contest.

A full list of fan voting totals is viewable at this Twitter link, courtesy of Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. The complete voting breakdown by position and conference, including media and player votes, can be found at the bottom of this press release.

The league will announce the 14 players who will comprise the All-Star reserves on Tuesday, February 22, at 7 p.m. ET, per Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press (via Twitter).

Southwest Notes: Griffin, Ball, Jackson Jr., Winslow, Doncic

Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin discussed the trade rumors surrounding his team, explaining in an appearance on ESPN Radio how he addresses them with players.

New Orleans has opened the season with a disappointing 6-10 record, prompting multiple teams to reportedly inquire on the availability of Lonzo Ball and J.J. Redick.

“The truth is when you’re 6-10 and struggling to finish off games and disappointed in your results, teams are going to recognize that and they are going to show interest in the players they covet,” Griffin said as part of a larger quote, as relayed by ESPN’s Andrew Lopez (Twitter link).

In addition to Ball and Redick, New Orleans could also receive interest on veteran point guard Eric Bledsoe in the coming weeks. The NBA’s trade deadline falls on March 25 this season.

Here are some other notes from the Southwest Division:

  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype examines five potential trade destinations for Ball, listing teams such as the Knicks and Clippers as possible suitors if the Pelicans choose to move him. Ball has appeared in 13 games this season, averaging 11.8 points on 39% shooting from the floor and 30% shooting from deep.
  • It remains unclear when Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. and forward Justise Winslow will return, Evan Barnes of the Memphis Commerical Appeal writes. No specific timetables have been issued on Jackson, who is recovering from a torn meniscus, or Winslow, who is rehabbing a hip injury. “I think from a plan and rehab and recovery and return to play standpoint, everyone’s been doing a great job,” head coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence that these guys will be back soon and be in a great spot health-wise, too.”
  • Tim MacMahon of ESPN explores the rise of the Mavericks‘ Luka Doncic, one that happened sooner than most people expected. Doncic has cemented himself as a superstar at the young age of 21, averaging 27.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.7 assists in 17 games this season.

Southwest Notes: House, Eubanks, Ball, Doncic

Forward Danuel House, who has not played since January 2, returned to Rockets practice on Monday, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets. House missed four games with back spasms, then was placed on the league’s health and safety protocols list. While Feigen adds that Houston will work House back in slowly, the 27-year-old said he expects to be ready to play on Tuesday, Kelly Iko of The Athletic tweets.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Prior to the postponement of the Pelicans-Spurs game on Monday, San Antonio’s Drew Eubanks was ironically removed from the league’s COVID-19 protocols list, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express News tweets. The third-year big man has been out since January 7 due to those restrictions. He has appeared in three games this season.
  • Lonzo Ball may no longer be in the Pelicans’ long-term plans and there’s a real possibility they’ll decline their $14.36MM qualifying offer after this season, which would make him a restricted free agent, Seth Partnow of The Athletic opines. If New Orleans’ season continues to go sour, the franchise would likely prefer to trade him rather than allow the point guard to walk in free agency, Partnow adds.
  • Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will go to great lengths to keep his superstar Luka Doncic happy, as Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News details. Cuban has expressed interest in playing exhibition games in Slovenia, where Doncic grew up, and Spain, where he played for Real Madrid. The Mavs are confident that Doncic’s youth and talent will help them secure a top-level free agent during the offseason, Sherrington adds.

And-Ones: Team USA, Monroe, Jerebko, Cuban, Beal

USA Basketball has sent out approximately 60 invitations to players who have expressed interest in being part of the Olympic player pool, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets. Team USA could be without players advancing to the NBA Finals, based on the timing of July Olympics in Tokyo, Wojnarowski notes. Among the players invited are some of the league’s young stars, including Duncan Robinson, Zion Williamson, Trae Young and Ja Morant, Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press tweets.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Former NBA big men Greg Monroe and Jonas Jerebko had their contracts terminated by BC Khimki Moscow, the team tweets. Monroe played in nine Euroleague games with averages of 10.3 PPG and 6 RPG. Jerebko was averaging 11.5 PPG and 5.5 RPG. The team cited “personal circumstances of (the) players” as the reason for the termination.
  • Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he is in talks with the NBA to organize some preseason games in Europe against Real Madrid or in Slovenia, according to Sportando. Cuban would like to give European fans a chance to watch Luka Doncic in action.
  • The Wizards have endured a number of postponement due to COVID-19 protocols and Bradley Beal wouldn’t mind if the league considered another bubble or regional sites as the season progresses, according to NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes. Beal didn’t play in the summer restart in Orlando. “I probably wouldn’t be totally against it as long as we had the same success that we did the first go-around,” he said. “I wasn’t part of the bubble in the first go-around, so I don’t necessarily know how all that worked down there every day. But I know going through it every day here, it’s a lot. We test twice a day at least for the last week. That’s very overwhelming at times.”

