T.J. McConnell

Central Rumors: Pistons, Bulls, Hield, Cavaliers

Veteran forward Bojan Bogdanovic is expected to be the Pistons trade candidate who generates the most interest from rival teams this season, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, who hears from league sources that the club turned down two first-round picks from a contender in an offer for Bogdanovic last season.

It’s unclear what sort of protections those first-rounders might’ve had, but head coach Monty Williams “loves” Bogdanovic, per Scotto, so Detroit may set a high asking price for him again at the 2024 deadline.

Alec Burks, Monte Morris, and Killian Hayes are among the other Pistons players who figure to draw trade interest this winter, Scotto writes. League sources tell HoopsHype that Detroit had exploratory talks earlier this year with the Rockets about a trade that would have sent Burks to Houston in exchange for several second-round picks and Kevin Porter Jr. (who would’ve been waived).

Here are a few more of Scotto’s trade-related rumors and notes from around the Central:

  • Bulls guard Alex Caruso would be a hot commodity on the trade market if he’s available, but rival executives who spoke to Scotto say Chicago still hasn’t shown a willingness to move him. Multiple execs believe the Bulls could get a first-round pick and a rotation player for Caruso, Scotto notes.
  • How much might the Bulls get in exchange for Zach LaVine or DeMar DeRozan? “I think Zach LaVine can get a first back, maybe another first-round pick if it’s in this draft since it’s so weak,” one executive told Scotto. “DeMar DeRozan is worth a first in this draft in the 20s since it’s a weak draft, and he’s unrestricted at the end of the season. He can be a third scorer on a winning team.” Scotto says the Bulls are currently valuing players who could help them win immediately, rather than looking to tear down the roster and stockpile future draft picks.
  • Although Buddy Hield was identified in September as a potential trade candidate, the Pacers have set a high asking price for the veteran sharpshooter and don’t appear particularly eager to move him, according to Scotto. Five NBA executives who spoke to HoopsHype suggested it would take a first-round pick and a rotation player to pry Hield away from Indiana. Rival teams are also monitoring veteran Pacers guard, T.J. McConnell, Scotto adds.
  • Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert had their names pop up in trade speculation last season, but the Cavaliers want to keep both players through the 2024 deadline, barring a deal that moves the club closer to title contention, per Scotto.

Central Notes: Pistons, Williams, McConnell, P. Williams, Toppin

It’s only three games into the season but Pistons owner Tom Gores is already impressed with the impact head coach Monty Williams has made, Keith Langlois of Pistons.com writes. Gores coaxed Williams into coaching the team with a six-year, $78.5MM contract.

“He’s made a real difference,” Gores said. “We’re organized. What makes the most sense with Monty is he threads the needle everywhere. He knows how to have discipline, but he knows how to have compassion. He really threads the needle to me. He’s an experienced coach, but at the same time he’s modern and listens.”

Gores said he didn’t hire Williams to go through another rebuilding season.

“We wouldn’t bring somebody like Monty in if we had a bunch of players who weren’t ready,” he said. “It took us a bit to create this foundation – Cade (Cunningham), (Jaden) Ivey, (Isaiah) Stewart. This is a very strong foundation. They want to win as bad as anyone. Patience with progress, right? We need to make progress this year, absolutely.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • T.J. McConnell got a chance to play with the Pacers’ second unit on Saturday and immediately provided a spark. He delivered eight points and eight assists in 19 minutes, Dustin Dopirak of the Indianapolis Star notes. “This morning I talked to the staff about, ‘Hey, let’s keep our eyes open and if there’s a point in the game where T.J. is the right guy, we have to pull the trigger decisively,'” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It was pretty clear in the first quarter that we needed him and what he brings.” McConnell is signed through next season but his $9.3MM salary for 2024/25 is only partially guaranteed for $5MM.
  • Patrick Williams didn’t receive a rookie scale extension from the Bulls and he hasn’t done anything to improve his value in the early going, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times notes. He was limited to no points, three rebounds and one assist in 21 minutes in the Bulls’ 118-102 loss to Detroit on Saturday. Coach Billy Donovan isn’t ready to bench him. “I wouldn’t do it from the standpoint of, ‘Oh, I’m just taking him out of the starting lineup because he’s got to do this, this and this, and he’s not doing it,’ ’ Donovan said. However, a lineup change may be in order if Williams doesn’t deliver more production, with Torrey Craig or Alex Caruso among the candidates to replace him.
  • Pacers forward Obi Toppin, another player who didn’t receive a rookie scale extension, feels more comfortable with his new team. He believes limited minutes with the Knicks held back his development, according to Stefan Bondy of The New York Post. “I can learn from mistakes. I can get better,” he said. “I feel like it can take my game to another level.”

