Saben Lee

Pacific Notes: Thomas, Okogie, Paul, Powell

Isaiah Thomas isn’t content just to be back in the NBA, writes Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports. The 35-year-old guard, who signed his 10-day deal with the Suns earlier today, hopes the opportunity will revive his career.

“I want to play a few more years in the league, so hopefully this is a setup for that,” Thomas said. “Whatever the opportunity is, I’m ready to make an impact each and every day. Whether I play or not, it’s bigger than putting the ball in the basket for me. Like, I’m able to lead — lead by example, lead by my experiences and just help in any way possible.”

Coach Frank Vogel said Thomas is a “guy that everyone loves,” but nothing has been promised beyond the initial 10-day deal. Phoenix has an opening on its 15-man roster, and Vogel indicated that the organization wants to see what Thomas can contribute before making a commitment. He added that Thomas fills a need because Saben Lee is running out of games on his two-way contract.

“He’s a very well-liked, respected guy in this league, in this NBA player fraternity, but we’re gonna see where his game is at,” Vogel said of Thomas. “Again, I don’t know how much he’ll play for us. He’s really here from a depth standpoint because Saben Lee only has four games left.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Before tonight’s game, Vogel told reporters that Suns shooting guard Josh Okogie is close to returning from his lower abdominal strain (video link from Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic). Okogie hasn’t played since March 2.
  • Chris Paul talked to Scott Ostler of The San Francisco Chronicle about the role he played in driving Jonathan Kuminga and other young Warriors players to develop their talents. “It’s hard (on the young players), because I’ve got a very strong personality, man, and … it is like a coach, and you should be worried if I ain’t saying nothing to you,” Paul said. “Seriously, I’m just constantly trying to teach and play and compete at the same time.”
  • Clippers swingman Norman Powell is a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year honors, notes Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times. Among players who are primarily reserves, Powell ranks third in scoring, second in field goal percentage and three-point shooting percentage and fourth in minutes per game. “I think it would be amazing. It would be a lot for me,” he said. “It would be recognition for the importance for the team and being able to step up and help the team win and just a testament to all my hard work throughout the years. I feel like I’ve always been an underdog, having to earn my stripes and my spot. Even when I do really well one season, the next season it’s not automatically given. I’ve got to work to get it and prove myself.” Powell is dealing with a left leg contusion and it’s uncertain if he’ll play during the team’s two-game road trip, tweets Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

Western Notes: J. Green, Doncic, Warriors, Suns, Jazz

Josh Green‘s sprained right ankle is expected to sideline him for at least a couple weeks or so, Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd told reporters, including Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link), on Sunday.

Green had been a key part of Dallas’ rotation in recent weeks, averaging 10.2 points per game on .522/.438/.826 shooting in his past 24 games leading up to Thursday’s contest in Oklahoma City, which he exited after just four minutes when he injured his ankle.

The Mavericks did share some more positive injury news on Sunday, announcing that Luka Doncic will be available vs. Denver this afternoon after missing Thursday’s game due to a hamstring ailment (Twitter link via MacMahon).

Let’s round up a few more items from around the Western Conference:

  • Moses Moody, Kevon Looney, and Dario Saric were all DNP-CDs on Saturday for the Warriors, while Gary Payton II played just seven minutes as head coach Steve Kerr tightened his rotation, writes Anthony Slater of The Athletic. Payton figures to be “peppered into the mix” going forward, Slater says, but Moody is being pushed out of the rotation and Looney and Saric are on the outside looking in. “It is tough,” Stephen Curry said. “Loon, Moses, Dario, probably in that order — especially Loon and Moses — there’s probably going to be times where they’re going to be needed. They’ll be ready. That’s the challenge they face. But this time of year, building an identity of how we want to play, that (tightened rotation is) huge.”
  • Kevin Durant said he’s “excited” for Isaiah Thomas to join the Suns and head coach Frank Vogel called the veteran guard a “hell of a player,” per Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Vogel noted that adding Thomas will help Phoenix preserve the four active games remaining on Saben Lee‘s two-way contract.
  • Jazz head coach Will Hardy was upset by how his team played on Saturday vs. Minnesota, telling reporters after the game that there were far too many instances of players attempting to force the issue themselves when teammates were open. “Stats don’t mean s–t. I don’t care about your individual stats,” Hardy said, according to Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune. “I don’t care how many points you score. I don’t care what you post on Instagram. It doesn’t matter. It’s a team sport, play to win. And we have to nip this in the bud now because — I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again — there will not be free minutes in this program. So you’re either gonna start learning and you’re going to start playing the right way and you’re gonna start participating with your teammates, or you’re not gonna play.”

