Ish Smith

Hornets Cut Ish Smith, Frank Ntilikina

The Hornets have officially waived veteran guards Ish Smith and Frank Ntilikina, the team announced today in a press release. Charlotte has now cut three backcourt players since the trade deadline, having also parted ways with James Bouknight.

The Hornets needed to make a series of cuts in order to accommodate their deadline deals. Dropping Smith and Ntilikina allowed the team to take on three players while sending Gordon Hayward to Oklahoma City.

A journeyman who has played for 13 teams across 14 NBA seasons, Smith was the Hornets’ primary backup point guard this season, averaging 3.2 points, 3.4 assists, and 1.8 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game across 43 appearances (five stats). The 35-year-old shot 41.8% from the field.

Ntilikina was initially expected to be LaMelo Ball‘s backup this season, but leg and hip issues have sidelined him for nearly the entire 2023/24 campaign. He played only 43 minutes across five games for Charlotte prior to his release.

Tre Mann and Vasilije Micic, acquired from the Thunder in the Hayward trade, figure to get a shot to earn regular playing time at the point.

Smith and Ntilikina will both become free agents and will be able to sign with any team this weekend once they clear waivers. The Hornets will remain on the hook for their matching $2,019,706 (minimum-salary) cap hits.

Southeast Notes: Rozier, Hornets, Bagley, Harris

The Hornets will find it difficult to replace everything Terry Rozier brought to the team both on and off the court, writes Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer. With Rozier being traded to Miami this week, Charlotte lost one of its top scoring threats as well as a vocal veteran leader who set an example for his younger teammates.

“He was great in the way that he practiced because he truly cares,” coach Steve Clifford said. “Anytime we did a drill in practice, particularly defensively, he’d be the first guy to jump in. I think things like that are hard to replace and they can’t be faked. We have other guys who have leadership qualities, too, and now they’ll have more of an opportunity to step forward.”

Clifford expects rookie Brandon Miller to get a larger role in the offense as the Hornets try to replace Rozier’s 23.2 points per game. Clifford plans to rely more on younger players in general, but he’ll be careful not to give them more responsibility than they’re ready to handle.

“Right now, Nick Smith Jr. is in a role that he’s doing a good job with,” he said. “If you double that, it’s going to be hard. What we need is some of these other guys to play a bit more. Nick Smith Jr. can play a little bit more, but he’s just not ready for 26 minutes a night. He’s doing a really good job with the minutes he’s been given, but we’re going to have to figure that out.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • In a separate story, Boone examines which Hornets players could be traded before the February 8 deadline. The most intriguing possibilities are impending free agents Gordon Hayward, who has a $31.5MM expiring contract, and Miles Bridges, who might have some trade value if management decides he’s not part of the team’s future. Boone also lists James Bouknight, Nick Richards, Ish Smith and P.J. Washington as players who could be on the move.
  • Marvin Bagley III continues to look like a different player since the Wizards acquired him from Detroit, observes Ava Wallace of The Washington Post. Bagley came off the bench to score 17 points and grab 15 rebounds Wednesday night, collecting six of the team’s seven offensive boards. “I’m just playing hard, man. I’m just trying to bring energy whenever I’m on the floor, trying to be aggressive, just do what I do,” Bagley said. “Now we’ve just got to put it all together to try to finish games and try to get a win.”
  • Magic two-way guard Kevon Harris is trying to get caught up after missing the first half of the season with knee soreness, per Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel. Harris played his first G League game of the season earlier this month and hopes to eventually find a way to help the NBA team. “I’m just grateful to be back out there on the floor with the team,” he said. “I’m still trying to get in my rhythm out there and trying to have fun out there right now. I’ve been out for a few months, so it feels good to be back out there on the court and getting back to the flow of things.”

Northwest Notes: Smith, Conley, Blazers, Hendricks

Journeyman guard Ish Smith nearly remained with the defending champion Nuggets before he signed with the Hornets but not as a player, Bennett Durando of the Denver Post reports. He was offered a front office role that he described as an apprenticeship. He would have been based out of Charlotte while making trips to Denver to learn the ropes of being a front office exec from various people in basketball operations.

