P.J. Tucker

Knicks Target Tucker, Cunningham, Simmons

The Knicks are putting together their free agent shopping list with an eye toward players who can contribute on offense and defense, writes Ian Begley of ESPN.com.

One of those players is Raptors small forward P.J. Tucker, who previously played for coach Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix. Hornacek describes Tucker as an intense defender and a leader in the locker room. He could also give the Knicks a 3-point threat, shooting 35.7 from long distance this season, including 40% after a midseason trade to Toronto.

Another target is Pelicans small forward Dante Cunningham, who was the top 3-point shooter in New Orleans this year at 39.2%. Cunningham is also a solid defender and helped the Pels to a 13-8 record when he played at least 28 minutes per game.

Spurs forward Jonathon Simmons has fans in the Knicks organization, but he will be in demand around the league. Simmons is a restricted free agent, so San Antonio can match any offer he receives.

New York will enter free agency with about $19MM to spend, although that number could change significantly if efforts to trade Carmelo Anthony are successful. In addition to adding talent this summer, the Knicks are hoping to retain shooting guard Justin Holiday, who played all 82 games and averaged 7.7 points per night in his first year with the team.

The Knicks may also reopen trade talks for Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio, Begley adds. New York and Minnesota discussed a deal involving Rubio at the trade deadline, and Knicks officials might still be interested.

New York will be looking for more players in the mold of Courtney Lee, who was their lone success among last summer’s major moves. Lee, who is signed for three more seasons, believes the Knicks worked out many of their problems late in the season and are headed in the right direction. He also defended center Joakim Noah, who became a lightning rod for criticism after signing a four-year, $72MM contract.

“Joakim had a lot of injuries that people weren’t aware of during the season,” Lee said. “I know how tough he is and how prideful he is and I’m looking forward to him coming back 100 percent healthy and doing what he does for us on the court. I know he will come back strong and help lead for us.”

Wolves Notes: Casspi, Tucker, No. 7 Pick

It was an unusual season for veteran forward Omri Casspi, who saw his role significantly reduced by new Kings head coach Dave Joerger before he was packaged with DeMarcus Cousins in a February trade to New Orleans. Dubbed an important part of that trade for the Pelicans, Casspi almost immediately broke his thumb, forcing New Orleans to waive him. Casspi later signed with the Timberwolves when he got healthy, finishing the 2016/17 campaign by appearing in 13 games for Minnesota.

Casspi didn’t play much for the Wolves, and averaged just 3.5 PPG when he saw the court, but Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News (Twitter link) doesn’t rule out the possibility of the 28-year-old re-signing with the club. Still, Wolfson expects the Wolves to prioritize other free agents.

Here’s more out of Minnesota, including an additional note on Casspi:

  • Following up on Casspi, Wolfson reports (via Twitter) that the former first-round pick has left agent Dan Fegan. Fegan was fired and sued by his former agency earlier this year, so it’s not a huge surprise that Casspi would be looking for new representation as he enters free agency.
  • Discussing the Timberwolves on 1500 ESPN’s The Scoop podcast, Wolfson said this week that he has heard Minnesota is “very much” on P.J. Tucker‘s radar (hat tip to HoopsHype). Tucker will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and would be a nice fit for the Wolves, providing strong defense and a decent outside shot.
  • An NBA source tells Marc Berman of The New York Post that Timberwolves head coach and president Tom Thibodeau has considered the possibility of trading down from No. 7. Berman suggests that the Wolves are leaning toward drafting a wing – rather than a big – if they stay where they are, though many mock drafts have linked Minnesota to power forward Jonathan Isaac.

Ujiri: Not Realistic For Raptors To Re-Sign All FAs

Speaking to local reporters today at his end-of-season press conference, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri admitted that it’s not “realistic” for the team to retain all four of its key free agents this offseason (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050). In addition to Kyle Lowry, who confirmed on Monday that he’ll opt out of his contract, veteran Raptors forwards Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson are all eligible for free agency this offseason.

