Ajay Mitchell

Eastern Notes: Cavs, Atkinson, Bulls, Sixers, Knicks, Hawks

After previously reporting that James Borrego was viewed as the frontrunner for the Cavaliers‘ head coaching job, Marc Stein says (via Twitter) he heard multiple times on Friday that Kenny Atkinson‘s candidacy for the job is “gaining steam.”

Atkinson was identified early in the Cavs’ search process as the potential frontrunner, but multiple reporters – including Stein and Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com – have said in recent weeks that Borrego appeared to have the edge. Those two former head coaches have been linked to the job most frequently and it certainly seems like one of them will end up being hired, but that’s not a lock. According to Stein, Timberwolves assistant Micah Nori also remains in the mix for Cleveland.

If the Cavaliers wrap up their search and make a decision soon, it will have an impact on their division rivals in Detroit. Both Borrego and Nori are expected to interview for the Pistons‘ head coaching vacancy.

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • The Bullsacquisition of Josh Giddey signals that the team isn’t sold on the idea of a Lonzo Ball comeback, according to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago, who adds that director of player development and shooting coach Peter Patton has an “important project on his hands” in Chicago’s new lead guard, a career 31.0% three-point shooter. In his own look at the trade, Jon Greenberg of The Athletic contends that it’s “inexcusable” for the Bulls to make this kind of deal without acquiring any draft picks.
  • USC guard Isaiah Collier visited the Sixers this week for a pre-draft workout, a source tells Kyle Neubeck of PHLY Sports (Twitter link). Once considered a possible top pick in this year’s draft, Collier has slipped to No. 23 on ESPN’s big board, so he could be available for Philadelphia at No. 16.
  • Yongxi Cui (China), David Jones (Memphis), Spencer Jones (Stanford), Ajay Mitchell (UCSB), and Antonio Reeves (Kentucky) were among the players to work out for the Knicks on Friday, tweets Stefan Bondy of The New York Post. Bondy adds (via Twitter) that Arizona’s Keshad Johnson worked out for New York earlier this month.
  • The Hawks are hiring Ben Peterson away from the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and will make him their VP of player health and performance, sources tell Tom Pelissero of NFL Network (Twitter link). Pelissero’s report on Peterson, who was said to be “well-regarded” in San Francisco, has been confirmed by Lauren L. Williams of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link).

Western Notes: Bronny, Suns, Lakers, Wolves, Mavs, Spurs

The Suns will bring in Bronny James for a second workout this week but the Lakers are likely to draft him in the second round, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony (hat tip to the Arizona Republic’s Duane Rankin). The Lakers have a second-rounder at No. 55, while the Suns would need to acquire one. Both teams have first-rounders.

“The sense among teams is that his agent, Rich Paul, does not want him on a two-way contract, and the range he’s going to be picked, that 40 to 58 range, that’s where two-way contracts are handed out,” Givony said on ESPN’s NBA Today. “So it’s looking right now like Bronny is going to slide there to 55. I don’t think any NBA team wants to pick him and deal with the repercussions of that. So that’s the way it’s trending as of today.”

We have more Western Conference news:

  • The Timberwolves hosted a pre-draft workout on Tuesday that included Fardaws Aimaq (California). Jermaine Couisnard (Oregon), Ajay Mitchell (UCSB), Tyler Thomas (Hofstra), Drew Pember (UNC Asheville) and Terrence Shannon Jr. (Illinois), the team’s PR department tweets. Shannon, a high-scoring guard from Illinois, is the highest-rated prospect among that group at No. 26 on ESPN‘s Best Available list.
  • A play-making guard who can also create opportunities for others, as well as another big man who can space the floor with perimeter shooting, are the type of players the Mavericks need to target this offseason, Mike Curtis of the Dallas Morning News writes. Their best hope of acquiring at least one of those players is via a trade, with Tim Hardaway Jr.‘s expiring contract facilitating the deal.
  • Colorado shooting guard Cody Williams could be a dark-horse candidate for the Spurs with the No. 4 pick, according to LJ Ellis of SpursTalk.com. Williams has a chance to develop into a multi-purpose wing with size, which would make him an intriguing choice as the Spurs build around star big man Victor Wembanyama.

