Obi Toppin

Scotto’s Latest: J. Smith, Toppin, Weaver, Hartenstein, Huerter, O’Neale, More

Early indications suggest that Pacers power forward Jalen Smith will decline his $5.4MM player option for next season and become an unrestricted free agent, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype reports in his latest aggregate mock draft. Sources tell Scotto that a final decision hasn’t been made, but Smith appears to be leaning toward testing the free agency waters. He has a June 29 deadline to opt in for 2024/25.

Smith, 24, appeared in 61 games this season and posted a career high in scoring at 9.9 PPG, along with 5.5 rebounds and 1.0 assist in 17.2 minutes per night. He was selected 10th overall by Phoenix in the 2020 draft and was acquired by Indiana at the 2022 trade deadline.

Scotto notes that rival teams are watching to see whether the Pacers will re-sign restricted free agent Obi Toppin. If the fourth-year power forward reaches a new deal, there’s a belief that Indiana might be willing to trade Jarace Walker, who was a lottery pick last June.

Scotto shares more inside information in his aggregate draft:

  • Washington is believed to be a potential destination for former Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, who recently parted ways with the team, Scotto writes, noting that Weaver was once part of Oklahoma City’s front office along with Wizards executives Michael Winger and Will Dawkins.
  • Scotto talked with some NBA executives who believe the Magic should be considered a threat to sign Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein. Orlando could have close to $50MM in cap space to work with.
  • Executives also expect the Kings to explore deals involving Kevin Huerter and Harrison Barnes, Scotto adds.
  • The Raptors plan to work out an extension with Scottie Barnes this summer, sources tell Scotto. The versatile swingman made his first All-Star appearance this year.
  • Scotto echoes other reports in stating that Royce O’Neale is likely to reach a new contract with the Suns. The 31-year-old forward, who was acquired from Brooklyn at the trade deadline, is expected to receive about $10MM per year, according to Scotto.
  • Vice president of basketball operations Brent Barry isn’t expected to return to the Spurs next season, sources tell Scotto. The longtime NBA player has been an executive with San Antonio since 2018.
  • Assistant coach Jason Love will likely leave the Sixers and join Doc Rivers’ staff with the Bucks, Scotto states. Love previously worked for Rivers in Philadelphia.
  • The Hornets are assembling a staff of assistants for new head coach Charles Lee. Scotto hears it will include Lamar SkeeterJosh LongstaffChris JentRyan FrazierZach PetersonMatt Hill and Blaine Mueller.

Pacers Notes: Defense, Toppin, McConnell, Workouts

Having already taken one big swing this year by trading for Pascal Siakam in January, the Pacers aren’t opposed to having a relatively quiet offseason and running it back with a similar group to the one that made this year’s Eastern Conference finals, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star (subscription required).

“You always gotta look and see what’s out there on the market,” general manager Chad Buchanan said this week during his end-of-season press conference. “Is there a player or players out there who are available who make sense for your team? You’re also very excited about the young core we have. It’s a balance. It’s going to be a lot of discussion, a lot of debate. Maybe there’s nothing out there that makes sense, and we’re fine with that. We really like this team. If we come back with this same group next year, we still believe there’s a lot of upside with this group.”

Improving the defense will be an offseason priority in Indiana, though it’s possible that could happen without making any outside additions, according to Dopirak, who points to young players like Aaron Nesmith, Andrew Nembhard, Ben Sheppard, Bennedict Mathurin, and Jarace Walker as guys who are capable of getting better on that end of the court. Buchanan acknowledged that the defense will be a focus for the front office after the team ranked 24th in defensive rating during the regular season.

“As you watch the team that eliminates you, it’s always fresh in your mind what they did to beat you,” Buchanan said. “I think Boston, obviously they have more experience than us, No. 1, but they have a tremendous defensive foundation. When we needed to try to score these last couple of games, it’s been very, very challenging. That’s one thing we take away that’s going to be important for us moving forward if we want to make another step.”