Central Notes: Pistons, Carlisle, McConnell, Harden

The Pistons are trying to build a team that could epitomize both the “Bad Boys” teams of the ’80s and ’90s, as well as the “Goin’ to Work” Pistons of the 2000s, according to The Athletic’s James L. Edwards III. Defense is the key to doing so and, through two games, Detroit’s defense is forming its identity.

The Pistons held the Heat to 103 points in a narrow one-point loss on Wednesday and limited the Hornets to 99 points on Friday, one year after the league-wide scoring average was 114 points per game. Still, there’s plenty to clean up, Edwards writes, as the Pistons have committed 39 turnovers in two games.

When you have those kinds of turnover numbers and fouls, you have to do something to offset it,” Pistons coach Monty Williams said. “It was the defense tonight. I mean, (the Hornets) shot 37 percent from the field. You don’t see that much in an NBA game. I thought our physicality had a lot to do with it, guarding the ball had a lot to do with it.

The Pistons have one of the youngest rosters in the league and the oldest player in the starting lineup is 22. Still, they’re buying into the system Williams is setting in place, according to Edwards.

I credit the guys we have, we understand the game more, but Monty coming in, putting in a system that we can follow easily, and the standard he’s set on the defensive end,” center Jalen Duren said. “Everyone is buying into it. We’ve got guys taking that end very seriously. When everyone is buying into that side of the basketball, this is the outcome.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Pacers coach Rick Carlisle signed a contract extension with the team on Thursday and he’s looking forward to be around the team for the long haul, Dustin Dopirak of IndyStar writes. “I’m excited to continue the challenge here,” Carlisle said. “It’s really not a day to celebrate. It’s a day to be reminded of the daunting responsibility that me and my staff have to continue to develop this group. We’ve done some pretty good things as an organization the last couple of years and we have to keep pushing forward.
  • The Pacers are deep at the guard positions, leading Carlisle to make some difficult rotation decisions, including leaving T.J. McConnell out of the 10-man rotation, Dopirak details in a separate piece. “It was obviously a tough conversation as a competitor,” McConnell said. “But I’m just here to do my job. Whatever he thinks is best for the team, he’s got to do. I just have to stay ready.
  • The Bulls could benefit from exploring a swap involving Zach LaVine and James Harden, Scoop Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times opines. Chicago is 1-1 after an overtime victory over the Raptors on Friday, which came on the heels of a players-only meeting on Wednesday.

Pacers Notes: McConnell, Brown, Toppin, Nesmith, Haliburton

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has talked about trusting all 15 of his players, but he used a condensed rotation in Wednesday’s season opener, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. Carlisle kept at least one of his starters on the floor throughout the first half of the victory over Washington, and only 10 players saw action until the game was out of reach.

Carlisle appears to have a set starting five of Tyrese Haliburton, Bruce Brown, Bennedict Mathurin, Obi Toppin and Myles Turner. Only Andrew Nembhard, Buddy Hield, Aaron Nesmith and Jalen Smith came off the bench before halftime, and Isaiah Jackson saw some minutes in the second half after Turner got into foul trouble.

T.J. McConnell is among the players who are starting the season outside the rotation, and Carlisle said it was extremely tough to break the news to the veteran point guard.

“I had one of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had with a player about the situation and the minutes,” Carlisle told reporters. “It was T.J. I was almost in tears talking to him about it. One of the reasons was he was so great. He was just him. He said ‘Hey, listen, I’m disappointed. I’ll be ready. I’ll be professional, you know that. I’ll do everything I can to set an example.’ But this is one of the great competitors in the history of this franchise. There certainly are going to be opportunities for him to play, but heading into this game the minutes plan didn’t shake out well for him. So we talked about it, and that was tough.”

