Gregg Popovich

Southwest Notes: Rockets, Green, Pelicans-Lakers, Popovich

The Rockets’ 2023/24 season, their first under new head coach Ime Udoka, is now in the books. Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle breaks down how the team showed plenty of promise en route to a 41-41 finish, diminished slightly by the lack of a playoff or play-in berth. The Rockets finished as the No. 11 seed in the Western Conference.

“Happy wouldn’t be the word,” Udoka said. “We are disappointed we didn’t meet our goal. When you are a few games behind, you think of all the tough … games we’ve given away, we understand where we could have been. The goal always was to make the playoffs and the play-in and have that experience for our guys.”

Center Alperen Sengun and shooting guard Jalen Green, who both enjoyed breakout seasons this year, are both set to be extension-eligible when the new league year begins in July.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans head coach Willie Green‘s contract was reportedly extended last year, per Christian Clark of Sources inform Clark that New Orleans also extended the contracts of New Orleans executive executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin and general manager Trajan Langdon. Green, a former journeyman NBA guard as a player, is in his third season with New Orleans and boasts a 127-119 record with the club so far. He has led the Pelicans to three consecutive postseason appearances, though the team was eliminated in the play-in tournament a year ago.
  • The Pelicans struggled to do much of anything against the Lakers in a critical season finale matchup on Sunday, as Rod Walker of details. In falling 124-108 to Los Angeles, New Orleans fell into the play-in tournament with a 49-33 record — the Pels are the West’s No. 7 seed and have a rematch on tap with the eighth-seeded Lakers on Tuesday.
  • Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich suggested that he expects return to coach probable Rookie of the Year Victor Wembanyama for his second season, writes Tom Orbsorn of The San Antonio Express-News. The 75-year-old Popovich inked a five-year deal worth upwards of $80MM to stick with San Antonio last summer. “He made it very clear day one he cares about his guys as people first,” Wembanyama said. “He is there to poke on us sometimes or to correct us. But the way my teammates and I have responded to all the advice it’s just been great and the dynamic is very good.”

Spurs Notes: Wembanyama, Mamukelashvili, Branham, Graham

Victor Wembanyama‘s remarkable rookie season is officially over, tweets Andrew Lopez of ESPN. Wembanyama is listed as out for right ankle injury management on the Spurs‘ report for Sunday’s finale with Detroit.

After being the most anticipated draft pick in 20 years, the French big man made a powerful impact during his first NBA season, averaging 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and a league-leading 3.6 blocks in 71 games. Lopez notes that he’s the first rookie to reach those numbers since blocks became an official statistic 50 years ago.

Coach Gregg Popovich indicated before Friday’s game that Wembanyama could be held out on Sunday, according to Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News, and that was before he played 37 minutes in a win over Denver. The Spurs have been careful with their prized rookie recently, resting him on the second night of a back-to-back last week.

“I know this has been in the air,” Wembanyama told reporters Friday night. “I mean, I felt it’s been in the air for some weeks, but I’m always going to fight to play.”

There’s more from San Antonio:

  • Sandro Mamukelashvili is making a strong case for a new contract, McDonald notes in the same piece. The backup big man wasn’t used much early in the season, but he has taken advantage of opportunities presented by injuries and is averaging 10.4 points and 10.1 rebounds over the past seven games, including a season-high 21 points on Friday. Mamukelashvili signed a one-year, minimum-salary deal after becoming a free agent last summer and is eligible for restricted free agency this offseason. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but I love being here,” he said. “I love being around the guys, connecting with them, learning, growing. I’m looking forward to the future and if it’s here, I’ll be very happy.”
  • Malaki Branham missed Friday’s game with concussion symptoms and won’t play Sunday either, McDonald adds. The second-year guard was struck in the head during Wednesday’s game at Oklahoma City.
  • Teammates were thrilled for Devonte’ Graham after his game-winning shot in the final second to beat the Nuggets, McDonald writes in a separate story. It has been a difficult season for the 29-year-old guard, who only appeared in 12 games before the All-Star break, but Popovich has been impressed by how he has remained sharp and has served as a leader for his younger teammates. “He busted his ass all year long,” Popovich said. “He was always ready. I’m sure he didn’t like (not playing), but he was always there for his team.”

Southwest Notes: Green, Ivey, Wemby, Popovich, Pelicans

Early-morning workouts and late-night phone calls with assistant coach Royal Ivey have been a factor in Jalen Green breakout this season, according to the Rockets guard, but Ivey is happy to give all the credit to Green, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required).

