Ochai Agbaji

Western Notes: Nowell, KAT, Dinwiddie, Jazz

Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell is hoping to take advantage of a more consistent role in 2022/23 after the Rudy Gobert trade created the potential for additional playing time off the bench, according to Chris Hine of The Star Tribune.

With the trade that happened, it definitely opened up a lot of opportunity for me,” Nowell said. “It’s my job to make sure I don’t take that for granted, I continue to get better as a player, and whenever I get on that court just be the best version of myself.”

Nowell, 23, averaged 8.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG and 2.1 APG on .475/.394/.783 shooting in 62 games (15.7 MPG) in ’21/22. He’s entering the final season of his non-guaranteed contract, which will pay him $1,930,681. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2023, but he says he’s not focused on that.

I definitely just try to keep that to the side,” Nowell said, per Hine. “Because I think if I’m focusing on that, I’m not doing my part as a teammate. So, you know, obviously it’s coming up. It’s just part of this business, but at the end of the day I’m focused on this year and how good we can be this year. I just want to be the best teammate and be the best player I can be so we can all succeed.”

Here are a few more notes from the Western Conference:

  • Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch is hopeful Karl-Anthony Towns will be able to start “low-level” basketball activities early next week after missing training camp practices with a non-COVID illness, Hine relays in the same story. The three-time All-Star will slide down to power forward this season with Gobert’s addition, though he’ll almost certainly play some center when Gobert rests. Minnesota will feature one of the biggest starting lineups in the NBA in ’22/23.
  • Spencer Dinwiddie says he’s no longer worried about his ACL injury, which he suffered in late December 2020, per Dwain Price of Mavs.com. “It’s a normal offseason, full training mode, not worried about swelling or taking a break, or two days on and one day off,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s let’s get to it.” After starting seven of his 23 games with the Mavericks last season, the 29-year-old will replace Jalen Brunson as a full-time starter in ’22/23, Price notes. “I don’t really see myself filling Jalen’s role per se,” Dinwiddie said. “There were a lot of games (last season) I finished games, there were games I played without Luka (Doncic) and without JB, and where I started games as well. But in terms of the mentality, green means go. Go make plays and try to win the game.”
  • Fourth-year guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker and a trio of rookies — Ochai Agbaji, Walker Kessler and Simone Fontecchio — are impressing the Jazz during training camp, writes Sarah Todd of The Desert News. “Nickeil is a very, very skilled, diverse offensive player,” head coach Will Hardy said. “He has good size, is a very good passer, he can put the ball in the basket. When he’s open and he shoots, I think it’s going in. He’s just really shown a confidence throughout open gym and training camp that I think has been really, really great for our group. His presence when he has the ball, sort of settles everybody down and he has been awesome.”

Jazz Notes: Mitchell Trade, Knicks Talks, Conley, Bass

Within their Thursday press release officially confirming the trade that sent Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland, the Jazz‘s top decision-makers explained why they felt it was necessary to move the club’s leading scorer, a three-time All-Star who just turned 26.

“It was clear that in order to optimize our opportunity to create a team that could truly contend and establish sustained success, we needed to transition our roster,” Jazz CEO Danny Ainge said in a statement. “In trading Rudy (Gobert) and now Donovan, it was a rare opportunity to maximize our ability to get quality talent and picks to best position us moving forward. We have a plan in place to help us assemble the championship team our fans deserve. It will take time to craft our roster. We all understand the work ahead and are committed to our vision.”

General manager Justin Zanik, meanwhile, referred to Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, and Ochai Agbaji as three “exciting young players,” suggesting the front office views the trio as part of the Jazz’s long-term plan.

“We believe that they fit the Jazz culture and hard-nosed, competitive brand of basketball we’ve built here in Utah,” Zanik said. “They give us versatility and athleticism on both ends of the floor as we grow toward the future. We look forward to our fans getting to know them.”

