Nikola Jovic

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.
  • 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.

Heat Notes: Lillard, Jovic, Martin, Love

Despite the recent deluge of rumors linking Damian Lillard to the Raptors, Toronto-based reporter Michael Grange of (Twitter link) says the growing consensus around the NBA is that the Trail Blazers guard will ultimately land in Miami, his preferred destination.

If Lillard is sent to Miami, what would the Heat realistically have to give up? One veteran scout who spoke to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald believes that a package of Tyler Herro, three first-round picks, cap filler (likely Kyle Lowry‘s expiring contract), and one player from the trio of Nikola Jovic, Jaime Jaquez, and Caleb Martin would make sense for both sides.

“If I’m the Heat, I offer two (first-round) picks, Herro and one of the three young players, preferably Jovic or Jaquez, and see if anybody tops that,” the scout said. “If you have to give up one more pick, fine. Three picks are rich for a guy who’s 33 with ($216MM) left on his contract. But I could understand offering a third. I would do it if that made the difference in making the deal.”

Previous reporting indicated that Miami initially made an offer that included Herro and two first-round picks.

Because they owe a protected 2025 first-round pick to Oklahoma City, the Heat can currently only include two first-rounders in any trade package, due to the Stepien rule. They would have to reach a separate agreement with the Thunder amending the terms of that traded pick in order to free up a third movable first-rounder. Alternatively, they could offer one or more first-round pick swaps.

Here’s more on the Heat:

  • Speaking to Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald, Nikola Jovic discussed his experience playing for Serbia in the FIBA World Cup, the status of a back injury that bothered him earlier in the year, and how it felt to have his name pop up in the Lillard trade rumors. A busy summer helped Jovic not spend much time thinking about that trade speculation, he told Chiang. “You just concentrate on other things. I was just so concentrated on basketball there that I didn’t have time to think about what’s going to happen,” Jovic said. “It’s a business. So what happens happens. But of course, right now when I’m (in Miami) and more people talk about it, it’s different than when I was there and just playing and being in the game all the time.”
  • Chiang also interviewed Caleb Martin, who said that Miami feels like a “second home” to him after two years with the Heat and spoke about the offseason departures of Max Strus and Gabe Vincent. “We have to find that new connectivity and chemistry with the new guys,” Martin said. “But I feel like we got the right type of guys who fit that system and that shouldn’t be hard. It seems like everybody is about winning. You know what it is when you come to play for the Heat. So you just gotta jump in line with the culture. I feel like we got the right guys to do that.”
  • In a pair of articles for The Sun Sentinel, Ira Winderman evaluates the Heat’s depth chart at small forward and power forward. As Winderman observes, one starting lineup decision on tap for Miami will be whether to try Martin as a starter at the four again or stick with a more traditional power forward like Kevin Love.

Southeast Notes: Heat Centers, Kispert, Hornets

The Heat will enter training camp next week with several options to back up starting center Bam Adebayo, writes Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel. Miami’s roster could change dramatically with a Damian Lillard trade, but for now the candidates to be the second-string center are Thomas Bryant, Orlando Robinson and Kevin Love, who may be the starter at power forward.

Bryant signed a two-year, veteran’s minimum contract after spending last season with the Lakers and Nuggets. Winderman notes that the 26-year-old was the only big man added to the roster this summer, so it appears the organization is committed to giving him a steady role.

Robinson, 23, signed a standard contract in July after playing on a two-way deal as a rookie. He showed promise last season and during Summer League, Winderman observes, and may be able to earn rotation minutes if he can improve his defense and avoid foul trouble.

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Trading for Lillard isn’t the Heat’s only path to success, Winderman adds in a separate Sun Sentinel story. He contends that with the current roster, the team’s outlook will depend on how much improvement from Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Nikola Jovic and Haywood Highsmith can offset the loss of Max Strus and Gabe Vincent.
  • Wizards swingman Corey Kispert established himself as one of the NBA’s best three-point shooters during his second season, writes Josh Robbins of The Athletic. Robbins consulted several NBA scouts to get their view of Kispert, who connected at 42.4% from long distance last year. “The one thing you want to look for often with young guys is: Does he have an elite skill? Does he have something that the coaches can rely on? (Does he have a skill where) they can say, ‘We’re going to put him out there and we know for sure he can do this,’” one scout said. “And Corey does, right? No one’s going to question his ability to shoot.”
  • Theoden Janes of The Charlotte Observer talks to country music star Eric Church about his love for basketball and how he became part of the Hornetsnew ownership group. He calls owning his favorite childhood team “beyond any dream I ever had when I was a young man.”

Eastern Notes: Collins, Thompson, Antetokounmpo, Love

John Collins, who was dealt to the Jazz this summer, posted a farewell message on Instagram to the city of Atlanta, Hawks fans, teammates, and the organization. His message to the franchise included mixed feelings, thanking it on one hand while also saying his growth was being “stunted.”

