Mike Conley

Northwest Notes: Cousins, Nuggets, Mitchell, Timberwolves

The Nuggets have strong interest in re-signing backup center DeMarcus Cousins, according to Harrison Wind of TheDNVR.com. Cousins began the season in Milwaukee and finished it in Denver, averaging 8.9 PPG and 5.5 RPG in 31 regular-season contests and 10.6 PPG and 3.4 RPG in five postseason outings. Whether Denver makes that move depends upon the market for Cousins, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

We have more from from the Northwest Division:

  • Having Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back in the lineup will certainly boost the Nuggets’ offense next season. However, they need to get much better defensively to truly become a championship team, Mike Singer of the Denver Post notes. The club was 24th defensively in points allowed in the paint and also aided the opponent’s cause with careless turnovers. “To be a dangerous, deep playoff team, you have to have an elite defense,” coach Michael Malone said.
  • If the Jazz don’t trade Donovan Mitchell, should they make him the primary ballhandler over Mike Conley? Sarah Todd of the Deseret News believes so. Putting Mitchell in that role next to a larger complement of wing players makes the most sense if Utah retains him, Todd says.
  • While the postseason experience will certainly help the Timberwolves down the road, they’ve got a lot of growing up to do, Chip Scoggins of The Star Tribune opines. Scoggins notes that Minnesota gave away three double-digit fourth-quarter leads against Memphis due to a lack of maturity and composure, abetted by poor shot selection. The fact that D’Angelo Russell played his way out of the crunch time lineup also needs to addressed.

Fischer’s Latest: Jazz, Conley, Snyder, Popovich, Graham

Speculation about the potential breakup of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert appears to be fueled more by people outside of the Jazz organization than those within it, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, who says sources from the team and around the NBA believe that CAA has been responsible for many of the whispers involving Mitchell’s future.

According to Fischer, team owner Ryan Smith is willing to spend big on a contender, and Utah has no plans to rebuild. Smith also likes the idea of having multiple players in the 2023 All-Star Game, which the Jazz will host.

Although some rival executives believe a Gobert trade is a possibility and view the Mavericks, Hawks, and Raptors as potential destinations, Fischer says the Jazz are focused on upgrading their defense, so moving a three-time Defensive Player of the Year seems counterintuitive. On the other hand, complementary players like Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, and perhaps even Mike Conley are considered more realistic trade candidates.

Fischer wonders if the Clippers or the Knicks might have interest in Conley, another CAA client. With the Jazz seeking help on the wing, Evan Fournier could theoretically headline a Knicks offer for Conley if they miss out on Jalen Brunson, says Fischer, though he notes that some staffers in New York would prefer to stay in-house and give Immanuel Quickley an expanded role.

As for the Clippers, Fischer is skeptical that a Conley trade offer centered around sharpshooter Luke Kennard would appeal to a Utah team looking to improve its defense and suggests that a more realistic point guard target for L.A. would be John Wall, assuming he and the Rockets work out a buyout. Wall has also been linked to the Heat, but Fischer’s sources believe Miami’s interest predated last year’s acquisition of Kyle Lowry.

Here’s more from Fischer:

  • There’s “little expectation” among people close to the situation that Quin Snyder will leave the Jazz before his contract expires in 2023, says Fischer. Snyder also holds an option for the 2023/24 season.
  • Jazz CEO Danny Ainge doesn’t appear inclined to shake up the team’s basketball operations department. According to Fischer, major changes would likely only occur if former head of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey gets a top front office job elsewhere and wants to bring some Utah executives with him.
  • Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who is traveling and considering his coaching future, plans to visit Belgrade for the EuroLeague Final Four later this month, a source tells Fischer. The general sense is that Popovich seems interested in coaching San Antonio for at least one more season, Fischer adds.
  • The Pelicans are among the teams believed to be considering a possible point guard upgrade this offseason, reports Fischer. Devonte’ Graham saw his role reduced significantly in the playoffs and some people around the league think he could end up on the trade block this offseason, but sources tell Fischer the Pels aren’t motivated to move on from Graham like they were with Eric Bledsoe a year ago.

