Mario Hezonja

Northwest Notes: Hezonja, Abrines, Jazz, Tolliver

New Trail Blazers guard Mario Hezonja has apologized to players and employees of the team for choosing to sign with the Knicks last summer instead of Portland, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes.

Hezonja, who was courted by a number of teams last year due to his overall potential and scoring ability, ultimately chose to sign with a New York team that failed to offer him a concrete role. He started in 24 of his 58 games this season, with the team accruing the league’s worst record at 17-65.

“I kind of rushed,” Hezonja said. “But I made my mind up quick; I wanted to experience New York.”

Hezonja reached agreement on a two-year, minimum-salary deal with Portland on the first day of free agency, committing to a franchise that’s focused on competing for an NBA title. He put pen to paper and inked his contract on Wednesday.

“I just have to fit in,” Hezonja said. “This team was in the Western Conference finals. I’m here to help. My individual goal is to push them even further. I want to be on a successful team and surround myself with players better than myself, because that will help me. That will help me be even better and become that top-tier player eventually.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division tonight:

  • Former Thunder guard Alex Abrines took to social media to discuss the personal issues he’s faced this year, as relayed by Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. Abrines left the team in February after three seasons due to these unspecified personal matters. In the video, Abrines also announced his intentions to return to the game of basketball, with the 25-year-old currently an unrestricted free agent.
  • The Jazz — along with the rest of the league — will have a much different feel entering the 2019/20 season, Doug Robinson of The Deseret News writes. Utah will acquire star guard Mike Conley, lose longtime Jazz forward Derrick Favors, and add scoring wing Bojan Bogdanovic, reshaping and improving their roster over the span of a couple weeks.
  • New Trail Blazers forward Anthony Tolliver recalled watching the team’s lack of three-point shooting during the postseason this spring, especially while players such as Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum were double teamed, Jason Quick writes in a separate article for The Athletic. “Watching the playoffs last year, they got double-teamed a lot, and that’s literally how guys like myself can excel,” Tolliver said. “I was like, ‘Wow! I could really help them out.’” Like Hezonja, Tolliver signed his minimum-salary contract with the team on Wednesday.

Trail Blazers Sign Mario Hezonja

JULY 3: Hezonja’s new deal with the Blazers is official, according to the team, which issued a press release today to announce it.

“Mario is a prodigiously talented player with a high ceiling and a bright future,” president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said in a statement. “He will have a chance to contribute immediately while we work to accelerate his development.”

JUNE 30: The Trail Blazers will sign Mario Hezonja to a two-year, minimum-salary deal, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com tweets. The second year of the pact will be a player option.

Hezonja is coming off an uneven season for the Knicks. The former top-1o pick struggled to find a consistent role for parts of the 2018/19, though he did look impressive as a point guard/facilitator once he received the chance during New York’s final contests.

Portland traded away Evan Turner this offseason and while they received Kent Bazemore in return, they’ll miss Turner’s ball handling. Bazemore projects to be a good fit in Portland’s offense, though he doesn’t have the play-making ability to regularly handle second-unit opportunities.

Hezonja should have an opportunity to secure that role and improve his stock on a talented Portland team. The Croatian-born wing is positioned to re-enter the market next offseason if things go well.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Several Contenders Had Interest In Mario Hezonja At Trade Deadline

Mario Hezonja is showing off his play-making skills during the Knicks final games of the season. The team handed him starting point guard duties over the weekend and he has looked like a completely different player than the one who registered just a single 20-point game prior to his trial as New York’s floor general.

If the Knicks had allowed Hezonja more play-making responsibilities, perhaps the former No. 5 overall pick would be on a different team. Several contenders reached out to the Knicks about trading for Hezonja at the trade deadline, a source tells Marc Berman of the New York Post.  No deal materialized and it’s unclear what the Knicks wanted in return for the Croatia native. Had the point guard experiment occurred earlier this season, the interest in Super Mario may have been more intense.

Hezonja believes that he could have helped younger players such as Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox further develop if given more time at the one, as Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News relays.

“In terms of involving them and making them better, yes [I wish I played point guard more],” Hezonja said. “But then we have to understand if I get the ball, where is [Emmanuel Mudiay] going to be, where is [Dennis Smith] going to be? They have to play, too.”

