Paul Millsap

Northwest Notes: Butler, Lyles, Neto, Jokic/Millsap

With four crucial games left in the regular season, Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler said he is “this close” to returning following practice on Tuesday, per Dave Campbell of The Associated Press. Minnesota’s next game is against the Nuggets on Thursday and it’s possible Butler will be available.

The Timberwolves have been without Butler since February 23, when he tore his meniscus and underwent surgery sidelining him for an estimated four-to-six weeks. In 56 games before the injury, Butler was arguably Minnesota’s best two-way asset as he played his usual strong defense while averaging 22.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 5.0 APG.

Just 2.5 games separate the seventh-place Timberwolves and the 10th-place Clippers with four games to go. Having a healthy Butler back in the lineup for this crucial stretch would provide a huge boost to the team’s playoff hopes.

Check out more Northwest Division notes below:

  • Former Jazz player Trey Lyles, now with the Nuggets, did not have many kind words about his former team. Jody Genessy of The Deseret News passes along some of Lyles’ comments, made during an appearance on teammate Richard Jefferson‘s Road Trippin’ Podcast. Lyles was critical of head coach Quin Snyder and expressed a general distaste for his tenure in Utah.
  • Jazz point guard Raul Neto has made significant progress on his fractured wrist, tweets Tony Jones of the Salt Lake City Tribune. No firm decision has been made, but it’s possible that Neto plays in tomorrow’s game against the Lakers, Jones adds.
  • Having both Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic in the lineup healthy and producing has been a tremendous boost for the Nuggets, Gina Mizell of the Denver Post writes. “They’re my safety blanket,” head coach Michael Malone said. “If one of those two are in the game at all times, we have somebody to play through and to kind of calm things down when they’re not going our way.”

Northwest Notes: Blazers, Rose, Brewer

The Trail Blazers have surged into third place in a wild Western Conference playoff race thanks largely to an impressive level of depth, Jason Quick of NBC Sports Northwest writes. On a nightly basis, Portland’s success can be at least partly attributed to team defense and solid performances from role players.

In the past two years, when we went on great runs, it’s always been C.J. McCollum has a great stretch, or I have a great stretch,” lone Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard said. “But now, it’s much more collective – both this season and during this run.

Quick cites Jusuf Nurkic‘s in-season improvement shooting around the basket, the pleasant emergence of rookie Zach Collins and a clutch performance from Shabazz Napier as some of the driving forces behind the Trail Blazer’s recent success.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Nuggets have struggled since offseason addition Paul Millsap made his return from an extended absence. Now the playoff hopeful club needs to figure out how to right the ship. “When a player of Paul Millsap’s magnitude misses 44 games and comes back with 22 games to go, that is a huge challenge,” head coach Michael Malone told Gina Mizell of The Denver Post. “Especially when the team was playing so well.
  • We wrote last month that Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor wasn’t interested in having his team sign Derrick Rose. That line of thinking changed after Jimmy Butler went down with his knee injury, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes.
  • The Thunder may have found a suitable replacement for the injured Andre Roberson in recently bought out veteran Corey Brewer. “I’m not comparing him and Andre in any way personality-wise or player-wise,” head coach Billy Donovan told ESPN’s Royce Young, “But the one thing I will compare them, they both have a pop and a bounce to them where they play the game where they find the ball. They find it and are able to make plays.”

Northwest Notes: Jokic, Brewer, Millsap, Butler

Nikola Jokic‘s offensive production has dropped dramatically over the last three games, coinciding with the return of Paul Millsap from a wrist injury. Nuggets coach Michael Malone told reporters, including the Denver Post’s Gina Mizell, that his offense still revolves around his center. Jokic has averaged 12 PPG and while committing 12 turnovers over the last three games. “Nikola is still the focal point of our offense,” Malone said. “I don’t want Nikola thinking that he has to play second fiddle to anyone. … I want him to shoot the ball more and be more aggressive.”

