Jusuf Nurkic

Suns Rumors: McConnell, Johnson, Ishbia, Ayton, Lowry

The Suns are believed to have maintained their interest in Pacers guard T.J. McConnell, Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports said in the latest episode of the No Cap Room podcast (YouTube link).

Phoenix’s interest in McConnell was reported by multiple outlets earlier in the summer, but at that time, the team had no clear path to acquiring him due to his $8.7MM cap hit. Following their trade of Deandre Ayton and Toumani Camara for four players, the Suns have more potential pathways to acquiring McConnell, with either Nassir Little ($6.25MM) or Grayson Allen ($8.93MM) as a logical salary-matching piece.

While Fischer points out that the Suns are extremely short on point guard depth, he admits he’s not sure if the team will be eager to sacrifice its wing depth by moving a player like Little or Allen. Allen, in particular, had been on Phoenix’s radar for a while, as Fischer noted on Wednesday.

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • During the same podcast, Fischer reiterated that Keon Johnson‘s days in Phoenix are likely numbered. “I don’t think they’ve officially waived Keon Johnson yet, but from my understanding, they plan to waive him,” Fischer said. The former first-round pick was sent from Portland to the Suns in Wednesday’s blockbuster deal.
  • Suns owner Mat Ishbia was “very involved” in the trade that landed Allen, Little, Johnson, and Jusuf Nurkic in Phoenix, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic. As Amick explains, the Suns view the move as one that not only adds depth but gives them players who better fit around their stars. Nurkic was a longtime target for the club, which is “thrilled” to have landed him, Amick adds.
  • While he’s not an All-Star like Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday, Ayton is the only player in Wednesday’s blockbuster who is a former No. 1 overall pick, so his departure represents the end of an era, of sorts, in Phoenix. Doug Haller of The Athletic and Gerald Bourguet of GoPHNX.com take a look back at Ayton’s tenure with the franchise and, in Bourguet’s words, the “polarizing, complicated” legacy he’ll leave behind.
  • John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 has shot down a report claiming that the Suns had interest in acquiring Kyle Lowry from the Heat as part of a three-team trade if the Trail Blazers had decided to send Lillard to Miami. There’s “absolutely no truth” to that claim, according to Gambadoro (Twitter link), who says Phoenix was “totally focused” on Nurkic and the smaller pieces they could get with him.

Inside The Damian Lillard Trade

Damian Lillard had become more involved with the Trail Blazers over the past two weeks and was preparing to attend training camp with the team if he didn’t get the trade he requested, according to Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic.

After nearly three months of waiting, that deal came together on Wednesday, sending Lillard to the Bucks in a three-way trade that also involved the Suns. Lillard hadn’t been reconciling with Portland, the authors add, but he was working out at the team facility and interacting with coaches and teammates to show that he was willing to remain patient as the Blazers’ front office tried to find a trade.

Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, informed general manager Joe Cronin early in September that Lillard was open to participating in camp if a deal didn’t happen before then, sources tell Charania and Amick, and Lillard told team officials that he would be “fully present” for the start of the season while trade talks continued.

However, the authors’ sources say Cronin didn’t want the distraction of having Lillard on the roster when camp began and preferred to get a deal out of the way before Monday’s media day. He viewed the Lillard situation as “a cloud over the organization” and wanted the team to be able to focus on the season ahead without having to worry about Lillard’s future.

Charania and Amick provide more inside information about Wednesday’s blockbuster:

