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Northwest Rumors: Thunder, Blazers, Batum

When GMs were polled recently on their thoughts about the upcoming season, the only two teams who received consideration to win the Western Conference other than the Lakers were the Thunder and Nuggets. The nod to Oklahoma City is no surprise, but the mention of Denver might have raised a few eyebrows, since the Nuggets haven't gotten out of the first round the past three years. Nuggets coach George Karl would be pleased if his team notched 50 wins, but with Andre Iguodala on board, he believes this year's squad has a chance to break the franchise record of 54 victories, as Aaron J. Lopez of Nuggets.com writes. Here's the latest on a couple of the Nuggets' division rivals.

  • The Thunder have 14 players on fully guaranteed deals, and another four with partial guarantees, meaning the team will likely owe money to at least three players who don't make the team. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman gives reasons why he believes Daniel Orton will edge out DeAndre Liggins for the final regular season spot, adding that it's a decision that may pit GM Sam Presti against coach Scott Brooks (All four Twitter links).
  • Mayberry also believes there's a chance the Thunder could trade Daequan Cook or Lazar Hayward to free up a spot for both Orton and Liggins, but thinks finding a taker for either would be a tough task (All Twitter links).
  • With Demonte Harper and Dallas Lauderdale reportedly about to be waived and sent to the D-League, Mike Tokito of The Oregonian identifies Coby Karl, Adam Morrison and Justin Holiday as other camp invitees the Blazers will probably cut. 
  • Nicolas Batum signed for about $12MM less in his four-year deal than Eric Gordon is getting his four-year contract, but Blazers GM Neil Olshey hopes Batum can increase his scoring this year in a manner similar to 5.4 PPG jump Gordon took from his second year in the league to his third, writes Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com

Blazers Rumors: Batum, Hickson, Coach

In spite of weeks of trade speculation, the Trail Blazers kept both of their lottery picks last night, drafting Damian Lillard sixth overall and Meyers Leonard 11th. If the two newest Blazers sign typical rookie contracts (120% of the scale amount), they'll be on Portland's books for a total of about $5.2MM in 2012/13. Even with those salary commitments, the Blazers figure to have plenty of cap space this offseason to re-sign their own free agents and potentially pursue others. Here's the latest out of Portland on the team's summer plans….

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Blazers Notes: Mills, Batum, Felton

The Trail Blazers were one of Thursday's most active teams, sending out Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace in separate deals, then parting ways with Chris Johnson and former number one pick Greg Oden to clear space for the new acquisitions. Oh, and the team fired its coach too, with assistant coach Kaleb Canales taking over for Nate McMillan. What's next for the Blazers? Let's have a look….

  • Patrick Mills, who played in China this season, is a restricted free agent and could be brought on board for the rest of the season. However, acting GM Chris Buchanan indicated the team isn't looking at bringing anyone on board at the moment: "We're at 12 healthy bodies. It's an opportunity for guys to get some more minutes. At this point I wouldn't anticipate us adding another player" (link via Ben Golliver of Blazer's Edge).
  • Asked specifically about Mills, Buchanan said the team would take to his representatives in the coming days, and would consider all its options, including renouncing Mills' rights. Renouncing his rights would allow Mills to become an unrestricted free agent and sign anywhere.
  • Nicolas Batum, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, will "definitely" be a Blazer next year, tweets Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com. However, it'll cost the team more than what Batum's agent was asking for in January.
  • After shopping Raymond Felton aggressively yesterday, Buchanan says a buyout for the point guard "is not an option," according to Haynes.

Southeast Notes: Batum, Fournier, Heat, Wade

In a mailbag piece for The Charlotte Observer, Rick Bonnell argues that despite the frustration voiced by fans over the contract of Nicolas Batum, who’s still owed $76.7MM in guaranteed money over the next three seasons, the Hornets should not even consider waiving the swingman.

That’s because under the new CBA rules, Batum’s salary would continue counting against the Hornets’ cap even after his release, as there is no longer an amnesty provision incorporated into the new CBA. Moreover, the Hornets had more issues this season than Batum.

