Nassir Little

Northwest Notes: Towns, Nowell, SGA, Little

Karl-Anthony Towns provided an uplifting moment by returning from a long absence caused by a calf injury to help the Timberwolves defeat the Hawks on Wednesday, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Towns received a thunderous ovation from the Minnesota crowd in his first appearance in roughly four months, then capped off the night by hitting two free throws to secure the victory.

“This is what movies are made of,” Towns said. “You come back, (52) games missing, sellout crowd, Target Center, and you get the ball with seven seconds left, no timeouts. You’ve got to make it. I mean, it doesn’t get better than that. … To be able to come up big for my teammates is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Towns’ return helped the Wolves climb back to .500 and move up to seventh in the crowded Western Conference playoff race. It also brought back the challenge of trying to effectively play him alongside Rudy Gobert, a combination that often seemed awkward before Towns got hurt.

“We’ve got to find a way to make the two-big lineup work,” coach Chris Finch said. “It has to be who we are in these last eight games. We have the flexibility to go a lot of different directions. But when a guy’s playing this well, he deserves to be out there in some form or fashion. It’s my job to figure it out.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell is back in the lineup after missing 10 games with left knee tendinopathy, but the condition is likely to continue for the rest of the season, according to Chris Hine of The Star-Tribune. Nowell is attempting to manage the pain enough to get on the court, and he was able to return to action Monday. “It was slow and long. Just really tough,” Nowell said of the rehab process. “There were times it felt good, then would play on it for like five minutes and it wouldn’t feel good. We just kind of had to sit and do a lot of treatment. It was tough, just getting out there and watching the game, not playing. But glad to be back now.”
  • Coach Mark Daigneault said the Thunder are “open-minded” about using Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in both games of back-to-backs for the rest of the season, tweets Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. Oklahoma City faces the Clippers tonight and will stay in L.A. for Friday’s game against the Lakers.
  • Nassir Little missed Wednesday’s game after entering concussion protocol, the Trail Blazers announced (via Twitter).

Northwest Notes: Blazers, Wolves, Hyland, Jackson, Sexton

The Trail Blazers continued to deal with a number of injury absences as the second half of their season got underway on Thursday night. As Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian writes, Jusuf Nurkic (calf), Justise Winslow (ankle), and Anfernee Simons (ankle) are still on the shelf for Portland.

Nurkic hasn’t returned to practice yet, though Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups said the veteran center is “getting better.” Winslow, meanwhile, has begun taking part in non-contact drills, while Simons is doing weight-bearing activities but no on-court work.

The Trail Blazers opted to give Damian Lillard and Jerami Grant the night off on Thursday following a series of weather-related travel days that saw Portland players spend several hours on the team plane on both Wednesday and Thursday. The club’s resulting starting lineup in Sacramento was an odd one that featured three trade-deadline additions (Cam Reddish, Matisse Thybulle, and Ryan Arcidiacono) along with two reserves (Drew Eubanks and Nassir Little).

While the Blazers lost in Sacramento, Billups liked what he saw from Little, whose 26 points were easily a season high (story via Fentress). Reddish also continued his solid play following the trade that sent him from New York to Portland, scoring 24 points of his own.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • The Timberwolves came close to acquiring Bones Hyland from the Nuggets at this month’s trade deadline, Darren Wolfson of SKOR North said in his podcast The Scoop (hat tip to HoopsHype). According to Wolfson, Minnesota “would have done what the Clippers did” (given up two second-round picks) or even more than that. However, Wolfson believes Denver’s ownership group was reluctant to do any favors for former Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, who now runs Minnesota’s front office.
  • Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports spoke to Ish Smith, who previously played with Reggie Jackson in Oklahoma City and Detroit, about what the Nuggets‘ newest point guard can bring to the team. Jackson played 18 minutes in his Denver debut on Thursday, scoring seven points to go along with four rebounds and a pair of assists.
  • Jazz guard Collin Sexton, who strained his left hamstring in the team’s final game before the All-Star break, remains sidelined as a result of that injury. The expectation it that Sexton will be reevaluated on Monday, says Sarah Todd of The Deseret News.

Knicks, Jazz Have Had Exploratory Talks About Beasley, Vanderbilt

The Knicks and Jazz have engaged in some exploratory conversations about a possible trade that would send wing Malik Beasley and forward Jarred Vanderbilt to New York, reports Michael Scotto of HoopsHype.

According to Scotto, the proposed deal would see Evan Fournier, Obi Toppin, and draft capital going to Utah.

