Monty Williams

Pacific Notes: Holmes, Schröder, Kuzma, Warriors, More

Speaking to Shams Charania of The Athletic (video link), Kings center Richaun Holmes said he’s excited to enter free agency this summer, since he’s “never really been in a position like this before.”

The last time Holmes was a free agent, he had just spent a year as a backup in Phoenix. This time around, he’s coming off a full season as a starter, having averaged 14.2 PPG and 8.3 RPG in 61 games (29.2 MPG) with Sacramento.

“I could fit anywhere,” Holmes told Charania. “The way I play, what I bring, any team is going to need that. Especially playoff teams. That’s something that’s going to be sought after.”

Holmes added that the best piece of advice he has received entering free agency is to do what’s best for him and his family. It remains to be seen whether that will result in a new deal with the Kings, who won’t have the ability to offer him a starting salary worth more than about $10-11MM unless they can create some cap room.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • League sources tell Jordan Schultz of ESPN (Twitter link) that Lakers point guard Dennis Schröder and forward Kyle Kuzma “feuded” throughout the 2020/21 season, with things worsening during the playoffs. Schröder is an unrestricted free agent and Kuzma is a trade candidate, so it’s possible that one or both players could join a new team this offseason.
  • UConn shooting guard James Bouknight, who could be an option for the Warriors if they keep the No. 7 pick, had a “great” workout with Golden State on Monday, tweets David Borges of Hearst Connecticut Media. Bouknight ranks eighth on ESPN’s big board of 2021 prospects.
  • The acquisition of Chris Paul and the continued development of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges were major factors in the Suns becoming a legitimate title contender, but head coach Monty Williams‘ role in the team’s improvement shouldn’t be overlooked, writes Paolo Uggetti of The Ringer.

Pacific Notes: Booker, Ayton, Lakers, Draft

After falling 123-119 to the Bucks, the Suns find themselves on the brink of losing the 2021 NBA Finals. They have their sights squarely set on a must-win Game 6 on Tuesday. Mark Medina of USA Today opines that the club may be relying too much on the production of 24-year-old All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker.

“We know what Book can do with the ball, but the one thing we talked about was getting to the paint, finding guys on the back side,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said of the ball sticking with Booker. “We feel like that’s a formula.”

Medina contends that the Suns suffered due to their dependence on Booker to bail out possessions with isolation scoring.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Suns center Deandre Ayton – who has thrived during a breakout postseason, his first playoff appearance – welcomes the challenge of a must-win Game 6, writes Mark Medina of USA Today. “I like it. It’s fun; the tables are turned now,” Ayton said. “Now we’re the desperate team. We had our chances of being up and trying to finish the job, now we’re in the same position that they were in. They’re up, and now we got to go get it. That’s why it’s a little bit more fun.” The top pick in the 2018 draft, Ayton is eligible for a contract extension during the 2021 offseason. His recent play should earn him a maximum-salary offer or something close to it.
  • The Lakers, who own the No. 22 pick in the upcoming 2021 draft, hosted 6’5″ Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu and 6’4″ Tennessee guard Jaden Springer during their latest pre-draft workouts Saturday, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. Both guards are good shooters who could help space the floor for L.A.
  • The Lakers need to land a win-now type of player in the 2021 draft with their No. 22 selection, opines Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register. Goon notes that the Lakers front office, under the stewardship of Rob Pelinka, last retained a first-round pick through the draft in 2018, when the club selected center Moritz Wagner out of Michigan — however, Wagner did not last long in L.A., having been sent to Washington in the Anthony Davis blockbuster. The team appears determined to add shooting this offseason — Los Angeles has examined versatile guard prospects and stretch forwards thus far.

Pacific Notes: S. Barnes, C. Thomas, Hield, Williams

Versatile Florida State point forward Scottie Barnes possesses some of the same qualities that make Warriors veteran Draymond Green such a valuable teammate, writes Kendra Andrews of NBC Sports Bay Area. Barnes also is an unselfish player who prioritizes defense and winning over personal statistics, and could be an intriguing successor to Green if he falls to Golden State’s No. 7 pick in the upcoming 2021 draft.

