Robert Covington

Stein’s Latest: Simmons, Hawks, Ingles, Cavs, Blazers

Although it’s possible the Sixers will trade Ben Simmons before the February 10 deadline, their preferred scenario would be to convince him to rejoin the team and play as much of the rest of the season as possible, a source familiar with Philadelphia’s thinking tells veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein.

Trading Simmons in the next month for the best available package would improve the Sixers’ chances of competing in the short term, but the team fears that taking that route may mean squandering an opportunity to land a true complementary star for Joel Embiid, says Stein. Convincing Simmons to play the rest of this season would improve the club’s short-term outlook while also leaving the door open for Philadelphia to make an offseason play for a star, should someone like Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal become available.

One league source who spoke to Stein suggested keeping an eye on the Hawks as a potential suitor for Simmons. Atlanta badly needs to upgrade its defense and president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk said this week that he plans to be active at the trade deadline in an effort to improve his struggling squad (Twitter link via Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

The Hawks don’t have the sort of trade candidate who would appeal to the 76ers as the centerpiece of a Simmons trade, but have several young players and draft picks they could put on the table, as Stein observes.

Here’s more from Stein:

  • The Jazz considered the idea of trading Joe Ingles during the offseason, but decided against it due to concerns about how it would affect the team’s culture, says Stein. However, Danny Ainge has been hired by Utah since then and may be less reluctant to move Ingles if his expiring contract is necessary to land a defensive-minded wing.
  • The Cavaliers continue to seek more play-making after acquiring Rajon Rondo from the Lakers, per Stein. Cleveland has lost two key guards – Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio – to season-ending injuries.
  • According to Stein, teams are keeping a close eye on how the Trail Blazers handle Damian Lillard‘s abdominal injury, since an extended absence for the star point guard would likely impact Portland’s approach at the trade deadline.
  • There has been an “undeniable uptick” in trade discussions around the NBA since the holidays, according to Stein, who identifies Myles Turner, Jerami Grant, Dennis Schröder, Eric Gordon, Terrence Ross, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III, Robert Covington, and Jusuf Nurkic as some of the players considered league-wide to be this year’s most likely trade candidates.

COVID-19 Updates: Sixers, Celtics, Rondo, Blazers, More

Sixers wing Danny Green cleared the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Sunday, tweets Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. However, Jaden Springer and Matisse Thybulle are both in the protocols now, joining two-way player Myles Powell.

In the latest injury report for the Sixers’ Monday game vs. Houston, Powell and Springer are both listed as out, while Thybulle is considered questionable. That suggests that the team is likely waiting for the results of Thybulle’s latest COVID-19 test before determining whether or not he’ll be available.

Here are more protocol-related updates from around the NBA:

  • Dennis Schröder and Bruno Fernando returned to action for the Celtics on Sunday after a stint in the health and safety protocols. Jayson Tatum has exited the protocols, but remained sidelined for Sunday’s game — he’s expected to return on Wednesday, tweets Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe.
  • On the LakersSunday injury report, Rajon Rondo was listed as out due to return to competition reconditioning. Rondo had been in the COVID-19 protocols since December 26, which presumably delayed the official completion of the trade sending him to Cleveland. Now that he has cleared the protocols, the Cavaliers and Lakers should soon officially announce that deal.
  • Robert Covington, Trendon Watford, and Keljin Blevins are no longer in the health and safety protocols for the Trail Blazers, per the injury report.
  • Knicks center Jericho Sims remained out of action on Sunday, but he was listed on the injury report as taking part in return to competition conditioning, so he has exited the protocols.
  • McKinley Wright (Timberwolves), Jarrett Culver (Grizzlies), and Jay Scrubb (Clippers) are among the other players who have recently cleared the COVID-19 protocols, according to the league’s injury report.
  • Our full health and safety protocols tracker can be found right here.

