Magic Rumors

Southeast Notes: Richards, Carter, Lowry, Yurtseven

Hornets center Nick Richards has enjoyed a career year in Charlotte, writes Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer.

Boone wonders if Richards, who is eligible for restricted free agency this summer, has carved out enough of a role to warrant consideration as a long-term member of the rebuilding club’s roster. Richards is averaging a career-best 7.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 1.0 BPG this season.

“I’m just trying to be more consistent,” Richards said of his improvement this season. “I’m just getting as many blocks as possible, getting as many rebounds as possible. That’s my job, that’s what I’m here for. So, I’ve just got to do it to the best of my ability.”

Boone tweets that Richards will most likely earn another start tonight, as nominal starter Mark Williams is considered doubtful to play through a right thumb sprain.

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • In his first contest back with the Magic following a three-game absence, a big overtime victory over the Heat, starting center Wendell Carter Jr. helped galvanize his team, writes Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel. The 6’10” big man scored 27 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in Orlando’s 126-114 win. Price notes that the Magic’s defensive efficiency suffered mightily with Carter sidelined.
  • After being sidelined for 15 straight games with a sore knee, Heat point guard Kyle Lowry played off the bench for the first time since January 2013 in Saturday’s loss to Orlando, writes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald (subscriber link). Gabe Vincent drew the start. Lowry is adjusting to the change, having started for 677 consecutive games. “At this point, I know in my heart I’m a starter,” Lowry said. “(Head coach Erik Spoelstra) and I talked and he wants to make sure I’m healthy and not have to change the lineup again and change the rotation. Great communicator he is, great coach he is, I respect (that).”
  • Heat reserve center Omer Yurtseven made his first appearance this season after Cody Zeller broke his nose and had to depart the Magic game, Jackson adds. Yurtseven, a restricted free agent this summer, had just one rebound, one missed shot, and a foul in seven minutes.

Community Shootaround: Eastern Conference Play-In Race

The playoff and play-in races in the Western Conference have gotten more attention than those in the East so far this season, in large part because so many of the West’s would-be contenders – like the Warriors, Clippers, Mavericks, and Lakers – are packed so tightly together among a huge group of teams competing for postseason spots.

Still, with just four weeks remaining in the regular season, the Eastern Conference play-in race has gotten awfully close too. Heading into Sunday’s action, the teams from No. 9 to No. 12 in the East are separate by just a single game, as follows:

  1. Toronto Raptors (32-36)
  2. Chicago Bulls (31-36)
  3. Washington Wizards (31-36)
  4. Indiana Pacers (31-37)

These four teams aren’t exactly on their own island in the Eastern standings — the 34-34 Hawks only have a two-game cushion on Toronto, and the 36-33 Heat aren’t much further ahead. Conversely, the 28-40 Magic probably can’t be counted out of the play-in race yet.

Still, with only about 14 or 15 games left on most teams’ schedules, the most likely outcome at this point is that two of the four teams listed above will earn play-in berths and two will be left on the outside looking in.

The Raptors and Bulls, the two teams currently holding the final two play-in spots, have had somewhat similar seasons. They won 48 and 46 games respectively in 2021/22, clinching top-six seeds in the East, and came into this season expecting to match or exceed last year’s success. Instead, both clubs have been horribly inconsistent, losing more games than they’ve won and experiencing repeated letdowns every time it seemed like they were about to make a breakthrough.

Nonetheless, neither team is throwing in the towel on this season. Despite outside calls for players like OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Zach LaVine, and DeMar DeRozan to be traded at last month’s deadline, both Toronto and Chicago held firm, with the Raptors actually buying rather than selling by acquiring Jakob Poeltl from San Antonio. Both teams have enough high-end talent to be a spoiler in the play-in tournament if they make it, but they’ll need to perform more consistently down the stretch if they hope to secure playoff spots.

The Wizards also aren’t lacking star talent, with Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma enjoying career years alongside longtime standout Bradley Beal. However, that trio hasn’t been quite good enough to make up for a mediocre supporting cast — the team has a plus-4.9 net rating when Beal, Porzingis, and Kuzma play together, but a minus-0.3 rating overall.

