Mat Ishbia

Pacific Notes: Williams, Lakers Free Agency, Clippers Draft, Vezenkov

Many owners around the league may not be happy about Monty Williams’ record-breaking contract to coach the Pistons but Suns owner Mat Ishbia should be pleased. Since there was an offset in Williams’ contract, the Suns don’t owe him any more money, John Gambadoro of 98.7 FM Phoenix tweets.

The Suns owed Williams $21MM for the remaining three years on his deal but the Pistons are paying more than that, reportedly a six-year, $78.5MM contract.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Bruce Brown, Torrey Craig, Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Okogie, Max Strus and Yuta Watanabe are some of the wing options the Lakers might explore with their non-taxpayer mid-level exception, Jovan Buha of The Athletic opines in his latest mailbag. Buha delves into a number of topics, including the possibility of LeBron James choosing to retire.
  • If the Clippers retain their draft picks (No. 30 overall in the first round, No. 48 in the second round), they’ll likely use one of them on a power forward that they can develop, according to Law Murray of The Athletic. The organization hasn’t drafted a true power forward in the first round since 2016.
  • Euroleague Most Valuable Player Sasha Vezenkov, whose rights are owned by the Kings, says he’s ready for new challenges, Sportando relays. In a Bulgarian TV interview, Vezenkov said, “Nobody knows what will happen in a few years, so I will decide how to proceed when the time comes. We agreed that it would be best to finish the season and then talk. We’ll see if they have a specific offer and what I will decide. I’m ready for new challenges, but as I’ve said before, Athens and Olympiacos are my home and I feel great.” Vezenkov has buyout language in his Olympiacos contract if he wants to sign with Sacramento.

Pacific Notes: Ishbia, Suns, Clippers, Lakers

New Suns owner Mat Ishbia‘s swift, decisive decision making thus far with Phoenix could impact how his coaching candidates view the gig, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic.

As Rankin notes, within 12 hours of Ishbia assuming control over the franchise, the team had already made a massive deal, acquiring forwards Kevin Durant and T.J. Warren from the Nets for young talents Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, along with several draft picks.

Ishbia also was quick to move on from head coach Monty Williams, who possessed a 194-115 regular season record with the club, just two years removed from an NBA Finals berth.

At present, Ishbia is something of a wild card as an owner, which could give some of the finalists for the head coaching vacancy pause.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • The Suns and the Phoenix Mercury, the WNBA team Ishbia also purchased, have made formal bids to host future All-Star Games, Rankin writes in a separate piece. “We’re excited to partner with the city of Phoenix to engage the NBA and WNBA to bring both All-Star Games to the Valley,” Ishbia said. “Phoenix is one of the great basketball cities in the world and the perfect place to bring together the players and fans to celebrate the sport. The Phoenix Suns and Mercury want to continue finding new and important ways to partner with the city to bring real impact to our community.”
  • With one of their top front office lieutenants gone, the Clippers face several looming offseason decisions, writes Law Murray of The Athletic. Former Los Angeles GM Michael Winger departed the team to run the Wizards. As Murray notes, 2023/24 marks the final season with injury-prone stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on guaranteed deals, as both players hold options for the 2024/25 season. Murray wonders if Clippers team president Lawrence Frank will opt to extend Leonard, George, or head coach Tyronn Lue.
  • Though the Lakers could theoretically make a run for the services of Mavericks All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving in free agency or Hawks point guard Trae Young via trade, Mark Medina of The Sporting Tribune believes the club should prioritize roster continuity over splashy names.

Suns Notes: Lee, Vanderbilt, Hachimura, Williams

Damion Lee saw his playing time diminish after the trade deadline, but the Suns guard still appeared in 74 games during the regular season and posted solid offensive numbers, averaging 8.2 points in 20.4 minutes while shooting a career high 44.5% on 3-point attempts and 90.4% from the foul line.

After signing a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal with the Suns last offseason, Lee feels confident as he heads back into free agency, Dana Scott of the Arizona Republic writes.

“You guys know the numbers: essentially top five all year in NBA 3-point percentage, that’s huge on a team that finished top four in the West; and the number one 3-point percentage in the fourth quarter all year. That stuff matters,” Lee said of his year with the Suns. “That’s not something I’m saying to toot my own horn, but that stuff to me matters because it put away all doubt that he’s here for a favor, stepped out by the grace of God. A lot of people counted me out that, ‘He’ll go to Phoenix, he won’t do anything, he’ll fizzle out.'”

