Nikola Mirotic

Sixers Optimistic Butler Will Stay Put

Sixers managing partner and owner Josh Harris is both determined and optimistic that Jimmy Butler will remain with the team beyond this season, as he told USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt and The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

The Butler trade was made to give the franchise a third star alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and become a serious championship contender. It wouldn’t have happened unless the Sixers were convinced they could keep Butler, who can opt out of his contract this summer, in the long run.

“We’ve been saying since the summer we’ve been looking for another star and we felt we needed another shooter, a three-and-D wing, someone like Jimmy,” Harris told Zillgitt. “They’re hard to find at this elite level. We know who we have to get through to win the East. It’s obvious who it is. We think this is a piece we needed.”

While Butler became a major distraction around the Timberwolves, he’s been a model citizen since joining the Sixers. And Philadelphia anticipates that its gamble will pay off in the long run in the form of a multi-year contract.

“Our goal is to have elite talent under contract for a long time,” Harris told Charania. “That’s what we’re interested in.”

Both reporters offered insights into the trade discussions involving Butler. The Sixers eventually agreed to deal Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a future second-rounder for Butler and throw-in Justin Patton.

  • The Timberwolves initially asked for another starter in addition to the trio the Sixers dealt, according to Zillgitt.
  • Minnesota narrowed its offers to three teams, with the Pelicans and Rockets being the other finalists, according to Charania.  New Orleans dangled forward Nikola Mirotic and a first-round pick, while Houston was willing to part with guard Eric Gordon and two first-rounders.
  • The Sixers initially offered draft picks and other large contracts, Harris told Charania. Markelle Fultz was discussed in the Butler talks.
  • Other suitors, such as the Lakers, wanted to wait until the December 15th date when signed free agents could be included in a deal for Butler, Charania added.

Nets Rumors: Butler, LeVert, Allen, Russell, RHJ

Although the Nets internally view Jimmy Butler as a top-10 or top-15 player in the NBA, the team resolved not to give up any of its prime assets for him once he became available, writes Michael Scotto of The Athletic. When Brooklyn briefly discussed the possibility of acquiring Butler in a trade, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and the team’s first-round pick were off-limits.

As Scotto details, general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson have talked throughout their tenures about not “skipping steps” in the Nets’ rebuilding process. Sacrificing one or two of the club’s top young players or draft picks would have meant going for a quick fix, with no assurances that Butler would have stuck around beyond 2019.

Here’s more out of Brooklyn:

  • The Nets did kick the tires on Butler before the Timberwolves sent him to Philadelphia, having discussed a deal involving D’Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and salary filler, league sources tell Scotto. However, those talks didn’t gain any traction.
  • Scotto identifies Nikola Mirotic and Tobias Harris as two veteran forwards who may receive interest from the Nets during the summer of 2019. Brooklyn has long coveted a reliable stretch four, and Mirotic and Harris, who will both be unrestricted free agents next year, are capable of playing that role.
  • As he approaches restricted free agency, D’Angelo Russell is showing a little more consistency, particularly on the defensive end, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. “His maturity, his consistency, that’s what we’re starting to see,” Kenny Atkinson said. “That’s the challenge for him. It’s not on-again, off-again. We need more on from him, and I think he’s starting to get over that hurdle. He looked really good physically, too, against Denver (on Friday). He really got after it.”

Details On Rockets’, Pelicans’ Trade Offers For Butler

A report over the weekend indicated that the Timberwolves had three trade offers on the table for Jimmy Butler before ultimately deciding to pull the trigger on a Sixers package headlined by Robert Covington and Dario Saric. In their latest report for The Athletic, Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic provide some details on the other two offers Minnesota was considering, which came from the Rockets and Pelicans.

According to Charania and Krawczynski, the Rockets – who had previously offered four first-round picks attached to Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss – adjusted their proposal to make it more appealing to Tom Thibodeau, who remains in win-now mode. Houston’s offer featured Eric Gordon, Nene, and two first-round picks, sources told The Athletic. It’s not clear what sort of protections would have been on those first-rounders, or whether any other pieces were involved.

As for the Pelicans, they weren’t mentioned often over the last couple months as a serious suitor for Butler, but they were engaged in talks with Minnesota at the end of the process. Charania and Krawczynski report that New Orleans’ package was headlined by Nikola Mirotic and an unprotected first-round pick. Again, it’s unclear what other pieces would have been included in such a deal — Mirotic’s salary wouldn’t have been enough to match Butler’s on its own.