Here’s more out of Utah:

  • Previous reports suggested there was some level of “animus” between the Jazz and Knicks, due in part to Knicks executives sitting courtside at Utah’s first playoff game vs. Dallas in the spring, as well as to New York’s decision to extend RJ Barrett while the two teams were negotiating his possible inclusion in a Mitchell trade. However, ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on his Lowe Post podcast that any hard feelings between the Jazz and the Knicks weren’t the reason why Utah made a deal with Cleveland instead of New York.
  • “Emotions can play into this,” Lowe said, per RealGM. “I’ve been assured by the Utah side that ‘No, look, we’re mature people. Yes, we were upset with particularly the Mavs’ game incident, but we’re not going to make decisions based on those kind of things that now happened four months ago or whatever. We’ve made the best deal possible.'”
  • In a column for The Salt Lake Tribune, Robert Gehrke focuses on the off-court impact of the Mitchell trade, arguing that Utah has lost a “conscience of our community.”
  • Nekias Duncan of BasketballNews.com considers what Mike Conley can still bring to a contending team and explores which clubs might be realistic trade suitors for the veteran point guard. Meanwhile, Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune weighs where Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Jordan Clarkson could land if they’re traded.
  • The Salt Lake City Stars – Utah’s G League affiliate – acquired the returning rights to Paris Bass and Elijah Cain in a trade with the South Bay Lakers, per a press release. Bass is reportedly signing an Exhibit 10 deal with the Jazz, so the team clearly intends to have him play for the Stars — it remains to be seen whether Cain is also in SLC’s plans for 2022/23.

Jazz Trade Donovan Mitchell To Cavaliers

SEPTEMBER 8: The Jazz officially confirmed the trade of Mitchell in a press release. “Our entire organization wishes him every success in his future,” team owner Ryan Smith said in the release. “Once a Jazzman, always a Jazzman.”

SEPTEMBER 3: The Mitchell trade is now official, tweets Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

“The acquisition of Donovan Mitchell presented us with an incredible opportunity to bring one of the NBA’s most dynamic young All-Stars to Cleveland,” general manager Koby Altman said in the press release announcing the move. “Already a special and proven talent at just 25 years old, Donovan brings a competitive mentality that organically fits with the core group of this team.”

SEPTEMBER 1: The Cavaliers have agreed to a trade with the Jazz and will acquire star guard Donovan Mitchell, sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

According to Wojnarowski (via Twitter), Cleveland is sending three unprotected first-round picks and two pick swaps to Utah as part of the deal. Lauri Markkanen, first-round pick Ochai Agbaji, and Collin Sexton are also headed to the Jazz in the blockbuster trade, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link).

Sexton is a restricted free agent, so he’ll need to be signed-and-traded as part of the agreement. His new deal with the Jazz will be worth $72MM over four years and will be fully guaranteed, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter links).

The three first-round picks going to Utah will be in 2025, 2027, and 2029, since Cleveland already owes its lottery-protected 2023 first-rounder to Indiana, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweets. The Jazz will have the ability to swap first-rounders with the Cavs in 2026 and 2028, tweets Wojnarowski.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 first identified the Cavaliers last week as a team with interest in Mitchell, and Ian Begley of SNY.tv subsequently reported that Cleveland had “touched base” with Utah about the three-time All-Star guard.

Still, today’s news comes as a major surprise. Begley reported last Friday that the Cavs were removing themselves from the Mitchell negotiations, while Brian Windhorst of ESPN said Cleveland had made it clear to the Jazz in their earlier discussions that Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen weren’t on the table. That seemingly made it difficult for the Cavs to meet Utah’s asking price.

However, the Cavs’ package will include most of the other noteworthy assets at their disposal, including all their tradable first-round picks, this year’s No. 14 overall selection (Agbaji), and Sexton, who is just one year removed from averaging 24.3 PPG and 4.4 APG on .475/.371/.815 shooting in 60 games (35.3 MPG).

As good as Sexton was in 2020/21, Mitchell represents an upgrade at the shooting guard position in Cleveland. In his last two seasons, he has averaged 26.1 points, 5.3 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game in 120 appearances (33.6 MPG), with a shooting line of .444/.368/.849 shooting line. He’ll earn a $1.68MM trade bonus as part of the deal, Marks notes (via Twitter).

With a core of Mitchell, Garland, Mobley, and Allen, the Cavs will be led by a pair of star duos — an offensively-minded pairing in the backcourt and a rim-protecting duo in the frontcourt.

All of those cornerstone players will be under contract for at least the next three years. Garland signed a new five-year extension this offseason, Mobley’s rookie contract runs through 2025, Allen is in the second year of a five-year contract, and Mitchell is locked up through at least the 2024/25 season (he has a player option for ’25/26).