Here’s more on the Pacers:

  • While Indiana’s spending power will be limited if Siakam signs a maximum-salary contract, the team hopes to continue its relationship with restricted free agent forward Obi Toppin, per Buchanan. “I thought Obi had a tremendous year for us,” the Pacers’ GM said, per Dopirak. “… I thought he really blossomed this year. We envisioned him being a good with a team that played fast; he was exactly that. His three-point shooting really developed and improved as we saw this year. The way we play, you get a lot of open shots. If you can catch and shoot, you’re going to have some success. His defense grew as the season wore on. He seems to be happy here too. Would like to continue the relationship.”
  • Buchanan also raved about the contributions of backup guard T.J. McConnell, who will be extension-eligible this offseason as he enters a contract year. It sounds as if Indiana will explore an extension for McConnell, as Dopirak relays. “He’s not slowing down. You’re not seeing any sign of an aging player,” Buchanan said. “… His value to us is very, very high, and that has not changed by anything that happened this year and we hope he’s with us for a long time as well.”
  • In a separate story for The Indianapolis Star, Dopirak observes that the Pacers‘ first pre-draft workout on Friday only consisted of prospects who played college basketball for four or more years and started for at least three seasons. As Dopirak writes, Indiana has three picks in this year’s draft but none higher than No. 36, so the team may be targeting seasoned prospects capable of stepping in and contributing right away, rather than focusing on upside. Dopirak notes that head coach Rick Carlisle frequently said during the season that Sheppard’s four years of college experience made it a smooth transition to the NBA for the No. 26 pick in last year’s draft, since he understood his role without requiring much instruction.
  • The Pacers’ second pre-draft workout, scheduled for Tuesday, will feature several more experienced college players, including Reece Beekman (Virginia), DJ Horne (NC State), Lance Jones (Purdue), Cam Spencer (UConn), and Harrison Ingram (UNC), tweets Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files. Mantas Rubstavicius, who has played professionally in Lithuania and New Zealand since 2018, will fill out the six-man workout group.

Pacers Notes: Siakam, Toppin, McConnell, Nembhard, Turner

The Pacers entered the Eastern Conference finals as massive underdogs, played without their best player (Tyrese Haliburton) for more than half the series, and were ultimately dispatched by the top-seeded Celtics in four games. However, as Jamal Collier of ESPN writes, it feels like a missed opportunity for the team, which had at least a 90% win probability in the fourth quarter of Games 1, 3, and 4, per ESPN Stats & Information.

“It’s still very fresh for all of us,” starting center Myles Turner said following Monday’s Game 4 loss. “Very frustrating to have all these games in your grasp and let it slip through.”

As disheartening as the outcome was, the Pacers recognize they exceeded preseason expectations by making the playoffs for the first time since 2020 and winning two series. Starting guard Andrew Nembhard referred to the postseason experience as “second to none,” while reserve forward Obi Toppin said a “lot of good” came out of the season, adding that “we grew as a whole culture.” Still, there was frustration about not better taking advantage of the opportunity they had this year, since there’s no guarantee that opportunity will arise again.

“I can tell you like, yeah, we’re going to learn from it and it’s going to happen, but it’s not guaranteed,” Pascal Siakam said, per Collier. “I know how hard it is to get to this point. It’s unfortunate. You want to give credit to the other team because they took advantage of every mistake that we made. They did well.

“But for us, it’s been hard, like heartbreaking losses after heartbreaking losses. Yeah, you’re going to be encouraged by it and you hope to put the right amount of work to continue to get better. Because we need to be a lot better if you want to compete with those teams. And understand it doesn’t matter how good we played, we didn’t get it done.”

Here’s more on the Pacers:

