Nikola Vucevic

Southeast Notes: Howard, Bazemore, Vucevic, Lamb

Wizards center Dwight Howard is visiting a nerve specialist in Los Angeles to get a second opinion on his strained lower piriformis, according to Chris Miller of NBC Sports Washington (Twitter link). Howard has missed the team’s past five games with the injury.

It’s unclear how much longer Howard will be sidelined, but the Wizards’ need for a strong frontcourt piece is clear. The team signed Howard to a two-year deal in free agency with hopes that he could replace Marcin Gortat, doing the dirty work such as setting screens and controlling the glass on both ends of the floor.

Howard, 32, has averaged 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in nine games this season, seeing a career-low 25.6 minutes per contest. The Wizards have primarily started Thomas Bryant in his absence, struggling to start the season with a consistent effort at 8-13.

Washington holds a 4-5 record with Howard active and a 4-8 record with him inactive this season. The team could look to flip contracts for younger pieces and future assets if it continues to struggle, especially if Howard is set to miss extended time.

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

Southeast Notes: Vucevic, Simmons, Wizards, Wade

The hiring of Steve Clifford in Orlando has improved the game of Magic big man Nikola Vucevic to a new level, writes Kurt Helin of NBC Sports. Vucevic, who recently averaged a cool 30.5 PPG in back-to-back road games against the Lakers and Warriors, is playing so well  that at least one advanced statistical metric has him ranked ahead of Kevin Durant and James Harden.

As Helin notes, Vucevic is giving credit to Clifford for putting him in better situations this season, which has sparked his improved numbers. Specifically, Vucevic took 56 percent of his shots last season within eight feet of the rim, whereas this season that number is up to 65 percent. Meanwhile, the shots the 28-year-old center is taking from beyond the arc of lesser in number, but higher in efficiency. His three-point percentage has jumped from 31.4 percent a year ago to 39 percent this season.

“The way we play now, it helps me playing inside-out, it gets me going and makes me more comfortable,” Vucevic said. “Last year I felt I was a little too much on the perimeter, space the floor, which is fine, but at the same time [this season’s style] makes it much more difficult for the other team and gives them a different look. It works great for me because I get some easy ones in the paint and am able to step out… The way coach wants me, wants us, to play fits my skill set.”

Vucevic will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and if his numbers continue at the pace he’s set for himself so far this season, he’s likely to be looking at some lucrative contract offers this summer.

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • In other Magic news, swingman Jonathon Simmons was inserted into the starting lineup recently after making a positive impression on Clifford during Sunday’s game against the Lakers, writes John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com. As is often the case, Simmons, 29, impressed his coach with his energy and defense after struggling to find his shot early on this season as a result of offseason surgery on his shooting wrist.
  • The Wizards seem to play best when turmoil strikes, writes Candace Buckner of The Washington Post. In the past couple of weeks, negative stories and/or rumors have emerged regarding John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Dwight Howard. Yet, the Wizards are now winners of three of their last four games and playing their best basketball of the season.
  • Heat great Dwyane Wade isn’t choosing to retire after this season because he feels he can’t physically play anymore. Rather, he simply believes that he’s given everything he can to the game of basketball and wants to give something else a shot, writes Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

Deveney’s Latest: Vucevic, Favors, Cavs, Valanciunas

With Mohamed Bamba‘s NBA career off to a promising start and Nikola Vucevic on an expiring contract, the prevailing wisdom suggests that Vucevic’s days with the Magic may be numbered, writes Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. However, multiple league sources tell Deveney that Orlando isn’t looking to move the veteran center at this point.

While the Magic have explored the trade market for Vucevic in past years, they’ve yet to entertain offers this season and have been happy with how he has looked so far, per Deveney. The club also doesn’t want to put too much pressure on Bamba before he’s ready. Of course, if Orlando falls out of playoff contention by February and is offered a first-round pick for Vucevic, the team’s stance could change. For now though, he’s not being shopped.