Western Notes: Kings Workout, Jazz Workout, Kolek, Suns’ Targets

The Kings hosted a pre-draft workout on Monday that included two of the top center prospects, two-time National Player of the Year Zach Edey (Purdue) and Kel’el Ware (Indiana), Sean Cunningham of FOX 40 Sacramento tweets. Both are projected to be taken in the first round. Jamison Battle (Ohio St.), Boogie Ellis (USC), Rayj Dennis (Baylor) and Jonathan Mogbo (USF) were the other visitors.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • The Jazz held a pre-draft workout on Monday that included Melvin Ajinca (France), Ulrich Chomche (Cameroon), Tyler Kolek (Marquette), Ajay Mitchell (UCSB) and Tyler Wahl (Wisconsin), Darren Wolfson tweets. Kolek, a point guard, is considered a first-round pick. All the other prospects except for Wahl are ranked among the Top 50 on ESPN’s Best Available list.
  • Speaking of Kolek, the Suns are expected to target the Marquette floor leader, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Phoenix currently owns the No. 22 pick. The Suns are searching for a traditional point guard.
  • The Suns will only be able to make veteran’s minimum offers to free agents due to their salary cap restraints. Gerald Bourguet of GoPHNX.com looks at 20 free agent wing options, breaking them down by realistic targets and others that may be out of their price range.

Central Notes: Bird, Pacers, Pistons, Portis

Six players who participated in a pre-draft workout for the Pacers on Wednesday were surprised when a Hall of Famer showed up to watch them, writes Zion Brown of The Indianapolis Star. Larry Bird, who was hired as a consultant last June, walked into the gym to observe the prospects, who noticed his presence immediately.

“It’s exciting,” Oakland’s Jack Gohlke said. “Obviously (he’s) an NBA legend, and a guy who has been with the Pacers organization for forever and a legend with the Celtics, too. So I think it’s just really cool. … I would say it’s almost easier to play in front of a sold-out arena than to have these guys sitting courtside, but it’s still a really cool experience.”

Bird has worked for the Pacers in several capacities over the years, starting as head coach in 1997. Tyrese Haliburton and Isaiah Jackson also made an appearance on Wednesday, but the focus was on Bird, even though the players at the workout were all born well after his playing career ended.

“Once he walked in I was like, ‘I recognize him,’” UC-Santa Barbara’s Ajay Mitchell said. “It’s amazing to see him here. Working in front of him, it’s a great opportunity and it’s a blessing to have him around.”

Also participating in the workout were Yongxi Cui of China, Thijs de Ridder of Belgium, TCU’s Emanuel Miller and Michigan State’s Tyson Walker. Indiana owns picks 36, 49 and 50 in this month’s draft.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The Pacers have another workout set for Thursday featuring Baylor’s Jalen Bridges, North Carolina State’s D.J. Burns Jr., West Virginia’s Jesse Edwards, Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves and Morehead State’s Kalil Thomas, the team announced (via Twitter). Indiana’s Xavier Johnson was a late replacement for USC’s Boogie Ellis (Twitter link).
  • New Pistons head of basketball operations Trajan Langdon has a challenge to try to fix an organization that has been sputtering for years, observes Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News. Wojnowski blames owner Tom Gores, whom he accuses of meddling too often, as well as the people he has entrusted to run the franchise. He criticizes former general manager Troy Weaver for his roster construction, particularly his willingness to take on big men who failed elsewhere, and coach Monty Williams for his insistence on playing Killian Hayes and his misuse of Jaden Ivey early in the season.
  • Bobby Portis should be thrilled by the return of Darvin Ham to the Bucks‘ coaching staff, notes Christopher Kuhagen of The Journal-Sentinel. Kuhagen recalls that after Milwaukee was eliminated from the playoffs in 2023, Portis sent out a social media message that read, “Only thing hurt us was D ham leaving. That ain’t talked about enough.”

Central Notes: Buckner, Giannis, Pacers Workout, Pacers Offseason

Greg Buckner is expected to join Doc Rivers’ staff with the Bucks, Marc Stein tweets. Buckner was the Cavaliers‘ associate head coach under J.B. Bickerstaff. He had been on Cleveland’s staff since 2020. Previously, Bucker was an assistant with the Grizzlies (2017-19). Former Lakers coach Darvin Ham has also made a commitment to join Rivers’ staff.