With their three-for-one trade, the Cavs no longer have to worry about a logjam on their 15-man roster and should, in fact, have one open spot to fill. Once the deal is official, they’ll have 12 players on fully guaranteed contracts, with Lamar Stevens and Dean Wade on non-guaranteed deals. They’ll also create a $3.9MM trade exception in the swap and remain $2.47MM below the tax line, according to Marks (Twitter link).

The Knicks had long been viewed as the frontrunners for Mitchell, but they were never willing to offer more than two unprotected first-round picks (in addition to other protected first-rounders), per Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report (Twitter link). Unprotected first-round picks and swaps had been the trade chips that Danny Ainge and the Jazz coveted most, as was the case when they acquired a similar return in exchange for Rudy Gobert earlier this summer.

The Knicks and Jazz reportedly reached an impasse earlier this week when the Knicks set an informal Monday night deadline to either agree to a Mitchell trade or extend RJ Barrett, who was being discussed as a possible centerpiece in several permutations of a Mitchell deal. New York ultimately decided to sign Barrett to an extension, which complicated salary matching in a potential trade due to the poison pill provision and brought those trade talks to a temporary halt.

While there was an expectation that the Knicks and Jazz would reengage in the coming weeks, their stalemate opened the door for Cavs general manager Koby Altman to circle back to Utah general manager Justin Zanik, according to Wojnarowski, who says (via Twitter) the two teams “reassembled” a deal they’d been discussing in previous weeks.

The Jazz are now in full rebuilding mode, having traded their two All-Stars in the two most significant deals of the NBA offseason. Taking into account the trades for Mitchell, Gobert, and Royce O’Neale, Utah has acquired eight future first-rounders this summer, and all but one of those picks is unprotected (the eighth is top-five protected). The Jazz also acquired three pick swaps and a pair of players who were drafted in the first round this June (Agbaji and Walker Kessler).

While the Jazz appear to be in teardown mode, their four-year investment in Sexton suggests he’s a major part of their long-term plans. Fischer had reported back in July that Utah was exploring a possible sign-and-trade for the 23-year-old, so he has been on the club’s radar for some time.

Sexton is coming off a lost season due to a torn meniscus, but should be fully healthy this fall and has shown in his first four NBA seasons that he’s capable of becoming one of the league’s highest-scoring guards. Utah also views Markkanen and Agbaji as keepers going forward, tweets Wojnarowski.

Once the trade is official, the Jazz will have 17 players on fully guaranteed contracts, so more roster moves – either cuts, trades, or both – will be coming before opening night. Veterans like Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Malik Beasley, and Jordan Clarkson could still be on the trade block.

While it shouldn’t have much of an impact on their roster moves, it’s also worth noting that the Jazz will face a hard cap of $156.98MM for the rest of the 2022/23 league year once they formally sign-and-trade for Sexton. For now, they’re $1.7MM below the tax line ($150.27MM), tweets Marks.

Western Notes: Gobert, Mitchell, Jazz, Westbrook, Vezenkov

Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert had some differences with Donovan Mitchell over the years but he feels his former Jazz teammate will thrive with the Cavaliers, he told Antonis Stroggylakis of Eurohoops.net.

“I think he has a bright future,” Gobert said. “He’s one of the best young players in his position. He’s going to keep getting better. I think it’s a great opportunity for him to just get to a new system, a new team and be able to show what he can do.”

Gobert also praised Utah executive Danny Ainge for the players and draft picks he collected from Cleveland in the trade: “I think he definitely did a great job in getting as many assets as possible.”

We have more Western Conference news:

  • Jazz fans will need to get acquainted with all the players the team has acquired in the Gobert, Mitchell and Patrick Beverley trades. Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune takes a quick look at each of the acquisitions, highlighted by Collin Sexton and lottery pick Ochai Agbaji.
  • Russell Westbrook is expected to show up if LeBron James hosts a players-only minicamp before Lakers training camp, as James has often done in the past, Marc Stein reports in Substack article. The mini-camp would help ease any lingering tensions among their veteran players. Citing well-placed sources, Stein adds that the franchise won’t sit out Westbrook if he remains on the roster, unlike what the Rockets did with John Wall last season. New coach Darvin Ham will carve out a role for Westbrook if he’s not dealt.
  • Kings draft-and-stash prospect Sasha Vezenkov said he’s not focused on a potential jump to the NBA for the 2023/24 season, according to Semih Tuna of EuroHoops.net. “It’s a big season, I have a big priority with my team Olympiacos in what will be a very difficult year,” he said. “My only thought is to stay focused and stay healthy, to give everything I can [to Olympiacos]. And then we will see. Next summer is ten months away.” Vezenkov, 27, was a 2017 second-round pick. The Bulgarian star is the leading scorer in the EuroBasket event.