D’Angelo Russell, Three Blazers Enter Protocols

Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell has joined the growing list of Minnesota players in the health and safety protocols, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

The Timberwolves now have eight players affected, including stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. They’ve already signed a pair of replacement players – Chris Silva and Rayjon Tucker – using hardship exceptions, but will likely make at least one more roster addition before their next game on Monday.

Here are more COVID-19 protocol updates from around the NBA:

  • Three Trail Blazers players – Robert Covington, Ben McLemore, and Keljin Blevins – have entered the health and safety protocols, per Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). That brings Portland’s total count to five affected players, all of whom have been placed in the protocols in the last two days.
  • Kevin Knox has exited the protocols, but Jericho Sims has entered, so the Knicks still have three players affected, according to the team (Twitter links). RJ Barrett is back in the starting lineup for New York today and Quentin Grimes is also expected to play, but Immanuel Quickley and Knox will need a little more time to ramp up their conditioning, says Tim Bontemps of ESPN (Twitter link).
  • Mavericks wing Josh Green has tested out of the protocols, but didn’t travel with the team to Utah and won’t play tonight, tweets ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.

Western Trade Rumors: Westbrook, Pelicans, Nuggets, Blazers, More

The Lakers have had internal conversations about the possibility of trading Russell Westbrook, league sources tell Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report. Westbrook hasn’t fit in as well with LeBron James and Anthony Davis this season as the team had hoped.

However, Fischer suggests that any deal involving Westbrook is unlikely. He’s earning $44.2MM, with a $47.1MM player option for 2022/23, and there simply aren’t many players around the NBA who are available and could be used for salary-matching that sort of figure.

Fischer notes that a Cavaliers package centered around Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio would work, but such a deal probably wouldn’t appeal to Cleveland and hasn’t been discussed by the two teams. The Lakers, meanwhile, likely wouldn’t have much interest in acquiring Rockets guard John Wall, whose salary is nearly identical to Westbrook’s.

As Fischer writes, Sixers star Ben Simmons is one player whose salary could make him a candidate to be moved in a trade for Westbrook, and a Monday report indicated the Lakers have interest in Simmons. But Westbrook isn’t on Philadelphia’s wish list and conversations between the 76ers and Lakers haven’t gotten very far, says Fischer.

Here are a few more trade rumors from around the Western Conference, via Fischer:

  • Despite their slow start, the Pelicans haven’t given up on the idea of vying for a spot in the play-in tournament and could be buyers at the trade deadline, according to Fischer, who says former lottery pick Jaxson Hayes is considered to be available via trade.
  • The Nuggets are seeking wing upgrades and may put JaMychal Green on the trade block, sources tell Bleacher Report.
  • Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington, who are both on expiring contracts, are viewed as perhaps the most obvious trade candidates for the Trail Blazers, but Larry Nance Jr. may also be a prime target for rival front offices, says Fischer.
  • The Rockets would like to create an opening on their 15-man roster to promote two-way player Garrison Mathews, Fischer writes. Houston has a number of veteran trade candidates on its squad, including Eric Gordon, Danuel House, D.J. Augustin, and Daniel Theis.
  • The Spurs have been “frequently linked” to Suns center Jalen Smith, who is on the trade block, according to Fischer. Phoenix has previously been reported to have interest in San Antonio forward Thaddeus Young.

Blazers Rumors: Lillard, Front Office, McCollum, Nurkic, Covington, More

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard will become eligible for a two-year, $106MM extension during the 2022 offseason. That extension – which Lillard wants to lock in, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski – would begin in 2025/26 and would cover his age-35 and age-36 seasons.

Lillard and his agent need Portland’s next permanent general manager to sell team ownership on offering that super-max extension, according to Wojnarowski, who hears that the guard’s camp had concerns about Neil Olshey‘s willingness to recommend such an offer to Jody Allen. Chris Mannix of SI.com also hears that Olshey wasn’t sold on tacking two more years (at $51MM and $55MM) onto Lillard’s deal.

