Kings’ Vlade Divac Stepping Down From GM Position

Kings general manager Vlade Divac is stepping down from his current position in the front office, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Joe Dumars, who had been serving as a special advisor, will become the team’s interim executive vice president of basketball operations and general manager, according to Amick, who adds that Dumars will be involved in the search for Sacramento’s next GM.

The Kings have announced Divac’s departure and Dumars’ new role, issuing a press release to confirm the news. The wording of a statement from Kings owner Vivek Ranadive suggests the team may have had a hand in Divac’s decision to “step down.”

“This was a difficult decision, but we believe it is the best path ahead as we work to build a winning team that our loyal fans deserve,” Ranadive said. “We are thankful for Vlade’s leadership, commitment, and hard work both on and off the court. He will always be a part of our Kings family.”

News of the Kings’ front office shakeup comes on the heels of a report suggesting Divac’s job likely wouldn’t be in danger, since he still had three years left on his contract. Based on the framing of his departure as a resignation, it’s unclear whether Divac will be paid some or all of his remaining salary.

Divac joined the Kings in March 2015 and was promoted to the general manager position just a few months later. Over the course of his five years in Sacramento’s front office, Divac has had his ups and downs. He got a solid return – including Buddy Hield – when he traded DeMarcus Cousins, and drafted a potential franchise cornerstone in 2017, snaring De’Aaron Fox with the No. 5 pick.

However, Divac has been unable to add enough talent to turn Sacramento into a playoff team — the Kings’ 39-43 record a year ago was their best mark since 2006, the last year they made the playoffs. A handful of questionable roster and draft decisions during Divac’s tenure have hurt the club.

The most memorable misstep came during the 2018 draft, when the Kings passed on Luka Doncic to take Marvin Bagley III with the No. 2 pick. Bagley was hampered by injuries this year and has yet to develop into a reliable NBA contributor, while Doncic won Rookie of the Year honors in 2019 and was a legitimate MVP candidate in his second professional season.

Although the Kings will seek a new general manager, they’re hopeful that their interim structure will provide enough stability through the draft and free agency, and may not fill the GM opening until after the draft, reports Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated (Twitter links). Dumars could be considered for the permanent job if he’s interested, Spears adds (via Twitter).

Meanwhile, Amick reports (via Twitter) that head coach Luke Walton‘s job remains safe despite the upheaval in the front office. Even though Walton was hand-picked by Divac, there “won’t be another domino falling here,” according to Amick.

However, James Ham of NBC Sports California suggests (via Twitter) that the new GM will likely be permitted to decide on the fates of several staff members, including Walton and executives Peja Stojakovic and Ken Catanella. Ham reported via a source in a subsequent tweet that Walton would remain the coach next season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Montrezl Harrell Expected To Clear 7-Day Quarantine On Monday

Clippers center Montrezl Harrell was given a seven-day quarantine upon returning to the NBA’s campus at Walt Disney World earlier this week, according to Ohm Youngmisuk and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

Assuming there are no complications, Harrell is on schedule to clear his quarantine period on Monday, which would make him eligible to participate in the first game of the Clippers’ series against Dallas later that night, per Youngmisuk and Wojnarowski.

If a player who is away from the NBA’s campus with an excused absence receives negative coronavirus test results on each of the seven days before he returns, he’s only subject to a four-day quarantine. If not, he can be subject to a quarantine period of up to 10-to-14 days. Harrell’s seven-day quarantine suggests he may not have precisely followed the league’s protocols while he was away, but probably didn’t flagrantly violate them either.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers didn’t confirm ESPN’s report when asked this afternoon about Harrell’s availability, but hinted that the big man might be subject to a longer quarantine period than four days.

We have an idea but it’s not ideal, let me put it that way,” Rivers said, in reference to Harrell’s potential return (Twitter link via Jovan Buha of The Athletic).

Although Harrell – who left the campus due to the death of his grandmother – hasn’t played in a scrimmage or seeding game this summer, the Clippers are hopeful that they’ll be able to throw him right into the fire once he clears quarantine, rather than requiring him to go through any sort of ramp-up period.

“He’s earned that right,” Rivers said (Twitter link via Buha).

Mo Bamba Leaves NBA Campus, Out For Season

Magic center Mohamed Bamba has left the NBA’s Walt Disney World campus, the team said today (Twitter link). According to the Magic, Bamba is undergoing a “comprehensive post-coronavirus evaluation” on the advice of team doctors and performance staffers.

Bamba has been ruled out for the rest of the season, per the Magic.

Josh Robbins of The Athletic reported last week that Bamba contracted COVID-19 in June and that his recovery from the virus had been a slow process. The illness led to fatigue and muscle soreness and temporarily removed Bamba’s senses of smell and taste, according to Robbins. He has barely played at all this summer due to conditioning issues, last appearing in a game on August 2.