The Knicks’ point guard situation will be a major storyline this season. The team reportedly plans to shop Frank Ntilikina. Coach David Fizdale hinted that Mudiay could be playing elsewhere and while Smith was the centerpiece of the Kristaps Porzingis deal, the team would have no problem shifting him to a different role if a top target such as Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker signs with the franchise.

Hezonja, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, would welcome a return to the Knicks. a league executive tells Bondy that the 24-year-old is probably looking at a contract worth part of the mid-level exception on the open market. The 2019/20 MLEs are projected to come in at $9.246MM (standard), $5.711MM (taxpayer), and $4.76MM (room). Hezonja made $6.5MM this past season.

I’m ready to talk to [owner James] Dolan,” Hezonja said. “If he gives me that call on July 1, we’re done.”

Knicks Notes: Hezonja, Dolan, Scouting

Knicks head coach David Fizdale recently spoke about the challenges presented by having a roster packed with free-agents-to-be who might be tempted to focus on improving their stock for the summer rather than playing team-first ball. However, Mario Hezonja believes he’s been able to stick to Fizdale’s desired style of play despite his upcoming unrestricted free agency, as he tells Marc Berman of The New York Post.

“I don’t give a s–t that I’m a free agent,” Hezonja said. “I’m trying to help these guys as well. I don’t give a s–t about myself. I’ll be fine. Trust me. I’ll be fine. With my basketball skill, talent and abilities, I’ll always be fine. I just want to help these guys with stuff I’ve been through in my career in both Europe and here.

“I know it’s a very sensitive situation here with a lot of free agents and a lot of young guys I’m trying to help. If I see something in practice, I try to correct them. We have to continue to show togetherness and finish on a good note. A lot of teams don’t achieve playoffs they just give up.”

After playing well to finish the 2017/18 season, Hezonja turned down multiple two-year contract offers to join the Knicks on a one-year deal, but it has been a tough year for him in New York. He’s averaging 7.6 PPG with a career-low .277 3PT%, and the club has the worst record in the NBA. Nonetheless, the former fifth overall pick says he doesn’t regret his free agent decision, adding that he loves New York and hopes to extend his stay with the Knicks beyond this season.

“Even though it’s a bad, rough season individually and as a team, I feel I have [the] support of the city,” Hezonja said.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • James Dolan‘s latest public run-in with a fan – which saw the Knicks’ owner instruct MSG security to detain a customer who yelled at him to “sell the team” – is a reminder that Dolan is “thin-skinned and utterly clueless about the franchise he has run into the ground,” according to Frank Isola of The Athletic, who wonders whether Dolan’s baggage will have an impact on the team’s ability to attract star free agents.
  • Former Knick Charles Oakley is among those who would advise stars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to avoid the club in free agency, as he tells Dolan. “If you want to be in New York, look at the Nets. [GM] Sean Marks has done a great job. The Nets have better pieces,” Oakley said. “You come to the Knicks … it won’t be easy.”
  • After attending the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament to watch Murray State point guard Ja Morant, Knicks GM Scott Perry will be at this week’s ACC Tournament to get a look at Zion Williamson and other top prospects, a source tells Marc Berman of The New York Post. President of basketball operations Steve Mills will also likely be on hand at the tournament, which will feature players like R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Nassir Little as well.

Free Agent Stock Watch 2019: Atlantic Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Atlantic Division:

Terry Rozier, Celtics, 24, PG (Up) – Signed to a four-year, $8.8MM deal in 2015
Rozier has struggled most of the season after his breakout performances in last season’s playoffs, when he averaged 16.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 5.7 APG while subbing for an injured Kyrie Irving. So why is his stock up? Irving’s commitment to the organization is shaky at best, which makes restricted free agent Rozier a major insurance policy. Rozier would clearly benefit from becoming a starter in Boston or elsewhere. He has averaged 14.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG and 5.7 APG the last six games in which Irving missed and he played. He rarely turns the ball over, which makes any coach happy.

Ed Davis, Nets, 29, PF (Up) – Signed to a one-year, $4.45MM deal in 2018
Davis consistently stays in a team’s rotation by knowing his role and his limitations. He’s told to rebound and play defense and he does those well. Davis is averaging a career-high 8.5 RPG while playing pretty much the same minutes he logged for Portland the previous three seasons. He sports a strong 1.7 Defensive Box Plus/Minus rating, according to Basketball-Reference. He’ll continue to find work as a second-unit fixture who doesn’t mind letting his teammates do all the scoring.

