Monty Williams

Pacific Notes: LeBron, Fox, Warriors, Williams

Lakers superstar LeBron James is beginning to find his groove in the playoffs, with Game 3 serving as proof of such, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com writes.

James played noticeably aggressively in the team’s first-round series against Portland on Saturday, recording 38 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in 34 minutes of work. It’s the type of play the Lakers need to defeat a fearless Blazers team, especially with a star backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum tiring out the likes of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green each game.

“I just think my offensive pace tonight,” James said postgame. “At times I was fast, slow, medium-paced. It was like a stick shift. Sometimes I was in gear 1, sometimes I was in gear 6. Being able to read and react, depending on whether I had the cruise on or was in a residential area or the highway or I was on the straightaway. Being able to have a car that can go in different speeds and zones, depending on what the traffic is, is very key.”

James was joined in the win by fellow All-Star Anthony Davis, who finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists. The two stars each shot 11-of-18 from the field and took a combined 31 attempts from the free throw line, demonstrating their aggressive mindset and play.

“I told Bron at half, I have to take some of the pressure off of him,” Davis said. “I missed a ton of free throws [five of nine first-half attempts]. I didn’t want him to have to carry the team the whole time, where he didn’t have to try to come down and score every time.

“He was in attack mode. We need him like that all the time. When he’s attacking, it’s our job to make shots.”

Here are some other notes out of the Pacific Division:

  • Kings guard De’Aaron Fox showed flashes of a potential superstar during his third season in the league, Kyle Ramos of NBA.com writes. Fox, 22, averaged a career-high 21.1 points, 6.8 assists and 1.5 steals per contest this year, also shooting a career-best 48% from the floor in 51 games. His averages increased to an impressive 25.3 points and 7.3 assists during the Orlando games.
  • Anthony Slater of The Athletic examines the Warriors’ options in the 2020 NBA draft, with the team being awarded the No. 2 overall pick last week. The current front-runner to be drafted by Golden State appears to be 7’1″ center James Wiseman, though no decisions have been finalized yet — and that’s if the team decides to even keep the pick. “I know there’s a lot of narrative around us trading our pick and what we’re going to do with it, but we don’t really know anything,” general manager Bob Myers said. “At this point, we found out half an hour ago we had the No. 2 pick, so that’s the first step as far as getting some clarity.”
  • Suns coach Monty Williams spoke with Greg Moore of The Arizona Republic on a number of topics, including how he guided his team to an 8-0 record in Orlando and how he handled the social justice movement. “We did have organic, spontaneous conversations even before we went to Orlando — maybe three Zoom chats, where we had really good conversations that weren’t just about basketball,” Williams said of his team. “Then when we got to Orlando, we just dialed in to what we say every day, ‘Family on three.’”

NBA Announces All-Bubble Awards

The NBA announced today that Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has been named the Player of the Seeding Games, earning de facto MVP honors for the league’s restart.

Lillard, who averaged 37.6 PPG and 9.6 APG on .497/.436/.888 shooting in eight seeding games, led the Blazers to a 6-2 record, allowing the team to surpass the Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the West. Portland will earn the conference’s final playoff spot if it picks up a win over Memphis today or tomorrow.

Lillard was the unanimous selection among 22 media voters for the bubble’s MVP award. Devin Booker (Suns) received 19 second-place votes, with T.J. Warren (Pacers) picking up two and Luka Doncic (Mavericks) getting the other one. Booker, Warren, Doncic, James Harden (Rockets) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks) all received third-place votes.

Meanwhile, Suns head coach Monty Williams was named the Coach of the Seeding Games, per today’s announcement. The selection comes as no surprise after Williams led Phoenix to an 8-0 record this summer. The Suns narrowly missed out on a spot in the play-in tournament, but were the only club that went undefeated during the seeding games, despite initially being ranked 21st of the 22 teams invited to Orlando.