Instead, Bonnell suggests that Batum’s contract, although troublesome, is not “untradeable,” and that the Hornets should be able to trade Batum away if they are willing to take on some other bad contracts in return.

And in another article for the Observer, Bonnell opines that Batum doesn’t necessarily need to be traded. Rather, the Hornets’ next head coach should look to resurrect Batum’s game, which may mean letting him handle the ball more as arguably the team’s top ball-mover and facilitator.

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • After a tough season in which his team finished 25-57 and missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, Magic guard Evan Fournier plans on joining his countrymen on the French National Team for the third window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers, he tells FIBA.
  • In a season-ending piece for the Sun-Sentinel, Ira Winderman gives his thoughts and other information on the 17 players who finished the 2017/18 NBA season as members of the Heat – including two-way players Derrick Walton Jr. and Derrick Jones Jr.
  • In another article for the Sun-Sentinel, Winderman compares this upcoming offseason to the summer of 2016, when Dwyane Wade left the Heat for Chicago. Ultimately, Winderman believes that unlike two years ago, it’ll be wholly up to Wade as to whether he wants to play in Miami next season, as long as he’s willing to accept a reasonable contract.

Amick On Jennings, Bogut, Batum, Rockets

Sam Amick of SI.com has a few updates on this week's trade candidates, so let's dive in….

  • Brandon Jennings could be had "for the right price." Long considered a franchise cornerstone, Jennings irked some Bucks officials with his comments last month about exploring free agency.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle hears from Warriors sources that reports of Golden State's interest in Andrew Bogut are "nothing more than hype." However, sources tell Amick that the team's interest is real. The Wizards also inquired on Bogut, but talks went nowhere, says Amick. The Rockets aren't thought to be involved on the Bucks' center.
  • Amick goes on to say that the Bucks feel this may not be the best time to get full value for Bogut, considering he's still on the shelf for a few weeks with a fractured ankle.
  • The Blazers may be active this week, but they don't intend to move Nicolas Batum, who they are determined to keep long-term.
  • Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, Jonny Flynn, and Terrence Williams are among the Rockets who would "likely welcome a trade," according to Amick. Goran Dragic is also a trade candidate, since he's not expected to be re-signed this summer. Though I'd imagine Houston will be more inclined to keep Dragic with Kyle Lowry's return date up in the air.

Northwest Links: Sloan, Rubio, Batum

Another element in the dustup between Karl Malone and the Jazz about the end of Jerry Sloan's lengthy tenure as head coach last year came into play today. Utah-area media outlets apparently weren't privy to a team statement that made its way to national writers, according to Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune. (Twitter link)

Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports tweeted the statement, which contained Sloan's denial that he was forced out, in piecemeal fashion this afternoon. Smith then passed it along as part of a larger piece on the saga.

Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com tweets that amidst all the back-and-forth, Sloan would listen if another team becomes interested in hiring him.

Elsewhere in the Northwest Division:

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post offers an appreciation of durable Nuggets guard Andre Miller, who recently passed the 1,000-games-played mark:
  • The Salt Lake Tribune's Jazz beat reporters spoke with Earl Watson about the advanced treatment he received on his sprained ankle.
  • Jake Appleman of The New York Times looks at how Ricky Rubio is helping turn around the Timberwolves.
  • Nicolas Batum, who will be a restricted free-agent this summer, will have a chance to show off his versatility against the Nuggets tonight. His agent, Bouna Ndiaye, has suggested he will look at other teams before negotiating again with the Blazers after the two sides failed to agree on an extension last month.

 

Hornets’ Nicolas Batum Has Chronic Tendinitis

Hornets swingman Nicolas Batum has been diagnosed with chronic tendinitis in his left Achilles, tweets Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Batum has been ruled out of Monday’s game with the Sixers, and his status for the rest of the season will depend on how effective treatments are on the condition.

Batum was pulled from Saturday’s game after developing soreness in the Achilles. With the Hornets seven games out of the final playoff spot, they may decide to take the cautious approach and rest him for the remainder of the season.