“It’s all kudos to Jalen,” Ivey said. “I’m just empowering him and encouraging him. He’s doing the work. At the end of the day, that’s a credit to his resiliency, his determination. And not being in that situation before, facing adversity, sitting down at the end of games, not being in (the game) in defensive possessions, he took that personally. This is the result of that.”

Green’s play earlier in the season was up and down, but he has been one of the league’s top scorers in recent weeks, averaging 28.0 points and 3.9 assists on .479/.394/.798 shooting in his past 17 games. Ivey said the former No. 2 overall pick has had the ball in his hands more lately and has looked more comfortable reading defenses and being aggressive.

“I can say his decision-making is A-1, making the right reads,” Ivey said. “And the finishing, it’s been (about) concentration, not looking for fouls. He’s so athletic, if he gets to his launchpad, good things happen. He’s working with his finishing every day. He’s been more assertive to get to that rim. I just think it’s confidence. It goes back to his mindset. That’s everything.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Spurs star rookie Victor Wembanyama admitted he was a bit surprised to be hit with a $25K fine for throwing the game ball into the stands at the end of last Friday’s win over New York, calling it “funny,” according to Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “When I threw the ball, I thought, ‘Yeah, I remember players being fined for this,'” Wembanyama said. “But they always threw it in a bad way. I threw it to please somebody. It’s not like I was trying to hurt anybody.”
  • Warriors head coach Steve Kerr doesn’t expect long-tenured Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call it a career anytime soon, as Orsborn relays. “He was supposed to have retired five years ago, so why would we predict he is going to retire any time soon?” Kerr said when asked if he expects Popovich to fulfill the five-year contract he signed in 2023. “He is still going strong and still doing a great job and loving his work, so I can see it.”
  • Pelicans head coach Willie Green is still figuring out how to distribute minutes at center as the postseason nears, writes Christian Clark of The team has gone back and forth between Jonas Valanciunas and Larry Nance Jr. at the five for much of the season, depending on the matchup. However, Green has also experimented with other options, including using Zion Williamson in that role for the last five minutes of Monday’s game vs. Phoenix, Clark notes.
  • Green was critical of his defense after it allowed Devin Booker to score 52 points in New Orleans for a second time this season on Monday. “Quite frankly, we were soft guarding him,” the Pelicans‘ head coach said after the game, per William Guillory of The Athletic. “We just had a soft mentality.”

Southwest Notes: Williamson, Pelicans, Clarke, Popovich

The Pelicans got a tasty matchup against the depleted Pistons on Sunday and Zion Williamson took full advantage. Williamson made all but one of his 14 field-goal attempts while racking up 36 points.

“He had it going tonight in the first quarter,” Pelicans head coach Willie Green told Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “He kind of got it going midway through. We wanted to let him go a little bit. That’s all that was.”

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr., who has passed through numerous franchises, is impressed by what New Orleans has established. The Pelicans are currently fifth in the Western Conference standings. “This is how you build a winning franchise,” he told Clark. “Those franchises that go from low wins to 60 wins, that’s not sustainable. You build a successful franchise, a successful roster, a successful team by steadily growing. Steady improvement. Keeping the core together. And really, being willing and able to play alongside each other. That’s what Denver did. That’s what Milwaukee had done. Golden State. You build. You start slow, and you build.” Nance is in the first year of a two-year, $21.6MM contract.
  • Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke is listed as doubtful to play against Denver on Monday, but that’s significant, as Michael Wallace of tweets. Clarke has been rehabbing from a left Achilles tendon tear all season and this is the first time he’s been listed as something other than out this season. It means that Clarke is likely on track to return in the next game or two.
  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has urged his players to curtail their activity on social media, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express News writes. “I don’t follow them around day and all night, see how many minutes they’re spending on their phones,” he said. “But we’ve brought in people to talk to them about that so they understand there are ways they can spend their time a whole lot more efficiently and meaningfully. Hopefully, they are paying attention.”

Texas Notes: Spurs, Luka, VanVleet, Thompson

Mavericks All-Star guard Luka Doncic appears to be growing as a leader in Dallas, opines Eddie Sefko of After Dallas survived a poor shooting night from its best player to beat the Spurs 113-107 this past Tuesday, Doncic expressed his gratitude to his teammates.