  • When Lillard made his trade request on July 1, he told team officials he only wanted to go to Miami and was expecting to be rewarded for his years of loyalty to the organization. Charania and Amick confirm the Blazers and Heat talked several times in July, but the negotiations never became “substantive,” according to the authors’ sources. Portland asked for Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo in its first call, and Miami eventually decided that Cronin wasn’t serious about working out a deal with them.
  • Sources tell Charania and Amick that in July and August, the Heat were willing to part with three first-round picks, multiple second-rounders and pick swaps, along with Nikola Jovic in a proposal that would have sent Tyler Herro to a third team. However, the Blazers weren’t interested and the relationship between Portland and Miami started to become contentious. It’s worth noting that Miami didn’t technically have three tradable first-round picks available due to an obligation to the Thunder and the Stepien rule.
  • Cronin began serious trade discussions around the league on September 18 and found interest from the Bucks, Celtics, Pelicans, Raptors, Timberwolves and Bulls. All those teams wanted to acquire Lillard, but they were concerned about Portland’s asking price and whether they would have enough talent left on their roster after a deal to compete for a title.
  • Tensions reached a point where Cronin stopped responding to Goodwin in mid-September, sources tell Charania and Amick, and Goodwin began to explore other options that might appeal to Lillard. He was willing to consider the Bucks and Nets, and Goodwin communicated his interest to both those teams. The Raptors also had serious interest, but Lillard’s reluctance to play there was an obstacle until the end, the authors note.
  • The authors’ sources say the Suns started discussing the framework of a Deandre AytonJusuf Nurkic trade in mid-July, but the Blazers wanted to make sure they could avoid the luxury tax when Lillard was eventually dealt. Phoenix would likely have been part of any deal with the Bucks, Nets or Heat, Charania and Amick add.

Scotto’s Latest: Grant, Nurkic, Payne, Nowell

Following the trade of Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers are expected to immediately begin listening to trade inquires on newly acquired guard Jrue Holiday. However, he may not be the only notable veteran on the roster who is on the trade block in advance of this February’s deadline.

Rival league executives who spoke to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype anticipate that Jerami Grant will also be available via trade in the not-too-distant future. Due to the terms of the new contract he signed with Portland in July, Grant won’t become trade-eligible until January 15, so if he’s going to be moved this season, it would have to happen between Jan. 15 and Feb. 8, this year’s trade deadline.

Grant’s five-year, $160MM contract would represent a significant cap commitment for any team interested in acquiring him, but his two-way contributions would make him an on-court fit for virtually any contender.

“Grant could be the missing piece for a contending team the way Denver got Bruce Brown and Aaron Gordon,” one NBA scout told Scotto. “Maybe a team like Miami could take a swing if they’re still a player away.”

Here are a few more highlights from Scotto’s latest rumor round-up:

  • Moving Jusuf Nurkic, who has three years and $54MM+ left on his contract, was a goal for the Trail Blazers in any Lillard trade, but there’s a belief that a fresh start in Phoenix, where he’ll anchor Frank Vogel‘s defensive scheme for the Suns, could help rejuvenate him, writes Scotto. “Before Nurkic got injured, he was a good defensive center and was Portland’s second-best player ahead of CJ McCollum for a short time,” a scout told HoopsHype. “I think it might be asking too much of him to return to his pre-injury form, but he can help them if he’s properly motivated and healthy with dribble handoffs and as a positional defender.”
  • League sources tell Scotto that the Bucks and Heat are among the teams to watch for free agent point guard Cameron Payne. Milwaukee, with no clear backup point guard, was previously identified as a clear fit for Payne after the Lillard trade opened up a roster spot. Miami also doesn’t have much depth at the point after losing Gabe Vincent this summer.
  • Free agent wing Jaylen Nowell recently worked out for the Kings, sources tell Scotto. Nowell is one of the most noteworthy members of this year’s free agent class who remains unsigned, while Sacramento has just 14 players on guaranteed contracts, leaving one open spot on the team’s projected regular season roster.

Bucks Acquire Damian Lillard In Three-Team Trade

9:37pm: The trade is now official, the Bucks announced in a press release.

Damian Lillard is an elite player in our league and someone we’ve long been fans of,” said general manager Jon Horst. “These opportunities are rare and hard to measure and execute. We are incredibly grateful for this opportunity for our community and team, and beyond excited to welcome Damian and his family to the Milwaukee Bucks. His character, competitiveness, talent and experience complement our group and gives us the best chance to win at the very highest level as we create new memories together.”

These are the hardest, most human moments of this business. Jrue was unmatched in his commitment to the Bucks and the Greater Milwaukee community,” Horst said of Holiday. “He’s truly a champion on and off the court, and we are all thankful for what he and his family have given to our team and city. He and his wife Lauren were steadfast in their efforts to make a positive difference in the lives of so many people. Their leadership and dedication to the community has left an indelible mark and inspired the Bucks organization for years to come.”

1:22pm: The Bucks have reached an agreement to trade for star Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard in a blockbuster three-team deal that also includes the Suns, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter links).