In other developments around the Northwest Division:

  • Playing time, and the possibility of a starting role, led to Corey Brewer‘s decision to join the Thunder, Eric Horne of the The Oklahoman reports. “I didn’t feel like I could really pass that up,” Brewer told Horne.  Brewer played 12 scoreless minutes in his Oklahoma City debut on Saturday after being bought out by the Lakers and agreeing to terms with the Thunder. He reportedly also drew interest from the Wizards, Cavaliers and Bucks. The Thunder have sought help at shooting guard since Andre Roberson went down with a season-ending knee injury in late January.
  • Millsap hasn’t played more than 27 minutes in his first three games back but Malone said his workload will increase very soon, Chris Dempsey of Nuggets.com tweets. Millsap scored 11 points in 26 minutes against the Cavaliers on Saturday.
  • The Timberwolves are 2-2 in the first four games without Jimmy Butler and their defense, in particular, has suffered without him, as Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune details. Metrics show that the Timberwolves have the 11th-best defensive rating with Butler on the court. When he’s not playing, their defensive rating is the worst in the league. Butler is recovering from knee surgery.  “Jimmy always guards the best perimeter player,” veteran guard Jamal Crawford noted to Hine.
  • There was skepticism when the Jazz signed Joe Ingles a four-year, $52MM contract last summer but it’s proving to be a bargain, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Advanced metrics rate Ingles as one of the league’s top 10 small forwards this season and the intangibles he brings add to his value, as coach Quin Snyder told MacMahon. “There just hasn’t been anything that he’s not willing to do for the team,” Snyder said. “That’s where he’s found his game. He’s found his game making the team better when he’s on the floor.”

Northwest Notes: Teague, Butler, Shabazz, Millsap

If the Timberwolves want to continue their winning ways while All-Star Jimmy Butler is sidelined, point guard Jeff Teague must continue to play with pace and aggression, opines Britt Robson of The Athletic Minnesota.

Despite an apparent tendency and preference to let his teammates get involved as playmakers, Teague no longer has that luxury, at least for the time being, with Butler out of the equation. Teague must also continue to push the pace of play, as he has done in the team’s last two games.

In fact, in the team’s first full game since Butler’s injury, Minnesota launched a season-high 35 three pointers, primarily a product of Teague’s ability to  get into the half-court offense quickly, beat defenders off the dribble, and present a viable threat to score at the rim or kick it out to the perimeter for a shot or extra pass.

As head coach Tom Thibodeau described, “We have to make sure we get to the right spots so we can get that pass out. And once you get that pass out, usually the second pass will get you a great shot.” 

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves‘ reserve guard Shabazz Muhammad is not likely to be bought out after all, tweets Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune. When asked about the possibility, Thibodeau simply said, “Nope, we like the team we have.”
  • In a piece for The Athletic Minnesota, Jon Krawczynski details Butler’s decision to have surgery on his damaged right meniscus. Fortunately for Butler and the Timberwolves, the procedure was neither a major repair nor a removal, and the hope is that he will be able to return to action without facing some of the long-term risks involved with removal.
  • With last night’s loss to the Clippers, the Nuggets have fallen to ninth place in the Western Conference, percentage points behind the Clippers, who now also own the the head-to-head tiebreaker between the two teams. Part of the problem recently is Denver’s defense, reports Gina Mizell of The Denver Post. Head coach Mike Malone is particularly frustrated, saying the recent struggles defensively have left him “questioning (his) whole being as a coach.”
  • In brighter news for the Nuggets, forward Paul Millsap played last night for the first time since he injured his left wrist on Nov. 19.

Northwest Notes: Butler, Anthony, Millsap, Jazz

In the wake of Jimmy Butler‘s meniscus injury, the Timberwolves find themselves in a worse position than their Western Conference rivals who have lost star players, writes Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated. With the trade deadline already passed, Minnesota has few options to replace Butler if he is sidelined for several weeks or the rest of the season.

The Grizzlies lost Mike Conley early in the season and started pointing toward next year before Christmas arrived. Rudy Gobert of the Jazz and Paul Millsap of the Nuggets both had time to heal before the stretch run. The Pelicans were able to deal for Nikola Mirotic when DeMarcus Cousins got injured. The Spurs have a successful foundation to fall back on without Kawhi Leonard.

None of those benefits are available to the Wolves, who are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Coach Tom Thibodeau has relied heavily on Butler on both ends of the court since acquiring him from the Bulls in an offseason trade. Butler ranks second in the league in minutes per game at 37.1 and is the key to a defense that becomes the NBA’s worst without him on the court.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Some tears can’t be fixed surgically, meaning the meniscus has to be removed, tweets Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. That leads to a faster recovery, adds Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link), but it has become less popular since Dwyane Wade had it done and blames it for his ongoing knee pain.
  • Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony is enjoying himself away from the stress that marked most of his time in New York, relays Tim Keown of ESPN. Anthony’s tenure with the Knicks was marked by disappointing results and a long public feud with team president Phil Jackson. “In New York, there was so much going on with the organization and the city,” Anthony said. “It was very tense up there, and you never really get a chance to have stability there. Here, man, I’m having fun with the game again. The joy of it — that’s what guys know me as: laughing and smiling and enjoying the game. I think over the past couple of years I’ve lost that, and I think guys around the league have seen it.”
  • After climbing to sixth in the Western standings, the Nuggets face the challenge of incorporating two injured players back into their rotation, writes Nick Kosmider of The Denver Post. Mason Plumlee returned to the lineup Friday, and Millsap is expected back soon. “It’s just great to have those guys back,” said coach Michael Malone. “We’ll figure out who plays and when they play, but being healthy with 24 games to go [is] a good thing to be.”
  • The Jazz, who haven’t hosted an All-Star Game in 25 years, have submitted a formal bid to bring the game to Utah in 2022 or 2023, according to Eric Woodyard of The Deseret News.

