Kawhi Leonard

Pacific Notes: Howard, Clippers, Westbrook, Davis

Dwight Howard completed his two-day interview with the Warriors on Wednesday and a decision on his future with the team could be made as soon as today, tweets Jason Dumas of KRON4 News.

Howard will travel to Los Angeles for a workout later today with Draymond Green and Chris Paul, according to Dumas, who states that the team’s veterans have already endorsed the idea of signing the 37-year-old big man.

With 13 players on standard contracts, Golden State is hoping to fill out its roster with a reliable backup for center Kevon Looney. Dewayne DedmonDerrick Favors and Harry Giles are among the players who were brought in for workouts, while the team also reportedly had interest in JaVale McGee before he signed with Sacramento.

Howard wants to return to the NBA after playing last season in Taiwan. He’s an eight-time All-Star, but has changed teams every year since 2016/17.

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • The Clippers shouldn’t be considered the face of the NBA’s new player participation policy, contends Law Murray of The Athletic. Although Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have missed a lot of games over the past few years, Murray argues that the PPP wouldn’t have affected the team very much if it had been in place last season. He points out that the two stars missed the same game 12 times in 2022/23. Only two of those games were nationally televised, and Leonard and George were legitimately injured for both contests — Leonard with a sprained ankle and George with a strained hamstring.
  • In a KTLA segment (Instagram link), Leonard says the Clippers will benefit from having Russell Westbrook on their roster from the start of training camp (hat tip to Fan Nation). The veteran guard made a late-season impact after joining the team in February. “It’s very important having him back,” Leonard said. “… Now we got a Hall-of-Fame point guard that’s been through it. I think that’s going to be big for us coming into the year.”
  • Appearing on the Athletic NBA Show (video link), Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said the team was able to overcome its slow start last season because of stellar play from Anthony Davis. Davis was limited to 56 games, but he averaged 25.9 points and 12.5 rebounds and L.A. was much better when he was on the court. “Anthony Davis being healthy, there’s an argument to be made that he was the best player in the NBA when he was playing,” Buss said.

And-Ones: Ignite, 2024 Draft, Unsuccessful Pairings, Eddy Curry

The G League Ignite’s impressive collection of talent was on display Wednesday night in Nevada, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic. Six players who may be selected in next year’s draft were on the court for the Ignite, and a seventh, Thierry Darlan of France, missed the game against Perth, Australia, with an ankle injury.

The biggest attraction was guard Ron Holland, whom Hollinger considers the “betting favorite” to be the top pick in 2024. Hollinger adds that Holland isn’t a clear-cut No. 1 choice like Victor Wembanyama was this year, but he looked good in his first pro game, using a mix of explosiveness and ferocity to put up 23 points.

“Ron is very, very competitive” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “So now I’m wanting to channel it to where the opposition doesn’t know if you’re mad or you’re happy. I just told him to relax, calm down … I think he heard me. But that’s going to be a process because he’s so competitive, and I don’t want to take that from him. That’s his thing; he’s just has to learn how to use it.”

Matas Buzelis and Izan Almansa, who are projected to be top-10 picks, also showed off their skills, Hollinger adds, along with Tyler Smith, London Johnson and Perth prospects Alex Sarr and Ben Henshall. The teams will meet again on Friday.

There’s more from around the basketball world:

Clippers Notes: Lue, Leonard, George, Westbrook, Plumlee, Coffey

After battling injuries for much of last season, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George should be fully healthy for the beginning of training camp, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said in an appearance on Chris Haynes and Marc Stein’s #thisleague UNCUT podcast.

“They’re both on track to be 100% by the time training camp starts, and that’s what we need,” Lue said. “You know, our best players will be healthy, and we’ve just been in an unfortunate situation where our two best players (haven’t had) a full season together the last three years and that’s been tough on us.”

The Clippers thought they were ready to compete for a title when they signed Leonard and traded for George during the 2019 offseason, but bad luck with injuries has prevented them from making a serious run. Returning from an ACL injury, Leonard was limited to 52 games last season, then tore his meniscus during a first-round playoff series. George appeared in 56 games and missed the playoffs entirely due to a sprained right knee.

Lue also indicated that he doesn’t plan to do as much load management with his two stars this season.

