Spurs Rumors

Lakers Notes: Walker, LeBron, Davis

Lonnie Walker expected to remain with the Spurs in free agency, but the move to the Lakers has unlocked his offensive potential, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. Walker was drafted by San Antonio in 2018 and spent his first four NBA seasons there. After Friday’s game, he told reporters, “I thought I was going to be a Spur for life.”

When he reached free agency in July, L.A. offered a one-year contract at $6.4MM, the full taxpayer mid-level exception. The Spurs had the resources to match or exceed that offer, but they elected not to. Instead, Walker joined a Lakers team that needed scoring and he’s having a career season so far, becoming a full-time starter and averaging 17.0 PPG through 15 games.

“I love playing in this type of environment, with these types of players,” Walker said. “I’m just trying to show my talents. I’m not sure many people really know my game. It’s finally starting to come.”

There’s more on the Lakers:

  • LeBron James returned Friday after missing five games with an adductor strain, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play until after he completed his pre-game workout, according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic. James committed an uncharacteristic nine turnovers, but he also contributed 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists as L.A. won on the road for the first time this season. “My rhythm, my timing was a little off on a few of my passes,” James said. “I had six in the first half and cut it in half in the second half. But I’ll be a lot better, obviously, as the games go on I’ll get my rhythm back.”
  • James has been cleared to play tonight in the second game of a back-to-back, tweets Marc J. Spears of Andscape.
  • Anthony Davis will miss tonight’s rematch with the Spurs after getting kicked in the calf during Friday’s game, tweets Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register. Davis has reached at least 25 points and 15 rebounds in his last five games, notes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “AD was the best player in the league over the last four or five games,” James said Friday. “Just his numbers and productivity on both sides of the floor. It’s not just offensively but defensively he’s been super engaged, and tonight once again he was amazing.”

Lonnie Walker: San Antonio Still "Home"

Lakers star LeBron James made his return on Friday night in San Antonio after missing five games due to an adductor strain, and helped lead the team to a 105-94 victory. Speaking to reporters following the win, James indicated that he isn’t planning to sit out the second half of the Lakers’ back-to-back set vs. the Spurs on Saturday, as Dave McMenamin of ESPN relays.

  • Facing his former team for the first time since signing with the Lakers in the offseason, Lonnie Walker said on Friday that San Antonio is still “home” and the Spurs are still “family,” per Kyle Goon of The Southern California News Group. Walker, who received the full taxpayer mid-level exception from the Lakers in free agency, is enjoying a career year so far in Los Angeles and making a bid for Most Improved Player consideration. At ESPN, McMenamin takes a look at what’s fueling Walker’s fifth-year surge.

Pacers, Spurs Remain Well Below NBA’s Salary Floor

Besides being the NBA’s only two teams with any cap room still available this season, the Pacers and Spurs are also the only two clubs whose team salaries remain well below the league’s salary “floor.”

As we explain in a glossary entry, the salary floor is the minimum amount that NBA teams are required to spend on player salaries in a given season. That amount is set at 90% of the season’s cap, rounded to the nearest thousand. So, since the cap for the 2022/23 campaign is $123,655,000, the floor is $111,290,000.

By our estimation, the Pacers’ team salary for the 2022/23 season is just under $96MM, while the Spurs’ figure is just shy of $95MM. Both clubs have the ability to create upwards of $28-30MM in cap room — they’re also both more than $15MM short of the salary floor.

There’s no rule stating that the Pacers and Spurs must sign free agents or trade for players to make up that $15MM+ difference. Last season, for example, the Thunder finished the season far below the salary floor.

In that scenario, the team is simply obligated to make up the difference by distributing the shortfall to the players on its roster. Oklahoma City players earned a nice year-end bonus last season, and players in Indiana and San Antonio may be hoping that their teams don’t add major salary in the coming months so that they’ll get similar salary bumps at the end of this season.

However, it’s unlikely that the Pacers and Spurs will both simply let all of their leftover cap room go unused. It figures to come in handy leading up to the February 10 trade deadline, when teams around the NBA may be looking to shed a contract or two. Indiana and San Antonio are well positioned to accommodate salary dumps if their trade partners entice them to take on unwanted contracts by attaching draft picks and/or young prospects.

