Domantas Sabonis

Nikola Jokic Named Most Valuable Player

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has been selected as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the third time in four years, the league announced (via Twitter).

Jokic won the Michael Jordan Trophy by a wide margin, showing up on all 99 ballots and collecting 79 votes for first place, 18 for second place and two for third place, giving him a total of 926 points. Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished second, collecting 640 total points by coming in first on 15 ballots, second on 40, third on 40, fourth on three and fifth on one.

Rounding out the top five were Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (4-36-50-8-0-566), Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (1-1-4-44-23-192) and Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (0-3-1-28-32-142).

Also receiving votes were Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0-0-1-14-39-89), Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (0-1-1-1-3-18), Kings center Domantas Sabonis (one fourth-place vote) and Suns forward Kevin Durant (one fifth-place vote).

Jokic becomes the ninth player to claim at least three MVP awards (Twitter link). He ties Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Moses Malone, and trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell (five each), and Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James (four each).

The Nuggets celebrated the honor by tweeting a video tribute to Jokic narrated by his wife, Natalija.

Jokic posted another outstanding statistical season, averaging 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists in 79 games. He shot 58.3% from the field and 35.9% from three-point range as Denver claimed the second seed in the Western Conference.

Bennett Durando of The Denver Post took a closer look at Jokic’s historic season, noting that he finished fifth in the league in total points, third in total rebounds and second in total assists. He also collected 25 triple-doubles and posted a true shooting percentage above 65% for the third straight season while leading the NBA in most advanced stats, including PER, VORP, box plus-minus, and win shares.

“I think he’s stated his case pretty well,” Jamal Murray said today before the award was announced. “He does it every night. It’s hard to do what he does and face the kind of pressure that he does each and every day. He does it in the smallest ways. He makes everybody around us better. He’s a leader on the court and someone we expect greatness from every time he steps on the court. And he’s delivered. … He’s been so consistent all his career, all his MVP runs. He’s been so consistent. So I don’t expect one or two bad games to sway that in any way.”

And-Ones: Media Rights, Awards, Hall Of Fame, Lithuania, More

The NBC is making a strong play for the right to broadcast NBA games beginning in 2025/26, according to Joe Flint, Amol Sharma, and Isabella Simonetti of The Wall Street Journal (subscription required). People familiar with the situation tell the WSJ trio that Comcast’s NBCUniversal is prepared to pay $2.5 billion per year for a package of NBA games.

As we wrote last week, Amazon Prime Video is in strong position to become a broadcast partner for the NBA, with ESPN/ABC (Disney) also making good progress in talks.

After operating with just two partners (ESPN/ABC and TNT) in its current media rights deal, the NBA is looking to expand to at least three partners this time around. If Amazon and NBC were to join the mix with Disney, it could leave TNT (Warner Bros. Discovery) on the outside looking in, though the league reportedly hasn’t ruled out making four separate deals.

As Flint, Sharma, and Simonetti detail, TNT Sports paid about $1.2 billion per year for its NBA rights the previous media rights agreement, which will expire after the 2024/25 season. TNT remains involved in negotiations with the league and will have the right to match NBC’s offer, but would be looking at a substantial increase in cost.

If Comcast is able to reach a deal with the NBA, their package would include both regular season and playoff games on NBC and their streaming service Peacock, according to the WSJ report.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • After revealing its Executive of the Year winner on Tuesday, the NBA has two more minor award announcements on tap this week, per the league (Twitter link) — Teammate of the Year will be announced on Wednesday, with the Hustle Award to follow on Thursday.
  • The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame recently announced that its enshrinement ceremony for 2024 has been postponed from August to October, primarily for Olympic-related logistical reasons. Vince Carter and Chauncey Billups are among the headliners of the ’24 class, which was revealed earlier this month.
  • Eight years after being told by a Pistons doctor that he wouldn’t be able to play basketball again due to a back injury, Lithuanian big man Donatas Motiejunas remains active in the EuroLeague and has played in 123 consecutive games. In a conversation with Donatas Urbonas of (subscription required), Motiejunas discussed how that incident – which resulted in a voided deadline-day trade – changed the trajectory of his professional career.
  • Speaking of Lithuanian big men, Kings center Domantas Sabonis and Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas are both expected to suit up for Lithuania’s national team in their Olympic qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico this summer, according to head coach Kazys Maksvytis. Eurohoops has the story, via a report from Lithuanian outlet
  • With LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry combining for a single playoff win, this spring feels like a passing-of-the-torch moment for the NBA, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic.