Williams was a near-unanimous choice, with Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts receiving one first-place vote and finishing second overall in voting. Nets coach Jacque Vaughn and Raptors coach Nick Nurse were among the other top vote-getters.

The NBA also announced All-Seeding Games First and Second Teams, as follows:

First Team:

  • Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)
  • Devin Booker (Suns)
  • Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
  • James Harden (Rockets)
  • T.J. Warren (Pacers)

Second Team:

Lillard, Booker, and Doncic were unanimous First Team selections, with Harden and Warren each receiving 18 of 22 First Team votes. Antetokounmpo received the other eight First Team votes.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

And-Ones: NBA Finals, Coaching Award, Draft, Goudelock

The NBA has established dates for each game of the 2020 Finals, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). The tentative dates could potentially be moved up if both the Eastern and Western Conference Semifinals end early, but for now the plan is tip off this year’s Finals on Wednesday, September 30, with Game 7 landing on Tuesday, October 13.

As Charania details, there would be one day off between every pair of games except for Games 4 and 5, which would take place on Oct. 6 and Oct. 9, giving teams one extra day of rest.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • After announcing earlier this week that it will name an All-Bubble Team and the Player of the Bubble, the NBA said on Wednesday night that there will also be an award for Coach of the Bubble, tweets Chris Mannix of SI.com. Monty Williams (Suns) and Jacque Vaughn (Nets) are among the top contenders for that honor, which will be announced on Saturday.
  • Jonathan Givony, Mike Schmitz, Kevin Pelton, and Bobby Marks of ESPN (Insider link) provide an update on the draft, examining the challenges facing teams evaluating talent and how clubs’ philosophies may be altered as a result of the unusual pre-draft process. According to Givony, due to uncertainty about finances and the G League, some executives say they’ve been seeking out potential second-rounders who would be willing to play overseas rather than signing in the NBA right away.
  • David Aldridge and John Hollinger of The Athletic explore the challenges facing the NBA as it plans its 2020/21 season. We’ve previously touched on some of those logistical and coronavirus-related issues here and here.
  • Former NBA guard Andrew Goudelock, who appeared in 49 games for the Lakers and Rockets between 2011-16, has signed a new contract with Rytas Vilnius in Lithuania, as Emiliano Carchia of Sportando relays. Goudelock has also spent time with teams in Israel, China, and Italy since last playing in the NBA.

Steve Blake, Larry Greer No Longer On Suns’ Coaching Staff

The Suns will finish their season without assistant coaches Steve Blake and Larry Greer, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Head coach Monty Williams confirmed that both coaches are no longer with the team, but refused to provide an explanation.

“What they brought (to the team), especially the first 65 games and laying the foundation for our team and our program was invaluable,” Williams said after today’s practice. “We’re thankful for their contributions, (but) at the same time, everybody has to adapt in this league.”

“… The details of it all, I don’t want to get into. Organizations go through change and there are times where guys have to make decisions that are best for them and their families. It’s a tough loss to not have those guys, but those decisions have to be made and as a leader, I have to respect what’s best for the organization and what’s best for the individuals.”

Both coaches were in their first season with Phoenix, joining Williams’ staff shortly after he was hired last year.

Greer served as an assistant at Arizona State before breaking into the NBA as a scout with the Thunder in 2015 and later worked as a scout and assistant coach with Timberwolves. Blake played 13 NBA seasons, then spent two years with the Trail Blazers before joining the Suns.

“I’ve known Stevie since he was, gosh, a really young player,” Williams said. “Not quite a rookie, but I had him in Portland and I’ve watched him progress into a really good NBA player. Seen his family grow up and a lot of other boring stories that you don’t want to hear.” 