Suns Sign Ish Wainright To Two-Way Contract

6:40pm: The Suns have officially signed Wainright, according to a release from the team (Twitter link via PHNX Sports’ Gerald Bourguet). As we outlined in a separate story, Theo Maledon was waived to open up a two-way slot for Wainright.

3:37pm: The Suns are signing free agent forward Ish Wainright to a two-way contract, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (via Twitter).

Wainright, 29, played 105 regular season games and 13 playoff contests with Phoenix from 2021-23. However, his non-guaranteed minimum-salary contract was released before the 2023/24 season began due to a roster crunch, and he was claimed off the waiver wire by the Trail Blazers.

Before he was claimed by Portland, a report stated that Phoenix had interest in bringing back Wainright, and several months later, that will come to fruition.

In part due to injuries, Wainright only appeared in seven games for the Blazers. They cut him in January before his contract became fully guaranteed, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Known more for his defense than his offense, Wainright has averaged 3.4 PPG and 1.8 RPG while shooting 33.1% from deep in 112 career regular season games over the past three seasons (11.8 MPG).

As Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports observes (Twitter link), the Suns currently have three players — the maximum allowed — on two-way contracts, but a report last week indicated Saben Lee was a strong candidate to be converted to a standard deal. If Lee is promoted to Phoenix’s open standard roster spot, the team wouldn’t need to release anyone to add Wainright, as he would just fill Lee’s vacated spot.

Suns Waive Theo Maledon

The Suns have waived two-way guard Theo Maledon, according to the league’s official transaction log. HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto first reported the move (Twitter link).

Phoenix was reported to be signing Ish Wainright to a two-way contract earlier Monday, but all three of the team’s two-way contracts were filled. There was some speculation that Saben Lee might be earning a promotion to the 15-man roster, and while that could still happen down the line, the Suns are creating a roster space for Wainright in the short term by waiving Maledon.

The Suns originally claimed Maledon on waivers after he was cut by the Hornets in December. The 34th overall pick of the 2020 draft, he began his career with the Thunder, where he made 56 starts across two seasons. After departing Oklahoma City, he spent part of the next two years with Charlotte on a two-way deal before landing in Phoenix.

Maledon only made four appearances during his time in Phoenix, totaling five points in 13 minutes. In 177 career games (64 starts), the 22-year-old guard holds career averages of 7.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He had his most productive season when he averaged 10.1 points and 3.5 assists in his age-19 rookie year in Oklahoma City in ’20/21.

Pacific Notes: Wiggins, Suns, S. Lee, Fox, Huerter, Reddish

Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins will miss his second straight game on Thursday vs. New York due to personal reasons, with Anthony Slater of The Athletic describing the absence as a “family matter.” It’s unclear when Wiggins will return to the lineup, though head coach Steve Kerr said the team expects him back at some point.

Don’t know,” Kerr said of a return timeline. “We’ll obviously respect Andrew’s wishes for this to remain private. Personal reasons.”

As Slater notes, Wiggins missed the final 25 games of the 2022/23 season due to personal reasons, returning just before the postseason began.

Here are a few more notes from the Pacific Division:

  • The Suns have an open roster spot. Veterans Mike Muscala (Pistons) and Patty Mills (Hawks) were recently waived by their former clubs, with Muscala reaching a buyout agreement. Would Phoenix be interested in either of those players? John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 says the answer is no (Twitter links). The Suns are much more likely to convert Saben Lee‘s two-way contract to a standard deal, according to Gambadoro, who says (via Twitter) the odds of that happening are “very high.” It’s worth noting that Lee, who was the 38th pick of the 2020 draft, is in his fourth NBA season — he will not be eligible for two-way contracts in 2024/25 and beyond.
  • After building an early lead on Wednesday against the Nuggets, the Kings wound up being blown out in Denver without star point guard De’Aaron Fox, writes Chris Biderman of The Sacramento Bee. Fox, who sustained a left knee contusion in Monday’s loss to Miami, went through the team’s shootaround yesterday morning and his pregame shooting routine prior to being ruled out, which seemingly indicates the injury is relatively minor.
  • According to Biderman, guard Kevin Huerter was frustrated with his lack of playing time following Wednesday’s game, in which he played just 18 minutes. “I don’t know if I could put my finger on one (thing),” Huerter said of the Kings being outscored by 35 points over the second and third quarters. “I wish I was out there to help us more though.” Huerter declined to expand on those comments, but Biderman points out that the 25-year-old is playing a career-low 25.2 minutes per game and briefly lost his starting job in December before reclaiming it.
  • After missing the previous 14 games with a right ankle sprain, Lakers wing Cam Reddish returned to action in Wednesday’s win over the Clippers, per Khobi Price of The Southern Califnornia News Group. The former lottery pick played 20 minutes and supplanted second-year guard/forward Max Christie in the rotation, Price adds.