We have more on the Suns:

  • Phoenix was involved in trade talks for Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt, both of whom wound up in Los Angeles and helped the Lakers end their season, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic notes. The Suns tried to acquire Vanderbilt from Utah along with Bojan Bogdanovic prior to the season while attempting to deal Jae Crowder. That proposal fell through when Utah balked at trading Vanderbilt. In January, the Suns tried to work out a three-team deal involving Crowder and Hachimura.
  • Monty Williams developed a winning culture within the organization. That’s now threatened by the Suns’ dismissal of Williams last week, according to Gerald Bourguet of If new owner Mat Ishbia wants to sustain what Williams built, he and the front office will have to nail this coaching hire, Bourguet writes.
  • The Suns are casting a wide net for their head coaching opening with as many as 10 candidates on the early internal list, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated tweets. Mike Budenholzer, Nick Nurse and Suns assistant Kevin Young are among the candidates who have previously been mentioned as potential candidates.
  • In case you missed it, Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul could also head out of door as the Suns desperately search for a championship.

Bucks, Pistons, Raptors Interested In Monty Williams

After being fired by the Suns Saturday night, Monty Williams is attracting interest from the other three NBA teams with head coaching vacancies, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. Sources tell Charania that the Bucks, Pistons and Raptors all plan to pursue Williams in their coaching searches.

Charania hears that Williams will “take time to himself” after his surprising ouster in Phoenix, but opportunities will be available if he decides he wants to coach next season. Even though Detroit scheduled interviews with its three finalists last week, it appears the team will delay a decision until it finds out if Williams is interested. The Raptors, who fired Nick Nurse on April 21, and the Bucks, who dismissed Mike Budenholzer on May 4, are both in the early stages of their coaching searches.

[RELATED: 2023 NBA Head Coaching Search Tracker]

Despite an early report that new Suns owner Mat Ishbia was responsible for firing Williams, sources tell Charania that it was an organizational decision that involved “all segments of team leadership.” Charania adds that Phoenix will look for “a respected program builder” who will demand accountability from players and bring a creative approach to an offense built around Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. The Suns may interview six or seven candidates before making a decision, Charania adds.

Charania also confirms a rumor that emerged Saturday night that Phoenix considers current Clippers coach Tyronn Lue to be its “ideal No. 1 target.” However, Lue is still under contract and there hasn’t been any indication that L.A. is considering a coaching change.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM points out that if Lue does want to come to the Suns, he would have to be the one who asks the Clippers for permission to interview (Twitter link) and Phoenix would likely be required to send some form of compensation if Lue is hired.

Charania’s sources identify Nurse as another desirable target for the Suns.

The Bucks are continuing to expand their list of coaching candidates, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who tweets that the team has received permission to interview Heat assistant Chris Quinn. The Pistons reportedly interviewed Quinn early in their search, and he’s considered to be a candidate for the Raptors’ job as well.

Suns Notes: Ayton, Paul, Coaching Search, Front Office Changes

Following the end of the Suns‘ season, center Deandre Ayton, point guard Chris Paul, and head coach Monty Williams were the three names that came up most frequently in speculation about major changes, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic.

The Suns have already parted ways with one of those three, announcing late on Saturday that that Williams had been let go from his position. While Ayton or Paul could be next, neither player suggested during Friday’s end-of-season exit interviews with the media that he’s seeking an exit ramp out of Phoenix.

“I love Phoenix, man,” Ayton said, per Rankin. “I’m going to continue playing hard for Phoenix and keep representing. I don’t listen to the outside noise. I’m here, I’m happy. We didn’t finish how we wanted to, but there’s always next year. This summer is just more work.”

Ayton is under contract for three more seasons, but is considered a possible trade candidate. Paul has a $30.8MM salary for 2023/24, but it’s only partially guaranteed for $15.8MM.

“My contract is not up,” Paul said when asked if he expected to remain with the Suns. “Unfortunately, I’m not the GM or anything like that. We’ll see.”

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • Doug Haller of The Athletic takes a closer look at why Mat Ishbia and the Suns decided to move on from Williams, discussing the coach’s lineup and rotation decisions and his shaky relationship with Ayton, among other factors. Within his story, Haller observes that Ishbia’s involvement in the Williams’ dismissal signals that the new owner intends to be very involved in basketball operations and personnel decisions.
  • Before firing Williams, the Suns had already started to make some organizational changes, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, who reports (via Twitter) that the team fired a front office executive and a pair of scouts on Friday.
  • Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports profiles a handful of contenders to replace Williams on the Suns’ bench, including previously reported head coaching candidates like Mike Budenholzer, Nick Nurse, and Kevin Young. Bourguet thinks the team would be wise to consider Frank Vogel too, but views Tyronn Lue as the best fit if he’s attainable.

Monty Williams Out As Suns’ Head Coach

MAY 14: The Suns made it official, announcing in a press release that they’ve parted ways with Williams. Jones issued a statement accepting responsibility for the decision, despite reporting indicating that it was Ishbia’s call (as detailed below).

