Goga Bitadze

Franz Wagner To Return Sunday For Magic

After missing the past eight games — and most of a ninth — with a right ankle sprain, third-year forward Franz Wagner is returning to the Magic‘s starting lineup on Sunday vs. Miami, per Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel (Twitter link). The team confirmed the news (via Twitter).

In addition to having Wagner back, the Magic are also re-inserting Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter into the starting lineup, according to Beede. Both players started much of last season and to open 2023/24, but they’ve both missed 25-plus games due to injuries this season. That will move rookie guard Anthony Black and big man Goga Bitadze back to the bench — they’ve started most of the season to this point.

As Beede tweets, this is only the fourth time the opening-night starting lineup of Fultz, Jalen Suggs, Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Carter has started together in ’23/24.

Wagner, 22, was injured on January 3, just five minutes into a loss vs. Sacramento. Including that game, Orlando went just 3-6 without Wagner. After starting the season 16-7, the Magic have gone 6-13 since to currently hold a 22-20 record, good for the No. 8 seed in the East.

Prior to the injury, the 6’10” German was averaging career highs in multiple statistics this season, including points (21.3), rebounds (6.0) assists (4.0) and steals (1.2) per night through 33 games (34.2 MPG). Wagner is a former lottery pick (No. 8 overall in 2021) who will be eligible for a rookie scale extension in the offseason.

Wagner has been very durable to this point in his career, appearing in 79 games as a rookie and 80 last season. He had yet to miss a game in ’23/24 before sustaining the right ankle sprain.

Florida Notes: Butler, Highsmith, Carter, Fultz

The Heat have a new injury concern with Jimmy Butler, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Returning to the lineup after missing the previous four games with a left calf strain, Butler had to leave Saturday’s contest at Utah after hurting his right foot in a collision with Collin Sexton. According to Chiang, Butler walked slowly to Miami’s bench after the play and then headed to the locker room.

Head coach Eric Spoelstra wasn’t able to offer an update on Butler’s condition after the game, but X-rays taken on his foot were negative. Chiang states that the team will see how Butler is feeling over the next few days before deciding whether to perform an MRI.

Chiang notes that Butler has already missed eight games this season and may have to add to that total. With Tyler Herro sidelined for a long stretch due to a sprained ankle and Bam Adebayo dealing with nagging injuries, the team’s three best players have only been together for eight games.

There’s more on the two Florida teams:

  • Haywood Highsmith was helped to the locker room in the final seconds of Saturday’s game after he also collided with Sexton and was hit in the head and neck area, Chiang adds. Injuries have already caused Highsmith to miss 11 games. The Heat were using their 18th different starting lineup of the season Saturday, as ongoing injuries gave rare starts to Nikola Jovic and two-way player R.J. Hampton.
  • Goga Bitadze was back in the Magic‘s starting lineup on Friday, but he didn’t find out about the assignment until an hour before game time, per Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel. Wendell Carter Jr.‘s right knee flared up during warm-ups and he was ruled out because of tendinitis. “Honestly, even before the game I thought he was going to play,” Bitadze said. “We talked with him an hour before the game. I don’t want to say it was hard, but it was different. You’ve got to lock in differently when you start the games than when you come off the bench. I had to lock in and find a place [mentally] where I was ready to start. I think I did a good job and it was a great win.” Coach Jamahl Mosley said the medical staff will monitor Carter closely as he continues to work his way back after missing 20 games with an injured left hand.
  • Markelle Fultz is listed as questionable for the Magic‘s contest Sunday at Phoenix, meaning there’s a chance he could return after missing 23 games with tendinitis in his left knee, Beede adds.

And-Ones: Hall Of Fame, Carter, 2025 AmeriCup, McLemore

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame has officially revealed its list of eligible candidates for the Class of 2024, announcing in a press release that this year’s group of first-time nominees includes longtime NBA star Vince Carter, who made eight All-Star teams and appeared in 1,541 regular season games across 22 seasons in the league.