Batum is under contract for $24MM next year and more than $25.5MM in 2019/20, along with a player option worth more than $27.1MM for the following season. He has been limited to 56 games this season and his numbers have dropped across the board to 11.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per night, his lowest totals in all three categories since coming to Charlotte three years ago.

Western Notes: James, Batum, Katsikaris, Jones

LeBron James seriously considered joining the Sixers and Rockets before signing with the Lakers. In an extensive interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that was relayed by Dave McMenamin, James addressed a variety of topics, including which teams he considered during free agency.

“I definitely thought long and hard about the possibilities of lining up alongside Ben [Simmons] and [Joel] Embiid or lining up aside [James] Harden and Chris [Paul],” he told Nichols.

The Sixers had the salary-cap space to sign James but the Rockets would have likely required a sign-and-trade with the Cavaliers to acquire his services. James also insisted he doesn’t see next season as a rebuilding year for the Lakers.

“We have an opportunity to do something that a lot of people don’t think we can do, and we love the notion of it’s another rebuilding year and we don’t have enough. So that will motivate the guys that we have anyways.”

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • The Rockets are actively seeking a defensive-minded player on the trade market and are willing to take on a long-term contract, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN in comments relayed by digital journalist Ben DuBose. Houston would presumably move forward Ryan Anderson, who has two years and $41.7MM left on his deal. The Hornets’ Nicolas Batum would be a logical target, as Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype notes. Batum has three years and $76.7MM remaining on his contract, which includes a player option in the final year.
  • The Jazz have hired Fotis Katsikaris as an assistant to Quin Snyder, the team announced in a press release. Katsikaris becomes the first-ever native Greek NBA assistant coach. He was a head coach in Spain last season and served as head coach of the Greek national team from 2014-16.
  • The Warriors are unlikely to pick up center Damian Jones‘ fourth-year option, according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic. Golden State must make a decision on the $2.3MM option prior to the start of the season. If it’s declined, Jones will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Hornets Notes: Borrego, Batum, Howard, Zeller

Nicolas Batum may benefit more than anyone from the Hornets’ coaching change, writes Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. Spurs assistant James Borrego is expected to install the motion offense used in San Antonio, which plays to Batum’s strengths of handling the ball and making quick decisions.

Charlotte’s approach under Steve Clifford this season was heavy on postups for center Dwight Howard, which restricted Batum’s effectiveness. His scoring average dropped to 11.6 points per game, the lowest in his three years with the Hornets, and Bonnell speculates that he needs a new approach on offense to become productive again.

Bonnell addresses more Hornets topics in a mailbag column:

  • New GM Mitch Kupchak would like to move at least one big contract this summer to provide cap relief, but the organization might be wise to hold onto Howard. Bonnell states that the team may be in a better long-term position by allowing Howard’s $23.8MM contract to expire next summer rather than trading it for other expensive assets. However, he questions how much Howard will play next season, especially if the Hornets fall out of contention early.
  • Of the five players with large contracts, Cody Zeller may be easiest to trade. Zeller is signed for the next three seasons at an average of about $14MM per year, but he is only 25 and could develop into an effective center if he can overcome his injury history.
  • Young players Malik Monk, Willy Hernangomez and Dwayne Bacon may get a better chance to prove themselves under Borrego than Clifford. Bonnell says all three will be closely watched and supervised over the offseason, although Hernangomez will spend a large part of the summer with the Spanish National Team.
  • Borrego may try to add a former NBA head coach to his staff, just as Clifford did with Bob Weiss and Eddie Jordan.
  • The most pressing offseason need is finding a point guard to back up Kemba Walker. Monk played there late in the season, but Bonnell notes that it’s too early to say if that’s his best position. It’s also a long-term concern because Walker is headed for free agency in 2019.

Nicolas Batum Won’t Need Surgery On Elbow

A specialist has determined that Nicolas Batum won’t require surgery, reports Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer.

The Hornets swingman suffered a torn ligament in his left elbow in a game last Wednesday and is projected to be sidelined for six to eight weeks. An MRI showed it was a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament.

“It’s going to be long, but not that long,” Batum said before Monday’s meeting with a doctor in Dallas. “If it were my shooting arm, it would be a lot longer. At max, it’s three months.”

