Nicolas Batum

Southeast Notes: Young, Heat, Batum, Fournier

Hawks star Trae Young overcame several non-believers in his path to the NBA, proving doubters wrong while using their comments as motivation, Sam Amick of The Athletic writes. 

Young, 21, has quickly turned into one of the league’s most electric point guards. He’s averaged 26.6 points and 8.8 assists in 11 games for the Hawks this season, having being drafted fifth overall in 2018. The memories of his doubters still remain firmly in his mind.

“Yeah, it’s little stuff like that,” Young said. “I have pictures and stuff like that. Old tweets. Old different sayings and quotes from people who said things when I was coming into the draft, coming into college too. It’s stuff I just keep it in my mind. Some of it is mental notes, but at the same time some of it is stuff that I keep and I have my eye on. …But I think that type of stuff motivates you.”

Young, according to Amick, has a second phone filled with screenshots of those who doubted him. The phone itself isn’t attached to an actual line, but it’s something he’ll always have for motivation during his career.

“I’ve probably changed my phone twice, but I still have that same phone with all my pictures and all that stuff,” he said. “I’ll always have that phone, until I’m retired. And then, when I’m retired, I’ll go to the ocean somewhere and throw it in the water.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division tonight:

  • Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel examines whether the Heat have reached their development quota. Miami has several intriguing young players on its roster this season, including Justise Winslow, Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn.
  • Hornets forward Nicolas Batum returned on Saturday against the Knicks after missing nearly four weeks with a fractured left middle finger. Batum, 30, finished with three points, nine rebounds and six assists in 29 minutes of work, registering a positive-18 net rating.
  • Evan Fournier‘s renewed rhythm is leading the Magic to offensive improvement, writes John Denton of NBA.com. Orlando has won two straight games after a poor start to the season, though the team has yet to win a game on the road (0-4). Fournier has averaged 16.2 points per game on 48% shooting from the field and 43% shooting from 3-point range.

Hornets Notes: Graham, Rozier, Batum

As Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer notes, Hornets president of basketball operations Mitch Kupchak has talked in recent months about the team’s top priority being retaining young talent, rather than going out and signing veteran free agents. In the early going this season, second-year point guard Devonte’ Graham has emerged as the sort of player worth investing in, with averages of 18.0 PPG and 7.3 APG through 11 games.

If the Hornets do want to lock up Graham, they’ll have to wait to do so, writes Bonnell. Non-rookie-scale contracts can’t be extended until at least two years after they were signed, so Graham won’t become extension-eligible until next July, when he enters the final year of his current deal.

At that time, the Hornets would be able to offer him a four-year extension with a starting salary worth up to 120% of the NBA’s estimated average salary. A similar extension going into effect in 2020/21 would be worth approximately $51.4MM over four years, but that figure will be a little higher in 2021/22. It will be interesting to see over the course of this season whether Graham continues to prove he’s worth that sort of commitment.

Here’s more on the Hornets:

  • Graham’s early-season success has overshadowed Terry Rozier‘s first few weeks as a Hornet, but the team’s big offseason acquisition had his best game on Wednesday, matching his career high with 33 points. In a separate article for The Charlotte Observer, Bonnell takes a look at how Rozier can help the Hornets, and how the team might best utilize him and Graham together.
  • In his latest mailbag for The Observer, Bonnell tackles a handful of Hornets-related topics, exploring Dwayne Bacon‘s slow start, whether Charlotte should pursue a third point guard, and whether it was ultimately in the franchise’s best interests to move on from Kemba Walker.
  • Veteran forward Nicolas Batum, who has been out since opening night with a broken finger, fully participated in practice today and told reporters that he hopes to return on the Hornets’ upcoming four-game road trip (Twitter link). That trip begins on Saturday in New York and ends next Friday in Washington.

Hornets’ Nicolas Batum Breaks Finger, Out 3-4 Weeks

OCTOBER 24: Batum is expected to be sidelined for approximately three or four weeks, league sources tell Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link).

OCTOBER 23: Hornets forward Nicolas Batum suffered a broken finger on his left hand during tonight’s season opener, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. The fracture is located at the base of the middle finger, according to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer (Twitter link). The team hasn’t set an estimate for how much time he might miss.

Batum came off the bench in tonight’s game, playing 11 minutes before the injury. He grabbed four rebounds and handed out two assists, but didn’t attempt a shot.

Charlotte’s highest-paid player at more than $25.5MM, Batum has accepted a reserve role as the Hornets are launching a youth movement after losing star guard Kemba Walker in free agency. Bonnell notes that five of the team’s top seven salaries are not part of the starting lineup (Twitter link). Batum talked to coach James Borrego this week about his role on the team and said he doesn’t mind coming off the bench, tweets Rod Boone of The Athletic.

