Nikola Vucevic

Southwest Notes: Pelicans, Davis, Grizzlies, Mavs

While Anthony Davis is back on the court for the Pelicans after last week’s trade deadline drama, things don’t look quite right in New Orleans. On Tuesday night, the Pelicans were run off their home court by the Magic, suffering a 118-88 loss to a team outside the playoff picture in the East.

“We sucked,” Davis said after the game, per Brett Martel of The Associated Press. “Nobody was interested in playing, is what it looked like.”

It certainly seems possible that Davis’ trade request and all the speculation about his future continues to impact the Pelicans’ performance on the floor. Head coach Alvin Gentry was in no mood to have that discussion though, as Martel relays.

“What we’re trying to do is just move on from it. We need to bury it,” Gentry said of Davis’ decision to request a trade. “Whatever our new normal is, we want to get back to that and put all the other stuff behind us and just start playing and trying to win basketball games, and trying to compete and try to get our young players better. That’s all I want to do. That’s it. And I’m not going to talk about it anymore. I’m done talking about it.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • In a column for The Advocate, Scott Kushner argues that the Davis saga – particularly his return to the court – has been a “prolonged, smug jab at the intelligence of Pelicans fans.” In Kushner’s view, the Pelicans and Davis are no longer invested in one another, and the team should either stand up to the NBA by benching Davis or have someone from management or ownership publicly address the situation.
  • Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley appeared likely to be traded leading up to last week’s deadline, and admitted that he had trouble sleeping and checked his phone “a thousand times,” as Royce Young of details. Conley, who described Thursday as a long, emotional, and difficult day, has been fairly quiet on the court since the deadline, scoring 11 points on Saturday and then missing Tuesday’s game with an illness.
  • In advance of Jonas Valanciunas‘ debut with the Grizzlies on Tuesday, David Cobb of The Memphis Commercial Appeal explored how the team’s newest big man would fit in. The plan is for Valanciunas to come off the bench behind Ivan Rabb, but if he keeps playing like he did last night (23 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes), that plan may be short-lived.
  • During a radio appearance on KESN-FM 103.3 ESPN in Dallas, Bobby Marks examined how the Mavericks might use their cap room this summer after moving Harrison Barnes, suggesting that Nikola Vucevic will be among Dallas’ top targets (link via The Dallas Morning News). The Mavs’ interest in Vucevic was previously reported.

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.

Orlando’s Plan At The Trade Deadline Remains Unclear

The Magic, with a record of 21-31, remain just five games back in the loss column of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and most of the league doesn’t have a feel for what Orlando is going to do before the trade deadline, ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes.

While many in the organization feel pressure to make the playoffs this season, the Magic’s front office doesn’t appear to be under a playoffs-or-bust mandate. Despite being within an arm’s length of a playoff spot, the team could consider making moves with the long-term in mind.

Aaron Gordon‘s descending contract was designed to make him a more attractive trade piece. With the Mohamed BambaJonathan Isaac looking like team’s frontcourt of the future, the 23-year-old combo forward, who’s best suited to play the four, may find himself on a new team. The Mavericks inquired on Gordon’s availability before pulling the trigger on Kristaps Porzingis, Lowe reports.

The Pacers had interest in signing Gordon to an offer sheet when he was a restricted free agent, though it’s unclear what Indiana’s position is on trading for talent before the deadline with star Victor Oladipo out for the year. Lowe speculates that the Jazz and Trail Blazers would be good landing spots for Gordon should Orlando ship him out.

The Magic would likely deal Terrence Ross, who will be a free agent after the season, for a future asset, Lowe adds, though he cautions that Orlando may not be able to get even a heavily-protected first-round pick for the swingman. If the team does deal Ross, it could be for a pair of second-round picks.

The Magic have to consider trading Nikola Vucevic, Lowe contends. The team drafted Bamba to man the five and with Vucevic’s looming free agency, Orlando will either have to sign him to a massive deal or watch him walk for nothing.

Lowe doesn’t anticipate a Vuvevic trade. though he touches on a pair of hypothetical deals with one involving Orlando shipping the big man to the Lakers for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Los Angeles’ first-round pick. The Lakers’ pick is expected to fall somewhere in the middle of the draft and that may not be more appealing than simply keeping Vucevic for the Magic’s front office.

The other hypothetical involves a swap of Ross and Markelle Fultz. While the deal would seem to benefit both the Sixers and Magic, it’s unclear whether Philadelphia would require an additional asset, such as a second-round pick. Lowe notes that Fultz’s injury and trade value remains a mystery.