According to Wojnarowski, Portland will acquire guard Jrue Holiday and an unprotected 2029 first-round pick from the Bucks, along with the right to swap first-round picks with Milwaukee in 2028 and 2030. The Blazers will also get center Deandre Ayton and rookie forward Toumani Camara from the Suns in the deal.

In exchange for Ayton and Camara, Phoenix will receive center Jusuf Nurkic, forward Nassir Little, and guard Keon Johnson from Portland, as well as wing Grayson Allen from Milwaukee, per Woj.

The massive deal is the culmination of a saga that lasted nearly three months after Lillard requested a trade out of Portland in early July. The seven-time All-Star had spent his entire 11-year NBA career with the Trail Blazers but felt that the team was no longer moving toward championship contention following consecutive lottery seasons and sought a change of scenery.

Miami was Lillard’s landing spot of choice, but reports throughout the process indicated that there was little communication between the Heat and Trail Blazers. In recent days, with the Blazers believed to be working to make a deal before the start of training camp, other Eastern Conference suitors like the Raptors and Bucks were increasingly connected to the 33-year-old.

Milwaukee ultimately emerged as the surprise winner of the Lillard sweepstakes, beating a handful of conference rivals to the punch and strengthening a core that also includes two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and standout starters Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, both of whom signed new free agent contracts with the club this offseason.

While there have been questions about whether Lillard would be happy to report to any team besides the Heat, both he and Antetokounmpo have expressed a desire to play with one another in the past, as Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and Alex Kennedy of BasketballNews.com point out (all Twitter links). And the Bucks should put Lillard in a better position to win a championship than he ever had with the Blazers.

Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo may not be any more inclined to sign a long-term extension with the Bucks following the acquisition of Lillard than he was earlier in the offseason, given that he would benefit financially from waiting another year. However, in dealing for another star like Lillard, the Bucks’ front office proved it heard Giannis’ call for the organization to be as committed to contending for titles as he is.

The Blazers, who patiently scoured the market for most of the offseason in the wake of Lillard’s trade request, will come away from the deal with a pair of intriguing new players in Ayton and Holiday, though the big man is more likely to remain in Portland than the veteran guard.

According to Wojnarowski (Twitter link), the Blazers – who are focused on developing a young backcourt that features Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons, and this year’s No. 3 overall pick Scoot Henderson – remain engaged in trade talks involving Holiday and could flip him to a contender for additional assets.

Holiday, who can become a free agent next summer if he turns down his 2024/25 player option, recently spoke about his desire to sign a contract extension with the Bucks, but now appears destined for a new long-term NBA home. Holiday will become extension-eligible in February, though as Bobby Marks of ESPN notes (via Twitter), he won’t be able to sign a contract that exceeds the extend-and-trade limits (two new years, 5% raises) until six months after being dealt.

On the other hand, it sounds like Ayton will be a keeper for the Blazers, who have had interest in the former No. 1 overall pick in the past and were linked to him again within the last week. The 25-year-old had an up-and-down five-year stint in Phoenix that included some tension with former Suns coach Monty Williams, but he has averaged a double-double for five straight seasons, including 18.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in 30.4 minutes per game across 67 contests last season.

As for the Suns, they recognized that a player such as Ayton, who liked to have the ball in his hands, might not be an ideal fit alongside their new big three of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal, and turned the young center and his $32.5MM cap hit into a series of role players on smaller contracts, including another big man in Nurkic.

Acquiring Nurkic, Little, Allen, and Johnson will make the Suns deeper and will give them more flexibility in future trades, given that their nearly all of their non-stars had been on minimum-salary contracts. However, the move creates a bit of a roster crunch in Phoenix. The club will now have 15 players on guaranteed contracts, plus Jordan Goodwin and Ish Wainright on partially guaranteed or non-guaranteed deals. At least two of those 17 players will have to be traded or cut before the regular season tips off.

While the Suns will increase their roster count as a result of this trade, the Bucks and Trail Blazers are both sending out more players than they’re taking back. That’s especially notable for Milwaukee, which had been carrying 15 players on guaranteed salaries prior to agreeing to acquire Lillard. The Bucks now project to have an open spot on their 15-man regular season roster, which could be used to add a backup point guard.

From a cap perspective, the Bucks will take on the biggest long-term deal in the three-team trade — Lillard is under contract for four more seasons and will earn a projected $216MM during that time, while Holiday ($36.86MM) and Allen ($8.93MM) could both reach free agency next summer.

