Tari Eason

And-Ones: Zagars, Sophomores, Super-Max, Best Offseason Deals

World Cup standout Arturs Zagars has officially signed with Turkish club Fenerbahce and has been loaned to Lithuanian team BC Wolves, as Johnny Askounis of Eurohoops.net relays. A recent report suggested that was the likely outcome for Zagars, who attracted NBA interest based in part on his strong play for Latvia at this year’s World Cup.

Zagars averaged 12.4 points, 7.4 assists, and 2.6 rebounds in 25.2 minutes per game across his eight World Cup appearances, making 48.6% of his shots from the floor and 41.7% of his three-pointers. The 23-year-old, who spent last season playing in Lithuania, was named to the All-World Cup Second Team.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

Southwest Notes: Eason, Doncic, Hardaway, K. Johnson

Rockets‘ free agent addition Dillon Brooks recently said he’s looking forward to teaming up with Tari Eason, and Eason tells Kelly Iko of The Athletic that the feeling is mutual. Eason gained a reputation as a tough, aggressive defender during his rookie season, and he wants to build on that with help from Brooks.

“He’s one of the best defenders around and I can learn so many things from him,” Eason said. “There are so many other things to defense besides just guarding your man. There are so many things I can get better at in defense. Just being able to be paired with him and his skill, his approach and how he sees things from a defensive standpoint. I’ll be able to pick his brain, learn and become a better defender.”

Eason quickly earned a rotation spot last season as a rookie on one of the worst teams in the league. Houston is expecting to be much better after signing Brooks and three other veteran free agents, and new coach Ime Udoka has emphasized to Eason that defense will be important for him to keep getting regular minutes.

“Just be vocal. Be in the right spots, things like that,” Eason said of Udoka’s message. “As far as my defensive approach, they want me to be locked in. We have an older team now so for me to be on the floor, I have to be one of the best defenders on the floor at all times. So just really being homed in on defense, that’s the biggest thing. Being able to knock down a consistent shot and play defense.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Mavericks likely have two more seasons to show Luka Doncic that they can build a contender around him before they have to worry about him leaving, Tim Cato of The Athletic writes in a mailbag column. Doncic can opt out of his current deal in 2026, and although Cato is skeptical that the Slovenian star would ask for a trade before then, he acknowledges that the organization is operating under a “Doomsday Clock.” Cato also points out that Dallas has amassed a wealth of young talent, draft assets and tradable contracts to bid for the next big star that becomes available.
  • Cato believes it’s probably a coin flip on whether the Mavericks will trade Tim Hardaway Jr. before training camp, but he says it should become more likely as the season wears on. He points out that the acquisition of Seth Curry makes Hardaway more expendable, and the team needs to find minutes for second-year guard Jaden Hardy.
  • Keldon Johnson has established himself as a starter with the Spurs, but the addition of No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama may push him into a sixth-man role, per Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “I just want to win,” Johnson said. “Whatever I got to do to win, I am looking forward to that, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Southwest Notes: Lofton, GG Jackson, Prosper, Rockets

Kenneth Lofton Jr. is playing like he belongs in the Grizzlies‘ rotation, which may lead to some difficult decisions this fall, writes Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. The second-year power forward, who posted 24 points and 10 rebounds on Wednesday, is the team’s leading scorer in Summer League. He has also looked better on defense, which was a goal for the offseason.

Cole notes that Lofton changed the team’s plans with a strong Summer League performance last year. The undrafted rookie earned a two-way contract that was upgraded to a standard deal before the playoffs as the Grizzlies parted with Kennedy Chandler.

Memphis’ power rotation appears to be set, according to Cole, so any minutes Lofton earns will come at the expense of an established player. Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. are both expected to be healthy heading into training camp, while Santi Aldama and Xavier Tillman saw regular playing time last season. Coach Taylor Jenkins typically uses four big men, so Lofton will have to battle for a larger role.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Rookie forward GG Jackson has also impressed Jenkins during Summer League, Cole adds in a separate story. Jackson will likely spend most of the upcoming season in the G League, but he has displayed the potential that made him a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. “I’ve been super thrilled with what he’s shown,” Jenkins said. “You see the physical tools with the capability to make plays on both sides of the floor, defensively I’m loving his rebounding. … Each game he is making progress.”
  • Summer League coach Jared Dudley believes Olivier-Maxence Prosper could make an immediate impact with the Mavericks, tweets Mavs reporter Grant Afseth. Dudley said the rookie power forward understands the game and can score without having plays called for him. “I could see him easily playing for the Mavs this season just because of his defense and his aggressiveness,” Dudley said. “Anytime I tell him to do something, He does it automatically, and it’s no second-guessing it. He does it a hundred miles an hour, so I respect that.”
  • Jabari Smith and Tari Eason only appeared in two Summer League games, but Rockets officials were very happy with what they saw from both second-year players, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Smith was one of the best players in Las Vegas with a total of 71 points (35.5 PPG), while Eason averaged 23 PPG and looked comfortable at either forward position.

