Josh Oppenheimer

Central Notes: Williams, Gueye, Pacers, Bucks

After signing the most lucrative head coaching contract in NBA history, new Pistons head coach Monty Williams has his work cut out for him in reshaping the rebuilding team. Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press (subscription required) unpacks five big issues regarding the club’s current personnel that Williams must tackle.

Most pressing among these questions is how Williams will use 2021 No. 1 draft pick Cade Cunningham, who missed most of his sophomore NBA season with a shin injury. Sankofa also wonders how Williams will balance Cunningham’s touches with the looks afforded 2023 All-Rookie Second Teamer Jaden Ivey, how the club’s new coach will juggle his frontcourt, and more.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • The Pacers continue to search far and wide for intriguing young prospects. Today, the team is hosting Washington State forward Mouhamed Gueye for an individual workout, per Indiana possesses five draft picks this year, including three first-round selections, beginning at No. 7. The team also announced that it will work out two shooting guards, G League Ignite’s Mojave King and the New Zealand Breakers’ Rayan Rupert, on Saturday.
  • Because the Pacers have so many selections in this year’s draft and team president Kevin Pritchard assumes he will trade some of them, the team is making sure to assess all levels of prospects to prepare itself for a variety of different scenarios, according to The Indianapolis Star. Many of the young players who have auditioned for Indiana thus far have enjoyed the experience. “When you can get guys like this in the gym that are competitive and good guys, iron sharpens iron,” UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell said. “You’re going to leave this place better than you were when you came in.”
  • New Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin continues to build out his staff. A source informs Eric Nehm of The Athletic (Twitter link) that Griffin is bringing in Raptors assistant coach Nate Mitchell and Pistons assistant coach DJ Bakker to help fill out his bench. Nehm reveals that Griffin also intends to keep former Mike Budenholzer assistant Josh Oppenheimer. Nehm adds (via Twitter) that another former Budenholzer assistant, Vin Baker, will also return to the fold under Griffin.

Bucks Notes: Giannis, Mamukelashvili, Lee, Kerr

The Bucks and the Greek Basketball Federation have a working relationship regarding Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s presence on the Greek national team, writes Eric Nehm of The Athletic. Greece named Bucks assistant Josh Oppenheimer to its coaching staff so he can monitor Antetokounmpo’s workouts and game preparation. Milwaukee’s sports science group is also involved, and head coach Mike Budenholzer has been attending practices and games.

“It feels like it’s reached a level of cooperation that is pretty high-level,” Budenholzer said. “I don’t think we, either side, has really ever had that before, and so it gives you more confidence that he can compete for his national team, which is very important to him, and still be taking care of himself and still be preparing and getting ready for the NBA season, which is the best of both worlds.”

The relationship between the Bucks and the Greek team wasn’t nearly this friendly before Budenholzer arrived in Milwaukee, Nehm adds. The most famous incident occurred during the last EuroBasket in 2017 when Antetokounmpo announced that he wouldn’t be available to play because of a knee injury that the Bucks’ medical staff discovered. The Greek Basketball Federation accused him of colluding with the team to skip the competition, although an NBA investigation determined that all protocols in the NBA-FIBA agreement were followed correctly.

Budenholzer believes players benefit from international competitions, saying he learned the value during his days as an assistant in San Antonio when Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were regulars on the international stage.

There’s more on the Bucks:

  • Sandro Mamukelashvili, who was on a two-way contract last season, is making his international debut in EuroBasket with Georgia’s national team, Nehm adds. At 6’11”, he’s out of position as the starting small forward, but he’s doing his best to fit in. “Coming here, there are guys that have been playing on the national team for 10 years plus, 15 years,” Mamukelashvili said. “So, coming in, you just gotta find your role, find how you can help the team.”
  • Bucks assistant Charles Lee is thrilled to be taking part in a Basketball Without Borders camp in Cairo, Egypt, per Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel“I’ve always wanted to be part of this initiative and event because of what it does just for our game and what it’s doing for kids in Africa and giving them the resources and the experience to get some quality coaching, some quality game reps and some quality teaching in a four-day period,” Lee said. “This whole thing has just been an unbelievable experience for me to be a part of.”
  • Steve Kerr, who’s among five NBA head coaches participating in the Basketball Without Borders camp, told the Egyptian media outlet FilGoal that Antetokounmpo is the non-Warrior he would most like to coach (Twitter link).

Eastern Notes: Adebayo, Giannis, Oppenheimer, Ross

Despite not having won a Defensive Player of the Year award so far in his NBA career, Heat center Bam Adebayo expressed optimism about his chances next season, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

“I should have won it the last two years, and I will win it this year,” Adebayo told youth campers at a recent Heat clinic.

The 25-year-old has established himself as a versatile defender, enabling Miami to play a switch-heavy defense. He guarded players such as Trae Young, Jayson Tatum and Joel Embiid during the Heat’s latest postseason run.

There’s more from the Eastern Conference tonight:

  • Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo will play for the Greek National Team in this year’s EuroBasket competition, Hellenic Basketball Federation president Vaggelis Liolios confirmed, per Christos Tsaltas (Twitter link). Antetokounmpo also recently hinted at the decision on social media.
  • As Tsaltas notes, Bucks assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer will also join the Greek National Team with Antetokounmpo. Oppenheimer has served as an assistant with Milwaukee since 2020 and was part of the team’s championship run last season.
  • Magic guard Terrence Ross is enthusiastic about the team’s roster entering next season, as relayed by Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel (video link). While Ross doesn’t know what his future holds with the franchise, it’s clear he thinks highly of Orlando’s young nucleus, which includes No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero.