Pacific Notes: O’Neale, Allen, Hyland, Leonard, Monk, Sabonis

Suns coach Frank Vogel switched up his rotation in the team’s 124-108 win over the Clippers on Wednesday, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic reports. Royce O’Neale was inserted into the lineup in place of Grayson Allen, while Thaddeus Young replaced Drew Eubanks as the backup center.

However, the Suns could go right back to Allen as the starter against Sacramento on Friday. “It’s just something we’ve been talking about,” Vogel said. “If we get into a playoff matchup where we have a bigger opponent, then we feel like (O’Neale’s) size in the starting lineup is something that would make sense. We didn’t want to go to that with Grayson coming off the bench for the first time having never done it. We used this one game to let Grayson just feel the rhythm of coming off the bench, if it’s needed in the playoffs.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Ivica Zubac and Norman Powell sat out the second game of a back-to-back on Wednesday. Bones Hyland carried the Clippers‘ offense in their absence, pumping in a career-high 37 points, Janis Carr of the Orange County Register notes. Leonard sat out his sixth consecutive game because of inflammation in his right knee. He might not return until the postseason but coach Tyronn Lue believes his superstar forward will be ready to go by that point.
  • Kings guard Malik Monk was the solid frontrunner for the Sixth Man of the Year award until he suffered a sprained MCL in his right knee late last month. Center Domantas Sabonis said Monk still deserves the honor. “Monk has to win it,” Sabonis told HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto. “If he doesn’t win it, it’s rigged. He definitely brings energy and light. If we’re down, he’s always up and in a good mood off the court, too, so that really helps during a long season with ups and downs.” Coach Mike Brown concurs. “It should not even be a debate on Sixth Man of the Year with Malik’s body of work and us fighting for a playoff spot,” Brown said. “He should be the hands-down winner.”
  • Monk will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Sacramento has Early Bird rights on Monk and can sign him up to $78MM over four years. “I’d love to play here again, for sure. I’ve been here for two years and made friends with everyone, including the training staff and front office,” Monk told Scotto. Sabonis said the organization can’t afford to lose him: “We’ve got to keep him. He’s a big piece for us moving forward.”
  • Sabonis saw his 61-game double-double streak end on Tuesday, Cliff Brunt of The Associated Press writes. He had eight points and 13 rebounds against Oklahoma City. It’s the seventh-longest streak in league history and the longest since the NBA and ABA merged prior to the 1976/77 season.

And-Ones: West, MVP Race, All-NBA, Comanche

NBA legend Jerry West is being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for a third time, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Previously enshrined as a player (1979) and as a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team (2010), the 85-year-old has now been elected as a Hall of Fame contributor.

The latest induction into the Hall of Fame recognizes West’s work as a team executive, including general manager stints with the Lakers and Grizzlies, as well as time spent as a consultant for the Warriors and Clippers. West won eight championships in those roles, per ESPN, and won Executive of the Year awards in 1995 and 2004.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

Pacific Notes: James, Beal, Vezenkov, Sabonis

The Lakers are listing LeBron James as doubtful for Tuesday’s road game against the Bucks because of soreness in his left ankle, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

James missed a game against Milwaukee on March 8 due to the same issue. The Lakers are currently ninth in the Western Conference as they head out on a six-game road swing. James played 38 minutes in the Lakers’ 150-145 win over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, supplying 26 points and 10 assists.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Bradley Beal has to play third wheel in the Suns’ star-studded lineup and coach Frank Vogel praises the star wing for filling a different role than he had as the Wizards’ top scorer. “Brad’s really sacrificing for the betterment of this team,” Vogel said, per Gerald Bourguet of Beal’s scoring average of 18.1 PPG is his lowest since the 2015/16 season.
  • The Kings’ Sasha Vezenkov was a European star but it wasn’t always smooth sailing when he played for Barcelona, he told Spanish outlet Mundo Deportivo (hat tip to Sportando. Still, he wouldn’t rule out playing there again. “I had difficult years at Barcelona,” he said. “I think they didn’t treat me well, but not the people who lead the organization, with Juan Carlos Navarro I have a very good relationship and I learned a lot from him. I have friends in the organization, I never say no, but it’s like my time there was difficult for the team and for me. I can’t predict the future, but I have friends I respect a lot.” Injuries have limited Vezenkov to 35 games so far in his first NBA season.
  • The Kings’ Domantas Sabonis had his 53rd consecutive double-double on Saturday with 21 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, tying Kevin Love’s record for the longest single-season streak since the ABA-NBA merger, Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee notes. Sabonis broke that record in style on Monday by posting a triple-double in a win over Philadelphia. “That’s the thing about it, is it’s extremely difficult,” coach Mike Brown said over the weekend. “It’s unheard of. And I’ve been around great players, Hall of Fame players, that didn’t have a chance to get this record that Domas is chasing. But he works so hard and he is the definition of consistency. I can see why others who aren’t around him don’t really feel like it’s a big deal because he makes it look easy. It’s like normal for him.”