Rockets Notes: VanVleet, Free Agency, Brooks, Thompson

Fred VanVleet was one of the biggest winners in free agency, landing a max contract to join the Rockets as their new on-court leader, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN. The veteran point guard said Houston officials have assured him that he won’t have to change anything about his game.

“They don’t want me to be anybody but myself,” VanVleet said. “And I know people are crazy about the number, but the league is growing every year and that number won’t be that number in a few years. So I know it’s a shock factor with the narrative that I have around me as an undrafted guy, but I’m going to work every day to make sure I prove every penny.”

VanVleet worked out this week with his new backcourt partner, Jalen Green, and he’s in Las Vegas to watch more of his young teammates in Summer League action. He’s looking forward to a fresh start after spending his first seven NBA seasons with the Raptors.

“I owed my whole NBA career to them, but I think it was just time for a change of scenery,” VanVleet said. “I’m just really excited about being with a new group and trying to lead these guys the best I can.”

There’s more on the Rockets:

  • General manager Rafael Stone was looking for players with “an edge” when he went shopping with more than $60MM in cap space, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Houston was among the NBA’s worst defensive teams during its three years of rebuilding, so Stone was determined to find players who are willing to compete on that end of the court. In addition to VanVleet, he landed Jeff Green, Jock Landale and Aaron Holiday in free agency, along with Dillon Brooks in a five-team sign-and-trade deal that was finalized Saturday night. “First, they’re really good basketball players who have won a lot of games and not by accident,” Stone said. “We really wanted to add veteran players who still fit our timeline and knew how to win. And we think we accomplished that.”
  • In an interview with Kelly Iko of The Athletic, Brooks said he’s looking forward to bringing his influence to a young team that needs to learn how to win. “I can’t wait to work with Tari (Eason),” Brooks said. “I feel like he can be a great player in this NBA — especially a great defender — and grow his game, his athleticism and everything.”
  • Amen Thompson‘s Summer League debut provided more evidence that the Rockets made the right pick at No. 4, Iko adds in a separate story. Before leaving with an ankle injury, the 6’7″ point guard produced 16 points, four rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals in 28 minutes and showed he knows how to attack a defense that’s daring him to shoot from the outside.

Rockets Notes: Free Agency, Green, Lopez, Whitmore, Tate

The Rockets were the most active team on the free agent market this weekend — signing four players and jettisoning a significant amount of their young talent — but their future will still be built around the core they put together in the last three drafts, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

The big-money additions of Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks, along with smaller deals for Jock Landale and Jeff Green, are designed to complement Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith and Amen Thompson, according to Feigen. Kevin Porter Jr. should also be considered part of that group, Feigen adds, as he remains in the team’s long-term plans along with Tari Eason and Cam Whitmore.

All the new additions will have clear roles alongside those players, Feigen notes. VanVleet will run the offense for a team that often seemed disorganized during its three years of rebuilding. He also improves the defense with his ability to get steals and deflections and has shown that he can be effective while playing off the ball. Brooks will be the team’s best perimeter defender, while Landale and Green will back up Sengun and Smith.

There’s more from Houston:

  • Green’s new $6MM contract is small enough to be absorbed with the team’s $7.7MM room exception before the Brooks trade is completed, Feigen adds. However, he says the more likely scenario is that the team will keep the exception open and use it, along with roughly $4.5MM in remaining cap space, to see if it can sign anyone else.
  • The Rockets are surveying the market to find guard depth with the money they have left, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Iko states that a veteran who can handle either backcourt position would be ideal for the current roster.
  • Iko cites “genuine internal disappointment” among Rockets officials when center Brook Lopez opted to remain in Milwaukee instead of taking their offer, which was reported to be around $40MM for two years. Having Landale and Green on the roster instead of Lopez makes Sengun the clear starting center and should help with his development, Iko notes.
  • The roster additions mean the Rockets can afford to be patient with rookie Cam Whitmore, with Iko suggesting that the 20th overall pick could see some time in the G League.
  • Teams have asked about swingman Jae’Sean Tate during the offseason, but the Rockets still appear to view him as an important part of their future, Iko tweets.

Rockets Rumors: Core Players, Martin, Draft Picks, Thompson

In trade talks with rival teams so far this offseason, the Rockets have held firm on their position that they don’t intend to move anyone from their young core, says Kelly Iko of The Athletic. According to Iko, that core is made up of guard Jalen Green, forwards Jabari Smith and Tari Eason, and center Alperen Sengun.

