Cody Zeller

Southwest Notes: Morant, Claxton, Zeller, Luka, Washington

The Nets‘ trip to Memphis earlier this week wasn’t exactly a homecoming for Nic Claxton, but it gave him an opportunity to see some familiar faces, according to Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal, who notes that Claxton played AAU ball in his native South Carolina with Grizzlies star Ja Morant and Morant’s close friend Davonte Pack.

“Playing that last year of AAU with (Morant) and seeing where he is now with his career and everything he has achieved so early, it’s definitely good to see,” Claxton said. “… I didn’t see him being the player that he is now with the athleticism. He was always talented, skilled, could always really pass the ball. When he got that athleticism, he just started to take off.”

As Cole notes, Claxton – who has worn Morant’s signature shoe this season – will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and the Grizzlies will be in the market for help at center after trading away Steven Adams and Xavier Tillman. A deal with Claxton may be a long shot, given that Memphis will be well over the salary cap and won’t be in position to offer the young center the type of lucrative deal the Nets can.

Still, Claxton didn’t close the door on the idea – replying, “We’ll see” when asked about the possibility – and Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. didn’t sound opposed to it either, Cole writes.

“He’s good for that team,” Jackson said of Brooklyn’s starting center. “He’s doing his thing. Who knows, man. I can play alongside a lot of different types of players. Credit to what he’s doing over there.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • After beginning the 2022/23 season without an NBA home, Cody Zeller wasn’t sure if his days in the league were coming to an end. However, as Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star relays, Zeller got another shot last February with Miami, which led to a new deal with the Pelicans this past offseason. The veteran big man is happy to be serving as a veteran leader in New Orleans and grateful to still be in the NBA. “I had already had a good career (before joining the Heat last season),” Zeller said. “That gave me a different perspective that each additional game that I play or contract that I get or extra year that I get is icing on the cake. If I can be a good veteran guy even if I’m not playing, I’m totally happy with that, totally cool with that.”
  • Cautioning Mavericks fans not to take Luka Doncic‘s ongoing greatness for granted, Tim Cato of The Athletic explores the star guard’s case for this season’s MVP award.
  • Coming off a 23-point game on Wednesday in Toronto – his best performance since joining the Mavericks last month – P.J. Washington is making a case to be Dallas’ third option on offense behind Doncic and Kyrie Irving, writes Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. “We would like to be consistent with a third,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “Yes, that would make coaching or being a teammate a little bit easier, knowing who’s going to be there on a consistent basis. And I think P.J. is starting to trend that way.” Kidd added that he believes Washington is “up for the challenge” of being more of an offensive play-maker.

Southwest Notes: Morant, Spurs, Sochan, Pelicans, J. Green

Baxter Holmes and Tim MacMahon of published a lengthy investigative story this week detailing the transformation of Grizzlies guard Ja Morant from a Murray State prospect with “zero” red flags into a player whose worrisome off-court behavior led to multiple sit-downs with the team’s brass and – eventually – to suspensions of eight and 25 games.

While ESPN’s report includes several new details and quotes and is worth checking out in full, Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins rejected the idea that it created an “elephant in the room” for his club, writes Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. According to Cole, shortly after ESPN’s article was published, Jenkins met with the team — and separately with Morant.

“I read the article, and I’m not going to comment on anonymous sources,” Jenkins said. “I’m not really going to comment on the past. I’m really just focused on the present right now — the strides he is making, positive strides, and the strides that the team is making. … I want him to know he’s got 100% support from us and his teammates.”

Morant’s teammates were equally dismissive of the ESPN report and expressed their support for the point guard, who will serve his 25-game suspension to begin the 2023/24 season. Big man Xavier Tillman called it “annoying” to have to relitigate Morant’s past behavior, while Desmond Bane said the rest of the team has “got his back.”