Deveney spoke to league executives about a few more potential trade candidates, with a focus on big men, so let’s round up the highlights…

  • Although Derrick Favors signed a new two-year deal with the Jazz during the summer, his $16.9MM salary for 2019/20 is non-guaranteed, and few people around the NBA expect him to still be in Utah at that point, according to Deveney. Favors could be a trade candidate at this season’s deadline if the Jazz are able to move him a more versatile forward.
  • The Cavaliers are unlikely to go into fire-sale mode anytime soon, one executive tells Deveney. “Don’t hold your breath,” the exec said. “If they decide to blow it all up, I don’t expect that to decision to be made until we get close to the deadline. They still think they can win.” If the Cavs do start moving veteran pieces, Tristan Thompson is one player to watch, says Deveney.
  • Jonas Valanciunas is no longer an every-night starter for the Raptors, but he’s been very productive in a reduced role for the team and there are no plans to move him, sources tell Deveney.
  • Robin Lopez (Bulls) and Dewayne Dedmon (Hawks) are unlikely to net first-round picks on the trade market, but they could be decent rental options for teams seeking depth up front, Deveney writes.

Southeast Rumors: Bamba, Vucevic, McGruder, Melvin

Magic lottery pick Mohamed Bamba will come off the bench and have his minutes monitored, John Denton of the team’s website reports. Coach Steve Clifford doesn’t feel the 20-year-old 7-footer is ready to jump into the lineup any time soon. “I want him to play 82 (games), and he’s going to be out there and playing quality minutes,” Clifford said. “But he’s just not ready to play starter’s minutes against starting players. (A reserve role) is a big part of how you bring a player along. He’s in a role that’s ideal for him.” The unspecified minutes restriction is designed to have him “playing his best in March and April,” Clifford added.

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • The Magic can be expected to do their due diligence and gauge starting center Nikola Vucevic’s trade value, according to Michael Scotto of The Athletic. Vucevic is in his walk year and will enter unrestricted free agency in July. Vucevic doesn’t fit president Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond’s desire for length and versatility, Scotto adds.
  • Rodney McGruder and Derrick Jones Jr. have been effective as starters during the first two games, which further complicates the long-range plan for the Heat’s rotation, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel notes. With Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Justise Winslow and Wayne Ellington currently sidelined, finding enough playing time for rotation-worthy players hasn’t been an issue, Winderman continues. When those players return, Miami will have 13 players who arguably should be in the rotation, Winderman adds.
  • Former WNBA star Chasity Melvin has been named an assistant coach with the Greensboro Swarm, the Hornets’ G League affiliate, according to a Swarm press release. Melvin, who played 12 WNBA seasons, is the first female coach in franchise history. She was hired through the NBA Assistant Coaches Program.

Southeast Notes: Vucevic, Winslow, Hornets

With Nikola Vucevic entering a contract year and Mohamed Bamba aiming to become the starting center of the future in Orlando, Vucevic looks like a trade candidate for the Magic. However, Jeff Weltman says his club has “no designs on trading anyone right now,” per Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel.

“That’s something that we’ll worry about later,” said the Magic’s president of basketball operations. “Vooch is a high-quality player and an even higher-quality person. He’s very valuable to our team today, and he’s very valuable to what we want to be about going forward. So I wouldn’t even entertain those thoughts yet.”

In a Q&A with John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com, Weltman touched on several more topics, including the Magic’s decision to hire new head coach Steve Clifford, Aaron Gordon‘s new contract, the Bamba pick, and many of the club’s other offseason moves. While Weltman knows that the Magic aren’t expected to make the postseason this season, he doesn’t mind being discounted by the pundits and hopes to see his roster stay healthy and “surprise some people.”

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • Justise Winslow‘s name figures to come up frequently in trade speculation as long as Jimmy Butler is available, but assuming Winslow remains with the Heat, the club intends to explore a possible rookie scale extension. The two sides have yet to discuss financial specifics, but more talks are planned before the October 15 deadline, a team source tells Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.
  • The Hornets are one of several NBA teams that haven’t filled either their 15-man regular season roster or their two two-way contract slots. That’s by design, according to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer, who tweets that GM Mitch Kupchak is keeping an eye out for possible roster casualties around the league who could fit with the Hornets.
  • The Hornets announced a series of additions to their basketball operations staff this week, including adding veteran NBA forward Matt Carroll as a player development assistant. Carroll, who spent most of his playing career in Charlotte, last appeared in an NBA game in 2012.

Southeast Notes: Rivers, Heat, Bamba

When the Wizards exiled big man Marcin Gortat, they did more than simply shed the 34-year-old’s contract, they filled a void that they’ve had for some time, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington writes. The addition of backup combo guard Austin Rivers should alleviate some of the workload on Bradley Beal.

Beal logged the fourth most minutes in the NBA last season but ran out of gas for the Wizards late in the season. Rivers will also slot in behind John Wall at the point, providing capable support at both backcourt positions.