Batum is in the fourth season of a five-year, $120MM deal he signed with the Hornets in 2016. He has a $27.13MM player option for next season that he is virtually certain to pick up, considering his market value. Batum averaged 9.3 PPG in 75 games last season, his worst scoring numbers since his rookie year.

Hornets Notes: Salary, Zeller, Bridges, Bacon

Several high-priced veterans appear destined to remain on the Hornets‘ roster, writes Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. Charlotte has been trying for some time to find a taker for Nicolas Batum ($25.565MM this year with a $27.13MM player option for 2020/21), Marvin Williams ($15MM expiring deal) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($13MM expiring), but other teams have been reluctant to take on any of those salaries.

Bonnell expects that to continue for another year as GM Mitch Kupchak said he doesn’t foresee any significant roster changes. The team tried to move Williams during the offseason, and Bonnell sees him as the most marketable of the three. He speculates that Kidd-Gilchrist might be open to a buyout if he can’t be traded before the February deadline.

There’s more tonight from Charlotte:

  • Cody Zeller, who is owed nearly a combined $30MM over the next two seasons, is a good bet to finish that contract in Charlotte, Bonnell states in the same story. Zeller has been the Hornets‘ best center when he is healthy, but injuries have limited him to 33 and 49 games over the last two years. Bonnell notes that Willy Hernangomez hasn’t done enough to convince the front office that he could handle the starter’s role if Zeller were to be traded.
  • Among the team’s young core, Miles Bridges and Dwayne Bacon are most likely to have long-term futures in Charlotte, Bonnell adds. He identifies PJ Washington and Devonte’ Graham as two other prospects the organization may decide to hold onto, while Hernangomez and Malik Monk both have something to prove.
  • The Hornets will hire an assistant coach with responsibilities in both the NBA and the G League, Bonnell tweets. The new addition will be in charge of player development and will split time between Charlotte and Greensboro.

Hornets Rumors: Kemba, Vets, Future Plans, McDaniels

Hornets president of basketball operations Mitch Kupchak tells Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer that the team was somewhat blindsided by Kemba Walker earning All-NBA honors and becoming eligible for a super-max contract earlier this year. Although Walker wasn’t demanding the full super-max (approximately $221MM over five years), the gap between what he sought and what Charlotte was willing to offer was too significant to bridge the gap.

“We had great years with him, and we didn’t get into the playoffs,” Kupchak said of the All-Star point guard. “What makes us think that next year (would) be different? I’ve got to step back and look at where we’ve been and where we’re going. Chart out a course that gives us the best chance to build something that is sustainable for more than a year or two.”

The Hornets have faced criticism for not getting what they could for Walker in a pre-deadline trade in February, but Kupchak tells Bonnell that the club was confident in its chances of re-signing Kemba at that point and wasn’t impressed with the offers it received on the trade market.

“Almost every offer revolved around draft picks. It was always lottery-protected,” Kupchak said. “When you do something like that, you’re saying you’re going to draft a player in the teens, we don’t know how good he’s going to be, and it’s going to take three or four years (to realize value). We wanted to keep Kemba — under the right conditions.”

We don’t know the specifics on what the Hornets were offered for Walker, so we’ll take Kupchak at his word that those offers didn’t provide enough value to be worthwhile.

Still, it’s fair to take the front office to task for the assertion that it didn’t see Walker’s All-NBA nod and super-max eligibility coming. The former UConn standout scored 41 points on opening night last fall and played at an elite level all season, singlehandedly keeping Charlotte in the playoff hunt. To claim the team was blindsided by Kemba’s super-max eligibility is either disingenuous or signals a worrisome lack of foresight.

Here’s more from Bonnell on the Hornets:

  • Head coach James Borrego is under no obligation to give significant minutes to Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who will earn a combined $85MM in 2019/20. “I’m not going to coach a team based on contracts, what you’re making, where you were drafted, if you were drafted,” Borrego said. “To me, that’s not my job. My job is to get the most out of them, whether they were drafted or not drafted.”
  • While those veterans will get a chance to compete for roles, Borrego wants to make sure the team’s young prospects play consistent minutes, either in Charlotte or in the G League. “We’re not going to have draft picks on our bench who are just sitting there,” the head coach told Bonnell. “If they’re not playing meaningful minutes for us in Charlotte, I promise you they will be playing minutes in Greensboro.”
  • The Hornets “didn’t even contemplate” using their mid-level exception this offseason, according to Kupchak, who explained to Bonnell that no one in that price range would have “changed the course of this organization.”
  • The Hornets also won’t rely on free agency going forward to reshape their roster, preferring instead to use any future cap flexibility to re-sign young players or to accommodate trades. “Free agent signings, for us, are not something we need to concentrate on going forward. We’re not going to get the ‘Big Fish,'” Kupchak said. “We have to create a culture where those kinds of players would want to come here. And, quite frankly, we’re not there yet. For us to hoard cap room (for that purpose) is not in the best interest of the organization.”
  • In a tweet, Bonnell adds a couple more Hornets-related items, reporting that there’s no indication the club is involved in ongoing trade talks that would jettison a veteran contract. Additionally, Charlotte would like to get unsigned second-rounder Jalen McDaniels locked up in a developmental role, per Bonnell. It sounds like the team’s preference may be for McDaniels to sign a G League contract.