Former Pistons big man Bill Laimbeer, four-time WNBA champion Seimone Augustus, and longtime NCAA head coach Rick Barnes are among the other nominees who are eligible for the first time in 2024.

Finalists will be announced during the NBA’s All-Star weekend on Friday, February 16, while the Class of 2024 will be unveiled on Saturday, April 6 during the NCAA’s Final Four. The enshrinement ceremony for 2024’s Hall of Fame inductees will take place on Saturday, August 17.

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

  • The 2025 FIBA AmeriCup will be played in Managua, Nicaragua from August 23-31, 2025, FIBA announced today in a press release. The qualifiers for the event will take place across three windows in February 2024, November 2024, and February 2025. Brazil hosted the last AmeriCup in 2022, losing to Argentina in the final. The U.S. team – which featured former NBAers like Norris Cole, Gary Clark, Jodie Meeks, and Patrick McCaw – placed third in ’22.
  • In honor of the holidays, John Hollinger of The Athletic shares his “All-Stocking Stuffer Team,” which is made up of overlooked players who have emerged as unexpected contributors over the course of this season. Magic center Goga Bitadze, Kings guard Keon Ellis, Jazz forward Simone Fontecchio, and Nets center Day’Ron Sharpe are a few of the players singled out by Hollinger.
  • Veteran guard Ben McLemore, who signed with AEK Athens in August, has officially left the Greek team and is joining CB Breogan in Spain, writes Aris Barkas of Eurohoops. McLemore parted ways with AEK B.C. earlier in the month and was said to be in advanced talks with a Turkish club before lining up a deal with CB Breogan instead.

Southeast Notes: Carter, Fultz, Magic, Heat, Wizards

Magic center Wendell Carter Jr., who underwent surgery to address a broken bone in his left hand in early November, appears set to return to action on Wednesday, according to Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel, who notes that Carter doesn’t show up on the injury report for the team’s game vs. Miami.

Carter has started 139 of 146 games for the Magic since joining the team in 2021, including the first five contests of the 2023/24 season. However, the team has been thriving in recent weeks with center Goga Bitadze in the starting five, posting a 13-7 record since Carter last played, so it’s unclear if the former lottery pick will immediately reclaim his starting job.

The Magic will soon face a similar dilemma with Markelle Fultz, who started five games early in the season but hasn’t played since November 9 due to a knee issue. As Beede writes, Fultz is nearing a return too, though he has been ruled out for Wednesday’s game and head coach Jamahl Mosley said this week that he’ll “probably a little bit longer” than Carter.

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • The Magic‘s home arena has a new name, as Beede details in a separate Orlando Sentinel story. Known as the Amway Center for the past 13 years, the building will henceforth be known as the Kia Center. According to Beede, the Magic’s original deal with Amway Global in 2010 was worth $40MM over 10 years; this new agreement with Kia is likely more lucrative.
  • The Heat are getting Kyle Lowry back in their lineup on Wednesday after Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo returned on Monday, but the team isn’t quite fully healthy yet, writes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. Jimmy Butler (left calf strain) has been ruled out for the game in Orlando, as has Kevin Love (stomach illness).
  • Teo Armus of The Washington Post answers some frequently answered questions about the Wizardstentative plan to move from D.C. to Alexandria, Virgina, noting that an unfavorable lease at Capital One Arena is the primary impetus for the move. The proposed “entertainment district” in Alexandria would cost taxpayers an estimated $1.35 billion, with Monumental Sports contributing $819MM, Armus notes.

Central Notes: Karnisovas, Haliburton, Bitadze, Bickerstaff

Bulls executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas briefly addressed the media on Tuesday about his team’s slow start. Karnisovas expressed his disappointment and took his share of the blame for the team’s struggles, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago relays.