“One of the biggest things after the game is he thanked his teammates in the locker room for picking him up,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “When a leader says that, those are big words. You come into the locker room and you don’t shoot the ball extremely well, but you rely on being the quarterback and other guys picked him up.”

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • Standout Spurs rookie center Victor Wembanyama is relishing his tenure under five-time title-winning head coach Gregg Popovich, writes Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “It’s pretty precious and one of the reasons that make this place the best place,” Wembanyama said.
  • Veteran Spurs point guard Devonte’ Graham has emerged as a locker room leader with the club this season, despite not seeing much time on the hardwood, Orsborn adds. “Obviously, we are not going to be playing much basketball in late April, but Devonte’ Graham on our team has held us together,” Popovich said. “He comes out every day whether at shootaround or practice or whatever we might be doing and is in the middle of everything, upbeat.” 
  • The league has rescinded a technical foul assessed to Rockets point guard Fred VanVleet during the team’s 127-117 victory over the Bulls on Thursday, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).
  • Rockets rookie forward Amen Thompson has been frequently tasked with covering opposing centers defensively, with starting Houston five Alperen Sengun now out for the season, writes Feigen in another piece. Head coach Ime Udoka has been able to mitigate the 6’7″ Thompson’s lack of a jumper by exploiting his athleticism in matchups against bigger, less mobile centers. “Him in the roll, him in the pocket with his passing ability is an asset to have,” Udoka said. “We’ve mentioned guys like Ben Simmons, guys like Giannis (Antetokounmpo) who have done similar things at times in their career. He can learn to implement those things.” Across his last five contests, Thompson has averaged 16.4 PPG on 64.2% shooting from the floor, along with 9.4 RPG, 3.0 APG, and 1.2 SPG. “You’ve seen him improve just with the playing time alone, let alone the role we’re asking him to do,” Udoka continued. “A guy that’s had the ball in his hands his whole career, you put him out there with Fred and Jalen (Green) in the starting lineup now, you kind of have to divide those opportunities, the ball-handling duties. He does impact it in other ways.”

Spurs Notes: Wembanyama, Popovich, Sochan, Austin

Although Victor Wembanyama is anxious for the Spurs to become a contending team, he knows that building a roster capable of vying for a title is a “tricky” task that requires patience, writes Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News (subscription required).

“I’m eager for us to win,” Wembanyama said. “But, at the same time, we have to be patient and trust the process. Of course, it’s our job to make it happen as soon as possible.”

As Orsborn details, Wembanyama also hinted that he might be involved in the Spurs’ roster-building process going forward.

“More and more, I’m part of the strategy for the future,” he said.“… I learned throughout the year more and more about how it actually works. It’s a big, big challenge for the front offices to not screw everything up and to build something for the future.”

Despite a strong rookie season for Wembanyama, the Spurs have a 14-53 record this season and project to be one of the three teams that will have the best odds for the No. 1 overall pick. San Antonio could also hold a second top-10 pick in this year’s draft, since the Raptors’ first-rounder will be sent to the Spurs if it falls outside the top six.

Here’s more on the Spurs:

  • Appearing on The Dan Patrick Show (YouTube link) on Friday, Bucks star Damian Lillard referred to Wembanyama as “special” and suggested it may just be a matter of time before he’s a prime contender for MVP awards. “I think how competitive he is is what surprised me the most,” Lillard said (hat tip to Cody Taylor of The Rookie Wire). “And that’s what makes me think that very soon I can see him being the best player in the league.”
  • Asked this week about whether he expects to complete his new five-year contract with the team – or perhaps even stick around beyond that – Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich wasn’t willing to speculate about his own future, according to Orsborn (subscription required). “I don’t think about where I’m going to be in four years,” Popovich said. “I think about what we have to do at practice tomorrow.”
  • Spurs forward Jeremy Sochan is on track to play for Poland’s national team in this summer’s Olympic qualifying tournament, according to a report from Eurohoops, which relays an announcement from the Polish Basketball Federation. Poland will have to beat out Angola, The Bahamas, Finland, Lebanon, and Spain to claim a spot in the Paris Olympics.
  • The Spurs hosted the Nuggets in Austin on Friday night and will play another game in the city (vs. the Nets) on Sunday. As Mike Monroe of The Athletic writes, in explaining the thinking behind the “I-35 Series,” Spurs CEO R.C. Buford likened the region to the Bay Area. “We have a market that isn’t in the top 10 in the country,” Buford said. “(But) when we connect our San Antonio and Austin markets we become one of the major players in the professional sports community. … Between Monterrey (Mexico), south Texas, central Texas and Austin, it’s the fastest-growing economic region in North America. So, we want to come meet our fans where they are. We’ve got great fans and have a community in Austin that’s been a part of our team and culture for years. It’s really just being the Bay Area — Oakland, San Jose, Santa Clara, San Francisco — that’s what this is. It’s 60 miles that separates us. How do we connect that?”

