Paul George

Central Notes: Pistons, Bullock, Bucks, Pacers

Although the Pistons traded Reggie Bullock to the Lakers at last month’s trade deadline, Vince Ellis of The Detroit Free Press says he gets the impression that Bullock would be open to returning to Detroit as a free agent this offseason (Twitter link). The Pistons would likely reciprocate that interest, though it would depend on Bullock’s price tag, Ellis adds (via Twitter).

With the Pistons projected to be over the cap next season, they’ll be limited to a few modest exceptions, including the mid-level, as they attempt to upgrade their roster. Signing a three-point shooter like Bullock – or perhaps current Piston Wayne Ellington – will be a priority, but Detroit figures to commit part of its MLE to a point guard, Ellis notes. Reggie Jackson remains under contract for another season, but Ish Smith, a key part of the club’s rotation, will be a free agent.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • After officially signing Tim Frazier today, the Bucks are now only about $250K below the tax line, tweets cap expert Albert Nahmad. As Nahmad explains, Tony Snell can earn up to $400K in bonus money if Milwaukee wins the Finals, but the team should be on track to stay out of the tax if it falls short of a title — or if Christian Wood is claimed on waivers tomorrow.
  • In a pair of recent pieces by Sam Amick and Scott Agness of The Athletic, Indiana executives revisited the Paul George trade that turned into a rare win-win for both the Pacers and Thunder. “I think it worked out good for Paul, and I think it’s working out pretty well for us,” consultant Donnie Walsh said of the deal, per Amick.
  • In Agness’ story on that trade with the Thunder, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard raves about Domantas Sabonis, who gets somewhat overlooked as the only non-All-Star (so far) involved in the swap. “When we looked at all the deals, once we heard ‘Sabonis’ is when I said, ‘I’m in. I want to do this,'” Pritchard said. “And I asked everybody around the room, ‘Is everybody on board?’ As soon as that happened, we got pretty excited about that.”
  • Dwane Casey‘s ability to respond to adversity, which has been on display throughout his first season with the Pistons, is one reason why owner Tom Gores hired him as the club’s head coach last spring, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com. Despite a 9-22 stretch earlier in the season, Detroit currently holds the East’s No. 6 seed.

Western Notes: Lacob, Exum, Thomas, George

Warriors owner Joe Lacob is unfazed by the spotty play of his team, which he expressed to The Athletic’s Anthony Slater. Golden State has gone 4-6 in its last 10 games, including a home loss to the last-place Suns on Sunday. “We have the best team in the world. Why wouldn’t I be confident?” Lacob said. “I think we have a great team, great talent. In the NBA, talent usually wins. … Guys usually figure it out. We have an intelligent group. As long as we stay healthy. That’s the caveat. But I’m confident and believe in our team.”

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Jazz backup point guard Dante Exum returned to action on Monday after missing the previous 25 games due to a sprained ankle and bone bruise. Coach Quin Snyder is confident Exum can reestablish himself as a rotation piece, a feeling he relayed to Aaron Falk of the team’s website and other media members. “We realize he hasn’t played in two months, but it will be good to have him back out there and start to work through some of the rust,” Snyder said. “The longer you’re out, the more difficult it is to pick up where you left off. But there’s no reason he won’t get back to that.”
  • Nuggets point guard Isaiah Thomas has Monday, March 18 circled on his calendar, according to Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. He will play against Boston for the first time since he was traded to Cleveland prior to last season. “I can’t wait,” Thomas said. “That’s going to be a special moment for me. Even if they don’t do a video or whatever, just being back in that city and that arena is going to be unbelievable. I had the best basketball moments of my career in that arena. Boston’s always going to be in my heart, no matter what.”
  • Thunder forward Paul George was fined $25K by the league over the weekend, according to an ESPN report. He criticized the officiating after the Thunder’s 118-110 loss to the Clippers on Friday. “It’s just bad officiating,” George said after the game. “I’m sorry, just bad officiating. We don’t get a fair whistle. We haven’t gotten a fair whistle all year.”