“People are bringing up anything they can just for people to have anything to read,” Bane said. “We ain’t worried about that. We with 12.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • The Spurs‘ starting five for the regular season will consist of Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Victor Wembanyama, and Zach Collins, head coach Gregg Popovich revealed this week (story via Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News). The 6’9″ Sochan will serve as the de facto point guard in the super-sized lineup, though he expects to share the ball-handling duties. “It doesn’t mean I have to control (the offense) or be the main ball-handler,” Sochan said. “Whoever gets the ball can push it and play with a flow instead of playing slow.”
  • Pelicans big men Larry Nance Jr. (ankle) and Cody Zeller (back) took part in contact drills in practice on Thursday, while guard Jose Alvarado (ankle) was a limited participant, tweets Christian Clark of New Orleans will be without Naji Marshall and Trey Murphy when the season gets underway, so having Nance, Zeller, and Alvarado available would help bolster the club’s depth.
  • Rockets guard and former No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green sat down with Shams Charania of Stadium (Twitter video link) to discuss what he worked on during the offseason, his thoughts on the addition of free agent point guard Fred VanVleet, and his impressions of several of his new teammates, among other topics.
  • Mavericks wing Josh Green, who injured his back earlier this week, was a full participant in practice on Thursday and doesn’t sound concerned about his availability when the regular season begins next week, as Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News relays (via Twitter).

Pelicans Sign Cody Zeller To One-Year Contract

JULY 6: The Pelicans have signed Zeller, according to an official announcement from the team.

JULY 2: The Pelicans are signing free agent center Cody Zeller to a one-year, $3.1MM contract, agent Sam Goldfeder tells Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

Zeller just completed his 10th season, so he’ll be receiving the veteran’s minimum for a player with his experience. As our minimum-salary projections for 2023/24 show, he’ll actually be making just under $3.2MM.

The Pelicans chose not to bring back Willy Hernangomez or Jaxson Hayes, so Zeller will help fortify the team’s frontcourt depth. Hernangomez might be headed back to Europe, where he started his pro career, while Hayes is signing a two-year deal with the Lakers.

Zeller, 30, was the fourth overall pick of the 2013 draft after two college seasons at Indiana. He spent his first eight NBA seasons with Charlotte, averaging a combined 8.7 PPG and 6.0 RPG over 467 contests (22.7 MPG).

The 6’11” big man spent the past two seasons with Portland and Miami, respectively. He was a mid-season addition in ’22/23 for the Heat, who went on to make the NBA Finals as the East’s No. 8 seed.

Zeller averaged 6.5 PPG and 4.3 RPG in 15 regular season games for the Heat (14.5 MPG). He appeared in 21 of the club’s 23 postseason games, though his minutes were reduced to 8.3 per night.

The addition of Zeller means, at least for now, that the Pelicans will be above the ’23/24 luxury tax threshold, tweets Christian Clark of A cost-cutting move could be in store to dip under the tax line.

Heat Notes: Offseason, Vincent, Strus, Herro, Lillard, Beal

After an improbable run to the NBA Finals, the Heat face an offseason filled with important financial decisions, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald.

Miami has just seven players with guaranteed salaries for next season, but Victor Oladipo is almost certain to pick up his $9.5MM option after suffering a knee injury in the playoffs and the team is expected to guarantee Haywood Highsmith‘s $1.9MM salary. With an estimated cap hit of about $3MM for the No. 18 pick, the Heat will have roughly $176MM committed, putting them well over the projected $162MM luxury tax line and in sight of the new $179.5MM second apron.

Kevin Love, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Cody Zeller are all headed to unrestricted free agency, while Omer Yurtseven will be restricted if Miami makes a $2.26MM qualifying offer. In addition, Miami has already been linked to potential trades involving Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal.

“The goal is to win a championship, and this organization will do anything possible for that to happen,” Bam Adebayo said at Wednesday’s exit interviews. “I feel like everybody in here knows it’s a business. And that’s why you cherish the moments you go through with your teammates, with your brothers because you never know what can happen next year.”