For the addition to work, Rivers will have to change his game slightly. For instance, he’ll have to tone down the volume shooting as part of a larger, competitive Wizards team.

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • The Heat will bring back their “captain”, 38-year-old Udonis Haslem, for the 2018/19 season. Now, an Associated Press report states, he’ll get to work convincing Dwyane Wade to join him in fending off retirement. “My mindset has always been for us to finish it together,” Haslem said. “I want us to do a whole season together. Experience the road, dinner on the road, go through that whole process. I want us to experience that together.” Wade, of course, played half of last season with the Cavaliers after initially leaving Miami for the Bulls in the summer of 2016.
  • The Magic are expected to open the season with Nikola Vucevic as their starting center, team scribe John Denton writes, but the club will make sure that Mohamed Bamba has plenty of time to demonstrate his potential. According to Denton, the rookie has already “greatly impressed” the squad with the improvement he’s made since the end of the NCAA season.
  • The Heat have a number of options that Erik Spoelstra will need to mix and match in order to fill his frontcourt. Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel writes in a mailbag with readers that he views Kelly Olynyk as a change-of-pace backup center behind Hassan Whiteside and James Johnson as the club’s power forward.

Magic To Make Nikola Vucevic Available?

Having re-signed Aaron Gordon and drafted Mohamed Bamba this summer, the Magic head into the 2018/19 season with a crowded frontcourt. In addition to Gordon and Bamba, the big men seeking roles in Orlando’s rotation will include Nikola Vucevic, Jonathan Isaac, Timofey Mozgov, Jarell Martin, and Khem Birch.

Given the logjam up front, not to mention his expiring contract, Vucevic is “expected to be available on the trade market” prior to the February deadline, according to Michael Scotto of The Athletic. As Scotto observes, the veteran center doesn’t really fit team management’s desire for “length and versatility,” meaning he’s unlikely to be part of the Magic’s long-term plans.

Vucevic, who made 57 starts for Orlando last season, remains a productive frontcourt player, having averaged 16.5 PPG and 9.2 RPG in 2017/18. The 27-year-old also continues to evolve as an offensive player — he posted a career-high 3.4 APG last year and made an effort to become an outside shooting threat. Vucevic knocked down 64 three-pointers in ’17/18 after making a total of 30 in his first six NBA seasons.

Still, Gordon, Bamba, and Isaac represent the building blocks of the future in the Magic’s frontcourt, making another contract for Vucevic a long shot. The former USC standout will earn $12.75MM in 2018/19 before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer, so he could appeal to a team that wants to add a big man to its roster without compromising future cap flexibility.

The Lakers immediately come to mind as one club that fits that bill, though there are others that could qualify, especially if teams are hit by the injury bug or if the Magic are willing to take on multiyear contracts in a hypothetical trade.

Pacific Notes: Lakers, Bridges, Labissiere, Clippers

The Lakers ensured themselves a successful offseason when they signed LeBron James, but they still need to fill a vacancy at center, writes Matt John of Basketball Insiders. The addition of free agent JaVale McGee doesn’t really solidify the position, and the only other choices on the roster are rookie Moe Wagner and Ivica Zubac.

With David West and Brandan Wright as the best free agents left on the market, John identifies several potential trade targets, including Tristan Thompson, James’ former teammate in Cleveland. Thompson is a physical rebounder and defender with whom James had a good rapport. However, John notes that he may not be available unless Cleveland decides to rebuild.

Other possibilities include the Bismack Biyombo, who finds himself in a center logjam after being traded to Charlotte, the Bucks’ John Henson, the Bulls’ Robin Lopez, the Magic’s Nikola Vucevic and the Hawks’ Dewayne Dedmon.

There’s more news from the Pacific Division:

  • Suns rookie swingman Mikal Bridges was a little disappointed he didn’t play more in the summer league, James Blancarte of Basketeball Insiders reports. “It’s tough you know. Coming in mentally, you don’t know what the coach is going to do and how they are going to play you,” Bridges told Blancarte. “Couple of games, not playing as much as I thought I was going to be [playing]. Just staying mentally [tough], going through that.” Bridges averaged 6.2 PPG and 2.6 RPG in 20 MPG during five Las Vegas outings. He will also likely have wait his turn during his rookie campaign but Phoenix thought enough of him to swing a draft-night trade with the Sixers, Blancarte notes.
  • Kings big man Skal Labissiere is looking to improve his durability during his offseason workouts, Jason Wise of the team’s website relays. Memphis-area trainer Raheem Shabazz has made Instagram posts showing the work Labissiere is putting in as he prepares for his third NBA season.
  • Clippers lottery picks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson showed flashes of potential in summer league games but they were far from perfect, according to Keith Smith of RealGM. Gilgeous-Alexander has a solid all-around game but needs lot of work with his shot. Robinson has to focus more on the defensive end, Smith continues, while undrafted big man Angel Delgado struggled on the perimeter. However, Delgado displayed strong rebounding instincts and toughness on the interior, Smith adds.