Still, with all three of their top players healthy and a more favorable schedule down the stretch than Toronto or Chicago (per Tankathon), the Wizards should still be considered a strong candidate to claim a play-in berth.

The Pacers, meanwhile, looked like they might be ready to tank after they plummeted down the standings during Tyrese Haliburton‘s 10-game injury absence in January (they lost nine of those games). But they’ve bounced back nicely as of late, winning five of their last seven contests and sticking around in the play-in picture.

Of the four teams discussed here, Indiana is the one with the least urgency to make the playoffs this season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Pacers fall off a little and perhaps rest some banged-up players in the season’s final weeks, turning it into a three-team race for the East’s ninth and 10th spots. As inconsistent as the teams directly ahead of them in the standings have been though, it’s too early to rule out the Pacers.

We want to know what you think. Which two teams out of the Raptors, Bulls, Wizards, and Pacers do you expect to make the play-in? Will any of them move into the East’s top eight, either before the regular season ends or by winning two play-in games? Do you see the Magic making a run to turn this into a five-team race, or can they be safely crossed off the list of play-in contenders?

Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Injury Notes: Brunson, Wagner, Zeller, Mathurin, Kuminga, Duren

X-rays on Jalen Brunson‘s sore left foot were negative, writes Peter Botte of The New York Post. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters before Saturday’s game that Brunson is feeling “a little better” and is considered day-to-day. He added that the injury has officially been diagnosed as a bruise.

“When he’s healthy enough, he goes,” Thibodeau said. “So just do the rehab, talk to the medical people and when he gets cleared, he’s cleared and then he’ll play.”

Brunson has missed three of the team’s last four games, playing just 19 minutes Thursday in Sacramento. The Knicks have now dropped three in a row, and it’s uncertain if Brunson will be available as their road trip continues Sunday against the Lakers and Tuesday vs. the Trail Blazers.

There’s more injury news to pass along:

  • X-rays on Magic forward Franz Wagner were negative after he left Saturday’s game with a right ankle injury, tweets Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel. Wagner has been diagnosed with an ankle sprain.
  • Heat center Cody Zeller left the same game with a broken nose after a collision with Orlando’s Jalen Suggs in the first quarter, according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. Miami was already missing Caleb Martin, who sat out the game with knee soreness, and Duncan Robinson, who was placed in health and safety protocols.
  • Pacers rookie Bennedict Mathurin sat out Saturday after spraining his ankle this week and has already been ruled out of Monday’s game, per Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. Coach Rick Carlisle said Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner and T.J. McConnell will also be held out Monday.
  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Jonathan Kuminga is considered day-to-day after spraining his ankle during warmups on Thursday, tweets Anthony Slater of The Athletic. Kuminga didn’t play Saturday, but he was on the team’s bench without a walking boot, Slater adds (Twitter link).
  • Pistons rookie center Jalen Duren feels fully recovered from the bilateral ankle soreness that caused him to miss six games, tweets Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press. “Just being out a couple weeks, I was itching to get back and trying to play and finish out the season strong,” Duren said. “I’ve been working, I don’t know if y’all can tell but I got a little bigger. I feel good.”

Bitadze Making Impact On Offensive Glass

  • Goga Bitadze signed with the Magic as a free agent last month after he was released by Indiana. The fourth-year center has played limited minutes with his new club, but he’s taking advantage of his opportunities on the offensive glass, according to Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel (subscriber link). “They make it easy for me to adjust,” Bitadze said. “Whatever coach (Jamahl Mosley) wants me to do, I’m going to go out there and do it.” The fourth-year center is averaging 5.6 PPG and 4.6 RPG (2.0 ORB) in 12.2 MPG through five games with the Magic.