Mario Hezonja, Knicks, 24, SF (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $6.5MM deal in 2018
Hezonja had a second chance to shed the label of ‘bust’ by signing with the rebuilding Knicks after three forgettable seasons with Orlando. Perhaps his label should now read ‘colossal bust.’ Hezonja is destined to go down as one of the worst top-five picks in the last two decades. In 46 games, Hezonja has averaged 7.6 PPG on 39.7% shooting and 3.7 RPG while compiling more turnovers than assists. He hasn’t played since mid-February due to a knee injury or coach’s decision. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Croatian native spends the remainder of his career in Europe.

Boban Marjanovic, 76ers, 30, C (Down) — Signed to a three-year, $21MM deal in 2016
Marjanovic has been sidelined recently by a knee injury. He’s been highly productive and always entertaining when he plays. The 7’3″ center is a throwback to another era when slow-footed giants were more prevalent in the league. Marjanovic is impossible to stop when he gets the ball down low but his lack of mobility make it tough to play him for long stretches. The happy-go-lucky Marjanovic is a fan and locker-room favorite who might get a short-term deal as a third-string backup but it’s doubtful he’ll receive another three-year offer.

Danny Green, Raptors, 31, SG (Up)– Signed to a four-year, $40MM deal in 2015
Green was the ‘other’ starter in the blockbuster Spurs-Raptors trade this offseason. Green isn’t an All-Star talent like Kawhi Leonard or DeMar DeRozan, but he’s a solid NBA starter on one of the top teams in the league. He gained that status in San Antonio and nothing’s changed north of the border. Green has taken two-thirds of his shots from beyond the arc and made 43.3%, his best long-distance average since the 2011/12 season. His Defensive Box Plus/Minus rating has dropped this year but he’s still a plus 1.2. Green’s 3-point shooting alone will guarantee him a nice payday this summer.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Knicks Notes: Burke, Kanter, Ntilikina, Trade Deadline

Trey Burke is back in the Knicks‘ rotation, but it looks like a temporary situation until he either gets traded or Emmanuel Mudiay returns from a strained shoulder, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Burke, who began the season as the starting point guard, poured in 25 points Friday, but doesn’t appear to have a long-term future in New York.

The Knicks have committed to a youth movement and are looking to trade veterans Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter as well. Burke has an expiring $1.795MM contract and likely won’t be around next season no matter what happens at the deadline. A source tells Berman that Burke prefers to be dealt, but he insists he’ll be fine either way.

“As a basketball player, you look at other scenarios,” Burke said. “How I’d fit in other scenarios, in that system, in that situation. But I think the direction of this organization, I want to be part of that. I know that there’s still a lot I have to prove. That’s fine with me.”

There’s more today out of New York:

  • Kanter continues to seethe about being about not being used, even after an injury to starting center Luke Kornet, Berman relays in a separate story. Kanter sat out back-to-back games after Fizdale promised him a return to the rotation, with the coach explaining that he’s trying a versatile, switching style of defense that doesn’t fit Kanter’s game. “I was talking to one of my teammates … and I said I could get 30 and 30 (points and rebounds) tonight,” Kanter said after Friday’s loss to the Nets. “But I guess they didn’t want me to get 30 and 30.”
  • Mudiay’s injury provides Frank Ntilikina with a new opportunity to impress Knicks management, but foul trouble is getting in his way, Berman notes in another story. Ntilikina made his seventh start of the year at point guard Friday, but played just 18 minutes before fouling out. “I have to be smarter to avoid these fouls and know what moment when the refs are going to call it,’’ he said. “Fouls are going to come by being aggressive, but I have to control it.’’
  • The Knicks are in a tear-down phase with almost everyone on the roster available for trades, according to Steve Popper of Newsday. However, an Eastern Conference executive told him that recent additions such as Burke, Mudiay, Noah Vonleh and Mario Hezonja don’t carry much trade value.