The former No. 6 overall pick spoke last week about wanting to continue working to get back to 100% and being ready to play when called upon. However, it appears the Magic determined that it’s in Bamba’s best interest to shut things down for the 2019/20 season and focus on getting healthy for next year.

Bamba, 22, appeared in 62 games during his second NBA season, averaging 5.4 PPG and 4.9 RPG in 14.2 minutes per contest as a backup behind starting center Nikola Vucevic. He’s under contract for $5.97MM next season, with a $7.57MM team option for 2021/22.

Bamba is the second Magic player who has been ruled out for the season since the restart began, as Jonathan Isaac tore his ACL earlier this month. The club has also been missing Aaron Gordon (hamstring) and Michael Carter-Williams (foot), who was said to be in a walking boot on Thursday. Additionally, Al-Farouq Aminu didn’t travel to Disney World with the team as he continues to recover from knee surgery.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Potential Offseason OTAs For Bottom Eight Teams

Discussions about organized team activities (OTAs) – including group workouts and scrimmages – for the eight clubs left out of the NBA’s 22-team Orlando restart are ongoing, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link), who says those talks continue to center on in-market workouts that would start in September.

Over the course of the summer, there have been rumblings that the NBA was considering setting up a second bubble in Chicago for its bottom eight teams to conduct group workouts and scrimmages. The league was also said to be exploring the idea of bringing those eight clubs to the first bubble at Walt Disney World once several of the teams involved in the restart are eliminated.

However, the most likely outcome is a scenario reported by The Charlotte Observer last month, which would allow the Warriors, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Hawks, Pistons, Knicks, Bulls, and Hornets to conduct offseason workouts for about three weeks in their respective home markets and facilities. No inter-squad scrimmages would take place in that scenario, but intra-squad scrimmages would be permitted.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link), the NBA and NBPA are in serious talks about moving forward with that plan for September. It would look something like this, per Charania:

  • One week of individual workouts
  • Two weeks of group practices
  • One hour of 5-on-5 play per day
  • Daily coronavirus testing

Presumably, any team that has a player test positive for COVID-19 during that three-week period would have to at least temporarily shut down its facility in an effort to avoid a more significant outbreak.

Those workouts are also expected to be voluntary, which means that certain star players or other veterans, including players eligible for free agency, likely won’t participate. However, rebuilding teams like the Cavaliers, Hawks, and Timberwolves are eager to get their young players some organized offseason reps, since they’ll likely go at least nine months – or more – between regular season games.

Bulls Fire Head Coach Jim Boylen

The Bulls have parted ways with head coach Jim Boylen, announcing today in a press release that he has been relieved of his duties. A search for the team’s next head coach will begin immediately, according to the release.

“After doing a comprehensive evaluation and giving the process the time it deserved, I ultimately decided that a fresh approach and evolution in leadership was necessary,” new executive VP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas said in a statement. “This was a very difficult decision, but it is time for our franchise to take that next step as we move in a new direction and era of Chicago Bulls basketball.”

Boylen, who took the reins from Fred Hoiberg during the 2018/19 season, led the Bulls to an underwhelming 39-84 (.317) record during his brief tenure as head coach and didn’t always see eye-to-eye with his players, including standout guard Zach LaVine.

When Karnisovas took over as Chicago’s new head of basketball operations in the spring, he indicated that he wanted to take some time to evaluate Boylen, though he hasn’t had many opportunities to do so in recent months. The Bulls weren’t invited to the NBA’s 22-team restart in Orlando, and still haven’t approved organized practices or scrimmages for the eight teams left out, leaving those clubs to conduct individual workouts this summer.

Reports dating back to May have suggested that Karnisovas and new GM Marc Eversley were leaning toward making a change, but more recent reports cast doubt on that plan, suggesting that financial factors could motivate the team to stick with Boylen. Given today’s news, it appears Bulls ownership is on board with eating the remainder of Boylen’s modest contract.

Sixers assistant Ime Udoka and Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin have previously been cited as possible candidates to become the Bulls’ next head coach. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link) adds a few more names to that list of potential targets, suggesting that Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Bucks assistant Darvin Ham, and former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson are expected to receive consideration as well.

Chicago will be the second team to conduct a formal head coaching search in 2020, joining the Knicks, who hired Tom Thibodeau last month. The Nets also intend to launch a search for a permanent head coach when their season ends, with the Rockets, Pelicans, and Sixers among the other teams worth keeping an eye on.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Blazers, Grizzlies To Meet For Play-In Tournament

The Trail Blazers, the West’s eighth seed, will now face off against the ninth-seeded Grizzlies in the first of two potential play-in tournament games on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. CT on ABC.

After an injury-plagued year, the Trail Blazers rode an impressive showing during their eight Orlando seeding games to a play-in tournament appearance as the West’s No. 8 seed. Portland defeated the Nets in a 134-133 nail-biter on Thursday, bringing the club’s Disney World record to 6-2.