Paul George Criticizes NBA Referees: “It’s Just Bad Officiating”

Thunder forward Paul George launched into a critical attack of NBA referees following Oklahoma City’s loss to the Clippers on Friday.

George, Russell Westbrook, and Steven Adams all fouled out in the fourth quarter of the 118-110 loss. The 2018 All-Star, who finished the game with 15 points and six rebounds, urged the league to look into the situation, ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk writes.

“It’s just bad officiating. I’m sorry, just bad officiating,” George said. “We don’t get a fair whistle. We haven’t gotten a fair whistle all year. … Somebody’s got to look into this. It’s getting out of hand, where we somehow just walk teams to the line. And there’s nobody that gets more contact. If I don’t speak for myself, I speak for Russ. There’s nobody that gets more contact than Russ going to the basket. And it’s just crazy.

“I don’t understand it. It’s a piece of s–t being on that floor. We giving everything we got. We’re playing hard. We’re getting grabbed. We’re getting scratched, clawed, held, shoved. And there’s nothing for it. The officials just get to walk out, and there’s nothing that penalizes them for not officiating the game the right way.”

It’s ironic that George made the comments just a day after OKC’s first game of a back-t0-back, a 129-121 overtime thriller win over Portland. George told reporters, including Brett Dawson of The Athletic, he “planned on losing money” after the win to criticize referees. He changed his tune after realizing he had 20 free throw attempts in the win.

However, Friday was a different tune as George acknowledged he will be lighter in the pockets given the NBA’s strict fines for public criticism of officials.

“It’s nothing we can do,” George said. “I’m going to lose money on this. We speak up, we lose money. There’s nothing I can do to change that. It is what it is. There’s gotta be a change, but there’s nothing that I can do.”

Thunder Notes: Ferguson, Felton, Abrines

Despite Andre Roberson missing the entire season to this point, the Thunder have continued to thrive as Paul George has developed into a serious MVP candidate and other role players have stepped up in their respective roles. The main example of such improvement is Terrance Ferguson, who has maintained his hold on a starting role past the halfway point of the season.

As Maddie Lee details for The Oklahoman, the Thunder put the ball in Ferguson’s hands more during Summer League, which he believes has translated to his improvement and confidence so far this season.

While his statistics suffered during the Summer League experiment, Ferguson is finding open teammates more often and is playing with a confidence that has unlocked more components of his game.

There’s more for the Thunder:

LeBron, Giannis Draft 2019 All-Star Teams

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo drafted their teams for the 2019 All-Star Game on Thursday, officially finalizing the rosters for this year’s contest. James and Antetokounmpo were chosen as captains because they were the All-Star starter from each conference with the most fan votes.

Both James and Antetokounmpo first had to select from a pool of starters, then from a list of reserve players. The starters, which consisted of eight other players, were voted on by the fans, players and media this season. The reserve players were voted on by the NBA’s 30 head coaches.

James drafted Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden as starters, choosing Durant as his first selection. His reserves were Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal and Dwyane Wade.

Antetokounmpo drafted Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Paul George and Kemba Walker as his starters, selecting Curry with his first pick. He drafted Khris Middleton, Nikola Jokic, Ben Simmons, Blake Griffin, D’Angelo Russell, Nikola Vucevic, Kyle Lowry and Dirk Nowitzki as his reserves.

James later traded Westbrook to Team Giannis in exchange for Simmons, making an effort to repair the relationship of Westbrook and Embiid.

The 68th NBA All-Star Game is set to commence on February 17 at Spectrum Center, featuring 26 of the best basketball players in the world.

NBA Announces 2019 All-Star Starters

The NBA announced the starters and captains for the 2019 All-Star Game on Thursday, with the Lakers’ LeBron James and Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo being named team captains for their respective conferences.

The Western Conference starters are comprised of James, Warriors stars Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, Rockets guard James Harden, and Thunder forward Paul George.

Antetokounmpo, Hornets guard Kemba Walker, Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, and Sixers center Joel Embiid were named starters in the Eastern Conference.