Though Barnes was a below-average jump shooter in college, Andrews notes that his Green-esque impact could offset his modest scoring contributions. In his lone season for FSU, the 6’9″ Barnes averaged 10.3 PPG, 4.1 APG and 4.0 RPG, with a shooting line of .503/.275/.621.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • LSU guard Cameron Thomas is scheduled to work out for the Warriors this Wednesday, tweets Nick Friedell of ESPN. The 6’4″ guard averaged 23.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG and 1.4 APG during the 2020/21 NCAA season. He posted a shooting line of .406/.325/.882.
  • Kings shooting guard Buddy Hield faces a potentially tenuous future with the club, as he touched on in a podcast interview with Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes“I see my name in trade rumors, but I can’t control all that,” Hield said. “My job is to go out there and play basketball and everybody’s goal is to get to the playoffs and win a championship.” The Kings have not made the playoffs since 2006. Hield has two years left on the four-year, $86MM contract extension he signed with Sacramento during the 2019 offseason.
  • Suns head coach Monty Williams notes that Nets head coach Steve Nash, a former two-time MVP while a point guard for Phoenix, reached out to him over text during the playoffs, tweets Mark Medina of USA Today. “It spoke to me about how those guys feel about the Suns and the fanbase,” Williams said.

Suns Notes: Paul, NBA Finals, Booker, Williams

By leading the Suns to a berth in the NBA Finals Wednesday night, Chris Paul got rid of a lot of distinctions that he didn’t want, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Among players who had never reached the Finals, Paul had the most All-Star appearances and All-NBA selections, along with the most playoff starts and the most career points.

Those marks all belong to someone else now, as Paul scored 41 points and turned away the Clippers’ best comeback effort with a personal 8-0 run in the fourth quarter. The performance provided some vindication for the veteran guard, whose playoff history has been filled with untimely injuries and blown leads.

“There were questions about his production before tonight, and in my heart I felt like it was a matter of time,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I didn’t know it was going to be like that, but that’s who Chris is. He was tired and he was still making those kinds of plays — getting to the basket, the 3s, orchestrating everything.”

There’s more on the Suns, who will be playing for a title for the first time since 1993:

  • Paul revealed that he had an MRI before the game that showed torn ligaments in his right hand. He also had to deal with a first-round shoulder injury and a bout with COVID-19 after the second round. “Just a week ago, I was here at home (under quarantine in Los Angeles). Couldn’t be there with my teammates,” he said. “It’s been a lot, and I want it not just for myself but for everybody in that locker room.”
  • Paul will have a contract decision to make after the Finals, and sources tell Brian Windhorst of ESPN that he’s leaning toward opting out of his $44MM salary for next season to seek a longer-term deal.
  • Devin Booker is among the many Suns players who have turned around their reputations with this playoff run, Windhorst adds. It took Booker six seasons to reach the postseason, but he has averaged 27.0 PPG and has earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, which he will join as soon as the Finals are over.
  • Suns players gave plenty of credit to Williams, who turned around a losing situation when he came to Phoenix two years ago, writes Joe Reedy of The Associated Press. Williams was passed over for Coach of the Year honors, but now he has something even better. “Monty coming in, building the culture, him leading us with the preparation meets opportunity. That was these moments right here, and we took it and we ran with it,” Booker said.

Suns Notes: Craig, Crowder, CP3-Williams, Defense

Athletic Suns reserve swingman Torrey Craig is finding his form in the playoffs with his new club, writes Gina Mizell of Suns.com. Mizell notes that Craig as a defender has proven his value by guarding multiple positions. With Phoenix, Craig has also been able to showcase his game as a shooter and rim roller.

“We would be in a different place if we didn’t have Torrey Craig on our team,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “It was the right spot for Torrey. We needed him, and he needed us.”

“To me, it’s mental,” Craig said of his active brand of play with the Suns. “Even if I’m looking tired, I’m breathing hard, I’m still gonna go after the ball and do the extra dirty work. … If I’m gonna play 15 minutes this game, I’m gonna make sure I empty the tank in 15 minutes.”

Craig inked a veteran’s minimum one-year contract with the Bucks as a 2020 free agent. Craig found himself out of the rotation after being waylaid by a broken nose early in the 2020/21 season. He was relieved when he learned he was being traded to the Suns in March.

There’s more out of Phoenix:

  • In comments to reporters Sunday, veteran Suns starting power forward Jae Crowder said that many associates questioned his decision to join the Suns during the 2020 offseason after a Finals run with the Heat, per Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Before this season, the Suns had not earned a playoff berth since 2010. Now they are headed to the Western Conference Finals, having swept the Nuggets in a second-round series. “I know I look like a genius a little bit with my decision,” Crowder said. “I felt like (the Suns) were hungry. They want to do some special things, and I just want to be a part of it.”
  • Suns head coach Monty Williams and All-Star point guard Chris Paul are cherishing their shared journey to the Western Conference Finals after a decade-long friendship, per Royce Young of ESPN. Williams served as Paul’s head coach with the then-New Orleans Hornets during the 2010/11 season. “One of the highlights of my career, (Chris is) right there,” Williams said.
  • The Suns have excelled on both sides of the ball to return to their first Western Conference Finals in 11 years, but their intense defense will prove crucial throughout the rest of their playoff run, writes Jovan Buha of The Athletic. The club’s 104.7 defensive rating is a significant improvement over their already-impressive 110.4 regular season defensive rating. “Shout-out to our coaches,” Paul said. “We’re prepared every game. Win or lose, one thing we won’t be is underprepared. And just attention to detail — we have slip-ups here and there, but the signs of a good team is when you can lock in defensively. And that’s where we try to hang our hat.”