The Charlotte medical staff is still determining the best course of treatment, but the team has to be relieved that Batum won’t have to undergo an operation. The 28-year-old is coming off his best statistical season, averaging a career high 15.1 points per game to go with 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists.

Batum said he got hurt when his arm got wedged between Detroit’s Stanley Johnson and another player. It’s an injury that frequently affects baseball pitchers and often requires Tommy John surgery.

Hornets Notes: Clifford, Bacon, Zeller, Batum

The Hornets have already announced that general manager Rich Cho won’t have his contract renewed after this season, and according to Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer, head coach Steve Clifford probably shouldn’t be retained either.

Despite being one of the best coaches that the city of Charlotte has ever had – in Sorensen’s eyes – Sorensen wonders whether the team has reached a point where the players have stopped listening to Clifford and his message.

The Hornets have been one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA this year. The team was widely expected to compete for a playoff spot, but have been out of the hunt for much of the season, currently sporting a record of 34-41 with seven games remaining after finishing with a similarly disappointing record last season at 36-46.

There’s more out of Charlotte from Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

  • The Hornets selected Malik Monk with the 11th overall pick in last year’s draft, with expectations that Monk could come in and help the team this season. However, the Charlotte rookie who has probably ended up having the best season is second-round pick Dwayne Bacon, the 40th overall selection. With that in mind, Bonnell analyzes whether Bacon could end up being the better catch.
  • Hornets big man Cody Zeller missed his 10th consecutive game tonight against the Cavs, leaving Bonnell to wonder whether Zeller may be done for the season. Zeller, who thought he might be ready to play in Dallas on Saturday, said his injured left knee had begun to swell again after he tested it.
  • Part of the Hornets’ problem is a high payroll for next season, leaving the team with few options to improve upon its current roster. One albatross of a contract is that of Nicolas Batum, who is scheduled to make $24MM next season. In a mailbag piece, Bonnell answers some readers’ questions regarding Batum and his contract, among others.

Nicolas Batum Expected To Miss 6-12 Weeks

3:44pm: There hasn’t been any determination yet as to whether or not Batum will require surgery, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer writes. The forward is said to have damaged his ulnar collateral ligament, the same one often associated with pitchers that undergo Tommy John surgery.

The Hornets issued a press release confirming Batum’s injury and indicating that he’s expected to miss a minimum of six to eight weeks.

3:19pm: The Hornets could be without Nicolas Batum for eight to 12 weeks, Shams Charania of The Vertical tweets. The swingman tore a ligament in his left elbow during Wednesday night’s preseason game.

In 77 games for the Hornets last season, Batum averaged 15.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.

This year Charlotte hoped to take a substantial leap forward after missing the postseason in 2016/17. The club’s newfound depth – depleted significantly sans Batum – was to play a major role in that.

The given timeline would have Batum back on the court anywhere from early December to early January, still with plenty of time to get back into routine and contribute for the Hornets during the playoff stretch.

With Batum on the sidelines, the Hornets will need to find a way to fill his contributions at the two. Currently rookie Malik Monk is the next in line at the position but Jeremy Lamb – currently slated to be the team’s backup small forward -could spend time there as well.

The Hornets already have 20 players on their roster, 13 of whom are on guaranteed deals.

Batum, Green, Ilyasova Returning From Injuries

A trio of players who have been sidelined for most or all of the 2017/18 season due to injuries are set to return to action for their respective clubs on Wednesday night, per various reports. JaMychal Green will play for the Grizzlies, Ersan Ilyasova will return for the Hawks, and Nicolas Batum will make his season debut for the Hornets.

Batum’s return may be the most notable of the three, as he has been sidelined since early in the preseason with a torn ligament in his elbow. Reports on Batum’s injury initially suggested he’d be out for eight to 12 weeks, with the Hornets confirming that they expected the veteran swingman to miss at least six weeks. Thursday will mark six weeks since the team made that announcement, so Batum made a speedy recovery. He’ll start tonight against the Cavs, according to the Hornets (Twitter link).