“Thank you for sticking with me, even at my lowest,” Collins wrote. “Thank you for allowing me a place to grow. But as I see, it is this hawk’s time to fly away from the nest. As my growth here is being stunted.”

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • Ausar Thompson, the Pistons’ lottery pick, could be anything from a starter to out of the rotation in his rookie campaign, Keith Langlois of writes. His 3-point shot is the main concern but he has enough attributes to complement the starting backcourt of Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey by employing his defense on the opposition’s top perimeter play-maker. Thompson could also be a force on the second unit with a number of proven perimeter shooters around him, Langlois notes.
  • Bucks fans don’t want to think about it, but what if Giannis Antetokounmpo eventually demands a trade? HoopsHype’s Yossi Gozlan looks at potential landing spots for the two-time MVP, with the Knicks, Thunder and Pelicans topping his list due to their surplus of assets.
  • Kevin Love could take over the role of sage veteran on the Heat‘s bench, which Udonis Haslem filled in recent seasons, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel opines. Like Haslem, Love is a player with championship pedigree and he’s already served as a mentor inside the Heat locker room. Love could especially be helpful in the development of young forward Nikola Jovic, Winderman adds.

Eastern Notes: Thompson, Petrusev, Sixers’ Camp, Jovic

The Pistons have veteran options at small forward in Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Harris. However, The Athletic’s James Edwards III believes lottery pick Ausar Thompson could jump right into the starting lineup.

Thompson looks like the best defensive option at the position and general manager Troy Weaver has made defensive improvement a priority, according to Edwards, who adds that the Pistons’ new staff might want to establish a defensive tone, then sprinkle in its perimeter shooters.

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • Sixers big man Filip Petrusev averaged 8.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game during the World Cup, helping Serbia to its surprising silver medal performance. Petrusev is now looking forward to his first NBA season, George Efkarpides of writes. “This is a motivation maybe to just keep working,” he said. Philadelphia signed the draft-and-stash prospect in July.
  • The first Sixers training camp under Nick Nurse will begin far away from Philadelphia, according to Gina Mizell of the Philadelphia Inquirer. They’ll be at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. from Oct. 3-6. Whether James Harden is still on the team or shows up for camp remains up in the air.
  • Nikola Jovic excelled during the World Cup but Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel doubts that will alter the Heat‘s willingness to include him in a potential Damian Lillard trade. He’s not even certain of a rotation spot this upcoming season, Winderman notes, so unless the team’s brass and coaching staff projects him as the team’s power forward of the future or a potential All-Star talent, they won’t hesitate to move him for a proven star.

Southeast Notes: Hornets Roster, Spoelstra, Jovic, Avdija, Gafford

The Hornets are unlikely to add more players on guaranteed contracts before the season begins, according to general manager Mitch Kupchak, Roderick Boone of the Charlotte Observer tweets.

After coming to terms with restricted free agent P.J. Washington, the Hornets have 13 players on fully guaranteed deals, plus another (Frank Ntilikina) on a partial guarantee. JT Thor has a non-guaranteed contract for the upcoming season.

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • It’s possible that Erik Spoelstra, an assistant to Steve Kerr for Team USA, will be game-planning against Nikola Jovic and Serbia in the World Cup championship game. Heat assistant GM Adam Simon is rooting for that outcome, according to  Spoeltra already got a chance to talk to the Heat forward during the tournament. “It’s great that the two of them had a chat for a while in Manila. I hope they will meet again in the final,” Simon told Meridian Sport.
  • Scouts that spoke to The Athletic’s Josh Robbins regarding Wizards forward Deni Avdija believe the Israeli can carve out a lengthy NBA career. However, the consensus opinion is that Avdija hasn’t shown enough offensively to live up to his draft status and become a difference-maker for a contender. Avdija was selected ninth overall in 2020. He’ll be a restricted free agent next summer if Washington’s front office extends him a qualifying offer.
  • With Kristaps Porzingis in Boston, Daniel Gafford is the only proven shot-blocker on the Wizards’ roster. That’s one reason why he could see more playing time, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. Gafford is also comfortable playing at a faster pace, which the Wizards’ staff wants to implement, and ranks as their best screen-setter.

USA, Serbia Advance To World Cup Semifinals

After their first loss of the summer against Lithuania on Sunday, Team USA bounced back in convincing fashion on Tuesday, blowing out Italy in a quarterfinal matchup that was never close. The U.S. won by a final score of 100-63, led by Nets forward Mikal Bridges (24 points, seven rebounds) and Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton (18 points, five assists).