The Blazers’ lone All-Star, Damian Lillard, poured in 42 points on Thursday and averaged a blistering 37.6 PPG during the eight seeding games, as the team wrapped up its cumulative regular season with a 35-39 finish

Despite a lackluster 2-6 showing in the seeding games, the Grizzlies had enough of a head start going into the restart to secure a play-in tournament berth, finishing the season with a 34-39 record.

Probable Rookie of the Year Ja Morant and starting center Jonas Valanciunas each posted triple doubles in a 119-106 vanquishing of the Bucks today. A one-game suspension prevented Milwaukee All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo from suiting up against Memphis.

Per new rules developed for the NBA’s Orlando restart, Portland will enter the play-in tournament as the No. 8 seed and will need to win just one game against Memphis to advance to a first-round playoff matchup against the top-seeded Lakers next week.

If the No. 9 Grizzlies win on Saturday, there would be a second play-in game on Sunday between the two clubs. The winner of that second contest would face off against LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and company in a best-of-seven first round series.

Lillard has been the standout for the Trail Blazers, but center Jusuf Nurkic and power forward Zach Collins have proven to be crucial contributors upon returning from season-long injuries. Additionally, despite their limitations on defense, shooting guard CJ McCollum and small forward Carmelo Anthony will be tough covers for the Grizzlies’ young wings.

Morant will need to bear the brunt of Memphis’ offensive burden after Jaren Jackson Jr. suffered a season-ending meniscus tear last week. The Grizzlies will also be without Justise Winslow (hip) for the rest of the season and didn’t have backup point guard Tyus Jones (knee) available during the seeding games.

Despite being the only team to win all eight of its Disney World seeding games, the Suns narrowly missed out on an opportunity to make the play-in tournament. Phoenix finished its season with a 34-39 record thanks to a 128-102 drubbing of the Mavericks on Thursday. All-Star Suns guard Devin Booker and promising second-year center Deandre Ayton both impressed, complemented by a stellar young roster.

The Grizzlies, having won three of four games against the Suns during the regular season, had the tiebreaker edge over Phoenix, earning the right to compete in this weekend’s play-in.

The Spurs, meanwhile, missed the postseason for the first time since 1997, ending a 22-year playoff run that was easily the NBA’s longest active streak. San Antonio entered the restart planning to focus more on player development than on making the postseason, but played well, posting a 5-3 summer record. Head coach Gregg Popovich said after Thursday’s finale that he was very pleased with his club’s performance during the restart, per Eric Woodyard of ESPN.

“I’m more excited about this than anything you guys are talking about right now, successes or non-successes, because the success for streaks or whatever the hell you’re talking about ended,” Popovich said. “I could care less about that. I’m thrilled at the way they played here.”

Once either the Trail Blazers or Grizzlies win the play-in tournament, all eight first-round playoff matchups will be finalized. Details on the other seven series can be found right here.

The Suns, Spurs, and the loser of the play-in tournament will be part of the NBA’s draft lottery next Thursday, sorted by their records as of March 11. That means Phoenix will be 10th in the lottery standings, San Antonio will be 11th, and the Portland/Memphis loser will be 14th.

Luke Adams contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Ty Lue Expected To Be Popular Head Coaching Candidate

Tyronn Lue hasn’t been an NBA head coach since early in the 2018/19 season, when he was let go by the Cavaliers, but it sounds as if it may just be a matter of time before he returns to that role with a new team. Multiple league executives tell Chris Mannix of that they expect Lue to be a leading candidate for head coaching jobs that may open this offseason.

Lue, who is currently the lead assistant on Doc RiversClippers staff, has been identified as a probable candidate for the Nets, who expect to formally open a coaching search when their season ends. He’s also viewed as a potential target for the Pelicans if they decide to move on from Alvin Gentry, in part due to his connection to David Griffin.

In addition to mentioning Brooklyn and New Orleans, Mannix identifies the Rockets and Sixers as other teams that could make coaching changes, though he doesn’t explicitly say that either club would have Lue on its wish list.

Of course, given the financial ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s possible fewer NBA teams than usual will make offseason coaching changes, as they look to avoid paying two coaches at once. In that scenario, Lue’s options figure to be more limited.

Having coached the Cavaliers for two full seasons and parts of two others, Lue compiled a 128-83 (.607) regular season record and a 41-20 (.672) mark in the playoffs, including an NBA title in 2016. Cleveland is already on its third head coach (Larry Drew, John Beilein, J.B. Bickerstaff) since firing Lue following his 0-6 start in ’18/19.