There’s more from Indiana:

  • Brown set a career high by making six three-pointers in his first game with the Pacers, Dopirak adds. The free agent addition struggled with his shot early in the preseason, but he’s been getting better opportunities since Haliburton began playing. “It’s just the offense,” Brown said. “We play fast. Everybody’s running. Myles one time got me an open three just because of his seal at the rim. Our offense is so random. Anybody can score the ball and tonight it was me.”
  • Toppin is thrilled to have a starting job after spending his first three NBA seasons backing up Julius Randle with the Knicks, Dopirak adds in another story for the Star. Toppin loved playing in New York, where his father was a basketball legend on the local playgrounds, but he never got the playing time he needed to develop his game.
  • Nesmith said he hadn’t thought much about an extension before the Pacers began negotiations over the weekend, Dopirak states in a separate story. Nesmith signed the three-year, $33MM deal shortly before Monday’s deadline, cementing him as part of the team’s young foundation. “When Aaron Nesmith came in the trade last year, we had high hopes that he would be a long-term piece for us,” Carlisle said on Monday. “This extension obviously solidifies that. We’re really happy for him. He’s a great person, he’s a versatile player, he’s tough, he can shoot the ball, he can play different positions. It’s a great day.”
  • In another piece, Dopirak takes an in-depth look at how Haliburton was able to put himself in position to land a five-year extension this summer that could be worth as much as $260MM.

Central Notes: LaVine, White, Ivey, Sasser, Pacers

Bulls guard Zach LaVine is optimistic about his health heading into the season, Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times writes. LaVine was being held out of several early back-to-backs last season, including the season opener against the Heat.

Outside of Lonzo Ball, this might be the healthiest the Bulls have been since Arturas Karnisovas assembled the core of the roster in 2021, Cowley writes. Now, LaVine and others are aiming for an improved season.

I’m in shape; I’m not rehabbing, so you’re not second-guessing things,” LaVine said. “I feel like myself, like I did from December on. I had a full offseason. It’s always good to come into camp in shape and not have any extra ailments.

LaVine averaged 26 points on 50.7% shooting after December 2 compared to 20.9 points on 40.9% shooting before that point last season, as Cowley notes.

Cowley also writes the Bulls are still experimenting with what works for them in head coach Billy Donovan‘s new-look offense, including potential lineups. All indications are Coby White won the starting point guard position over Ayo Dosunmu and Jevon Carter, Cowley adds.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Pistons coach Monty Williams faces several difficult decisions as the season draws near, James L. Edwards III of The Athletic writes. Edwards predicts the starting lineup to be Cade Cunningham, Ausar Thompson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren, with Jaden Ivey notably coming off the bench. Edwards points out Ivey hasn’t started in the preseason yet and Thompson has impressed on the defensive end, which has been an emphasis for Detroit.
  • Rookie guard Marcus Sasser is pushing for a rotation spot with his play in the preseason, per Edwards and Omari Sankofa II of Detroit Free Press. Sasser had 17 points and eight assists in an October 12 preseason game against the Thunder. “He’s a guy that plays with a great edge,” Williams said. “He competes every single day, in practice. He understands with me that if you compete and defend, you’ll find yourself on the floor. That’s what you’re seeing with him.
  • Pacers rookie Ben Sheppard is making an impact in the preseason and saw run with the second unit in the team’s Monday preseason game against the Hawks, Dustin Dopirak of IndyStar details. “Sheppard is playing a mature game for a rookie,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “He is older. He did play four years [of college basketball at Belmont] and it shows. But he understands what we need of him. … He’s a little bit like Buddy [Hield]. He’s doing a lot of good things.” Dopirak also notes Jalen Smith and T.J. McConnell are standing out and pushing for rotation spots.

Suns Rumors: McConnell, Johnson, Ishbia, Ayton, Lowry

The Suns are believed to have maintained their interest in Pacers guard T.J. McConnell, Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports said in the latest episode of the No Cap Room podcast (YouTube link).

Phoenix’s interest in McConnell was reported by multiple outlets earlier in the summer, but at that time, the team had no clear path to acquiring him due to his $8.7MM cap hit. Following their trade of Deandre Ayton and Toumani Camara for four players, the Suns have more potential pathways to acquiring McConnell, with either Nassir Little ($6.25MM) or Grayson Allen ($8.93MM) as a logical salary-matching piece.

While Fischer points out that the Suns are extremely short on point guard depth, he admits he’s not sure if the team will be eager to sacrifice its wing depth by moving a player like Little or Allen. Allen, in particular, had been on Phoenix’s radar for a while, as Fischer noted on Wednesday.

