Mario Hezonja

Southeast Notes: Wizards, Zeller, Hezonja

The battle for the Wizards‘ final regular season roster spot figures to come down to Donald Sloan and Carrick Felix, and head coach Scott Brooks calls it one of the “toughest” roster decisions he’s had to make in recent years, writes Candace Buckner of The Washington Post. The decision may ultimately come down to what sort of player the Wizards want to keep around, since Sloan, a veteran point guard, and Felix, an athletic swingman, would play different roles.

In theory, the Wizards could keep both players on the roster. The team only has 13 players on fully guaranteed contracts, leaving two openings. However, a 14th player – Sheldon Mac – has been ruled out for most or all of the season with a torn Achilles, and Washington will be on the hook for his salary until he recovers, whether or not he’s on the roster. By waiving him and keeping both Sloan and Felix, the Wizards would essentially be paying 16 players, an undesirable outcome for a club already well over the luxury-tax line.

Here’s more from around the Southeast division:

  • Having signed a new four-year extension with the Heat this offseason, Josh Richardson is now determined to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2016/17 season, as Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel writes.
  • The offseason arrival of Dwight Howard supplanted Cody Zeller from the starting lineup, but the Hornets‘ backup center remains valuable to the team as he enters the first year of a new contract. Sam Perley of Hornets.com has the story on Zeller.
  • Mario Hezonja, 2015’s fifth overall pick, took a step backward during his second NBA season last year. However, he has been solid in the preseason as he looks to cement a role in the Magic‘s rotation, says John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com.
  • Backup Hawks point guard Malcolm Delaney spoke to Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype about making the leap to the NBA last year, his decision to join the Hawks, and his expectations for Atlanta in 2017/18. “With our system and the way we move the ball, we could surprise a lot of people,” Delaney said. “My goal is always going to be to win. I don’t believe in rebuilding. I certainly don’t believe in tanking. I’m going out to win every game because this is my contract year and I’ve gotten to this point because of winning.”

Southeast Notes: Wizards, Wall, Dragic, Hezonja

Controversy surrounded the ending of Thursday’s game between the Knicks and Wizards. Down three points in their final possession, the Knicks attempted to get a shot off while Washington assistant coach Sidney Lowe was standing on the court, appearing to distract Courtney Lee. The NBA addressed Lowe’s actions today, claiming he “should have been assessed a technical foul,” before levying a $15,000 fine against the Wizards and a $5,000 fine to Lowe. Carmelo Anthony stood up for his teammate, claiming Lee was deceived.

“He [Lowe] was on the court. They have six players on the court,” Anthony said of the Wizards’ assistant. “I’ve never seen it before. I’ve never seen that before, especially not in a situation like that. Close game, half court offense, we’re trying to make something happen. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Other goings-on around the Southeast:

  • John Wall, playing at the healthiest he’s been throughout his seven-year NBA career, is posting career-high totals in offensive categories. Unhappy with his perception as a player who wasn’t engaged at practice, the Wizards point guard has worked with a vengeance at the gym. “I wanted to put the work in but I couldn’t because I needed to spend an hour to stretch just to get prepared to practice. That was frustrating,” Wall said, per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. “People would tell me I don’t take the NBA seriously. I take this as seriously as possible. Now, I can do a regular stretch for 10 minutes and get a full workout in without having any problem afterward. That’s the key to why I am playing at a higher level.”
  • Goran Dragic has Dwyane Wade‘s competitive spirit, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said this week, as Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel details. “This game means so much to Goran Dragic,” Spoelstra said. “When we lose, he doesn’t sleep. He takes it hard like a coach would. I get text messages from him about things that he thought he could have done better or differently, hours after the game.” Dragic’s 20.3 points per game are his highest total since 2013/14 with the Suns.
  • The Hornets “have much to prove” at the midway point of the season, Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer writes. Coach Scott Clifford lamented his team’s inability to play to their strengths.  “We are not physically imposing.” Clifford said. “We are not playing three guys who are going to average 23 (points) a night. What we are is we have exceptional basketball IQ, skill level and intelligence. And that only matters if you take advantage of it. So if you’re going to make mistakes and have dumb turnovers — we lost a game the other night with 19 turnovers — we’re not that team. …We can’t turn it over. We can’t beat ourselves.”
  • The playoffs appear to be an afterthought for the Magic, Cody Taylor of Basketball Insiders writes. While the Magic expected to be an imposing defensive team, they’ve recently dropped out of the Top 20 in league-wide defense. With an ugly 17-27 mark at the halfway point of the season, coach Frank Vogel is shaking up his rotations, including giving 21-year-old Mario Hezonja additional court time.