The victory lines up Team USA for a semifinal showdown on Friday against the winner of Wednesday’s quarterfinal between Germany and Latvia. The German team – which includes NBAers like Dennis Schröder, Daniel Theis, and Moritz Wagner – is undefeated in the World Cup and will be the favorite to win Wednesday’s game, though Latvia has exceeded expectations and is a legitimate threat to make it to the final four.

Meanwhile, the Lithuanian squad that defeated the U.S. on Sunday had a disappointing follow-up contest vs. Serbia on Tuesday, losing by a score of 87-68 in another one-sided quarterfinal.

Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanovic was Serbia’s best player, pouring in 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting, while Sixers big man Filip Petrusev had 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting in just 17 minutes of action. Heat forward Nikola Jovic also chipped in with eight points on 3-of-5 shooting.

Serbia will face the winner of Wednesday’s Canada/Slovenia game in Friday’s semifinal, while Lithuania and Italy move into the consolation games to determine the fifth-through-eighth place finishers.

Lithuania and Italy will now have to win qualifying tournaments next summer in order to earn one of the final four spots in the 2024 Olympics, while Serbia remains in the running to claim one of the two FIBA Europe Olympic berths up for grabs in the World Cup.

The winner of Germany/Latvia on Wednesday would join Serbia as the two European Olympic qualifiers if Slovenia falls to Canada; if Slovenia wins, three European teams would still be alive for two Olympic berths heading into the semifinals.

Southeast Notes: Johnson, Toppert, Jovic, Heat

Hawks forward Jalen Johnson took a step forward last season into a rotational role with Atlanta and he’s looking to make another leap next season, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Lauren Williams. Williams writes that Johnson has spent most of his time this offseason working out in Atlanta and Los Angeles, which allowed him to cross paths with LeBron James.

Johnson and James share a trainer in Chris Johnson, and the opportunity arose to train with James. The Duke product said he was trying to learn as much as he could from the future Hall of Famer.

Before the workout, seeing how he goes about his business,” Johnson said. “Just once he gets the gym, he’s locked in, laser-focused, does his routine and then, as far as drill-wise, [he’s] the best on court. Everything’s precise. Everything’s the right way. Even if he messes up, he messes up and makes a shot, he’s still coming back and doing it the right way.

And while Johnson spent time trying to pick up on what James was doing from the side, LeBron also outright gave the third-year Hawks forward some advice.

He’s giving me pointers on how to do certain moves, how to be more effective with certain moves, little tricks, just kind of when we’re working out,” Johnson said. “So, just hearing that from him, having that as someone that I can reach out and ask questions to now, you know, it’s cool.

Johnson, 21, went from playing in 22 games and averaging 5.5 minutes in his rookie season to 70 games and 14.9 minutes in his sophomore year in the league. In 2022/23, Johnson averaged 5.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game — he’s in line for even more minutes, following the offseason trade of John Collins.

Atlanta seems primed to blend their veterans with their impressive young talent, including Johnson. Onyeka Okongwu and AJ Griffin appear poised for breakout seasons and the team picked guard Kobe Bufkin with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2023 draft. Trae Young and Dejounte Murray headline the team, which acquired veterans like Wesley Matthews and Patty Mills this offseason.

But Johnson is just one part of that, and he’s keeping everything in perspective.

I put in the same work every summer,” Johnson said. “Even if John doesn’t get traded, I feel like it’s the same mentality of trying to kill everybody that’s in front of me. Just kind of got to have that killer mentality as far as no matter what situation that is, just go control what you can control, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • The Wizards are hiring LSU assistant coach Cody Toppert to become the head coach of their G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Wojnarowski notes that Toppert previously worked with the Suns in the NBA and as a G League coach. Toppert also spent time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the affiliate of the Rockets, as well as the University of Memphis as an assistant.
  • Though the Heat don’t have any players on Team USA, Nikola Jovic is putting on a show this summer while playing for Serbia’s national team. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel continues documenting his performances this season. While Jovic has struggled at times, including a five-point showing in a loss to Italy, Winderman suggests Jovic’s stock as a whole continues to rise this summer. Jovic’s best performance of the summer was a 25-point outing against South Sudan. Winderman writes that Jovic’s summer should dispel any notion of the Heat not having enough assets to make a play for Damian Lillard. In another piece, Winderman writes that Jovic’s trade value seems to be comparable to Precious Achiuwa, whom Miami included in the trade for Kyle Lowry.
  • In a separate piece, Winderman writes that the Heat‘s trade history suggests they ultimately won’t be completely picked clean by any potential Lillard trade. While several huge NBA trades have gone down in the past year including dozens of draft picks, from the Rudy Gobert haul last summer to the Kevin Durant package in February, the Heat have never traded more than two first-round picks for a player. That includes the sign-and-trades for James and Chris Bosh, the Shaquille O’Neal trade, and the Alonzo Mourning deal. While Miami may ultimately have to give into Portland’s demands for Lillard, Winderman writes, they’re justified for not wanting to put everything on the table right away.