The two teams’ cap room will also allow them to explore mismatched trades. For instance, there have been rumors that the Lakers and Spurs have discussed the possibility of a deal that would send Russell Westbrook and draft compensation to San Antonio in exchange for Doug McDermott and Josh Richardson. McDermott’s and Richardson’s combined cap hit is just below $26MM, which wouldn’t be nearly enough to match Westbrook’s $47MM+ salary if both teams were operating over the cap. But the Spurs could take on that extra salary using their cap space.

As we discussed last week, the Pacers have another potential path for using a big chunk of their cap room and getting above the salary floor. Signing Myles Turner to a contract extension that includes a salary renegotiation for the current season, giving him an immediate raise, would be a way to make use of their cap flexibility and incentivize Turner to sign on the dotted line, assuming there’s mutual interest in a long-term deal. The Spurs don’t have any player eligible for renegotiation.

The Thunder’s relative inactivity at last season’s trade deadline is a reminder that we shouldn’t necessarily expect major action when a team is sitting on unused cap room during the season. Still, it’s safe to assume that teams around the league will be in touch with the Pacers and Spurs in the coming weeks and months, proposing creative ways for the two clubs to make use of their cap flexibility. Indiana and San Antonio will be two teams worth watching closely as February 10 nears.

Robert Williams Hopes To Return By Christmas

Celtics center Robert Williams expects to be back on the court by Christmas Day, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said tonight on the network’s pre-game show (video link), relaying a conversation with Williams’ agent.

Williams is “progressing well” with his rehab after undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee in September, Woj adds, noting that it was the second knee operation for Williams this year. Williams was originally projected to miss eight to 12 weeks, and the Celtics have been cautious about his return. He began participating in three-on-three drills a few days ago.

Williams became a full-time starter last season and emerged as a defensive anchor during Boston’s run to the NBA Finals. The Celtics are off to a 14-4 start without him, but Wojnarowski believes they’ll be in the market for another center to provide insurance against further injuries.

“I think for Boston now as you start to look out to the February trade deadline, I think another big man, another center who could play minutes in the case of Rob Williams missing time or a 36-year-old Al Horford being out,” Wojnarowski said. “They are trying to close every hole they can to be a championship team. We can watch Boston as they get closer to the trade deadline, seeing if there are any frontcourt help off their bench they could acquire.”

The Celtics were already rumored to have interest in Spurs center Jakob Poeltl, notes Brian Robb of MassLive. He also points out that Noah Vonleh and Justin Jackson both have contracts that won’t be guaranteed until early January, making it easy to waive them if an open roster spot is needed. Boston also has two trade exceptions that could be used to acquire players earning between $5-7MM without sending out salary in return.

Multi-Team Deal Possible For Jae Crowder

Several teams have expressed interest in Suns forward Jae Crowder and there’s speculation that a trade could get done soon, according to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. Crowder, who had been a starter during his first two years in Phoenix, is working out on his own while he waits for a deal to be completed.

The Bucks, Hawks and Warriors are among the most prominent suitors for Crowder, sources tell Pincus, and an unidentified executive believes the final version of the deal could include as many as five teams.

Pincus hears that Milwaukee has offered Grayson Allen for Crowder, while Atlanta is willing to part with some combination of Bogdan Bogdanovic, Justin Holiday and John Collins. The Suns don’t have any immediate interest in either of those offers, Pincus adds.

As reported earlier today by Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, the Rockets could play an important role in a multi-team deal. Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports stated last week that Phoenix had interest in Kenyon Martin Jr., and Pincus speculates that veteran guard Eric Gordon could also be included in a trade that sends Crowder and Dario Saric to another team. Pincus hears that Houston would want “real value” to get involved, whether it’s in the form of young talent or draft assets.

The Warriors could be a team to watch in the Crowder sweepstakes if they’ve become more willing to unload some of their young players after an 8-10 start, Pincus writes. Golden State’s defense has regressed after losing Gary Payton II and Otto Porter in free agency, and Crowder is the type of multi-positional defender who could fix those issues.