As Scotto details, the specific draft assets going from the Knicks to the Jazz presumably represent the sticking point in the talks between the two teams. Utah has reportedly sought a first-round pick for Beasley and one for Vanderbilt as well.

Given that Fournier’s contract, which includes an $18.9MM guaranteed salary for 2023/24, is viewed as a negative asset, the Jazz may want another first-round pick for taking on that deal rather than simply considering him the salary-matching piece for Beasley. On the other hand, Toppin – the eighth overall pick in 2020 – should have positive value and could perhaps take the place of one of the first-rounders Utah is seeking, Scotto notes.

Of course, even if the Knicks and Jazz could agree on the number of first-round picks that would accompany Fournier and Toppin to Utah, the two teams may not see eye to eye on how those picks are protected.

New York controls several protected first-rounders from other teams, including Dallas’ 2023 pick (top-10 protected), Washington’s 2023 pick (top-14 protected), Detroit’s 2023 pick (top-18 protected), and Milwaukee’s 2025 pick (top-four protected). Of those selections, only Milwaukee’s has a chance to ultimately land in the top eight. The Knicks also have the ability to add protections to their own first-rounders if they’re willing to trade one or more of them.

However, CEO Danny Ainge made it a priority to stockpile unprotected first-round selections in his offseason trades involving Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Beasley and Vanderbilt don’t carry the same value as those two All-Stars, so Ainge won’t have as much leverage in this instance, but he’ll still be pushing to make the protections as light as possible on any pick he acquires.

Current Knicks executive Gersson Rosas signed both Beasley and Vanderbilt to their current contracts when he was the head of basketball operations in Minnesota. Led by president of basketball operations Leon Rose, New York had interest in Beasley before he re-signed with the Wolves in 2020, Scotto writes.

Beasley has reportedly drawn interest this season from teams like Cleveland, Atlanta, Phoenix and New Orleans in addition to New York.

As for Vanderbilt, Scotto has heard that the Pacers have interest in the fifth-year forward, previously named the Suns as a possible suitor, and confirms that the Trail Blazers are in the mix as well. Forward Nassir Little is a player to watch if Portland gets involved in trade talks with Utah, Scotto adds.

Northwest Notes: Blazers, Sharpe, SGA, Nowell, Edwards

Trail Blazers forward Justise Winslow has been out since December 21 after suffering a Grade 2 ankle sprain. He’s making progress in his recovery, but he’s out for at least two more weeks, Portland announced in a press release.

The Blazers also provided an injury update on forward Nassir Little, who has been sidelined since November 29 with a hip fracture. There’s no official timeline for his return, but he has begun on-court contact work, per the team.

Here’s more from the Northwest:

  • Shaedon Sharpe‘s development is an exercise in patience, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. The No. 7 overall pick of the 2022 draft didn’t play any games in his one year at Kentucky, which makes him behind the curve in some regards. Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups says the 19-year-old won’t get minutes he doesn’t earn. “That’s going to be his year all year,” Billups said, per Fentress. “We as a staff have to have a level of patience with Shae and so do our veterans. But as I tell him, and our veterans tell him, ‘We’re trying to be the best team that we can be. We don’t have time to wait on you. You didn’t go to a team that is trying to lose and get the No. 1 pick. That’s not our situation. You have to catch up.’”
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is having a brilliant season for the Thunder and helped lead the team to back-to-back road victories over the Sixers and Bulls on Thursday and Friday. After Thursday’s victory, Gilgeous-Alexander expressed confidence about the team’s future, according to Thunder sideline reporter and digital editor Nick Gallo (Twitter link). “I think we’re gonna be a really good team a lot sooner than other people do,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “So I think it’s it’s pretty easy for me – I see the growth every day. I’ve seen the growth in the last five months, year, two years. And I’m super excited about it.” The Thunder are currently 20-23, the No. 11 seed in the West.
  • Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell is set to hit unrestricted free agency in the summer, but he’s not pleased with his season thus far, per Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. “Not going well,” he said. Nowell, who shot 39.4% from deep last season, is shooting just 28.5% from behind the arc through 42 games. Head coach Chris Finch believes the 23-year-old is making things difficult on himself. “I think he’s trying to force himself into the game,” Finch said. “What it’s doing probably is bleeding over into the great looks that he’s getting. He’s trying to get himself going by taking some tough shots out there with a lot of hands in his face and then when the ball comes back, or a different situation where he’s shooting it open, particularly from three, he hasn’t seen that go in.”
  • In the same story from Hine, Finch said Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards is dealing with a “deep bruise” in his left hip, but the former No. 1 overall pick has been “cleared of all tests.” Veteran guard Austin Rivers commended Edwards’ willingness to play through the injury, Hine tweets. “It just sets a tone like this dude’s invested. He’s here. This guy’s playing through injuries, no matter. The Houston game, a lot of guys would just sit out, like, ‘Hey, we’ll win without him.’ But Ant came out there and really showed us,” he said.