That admission from Ujiri isn’t surprising. Lowry appears to be in line for a max deal or something close to it, and Ibaka will get a big payday as well. Tucker and Patterson figure to land more reasonable deals, but they’ve positioned themselves for raises of their own. Add it all together, and the Raptors would be going way into tax territory to retain a roster of players who were bounced in the second round of this year’s playoffs.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders examined the Raptors’ free agency situation earlier today, suggesting that Tucker and Patterson may be the odd men out, despite the fact that Toronto would – in theory – like to re-sign them both. According to Kyler, the framework for a multiyear deal for Ibaka that starts around $20MM is “basically done,” though nothing is finalized yet and rival suitors could still attempt to pry away the big man.

Meanwhile, even though Ujiri didn’t sound optimistic about bringing back all the Raptors’ free agents, he had plenty of praise for Lowry, calling the veteran point guard “a huge part of our success here” and asserting that “we want him back” (Twitter link via Eric Koreen of The Athletic).

Ujiri also weighed in on several other subjects during his presser, so let’s dive in and round up some highlights…

  • The Raptors’ performance against the Cavaliers was eye-opening, according to Ujiri, who suggested that the franchise may need a bit of a “culture reset” (Twitter link via Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic). Ujiri also acknowledged that the question of how to evolve from a “good” team to an “elite” team will be at the forefront for him this summer (Twitter link via Koreen).
  • One of Ujiri’s primary talking points today revolved around his desire to evaluate and re-think the Raptors’ style of play. The Raps president said he has told head coach Dwane Casey the team may need to change its approach on the court, rather than continuing to change its players (Twitter links via Lewenberg). Ujiri also hammered home the need to keep thinking progressively rather than getting stagnant. “We’ve tried what we’ve done so many times and it hasn’t worked. That’s the simple answer.” Ujiri said. “It’s easy to defend one-on-one” (Twitter links via Murphy).
  • While Ujiri’s comments on the Raptors’ style of play weren’t necessarily a direct indictment of the club’s head coach, Lewenberg left the presser feeling that Casey’s job may be in jeopardy (Twitter link).
  • Ujiri said today that team ownership is fully on board with whatever direction he and the front office choose to go, whether that means going into the tax, rebuilding, or something in between (Twitter link via Lewenberg).
  • Although he didn’t want to use it as an excuse, Ujiri acknowledged that the Raptors – having acquired Ibaka and Tucker at the deadline – didn’t spend a lot of time together in their current form, which makes it tricky to evaluate how all the players fit together (Twitter link via Murphy).
  • Asked whether the Raptors need more from their small forward spot, Ujiri said they do, but expressed optimism that DeMarre Carroll, who has never really been fully healthy since arriving in Toronto, will have a big summer (Twitter link via Murphy).

Raptors Rumors: Ujiri, DeRozan, Tucker, Ibaka

The easiest way for Raptors GM Masai Ujiri to make a significant change is to fire coach Dwane Casey, Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated opines. Ujiri is in a position to rebuild the roster in the wake of the Cavaliers’ playoff sweep but his track record suggests he won’t take that approach, Golliver continues. In a best-case scenario, Ujiri will trade underperforming forward DeMarre Carroll and guard Cory Joseph while retaining his best perimeter defender, unrestricted free agent P.J. Tucker, Golliver adds.

In other developments regarding the Raptors:

  • With point guard Kyle Lowry and forwards Serge Ibaka and Patrick Patterson also heading into unrestricted free agency this summer, the club faces an uncertain future, as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun details.
  • Backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan throws his full support behind Lowry and his decision to opt out, Michael Grange of Rogers Sportsnet tweets. “I don’t want to hinder him or make anything more hectic than it’s going to be,” DeRozan told Grange.
  • DeRozan wants the team to acquire more shooters to complement his talents, Wolstat tweets.
  • Tucker will wait to see if Lowry remains with the club before he decides whether to return, Wolstat reports in another tweet. Tucker wants to play for a contender, Wolstat adds. Ibaka’s decision will be influenced by his daughter, he told Wolstat (Twitter link).
  • Casey says it “would be difficult” for the team to advance deeper in future playoffs without re-signing Lowry, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets.