Although Lillard and his camp will be motivated to help the Blazers find a GM who is receptive to offering that extension, most of the top-level candidates who figure to draw interest from Portland aren’t enthusiastic about making that offer, says Wojnarowski. In fact, some of those potential candidates told Woj that they’d be more interested in the Blazers’ job if they could trade Lillard and rebuild, rather than extending the six-time All-Star.

According to Wojnarowski, Lillard’s camp is “privately selling the idea” of the Blazers trading some of their current players and continuing to build around Dame (on a new extension). However, candidates for the permanent general manager job in Portland believe they’ll need to sell themselves to team ownership, not to Lillard and his camp.

While it remains possible Lillard’s group will have some input in the GM choice, Wojnarowski suggests they’ve been “thwarted on several leverage plays” this year, including their preference for Jason Kidd as Terry Stotts‘ replacement and their desire to trade for Ben Simmons.

Here are several more rumors out of Portland:

  • The Blazers haven’t begun reaching out to potential candidates for the permanent GM job, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, who hears that there’s no concrete list of contenders yet beyond interim GM Joe Cronin. The organization is still deciding whether to hire a firm to research and recommend candidates, per Wojnarowski.
  • The Pelicans offered Jrue Holiday to Portland in 2020 in exchange for CJ McCollum and three first-round picks, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic. A deal involving McCollum remains possible, but the Blazers are considered more likely to move Jusuf Nurkic and/or Robert Covington, says Fischer, adding that the team is “presently known to be down on both players.”
  • Lillard has expressed interest since the 2020 offseason in a handful of defensively-minded wings, per Fischer. Besides Simmons, Lillard has also shown interest in playing with Jaylen Brown and Aaron Gordon, sources tell Bleacher Report.
  • According to Fischer, Lillard’s lower abdominal tendinopathy is an injury that has bothered him off and on for years. The All-NBA guard even considered surgery this past offseason to address the issue, Fischer adds.
  • There are several teams with interest in trading for Lillard, but three teams in that group told Wojnarowski they’d want to wait for the 31-year-old to request a trade before calling Portland, since the Blazers’ leverage would be reduced in that scenario. The Sixers have made an offer, but the Knicks haven’t, Wojnarowski adds. For his part, Lillard would have limited leverage to push for a specific landing spot if he asks out, since he still has three more years left on his current contract after 2021/22.
  • Multiple league sources with knowledge of the situation tell Fischer that some Blazers players this season have been frustrated with Chauncey Billups‘ “coaching demeanor,” as well as his offensive system. In the latest Hoop Collective podcast, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Ohm Youngmisuk, and Ramona Shelburne discussed the fact that Billups’ tendency to call out players publicly may rub the current generation the wrong way.
  • There have been whispers that Blazers owner Jody Allen might decide to sell her stake in the Blazers following the NBA’s next television agreement, says Fischer. If that’s the plan, there will be even more pressure on the team to make sure its next front office hire and big roster moves are the right ones.

LeBron James, Robert Covington Both Fined $15K By NBA

Lakers star LeBron James has been fined $15K for making an obscene gesture on the court, the league announced (Twitter link).

The incident occurred at the end of the fourth quarter during the team’s overtime win against Indiana on Nov. 24. He was also warned for using profanity during his post-game availability in response to his one-game suspension.

In a separate tweet, the league also announced that Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington was fined $15K for throwing his face mask at a referee.

The incident took place in the second quarter of the team’s loss against Sacramento on Nov. 24. Covington received a technical and was ejected from the game.

Northwest Notes: Edwards, A-Rod, Daigneault, Covington

Anthony Edwards led the Timberwolves to a victory over Jimmy Butler and the Heat on Wednesday, putting up 33 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists in a game-high 43 minutes. Edwards was a plus-19 in the 12-point win and his performance earned rave reviews from a pair of his teammates with All-Star appearances on their résumés, as Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes.