Blazers’ Nassir Little Out Six Weeks With Hip Fracture

Forward Nassir Little exited Tuesday’s loss to the Clippers with what was initially deemed a right hip strain. Further imaging revealed that Little had sustained a mild femoral head impaction fracture, and he’s expected to miss six weeks, the Trail Blazers announced in a press release.

Little, 22, signed a four-year, $28MM rookie scale extension before the 2022/23 season started (it kicks in next season). Through 21 games (15.3 minutes per night) for Portland, he’s averaging 5.5 points and 2.4 rebounds on .473/.372/.667 shooting.

Part of the reason Little accepted a relatively team-friendly deal is because he wanted “security” and “peace of mind.” But he also admitted that his injury history had played a factor.

I’m not gonna lie, I think my talent level is worth more than that,” Little said of his $28MM contract. “But with me having an injury history, and them still taking a chance on me, I want to be here. I’ll probably perform at a level that’s worth more than that, but being in Portland is what I want.”

Little was having a breakout third season in ’21/22 but it came to an early end when he underwent surgery on February 1 to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. In May, he underwent abdominal surgery to repair a core muscle injury.

Overall, he averaged 9.8 points and 5.6 rebounds on .460/.331/.734 shooting in 42 games (25.9 MPG) last season.

The Blazers are dealing with several injured players at the moment (Twitter link). In addition to Little, second-year guard Keon Johnson (left hip pointer), star guard Damian Lillard (right soleus strain), and guard Gary Payton II (return to competition conditioning) are out Saturday at Utah, while wing Josh Hart (left ankle sprain) is doubtful and center Drew Eubanks (right hip contusion) is questionable.

Lillard is reportedly targeting a Sunday return at home against Indiana.

Payton, a key free agent addition, has yet to play this season after undergoing core muscle surgery in September. It was initially thought that he’d be available for the start of the regular season, but his progress has been slower than anticipated. The last update on his status was two weeks ago.

Portland had a great start to the season, going 10-4, but has lost seven of its past eight games to currently hold an 11-11 record, the 10th seed in the West.

11 Players Affected By Poison Pill Provision In 2022/23

The term “poison pill” doesn’t actually show up in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, but it’s used colloquially to refer to a provision in the CBA that affects players who recently signed rookie scale contract extensions.

As we explain in our glossary entry, the so-called poison pill provision applies when a player who signed a rookie scale extension is traded before the extension takes effect.

In that scenario, the player’s incoming value for the receiving team for matching purposes is determined by averaging his current-year salary and the salaries in each year of his new extension. His current team, on the other hand, simply treats his current-year salary as the outgoing figure for matching purposes.

For instance, Heat guard Tyler Herro is earning a $5,722,116 salary in 2022/23, but signed a four-year, $120MM extension that will begin in ’23/24. Therefore, if Miami wanted to trade Herro this season, his outgoing value for salary-matching purposes would be $5,722,116 (this year’s salary), while his incoming value for the team acquiring him would be $25,144,423 (this year’s salary, plus the $120MM extension, divided by five years).

[RELATED: 2022 NBA Rookie Scale Extension Recap]

Most of the players who signed rookie scale extensions aren’t candidates to be traded anytime soon. But even in the event that a team does want to look into trading one of these recently extended players, the gap between the player’s incoming trade value and outgoing trade value could make it a real challenge to find a deal that works for both sides.

The “poison pill” provision applies to 11 players who signed rookie scale extensions in 2022. Here are those players, along with their outgoing salaries and incoming salaries for trade purposes:

Player Team Outgoing trade value Incoming trade value
Zion Williamson NOP $13,534,817 $34,639,136
Ja Morant MEM $12,119,440 $34,403,240
RJ Barrett NYK $10,900,635 $23,580,127
De’Andre Hunter ATL $9,835,881 $19,967,176
Darius Garland CLE $8,920,795 $33,870,133
Tyler Herro MIA $5,722,116 $25,144,423
Brandon Clarke MEM $4,343,920 $10,868,784
Nassir Little POR $4,171,548 $6,434,310
Jordan Poole GSW $3,901,399 $26,380,280
Keldon Johnson SAS $3,873,025 $15,574,605
Kevin Porter Jr. HOU $3,217,631 $15,234,726

Once the 2023/24 league year begins, the poison pill provision will no longer apply to these players. At that time, the player’s ’23/24 salary would represent both his outgoing and incoming value.

