Onyeka Okongwu

Central Notes: Pistons, Pacers, Vanterpool, Cavs

The Pistons finished the 2019/20 season with a 20-46 record, and after buying out Reggie Jackson and trading Andre Drummond, all indications are that they’re not counting on being a playoff team next season. However, head coach Dwane Casey isn’t viewing the team’s process as a full-fledged rebuild, as Eric Woodyard of ESPN writes.

“We’re not really rebuilding here in Detroit,” Casey said. “I think our basketball fans deserve a lot, so we like to use the word retooling (or) restoring as much as rebuilding. So, again, it doesn’t have to take a long time because if our young guys are making the progress we expect them to make, it shouldn’t be a long-term restoring. And again, if we get the opportunity to get the right free agent that’s out there.”

While Casey is hopeful that the retooling process doesn’t necessarily have to be a long-term one, he cautioned that the Pistons will be careful about how they use their cap room this offseason.

“We want to be smart,” Casey said (Twitter link via James L. Edwards III of The Athletic). “We want to build something that’s going to last, be consistent and sustainable. We just don’t want to — as I tell my kids — ‘Don’t let the money burn your pockets.'”

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • The Pistons have made it known they’d be open to trading the No. 7 overall pick in the draft, sources tell Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report. While it makes sense for new head of basketball operations Troy Weaver to explore all his options with that selection, I’d be surprised to see the club move up or trade out of the first round.
  • Timberwolves associate head coach David Vanterpool is scheduled to interview with the Pacers for their head coaching job on Thursday, tweets Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News. Vanterpool was one of more than a dozen candidates said to be on Indiana’s initial list.
  • Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com takes a deep dive into the pros and cons of the Cavaliers potentially drafting USC big man Onyeka Okongwu with the No. 5 overall pick.

Central Notes: Cavs, Warren, Bulls, Pistons

The Cavaliers are set to return to their practice facility in mid-September to hold a voluntary minicamp. While most players will be there, pending free agents Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova will not be participating, per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Along with Thompson and Dellavedova, Andre Drummond isn’t expected to be in attendance at the Cavaliers’ minicamp due to a personal matter. Fedor says that the veteran center, who is likely to pick up his $28.7MM player option for next season, was initially interested in attending.

The Cavaliers are among eight teams who did not qualify for the NBA’s restart in Orlando that will get the chance to hold practices with their players.

Here’s more from across the Central Division:

  • In an extensive interview with Michael Pina of GQ, Pacers forward T.J. Warren spoke about his love of reading books. “I was thinking, I’ve gotta find a way to stimulate my mind when I’m not playing basketball and reading things that interest me,” Warren explained. “Sometimes you can get mixed up with some of the information you’re getting through social media or television, but if you actually like reading and getting it from the source, you can comprehend it better.” The 26-year-old forward had impressive performances in the bubble, which included a career-high 53 points against the 76ers in the seeding games.
  • Sam Smith of Bulls.com discussed some potential point guard options for the Bulls, who have the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft. In his latest mailbag, one reader asked Smith if the Bulls would think about trading down if LaMelo Ball is available at No. 4. In response to that question, Smith points out that new Chicago general manager Arturas Karnisovas has had success with finding gems later in the draft. However, if Smith had his choice, he would trade down for Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton, especially if Memphis’ James Wiseman is off the board.
  • In his latest mailbag, Keith Langlois of Pistons.com wrote about Sekou Doumbouya‘s possible role next season under head coach Dwane Casey, various draft options for the Pistons, and Derrick Rose‘s outlook. When it comes to October’s draft, Langlois writes that all options are on the table for the Pistons, who own the seventh overall pick. He mentions that they could select either Deni Avdija, Killian Hayes, Isaac Okoro, Onyeka Okongwu, or Haliburton.

Draft Notes: Ball, Edwards, Madar, Hayes

ESPN’s Mike Schmitz examines the unusual path LaMelo Ball has taken to become a potential No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. Ball first gained notice when he skipped eighth grade so he could play a season in high school with his brothers Lonzo and LiAngelo. Since then, he has grown from 5’11” to 6’7″ and has taken a circuitous route through Lithuania, his father’s basketball league (JBA) and Illawarra in the NBL.

