Dariq Whitehead

Eastern Notes: Pistons, Horst, Butler, Sixers, Hornets, Nets, More

Now that the Bucks‘ season has come to an end, the Pistons are expected to formally seek permission to interview Milwaukee general manager Jon Horst for their president of basketball operations job soon, Marc Stein reports in his latest story at Substack. According to Stein, it’s not yet known whether the Bucks will grant Detroit permission to meet with Horst, a Michigan native who began his NBA career in the Pistons’ basketball operations department.

Elsewhere in his Substack article, Stein says that Jimmy Butler‘s future has become an “increasingly hot topic” around the NBA following the Heat‘s first-round playoff exit. Multiple rival teams have wondered if the Sixers will make a run at trading for Butler this offseason in an effort to reunite the star swingman with good friend Joel Embiid, per Stein. The Embiid/Butler 76ers took the eventual-champion Raptors down to the wire in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2019, but were broken up less than two months later when Butler was signed-and-traded to Miami.

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • Several executives around the NBA thought the Hornets would have concluded their head coaching search by now, but the team is taking a “very methodical” approach to the process and there’s no specific timeline to make a hire, Rod Boone writes in a mailbag for The Charlotte Observer. Boone’s mailbag also explores Charlotte’s draft strategy and how to revitalize the team’s brand, among other topics.
  • How much of a difference could it make for the Nets to have a healthy Ben Simmons and Dariq Whitehead next season? Net Income of Nets Daily explores that subject, citing league insiders who say Brooklyn has no plans to waive Simmons this offseason.
  • With Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby set to square off in the second round of the playoffs as members of the Pacers and Knicks, respectively, the Raptors will “catch some sass” for trading away both players this season, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic. Given how well the two forwards have played alongside backcourt stars – Tyrese Haliburton in Indiana and Jalen Brunson in New York – Koreen wonders if things went wrong in Toronto because the club couldn’t find the right “dynamic” guard to allow Siakam and Anunoby to play their proper roles.
  • James L. Edwards III of The Athletic previews next week’s draft combine from a Pistons perspective, identifying the players the club will have its eye on in the top five and naming a few prospects who could make sense at No. 53. Edwards views Alexandre Sarr as the player likeliest to be atop Detroit’s board, with Stephon Castle, Cody Williams, Donovan Clingan, and Matas Buzelis in the next tier.

Atlantic Notes: Anunoby, Achiuwa, Knicks, Lowry, Robinson, Whitehead

Former Raptors teammates OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa were instrumental in the Knicks’ defensive effort during their Game 4 win over the Sixers on Sunday. They guarded Joel Embiid a majority of the time with Isaiah Hartenstein in foul trouble and Mitchell Robinson sidelined by an ankle injury.

The Knicks’ frontcourt duo also made the right reads in rotations and pick-and-rolls, SNY TV’s Ian Begley notes. “I don’t know how to (explain it),” Achiuwa said. “It’s a feel thing between me and OG. When we’re involved in a defensive action, I understand what he wants to do, we read off each other and play off each other that way. … That’s kind of what played into it.”

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • While Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson was setting a franchise record for playoff points in a single game, Sixers counterpart Kyle Lowry only made one field goal in Game 4, Peter Botte of the New York Post notes. Lowry, an unrestricted free agent after the season, is averaging 10.5 points and 4.0 assists per game in the series.
  • Offensive rebounding was a key to the Knicks’ victory on Sunday. They grabbed 15 for the game, including seven in the fourth quarter. They outscored the Sixers 21-6 on second-chance opportunities. “That’s what they do,” 76ers forward Kelly Oubre told Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic. “Like I said, Jalen (Brunson) is putting up all the shots, but at the end of the day, like that’s what he’s supposed to do. And then everybody else is supposed to crash the glass like mad men.”
  • Robinson is listed as questionable to play in Game 5, Tim Bontemps of ESPN tweets. Bojan Bogdanovic (foot contusion) has already been ruled out.
  • Dariq Whitehead‘s rookie season with the Nets was a washout, as he underwent season-ending surgery on Jan. 29 to repair a stress reaction in his left shin. The No. 22 pick in last year’s draft, who appeared in just two NBA games, will hit the reset button with a new head coach, Jordi Fernandez, and a busy offseason. “Dariq should play in summer league, should be available in summer league. Whether or not he plays the entire summer league or not, that’ll be TBD,” GM Sean Marks said, per NetsDaily.com. “But the plan right now is he’s in the gym every day.”