There’s more from Miami:

  • The Heat hold Bird rights on Vincent and Strus, so they can go over the cap to re-sign them, although that would increase their tax bill, Chiang adds. Both players indicated that they plan to explore all their options. “Money plays a role, place plays a role, situation plays a role,” Vincent said. There’s a lot of things that factor in and I think it will all take care of itself throughout the summer.”
  • Tyler Herro didn’t address reporters on Wednesday, but coach Erik Spoelstra expanded on his decision to not use him in Game 5, per Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel. Herro received medical clearance Monday afternoon after missing nearly two months following hand surgery. “It’s also my job, as the head coach, to protect him, and do what we think was best for the team,” Spoelstra said. “… And there’s no knowing for sure, but I do know that that was just a totally unusual circumstance that you can’t compare to anything else. But the good news is he’ll have a great offseason and he’ll be fully ready to go next year.”
  • With trade rumors flying around the Heat, Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald proposes a scenario in which the team could acquire both Lillard and Beal while keeping Adebayo and Jimmy Butler.

Caleb Martin Available, Tyler Herro Out For Game 2

Caleb Martin will play in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, according to Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald (Twitter link).

The Heat wing had been listed as questionable due to an illness. He missed the team’s practice on Saturday. Martin averaged 19.3 points and 6.4 rebounds in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston but was held to three points on 1-of-7 shooting by the Nuggets in Game 1.

Big man Cody Zeller, who was initially listed as questionable due to a sprained right foot, will also be available off Miami’s bench.

Tyler Herro will remain sidelined as he recovers from a broken hand, though there’s legitimate hope he could return for Game 3 on Wednesday. Herro, who suffered the injury in the opening game of the first-round series against Milwaukee, has ramped up his workouts in recent days.

Heat Notes: Highsmith, Herro, Injuries, Strus, Love

Haywood Highsmith may see consistent minutes throughout the NBA Finals after scoring 18 points in the series opener, writes Peter Baugh of The Athletic. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra played Highsmith more than 23 minutes off the bench in Game 1 and trusted him to share the responsibility of guarding Jamal Murray.

Earning playing time hasn’t been easy for the third-year swingman, who was barely used for most of the Eastern Conference Finals. He had a breakthrough performance when he scored 15 points in 36 minutes in Game 5 against Boston.

The 26-year-old has taken an unconventional road to the NBA Finals, playing at a Division II college and then being waived three times by the Sixers. Miami gave him an opportunity with a 10-day contract last season, and he earned two more before signing a three-year deal. He takes pride in being one of seven undrafted players on the team’s roster.

“(The Heat) see something in us that nobody else saw in us as undrafted guys, kind of like hidden gems,” Highsmith said. “They believe in us, and they do a great job with developing us and taking us up under their wing and just making us be the best players we can be.”

There’s more on the Heat:

  • Tyler Herro has been declared out for Game 2, but that doesn’t mean it’s certain that he won’t play, according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. Jackson states that NBA rules allow teams to change the status of injured players, so Herro could be activated before Sunday night if he continues to make progress in his recovery from hand surgery. Jackson adds that Caleb Martin is listed as questionable with an illness that the team describes as a head issue, and Cody Zeller is questionable with a sprained right foot.
  • Jimmy Butler hasn’t lost faith in Martin and Max Strus, who combined to shoot 1-of-17 in Game 1, Jackson adds. Butler said he’ll still set them up for the same shots, and Strus remarked that he’s eager to put his scoreless night behind him. “You can’t dwell on it,” he said. “Luckily, it was only Game 1 so we got more to play. But I’m ready. I wanted to play right after the game was over.”
  • In an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic, Kevin Love offers his perspective as a relative newcomer to Heat culture after signing with the team in February. “I think it’s definitely a level of focus and professionalism, attention to detail and winning at all costs, that is not always the case (with other teams),” Love said. “Or there’s moments throughout the season (where you have that focus with other teams), but this is all-in for all 82. And then after that, it’s taking it up even another notch. And I’ve felt that, and understood that, and I’ve only been here for three months.”