The Blazers will owe Ayton approximately $102MM over the next three years before he becomes eligible for free agency. Camara is under contract for four years, but it’s a minimum-salary deal and only the first season is guaranteed.

The Suns will take on Nurkic’s three-year contract worth $54.38MM and Little’s four-year contract worth $28MM in addition to Allen’s expiring deal. Johnson is owed a guaranteed $2.81MM salary in 2023/24 and has a $4.47MM team option that the Suns must pick up or decline by October 31, if he’s still on the roster at that point.

More Lillard Trade Notes: Nets, Raptors, Grades, Holiday

Ten days ago, Aaron GoodwinDamian Lillard‘s agent — privately informed the Bucks and Nets that his client would be interested in joining Milwaukee or Brooklyn, sources tell Marc J. Spears of Andscape (Twitter link). Spears also writes that the Raptors were a “real contender” for Lillard, who will reportedly land with the Bucks.

Appearing on 590 The FAN, Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca described the Raptors’ pursuit of Lillard as being less than full throttle.

There was always interest, determination to try to get a deal but they wanted to see if they could, knowing them, without having to give up everything,” Grange said (Twitter link).

As for the Bucks, they discretely began inquiring about Lillard a couple weeks ago, league sources tell Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports. Goodwill writes that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lillard will be under a lot of pressure to bring another title to Milwaukee after going all-in, and losing Jrue Holiday‘s defense shouldn’t be ignored.

Why would Milwaukee appeal to Lillard? In addition to being on a title contender and playing with two-time MVP and 2021 Finals MVP Antetokounmpo, Lillard will also participate in more nationally televised games (19) than any other season in his career, notes Nate Jones (via Twitter), another of Lillard’s agents.

Here’s more on the three-team blockbuster between the Bucks, Trail Blazers and Suns:

  • In grading the deal, Kevin Pelton of ESPN (Insider link) gives both Milwaukee and Portland a B-plus, while Phoenix receives a B-minus. Pelton likes the addition of Nassir Little more for the Suns than Jusuf Nurkic, noting Nurkic’s injury history, inefficiency inside the arc and lack of mobility. Zach Harper of The Athletic has identical grades for the Suns and Blazers, but is more bullish on the Bucks’ side of the deal, giving Milwaukee an A.
  • Both Bill Oram of The Oregonian (subscriber link) and Mark Medina of Sportsnaut argue that the deal is a win-win for Portland and Lillard.
  • ESPN’s Bobby Marks provides his breakdown of the deal (YouTube link). As Marks notes, Lillard’s long-term deal is actually an insurance policy of sorts for the Bucks, since Holiday can become a free agent next summer if he turns down his player option.
  • Sean Highkin of The Rose Garden Report (Twitter link) thinks it’s inevitable that Holiday — who is heading to Portland from Milwaukee as part of the deal — will eventually be traded. However, keeping him until the trade deadline isn’t a bad option, according to Highkin, as more teams might pursue the veteran guard during the season once more players become trade-eligible.
  • Don’t expect the Raptors to pursue Holiday, tweets Grange. Toronto was interested in Lillard’s elite half-court offense, while Holiday isn’t on the same level at that end of the court.
  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer (Twitter link) argues the Magic should pursue Holiday, while Mike Vaccaro of The New York Post believes the Knicks should trade for the All-Defensive guard, writing that head coach Tom Thibodeau would love to have him. “Thibs and Jrue,” a longtime NBA executive texted Vaccaro, “is a marriage made in basketball heaven.”
  • ESPN’s panel of insiders answer big questions after the massive trade, while Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports provides three takeaways from the Suns’ perspective.

More Notes On Bucks’ Trade For Damian Lillard

The Damian Lillard news that we’ve been waiting for all offseason finally broke on Wednesday afternoon, as the Bucks reached an agreement to acquire the star guard from Portland in a three-team deal that will send former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton to the Trail Blazers.

Lillard and agent Aaron Goodwin made it clear shortly after Dame asked to be traded that the 33-year-old only wanted to be dealt to Miami. Instead, he’ll end up in Milwaukee, joining one of the Heat’s biggest Eastern Conference rivals. In his first public statement since news of the deal broke, Lillard said goodbye to Portland and seemingly put to rest any speculation that he would decline to report to his new team.