Central Notes: Ivey, Pistons Roster, Agbaji, Bulls

After injuring his ankle against the Wizards last weekend in an eventual 105-99 win, Pistons lottery pick Jaden Ivey was held out for the rest of Detroit’s Summer League action. Head coach Dwane Casey clarified that Ivey’s absence was precautionary, per Mike Curtis of the Detroit News.

[Ivey’s] OK, just a good turned ankle and he bounced back like a trooper,” Casey said. “He wanted to play, but the medical staff held him out.”

The 20-year-old was selected by Detroit in this year’s draft with the fifth pick after a stellar showing at Purdue. During his second and final college season in 2021/22, Ivey averaged 17.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, and 0.9 SPG. He was named to the All-Big Ten First Team, and the All-American Second Team for his efforts.

Despite playing just five quarters of Summer League basketball, the 6’4″ shooting guard averaged 15.0 PPG, 4.0 APG and 3.0 RPG in Las Vegas while shooting 50% from beyond the arc.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • With the Pistons’ five-game Summer League run in the rear view, James L. Edwards III of The Athletic examines the club’s personnel heading into training camp. Though the team currently has 15 guaranteed deals on its main roster and both two-way slots filled, Edwards notes that, with $8-10MM in unused cap space, Detroit’s front office could look to make further adjustments to the team. Edwards projects depth charts for the roster as currently comprised, noting that only point guard Cade Cunningham and power forward Saddiq Bey appear guaranteed to start on opening night.
  • Cavaliers rookie shooting guard Ochai Agbaji, selected with the No. 14 pick out of reigning NCAA champion Kansas this year, appears to be headed for a rotation role, writes Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Agbaji could be used to bolster Cleveland’s long-range shooting as an off-ball option. “We know how great of a shooter he is and how good he is running off screens,” said Summer League head coach Mike Gerrity, who serves as a player development coach in the regular season under head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “I imagine that is going to be a way that J.B. is going to utilize him come the regular season.”
  • Prior to an unfortunate (minor) right hamstring injury, Bulls rookie first-round pick Dalen Terry was rounding into form as a promising finisher and versatile defender who could contribute to Chicago’s rotation in the fall, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Johnson adds that second-year center Marko Simonovic had an uneven second Summer League and voices skepticism about Simonovic’s ability to crack Chicago’s center rotation behind starter Nikola Vucevic and new backup Andre Drummond. Johnson also floats Summer League Chicago reserve center Makur Maker as a potential fit for Chicago’s open two-way player slot next to undrafted rookie Justin Lewis.

Cavaliers Sign Ochai Agbaji, Isaiah Mobley

The Cavaliers have officially signed 2022 draft picks Ochai Agbaji and Isaiah Mobley, the team announced today in a press release.

The 14th overall pick in last week’s draft, Agbaji received the rookie scale contract that is standard for first-round picks. Assuming he signed for the full 120% of the rookie scale, which is the norm, he’ll earn approximately $3.9MM in year one and $18.7MM across four years.

The 22-year-old Agbaji won an NCAA championship with Kansas as a senior in 2021/22 and enjoyed his best college season, averaging 18.8 PPG and 5.1 RPG with a shooting line of .475/.407/.743 in 39 games (35.1 MPG).

Mobley, the brother of rising Cavaliers star Evan Mobley, signed a two-way contract. Isaiah, who played alongside Evan at USC in 2020/21, stuck with the Trojans for another year and averaged 14.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, and 3.3 APG in 32 games (34.1 MPG) as a junior before declaring for the draft. He was the 49th overall pick last Thursday.

The Cavs’ other draftee, No. 56 overall pick Luke Travers, remains unsigned. It’s unclear if he’ll be stashed overseas for the 2022/23 season or if he’s in the mix for Cleveland’s other two-way slot.

