L.A. Notes: Kawhi, George, Hachimura, Lakers

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard met the criteria for postseason award eligibility on Wednesday when he appeared in his 66th game of the season, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Leonard logged just 12 minutes in one of his first 65 contests, which is why he needed a 66th game to meet that benchmark.

The achievement is notable for a couple reasons. For one, Leonard was viewed by many NBA fans as one of the faces of the new 65-game rule due to his history of load management, though he pushed back against that idea last fall.

More importantly, Leonard has built a solid All-NBA case this season, averaging 23.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.6 steals per game while posting an elite .524/.415/.887 shooting line and playing strong defense. Leonard earned his sixth All-Star nod earlier this season — he has made an All-NBA team in each of his previous five All-Star seasons.

Here’s more on the NBA’s two Los Angeles teams:

  • In a pair of stories about Paul George, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report examines the star forward’s contract situation and considers whether a new deal with the Clippers is the likeliest outcome, while Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN explores why George has become the model NBA archetype for young NBA wings — as well as for NBA 2K players.
  • Making Rui Hachimura a full-time starter has been a huge success for the Lakers and has put the fifth-year forward in position to thrive, as Khobi Price of The Southern California News Group details. Since reinserting Hachimura into the starting five on February 3, the Lakers are 16-7, while the 26-year-old has averaged 15.7 PPG on .584/.453/.667 shooting in those 23 games. Head coach Darvin Ham said that playing alongside other offensive threats has given Hachimura more room to operate. “Him coming off the bench, there was times where they treated him like (LeBron James),” Ham said. “They know how he can definitely score at all three levels. He draws a lot of attention without having those guys on the floor.”
  • Zach Kram of The Ringer pushes back on a social media conspiracy theory that the NBA’s referees are favoring the Lakers, explaining that the free throw disparity between Los Angeles and its opponents isn’t out of the ordinary when compared to leaders in that category in previous seasons. Kram points out that the Lakers’ style of play often leads to a free throw advantage because they attempt far fewer three-pointers and more shots at the rim than average on offense, while the opposite is true on defense. The Lakers have taken 435 more free throws than their opponents, but those opponents have attempted 513 more threes than L.A, Kram adds.

Heat Notes: Oladipo, Martin, Salary Cap, Butler

The Heat are investing $15MM+ this season in Victor Oladipo and Caleb Martin in the hopes that both players can build on their encouraging 2021/22 runs. While Miami is certainly hoping guard Oladipo can get closer to his pre-injury All-Star heights this season, and that the 6’5″ Caleb Martin can convincingly play significant minutes as the team’s power forward, the team has a variety of other options to pick up the slack on its roster if neither scenario comes to pass, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

As Winderman observes, guards Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, and Gabe Vincent make up a threatening backcourt rotation with or without Oladipo stepping up, and 6’7″ small forward Jimmy Butler will most likely at least finish games as Miami’s power forward.

There’s more out of South Beach:

  • On the heels of the news that the league’s salary cap is on track to increase over $10MM to a projected $134MM for 2023/24, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald notes that the Heat still won’t have much flexibility to add new players, given the $132.4MM Miami has locked in for just its five best players with guaranteed deals that season. Assuming Herro reaches a contract extension agreement with the club and a few other contracts remain on the team’s books, the club could quite possibly exceed the expected $162MM tax threshold in 2023/24, according to Jackson, who opines that the best way for Miami to make upgrades will be through trades, not free agency.
  • Butler was awarded a 93 overall player rating, the ninth-best among all players in the new video game NBA 2K23, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Winderman notes that Butler’s score ties him with fellow All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Ja Morant.

And-Ones: Lottery, Draft, Wroten, NBA 2K League

The NBA draft lottery is still scheduled to take place on May 19, but Anthony Slater of The Athletic is hearing the event is unlikely to happen that night. As Slater explains, the NBA will likely end up using the month of May as an “information-gathering” period before finalizing decisions in June, so the lottery figures to be postponed, with the June 25 draft date still up in the air too.

On executive who spoke to Slater estimated that front offices would want at least a three-week period or so between the lottery and draft to give teams time to adjust to their exact placement and to do last-minute research on players presumed to be in their range.