The full report from Charania and Krawczynski is excellent, providing a timeline of the Butler saga from mid-September right up until today. It’s worth checking out in full if you have a subscription to The Athletic.

Here are a few more highlights from the piece:

  • Friday’s game was viewed as a fork in the road for both the Timberwolves and Butler. We previously heard that Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden decided after that game that Butler had played his last game for the team — it sounds like Butler had made up his mind too. According to Charania and Krawczynski, the 29-year-old had decided to begin sitting out indefinitely after that game if Minnesota didn’t trade him.
  • Thibodeau subsequently told his staff after Friday’s game that they had to move Butler, sources tell The Athletic. In fact, the Timberwolves nearly held the All-NBA swingman out of Friday’s game because they already had traction on a potential deal.
  • The Heat‘s original offer for Butler included Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, and a draft pick, per Charania and Krawczynski. Miami later extended Winslow and put Josh Richardson into an offer. However, when a deal involving Richardson fell apart, the Heat pulled him off the table and never included him in another offer.

Bulls Notes: Valentine, Hoiberg, Parker, Mirotic

Denzel Valentine has yet to appear in a game this season for the Bulls, and his 2018/19 debut isn’t imminent. As The Chicago Sun-Times relays (via Twitter), executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson indicated on Wednesday that Valentine’s left ankle isn’t responding well, prompting the team to pump the brakes on his rehab and rule him out indefinitely.

With Valentine still on the shelf, the team figures to continue relying on rookie Chandler Hutchison in a regular rotation role. Chicago also appears to qualify for the hardship provision, which allows an injury-ravaged team to add a 16th man to its 15-man roster when it’s missing at least four players. Valentine, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis, and Lauri Markkanen are all in the midst of extended absences for the Bulls, but there has been no word on the team applying for or receiving that roster exception.

Here’s more from out of Chicago:

  • It looks like there’s a real possibility that the 2018/19 season could be Fred Hoiberg‘s last with the Bulls, says Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. If that happens, GM Gar Forman should follow Hoiberg out the door, Cowley argues.
  • Hoiberg had a heated discussion with Jabari Parker during Wednesday’s loss, according to Cowley, who notes that Parker jogged down the floor on back-to-back defensive possessions before Hoiberg called timeout and had words with him.
  • Bulls center Wendell Carter, a former Duke Blue Devil, raved about his alma mater’s 2018/19 roster, suggesting that he believes Zion Williamson will “translate perfectly” to the NBA, as Cowley details. However, Carter doesn’t want to see the Bulls go into tank mode to try to land one of those top Duke prospects in next year’s draft. “I feel like we’ve just got to try to win every game,” he said. “If we lose, but we’re playing hard, that’s one thing, but I wouldn’t feel good losing games on purpose.”
  • In yet another article for The Sun-Times, Cowley revisits Nikola Mirotic‘s time in Chicago, suggesting that the front office “couldn’t wait to deal him” and some of his teammates “weren’t exactly sad” that Bobby Portis punched him during a practice last fall. Hoiberg and Robin Lopez spoke highly of Mirotic, however.
  • Sam Smith of Bulls.com explores where things stand for two-way player Tyler Ulis, who finds himself on the Windy City Bulls after spending the last two seasons as an NBA rotation player.