  • An unrestricted free agent this summer, Siakam declined to specifically address his contract situation but spoke glowingly about the half-season he spent in Indiana after being traded from the Raptors to the Pacers in January. “It’s been a blessing,” Siakam said (Twitter video link via Michael Scotto of HoopsHype). “I’m really appreciative of everything. Coming from where I come from, it means a lot. The support that I’ve received here is something I was kind of missing. Having all that and seeing how the city just breathes basketball and how much support they give to the team…it’s incredible. How would you not be a part of that? I’m just really blessed and happy how this has been.”
  • Re-signing Siakam will be the Pacers’ top priority this summer, as Bobby Marks of ESPN (Insider link) and Mark Deeks of HoopsHype write in their previews of the club’s offseason, though it seems unlikely to be a drawn-out process, Marks observes. Re-signing Toppin and perhaps extending T.J. McConnell could be more challenging negotiations, Marks notes, and improving the defense will be another major offseason goal.
  • While the Pacers would certainly have preferred to have a healthy Haliburton available for Games 3 and 4 vs. Boston, the performances Nembhard submitted as the starting point guard were bright spots in the final days of Indiana’s season, writes Kyle Neddenriep of The Indianapolis Star. Nembhard averaged 28.0 points, 9.5 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game on .564/.538/1.000 shooting in those two tight losses and “defended at a high level,” per head coach Rick Carlisle. “He could be a starter on any team in this league,” McConnell said of Nembhard, who does typically start alongside Haliburton at the two. “He’s proven that night in and night out. What he’s done in the playoffs is truly remarkable, where defenses are game-planning even more for you. He just rose to the challenge every night.” Nembhard will be extension-eligible this offseason but is still under team control on a minimum-salary deal for two more seasons, so there’s no urgency to get a deal done right away.
  • Making it this deep in the postseason was special for Turner, who said he’s never been beyond the first round of the playoffs in his life, even in high school. As James Boyd of The Athletic details, few NBA players have been with their current teams longer than Turner has been a Pacer, which made this year’s success more rewarding for the veteran center, who has been the subject of trade rumors multiple times over the years and seemed on the verge of being replaced when Indiana signed Deandre Ayton to a maximum-salary offer sheet in 2022. “It’s a rarity that one player is with an organization as long as I’ve been, so I definitely don’t take it for granted. I have a lot of love for the city, and I try to express it as much as I can,” Turner said. “But to be frank, I have dealt with a lot of bullsh–t since I been here. Honestly, just battling sometimes with non-believers, having to deal with all of the trade rumors, having another big man signed right in front of my eyes. … No matter what was thrown in front of me, I’m gonna continue to be the consummate professional and the man that I am. It’s very easy to be like, ‘This happened, so I’m gonna up,’ or, ‘They gave up on me, so I’m gonna give up on them.’ That’s not my M.O.”

Central Notes: Pacers, Haliburton, Bickerstaff, Bulls

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has a couple of options to rearrange his starting lineup with the absence of Tyrese Haliburton, who will miss tonight’s Game 3 due to an injured left hamstring, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star.

One obvious choice is backup point guard T.J. McConnell, who would provide a second ball-handler to pair with Andrew Nembhard. Dopirak notes that they have logged a lot of minutes together this season. McConnell finished seventh in the Sixth Man of the Year voting, and he leads all bench players with 76 assists during the postseason.

Dopirak states that Carlisle could choose to go with power forward Obi Toppin or rookie guard Ben Sheppard instead to get more size in the starting lineup. That would keep McConnell in a reserve role and may provide more minutes for Doug McDermott, Jarace Walker and possibly Jalen Smith, who were all used in Game 2.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • In his pregame press conference, Carlisle told reporters that Haliburton lobbied to play tonight, but the medical staff determined that it’s best for him to sit out, tweets Jared Weiss of The Athletic. “He very much wants to play. Desperately wants to play,” Carlisle said. “But the decision on tonight was taken out of his hands earlier in the day. It was determined that tonight was not an option. He’s feeling better and we’ll see where he is on Monday. And that’s it.”
  • Carlisle, who serves as president of the NBA Coaches Association, reached out to J.B. Bickerstaff after the Cavaliers fired him on Thursday, according to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. Carlisle said Bickerstaff did “an amazing job” with a “culture makeover” in Cleveland, but all NBA coaches understand the realities of their jobs. “I have great respect for him. I’ve been in touch with him,” Carlisle said. “In our profession, no one likes it, but teams, ownership, they can hire and fire who they want to. Our business has got to be a very resilient one. And he’s been through a lot in his career and he’s grown so much as a coach. J.B. will be fine and he certainly will be a head coach again, sooner than later.”
  • Even if executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas makes the changes he has promised this summer, Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times is skeptical that the Bulls can rise very far in the Eastern Conference standings. Cowley looks at the eight teams that finished ahead of Chicago this season and concludes that they all have staying power.

Pacers Notes: Haliburton, Carlisle, Bench, More

After Tyrese Haliburton left Game 2 early due to left hamstring soreness on Thursday, the Pacers have listed the star guard as questionable to play in Saturday’s Game 3 (Twitter link). While Haliburton was also said to be dealing with a chest issue in Game 2, the hamstring soreness is his only ailment mentioned on the official injury report.

Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star (subscription required) explores how the Pacers might try to make up for Haliburton’s absence in the event that he’s unable to play in Game 3. As Dopirak notes, the team has solid alternatives at point guard in Andrew Nembhard and T.J. McConnell but might have to dig deeper into its rotation at other positions to cover Haliburton’s minutes. Nembhard and McConnell also wouldn’t be able to replicate the play-making and outside shooting that the All-NBA guard provides.

“He does so many things for our team where everyone just has to move the ball more and get in the paint more,” McConnell said. “The ball movement, like I said, just has to be at another level. He gets 10 assists in his sleep. It’s hard for another person on our team to replicate that. It’s a group effort when he goes down to kinda get people the ball and get moving.”

Here’s more on the Pacers:

  • Whether or not Haliburton is healthy, the Pacers won’t have any hope of beating pulling off a comeback and beating Boston in the Eastern Conference finals if they play like they did on Thursday, Gregg Doyel writes in a column for The Indianapolis Star (subscription required).
  • Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle raised some eyebrows in Game 2 by leaning on little-used bench players like Doug McDermott, Jarace Walker, Kendall Brown, and Jalen Smith in the fourth quarter while sitting Myles Turner, Aaron Nesmith, and Pascal Siakam for most or all of the final period. Carlisle explained why he went to his bench so early despite facing a deficit that didn’t seem insurmountable. “To look at some guys that I thought needed a look,” Carlisle said, per Dopirak. “McDermott went in there and played well. Isaiah Jackson brought a lot of fight to the game. Jalen Smith hasn’t had much of an opportunity to play in the playoffs, so I wanted to see where he was at. We weren’t giving up, but it was an opportunity to get some energetic fresh guys in there to fight. They did some good things. … The guys who had played to that point, Pascal was very tired. Aaron had four fouls and he was tired. That was it.”
  • Prior to Game 2, Haliburton told reporters that Indiana has the “best bench in the NBA,” Dopirak writes in another Indy Star story (subscription required). McConnell, Obi Toppin, and Ben Sheppard are the Pacers reserves who have seen the most action this postseason, leading a second unit that ranks No. 1 in the playoffs with 33.4 points per game.
  • While many NBA fans didn’t assign much meaning to the league’s first in-season tournament earlier this season, making the championship game in that tournament benefited a Pacers team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2020, says Joe Vardon of The Athletic. “There were some real playoff simulations — our quarterfinal game at home, on a Monday night, against (the Celtics), had the feel of a conference finals-matchup atmosphere,” Carlisle said. “The part about going to Vegas and playing there, that was different, but there was certainly the exposure, the stage, all that. So, all those experiences help a young team.”

Central Notes: Toppin, Pacers, Allen, Pistons

Pacers forward Obi Toppin doesn’t view the upcoming series with the Knicks as a chance to get revenge on the team that traded him last summer, writes Zach Braziller of The New York Post. Toppin appeared to have a bright future in New York after being selected with the eighth pick in the 2020 draft, but he was stuck behind Julius Randle on the depth chart. He got an expanded opportunity in his first season with Indiana and averaged career highs with 10.3 points and 3.9 rebounds in 21.1 minutes per night.

“I feel like I’m preparing myself just like I did for Milwaukee,” Toppin said, referring to the first-round series that the Pacers won in six games. “Just locking into everything the coaches are telling us to do offensively and defensively, and playing my role.”

Toppin started 28 games this season, but he’s primarily a mainstay of Indiana’s second unit. He’s coming off one of his best games with 21 points and eight rebounds in the closeout victory over Milwaukee. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said the organization recognized Toppin’s value while he was there, but he was never going to get the chance to fully develop his game with Randle on the roster.

