Saben Lee

Seven Pistons Exit Protocols, Nuggets’ Monte Morris Enters

Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Josh Jackson, Cory Joseph, Saben Lee, Trey Lyles, and Rodney McGruder have all exited the NBA’s health and safety protocols for the Pistons, James Edwards III of The Athletic relays (via Twitter).

All seven players are listed as out for Saturday’s contest against San Antonio due to reconditioning. The Pistons’ next game after Saturday will be Monday against the Bucks, when several of the players could return to action. Second-year big man Isaiah Stewart is now the lone player still in the protocols for Detroit.

In other COVID-related news, Nuggets point guard Monte Morris has become the fourth Denver player to enter the protocols in the past two days, joining Jeff Green, Bones Hyland, and Zeke Nnaji, per Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports (Twitter link). Morris has started all 32 of his games this season (30 MPG), averaging 12.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, and 4.3 APG on a .479/.380/.783 shooting line.

The Nuggets signed Davon Reed to his third 10-day hardship contract Thursday, and reportedly plan to sign Rayjon Tucker to a deal as well.

Four Pistons, Including Stewart, Enter Protocols

Pistons center Isaiah Stewart and guards Killian Hayes and Saben Lee have entered the league’s health and safety protocols ahead of the team’s game against Miami Thursday evening, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets. Reserve swingman Rodney McGruder has also entered the protocols, The Athletic’s James L. Edwards III tweets.

Top pick Cade Cunningham entered the protocols on Wednesday. The Pistons, who have lost 15 of their last 16 contests, will obviously be severely shorthanded for the game.

Those players will be sidelined for at least 10 days, unless they can register two consecutive negative COVID-19 tests at least 24 hours apart during that span.

Stewart is averaging 7.9 PPG and 8.4 RPG. Hayes has started regularly as well, though he’s averaging just 6.4 PPG and 3.7 APG. Lee has come off the bench in 15 games and scored 16 points against the Knicks on Tuesday. McGruder has appeared in 14 games.

With Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk unavailable due to long-term injuries, the Pistons’ frontcourt is severely depleted with Trey Lyles and rookie Luka Garza the main options.

Central Notes: Bulls, Boucek, Pistons, Lee

The Bulls have announced (Twitter link) that their next contest, scheduled to be a Sunday matinee matchup against the Lakers, has been pushed back to a later start time. The game will now tip off at 7 p.m. CT, after originally being scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. CT.

It was announced yesterday that the NBA would postpone Chicago’s two other scheduled games this week – tonight against the Pistons and Thursday night against the Raptors – after it was revealed that as many as 10 Bulls are currently in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago tweets that Coby White, Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr., and star wing DeMar DeRozan all have a chance to be cleared by the new tip-off time Sunday. It was reported over the weekend that White had returned to the Bulls’ Advocate Center practice facility for the first time since his diagnosis.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • After missing the Pacers‘ Monday loss to the Warriors, Indiana assistant coach Jenny Boucek is now in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, per Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files. The first-season assistant will be replaced by Calbert Cheaney on the front of the bench, Agness adds.
  • Pistons head coach Dwane Casey has revealed that the NBA will examine game tape to determine which Nets players came into “close contact” with Detroit players, per James Edwards III of The Athletic (Twitter link). Brooklyn players Paul MillsapLaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre’ Bembry, Jevon Carter, and James Johnson are currently in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
  • The Pistons are optimistic that the G League play of second-year point guard Saben Lee will translate at the NBA level, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com. Langlois notes that the early returns have been positive, and could lead to more minutes with Detroit for Lee. “I’m just doing whatever the coaches ask me to do,” Lee said. “Up here, I know there’s a lot of scorers, a lot of shooters. Whatever coach [Casey] asks me to do, I’m going to do that. That’s how I navigate that.” Saben played with Detroit’s NBAGL club, the Motor City Cruise, for his first seven contests this season.

Pistons Notes: Cunningham, Durant, Garza, Livers, Lee, Rotation

Kevin Durant offered high praise for top pick Cade Cunningham after the Nets’ narrow win over the Pistons on Friday, Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press relays (Twitter links).

“I love Cade’s game. I think he’s going to be a tough, tough player for a long, long time,” Durant said. “I got to know him when he was in high school so we got to build a little relationship. To play against him in the NBA is sweet.”

Cunningham had a team-high 17 points in the 96-90 loss. He missed the first four games with an ankle sprain.

“We had a lot of conversations about being on this level and what it took,” Durant added. “To see him out here battling through some injuries in the start, but to come out here and play aggressive tonight and hit some big shots, I’m happy for him and looking forward to seeing his career.”