Lowry ‘Doubtful’; Raptors Breakup Coming?

Still hobbled by a sprained left ankle, Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry describes himself as “probably doubtful” for Game 4 against the Cavaliers, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star.

Lowry made the assessment today as the team enjoyed a day off before Sunday’s contest. He suffered the ankle injury in Game 2 of the series and was forced to sit out Game 3.

“Hopefully some things change,” Lowry added, “but right now, I don’t think I’ll be able to play.”

Trailing 3-0, the Raptors could be just a few hours away from the end of their season and a significant summer shakeup. Lowry, who has spent the past five seasons in Toronto, is headed toward free agency. So is Patrick Patterson, who has been with the team since 2013, along with Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, who were both acquired at this year’s trade deadline.

Smith states that there’s “no way” all four will be re-signed, and cites a feeling of “change in the air” at team headquarters. Cap considerations will probably prove him correct, as the franchise has about $58MM tied up for next season among DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll. The Raptors will have about $21MM to spend, and all four free agents will be seeking hefty raises. Toronto management will have to decide how far over the cap it wants to go to keep the current team together when it can’t get past the Cavaliers.

Lowry, an All-Star the past three seasons, is all but certain to opt out of his $12MM salary for next year and seek a max deal. He averaged a career-best 22.4 points per game this season to go with 7.0 assists. Significant increases are probably also looming for Ibaka (who made $12.25MM this year), Patterson ($6.05MM) and Tucker ($5.3MM).

DeRozan said the team is doing its best to focus on the current series, rather than whatever changes may lie ahead.
“As long as you understand that you have an opportunity, you can focus in on that,” he said. “Whatever comes after that, then you dwell on whatever comes after that.”

Eastern Notes: Pistons, Raptors, Rondo

The Pistons are all but eliminated from playoff contention and coach/executive Stan Van Gundy plans on using the last few games to evaluate the team, Keith Langlois of NBA.com writes. “We’ll try to get to 10 guys a night,” Van Gundy said.

He added that  he’s seen enough out of Aron Baynes, who’s been playing well lately. “We may occasionally give one of our guys who’ve been in the rotation a rest, but not all of ’em at the same time. The guy who will be affected the most – doesn’t mean he won’t play – is a guy who’s been playing really well, Baynes,” SVG said.

Here’s more from the Eastern Conference:

  • The Raptors believes Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker have helped to alter the identity of the team, Dan Feldman of NBC Sports relays. “They gave us physical toughness,” coach Dwane Casey said, “that we haven’t had.”
  • Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo is day-to-day with a sprained wrist, Sam Smith of NBA.com relays. Rondo won’t play tonight against the Sixers.
  • John Henson is expected to return to the lineup over the last two games of the regular season, Sirius XM Radio passes along via Twitter. The big man has missed the last eight games for the Bucks with a thumb injury.

Atlantic Notes: Lowry, Tucker, Long

Kyle Lowry, who’s been sidelined since the All-Star break because of a wrist injury, can become a free agent at the season. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri said there’s “no question” that the team will try to bring him back, as Scott Stinson of The National Post passes along.

“You have to remember that, everything that has happened to this team in the last few years, Kyle has been at the forefront of that,” Ujiri tells Stinson.

Lowry was having an exceptional year heading into the All-Star break. “Before the injury, you could argue he was one of the top five players in the league this season,” the GM added.

It’s also arguable that out of all the teams to see a player go down due to injury, the Raptors suffered the biggest loss with Lowry being sidelined. The 31-year-old was the team’s leader in player efficiency and he was one of the best from behind the arc, which I detailed in an early season edition of Fantasy Hoops.