Pacific Notes: Suns’ Buyout Options, Durant, Booker, Harden, LeBron, Curry

The Suns have numerous options on the buyout market, but their preferred targets may not be available, writes Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports. Phoenix had two roster spots open after an active trade deadline, and one of those will be filled by Thaddeus Young, who is expected to finalize his reported deal with the team early this week, according to Bourguet.

The Suns are looking for help in several areas, and one of their top priorities was reportedly Delon Wright, who is expected to sign with Miami. Sources tell Bourguet that Phoenix also considered Danilo Gallinari, but he was crossed off the list after the agreement with Young and wound up signing with Milwaukee. Bourguet also cites mutual interest in a reunion with Bismack Biyombo before he reached a deal with Oklahoma City.

Bourguet identifies ideal targets as Spurs forward Cedi Osman and Jazz forward Otto Porter, who hasn’t played since being acquired from Toronto at the deadline. However, there hasn’t been a strong indication that either player will reach a buyout before the March 1 deadline to be eligible for the postseason with a new team. If they aren’t available, Bourguet looks at Danuel House as a potential signing, along with the possibility that Saben Lee could be promoted from his two-way contract.

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Suns stars Kevin Durant and Devin Booker both talked Saturday about the connection they’ve formed after a full year as teammates, per Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. “We have the same likes in life,” Booker said. “We’re hoops junkies and that’s where it started. Now we spend a lot more time together, man. We like to kick it, chill. Talk basketball and play video games.”
  • Clippers coach Tyronn Lue believes the early-season trade for James Harden relaxed the burden on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, enabling both stars to stay healthier, according to Janis Carr of The Orange County Register.“(Having Harden) makes it a lot easier on Kawhi and PG not to have to handle and make every play for themselves and for our team,” Lue said. “So, James has been great, just keeps everybody happy … takes a lot of grind off of PG and Kawhi.”
  • In the wake of a report that the Warriors contacted the Lakers about LeBron James before the deadline, Bruce Jenkins of The San Francisco Chronicle looks at what would have to happen if James and Stephen Curry decide they want to join forces with Golden State.

Pacific Notes: Hachimura, Ham, James, Brown, Lee

Rui Hachimura, who remained with the Lakers by signing a three-year, $51MM contract last summer, erupted for a career-high 36 points against Utah on Wednesday. His teammates implored him last week to be more assertive on the offensive end and Hachimura believes he’s capable of playing an important role the rest of the way, Dave McMenamin of ESPN writes.

“I want to be the X factor for the team, either coming off the bench or starting, whatever that is, offensively, defensively, everything,” the Lakers forward said. “Just got to be aggressive, use my size, whatever it takes to win.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • The NBA world was shaken up by the revelation that the Warriors had made inquiries to the Lakers about LeBron James‘ availability prior to the trade deadline. Lakers coach Darvin Ham was asked for his reaction and Ham did his best to sidestep the issue, Khobi Price of the Orange County Register writes. “To put it [simply], the alignment that I have with [Lakers governor] Jeanie [Buss] and [GM] Rob [Pelinka] is they handle that stuff,” Ham said. “It’s my job to try to extract the most positive performances out of our team.”
  • Mike Brown isn’t backing down from publicly criticizing officials, even though he’s already been fined by the league for it. The Kings coach was upset about a number of officiating decisions during the team’s loss to Phoenix on Tuesday, including what he felt was a foul by Devin Booker that wasn’t called in the final minute. “I don’t know, man. You fight so hard and then you just feel like it’s just not fair down the stretch,” Brown said to Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee and other media members. “That no-call — I’m going to be interested to see the 2-minute report, because if they say that’s not a foul on Booker, I’m really lost.” Brown was fined $50K last month by the league for comments about the officiating.
  • Following Booker’s first-quarter ejection against Detroit on Wednesday, Suns two-way player Saben Lee stepped in and contributed 16 points, six rebounds, four steals and two assists in 24 minutes against one of his former teams. It was easily his most impactful outing this season, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic notes. “He’s an elite athlete. He can really touch the paint at will and he makes good decisions when he gets there,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Very shifty. He’s got great ability to draw fouls, sweet moves and shot fakes and those types of things. He’s a hell of a guy to have in that situation to come in and give us that spark.”