“We see what everyone is seeing and are just as frustrated,” he said. “We’re disappointed, but I’m not running from it. It’s my responsibility.”

A report from Johnson earlier in the week indicated that Karnisovas and coach Billy Donovan are in no imminent danger of losing their jobs.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Losing to Portland at home on Monday was more damaging than a typical defeat, in Tyrese Haliburton‘s view. It’s the type of matchup the Pacers can’t afford to lose in their quest for a postseason berth. “This is a bad loss,” Haliburton told Dustin Dopirak of the Indianapolis Star. “This is a really bad loss for us as a group. …  We’re just not playing well right now, being honest with you. These are habits of losing basketball to not alternate and to not win games that you’re supposed to.”
  • In a post for subscribers, Fieldhouse Files’ Scott Agness talks to former Pacers center Goga Bitadze about his time in Indiana. “It was rough,” Bitadze said. “Good. Ups and down. Mixed emotions overall.” Bitadze, a 2019 first-round pick who struggled to find a role with the Pacers, has started 12 of 15 games with Orlando this season, filling in for injured Wendell Carter Jr.
  • There’s intense pressure on Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff to win big this season, according to Jason Lloyd of The Athletic. The organization believes it has to show that it made the right move by acquiring Donovan Mitchell in the blockbuster with Utah prior to last season. A strong year would also help secure Mitchell’s future with the franchise. Mitchell has an opt-out for the 2025/26 season and could always request a trade prior to that if things go sour.

Magic Exercise Option On Bitadze, Decline Two Others

The Magic have exercised their team option on reserve center Goga Bitadze for the 2023/24 season, while turning down their options on veteran point guard Michael Carter-Williams and combo forward Admiral Schofield, the club has announced in a press release (Twitter link).

Bitadze’s team option is worth $2,066,585. Carter-Williams would have earned $3.1MM next year, while Schofield’s option was worth $2MM.

Bitadze, still just 23, joined the Magic midway through 2022/23 after spending his prior three-and-a-half NBA seasons with the Pacers. He carved out a role as a valuable bench option for a super-sized young Orlando club after being waived by Indiana.

Across his 17 healthy contests for Orlando, the 6’11” big man averaged 5.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.2 APG and 0.9 BPG in just 15.0 MPG.

Though Orlando finished outside of the postseason picture with a 34-48 record last year, the rebuilding team is loaded with intriguing lottery talent among its starters, including the two picks the Magic added in last week’s draft, former Arkansas guard Anthony Black and ex-Michigan swingman Jett Howard. Bitadze makes sense for the timeline of the team as a young, cost-efficient option off the bench with plenty of upside left.

Carter-Williams, the 2013/14 Rookie of the Year, returned to the Magic in February after the club waived him during the 2021/22 season, as he was recovering from a left ankle surgery. He appeared in just four games during this most recent stint with Orlando, averaging 4.3 PPG, 1.8 APG and 1.3 RPG in 11 MPG. It remains to be seen if the well-traveled 31-year-old will get another league opportunity.

The 6’5″ Schofield has spent two of his three NBA seasons thus far with the Magic. In 37 games last year, he averaged 4.2 PPG on .451/.324/.913 shooting splits.

Southeast Notes: Winger, Hornets, Hawks’ Coaches, Bitadze

New Wizards president Michael Winger loves the idea of building a foundation and he’s eager to use the lessons he learned during his time with the Cavaliers, Thunder and Clippers, writes Ben Golliver of The Washington Post. Winger is taking on one of the NBA’s biggest challenges in the Wizards, who haven’t posted a 50-win season in 44 years. He’s inheriting a team that’s desperately in need of a makeover after missing the play-in tournament, but he welcomes that opportunity.

“I wouldn’t want a ready-made organization,” he said. “That’s not very exciting. It’s going to be a matter of establishing a culture and creating an identity that we can latch onto and carry into the next half-decade. Sometimes, change for the sake of change accelerates progress.”