Another young Rockets player, Kenyon Martin Jr., has been “deemed attainable internally” if the team receives a strong offer, per Iko, who says that Martin has continued to draw interest from potential trade partners as of late.

Houston will soon have to decide whether to exercise Martin’s minimum-salary team option for 2023/24, which would put him on track for unrestricted free agency in 2024. Declining the option would mean paying Martin a larger salary next season, but would allow the club to negotiate with him as a restricted free agent.

Here’s more from Iko on the Rockets:

  • Once viewed as a decision between Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore, the Rockets’ No. 4 pick now appears likelier to come down to Amen and Ausar Thompson, sources tell The Athletic. Iko is among the reporters who has heard rumblings about Whitmore’s stock slipping as the draft nears, and says his sources are becoming “increasingly confident” that Houston will keep the No. 4 pick and draft Amen Thompson.
  • Although the Rockets talked to Charlotte and Portland about moving up from No. 4, that’s unlikely to happen, Iko writes. Houston remains open to moving its lottery pick, but it would take a significant offer to get the team to seriously consider it. That sort of offer hasn’t been put on the table so far, though the Rockets have been offered good “starter-level” players, according to Iko.
  • The more research the Rockets’ front office has done on this draft class, the more impressed they’ve been with the talent available, says Iko, adding that the club now seems more likely to keep its No. 20 pick than to trade it. That’s still very much up in the air though — according to Iko, Houston has talked about trading up into the 10-18 range. If a deal to move up doesn’t materialize and the Rockets’ preferred targets aren’t available at No. 20, trading the pick would still be an option.

NBA Announces All-Rookie Teams

Rookie of the Year winner Paolo Banchero was a unanimous choice for the 2022/23 All-Rookie First Team, the NBA announced today (via Twitter).

Players receive two points for a First Team vote and one point for a Second Team vote, and Banchero received the maximum possible 200 points.

Here’s the full five-man squad, listed in order of their total points received via voters:

The All-Rookie Second Team was announced as well, with a couple of teammates headlining the group (Twitter link).

In my opinion, the most surprising omission from the All-Rookie Second Team was Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard, who received 46 points. Nembhard was actually listed on one more ballot than Eason, but Eason received two First Team votes versus Nembhard’s zero, giving him a narrow edge.

That’s not to say Eason (or anyone else) was undeserving — he had a strong season as a tenacious offensive rebounder and defender. I just thought Nembhard should have been honored because he started the majority of the season for a competitive Indiana team and was frequently tasked with guarding the opposing teams’ best player, as Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files notes (via Twitter).

According to the NBA (Twitter link), others receiving votes included Trail Blazers guard Shaedon Sharpe (36), Hawks wing AJ Griffin (26), Nuggets forward Christian Braun, Thunder center Jaylin Williams (seven), Mavericks guard Jaden Hardy (four), Spurs guard Malaki Branham (three), Pelicans guard Dyson Daniels (two), Hornets center Mark Williams (two) and Bucks wing MarJon Beauchamp (one).

In case you missed it, more NBA awards will be coming later this week. The All-Defensive teams will be announced on Tuesday, followed by All-NBA on Wednesday and the Teammate of the Year award on Thursday.

Rockets Notes: Eason, Smith, Udoka, FA Targets

Rockets forward Tari Eason has switched agents. Eason is signing on with Wasserman, his new agency has announced (Twitter link).

Excel Sports Management had served as Eason’s prior representation to this point. Per Liz Mullen of The Sports Business Journal, Thad Foucher and Chafie Fields will be his Wasserman reps.

The 6’8″ forward out of LSU appeared in all 82 games for Houston in 2022/23, averaging 9.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.1 APG and 0.6 BPG off the bench.

There’s more out of Houston:

  • 2022 Rockets lottery pick Jabari Smith Jr. is switching his jersey number ahead of his second NBA season, from No. 1 to No. 10, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Smith had worn No. 10 while at Auburn, but former teammate Eric Gordon had already staked his claim to that number prior to Smith’s arrival. With the veteran shooting guard now on the Clippers, a path has been cleared for Smith to secure his former college digits.
  • New Rockets head coach Ime Udoka was brought aboard after thorough vetting from Houston decision makers. Kelly Iko of The Athletic takes a deep dive into the process of bringing the former Celtics head coach to the Rockets, who also seriously considered former Lakers head coach Frank Vogel and ex-Hornets head coach James Borrego. Houston was said to be intrigued by the quick, strong bond Udoka had forged with Boston players during his lone NBA Finals-bound with the club.
  • In a separate piece, Iko spoke with various scouts around the league about several possible free agent targets for the Rockets this summer. Iko took a look at former Houston guard James Harden, who won an MVP in 2018 with the Rockets, and restricted Lakers free agent Austin Reaves. Veteran forwards Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, along with Bucks wing Khris Middleton, were also examined.