Northwest Notes: Roberson, Millsap, Lillard

The Thunder have limited options in trying to replace Andre Roberson through trades, writes Kevin Pelton of ESPN. Oklahoma City lost its best wing defender Saturday when Roberson was carried off the court in Detroit with a ruptured patellar tendonTerrance Ferguson and Alex Abrines are potential replacements on the roster, but both have deficiencies in their games and neither can match Roberson’s defensive prowess. Josh Huestis has similar skills to Roberson, but only shoots 28.4% from 3-point range.

Offseason deals for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony pushed the team over the luxury tax, with a projected $20MM payment due this season. Also, OKC doesn’t have a first-round pick available to trade until 2024. Pelton suggests trying to improve the offense by getting a lower-salary guard like Brooklyn’s Joe Harris, who is making a little more than $1.5MM on an expiring contract, or possibly dealing Abrines for Atlanta’s Marco Belinelli, who has a $6.6MM expiring deal.

There’s more news from the Northwest Division:

  • The Thunder have a pair of trade exceptions available, posts Bobby Marks on ESPN Now. However, they are only valued at $2.55M and $1.49M, so the team’s options with those exceptions will be limited.
  • Nuggets forward Paul Millsap remains on schedule to return from wrist surgery after the All-Star break, according to Gina Mizell of The Denver Post. Millsap hasn’t played since mid-November because of a torn ligament in his left wrist, but he is able to participate in shooting, ball handling and catching drills and work on conditioning. “There are good days and bad days,” coach Mike Malone said. “He’s a little sore right now from that ramping up his on-court activity, but he’s fired up. He’s working hard.” Millsap, who signed a three-year, $90MM contract over the summer, was averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds before being sidelined.
  • Damian Lillard‘s recent meeting with Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen could be the first step in seeking a trade, speculates John Canzano of The Oregonian. Lillard met with Allen without the knowledge of coach Terry Stotts or GM Neil Olshey. They reportedly discussed the state of the team, but Canzano thinks Lillard may have demanded a roster upgrade and given himself leeway to ask for a trade if it doesn’t happen before next year’s deadline.

Injury Updates: Harden, Millsap, Allen, Turner

James Harden is showing signs of improvement as he recovers from a strained hamstring, but the Rockets‘ star guard won’t get the chance to lobby for a quicker return to the court, Mike D’Antoni said on Wednesday, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

“I walk into there to the trainers,” the Rockets head coach said. “‘Can he play?’ ‘No.’ Then he can’t play. There is no challenge. He’s going to try to push the envelope because he wants to play. That’s on trainers and doctors. I don’t figure into it. He’d beat me up.”

The Rockets announced on January 1 that Harden would be re-evaluated in two weeks, so he’s likely still at least a few days away from returning to action.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • Paul Millsap has been out of the Nuggets‘ lineup since undergoing wrist surgery in late November, but he recently had his cast removed and is progressing toward a return, writes Gina Mizell of The Denver Post. According to Mizell, Millsap is on track to get back on the court around the time of the All-Star break next month.
  • Pelicans guard Tony Allen suffered a setback in his recovery from a fibula fracture, per Jennifer Hale of FOX Sports New Orleans (Twitter link). Allen, originally expected to be back around this time, will likely miss another two to four weeks, says Hale.
  • Pacers center Myles Turner, who sat out last night’s game against Miami with a right elbow injury, will also miss Friday’s contest vs. Cleveland, the club announced in a press release.

Northwest Notes: George, Millsap, Timberwolves

It was an emotional night for both Paul George and Pacers fans as the Thunder arrived in Indiana. Now, with the contest in the rearview mirror, George is ready to move on. As Clifton Brown of the Indianapolis Star writes, the All-Star is happy that the “circus” is over.

While George struggled in his return to the city in which he launched his career, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan thinks that his forward handled it well, showing incredible poise.