Winger had been with Los Angeles since 2017 and he helped team president Lawrence Frank oversee the transition from the Chris PaulBlake Griffin era to the new-look Clippers built around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Winger comes highly recommended as he looks to perform a similar roster remake in Washington.

“One thing that separates Michael from others is his ability to be a couple steps ahead,” Frank said. “It’s one thing to know what you’re trying to get accomplished. But Michael can show you how the pieces on the board need to move to get it done, and how one move can set up the next. That’s invaluable.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak has a talent for finding useful players late in the draft, and he’ll have an opportunity again this year as Charlotte holds five selections, per Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer. They Hornets landed the second slot in the lottery, and they control picks No. 27, 34, 39 and 41 as well. Charlotte has been holding workouts with a lot of players projected to go in that range, including Saturday’s session with Serbian forward Nikola Djurisic. “So at the combine, I hit some shots. I was hitting shots — five in a row, six in a row, which I think the scouts from the clubs can see me shoot, differently from in the game or practice,” Djurisic said. They could see me shoot. But I’m not worried about the 3-point shot because it will come with hard work. But they could see I’m athletic.” 
  • Bryan Bailey, Antonio Lang, Mike Brey and Sanjay Lumpkin will be announced as members of Quin Snyder‘s coaching staff with the Hawks, tweets Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. Jeff Watkinson and Steven Klei will be retained from the current staff, sources tell Carchia.
  • The Magic have a team option on Goga Bitadze for the 2023/24 season, and Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel suggests that the aggressive rebounding he displayed during his brief time in Orlando will make them consider picking it up. Bitadze averaged 5.8 points and 5.2 rebounds after signing with the Magic in February, and he was the team’s primary backup center by the end of the season.

Eastern Notes: Lowry, Martin, Robinson, Ivey, Bitadze

Kyle Lowry‘s teammates are thrilled to have him back with the Heat, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. The veteran point guard has been sidelined for the past 15 games due to left knee soreness, but he was upgraded to questionable for Saturday’s contest in Orlando and is expected to play tonight, Chiang adds.

That’s my brother. I’m glad to have him back,” Heat star Jimmy Butler said of of Lowry. “He’s going to change the game in so many ways for this team. He’s going to help us get in a groove, he’s going to help us win some games down the stretch moving into the most important part of the season.”

As forward Caleb Martin notes, the Heat haven’t had their whole roster healthy for the grand majority of the season, so he’s looking forward to seeing what they can do.

I just want to have everybody healthy and available, and figure out where we’re going, who is going to be doing what and what roles,” Martin said when asked about Lowry’s return. “The more time we spend together as a whole, it’s going to be better for everybody. I just love when everybody is available to play and I love when everybody is healthy.”

Unfortunately, Martin was later ruled out for Saturday’s matchup due to knee soreness, according to Chiang. He hadn’t missed a game since January 14.

Here’s more from the East:

  • Heat swingman Duncan Robinson has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and will be out for Saturday’s matchup with Orlando, Chiang relays in the same story. He didn’t play in Friday’s victory over Cleveland due to an illness, which was presumably later discovered to be COVID-19.
  • Pistons guard Jaden Ivey has also entered the health and safety protocols, per Alberto De Roa of HoopsHype. He will at minimum be sidelined for Saturday’s game against Indiana. Last year’s No. 5 overall pick is averaging 15.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 4.9 APG on .415/.331/.732 shooting through 62 games (30.2 MPG) as a rookie for Detroit.
  • Goga Bitadze signed with the Magic as a free agent last month after he was released by Indiana. The fourth-year center has played limited minutes with his new club, but he’s taking advantage of his opportunities on the offensive glass, according to Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel (subscriber link). “They make it easy for me to adjust,” Bitadze said. “Whatever coach (Jamahl Mosley) wants me to do, I’m going to go out there and do it.” The fourth-year center is averaging 5.6 PPG and 4.6 RPG (2.0 ORB) in 12.2 MPG through five games with the Magic.