Nets Notes: Fernandez, Marks, Simmons, Whitehead, B. Johnson

At his introductory press conference on Wednesday, new Nets head coach Jordi Fernandez was optimistic about a quick turnaround following a disappointing 2023/24 season, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

We will see results right away,” Fernandez said. “This industry is about getting results and getting better. So how much are you gonna get better? It’s how we believe the process is important.

We know that there’s proper steps to take and we’ll see improvement right away. But the most important thing to me is to believe in team success over personal success.”

Fernandez added that he was enthusiastic about the young talent on Brooklyn’s roster, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

The youth excites me,” Fernandez said. “When you have a young roster — and talented — that means you’re going to have those guys for a long time. So you can develop them, and then they can perform at their best, and they’re here with you. So that’s extremely exciting.”

Here’s more on the Nets:

  • General manager Sean Marks said one of the reasons Fernandez stood out in the Nets’ head coaching search was his ability to coach players at various stages of their careers, according to Lewis. “Something that separates Jordi from a lot of the candidates (is), we found that he could look at a developmental roster, he could do various different pathways,” Marks said. “He’s coached stars before, he’s been the head director of development before so he’s worn many hats and there’s no roster that he’s not going to be able to get the respect of those guys.” Marks noted that as a big market, Brooklyn has an inherent ability to attract stars, which could accelerate the team’s timeline.
  • Marks said the team expects Ben Simmons to be ready for training camp in the fall, as Adam Zagoria of NJ.com relays (subscription required). “There should be no reason not to,” Marks said. “I mean, the doctors and therapists and so forth have told us that he should be ready to go next season. Again, it’s going to be on Ben’s timeline. We’re going to have to see how he progresses through the summer.” Simmons was limited to 15 games in ’23/24 and underwent his second back surgery in two years last month.
  • Another injured Net, Dariq Whitehead, should be ready to go for Summer League in a few months, Marks told reporters, including Lucas Kaplan of NetsDaily.com. The 2023 first-round pick had season-ending surgery for a stress reaction in his left shin back in January.
  • They don’t currently control a draft pick in 2024, but Marks said the Nets could look to move into the draft if a player they like is available, Kaplan writes. Marks also suggested BJ Johnson, who is the team’s director of player evaluation, could be in line for a promotion after former front office executives Jeff Peterson and Ryan Gisriel left to join the Hornets. “I think some of our guys have done a terrific job,” Marks said, per Kaplan. “In terms of just simply drafting, I mean, you want to take BJ Johnson. BJ runs our draft and has done so for the last several years. So, there’ll be more pressure and more responsibility placed on several of the guys in-house here.”

Dariq Whitehead Undergoes Season-Ending Surgery

JANUARY 29: Whitehead underwent surgery on Monday for his stress reaction in his left shin, Brian Lewis of the New York Post tweets. With an expected recovery period of approximately three months, he’ll miss the season but should be a full participant in the offseason development program, Lewis adds.

JANUARY 27: Nets first-round pick Dariq Whitehead will undergo surgery for a stress reaction in his left shin and will be sidelined for the rest of the season, coach Jacque Vaughn announced on Saturday (video link from The New York Post). Vaughn provided an update on Whitehead’s condition in a meeting with reporters before tonight’s game.