Several NBA general managers and executives told Schmitz they consider Ball to have the most star power in the draft and expect him to be selected in the top two or three. However, questions remain about the quality of competition he has faced and whether LaVar Ball will provide a distraction like he did when Lonzo was with the Lakers.

There’s more draft news ahead of tomorrow’s lottery:

  • This year’s draft class is among the most balanced in recent memory, and many teams would privately prefer to pick second or third to avoid the spotlight that comes with the top choice, according to Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated. He previews what’s at stake for all 14 teams involved in tomorrow’s drawing and cites the Warriors as the most intriguing. Woo suggests that if Golden State decides to keep its pick, it may prefer someone with more of a fully developed game, such as Obi Toppin or Tyrese Haliburton, rather than a talented project like Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman or Ball.
  • Edwards remains at the top of the latest mock draft from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. He states that Edwards, Ball and Wiseman have become a consensus top three, but a shortage of information resulting from the postponement of the draft combine and a ban on in-person interviews continue to make this year’s draft unpredictable. Rounding out Givony’s top five, in order, are Wiseman, Ball, Israeli forward Deni Avdija, and USC big man Onyeka Okongwu.
  • Israeli point guard Yam Madar confirmed his signing with CAA Sports, tweets international basketball writer Donatas Urbonas. Sources tell Urbonas that the 19-year-old has received “strong interest” from NBA teams after a good performance in the Israeli League playoffs. Madar, who projects as a possible late second-round pick, is training in Las Vegas.
  • Shams Charania of The Athletic posted a video chat with French point guard Killian Hayes, a possible lottery selection.

Southeast Notes: Butler, Isaac, Hawks, Heat

Heat swingman Jimmy Butler, who continues to battle a right foot injury, has been ruled out for Saturday’s matchup with Phoenix, according to Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Twitter link). It will be the third consecutive game that Butler has missed.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said on Thursday that Butler underwent both an MRI and an X-ray on the foot, which revealed no structural damage, per Barry Jackson and Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. The hope for now is that rest is the best treatment for the All-Star wing.

“Jimmy had his final scan yesterday. And we understand what he’s dealing with,” agent Bernie Lee told The Herald. “And he’s working his butt off to get back on the floor ASAP and to be ready for the playoffs.”

The postseason isn’t scheduled to begin until August 17, so Butler has another 10 days to work his way back from the injury, which is mostly affecting his right ankle, according to Jackson and Chiang.

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

Pistons Notes: Brown, Thomas, Draft, Weaver, Casey

The Pistons won’t have to make decisions on three young players with non-guaranteed deals until October, James Edwards III of The Athletic notes.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the Pistons had to decide whether to pick up the contracts of Bruce Brown, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Khyri Thomas during the first two weeks of July with each player scheduled to make approximately $1.66MM next season. That date has been pushed back until after the playoffs are completed in Orlando.

It’s a given that Detroit will exercise its team option on Mykhailiuk and guarantee Brown’s contract, but Thomas’ situation is uncertain. He missed most of the season with a foot injury and returned to action shortly before the stoppage of play. The coaching staff believes Thomas can be a contributor, which helps his chances of getting his deal guaranteed, Edwards adds.

We have more on the Pistons:

  • New GM Troy Weaver has said he’ll be looking for a high-character player in the lottery. That increases the chances that the team will draft Auburn’s Isaac Okoro, USC’s Onyeka Okongwu or Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton, according to Keith Langlois of Pistons.com. Though none are currently ranked at the very top of the draft, that trio consistently draws high marks among scouts, college coaches and NBA executives for their personality traits, Langlois adds.
  • The mutual respect between Weaver and coach Dwane Casey bodes well for the franchise’s future, Langlois writes in a separate piece. Casey has proven he can develop talent and he has full confidence that Weaver will acquire the type of talent that can lift the franchise back to prominence, Langlois adds.
  • Assitant GM Pat Garrity is leaving the organization. Get all the details here.

Pacific Notes: Warriors, Chriss, Cook, Kings, Clippers

The Warriors are in position to secure a top-five pick in the 2020 NBA draft, and a big man looks like an obvious need for a team projected to start Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the backcourt and Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green in the frontcourt.