Rockets Expect Westbrook To Miss Start Of Postseason

The Rockets expect Russell Westbrook – who was diagnosed on Wednesday with a strained right quad – to miss at least “the first few games” of their first-round playoff series, reports Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

So far, the team has offered few concrete updates on Westbrook, only indicating that it will reevaluate his quad injury before the postseason begins next week. However, a source with knowledge of the Rockets’ thinking told Feigen on Thursday that the All-Star guard will at least miss the start of the playoffs and could be out longer than that.

It’s bad news for the Rockets, who are locked into a first-round matchup against Westbrook’s old team, the Thunder. The series promised a fascinating backcourt duel, with Westbrook, James Harden, and Eric Gordon going up against the Oklahoma City trio of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dennis Schröder.

However, it sounds like Houston will have to make do without Westbrook for at least the first couple games of that series, forcing Harden, Gordon, and backup guards Austin Rivers and Ben McLemore to take on increased responsibilities.

Westbrook’s return timeline will depend on how he responds to treatment, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Hopefully, by the time the Rockets/Thunder series gets underway next Monday or Tuesday, we’ll have a better sense of when the former MVP might be able to return to the lineup.

Seven Of Eight First-Round Playoff Matchups Set

AUGUST 13: Following wins by the Thunder and Clippers on Wednesday night, three Western Conference first-round matchups have now been set, with only the Lakers still awaiting their opponent. Those first-round series are as follows:

  • Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Play-in winner (8)
  • Los Angeles Clippers (2) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7)
  • Denver Nuggets (3) vs. Utah Jazz (6)
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (4/5) vs. Houston Rockets (4/5)

We’ll know by the end of Thursday which two teams out of the Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Spurs will be participating in the play-in tournament in the West, but it may be Sunday before the Lakers know their first-round opponent.

AUGUST 12: As a result of the Pacers’ 108-104 win over Houston this afternoon, the four Eastern Conference matchups for the first round of the postseason have been set. They are as follows:

  • Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Orlando Magic (8)
  • Toronto Raptors (2) vs. Brooklyn Nets (7)
  • Boston Celtics (3) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (6)
  • Miami Heat (4/5) vs. Indiana Pacers (4/5)

Typically, the Heat and Pacers would be continuing to fight for home court advantage in their series, but the unusual nature of this season means claiming the No. 4 seed instead of No. 5 won’t make much of a difference.

Despite the fact that several teams were within two or three games of one another in the standings when the restart began – or were even tied, like the Pacers and Sixers – the first-round matchups in the East look exactly the same as they did when the season was suspended on March 11.

Over in the West, a small number of teams – including the No. 1 Lakers – are locked into their playoff spots, but most matchups remain up in the air. For now, the most likely pairings are Lakers/play-in winner, Clippers/Mavericks, Nuggets/Jazz, and Rockets/Thunder, but one or more of those could change by Friday.

NBA Suspends Giannis For Final Seeding Game

After head-butting Wizards big man Moritz Wagner yesterday, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has been suspended by the NBA for the team’s regular season finale tomorrow against the Grizzlies, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

Antetokounmpo, the likely 2019/20 NBA MVP, head-butted Wagner with 8:50 left to play in the game’s second quarter. He was immediately ejected, with a suspension for his conduct seemingly inevitable. The Bucks would go on to tally a win anyway. Milwaukee’s 126-113 victory marked the Wizards’ seventh consecutive loss in Orlando. Washington is currently winless during the NBA restart.

The 56-16 Bucks have the best record in the NBA, and have clinched the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. But the result of Thursday’s game could have significant implications for other teams.

The 33-39 Grizzlies will almost certainly need to win their bout against the Bucks to qualify for this weekend’s play-in tournament between the West’s eighth and ninth seeds, as Tim Bontemps of ESPN notes (Twitter link). Memphis could also clinch a play-in tournament appearance if both the 33-39 Suns and 32-38 Spurs lose their final seeding games, as Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets. Given how hot those teams have been though, the Grizzlies can’t afford to count on that.

If the 34-39 Trail Blazers lose their final seeding game tomorrow against the Nets, the Grizzlies would secure the eighth seed with a win, and would need to win just one of the two play-in games to qualify for a first-round playoff matchup against the top-seeded Lakers. The Grizzlies would be the ninth seed if they and the Blazers win, but as the ninth seed they would need to win both play-in games to advance.

A Grizzlies loss tomorrow to an Antetokounmpo-free Bucks squad would likely eliminate Memphis from the playoffs. This could have interesting draft implications for the Celtics, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe reminds us (Twitter link). Boston owns the Grizzlies’ first-round draft pick if it falls outside the top six picks this season, before becoming completely unprotected in 2021.

Were Memphis to fall into the draft lottery for 2020, the team would have a slim chance at a pick within the top six. If the Grizzlies get lucky in the lottery, the Celtics would instead receive the team’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. A play-in series loss would also theoretically keep the Grizzlies’ chances at retaining their own 2020 pick alive.