“The casuals won’t be addressed but the Trail Blazers fans and city of Portland that I love truly will be … and they will be addressed truthfully. Stay tuned,” Lillard wrote on Twitter. “Excited for my next chapter! @Bucks.”

Here’s more on the Lillard trade:

  • The Trail Blazers didn’t re-engage with the Heat prior to accepting the Bucks’ offer on Wednesday, a league source tells Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald (Twitter link). According to Chiang, the communication between Miami and Portland this offseason was pretty limited, and the Heat only learned about the trade when Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news.
  • According to Chiang (Twitter link), Goodwin put out a statement today on the Heat‘s pursuit of his client: They did everything they could to acquire Dame. It takes two to get a deal done. I appreciate all that Pat (Riley), Andy (Elisburg) and Micky (Arison) did to try and make this happen.”
  • With Jrue Holiday expected to remain very available for trade after being sent to Portland, the Sixers will be among the teams with interest in acquiring him, reports Kyle Neubeck of PHLY Sports (Twitter link). If the 76ers were to land Holiday, I imagine it would be in a multi-team deal involving James Harden, though that’s just my speculation.
  • Holiday also seems to fit the mold of the type of player the Heat would covet, Chiang notes (via Twitter), though he acknowledges that the veteran guard’s market could be “robust.”
  • No longer having Deandre Ayton‘s long-term, maximum-salary contract on their books is considered a positive for the Suns, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic (Twitter link). Rankin adds that new Phoenix center Jusuf Nurkic is viewed as a good team player who buys into his role, is loved by teammates, and can help the Suns with his passing.
  • Shortly after the news of Lillard’s trade to Milwaukee broke, Heat star Jimmy Butler took to Instagram to send a message to the league, as ClutchPoints relays (Twitter video link). “Yo NBA, man, y’all need to look into the Bucks for tampering,” Butler said. “Y’all do. I’m just going to put that out there. Y’all didn’t hear it from me, but I heard it through somebody, y’all look at them for tampering.”
  • The Bucks‘ and Suns‘ championship betting odds both increased as a result of today’s trade news, per Alex Kennedy of BasketballNews.com (Twitter link). Kennedy says that one sportsbook has moved Milwaukee from +700 to +370 and Phoenix from +800 to +600.
  • As Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report observes (via Twitter), Lillard’s move to Milwaukee will reunite him with his former coach. The Bucks hired Terry Stotts this offseason as Adrian Griffin‘s lead assistant. Stotts was Portland’s head coach from 2012-21.

Suns To Explore Deandre Ayton, Jusuf Nurkic Swap?

Deandre Ayton‘s name hasn’t come up in rumored trade discussions nearly as much this summer as it did a year ago. In June, John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM reported that Ayton was “very unlikely” to be traded.

However, in a Twitter thread posted on Thursday (Twitter link), Gambadoro writes that while Phoenix hasn’t been actively seeking trades for Ayton, if Jusuf Nurkic were to be on the table as an available trade option, he’d be surprised if the Suns didn’t look into making such a swap.

Gambadoro goes on to tweet that such a move would be contingent on Damian Lillard being traded out of Portland, which Gambadoro expects will happen “very soon.” The Trail Blazers have shown no interest in trading for Ayton, Gambadoro writes, but that could change if or when Lillard is on the move.

On paper, such a trade would be surprising. While Ayton’s youth and upside could be appealing to the Trail Blazers, which Gambadoro notes, Nurkic is arguably a downgrade from Ayton. It would be peculiar for Phoenix, who is looking to contend in 2023/24, to soften its rotation, especially so close to the start of the season.

It’s also unclear how such a move would take place. A straight one-for-one deal for the two players is impossible, considering Ayton’s $32.5MM salary in ’23/24 and Nurkic’s $16.9MM salary. Because Portland is currently below the luxury tax but above the cap, they could not take in Ayton’s salary as is. The Suns and the Trail Blazers would need to salary match in a hypothetical trade. While a framework involving Nurkic, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson, for example, works, it would push the Blazers over the luxury tax, complicating matters.

