Keyontae Johnson

Northwest Notes: Henderson, Reath, OKC’s Big Three, Johnson

Trail Blazers guard Scoot Henderson has earned another opportunity to be a starter, according to Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. Henderson was reinserted into the starting five on Thursday, contributing 15 points and four assists against Minnesota.

“He’s made so many advancements, he’s just doing so good,” coach Chauncey Billups said. “And also, I just felt like as a young player, I want him to learn everything he gets. And he’s played so well on both sides of the floor.”

Henderson feels that having a former star point guard like Billups to coach him has aided his development, he told Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports.

“I take hard coaching very well,” said Henderson, who participated in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend. “When I was growing up, my dad was really hard on me. He taught me lessons, and I’m glad I went through things when I was younger, rather than learning them now. I had Coach [Jason] Hart last year, and he’s not easy to be coached by. Chauncey is coaching me hard, but it’s more information rather than just pounding on me.”

We have more from Northwest Division:

  • Trail Blazers big man Duop Reath‘s new three-year contract is guaranteed for two seasons and non-guaranteed for the third, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, who tweets that Portland used $1.95MM of its non-tax mid level exception to sign him. The Blazers are now $1.3MM below the luxury tax, adds Marks, noting that Reath’s first-year salary is five times more than the minimum for a first-year player.
  • The Thunder now have a new Big Three in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. While that trio might not reach the levels of OKC’s former Big Three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, it’s amazing how quickly the franchise has assembled three top-level talents in the early stages of their careers, Mussatto observes.
  • Thunder second-round pick Keyontae Johnson participated in the NBA G League Next Up game on Sunday. It’s another achievement for a player who faced a major health crisis. Sports Illustrated’s Rylan Stiles details Johnson’s journey to the pros after he collapsed on the court while playing for the University of Florida due to a heart condition. Johnson was initially told by doctors he would never play competitive basketball again.

NBA G League Announces Up Next Participants

A pool of 28 players has been selected for the NBA G League’s Up Next Game at All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, the NBAGL announced in a press release.

According to the release, the event features “four teams of seven players competing in two semifinal games. The winner of each semifinal will face off in a Championship game.

“The teams will be made up of 28 NBA G League players, including 10 selected by a fan vote. The remaining 18 players will be selected by the NBA G League and will include eight members of NBA G League Ignite and at least one member of the Indiana Mad Ants, the G League affiliate of the All-Star hosting Indiana Pacers. Each team will be coached by a head coach from the NBA G League.”

Players marked with an asterisk (*) are on two-way contracts.

Fan vote:

Former Kentucky guard Hagans received the most votes.

NBAGL selections:

G League Ignite:

They aren’t currently on NBA teams, but it’s worth noting that Labissiere and Bazley are ineligible for two-way deals because they each hold four years of NBA experience. Weatherspoon (three years), Hagans (one) and Williams (one) also hold at least some NBA experience.

Northwest Notes: Clarkson, Blazers, Billups, K. Johnson

Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson was on a minutes restriction Saturday night, but that was quickly forgotten when he started his fourth-quarter scoring binge, writes Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. Utah had planned to be careful with Clarkson, who had missed nine of the previous 11 games with a thigh contusion, but coach Will Hardy left him on the court as he helped seal a victory at Toronto.

“On a little bit of a minutes restriction, which I disobeyed, he came off the bench and he brought great energy,” Hardy said. “It didn’t feel like he’d been gone for a while with the way that he was playing.”

Clarkson wound up playing 30 minutes and scoring 30 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter as Utah erased a 17-point deficit. He played alongside Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler, Ochai Agbaji and Kris Dunn, and Hardy was reluctant to change that lineup while the team was playing so well.

“We had a couple of guys who played like 19 or 18 straight minutes,” Hardy said. “That was just because I felt like that group had a great rhythm. They had good energy. That’s a moment where, as the coach, you’re trying to stay out of the way and not ruin a good thing, so credit to the team. They’ll get to enjoy the next two days with their families.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Coach Chauncey Billups blames the lack of an “alpha” player for the Trail Blazers’ slow starts, according to Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. Bad first quarters have been a constant problem for Portland, even in a winnable game against Washington this week in which the Blazers shot 1-of-7 on three-pointers and committed five turnovers in the opening 12 minutes, leading to a 33-24 deficit that they weren’t able to overcome. “We’ve got some good players and some guys that are going to be All-Stars in this league,” Billups said. “But right now, we don’t have that dude that you can just throw it to and he can just kind of get us going for the first four or five minutes of the game. We just don’t have that. So we’ve got to do it collectively.”
  • Billups was honored to be among the nominees for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this week, per Ryan Clarke of The Oregonian. Billups was a six-time All-Star during his playing career and was named NBA Finals MVP in 2004. “That’s the holy grail. That’s it right there,” he said. “Being mentioned in that class is incredible for me. I dreamed about a lot of things in my life and in my career, but I didn’t dream that big.”
  • The Thunder are hoping Keyontae Johnson can become their next G League success story, Rylan Stiles writes for Thunderous Intentions. The 50th pick in this year’s draft signed a two-way contract and will spend most of the season with Oklahoma City Blue.