Green, the Grizzlies’ primary power forward, will return to action tonight after missing all but one game this season with an ankle injury, writes Ronald Tillery of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Jarell Martin, who appeared to be on the verge of losing his roster spot in training camp, stepped into Memphis’ starting lineup in Green’s absence. Martin figures to return to the bench tonight against the Pacers, while Green looks to begin making good on the two-year contract he signed with Memphis in September.

As for Ilyasova, the Hawks’ power forward, who signed a new two-year deal of his own in the offseason, has been on the shelf since October 27 with a bone bruise in his knee. However, after participating in today’s shootaround, he said he’s ready to go, per Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Ilyasova opened the season in the starting lineup, but will come off the bench against the Kings tonight, according to head coach Mike Budenholzer.

Hornets Notes: Batum, Lamb, Carter-Williams, Rookies

The Hornets should find out soon whether Nicolas Batum will require surgery for a torn ligament in his left elbow, relays Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. Batum is projected to be sidelined six to eight weeks with the injury, which he suffered in a preseason game Wednesday. He will meet with a specialist Monday in Dallas to determine whether surgery is the best option.

Batum’s injury has been diagnosed as a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. He wore a wrap on the elbow at Friday’s practice and said he was relieved when X-rays showed there was no fracture. Although Batum described the injury as painful, he promised to return as quickly as possible. “When I put my arms up, I feel something,” he said. “If this were my shooting arm, it would be like a tragedy. It’s not and that’s good.”

There’s more out of Charlotte:

  • Coach Steve Clifford plans to move Jeremy Lamb into the starting lineup during Batum’s absence, Bonnell writes in a separate piece. Lamb has made just a handful of starts during his first five seasons in the NBA, but he has been Charlotte’s top preseason scorer. “He’s worked so hard, and not just for two months — steady work since he’s gotten here,” Clifford said. “The more he’s worked, and the more he sees how his hard work is paying dividends, he’s notched it up even more. You get confidence when you work at a good pace. And now it’s all paying off for him.”
  • Michael Carter-Williams reported no physical problems after his first scrimmage as a Hornet, Bonnell notes in another story. The former Rookie of the Year, who agreed to a one-year, $2.7MM deal this summer, wasn’t medically cleared until Friday because of patella tendon tears that required platelet-rich plasma treatments on both knees. The scrimmage was only half-court, but Carter-Williams found it encouraging. “It’s great to compete out there; it’s what I missed the most,” he said. “My timing is a little bit off. I need to get back to playing at the pace of this team. My knees have been fine.”
  • The injury to Batum means first-round pick Malik Monk and second-rounder Dwayne Bacon may have to contribute sooner than expected, Bonnell writes in another piece. “That rookie stuff goes out the window at this point,” Kemba Walker told them.

Southeast Notes: Ross, Gordon, Howard, Batum

The Magic have fallen on tough times after an 8-4 start, but they are just two and a half games out of a playoff spot and still qualify as one of this year’s early-season surprises. Coach Frank Vogel tells Nick Friedell of ESPN the team made a mistake at the start of last season by going against the small-ball trend, adding that things began to turn around with the trade of Serge Ibaka to Toronto for Terrence Ross. That created an opening for Aaron Gordon at power forward and Evan Fournier at small forward.

“I think last year we were trying to go big when the whole league was going small and it wasn’t really working,” agreed center Nikola Vucevic. “A lot of guys were out of their comfort zone, a lot of guys were out of position. It just wasn’t working, it wasn’t clicking. I think this year players’ roles are more clear.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • New GM John Hammond is confident that Gordon, a restricted free agent, will agree to a long-term contract next summer, Friedell relays in the same story. Orlando wasn’t able to work out an extension with Gordon before last month’s deadline, but Hammond believes his future will be with the Magic“You look at a guy like that and say, ‘He’s one of those guys as you move forward with, that you got to have,'” Hammond said. “And we feel that way.” Gordon is off to the best start of his career, averaging 17.6 points and 8.1 rebounds in 17 games.
  • Early-season technical fouls are piling up for Hornets center Dwight Howard, notes Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. The NBA announced today that Howard was fined $35K for an obscene gesture in Friday’s game at Cleveland. That’s his second fine this season and sixth technical in 18 games. There will be an automatic one-game suspension if he reaches 16, and the league could impose a separate suspension if the obscene gestures continue.
  • Nicolas Batum isn’t worried about any long-term effects from his latest elbow injury, Bonnell tweets. Batum was able to return to the Hornets‘ lineup tonight after sitting out Friday. He left Wednesday’s game with a contusion on his left elbow, the same one that caused him to miss the first 12 games of the season.

