Nikola Jokic

LeBron, Giannis Draft 2019 All-Star Teams

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo drafted their teams for the 2019 All-Star Game on Thursday, officially finalizing the rosters for this year’s contest. James and Antetokounmpo were chosen as captains because they were the All-Star starter from each conference with the most fan votes.

Both James and Antetokounmpo first had to select from a pool of starters, then from a list of reserve players. The starters, which consisted of eight other players, were voted on by the fans, players and media this season. The reserve players were voted on by the NBA’s 30 head coaches.

James drafted Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden as starters, choosing Durant as his first selection. His reserves were Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal and Dwyane Wade.

Antetokounmpo drafted Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Paul George and Kemba Walker as his starters, selecting Curry with his first pick. He drafted Khris Middleton, Nikola Jokic, Ben Simmons, Blake Griffin, D’Angelo Russell, Nikola Vucevic, Kyle Lowry and Dirk Nowitzki as his reserves.

James later traded Westbrook to Team Giannis in exchange for Simmons, making an effort to repair the relationship of Westbrook and Embiid.

The 68th NBA All-Star Game is set to commence on February 17 at Spectrum Center, featuring 26 of the best basketball players in the world.

One-Game Suspension For Nikola Jokic

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has received a one-game suspension for leaving the team’s bench area during an altercation, the NBA announced on Twitter.

The incident took place during Wednesday’s skirmish between Denver’s Mason Plumlee and Utah’s Derrick Favors. Plumlee was fined $25K and Favors was docked $15K, according to a statement from the league. Both players received technical fouls and were ejected.

Jokic will serve his suspension during tonight’s game against the Suns. He emerged as an MVP candidate this season, averaging career highs in points (19.8), rebounds (10.3) and assists (7.7) while leading Denver to the second-best record in the West.

Northwest Notes: Wolves, Barton, Jokic, Westbrook

The Timberwolves are back to where they started before the first Jimmy Butler trade with a young nucleus built around Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, writes Chip Scoggins of The Star-Tribune. Coach/executive Tom Thibodeau changed the blueprint in Minnesota last year when he acquired Butler from the Bulls in hopes of finding a veteran leader who could vault the team to the top of the West. Now the Wolves are back to square one, only instead of having Zach LaVine, who was sent to Chicago in the Butler deal along with a draft pick that became Lauri Markkanen, their core will include Dario Saric and Robert Covington.

Thibodeau has reduced job security after the Butler incident, and Scoggins suggests his first move should be to try to repair relationships within the organization. He let Butler virtually run the team over the past two months — catering to his outrageous behavior in an effort to convince him to stay —  which created dissension in the locker room that won’t be easy to erase.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Nuggets guard Will Barton is making progress in his rehab after surgery to repair core and hip muscle injuries, according to an Associated Press story. There’s still no timetable for his return, but Barton said he’s “getting stronger every day.” Team doctors planned to re-evaluate his progress six weeks after the October 23 procedure, so his comeback could start in early December. Barton said strengthening core muscles is the focus of his rehab work.
  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone defended center Nikola Jokic, who was fined $25K this week for using “derogatory and offensive language” in a postgame interview, relays Mike Singer of The Denver Post“There’s so many things being said about this poor kid, and I understand some of it, but those of us who know him, like most people in this hallway, give the kid a break,” Malone said. “He made a mistake, he’s paying for it, get off his back a little bit. He’s a great kid. He loves everybody, and he meant no offense to anybody.”
  • The Thunder are citing progress for Russell Westbrook, who is recovering a a sprained left ankle he suffered in Monday’s game, writes Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman. With a packed schedule this week, OKC hasn’t had time to fit in a practice to fully evaluate Westbrook’s condition. “He’s got to get out there, he’s got to practice, move and cut and do those things, so that’s going to take a little bit of time,” coach Billy Donovan said at Saturday’s shootaround.