COVID-19 Concerns Return Amid NBA Finals

An NBA season that began under the threat of COVID-19 appears to be ending the same way. In addition to Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who has been ruled out of tonight’s Game 5 after being placed in health and safety protocols, the Bucks will be without assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer, tweets Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This will be the third straight game that Oppenheimer has been forced to miss, Wojnarowski adds (Twitter link), but there’s hope he may be back for Game 6 (Twitter link).

The virus has also impacted the officiating crew for tonight, as the league announced (via Twitter) that referee Sean Wright has been placed in health and safety protocols. James Williams will take his place.

There has been growing concern that the league wouldn’t be able to crown a champion without COVID-19 becoming a factor again, writes Sam Amick of The Athletic. Cases are rising across the country, and the sports world is feeling the effects. Bradley Beal had to leave the U.S. Olympic team this week and Jerami Grant‘s status is uncertain as he remains in the health and safety protocols.

Amick points out that the league has taken great precautions since the season started in December to minimize the effects of the virus. Testing has been constant for players, coaches and staff members, and some teams have been shut down for a week or more after recording multiple positive tests.

“There’s a real push to stay safe, to stay healthy, to be vigilant,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said before today’s cases were reported. “Both teams, we’re very, very close to the finish. We’re excited about finishing this strong.”

There have been recent changes throughout the NBA landscape, Amick adds. Masks are once again required for media members after those policies had been relaxed, and staff members are being asked to stay away from public settings as much as possible. Suns guard Devin Booker told Amick that most players are choosing to stay inside and avoid potential risks.

Teammate Chris Paul had to sit out the first two games of the Western Conference Finals after returning a positive test. He’s concerned about his family in the Los Angeles area, which has experienced a recent surge in the virus.

“I pay close attention to it,” he said. “I have family just like everybody else. My parents (are) traveling to Milwaukee (for games), coming to this game (in Phoenix). My kids. L.A. just put a new mandate in where you wear a mask inside. My family is there. I pay attention to it just like everybody else. Try to control what I can control. Stay in the moment with the Finals, but health is a huge concern, not just for my family but for everybody.”

Bucks Notes: Connaughton, Bogdanovic, Holiday, Assistants

Appearing on The Hoop Collective podcast with Brian Windhorst, ESPN’s Zach Lowe said he’s had a couple teams with cap room ask him about Bucks free-agent-to-be Pat Connaughton. While Lowe doesn’t necessarily expect a bidding war for Connaughton, he suggests the shooting guard should draw interest for more than the veteran’s minimum, which could make it tricky for the hard-capped Bucks to re-sign him.

Here’s more on Milwaukee:

  • In that same Hoop Collective podcast, Windhorst said it’s his understanding that Bogdan Bogdanovic really wanted to play with Giannis Antetokounmpo and might have been able to get a slightly more lucrative offer elsewhere in free agency. We still don’t know exactly what Bogdanovic’s new deal with Milwaukee will look like, but Windhorst estimated it’ll start in the $14-15MM range.
  • According to Windhorst, when the Pelicans were discussing trades for Jrue Holiday, gauging Holiday’s interest in a longer-team stay with potential trade partners was part of that process. While nothing has been agreed to yet, Windhorst gets the sense that Holiday is open to an extension (or eventually re-signing in free agency) with the Bucks.
  • The Bucks announced on Tuesday in a press release that they’ve officially hired Mike Dunlap and Josh Oppenheimer, naming them assistant coaches on Mike Budenholzer‘s staff. A report last month indicated that Oppenheimer – who worked in Milwaukee from 2013-16 would be returning to the franchise. Dunlap, who has spent the last six years as the head coach at Loyola Marymount University, previously had a brief stint as the Bobcats’ coach.

Central Notes: Griffin, Drummond, Oppenheimer, Harrison

The Pistons may be rebuilding, but they don’t expect it to be a long process, writes Keith Langlois of There’s optimism throughout the organization that Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose will both be healthy when training camp opens, giving the team a veteran foundation to guide its young players.

Griffin underwent knee surgery in January, but there have been “glowing” reports about his progress over the summer, according to Langlois. The veteran forward has regained confidence in his knee and remains in top condition. Langlois adds that Rose has also benefited from the extra long offseason.

Sekou Doumbouya, Luke Kennard, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Bruce Brown were all impressive at the team’s mini-camp, and the Pistons have the chance to add to the mix with $30MM in cap space and the seventh pick in next month’s draft. The hiring of general manager Troy Weaver, who has a track record of identifying young talent, adds to the optimism in Detroit.

There’s more on the Central Division:

  • The Knicks may be the best option for the Cavaliers if they decide to trade Andre Drummond, according to Chris Sheridan of Basketball News. New York has enough cap space to facilitate the deal and could offer role players on expiring contracts – Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, Taj Gibson and Elfrid Payton – if Cleveland wants any of them. Sheridan mentions the Hornets, Pistons, Hawks, Heat and Suns as other possibilities.
  • Josh Oppenheimer will return to the Bucks as an assistant coach, tweets Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Most recently an assistant at James Madison, Oppenheimer worked for Milwaukee from 2013-16, serving on the staffs of Larry Drew and Jason Kidd. He was also an assistant for the Rockets and the Long Island Nets of the G League. Oppenheimer is known as the “shot doctor” and worked extensively with Giannis Antetokounmpo early in his career, notes Matt Velasquez of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Twitter link).
  • K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago ranks the Bulls who are least likely to return next season. He puts guard Shaquille Harrison at the top of the list, believing the potential restricted free agent would be “redundant” if Chicago makes a qualifying offer to Kris Dunn. Veteran forward Thaddeus Young, who has just a partial guarantee beyond next season, is second, followed by guard Denzel Valentine, another potential restricted free agent who couldn’t get regular playing time under former coach Jim Boylen, but displayed strong leadership skills during mini-camp.