Pacific Notes: Kawhi, Little, O’Neale, Warriors, Kings

The Clippers got a health scare on Tuesday, when Kawhi Leonard had to leave the team’s game against Minnesota in the first half due to back spasms, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. If Leonard has to miss any time, it would complicate L.A.’s push for one of the top playoff seeds in the West, writes Law Murray of The Athletic.

However, Leonard traveled with the Clippers to Chicago and is listed as questionable for Thursday’s game, tweets Youngmisuk, so it doesn’t appear the issue is significant.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • Suns forward Nassir Little, who has missed the past seven games due to left knee inflammation, was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice and is expected to be available for Thursday’s game in Boston, tweets Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Little is listed as probable for the showdown with the Celtics.
  • Suns forward Royce O’Neale said on Wednesday that it “means a lot” to hear team owner Mat Ishbia say that re-signing O’Neale will be a priority for the club this offseason, adding that it shows how much Ishbia “wants to win and keep the guys together” (Twitter video link via Rankin).
  • The Warriors‘ loss to Dallas on Wednesday makes it increasingly likely that Golden State will end up in the bottom half of the play-in bracket in the Western Conference, meaning they’d have to win two play-in games to even qualify for the playoffs, writes Anthony Slater of The Athletic. The 34-31 club is now 3.5 games back of the No. 8 Mavs, who would hold the tiebreaker edge on Golden State if they win one of the team’s two remaining meetings in early April. “Yeah, it feels daunting,” Brandin Podziemski said.“Just for the fact that you don’t want to be the 10th seed. The 11th seed is, I think, four or five games behind us. So for us to get that low I don’t think is going to happen. But you don’t want to be the 10th seed and have to play two road games before you get into an actual series.”
  • A pair of Kings players set franchise records in a blowout win over Milwaukee on Tuesday, as Domantas Sabonis registered his 47th consecutive double-double, while Malik Monk took the lead for most career assists by a Sacramento reserve, according to Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. Sabonis increased his double-double streak to 48 games on Wednesday in an impressive victory over the Lakers that moved the Kings up to sixth in the Western Conference standings.

Kings Waive Robin Lopez

The Kings have officially waived newly acquired center Robin Lopez, as expected, per an announcement from the team.

Sacramento acquired Lopez from Milwaukee in a salary dump deal on Thursday, with the Bucks sending enough cash to the Kings in the trade to make it worth their while. With JaVale McGee and Alex Len already on the roster as backups for starting center Domantas Sabonis, the Kings weren’t interested in hanging onto another veteran big man, preferring to open up that 15th roster spot.

Lopez appeared in 16 games for the Bucks this season, recording just 18 points, five rebounds, and four assists on 7-of-19 shooting in 65 total minutes of action.

Sacramento will eat Lopez’s minimum-salary ($2,019,706) cap hit and he’ll be free to sign with any team except for Milwaukee once he clears waivers.

Pacific Notes: Sabonis, Russell, Allen, Vanderbilt

The Kings appear to be heading in the right direction, winning their last three games. Domantas Sabonis admits the first half of Sacramento’s season was plagued with inconsistency but believes the club’s issues are correctable.

“It’s tough, because we know we are better. We’ve shown it,” he told Sam Amick of The Athletic. “We just sometimes go through these mental lapses in games, which are very, very controllable. We know that. There’s other games where we’ve controlled it and ended up winning the game.

“So we’ve just got to stay mentally strong. We need to win games to get the best seed as we can for the playoffs, but I feel like, as the year goes on, we’re learning more and more, you know? We’re seeing film, seeing what we do wrong. We’re realizing these things. And the good thing is that we still have another (38) games.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • D’Angelo Russell has been fined $15K for kicking the game ball into the spectator stands, the NBA announced (via Twitter). The Lakers guard booted the ball following the conclusion of their 145-144 victory over the Warriors on Saturday.
  • A report from Yahoo Sports last week indicated the Suns are no longer considering the possibility of trading Grayson Allen. The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson and Shams Charania note that there’s good reason to keep Allen. He’s enjoying a career year, shooting 49.8% from beyond the arc this season. He’s also leveled up his defense, rebounding and play-making, The Athletic duo adds. Allen’s night against Miami on Monday was cut short by an ankle injury, Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press tweets.
  • During the past six games, Lakers forward Jarred Vanderbilt is averaging 11.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 2.2 steals in 26.5 minutes per night. Coach Darvin Ham was evasive when asked if he’s considering putting Vanderbilt in the starting five but indicated that the finishing unit is even more important, Jovan Buha of The Athletic writes. “It’s not about always starting that way, but you know you’re going to get to it,” Ham said. “Every coach has a finishing six or seven, group of six or seven guys that he knows he can potentially finish with.”