“We have to, like I say, start respecting the regular season and giving our fans what they want to see and playing hard every single night, putting our best product on the floor,” he said. “And you know, our guys are ready to do that this year.”

There’s more on the Clippers:

  • On the same podcast, Lue said he’s looking forward to coaching Russell Westbrook for an entire season after the veteran guard re-signed this summer. Lue revealed that Westbrook and Mason Plumlee both had other options, but they wanted to say in L.A. “That just says a lot about the Clippers organization and what we’re trying to build there,” Lue added. “They both could have went other places for more money, but they like what we’re doing with the Clippers.”
  • Appearing recently on Stephen A. Smith’s podcast, George ranked the Clippers second in the West behind the defending champion Nuggets. “I’m gonna give Denver their credit,” George said. “They’re the champions until beaten. If healthy, we got one of the biggest chances to win it, if healthy.” 
  • Amir Coffey has been charged with one count of carrying a loaded firearm and one count of carrying a concealed firearm, according to TMZ Sports. Coffey was arrested in late July following a traffic stop in Hollywood. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for later this month.

Pacific Notes: Ayton, Curry, Paul, Kobe, Clippers

Suns center Deandre Ayton was the subject of trade rumors earlier this offseason and has faced criticism for his inconsistent play. He spoke last month about wanting to “change the narrative of what people think about me.”

Helping the Bahamas win a pre-qualifying tournament for the 2024 Olympics was a good start, and the former No. 1 overall pick seems to have rediscovered his joy for basketball while representing his home country, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic (subscriber link).

The best teammates I’ve ever been around on and off the court,” Ayton said last weekend after defeating Argentina in the final. “Just understanding how it feels to fight for your country and everybody on the same mission. It was a phenomenal feeling.”

Here’s more from the Pacific:

  • Mark Medina of Sportskeeda recently spoke to Stephen Curry‘s trainer, Brandon Payne, about a number of topics, including Curry’s offseason work with new Warriors addition Chris Paul. “It was great,” Payne said. “They are two guys that have the same mindset: ‘We’re here to win, so let’s do it.’ I was very impressed with the instant chemistry those guys had. It was fun to watch. There was so much ball movement. For a pick-up basketball game, that was some of the most impressive ball movement I’ve ever seen.”
  • The Lakers will unveil a statue of the late Kobe Bryant outside Crypto.com Arena on February 8, 2024, tweets Khobi Price of The Southern California News Group. “Kobe Bryant was one of the most extraordinary athletes of all time, and one of the most iconic individuals in the history of Los Angeles,” said Lakers governor Jeanie Buss. “There is no better place for Kobe to honored with a statue than here, at the center of our city, where everyone can celebrate him and be inspired by his incredible achievements.” The Hall-of-Fame shooting guard spent all 20 of his NBA seasons with the Lakers, making 15 All-NBA appearances and winning five championships.
  • With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George possibly entering the final year of their respective contracts (both have player options for 2024/25), Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports wonders if the Clippers‘ title window has already closed. As Goodwill writes, Leonard and George have dealt with numerous injuries during their four years in L.A., so it’s hard to envision the Clippers being open to lucrative long-term extensions with the star wings.

Pacific Notes: Kawhi, Brown, Suns Payroll

The Clippers are reportedly in “no rush”t o enter into a new extension for oft-injured star forward Kawhi Leonard, reports Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN in a new edition of Zach Lowe’s podcast The Lowe Post.

“I hear it’s kind of quiet right now,” Youngmisuk said (hat tip to Joey Linn of Sports Illustrated for the transcription). “There is no rush on an extension for Kawhi Leonard, and then Paul George will be eligible in September.”

The 32-year-old Leonard, a five-time All-Star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time Finals MVP, remains an impactful player when healthy. After missing the entire 2021/22 season with an ACL tear, the 6’7″ swingman averaged 23.8 PPG on .512/.416/.871 shooting splits, along with 6.5 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.4 SPG and 0.5 BPG last year, albeit in just 52 games. He tore his meniscus during L.A.’s first-round matchup against the Suns this spring, and has not played a full postseason without a major injury since 2020.