Pacific Notes: Howard, Baynes, Rubio, Len, Barnes

Lakers center Dwight Howard has been disciplined for not wearing a mask at Orlando’s campus, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes. Howard said on social media that the violation was reported to the NBA Campus Hotline, designed to ensure everyone is following protocols. “(My) reaction is that we all should be wearing masks in and around the hotel lobby,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of Howard’s violation. “And the areas that we’re being asked to wear a mask, we should wear a mask. And he’s doing so now.”

We have more from around the Pacific Division:

  • It remains a mystery whether Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes are practicing with their Suns teammates in Orlando, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Coach Monty Williams has been vague when asked about the duo’s status. “There’s so much medical stuff that I don’t want to violate,” Williams said.
  • Kings center Alex Len has posted negative tests for the coronavirus and will rejoin the team on Friday evening, head coach Luke Walton told James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area and other media members. Len, among a couple of other prominent team members, tested positive for the virus in late June. Len will go into quarantine upon arrival in Orlando and Walton is unsure about the big man’s conditioning.
  • Walton is in no rush to replace Harrison Barnes on the roster, The Athletic’s Jason Jones tweets. Barnes revealed that he tested positive for COVID-19 just before the team headed to Orlando. The Kings don’t want to replace Barnes on the roster just yet, even if he has to miss a game, Jones adds.

Suns Notes: Saric, Williams, Draft, Jerome

Dario Saric‘s fate will be among the most important decisions facing the Suns this offseason, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Saric started 50 of the 58 games he played in his first season in Phoenix, but averaged a career-low 10.1 PPG. Rankin notes that the team would like to find a more athletic power forward, but Saric has proven his value by playing hard, moving the ball and being a good locker-room influence.

Saric, who turned 26 this week, is already on his third team in four NBA seasons. The Suns can make him a restricted free agent in the offseason by extending a $5MM qualifying offer.

There’s more today from Phoenix:

  • Monty Williams has made a difference in his first year as Suns coach, just as league general managers predicted in a preseason survey, Rankin adds in a separate story. Williams was the choice of 43% of GMs among “new or relocated” head coaches expected to have a positive impact on their new team. Phoenix has more wins than in any of the past four years, even though the season has been put on hold with 17 games remaining and center Deandre Ayton was suspended for 25 games. With Williams at the helm, Devin Booker became an all-star for the first time, Kelly Oubre posted his best season and the team rose from 29th to 19th in defensive rating.
  • Point guard could be an emphasis for Phoenix in the draft, writes Kevin Zimmerman of Arizona Sports, who agrees with ESPN’s Jonathan Givony that the team would have interest in Tyrese Haliburton and Killian Hayes. In his latest mock draft, Givony has Haliburton being selected with the ninth pick, one ahead of the Suns, assuming they remain in the 10th slot. Zimmerman believes either would be a productive backup to Ricky Rubio, and at 6’5″ they both have the size to handle either backcourt position. Among point guards already on the roster, Elie Okobo‘s contract isn’t fully guaranteed for next season, while Jevon Carter will be a restricted free agent.
  • Ty Jerome talks to Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports about an eventful rookie year that included two trades shortly after the draft, an early-season ankle injury that sidelined him for six weeks and now a coronavirus lockdown.

Community Shootaround: Coach Of The Year Favorites

This season, the Coach of the Year race appears to have plenty of intriguing candidates. With the All-Star break upon us, we at Hoops Rumors deemed it a good time to reflect on where things stand currently.

Mike Budenholzer is leading the 46-8 Bucks towards potentially the NBA’s third-ever 70+ win season. Superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo may win his second consecutive MVP award under Budenholzer’s tutelage, while wing Khris Middleton has made his second straight All-Star team.

In their second year under Nick Nurse, the Raptors are miraculously on pace for a better record than they had during a champion run last year, minus 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Pascal Siakam has blossomed into an All-Star starter. Fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry has remained a steadying presence on the court. Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell have all taken notable leaps.

Erik Spoelstra has coached the new-look Heat to a 35-19 record in the East, helped center Bam Adebayo become a first-time All-Star, and made the most out of promising rookies Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn, plus second-year sharpshooter Duncan Robinson.