Western Notes: Conley, McCollum, Landale, Primo, Martin

Mike Conley tried to carry the Jazz through adversity during the first half of the season. It took a toll on his body and he’s now trying to work his way through a rough patch, Tony Jones of The Athletic writes. Looking worn out, Conley has scored in single digits in seven of his last 10 outings.

“I was trying to do everything I could physically and mentally to keep the ship afloat,” said Conley, who re-signed with the Jazz on a three-year deal last summer. “I tried to be there for everybody. When doing that, sometimes you can forget about being there for yourself. We hit some true adversity. We were getting doubted by everyone. We had a bunch of outside distractions going on. And you saw it creeping into our games.”

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Pelicans coach Willie Green is hopeful CJ McCollum will clear the league’s health and safety protocols in time to play on Tuesday, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune tweets. McCollum was placed in protocols on Thursday. “We’re hopeful. We’ll see how it goes,” Green said. “He’s got to get a couple negative tests. He’s progressing.” The Pelicans have listed McCollum as questionable to play.
  • Jock Landale is hopeful he’ll still be wearing a Spurs uniform next season, as he told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express News. He had a 26-point, 7-rebound game against Indiana on Saturday but his $1.56MM salary for next season isn’t guaranteed. “This is where I want to be long-term if I can,” Landale said. “I don’t want to go anywhere. Me and my fiancée love it here. I love the organization, love the boys I play with.”
  • In the same story, McDonald points out that Spurs lottery pick Joshua Primo has seen his offensive numbers go down while his playing time has gone up. Primo is averaging 24.8 MPG this month but he’s only averaging 6.0 PPG on 37.5% shooting in those games. Teammate Devin Vassell has an explanation. “It’s the rookie wall,” he said. “It’s real.”
  • The Rockets recently guaranteed Kenyon Martin Jr.‘s $1.78MM salary for next season and Basketball News’ Mark Schindler details why he believes Martin could turn into one of the top role players in the league.

Northwest Notes: Gordon, Jokic, Conley, Clarkson

Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon has been an excellent fit in Denver over the last year, writes Matt Isa of Basketball News. The 6’8″ power forward, 26, is thriving during his first full season with the Nuggets after arriving from Orlando in a deadline trade during the 2020/21 season. Across 62 contests with the Nuggets, Gordon is averaging 14.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 2.5 APG. He is also connecting on 51% of his field goal attempts and 73.7% of his free-throw looks.

At 40-28, the ailing Nuggets presently occupy the sixth seed in the East, 1.5 games ahead of the seventh-seeded Timberwolves. Though Gordon never emerged as a bona fide star in Orlando, due in part to a lack of three-point shooting or ball-handling, he has found a home as a key role player for Denver. Gordon has been unlocked as a finisher alongside All-NBA center Nikola Jokic in the team’s frontcourt, opines Isa.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Nuggets MVP candidate Nikola Jokic is excited to play against one of the other leading candidates for that end-of-year award, Sixers center Joel Embiid, on a national TV contest Monday night, writes Mike Singer of the Denver Post. “He’s a great player, great,” Jokic said. “He can do everything on the floor, who is controlling the game, who is in conversation for MVP and the best player in the league. He’s so dominant. He’s skilled, but he’s so big and strong that he uses that. He’s really tough coverage for every single team in the NBA.” The 6’11” Jokic, who won the MVP award in 2021, is averaging 26.1 PPG, 13.8 RPG and 8.1 APG for Denver. He has a slash line of .573/.349/.806. Embiid is averaging 29.7 PPG, 11.2 RPG and 4.3 APG for the 40-25 Philadelphia, along with shooting splits of .489/.355/.819.
  • Sidelined Jazz point guard Mike Conley pushed reserve guard Jordan Clarkson into a career-best night on offense, according to Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune. The 2021 Sixth Man of the Year scored 45 points on Saturday in a 134-125 win over the Kings on the second night of a back-to-back. Clarkson went 15-of-21 from the floor, including 7-for-13 from long range. “A big part of it was Mike,” Clarkson said. “When I walked in today, he was like: ‘You know what I ain’t seen you do all year? Get 40.’ And it just pinged in my head.” The 6’4″ vet has had a slightly underwhelming shooting season this year from the floor, connecting on 41.6% of his 14 field goal looks, including just 32% of his 7.7 three-point attempts.
  • Clarkson seems to be comfortable playing through his shooting slumps, per Jazz.com. After a slow start to the season, Clarkson has seen a significant uptick in his play over the past month and a half. “I’m not changing anything, I’m not really thinking about stuff too much,” he said of his recent improvement. “Just coming into work.” Head coach Quin Snyder praised Clarkson’s commitment. “He’s not gonna be on the all-defensive first team, and I think he’d admit that, but he cares,” Snyder said. “The last month or so, he’s been very deliberate in his work.”