Rockets Notes: Udoka, Green, Smith, Porter

At his introductory press conference as the Rockets‘ new head coach, Ime Udoka publicly addressed the events in Boston for the first time since his suspension was announced last fall, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Without revealing many specifics of the incident, Udoka admitted that he made a mistake and said he hopes the experience will ultimately make him a better coach.

“Really, that time off and really a full understanding of how many people you impact with a poor decision, that starts with ownership and accountability,” he said. “I preach that to players. I take responsibility for my part in it. I took leadership and sensitivity training and some counseling with my son to help him improve the situation I put him in. You can grow from adversity — and I think I’ve done that this year — if you … take the right steps.”

Owner Tilman Fertitta said the Rockets received approval from the commissioner’s office before hiring Udoka, who received a four-year, $28.5MM contract. After three years of rebuilding, the organization was eager to add a coach with a proven track record.

“The NBA told me that they felt very comfortable with Ime becoming the coach of the Houston Rockets,” Fertitta said. “That felt good to me after a lengthy conversation. We’re a forgiving society, and everybody makes mistakes.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • Udoka should have an immediate influence on the Rockets’ young talent, states Jared Weiss of The Athletic. Weiss expects Udoka to help Jalen Green learn how to slow down his game and play under control, and he envisions Jabari Smith Jr. developing into an exceptional defender in the role that Robert Williams plays in Boston. Weiss points to Kevin Porter Jr. as someone who could either improve under Udoka’s guidance or wind up being shipped to another team.
  • With their coaching hire out of the way, the Rockets will turn toward maximizing the roughly $60MM in cap space they’ll have this summer, Feigen adds in another Chronicle article. According to Feigen, the organization is still committed to the core pieces of its rebuilding process — Green and Smith, along with Tari Eason and Alperen Sengun — but Udoka talked about the need for a “different” type of big man. The front office will also prioritize shooting and hopes to add some veterans to an inexperienced roster.
  • Fertitta revealed that the Rockets plan to build a new $70MM practice facility, Feigen states in a separate story. It’s expected to be completed for the 2024/25 season.

Rockets Notes: Martin, Stone, Rookies, Next Coach

Rockets small forward Kenyon Martin Jr. has endeared himself to Houston with his play this season. As we’ve previously noted, the team has a variety of options for how it can retain the 6’6″ swingman into next season.

The Rockets hold a $1.93MM team option on Martin for the 2023/24 season that they could opt to exercise, though that would put him on track for unrestricted free agency in 2024. Turning down the option would allow Houston to make him a restricted free agent this summer. Martin is also extension-eligible.

As Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required) writes, while the Rockets are weighing their various options, Martin is trying to focus only on what he can control.

“If there’s a conversation that happens between us, that’s the most that can happen,” Martin said. “There’s nothing I can really do to control that side of it. Whatever they want to do, whether it’s this year or next year, whatever it may be, that’s on them. I’m just here to play basketball and hope it happens for the future.”

“Obviously, it’s important to me, contract extension and stuff like that,” Martin said. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it, the draft, a lot of stuff in the summer that goes into it. I can’t determine whether they’re going to … just wait until my fourth year is done. I’m just here to play and whether it’s this year or next year, I’m excited.”

There’s more out of Houston:

  • The future of Rockets general manager Rafael Stone may be on the line depending on how he performs during the 2023 offseason, according to Kelly Iko, Shams Charania, and Sam Amick of The Athletic. Stone will need to hire a new coach, draft well, and figure out how to use over $60MM in available cap space. “It could be a make or break summer for [Stone],” a source told The Athletic.
  • Rockets rookies Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason, TyTy Washington Jr. had an intense first NBA season with Houston, writes Feigen in another piece. “Just the ups and downs of it — I don’t think anything prepares you for it,” Eason said. “You know it’s 82 games, so you’re not going to have a great night every night, whereas in college, there was a third of that. So you know, you could kind of dwell on your losses and things like that a little bit more.” Smith responded similarly when asked about his thoughts on what stood out from his first pro season. “Just the long grind, the ups and downs of the season,” Smith said. “The bad things, the quick turnarounds, how important it is to stay in the gym, really work on your craft, don’t take days off, just get better every day.”
  • Stone revealed that the next Rockets head coach will have the opportunity to select their own staff, Iko reports (via Twitter). “That’s not gonna be my decision,” Stone said. “I think it’s important that the new coach picks that.”