Heat Notes: Herro, Butler, Love, Vincent

Heat guard Tyler Herro may return at some point during the NBA Finals, but he has been officially ruled out for Thursday’s Game 1, writes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. Herro has been sidelined since breaking two fingers in his right hand in Miami’s playoff opener on April 16. He underwent surgery five days later and has said that he’s targeting Game 3 next Wednesday as a possible return date.

Coach Erik Spoelstra explained that Herro still hasn’t participated in any contact drills, which are required before he can be cleared to return.

“He’s still just starting this process,” Spoelstra said. “We have a few days here to continue his work. I can’t make any proclamation until he makes these next important steps of contact and doing more on the court live. We’re all encouraged by his progress but still want to continue to be responsible and make the best decisions.”

There’s more on the Heat:

  • Jimmy Butler is very happy to be in Miami, calling his situation “a match made in heaven,” per Jackson. He credits Heat legend Dwyane Wade for encouraging him to join the franchise earlier in his career. “I’m not perfect, but I’m me,” Butler said. “My style of leadership works here. More than anything I have to give a shout out to D-Wade. He always told me this culture fits who I am and how I go about things. … I love it here and I hope to be here.”
  • Neither Kevin Love nor Cody Zeller played in Game 7 against Boston, but Spoelstra may need to use both big men while trying to match up with Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Jackson adds. Love said he didn’t object to Spoelstra’s decision to replace him in the starting lineup during the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals. “It made perfect sense to me, honestly,” Love said. “I was eager and wanted to play and kept myself ready. But those matchups, how they took Robert Williams out of the starting lineup and decided to go small, that’s … how it works in the playoffs. I felt I made my impact in two games and maybe one quarter.”
  • Gabe Vincent talks to Sean Cunningham of KTXL about making his second trip to the NBA Finals and getting the opportunity to play this time (Twitter link).

Heat Notes: Butler, Adebayo, Backup Centers, Vincent

Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo understand that they need to play better for the Heat to win Monday night’s Game 7 in Boston, write Barry Jackson and Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Miami’s heartbreaking loss on Saturday featured wildly inefficient performances from its two stars, who combined to shoot 24.3% from the field. Even though he came close to a triple-double, Butler made just 5-of-21 shots and he took responsibility for the one-point defeat.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

Both Butler and Adebayo, who was 4-for-16, dismissed the idea that injuries are catching up to them. Butler suffered a sprained right ankle in the opener of the Heat’s second-round series, and Adebayo has been dealing with shoulder and hamstring issues.

“I see no excuses for that,” Adebayo said. “You know, when you want something as special as a championship, I feel like every guy in our locker room would go through a brick wall to get that.”

There’s more on the Heat:

  • Cody Zeller saw all the backup center minutes on Saturday as Kevin Love remained on the bench, Jackson and Chiang add. Neither player has been effective in the series, with the Heat getting outscored by 20 points in Love’s 61 minutes and by 21 points in Zeller’s 56 minutes.
  • Miami will make history one way or the other tonight, either as the first play-in participant to reach the NBA Finals or the first team in league history to lose a series after taking a 3-0 lead. Heat players insist they won’t be intimidated by that potential infamy as they approach Game 7, per Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel. “You’re going to get the same test until you pass it, I swear,” Butler said, referring to last season’s Game 7 between the two teams. “We were in this same position last year. We can do it. I know that we will do it. … We have got to go on the road and do something special.”
  • Gabe Vincent is back on the Heat’s injury report, being listed as questionable for Game 7 with a sprained left ankle, Winderman tweets. Vincent was a game-time decision in Game 6, but he played 41 minutes and contributed 15 points and four rebounds.

Heat Notes: Butler, Adebayo, Zeller, Bench

Jimmy Butler‘s sprained right ankle still isn’t 100 percent, but he felt good enough on Saturday to help the Heat seize control of their playoff series with a resounding victory over the Knicks, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Playing for the first time in six days, Butler had 28 points, four rebounds and three assists, and although he shot just 9-of-21 from the field, he attributed that to being out of rhythm.