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • During the same podcast, Fischer reiterated that Keon Johnson‘s days in Phoenix are likely numbered. “I don’t think they’ve officially waived Keon Johnson yet, but from my understanding, they plan to waive him,” Fischer said. The former first-round pick was sent from Portland to the Suns in Wednesday’s blockbuster deal.
  • Suns owner Mat Ishbia was “very involved” in the trade that landed Allen, Little, Johnson, and Jusuf Nurkic in Phoenix, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic. As Amick explains, the Suns view the move as one that not only adds depth but gives them players who better fit around their stars. Nurkic was a longtime target for the club, which is “thrilled” to have landed him, Amick adds.
  • While he’s not an All-Star like Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday, Ayton is the only player in Wednesday’s blockbuster who is a former No. 1 overall pick, so his departure represents the end of an era, of sorts, in Phoenix. Doug Haller of The Athletic and Gerald Bourguet of GoPHNX.com take a look back at Ayton’s tenure with the franchise and, in Bourguet’s words, the “polarizing, complicated” legacy he’ll leave behind.
  • John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 has shot down a report claiming that the Suns had interest in acquiring Kyle Lowry from the Heat as part of a three-team trade if the Trail Blazers had decided to send Lillard to Miami. There’s “absolutely no truth” to that claim, according to Gambadoro (Twitter link), who says Phoenix was “totally focused” on Nurkic and the smaller pieces they could get with him.

Pacers Not Rushing To Extend Toppin, Nesmith, McConnell

The Pacers are in “no rush” regarding potential extensions for forwards Obi Toppin and Aaron Nesmith and guard T.J. McConnell, general manager Chad Buchanan told Dustin Dopirak of the Indianapolis Star and other media members.

Toppin was acquired during the summer from the Knicks to compete for the power forward spot. He’ll make $6.8MM this season and become a restricted free agent if he’s extended a qualifying offer after the season.

Nesmith started 60 of 73 games for the Pacers last season and appears set to be a regular rotation player again following the offseason trade of fellow wing Chris Duarte. Nesmith is in a similar spot as Toppin regarding his contract status. He’ll make $5.6MM this season and head into restricted free agency next season if a QO is offered.

“We’ll have conversations with their agents,” Buchanan said. “Obi is someone that we haven’t seen on our team yet. We’d like to see how things play out there. Aaron obviously has had one year with us and did a good job for us. It’s got to be the right situation for both sides. We’ll have those conversations but there’s no rush or anything to do something with those two guys in the short term.”

As for McConnell, the 31-year-old backup point man will make $8.7MM this season. His $9.3MM salary for next season is partially guaranteed for $5MM. His rotation spot is also in flux and Dopirak suggests the team may eventually look to trade him rather than extend him.

“T.J. is another guy who wants to play and he deserves to play,” Buchanan said. “He’s going to come in to compete. T.J. has had to compete for everything in his life. How that’s going to look, we don’t know yet, but I think he wants to be a Pacer. He’s happy being a Pacer. He wants to be here and that’s something we need to see play out and see where it goes.”

Pacers Notes: Hield, Mathurin, Backup Center, Nembhard, McConnell

The Pacers are in a difficult position trying to make a Buddy Hield trade so close to the start of the season, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. No progress has been reported since news broke last Wednesday that the team was working with Hield’s representatives to find a deal after the sides were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension.

Dopirak believes Indiana is justified in asking a high price for Hield, who is one of the league’s top three-point shooters. However, teams are reluctant to shake up their rosters this far into the offseason, especially for a player who has an expiring contract.

It’s also not clear what the Pacers will be seeking in return for Hield. Dopirak notes that the team saw a need after last season to upgrade at power forward and find defensive-minded wings, but that has already been addressed during the offseason. He states that they’ll need three-point shooting help if they part with Hield and may be looking for a younger, less expensive player who can do what he does.

There’s more on the Pacers, all courtesy of Dopirak:

  • Bennedict Mathurin has a chance to win a starting job, but only if he can improve his defense. Dopirak observes that the first-team All-Rookie selection struggled with that part of the game, particularly when he got an opportunity to start late in the season. The Pacers are hoping to see progress from Mathurin in camp and will need him to take on a larger role if Hield gets traded.
  • Daniel Theis‘ impressive showing in the World Cup gives him a strong case to be the primary backup center heading into camp. Dopirak notes that he’ll be competing for minutes with Isaiah Jackson and Jalen Smith, who are both younger and more athletic than the 31-year-old Theis. He adds that Jackson is the team’s best lob finisher and second-best shot blocker behind Myles Turner, while Smith was Indiana’s leader last season in rebounds per 48 minutes.
  • The Pacers’ improved roster could lead to several other changes, Dopirak adds. If Mathurin and free agent addition Bruce Brown are both starters, Andrew Nembhard could move from shooting guard to backup point guard, which is his more natural position. That could lead to a reduction in playing time for T.J. McConnell, who posted the best scoring average of his career last season.

