Mario Hezonja

Kings Eyeing Mario Hezonja As Free Agent Target?

Mario Hezonja, who is playing some of the best basketball of his NBA career as of late, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he’s beginning to look like an intriguing target. According to various reports, the Kings are one team that’s expected to have interest in Hezonja when he reaches the open market.

Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee recently wrote that Hezonja has “fans in Sacramento’s front office” and figures to be a target for the Kings this offseason. Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders has expressed a similar sentiment, tweeting today that the club is a “real and viable threat” to land Hezonja. Kyler later tweeted that he continues to hear the Kings “have eyes” for the third-year forward, who was linked to Sacramento in trade rumors last October.

Hezonja, the fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft, struggled during his first two seasons in Orlando, but has looked better this year, particularly in recent weeks. For the season, the 23-year-old is averaging 9.1 PPG and 3.4 RPG with a shooting line of .463/.348/.826. In his last 15 games, Hezonja has boosted those averages to 14.7 PPG and 4.3 RPG on .473/.412/.868 shooting.

It remains unclear what sort of contract Hezonja will land in free agency. Cap space won’t be plentiful around the NBA, and the Croatian’s career track record will make teams wary of investing significant money. But he’s also just 23 years old, and if he continues to show signs of putting it all together, there should be teams willing to aggressively roll the dice on him.

Orlando’s level of interest in re-signing Hezonja hasn’t been reported, but if the forward finishes the season strong, bringing him back will be tricky for the Magic. Because the team turned down the fourth-year option on Hezonja’s rookie contract last fall, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent, and Orlando won’t be able to offer a starting salary of more than $5,167,231, the amount of that declined option.

Southeast Notes: Sessions, Hezonja, Hornets, Schroder

Veteran guard Ramon Sessions will find out today if he’ll be getting a second 10-day contract from the Wizards, relays Candace Buckner of The Washington Post. Sessions’ first 10-day deal expires at midnight, and even though he hasn’t appeared in any games yet, that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t have plans for him.

“He’s a worker. He hasn’t gotten any opportunities. That might change [Sunday] night,” coach Scott Brooks said of tonight’s contest with the Pacers.

Washington signed Sessions to provide depth at point guard while John Wall recovers from knee surgery. Waived by the Knicks in January, Sessions had prior experience in Washington and was a logical choice for the role. Wall is expected to miss another two to four weeks and the Wizards already have a roster opening, so that may work in favor of Sessions getting another contract.

There’s more this morning from the Southeast Division:

  • The Magic may be regretting their decision to decline a team option on Mario Hezonja for next season, writes Frank Urbina of HoopsHype. The 23-year-old forward was coming off two uninspiring seasons when the new management team opted in October not to lock him up for another year. He has since developed into a versatile weapon off the bench, averaging 13.0 points and 4.3 rebounds over his last 31 games. The Magic could have had him under contract for approximately $5.2MM next season if they’d picked up that option.
  • It doesn’t matter that the Hornets haven’t named a successor to GM Rich Cho yet, but they need to find one quickly once the season ends, states Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. In addition to evaluating the coaching staff and preparing for the draft, the new GM will need to get control of the team’s salary cap situation by trading one or more rotation players and will have to manage the cap to stay under the luxury tax threshold. Bonnell adds that several viable GM candidates will probably emerge as their teams are eliminated from the playoffs.
  • Hawks guard Dennis Schroder has become the majority owner of Basketball Lowen Braunschweig, a team in his native Germany, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando.

Southeast Notes: Hernangomez, Hornets, Hezonja

Willy Hernangomez made it clear that he wanted to play — whether it was in New York or elsewhere — and the Hornets acquired him prior to the trade deadline. The fit seemed odd, given Charlotte’s depth at center. However, the 24-year-old Spaniard can still blossom into an asset, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer writes.

Hernangomez is still an effective scorer in the post and has some passing skills, which fit into head coach Steve Clifford’s system. Also, Hernangomez’s salary is team-friendly at $1.5MM next season and slightly higher the following year. That allows the Hornets to audition Hernangomez for an extended period; he can either develop into a rotational player or as a future trade chip.