Northwest Notes: Mitchell, Anthony, Jokic

Donovan Mitchell‘s emergence as a potential superstar allowed the Jazz to quickly move on from the loss of Gordon Hayward in free agency, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN examines in a post on Hayward’s return to Utah on Friday. Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey and coach Quin Snyder felt they could retool the roster and become a playoff contender again but had no idea Mitchell would emerge as a franchise player in his rookie year, Wojnarowski continues. Mitchell provides the Jazz with a selling point to recruit another star in free agency and he’s well on his way to a max contract extension in 2020, Wojnarowski adds.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Carmelo Anthony‘s season with the Thunder was a humbling experience, a high-ranking Rockets official told Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Anthony bristled at the thought of coming off the bench with OKC but is now at least tolerating a second-unit role with Houston. “Last year, I didn’t know what to expect coming into the situation,” Anthony told MacMahon. “It’s different when you’re clear on what is needed to be done or what you have to do or what’s needed of you. It’s a big difference.”
  • Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was fined $25K for using “derogatory and offensive language” when discussing Bulls rookie center Wendell Carter, Sean Highkin of Dime Magazine tweets. Jokic made the comment after Denver’s 108-107 overtime victory on Wednesday.
  • Floor spacing, 3-point shooting and defensive intensity have been areas of concern for the Jazz. The Thunder continue to deal with outside shooting woes. David Yapkowitz of Basketball Insiders takes a closer look at issues involving each Northwest club.

Contract Notes: Jokic, Gordon, Nurkic, Jazz

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic didn’t technically sign a maximum-salary contract when he re-upped with the club this summer, but he can increase his 2018/19 earnings to the maximum if he helps lead Denver to postseason success.

As ESPN’s Bobby Marks details (subscription required), Jokic is one of several NBA players with incentives in their contracts for the coming season. In Jokic’s case, he’s currently about $862K shy of his maximum salary, but he can earn $431K if the Nuggets advance to the playoffs, and another $431K if they win in the first round.

Here are a few more details from Marks on this season’s incentives and bonuses:

  • Aaron Gordon has a potential path to an All-Star nod in an Eastern Conference that lost more top talent this offseason. Gordon’s new contract with the Magic calls for a $500K bonus if he’s named an All-Star, per Marks. He could also further increase his earnings by being named to the All-NBA and All-Defense teams at season’s end.
  • Jusuf Nurkic can earn an extra $1.25MM this season if he appears in 70 games and the Trail Blazers crack the 50-win threshold, according to Marks. Nurkic played in 79 games last season, but because Portland only had 49 wins, this incentive is considered unlikely and doesn’t currently count against Nurkic’s cap hit.
  • Davis Bertans has to meet several criteria in order to earn a $250K bonus on his new contract with the Spurs — the veteran forward must play in 70 games, make 165 three-pointers, and average 6.5 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes, as Marks details.
  • Dante Exum, Raul Neto, and Derrick Favors all have incentives on their new deals with the Jazz, with a focus on games played — they all must appear in at least 67 games to start earning their bonuses. Favors, in particular, has plenty riding on his performance, as he can earn $2.8MM in incentives. Of those incentives, $900K are considered likely and already count against his cap charge.
  • Marks also notes that several players will have a chance to become eligible for super-max contracts with their current clubs if they make All-NBA teams this season. That list includes Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Draymond Green (Warriors), Klay Thompson (Warriors), Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers), and Kemba Walker (Hornets). Additionally, Devin Booker‘s new extension with the Suns would start at 27.5% of the cap if he’s named to the All-NBA Third Team, 28.5% if he’s named to the Second Team, and 30% for First Team.

Rockets Making Strong Effort To Land Jimmy Butler

The Rockets are making a “strong effort” to acquire Jimmy Butler in a trade with the Timberwolves, sources tell Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston (Twitter link). Berman’s report comes after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski indicated on Wednesday that Houston was pursuing Butler.

Wojnarowski, who suggested that the Rockets were “trying to be creative” as they explored trade possibilities for Butler, wrote that it would be tricky for the club to pull off a deal for the All-NBA wing without involving a third team. Berman, meanwhile, doesn’t offer much in the way of specifics.

It’s hard to imagine Houston being able to trade for Butler without giving up Eric Gordon, whose $13MM+ salary would make for a good salary-matching piece and whose ability to make an immediate impact might appeal to Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau. The Rockets also have full control over their future first-round picks, though the value of their 2019 selection would be limited, since it’s likely to fall in the late-20s.

Although the Rockets are apparently pushing to land Butler, they’re not the only team involved. Wojnarowski’s report on Thursday named the Clippers and Cavaliers as other clubs in the mix, with the Heat still considered the most aggressive suitors. The Wizards and Mavericks have also gauged the asking price on Butler, while the Nets have interest but haven’t engaged Minnesota recently, per Woj.