“A lot of recovery and making sure that I can move went into it for sure,” Butler said of his rehab process, which resulted in just one missed game. “But I got a great team behind me that people don’t see that’s always there for me and making sure I have everything I need when I’m off the floor to recover.”

Butler had another close call with an injury on Saturday, Chiang notes. He hurt his thigh on a drive to the basket in the third quarter, but he was able to return with 5:19 left in the game to help hold off a New York rally. Coach Erik Spoelstra called it similar to a “stinger” and said Butler could have gone back into the game earlier if necessary.

Spoelstra and Butler’s teammates marveled at another great performance, with Kevin Love comparing it to what LeBron James used to do in Cleveland. The eighth-seeded Heat are now 6-1 in the playoffs when Butler plays, and they’re just two wins away from reaching the conference finals.

“You can’t put an analytic to it,” Spoelstra said. “It’s just the overall confidence level your team has that you can always get the ball to him and know that we’ll get something efficient and coherent.”

There’s more from Miami:

  • After accepting the blame for the Game 2 loss, Bam Adebayo outplayed the Knicks’ Julius Randle on Saturday, Chiang states in another Miami Herald story. Adebayo had 17 points and 12 rebounds while limiting Randle to a 4-of-15 shooting day. “Bam was all over the place, both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “The stat line doesn’t do any justice of the impact to be able to take a challenge on a great player like Randle, with limited help.”
  • Backup center Cody Zeller downplayed a skirmish with Randle late in the fourth quarter, Chiang adds. Although it was nothing like the fights the teams had during their playoff meetings in the 1990s, it did result in three technical fouls. “It’s two physical teams and the playoffs,” Zeller said. “It’s all good. It was nothing.”
  • Miami’s reserves outplayed New York’s in Game 3, with Zeller, Kyle Lowry, Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson and Haywood Highsmith all contributing to the victory, notes Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel. The bench performance allowed Spoelstra to give his starters some rest with Game 4 looming on Monday.

Heat Notes: Play-In Tournament, Lowry, Zeller, Love

The Heat can’t afford a repeat of Tuesday’s performance when they face the Bulls on Friday with their season on the line, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Miami got off to a lethargic start and trailed by 24 points in the first half against the Hawks before staging a late rally that fell short.

That also means doing a better job on the backboards after the Heat got pushed around by Atlanta. The Hawks held a 22-6 advantage in offensive rebounds, which resulted in a 26-6 edge in second-chance points. Seventeen of those offensive boards came on three-point shots as Miami posted its sixth-worst statistical rebounding night of the season.

“It was at one point like a comedy of errors,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Deflections, missed balls through our hands. Even when we had block outs with two guys there, they ended up with the ball.”

There’s more from Miami:

  • A bright spot for the Heat was the performance of Kyle Lowry, who has played well since returning last month from a bout with soreness in his left knee, notes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. The 37-year-old point guard seemed to benefit from being sidelined for five weeks while he rested the knee. “We did a good job of kind of managing the minutes over the last month,” he said. “We understood what time of the year (it is). I wanted to be ready and going and firing.” Lowry came off the bench Tuesday to score 33 points, his highest total since joining the Heat, along with five assists and no turnovers.
  • Miami’s top two late-season signings were both ineffective in limited playing time Tuesday, observes Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel. Cody Zeller and Kevin Love combined for less than seven total minutes as their lack of athleticism made them a bad matchup for the Hawks.
  • At age 34, Love isn’t thinking about the end of his NBA career, per Wes Goldberg of The Ringer. Love’s main reason for negotiating a buyout with Cleveland was that he wasn’t playing and he believed he could still contribute to a successful team. “I don’t know if I’ll make it to 20 (seasons), but I’ve always had my eyes on that,” said Love, who is in his 15th year.