We have more from the Central Division:

Central Notes: Pistons, Ham, Bucks, Cavaliers

Reports that the Bulls, Trail Blazers and Grizzlies are all interested in moving up in the draft could create some trade options for the Pistons with the No. 5 pick, writes James L. Edwards of The Athletic. He explores potential deals with all three teams that would still leave Detroit with a first-round selection.

Edwards’ proposed trade with Chicago is a swap for No. 11 in this year’s draft, plus a top-four protected pick in 2027. That would allow the Pistons to pick up some future draft capital and still wind up with a prospect such as Colorado’s Cody Williams, G League wing Ron Holland or French forward Tidjane Salaun.

Edwards suggests helping Portland clear cap space by taking Jerami Grant, the No. 14 pick and possibly Matisse Thybulle in exchange for No. 5. That could speed up the Blazers’ rebuilding process by giving them two selections in this year’s top seven while saving them about $40MM next season.

With Memphis, Edwards proposes parting with the fifth pick in exchange for the ninth choice in this year’s draft and a top-four protected pick in 2025. That gives Detroit an extra selection in what’s projected to be a stronger draft next near, while Memphis has a better shot to land a center such as UConn’s Donovan Clingan.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Darvin Ham, who was fired by the Lakers last month after their first-round playoff loss, will rejoin the Bucks as the top assistant to Doc Rivers, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Before being hired by L.A., Ham spent four years in Milwaukee, where he built a reputation as one of the league’s top assistant coaches.
  • Eric Nehm of The Athletic kicks off a series of Bucks draft previews by looking at guards who could still be on the board at No. 23 and 33. Nehm profiles Pitt’s Carlton Carrington, Marquette’s Tyler Kolek, A.J. Johnson, who played in Australia this season, UC Santa Barbara’s Ajay Mitchell, Creighton’s Trey Alexander, Houston’s Jamal Shead, UConn’s Cam Spencer and Colorado’s KJ Simpson.
  • Speaking on the Wine and Gold podcast, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com said he doesn’t expect Dan Hurley‘s decision on the Lakers‘ coaching job to impact the Cavaliers‘ search. Fedor considers James Borrego to be the current front-runner in Cleveland, and he speculates L.A. will turn to J.J. Redick if Hurley declines the team’s offer.

Northwest Notes: Markkanen, Thunder, Wallace, Wolves

Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen won’t play for Finland in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Spain, Johnny Askounis of Eurohoops.net reports. Markkanen aggravated an impingement to his right shoulder in late March and the injury has still not fully healed.

“Certainly, this is tough,” the Jazz forward said in a statement. “Representing Finland and playing for the national team is an honor for me. Along with my teammates, we have been talking all season about how sweet it would be to advance to the Olympic Games.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Thunder had an overload of players on their roster last offseason but that won’t be the case this time around, Rylan Stiles of SI.com notes. Oklahoma City will have four open standard contract roster spots available with Gordon Hayward, Bismack Biyombo, Mike Muscala and possibly Lindy Waters III (club option) headed to free agency. They will also have at least one two-way spot available with Olivier Sarr tearing his Achilles late last season. He’s expected to be out all of next season.
  • Cason Wallace exceeded expectations in his rookie season with the Thunder, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. Wallace, the No. 10 pick of last year’s draft, appeared in every game and make the All-Rookie Second Team. He also shot 41.9% from 3-point range and displayed strong defensive skills.
  • In draft news, Melvin Ajinca (France), Jalen Bridges (Baylor), Tristan Enaruna (Cleveland State), Ajay Mitchell (UC Santa Barbara), Jonathan Mogbo (San Francisco) and Baylor Scheierman (Creighton) worked out for the Timberwolves on Monday, the team’s PR department tweets. Scheierman is currently ranked No. 26 on ESPN’s Best Available list.

NBA Announces 78 Invitees For 2024 Draft Combine

The NBA announced today (via Twitter) that 78 prospects have been invited to attend this year’s draft combine, which will take place in Chicago from May 12-19.