Here’s more on Butler:

  • The Heat are open to the idea of taking on Gorgui Dieng‘s contract from the Timberwolves “under the right circumstances,” according to Wojnarowski.
  • Wojnarowski indicates that potential trade partners are skeptical of Thibodeau’s willingness to move Butler, since he’s making counter-offers he knows would never be accepted. In an appearance on the Bill Simmons Podcast, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer provided an example, reporting that the Timberwolves asked for Ben Simmons when they made a counter-offer to the Sixers (hat tip to Dane Delgado of NBC Sports). We passed along a report earlier today suggesting that Philadelphia has since pulled out of the Butler sweepstakes.
  • The Nuggets were mentioned several days ago as a potential dark horse for Butler, but T.J. McBride of Mile High Sports hears that Denver views Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris as “untouchable” (hat tip to Kurt Helin of NBC Sports). A trade for an All-Star like Butler is probably a long shot without any of those players involved.
  • Earlier today, we relayed an update on the Kings‘ potential involvement in the Butler talks — Sacramento is still interested in getting involved as a facilitator, but will be cautious about adding too much multiyear money to its cap.

Western Notes: Smith Jr., Nader, Caboclo, Jokic

Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr. is looking forward to the challenge of playing more at the shooting guard spot with the addition of rookie Luka Doncic, Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News writes. Coach Rick Carlisle said he’s not concerned about how Smith and Doncic will mesh, even though Smith mainly played the point last season. Smith wasn’t thrilled about playing the two-guard spot at times last season, according to Sefko, but the second-year guard is now a willing participant. “I made strides toward the end of the year playing off the ball. And I got better playing with it, too,” Smith told Sefko. “I believe both guys can play with it and without it.”

We have more from around the Western Conference:

  • The Thunder have to decide by September 1st whether to fully guarantee Abdel Nader‘s salary for next season, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders tweets. Nader will receive $450K of his $1,378,242 salary if he’s not retained. If Nader sticks, the Thunder will have 15 players on guaranteed contracts along with both two-way slots filled. It would be a surprise if the Thunder let Nader go, since they traded with the Celtics for the swingman last month.
  • Forward Bruno Caboclo believes he can learn a lot from the veterans on the Rockets, as he told Blake Murphy of Uproxx.com.  The former Raptor signed an Exhibit 10 contract, giving him a chance to make the opening night roster with the possibility to become an affiliate player if he doesn’t. “I’m a lot more mature right now, and I think I’m gonna learn a lot on this team,” he said. “Me and my agent, we saw every option, and we thought that Houston was gonna be the best option for me. It’s more betting on my talent and if I don’t sign here, I’m not gonna be stuck in one team.”
  • Nuggets center Nikola Jokic will not play for Serbia in the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament next month, according to a Sportando report. Serbia will face Greece and Estonia. Jokic signed a five-year contract with Denver this summer.

And-Ones: ROY Predictions, Offseason Rankings, NBAGL

Mavericks guard Luka Doncic has the best chance to win the Rookie of the Year award, according to an ESPN panel. Doncic will fill up the stat sheet and might wind up with the ball more often than second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr., according to Mike Schmitz. Top overall pick Deandre Ayton ranks second on the poll, with Schmitz noting that the Suns big man likely to get more playing time than any other rookie. Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr., Cavaliers point guard Collin Sexton and Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. round out the top five.

We have more from around the league:

  • Retaining Paul George in free agency and dumping Carmelo Anthony‘s contract while receiving projected sixth man Dennis Schroder in return earned the Thunder the top spot on NBA.com’s David Aldridge’s offseason rankings. The rankings are based upon what teams have done during the offseason. The Lakers ranked No. 2 by virtue of signing LeBron James and handing out one-year contracts to other players, thus allowing them to be a force again in next year’s free agent market. The Nuggets gained the No. 3 spot by locking up Nikola Jokic and making trades that cleared roster spots and eased their luxury-tax situation.
  • Forwards DJ Hogg (Texas A&M) and Malik Pope (San Diego State) and swingman BJ Johnson (LaSalle) are among the top 10 prospects at the G League Invitational, according to Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype. The invitational takes place Sunday in Chicago and over a dozen of last year’s prospects received training camp invites afterward.
  • The Warriors’ over-under odds for wins next season is 62.5, according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. The Celtics ranked second overall with a 57.5 over-under win total with the Rockets third at 54.5. The Hawks have the lowest projected win total at 23.5. The odds for each NBA team were passed along by ESPN’s Ben Fawkes.

Contract Details: Jokic, Payton, Craig, Bradley

While Nikola Jokic‘s new five-year deal with the Nuggets was reported as a maximum-salary contract, that’s not technically accurate. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe (via Twitter), the base value of Jokic’s new deal falls just short of the max, since it includes about $1MM per year in bonuses linked to team success.

As Lowe explains, about half of those annual bonuses can be earned if the Nuggets make the playoffs, while the other half can be earned if the club advances to the second round. Because Denver didn’t achieve either of those benchmarks in 2017/18, those bonuses are currently considered “unlikely” incentives and don’t count against the Nuggets’ cap.