Southeast Notes: Jovic, Washington, Hornets’ Affiliate

Heat forward Nikola Jovic didn’t get to play much during his rookie season in 2022/23, but he’s been making his mark at the 2023 World Cup, Ira Winderman writes in a pair of stories for The South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Competing for the Serbian national team, which went 3-0 in its group and advanced to the second round, Jovic had a solid if unspectacular first game, putting up nine points (on 3-of-6 shooting), three rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes against China.

On Monday against Puerto Rico, the 2022 first-round pick recorded a game-high 17 points (tied with teammate Bogdan Bogdanovic) on just nine field goal attempts. He also recorded four assists and three rebounds in 24 minutes.

Jovic followed up that strong performance with a perfect game on Wednesday against South Sudan, once again leading the contest with 25 points while shooting 9-of-9 from the field, to go along with three assists and two rebounds in 27 minutes.

Overall, the 20-year-old has averaged 17.0 PPG, 3.0 APG and 2.7 RPG with a scorching-hot .750/.667/.778 shooting line thus far. He has yet to commit a turnover in his 75 minutes on the court.

Here’s more from the Southeast:

  • Former first-round pick Nikola Milutinov, whose draft rights are held by the Nets, praised his Serbian teammate after defeating South Sudan, per Cesare Milanti of “He’s playing amazing, he’s a great part of our team and has a bright future,” Milutinov said of the Heat‘s Nikola Jovic. Serbia faces Italy on Friday and the Domnican Republic on Sunday.
  • P.J. Washington‘s new contract with the Hornets features a declining structure, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, who reports (via Twitter) that Washington will earn base salaries of $16.8MM, $15.5MM and $14.2MM over the next three years. The 25-year-old also has $500K in annual incentives, which are currently considered unlikely. Washington needs to play at least 74 games and 2,400 minutes to achieve the bonus in each season, Marks adds. Washington played a career-high 73 games for 2,380 total minutes last season.
  • The Hornets‘ NBA G League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, has retained head coach Jordan Surenkamp for a third season, but the Swarm have a new general manager, per a team press release. Taking over GM duties is Cole Teal, who acted as manager of basketball operations and player development last season. Cole is replacing Cam Twiss, who is now a pro scout for Charlotte.

World Cup Notes: Edwards, RHJ, Hart, Ingram, Thanasis, Canada

Even though Team USA’s 48-point win over Jordan on Wednesday wasn’t exactly a tightly contested affair, former Timberwolves teammates Anthony Edwards and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson enjoyed going back and forth at each other in the third and final first-round game at the World Cup, writes ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

Edwards had a game-high 22 points, edging out Hollis-Jefferson, who scored 20. The two were on Minnesota’s roster together for a brief period during the 2020 preseason, when RHJ served as a veteran mentor ahead of Edwards’ rookie year. Hollis-Jefferson didn’t end up making the Wolves’ regular season roster.

“We haven’t seen each other since then, so it was fun,” Edwards said. “And yeah, we was talking with smack out there for sure.”

U.S. head coach Steve Kerr made one lineup change ahead of the game vs. Jordan, replacing Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram in the starting five with Knicks forward Josh Hart. As Windhorst observes, Ingram had struggled as spot-up shooter with the first unit and was able to have the ball in his hands more as a reserve. It sounds like the change could stick.

“We just felt like it was important to take a look at Josh with the starting group and Brandon with the next group to see if the combinations fit,” Kerr said after the victory. “I liked what I saw. The game wasn’t competitive, but there was good flow with both groups.”

“They thought it was a better fit for me playing with Tyrese [Haliburton] and playing with some guys that are a little less ball dominant than Jalen [Brunson] and Ant,” Ingram told Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. “They just talked about it being a better fit, and I agreed with them.”

Here are a few more World Cup notes:

  • Hollis-Jefferson is one of nine non-U.S. players identified by Alberto De Roa of HoopsHype as breakout performers through three World Cup games. Bulls guard Carlik Jones (South Sudan), Wizards forward Xavier Cooks (Australia), and Heat forward Nikola Jovic (Serbia) are among the NBAers who have impressed, as De Roa details.
  • Bucks forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who injured his left adductor in Monday’s loss to the U.S., returned to action for Greece on Wednesday. However, Antetokounmpo played a limited role in the win over New Zealand that clinched the Greeks a spot in the second round, recording more fouls (4) than points (2) in his 14 minutes.
  • The Canadian national team – which had the best point differential (+111) of any club in the first round – is finally realizing its potential on the international stage, says Michael Grange of Canada has had no shortage of players in the NBA over the last decade, but those players haven’t always participated in international competitions and have struggled to quickly establish chemistry in the events they’ve played.