Tournament Notes: Haliburton, Pacers, Pelicans, Awards

After missing Saturday’s win over Miami due to an upper respiratory infection, Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton got off to a slow start in Monday’s in-season tournament quarterfinal and had to use an inhaler at halftime, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. He bounced back in a big way in the second half, registering his first career triple-double (26 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds) and leading Indiana to a comeback victory over the favored Celtics.

It was the first Pacers game this season that was nationally televised and it represented an opportunity for one of the NBA’s rising talents to show off his game for a wider audience, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic, who suggests that Haliburton’s star turn has been the best thing about the in-season tournament so far.

“You don’t play on national TV if you don’t win games,” Haliburton said. “The more we come out here and prove that, on a night-to-night basis, that we can win games, it’s gonna change. And that’s all that we’re about right now; changing how this organization is viewed and how we are as players viewed, and just coming out here and competing every night.”

The fourth-year guard has been the driving force of a Pacers offense that has a 123.6 rating, which is the top mark in the league by nearly four full points. He earned “MVP” chants from the home crowd in Indiana.

“I haven’t heard MVP chants, maybe when (Victor) Oladipo was here, but Ty’s really come in and taken over and it’s fun stuff,” Myles Turner said after the victory, per Bontemps.

Here’s more on the NBA’s in-season tournament:

  • Although Larry Nance Jr. is currently on the shelf, the Pelicans are otherwise as healthy as they’ve been since early in the 2022/23 season — they’re eager to make a run at show what this roster is capable of, according to Kendra Andrews of ESPN. That effort began with a quarterfinal win over Sacramento on Monday. Star forward Zion Williamson only scored 10 points in the victory, but New Orleans got at least 16 points apiece from five players, including the other four starters. “With their complete roster, they are the team that I could see challenging the Denver Nuggets for the top team in the West,” a league source told ESPN.
  • In an announcement on Monday (Twitter link), the league unveiled its new awards related to the in-season tournament, including the NBA Cup for the team that wins the event and the trophies for the tournament’s MVP and all-tournament team.
  • Players on two-way contracts will receive half the prize money that players on standard deals will receive in the in-season tournament, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. That means a two-way player on the championship team would receive $250K rather than $500K, but that’s still a significant chunk of money for players who are earning just $559,782 this season. “It’s another good reason to be motivated,” Suns two-way player Saben Lee said, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. “But regardless, guys love to play basketball and compete at a high level.”
  • A few of the teams still alive in the tournament have open roster spots, so it’s worth noting that a player won’t be eligible to participate in the tournament final unless he’s added to the roster before the semifinals, according to Marks (Twitter link).

Suns Re-Sign Saben Lee To Two-Way Deal

The Suns are bringing back point guard Saben Lee on another two-way deal, having officially signed him to a new contract, the team announced in a press release (Twitter link via Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports).

Lee inked his first two-way contract with Phoenix in January of this past season.

“Saben plays with toughness and aggression on both ends of the court,” team president James Jones is quoted as saying in the press statement. “His point guard instincts and ability to attack the rim are critical traits for us as we seek to build a better team.”

This move was not entirely unexpected, as the 6’2″ vet received a two-way qualifying offer from the Suns earlier this summer, effectively giving the club extra optionality to retain him as a restricted free agent.

Across 23 regular season contests with the Suns last year, the 24-year-old out of Vanderbilt averaged 6.3 PPG on .393/.379/.737 shooting splits, along with 2.8 APG, 2.0 RPG and 0.8 SPG. This will be the last season that he’s eligible to play on a two-way contract.

The Suns still have a pair of two-way slots available after re-signing Lee.

Cameron Johnson, Coby White Among Players Receiving QOs

A series of players have been issued qualifying offers by their respective teams, making them restricted free agents, according to RealGM’s official NBA transaction log.

Nets forward Cameron Johnson and Bulls guard Coby White are among the most notable QO recipients within the last couple days. Johnson’s qualifying offer is worth $8,486,620, while White’s is worth $7,744,600.

For many restricted free agents, qualifying offers essentially function as placeholders, giving the team the right of first refusal on the player as long as that QO remains on the table.

It’s also a one-year contract offer that the player is free to accept at any time, which is a more viable route for some RFAs than others — Johnson, for instance, looks like a safe bet to secure a lucrative multiyear deal, so it would be a major surprise if he simply accepted his $8.5MM qualifying offer.

Besides Johnson and White, here are some of the players who have received qualifying offers this week and are now restricted free agents, per RealGM:

The deadline for teams to issue qualifying offers is Thursday, so we’ll likely get many more updates on QOs being extended to players today and tomorrow.