Until then though, the gap between those outgoing and incoming figures will make it tricky for these players to be moved, with one or two exceptions.

The small difference between Little’s incoming and outgoing trade figures, for instance, wouldn’t be very problematic if the Blazers wanted to trade him. But the much larger divide between Poole’s incoming and outgoing numbers means there’s virtually no chance he could be moved to an over-the-cap team in 2022/23, even if the Warriors wanted to.

Contract Extension Details: Porter, Hunter, Little

As previously reported, Kevin Porter Jr. new four-year extension with the Rockets is only fully guaranteed for the first season. As Kelly Iko of The Athletic reports and Hoops Rumors has confirmed, all four years of the deal have a base salary of $15,860,000, with an additional $4,758,000 available each year via incentives.

Those incentives are divided into two categories and are based on Porter’s minutes played and the success of the team, according to Iko, who says the team-based bonuses are tied to wins, play-in tournament appearances, and/or playoff berths. If Porter maxes out his incentives, the total four-year value of the deal would be $82,472,000, but the total base value if he doesn’t earn any bonuses is just $63,440,000.

Although Porter’s second-year salary isn’t guaranteed yet, it will become partially guaranteed for $1MM if he remains under contract through July 1, 2023, which is when the extension officially begins. That partial guarantee for the 2024/25 season will increase to $3MM at the start of the ’23/24 regular season and will rise to $6MM if Porter remains under contract five days beyond the 2024 trade deadline, as Iko outlines.

Porter can also earn a full guarantee for 2024/25 if he reaches a certain minutes threshold in ’23/24 and the Rockets also earn a top-eight seed and make the playoffs that season, Iko explains. Finally, as long as Porter remains under contract, his second-, third-, and fourth-year salaries will automatically become fully guaranteed on the June 30 before that season begins. The Rockets would have to waive him to avoid paying those salaries.

Here are details on a couple other contract extensions signed earlier this week:

  • De’Andre Hunter‘s four-year extension with the Hawks starts at $20,089,286 in year one and features standard 8% annual raises, increasing to $24,910,714 for year four. Each season includes $1.25MM in unlikely incentives, so $90MM is fully guaranteed and $5MM is available in incentives, as initially reported.
  • Nassir Little‘s four-year extension with the Trail Blazers also features a standard rising structure, beginning at $6,250,000 in 2023/24 and increasing by $500K per year, up to $7,750,000 in ’26/27. As initially reported, it’s fully guaranteed, with no team or player option.

Trail Blazers Notes: Little, Domingo, Billups

As we noted on Tuesday, Nassir Little‘s four-year, $28MM deal with the Trail Blazers features the lowest average annual value of any rookie scale extension since Jeremy Lamb inked a three-year, $21MM contract in 2015.

Explaining his decision to accept a relatively modest long-term extension offer, Little said the new deal gives him “security” and “peace of mind,” as Sean Highkin of The Rose Garden Report details in a Twitter thread.

“For me, it’s more money than I make now, it’s more money than I’ve ever made in my life,” Little said. “I can bet on myself to make more money, but I don’t play this game just to make money. I have $28 million on the table, I’ll just take it.”

With a strong, healthy season in 2022/23, Little likely could’ve done much better as a restricted free agent next summer, which he acknowledged in his comments to reporters. However, he’s comfortable with opting for stability instead of attempting to maximize his earnings.

“I’m not gonna lie, I think my talent level is worth more than that,” Little said of his $28MM contract, per Highkin. “But with me having an injury history, and them still taking a chance on me, I want to be here. I’ll probably perform at a level that’s worth more than that, but being in Portland is what I want.”

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • Little’s four-year extension is a win-win for him and the Blazers, Jason Quick writes for The Athletic. While Portland is in position to get a potential bargain on a rotation player through 2027, Little can relax and not have to worry about playing for a contract this season. “You’ll have guys tell you that contract years are stressful years and I just think for me, it takes a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Little said. “Just a lot of anticipation goes away, so now I can just focus in and secure stuff for myself and my family. I should be good for the rest of my life.”
  • The Trail Blazers have made a new addition to their front office, announcing today in a press release that they’ve hired BJ Domingo as director of player personnel. A former scout for the Bucks, Domingo became the assistant director of the U.S. men’s national team in 2021 and will help bolster Portland’ “global scouting efforts”, according to general manager Joe Cronin. “BJ has evaluated talent at the pro level, collegiate and amateur ranks while developing great relationships across the world,” Cronin said in a statement.
  • Chauncey Billups‘ first season as a head coach went about as poorly as possible, as his superstar (Damian Lillard) played just 29 games, the man who hired him (Neil Olshey) was dismissed less than two months into the season, and a team with playoff aspirations won just 27 games. However, as Bill Oram of The Oregonian relays, Billups is unfazed by how year one played out and looking forward to showing what he’s capable of in year two.