Mavs Eyeing Nikola Vucevic As Offseason Target?

After acquiring a former All-Star big man on Thursday when they traded for Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavericks are eyeing a current All-Star as a potential offseason target, according to Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. A league source tells Townsend that the Mavs are setting their sights on Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Vucevic, 28, is enjoying the best season of his eight-year NBA career in 2018/19, averaging 20.6 PPG, 12.0 RPG, and 3.8 APG with a .521/.378/.775 shooting line in 51 games (31.3 MPG) for Orlando.

While Vucevic has never been an elite rim protector – his 1.1 BPG this season match a career high – he has expanded and modernized his game within the last couple years by adding a three-point shot to his arsenal. The Mavs apparently view him as a potential fit at center alongside Porzingis, who would play the four.

If Dallas intends to make a serious run at Vucevic, it will be interesting to see how the team handles its cap situation. After adding Tim Hardaway, Courtney Lee, and Porzingis to the roster, the Mavs no longer project to have any real cap room during the offseason. In order to clear the cap room necessary to pursue Vucevic, the club may have to make a trade or count on Harrison Barnes or Dwight Powell opting out.

If Porzingis opts to sign his one-year, $4.5MM qualifying offer rather than inking a more lucrative longer-term deal, it could also create added flexibility for the Mavs, but that’s probably not the preferred outcome for the franchise.

Vucevic is earning $12.75MM this season and would technically fit into the Mavs’ newly-created $12.9MM trade exception, but Orlando seems unlikely to deal him this season, and Dallas is running out of favorable trade assets anyway. The 28-year-old appears to be in line for an offseason raise.

Magic Notes: DSJ, Isaac, Gordon, Vucevic

It’s unclear how serious the Dennis Smith Jr. trade talks between the Magic and Mavericks have gotten, writes Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel. However, at least one rival NBA front office official believes Smith would make a lot of sense as a target for Orlando.

“Their priority should be a starting point guard,” the official said of the Magic. “Those guys don’t grow on trees, and Dennis Smith is pretty alluring because when are you going to get (a starting point guard otherwise)?”

As Robbins observes, there will be a couple intriguing point guard prospects – Murray State’s Ja Morant and Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland – near the top of the draft, but it’s not clear if the Magic will pick high enough to have a shot at either one — and the point guard class isn’t particularly strong after those two. Currently, Orlando ranks seventh in our 2018/19 Reverse Standings.

Robbins doesn’t go too in-depth on potential free agent targets for the Magic, but suggests it seems “unrealistic” that the team will land a marquee point guard in free agency. Most of 2019’s top free agent point guards are either restricted free agents (like D’Angelo Russell and Terry Rozier) or aren’t expected to consider Orlando (Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker).

Here’s more on the Magic from Robbins:

  • Within his discussion of the DSJ rumors, Robbins notes that the Mavericks were interested in Jonathan Isaac in 2017, but Orlando remains “strongly disinclined to give him up.” The Magic also haven’t shown any signs that they’re willing to trade Aaron Gordon, sources tell Robbins.
  • Exploring the possibility of a Nikola Vucevic trade, Robbins wonders what sort of impact a Vooch trade would have on the long-term development of Isaac, Gordon, and Mohamed Bamba. Robbins also questions whether the Magic would trade Vucevic in a deal for a first-round pick that falls outside of the lottery and wouldn’t necessarily change the club’s long-term outlook significantly.
  • In a separate story on the Magic, Robbins posits that the franchise hasn’t found a “star-quality player” to replace Dwight Howard since losing him back in 2012. Head coach Steve Clifford drew attention to the star-shaped hole on Orlando’s roster after Wednesday’s loss to Brooklyn, pointing out that the Magic don’t have a player who can be relied upon to score a basket or make a play in crunch time. “It’s the most important thing that you can have in any NBA game: a guy that can go get a shot or create help so his teammate gets a shot,” Clifford said. “It’s the No. 1 thing that you want.”

Magic Veterans Feeling Urgency To Win

The Magic haven’t made the postseason since 2012, but they’re in position to push for a playoff spot this year. While their 20-27 record puts them just 11th in the Eastern Conference, they’re only 2.5 games removed from the No. 8 seed. And, as Josh Robbins of The Athletic details, Orlando’s veterans are feeling pressure to earn a top-eight spot or risk having the roster broken up in the offseason.