“I think we’re watching him grow in front of us, just all around,” said D’Angelo Russell, adding that Edwards “got us over the hump” in the game vs. Miami.

“You need superstars to win in this league now,” Karl-Anthony Towns said of the second-year wing. “We need someone like him. We always talk about the big three. Well, he’s solidified himself. It’s amazing to see him getting better and better every game and figuring it out more and more.”

Edwards is building off his strong second half as a rookie and has boosted his numbers across the board so far this season, further solidifying his place as a long-term cornerstone in Minnesota. In 18 games (35.9 MPG), he has put up 22.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, and 3.4 APG on .434/.360/.746 shooting.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • How did Alex Rodriguez go from MLB All-Star to co-owner of the Timberwolves? In an in-depth story for The Athletic, Krawczynski explores A-Rod’s entry into the business world and how he teamed up with Marc Lore, his partner in the purchase of the Wolves.
  • Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault returned to the sidelines for Wednesday’s contest vs. Utah after missing the team’s three-game road trip to be there for the birth of his first child (Twitter link via Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman). Oklahoma City was 0-3 in Daigneault’s absence.
  • Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington was ejected from Wednesday’s game in Sacramento for throwing his face guard and hitting an official’s foot with it. As Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian relays, head coach Chauncey Billups and star guard Damian Lillard said after the game that it was an accident. “Roco always takes his mask off and tosses it to the side,” Lillard said. “This time he just tossed it and it literally bounced into the referee.” It remains to be seen whether Covington will be fined by the NBA for the incident.

Blazers Notes: Lineups, Nance, Little, Powell

Since head coach Chauncey Billups criticized the team’s compete level on Sunday and suggested that lineup changes could be coming, the Trail Blazers have reeled off wins against Toronto and Chicago this week, pushing their record back up to .500 (8-8).

The Blazers didn’t make any changes to their starting lineup in those two games, but the team is leaning a little more on reserves Larry Nance Jr. and Nassir Little, who played more total minutes in the last two games than starters Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington.

When Nance and Little played the entire fourth quarter vs. Toronto on Monday while Nurkic and Covington sat on the bench, Billups was asked about the decision. As Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian tweets, the first-year coach said it was more about matchups vs. Toronto than an indication of imminent lineup changes. Still, it seems clear Nance and Little have earned bigger roles with their play so far.

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • After averaging just 17.2 MPG and never playing more than 22 minutes in any of his first 11 games in Portland, Nance has averaged 22.9 MPG in his last five games. That’s a byproduct of the Blazers getting a better sense of how best to use him, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic. “When he came here I wasn’t sure if he was a four that could play five, or a five that could play some four,” Billups said. “Right now, I’m pretty confident that he is a five who could play four, too. But we are better served with him at that small-ball five.”
  • For his part, Nance said he’s glad his role has evolved organically rather than having it become an issue the team needed to focus on and figure out. “I think it’s a great thing that we didn’t have to sit down and have a pow-wow about, ‘What’s going on? How do we get Larry involved?'” Nance said, per Quick. “(Billups) knows I’m a guy who you just put me on the floor and I will figure it out. And I pride myself in not being a squeaky wheel.”
  • The Blazers’ game vs. the Raptors on Monday was a reminder that last season’s Norman Powell/Gary Trent Jr. swap is working out pretty well for both teams, as Eric Koreen of The Athletic writes. Powell has remained a highly efficient scorer in Portland this season, averaging 16.8 PPG on .494/.438/.818 shooting, while Trent has been a ball hawk on defense in Toronto, leading the NBA in total deflections and steals.
  • Powell signed a new five-year, $90MM deal with the Blazers during the offseason, but he’s determined not to get complacent after securing a life-changing payday. “I never really looked at the money as, like, (an) indicator of how good I’ve been,” Powell said on Monday, per Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. “It’s always been the expectations and goals that I’ve set out for myself … and can I get better? There’s no doubt the money will come if I keep doing those things, and it has, and I’m still hungry for more goals.”

