Bucks forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo has been suspended one game without pay for headbutting Celtics big man Blake Griffin, the league’s PR department tweets.
- Speaking of the Bucks, Jrue Holiday has earned a $331K bonus, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. Holiday has exceeded 2,000 minutes this season — 2,082 to be exact — entering the weekend while appearing in 64 games.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo would be thrilled to win another Most Valuable Player award but he’s focused on winning a second NBA championship with the Bucks, he told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports. “Do I think it’s a priority for me? No,” he said of winning MVP. “The priority for me is to get better, to help my team win a championship, to get that feeling again.” A recent ESPN straw poll indicated that the Bucks star trails Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic in the MVP race.
Pistons center James Wiseman is going to make it a priority this offseason to improve his strength with a weightlifting regimen, per head coach Dwane Casey (Twitter link via Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press).
First selected with the No. 2 pick out of Memphis in 2020, Wiseman failed to find his footing with the Warriors and was flipped to Detroit at the trade deadline in a four-team transaction. Since being sent to the rebuilding Pistons, the seven-footer has enjoyed a much more active role, averaging 13.4 PPG on 55.2% shooting, along with 8.7 RPG and 0.8 BPG across 26.0 MPG.
There’s more out of the Central Division:
- Bucks two-way rookie guard A.J. Green has an interesting history with Milwaukee as a city, as Lori Nickel of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes. His father, Kyle Green, served as an assistant coach at Marquette during the 2003/04 NCAA season. Kyle Green left his post to become a head coach at Lewis University in Chicago. The Iowa Barnstormers, A.J. Green’s AAU team, meanwhile, played at a tournament in Milwaukee while he was in high school. “I had an idea of what the city was like,” A.J. said. “Obviously, good basketball, good players, and good people. I knew that Milwaukee liked me, but it was not a sure thing. I’m so glad it was here.”
- Bulls head coach Billy Donovan has faced some criticism for an underwhelming season, but he’s earning praise from several of his best players, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s definitely underrated, underappreciated on the outside,’’ All-Star DeMar DeRozan said. ‘‘He’s easy-going, and as much as he’s locked into the game and pays attention to the small things, it’s incredible. His play-calling, his schemes — he puts a lot into the game that too many people don’t see.’’ At 36-40, the Bulls are currently the tenth seed in the East and are on the cusp of a play-in tournament berth.
- Pacers All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton and sharpshooting center Myles Turner could be shut down for the rest of the season, per Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. “They’ll be listed however they’re listed game-to-game,” head coach Rick Carlisle said following a team practice today. “If you’re asking if it’s possible that they don’t play anymore, yeah, it’s possible. It’s not impossible that one of them would play, but we’re going game to game with it.” Turner has missed the team’s last three games with a sore left ankle and sore lower back, while Haliburton has been absent for the last two due to a right ankle sprain and sore left elbow. Indiana is currently 3.5 games behind the Bulls for the No. 10 seed in the East.
- The 2023 MVP race is tighter than ever in the season’s home stretch, according to the third and final straw poll conducted by Tim Bontemps of ESPN. The 100 media members who submitted five-man ballots to Bontemps picked Sixers center Joel Embiid over Nuggets center Nikola Jokic by a grand total of two points (790 to 788). Jokic actually received more first-place votes (42) than Embiid (40), while Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was also very much in the mix, with the remaining 18 first-place votes and 612 total points.
- Bucks guard Grayson Allen earned a $425K bonus when he appeared in his 70th game of the season on Wednesday night, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Because Allen only played 66 games in 2021/22, that bonus has been considered unlikely, but it will now be considered likely in 2023/24, bumping his cap hit for next season from $8.5MM to $8.925MM.
Appearing at the NFL owners’ meetings in Arizona this week, Jimmy Haslam spoke publicly for the first time about his impeding purchase of Marc Lasry‘s stake in the Bucks, writes Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Because the sale hasn’t been officially finalized, Haslam declined to get into specifics, but he did tell reporters that Bucks co-owner Wes Edens would reclaim his role as the team’s governor while the Haslams learn the ropes of NBA ownership. Under the previous agreement, Edens and Lasry traded the governor title every five years — Edens held it from 2014-19.