“We’re not stupid,” Evan Fournier said on Monday, per Robbins. “We know if we don’t make the playoffs this year, this is probably over for us as a team.”

As Robbins writes, after the Magic fell to 19-27 with Saturday’s loss to the Bucks, Nikola Vucevic conveyed to his teammates that there wasn’t much room for error if the club wants to reach the postseason. According to Fournier, Vucevic said that the Magic’s next three games – starting with last night’s win over the Hawks – “were basically our season” and that they needed to come out with some urgency.

“I just told the team that this is it,” Vucevic said. “These next couple of games we have to get some wins. Otherwise, it’s going to be very, very hard for us to achieve our goal to get to the playoffs. I just wanted to make sure that they understand that, that every game going forward for us is a big game. But it has to be done now.”

Fournier has another guaranteed season on his contract after this year, plus a player option for 2020/21, so he could return to the Magic even if the club shakes things up this summer. However, Vucevic and Terrence Ross will be unrestricted free agents, and if Orlando makes major changes, those changes might also involve trading a veteran like Fournier. For his part, the 26-year-old Frenchman says he and his veteran teammates are hoping this isn’t their final run with the Magic.

“We like it here,” Fournier said. “We like to play with each other. We’re starting to get better (as a team), and we’ve been struggling for so long here, we want to see the results. We’ve spent so many times and hours with the Magic. You want to see it work, you know? It’s like when you’re trying to make it work with your wife. You want to make it work. It’s not like you want to change wives. It’s the same thing (with the Magic). So, yeah, of course, we want to have great moments together.”

The Magic will look to build on Monday’s win with games against a pair of Eastern playoff hopefuls on tap for Wednesday (at Brooklyn) and Friday (vs. Washington).

Free Agent Stock Watch 2019: Southeast Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Southeast Division:

Jeremy Lin, Hawks, 30, PG (Up) – Signed to a three-year, $38.3MM deal in 2016
Lin suffered a season-ending knee injury last October with Brooklyn. He’s bounced back impressively as the backup point guard in Atlanta. He’s averaging 10.9 PPG and 3.2 APG in 18.5 MPG while posting an above-average PER. For a contender looking to fill the same spot, Lin would be a viable option prior to the trade deadline. He’ll have to accept a lower salary with his next contract but he shouldn’t have too much trouble finding work in July.

Frank Kaminsky, Hornets, 25, PF (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $11.8MM deal in 2015
Far removed from leading Wisconsin to the 2015 national championship, Kaminsky continues to disappoint as a pro. Under former coach Steve Clifford, Kaminsky was a steady presence in the rotation. First-year James Borrego has buried Kaminsky so deep on the bench that the stretch four hasn’t played the last three games. Kaminsky could be a restricted free agent if the Hornets extend a $4.9MM qualifying option but that’s not happening. He’ll be looking to hit the reset button in July.

Rodney McGruder, Heat, 27, SG (Down) – Signed to a three-year, $3.4MM deal in 2016
McGruder has started regularly for the Heat this season but that might not last much longer. He’s averaged 5.2 points in his last five outings while shooting 27.6 percent from the field. His PER is well below average. In McGruder’s favor is his team-friendly contract. He’ll be a restricted free agent if the Heat extend a $1.93MM qualifying offer. Whether he receives it will likely depend on how much cap space Pat Riley wants to open up.

Nikola Vucevic, Magic, 28, C (Up) – Signed to a four-year, $53MM deal in 2015
Orlando has some young, athletic bigs but Vucevic is so productive, he’s maintained his minutes under new coach Steve Clifford. The veteran big man is averaging a career-high 20.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG and 3.6 APG. Like many 7-footers his age, Vucevic came into the league as mainly a low post player but has extended his range beyond the arc. He’s made 39% of his attempts this season. Currently ranked No. 10 in our Free Agent Power Rankings, Vucevic should be a nice consolation prize for a team with significant cap space that strikes out pursuing the biggest names on the market.

Trevor Ariza, Wizards, 33, SF (Up) – Signed to a one-year, $15MM deal in 2018
Phoenix quickly moved Ariza to a team fighting for a playoff spot after giving him a nice one-year payday over the summer. The Wizards are just 1-4 since acquiring Ariza but what’s more significant is how many teams inquired about him before the trade. He reportedly drew interest from at least eight clubs. His 3-and-D skills remain in high demand and he should be able to land at least one more big-money contract before he retires.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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 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.