“I was gonna do some consulting, and start learning the business a little bit more,” said Smith, who appeared in 43 regular season and four postseason games with the Nuggets last season. “Start transitioning to some front office. Some coaching.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves guard Mike Conley will enter unrestricted free agency following this season. Conley has been a key figure in Minnesota’s blazing start, averaging 11.5 points and 6.2 assists, and there’s early optimism among league figures that he’ll re-sign with Minnesota, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. Conley, who entered the league in 2007, will turn 37 prior to next season.
  • The Trail Blazers were late to the party but they finally have their own G League team in the Rip City Remix. Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report details how two-way player Ibou Badji and 2023 draft picks Kris Murray and Rayan Rupert have benefited from the experience they’ve gained with the G League club. “It’s so much easier to have them in the same building and have them around,” Remix coach Jim Moran said.
  • Jazz lottery pick Taylor Hendricks is also getting additional experience in the G League after appearing in 11 NBA games. Coach Will Hardy believes that will beneficial to his development, Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune tweets. “He’s gonna get way more minutes than he was when he was with us and continue to improve,” Hardy said. “The road is long for Taylor. I’m not overreacting to anything that goes on with him right now.”

Eastern Notes: I. Smith, Strus, Hawks, Bulls, Dosunmu

Ish Smith‘s new contract with the Hornets is a one-year, minimum-salary deal that is fully non-guaranteed, Hoops Rumors has learned.

Although Smith didn’t sign in the offseason, his salary won’t be prorated, since he finalized his deal on the very first day of the regular season. That means if he remains under contract through January 7, 2024, which would guarantee his full salary, he’ll make $3,196,448 while the Hornets carry a cap hit of $2,019,706. Until then, he’ll earn $18,370 per day, with no assurances for the full season.

Smith is one of three Hornets players without a fully guaranteed salary — Frank Ntilikina and JT Thor are also on non-guaranteed contracts.

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • Max Strus‘ debut with the Cavaliers couldn’t have gone much better, as the club’s new starting small forward racked up 27 points and a career-high 12 rebounds in Wednesday’s win over Brooklyn. “I wish I could guarantee that every night, but I don’t think it’s going to be like that,” Strus said after the game, per Chris Fedor of “I think we have so many talented guys on this roster. It’s going to be anybody’s night any given game. One through 15, anybody can step up and play for us. That’s when our team is going to be very successful when we’re all enjoying each other’s success, and everybody is chipping in.”
  • After Jalen Johnson, De’Andre Hunter, and Saddiq Bey each played at least 29 minutes in the Hawks’ regular season opener, head coach Quin Snyder stressed that he expects all three forwards to get regular playing time and that he doesn’t necessarily need to roll with just two of them at the expense of the third. “It’s not a binary question of Jalen or Saddiq,” Snyder said (Twitter link via Brad Rowland of Locked on Hawks). “Maybe tonight will make that clear.”
  • While he acknowledged that a blowout loss at home – followed by a players-only meeting – wasn’t exactly a great way to start the season, Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan said the important thing is how the team bounces back in its second game on Friday, according to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “You can sit up there and have a million conversations about something,” DeRozan said. “But it’s about how you respond and the mindset that I know how everybody came in here (to practice) with, how they feel. That’s how I know for a fact (Friday) will not be like (Wednesday). I can guarantee you that.”
  • The NBA has recognized Ayo Dosunmu for his work off the court, naming the Bulls guard the winner of the NBA Cares Bob Lanier Community Assist award, the league announced on Thursday in a press release.

Hornets Notes: Miller, Jordan, Smith, McGowens, Martin

Hornets forward Brandon Miller, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 draft, has been named in a federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Jamea Jonae Harris, per Chris Low of ESPN. Harris was shot and killed on January 15 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Miller attended the University of Alabama during his lone college season.

The others named in the lawsuit are former Alabama player Darius Miles and Michael Davis, both of whom are facing capital murder charges for Harris’ death.

Miller has faced scrutiny for his connection to the shooting. He brought former teammate Miles the gun that was used in the killing of Harris, but insisted that he didn’t know the weapon was in the car. He cooperated in the investigation and was not charged with a crime.