Haslam, the owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns along with his wife Dee, described his purchase of a stake in the Bucks as “opportunistic,” Owczarski relays.
“I mean listen, we never thought we’d own 10% of the Steelers. Never thought we’d own the Browns. Dee and I had never been, beside watching (daughter) Whitney play high school soccer, had never been to a soccer game,” said Haslam, who also owns the Columbus Crew (MLS). “So it’s just opportunistic. It was straightened set of circumstances; we were called on this opportunity. Business, sports, you tend to be optimistic. I have no idea what will happen next. First thing’s first, let’s get this done and then let’s get the Browns winning games.”
Here’s more from around the Central:
- Pacers sharpshooter Buddy Hield was sidelined for Monday’s game due to a non-COVID illness, marking just the fourth time since he entered the NBA in 2016 that he has missed a game, writes Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files. Hield started Indiana’s first 73 games this season, but has come off the bench since then so that the team can get a look at different lineup combinations, with an eye toward next season, tweets Agness.
- According to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype (Twitter link), Eugene Omoruyi‘s new contract with the Pistons covers two seasons — it’s guaranteed for the rest of 2022/23, with a team option for ’23/24. In order to give Omoruyi more than the prorated minimum for the rest of this season, Detroit used a portion of its room exception to complete the signing, Hoops Rumors has learned. Instead of the $169,445 he would’ve gotten on a minimum-salary deal, the 26-year-old received $269,445 for ’22/23.
- With the Trail Blazers set to miss the postseason again, the Bulls won’t get the lottery-protected first-round pick owed to them by Portland this season, and Chicago’s own top-four protected first-rounder appears ticketed for Orlando. However, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago wonders if the Bulls could end up with a first-rounder in 2023 by negotiating a trade with the Blazers, who are on track to receive the Knicks’ first-round pick. As Johnson observes, Portland may want to reacquire its own first-rounder, which remains lottery-protected through 2028, in order to regain flexibility for future trades.
- Bucks forward Joe Ingles admits that he took it hard when he was traded by the Jazz at the 2022 trade deadline, but he has since comes to terms with it and now appreciates the fact that he got to spend eight years with the franchise, writes Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. The roster overhaul that the Jazz have undergone since Ingles’ departure made it easier for him to move on. “We had a hell of a run; at some point, they always come to an end,” he said. “Ours did — not by the players’ choice, but that’s how it works.”
Brook Lopez showed why he’s so valuable to the Bucks during Sunday’s victory over Toronto, according to Eric Nehm of The Athletic. The veteran center finished with a strong stat line — a team-high 26 points (on 9-of-15 shooting), five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal in 31 minutes.
What those numbers don’t show is that he completely dominated the fourth quarter. With Giannis Antetokounmpo facing consistent double-teams, Lopez made timely cuts, drives and finishes around the hoop, finishing with more points (17) than the Raptors (16) in the final frame, Nehm writes.
As Nehm details, Lopez’s offensive arsenal has continually evolved since he joined Milwaukee five years ago. He’s averaging 15.6 points (highest total in six years), while shooting 52.1% from the field (highest FG% in nine years) and a career-best 37.7% from three-point range.
Lopez, who is making $13.9MM in the final year of his contract, is also a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, posting a career high 2.5 blocks per game for the NBA’s top team.
Here’s more on the Bucks:
- At 52-20, the Bucks hold a 2.5-game lead on the Celtics for the best record in the NBA. Are they gunning for the No. 1 overall seed entering the playoffs? “I think we want it,” guard Grayson Allen said, per Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I think we want the one seed. Even like after All-Star break it’s been super close between really the top three teams in the East, so, it’s not something we obsess about – we’re not checking it every day, every game – but I think we’re definitely aware of it. I know as a group, I know we want the one seed.” According to Owczarski, Antetokounmpo said that if he had to pick between the Bucks being healthy or the top seed, he would choose health, but since it’s within reach, they “should take the spot” to get home-court advantage throughout the postseason.