We have more on the Pistons:

  • Cunningham has shot poorly thus far but he’s not hesitant to take big shots and he shrugs off criticism, James Edwards of The Athletic writes. “I know what comes with being the No. 1 pick, the target on your back,” Cunningham said. “People want to see you mess up. I’ve always just been myself. I’ve never changed myself to feel like what people feel I should be like.” Cunningham is shooting 23.2% from the field and 14.3% on 3-point attempts.
  • The team assigned rookies Luka Garza and Isaiah Livers and second-year guard Saben Lee to the Motor City Cruise after Friday’s game, the team’s PR department tweets. The NBA team doesn’t play again until a road game against Houston on Wednesday.
  • Prior to the latest losses, coach Dwane Casey said he didn’t plan on making any major rotation changes in the near future, according to Rod Beard of The Detroit News“We will look at things for 20-game increments to see why our young guys are and to see what we have and see how they react,” Casey said. “They’re our future, our foundation, so there’s no use of flipping the lineup or changing lineups trying to (fix things). Their growth is the most important thing and I think I’ve said it a million times.”

Eastern Notes: Cunningham, Livers, Gafford, Strus

Top pick Cade Cunningham made his belated NBA debut on Saturday against Orlando, then sat out Sunday’s loss to Brooklyn. The Pistons’ prized rookie won’t play in back-to-backs in the short term, coach Dwane Casey told The Detroit News’ Rod Beard and other media members (Twitter link). Cunningham missed the first four regular season games due to an ankle sprain. Cunningham is expected to suit up against Milwaukee on Tuesday.

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • Another Pistons rookie, forward Isaiah Livers, has been assigned to the team’s G League team, the Motor City Cruise, the team’s PR department tweets. Livers has been rehabbing from foot surgery, so that’s an indication he’s been medically cleared to at least practice. He was one of three second-round picks made by Detroit. Fellow rookie, center Luka Garza, and second-year guard Saben Lee have also been assigned to the Cruise.
  • Wizards big man Daniel Gafford returned to action on Monday, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. He suffered a right quad contusion against the Celtics on Wednesday. He underwent an MRI to ensure the injury was not more serious. He’s averaging 8.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG and 2.0 BPG.
  • Heat wing Max Strus has been diagnosed with a sprained left knee, Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald reports. An MRI on the knee returned negative results. Strus is expected to miss at least two weeks, but is relieved it wasn’t more serious after tearing his ACL in the same knee in December 2019. “There was a lot of anxiety. It was tough to sleep the night before,” he said. “But the training staff did a great job of getting me in as soon as they could to get the MRI. As soon as I heard those results, it was just a breath of fresh air.”

Central Notes: Pistons Contracts, McConnell, Allen, Bulls

The Pistons‘ three-year deal with Kelly Olynyk has a partial guarantee in year three, with only $3MM of the big man’s $12.2MM salary assured in 2023/24, according to Keith Smith of Spotrac (Twitter link). Detroit also gave Trey Lyles a two-year, $5.125MM deal that includes a second-year team option, Smith adds (Twitter link).

While those contract details are similar to what was reported earlier in free agency, the specifics on the Pistons’ deals for Saben Lee and second-round pick Isaiah Livers didn’t surface until today.

According to Smith (Twitter link), the Pistons used cap space to give Lee a three-year, minimum-salary contract that includes two fully guaranteed years followed by a third-year team option. As for Livers, his new deal with Detroit is also for three years with a third-year team option, tweets Smith. The No. 42 pick got slightly more than the rookie minimum in his first year, followed by the veteran’s minimum in years two and three.

Here’s more from around the Central:

Saben Lee Re-Signs With Pistons

AUGUST 6: Lee’s new deal with the Pistons is now official, per NBA.com’s transactions log. We’re still waiting on the exact terms of the contract.


AUGUST 4: After a promising rookie season, Saben Lee will sign a three-year contract to stay with the Pistons, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The deal includes a team option on the third year, according to Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press (Twitter link).

The 22-year-old guard was part of a strong rookie class that Detroit put together last season. Selected with the 38th pick, he was acquired from the Jazz in a draft-night trade. He earned a spot in the Pistons’ rotation and averaged 5.6 points, 2.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 48 games.

Lee, who spent last season on a two-way contract, was a restricted free agent after receiving a qualifying offer over the weekend. Because he spent a year on that two-way deal, Detroit had Non-Bird rights on Lee and was able to do the three-year deal without using cap room, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN.

While the exact financial details aren’t yet known, the Non-Bird exception would allow the Pistons to give Lee a starting salary worth no more than 120% of the minimum.

Nico Mannion, Saben Lee, Others Receive Qualifying Offers

The Warriors have issued a qualifying offer to two-way player Nico Mannion, making him a restricted free agent, tweets Keith Smith of Spotrac. Because Mannion, the 48th overall pick in the 2020 draft, was on a two-way contract during his rookie season, his qualifying offer will be the equivalent of another two-way deal, with a partial guarantee worth $50K. The QO will give Golden State matching rights in the event that another team signs Mannion to an offer sheet next week.