As Youngmisuk notes, Leonard’s fellow injury-prone, maximum-salaried wing George will also be eligible for a lucrative new extension this offseason.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Clippers rookie Kobe Brown considers his four years of college seasoning a positive asset as he preps for his pro hoops debut, writes Tomer Azarly of Clutch Points. The 6’7″ wing was selected with the No. 30 pick out of Missouri in June. “Just because of the experience, the maturity on and off-the-court,” Brown told Azarly of how his extended NCAA run will help him at the next level. “I hear some guys you gotta kind of worry about off-the-court and if they’ll catch onto stuff faster, but me being older, I’ve kind of already lived a lot, not a whole lot, but a little bit more than some of the younger guys in the league so I understand a lot of off-the-court stuff a lot better.”
  • The Suns’ $188.5MM payroll ranks third in the NBA this season. Jeremy Cluff of The Arizona Republic unpacks the team’s contract situation for 2023/24. That number will shoot up to $204MM+ in 2024/25 among just 11 players who will be signed on that season, assuming some player and team options are picked up.
  • In case you missed it, former Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers is expected to receive a variety of inquiries about his services, should openings arise in rival front offices. Myers has publicly stated he wanted to take a break from the NBA at large upon departing, so it will be interesting to see how clubs try to entice him to return.

Los Angeles Notes: Christie, Plumlee, Leonard, Harden

Austin Reaves was a breakout performer for the Lakers last season. Could second-year guard Max Christie make similar strides?

After a strong showing in the Summer League, he feels he’s ready to step into the Lakers’ rotation, he told Heavy.com’s Sean Deveney.

“I feel a lot more comfortable, feel a lot more confident out here, just having the ball in my hands and being able to just play my game,” he said. “And so it’s kind of crazy what one year can do for you one year of experience. And so I think I’m reaping the benefits of just sort of staying even-keeled last year and learning a lot and being able to showcase it out here.”

Christie, who averaged 19 points per game in three appearances in Las Vegas, could carve out second-unit minutes behind Reaves at shooting guard.

We have more on the Los Angeles teams:

  • Mason Plumlee re-signed with the Clippers on a one-year, $5MM contract this month and the veteran big man said his experience with the club last season was a motivating factor, per Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times. “Just believing in the roster and having a little bit of playoff experience playing for (Tyronn Lue) and the staff,” he said. “To me, we were playing really well those first couple games even without Paul [George] yet into that and I just have a personal belief in this group and it’s something I wanted to be a part of.” Plumlee was acquired from Charlotte at last season’s trade deadline.
  • Kawhi Leonard is extension-eligible, and The Athletic’s Law Murray says the “dialogue is healthy,” but he still doubts that a deal will be reached anytime soon. Murray anticipates Leonard will once again opt for free agency as soon as next summer, when he must make a decision on his $48.8MM option for the 2024/25 season. Murray notes Leonard did not sign an extension with San Antonio after he was named the league’s MVP and also walked away from Toronto after winning a championship there.
  • Should the Clippers trade for James Harden? Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times believes so, opining that it’s the last chance for Leonard and Paul George to seriously chase a championship with the franchise.

Pacific Notes: Ishbia, Suns, Christie, Clippers, Vezenkov

Chris Paul caused a stir last month when he repeatedly said Isiah Thomas was involved in the Suns‘ decision to trade him for Bradley Beal, but owner Mat Ishbia says Thomas had no role in the deal.

When decisions are made in the organization, (president of basketball operations and GM) James Jones, myself, (CEO) Josh Bartelstein, (head coach) Frank Vogel, our executive team make decisions,” Ishbia told Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. “Outside people don’t have any role in our decision-making process. They never have, they never will. I’ve asked for advice from a lot of people, specifically Tom Izzo, Isiah Thomas, Mateen Cleaves, Charlie Bell. I talk to a lot of people, but honestly, on this situation, not one of those people were consulted on this decision.”

In an Insider-only article for ESPN, Brian Windhorst takes a look at Ishbia’s active involvement in the Suns organization. Sources tell Windhorst that Thomas has spent time informally advising in Phoenix, but his unofficial role has been reduced in recent weeks after the team filled out its front office. Windhorst’s sources confirm that Thomas was not involved in the Beal/Paul trade.