Charlotte has one of the elite centers of the last decade in Dwight Howard to help mentor Hernangomez. “It’s great to have Dwight here. I want to learn so much every day,” Hernangomez said. “(Sunday) morning, he talked to me and gave me advice, and he doesn’t know me a lot. I’m very happy to be with one of the best centers in the league. I’m going to learn a lot from him.

Check out other Southeast Division notes below:

  • After Sunday’s loss, the Hornets are 10 games below .500 at 23-33 and their playoff hopes are fading. Bonnell writes in a separate story that it is time for Clifford to reexamine the team and figure out an effective rotation.
  • Mario Hezonja has shown signs of improvement in each of his three NBA seasons and his recent assignment on Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was a good growing experience, John Denton of writes. “Mario had one of his best nights and defensively he got scored on some, but he had some of his best collisions at the rim that I’ve been begging him to do for two years now,’’ head coach Frank Vogel. “So, he had a big growth night.’’
  • Chris McCullough plays sparingly for the Wizards, usually seeing time toward the end of games. However, McCullough prides himself on having an impact for the team in the minutes he is given, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington writes.

Mannix’s Latest: G. Hill, Hornets, Hawks, Suns

The Cavaliers continue to engage the Kings about a possible George Hill trade, sources tell Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports. However, the Cavs would like to include both J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in their package for Hill, and taking on multiple expensive non-expiring contracts doesn’t appeal to Sacramento. Meanwhile, the Kings are quietly looking to get a third team involved in a potential deal, according to Mannix.

Mannix’s latest trade rumor roundup features several more tidbits of interest related to Thursday’s deadline, so we’ll pass along the highlights…

  • The future of GM Rich Cho in Charlotte is uncertain, which may complicate the Hornets‘ deadline plans. According to Mannix, there are rumblings about former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak being a candidate to join the Hornets’ front office in the offseason. Gery Woelfel of The Racine Journal Times wrote last week that Kupchak is considered likely to be hired by an Eastern Conference team this summer.
  • Some teams with interest in Marcus Smart view the Celtics‘ asking price of a first-round pick as “unrealistic,” says Mannix.
  • The Hawks have made “everyone” available, and while much has been written about the club’s veteran trade candidates, second-year swingman Taurean Prince is another player who has drawn interest, according to Mannix.
  • The Magic have shopped Mario Hezonja “hard” in recent days, per Mannix.
  • According to Mannix, the Suns are willing to move veterans like Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley. Neither player’s contract is particularly team-friendly though, so it may be tough for Phoenix to find any value.
  • The Clippers say they’re okay with holding onto DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams through the deadline, but rival clubs are skeptical, says Mannix.

Eastern Rumors: Magic, Mirotic, Parker, Simmons

The Magic will likely be in firesale mode approaching the trade deadline, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times. Rival executives expect Orlando, which has sunk to the bottom of the conference standings, to shop guards Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton and swingman Mario Hezonja, Stein adds. Fournier is signed through the 2020/21 season at $17MM annually. Payton can become a restricted free agent in the summer, while Hezonja will be an unrestricted free agent after the team declined to pick up his fourth-year option in October.

In other items regarding the Eastern Conference:

  • Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic is now eligible to be dealt and admitted to reporters, including ESPN’s Nick Friedell, that he’s motivated by the trade chatter. He signed a two-year, $27MM contract in September that includes a team option for next season. That made him ineligible to be moved until mid-January. “This is kind of some motivation for me,” he said. “I know it sounds weird. But people are talking, ‘OK, Niko be gone’ and ‘Bye bye, Niko’ or whatever. But for me, it’s OK, just do what you’ve got to do. Play well and try to do your best until the last day and not be distracted.”
  • Bucks forward Jabari Parker believes he’ll make his season debut before the All-Star break, he told Scott Grodsky of CBS 58 in Milwaukee. Parker tore his ACL in February, his second major knee injury since entering the league. Parker, who was assigned to the Bucks’ G League affiliate on Monday to continue his rehab, is targeting “the first two weeks before the All-Star game. It’s probably in that area.”
  • Sixers rookie Ben Simmons vows he won’t back down from a challenge, according to an Associated Press report. Simmons and the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry were ejected during the closing seconds on Monday after an altercation. Simmons believes that veteran opponents are trying to intimidate him. “I don’t know if they’re trying to test me or see how I am on the court, but I won’t play around,” he said.