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

  • Updates on early entrants for the 2020 NBA draft continue to trickle in even after Sunday night’s deadline passed. Valparaiso sophomore guard Javon Freeman-Liberty tells Jeff Goodman of Stadium (Twitter link) that he has decided to transfer rather than keep his name in the draft. Meanwhile, Senegalese guard Brancou Badio, who played this season for Barcelona’s second team, has entered his name in the draft pool, according to Eurohopes (Twitter link).
  • Former NBA guard Tony Wroten, who appeared in 145 games for Memphis and Philadelphia from 2012-15, continues to pursue an NBA comeback, as he tells Chema De Lucas (Spanish link). Our Chris Crouse took an in-depth look last summer at how injuries have derailed Wroten’s career and how he has continued playing professionally in international leagues.
  • The NBA 2K League, which was originally scheduled to start its season on March 24, announced in a press release that its new “opening night” will be Tuesday, May 5. The eSports contests will be played remotely for at least six weeks, according to the announcement.

NBA Plans To Launch Players-Only 2K Tournament

12:07pm: The Boardroom has provided a full list of the 16 participants in the tournament, along with the first-round matchups (Twitter link). Devin Booker (Suns), Trae Young (Hawks), and Zach LaVine (Bulls) are among the other stars set to take part in the event.

11:19am: With no NBA games expected to happen on the court anytime soon, the league is setting up a virtual tournament in an attempt to sate fans’ appetite for basketball, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

According to Haynes, the league intends to launch an NBA 2K tournament that will feature NBA players competing against one another. The goal is to begin the 10-day event this Friday, though the league is still working out and finalizing the details, sources tell Haynes. The tournament would be broadcast on ESPN.

Nets star Kevin Durant, Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, Cavaliers center Andre Drummond, and free agent big man DeMarcus Cousins are among the 16 players expected to participate, per Haynes.

Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel had previously tweeted that Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside and Heat swingman Derrick Jones were among the players set to play in an NBA 2K20 Players Tournament in April. That info appears to be based on an announcement from the NBPA, which was quickly deleted. Jeff Garcia of Spurs Zone (via Twitter) shares the full list of participants the NBPA identified in that premature release.

According to Winderman, the tournament is expected to have a $100K prize for charity.

And-Ones: P. Gasol, Draft, Barkley, 2K League

Veteran NBA big man Pau Gasol talked a couple times in February about the possibility of suiting up for the 2020 Olympics and potentially making an NBA comeback next season. However, with the Olympics being pushed back to 2021 and the NBA currently in a state of flux, Gasol’s comeback efforts are up in the air too.

Speaking to Spanish outlet El Pais, Gasol acknowledged that retirement is an option he continues to consider, given the current global basketball situation and his own recovery from a foot injury.

“With this recovery process and the injury that I have been dealing with for more than a year, it’s undoubtedly inevitable to think about retirement,” Gasol said, per Keith Smith of NBC Sports. “Also, taking into account that I will be 40 years old in a few months. So, it’s definitely on my mind.”

Gasol says he’s focusing on the Gasol Foundation and his other off-court projects for the time being, while he continues to recover. A decision on his next professional step will come at a later date, according to the 39-year-old Spaniard, who adds that right now “the priority is to overcome this pandemic.”

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

  • The NCAA intends to work with the NBA to adapt to any changes to the 2020 draft calendar, NCAA senior VP of basketball Dan Gavitt said on Monday (Twitter link via Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports). For now, with the draft still tentatively scheduled for June 25, NCAA early entrants have until the end of the day on April 26 to declare for the draft, and can withdraw at any time up until June 3 while maintaining their college eligibility.
  • Former NBA star and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley announced on Monday that he tested negative for COVID-19, as Marc Stein of The New York Times relays (via Twitter). Barkley was tested earlier in March after exhibiting some possible coronavirus symptoms.
  • Starting this Friday, the NBA 2K League will be hosting a completely online tournament called the Three For All Showdown, which will give fans, influencers, and top female 2K players an opportunity to challenge NBA 2K League teams. Arda Ocal of ESPN has the details on the tournament, which was created in response to the 2K League postponing its season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBA 2K League To Postpone Season

In response to the rapidly escalation of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the NBA’s esports affiliate, the NBA 2K League, will postpone the anticipated March 24 start of its season, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe (Twitter link).