In addition to those 78 players, a handful of standout players from the G League Elite Camp, which is also held in Chicago just before the combine begins, are expected to receive invites to stick around for the main event.

Not all of the prospects invited to the combine will end up remaining in the 2024 draft pool, since some are early entrants who are testing the waters while retaining their NCAA eligibility. College players must withdraw from the draft by the end of the day on May 29 if they wish to preserve that eligibility, while non-college players face a decision deadline of June 16. The feedback they receive from NBA teams at the combine may be a deciding factor for players who are on the fence.

Here’s the list of players who have been invited to the 2024 draft combine:

(Note: For players in international leagues, the country listed is where they had been playing, not necessarily where they’re from.)

  1. Michael Ajayi, F, Pepperdine (junior)
  2. Melvin Ajinca, G/F, France (born 2004)
  3. Trey Alexander, G, Creighton (junior)
  4. Izan Almansa, F, G League Ignite (born 2005)
  5. Reece Beekman, G, Virginia (senior)
  6. Adem Bona, F/C, UCLA (sophomore)
  7. Trevon Brazile, F, Arkansas (sophomore)
  8. Jalen Bridges, F, Baylor (senior)
  9. Matas Buzelis, F, G League Ignite (born 2004)
  10. Carlton Carrington, G, Pitt (freshman)
  11. Devin Carter, G, Providence (junior)
  12. Stephon Castle, G, UConn (freshman)
  13. Ulrich Chomche, C, NBA Academy Africa (born 2005)
  14. Cam Christie, G, Minnesota (freshman)
  15. Nique Clifford, G, Colorado State (senior)
  16. Donovan Clingan, C, UConn (sophomore)
  17. Isaiah Collier, G, USC (freshman)
  18. Tristan Da Silva, F, Colorado (senior)
  19. Pacome Dadiet, G/F, Germany (born 2005)
  20. N’Faly Dante, C, Oregon (super-senior)
  21. Rob Dillingham, G, Kentucky (freshman)
  22. Nikola Djurisic, G/F, Serbia (born 2004)
  23. Ryan Dunn, F, Virginia (sophomore)
  24. Zach Edey, C, Purdue (senior)
  25. Justin Edwards, G/F, Kentucky (freshman)
  26. Kyle Filipowski, F/C, Duke (sophomore)
  27. Trentyn Flowers, G/F, Australia (born 2005)
  28. Johnny Furphy, G/F, Kansas (freshman)
  29. Kyshawn George, G/F, Miami (FL) (freshman)
  30. Tyon Grant-Foster, G, Grand Canyon (senior)
  31. PJ Hall, C, Clemson (senior)
  32. Coleman Hawkins, F, Illinois (senior)
  33. Ron Holland, F, G League Ignite (born 2005)
  34. DaRon Holmes II, F, Dayton (junior)
  35. Ariel Hukporti, C, Germany (born 2002)
  36. Oso Ighodaro, F, Marquette (senior)
  37. Harrison Ingram, F, UNC (junior)
  38. Bronny James, G, USC (freshman)
  39. A.J. Johnson, G, Australia (born 2004)
  40. Keshad Johnson, F, Arizona (super-senior)
  41. David Jones, F, Memphis (senior)
  42. Dillon Jones, F, Weber State (senior)
  43. Ryan Kalkbrenner, C, Creighton (senior)
    • Note: Kalkbrenner indicated this week that he intends to return to school, so it’s unclear if he’ll continue to go through the pre-draft process.
  44. Alex Karaban, F, UConn (sophomore)
  45. Bobi Klintman, F, Australia (born 2003)
  46. Dalton Knecht, G, Tennessee (super-senior)
  47. Tyler Kolek, G, Marquette (senior)
  48. Pelle Larsson, G, Arizona (senior)
  49. Jared McCain, G, Duke (freshman)
  50. Kevin McCullar, G, Kansas (super-senior)
  51. Yves Missi, C, Baylor (freshman)
  52. Ajay Mitchell, G, UC Santa Barbara (junior)
  53. Jonathan Mogbo, F/C, San Francisco (senior)
  54. Tristen Newton, G, UConn (super-senior)
  55. Juan Nunez, G, Germany (born 2004)
  56. Quinten Post, F/C, Boston College (super-senior)
  57. Antonio Reeves, G, Kentucky (super-senior)
  58. Zaccharie Risacher, F, France (born 2005)
  59. Jaxson Robinson, G/F, BYU (senior)
  60. Tidjane Salaun, F, France (born 2005)
  61. Hunter Sallis, G, Wake Forest (junior)
  62. Payton Sandfort, G/F, Iowa (junior)
  63. Alexandre Sarr, F/C, Australia (born 2005)
  64. Baylor Scheierman, G/F, Creighton (super-senior)
  65. Mark Sears, G, Alabama (senior)
  66. Terrence Shannon, G, Illinois (super-senior)
  67. Jamal Shead, G, Houston (senior)
  68. Reed Sheppard, G, Kentucky (freshman)
  69. KJ Simpson, G, Colorado (junior)
  70. Tyler Smith, F, G League Ignite (born 2004)
  71. Cam Spencer, G, UConn (super-senior)
  72. Nikola Topic, G, Serbia (born 2005)
  73. JT Toppin, F, New Mexico (freshman)
  74. Jaylon Tyson, G, California (junior)
  75. Ja’Kobe Walter, G, Baylor (freshman)
  76. Kel’el Ware, C, Indiana (sophomore)
  77. Jamir Watkins, G/F, Florida State (junior)
  78. Cody Williams, F, Colorado (freshman)