Northwest Notes: Forbes, Towns, Wolves, Gasol

The Nuggetsfirst attempt to trade Bol Bol didn’t work out, but they’re happy with the return they got on the second try, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Denver officially completed a three-team deal today that sends out Bol and PJ Dozier in exchange for Bryn Forbes, a dangerous outside shooter who will have a clearly defined role on the team.

“Really for me, it comes down to Bryn Forbes is a career 42% three-point shooter,” coach Michael Malone said. “You go back to last year in their run in winning a world championship in Milwaukee, that first-round series they swept Miami, and Bryn Forbes averaged 15 points a game.”

Currently ranked 18th in three-point shooting percentage, the Nuggets have a need for Forbes, who is expected to make his debut either Friday or Sunday. Malone was disappointed to part with Dozier, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Malone offered to give Dozier a role on his staff if he ever goes into coaching.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns has been working on personal growth to set a better example for his teammates, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Part of that process included making peace with Tom Thibodeau after their uneasy relationship when they were together in Minnesota. “I remember after we played the Knicks (last season) pulling Thibs to the side,” Towns said. “I said, ‘I just want to let you know I forgive you.’ There’s not bad blood. One day let’s just go get dinner. Let’s just chill. We don’t have to worry about the business side, let’s just work on our relationship.”
  • Timberwolves head of basketball operations Sachin Gupta will work closely with coach Chris Finch heading into the trade deadline, according to Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. They have a working relationship that dates back to their days with the Rockets, and their goal is to make moves that will benefit the team over the next five years.
  • Jazz guard Mike Conley recently reached out to Marc Gasol, his long-time teammate with Grizzlies, tweets Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. Gasol is playing in Spain this season, but has indicated that he may have interest in returning to the NBA. “I texted him when we had no bigs. I said, ‘If you wanna come back, now’s the time,’” Conley said. “… He’s happy. I don’t know if he’ll return. But I told him the invitation is out there.”

Jazz Notes: Player Development, Conley, Niang, Wade

The Jazz‘s player development track record is getting hard to ignore, according to Ben Dowsett of FiveThirtyEight.com, who points not to stars like Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert, but to veterans like Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson, and – most recently – Royce O’Neale.

Dowsett contends that the mid-career leaps those players have made in Utah are in large part due to head coach Quin Snyder‘s developmental program. For his part, Snyder is reluctant to take credit, suggesting that the players themselves are the ones responsible for their positive strides.

“It’s a credit to the players,” Snyder said. “Sometimes you can be content, especially if you’re successful in this league and have established yourself, to do what you do, so to speak.”

Here’s more on the Jazz:

  • After Mike Conley missed several key games in last season’s playoffs due to a hamstring injury, the Jazz are doing all they can in 2021/22 to make sure he’s fully healthy for the postseason, writes Tony Jones of The Athletic. That includes limiting Conley’s minutes and sitting him in certain back-to-back sets, which the veteran guard is still getting used to. “I think the plan is going to pay dividends at the end,” Conley said. “I don’t like sitting games at all. I definitely prefer to play. But if it’s going to give me a better chance at health in the long run, I’m all for it. Especially if it’s going to help the team.”
  • In a separate story for The Athletic, Jones explores how Georges Niang, who returned to Utah on Tuesday as a member of the Sixers, developed into a reliable NBA player with the Jazz, noting that Niang still holds the franchise in high regard. “Being in Utah, it took me from a young man to an adult,” he said. “I can’t be thankful enough to the Jazz organization, and I had four great years in Utah.”
  • McKay Coppins of The Deseret News takes an in-depth look at the impact new team owner Ryan Smith has had on the Jazz and the greater aspirations he has for the state of Utah.
  • In a Q&A with Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, Dwyane Wade spoke about being a part-owner of the Jazz and said that his role with the franchise will be “forever evolving” as he learns more about the business side of basketball.