The 2K League and the NBA are coordinating to potentially have the esports games be played remotely, Lowe notes. Last year, all regular-season games were played in Long Island City, New York, at the the NBA 2K League Studio. They were broadcast via a Twitch live stream.

The NBA 2K League had its inaugural season in 2018. Currently, 21 of the 30 NBA teams have 2K clubs. The reigning championship squad is the Timberwolves’ affiliate 2K team, T-Wolves Gaming.

And-Ones: Team USA, Darko, G League, NBA 2K

While Team USA’s seventh-place finish at the 2019 World Cup in China wasn’t exactly a catastrophic outcome, given the stateside apathy toward non-Olympic international tournaments, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo admitted to Chris Mannix of that the result will nag at him for the next year.

“There has not been any disappointment around USA Basketball in a while,” Colangelo said. “This will bother me until the 2020 Olympics.”

Colangelo, who believes that Team USA could still have won this year’s tournament if not for injuries to Kyle Kuzma and Jayson Tatum, said that two or three of the players on the World Cup roster have already earned spots on the 2020 Olympic squad. While Colangelo didn’t name those specific players, Mannix surmises that Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell are good bets.

As for how USA Basketball will fill out the rest of the Olympic roster, Colangelo suggested that star players interested in participating will be considered on an individual basis, though he hinted that he’d look more favorably on those who didn’t withdraw at the last minute this year.

“The disappointment I feel is not from the guys who said they wouldn’t play,” Colangelo said. “It’s those that said they would, and then backed out.”

Let’s round up a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world…

  • Former No. 2 overall pick Darko Milicic, who hasn’t played basketball professionally since suiting up for the Celtics in the 2012/13 season, is reportedly making a comeback overseas. Emiliano Carchia of Sportando relays a report from Basketball Sphere, which indicates that Milicic is joining a team in his hometown of Novi Sad, Serbia, where he’ll primarily focus on mentoring younger players.
  • Ben Stinar of Amico Hoops passes along the G League incentive bonuses for the 2019/20 season, which include a modest $3,000 bonus for earning NBAGL MVP honors.
  • The NBA and NBA 2K developer Take-Two Interactive are expanding their esports partnership, according to ESPN’s Jacob Wolf, who writes that the NBA 2K20 Global Championship will be launched this October. The tournament will run from October to February, with the championship winner taking home $100K.
  • Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights takes a deep dive into NBA salary figures to see if he can determine the average salary for a starter – or a starter-caliber player – in 2019/20.

2019 NBA 2K League Finals Preview: 76ers GC Vs. T-Wolves Gaming

The NBA 2K League Finals between the 76ers GC and T-Wolves Gaming will take place this Saturday. You can catch it live on the league’s Twitch channel or YouTube channel, starting at 3:00 pm ET.

The two teams battled during The Tipoff tournament back in April with Philadelphia beating Minnesota by a score of 68-57 on their way to winning the event. On Saturday, the two teams will again meet in the NBA 2K League Finals, which will be a best-of-five series for the first time (last year’s championship series was a best-of-three).

The schedule is as follows:

  • 3:00 pm: Game 1, T-Wolves at 76ers GC.
  • 4:15 pm: Game 2,  76ers GC at T-Wolves.
  • 5:30 pm: Game 3, T-Wolves at 76ers GC.
  • 6:45 pm: Game 4, 76ers GC at T-Wolves.*
  • 8:00 pm: Game 5, T-Wolves at 76ers GC.*

*Game 4 and 5 if necessary. All times listed are ET.

The league’s second season began 18 weeks ago with the Knicks kicking off the year as the defending champs. New York will hold onto that title for a few more days before a new champion is crowned.