“We always thought he was a good player,” Thibodeau said. “I don’t think anything has changed. Very athletic, runs the floor great, shoots the ball, can score the ball. He’s always been able to score. Like I said, we loved having him. He was in a situation here where he’s playing behind Julius. So that was the story behind that.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Brian Lewis of The New York Post looks at how the Pacers were able to rush through the rebuilding process. It began at the 2022 trade deadline when Tyrese Haliburton was acquired from Sacramento in exchange for Domantas Sabonis. Another building block was added the following summer when Indiana sent Malcolm Brogdon to Boston for Aaron Nesmith. “Look, when we had to basically squash this thing two-and-a-half years ago and start over, when you start using the ‘R’ word, it can get ugly. There are teams that were rebuilding for nine years,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “(Team president Kevin Pritchard) and (general manager Chad Buchanan) struck gold with Tyrese and it turned out to be a great trade for Sacramento. And then the Nesmith trade was another important piece. … It’s been super fun with this group. When you work with a guy like Tyrese Haliburton on a day-to-day basis, there’s nothing better.”
  • Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen will miss today’s Game 7 with a rib injury, tweets Kendra Andrews of ESPN. Allen has been unavailable since Game 4. Isaac Okoro, who started Game 5 but was replaced by Marcus Morris in Game 6, will be back in the starting lineup, per Joe Vardon of The Athletic (Twitter link).
  • The Pistons‘ search for a new president of basketball operations should accelerate soon, according to Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press. He notes that some of the candidates Detroit wants to interview have been involved in playoff runs, making it difficult to get permission from their teams.

Knicks Notes: Brunson, Hart, Randle, Toppin

The last time Knicks guard Jalen Brunson and Pacers coach Rick Carlisle were together in a playoff series, they were on the same side, writes Peter Botte of The New York Post. It was 2021, long before Brunson became an All-Star, and he saw just 10 minutes off the bench in a Game 7 loss to the Clippers that turned out to be the end of Carlisle’s tenure in Dallas. Asked about that experience after Saturday’s practice, Brunson said there are no hard feelings and it won’t factor into his preparation for the matchup with Indiana.

“In all honesty, I said this last time, you’re in the playoffs now, there is no extra motivation,” Brunson said. “It is what it is. The past is the past. Rick welcomed me into the league and helped me become the player [I am today] and helped me grow from Day 1. Coaches got to make decisions that better suit their teams. Whatever happened, happened, and we’re moving forward from there.” 

Brunson’s game flourished after Jason Kidd replaced Carlisle with the Mavericks, enabling him to get a huge offer from the Knicks as a free agent in 2022. Carlisle also said there’s no point in focusing on the past and acknowledged that Brunson has become one of the league’s top players.

“Jalen Brunson is a guy you would never bet against,” Carlisle said. “You just don’t bet against that guy. I don’t know if anybody saw this coming, what he’s achieved for two years now, but if you know him and you know his character, you’re not surprised. You’re not shocked.” 

There’s more from New York:

  • Comments that Josh Hart made about Indiana in February are being revisited ahead of the Knicks-Pacers series, according to Stefan Bondy of The New York Post. Hart was critical of the Hoosier State on a “Roommates Show” podcast with Brunson, saying, “If I don’t have to play the Indiana Pacers, I’m not stepping foot in that state. I don’t want to be in Indiana for any All-Star break, for anything. I am not an Indiana guy.” Hart added that he enjoys a couple of Indianapolis food options, but otherwise called the state “bottom of the barrel.”
  • Even though the Knicks were able to get past Philadelphia in round one, Hart said they’re not the same team without Julius Randle, relays Ian Begley of SNY. Randle has been out of action since separating his right shoulder in late January. “He’s an All-Star. He [averaged] 24-9-and-5 or whatever it is, so that play-making, shot making, is something that we’re missing,” Hart said. “It’s funny: when people talk about us they somehow forget the big void we have of 24-and-9 gone. It’s not like he’s out there with us 70-80 percent.  He’s not out there. So that’s something that’s a big void that we knew was gonna be hard to fill; but his play-making, his shot making, his energy is something that we definitely miss.”
  • One of the storylines of the upcoming series will be the presence of Obi Toppin, who was Leon Rose’s first draft pick after taking over as president of the Knicks, Botte notes in a separate story. Toppin was stuck behind Randle in New York, but he posted career-best numbers after being traded to Indiana last summer for a pair of second-round picks.

Central Notes: Turner, Pacers, Allen, Cavs, Bulls

The Pacers advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 10 years on Thursday night after dispatching the Bucks in six games. T.J. McConnell (20 points, nine assists, four steals in 23 minutes) and Obi Toppin (21 points, eight rebounds in 24 minutes) were particularly impressive off the bench.

As Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star writes, the Pacers are just two years removed from a 25-57 season. And at one point, it seemed inevitable that Myles Turner would be traded.

Instead, the longest-tenured member of the team renegotiated and extended his contract with the Pacers in January 2023. While Turner wishes he could’ve contributed more in Game 6 after several excellent performances during the series, he was thrilled to complete the first playoff series victory of his nine-year career.