“He’s actually going to have season-ending surgery on Monday to address the stress reaction,” Vaughn said, “but all signs and diagnosis and consultation: He’ll miss the rest of this season. And then, gear towards finishing and being ready to complete his career and with us, playing. Meaning that he’s just gonna get through these months of rehab, and look forward to him being back on the floor.”

Whitehead, the 22nd pick in last year’s draft, appeared in just two NBA games this season. He got into 17 combined regular season and Showcase Cup games with the G League’s Long Island Nets, averaging 8.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in 18.5 minutes per night.

Whitehead underwent foot surgery last offseason that forced him to miss Summer League and training camp. Vaughn refused to speculate on his chances to be healthy enough to play in Las Vegas this summer.

“After the surgery on Monday, we’ll probably have an update on how the surgery went and have some more details for you,” he said.

Injury Notes: Cunningham, LaVine, Hawks, Spurs, Whitehead

Pistons guard Cade Cunningham, who has been out since January 7 due to a left knee strain, has been cleared to resume basketball activities, the team announced today in a press release. According to the Pistons, the plan is for Cunningham to begin ramping up for a return to action, which should happen within the next five-to-seven days.

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

  • After rolling his right ankle in the third quarter of Thursday’s win over Toronto, Bulls guard Zach LaVine headed to the locker room, then returned to the bench and played a couple minutes in the fourth quarter, but he didn’t finish the game and it was “obvious” he wasn’t quite right, says Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. It’s unclear if the injury – which affected the same foot that cost LaVine 17 games earlier in the season – will force him to miss any additional time.
  • Hawks rookie Mouhamed Gueye (right low back stress fracture) has increased the intensity of his individual work and is now doing full-court activity, per the team (Twitter link). Gueye will be reevaluated in two or three weeks. In other Hawks health news, Trae Young has been ruled out for Friday’s game in Miami due to an illness, according to Lauren L. Williams of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter links).
  • Spurs big man Zach Collins is on track to return from his ankle sprain on Friday in Charlotte, says Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News (Twitter link). The club has a back-to-back set tonight and tomorrow, so McDonald anticipates Collins will play on Friday and sit on Saturday, while Victor Wembanyama will be out tonight and play tomorrow.
  • The Nets announced on Thursday that rookie Dariq Whitehead has been diagnosed with a left shin stress reaction, adding that possible treatment options are still being considered, according to Ian Begley of SNY.tv (Twitter link).

Nets Notes: Claxton, Finney-Smith, Thomas, Whitehead, Irving

After missing eight games earlier this season with a high left ankle sprain, Nets center Nic Claxton twisted the ankle again Saturday night, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. The injury happened late in the first quarter against Miami, and Claxton was able to walk to the locker room without assistance. He returned before the first half ended, but was held out of Sunday’s game.

Claxton was originally listed as probable for Sunday, but was downgraded to questionable before being ruled out less than an hour before tip-off. As he did during Claxton’s prolonged absence, coach Jacque Vaughn opted for a small-ball lineup with Dorian Finney-Smith getting the start in the middle. The 6’7″ forward has become a valuable long-distance threat for Brooklyn, ranking fourth in shooting percentage among players with at least 90 three-point attempts, and Vaughn is urging Finney-Smith to keep seeking his shots no matter what position he’s playing.

“He’s going to get opportunities, and hopefully we unleashed that mentally when I said to him ‘Shoot eight threes, bro. Go ahead, shoot them. We want you to shoot them, we believe in you. You’ve done it in the past,’” Vaughn said. “The last three, five years he was 40-something percent on corner 3s. … So he has the résumé behind it and we want to encourage him to keep shooting.”