It’s worth noting that the NBA and the NBPA agreed to a few combine-related changes in their latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here are a few of those changes:

  • A player who is invited to the draft combine and declines to attend without an excused absence will be ineligible to be drafted. He would become eligible the following year by attending the combine. There will be exceptions made for a player whose FIBA season is ongoing, who is injured, or who is dealing with a family matter (such as a tragedy or the birth of a child).
  • Players who attend the draft combine will be required to undergo physical exams, share medical history, participate in strength, agility, and performance testing, take part in shooting drills, receive anthropometric measurements, and conduct interviews with teams and the media. Scrimmages won’t be mandatory.
  • Medical results from the combine will be distributed to select teams based on where the player is projected to be drafted. Only teams drafting in the top 10 would get access to medical info for the projected No. 1 pick; teams in the top 15 would receive medical info for players in the 2-6 range, while teams in the top 25 would get access to info for the players in the 7-10 range.

Regarding that last point, Jonathan Givony of ESPN (Twitter link) has the details on the top 10 played out this year, noting that the composite ranking was generated based on a combination of publicly available rankings and feedback from a panel of experts, as well as a retained-scouting service.

Sarr is considered the No. 1 overall prospect, per Givony, so only teams drafting in the top 10 will get access to his medicals. Buzelis, Castle, Clingan, Risacher, and Topic are in the 2-6 range, while Dillingham, Holland, Knecht, and Sheppard round out the top 10.

Draft Notes: Mitchell, Love, Jackson, Blums, Bowman

Junior guard Ajay Mitchell, a projected second-round pick, is declaring for the draft, agent Todd Ramasar tells ESPN’s Jonathan Givony (Twitter link). The 6’4″ UC Santa Barbara floor leader averaged 20.3 points and 4.3 assists while making 38% of his 3-point attempts this past season. He’s currently ranked No. 54 on ESPN’s Best Available list.

We have more draft-related news:

  • Arizona guard Caleb Love will enter the draft while maintaining his college eligibility, he revealed on a Twitter post. Love averaged 18.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists this past season. Love played three seasons for North Carolina and averaged 18.8 points during a 2022 NCAA Tournament run when the Tar Heels reached the title game.
  • Overtime Elite’s Jahzare Jackson is declaring for the draft, he announced on Instagram. The 6’11” center averaged 12.1 points and 7.5 rebounds for the developmental team.
  • VEF Riga combo guard Roberts Blums will declare for the draft, Jon Chepkevich tweets. Blums was the 2023 FIBA European U18B’s MVP. This season, he was named the Estonian-Latvian League’s Best Young Player.
  • American-born Malik Bowman, who is playing in Portugal, is also declaring for the draft, he announced on Instagram. Bowman, a power forward, has averaged 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in 12 games for SC Lusitania.