- Reserve forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo was away from the team for five days, including a couple games, while dealing with a personal matter, but he has rejoined the Bucks, Owczarski writes in another story. Guard Goran Dragic has yet to make his Bucks debut due to knee soreness, and forward Jae Crowder has missed the past three games with left calf soreness. When asked if they could return on the upcoming three-game road trip, head coach Mike Budenholzer said it was still up in the air. “I think it’s right on the window of possibility,” Budenholzer said. “There’s a chance they’re not available, but there is a chance that they are. They’re working, both of them hard, making good progress. We’ll just see how it goes during that stretch.”
- Budenholzer said it was tough to part with Sandro Mamukelashvili at the beginning of the month, but the team believed it was the “right thing” for the big man’s career, tweets Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “He is a good player,” Budenholzer said before Thursday’s matchup with the Spurs. “I hope he is terrible tonight, but generally he is great. And we are great fans of the human. He is a great person.” The Spurs claimed the second-year forward/center off waivers after he was released by Milwaukee and converted his two-way contract to a standard rest-of-season deal.
- Forward Joe Ingles recently shared some thoughts on how he’s approaching his return to Utah to face the Jazz on Friday night, his longtime former club, notes Gabe Stoltz of BrewHoop (via Twitter).
This is the ninth entry in our series breaking down the significant trades of the 2022/23 season. As opposed to giving out grades, this series explores why the teams were motivated to make the moves. Let’s dive into the biggest blockbuster of the year, a four-team deal between the Suns, Nets, Bucks and Pacers.
On February 9:
- The Suns acquired Kevin Durant and T.J. Warren.
- The Nets acquired Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, the Suns’ 2023 first-round pick (unprotected), the Suns’ 2025 first-round pick (unprotected), the Suns’ 2027 first-round pick (unprotected), the Suns’ 2029 first-round pick (unprotected), the right to swap first-round picks with the Suns in 2028, the Bucks’ 2028 second-round pick, the Bucks’ 2029 second-round pick, and the draft rights to Juan Pablo Vaulet (from Pacers).
- The Bucks acquired Jae Crowder.
- The Pacers acquired Jordan Nwora, George Hill, Serge Ibaka, a 2023 second-round pick (likely the Cavaliers’ second-rounder; from Bucks), the Bucks’ 2024 second-round pick, the Pacers’ 2025 second-round pick (from Bucks), and cash ($1.36MM; from Nets).
- Note: The Bucks acquired the Pacers’ 2025 second-round pick in a prior trade.
The Suns’ perspective:
After posting a losing record for seven straight seasons – and missing the playoffs for 10 straight – the Suns had a remarkable turnaround in 2020/21, going 51-21 and reaching the NBA Finals, ultimately losing in six games to the Bucks. Last season, the Suns held the league’s top record at 64-18, but had a meltdown in their second-round loss to Dallas, getting blown out at home in Game 7.
Phoenix was reportedly high on Durant’s list of preferred destinations when he requested a trade this past offseason, but there were rumors of low-ball offers from rival teams and Brooklyn was said to be disinterested in obliging his request.
A few weeks later, there were questions about Deandre Ayton’s eagerness to be back in Phoenix after he signed a four-year, maximum-salary offer sheet from the Pacers over the summer amid tensions with head coach Monty Williams. The Suns quickly matched, however, signaling they still valued the former first overall pick, even if his role sometimes fluctuates.
In mid-September, former owner Robert Sarver was suspended by the NBA for a year and fined $10MM for workplace misconduct, including racist and misogynistic comments, following a lengthy investigation. He subsequently decided to sell his controlling stake in the franchise to Mat Ishbia, which was finalized shortly before last month’s deadline.
Finally, right before training camp opened, Crowder said he wasn’t going to participate, as he was reportedly unhappy with Williams after being told he would come off the bench (he had started the previous two years). The Suns then made an announcement saying the two sides would work together to find Crowder a new team.