Knicks Notes: Hezonja, Porzingis, Burke, Vonleh

Mario Hezonja is one of several Knicks players who have found themselves out of the lineup as part of coach David Fizdale’s revolving rotation, but he might be the only one who believes the experience was positive, relays Chris Iseman of NorthJersey.com. Hezonja has played his best basketball since being given another chance, averaging 14.3 PPG and 5.0 RPG over the last three games while shooting 57.7% from the field.

“I think that stuff when I was out for a couple games really opened my mind even more about the game of basketball. It really benefited me,” Hezonja said. “It wasn’t really messing with my rhythm or any of that stuff.”

It’s still not clear if Hezonja is in the organization’s long-term plans after signing a one-year, $6.5MM deal last summer. However, he told reporters Thursday that he knows how the situation will play out and loves playing for the Knicks.

“This coaching staff, I wish I had them in my rookie year,” he said. “I’m not saying anything about what I had. It was just rough and unfortunate situation what happened to me. I wish they were my coaching staff in my rookie year. We’d be talking a different story right now. Yeah, I’m happy to be around them. …This is not a typical BS talk. ‘I’m only thinking about this, I don’t know what it’s gonna be.’ I know. This is it. I love this. I want to be in New York.”

There’s more Knicks news to pass along:

  • It’s not a surprise considering the prognosis for his recovery from an ACL injury, but Kristaps Porzingis has officially passed the point where he could meet starter criteria for his upcoming restricted free agency, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. That means the qualifying offer the Knicks will have to make drops from $7.5MM to $4.5MM. His cap hold will be $17.1MM and he will qualify for a $158MM contract over five years with a starting salary set at $27.25MM.
  • Trey Burke is an obvious trade candidate given his expiring contract and his place on the team, but he tells Marc Berman of The New York Post that he tries to avoid thoughts of the upcoming deadline. Burke is already well traveled at age 26, being with his third team in six seasons, and is only seeing regular minutes because of an injury to Frank Ntilikina. “It’s something I look at as fool’s gold. It’s an illusion,” Burke said. “You can always put yourself in a playoff-team situation. What would it be like if I was with the Lakers? Or with Golden State? You can always do that as a player. It’s not reality until it happens.”
  • Several teams have already identified Noah Vonleh as a possible free agent target, a source tells ESPN’s Ian Begley.

Atlantic Notes: Hezonja, McCaw, Sixers, Morris

Mario Hezonja is seeing fewer minutes on the court this season with the Knicks, but that hasn’t stopped the 23-year-old from enjoying his time in New York, Steve Popper of Newsday relays. Hezonja is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

“No, no, no. I love New York. As I said, this coaching staff, I wish I had them in my rookie year,” Hezonja said. “I’m not saying anything about what I had. It was just rough and unfortunate situation what happened to me. I wish they were my coaching staff in my rookie year. We’d be talking a different story right now. 

“Yeah, I’m happy to be around them. Even when I wasn’t playing, I just said, how important they were for me and how much room I still have for growth, for learning the game and all that stuff, so it’s big time for me. I love this team. I love everybody over here. I was surprised as soon as I came here. I’m focusing only on here. This is not a typical BS talk. ‘I’m only thinking about this, I don’t know what it’s gonna be.’ I know. This is it. I love this. I want to be in New York.”

Along with Hezonja, other Knicks players set to reach unrestricted free agency this summer include Enes KanterNoah Vonleh and Trey Burke. Hezonja is averaging 7.6 points and 17.8 minutes per game on the season, shooting 40% from the floor and an underwhelming 29% from 3-point range.

New York is reportedly exploring trades for several players ahead of the Feb. 7 deadline, but Hezonja’s name has yet to surface as a candidate.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division today:

  • Blake Murphy of The Athletic examines how the NBA’s roster rules brought the Raptors to sign Patrick McCaw as a free agent. The Cavaliers waived McCaw days after signing him in restricted free agency, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent and sign with any team. McCaw is expected to provide backcourt depth for the Raptors as they ready themselves for a deep postseason run.
  • The Sixers still hope to re-sign Jimmy Butler this summer despite the team’s recent drama, ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes. Lowe provided details on Butler’s comments to Brett Brown at a recent 76ers film session, with Butler reportedly speaking up for himself and teammate T.J. McConnell. McConnell, who’s averaging 20.7 minutes per game, also voiced his concerns during the session when Brown asked if anyone else had something to add, Lowe notes.
  • Celtics forward Marcus Morris relayed the importance of winning as his major long-term focus, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports. Morris, who’s making $5.3MM this season, is also set to become a free agent this summer. “That’s all I care about; winning,” Morris said. “That other stuff, the big-money contract, being in the conversation for All-Star, none of that happens if you’re not winning. So for me, that’s what all this is about, keeping finding ways to win.”