According to Low, the lawsuit alleges that Miles, Davis and Miller “knew or should have known that bringing a dangerous weapon to a dispute and discharging said weapon would likely result in harm.” The complaint also alleges that the “negligence or wantonness” of the three men led to Harris’ death.

Here’s more on the Hornets:

  • In an interview with Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer, Miller says his veteran teammates have been “welcoming” and he’s been working on building rapport with the Hornets since he was drafted. “Like I’ve said since day one when I came here, it’s really all about the bonds with everybody,” Miller said. “I feel like the stronger the bond, the better play on the court, just as far as knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But getting to know each other off the court is kind of more important too, just to see what kind of person everybody is.”
  • Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic spoke to 12 current and former Hornets for an oral history of what it was like to play for Charlotte with Michael Jordan as the team’s majority owner. Jordan sold his majority stake over the summer, but remains a minority shareholder.
  • Veteran point guard Ish Smith, who was recently signed as a backup with Frank Ntilikina sidelined, says he was considering retirement before he received an unexpected call on Saturday, according to Boone of The Charlotte Observer. “I was driving up to a Wake Forest football game,” said Smith, a North Carolina native. “I got the phone call from (assistant general manager) Buzz (Peterson) and my agent was like, ‘Man, do you still want to play?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah. It’s home and it’s the perfect situation.’” As Boone writes, Smith worked out for Charlotte on Monday and was signed on Tuesday. The 35-year-old suggested this might be his last season. “I wasn’t going to any other state and I preferred to be here, and be home with family, friends … I was born and raised here and it will be a great story to close out here,” he said.
  • Wings Bryce McGowens (left ankle sprain) and Cody Martin (left knee soreness) will be sidelined for Wednesday’s season opener against Atlanta, the Hornets announced (via Twitter). It’s a discouraging start to 2023/24 for Martin, who only played seven games last season following knee surgery.

Hornets Sign Ish Smith, Waive Edmond Sumner

3:03pm: The Hornets have officially signed Smith and waived Sumner, the team announced in a press release.

12:37pm: The Hornets are making an early-season roster change, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, who reports (via Twitter) that the team will sign veteran guard Ish Smith, waiving Edmond Sumner to clear a spot on the 15-man roster.

Smith, a well-traveled NBA veteran, has played for a record 13 teams, including the Hornets in 2021/22. Last season, the 35-year-old won his first NBA championship in Denver, averaging 2.5 points and 2.3 assists in 9.3 minutes per game across 43 regular season appearances for the Nuggets.

Charlotte presumably felt the need to add some extra point guard depth behind starter LaMelo Ball, with projected backup Frank Ntilikina expected to miss at least four weeks due to a fractured tibia. Smith and Theo Maledon are among the players who will be in the mix for those backup minutes until Ntilikina is ready to return.

While terms of Smith’s deal haven’t been reported, I’d expected a non-guaranteed minimum-salary deal. That would give the Hornets the flexibility to swap him out for another player prior to the league-wide salary guarantee date in January if Ntilikina is healthy by then.

It’s bad news for Sumner, who was on track to be one of four players on non-guaranteed Exhibit 9 contracts to make an opening night roster. Instead, it sounds like he’ll be placed on waivers prior to the Hornets’ regular season opener on Wednesday.

Sumner, 26, averaged 7.1 PPG, 1.5 RPG, and 1.3 APG in 53 games (13.9 MPG) for the Nets last season, posting a shooting line of .461/.356/.917. It was his first season back following an Achilles tear that cost him all of 2021/22.

Assuming he’s officially cut on Tuesday, Sumner will receive a small portion ($40,459) of his non-guaranteed minimum salary, since he was on the roster until the first day of the regular season and will spend two more days on waivers.

Central Notes: Rubio, Washington, Cunningham, Thompson

Ricky Rubio‘s decision to take time away from basketball and focus on his mental health leaves the Cavaliers with an uncertain situation at backup point guard, Chris Fedor of writes in a mailbag column. Rubio didn’t offer any indication of how long he might be inactive, so there’s no way of knowing if he’ll be available when training camp opens in seven weeks or when the season starts in late October.