The Celtics lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford to free agency over the summer, and signed Kemba Walker in Irving’s stead. Team chemistry appears to have improved significantly, and coach Brad Stevens has helped Walker return to the All-Star game and Jayson Tatum make his first appearance in the big show, while leading Boston to a 38-16 record (including a recent eight-game win streak).

Though the Lakers missed out on signing priority head coach options Tyronn Lue and Monty Williams over the summer, their supposed “consolation” option Frank Vogel has impressed in his first season with the team. The Lakers have a 41-12 record, tops in the West thus far, and have been able to incorporate several mercurial veterans into an upbeat, defensive-oriented locker room atmosphere.

There are several contenders elsewhere in the NBA. Billy Donovan has helped take the Thunder to a surprisingly robust 33-22 record. Rick Carlisle has brought the Mavericks back to the thick of the playoff hunt with an identical record to the Thunder’s and helped Luka Doncic become a first-time All-Star starter. 35-year-old coach Taylor Jenkins has brought the young Grizzlies back to relevance after the team offloaded former franchise cornerstones Marc Gasol and Mike Conley in 2019.

Who do you think will walk away with Coach of the Year hardware in 2020? Let us know!

Big Changes Coming In Sacramento?

Vivek Ranadive and other members of the Kings‘ ownership have grown increasingly frustrated with the team’s poor performance, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. Ranadive has been open about his disappointment through text messages in season-long group chats with general manager Vlade Divac, head coach Luke Walton, assistant general manager Peja Stojakovic and chief operating officer Matina Kolokotronis.

The specter that has hung over the franchise for the past two seasons has been the decision to bypass Luka Doncic and take Marvin Bagley with the second pick in the 2018 draft. Doncic has developed into an MVP candidate, while injuries have limited Bagley to 13 games this year and may wipe out the rest of his season.

The Kings put a lot of effort into scouting Doncic, Charania relays, including a dinner with Ranadive that one of the owner’s children posted on social media. Ownership supported taking Doncic, but Divac and former assistant GM Brandon Williams were concerned about how he would fit alongside De’Aaron Fox and believed adding a big man was a better choice.

Sources tell Charania that significant changes aren’t being planned to the front office or coaching staff right now, but Ranadive will reassess the situation this summer. He declined to be interviewed, but the team issued a statement that read, “We share our fans’ frustrations with how the season has unfolded and are working hard to improve. We remain confident in Vlade’s leadership in building the winning team that our fans and city deserve.”

Charania shares more from inside the Kings’ organization:

  • Divac will be held accountable for the team’s free agent signings last summer and other roster decisions. Dewayne Dedmon was a huge disappointment after being given a three-year, $40MM contract and was traded to Atlanta last week. Trevor Ariza was also traded, while Cory Joseph has been effective as a backup point guard and Richaun Holmes was a nice find before being injured.
  • It was Divac’s decision to fire Dave Joerger and target Walton as his replacement, giving him a contract that runs through the 2022/23 season, just like Divac’s. Several members of the ownership group have been critical of Walton, and sources say that Ranadive’s group chats are a way to air those issues. The organization considered Monty Williams and Ettore Messina as other coaching candidates, but only if Walton turned down the job.
  • A decision could be coming this summer on Buddy Hield, who received a four-year extension in October, but lost his starting job last month. Hield called out “trust issues” in the organization a few weeks ago, and there is a belief that he may ask for a trade if he remains unhappy with his role, a source tells Charania. Hield thinks he should be a starter and has been a frequent critic of Walton’s decisions.

Suns Notes: Williams, Jones, Oubre, Ayton

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated spoke with Suns GM James Jones and new head coach Monty Williams in a look at the league’s youngest team, owners of a surprisingly competent 11-16 record this season. Phoenix is currently one game behind the Kings for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

Williams addressed the tactical changes he has made since his last head coaching position with the Anthony Davis-fronted Pelicans.