Lowry can become a free agent this offseason by activating the Early Termination option in his contract. All signs point to him doing just that, which means he would turn down his 2017/18 $12MM salary. Stinson believes it’s fair to wonder whether the team should offer a massive five-year deal to a player who will be 36-year-olds at the end of it. However, the scribe believes it’s a bigger gamble to try to replace Lowry, a player who’s Toronto unquestioned leader.

“The way he goes,” Uriji said about Lowry. “Is the way we go.”

Here’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Holly MacKenzie of NBA.com examines how P.J. Tucker has helped the Raptors stay afloat in the Eastern Conference. Tucker, who came to Toronto at this year’s deadline, will be a free agent at the season.
  • Shawn Long, who recently signed a three-year deal with the Sixers, was originally added to provide Philadelphia with depth, but by playing hard, he’s been able to carve out a role with the team, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Long started the season in the D-League, but his teammates believe he belongs in the NBA. “He’s an NBA player, man,” Gerald Henderson said. “He’s aggressive. He’s not scared. He goes out there and plays the same way he did in the D-League.”
  • Jerryd Bayless will workout at the Sixers‘ new practice facility this summer rather than going home to Phoenix as he has done in the past, Pompey relays via Twitter. Bayless signed a three-year deal worth $27MM last offseason, but he suffered a wrist injury earlier this season, which limited him to just three games with his new team.

Atlantic Notes: Atkinson, Tucker, Thomas, Knicks

Chris Mannix of The Vertical spoke with Nets coach Kenny Atkinson about the team’s rebuild; a process Atkinson admitted can be overwhelming.

“I look at it like I deserve … like I deserve to start at the bottom. This is how it should be. I shouldn’t be handed some prime job,” Atkinson said. “I really believe that I have to pay my dues, and it’s great. It’s funny the situation we are in, without our picks, we never use that as a crutch. We never talk about the past. We’re talking about getting better in the here and now, and getting better in the future.”

Atkinson certainly has paid his dues; the Nets are currently 11-52, having won just 3 of 34 Eastern Conference games. Atkinson discussed the vision he shares with GM Sean Marks.

“Sean and I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy task,” Atkinson said. “We needed guys that were going to be able to keep pushing through and guys with high character that, despite the won-loss record, they’re going to come in here with a smile on their face and keep working their tails off, and that’s exactly what we’ve gotten from one to 15. We push these guys pretty hard, but everyone wants to be coached, accepts coaching. That attitude, that work ethic, that’s eventually going to pay off.”

More from the Atlantic…

  • Jackie MacMullan of ESPN discussed the Nets’ challenge of “rebuilding from nothing.” MacMullan spoke to Heat president Pat Riley, who was hesitant to criticize former GM Billy King for the infamous Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett blockbuster trade. “I’m a gambler — I might have done the same thing,” Riley said. “At the time, they were trying to build something. They had a new arena, a new owner, and so you go after the best players, and you tell everybody you are going to win. It didn’t work, and now they are paying the price.”
  • Doug Smith of The Star wrote about P.J. Tucker‘s adjustment to Toronto. Tucker, who became an immediate fixture in Dwane Casey‘s rotation, now has a thorough understanding of the team’s “schemes and nuances.” “A lot of stuff was on the fly: just people talking on the court, coaches yelling to me from the sidelines, literally the other team hearing them telling me what I’m doing,” Tucker said. “When you come into a team in the middle of the year that is doing well, you just want to kind of follow along and fall in place.”
  • Isaiah Thomas didn’t mean to throw coach Brad Stevens under the bus by saying “we can’t be experimenting in Game 63,” after a recent loss. Thomas, who met with GM Danny Ainge regarding his remarks, clarified his point of view with Chris Forsberg of ESPN“That’s not me. I just said how I felt at that time,” Thomas said. “I was frustrated, I thought we should have won. I was always taught to speak my mind. But for the most part, I don’t want to be a distraction. My teammates know that. It’s bigger than how I feel, I guess.”
  • There’s plenty of room for the Knicks to improve their draft position down the stretch, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes. Monday’s victory, Berman notes, dropped the Knicks from being in a tie for the sixth-worst record in the NBA to ninth-worst. Despite the team’s clear incentive to tank, coach Jeff Hornacek isn’t yet on board with throwing in the towel. “Until you’re out of it and doesn’t look good, it would come from management,’’ Hornacek said. “If we’re out of the playoffs, we’ll start doing that. There’s veteran guys here who will never give up until they’re out of it. We’re going to try to still win games.’’