Pacific Notes: Crowder, CP3, Zubac, Mann

Suns forward Jae Crowder is hoping to make his second consecutive NBA Finals appearance during his first season with Phoenix, writes Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. Crowder signed a three-year, $29.2MM deal in the 2020 offseason with Phoenix after a productive 2019/20 run with the Heat, in which Miami eventually fell 4-2 to the Lakers in the 2020 Finals.

“Hopefully, once when we win the whole thing, I can salsa with the crowd, with the fans, some of the Phoenix fans here once we bring a championship home,” Crowder said. “That’s the goal.”

The 6’6″, 235-pound Crowder has carved out a niche as a tough two-way forward, capable of defending multiple positions and landing timely jumpers, writes Scott Cacciola of the New York Times. Crowder has earned a reputation around the league for his physical play, which he welcomes.

“Other teams just try to be physical with me, try to get me riled up,” Crowder told reporters after Phoenix’s Game 3 win in the club’s second-round playoff series against the Nuggets. “I don’t know if they know it, but I like that style of play. I like to trash talk. I like all of that because it definitely gets me going, and I think my team definitely feeds off it a little bit, the energy of it.”

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Veteran Suns All-Star point guard Chris Paul has achieved a first-time playoff series advantage this season in taking his first 3-0 start in any postseason matchup, per Jovan Buha of The Athletic. Buha notes that Paul, an 11-time All-Star, shows no signs of slowing down just yet, employing his veteran savvy to help propel Phoenix to the cusp of the Western Conference Finals. “He was using the clock well, coming off pick-and-roll getting into his spots, but it helps when you have guys like [Crowder] and [Devin Booker] and [Mikal Bridges] stretching the floor, and then [Deandre Ayton] puts pressure on the rim,” head coach Monty Williams said. “Defensively, he understands the moment. And offensively, just managing the game really well. But that’s what he’s done for a long time.” The 36-year-old Paul has been a steady presence to close out all three games in the final quarter. Buha notes that, in his 20 minutes logged across the series’ three fourth quarters thus far, Paul has tallied 30 points on 12-of-13 shooting from field, eight dimes, and zero turnovers. Paul has a $44.2MM player option for the 2021/22 season, though he may opt out in pursuit of a longer-term deal.
  • Clippers center Ivica Zubac returned to Los Angeles’s starting lineup ahead of its Game 2 loss to the Jazz, writes Mirjam Swanson of the Orange County Register. The team felt that starting the 6’8″ Nicolas Batum at center, while beneficial for the team’s first round series against the switch-heavy Mavericks, was doing them no favors against three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. “I’m going to play hard and I’m going to work what my role is no matter what I do, and I’m not going to complain, and hopefully, [head coach Tyronn Lue] and the coaches appreciate that,” Zubac said of his matchup-contingent role with the club.
  • Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue indicated that athletic second-year guard Terance Mann has fallen out of L.A.’s rotation, tweets Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times. After playing for just 14 seconds in Los Angeles’s first playoff game against the Mavericks, Mann saw a more pronounced role throughout the rest of the series, playing between 10-26 minutes across the team’s subsequent six contests. Mann has played in just total nine minutes across the Clippers’ first two games in their second-round series against the Jazz, both losses.

Tom Thibodeau Named Coach Of The Year

Tom Thibodeau has been named Coach of the Year, according to a league press release.

Thibodeau guided the Knicks to their first postseason appearance since the 2012/13 season. The Knicks finished the regular season with a 41-31 record, ending a string of seven consecutive losing seasons. They were 21-45 last season and 17-65 in 2018/19.

It’s the second Coach of the Year award for Thibodeau, who also earned the honor in the 2010/11 season with the Bulls in his first season as a head coach.  No one had previously won the award in his first season with two different franchises.

Suns coach Monty Williams actually received more first-place votes (45) than Thibodeau (43). However, Thibodeau earned 351 total points while Williams had 340 points.  The 11-point difference between the first- and second-place finishers was the smallest margin since the voting format was introduced in the 2002/03 season.

