Isaiah Jackson

Central Notes: Pistons, Lillard, Portis, Pacers, Carter

No matter what happens in today’s game vs. San Antonio, the Pistons will finish with the worst record in franchise history in a season that featured a record-breaking 28-game losing streak.

James L. Edwards III of The Athletic takes a look at Detroit’s disastrous 2023/24 campaign, writing that there is plenty of blame to go around. Changes could be on the horizon, however.

League sources tell Edwards that owner Tom Gores is considering hiring a president of basketball operations who would potentially become general manager Troy Weaver‘s new boss.

While Edwards suggests that Weaver and head coach Monty Williams seem likely to return in ’24/25, the situation appears to be “fluid,” since a new top decision-maker might want to overhaul the staff.

Here are a few more notes from the Central Division:

  • Bucks guard Damian Lillard, who was sidelined for Friday’s loss to Oklahoma City, is probable for Sunday’s regular season finale in Orlando, tweets Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. As Chiang notes, the Heat need Milwaukee to beat the Magic to have a chance of moving out of the play-in tournament. If the Bucks win, Milwaukee would secure the East’s No. 2 seed.
  • Bucks forward/center Bobby Portis believes he should be the frontrunner for the Sixth Man of the Year award and his teammates agree with that assessment, according to Eric Nehm of The Athletic. “We’ve played together four years now,” two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “I think every single year he’s been the Sixth Man of the Year, hands down.” The award typically favors high-usage guards, not big men whose offensive roles are limited by the team’s roster construction, Nehm observes, but Portis has put together a strong season, averaging 13.7 PPG and 7.4 RPG on .506/.401/.787 shooting while appearing in every game (24.4 MPG).
  • Pacers forward Obi Toppin sustained a left ankle sprain in Friday’s close loss to Cleveland, as Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files relays (via Twitter). Toppin is questionable for today’s game vs. Atlanta, as are reserve big men Isaiah Jackson (left hamstring strain) and Jalen Smith (left ankle sprain), per the league’s latest injury report. If the Pacers beat the Hawks and the Bucks defeat the Magic, Indiana would move up to the No. 5 seed in the East.
    [Update: Head coach Rick Carlisle says all three players will be active today, tweets Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star].
  • While Jevon Carter‘s first NBA season in his hometown hasn’t gone the way he envisioned when he signed with the Bulls in free agency, he has been a positive voice in the locker room and has stayed professional even when he hasn’t been part of the rotation, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “I’ve been here before,” Carter said. “This is my sixth year in the league. Every year, I’ve had to prove myself. But I never lose that confidence. I work too hard.”

Central Notes: Metu, Boeheim, Giannis, Jackson, White

Chimezie Metu, who was signed by the Pistons to a 10-day contract on Wednesday, appeared in their game against Indiana. Two-way guard Buddy Boeheim also made his season debut, becoming the 30th player the Pistons have used this season.

That ties the 2020/21 Rockets for the most players used in one season in league history, Mike Curtis of The Detroit News notes. “It’s definitely different,” Pistons guard Cade Cunningham said. “I just see it as an opportunity to grow as a player, as a leader, as a guard. Making sure we’re organized is a guard’s job, so I find it as an opportunity to get better. When we have all these new guys come in, I try to catch them up to speed to make it easier on them on the court.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo missed Wednesday’s showdown with Boston due to hamstring tightness. Coach Doc Rivers said it wasn’t a tough decision, Eric Nehm of The Athletic tweets. “He’s feeling good, not great,” Rivers said. “Those things are something you don’t take a chance on, especially now, so it wasn’t very hard.”
  • Pacers forward Isaiah Jackson played 28 minutes at Detroit on Wednesday in his home state, one of his longest stints this season. Jackson was grateful to coach Rick Carlisle for giving him the opportunity for extended playing time with friends and family in the stands, according to Dustin Dopirak of the Indianapolis Star. “It means everything,” Jackson said. “I talked to him after the game. It’s something I feel like a lot of coaches don’t really do. I think it just shows the care that Rick has for us, everybody in general not just tonight. It means a lot to me and it means a lot to my family, too.”
  • Bulls guard Coby White practiced on Wednesday and is expected to play on Thursday against Houston. White said there was a silver lining to his absence, which was due to a hip strain. “It was good for me,” he told K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “Obviously, I don’t want to miss games. But since it did happen and I was hurt, I wanted to take advantage of this time I had off and recover mentally, physically, emotionally spiritually. To me, I just tried to turn it into a positive.”

Central Notes: Jerome, Pistons, J. Smith, Connaughton, Bulls

Frustrated by his slow recovery from a severe right ankle sprain, Cavaliers guard Ty Jerome has adjusted his treatment plan in the hopes of accelerating his return to the court, reports Chris Fedor of (subscriber link).