The 76ers GC do not have a traditional center, employing a guard-heavy lineup instead. T-Wolves Gaming fields a traditional lineup with a power forward off the bench.  Here’s more on each team ahead of the NBA 2K League Finals:

76ers GC

  • Record: 11-5 (3rd overall)
  • Point differential: +7.7 (2nd overall)
  • Playoff record: 4-0
  • Playoff point differential: +60

Philadelphia won The Tipoff (the first tournament of the 2019 season) and finished second in The Turn (the second tournament). The team hasn’t lost more than two games in a row all season.

76ers GC won four straight games entering the playoffs and didn’t take a single loss during their first two series against Pacers Gaming and Celtics Crossover Gaming. They closed out their semifinals series over Boston with a 37-point victory. Here’s more about the team:

  • 76ers GC is led by 2019 NBA 2K League Coach of the Year Jeff Terrell.
  • Point guard Radiant earned All-NBA 2K League Second-Team honors and was an MVP candidate.
  • Rookie power forward Breadwinner earned All-NBA 2K League Defensive Team honors and was named to the league’s All-NBA Rookie Team.

T-Wolves Gaming

  • Record: 10-6 (4th overall)
  • Point differential: +5.8 (5th overall)
  • Playoff record: 4-0
  • Playoff point differential: +60

After a one-point loss to Cavs Legion GC on May 31, T-Wolves Gaming held a 3-6 record. Without a tournament win (Minnesota finished 3-3 in tournament play), the squad’s playoff hopes were dwindling. However, the team caught fire over the last six weeks of the regular season, winning its final seven contests by nearly 18 points per game.

T-Wolves Gaming took down Kings Guard Gaming 2-0 in the first round to set up a matchup with the Warriors Gaming Squad. WGS had won two of the three tournaments this season, including The Turn, when they knocked out 76ers GC in the finals. Minnesota dusted Golden State in the semifinals, winning the pair of playoff games by margins of 18 and 22, respectively. Here’s more about the team:

  • T-Wolves Gaming is led by coach Shawn Vilvens, who also serves as the team’s GM.
  • Center FEAST won the league’s Sportsmanship award.

For more details on the NBA 2K League, check out our 2019 season primer, which includes a full breakdown of which teams are involved, details on the league’s tournaments, and a look into how players make money while competing in the league.

Which side do you think will win the NBA 2K League Finals? And what are your thoughts on the NBA 2K League in general? Take to the comment section below to share your thoughts.

Everything You Need To Know Leading Up To The NBA 2K League’s Second Season

The second season of the NBA 2K League is approaching. The league, which is a joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive, the publisher of the NBA 2K franchise, kicks off on April 2 and will run through the beginning of August (the league announced the full schedule, which you can find here).

Let’s take a look at the league, how it’s structured and some of the changes heading into season two:

  • Each of the league’s 21 teams will participate in 16 regular seasons contests, all of which will be played at the NBA 2K League Studio in New York City.
  • Games will be played weekly on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.
  • All games will be live-streamed on the league’s Twitch channel.
  • The prize pool has been increased to $1.2MM – a 20% increase over last year’s award – and teams will receive a portion of the pool based on tournament wins and league playoff outcomes.

Breaking Barriers

This season will feature a female professional esports player for the first time after the Warriors drafted Chiquita Evans during the March 6 draft. The inaugural season didn’t feature a female player and the league set out to solve the issue. It searched the data and found that male players weren’t passing the ball to female teammates enough during games and it skewed the evaluation metrics.

”It made us put more emphasis on how good a player was when they got the ball in their hands,” managing director Brendan Donohue said earlier this month. ”That’s the only part of it they can control.”

The league also added sessions to its transition program (similar to the NBA’s rookie symposium) to help Evans and other female players overcome challenges they break into a male-dominated space.

Which NBA Teams Are Participating?