Despite all the turmoil, ‘22/23 started out pretty well, with Phoenix going 15-6 over its first 21 games. Unfortunately, Johnson tore his meniscus during that span, and Chris Paul was sidelined by a foot injury until early December. The Suns lost five straight shortly thereafter, with star guard Devin Booker going down with a groin injury in mid-December.
Obviously, Crowder being away while Johnson was hurt didn’t help. Torrey Craig did an admirable job filling in, as did Ish Wainright, who was promoted to a standard deal from a two-way contract last month. But ideally, neither player would be logging heavy minutes on a championship-caliber team.
Paul is 37 years old (38 in May), and he is not the same player he was when the Suns made the Finals a couple years ago. He’s still good, just not on the same level, particularly from a scoring standpoint. That’s a huge deal, because he was Phoenix’s second-best player during the previous two seasons.
The Suns reportedly offered up Paul in an effort to land Kyrie Irving from Brooklyn shortly before Durant made his own request. I don’t know if those rumors are true, but either way, CP3 stayed put.
By mid-January, the Suns were just 21-24, and the season was slipping away. They recovered well leading up to the trade deadline, going 9-2 over that span to sit with a 30-26 record prior to February 9. Still, the damage had been done. I don’t think the Suns make this trade – specifically the way the deal was structured – if they still believed they were a real championship contender without acquiring Durant.
Ishbia played a major role in the deal. Even before he was officially approved by the league’s Board of Governors, a report came out saying the Suns were willing to make win-now moves, and he talked about being aggressive just before the deadline. He was also quickly willing to sign off on the extra $40MM the deal cost the Suns in salaries and tax penalties, a stark departure from the previous ownership group.
A report from ESPN indicated that president of basketball operations James Jones wanted to negotiate the inclusion of Bridges or add protections to the first-round picks, but the Nets held firm in their demands. The Suns also may have had another deal lined up for Crowder, but he ultimately was included in this trade as well.
Durant is in the first season of a four-year, $194MM extension. Booker, Durant and Ayton are all under contract through at least ’25/26. If healthy, those three alone make up a very strong (and expensive) core. It remains to be seen how long Paul will be around – his $30.8MM contract for next season is guaranteed for $15.8MM, and it is fully non-guaranteed in ‘24/25.
Durant is one of the greatest players in NBA history. He is a former league MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 13-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA member and four-time scoring champion.
In 981 career regular season games (36.7 MPG), he has averaged 27.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.1 SPG and 1.1 BPG on .499/.384/.886 shooting. In 155 career playoff games (40.4 MPG), he has averaged 29.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.0 SPG and 1.2 BPG on .476/.356/.866 shooting. He is the definition of a superstar.
Despite being 34 years old and tearing his Achilles tendon four years ago, he continues to play at an incredibly high level. In fact, when healthy, you could easily make a case for Durant being the best player in the league this season.
In 42 games (35.7 MPG), he has averaged 29.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.2 APG and 1.5 BPG on .566/.386/.931 shooting, good for an absurd .681 true shooting percentage. The FG%, FT% and TS% are all career highs. He is shooting 62.9% on twos, which is ridiculous considering the majority of his shots are mid-range jumpers.
Durant is also playing very motivated and strong defense in ‘22/23, which surprised me a bit because he had coasted on that end at times the past couple seasons. His teams have gone 29-13 this season when he has played, which is the equivalent of the second-best winning percentage (69.0%) in the league, only trailing the Bucks (71.8%).
Durant can do everything on the court at a high level. He’s 6’10” with a 7’5” wingspan, but he possesses guard-like skills, with elite shooting and excellent ball-handling. His passing has improved throughout his career, and when he tries, he is a top-tier defender. He is a matchup nightmare.
After playing in just four games from 2020-22 due to a couple of left foot surgeries, Warren finally returned to the court for the Nets in December, averaging 9.5 PPG and 2.8 RPG on .510/.333/.818 shooting in 26 games (18.8 MPG).