Central Notes: Ivey, Agbaji, Rubio, Terry

Jaden Ivey‘s family has a long connection to Detroit, and the Pistons are showing their appreciation to their newly drafted point guard, writes Rod Beard of The Detroit News. The organization presented Ivey with replicas of jerseys worn by his mother, father and grandfather — made more than three weeks ago “just in case” the Pistons were able to select him — and much like draft night, Ivey was overcome by tears.

“You could see my emotions a little bit,” he said. “Just my family, what they’ve been through their whole lives and what they’ve worked for, they helped me get to this stage, just to see all the jerseys it just made me emotional.”

Ivey will be part of the foundation of the team’s rebuilding project, forming a dynamic backcourt with Cade Cunningham, last year’s overall No. 1 pick. The city is already embracing Ivey as he continues the family’s sports legacy in Detroit.

“I’m gonna say this,” coach Dwane Casey said, “the history and story of Jaden is unbelievable. It’s like a fairy tale. Even from me, and I’ve been in (the league) a long time. To understand his grandfather played here, his dad went to high school here, his mom played in the WNBA here, successful college coach right now, it’s beyond belief. And like (general manager) Troy (Weaver) said, the good Lord wanted him here.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The Cavaliers were seeking immediate help in the draft, which is why they took Ochai Agbaji instead of a prospect such as Malaki Branham, according to Jason Lloyd of The Athletic. Cleveland expects to make the playoffs next season, and with other targets such as Ousmane Dieng already off the board, Agbaji was an easy choice at No. 14.
  • There were opportunities for the Cavaliers to trade into the later part of the first round, but they didn’t want to take on another guaranteed contract, a member of the organization told Lloyd. Cleveland is hoping to bring back Ricky Rubio, who would give the team 14 guaranteed deals. Rubio is still rehabbing after ACL surgery and probably won’t be able to play until January, Lloyd adds.
  • The Bulls had opportunities to trade up and trade down Thursday night, but they were thrilled to get Arizona guard Dalen Terry with the 18th pick, per Julia Poe of The Chicago Tribune. “He’s going to bring versatility on both ends of the floor,” general manager Marc Eversley said. “Last year early on, we had a lot of success when we created turnovers defensively and got out and ran. I think he’s somebody who’s going to be able to do that for us.”

Central Notes: Ivey, Duren, Beauchamp, Agbaji

The Pistons used the Knicks’ desperation to shed salary as a means of trading for Jalen Duren, James Edwards III of The Athletic explains.

Detroit rebuffed the attempts of New York and other teams to trade for Jaden Ivey after the Purdue guard landed at its lottery pick. Pistons GM Troy Weaver then used the Knicks’ need to open up cap space to make a run at Jalen Brunson against them, as New York traded the No. 11 pick to Oklahoma City for a trio of future first-rounders. A three-team agreement among New York, Detroit and Charlotte was then engineered involving the No. 13 pick, where Duren dropped.

Detroit was content to take on Kemba Walker‘s contract, which it will buy out, according to Edwards. It was a best-case scenario for the Pistons to land Ivey and Duran but they’ll still be big players in free agency, though not necessarily for Deandre Ayton or another big name on the market. They may instead add multiple veteran pieces.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Ivey said he’s eager to show that he has a mid-range game and can be a defensive force, two of the knocks on him going into the draft. Those were issues talked about in conversations with Weaver and coach Dwane Casey prior to the draft, Edwards writes in a separate story. “They talked about winning, and that’s what I want to do,” Ivey said. “We talked about setting a defensive presence when I get there and bringing back winning to Detroit. (Weaver) challenged me to be a great defender. I want to do that.”
  • The Bucks selected G League Ignite wing MarJon Beauchamp at No. 24 and GM Jon Horst believes that Beauchamp can make an impact with his defensive tenacity, Eric Nehm of The Athletic writes. “Length, athleticism, I think he’s got a grittiness and a toughness to him,” Horst said. “He’s going to have to work on his strength like any young player. … One thing about the G League is it’s a bunch of fast, quick, athletic guys, and I think he really held his own.”
  • Wing Ochai Agbaji, chosen with the No. 14 pick, gives the Cavaliers another quality offensive option, coach J.B. Bickerstaff told The Athletic’s Kelsey Russo and other media members. “I thought he could be a weapon. He’s got a skill that no matter where you are in the NBA, you need it,” Bickerstaff said. “He has the ability to put the ball in the basket, and it’s not just the ability to stand in a spot and make a shot.”