Hawks Notes: Murray, Young, Rebuild, Forrest, Milestone

Hawks guard Dejounte Murray, whose name has been mentioned prominently in trade circles, made an interesting comment during Monday’s TNT broadcast. In an interview with Dennis Scott relayed by Paul Garcia of ProjectSpurs (Twitter link), Murray indicated he wouldn’t mind playing for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich again.

“Pop is like a father to me, I would welcome that,” Murray said. “But right now, I’m a Hawk, I’m going to stay professional and play the right way.”

The Hawks gave up three first-rounders in a package to acquire Murray from San Antonio in the summer of 2022. However, the Spurs reportedly have some interest in reacquiring the standout guard.

We have more on the Hawks:

  • They are on a fast track toward major changes, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer opines. While a Trae Young trade probably won’t happen this season, it may come to a point where Young and the franchise decide it’s best if he goes elsewhere to pursue a title. In the meantime, the Hawks may sit Young later in the season if they keep losing in order to improve their lottery odds, O’Connor suggests.
  • In terms of Murray, O’Connor reports that the Hawks are asking for two first-round picks as part of the package but no one has met their demands. O’Connor adds that Murray would prefer to play for a contender, although the Spurs would seem to be the exception.
  • Fourth-year guard Trent Forrest has carved out a rotation spot, Lauren Williams of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets. He’s averaging 16 minutes per game this month. Forrest is on a two-way deal.
  • Young reached a milestone in the Hawks’ 10-point win over San Antonio on Monday. He passed 10,000 points for his career while scoring 36 against the Spurs. “It was not on my mind at all,” Young said, as relayed by The Associated Press’ Charles Odum. “I was just trying to go out there and win and put on a show.”

Spurs Notes: Wembanyama, Champagnie, Johnson, Popovich

Victor Wembanyama is expected to be a game-time decision this evening when the Spurs face Utah, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News tweets. The No. 1 overall pick will test out his ankle during a pregame workout. He suffered a mild right ankle sprain when he stepped on a ball boy’s foot during warmups prior to San Antonio’s game on Saturday.

We have more on the Spurs:

  • During that same game, Julian Champagnie started ahead of Keldon Johnson. When asked if he would remain in the lineup Tuesday, Champagnie responded to Orsborn, “I think so.” (Twitter link). It’s a good sign for Champagnie contractually, who is the first year of a four-year deal. He has a non-guaranteed salary for next season — according to Spotrac, San Antonio has until Aug. 1 to decide if he’ll get that guarantee.
  • The Spus enter Tuesday’s game with a four-game losing streak and a 4-24 record. However, coach Gregg Popovich has maintained an even keel and tried to keep his young team’s spirits up, according to Jeff McDonald of the Express-News. “He has been positive for the most part,” forward Doug McDermott said. “He is still going to coach us hard and point out the things that we need to correct, but overall he has remained positive throughout it all.”
  • Wembanyama’s rookie season hasn’t gone as smoothly as many people had expected, given the enormous amount of hype surrounding the big man. Some of the game’s biggest stars know what he’s going through. The Athletic’s David Aldridge spoke with Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis about the struggles they experienced during their rookie seasons.

Adam Silver Talks Expansion, Two-Day Draft, More

Appearing on SiriusXM NBA Radio on Tuesday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver confirmed that the league intends to seriously weigh the possibility of expansion once it completes its next media rights deal.

“Our current national deals with ABC, ESPN, and TNT go through the end of next season. And the reason we wanted to get those deals done, no secret, is we want to have a better understanding of what the economics would be going forward,” Silver explained (Twitter link via Keith Smith of Spotrac). “If you’re dividing up your national or international television money by 30 teams, that’s one check that you’re writing the teams. If it’s by – let’s say we expand by two teams – 32 teams, that’s a different one. And so you want to understand what the economics are you’d be delivering to new teams that came into the league.