There’s more from Brooklyn:

  • The Nets are hoping to get some practice time for Cam Thomas, who missed his eighth straight game Sunday with a sprained ankle, Lewis adds, but a crowded schedule is preventing the team from having any official practice days. Vaughn indicated that he might have to get creative with Thomas, who would rank ninth in the league scoring race at 26.9 PPG if he had played enough to qualify. “Yeah, you didn’t participate in shootaround or whatever we had this walk-through [Sunday, Monday’s] an off day, so that kind of puts him in a tough position for us to schedule an actual practice for him,” Vaughn said. “So hopefully we’ll get to a point where we can simulate some things with some video guys and also with some G-League guys maybe in this week coming up.”
  • First-round picks Dariq Whitehead and Noah Clowney were thrilled to make their NBA debuts late in Saturday’s game, Lewis states in a separate story. “I feel like a healthy Dariq Whitehead can be very special,” said Whitehead, who missed Summer League and training camp after foot surgery. “So just knowing that if I get my feet under me, get everything right in terms of the other problems that come with it — shin splints, and stuff like that — then I think I’ll be 100% fine, ready to go. I’ve definitely been feeling great.”
  • After Kevin Durant talked about his Nets experience over the weekend, Kyrie Irving offered his perspective on what went wrong in Brooklyn. In a video posted by Clippers beat writer Tomer Azarly, Irving said, “It’s kind of like the girl that got away. … Looking back, you got a great bad wife, kids and you’re like, ‘Tss.’ I don’t wanna second guess it, I don’t wanna get in trouble with my wife. I’m not thinking about nobody else, baby.”

Nets Notes: Simmons, Whitehead, Walker, Defense

While Ben Simmons‘ latest injury — a nerve impingement in his lower left back — isn’t believed to be nearly as serious as the multiple herniated disks that required surgery last year, the fact that he’s still having back issues is obviously concerning.

Brian Lewis of The New York Post spoke to Dr. Neel Anand, an orthopedic spine surgeon based in Los Angeles, to get a better understanding of Simmons’ injury. According to Anand, the question to ask isn’t whether or not Simmons will have ongoing back issues — it’s how often he might have flare-ups like the one he seems to be experiencing now.

Again, low back. All that means is this disk is not great. Once you’ve had a disk problem, whether it be a tear, a disk herniation — which is what he had before — that disk is not normal anymore, so it’s not unusual to get another tear or a small thing that flares up again,” Anand told The Post. “The question is, is this new episode another major disk herniation, or just a little flare-up which can be settled down?

It’s like your car tire. You get a tire, you patch the hole and you’re fine and you drive your car. That tire could blow up again, get another tear, or it could run another 10 years. That’s the issue; that tire is not normal anymore. You patched the tire; that’s all you’ve done. And that’s what the surgery we do for micro decompression — which is what he probably had — is. But the actual disk is not the same anymore. So you can get other tears.

What’s important is the MRI didn’t show a large disk herniation pushing on his nerves or something big. … [Reports say] he doesn’t need surgery, so based on that I’m going to assume he does not have a big disk herniation. He’s got a small tear that’s flared up. Anti-inflammatories settle it down 90-95 percent of the time. Now, can it happen again? That’s a $1 million question. The answer’s yes; the question is when? Nobody can predict. [Or] he could play for years. Nobody can predict that.”

Here’s more on the Nets:

  • First-round pick Dariq Whitehead is a former top high school recruit who dealt with a foot injury that required a second surgery prior to the draft. He’s now playing for Brooklyn’s NBA G League affiliate in Long Island as he continues to regain his conditioning. Speaking to Jordan Greene of NetsDaily.com, Whitehead said he’s “getting closer to where I need to be.” “I’m currently getting my legs where they need to be and my explosiveness is getting back as well,” he said. “When you’re out for six months you sort of lose your bounce a little bit. Now, I’m trying to get my first step back so I can get back to my regular self and hopefully be able to play above the rim soon.”
  • Lonnie Walker signed a one-year, minimum salary contract with the Nets as unrestricted free agent over the summer. To this point, he has been an absolute bargain, stepping up while Simmons and leading scorer Cam Thomas are out with injuries, per Lewis of The New York Post. “He’s just continuing to make plays for us on both ends of the floor,” said head coach Jacque Vaughn. “He’s flying around on the defensive end of the floor, which we need. And then offensively, you see his ability to attack the rim.” Through 11 games (21.6 MPG), Walker is averaging a career-best 15.7 PPG on an excellent .508/.439/.769 shooting line.
  • According to Lewis of The New York Post (subscriber link), Brooklyn theoretically has a roster that could put together one of the better defenses in the league, with two former Defensive Player of the Year runner-ups in Simmons (2021) and Mikal Bridges (2022), along with a strong back-line anchor in Nic Claxton. But the Nets currently have the NBA’s 23rd-ranked defense, with injuries to Simmons and Claxton playing a factor in that poor figure. As Lewis writes, the coaches want the team to take more risks to force more turnovers, which the Nets haven’t been doing to this point — they’re last in the league in opponent turnovers.

Nets Notes: Simmons, Vaughn, Walker, Whitehead

Reestablishing the relationship between Nets guard Ben Simmons and head coach Jacque Vaughn was a priority for Brooklyn this offseason, Andscape’s Marc J. Spears writes.

The Nets allowed Simmons to spend the offseason training in Miami, where he felt most comfortable, and Vaughn made sure to visit and connect with the former No. 1 overall pick several times.

I had something to prove,” Simmons said. “So, whoever comes down, whoever doesn’t, I know who’s there for me. And he was down there. He came to check on me, which I really appreciate and that gave me more confidence. It was good to have him down there.

Simmons, who said his relationship with Vaughn was “terrible” to start out, was upset with the lack of communication between the two parties and believed the head coach was frustrated by an injury situation that limited him to 42 games last season. After working on the relationship over the offseason, Vaughn handed the keys to the starting lineup over to Simmons, who ranks toward the top of the league in rebounds and assists.

I thought it was important for me to reestablish our relationship from the way it was introduced,” Vaughn said. “[2022/23] was during a pretty tumultuous season with expectation, trauma and chaos, and we both were involved in it. And for me to hopefully let him know that [there were] no hard feelings my way. I was trying to set a standard for the program and that’s my responsibility as a coach and to let him know what my expectations were for him going forward and that I am pulling for him at the same time.

We have more from the Nets:

  • Simmons is day-to-day with a hip injury, tweets Brian Lewis of The New York Post. He has missed two consecutive games. “He received treatment, and he’ll continue to receive treatment,” Vaughn said. “[We’re] just not in the place where all parties around feel comfortable with him playing at the levels that he’s been playing it.
  • Lonnie Walker IV is off to a career-best start after signing a minimum-salary contract with the Nets in the offseason. In eight games, Walker’s averaging 16.8 points while shooting 53.8% from the floor and 46.3% from deep in just 22.4 minutes a night. “Just genuinely understanding just the game [and] kind of slowing it down,” Walker said of the difference in his play this season (via the New York Post’s Dan Martin). “I used to always play 100 percent going too fast without really analyzing the game.” With Cam Thomas sidelined for at least two weeks, Walker could continue to see his usage and playing time increase.
  • Brooklyn first round pick and former five-star recruit Dariq Whitehead dealt with a lingering foot injury through the draft process and offseason. The youngest draft pick in Nets history made his professional on-court debut in the G League, starting for Brooklyn’s affiliate Long Island Nets on Friday, according to Nets Daily (Twitter link). He finished with five points and four rebounds in his return to the court.

Nets Notes: Finney-Smith, Simmons, Whitehead, Dinwiddie, DSJ

Dorian Finney-Smith is helping the undersized Nets survive while starting center Nic Claxton recovers from a sprained ankle, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. At 6’7″ and 220 pounds, Finney-Smith has been fearless while battling larger opponents in the middle.