Southeast Notes: J. Johnson, Hezonja, G League, Batum

James Johnson may be the latest addition to the Heat’s long list of injured players, writes Ira Winderman of The-Sun Sentinel. Johnson will have an MRI today to determine the extent of a lower-leg issue that forced him to leave Saturday’s game. He is in the midst of another productive season, averaging 10.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 28 games, and an extended absence would be a significant blow to a team already reeling from injuries.

Miami is without center Hassan Whiteside, who has missed two weeks with a bone bruise on his left knee and won’t join the team for a two-game road trip, along with Justise Winslow [strained knee], Okaro White [foot surgery] and Rodney McGruder [leg surgery]. The injuries have created more playing time for rookie Bam Adebayo and free agent additions Kelly Olynyk and Jordan Mickey.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with J.J. He’s talked to me a lot,” Mickey said. “He’s always said, ‘Eventually your number will get called.’ I’m not happy in this particular position [with Johnson out], but I’ll be ready, Coach needs me and I’m already ready.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Injuries are also creating an opportunity for Magic small forward Mario Hezonja, notes Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel. With Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon and Arron Afflalo all sidelined, Hezonja has started the past three games with uneven results, Robbins notes. The fifth player taken in the 2015 draft, Hezonja may be looking at his last chance to prove himself before unrestricted free agency next summer. Orlando declined to pick up his fourth-year option in October. “You’ve just got to find your own rhythm but still be in the system,” Hezonja said. “If I go out [and try to excel] individually, I’m going to look good, but we’re going to lose. We’re not going to win a lot of games like that. Everybody has to step up like that, has to have that mindset.”
  • The Magic are enjoying the benefits of having a G League affiliate close to home, relays John Denton of The organization moved its affiliate from Erie, Pa., to Lakeland, Fla., over the summer, which is paying off with the recent rash of injuries. Jamel Artis and Adreian Payne were able to attend practice with the Magic Tuesday morning, even though they had a G League game that night, then were available for Wednesday’s NBA contest.
  • Nicolas Batum offered a reminder of why the Hornets gave him a five-year, $120MM contract with with a season-high 23-point performance Saturday, writes Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. For most of this season, Batum has been deferring to other players on offense after returning from a torn ligament in his left elbow that he suffered in the preseason. “I was trying to adjust myself to the other guys way too much,” he said, “when sometimes I have to let them adjust to me.”

Southeast Notes: Wall, Hezonja, Olynyk

The Wizards may be without John Wall this weekend, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington writes. The point guard continues to experience discomfort in his knee and underwent an MRI on it this afternoon.

John is definitely going to be questionable tomorrow,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “We’ll see how he feels [Saturday morning] and then make a decision from there.

The knee issues can be traced back to two weekends ago when members of the Wizards training staff administered a pair of IVs to help Wall recover from migraines and a general sickness. That fluid, however, collected in his knee.

The problem, Wall says, is that his mobility hasn’t returned despite having already had the fluid drained. If it doesn’t return soon, the 27-year-old All-Star who missed the team’s Friday afternoon practice, could miss his third game of the young NBA season.

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • Despite their best efforts, the Magic didn’t find a taker for Mario Hezonja prior to October 31, Zach Lowe of ESPN writes. That date is significant because the team was forced to decide whether or not to extend the swingman through 2018/19. When no trade materialized, the club declined the option. Now, Lowe writes, a team should buy low on the project and see if they can develop him into a serviceable rotation player. Despite going fifth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, the 22-year-old has averaged just 5.3 points through his first three seasons.
  • At this point in the season, Kelly Olynyk is not projected to hit the 1,700-minute plateau that would trigger an extra $1MM in salary, Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel writes. The big man is averaging 18.5 minutes per game for the Heat so far in 2017/18.
  • Backup forward Mike Scott has thrived in his first year with the Wizards. The 29-year-old has averaged 8.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game off the bench in Washington and the man he replaces in the starting lineup has taken notice of his playing style. “I think he’s trying to steal my game,” Markieff Morris joked. “We kind of resemble each other a lot more than what I thought before he got here.

Southeast Notes: Morris, Felix, Hawks, Hezonja

Wizards forward Markieff Morris was ready to make his season debut in tonight’s loss to the Suns, but he had to serve a one-game suspension first, tweets Chase Hughes of NBC Washington. Morris, who has been sidelined since abdominal surgery in late September for a sports hernia, was suspended for leaving the bench in Friday’s game against Golden State.

“We’re just going through protocol,” Morris told reporters in comments relayed by ESPN. “Everybody’s body is different. Mine, I feel like it healed a little faster than normal and I’m just ready to go now.”

There’s more tonight from the Southeast Division:

  • Also suspended after Friday’s altercation was Wizards guard Carrick Felix, who is less able to afford the loss of money or playing opportunities, Hughes writes in a full story. Felix earned a roster spot with Washington after being out of the NBA since 2014. His only previous experience was seven games with the Cavaliers. “I might help him out, man. It was all my fault, anyways,” said teammate Bradley Beal. “I gotta help my guy out. We might start a Go Fund Me and help out my guy Carrick Felix. He’s gonna need some cash, for sure.” Hughes notes that Felix served his suspension in Sunday’s rout at Sacramento, which could have provided his first game action of the season.
  • The Hawks had point guards Malcolm Delaney and Isaiah Taylor on the court at the same time in tonight’s loss to the Sixers, relays Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If both are going to be in the rotation, then Marco Belinelli will be the only wing off the bench and little playing time will be left for Tyler Dorsey and Nicolas Brussino, according to Cunningham.
  • Magic forward Mario Hezonja doesn’t plan to let his contract situation bother him over the rest of the season, writes John Denton of Hezonja is headed toward unrestricted free agency next summer after Orlando declined his fourth-year option. “This is not going to change anything and I’m still going to be working hard on my game and still coming with the same mentality to try and get even better,’’ Hezonja said. “I’m here to play and I didn’t come from home to here to watch.”

Magic Will Decline Mario Hezonja’s 2018/19 Team Option

Orlando will decline the 2018/19 team option on Mario Hezonja‘s contract, Adrian Wojnarowski of tweets. The swingman was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 draft.

Earlier today, we learned that the Sixers would not be picking up Jahlil Okafor‘s 2018/19 option, which makes the 2015 draft the first since the 2009 class to have a pair of players in the top six see their final season’s options declined, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks notes on Twitter. Back in 2011, the Grizzlies decided against keeping Hasheem Thabeet, while the Wolves turned down Jonny Flynn‘s fourth-year option.

The Magic are reportedly exploring the trade market for Hezonja, having discussed a deal with multiple teams. The Kings were one of the clubs and a proposed arrangement would have seen Malachi Richardson and a second-round pick head to Orlando. However, a deal has yet to materialize.

Hezonja was set to make roughly $5.17MM next season. Instead, he’ll hit the free agent market this summer as an unrestricted free agent in search of a new deal.

Magic, Kings Discussed Mario Hezonja Trade

The Magic are exploring the trade market for Mario Hezonja with the deadline looming on his 2018/19 option, reports Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders (Twitter link). Orlando will have to decide today whether or not to exercise Hezonja’s fourth-year option for next season, which has a cap charge of about $5.17MM.

According to Scotto (via Twitter), the Kings were one club that spoke to the Magic about Hezonja. The two teams discussed the possibility of a deal that would send Hezonja to Sacramento in exchange for Malachi Richardson and a second-round pick. However, those trade talks recently stalled, Scotto reports.

Like Hezonja, Richardson has yet to make much of an impact in the NBA, but Sacramento’s second-year shooting guard is a little younger and cheaper than Orlando’s third-year sharpshooter. The Kings have already decided to pick up Richardson’s 2018/19 option, according to Tony Jones of The Salt Lake City Tribune (Twitter link). That option will count against the cap for just $1.57MM.

At $5.17MM, Hezonja’s 2018/19 option is a tougher call. The Croatian forward was the fifth overall pick in 2015, but has failed to develop as the Magic hoped, and is playing a career-low 13.0 MPG in the early part of this season. Orlando’s new management group, led by Jeff Weltman and John Hammond, didn’t draft Hezonja, so they may be less willing to roll the dice on him for one more year than the old regime would have been.