Hornets Notes: Monk, Lamb, Batum, Howard

The Hornets’ choices for backup point guards were influenced by the drafting of Malik Monk in the first round, writes Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. In a mailbag column, Bonnell states that because Monk is an undersized shooting guard with defensive limitations, the team needed larger point guards to pair with him who are better at stopping opponents. That’s why they signed Michael Carter-Williams and Julyan Stone, both 6’6″, when other options were available.

Another factor was cost, as Charlotte was concerned about staying under the luxury tax threshold of about $119MM and was financially limited after trading for Dwight Howard‘s $23.5MM salary. Carter-Williams agreed to a one-year, $2.7MM deal in July, while Stone accepted a minimum-salary contract in August after negotiating a release from his team in Italy.

Bonnell offers more insight into the Hornets:

  • Monk should be fully recovered from a sprained left ankle that caused him to miss the Orlando Summer League. The 11th overall pick suffered the injury during a draft workout and was sidelined for several weeks, which coach Steve Clifford said affected his conditioning. Monk probably won’t see a lot of playing time early in the season, Bonnell writes, but he should be fully healthy for the team’s October 18 opener.
  • Jeremy Lamb has impressed the coaching staff with his work this offseason, but he’s not a threat to take Nicolas Batum‘s starting job. Lamb has been a valuable reserve during his two seasons in Charlotte, and Bonnell says the team needs Batum’s playmaking skills and overall versatility in the starting lineup.
  • The roles of the big men haven’t been firmly established heading into camp. Howard is expected to start at center with Marvin Williams at power forward, but Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky could both make a push for more playing time. Howard’s reputation as a poor free throw shooter could limit his fourth quarter minutes, just as it did in Atlanta, with Zeller getting more use late in games.

Southeast Notes: Ross, Heat, Batum, Hawks

Having been sent to Orlando from Toronto at this year’s trade deadline, Terrence Ross will get an earlier start to the offseason with the Magic than he has had in recent years with the Raptors. Nonetheless, Ross is looking forward to spending the summer in Orlando to “familiarize himself with the area and work on his game,” according to John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com, who notes that the veteran swingman has bought a house in Central Florida.

Ross has also looked more at home on the court for the Magic as of late — in his last 12 games, he has averaged 14.8 PPG, shooting .462/.390/.933. All of those marks except for 3PT% (he shot 39.5% in 2013/14) would be career highs for Ross if he maintained them over a full season, so Orlando has reason to be optimistic going forward.

Here’s more from around the Southeast division:

  • Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel believes it has “become clear” that James Johnson should be the top priority among the Heat‘s 2017 free agents. Dion Waiters looked like that player for much of the season, but Winderman notes that Waiters’ absence in recent weeks has allowed Miami to explore other options at shooting guard, and the results have been solid.
  • Veteran forward Nicolas Batum confirmed over the weekend that he won’t play for France in this year’s Eurobasket tournament (video link). Batum will instead dedicate his summer to the Hornets after the team endured a disappointing 2016/17 campaign.
  • The Hawks announced today in a press release that front office executive Malik Rose has been promoted and will serve as the general manager of Atlanta’s new D-League affiliate, the Erie BayHawks. The BayHawks had been Orlando’s NBADL affiliate this past season, but the Hawks will assume control of the Erie club when the Magic introduce a new Lakeland affiliate in 2017/18.

Eastern Notes: Knicks, Batum, Raptors, Brooks

Despite the fact that the Knicks‘ playoff chances appeared to be slipping away before the All-Star break, head coach Jeff Hornacek has continued to insist in recent weeks that the team is continuing to push for the postseason. However, heading into Tuesday’s game against Indiana, Hornacek finally relented on that stance, as Marc Berman of The New York Post details.