Here are more updates on players on two-way contracts receiving qualifying offers:

  • Saben Lee, a 2020 second-round pick who spent his rookie season on a two-way deal, has received a qualifying offer from the Pistons, making him a restricted free agent, tweets Smith. As expected, Detroit also officially renounced the draft rights to Jaylen Hands, Smith notes.
  • The Bulls issued a qualifying offer to two-way player Devon Dotson, making him a restricted free agent, tweets Smith. Chicago also gave a QO to Lauri Markkanen on Friday.
  • Nuggets guard Markus Howard, another two-way player, received a qualifying offer that makes him a restricted free agent, tweets Smith. Howard appeared in 37 games for Denver last season as an undrafted rookie out of Marquette.
  • The Spurs extended a qualifying offer to forward Keita Bates-Diop to make him an RFA, tweets Smith. Like the other players listed above, Bates-Diop has fewer than four years of NBA experience and is therefore eligible to sign another two-way contract after spending the 2020/21 season on a two-way deal.
  • The Cavaliers gave a qualifying offer to two-way shooting guard Brodric Thomas, tweets Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com (Twitter link). Thomas appeared in a total of 32 games for Houston and Cleveland as a rookie in 2020/21.
  • The Grizzlies announced they’ve issued a qualifying offer to big man Killian Tillie, making him a restricted free agent. Tillie appeared in 18 games for Memphis as a rookie on his two-way deal.

Since all of these players are coming off two-way contracts and have only spent one season with their respective teams, their QOs are one-year, two-way offers with $50K guarantees.

Central Notes: Young, Cavaliers Pick, Lee, Cunningham

The expiring contract of Bulls forward Thaddeus Young could be the club’s best non-All Star trade chip, posits Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. Only $6MM of Young’s $14.2MM contract is guaranteed for the 2021/22 season. The Bulls front office has until August 1 to fully ratify the deal, which would make sense to do, as the veteran Young has proven to be a valuable role player in Chicago, and even the full $14.2MM deal is reasonable enough to make him desirable for a win-now franchise.

The 33-year-old Young has thrived with the Bulls as a multifaceted two-way reserve capable of playing both forward positions and, occasionally, small-ball center. He seemed to take significant steps during the 2020/21 season as a ball-handler and play-maker, averaging a career-best 4.3 assists.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Given that they have the third pick in what is considered to be a top-heavy draft, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com wonders if the Cavaliers should consider trading down for a lower lottery selection and a future asset. In some order, the top four picks in the draft are expected to be Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham, USC center/power forward Evan Mobley, G League Ignite guard Jalen Green, and Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs. The Cavaliers are also expected to assess the next batch of lottery prospects, including Florida State guard Scottie Barnes, G League Ignite forward Jonathan Kuminga, Duke forward Jalen Johnson, Adelaide 36ers guard Josh Giddey, Tennessee guard Keon Johnson and Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert. If Cleveland prefers one of these players, who should be available beyond the top four, it might make sense to trade down.
  • Athletic Pistons rookie point guard Saben Lee enjoyed an impressive first NBA season, despite being drafted 31 spots behind fellow rookie Pistons point guard Killian Hayes, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com. Langlois projects that Lee’s aforementioned athleticism, his 6’9″ wingspan, and his strength will serve him well as a defense-first guard on the team next season.
  • The Pistons will have their first No. 1 pick in quite a while, and standout Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham has widely been viewed as the top prospect in the upcoming draft. Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press details why the club could ultimately pass on selecting Cunningham, explaining why the ceilings of Jalen Green and Evan Mobley are enough to at least get them into the conversation of a top selection. Cunningham’s ball-handling, shooting, defense and positional fluidity make him perhaps the safest bet for a rebuilding team. Mobley’s unique offensive game and impressive size as a center and Green’s fit with the Pistons specifically make both players interesting possibilities.

Central Notes: Hayes, Stewart, Sirvydis, Gottlieb, Varejao

The Pistons’ four rookie draft picks continue to receive extensive playing time and coach Dwane Casey is encouraged by the progress of the team’s so-called “Core Four,” Keith Langlois of Pistons.com writes. That quartet of Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee combined for 73 points, 22 rebounds and 19 assists against the Bulls on Sunday.

“It’s another area of growth, of toughness,” Casey said. “If you win with toughness in this league, we’d have won quite a few games. Those guys toughed it out – mentally, physically – and it says a lot about their character, who they are as people.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Another Pistons rookie, Euro import Deividas Sirvydis, had an eight-point, six-rebound outing against Philadelphia on Saturday and he’s also trying to make an impression in the late going, Langlois writes in a separate story. Sirvydis joined Detroit during the offseason after being selected in the second round in 2019 as a draft-and-stash prospect. “The main thing with him is getting stronger, which he’s done,” Casey said. “I’ve told our guys, he’s going to be a player one day. He’s going to be one of those big two/threes who can stretch the floor.”
  • Cavaliers assistant Lindsay Gottlieb is leaving the franchise when the regular season is completed. She has been named USC’s head women’s coach, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Gottlieb, who had been on Cleveland’s staff since 2019, was the first female head coach from a Power 5 conference to become an NBA assistant coach. She previously coached Cal for eight seasons.
  • While it may have been heartwarming to see 38-year-old Anderson Varejao make a brief comeback in the NBA, the Cavaliers should have evaluated a younger player looking for a chance, Joe Vardon of The Athletic argues. The team could have signed someone who played in the G League or overseas and potentially found a diamond in the rough, Vardon writes, noting that some other teams have gotten productive minutes from players on 10-day contracts or rest-of-season deals.