It’s also important to note that the Suns and Trail Blazers cannot trade any of the free agents they signed this offseason until at least three months after they signed or December 15, whichever is later. Players like Keita Bates-Diop and Eric Gordon, for instance, are not eligible to be traded until December 15. Another list of players, such as Matisse Thybulle and Jerami Grant, are ineligible to be traded until January 15.

In a separate piece, Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports wrote that the Suns are a “dark horse team” to help facilitate a potential Lillard trade. According to Bourguet, talks around the league for Lillard are heating up, which matches Gambadoro’s reporting, with teams like Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago and Toronto among the most active potential suitors.

Bourguet also addresses the difficulty in matching salaries between the two teams, but perhaps a multi-team trade involving Lillard is how Nurkic ends up in Phoenix and Ayton ends up in Portland.

For what it’s worth, Rose Garden Report’s Sean Highkin tweets that while he can’t speak to whether any deal is imminent, Portland has wanted to upgrade the center spot and had interest in Ayton in the past.

Ayton holds career averages of 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds, though his play in the postseason this year fell short of that mark, as he averaged 13.4 PPG and 9.7 RPG. Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, is still just 25 years old.

Nurkic, on the other hand, is 29 and averaged 13.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game last season. While their production isn’t necessarily far apart, Nurkic’s leg injury in 2019 seems to still be affecting his athleticism. Gambadoro reasons that even after the injury, Nurkic is a better defender than Ayton and could make more sense in head coach Frank Vogel‘s system.

Regardless of whether Nurkic winds up being moved for Ayton, his situation in Portland is certainly one to monitor. It’s possible Nurkic is included in a potential Lillard package, but if he’s not, it would be surprising if the Trail Blazers kept him around much longer than this season given their apparent commitment to a youth movement.

Luka Garza Talks Team Bosnia, Timberwolves, International Opportunities

Timberwolves center Luka Garza spoke with Giorgos Kyriakidis of BasketNews about how he benefited from joining Minnesota in 2022/23, following what he felt to be a frustrating rookie two-way season with the Pistons.

“This year [2022/23], signing with Minnesota and being in a way more comfortable position, allowed me to come out and play,” Garza reflected.

This past season with the Timberwolves, the 6’11” big man out of Iowa averaged 6.5 PPG on .543/.359/.788 shooting splits, along with 2.3 RPG, 0.6 APG. Across six regular season contests with Minnesota’s NBAGL affiliate, the Iowa Wolves, he averaged 32.2 PPG on a superlative slash line of .642/.429/.704. The big man also pulled down 11.5 RPG, dished out 3.8 APG, and rejected 1.3 BPG.

Garza and Kyriakidis also discussed the third-year center’s decision to re-sign with Minnesota on a two-way contract, joining Bosnia and Herzegovina’s national team for the Olympic pre-qualification tournament next month, and more. Their full conversation is well worth a read, but here are some highlights.

On why he ultimately opted to play for Team Bosnia instead of Team USA:

“For me, the only other option I could have taken was play for the USA team. Obviously, there were opportunities mid-year and during the summer time, like playing in the qualifiers. But for me, there was never a doubt in my mind where I wanted to play for and who I wanted to represent. It has been that way since I was a kid. Just being around my grandfather, my grandmother, and my mom, it was an easy decision.”

On playing with Bosnian center Jusuf Nurkic:

“And obviously, alongside Nurkic, there’s going to be a little bit of both for both of us because he’s a skilled guy who can score from the perimeter as well. So, I think it will be a smooth transition because I can adjust my game. We have to just wait and see what training camp is like and figure it out from there, but I believe so.”

On returning to the Timberwolves:

“Through early conversations, it seemed that the front office wanted me back. It was about figuring out the terms of the contract and what the situations was going to be like.”

On agreeing to a two-way deal instead of a standard roster spot:

“It’s not set in stone. For me, it doesn’t mean that much. It’s about being with the organization and the team. I feel like the rest will take care of itself as I continue to play and show my value.”

On receiving overtures from European teams:

“When I first entered the draft from my junior year, there were some opportunities there. Even last summer, after being cut by the Pistons, I didn’t have any contracts besides Exhibit 10s or training-camp deals. Different teams reached out to me, but I felt like I hadn’t finished my story in the NBA… I’ve always had big respect for European basketball. It’s amazing the way the game is played over there. At no point have I said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to play in Europe.’ That’s something that’s on the cards for me, but not until I’m done chasing my dream in the NBA.”