Gilgeous-Alexander, Antetokounmpo Named Players Of Month

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo have been named the Western and Eastern Conference Players of the Month, respectively, for December, according to the NBA (Twitter link).

Gilgeous-Alexander led his team to a 10-3 record during the month while averaging 31.9 points, 6.6 assists and 3.1 steals per game. Antetokounmpo carried the Bucks to an 11-2 mark in December, posting averages of 32.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists per night.

Anthony Davis, Luka Doncic, Kevin Durant, Anthony Edwards, De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and Kawhi Leonard were the other nominees in the West.

Bam Adebayo, Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Joel Embiid, Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, Donovan Mitchell, Julius Randle, Coby White and Derrick White were the other nominees in the East.

Mike Brown Talks Kings, Fox, Sabonis, Monk, Murray

Second-year Kings head coach Mike Brown is aware that the club is heading into the 2023/24 season with serious expectations for the first time in a good long while. As the reigning Coach of the Year tells Mike Scotto of HoopsHype in an extensive new interview, his team is hoping to improve on last season’s 48-34 record. Sacramento did secure the West’s No. 3 seed, but was ousted in a seven-game, first-round playoff slugfest by the Warriors.

“We’re a good team,” Brown said. “We established that narrative with our play last year and our connectivity and work throughout the summer. Now, we’ve got to continue building on that. We’ve got to go from good to great. Our expectations aren’t just to make the playoffs again. We know that’s who we are. Our expectations are to go from good to great and be an NBA champion, just like every other team out there, that’s competing as hard as we feel like we’re going to compete this year.”

The whole conversation is well worth reading in full. Below are just a few key highlights.

On winning his second Coach of the Year award in 2023:

“The reality to me is I have a fantastic staff, and you appreciate their work. At the end of the day, I recognize greatness, and I truly mean that our players stepped up, and everybody in the organization did too. I’m not just talking about my coaching staff. I have at least four or five guys on my staff right now who are ready to be head coaches. I’ve been saying that. I’ve tried to tell people about Jordi Fernandez. Others on my staff are ready to be head coaches right now.”

“I recognize how blessed, fortunate, and lucky I am to have not just a great coaching staff but a great medical staff, and a great performance and conditioning staff. I love the guys in the front office, ticket sales, community relations, and (COO) Matina Kolokotronis. To see the vertical and horizontal levels of trust we have with all the levels in the organization, in my opinion, showed itself in the best possible way with me being named the unanimous Coach of the Year because I know I didn’t do it by myself.”

On the chemistry between All-Stars De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis:

“Those two guys have to continue taking leaps forward, but part of the reason why we brought so many guys back is because I firmly believe in order to have a winning culture at the highest level, you have to have a core of guys that you believe in and are able to play together year after year so that connectivity can grow to an insurmountable level. This is our first year of trying to bring our guys back to establish that core, so that means everybody we bring back has to elevate their game. Keegan Murray, Kevin Huerter and Harrison Barnes all have to elevate their game, especially knowing the way we like to play on both ends of the floor.”

On Malik Monk‘s shot at Sixth Man of the Year honors:

“He has a chance. Malik Monk is one of the most talented guys I’ve been around. He’s not 6-foot-7, but if he was, he’d be All-NBA. He’s that talented. It’s going to be up to him what he wants to be. I thought last year, coming in, his work ethic and his focus were pretty good. Just like how everyone else can help us improve internally to help us become a better team, Malik can, too. His talent level is there. Now, he’s got to be locked in 24/7, 365 days a year, when it comes to hoops. If he is, and he doesn’t take anything for granted, he’s in great shape and locked in by playing every possession, the sky’s the limit for him. He can shoot the three. He’s got a medium (mid-range) game. He’s one of the best I’ve seen in pick-and-rolls.”

On the growth of second-year forward Keegan Murray:

“If you think about it, last year, the way we played with our pace and our body and ball movement, he got a lot of his shots off the catch-and-shoot. Now, we expect Keegan to bring the ball up if he gets a rebound and initiate the offense, be a little selfish, and go get his shot, which you saw a couple of times throughout the preseason and when he played in Kings Summer League action in Sacramento. Not only that, but offensive rebounding. He’s worked hard on his body. Defensively, don’t get bullied… Be able to guard the ball in pick-and-roll situations. These are some areas, like going to get shots off the bounce that Keegan worked on that we’ve been fortunate to see throughout the offseason. Now, we expect him to do that come game time.”