There’s no urgency for Cleveland to make a roster move, Fedor adds. The Cavs signed free agent Ty Jerome in the belief that he can handle a larger role than he had with Golden State, and Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert and two-way player Craig Porter Jr. are all capable of running the offense for short stretches. Fedor points out that there aren’t any strong options remaining in free agency, but Kendrick Nunn, Michael Carter-Williams, George Hill, Ish Smith, and D.J. Augustin are among the players still available.

General manager Mike Gansey scheduled a trip to Malaga, Spain, this summer to visit with Rubio and watch the Spanish World Cup team in action, according to Fedor. However, Rubio left training camp before Gansey arrived, so he devoted the trip to scouting instead.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The Cavaliers have expressed interest in P.J. Washington and may be “lurking” as his standoff with the Hornets continues, Fedor adds. He notes that Cleveland was able to take advantage of a similar situation in a sign-and-trade with Lauri Markkanen two years ago by offering a contract beyond what the Bulls were willing to pay. Fedor states that Rubio and Dean Wade would be enough to match salary if Washington would accept about $15MM per year, but he’s not sure if that and a few second-round picks would satisfy Charlotte.
  • Cade Cunningham is the only untouchable player on the Pistons‘ roster, James L. Edwards III of The Athletic writes in his annual evaluation of the team’s most valuable assets. Even though he missed most of last season after shin surgery, Cunningham is still viewed around the league as a potential superstar, according to Edwards. Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren and rookie Ausar Thompson follow Cunningham on Edwards’ list.
  • Overtime Elite general manager Gerald Wilkins believes Thompson has a bright NBA future, per Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press. Wilkins offered a glowing recommendation to Jarrett Jack, a new member of the Pistons‘ coaching staff under Monty Williams. “He would ask me things like what are his strengths, what are his weaknesses, how can I get him the ball,” Wilkins said. “I would just tell him, ‘Just put him on the floor. Just put him in the game. They are basketball players, Ausar and Amen. They’re basketball players. You put him on the floor and a lot of good things are going to happen.’”

Nuggets Notes: Brown, Jordan, Green, Jackson, Rookies, Braun

After winning a title during his first year as the Nuggets‘ head of basketball operations, Calvin Booth has no appetite for major roster changes heading into his second season. He tells Mike Singer of The Denver Post (subscription required) that he’d like the team’s 2023/24 roster to look a lot like the ’22/23 group.

“Hopefully we get the whole crew back,” Booth said, in reference to a group of free agents that includes Jeff Green, Ish Smith, DeAndre Jordan, Reggie Jackson, Thomas Bryant, and – of course – Bruce Brown. The Nuggets can only offer Brown a limited raise, but hope to re-sign him.

“Obviously Bruce is the biggest fish,” Booth said. “He has a million options. Waiting eagerly to see what’s going to happen when the moratorium ends. Hopefully he’s back in a Nuggets jersey.”

Asked specifically about veteran leaders Green and Jordan, Booth expressed more confidence in the club’s odds of bringing back Jordan, noting that Green will have “options” and adding that he’ll have to check in with the forward’s agent.

Interestingly, while Jackson wasn’t a key contributor down the stretch for the Nuggets and didn’t have a rotation role in the playoffs, a league source tells Singer that the team would like to re-sign the veteran point guard.

Here’s more on the Nuggets:

  • Denver’s roster will look at least a little different in ’23/24 due to an influx of rookies — the club drafted Julian Strawther (No. 29), Jalen Pickett (No. 32), and Hunter Tyson (No. 37) on Thursday. Tony Jones of The Athletic explores what the Nuggets are getting in those newcomers and considers how the team is attempting its own version of a “two-timeline” plan that didn’t work out for the conference-rival Warriors.
  • Explaining why the Nuggets targeted Strawther at No. 29, Booth told reporters this week that he liked the fact that the former Gonzaga sharpshooter has played in “high-pressure games” and believes he can improve Denver’s shooting off the bench (subscriber-only story via Singer). However, if the Nuggets’ roster remains relatively healthy, Booth expects Strawther to spend some time playing in the G League as a rookie.
  • Despite playing rotation minutes during the Nuggets’ championship run this spring, second-year wing Christian Braun may suit up for Denver in the Las Vegas Summer League, tweets Singer. Some team executives would like to see him seek out his shot and be aggressive in a way he wasn’t asked to during his rookie season, Singer explains.