Southeast Notes: Hezonja, Wall, Heat

Second-year shooting guard Mario Hezonja will get a shot at reclaiming his spot in the Magic rotation, writes Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. The 21-year-old slipped out of head coach Frank Vogel‘s core lineup in mid-November.

For the next little while at least, expect Hezonja to back up starting small forward Aaron Gordon when the Magic elect to run a small ball lineup with Jeff Green at the four. After racking up 13 DNP-CDs in the first 40 games of the season, Hezonja will take what he can get.

I’m 300% ready,” Hezonja said Friday. “I’ve got to use that in a smart way and manage all that energy. I’ve got to manage it in the right way so the team wins.”

In another piece, John Denton of the Magic’s website, explores other ways Vogel is shaking up his lineup – including returning Nikola Vucevic to the starting lineup.

There’s more new out of the Southeast Division today:

  • The Magic should pay, and perhaps overpay, to keep Serge Ibaka in Orlando, writes Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel. Schmitz argues that the 27-year-old big man has been the team’s best player on both ends of the floor. Ibaka has averaged 15.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game through Orlando’s first 40.
  • An MRI on John Wall‘s right-hand pinkie finger came back negative, says Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press. The Wizards guard is expected to play through the injury so long as he’s able to properly stabilize it and that it doesn’t impact his shot. “One thing I know about John, being around him for the six or seven months now, he is as tough as they come,” head coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s going to put himself out there, which is definitely something that I admire.”
  • Danuel House, Sheldon McClellan and Daniel Ochefu have been able to breath easier since Tuesday, writes Candace Buckner of the Washington Post. January 10 marked the day that the three undrafted rookies saw their partially guaranteed contracts become guaranteed with the Wizards. Buckner discusses their frames of mind prior to the deadline.
  • The Heat are doing their due diligence when it comes to fielding trade offers, so Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel went so far as to break down each major player’s case as an available asset.

Magic Notes: Dragic, Crabbe, Vucevic, Harkless

Orlando is among several teams that have contacted the Heat about Goran Dragic, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN.com. The Magic are looking to solidify their point guard position, which belonged to Elfrid Payton when the season began, but was taken over by D.J. Augustin in late November. Dragic still has three years and more than $54MM left on his current contract. He is averaging 19.0 points and 6.5 assists in 32 games this season, but has missed time recently with back problems.

There’s more news today out of Orlando:

  • After losing six of their last seven and dropping to 16-24, the Magic need to act quickly to save their season, writes Brian Schmitz of The Orlando Sentinel. Offense has been a problem for Orlando all year, and Schmitz says the team needs to find a scorer who can create his own shot. He suggests Allen Crabbe of the Trail Blazers as a realistic target and suggests offering, possibly with shot-blocking center Bismack Biyombo going to Portland in return.
  • Nikola Vucevic will be back in the starting lineup tonight, with Biyombo coming off the bench, according to Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel. Vucevic was demoted along with Payton in the November shakeup. Coach Frank Vogel plans to utilize more “small-ball” lineups with Jeff Green moving to power forward and Mario Hezonja back in the rotation as a backup small forward.
  • The Magic made a huge error when they gave up on Maurice Harkless two years ago, Robbins argues in a separate piece. After three disappointing seasons in Orlando, Harkless was traded to Portland in the summer of 2015 in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2020. He was a regular starter for the Blazers during last year’s playoffs and has started all 40 games in which he has appeared this season. “It was a tough situation: a lot of guys trying to figure it out, including the staff and the front office,” Harkless said of his time in Orlando. “It was a unique situation. It was tough. Obviously, it wasn’t going to work out for everybody. I think a change of scenery is what I needed.”