Magic Likely Done In Free Agency

After re-signing Aaron Gordon to his four-year, $76MM deal, using part of their mid-level exception to reach agreements with rookies Melvin Frazier and Isaiah Briscoe, and adding a reliable backup point guard in Jerian Grant to spell incumbent starting point guard D.J. Augustin, the Magic are likely finished adding players to their roster through free agency this summer, reports Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.

“We’re in a pretty good place with our financial flexibility, all things considered, but the roster is done as we sit here today,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman says. “We don’t feel like there are any holes that we need to shore up. We can always get better, and we’ll always be on the lookout for ways to get better. At this point, that would come probably more in the form of a trade if we were to do anything for the remainder of the summer.”

The Magic are currently projected to have a team salary around $110.9MM, assuming the team retains the services of backup guard Rodney Purvis, whose $1.4MM salary is non-guaranteed. Per Robbins, Orlando will also look to fill its open slots for two-way contracts and could bring in additional players on training camp deals.

The statement from Weltman all but puts to rest the speculation surrounding Isaiah Thomas, who was reported to be “negotiating a possible deal” with the Magic last week. Per Robbins, Orlando considered Thomas, but negotiations never took place, as the club believes Augustin is fully capable of leading this year’s squad.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve our roster at every position, but we are in capable hands with D.J.,” Weltman said. “D.J. is a very good player and he’s coming off the best year of his career under trying circumstances. D.J. represents what we want to be about: a professional who prepares, who plays for his teammates and who always brings the same personality to the team irrespective of the highs and lows of the season.”

Weltman also added that newly-acquired center Timofey Mozgov is not currently a candidate to be bought out, despite likely being buried on the depth chart behind Nikola Vucevic and heralded rookie Mohamed Bamba. Rather, the team hopes Mozgov will impact the team off the court through his experience and professionalism.

Should the Magic change their mind and decide to re-enter the free-agent fray, they still have nearly $7MM of their mid-level exception remaining after signing both Frazier and Briscoe to deals exceeding two seasons.

Draft Notes: Sixers, Magic, Doncic, Walker

The Sixers‘ coaching staff and front office had “serious conversations” about selecting Michael Porter Jr. before deciding on Mikal Bridges, tweets ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. The Sixers were intrigued by Porter’s potential to become a star, but bypassed him for a safer choice. Porter went four picks later to the Nuggets, while Bridges was traded to the Suns.

Because former president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo resigned in the wake of a controversy involving Twitter burner accounts, the Sixers are relying on a group effort between coaches and executives to decide on their picks.

There’s more from an active draft night:

  • The Magic’s selection of Mohamed Bamba at No. 6 doesn’t mean Nikola Vucevic is headed out of town, tweets Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders. Vucevic is heading into a contract year, making $12.75MM next season. Orlando has a potential logjam at center with Bismack Biyombo signed for $17MM next year with a $17MM player option for 2019/20. “He’s a good pick,” Vucevic said of Biyombo. “He’s talented and he’ll be a big presence.”
  • The Mavericks won’t ask Luka Doncic to go through a full summer league schedule after just finishing up his season in Europe, relays ESPN’s Tim MacMahon (Twitter link). “He needs a break,” said coach Rick Carlisle. The Mavs will meet soon to determine how much they want Doncic to do this summer.
  • A medical issue may have caused Lonnie Walker to drop to the Spurs at No. 18, according to Doug Gottlieb of Fox Sports Radio (Twitter link). However, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony states that health concerns regarding Walker were exaggerated and had little effect on where he was taken (Twitter link).
  • The Cavaliers are hoping to buy a pick in the second round, sources tell Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com (Twitter link). The club can’t send out any more cash in trades during the 2017/18 league year, but could reach an agreement tonight and finalize it in July. The Cavs don’t own any picks beyond No. 8.
  • The Bulls made an effort to move up, but decided it was “too expensive,” a source tells Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago (Twitter link). Any move would have cost them the 22nd pick and future selections.