James (4,620,809 votes) and Antetokounmpo (4,375,747 votes) received the most fan votes from each conference in the past month, giving them the honors of being captains this season.

James and Antetokounmpo will draft their teams from the list of these starters and reserves on Thursday, February 7, hours after the NBA’s trade deadline. The All-Star Game will take place on Sunday, February 17, with the reserve players set to be announced next Thursday night.

We made our All-Star picks for the Western Conference and Eastern Conference earlier this week.

Raptors Rumors: Leonard, Lowry, George

Despite playing only half their games so far this season with both of their All-Stars – Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry – in the lineup, the Raptors have one of the NBA’s best records. Their 30-12 mark puts them a half-game ahead of the 28-11 Bucks, though they technically trail Milwaukee by percentage points.

With Lowry now back in the lineup after battling back and hip issues and Leonard potentially ready to start playing in back-to-backs soon, the Raptors are well positioned for a big second half. And the team’s performance the rest of the way – and in the postseason – could go a long way toward determining whether Leonard remains in Toronto beyond this season, a subject Chris Mannix explores in his latest piece for SI.com.

Mannix’s article features several interesting notes and tidbits on Kawhi and the Raptors, so we’ll round up a few highlights here:

  • According to Mannix, the Raptors are prepared to offer Leonard a five-year, maximum-salary offer – or any other deal he’s interested in – this offseason, and don’t view that sort of an investment as a risk.
  • While Leonard’s upcoming free agency is rarely discussed in the Raptors’ locker room, everyone knows how important his decision will be in determining the future of the franchise, per Mannix. “We need him to stay,” Serge Ibaka said. “He keeps everybody safe — no one is safe if he leaves.”
  • Even before the Raptors acquired Leonard, president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri had been itching to shake up his roster, according to Mannix, who reports that Ujiri approached the Thunder last season about a possible swap centered around DeMar DeRozan and Paul George.
  • Speaking of George, Mannix writes that Raptors officials have privately acknowledged that the Thunder’s success in retaining George emboldened them to roll the dice on Leonard. Of course, George’s bond with Russell Westbrook contributed in large part to PG13’s decision to remain in Oklahoma City. It remains to be seen if Kyle Lowry can be that same sort of recruiter, given his “frosty” relationship with Ujiri, who traded away his best friend DeRozan.
  • When the NBA issued a memo last month reminding teams of its anti-tampering rules, it was viewed by most as a response to LeBron James‘ comments about Anthony Davis. However, several clubs, including Toronto, interpreted the memo’s reference to “intentional” and “repeated” social courtesies as a message to the Clippers, says Mannix. The Clips have reportedly been sending officials, including president of basketball ops Lawrence Frank, to a number of Raptors games this season as they eye Leonard as a 2019 free agent target.

Lakers Notes: Ingram, Ball, George, Robinson

The Lakers are wasting an opportunity to prove they can be successful without LeBron James and may be getting a clearer picture of the value of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, writes Bill Oram of The Athletic. L.A.is 1-4 since James suffered a strained left groin, and the team learned Friday that he won’t be re-evaluated for another week.

The most troubling game in that stretch was last night’s loss to the Knicks, who have been near the bottom of the East all season. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Oram writes, Ingram became a one-dimensional player, making just one of five shots, while Ball tried to force passes and committed a couple of key turnovers.

“Brandon and Lonzo right now are our primary ballhandlers,” coach Luke Walton said, “and I think they led us in turnovers tonight. I’m not putting the blame on them, but that’s part of the responsibility of being a point guard, or being a primary ballhandler-slash-playmaker, is taking care of the ball and getting guys going, getting other guys easy looks.”