However, Connor Letourneau of The San Francisco Chronicle suggests the Warriors aren’t as high on the likes of James Wiseman and Onyeka Okongwu as you might think. As Letourneau details, Golden State’s system doesn’t require a dynamic scorer or play-maker at the five — the team just wants someone who can reliably play his role.

Marquese Chriss is someone who may fit that bill, given the strides he made in 2019/20 as a rim-runner, passer, and defender. In fact, multiple sources tell Letourneau that the Warriors would be comfortable entering the ’20/21 campaign with Chriss as their starting center. For his part, the former lottery pick says he’s prepared to play whatever role the team asks.

“I’m just thankful to have an organization that believes in me,” Chriss said. “At the end of the day, if (the Warriors) do draft (Wiseman), I know they’re making the best decision that they can for this team and that they feel will be beneficial for us to win a championship. As a team player, I want to win and I want to be a part of the team. Whatever role I have to have to make that happen, I’ll take on.”

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • Lakers guard Quinn Cook has new representation, having signed with Mark Bartelstein and Priority Sports, tweets Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal. Cook was previously repped by Tandem.
  • James Ham of NBC Sports California makes a case for why big man Serge Ibaka would be an ideal target for the Kings during the 2020 free agent period.
  • Jovan Buha of The Athletic identifies some frontcourt free agents the Clippers could target during the offseason if they lose some combination of Montrezl Harrell, Marcus Morris, and JaMychal Green.
  • In an interview this week with TNT’s Ernie Johnson, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers shared his side of a story J.J. Redick has told before, describing how the club’s deal with Redick in 2013 was nearly scuttled due to then-owner Donald Sterling‘s apparent aversion to white players. Kurt Helin of NBC Sports has the story, with Rivers’ comments.

Warriors Notes: Giannis, Okongwu, Draft, Eliyahu

Every now and then, over the last year, a report has surfaced detailing the Warriorsinterest in Giannis Antetokounmpo or suggesting that Golden State has been preparing its pursuit of the Bucks star for “years.” However, Anthony Slater of The Athletic is highly skeptical that anything will come of the Warriors’ interest in Giannis, whose current contract with Milwaukee expires in 2021.

As Slater explains, the fact that the Warriors were able to land Kevin Durant in 2016 means they’ll never be ruled out when they pursue other superstars, but in that case, everything lined up perfectly for the franchise — Durant was able to team up with the Warriors’ stars when they were all in their primes and took advantage of a huge cap spike in 2016 to join the team on a max-salary deal.

Several years later, the cap situation for the Warriors and the NBA as a whole isn’t nearly as rosy — Golden State’s cap is loaded with big-money contracts for its stars (and Andrew Wiggins), offering no realistic path to landing Antetokoumpo as a free agent or in a sign-and-trade. The league’s lost revenues also mean that a major dip in the cap is more likely than another spike.

On top of all that, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are in their 30s now, meaning that if he were to become a Warrior, Giannis “would be joining what’d probably become the early stages of a rebuild around him,” Slater writes.

If a star player badly wants to get to a specific team, there’s often a way to make it work, as we saw with last summer with the likes of Anthony Davis and Paul George. But there has been zero indication that Giannis is itching to leave the team with the NBA’s best record for the one in dead last. And even if that’s what he wanted, the roadblocks in the way would be substantial.

Here’s more on the Warriors:

  • In a mailbag for The San Francisco Chronicle, Connor Letourneau discusses Alen Smailagic‘s development, possible options for the Warriors’ $17MM trade exception, and potential draft targets, among other topics. Interestingly, Letourneau indicates that, when it comes to draft-eligible big men, Golden State is higher on Onyeka Okongwu than James Wiseman.
  • While there has been plenty of speculation about the Warriors potentially trading their 2020 lottery pick for win-now veteran help, Ethan Strauss of The Athletic contends that it might make more sense for the club to move the Timberwolves’ 2021 first-rounder if a major trade opportunity arises.
  • Veteran Israeli forward Lior Eliyahu, who spent the 2019/20 season with Maccabi Ashdod, is considering retirement, per an Israel Hayom report (relayed by Sportando). How is that news relevant to the Warriors? Well, Golden State technically holds Eliyahu’s NBA rights, having acquired them in a trade with Minnesota last July. The No. 44 pick in the 2016 draft never came stateside, but has had a decorated playing career in his home country, winning six Israeli League titles and earning seven All-Star nods.