It was bittersweet just because of the way things unfolded for myself tonight but I was very excited for our group,” Turner said. “And for the city just because I’ve seen the highs and lows of this, and I know the fans have seen the highs and lows of this over the past 10 years as well. To finally get a little bit of fruit of your labor with this is incredible. We still have a lot of work to do, but for me personally, it means a lot to finally advance, being in the NBA as long as I have.”

Indiana will face the Knicks in the second round, with Game 1 scheduled for Monday in New York.

Here’s more from the Central:

  • Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen, who missed Game 5 on Tuesday due to a rib injury, was unable to participate in Thursday’s practice, writes Tom Withers of The Associated Press. “He’s still working through some things, still getting treatment,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “He’ll be with us on the trip, obviously, and we expect him to give it a go if he can.” Allen is officially questionable for Friday’s Game 6 in Orlando with a right rib contusion, tweets Kendra Andrews of ESPN.
  • While they’ve won all their home games to hold a 3-2 lead in their first-round series with the Magic, the Cavaliers were blown out in both of their losses in Orlando. Joe Vardon of The Athletic argues that Cleveland should bring Allen off the bench tonight, assuming he’s able to play. According to Vardon, that doesn’t have anything to do with Allen’s performance in the series, as he’s been the team’s “most consistent player.” The Cavs simply have much better floor spacing when they go with one big man in the frontcourt instead of two, Vardon adds, with Evan Mobley filling in at center in Game 5 with Allen out.
  • In a pair of stories for NBC Sports Chicago, K.C. Johnson reviews the seasons of Bulls veterans DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. DeRozan will be an unrestricted free agent this summer if he doesn’t sign an extension, while Vucevic has two years left on his deal.

Central Notes: Pistons, Lillard, Portis, Pacers, Carter

No matter what happens in today’s game vs. San Antonio, the Pistons will finish with the worst record in franchise history in a season that featured a record-breaking 28-game losing streak.

James L. Edwards III of The Athletic takes a look at Detroit’s disastrous 2023/24 campaign, writing that there is plenty of blame to go around. Changes could be on the horizon, however.

League sources tell Edwards that owner Tom Gores is considering hiring a president of basketball operations who would potentially become general manager Troy Weaver‘s new boss.

While Edwards suggests that Weaver and head coach Monty Williams seem likely to return in ’24/25, the situation appears to be “fluid,” since a new top decision-maker might want to overhaul the staff.

Here are a few more notes from the Central Division:

  • Bucks guard Damian Lillard, who was sidelined for Friday’s loss to Oklahoma City, is probable for Sunday’s regular season finale in Orlando, tweets Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. As Chiang notes, the Heat need Milwaukee to beat the Magic to have a chance of moving out of the play-in tournament. If the Bucks win, Milwaukee would secure the East’s No. 2 seed.
  • Bucks forward/center Bobby Portis believes he should be the frontrunner for the Sixth Man of the Year award and his teammates agree with that assessment, according to Eric Nehm of The Athletic. “We’ve played together four years now,” two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “I think every single year he’s been the Sixth Man of the Year, hands down.” The award typically favors high-usage guards, not big men whose offensive roles are limited by the team’s roster construction, Nehm observes, but Portis has put together a strong season, averaging 13.7 PPG and 7.4 RPG on .506/.401/.787 shooting while appearing in every game (24.4 MPG).
  • Pacers forward Obi Toppin sustained a left ankle sprain in Friday’s close loss to Cleveland, as Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files relays (via Twitter). Toppin is questionable for today’s game vs. Atlanta, as are reserve big men Isaiah Jackson (left hamstring strain) and Jalen Smith (left ankle sprain), per the league’s latest injury report. If the Pacers beat the Hawks and the Bucks defeat the Magic, Indiana would move up to the No. 5 seed in the East.
    [Update: Head coach Rick Carlisle says all three players will be active today, tweets Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star].
  • While Jevon Carter‘s first NBA season in his hometown hasn’t gone the way he envisioned when he signed with the Bulls in free agency, he has been a positive voice in the locker room and has stayed professional even when he hasn’t been part of the rotation, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “I’ve been here before,” Carter said. “This is my sixth year in the league. Every year, I’ve had to prove myself. But I never lose that confidence. I work too hard.”