Scotto’s Latest: Bridges, O’Neale, Finney-Smith, Blazers, Brown, DSJ

While it’s possible the Nets will get involved in the Damian Lillard sweepstakes, Mikal Bridges is “not for sale,” league sources tell Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. That was the case leading up to the draft when the Trail Blazers‘ No. 3 pick was rumored to be on the trade block, and it will be the case again if Brooklyn makes a play for Lillard.

While the Nets aren’t Lillard’s preferred landing spot – he’s reportedly focused on Miami – they could put together a strong package of draft picks and quality players on team-friendly contracts, such as Royce O’Neale and Dorian Finney-Smith. According to Scotto, in trade negotiations involving those two forwards, Brooklyn has been unwilling to part with O’Neale for less than the equivalent of a first-round pick or Finney-Smith for the equivalent of two first-rounders.

Here’s more from Scotto:

  • The Trail Blazers are expected to discuss Jusuf Nurkic in their Lillard trade talks, Scotto confirms. Meanwhile, even though Jerami Grant is re-signing with Portland, Scotto expects the forward to emerge as a trade candidate down the road, since he may not fit the Blazers’ post-Lillard timeline. The Pistons and Pacers were among the teams expected to have interest in Grant before word broke that he’d be re-signing with the Blazers, Scotto writes.
  • Before he agreed to accept a two-year, $45MM offer from the Pacers, Bruce Brown received six offers in the neighborhood of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($12.4MM), according to Scotto, who says other teams with cap room also inquired on the popular free agent guard.
  • The Nets‘ one-year deal with Dennis Smith Jr. is worth $2.53MM, league sources tell Scotto. That makes it a minimum-salary contract — the veteran’s minimum this season for a player with Smith’s six years of NBA experience is $2,528,233.

Latest On Damian Lillard

Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin will try to accommodate the trade request Damian Lillard made earlier today, but he will also operate in the best interests of his own team, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Rival front offices believe Cronin is looking for a “star-level” return and he’s willing to consider other teams besides Miami, which is Lillard’s preferred destination.

Cronin confirmed that sentiment in a statement he issued after the Lillard news was made public, saying, “We have been clear that we want Dame here, but he notified us today he wants out and he’d prefer to play someplace else. What has not changed for us is that we’re committed to winning, and we are going to do what’s best for the team in pursuit of that goal.” (Twitter link)

Tyler Herro, who has four years and $120MM left on his contract, is considered a vital part of any Heat deal for salary matching purposes. However, sources tell Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link) that Cronin doesn’t view Herro as a good fit with his roster and would try to find a third team to take him if Lillard is traded to Miami. The Nets have been considered as a team that might take on Herro’s contract, according to Ian Begley of SNY.tv (Twitter link).

There’s also a sense that the Blazers won’t rush into a deal and will take their time to make sure they get the best return for Lillard, tweets Mark Medina of Sportsnaut.

Many teams are interested in acquiring Lillard, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic, who names the Sixers, Clippers and Jazz among them. Amick reiterates that a third team would likely have to get involved for a trade with Miami to work.

Amick also examines what led to Lillard’s trade request, saying he was ready to ask for a deal when he and his agent met with Cronin on Monday. Cronin was able to talk Lillard into waiting to see what the team was able to do in free agency, but when no major additions took place Friday night, Lillard called coach Chauncey Billups and decided it was time to move on.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer also has doubts that Lillard will end up in Miami, stating that the Heat’s potential best offer would be “one of the worst trades in NBA history.” He believes Miami would be willing to accept Jusuf Nurkic‘s contract along with Lillard, while sending back Herro, Kyle Lowry, Jaime Jaquez, Nikola Jovic, first-round picks in 2028 and 2030 and a pick swap in 2029. O’Connor points out that the deal wouldn’t give Portland a collection of valuable picks or young talent to build around.

O’Connor lists eight teams that he believes should be aggressively pursuing Lillard, starting with the Sixers. Philadelphia has indicated that it’s not willing to part with Tyrese Maxey, but if that changes, O’Connor views Maxey, two future first-rounders, a pick swap and expiring contracts as better than what Miami can offer. He points out that Sixers president Daryl Morey can pick up more trade assets by sending James Harden to the Clippers before addressing Lillard.