“In New Orleans, I made it about me a lot of times. I was a young coach,” Williams allows. “And there was a bit of pride there that got in the way and I had to address that. I don’t want to go that route anymore… We want everybody to feel so excited and good about what we’re trying to do.”

Here’s more from Phoenix:

  • In the same conversation with Spears, Jones (who won three titles as a bench shooter for the Heat and Cavaliers) asserts that he wants to make a long-term cultural shift in Phoenix, from perennial loser to perennial title contender. “I’m so deeply focused on the process because I know there’s a process that you have to undertake to become a champion,” Jones tells Spears.
  • Kelly Oubre was unsure whether or not he would be leaving the Wizards for the Suns last season after the infamous “Brooks trade” involving Phoenix, Washington and Memphis fell apart. Then, the Suns and Wizards cut out the Grizzlies completely and proceeded to move Oubre to Phoenix. “[At] the end of the day, I want to be great,” Oubre told The Athletic’s Gina Mizell. “I want to… help this organization grow.” The team now cannot picture its rebuild without the 24 year-old small forward, who has emerged as a permanent starter.
  • Suns center Deandre Ayton double-doubled in his first game back from a 25-game drug suspension. Ayton scored 18 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in a 120-99 loss to the Clippers Tuesday. In postgame comments logged by ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk, Ayton calls testing positive for a diuretic “the biggest mistake and unintentional mistake that happened in my life.” As Youngmisuk writes, Ayton said that he did not appeal the NBA’s suspension because he did not want to be a distraction to his team.

Pacific Notes: Booker, Ayton, Doncic, Bagley, Joseph

With the Suns playing above expectations to start the season, the development of Devin Booker has been a focal point of the team’s season. A recent three-game skid has put Phoenix two games under .500 but Booker’s play has been generally solid this season.

The 23-year-old is averaging 24.5 PPG and 6.3 APG while shooting from the field (51%) and from three (41.9%) at career-best rates. As the season has progressed, new head coach Monty Williams has taken a proactive approach in trying to get his young star to the next level, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic writes.

Whether it’s late-night text sessions, extra work after practice or going over film and studying, Williams has been impressed with the work Booker has dedicated to improvement. While Williams feels he drives Booker nuts, the guard says he’s thankful for his new head coach.

“I understand most of it, I mean, all of it,” Booker said. “It’s just the way I am. I’ve said since the beginning, I trust him.”

Check out more Pacific Division notes:

  • Deandre Ayton is nearing a return from his 25-game suspension and the young center’s role is still unclear, Rankin writes in a separate story. The Suns’ big man has appeared in just one game this season but given Phoenix’s recent struggles, some scoring punch from the 21-year-old could help the team.
  • Mavericks‘ guard Luka Doncic has started off his sophomore season with a bang, becoming a daily triple-double threat and an early MVP candidate. Rankin writes once again how Doncic’s development makes Suns fans think about how different things would have been if Phoenix took Doncic in lieu of Ayton in last year’s draft.
  • Kings‘ forward Marvin Bagley III has only played in one game this season after breaking his thumb. Five weeks after the injury, Bagley is still not cleared to return but is getting closer, Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee writes. “Marvin is much closer than De’Aaron [Fox] is, but it’s one of those things that he hasn’t been cleared to go contact yet without (a brace) on,” head coach Luke Walton said. “So will he play tomorrow or Monday? No, but is he getting closer? Yes.”
  • While the personal stats may not be outstanding, the play of Cory Joseph, given the absence of Bagley and De’Aaron Fox has helped the Kings maintain pace in the Western Conference, James Patrick of the Sacramento Bee writes.
  • Jovan Buha of The Athletic answered several Clippers questions in the latest mailbag. Buha covered the possibility of the team pursuing Andre Iguodala, Landry Shamet‘s return, and more.