Southeast Notes: Reed, Zeller, Magic

Heat big man Willie Reed has seen his role increase with Hassan Whiteside out nursing an eye injury and the sophomore’s yeoman-like play could very well earn him a spot in the team’s long term plans. This summer, with the salary cap slated to rise dramatically, Reed could opt out of his player option for $1.6M and look to cash in.

Such a decision, coupled with Josh McRoberts‘ player option for $6M and Dion Waiters‘ for $3M, could factor heavily into how the Heat approach the offseason. As Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel writes, clearing cap space is a top priority for the club given the Chris Bosh situation, and the time is fast approaching that Pat Riley and company “accept the reality that the long view might be the only remaining perspective for this season.”

In 11.9 minutes per game for the Heat, Reed has averaged 3.9 points and 4.0 rebounds, figures that translate to 12.2 and 12.5 per 36, respectively.

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Injury woes continue for the Hornets who most recently saw Cody Zeller go down Monday versus the Bulls. As Rick Bonnell writes for the Charlotte Observer, the team has placed the center in the NBA’s concussion protocol, with no timetable for a possible return.
  • Head coach Erik Spoelstra signed a contract extension to remain with the Heat last week and Moke Hamilton of Basketball Insiders has written about just how important continuity can be in NBA clubhouses. Spoelstra is already the second-longest tenured coach in the league behind only Gregg Popovich.
  • The Magic were reminded of what they could have had with the No. 5 pick in the 2015 draft on Sunday. Pacers big man Myles Turner dropped 23 points and 12 rebound on his former coach Frank Vogel, while Mario Hezonja – the player Orlando did select – failed to crack double-digits in minutes for the 13th time in 14 games since November 9.

Magic Open To Moving Mario Hezonja?

The Magic reportedly will look to the trade market in order to add some offense and Marc Stein of ESPN.com (Twitter link) believes that evidence is starting to suggest that Orlando may be willing to move Mario Hezonja in the right deal.

Coach Frank Vogel said the team is considering a D-League assignment for Hezonja, as Brian K. Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel relays (Twitter link). The small forward has only seen action in six of the team’s last 15 games.

In the limited minutes during his sophomore season, Hezonja has struggled to produce. He’s only scoring 12.2 points per 36 minutes and he’s shooting 30.6% from the field, a figure which includes a wintry 17.2% from behind the arc. His player efficiency rating is an abysmal 2.3.

The Magic want to win this season and Hezonja isn’t helping them right now. However, he’s still only 21 years old and rival teams may view GM Rob Hennigan’s hot seat as an opportunity to buy-low on a former top-5 pick. Trading Hezonja may be Orlando’s best option if it wants to bring back someone who can move the needle for this team.

Should the Magic deal Hezonja? If so, what should they look to get in return? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

Magic Exercise 2017/18 Options On Gordon, Hezonja, Payton

The Magic have exercised three of their four available team options for 2017/18, announcing today (via Twitter) that Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, and Elfrid Payton are now locked in for that season. Gordon’s fourth-year option is worth $5.504MM, Hezonja’s third-year option is worth $4.078MM, and Payton’s fourth-year option is worth $3.332MM.

[RELATED: Full breakdown of decisions on 2017/18 team options]

C.J. Wilcox also has a team option for 2017/18 available on his rookie contract, but he wasn’t mentioned in the press release issued today by Orlando. That likely means that Wilcox’s option will be declined, but the club has a few more days to officially make that call. October 31 is the deadline for teams to exercise ’17/18 options on rookie contracts.