Bianchi Believes It's Time For Magic To Move On From Isaac

  • Mike Bianchi of The Orlando Sentinel (subscriber link) believes it’s time for the Magic to move on from Jonathan Isaac, who underwent season-ending adductor surgery after appearing in just 11 games. Bianchi heaps praise on Isaac off the court and believes he has plenty of potential on it, but says his lengthy injury history makes it too risky to keep him around. Isaac missed all of ’20/21 and ’21/22 while recovering from a torn ACL, and missed a significant amount of time in his first three seasons as well. The 25-year-old’s contract for next season is partially guaranteed for $7.6MM, but it would be “silly” to bring him back and pay him his full $17.4MM salary, according to Bianchi.

Wendell Carter Jr. (Hip) Aiming To Return Saturday

NBA Teams With Open Roster Spots

It has been nearly a month since the NBA’s trade deadline passed, and the post-deadline transaction wire continues to be pretty busy, with teams that opened up roster spots at or since the deadline still working to fill them.

Clubs are also making plenty of roster moves with their players on two-way contracts, opening up two-way slots by either promoting those players to standard deals or by cutting them to take a flier on another prospect.

It has been a few weeks since we last checked in on which teams have open roster spots, so it’s worth taking a closer look at that today. If a team isn’t listed below, you can assume it has a full 17-man roster made up of 15 players on full-season standard contracts and a pair on two-way deals.

[RELATED: 2022/23 NBA Roster Counts]

Let’s dive in…

Teams with an open 15-man roster spot:

  • Boston Celtics
  • Charlotte Hornets
  • Houston Rockets *
  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • New York Knicks *
  • Utah Jazz ^

* These teams have one open roster spot and one filled by a 10-day contract.
^ This team has two open roster spots and one filled by a 10-day contract.

The Celtics, Hornets, and Lakers have pretty straightforward roster situations — they’re carrying 14 players on standard, rest-of-season contracts, with open spot left to fill. The Celtics and Lakers may be more inclined to fill their openings with a veteran who could provide depth in the postseason if necessary. The Hornets, if they don’t re-sign restricted free agent Miles Bridges this season, will likely add a younger prospect on a team-friendly multiyear deal.

The Rockets and Knicks each have one open spot on their standard 15-man roster and are also carrying a player on a 10-day deal — Willie Cauley-Stein for Houston and DaQuan Jeffries for New York. Both players will be eligible for second 10-day contracts when their current pacts expire. If the Rockets and/or Knicks want to go in another direction, they’d have up to two weeks to sign a 14th man.

As for the Jazz, they’re only carrying 13 players on their standard roster and one of those players (Kris Dunn) is on his second 10-day contract with the club. Even if Utah intends to sign Dunn to a rest-of-season deal when his current contract is up, the team will need to make another signing before next weekend to adhere to the NBA’s minimum roster requirements.

Teams with full 15-man rosters that include a 10-day contract:

  • Brooklyn Nets
  • Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Detroit Pistons
  • Golden State Warriors
  • Milwaukee Bucks
  • Washington Wizards

The Nets (Nerlens Noel), Cavaliers (Sam Merrill), Pistons (Eugene Omoruyi), Warriors (Lester Quinones), Bucks (Meyers Leonard), and Wizards (Jamaree Bouyea) all have a player on a 10-day contract occupying their 15th roster spot, so they could easily open up a roster spot if need be.

Of those players, only Leonard is on his second 10-day deal with the same team, so the others could all be re-signed for another 10 days. The Wizards, however, are reportedly set to sign NBL standout Xavier Cooks to fill the spot currently occupied by Bouyea.

Teams with an open two-way contract slot:

  • Charlotte Hornets
  • New York Knicks
  • Orlando Magic
  • Phoenix Suns

The Hornets (Bryce McGowens), Knicks (Jeffries), Magic (Admiral Schofield), and Suns (Ish Wainright) have all promoted two-way players to their standard roster since the trade deadline and have yet to fill those two-way openings.