Billups Expresses Frustration With Blazers’ Compete Level

The up-and-down Trail Blazers had perhaps their worst game of the season on Sunday in Denver, losing by 29 points to the Nuggets and falling to 6-8. While Portland was playing without star point guard Damian Lillard, Denver was missing Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Will Barton.

Following the loss, Blazers coach Chauncey Billups expressed displeasure with his club’s compete level, as detailed in stories from Jason Quick of The Athletic and Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian.

“I’m confused,” Billups said. “I don’t think we came to compete in this game. I mean, this is a team that beat us in the playoffs last year. And we come out and don’t even compete in the first quarter. Kind of … a little disappointed in that. The effort. Just no fight. No fight.”

Asked about the possibility of making lineup or rotation adjustments to shake things up for the Blazers, Billups suggested that changes could be around the corner.

“It’s coming. That point is coming soon,” Billups said. “If we continue to play like that … because if you think about it, you keep playing that way, at some point I have to look at it and say something isn’t quite working. And then maybe think about shifting some things around.”

In Quick’s view, changes seem most likely to come at power forward and/or center, since Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic have been inconsistent so far this season, while bench players like Nassir Little, Larry Nance Jr., and Cody Zeller have provided more stability. Billups, who said earlier this month that Covington “could be better defensively,” stated on Sunday that he’s been happy with the effort he’s seeing from his reserves, including Anfernee Simons, Dennis Smith Jr., Little, and Nance.

“All of the second unit played as hard as we need them to play,” Billups said. “The first unit, they didn’t have it.”

The first-year head coach acknowledged that Portland had a busy schedule during the last week, playing four road games in six days. However, Billups didn’t view fatigue as a viable excuse for the team’s lack of effort.

“I just think there is no real reason to not have effort,” Billups said. “We’ve had a lot of games, so I can see being tired. … I can see if we come out and play our behinds off, but we just run out of gas. I can live with that. I don’t like losing like this. That game was over.”

Latest On Ben Simmons

Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon are two players widely viewed as potential fits for the Sixers in a Ben Simmons deal, but no trade scenarios involving either player have gained real traction with Philadelphia so far, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (video link).

According to Charania, the Sixers asked the Trail Blazers for a package that included three first-round picks and three pick swaps, which Portland rejected. While Charania’s wording isn’t entirely clear, it sounds like Philadelphia requested all those draft assets in addition to McCollum, so it’s not surprising that the Blazers weren’t interested.

As has been reported repeatedly throughout the offseason, the Sixers’ dream scenario would be to trade Simmons to the Blazers in a deal involving Damian Lillard, but the Oakland native never asked to be dealt and Portland has zero interest in moving him unless that happens. “You’re waiting on a prayer,” one source said to Sam Amick of The Athletic, referring to Philadelphia’s desire to land Lillard.

According to Amick, there has been some chatter around the league about the possibility of the Sixers and Blazers working out a Simmons deal for a package that includes McCollum and Robert Covington, plus draft assets, but the two sides don’t appear anywhere close.

Here’s more on Simmons:

  • The Sixers’ front office, head coach Doc Rivers, and agent Rich Paul have continued to discuss the idea of Simmons ending his holdout and reporting to the team, but the three-time All-Star remains “resistant” to that idea, according to Charania.
  • Charania says Simmons has clearly “mentally checked out” from the Sixers and even if he were to report to the team, it would be with “short-term intentions.” A source who spoke to Amick said essentially the same thing: “Even if (Simmons) shows up, I think there’s no chance of him ever mentally being back in Philly.” Simmons has packed up his belongings from his Philadelphia home, per Charania.
  • David Aldridge of The Athletic believes the Kings make sense as a trade partner for Simmons and has heard the 25-year-old would have no problem going to Sacramento. However, sources have told Amick that the Kings want to see what their current group looks like in the regular season and haven’t seriously revisited the possibility of a Simmons trade since speaking to the 76ers months ago.