“Whether we’re in the playoffs or not in the playoffs, we’re going to play hard the whole time. The playoffs may not be in reach, but this especially could be for other young guys to get some time to show what they really can do,” Hornacek said, acknowledging that the Knicks’ playoff chances are all but dead. “Until you’re mathematically done, you’re always going for it, but sometimes it’s realistic. Are you going to be able to make up seven games in [15]? Many, many things would have to happen for that.”

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • Hornets forward Nicolas Batum, who has been battling painful migraines, will undergo a CT scan on his brain, league sources tell Chris Haynes of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Hopefully that scan doesn’t reveal any serious health concerns for Batum.
  • Since acquiring Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, the Raptors have been without star point guard Kyle Lowry, making them the great unknown in the Eastern Conference, writes Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. As Lewenberg outlines, Toronto may have the highest ceiling and the lowest floor of any of the East’s challengers to Cleveland.
  • Meanwhile, Doug Smith of The Toronto Star suggests that Raptors backup point guards Fred VanVleet and especially Delon Wright have been opening some eyes in Lowry’s absence.
  • In a piece for The Oklahoman, Berry Tramel makes a case for why Wizards head coach Scott Brooks deserves to win the NBA’s Coach of the Year award for his performance in his first season in Washington.

Batum Will Sign First Lucrative Offer Sheet

The Trail Blazers will have a good deal of cap space at their disposal this summer, and were hoping to spend most of it on free agents before shifting their focus to restricted free agent Nicolas Batum. However, according to agent Bouna Ndiaye, Batum won't necessarily hold off on deals to accommodate the Blazers.

"The first good offer we get, we're going with that," Batum's agent told Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com. "We're not waiting for anything."

Depending on which options are exercised and which free agents are renounced, the Blazers could have up to about $20MM in cap space this summer. Because the team holds Batum's Bird rights, Portland would be able to sign free agents using that space, then go over the cap to re-sign Batum. If Batum signs an offer sheet with another team though, the Blazers will only have three days to match the offer.

Batum's cap hold when the offseason begins will be about $5.39MM, 250% of his prior salary, but he's expected to receive offers with an annual salary that exceeds that amount. If a club were to sign Batum to an offer sheet worth $10MM annually, the forward's free agent amount would rise from $5.39MM to $10MM, limiting the Blazers' cap flexibility.

Southeast Notes: Batum, Nene, Whiteside, Wade

Nicolas Batum has been “perfect” for the Hornets, contends Kemba Walker, who hopes the team shells out the money necessary to keep the swingman as he heads into free agency this summer, notes Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer. Still, it’s conceivable that Batum has played his final game for the team, as he suffered a sprained left ankle Wednesday in the second game of Charlotte’s first-round series versus the Heat. Teammate Al Jefferson doesn’t think he’ll be back at any point during the series, according to Justin Verrier of ESPN.com, and with the Hornets down 2-0, the outlook is bleak. Batum won’t rule out leaving for another team, but he’s said he wants to be back with Charlotte, as Fowler relays. “Our core is young, we signed our coach to an extension and we’re winning,” Batum said as the playoffs began. “We can have a great run here.”

See more from the Southeast Division:

  • Randy Wittman‘s refusal to criticize Nene was at the heart of the reason John Wall recently cited a lack of accountability on the Wizards, sources told J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic. Other Wizards players also saw it as part of the ex-coach’s declining favor within the locker room this past season, Michael writes. Wittman was also loath to criticize Ramon Sessions, who went so far as to ask the coach to be more critical of him, according to Michael. Washington fired Wittman last week, and Nene and Sessions are set to become free agents this summer.
  • Sessions has never been a full-time starter in any of his nine NBA seasons, but he said he’s gunning for a starting job as he approaches free agency, observes Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post.
  • Hassan Whiteside had plenty of praise for the Heat coaching staff and front office this week, a clear sign of his appreciation to Miami for helping revive his career, tweets Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post. Whiteside is No. 10 in the latest Hoops Rumors Free Agent Power Rankings.
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