Extension Roundup: Rozier, Portis, Jones, Russell

 Celtics point guard Terry Rozier turned down a rookie scale extension offer prior to Monday’s deadline and will become a restricted free agent next summer, A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston reports. Boston offered Rozier approximately $12MM annually, according to Blakely, but chose to take his chances in free agency. Talks were cordial and the two parties will revisit each other when Rozier hits the market, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets.
“I’m in a great situation,” Rozier told Blakely. “My team (representatives) felt it wasn’t good for me to sign an extension right now. It opens my options a little bit, but I’m focused on what’s happening right now.”
Rozier is expected to have multiple suitors even as a restricted free agent, since Kyrie Irving recently announced that he plans to re-sign with the Celtics next summer, Blakely notes. Rozier broke out last season, particularly after Irving went down with a knee injury. He was especially potent in the playoffs, averaging 16.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 5.7 APG.
We have more extension decisions:
  • The Timberwolves and point guard Tyus Jones did not reach a rookie scale extension agreement. Jones will be a restricted free agent, and that’s been the expectation all along, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic tweets. Minnesota would have to make a $3,573,205 qualifying offer before free agency next summer, otherwise Jones would be unrestricted. Jones saw action in all 82 regular-season games last season, including 11 starts, and averaged 5.1 PPG and 2.8 APG in 17.9 MPG.
  • The Bulls and forward Bobby Portis couldn’t come to an extension agreement before Monday’s deadline, Wojnarowski tweets. Agent Mark Bartelstein and Chicago GM Gar Forman had lengthy negotiations as the deadline approached, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune tweets, but couldn’t close the financial gap. “We had very positive talks,” Bartelstein told Johnson. “These are hard extensions to get done.” (Twitter link). Portis will be a restricted free agent if Chicago gives him a $3,611,813 qualifying offer. He averaged 13.2 PPG and 6.8 RPG in 73 regular season games after returning from his eight-game team suspension following his well-publicized dust-up with former teammate Nikola Mirotic.
  • Nets guard D’Angelo Russell and forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson did not receive extensions, Michael Scotto of The Athetic tweets. Neither player was aware of Monday’s deadline, according to Scotto, suggesting that the Nets never made a serious pitch to lock them up before free agency. The Nets would have extend a $9,160,706 qualifying offer to Russell to make him a restricted free agent. Hollis-Jefferson’s qualifying offer would be $3,594,369.

Southwest Notes: Pelicans, Anthony, Mirotic, Mavs

The Pelicans, suffering through lingering injuries, are still looking to establish a new identity, writes William Guillory of The Athletic. For example, the team was without Nikola Mirotic and Darius Miller early on this preseason, but when both returned Friday, newcomer Julius Randle sat out because of a minor back injury.

Given the above, it’s no surprise that the Pelicans are winless through their first three preseason games, with head coach Alvin Gentry saying his team was unimpressive in Friday’s loss to the Knicks. “I didn’t think we played very good at all.  We didn’t have ball movement… That’s not who we are at all.”

Fortunately for the Pelicans, they still have time to figure things out before the season starts, and Randle did suit up and play in tonight’s game. Ultimately, the team believes it has all the pieces in place to compete in the Western Conference and build on last year’s success. We’ll begin to find out if they can when they visit the Rockets one week from tonight to open the 2018/19 regular season.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

And-Ones: Long, LiAngelo Ball, Spain

Ex-Sixers forward Shawn Long has signed a contract with New Zealand Breakers, according to a Sportando report. Long played 18 games with Philadelphia in 2016/2017, averaging 8.2 PPG and 4.7 RPG in 13 MPG. He toiled in the G League last season with the Delaware 87ers, averaging 14.6 PPG and 7.7 RPG in 33 games following a seven-game stint in China. The Timberwolves took a look at Long during a free agent mini-camp in June.

We have more from around the pro basketball world:

Pelicans Still In Need Of A Wing Player?

A bigger issue with the Pelicans this upcoming season may be the absence of a reliable player on the wing rather than the loss of Rajon Rondo or DeMarcus Cousins, as newcomers Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton are capable of replicating their production, at least in part, writes Scott Kushner of The Advocate.

Kushner opines that nobody on the Pelicans’ roster is capable of being a solid “3-and-D” player, as Solomon Hill has struggled to recover from a torn hamstring and E’Twaun Moore, limited by his 6’4” frame, has been asked to play against players much taller than him and seemingly taken out of his comfort zone as a result.

“If it was up to me — it doesn’t really matter as long as I stay on the floor and help my team win — but I would like to say that maybe I hopefully could be playing a little bit more guard (this season),” Moore said. “Last year, I was more of a wing, but it worked out well for the team because we played so fast. But it would be kind of cool to be going back to being a guard again.”

So, the Pelicans will now hold a three-man competition between Troy Williams, Garlon Green, and Kenrich Williams in order to find someone who may be able to crack the team’s wing rotation this season.

The Pelicans could also be active around midseason, as they were when they acquired Cousins in 2017 and Nikola Mirotic last season. But for now, they’ll rely on MVP-candidate Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Randle and Mirotic, which should be enough to keep them in the Western Conference playoff race.