Central Notes: Ayton, Duren, Agbaji, Pacers, Bulls

The Pistons‘ draft haul Thursday night makes it less likely that they’ll pursue Suns center Deandre Ayton in free agency, according to James L. Edwards III of The Athletic. Ayton was believed to be Detroit’s main target after opening up roughly $43MM in cap space by agreeing to trade Jerami Grant to the Trail Blazers. Thursday’s deals knock that number down to about $30MM, which sources tell Edwards the team plans to use to sign multiple players rather than handing out one large contract.

The Pistons landed their center of the future by acquiring Jalen Duren of Memphis, who “blew away” the organization during the pre-draft process, according to Edwards’ sources. Multiple teams called Detroit in hopes of making a deal for No. 5 pick Jaden Ivey, but the Pistons were more interested in landing another first-round selection. One of those calls came from the Knicks, who needed to offload salary in hopes of making a run at free agent guard Jalen Brunson. Detroit was able to use some of its cap room to take on Kemba Walker‘s contract, valued at $9.17MM next season, and received Duren, whom New York acquired from the Hornets in a previous deal.

Detroit now has an exciting young core with Ivey and Duren joining Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, along with enough cap room to be a significant player in free agency. The Pistons are still expected to be big spenders when the process begins next week, sources tell Edwards.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The Cavaliers passed on several younger talents to take four-year college player Ochai Agbaji, notes Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. After reaching the play-in tournament this season, Cleveland was focused on finding someone who could contribute right away, and there’s hope that the Kansas sharpshooter will add another dimension to the offense. The Cavs were extremely interested in French star Ousmane Dieng, Fedor adds, and would have considered him at No. 14 if the Thunder hadn’t traded up to grab him with the 11th pick.
  • The Pacers had numerous trade opportunities Thursday night, but nothing worth pulling the trigger on, according to James Boyd of The Indianapolis Star. “We’re always gonna be aggressive, but there’s always certain price points,” general manager Chad Buchanan said. “Sometimes you have to walk away from deals if it’s not right for your team.”
  • Finding a rim protector will be one of the Bulls‘ priorities for the summer, tweets Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago. The Bulls will explore their options through free agency and trades, according to general manager Marc Eversley, who suggested the team wants a player who can complement current center Nikola Vucevic.

Eastern Notes: Celtics, Agbaji, Knicks, Heat

The Celtics didn’t win the NBA title this season, but even making it to the Finals represents an encouraging proof of concept for the franchise, Ethan Fuller of BasketballNews.com writes. Boston adjusted by trading Dennis Schroder away and starting Marcus Smart at point guard, choosing to play a bigger, defensive-minded lineup of Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams III.

“Nobody even had us being here, let alone in the playoffs,” Smart said after the Finals defeat, according to Fuller. “It definitely is tough. But it’s definitely one of those things we’ve been through hell to get here, and you take that. You know what I’m saying? We’ve got to use that.”

Boston sported one of the best defensive groups in recent memory this season. The Celtics struggled to take care of the ball at times, including when they committed 22 turnovers in Game 6 to end the series, but proved they can contend going forward.

Here’s more from around the East:

  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype previews the Celtics‘ offseason, which will likely include guaranteeing Al Horford‘s salary. Horford, who was pivotal to Boston’s success this season, will make $26.5MM next season (only $19.5MM is currently guaranteed) if the team chooses to retain him, which is expected to happen.
  • Zach Braziller of the New York Post examines why Ochai Agbaji could be an appealing draft pick for the Knicks. Braziller believes Agbaji could fit well alongside RJ Barrett, as the 6’5″ guard averaged 18.8 points and 5.1 rebounds with Kansas last season. The Knicks own the No. 11 pick in the draft and finished just 37-45 last season.
  • Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald covers several Heat-related notes in his latest mailbag, including whether trading for Hawks star John Collins makes sense. Collins can fit alongside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in the Heat’s frontcourt, but it would require surrendering future assets. Those assets could be used to acquire a star at a different position if they become available — such as Bradley Beal or Donovan Mitchell. Miami received strong production from P.J. Tucker at power forward last season.