He clearly wasn’t at his best physically or from a production standpoint (he averaged a career-high 19.8 PPG on .536/.403/.819 shooting the season before getting injured), but he was still contributing off the bench. Warren has hardly played in his second stint with Phoenix, however, averaging just 6.4 MPG in eight games. He’s on a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract, so he might not be back next season.
A few weeks after the trade was completed, Ishbia claimed the move carried “no risk.” That, of course, isn’t true.
Durant has gone down with a sprained MCL a few seasons in a row. You could say that’s a fluke, since it has involved players falling into his knee. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s played 35, 55 and 42 games over the past three seasons after missing all of ‘19/20 with a torn Achilles.
His ankle sprain on a routine layup while warming up prior to his fourth game with Phoenix was concerning. I could very well be wrong, but to my eyes, it didn’t look like he slipped; it looked like his ankle just gave out and rolled.
Durant is in his 16th season, has made several long playoff runs, and has also played in the World Cup (once) and the Olympics (three times) for Team USA. He’s still incredible, but the tread on his tires are pretty worn.
Giving up Bridges and Johnson stings. They were key role players for Phoenix who both improved tremendously throughout their Suns tenures, which we’ll get into more shortly.
Anytime you give up an unprotected pick in a future season it’s a risk. The Suns gave up three beyond 2023 — four if you count the 2028 pick swap, which will only be exercised if Phoenix is worse than Brooklyn.
Those picks from 2027-29 in particular could be extremely valuable. Durant will be 37 when his contract expires after ’25/26. Will he still be playing at this level, and will the Suns want to keep him if he’s not?
The Suns knew the risks. But the West is seemingly up for grabs, and they had faltered in their quest to make it back to the Finals.
I can’t say adding Durant made Phoenix the favorite in the West, but he nearly carried the Nets to the Finals with both Irving and James Harden injured a couple years ago. If healthy, this team will be extremely dangerous.
The Nets’ perspective:
The Nets were literally an inch or two away from sending Milwaukee home in Game 7 of their second-round series in 2021, which saw the Bucks prevail in overtime after Durant’s foot was on the three-point line on a potential game-winning buzzer-beater. The Bucks went on to win the championship.
The good news for the Bucks on their most recent road trip went beyond their 2-1 record, writes Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Khris Middleton and Joe Ingles, who both dealt with injuries earlier in the season, appear fully healthy and ready for the playoffs.
Owczarski notes that Middleton played nearly 34 minutes against both the Warriors and Kings and had his best game of the season with 31 points at Sacramento. Middleton missed the first 20 games of the season while recovering from surgery and was sidelined with knee soreness around the All-Star break, but he says he’s finally starting to feel like himself on the court. Ingles returned in mid-December after surgery for a torn left knee ligament, but his play has been up and down until recently.
Middleton and Ingles formed a bond during their rehab sessions, and coach Mike Budenholzer plans to use them together as much as possible.
“We like the idea of Joe and Khris playing together on the wings and having two guys that can really play pick and roll and are great at kind of picking apart (a defense), finding open guys,” Budenholzer said. “They gotta put somebody on both of them so maybe we can find things that we like, ways to attack with both of them on the court.”
There’s more from the Central Division:
- Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley said being more aggressive and learning how NBA defenders react has helped him get to the foul line more often, per Kelsy Russo of The Athletic. “I feel like as a big guy, if I give a good pump fake, they’re probably going to go for it,” Mobley said. “If they don’t, I’m already at the basket. I’ve just been pump-faking more, and then once they’re in the air just trying to draw contact and get the foul, and one.”
- Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen missed his fourth straight game Friday with an eye injury, but coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he has been able to do individual workouts, Russo tweets. “He’s seen a couple of specialists now and structurally everything is OK to this point,” Bickerstaff said. ” … He’s doing more on the court. And it’s just a matter of when he can safely return because of the eye.”
- Chris Duarte and Bennedict Mathurin will sit out Saturday’s game, but Pacers coach Rick Carlisle suggests there’s a chance they can return Monday, tweets Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star.