Monty Williams

Western Notes: Giannis, Jazz, Aldridge, Dort, Williams

Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo praised the Jazz after losing a 129-115 game to the team on Friday, calling them the “best team in the West” after the contest, according to ESPN’s Eric Woodyard.

“It just looks fun. Like when I watch them play, it looks fun, it looks easy,” Antetokounmpo explained. “It looks simple. For sure, they look like us last year, and man, when you’re at that point and you’re playing with that confidence, you’re hard to beat for sure.”

Utah has won seven straight contests and 18 of its last 19 games, playing stellar basketball on both ends of the floor. The team is playing without Mike Conley (hamstring), who last saw action on February 5, though it still holds the best record in the league at 22-5.

Here are some other notes from the Western Conference:

  • Spurs veteran LaMarcus Aldridge is without a timetable for his return, head coach Gregg Popovich said, per Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News (Twitter link). Aldridge missed his sixth straight game on Sunday as he continues rehabbing a hip injury, with Popovich adding that he’s not particularly close to a return.
  • Luguentz Dort is gradually turning into the best defensive ace the Thunder have ever had, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman opines. Dort has established himself as one of the league’s better defenders, also averaging 11.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in his second season.
  • Suns coach Monty Williams is grateful for the time he spent in Philadelphia as an assistant, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. “I was grateful when they first called me to be able to go to a team that was contending for a championship,” said Williams, who was with the Sixers in 2018/19. “You just don’t get those opportunities. … So for them to not only ask me to be apart of it, but take on a huge role is something that allowed me to answer the questions whether or not I was going to be able to do it again.”

Western Notes: Williams, Pelicans, Wall, Thunder

After missing two Suns practices to attend to personal matters, head coach Monty Williams intends to coach Phoenix against the Thunder on Wednesday, according to Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic.

The 8-7 Suns will host the 7-9 Thunder in the first game of a back-to-back homestand.

“We have to make sure we keep our foot on the gas and not let up at all,” center Deandre Ayton said in discussing the Suns’ recent swoon, which has featured four losses in five games. “We definitely have some answers and we have to redeem ourselves.”

There’s more out of the Western Conference:

  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer considers next steps the Pelicans could take after their disappointing 5-10 start. New Orleans team president David Griffin is hopeful that star forwards Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram will begin to develop defensively, and mentioned new head coach Stan Van Gundy‘s Dwight Howard-era Magic teams as a possible blueprint. “They played really big,” Griffin said. “They played big, skilled basketball. They weren’t like blitzkrieg fast, but they were super skilled and very big.”
  • Kelly Iko of The Athletic takes an in-depth look into the recovery of new Rockets starting point guard John Wall, who missed two calendar years of action during his time as a Wizard, due first to a left heel surgery and then a ruptured Achilles.
  • A revised Thunder bench unit sparked an intriguing victory against the Trail Blazers in Portland, as Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman details.

Pacific Notes: CP3, Suns, Clippers, Ibaka, Morris, Warriors

At age 35, Chris Paul is more than a decade older than Suns cornerstone players Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. However, the star point guard doesn’t plan to simply be the veteran mentor on a young Phoenix roster — he made it clear during his first media session this week that he also wants to help the team get back to the postseason, as Royce Young of ESPN writes.

“Everyone always talks about what I can teach (Booker) or teach some of these other guys, but they’re teaching me at the same time too,” Paul said. “I’m not James Naismith by no means. First things first, I’m not just coming in here trying to teach everybody. I’m his teammate. We’re here to hoop, we’re here to compete and that’s how I approach this.”

Meanwhile, Booker and Ayton are excited by the opportunity to team up with a 10-time All-Star like Paul, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic, who says both players were shocked when they first heard about the trade bringing CP3 to Phoenix.

“I wanted to do a backflip,” Ayton said. “You ever seen a seven-footer do a backflip? OK. That’s how excited I was.”

Besides getting an opportunity to play with up-and-coming stars like Booker and Ayton, Paul is looking forward to reuniting with head coach Monty Williams, whom he played for in New Orleans for a single season 10 years ago. Williams said this week that he thinks both he and Paul have “grown a lot” in the last decade.

“I think we both were really headstrong, too, back then,” Williams said, according to Young. “I was walking around like a dictator ready to cut somebody’s head off, trying to implement my way and my program. I don’t think I was really good at allowing him to do what the great ones do. There were times I felt like I took the paintbrush out of (Paul’s) hand.”