“He’s just really stepped up to the challenge,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “What I’ve seen from him is his ability to compete. The majority of nights when he’s at the five, the dude that’s standing next to him is going to be taller than him, and a lot of the times bigger and stronger than him. And so his fight has been the first thing that needs to be acknowledged. His rebounding, his ability for us to use him to get a rebound and bust-out dribble … that’s an advantage for us.”

Lewis notes that Vaughn’s other option was to rely on backup center Day’Ron Sharpe, who’s more physically suited for the position. But Sharpe can’t space the floor on offense and he forces the defense to rely on drop coverage, which Vaughn wants to limit. Finney-Smith is a non-traditional answer until Claxton returns, but it’s working so far.

“I challenged our group,” Vaughn said. “I said that Doe is playing out of position, and I challenged them to come back and help this dude. He’s guarding bigger dudes every night. You cannot leave him by himself. So our group took that to heart.”

There’s more from Brooklyn:

  • Ben Simmons has looked more like his old self in the early part of the season, observes Jeff Zilgitt of USA Today. With injury issues reportedly behind him, Simmons has been more mobile and aggressive, and he’s putting up stat lines that are starting to resemble his All-Star past. “The past 24 months, not really having the ability to get on the court, it gave people a reason to pile on, and it gave them ammunition,” said his agent, Bernie Lee. “He wasn’t physically ready to play and was under so much pressure to make an attempt to do it, and buying into a narrative with his competitive nature, he wanted to get back on court and quiet detractors. Having the ability to take a step back and have more time to complete rehab for his back has been cathartic and he has invested in the work. He has taken perspective (of) his own place in life, his career and with this team.”
  • First-round pick Dariq Whitehead tells Jordan Greene of Nets Daily that he feels 75% to 80% in his recovery from offseason foot surgery. The 19-year-old forward is progressing toward his season debut with the team’s G League affiliate in Long Island. “Once I feel like I have complete control on how my legs feel, which should be another two weeks, I’ll be good to go,” Whitehead said.
  • The shorthanded Nets got some reinforcements on Friday when Spencer Dinwiddie and Dennis Smith Jr. both returned from injuries, Lewis adds in another story for the Post.

Injury Notes: Zion, Ingram, Kyrie, Kleber, Nets

While he technically isn’t injured, Pelicans forward Zion Williamson will miss Thursday’s game against Detroit — which is the second game of a back-to-back — due to rest, per Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com.

Williamson, who missed the entire 2021/22 season with a foot injury and was limited to 29 games last season due to hamstring issues, is averaging 21.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists through four games (30.8 minutes) for the 3-1 Pelicans.

New Orleans’ other star forward, Brandon Ingram, is also on the injury report, having been listed as questionable with right knee tendinitis. Head coach Willie Green said Ingram underwent an MRI a few days ago, but there was no structural damage in his knee, according to Christian Clark of NOLA.com. The 26-year-old has missed the past two games and is considered day-to-day.

Here are a few more injury notes:

  • Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving, who has missed the past two games with a left foot sprain, is questionable for Friday’s matchup against Denver, tweets Vinny Benedetto of The Denver Gazette. Big man Maxi Kleber (right small toe dislocation) is also questionable. In an interview with Grant Afseth of DallasBasketball.com, Irving recently discussed a number of topics, including his injury, the team’s 4-0 start, and more.
  • Nets center Nic Claxton has been ruled out of Friday’s matchup with Chicago as he continues to deal with a left ankle sprain, as Brian Lewis of The New York Post relays (via Twitter). On a more positive note, guards Spencer Dinwiddie (left ankle sprain) and Dennis Smith Jr. (left hip contusion) are listed as questionable — both players were sidelined for Wednesday’s victory in Miami.
  • Nets first-round pick Dariq Whitehead has progressed to 5-on-5 work with the team’s G League affiliate in Long Island, a person familiar with the matter tells Net Income of NetsDaily. Whitehead is recovering from offseason foot surgery and was playing 2-on-2 with teammates and coaches early last week.