Northwest Notes: Simons, Conley, Azubuike, Z. Wade

Trail Blazers forward Anfernee Simons has really started to blossom during his fourth year, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic.

A lot of Simons’ improvement appears to be a credit to his commitment to offseason workouts with longtime trainer Phil Beckner. One of Portland’s many undersized guards, Simons is averaging career highs of 12.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.4 APG and 22.8 MPG through his first five games during the 2021/22 season.

“Usually, he would train with me here and there,” Beckner said. “And at the start of the summer he wanted to know where I was going to be. I told him either Phoenix or Portland. So I asked him where he was going to be. His answer: ‘Wherever you are at.”’

“Everybody kept telling me, ‘My time is coming. My time is coming …’ and I wanted to be prepared,” Simons said. “New coach, new opportunity, and I wanted to be prepared as much as possible to show I’m ready for it. So that was my whole thing this summer: follow Phil around and get better each day.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • 34-year-old veteran Jazz point guard Mike Conley sat out his first game of the season yesterday, a 107-99 loss to the Bulls in which the Jazz desperately could have used Conley’s leadership, in a conscientious load management decision from head coach Quin SnyderEric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune details Utah’s thinking. “It’s more of a holistic decision, and one that we think is the best for our team and for Mike,” Snyder said. “I think, given the choice, he’d try to play every back-to-back. But I’m not gonna let him do that.” Conley is set to return tonight against the Bucks, per Jazz.com.
  • Newly-installed Jazz general manager Justin Zanik addressed the decision to pick up the team’s 2022/23 option on intriguing second-year center Udoka Azubuike, writes Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune. “I was very happy with him in the summer and the work that he’s done,” Zanik said. “It’s just really hard to be in game-type shape when you’re not playing games.” Azubuike appeared in just 15 contests as a rookie.
  • 19-year-old rookie guard Zaire Wade, selected with the tenth pick in the NBA G League draft by the Salt Lake City Stars, G League affiliate to the Jazz, acknowledged grappling with detractors in his entrance to the pro ranks, writes Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune. His father, future Hall-of-Famer Dwyane Wade, is a part-owner of the Jazz. “I think a lot of people think that I’m not a hard-working kid and things get handed to me,” Zaire said. “Nothing’s handed to me. Coach said he noticed after the first day I stepped here, I’m just working hard trying to earn everything myself. I’m trying to make a name for myself.”

Western Notes: Conley, Valanciunas, Ayton, Mann

The Knicks, Bulls, Mavericks and Pelicans showed interest in Mike Conley during free agency but re-signing with the Jazz was an “easy” choice, as he told Sam Amick of The Athletic.

“It was an easy decision (based) on what we had built here and what I was able to be a part of last year and in the last few seasons,” he said. “Just wanted to be a part of that journey with these guys. Trying to bring a championship to a place that, you know, it’s not easy to do. I think that seeing Milwaukee win was awesome.”