Stein’s Latest: Sixers, McConnell, Hayes, Ntilikina

A year ago, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey described his relationship with James Harden as a “mutual lovefest” before the star guard hit free agency, eventually taking a pay cut to help Philadelphia build out its roster, Marc Stein writes at Substack.

However, a year later, the relationship between Morey and Harden is said to be “essentially fractured,” with the 33-year-old unhappy about how his free agency played out this time around. He has since issued a trade request and is intent on joining the Clippers. Morey publicly confirmed last week that the rift was over Harden’s contract and the Sixers’ unwillingness to meet his ask.

Should the Sixers regret trading for Harden? Despite rumors to the contrary, sources tell Stein that the Kings never offered Tyrese Haliburton in any trade with the Sixers for Ben Simmons ahead of the February 2022 deadline. Haliburton, of course, ended up getting moved to Indiana in a multiplayer deal that sent back All-NBA big man Domantas Sabonis, while Simmons was sent to Brooklyn as part of the package for Harden.

Here’s more from Stein:

  • The Suns are still interested in Pacers guard T.J. McConnell, league sources tell Stein, but there doesn’t appear to be a viable pathway to a deal at this time. As Stein notes, Phoenix recently traded Cameron Payne to San Antonio, and he was the only obvious salary-matching piece for a possible deal with Indiana. The Suns may revisit a McConnell trade down the road once their free agents become trade-eligible in mid-December, but Stein hears the veteran guard hopes to remain with the Pacers.
  • According to Stein, the Pistons initiated trade conversations with the Mavericks in an effort to unload former No. 7 overall pick Killian Hayes, but those talks “gained little traction.” Detroit has several guards on the roster, including multiple offseason additions. Although Dallas remains intrigued by Pistons forward Bojan Bogdanovic, the team’s top trade priority is believed to be a center upgrade, Stein adds.
  • Prior to signing Kemba Walker, EuroLeague club AS Monaco considered signing free agent guard Frank Ntilikina, Stein reports. The No. 8 pick of the 2017 draft, Ntilikina spent his first four seasons with the Knicks and spent the past two seasons with the Mavericks. He appeared in 47 games in 2022/23 for an average of 12.9 MPG.

Scotto’s Latest: Suns, Pacers, Knicks, Wright, Hornets, More

The Suns, Pacers and Knicks recently had exploratory trade talks on a deal that would have sent Cameron Payne to New York, T.J. McConnell to Phoenix, and Evan Fournier and draft picks to Indiana, league sources tell Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Other iterations of the deal included Jordan Nwora, according to Scotto, though it’s unclear where the Pacers forward would have ended up in that framework.

However, the talks on the three-team trade have stalled, Scotto reports. Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports was first to report the Suns and Pacers discussed a deal involving Payne and McConnell, and suggested the Knicks may have been involved as well.

Here’s more from Scotto’s latest article for HoopsHype:

  • League sources tell Scotto that the Hornets are on the hunt for a backup point guard after Dennis Smith Jr. signed with the Nets in free agency. As Scotto previously reported, Charlotte had interest in Aaron Holiday, but he wound up signing with the Rockets. According to Scotto, one player on Charlotte’s radar is Wizards guard Delon Wright, who will make $8.2MM next season in the final year of his contract. The Wizards traded for Tyus Jones and Jordan Poole, and Wright was signed by the previous front office regime. The 31-year-old has already seen his name pop up in a few other trade rumors this offseason.
  • Scotto recently spoke to a handful of second-round picks at Summer League about their goals entering their rookie seasons. Those players are Nuggets guard Jalen Pickett, Celtics forward Jordan Walsh, and Mouhamed Gueye and Seth Lundy of the Hawks. Walsh, the No. 38 pick of the 2023 draft, has high expectations for himself, he told Scotto. “If I get a chance to play with these guys and help the team, I want to be on the All-Defensive First or Second Team or Defensive Player of the Year,” Walsh said. “My goals are defensively oriented and winning a championship, which is No. 1. If I’m able to accomplish any of those things, I’d feel my rookie year went pretty well.”
  • In case you missed it, we passed along some Raptors rumors and free agent rumors from Scotto as well.