“We’ll see what the timing is on those national television agreements. We don’t have to wait until the end of (next) season to get those done, but once we do, we’ll turn back to expansion.”

Silver has put off the topic of expansion for years in the hopes of finalizing a new Collective Bargaining Agreement – which got done earlier this year – and a new media rights deal. He also admitted that he feels more comfortable about the level of talent around the league now — and more confident that adding new teams to the mix wouldn’t dilute the level of competition.

“I think that had we expanded back a number of years ago, I think we may have seen more dilution,” Silver said. “I think now when you think of the global pool of players – as we move towards 30% of NBA players who were born outside the United States, including obviously some of our very best players in the league – I think that the timing will work out when we’re done with our media deals and we start looking to expand. I think we could potentially add two more teams to this league that could be very competitive.”

As for which cities might be the frontrunners to get expansion teams? Silver didn’t explicitly identify Las Vegas and Seattle as the favorites, but he did confirm they’ll be among the markets that receive serious consideration from the NBA.

“I made no secret out of it, Las Vegas is one of those markets we’re going to look to. I know that the fans in Seattle have wanted us to get back there forever,” Silver said. “No commitments to anyone, but we’ll certainly be looking at those two markets.”

Here’s more from Silver’s SiriusXM appearance:

  • After a report last month stated that the NBA is mulling turning its annual draft into a two-day event, Silver confirmed on Tuesday that the idea is under serious consideration, adding that the league just needs to work through the specifics with its broadcast partners and the players’ union (Twitter video link). “The talent goes so deep now and the interest is so great (that), to me, both rounds deserve prime time,” Silver said. “… To me it essentially seems like a no-brainer. … I’m hoping to get there, actually, for this season, for this June, and move the second round to its own night.”
  • Assuming the NBA does add a second night to the draft, Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press (Twitter link) believes the event would take place on a Wednesday and Thursday, rather than a Thursday and Friday.
  • Asked about the incident in which Gregg Popovich grabbed a microphone during a Spurs game to ask the home crowd to stop booing Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, Silver called it a “unique” situation that didn’t require any action or response from the league, per Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News (subscription required).
  • Silver doesn’t want to draw any conclusions about the league’s first in-season tournament until after this week’s final four in Las Vegas, but has been encouraged by what he’s seen so far from the event. “So far, so good,” he said (Twitter video link).

Southwest Notes: Valanciunas, Zion, Popovich, Grizzlies

In an interview with Mark Medina of Sportskeeda, Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas says he’s seen a change in Zion Williamson this season. Williamson’s NBA career so far has been marked by tantalizing talent and an inability to stay on the court. He played just 114 combined games in four years, including 29 last season.

Williamson has pledged to take better care of himself and condition his body to handle the rigors of an NBA season. Valanciunas is convinced that Williamson is fully committed to keeping that promise, and he’s been proving it to his teammates.

“He’s been great. He’s been available all of the time,” Valanciunas said. “He’s taking care of his body. He gives a [expletive]. That is a big thing. He’s been a pro this year. He’s growing. He’s getting more experience. Every time that he steps on the court, he does stuff. It’s not going to be overnight. You have to see it all to get the experience, and he does that. He’s willing to learn and willing to give everything. What else can you ask?”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Williamson is sitting out tonight’s contest in Utah as the Pelicans continue to avoid using him in back-to-backs, tweets Christian Clark of NOLA. Williamson logged 34 minutes Friday night as New Orleans defeated the Clippers in a tournament game.
  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t regret grabbing a microphone Wednesday and imploring fans to stop booing Kawhi Leonard, per Janie McCauley of The Associated Press. “It’s pretty easy to understand,” Popovich told reporters Friday. “I listened to it for a while and it just got louder and louder and uglier and uglier, and I felt sorry for him, and I was embarrassed for our city, for our organization.” The crowd’s defiance of Popovich’s request shows there are limits to his influence, contends Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News, who suggests the response stems from the Spurs’ poor record and Popovich’s outspoken political statements.
  • The Grizzlies believe their struggles go beyond Ja Morant‘s suspension and injuries to several key players, according to Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. After Friday’s loss at Phoenix, Derrick Rose called for the team to increase its focus on defense, while Desmond Bane sought a return to basketball fundamentals. “It’s just a commitment that we’re going to have to make 1 through 15,” Bane said. “Everybody on the floor has an obligation to get out and run, share the ball and whenever opportunities are there, be aggressive. If they’re not there, swing it to the open teammate. It’s a pretty simple game.”