Texas Notes: New Rockets Backcourt, Doncic, McLemore, Stone

With the James Harden drama now in their rearview, the Rockets have a backcourt featuring two former All-Stars in John Wall and Victor Oladipo, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. That guard tandem, plus well-paid reserve Eric Gordon, will need to develop chemistry and coordinate how they divvy up shooting and ball-handling duties.

Feigen notes that Wall and Oladipo could be a better defensive pair than their predecessor duos of Harden and Russell Westbrook and Harden and Chris Paul, though injuries could be an impediment to that. Both Wall and Oladipo have lengthy injury histories, and Wall is currently out with knee issues.

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • Mavericks All-Star Luka Doncic and longtime head coach Rick Carlisle will have to move past the former’s noticeable frustration that the latter did not employ an available timeout during a pivotal late-game possession in Dallas’s eventual 112-109 defeat to the Bucks last Friday, as Tim MacMahon of ESPN details.
  • Backup Rockets guard Ben McLemore realizes that expectations for Houston may be lower than they were with Harden, but contends that the team has more than enough to compete, per Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston (Twitter video link). “We got guys that are gonna fight, that’s gonna compete, that’s dogs,” McLemore said.
  • Rockets GM Rafael Stone discussed the new-look club during a virtual media conference call today, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Stone explained his interest in ultimately making a trade with the Nets for James Harden. “What’s super exciting about this deal is that it gives us flexibility,” Stone said. “In the NBA, picks are the best currency. Everybody likes them, everybody values them.” Stone also mentioned that the club “will aggressively be trying to use” the $10.6MM trade exception it acquired in the transaction ahead of the 2020/21 season’s trade deadline in late March.

Southwest Notes: Pelicans, White, Silas, Doncic

With the starting Pelicans backcourt tandem of Eric Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball struggling to score, William Guillory of The Athletic suggests that swapping in sharpshooter J.J. Redick for Bledsoe could help unlock the club’s offense.

Redick could benefit by playing alongside new starting center Steven Adams, the best screener on the New Orleans roster. With Redick starting, All-Star small forward Brandon Ingram could become the club’s primary ball handler.

There’s more out of the NBA’s Southwest Division:

  • Newly-extended Spurs guard Derrick White has been activated by San Antonio, and thus will be available for the first time since his August surgery on the second toe of his left foot, per Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. The Spurs host the Lakers tomorrow night.
  • New Rockets head coach Stephen Silas is continuing to work Houston’s newly-available players into his game planning as they come back from COVID-19 health protocols, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
  • Mavericks All-Star guard Luka Doncic is hoping to get out of a bumpy offensive start to his third NBA season, according to Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News. He had one of worst scoring performances as a pro on Wednesday, scoring just 12 points against the Hornets in a 118-99 loss. “Obviously I’ve got to do way better,” Doncic said. “I can still prove so much, so I’ve got to work on those shots every day and if you work on it, they’re going to fall in eventually, so that’s my point of view.” Doncic has gone cold from long distance this season, connecting on just 9.5% of his 5.3 three-point attempts a night.

Southwest Notes: Harden, Cauley-Stein, Richardson, Popovich

NBA commissioner Adam Silver explained during an ESPN appearance that Rockets star James Harden didn’t face a suspension for violating COVID-19 protocols because the NBA didn’t want to set that harsh a precedent to start the season, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets. Harden was fined $50K after an NBA investigation found that Harden violated protocols when he attended an indoor party of 15 or more people.

“The precedent is that discipline gets ratcheted up,” Silver said. “It’s Christmas. It was a first offense.”

Silver said, adding “in a way he got lucky.” If the Rockets’ first game had not been postponed, Harden would have been docked one game’s pay, Feigen adds. Harden is expected to make his season debut on Saturday.

We have more from the Southwest Division: