Maurice Harkless

Northwest Rumors: Thunder, Wolves, Rubio, Blazers

In the wake of a historic regular-season performance that could earn Russell Westbrook an MVP award, Lee Jenkins of SI.com and Royce Young of ESPN.com took deep dives this week into Oklahoma City’s year, providing several interesting tidbits in their pieces. Jenkins, for instance, reports that several high-ranking executives in the Thunder‘s front office rejected job offers from rival teams within the last year, as those clubs anticipated a “post-Durant exodus” that never materialized.

Meanwhile, Young writes that after Durant left for Golden State last July, the Thunder did their due diligence by fielding trade calls on Westbrook from a number of teams, but “never remotely considered” trading their star point guard. If Westbrook had turned down the opportunity to sign an extension with OKC, the Thunder’s stance may have shifted, but the team preferred to lock up Westbrook for multiple years rather than to consider moving him.

Here are a few more notes and rumors from across the Northwest division:

  • Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau held his end-of-season press conference today, expressing a desire to bring back potential RFA Shabazz Muhammad, and suggesting that his club’s most pressing offseason needs are defense (specifically on the wing), shot-blocking, and shooting (link via 5 Eyewitness News).
  • Asked earlier this week if he wants to remain in Minnesota and win with the Timberwolves, Ricky Rubio said he wants to win, but was noncommittal about whether it will happen with the Wolves, noting that that decision is ultimately up to the team (link via Marca.com; translation via HoopsHype).
  • The Trail Blazers will avoid the luxury tax by the slimmest of margins after Maurice Harkless earned a $500K bonus for shooting over 35% on three-pointers. According to Bobby Marks of The Vertical (Twitter link), Portland will finish $4,462 below the tax line. By comparison, the one-day minimum salary for a rookie this season was worth $3,197.
  • After being relied on as a top scoring threat for years, Joe Johnson has thrived this year in a reduced role and as a veteran mentor for the Jazz, writes Kareem Copeland of The Associated Press. Johnson remains under contract for one more year.

Northwest Notes: Stephenson, Turner, Blazers

Newly acquired Timberwolves guard Lance Stephenson squared off against his former team Friday and Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry had nothing but positive things to say about the 26-year-old journeyman, writes Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune.

We had no problem whatsoever with him,” Gentry said regarding New Orleans’ decision to waive the then-15th man on their roster after a groin injury in November. “As a matter of fact, he probably raised our energy level as much as anyone. I think he’ll be fine. He’s playing for a great [Timberwolves] coach who loves energy and toughness and stuff like that.”

The Pelicans faced criticism at the time for parting ways with Stephenson as he recovered from the long-term injury but did so to free up space on their roster for Archie Goodwin (who has since been waived). Now Stephenson is back at full strength and on a 10-day contract looking to stick in Minnesota with a Timberwolves roster led by head coach Tom Thibodeau.

In two games with the Timberwolves so far, Stephenson has posted 3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game. He’ll make $72K with Minnesota over the duration of his 10-day contract, in addition to the $1.2MM he’s owed by the Pelicans.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • The news that Trail Blazers swingman Evan Turner will miss 5-6 weeks comes just as the offseason acquisition was starting to find a rhythm in Portland, writes Mike Richman of The Oregonian. Turner’s absence could thrust Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless into a bigger role defensively where Turner had been checking the opposing team’s most potent perimeter threat. In the same column, Richman also discusses the progress that Al-Farouq Aminu has made on the offensive end since being relegated to the bench.
  • With a 23-31 record, the Trail Blazers remain very much in the hunt for the final Western Conference playoff berth (Denver sits in the eight-seed at 24-29) but TNT analyst Kenny Smith is skeptical that they have enough resources. “I don’t think they have a lot of talent, honestly. I think that’s the problem,” Smith said. Molly Blue of The Oregonian relayed both Smith’s and Charles Barkley‘s reservations about the guard-heavy roster.
  • When budding Nuggets star Nikola Jokic dropped 40 points on the Knicks Friday, he became just the second Denver player to do so in Madison Square Garden, writes Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post. The last? David Thompson in 1978,

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.”

Stein’s Latest: Rockets, Cavaliers, Blazers, Pistons

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein takes a swing at picking the All-Star starters from each conference and passes along some trade rumors in his latest column. He lists four teams that could be active with the deadline less than six weeks away:

  • The Rockets‘ hopes of acquiring Mike Dunleavy Jr. fell through this week when the Hawks committed to keeping him, but Houston is still looking for another shooter. GM Daryl Morey tried to get involved when Atlanta was searching for a third team in its deal with Cleveland, and he had interest in acquiring Dunleavy when it looked like he might not report to the Hawks. Sources tell Stein that K.J. McDaniels has surpassed Corey Brewer as the Rocket most likely to be traded. McDaniels has one season left on his current deal at more than $3.3MM, while Brewer is signed for one more more season at $7.6MM.
  • The Cavaliers have $4.4MM left from their Anderson Varejao trade exception, which will expire February 20th. That means a trade for a backup point guard may be just as likely as a veteran free agent signing such as Mario ChalmersJarrett Jack or Norris Cole.
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has moved ahead of Reggie Jackson on the list of untouchable Pistons in possible trades. Caldwell-Pope is now atop that list alongside Andre Drummond. Detroit is well below .500 since Jackson returned from tendinitis in his left knee in early December. Jackson, whose 5.5 assists per game are the lowest during his time in Detroit, still has three seasons and more than $51MM left on his current deal.
  • Three Trail Blazers who signed huge offseason deals will become eligible to be traded on Sunday. Keep an eye on whether Portland tries to unload some of the salary it committed to Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard.

Northwest Notes: Turner, Blazers, Lauvergne, Payne

Evan Turner says it’s nice to know he’s missed in Boston, even as he struggles to find a role in Portland, writes Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. Turner accepted a four-year, $70MM deal this summer to head to the Pacific Northwest. However, the Trail Blazers haven’t used him as a primary ballhandler the way the Celtics did, and he has found it hard to adjust to a backcourt rotation with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum“I was most definitely comfortable there [in Boston],” Turner said. “There were certain situations where there were coaches that didn’t really sort of comprehend my game, and sometimes I wasn’t always in position to be comfortable or successful. So when you finally find that mixture of great basketball and off the court and things like that, you definitely don’t take it for granted.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Blazers haven’t shown significant improvement so far despite raising their payroll from $62MM to $112MM, contends Bobby Marks of The Vertical. Portland will have a hard time shaking things up until at least December 15th when the trade restrictions expire for Turner and Festus Ezeli. Restrictions for Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless will remain in effect until January 15th. Crabbe cannot be traded without his approval for a year because the Blazers matched an offer sheet from Brooklyn.
  • Offseason addition Joffrey Lauvergne is taking away minutes from Enes Kanter in Oklahoma City, notes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. Lauvergne, acquired in an August trade with the Nuggets, has impressed the Thunder with a combination of defense and long-range shooting. “A lot of it’s going to be based on matchups, how the game’s going, who’s alongside of him, do we have the speed and quickness in the frontcourt,” OKC coach Billy Donovan said when asked about Kanter’s playing time. “That’s not to say the last couple of games with Enes, with his minutes, he’s not going to play more because I do think he and Steven [Adams] together is a good combination for us.”
  • Timberwolves forward Adreian Payne‘s option wasn’t picked up last month, but his role with the team is growing, writes Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune. Payne got a chance to show what he could do after Shabazz Muhammad was sidelined with a sore knee. “Being patient is part of the NBA, being ready,” Payne said. “You just have to continue to work. Just going through this has been tough. It can break a lot of people. You just have to stay positive and continue to work.”

Players With Incentive Bonuses For 2016/17

According to Bobby Marks of The Vertical, there are 33 players around the NBA who can potentially earn incentive bonuses this season based on their own durability or performance, or based on how their team performs. Although Marks doesn’t identify all 33 players who have incentives included in their 2016/17 contracts, he discusses over half of them, passing along a number of interesting tidbits about those potential bonuses. Here are some of the highlights:

Minutes/games played bonuses:

NBA bonuses are deemed either “likely” or “unlikely,” using the previous season’s statistics as a benchmark, so if a player didn’t appear in many games during the previous year, a team can include a games-played benchmark and call it an unlikely incentive. For instance, John Henson‘s contract with the Bucks features incentives if he plays 60 games or 75 games this season. He appeared in just 57 contests in 2015/16, so neither of those marks is viewed as likely.

Miles Plumlee (Bucks), Luis Scola (Nets), Greivis Vasquez (Nets), and Deron Williams (Mavericks) are among the other players who have incentives in their deals for games played or started.

Individual statistic bonuses:

The Trail Blazers got creative with Maurice Harkless‘ new contract this summer, including an incentive bonus in the deal that can be triggered based if he keeps his three-point percentage above a certain level. Jeremy Lin, meanwhile, not only has a three-point percentage incentive, but also has bonuses linked to assists, turnovers, and threes and free throws attempted per 36 minutes.

Individual achievement bonuses:

Players like Bismack Biyombo (Magic), Evan Fournier (Magic), and Will Barton (Nuggets) have incentives related to their individual performances as well, but they’re related to awards and honors, rather than raw statistics. Biyombo gets a bonus if he makes the NBA’s All-Defensive team, Fournier gets some extra money for an All-Star appearance, and Barton would get $250K if he wins the Sixth Man of the Year award.

Of course, some of these incentives are more realistic than others. For instance, Thaddeus Young (Pacers) probably shouldn’t be counting on the $500K incentive bonus that he’d earn if he wins the league’s MVP award.

Team performance bonuses:

Several players, including Fournier, Jon Leuer (Pistons), and Joe Ingles (Jazz) have bonuses related to their teams making the playoffs. Many of those postseason incentives are tied to another condition. For example, for Taj Gibson to earn his bonus from the Bulls, he must appear in at least 60 games, play in at least 75% of Chicago’s playoff games, and average 25 or more minutes per game during the regular season.

Some players also have incentives linked to their teams’ win total, and once again, some are more attainable than others. For example, Nikola Mirotic could earn an extra $800K, but he’d need the Bulls to win 65+ games, so there’s a good chance his shot at that bonus will disappear about halfway through the season.

Be sure to check out the full breakdown from Marks for many more details on players who could earn incentive bonuses in 2016/17.

Northeast Notes: Harkless, Nurkic, Jokic, Sabonis

Maurice Harkless has played well enough this preseason to claim the Trail Blazers‘ starting small forward slot, contends Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. The 23-year-old Harkless re-signed with Portland this summer for four years at $40MM, but faces competition for the starter’s job from the re-signed Allen Crabbe and free agent addition Evan Turner. Coach Terry Stotts hasn’t named a starter yet, but Freeman believes Harkless’ defensive abilities and his chemistry with the other starters makes him the best choice. “Moe … just makes us versatile,” said Damian Lillard. “Being able to rebound the ball and push it, knock down threes, he can guard a bunch of positions, he changes the game in a different way.”

There’s more tonight out of the Northwest Division:

  • While the rest of the league is getting smaller, the Nuggets may start two 7-footers on opening night, writes Christopher Dempsey of The Denver PostJusuf Nurkic appears to have played well enough in preseason to earn the starting center job, with Nikola Jokic sliding over to power forward and Kenneth Faried moving to the bench. “It definitely is a herd mentality type of league,” said coach Michael Malone. “We’ve started two bigs together in (three) of our preseason games. We think that they can play well together because they are so skilled.”
  • The Jazz may need time to adjust to roster changes and the return of Dante Exum from injury, warns Dustin Jensen of The Deseret News. Utah traded for George Hill and Boris Diaw, signed free agent Joe Johnson and welcomed back Dante Exum after a year away with a torn ACL. Add in the emergence of second-year forward Trey Lyles and the Jazz may need time to develop chemistry.
  • Foul trouble is hampering rookie Domantas Sabonis as he bids for a starting job with the Thunder, writes Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. Sabonis has started every preseason game for Oklahoma City, but is averaging 3.3 personal fouls per night. Coach Billy Donovan is confident that Sabonis will learn to adjust. “When you’re a guard, you’re pretty much guarding the ball,” Donovan said. “But when you’re behind the (perimeter) defense and the floor starts moving and guys start shifting, you got to be able to pick up those movements and figure out what’s getting ready to happen.”

Blazers Notes: Small Forwards, Harkless, Napier

The Trail Blazers committed a ton of money to free agent contracts and extensions this summer, and will have one of the NBA’s highest payrolls in 2016/17. However, owner Paul Allen suggested earlier this week that he believes in the team’s current group of players and had no problem handing out those contracts. Still, Allen didn’t sound overly eager to become a taxpaying team this season, and Portland is currently right on that threshold, so it will be interesting to see if the team makes a conscious effort to slip below the tax line with its roster moves.

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • Blazers head coach Terry Stotts is keeping an “open mind” about the team’s small forward spot, writes Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, and Allen Crabbe – each of whom signed lucrative long-term contracts this offseason – will all be in the mix for minutes at the position, and any one of the three could be the starter. “We’re all just pieces to the puzzle,” Harkless said. “It’s up to him to put it together.”
  • Speaking of Harkless, the 23-year-old said Thursday after practice that he never seriously considered playing anywhere besides Portland when he became a restricted free agent in July, calling the Blazers a “very well-run organization.” “I wasn’t really paying mind to any other team,” Harkless said, per Cody Sharrett of Blazers.com. “I wanted to be here, and I think I made that clear. [The team] knew that. We knew that. This is where I wanted to be, and I’m happy.”
  • The Blazers have been impressed so far by Shabazz Napier, writes Mike Richman of The Oregonian. Napier, who was acquired by Portland in a summer trade, knows he won’t have a major role with the team, but he’s looking forward to making the most of any opportunities he gets. “My résumé in this league is not good at all,” Napier said. “So I can’t worry (like), ‘There’s minutes up in the air so I gotta do this or I gotta do that.’ I just gotta play my game.”

Blazers To Re-Sign Maurice Harkless

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trail BlazersRestricted free agent Maurice Harkless has agreed to a four-year, $40MM deal to re-sign with the Trail Blazers, Shams Charania of The Vertical reports. The pact will be fully guaranteed with no options and it could reach $42MM with incentives, Charania adds.

Several teams were reportedly interested in Harkless early in the free agent process, including the Wizards, Pistons, Lakers, Mavericks and Jazz. But instead he’ll return to Portland where he emerged as a valuable rotation player on an up-and-coming Blazers team after being acquired from the Magic via trade last summer.

Harkless appeared in 78 games for Portland last season, including 14 tip-offs as a starter. He averaged 6.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 18.7 minutes per outing, while shooting .474/.279/.622 from the field.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Free Agency Notes: Blazers, Harkless, Rockets

Brooklyn and Philadelphia have frequently been linked to Dion Waiters this offseason, and the Thunder made it easier to sign him by rescinding his qualifying offer on Monday and making him an unrestricted free agent. However, Net Income of NetsDaily is unconvinced that the Nets have real interest in Waiters, pointing out that the team wants to maintain cap room and was in no hurry to sign him to an offer sheet after missing out on Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe.

Here’s more on free agency from around the NBA:

  • With Waiters’ QO off the board, Maurice Harkless is now one of just three restricted free agents still available, along with Tyler Zeller and Donatas Motiejunas. However, Harkless and the Trail Blazers are no closer to reaching a deal, agent Happy Walters tells Jason Quick of CSNNW.com. According to Walters, via Quick, a few other teams have shown interest in Harkless, but the RFA forward wants to return to Portland. The agent acknowledged there’s a chance Harkless will ultimately sign his QO and become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
  • Former NBA guard Bobby Brown, who has spent the last several seasons playing overseas, has been training this summer with James Harden and the Rockets, and there’s mutual interest between Houston and Brown in a vet-camp deal, per international basketball journalist David Pick (Twitter link).
  • Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com takes an in-depth look at the Rockets‘ summer so far, outlining how Houston ended up landing a day-one meeting with Kent Bazemore, how close the team was to landing Bazemore, and the role Harden played in recruiting Eric Gordon.
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