The inaugural season consisted of 17 teams and the Knicks took home the championship. This season, four more teams (Atlanta, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Minnesota) were added via an expansion draft. Here’s the full list of NBA 2K clubs:

  • Blazers: Blazers5 Gaming
  • Bucks: Bucks Gaming
  • Cavaliers: Cavs Legion GC
  • Celtics: Celtics Crossover Gaming
  • Grizzlies: Grizz Gaming
  • Hawks: Hawks Talon GC *
  • Heat: Heat Check Gaming
  • Jazz: Jazz Gaming
  • Kings: Kings Guard Gaming
  • Knicks: Knicks Gaming
  • Lakers: Lakers Gaming *
  • Magic: Magic Gaming
  • Mavericks: Mavs Gaming
  • Nets: Nets GC *
  • Pacers: Pacers Gaming
  • Pistons: Pistons GT
  • Raptors: Raptors Uprising GC
  • Sixers: 76ers GC
  • Wolves: T-Wolves Gaming *
  • Warriors: Warriors Gaming Squad
  • Wizards: Wizards District Gaming

* Expansion teams

Format Of The Game And Rosters?

Each team is made up of six players with each participant controlling one player while 5-on-5 competition takes place.

The competitors don’t play with pre-existing created players but rather in Pro-Am mode, where there are presets based on each position to ensure balance among teams, meaning one player will not beat the other because the former has the skills of LeBron James and the latter has Michael Carter-Williams‘ arsenal (sorry, MCW). Players choose which of the traditional five positions (point guard, shooting guard, etc) and which archetype (playmaking slasher, sharp-shooting defender, etc) they will use for the season.

How Are The Players Compensated?

The league’s 126 players are compensated between $33-37K, depending on where they were drafted, and each player is on a six-month contract. Relocation and housing costs are provided by the league and the players received health benefits and retirement plan contributions as well.

Teams are made up of professional esports players, thus they are not restricted by amateur status, so they are eligible to sign endorsement deals. Several players are well known in the gaming community and already have deals in place.

Can Players Be Traded?

During the first season, trades were not allowed. For the second, the league added two designated trading periods. One was a two-week period that ended on October 10. The other has yet to be determined, but it will occur during the 2019 season. There have been five trades in league history, per the league’s transaction log.

How Are Playoff Teams Determined?

Eight teams make the playoffs in total. There are three tournaments during the season — The Banner Chain: The Tipoff, The Turn, and The Ticket. The winner of The Ticket clinches a postseason spot, along with the teams owning a top-seven record during the regular season. If The Ticket winner is already in the top seven, then the top eight teams gain entry to the playoffs.

Key playoff dates:

  • Wednesday, July 24, 2019: Postseason begins.
  • Saturday, August 3, 2019: The 2019 NBA 2K League Finals (best-of-five series).

And-Ones: Cuban, Draft, Maledon, 2K League

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban doesn’t mind lowering the minimum draft age from 19 to 18, but points out that it creates another set of issues, as he explained to Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News.

Cuban notes that most players out of high school don’t have general life skills, such as writing a check or signing a lease. He also sees the influence of AAU coaches and teams becoming even more pervasive if the age minimum drops.

“The really bad unintended consequence is you’re going to see AAU programs and parents push harder to get kids featured, maybe at the expense of their education, maybe at the expense of really learning how to play basketball because they’ve got coaches that are telling him, ‘Yeah, he’s got a chance to be a ‘none-and-done,'” Cuban said.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • League executives are already dreading the extra time, money, and analysis it will take to scout high school prospects, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer writes in a lengthy piece on the pros and cons of reducing the draft age minimum to 18. Eliminating the one-and-done prospects could make it tougher for lottery teams to land a marquee player, since there will likely be more steals and more busts in the draft. A system that would allow players to be selected in the draft without losing college eligibility could help the process, O’Connor adds.
  • French point guard Theo Maledon, a Tony Parker protege, could be the top international prospect in the 2020 draft. ESPN’s Mike Schmitz takes a closer look at next year’s international group and notes that the 17-year-old Maledon is now the starting point guard for ASVEL, the club Parker oversees as president. ASVEL is the first-place team among 18 in France’s top league. Maledon could become the second-ever 18-year-old EuroLeague starter, following in the footsteps of Luka Doncic, when ASVEL moves up to the prestigious league next season, Schmitz adds.
  • The NBA 2K League will begin its 18-week season on April 2 and conclude with the Finals on August 3, according to a league press release. All regular-season games will take place at the NBA 2K League Studio in Long Island City, New York, and will be live-streamed on Twitch.