Gordon and Payton are expected to have significant roles in the Magic’s rotation this year after each player took a step forward in 2015/16. Gordon, averaging 23.9 minutes per contest, posted 9.2 PPG and 6.5 RPG, while Payton put up 10.7 PPG, 6.4 APG, and 3.6 RPG in 29.4 minutes per contest. As for Hezonja, he should have the opportunity to increase his role as well, since Orlando isn’t exactly loaded with shooters. In his rookie season, he shot 34.9% from three-point range in 79 games.

With their fourth-year options now exercised, Gordon and Payton will be eligible for extensions in 2017 and restricted free agency in 2018. Hezonja, one year behind them, has one more team option for 2018/19, which the Magic will have to make a decision on next fall.

And-Ones: McCants, Llull, D-League, Trades

Former UNC standout and 2005 lottery pick Rashad McCants hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since 2009, but he has played in Puerto Rico, China, Brazil, Lebanon, the Philippines, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic since then. Could his next stop be back in America? According to Chris Reichert of Upside and Motor (Twitter link), McCants may sign with the D-League in the hopes of making his way back onto an NBA roster.

While we wait to see what McCants’ future holds, let’s round up a few more odds and ends from around the league…

Mario Hezonja Changes Agents

Magic forward Mario Hezonja has made a change to his representation, according to a report from SportsBusiness Journal. Having previously been represented by Wasserman, Hezonja has hired Creative Artists Agency to represent him going forward, per SBJ.

The fifth overall pick in 2015, Hezonja had a somewhat underwhelming rookie season, averaging just 6.1 PPG and 2.2 RPG in 79 contests for the Magic. However, he’s also only 21 years old, and will be given plenty of time to develop in Orlando.

The Magic will have to make a decision on Hezonja’s 2017/18 team option by October 31, and it’s virtually a lock that the club will exercise that $4.078MM option. Assuming Orlando also picks up the Croatian’s fourth-year option next year, Hezonja will become eligible for an extension for the first time in the summer of 2018. So barring a disappointing 2016/17 performance, or a surprising decision by the Magic, CAA likely won’t be negotiating a new contract for its new client for at least a couple more years.

Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer recently examined how the Magic might use Hezonja in his sophomore season, and how much patience the team will have with him, noting that some of Orlando’s recent veteran additions could eat into Hezonja’s minutes.

Eastern Notes: Landry, Pleiss, Bucks, Hezonja

On Wednesday, the Sixers announced they’d waived two big men, in veteran forward Carl Landry and center Tibor Pleiss. The timing of the moves was interesting, since August 31 represented the deadline for teams to waive players and stretch their 2016/17 cap hits across the next three years.

According to Derek Bodner of PhillyMag.com (Twitter links), however, the Sixers won’t stretch the cap hits for Landry and Preiss, which makes sense, considering how far below the salary floor Philadelphia already is this year — carrying $9.5MM in dead money for the two bigs won’t have a major impact on the team’s spending flexibility.

Here’s more on the Sixers’ Wednesday transactions, along with a few more Eastern Conference items:

  • According to Bodner (via Twitter), Landry, who is entering a contract year, wanted an opportunity to play a decent amount of minutes in 2016/17. The Sixers had a crowded frontcourt and didn’t view Landry as a long-term piece, so the team was willing to cut him to allow him to seek that opportunity elsewhere.
  • In his recap of the Bucks‘ offseason, Bobby Marks of The Vertical gives the front office credit for “thinking outside of the box” when it comes to the Thon Maker draft pick, and suggests that Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic are “blue-collar” additions.
  • Fifth overall pick Mario Hezonja had an underwhelming rookie season in Orlando, prompting Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer to examine how the Magic might use him this year, and how much patience they’ll have with him.
  • Discussing Tyler Johnson, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra praised the young guard’s “incredible work ethic,” adding that Johnson “makes you re-sign him,” as Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel details. Johnson technically signed a four-year, $50MM offer sheet with the Nets this summer, which Miami matched.
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