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • After chemistry issues helped sink the Clippers last season, head coach Tyronn Lue is confident he’ll be able to hold players accountable in his new role by always being blunt and honest, writes Mirjam Swanson of The Orange County Register. “What I learned from Brian Shaw a long time ago was always tell the truth, whether they like it or not,” Lue said. “Even (back in his playing days) with Kobe and Shaq, just telling those guys the truth. They might not like it, but they respect it.”
  • Serge Ibaka‘s friendship with Kawhi Leonard was a factor in his decision to join the Clippers in free agency, he said on Thursday, as Swanson relays in a separate O.C. Register story. “One thing about me and Kawhi is like, there is no ego in our friendship,” Ibaka said. “… I know who he is and he knows as a teammate what I can do for him, for the team and it is make things smoother and easier.”
  • Lakers forward Markieff Morris said this week that rumors last month about him potentially teaming up with twin brother Marcus Morris for the Clippers were “just talk,” per Swanson. “They were just trying to scare Lakers fans,” Markieff said.
  • Warriors big man Marquese Chriss is confident that there will be plenty of minutes at center to go around around for him, Kevon Looney, and No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman, as Marcus White of NBC Sports Bay Area details.

Pacific Notes: Vassell, Brown, Williams, Gentry

The Warriors like Florida State’s Devin Vassell enough to consider him with the No. 2 pick and he would be their likely target if they decide to trade down, writes Connor Letourneau of The San Francisco Chronicle. Multiple sources tell Letourneau that Golden State views Vassell as the best wing defender in the draft and a long-term replacement for Andre Iguodala.

Vassell is 6’7″ with a 7-foot wingspan and has the versatility to be an effective defender at four positions. Not only does he specialize in forcing turnovers, he’s also a reliable shooter, hitting 41.5% from 3-point range this season. Leonard Hamilton, Vassell’s college coach, compares him to Klay Thompson.

“I always tell people that he’s very similar to Thompson,” Hamilton said. “If you look at his shooting stats at Washington State, they’re similar to Devin’s. He’s long, lean, athletic.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Warriors assistant Mike Brown “made a strong impression” during his interview with the Clippers and has become “an emerging candidate” to be the team’s next head coach, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times.
  • The Suns turned out to be the perfect opportunity for Monty Williams, who hadn’t been a head coach since 2014/15, notes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Williams led the team to a 34-39 record, including a perfect 8-0 mark after the restart. “When I got the opportunity in Phoenix, it was a lot of things that went into it,” Williams said. “It wasn’t just a basketball fit for me. It was a fit for my family because I had moved them around from New Orleans to Oklahoma City, back to San Antonio and then we go to Philly and I’m going to move them again. So I was looking for a family fit. I needed, obviously for me, to pray about it and make sure I had the peace that I needed to take on another job because it requires a lot of energy, a ton of time and I had to have a peace about doing it again.”
  • New associate head coach Alvin Gentry fits in perfectly with the Kings‘ up-tempo philosophy, writes Tracee Jay of NBA.com. Under Gentry, the Pelicans led the league in pace in 2017/18 and were second in 2018/19.

Suns Notes: Haliburton, Disney Practices, Booker

The Suns have the tenth pick in the upcoming 2020 NBA draft, prompting Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic to wonder if Iowa State combo guard Tyrese Haliburton might drop to Phoenix. Haliburton, who touts his own passing ability as second to none among this year’s prospects, was also a high-level shooter in college.

“I’m coming in as a guy who can make shots,” said Haliburton. “And someone who can facilitate at a high level and I think I’m a really good off-ball defender. My IQ is very high. I know where to be at the right time.”

Rankin sees the 6’5″ guard as being able to eventually supplant Ricky Rubio as All-Star Devin Booker‘s eventual backcourt partner.

There’s more out of the Grand Canyon State:

  • Suns head coach Monty Williams recently discussed the intense team practices that helped spark the team’s 8-0 run during the NBA’s Orlando restart, according to Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic in a separate piece. Booker and forward Dario Šarić, specifically, took the competitive practices to another level. “I’ll never forget Dario was kicking all of the [bigs’] butts playing one-on-one against the bigs and Book was on the other end whipping up on the guards,” Williams said.
  • Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic weighed in on a recent hypothetical Bleacher Report trade idea, a one-for-one swap of Booker for All-Star Sixers guard/forward Ben Simmons. Rankin postulated that Booker’s terrific all-around offensive ability, which appeared to take a leap during the NBA’s summer Disney World restart, is ultimately more valuable than Simmons’ more limited two-way game.
  • We recently passed along word that Sixers assistant coach Kevin Young has joined Williams’ staff as an assistant coach with the Suns.

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.