Orlando’s G League affiliate, the Lakeland Magic, is fighting for an NBAGL spot, so there’s some incentive to fill that two-way opening sooner rather than later. Conversely, there’s probably not much urgency for Phoenix to sign another player to a two-way contract, since the Suns don’t have a G League affiliate of their own and two-way players won’t be eligible for the NBA postseason.

Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise if all four of these spots are filled in the coming weeks.

Checking In On Traded 2023 First-Round Picks

We still have nearly five weeks left in the NBA’s regular season, and play-in results, tiebreakers, and the draft lottery will further clarify what this year’s draft order will look like.

However, as the season enters its home stretch, we’re starting to get a clearer sense of which traded 2023 first-round picks will actually change hands (as opposed to falling in their protected range) and where those first-rounders will land. Here’s where things stand right now:

Picks that will be protected

  • Pistons‘ pick (top-18 protected) to Knicks
  • Hornets‘ pick (top-16 protected) to Spurs

The Pistons and Hornets are currently the bottom two teams in the Eastern Conference and appear unlikely to move any higher in the standings. There’s obviously no chance that they’ll end up picking the back half of the first round, so they’ll hang onto their first-round picks for at least one more year.

Once both of those picks are officially protected, the Pistons will owe the Knicks their 2024 first-rounder with top-18 protection, while the Hornets will owe the Spurs their 2024 first-rounder with top-14 protection.

Picks on track to change hands

  • Sixers‘ and Nets‘ picks (unprotected) to Nets and Jazz.
  • Bucks‘ and Clippers‘ picks (unprotected) to Clippers and Rockets.
  • Mavericks‘ pick (top-10 protected) to Knicks
  • Timberwolves‘ pick (unprotected) to Jazz.
  • Suns‘ pick (unprotected) to Nets.
  • Knicks‘ pick (top-14 protected) to Trail Blazers.
  • Cavaliers‘ pick (top-14 protected) to Pacers.
  • Celtics‘ pick (top-12 protected) to Pacers.
  • Nuggets‘ pick (top-14 protected) to Hornets.

Let’s work backwards and start with the obvious here. The Nuggets currently have the NBA’s second-best record, which would result in the No. 29 pick. The Celtics’ third-best record would give them the No. 28 pick. So Charlotte and Indiana, respectively, will definitely get those picks, but they’ll be pretty late in the first round.

Given the unpredictability that the play-in possibility injects into the playoff race, it may be a little early to lock in the Cavaliers and Knicks as automatic playoff teams, but they’re certainly trending in that direction. If the season ended today, Indiana would get the No. 26 overall pick from Cleveland and Portland would get the No. 23 selection from New York.

The Timberwolves’ and Suns’ picks have no protections, so they’re definitely changing hands — the only question is where they’ll land. Right now, Phoenix’s No. 21 pick would go to Brooklyn and Minnesota’s No. 18 pick would go to Utah.

The fact that the Mavericks’ pick is top-10 protected instead of lottery-protected means it could convey to the Knicks even if Dallas doesn’t earn a playoff spot. Right now, the Mavs are the seventh seed in the West and would owe the No. 17 seed to New York, but the playoff race is so tight and the play-in has such potential for fluctuation that Dallas’ pick could move a few spots in either direction.

The Nets will have the right to either their own pick or the Sixers’ pick, whichever is more favorable, with Utah receiving the less favorable of the two. Right now, that means Brooklyn would hang onto its own first-rounder (No. 22) while the Jazz would get Philadelphia’s pick (No. 27).

The Rockets won’t get to take advantage of their ability to swap their own pick for Brooklyn’s, but they have a second set of swap rights that should come in handy — Houston has the ability to swap Milwaukee’s first-rounder for the Clippers’ pick, with L.A. getting the less favorable of the two. That means if the season ended today, the Rockets would be in line for the Clippers’ first-rounder at No. 16, while L.A. would get the Bucks’ pick and move down 14 spots to No. 30.

One caveat here: If the Clippers’ first-round pick happens to land ahead of the Thunder’s pick, Oklahoma City would be able to swap its own pick for L.A.’s, then Houston could swap the Bucks’ first-rounder for OKC’s pick. For now though, that looks like a long shot, with the Clippers far better positioned than the Thunder in the Western playoff race.