As Fedor details, Jerome recently had the ankle immobilized within a cast, which he’ll wear for about a week. The hope is that he’ll be able to resume individual workouts after having the cast removed.

“He is recovering,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said on Tuesday. “They’re doing different steps with him and trying some new things, different things in order to help him. He’s doing another treatment now and I’ll let the medical staff talk about timeline when they put all that together. He’s trying something different than just the normal rehab.”

Jerome has long been a favorite of Cavaliers president of basketball operations Koby Altman, according to Fedor. When he signed a two-year deal with the team this past summer, the plan was for him to be mentored by veteran point guard Ricky Rubio.

Instead, due to Rubio’s absence, Jerome was thrust into the backup point guard role to open the season, then suffered the ankle injury in just his second game as a Cavalier. While it hasn’t been an ideal start to his time in Cleveland, Jerome is trying to look at the bright side, telling Fedor, “Guess it’s better to be injured early rather than late.”

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Following a team-record 15th consecutive loss on Wednesday, Pistons head coach Monty Williams suggested that “this group struggles with adversity,” which is one reason why the slump has only gotten worse, per Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press. James L. Edwards III of The Athletic expects lineup changes to be around the corner, with Bojan Bogdanovic likely to start when he makes his season debut — that could happen as soon as this Thursday or Saturday, says Edwards.
  • Pacers center Jalen Smith‘s leg injury isn’t as serious as the team initially feared, but he has been diagnosed with a left knee bone bruise and a left heel contusion and will miss at least the next two games, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. Isaiah Jackson is the leading candidate to take Smith’s spot in the rotation, while two-way player Oscar Tshiebwe is being called up from the G League to provide depth, Dopirak adds.
  • In an in-depth story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jim Owczarski takes a look at the journey Pat Connaughton has taken to secure his place in the NBA as a reliable role player for the Bucks, as well as the work he has done in Milwaukee off the court.
  • While it’s one thing to be beaten by more talented teams, the slumping Bulls have also had more “low-effort moments” during their recent losing streak, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

Pacers Exercise 2024/25 Options On Mathurin, Jackson

The Pacers have guaranteed a pair of salaries for the 2024/25 season, announcing today in a press release that they’ve picked up their rookie scale team options on wing Bennedict Mathurin and big man Isaiah Jackson.

The sixth overall pick in the 2022 draft, Mathurin made the All-Rookie first team this past spring after averaging 16.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 28.5 minutes per contest. The 21-year-old appears poised to become a full-time starter this fall after coming off the bench in 61 of his 78 games last season.

Mathurin’s $6.92MM salary for the coming season had already been guaranteed. As a result of the option pick-up, his $7.25MM cap hit for the ’24/25 season is locked in as well. Indiana will have decide a year from now whether to exercise his $9.19MM option for 2025/26.

As for Jackson, the 22nd overall pick from the 2021 draft has appeared in 99 games in his two seasons as a Pacer, averaging 7.6 PPG and 4.4 RPG in 16.0 MPG. He’s in the mix for backup center minutes behind Myles Turner this season, but will face competition from Daniel Theis and Jalen Smith.

Now that is has been exercised, Jackson’s 2024/25 team option will pay him a guaranteed salary of approximately $4.44MM. He’ll become eligible for a rookie scale extension next July as he enters the final year of his rookie deal.

We’re tracking all of year’s rookie scale team option decisions right here.

Central Notes: Pistons, Giannis, Hield, Theis, Jackson, Smith

Another Central Division team could be making a deal soon. While the Pistons can’t upstage Milwaukee’s acquisition of Damian Lillard, they have been active in trade talks over the last few weeks, James Edwards III of The Athletic reports.

Edwards speculates that James Wiseman, Marvin Bagley, Killian Hayes, Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks are the candidates to be dealt, which could clear a logjam at some positions and open up more playing time for the Pistons’ rookies. In Hayes’ case, the 2020 lottery pick doesn’t appear to be in the team’s plans after acquiring Monte Morris and drafting Marcus Sasser.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Speaking of Lillard, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst says that despite the acquisition of the longtime All-Star guard, there’s no guarantee that Giannis Antetokounmpo will commit to the Bucks long-term (video link). Antetokounmpo has yet to sign an extension this offseason and has financial incentive to wait but he may want out if Milwaukee doesn’t win another championship this season. “Maybe they’re 10 percent better in terms of this title chase, maybe five percent. The real question is, ‘What does it mean for Giannis?,'” Windhorst said. “Giannis made it clear he was not going to sign an extension with this team. He wanted to see them go all-in. They have gone all-in. But if he still doesn’t sign an extension, they’re still on the one-year window.”
  • Even though general manager Chad Buchanan has downplayed reports that the Pacers are looking to trade Buddy Hield, giving second-year guard Bennedict Mathurin a starting job ahead of Hield could cause chemistry issues, Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star opines. Hield is in the final year of his contract and extension talks have stalled, Buchanan admitted this week, though they could be rekindled.
  • The Pacers have multiple options at center behind Myles Turner. Buchanan indicated that Daniel Theis, Isaiah Jackson and Jalen Smith will battle in training camp for the backup role, according to Dustin Dopirak of the Indianapolis Star. Buchanan added he won’t look to trade any of those players until there’s more clarity regarding the rotation.