Trail Blazers Sign Nassir Little To Four-Year Extension

2:24pm: The Blazers have officially signed Little to his extension, the team confirmed today in a press release.

“Nassir is a talented player who has grown every year and has a very bright future,” general manager Joe Cronin said in a statement. “We are very excited that he chose to extend with us, and we look forward to continuing to see him shine on and off the court.”

10:31am: The Trail Blazers have agreed to sign forward Nassir Little to a four-year, $28MM rookie scale extension, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). The deal will be fully guaranteed, according to Wojnarowski (Twitter link).

The 25th overall pick in the 2019 draft, Little didn’t have much of a role in his first two seasons with the Blazers, averaging 4.1 PPG and 2.5 RPG on .450/.302/.719 shooting in 96 games (12.6 MPG).

However, he bumped those numbers to 9.8 PPG and 5.6 RPG on .460/.331/.734 shooting in 42 games (25.9 MPG) in 2021/22 and was playing especially well after entering the starting lineup in December.

Little’s breakout season in Portland came to an early end when he underwent surgery on February 1 to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. In May, he underwent abdominal surgery to repair a core muscle injury.

Little has since recovered from both of those procedures and is ready to go for the start of the 2022/23 season. He lost the battle for the starting small forward job to Josh Hart, but figures to be one of the first players off the bench for the team to open the year.

Even though Little’s new deal is reportedly fully guaranteed, it has the potential to be a steal for the Blazers. They’ll be on the hook for just $7MM per season through 2026/27 in order to lock up a 22-year-old wing who continues to improve. Even if Little doesn’t make huge strides in the coming years, that’s a very affordable price for a reliable rotation player.

For his part, Little has earned just $6.63MM through his first three NBA seasons and will make $4.17MM in 2022/23. Locking in $28MM in guaranteed money will increase his career earnings exponentially and will give him some long-term security in case he takes a step back or suffers a major injury going forward. It’s hard to fault him for accepting Portland’s offer rather than rolling the dice in restricted free agency next summer.

Little is the 10th player to agree to a rookie scale extension this season, as our tracker shows. The deadline for those deals is at 5:00 pm CT on Monday.

Western Notes: Hart, Alvarado, Rockets, Jazz

The Trail Blazers have made a decision on their starting small forward job, according to Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian, who hears from a source that Josh Hart has won the training camp competition.

Hart had been competing with Nassir Little and Justise Winslow for the right to start at the three for Portland this season, alongside a backcourt of Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons and a frontcourt of Jerami Grant and Jusuf Nurkic.

Hart, whom the Blazers acquired in last season’s CJ McCollum blockbuster, has earned praise from head coach Chauncey Billups for his effort on defense and his basketball IQ, as Fentress notes. The veteran swingman is entering a potential contract year — his 2023/24 salary is currently non-guaranteed and he also has the ability to opt out of his deal after the season.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Second-year Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado has long admired Tony Parker‘s game and got the chance to work with the former Spurs star this offseason, meeting Parker at the Las Vegas Summer League and then traveling to San Antonio to train with him. “Actually, I (direct messaged) him and said, ‘I’m a big fan of you,'” Alvarado said, per Christian Clark of “‘Is there any chance me and you can get in the gym this summer? I would love that.’ He replied right away.”
  • Kelly Iko of The Athletic takes a look at where things stand with the Rockets‘ rotation, noting that Tari Eason is making a strong case for regular playing time, while Bruno Fernando appears to have passed Usman Garuba on the depth chart at center. Iko also isn’t sure that any of the players acquired in last week’s trade with Oklahoma City (Derrick Favors, Theo Maledon, and Maurice Harkless) will make the regular season roster.
  • Given how significantly they overhauled their roster this offseason, the Jazz will likely need more than just a few preseason games to develop a real sense of chemistry, Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. “It’s going to take us a while to get used to everyone and learn everyone,” Jordan Clarkson said. “We’re still just getting the basics down. We’re not even at the point of knowing guys’ spots and individual games.”