World Cup Updates: Lithuania, Joseph, Nigeria, France

The Lithuanian national team has announced its roster for the 2019 World Cup, according to Donatas Urbonas, who tweets that the 12-man squad will include Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas and Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis in the frontcourt. Former Knicks forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas is also on the roster.

Lithuania is viewed as a contender to make a deep run in this year’s tournament, but it won’t have an easy path to even make it out of the first round. The Lithuanian national team is part of a group that also includes Australia, Canada, and Senegal — only two of those clubs will advance to the round of 16.

Here’s more on the 2019 World Cup, which will tip off in just four days in China:

And-Ones: Durant, Superteams, French National Team

Multiple teams around the NBA still consider Kevin Durant a talent worth investing max money in, despite the ruptured Achilles that will sideline him through 2019/20. Ben Golliver of the Washington Post weighs in on several franchises that could entertain the idea this summer.

Golliver writes that the Clippers, backed by billionaire Steve Ballmer could afford to sign Durant, tinker with the impressive lineup that led them to the postseason this spring, and then hit the ground running with Durant in 2020/21. That’s a scenario that would be ever dreamier if they were able to land Kawhi Leonard this summer as well.

Of course Durant’s absence next season will still have some impact on his value. Could the revelation that Durant won’t play in 2019/20 derail a potential pairing with Kyrie Irving in New York? Would Irving prefer instead to work with a different star in Brooklyn?

These are questions we’ll get answers to eventually but for now one thing is clear, Durant’s value remains high but that’s not to say that his Achilles hasn’t still thrown the league for a loop.

There’s more from around the league:

  • Is this the beginning of the end of the Superteam Era? Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN wonders as much in a video released on Instagram, suggesting players around the league are showing a greater interest in leading their own teams. For the past decade, star players have seemingly gravitated to one another to stack the deck and win championships but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, if the Raptors’ 2019 title plays a small role in the ushering out the Superteam Era, they’ll be walking right back into a climate that saw former Raptor star Tracy McGrady bolt the franchise for the chance to get out of Vince Carter‘s shadow and lead his own Magic squad.
  • Former Knicks forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas has received interest from a number of NBA teams and has several offers to join teams on non-guaranteed pre-season camp deals, international basketball reported Donatas Urbonas tweets.
  • The preliminary French national team for the 2019 World Cup has been revealed and a number of household NBA names will fortify a competitive roster. As seen at Sportando, Rudy Gobert, Nicolas Batum and Evan Fournier are the biggest names on the preliminary roster but they’re not the only ones with big league credentials.

Hornets Notes: Batum, Walker, Offseason Plans

Hornets coach James Borrego isn’t sure how Nicolas Batum fits into his plans for next season, Borrego admits to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. Batum was placed in a variety of roles but had another disappointing season and was briefly benched by Borrego. The team’s highest-paid player has two years and $52.5MM remaining on his contract, making him virtually untradeable unless Charlotte sweetens the pot with a first-round pick or young player. Bonnell suggests making Batum a utility player where he sees minutes at shooting guard, small forward and power forward.

We have more on the Hornets:

  • Unrestricted free agent Kemba Walker was unhappy that an attempt to acquire veteran center Marc Gasol from Memphis before the February trade deadline fell through, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (hat tip to NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman). The outline of the proposed deal would have sent out center Bismack Biyombo, forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a protected first-round pick for Gasol. Memphis instead chose to make a deal with playoff-bound Toronto.
  • If Walker re-signs with the club, Jeremy Lamb will likely be a cap casualty, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks points out in his offseason preview. Getting a commitment from Walker would push Charlotte past the luxury tax threshold. Re-signing Lamb for a conservative estimate of $11MM in the first year would trigger an approximate $27.5MM in additional luxury tax penalties. The team also has to make some hard decisions on non-guaranteed contracts, including Tony Parker‘s deal. The Hornets are unlikely to give forward Frank Kaminsky a $4.5MM qualifying offer before the June 30 deadline, Marks adds.
  • Walker’s chances of returning are pegged at 30% by Bonnell in his player-by-player breakdown of the roster. Those odds will rise only if GM Mitch Kupchak can pull off a blockbuster deal before free agency to entice Walker to stay.