Magic Sign Former Pacer Goga Bitadze

7:41pm: Bitadze received a two-year deal with a team option for next season, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype tweets.

6:26pm: The Magic have signed former Pacers center Goga Bitadze, according to a team press release.

Bitadze was waived when Indiana needed to create roster space in the four-team blockbuster trade that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix. The Pacers acquired Jordan NworaGeorge HillSerge Ibaka in the deal, though Ibaka was later waived.

Bitadze played in 21 games this season with Indiana, averaging 3.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 9.6 minutes. He was in the final season of his rookie scale contract when Indiana let him go.

The 18th overall pick of the 2019 draft, Bitadze has played in 170 career games (21 starts), averaging 4.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in 11.5 minutes.

Orlando had some open roster spots after waiving Terrence Ross and recently acquired Patrick Beverley. The Magic also traded a big man, Mohamed Bamba, to the Lakers, so that may open up some playing time for Bitadze.

Kevin Durant Trade Officially Completed As Four-Team Deal

Kevin Durant has officially been traded from Brooklyn to Phoenix, according to press releases from the Suns and Nets.

The blockbuster trade has been combined with the three-team trade agreement involving the Bucks, Nets, and Pacers that sends Jae Crowder to Milwaukee, turning the two deals into a single four-team transaction.

It breaks down as follows:

  • Suns acquire Durant and T.J. Warren.
  • Nets acquire Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, the Suns’ 2023 first-round pick (unprotected), the Suns’ 2025 first-round pick (unprotected), the Suns’ 2027 first-round pick (unprotected), the Suns’ 2029 first-round pick (unprotected), the right to swap first-round picks with the Suns in 2028, the Bucks’ 2028 second-round pick, the Bucks’ 2029 second-round pick, and the draft rights to Juan Pablo Vaulet (from Pacers).
  • Bucks acquire Crowder.
  • Pacers acquire Jordan Nwora, George Hill, Serge Ibaka, either the Bucks’ 2023 second-round pick or the least favorable of the Cavaliers’ and Warriors’ 2023 second-round picks (whichever is most favorable), the Bucks’ 2024 second-round pick, their own 2025 second-round pick (from Bucks; it was traded away in a prior deal), and cash (from Nets).

“Today is a transformative day for this organization,” new Suns owner Mat Ishbia said in a statement. “We are thrilled to welcome Kevin and T.J. to the Valley as we build a championship culture both on and off the court.

“Not only is Kevin one of the greatest and most accomplished players in the history of the sport, but his character also embodies the world class commitment to excellence we are instilling across every facet of this organization. T.J. is a natural leader whose work ethic and commitment to getting better every day make him an important addition to the team as he returns to the Valley. Phoenix will be one of the best organizations in all of sports and we are so excited to start our journey with this incredibly dynamic team.”

Nets general manager Sean Marks offered a statement of his own in Brooklyn’s press release:

“After thorough evaluation of the best path forward, we believe making this trade now positions the franchise for long-term success. Mikal and Cam are elite, ascending, versatile wings, plus the draft capital provides us additional avenues to continue to acquire talent. We remain steadfast in our commitment to building the team Brooklyn deserves. We are excited to welcome Mikal, Cam and their families to Brooklyn and thank Kevin for the moments and memories he delivered our fanbase.”

As expected, the Pacers waived Goga Bitadze and Terry Taylor to accommodate their new additions. The team also waived veteran forward James Johnson, per a press release. All three players will become unrestricted free agents if they clear waivers this weekend. Indiana will also cut Ibaka, as we previously relayed.

Because they no longer have to take on Crowder’s salary, the Nets will create a trade exception worth $18MM+ for Durant instead of $8MM, notes Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype (Twitter link).

For more details on the trade, be sure to read our previous stories breaking down the Durant and Crowder trades.