Atlantic Notes: Carroll, Brown, Rozier, Hezonja

The Nets have been surging in recent weeks, and the team’s hot streak has coincided with strong play from DeMarre Carroll, who is finally gaining comfort after returning from ankle surgery on November 9. As Brian Lewis writes for The New York Post, Carroll has been providing stellar and consistent play off the bench, averaging nearly 17 points and 6 rebounds per game in his last five contests, while knocking down 50% of his 3-pointers.

Carroll’s turnaround couldn’t have come at a better time for the Nets, who are missing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert due to injuries.

Coming into the season, Carroll was expected to play a key role for the Nets as a small-ball power forward. Due to his injury and early struggles this season, he lost that role and has had to work to regain it. Now he is a key cog on the Nets’ bench unit, which is one of the best in the league.

There’s more from the Atlantic division:

  • After getting off to a rough start this season, Jaylen Brown has stepped up his play in recent games for the CelticsAs Sherrod Blakely points out for NBC Sports Boston, Brown has finally started to hit shots in recent games and has resembled the player he was last season on a more consistent basis.
  • Speaking of struggling Celtics, Terry Rozier continues to navigate his smaller role now that the team is healthy. As Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald points out, Rozier is struggling with accepting the smaller role for the good of the team versus constricting his career to being a backup point guard.
  • In their recent win over the Lakers, the Knicks received strong contributions from Mario Hezonja. However, as Marc Berman writes for The New York Post, Hezonja and Enes Kanter are two parts of the Knicks’ rotation that have seen their roles decrease significantly in recent weeks as their future with the team is in question.

Atlantic Notes: Butler, Graham, Knicks, Crabbe

The Sixers don’t have long-term concerns about signing Jimmy Butler to a possible five-year contract, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Butler is set to turn 30 in September, currently playing in his eighth NBA season.

“No concern, because of the way he takes care of his body,” Sixers GM Elton Brand said, according to Pompey. “But, of course, there’s other things that would have to happen before you discuss those kind of things… like he has to opt out of his contract. So I don’t want to talk about that yet.”

For most NBA players, production levels begin to decrease as they turn the corner and reach age 30. There have been some outliers in this case during recent years, such as four-time MVP LeBron James, but teams usually give added thought before offering lucrative, long-term deals to players who are on the wrong side of 30.

Butler, who was acquired by the Sixers in a trade last November, is holding per-game averages of 18 points, 4.7 rebounds and one steal with the team this season. He can turn down a $19.8MM player option for the 2019/20 season to enter free agency this summer and seek a new deal.

The Sixers’ offer to Butler could be a five-year, $190MM maximum contract, which would help solidify the team’s “Big 3” of Butler, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for several seasons to come.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division tonight:

  • Nets swingman Treveon Graham will be available to play in the team’s game against the Grizzlies on Friday, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post (Twitter link). Graham last played for the Nets on Oct. 19, taking the last 11 weeks to rehab from a hamstring injury. He signed a contract to join the team this past summer in free agency.
  • Enes Kanter and Courtney Lee aren’t the only players who have seen their roles diminish on the Knicks in recent weeks, Marc Berman writes for The Post. Mario Hezonja, Trey Burke and Lance Thomas have also been given reduced time, with all five players becoming trade candidates for the Feb. 7 deadline, according to Berman. Knicks coach David Fizdale has prioritized playing younger talent this season, making the futures of some veterans uncertain.
  • Nets guard Allen Crabbe is set to miss more time than expected with his knee injury, Lewis writes in a different story for The Post. Crabbe last played on Dec. 12 due to general soreness and will be re-evaluated in 1-2 weeks, with surgery an unlikely option. “No, we haven’t gotten to that point yet,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I haven’t gotten to that point. It will be a re-evaluation in a week to 10 days and then go from there.”