“Monty has been foundational to our success over the past four seasons,” Jones said in a statement. “We are filled with gratitude for everything Monty has contributed to the Suns and to the Valley community. While it was difficult for me to make this decision, I look forward to continuing the work to build a championship team.”

Williams could become a “prominent candidate” in the Raptors‘ coaching search, Wojnarowski writes in a full story.

MAY 13: The Suns have decided to make a coaching change after their second-round loss to Denver, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. The team has dismissed Monty Williams, who had served as head coach since 2019.

New owner Mat Ishbia made the decision to fire Williams, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). As first reported by John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 and confirmed by Wojnarowski, Williams still had three years and more than $20MM left on his contract.

Williams compiled a 194-115 record in his four years in Phoenix and took the team to the 2021 NBA Finals. He also earned Coach of the Year honors in 2022.

However, Ishbia opted to go in a different direction after the team was eliminated from the playoffs in embarrassing fashion in back-to-back second rounds. The Suns lost their last game of the season at home by 25 points this spring and by 33 points last year.

With Kevin Durant and Devin Booker under long-term contracts, Charania believes the Suns’ vacancy instantly becomes the most attractive in the league (Twitter link). Ishbia and general manager James Jones are focused on building a championship roster this summer, and they want to find the right leader to guide it.

The Suns will explore whether it’s possible to land current Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue, tweets Marc Stein. Lue stated that he wants to return as the team’s head coach after L.A. was knocked out of the playoffs last month, and the organization hasn’t indicated that it’s considering a change. Lue signed a five-year deal when he joined the Clippers in 2020, so he’s under contract for two more years.

One potential candidate to replace Williams is Mike Budenholzer, who was dismissed by the Bucks earlier this month after his team’s first-round loss, tweets Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports. A report on Friday from Jake Fischer indicated that Milwaukee was closely monitoring Williams’ status in Phoenix, so it’s possible that the two NBA Finals coaches from 2021 will end up exchanging teams.

Toronto and Detroit are the other franchises currently in the market for a head coach, and Williams may emerge as a candidate for those jobs as well. The Pistons reportedly scheduled interviews with their three finalists this week, but James L. Edwards of The Athletic suggests that the team may reach out to Williams before making a decision (Twitter link).

Northwest Notes: Jokic, Nuggets, Gobert, Thunder

Superstar center Nikola Jokic had another huge game on Tuesday as the Nuggets took a 3-2 lead in their series with Phoenix, racking up 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists for his fourth triple-double of the playoffs. Jokic’s 10th career postseason triple-double moved him ahead of Wilt Chamberlain for the most triple-doubles by a center in NBA playoff history, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

Discussing Jokic’s historic performance after the game, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone made light of the in-season discourse surrounding his center’s triple-doubles, joking that he “must be stat-padding.” Malone also made sure to stress how much the franchise appreciates Jokic and his “incredible” performance.

“He makes everyone around him better,” Malone said. “Never gets rattled. ‘Cool Hand Luke.’ And we’re just so thankful that he’s a Denver Nugget.”

Between Games 4 and 5, Jokic was hit with a $25K fine for a brief sideline incident involving Suns owner Mat Ishbia, but Jokic and Ishbia had a friendly exchange prior to Game 5 and clearly don’t have any bad blood, notes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. During a TNT interview after Tuesday’s win, Jokic was asked about that pregame interaction with Ishbia and joked that he was trying to see if the Suns owner would pay his fine (Twitter link via Youngmisuk).

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • As great as Jokic has been against Phoenix, the contributions of the Nuggets‘ role players – starting with a pair of veterans acquired last summer – shouldn’t be overlooked, writes Bennett Durando of The Denver Post (subscription required). Bruce Brown‘s 25 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s strong defense on Devin Booker helped Denver secure a Game 5 victory.
  • While fans in Minnesota were upset about Jaden McDaniels‘ absence from this year’s All-Defensive teams, the bigger concern for the Timberwolves is that Rudy Gobert‘s play this past season didn’t earn the three-time Defensive Player of the Year a single vote, says Michael Rand of The Star Tribune. It remains to be seen whether Gobert was more affected by health issues than he let on his year or whether his decline has begun, Rand writes.
  • Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman believes it’s unlikely that the Thunder dip into their stash of future draft picks to make a trade for a core player this offseason. In Mussatto’s view, head of basketball operations Sam Presti is more likely to use his draft assets to make sure he gets the player(s) he wants in this year’s draft, like he did when he traded three protected first-rounders for the No. 11 pick in the 2022 draft.

Suns Notes: Paul, Shamet, Ayton, Jokic, Durant, Williams, Ishbia

The Suns have ruled out Chris Paul for Game 5 of the team’s second-round series against the Nuggets on Tuesday, ESPN’s news services relay. Paul has already missed the last two games after suffering a groin injury in Game 2.