Conley signed a three-year, $68MM contract that includes some incentives.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Jonas Valanciunas has quickly emerged as a crucial player for the Pelicans, William Guillory of The Athletic writes. Valanciunas is averaging 18.2 PPG and 14.7 RPG while logging a career-high 34.3 MPG through six games. Coach Willie Green said the starters would continue to play big minutes until Zion Williamson returns. “Right now, those guys are going to play high minutes. That’s why we’re not doing much at practice,” Green said. After being acquired from Memphia, Valanciunas signed a two-year, $30.1MM extension this fall.
  • Suns coach Monty Williams isn’t worried about Deandre Ayton‘s focus even though the team didn’t reach an extension agreement with their center, Amick writes in a separate story. In fact, Williams hopes Ayton plays more selfishly as he heads toward restricted free agency. “He probably doesn’t get enough credit for how unselfish he is. We want him to be more selfish,” Williams said. “We want him to be more aggressive, but I don’t foresee that happening. The young man wants to win, and that’s what I’ve seen since I’ve been with him from Day 1.”
  • The Thunder have assigned Tre Mann, the 18th overall pick, to the G League’s Oklahoma City Blue. Head coach Mark Daigneault believes that will accelerate his development more than having him play spotty minutes with the Thunder, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. “His ability to go there, play more minutes, take on a heavier load defensively, find a little bit of rhythm offensively, settle into games a little bit more, settle into practices a little bit more is a great opportunity for him to grow,” Daigneault said. Oklahoma City also has a logjam of young guards, Mussatto notes.

Western Notes: Ennis, Lakers, Suns, Little, Jazz

Free agent forward James Ennis worked out for the Lakers this week, sources tell Jovan Buha of The Athletic (Twitter link). Ennis, who was linked to Los Angeles earlier in free agency, would make sense as a depth piece on the wing for the Lakers, who only have 13 players on guaranteed contracts.

As we relayed earlier today, the Lakers figure to keep their 15th roster spot open during the regular season to keep their projected tax bill in check, but the 14th spot remains up for grabs.

Here’s more from around the West:

  • The Suns issued a press release today announcing some additions to their coaching staff, including Michael Ruffin as an assistant. Ruffin has some experience working under Monty Williams in the past, having served as an assistant on the Pelicans’ staff from 2014-20. The 2014/15 season was Williams’ last as New Orleans’ head coach.
  • Nassir Little, the 25th pick in the 2019 draft, hasn’t made a major impact for the Trail Blazers during his first two years in the NBA, but he has turned heads this offseason, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic. Quick says team officials are intrigued by Little and believe he can “contribute in a way that is unique.” While the 21-year-old figures to play mostly a three-and-D role, Little says new head coach Chauncey Billups also wants to see him improve his play-making skills.
  • Sarah Todd of The Deseret News examines nine questions the Jazz should answer by the end of training camp next week, including whether their star guards – Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley – are healthy and pain-free after dealing with injuries late last season.

Western Notes: Ingles, Bogdanovic, O’Neale, Conley, Gay, Adelman, Doncic

The Jazz are well above the luxury tax line after re-signing Mike Conley and adding Rudy Gay in free agency but they don’t plan on dumping any of their mid-salaried players to ease the burden, Zach Lowe of ESPN reports. Lowe names Joe Ingles ($12.4MM), Bojan Bogdanovic ($18.7MM) and Royce O’Neale ($8.8MM) as the type of players that the Jazz could look to dump if they wanted to get below the tax line or reduce the bill. There’s no indication any of them are going anywhere anytime soon.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Conley played a role in convincing Gay to leave the Spurs for the Jazz in free agency, Sarah Todd of The Deseret News writes. Conley said the front office urged him to recruit his former Memphis teammate. “I’ve done it little bit (before) but not at this capacity,” Conley said. “I was like putting babies down for bed and having to drop them and go take a call because I’m trying to make sure we lock up a guy like Rudy. … I was really locked in on that and it was fun.”
  • David Adelman will be the lead assistant for the Nuggets, Mike Singer of the Denver Post tweets. Jordi Fernandez will be the second assistant under Michael Malone while Popeye Jones, whose addition to the staff was previously reported, will be the third assistant on Malone’s bench.
  • Luka Doncic‘s new contract extension includes a 15% trade kicker, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. However, the trade bonus would only kick in if the cap rose significantly in the future, since a trade bonus can’t increase a player’s salary beyond the maximum and the All-NBA guard has already qualified for a higher max salary than he’d typically be eligible for. Doncic’s five-year, $207MM extension with the Mavericks became official on Tuesday.