Nuggets Notes: Jokic, Booth, Veteran Players

In an interview with Malika Andrews of ESPN (video link), Finals MVP Nikola Jokic talks about the benefits of spending his career with one head coach and the stability of being alongside Jamal Murray for so long. The Nuggets drafted Jokic in 2014, and he joined the team a year later. They hired Michael Malone as their coach in 2015 and drafted Murray in 2016.

“I really trust those guys,” Jokic said. “I think that’s how the winning is done. Jamal was injured. He thought he was going to get traded. He was playing bad. This and that, media talking about him. … He proved to himself that he can lead a championship team.”

Jokic added that he’s looking forward to returning to Serbia to celebrate with his close friends and family after Thursday’s victory parade. He also endorsed Malone’s declaration that Denver can win more titles with its current core and said there’s room for him to improve after reaching the top of the league.

“I think I can be much better, but you still need to sacrifice yourself,” Jokic said. “Basketball is not the main thing in my life. It’s something that I’m good at.”

There’s more from Denver:

  • Jokic is the historical heir to Tim Duncan as an unassuming superstar capable of leading his team to multiple championships, observes David Aldridge of The Athletic. Both are highly skilled in the fundamentals of the game, Aldridge notes, and they can envision plays before they happen.
  • Amid the championship celebration Monday night, general manager Calvin Booth was already thinking about how to sustain the Nuggets’ success, per Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Denver is over the salary cap for next season, so Booth’s options will be limited, but he’s reportedly trying to use one of the team’s 2024 first-rounders to trade up in this year’s draft. “We gotta give ourselves a chance to be in the Finals every year,” he said. “If we’re in the Finals, we have a chance. I don’t expect us to win it every time, but we gotta try to get here.”
  • Being a champion is especially sweet for four veteran players who have spent years bouncing around the league while hoping to win a ring, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. Reggie Jackson embraced Jeff Green, DeAndre Jordan and Ish Smith as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Game 5. “It hit me at the end of the game,” Smith said. “I don’t know why I just got emotional, but this is gratifying, man. This is great. I’m so happy for the city. Denver, our teammates, man, we all got a story. So it’s been a blessing.”

Nuggets Notes: Murray, Irving, Smith, Williams, Braun, Watson, Anunoby

The Nuggets’ path to the championship was a testament to perseverance and patience. They didn’t panic when they fell short in previous postseasons, nor did they feel the need to replace coach Michael Malone. They were rewarded this season but there was some measure of luck involved. ESPN’s Zach Lowe (Insider link) offers some sourced nuggets on the Nuggets, sharing details about the steps along the way to the first title in franchise history. Here are some of the highlights from Lowe’s story:

  • The Nuggets never seriously considered trading Jamal Murray as he rehabbed from his ACL injury but former executive Tim Connelly approached Malone five or six years ago to say that Murray could be moved for a high-profile veteran player or two. Kyrie Irving, who requested a trade from the Cavaliers during the 2017 offseason, was one of the players Denver considered acquiring in a Murray deal, but the team ultimately decided against pursuing Irving.
  • The Nuggets had an opportunity to move journeyman point guard Ish Smith prior to this season’s trade deadline, but coaches and players lobbied the front office to keep him. Smith didn’t play much but he proved to be a powerful influence behind the scenes, including mimicking the Heat’s playbook as part of Denver’s scout team at Finals practices.
  • General manager Calvin Booth considered trading up to the No. 10 spot — held by the Wizards — in last year’s draft with the idea of selecting Jalen Williams. The Nuggets also considered moving up later in the lottery to nab Christian Braun, even though he was projected as a late first-rounder. They got him anyway at No. 21. They were also concerned that the Warriors would take Peyton Watson with the No. 28 pick. Golden State passed on Watson and Denver grabbed him at No. 30.
  • In one of the few mistakes they made, the Nuggets traded down from No. 13 to No. 24 in the 2017 draft — the 13th pick turned out to be Donovan Mitchell. Denver had considered taking OG Anunoby at that spot but felt he was a reach at that point in the draft. Anunoby came off the board at No. 23 and the Nuggets wound up with long-forgotten Tyler Lydon with the next pick.