The Jazz‘s Quin Snyder finished third with 161 points (10 first-place votes). Four other coaches received votes — Doc Rivers (Sixers), Nate McMillan (Hawks), Steve Nash (Nets), and Michael Malone (Nuggets).

Thibodeau is the first Knicks coach since Pat Riley (1992/93) to win the award.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Finalists For Major 2020/21 NBA Awards Announced

During a TNT broadcast ahead of tonight’s Wizards-Pacers play-in matchup, the finalists for six big end-of-season 2020/21 awards were announced. Here is the full list, as voted on by reporters.

NBA Most Valuable Player:

NBA Defensive Player of the Year:

NBA Rookie of the Year:

NBA Most Improved Player:

NBA Sixth Man of the Year:

NBA Coach of the Year:

  • Quin Snyder (Jazz)
  • Tom Thibodeau (Knicks)
  • Monty Williams (Suns)

Some of these current contenders are familiar with the hardware they’re up for again. Curry is a two-time MVP, having won the award previously in 2015 and 2016. Gobert and Green have both previously won Defensive Player of the Year awards — Green in 2017 and Gobert in 2018 and 2019. Thibodeau was voted Coach of the Year a decade ago while with the Bulls.

The winners for the awards will be announced during the 2020/21 NBA playoffs.

Monty Williams Wins Coaches Association Award

Suns head coach Monty Williams has won the 2020/21 Michael H. Goldberg award, as voted on by the National Basketball Coaches Association, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

This award, introduced in 2017 and named after longtime NBCA executive director Michael H. Goldberg, is voted on by the NBA’s 30 head coaches, none of whom can vote for himself. However, it isn’t the NBA’s official Coach of the Year award, which is voted on by media members and is represented by the Red Auerbach Trophy. The winner of that award will be announced later in the year.

Williams earned the Coaches Association’s award after leading the Suns to a 51-21 record, good for second in the NBA. The club had the league’s sixth-ranked defense and seventh-ranked offense, Wojnarowski notes.

The Suns, who were 19-63 in 2018/19, became just the fifth team in NBA history to improve by at least 15 games in back-to-back seasons, per Woj. Williams accomplished that feat in his first two years in Phoenix despite dealing with pandemic-shortened seasons, making the feat even more impressive.

According to Wojnarowski, Scott Brooks (Wizards), Michael Malone (Nuggets), Nate McMillan (Hawks), Doc Rivers (Sixers), Quin Snyder (Jazz), and Tom Thibodeau (Knicks) were among the other coaches who received votes.

The previous winners of this award are as follows:

  • 2020: Mike Budenholzer and Billy Donovan
  • 2019: Mike Budenholzer
  • 2018: Dwane Casey
  • 2017: Mike D’Antoni and Erik Spoelstra

Pacific Notes: Oubre, Ranadive, Craig, Hill

In previewing trade possibilities facing the Warriors during the final week before the March 25 deadline, Anthony Slater of The Athletic explains the appeal wing Kelly Oubre Jr. could hold for other teams around the league.

Slater notes that Oubre, a young, athletic wing with upside left at age 25, is currently earning $14MM in the last year of his contract, and could be used in a trade to acquire an interesting player along the lines of shooting guards Victor Oladipo and Evan Fournier (both also on expiring deals), small forward Aaron Gordon, or restricted free agent point guard Lonzo Ball.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive apparently is averse to surrendering to a full-on tank this season, and hopes to remain semi-competitive by retaining two of the team’s most trade-friendly players, Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield, Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated asserted on the podcast Locked On Kings. Dan Feldman of NBC Sports Bay Area contends that “staying competitive” is not really much of an option as, with a 16-24 record, Sacramento is currently well below the threshold to compete for even a top-10 record in the Western Conference, and thus an appearance in a play-in game.
  • Suns head coach Monty Williams expressed his excitement about the potential on-court fit of new reserve guard Torrey Craig, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic writes. “He’s a big, strong wing defender who can guard ones and twos and power forwards and can switch onto a bigger guy,” Williams raved. “We liked him when he was in Denver. Hated competing against him because he was such a good defender and a tough guy for sure.”
  • The Clippers appear in need of a point guard upgrade. Brian Windhorst of ESPN (video link) thinks that Thunder veteran George Hill could be a fit, but that a player at the level of Lou Williams may need to be sent back in a deal. “He’s a guy who played for [LA head coach Tyronn] Lue in Cleveland and could fit there, but it would probably take a trade of Lou Williams to get that to happen,” Windhorst said.