Pacers Notes: Hield, Mathurin, Backup Center, Nembhard, McConnell

The Pacers are in a difficult position trying to make a Buddy Hield trade so close to the start of the season, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. No progress has been reported since news broke last Wednesday that the team was working with Hield’s representatives to find a deal after the sides were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension.

Dopirak believes Indiana is justified in asking a high price for Hield, who is one of the league’s top three-point shooters. However, teams are reluctant to shake up their rosters this far into the offseason, especially for a player who has an expiring contract.

It’s also not clear what the Pacers will be seeking in return for Hield. Dopirak notes that the team saw a need after last season to upgrade at power forward and find defensive-minded wings, but that has already been addressed during the offseason. He states that they’ll need three-point shooting help if they part with Hield and may be looking for a younger, less expensive player who can do what he does.

There’s more on the Pacers, all courtesy of Dopirak:

  • Bennedict Mathurin has a chance to win a starting job, but only if he can improve his defense. Dopirak observes that the first-team All-Rookie selection struggled with that part of the game, particularly when he got an opportunity to start late in the season. The Pacers are hoping to see progress from Mathurin in camp and will need him to take on a larger role if Hield gets traded.
  • Daniel Theis‘ impressive showing in the World Cup gives him a strong case to be the primary backup center heading into camp. Dopirak notes that he’ll be competing for minutes with Isaiah Jackson and Jalen Smith, who are both younger and more athletic than the 31-year-old Theis. He adds that Jackson is the team’s best lob finisher and second-best shot blocker behind Myles Turner, while Smith was Indiana’s leader last season in rebounds per 48 minutes.
  • The Pacers’ improved roster could lead to several other changes, Dopirak adds. If Mathurin and free agent addition Bruce Brown are both starters, Andrew Nembhard could move from shooting guard to backup point guard, which is his more natural position. That could lead to a reduction in playing time for T.J. McConnell, who posted the best scoring average of his career last season.

Central Notes: Smith, Jackson, Bucks, Pistons, Bulls

Young Pacers big men Jalen Smith and Isaiah Jackson are not playing the roles they initially expected to this season, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. Smith entered the season as the starting power forward but has since been moved to center as the Pacers deploy smaller lineups.

Both Smith and Jackson had seen a minutes uptick when starter Myles Turner missed a few games recently with back spasms, but now must compete for primary backup honors behind him.

“I brought them together and I said, ‘You guys both need to be ready,'” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “‘Myles is back. He’s starting. My decision on who is going to back him up is going to be a split-second decision based on what I’m seeing and feeling in the game. I’d like to be able to tell you guys which guy for sure is going to be in there first. But I don’t know that.'”

Dopirak notes that Carlisle has alternated between both players as his Turner’s primary backup in the four games the club has played since Turner rejoined the Pacers. Smith has served as the lead reserve in three of those four occasions. Per Dopriak, both players bring different skill sets to the table — Smith is the better shooter and rebounder, while Jackson is speedier and a better player around the rim.

“These are decisions that are not easy decisions,” Carlisle noted. “I think the way the game is now, it’s so dynamic and it can change on a split-second’s notice. You can go into a game and say that one guy for sure is going to play and have some events happen that trigger someone else going into the game.”

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • As the February 9 trade deadline approaches, the Bucks could go in a variety of different directions, Eric Nehm of The Athletic writes in a deadline primer for the team.
  • In the middle of a rebuilding 2022/23 season, Mike Curtis of The Detroit News (subscription required) supplies his grades for a 12-36 Pistons roster. Jalen Duren (A), Isaiah Stewart (A), Bojan Bogdanovic (A-minus), and Alec Burks (A-minus) lead the way, with general manager Troy Weaver also earning an A grade.
  • As they return home from a Thursday game in Paris against the Pistons, the Bulls are hoping to maintain the momentum that has them on a 10-6 stretch, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “We have to show how much we want it,” All-Star Chicago forward DeMar DeRozan said of his team’s ethos. “Every single game from here on out is basically like a do-or-die. And not to look at it like it’s pressure or a bad thing. It’s an exciting thing.”