Northwest Notes: Henderson, Wallace, George, Juzang

After suffering a shoulder injury in his Summer League debut, Trail Blazers rookie Scoot Henderson will sit out Sunday’s game, tweets Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and TNT. Although he will miss a marquee matchup with Victor Wembanyama and the Spurs, Henderson is listed as day-to-day and still may return before the end of Summer League.

The dynamic guard told Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian that he strained his shoulder on a dunk attempt in Friday’s game against the Rockets. Overall, he was satisfied with his first performance against NBA players, which included 15 points, six assists and five rebounds in 21 minutes.

“I think I played pretty smooth,” Henderson said. “I know there are areas I definitely need to improve on. Just little things in my game where I think I can really perfect and master.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Thunder got to see their two draft picks in action for the first time on Saturday, writes Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. Cason Wallace wasn’t able to play in the Salt Lake City Summer League because his draft-night trade from the Mavericks hadn’t been processed, and Keyontae Johnson was sidelined with a strained hamstring. Both played well in a win over Dallas, and Wallace particularly impressed his teammates with a 20-point outing. “Great defender, great all-around player,” Chet Holmgren said. “I think he’s gonna fit in well with the other guys we have on this team. Great character, great kid, too. I’m glad we drafted him. It’s a good spot for him.” 
  • Jazz guard Keyonte George is one of the early stars in Las Vegas with 33 points and 10 assists in his debut, per Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. The rookie out of Baylor has a lock screen on his phone with a graphic listing the concerns that scouts had about him as an NBA prospect. “I wake up every morning with this on my phone,” he said. “Each time I’m going into a game or I’m going into workout, that’s my main focus, each and every day, each and every game. Let’s take care of all this — take good shots, even if they’re not falling, just make sure we take great shots, play with the basketball … and that’s what I feel like I did tonight.”
  • The Jazz have withdrawn their qualifying offer to Johnny Juzang, making him an unrestricted free agent, according to RealGM’s transactions log.

Thunder Sign Cason Wallace, Keyontae Johnson

The Thunder have signed Cason Wallace to his rookie scale contract, the team announced in a press release.

Wallace, who was the 10th overall pick in last month’s draft, was acquired via trade from Dallas. Oklahoma City took on Davis Bertans‘ contract in order to move up two spots and select the former Kentucky guard (the Thunder sent the Mavs the 12th pick to complete the deal).

Wallace, 19, has a reputation as a strong defensive player. He averaged 11.7 PPG, 4.3 APG, 3.7 RPG and 2.0 SPG on .446/.346/.757 shooting in 32 games (32.2 MPG) as a freshman last season for the Wildcats.

As our list of rookie scale salaries shows, Wallace will earn about $5.3MM as a rookie in 2023/24. That’s assuming he received 120% of his draft slot, which virtually every first-rounder does. Like all first-round picks, Wallace’s first two years are guaranteed, with team options in years three and four.

The Thunder have also signed second-round pick Keyontae Johnson to a two-way contract, per the team. Johnson, selected 50th overall, averaged 17.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.1 APG and 1.0 SPG on .516/.405/.715 shooting in 36 games (34.1 MPG) for Kansas State in ’22/23. Head of basketball operations Sam Presti previously said the plan was for Johnson to ink a two-way deal.

Northwest Notes: Reid, Timberwolves, Johnson, Jazz Rookies

Naz Reid will have a player option in the final year of the three-year extension he agreed to sign with the Timberwolves, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic tweets. The cap hits on his new deal will be $12.95MM next season, $13.98MM for the 2024/25 season and $15.02MM in 2025/26, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • While many Timberwolves fans may be frustrated by the way this past season unfolded and some of the moves the team made, Joe Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune lists 10 reasons why the franchise is better off than it was a year ago. The addition of Mike Conley and subtraction of D’Angelo Russell are two of the positive developments that made Souhan’s list.
  • The Thunder were comfortable drafting Keyontae Johnson with the No. 50 pick in the second round on Thursday despite a prior sexual assault allegation, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman reports. A woman accused Johnson of sexual assault at an off-campus party in 2022 when he played for Florida. Four months later, charges against Johnson were dismissed. “We reviewed the dismissal of the charges from 2022 as part of our normal due diligence process applied to all prospects,” a Thunder spokesperson said.
  • The Jazz’s first-round selections — Taylor Hendricks, Keyonte George and Brice Sensabaugh — were also connected in some way prior to the draft, Sarah Todd of the Deseret News notes. Florida natives Hendricks and Sensabaugh played AAU ball together. As seniors in high school, they faced each other in the state semifinals with Hendricks’ school winning by two points. Sensabaugh and George have been working out together for the past month and chose to be represented by the same agency, Wasserman.