Although these types of injuries normally take weeks to heal, there’s a possibility that Paul will return for the Suns in Game 6, Shams Charania said on Fan Duel TV (Twitter link). “I think the window for him to return from that groin strain is Game 6, potentially,” Charania said.

We have more from the Suns:

  • Guard Landry Shamet and center Deandre Ayton shrugged off criticism and made major contributions in Game 4, Gerald Bourguet of notes. Shamet had 19 points in 30 minutes off the bench, more points than the Nuggets’ entire bench produced. Shamet had only 14 points in the first seven playoff games. Ayton’s numbers were modest but he found ways to impact the game. “I thought he came out in that fourth quarter and made some huge defensive plays for us,” Kevin Durant said of Ayton.
  • How do the Suns feel about Nikola Jokic only getting fined after his sideline incident with new owner Mat Ishbia? Durant is happy that a potential suspension didn’t overshadow a pivotal contest, according to Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. “Glad none of that can get in the way,” he said. “We can just focus on basketball.” Coach Monty Williams feels the same way. “I just heard about the decision and that’s that,” he said. “I’m focused on us playing better, making the adjustments that we need to make. Being better at things we need to be better in. That’s my mindset. I don’t want to give energy and time to something that I can’t control. I’m good with it.”
  • Regarding the same incident, Denver Post columnist Sean Keeler wonders why Ishbia didn’t receive some disciplinary action from the league for holding the ball away from Jokic. Keeler suggests Ishbia should pay Jokic’s fine or that he also should get docked $25K.

Nikola Jokic Fined $25K; No Suspension

Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic won’t be suspended for a pivotal Game 5 of their playoff series against the Suns on Tuesday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets. Rather, Jokic will be fined $25K by the league.

A tweet from the league confirms the fine.

There were questions whether Jokic would have to sit out a game due to the Game 4 incident along the sidelines involving new Suns owner Mat Ishbia on Sunday night.

Suns forward Josh Okogie dove into the crowd for a loose ball that bounced into the hands of Ishbia. Jokic then tried to take the ball from Ishbia, who was slow to give it up. The Nuggets center made contact with him after the ball came free and Ishbia fell backward. Jokic was assessed a technical foul during the late second quarter altercation.

One fan was removed from his seat for making contact with the Nuggets big man, while Ishbia remained in his seat after the incident.

Denver can breathe a sigh of relief that its franchise player won’t miss Game 5 with the series tied at 2-2. He is averaging 30.8 points, 13.1 rebounds and 9.2 assists this postseason, including a 53-point explosion in the Game 4 loss.

Suns Notes: Booker, Durant, Ayton, Shamet, Ishbia

The Suns have been able to even up their second-round playoff series behind phenomenal shot-making from Devin Booker, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Booker was 14-of-18 from the field in Sunday’s Game 4 victory after hitting 20-of-25 Friday night. MacMahon notes that the 331 points Booker has scored so far in the playoffs are the most by anyone through nine games since Michael Jordan 33 years ago.

“I know the spots where I’m supposed to be aggressive and where I’m supposed to make ’em pay,” Booker said. “I talked about transition earlier and just trying to get out and play fast, so they can’t set their defense and set their double-team. I don’t usually get open shots. So this is a new thing with having (Kevin Durant‘s) gravity on the floor.”

Sunday also marked the best game of the series for Durant, who delivered 36 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Injuries limited him to eight regular season games after he joined the Suns in February, so he’s still adjusting to his new teammates.

“To be honest, we’re still learning each other, learning which plays work for both of us, which plays work for our team as well,” Durant told reporters. “But at the core of it, it’s just all about playing ball and getting to your spots and just playing aggressive. I think we both do that. Book is always comfortable out there in any spot on the floor, and I feel like I’m the same way. The more reps we get, the better we going to get.”

There’s more from Phoenix:

  • Deandre Ayton tried to put aside the controversy that arose after he was pulled from Game 3 with 4:57 left to play (video link from Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic). After being limited to four points Friday night, Ayton responded with eight points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes Sunday. “I know everybody seen me getting checked out late (in Game 3),” he said. “I don’t blame coach (Monty Williams). You’re trying to win.”
  • Landry Shamet scored 19 points Sunday and played 30 minutes, the most of any Phoenix reserve. He admitted being upset with his limited role in the playoffs and the criticism the team’s bench has received (video link).
  • Suns owner Mat Ishbia said there’s no need for the league to take further action following a sideline incident with Nikola Jokic in Game 4. “Suspending or fining anyone over last nights incident would not be right,” Ishbia tweeted. “I have a lot of respect for Jokic and don’t want to see anything like that.”