Central Notes: Mitchell, Bayno, Jackson, Antetokounmpo

Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell hopes he’ll get a warm reception when he returns to play in Utah on Tuesday for the first time since the Jazz traded him, he told Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“I don’t know what the response will be. I hope it’s cheers,” the Cavs star said. “We did a lot of great things there. Obviously, we didn’t accomplish our end goal. But I had a lot of positives despite not winning a championship. That’s not easy. Only one team does it. We had five cracks at it, and we missed.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Pistons assistant coach Bill Bayno is back on the bench and traveling again after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer, James Edwards III of The Athletic writes. “Thank God I got this while I was with an NBA team,” he said. “When you have good employer health insurance, it makes a huge difference.” The cancer was discovered during a screening while the Pistons were participating in the Summer League.
  • Pacers big man Isaiah Jackson, who had fallen out of the rotation, had an eventful and busy week, as Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files notes. He was sent to Fort Wayne in the G League and played back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday. He then played 15 minutes, contributing 12 points and two blocks, in Indiana’s game against Portland on Friday. “A little tired, but I feel like that’s all mental for me right now,” he said on Sunday. “I just want to see how hard I can push myself. … I was like I might as well just to keep that momentum up. I feel good for the most part.”
  • The Bucks have hit a rough patch but Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t panicking, as he told Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Even though we’ve lost a few games, we’re still second or third in the East,” he said. “There’s no reason to panic but there’s a reason for us to be urgent, have urgency in the way we practice and the way we play the game. But we have a chance, so as long as we get better every single day, we have a chance to be great when it matters the most.” Milwaukee has dropped six of its last nine games.

Central Notes: Williams, Donovan, Jackson, Grant, Pistons

Bulls forward Patrick Williams, the fourth overall pick of the 2020 draft, might not be progressing at the rate that many had hoped, but he is still improving, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. The 21-year-old scored a season-high 22 points on just eight shot attempts in Wednesday’s victory over Brooklyn. He also contributed seven rebounds, two assists and two steals.

I’m just maturing in this league,” Williams said. “That [wrist] surgery last year cost me, what? Sixty-some [65] games? But where it cost me was the experience, playing. So I’m trying to learn on the fly and get better. And to be honest with you, I’m enjoying this maturation process. Maybe not everyone else is enjoying how quickly it’s happening, but my mindset has changed a lot lately and I feel like so has the mindset of my teammates.”

Williams, who is eligible for a rookie scale extension in the offseason, is averaging 9.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 0.9 BPG on .462/.411/.929 shooting through 38 games (28.7 MPG).

Here’s more from the Central:

  • There has been some talk of Zach LaVine being frustrated about not getting his number called in clutch situations at the end of games, even though he publicly said he was fine with DeMar DeRozan getting most of those looks. Bulls head coach Billy Donovan pushed back on the notion that LaVine isn’t involved in his late-game plays, according to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago (Twitter link).
  • Pacers big man Isaiah Jackson has been out of the rotation lately, so he’s temporarily heading to the G League to get more playing time with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, head coach Rick Carlisle told reporters, including Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star (Twitter link). The Pacers tweaked their starting lineup to go small, starting three guards and Aaron Nesmith at power forward, which moved Jalen Smith to backup center and cut into Jackson’s minutes. Jackson, who turns 21 next week, was the 22nd pick of the 2021 draft.
  • Forward Jerami Grant was traded to Portland in the offseason, but he appreciated his time with the Pistons, writes Mike Curtis of The Detroit News (subscriber link). “I think it was a very important step in my career,” Grant said. “For me, just going (to Detroit) and being able to kind of spread my wings and show people what I can do. Not just on the defensive end, but also on the offensive end. I think it opened a lot of people’s eyes going there. I’m grateful for Detroit and (general manager) Troy (Weaver).”

Pacers Exercise 2023/24 Options On Four Players

The Pacers have picked up their team options for the 2023/24 season on four players, tweets Keith Smith of Spotrac. Those four options are as follows:

Haliburton, Nesmith, Duarte, and Jackson were all already under contract for 2022/23. As a result of today’s moves, all four players now have guaranteed salaries for the ’23/24 season too. Haliburton and Nesmith will be eligible for rookies scale extensions during the 2023 offeason, while Duarte and Jackson have fourth-year options for ’24/25.

[RELATED: Decisions On 2023/24 Rookie Scale Team Options]

Haliburton is considered a cornerstone piece of the Pacers’ rebuild, having been acquired earlier this year in the blockbuster trade that sent Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento. The promising young point guard averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 assists per game in 26 appearances (36.1 MPG) for his new team down the stretch last season.

Nesmith also changed teams via trade earlier this year, arriving from Boston in this summer’s Malcolm Brogdon trade. It’s unclear whether he’ll be a key part of the Pacers’ future, but he should get a chance this season to play a rotation role and make his case to stick around long-term.

Duarte and Jackson had promising rookie seasons for the Pacers in 2021/22, though they only appeared in 55 and 36 games, respectively. Assuming they stay healthy, both should have regular roles going forward.