Northwest Notes: Wolves, McDaniels, Jazz, K. Johnson

Having traded away so many first-round picks a year ago to acquire Rudy Gobert, the Timberwolves know they have to get “creative” if they hope to add young talent to their roster, president of basketball operations Tim Connelly told reporters during his post-draft press conference, per Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Minnesota entered Thursday night with a single second-round pick and acquired a second one that was used to draft Leonard Miller.

“We’re out a bunch of first-round picks, so we’re probably a bit more aggressive trying to find guys that are maybe a year early, or guys that have slipped for an injury, for example, like (No. 53 pick) Jaylen (Clark),” Connelly said. “I don’t think we can just follow too many trends. We’ve got to be creative and kind of cross our fingers.”

Clark, who injured his Achilles earlier this year and underwent surgery after the season, isn’t expected to be ready for the start of his rookie year. However, the Wolves are optimistic about what he’ll be able to bring to the team once he’s healthy, with Connelly referring to him as “the best perimeter defender in the draft,” according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

“We’re going to be very patient with him,” Connelly said. “Prior to the injury we thought the guy was an easy first-round pick.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • The Timberwolves received “a ton” of trade interest in forward Jaden McDaniels this week, league sources tell Krawczynski. Minnesota rebuffed inquiries from teams “all over the draft board,” Krawczynski adds.
  • Armed with first-round picks at No. 9, No. 16, and No. 28, the Jazz were a candidate to make a consolidation trade on Thursday. Instead, they hung onto all three picks and were thrilled to land Taylor Hendricks, Keyonte George, and Brice Sensabaugh, writes Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. “The way the draft board fell took a really fortunate turn for us,” general manager Justin Zanik said. “We got two of the guys that we had in our top 10 — players that we were, frankly, debating out which one to take at 9, and we ended up getting both of them. And at 28, getting a player that we had in our top 18.”
  • Hendricks, George, and Sensabaugh are all 19 years old, so the fact that the Jazz were willing to add all three to their 2023/24 roster is a reflection that they’re not in any hurry to accelerate their timeline for contention. Still, Tony Jones of The Athletic believes all three first-rounders are capable of playing rotation roles as rookies, noting that none of them are projects. “It’s not like we’re leaning into youth, we’re leaning into talent,” Zanik said, per Walden.
  • The Thunder‘s plan is for former Kansas State forward Keyontae Johnson, the 50th pick in Thursday’s draft, to sign a two-way contract, head of basketball operations Sam Presti said on Saturday (Twitter link via Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman).

Draft Notes: Ausar Thompson, Nnaji, Hornets, Hawks, Wizards

Ausar Thompson pulled out of a scheduled workout with the Pacers on Friday, according to an Indianapolis Star story. No official reason was given, but it’s possible that the Overtime Elite star has received information that he’s likely to be selected before Indiana picks at No. 7. The article also suggests that Thompson may prefer to be drafted by a team picking later in the lottery.

The canceled workout doesn’t mean the Pacers wouldn’t consider Thompson if he’s still on the board, as he would provide a defensive boost to a team that ranked 29th in that category this season. The Star story notes that president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard is looking for a player with a “high ceiling” in the draft, and Thompson appears to fit that description.

Indiana holds five picks and has brought in more than 60 players during the pre-draft process. Most have been in group sessions, but projected lottery picks such as Thompson have been given individual workouts. The Pacers have already hosted Villanova’s Cam Whitmore, Houston’s Jarace Walker, Central Florida’s Taylor Hendricks and Kansas’ Gradey Dick.

There’s more on the draft:

California Notes: George, Leonard, Warriors, Johnson, Hachimura

Following yet another injury-plagued regular season and postseason, the Clippers are once again confronted by an uncertain future this offseason. The team has just the Nos. 30 and 48 picks in this year’s draft, but in a breakdown from The Athletic’s Law Murray and Sam Vecenie of the team’s tenuous fate, Vecenie proposes a possible solution for Los Angeles to get further draft equity.