Pelicans Notes: Cousins, Rondo, Randle, Payton

The Pelicans made a two-year, $40MM offer to DeMarcus Cousins between his Achilles injury in January and the end of the season, Marc Stein of The New York Times states in his latest newsletter. Cousins rejected the offer, and New Orleans’ front office responded by taking it off the table.

Cousins committed to Golden State last night, taking the Warriors’ MLE of $5.3MM for next season. The Lakers had an opportunity to get Cousins for a similar price, Stein adds, but once they passed, it was an easy decision for him to join the Warriors.

The Pelicans hadn’t given up hope of retaining Cousins when free agency began, but the door closed when they signed Julius Randle for $18MM over two years. Stein notes that Anthony Davis played an aggressive role in recruiting Randle to New Orleans.

There’s more Pelicans news to pass along:

  • The trade with the Kings that brought Cousins to New Orleans will be remembered as a mistake, according to Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune. The Pelicans gave up two first-round picks in Buddy Hield and a 2017 selection that turned out to be Zach Collins. In exchange, they got just 65 games out of Cousins.
  • Rajon Rondo and Cousins both made shrewd business decisions, Duncan adds in the same story. The Lakers gave Rondo more money than the Pelicans were offering, along with the chance to team up with LeBron James. Cousins found a low-stress environment to rehab his injured Achilles while getting an excellent chance to win a ring. The Pelicans also showed they’re not ready to pay the luxury tax, with Randle and Elfrid Payton providing cheaper alternatives to Cousins and Rondo.
  • The free agent drama in New Orleans could be repeated next summer, writes Scott Kushner of The Advocate. The Pelicans took a little bit of the sting out of losing Cousins and Rondo by agreeing to deals with Randle and Payton. However, Randle can opt out after one season and Payton is only signed for a year. Nikola Mirotic, who fit well alongside Davis after arriving from the Bulls in a midseason trade, will also be a free agent.

Pelicans Notes: Rondo, Mirotic, Cousins, Benson, Gentry

At 32 years old, Rajon Rondo is not a building block for an organization, but he’s an experienced and valuable veteran who plays well on the game’s biggest stage. Although Rondo’s future with the Pelicans is uncertain as he heads for unrestricted free agency this summer, the point guard spoke highly of the team in his exit press conference, William Guillory of The Times-Picayune writes.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Rondo said. “I love this group of guys. It’s a group of good guys. I love playing for coach (Alvin) Gentry. We’ll see how it goes. … This group of guys is special. I think we obviously went up against the defending champs. We played extremely well and we’ve got a lot to learn from. You play a team like that, you’ve got no option but to get better.”

During the first two rounds of the postseason, Rondo averaged 10.3 PPG and 12.2 APG for the Pelicans, living up to the “Playoff Rondo” moniker he has earned during his career. Rondo was solid during the regular season as well, posting totals of 8.3 PPG and 8.2 APG. During his press conference with reporters, general manager Dell Demps said that re-signing Rondo will be a critical part of the offseason, given his leadership abilities, tweets Scott Kushner of The Advocate.

Check out more Pelicans notes down below:

  • Nikola Mirotic joined the Pelicans in a midseason trade from the Bulls and played well, averaging 14.6 PPG and 8.2 RPG in 30 games for New Orleans. He is only under contract for one more season, but hopes to remain with the Pelicans long-term, per William Guillory of The Times-Picayune. “No doubt,” Mirotic said. “This has been like a family to me and I’m looking forward. This is the place I want to be.”
  • In their respective pressers, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps both said they want to re-sign DeMarcus Cousins, who is recovering from a torn Achilles and will hit unrestricted free agency, tweets Scott Kushner of The Advocate. “In a perfect world we would like to have (Cousins) back,” Demps said.
  • Gentry’s option for 2018/19 was picked up by the Pelicans after the team defeated the Trail Blazers in the first round of the postseason. The head coach expressed his own desire to remain in New Orleans going forward, and advocated for new owner Gayle Benson, who took over after the death of her husband, Tom Benson. “Mrs. Benson is going to make this thing a success,” Gentry said (per Scott Kushner of The Advocate). “She’s 100% committed to doing everything we possibly can to making this a championship team. As long as that’s the case, I love being here.”