Here’s more from the Pacific:

  • Lakers wing Max Christie has been excelling during Summer League action, and he hopes that his work this offseason will lead to more minutes in 2023/24, which will be his second NBA season. “I just want to be in the rotation and play as much as possible,” Christie told Jovan Buha of The Athletic. “I just want to play as much basketball as I can. Last year was motivation to get to that spot. That’s really all it is. That’s my mission. That’s my goal.” The 20-year-old has put on about 15 pounds of muscle since he was drafted last year, Buha adds. In another article for The Athletic, Buha examines the Lakers’ depth chart, with Christie currently slotting in as the backup shooting guard behind Austin Reaves.
  • Should the Clippers offer contract extensions to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George? Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times spoke to rival executives and an agent to solicit opinions on what path the Clippers should take with their oft-injured star duo.
  • In an interview with Eurohoops.net, reigning EuroLeague MVP Sasha Vezenkov talked about his decision to sign with the Kings and being an NBA rookie at 27 years old. “It’s a dream and a potential,” the forward said as part of larger quote. “Because I’m not doing this just for living the NBA dream. In any dream, I see potential. A potential that can teach me something and evolve me. I’m not going to the USA to come back soon. I want to be tested in the NBA. I’m thinking about everything positively. I’ll start at zero. Now, the work I’ll do will be even bigger. I know what I’ve been through and how much I’ve worked. You can’t buy experience. I think the circumstances are the best.”

Russell Westbrook Re-Signs With Clippers

JULY 6: Westbrook’s new deal with the Clippers is official, according to NBA.com’s transaction log.

JULY 1: Russell Westbrook will re-sign with the Clippers for nearly $8MM over two years, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Westbrook will receive a player option for the second season, Wojnarowski adds.

L.A. will use the Non-Bird exception for Westbrook, who joined the team in February after being traded to the Jazz and negotiating a buyout. The Clippers are limited to a 20% raise for Westbrook over the veteran’s minimum contract he played under last season.

He will receive $3,835,738 for the 2023/24 season and $4,027,525 for the following year if he exercises the option. The deal gives Westbrook a chance to opt out and test the market again next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

Westbrook struggled through the season and a half he spent with the Lakers, but he was able to revive his reputation somewhat with the cross-town Clippers. He became a full-time starter again after the move and averaged 15.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 7.6 assists in 21 games while helping the team avoid falling into the play-in tournament.

The Clippers were “eager” to keep Westbrook after his late-season performance, Wojnarowski adds.

The former MVP and nine-time All-Star is considered a shoo-in Hall of Famer, but his standing around the league has fallen in recent years due to his declining shooting percentage, his penchant for turnovers and the number of times he has changed teams. After spending the first 11 seasons of his career in Oklahoma City, the Clippers marked Westbrook’s fifth team in six years.

He also became a scapegoat for an underachieving Lakers team, and trade rumors started circulating shortly after he was acquired in a 2021 deal. The Lakers had to part with a future first-round pick to send him to Utah, but before that happened, he experienced a coaching change and was made a full-time bench player for the first time in his career.

Clippers management was originally cool on the idea of adding Westbrook in February, but they relented after lobbying from Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.

L.A. was considered to be among the front-runners to land Chris Paul after the Suns traded him to Washington last month, but the Warriors snagged Paul by agreeing to part with Jordan Poole. The Clippers indicated that they would have considered re-signing Westbrook even if they had traded for Paul.

Clippers Are Harden’s Preferred Destination As Trade Talks Begin

James Harden‘s decision to exercise his $35.6MM player option and ask for a trade stems from displeasure with the Sixers over how they handled negotiations, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Harden has a strong desire to join the Clippers and is optimistic that a deal will take place, sources tell Amick. He also hears that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George support the idea of adding Harden.

Amick cites a series of “silent signals” from the Sixers organization that led to Harden’s dissatisfaction. After turning down a $47.4MM player option last summer and signing for $33MM to give the team extra cap space to build its roster, Harden was expecting a generous offer from Philadelphia president of basketball operations Daryl Morey if he declined his current option and entered free agency as expected.

However, sources tell Amick that Morey’s position was to have Harden test the market before making an offer. With interest from the Rockets reportedly drying up, Harden feared that the Sixers would offer a short-term, bargain contract and that he would be stuck on the open market with no way to get the type of deal he believes he deserves.