Southeast Notes: Beal, Waiters, Graham, Hornets

Despite missing out on the playoffs, Wizards star Bradley Beal refuses to blame his team’s shortcomings on owner Ted Leonsis or upper management.

Washington fell to 31-46 on the season by losing to the Jazz on Friday, holding just a 22-16 record at home and 9-30 record on the road. Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld — overseen by Leonsis — put together a roster that many league observers were confident would make the playoffs when the season started. However, a series of injuries, shuffled pieces and bad chemistry eventually ended the team’s chances at making the tournament this year.

“And for me, my higher calling – I’ve let people down this year with the Wizards,” Leonsis said, according to NBC Sports Washington. “I want every one of our teams to make the playoffs and win a championship.”

Coming into the season, the Wizards sported a projected starting lineup of John Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard. However, Wall underwent season-ending heel surgery in December (in addition to rupturing his Achilles in January), Porter was traded to Chicago, Morris was traded (and then waived by New Orleans), and Howard has been forced to miss all but nine games due to injuries this year.

“He’s not playing, so I can’t sit here and just allow him to take all the credit for it,” Beal said of Leonsis. “We can just continue to move forward, continue to get better, but it’s not just on him, it’s on everybody.”

The Wizards only have four players under contract entering the 2019/20 season, with forward Jabari Parker holding a $20MM team option and Howard holding a $5.6MM player option. Trevor Ariza, Wesley Johnson, Tomas SatoranskyJeff Green, Thomas Bryant and Chasson Randle are all set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, with Bobby Portis and Sam Dekker likely to become restricted free agents.

There’s more today out of the Southeast Division:

  • Heat guard Dion Waiters plans to vigorously focus on his weight once the season comes to an end. Waiters, who underwent a major transformation after his first season in Miami, has taken a step back in his overall health since undergoing ankle surgery. “My whole mindset after the playoffs is getting right to it,” Waiters said, according to Ira Winderman of the Sen Sentinel. “I took a year and a half off. This season for me is more about getting back in the feel and things like that, trying to find my rhythm and get acclimated by playing.”
  • Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham is proving to be a keeper for the team, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer contends. Graham’s development has been boosted by the veteran presence of Tony Parker, with the 24-year-old point guard improving on both ends of the floor in his rookie season. Charlotte’s future at point guard is mostly uncertain outside of Graham, with Kemba Walker reaching free agency in July and Parker set to turn 37 in May.
  • With less than two weeks left of the regular season, the Hornets‘ biggest challenge might be finding definitive roles for Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bonnell wrote in a separate story for the Charlotte Observer. “Where they fit in the rotation, I don’t know,” head coach James Borrego said when asked about the two players. Batum has missed each of the last four games (largely due to an illness), while Kidd-Gilchrist has played in just one of his last five outings because of a concussion. Kidd-Gilchrist saw just eight minutes in a loss to the Lakers on Friday.

Hornets Open To Trading Frank Kaminsky?

The Hornets may be ready to include big man Frank Kaminsky in a trade, according to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, who reports that teams – including some contenders – have expressed interest in the former first-round pick.

While the Hornets would likely have plenty of potential trade partners to choose from if they were to move Kaminsky on his own, they would prefer to attach him to another big contract, according to Deveney’s report.

Sources tell Sporting News that Charlotte would like to get out from under Nicolas Batum‘s deal, which has another two years and $52.7MM left after this season. At least one team was told Kaminsky could be had in a trade if Batum was included as well, per Deveney. Bismack Biyombo‘s contract, which has one year and $17MM left after this season, is another pricey deal the Hornets are interested in moving.

Pairing Kaminsky with a big contract may be a tough sell though — as Deveney notes, the 25-year-old will be a restricted free agent himself in July, so he’ll be in line for a raise on his $3.63MM salary later this year, especially if he plays well for a new team. Plus, Kaminsky’s role has been very limited under new head coach James Borrego this season, suggesting he may not be part of Charlotte’s future. As such, potential suitors figure to be wary about making substantial offers for him.

Kaminsky, the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft, was a reliable contributor for the Hornets in 2017/18, averaging 11.1 PPG and shooting 38.0% on three-pointers in 79 games (23.2 MPG). This season, however, he has been in and out of the rotation, playing just 11.6 MPG in 22 contests. Even with Cody Zeller sidelined, Kaminsky only played 16 minutes in Wednesday’s blowout loss to Dallas. That limited role prompts Deveney to speculate that the fourth-year power forward “would likely welcome a change of scenery.”

Back in 2015, the Hornets reportedly turned down a Celtics trade offer that included four first-round picks in order to draft Kaminsky, so the optics for the franchise wouldn’t be great if he’s moved now for a modest return. Of course, letting him walk for nothing in the summer might look worse.