Atlantic Notes: Embiid, Knicks, Horford

It doesn’t make sense for the Sixers to bring Joel Embiid back before the end of the season, writes Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The big man has been sidelined for 17 of the past 18 games with a bone bruise and has also suffered a slightly torn meniscus.

At this point all the Sixers will say is that their rookie is out “indefinitely,” an escalation, we suppose, from the “day-to-day” label he’d been sitting under previously. For Embiid, however, the club should just come out and say that he’ll rest for the remainder of the season.

It would be great for us as a unit to have him out there as we continue to strive forward toward winning as the season concludes,” general manager Bryan Colangelo said. “But at the end of the day, the health and performance of our athletes is first and foremost, we don’t want to jeopardize the long-term health.”

In the games that he did see this season, Embiid impressed, averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per contest. He was named the Eastern Conference rookie of the month in the first three months of the season and even won Eastern Conference players of the week once in January.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Knicks have elected to bring back the triangle offense, tweets Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. The club will use the remaining months of the season to determine which players best fit the system. Head coach Jeff Hornacek tells Ian Begley of ESPN that it will be a part of this summer’s player evaluations, too.
  • It’s clear that the Celtics believe they need two major pieces in order to compete for a title, writes Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. That explains, he says, why the team didn’t jump on opportunities to nab Paul George or Jimmy Butler at the trade deadline.
  • The Raptors‘ defense has been rebranded, writes Frank Zicarelli of the Toronto Sun, and players have already taken notice. “I just know that the defence behind me is strong,” says guard Cory Joseph. “When the pick and roll comes I’m going to get the early calls and will understand exactly what to do. It just allows me to do what I need to do, executing the task at hand and play more aggressively.” The Raps, of course, added Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker prior to last week’s trade deadline.
  • Summer acquisition Al Horford hasn’t been utilized as well as he could be, writes Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. The big man is too often left on the perimeter while the Celtics shoot threes. Washburn writes that head coach Brad Stevens ought to devise better ways to get the center involved now that the trade deadline is in the rearview mirror.

And-Ones: Jones, Thornton, Suns, Raptors

The Pelicans waived Terrence Jones on Thursday after being unable to find a trade partner for him and the Nets waived Marcus Thornton after acquiring him in the Bojan Bogdanovic trade. Both players have cleared waivers and are free to sign with any team, Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com reports (Twitter link).

Jones should have no problem finding a new home. He’s a productive 25-year-old big man who was averaging 11.5 points per game in New Orleans while sporting a 16.2 player efficient rating.

Thornton may have to wait slightly longer to find a new club, but he should be able to help a team fill out the back end of its rotation.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Hawks sent $500K to the Suns as part of the Mike Scott trade, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders reports (Twitter link). In addition to the cash considerations, Phoenix received the draft rights to Cenk Akyol for taking on Scott’s contract, while Atlanta received a protected second-round pick.
  • As part of the P.J. Tucker deal, the Raptors sent the Suns cash considerations of $1MM, Pincus tweets. Phoenix also received Jared Sullinger and two second-round picks in the deal. The Suns waived Sullinger on Friday.
  • The Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s D-League affiliate, has traded Cameron Jones to the Canton Charge, leagues sources tell Adam Johnson of D-League Digest (Twitter link).
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