In 2018/19, for instance, Jokic’s cap hit will be about $24.6MM rather than the maximum $25.5MM, tweets Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders. However, if the Nuggets were to win a playoff series in 2019, Jokic would earn his first-year bonus and his second-year bonuses would subsequently be considered “likely,” causing his future cap hit to increase.

Here are several more specific details on newly-signed contracts from around the NBA, all via Pincus unless otherwise indicated:

  • Elfrid Payton, who was signed using most of the Pelicans‘ bi-annual exception, got a flat $3MM salary for 2018/19 (Twitter link).
  • As expected, the Nuggets used a portion of their mid-level exception to sign Torrey Craig to his new two-year deal. Craig will earn a flat $2MM salary in each season, for a $4MM total (Twitter link).
  • Avery Bradley has a fully guaranteed $12MM salary in the first season of his two-year contract with the Clippers, but only $2MM of his $12.96MM salary for 2019/20 is guaranteed (Twitter link). The Clips will have to make a decision on Bradley’s second-year guarantee by July 3, 2019.
  • The Knicks gave second-round pick Mitchell Robinson guaranteed salaries of $1.5MM and $1.6MM in his first two years, with non-guaranteed minimum salaries in years three and four (Twitter link). The four-year deal, which has a team option in year four, should be worth just shy of $6.6MM in total.
  • Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk‘s three-year contract with the Lakers has a guaranteed first-year salary of $1,487,694, followed by non-guaranteed minimum salaries for years two and three (Twitter link). The third year is a team option.

Nuggets Sign Nikola Jokic To Five-Year Max Deal

JULY 9: The Nuggets have officially signed Jokic to his new mega-deal, the team announced today in a press release.

“It’s not every day that you find a player with the incredible skillset to lead an NBA franchise that Nikola has, but also the character and personality to match that,” Nuggets vice chairman Josh Kroenke said in a statement. “Seeing Nikola grow on and off the basketball court is something in which our organization has taken immense pride, and we were determined to do whatever it took to keep Nikola in a Nuggets uniform for a very long time.”

JUNE 30: Jokic has agreed to a five-year, maximum-salary deal with the Nuggets, according to reports from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (Twitter links). A full max contract for Jokic projects to be worth $147,710,050.

Denver also reached an agreement to re-sign Barton.

JUNE 25: The Nuggets will decline Nikola Jokic‘s team option for 2018/19 in order to make him a restricted free agent, as we detailed on Sunday. Once Jokic officially reaches free agency, he and the team intend to finalize a five-year, maximum-salary contract, reports Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports.

Denver’s plans for Jokic come as no surprise, given the comments made by president of basketball operations Tim Connelly following last Thursday’s draft. At the time, he suggested the Nuggets would do all they could to make sure they locked up their star center for as many years as possible.

“Nikola’s going to be here for a long, long time,” Connelly said. “I think whatever we do, we’re going to ensure he’s here as long as possible. When that moment happens, we’re going to talk to Nikola and his brothers and his representation. He’ll be in Denver for a long, long time. He’ll be buying (a home) here.”

Had they simply exercised their 2018/19 option on Jokic, the Nuggets could have kept him under team control for a mere $1,600,520 next season. However, taking that route would have risked alienating Jokic and his representatives, and would have put him on track to unrestricted free agency in 2019, at which point he would have been free to join any other team. By declining that option, Denver ensures that it will have the right of first refusal, though the team will simply negotiate directly with Jokic’s camp rather than waiting for an offer sheet.

Jokic, 23, enjoyed the best season of his three-year career in 2017/18, setting new career highs in PPG (18.5), RPG (10.7), APG (6.1), and 3PT% (.396), among other categories. While the former second-round pick isn’t an elite defender, he’s one of the NBA’s best frontcourt play-makers, and will be paired up front with a strong defensive presence in Paul Millsap.

As for the exact value of Jokic’s contract, a five-year deal can be worth up to $146.45MM based on a $101MM cap projection. Such an agreement would start at $25.25MM, eventually increasing to $33.33MM by 2022/23. We outlined the exact year-by-year breakdown when we took an early look at maximum salary projections earlier this year.

Adding $25.25MM to the Nuggets’ salary commitments for 2018/19 will increase the team’s total guaranteed money to $131MM+ for 12 players. That figure doesn’t account for Will Barton, who will be an unrestricted free agent. If Denver wants to re-sign Barton, the club will likely make a strong push to shed another salary, with Kenneth Faried‘s and Darrell Arthur‘s expiring contracts serving as the most obvious trade pieces.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.