Draft Notes: Early Entrants, Haliburton, Hayes, Avdija

The list of early entrants for the 2020 draft continues to grow, with a trio of guards among the latest underclassmen to announce their intent to test the waters this spring.

Wichita State sophomore guard Dexter Dennis, Colgate junior guard Jordan Burns, and UNC Greensboro junior guard Isaiah Miller all made their draft announcements on Twitter.

Dennis averaged 9.2 PPG and 5.0 RPG in 28 games (25.8 MPG) for the Shockers in 2019/20; Burns, a former Patriot Tournament MVP, posted 15.8 PPG, 4.5 APG, and 1.7 SPG in 34 games (32.4 MPG) for the Raiders; and Miller recorded a team-high 17.8 PPG to go along with 2.8 SPG as he earned Player of the Year – and Defensive Player of the Year – honors in the Southern Conference.

Here are a few more draft-related updates:

  • Even after the departure of Leon Rose, the head of the agency’s basketball department, Creative Artists Agency is having no problem continuing to fill out its roster with promising young players. CAA announced on Thursday (via Twitter) that projected lottery pick Tyrese Haliburton will be represented by the firm.
  • Ethan Strauss of The Athletic shares his “unconventional” top five for the 2020 draft, valuing efficiency and production over hype and athleticism and focusing on versatile players who have at least one elite skill. Based on those criteria, French wing Killian Hayes top Strauss’ board, followed by Obi Toppin, Haliburton, Onyeka Okongwu, and Isaac Okoro.
  • With the help of draft expert Fran Fraschilla, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com takes an in-depth look at Israeli swingman Deni Avdija, who is another candidate to be one of the first five players off the board in the 2020 draft. Fraschilla cautions that Avdija’s shot needs some work, but views him as this year’s top international prospect – above Hayes – and believes he belongs in the upper tier of the draft class.

USC’s Onyeka Okongwu Declares For NBA Draft

USC freshman big man Onyeka Okongwu has declared for the 2020 NBA draft and intends to forgo his remaining three years of college eligibility, he tells Evan Daniels of 247Sports.

A 6’9″ forward/center, Okongwu averaged 16.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG, and an impressive 2.7 BPG in 28 games (30.6 MPG) in his first and only season as a Trojan. He projects as a potential lottery pick, currently ranking sixth on ESPN’s big board, including second among centers, behind only James Wiseman.

“I honestly have a lot of confidence in myself and I think I established my name this freshman year and I’ve shown that I can play with anyone,” Okongwu said. “It gives me more confidence in this decision because I feel like I can develop my game on the next level and really be successful.”

According to ESPN’s Mike Schmitz, Okongwu is a strong offensive rebounder and a “versatile defender with outstanding shot-blocking instincts.” Schmitz also praised the big man’s mobility and footwork, though he cautioned that he’s somewhat undersized as a center and his offensive ceiling may be limited. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic recently referred to Okongwu as one of the best defensive prospects in the 2020 draft class.

And-Ones: Mock Draft, Maker, G League Union, Bethea Jr.

Georgia guard Anthony Edwards heads to Cleveland in the latest mock draft compiled by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. Former Memphis center James Wiseman (Golden State), Auburn swingman Isaac Okoro (Atlanta), guard LaMelo Ball (New York) and Israeli swingman Deni Avdija (Charlotte) round out the top five. USC big man Onyeka Okongwu has firmly moved into the top 10 after a couple of big performances against top competition and Givony has him going to Detroit at No. 7.

We have more from the basketball world:

  • Makur Maker has been declared eligible for this year’s draft, Evan Daniels of 247Sports reports. The 6’11” Maker is a five-star recruit currently at Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix but he doesn’t plan to play any more games there, Daniels continues. The question about his eligibility stemmed from not receiving his diploma following his senior year of high school. Maker plans to play in the Iverson Classic All-Star game and the Nike Hoop Summit, Daniels adds.
  • NBA players have voted to support the formation of a union for G League players, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. The vote was held at the NBPA meeting on Monday. Formal approval at the G League level will have to take place before the union can be formed (Twitter links).
  • Raptors 905 guard Michael Bethea Jr. is the subject of a feature story by The Athletic’s Blake Murphy on the life of a G League player.