George shot 3-14 from the field in the Thunder’s narrow victory Wednesday night, the latest inconsistent offensive showing in a season that has, to this point, been full of them.

I understood I was going to be coming into it, so it wasn’t a surprise,” George said. “My [Thunder] teammates did a great job of helping me battle this one tonight. Just kept everything within that rectangle out there.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • While his return is still weeks, if not months away, injured Nuggets forward Paul Millsap is back with the team and doing everything possible to return to the court as quickly as possible, Christopher Dempsey of Denver’s official site writes.
  • Much has been said of the heavy usage that Timberwolves starters have seen so far this season but that could be caused by a lack of depth. Michael Rand of the Star Tribune writes that the Wolves wouldn’t need to rely on their short-list of stars if they could consistently expect more out of their bench.
  • It was always possible that the NBA’s latest big three experiment could take time to bear fruit. Now 27 games into the 2017/18 season, however, Royce Young of ESPN asks, if the Thunder are running out of time.

Embiid Bonus Could Affect Sixers’ Cap Space

Joel Embiid‘s strong start could lead to a bonus that would affect the Sixers’ ability to compete on the free agent market next summer, writes Bobby Marks of ESPN.

The second-year center signed a five-year extension over the summer that has a base value of $146MM, but could rise as high as $178MM if he reaches certain benchmarks. That includes a hefty bonus if he is named Most Valuable Player or earns first-team All-NBA honors this season. Embiid, who came into tonight averaging 22.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, is certainly a candidate to make the All-NBA team at center, especially with the injury to Rudy Gobert and the move of Anthony Davis to power forward.

The bonus would raise Embiid’s cap hit from $25.3MM to $30.3MM for 2018/19 and would cost Philadelphia $5MM in cap space for each subsequent year of the contract. The Sixers have nearly $32MM in projected cap room right now, not counting $1.6MM team options for T.J. McConnell and Richaun Holmes, so $5MM could affect their ability to offer a full max contract.

Emiid’s contract also contains a minutes clause that could boost his future earnings. He can make his contract fully guaranteed starting in 2020/21 or 2021/22 if he plays at least 1,650 minutes in three consecutive years or three out of four starting with this season. He has accumulated 532 minutes in 18 games, putting him on pace to reach that figure for this year.

Marks passes on a few other tidbits related to contract incentives:

  • The punch from Bobby Portis that hospitalized Nikola Mirotic has cost the Bulls forward $1MM in bonuses. Mirotic had four benchmarks valued at $250K each, and although each was unlikely, he needed to play 65 games to be eligible and he has already missed 20.
  • Nets guard Jeremy Lin, who played just one game this season before needing knee surgery, missed a chance to earn several bonuses worth $750K.
  • Nuggets forward Paul Millsap has a $500K incentive for making the All-Star team, which is impossible after wrist surgery that will keep him sidelined until after the February 18 game. Millsap had been an All-Star the past four seasons in the East. He also would receive a $150K bonus for playing 65 games and averaging seven rebounds per 36 minutes, but that’s out of reach because of the injury. He can still get $150K if the Nuggets make the playoffs, but for now his cap hit for next season will be cut from $29.7MM to $29.2MM.
  • Gobert took the biggest hit because of injury, which could cost him up to $2MM. The Jazz center, who is not expected back until the middle of the month because of a bone bruise in his right knee, had a pair of $250K incentives based on 67 games played, along with a $500K bonus for being named first team All-Defense and $1MM for making the All-Star game.
  • Hawks center Dewayne Dedmon needs his scoring and rebounding averages to total more than 16 to collect a $900K bonus. He was at 11.1 PPG and 7.8 RPG before his recent injury.
  • The Trail Blazers could see a smaller luxury tax bill if Maurice Harkless continues to struggle with his three-point shot. Currently shooting 24.3% from distance, Harkless needs to reach 35% at the end of the season to get a $500K bonus. If he falls short, Portland’s tax bill will dip from $4.3MM to $3.5MM.

Paul Millsap Undergoes Surgery, Out Three Months

After some debate, Paul Millsap and the Nuggets decided that surgery would be the best option for the injured forward. Per Shams Charania of The Vertical, Millsap underwent successful surgery on his left wrist today and is expected to be sidelined for three months.

Last week we wrote about Millsap injuring his wrist in a game. It was determined by way of an MRI at the time that the forward hadn’t fractured it but sprained it. Eventually, word spread that it was a torn ligament.

While Millsap has taken time adjusting to his new role with the Nuggets, he’s put forth respectable numbers, including 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Just as the 32-year-old seemed to be acclimating himself, however, this setback has thrown a wrench in plans.