How Starter Criteria Will Impact QOs For Potential 2024 RFAs

As we outlined in a glossary entry earlier today, the value of a qualifying offer for a player eligible for restricted free agency can increase or decrease depending on whether or not he meets the “starter criteria.”

A player who is eligible for restricted free agency is considered to have met the starter criteria if he plays at least 2,000 minutes or starts 41 games in the season before he reaches free agency — or if he averages either of those marks in the two seasons prior to his restricted free agency.

In many cases, the difference in the qualifying offer amounts is negligible. For instance, since the Sixers will almost certainly sign Tyrese Maxey to a long-term, maximum-salary contract this summer, it doesn’t really matter that he has bumped the value of his qualifying offer a little by meeting the starter criteria.

But in other cases, the adjusted qualifying offer amount could have a real impact on how a player’s free agency plays out by making his team more or less likely to actually issue the QO — and by making the player more or less likely to accept it.

Here are the players whose projected qualifying offers will change as a result of the starter criteria this season:

Players drafted between Nos. 10 and 30 who met the starter criteria:

Bey, Maxey, and Quickley would have had qualifying offers worth $6,498,258, $6,259,588, and $6,128,004, respectively, if they had fallen short of the starter criteria. Instead, their QOs will each be worth $8,486,620.

As noted above, the QO change won’t have any effect on Maxey’s free agency. It’s unlikely to affect Quickley either, since the Raptors will be looking to sign him to a multiyear deal. But it could make a difference for Bey, who tore his ACL last month to bring an up-and-down season to an early end.

A healthy Bey would probably be a safe bet to to get his qualifying offer despite a disappointing season, but ACL recoveries are lengthy processes. If Bey isn’t going to play much – or at all – next season, will the Hawks want to risk him accepting a one-year qualifying offer worth $8.5MM that would set him up to become an unrestricted free agent in 2025?

That QO decision will likely depend on whether or not the Hawks envision Bey as part of their long-term future and whether they expect to reach a multiyear agreement with him.

Second-round picks or undrafted free agents who met the starter criteria:

An experienced veteran who will turn 29 later this year, Fontecchio spent the first part of his career playing in Europe and has just two years of NBA experience, so he’ll be a restricted free agent this summer. His qualifying offer got bumped from $3,806,090 to $5,216,324 when he met the starter criteria.

Fontecchio has been a bright spot in Detroit, averaging 15.4 points per game with a .426 3PT% in 16 games as a Piston. Based on those numbers – and his solid first-half play in Utah – the Italian wing is probably in line for a salary exceeding $5.2MM, which means the QO bump shouldn’t be a difference-maker.

Top-14 picks who won’t meet the starter criteria:

As a former No. 2 overall pick, Wiseman would have been in line for a qualifying offer worth $15,815,870 if he had made at least 41 starts or played 2,000 minutes. Because he fell short, his actual QO will be worth less than half that ($7,744,600).

Wiseman hasn’t shown a whole lot in Detroit, averaging just 6.9 points and 5.0 rebounds in 16.6 minutes per game this season across 59 appearances. But the Pistons will have a ton of cap room this offseason — maybe they’d be comfortable bringing back Wiseman for one more year and trying again to unlock his full potential if the price is just $7.7MM instead of $15.8MM. I’m still skeptical he’ll get that qualifying offer, but it’ll at least be a tougher decision now.

Toppin’s qualifying offer, meanwhile, will drop from $9,170,460 to $7,744,600, but I think the Pacers would have extended it either way. The former No. 8 overall pick has had his best season in 2023/24 as a reserve in Indiana, establishing new career highs in points per game (10.1), field goal percentage (57.2%), and three-point percentage (40.3%), among other categories.

The qualifying offer change for Lewis is marginal — his QO will dip by less than $200K from $7,913,687. He’s unlikely to receive it either way.

It’s worth noting that three other top-14 picks from the 2020 draft met the starter criteria this season. The qualifying offers for Bulls forward Patrick Williams and Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro will remain at $12,973,527 and $11,828,974, respectively. Those aren’t cheap, but I’d still be a little surprised if either team decides to pass on the QO.

Former Pistons guard Killian Hayes also met the starter criteria, but was later waived, so he won’t get a qualifying offer this June. If he had remained under contract and was eligible to receive one, it would have been worth $9,942,114.