Vecenie opines that it might behoove the Clippers to offload All-Star forward Paul George now, suggesting the 33-year-old vet could become one of the most appealing trade targets on the market. Vecenie believes that a rival club might even take a flyer on pricey former All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard, who doesn’t seem capable of staying healthy long enough to help L.A. win meaningful games. Vecenie notes that Leonard is only signed through the 2024/25 season and still has quite a ceiling when he is available.

Should Los Angeles run things back for a fifth season with George and Leonard, however, Vecenie posits that the club could probably net a rotation player, perhaps an athletic veteran with size, by offloading its first-rounder.

There’s more out of California:

  • Rebuilding the Warriors’ disrupted team chemistry has emerged as the most important element of its summer, writes Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area. Poole notes that head coach Steve Kerr and departing team president Bob Myers both acknowledged that the team’s championship culture took a hit this season, with Kerr specifically pointing to the moment forward Draymond Green punched shooting guard Jordan Poole in the face during a preseason altercation. One year removed from winning its fourth championship with Green, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala, Golden State dropped 30 of its 41 road games in the regular season and was booted from the playoffs in the second round by the Lakers.
  • Kansas State swingman Keyontae Johnson could be an ideal culture fit for the Warriors, opines Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area. Johnson recently worked out for the Warriors along with five other players in front of team coaches and front office members. Johnson missed all but five games across his last two NCAA seasons at Florida due to heart inflammation, but had an eventual 2022/23 comeback upon transferring to the Wildcats.
  • Lakers power forward Rui Hachimura, a restricted free agent, discussed his upcoming free agency during a recent appearance on ESPN’s “Hoop Streams” show with hosts Cassidy Hubbarth, Gary Striewski, and Tim Legler (YouTube video link). While Hachimura is uncertain about his future, he was clearly appreciative of his postseason experience with the Lakers. “Back at that time (of the trade to L.A.), we didn’t even know we were going to make the playoffs,” Hachimura said. “So we made the playoffs and the playoff run was pretty good, we lost to Denver but it was pretty good for us. I don’t know my future but I just want to be somewhere I can be happy. The Lakers have been good and we’re going to see.”

Cavaliers Notes: Bickerstaff, Mitchell, Love, Draft

The Cavaliers were disappointed by their first-round playoff exit, but they never considered making a coaching change, Kelsey Russo of The Athletic writes in a mailbag column. President of basketball operations Koby Altman said in a post-playoff news conference that the organization remains committed to J.B. Bickerstaff, and Russo doesn’t believe next season should be considered “make or break” for him.

The Cavs continue to show progress under Bickerstaff, reaching the 51-win mark this season for the first time in six years. They also claimed the fourth seed and gained some valuable playoff experience for a roster that largely lacked it. In addition, Bickerstaff has strong support from his players, Russo adds.

“Since Day 1, I fell in love with the culture that they built here,” Ricky Rubio said. “I fell in love with how J.B. treats everybody, and it’s something that, that’s why I came back. And, of course, when you see results, you can look back and say, ‘Oh, I wish he could do this or that better.’ But at the end of the day, in the heat at the moment, it’s super hard to really see sometimes. And I think what he built here is something special. He’s a great locker room guy.”

There’s more from Cleveland:

  • Lauri Markkanen had a breakout season in Utah, but Russo doesn’t think the Cavaliers would have been better off by holding onto him, Ochai Agbaji, and the collection of draft picks they gave the Jazz in the Donovan Mitchell trade. She points out that Markkanen benefited from returning to his natural position of power forward in Utah, which wouldn’t have happened in Cleveland with Evan Mobley on the roster. She adds that having a superstar in Mitchell is more valuable than the various pieces that were surrendered to acquire him.
  • The Cavs’ buyout decision with Kevin Love looks worse than it actually was because of Miami’s run to the Finals and Cleveland’s playoff failure, Chris Fedor of states in a mailbag column. He notes that Bickerstaff removed Love from the rotation because he wasn’t producing and the team had other players who were more effective. Back and thumb injuries contributed to Love’s down season in Cleveland, but he only shot 30% from the field in his final 15 games with the Cavs and was frequently targeted on defense.
  • Holding just the 49th pick in this year’s draft, the Cavaliers had to be disappointed by seeing so many prospects decide to return to school, Fedor adds. Sources tell Fedor that Kentucky’s Chris Livingston will work out for the team next week, and a session has been scheduled with Eastern Michigan’s Emoni Bates. Fedor also hears that Cleveland invited Kansas State’s Keyontae Johnson to work out, but he’ll probably turn it down because he believes he’ll be off the board by No. 49.