Picks that remain the most up in the air

  • Bulls‘ pick (top-4 protected) to Magic
  • Wizards‘ pick (top-14 protected) to Knicks
  • Trail Blazers‘ pick (top-14 protected) to Bulls
  • Lakers‘ pick (unprotected) to Pelicans via swap rights

If the season ended today, the Bulls would be seventh in the draft lottery standings. That would give them a 31.9% chance to move up into the top four, meaning their pick would have about a two-in-three chance to go to Orlando. The Magic’s odds of acquiring the pick will increase if Chicago finishes the season strong.

If the Bulls manage to hang onto their pick this year, they’d owe the Magic their top-three protected first-rounder in 2024.

The Wizards are 10th in the East and have a decent chance to secure a play-in berth, but their odds of capturing a playoff spot are longer. If they lose in the play-in (or miss it entirely), they’ll keep their first-rounder rather than sending it to the Knicks, and would instead owe New York their top-12 protected pick in 2024.

The Trail Blazers are in a similar boat in the West, still in the play-in hunt but with increasingly long odds to actually make the playoffs. If they don’t get a first-round series in the postseason, they’ll hang onto their pick rather than sending it to the Bulls. Chicago will have to wait until Portland makes the playoffs to get that first-round selection, which remains lottery-protected through 2028.

Meanwhile, the Pelicans’ ability to swap first-rounders with the Lakers has been one of the most fascinating draft assets to monitor this year.

At one point in the first half, with Los Angeles off to an awful start and the Pelicans firing on all cylinders, it looked like New Orleans would be able to use that swap to move from the 20s into the top 10. Today, both teams have identical 31-34 records and have been trending in opposite directions. If that trend continues, New Orleans will end up keeping its own pick rather than swapping it for the Lakers’ first-rounder.

Franz Wagner Sprains Left Ankle

  • The Magic lost their second-leading scorer on Friday, as Franz Wagner left the game in Charlotte early due to a left ankle sprain. According to Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel, X-rays on the ankle were negative, which is good news, but Wagner still may have to miss some time as a result of the injury.

Jonathan Isaac Undergoes Season-Ending Adductor Surgery

Jonathan Isaac‘s 2022/23 season is over after just 11 games, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reports (via Twitter) that the Magic forward underwent season-ending surgery on Friday to repair a torn left adductor muscle.

The Magic have put out a press release confirming the news (Twitter link). According to the team, Isaac felt discomfort on Tuesday and an MRI on Wednesday revealed the full extent of the injury.

It’s the latest injury in what has been a brutal run of health luck for Isaac, who missed two-and-a-half seasons while recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered in the Disney World bubble in 2020.

The 25-year-old made his season debut on January 23, playing for the first time since August 2, 2020. However, a little over a month later, he has once again gone under the knife and faces a lengthy recovery process.

“Our thoughts are with Jonathan, whose fortitude in dealing with adversity is unique,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said in a statement. “Jonathan has worked extremely hard to return to the court this season and has demonstrated his impact on our team. We will be by his side as he focuses on the work ahead.”

Prior to his ACL injury, Isaac was emerging as one of the NBA’s most talented, versatile defenders, averaging 2.3 blocks and 1.6 steals per game in 34 contests (28.8 MPG) during the 2019/20 season. He flashed that defensive upside a little this season, but played a very modest role in his 11 appearances, logging just 11.3 minutes per night. He averaged 5.0 PPG and 4.0 RPG in his limited action.

Isaac is under contract for two more seasons beyond this one, but his $17.6MM cap hit for 2023/24 is only partially guaranteed (for $7.6MM) and his $17.6MM salary for ’24/25 isn’t guaranteed at all.

While it’s possible the 6’11” forward will make a full recovery from this latest injury and reestablish himself as a reliable rotation player next season, he certainly can no longer be viewed as a lock to finish out his current contract due to his growing injury history.