A potential return to Houston had been rumored since Christmas when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that Harden was considering it. However, the Rockets decided weeks ago that Harden wasn’t a good fit under new coach Ime Udoka, according to Amick. Owner Tilman Fertitta, his son Patrick Fertitta and general manager Rafael Stone remain fond of Harden and are fans of what he can do on the court, Amick adds, but the organization decided to go in another direction with its $64MM in cap room.

Harden had been hoping to create a bidding war between the Sixers and Rockets to wind up with one last mega-deal — something in the range of $200MM over four years — according to Yaron Weitzman of Fox Sports. As of late May, Harden hadn’t communicated his intentions to Philadelphia’s front office, Weitzman adds, and there was concern than he planned to leave even after Nick Nurse replaced Doc Rivers as head coach.

However, Rockets executives have been letting the league know for several months that they weren’t convinced Harden was headed there, according to Weitzman’s sources. Also, per Weitzman, the Rockets have informed agents that they’re not interested in offering contracts longer than two years so they won’t run into a salary crunch when their young players start becoming eligible for extensions.

Amick reports that Harden had a desire to be traded to the Suns before they acquired Bradley Beal and that Kevin Durant was on board with the move. It also would have represented a homecoming for Harden, who played at Arizona State and still has a home in the Phoenix area, but Amick states that the Sixers never talked to the Suns about a possible deal before the Beal opportunity arose.

Shams Charania of The Athletic says Philadelphia has already started trade discussions and mentions the Clippers and Heat as the most likely destinations (Twitter link). He adds that there’s an understanding around the league that a player of Harden’s caliber will eventually reach his “preferred destination,” which seems to favor L.A.

Miami isn’t expected to aggressively pursue Harden, tweets Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, who adds the Heat are preserving their assets in case there’s an opportunity to acquire Damian Lillard from the Trail Blazers.

Clippers Notes: George, Leonard, Westbrook, Brown, Miller

Paul George‘s name has surfaced in trade rumors a few times this month, but Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank told reporters this week that the team intends to continue building its roster around George and Kawhi Leonard, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“It’s still the plan,” Frank said. “What we are trying to do is how can we put together the best team around these guys? And we look at the different things, what has worked, what hasn’t worked, the job that we have to do better, the job that we challenge our players to continue to do better. We are trying to maximize these two and figure out ways we can get better.”

There has been some speculation that the trade rumors involving George have popped up because he’ll become extension-eligible this offseason and the Clippers may be reluctant to offer him another maximum-salary deal, given his injury history. The same thinking applies to Leonard, who will also become eligible for an extension. Asked about possible new contracts for the team’s two star forwards, Frank referred to the conversation as “premature.”

“We do talk [about] what the plan is, but we really can’t get into those specifics until the appropriate date and we will have the dialogues like we do,” he said, according to Youngmisuk. “We are very, very honest and [have] open conversations and see if there is something that makes sense for both sides.”

Here’s more on the Clippers:

  • Frank made it clear during this week’s press conference that the club wants to re-sign point guard Russell Westbrook, despite only having the ability to offer him a salary of $3.8MM using the Non-Bird exception. “Russ is a free agent and gets to choose,” Frank said, per Youngmisuk. “As he’s shown, he did a phenomenal job during his time with the Clippers. … We want Russ back but also respect the fact that he’s a free agent. But hopefully we can keep him a Clipper.”
  • Veteran NBA reporter Howard Beck is treating Frank’s comments about wanting to build around George and Leonard with a grain of salt, suggesting during an appearance on the FnA podcast that the Clippers aren’t “trying to give (George) away,” but that he’s “certainly available” via trade. “Lawrence Frank is going to say what he has to say,” Beck said (hat tip to Bleacher Report). “Team GMs and presidents always say that, ‘No, we love our guys,’ right up until the moment that they trade them. That’s just how this thing goes.”
  • Law Murray of The Athletic takes a look at what the Clippers are getting in No. 30 pick Kobe Brown and No. 48 pick Jordan Miller and what lies ahead for the team in free agency. As Murray notes, Los Angeles’ two draft picks reflect the team’s win-now mindset — both Brown and Miller are already 23 years old.