There’s more Lakers news to pass along:

  • Ingram may be the next young talent sacrificed in the quest to build a super team in L.A., suggests Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. The Lakers have already parted with D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle to clear cap room, and it may become necessary to do the same with Ingram to have a shot at Anthony Davis. If the Pelicans hang onto Davis and he becomes a free agent in 2020, the Lakers can’t afford the $21.8MM cap hold Ingram would have as a restricted free agent. However, he could turn out to be a valuable trade piece if Davis turns down a supermax offer and New Orleans feels compelled to move him this summer.
  • Paul George got an unfriendly reception from Lakers fans this week, but he explained that he made a business decision to stay in Oklahoma City, relays Brett Dawson of The Athletic. There was hope last season that George might return to his native Southern California in free agency, but he decided he had a better situation with the Thunder. “The Lakers is one of the best, most historical franchises in the world,” George said. “It is what it is. I’m with another great organization.”
  • The Lakers gave strong consideration to taking Mitchell Robinson with their first-round pick last summer, but the rookie center believes he’s better off with the Knicks, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. With L.A. hoping to make the playoffs, Robinson thinks he might have spent much of the season in the G League rather than as an NBA starter.

Northwest Notes: Roberson, Teague, Adams

While the Thunder have gotten off to a strong start, they would surely love to have Andre Roberson back in the lineup. Roberson has had several setbacks in his recovery from the ruptured left patellar tendon he suffered nearly a year ago. However, as Erik Horne reveals for The Oklahoman, Roberson has stayed active during his recovery and has led some defensive film sessions with the team’s young wing players.

Most notably, Terrance Ferguson has benefited the most from these film sessions, as he has stepped up to a bigger role in the starting lineup as a result of his much-improved defense. Led by quality defenders such as Paul George and Steven Adams, the Thunder have length and versatility throughout their number-one ranked defense.

The Thunder have been below average offensively this season, which highlights how much of their success is derived by their defense. And even when Roberson can’t play, he is still making his mark on the defense.

There’s more from the Northwest division:

  • Erik Horne also details Steven Adams‘ case for being an All-Star this season, highlighted by the advanced metrics that paint the picture of Adams being one of the best centers in the league. However, as Horne also points out, Adams isn’t focused on being an All-Star.
  • Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, they will continue to be without starting point guard Jeff Teague for another 7-10 days, according to Alan Horton (via Twitter), the radio voice of the Wolves. The Timberwolves have struggled in recent games as they continue to adjust to life without Jimmy Butler.
  • Speaking of the Timberwolves, Chris Hine of The Star Tribune writes that Derrick Rose has struggled with an ankle injury and could miss some time, which would leave the Wolves short at point guard as they look to bounce back from recent losses.

Community Shootaround: Second-Best Team In The West?

The 2018/19 NBA season is now over a quarter of the way through, with many teams having played at least 30 games. At this point, the Western Conference is still extremely crowded, with 12 teams that are .500 or better fighting for playoff spots. Even the top of the conference is tough to figure out, with teams like the Nuggets, Thunder and Lakers battling to distinguish themselves as the second-best team in the conference (behind a healthy and engaged Warriors team).

The Nuggets have continued to impress after a fast start, as they have withstood several injuries to key players such as Paul Millsap, Will Barton and Gary Harris. They currently own the league’s 8th ranked offense and 5th ranked defense while posting a 19-9 record, good for first in the conference.

The Thunder have used the league’s best defense to carry them to a 20-10 start. Paul George is having the best season of his career as the Thunder continue to stifle opposing offenses. The addition of Dennis Schroder has stabilized the team’s bench units, something previous Thunder teams couldn’t rely on.

Finally, the Lakers have rebounded from their slow 0-4 start to find themselves at 18-12. LeBron James has been his usual terrific self while several of the team’s young players have continued to settle in around him. Of course, it’s also possible that the Lakers make a trade to further improve their team as a result of the crowded playoff picture in the West.

When fully healthy and engaged, the Warriors are still regarded as the clear favorites in the Western Conference. However, the battle for second-best in the conference will likely continue throughout the season and early rounds of the playoffs.

With all that being said, who do you think is the second-best team in the Western Conference? Perhaps you believe that it could be a team that hasn’t been mentioned here. Share your thoughts in the comments section!