The Warriors also need help with rebounding after falling from seventh to 25th in the league in that category, and rival executives expect them to target another big man as well as a defensive wing. Pincus cites Myles Turner and Jakob Poeltl as possibilities, though the Pacers may decide to keep Turner after their strong start. The Spurs are limited to less than $13MM as the starting point for an extension offer to Poeltl, and the team may be inclined to trade him rather than risk losing him in free agency.

Golden State would have to send out nearly $16MM in salary to acquire both Crowder and Poeltl, but it’s limited in what it can offer until Donte DiVincenzo, JaMychal Green, Andre Iguodala and Kevon Looney become trade-eligible later this season.

Pincus offers a sample trade in which send the Warriors send James Wiseman and Ryan Rollins to the Spurs, while the Rockets get Jonathan Kuminga from Golden State and Saric from Phoenix. Another Pincus suggestion has the Warriors keeping Kuminga while shipping Moses Moody and either Patrick Baldwin or Rollins to the Rockets, while San Antonio gets Baldwin or Rollins along with Wiseman.

Injury Updates: Tatum, Herro, Barnes, Langford, More

The Celtics will have star forward Jayson Tatum on the court for tonight’s showdown with the Mavericks, according to Souichi Terada of MassLive.

Tatum was listed as questionable after hurting his left ankle in Monday’s game at Chicago, but coach Joe Mazzulla told reporters that he’ll be able to play without any limitations. Tatum appeared to be moving normally during shootaround, Terada observes.

Tatum is among the early favorites in the MVP race, averaging 30.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists while playing 37.2 minutes per game, the most in his career. He has led Boston to the best start in the league at 13-4.

There’s more injury-related news to pass along:

  • Tyler Herro will return for the Heat tonight after missing eight games with a sprained left ankle, the team announced (via Twitter). Max Strus was downgraded to out due to a shoulder injury, according to Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald (Twitter link).
  • Raptors forward Scottie Barnes will miss tonight’s game with a sprained left knee, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports. Fred VanVleet is sidelined with an illness, so Toronto is down to 10 available players.
  • Spurs guard Romeo Langford has been cleared to return tonight after missing five games while in the health and safety protocols. Josh Richardson will miss the game after suffering a sprained ankle in Tuesday’s practice (Twitter link), and Zach Collins has been downgraded from probable to out as he recovers from a non-displaced fracture of his fibula (Twitter link). Coach Gregg Popovich sounded optimistic when asked if Collins is close to returning. “Yes, I guess is the answer,” he replied. “He’s just not ready yet. We thought he might be, but he’s not.” Popovich also refused to provide any details about the illness that forced him to miss Sunday’s game, telling reporters, “I’m fine,” Orsborn tweets.
  • Dean Wade, who missed the past six games with knee soreness, will come off the Cavaliers‘ bench tonight and will be on a minutes restriction, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com (Twitter link).
  • Nets forward Yuta Watanabe will be sidelined through at least Friday with a hamstring issue, tweets Nick Friedell of ESPN. An MRI taken Tuesday night confirmed the injury (Twitter link), but Watanabe doesn’t seem concerned. “It’s not that serious,” he said. “… It’s day to day. We’ll see how long it takes.” (Twitter link)
  • Mavericks coach Jason Kidd is optimistic that Maxi Kleber, who’s dealing with a lower back contusion, will be available Saturday or Sunday, tweets Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News.

Collins Set To Return After Nine-Game Absence

  • Jakob Poeltl is in his walk year and the Spurs big man knows he could be traded for assets this season, Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News reports. “I’m aware of the possibility, but it doesn’t affect my mindset during this season,” Poeltl said. “It’s a possibility at all times in the NBA. Sometimes there’s more trade rumors, sometimes there’s less.” Poeltl is averaging career highs in points (13.6), rebounds (9.8) and assists (3.6).
  • Another Spurs big man, Zach Collins, is likely to return after a nine-game absence. He’s listed as probable for Wednesday’s game against New Orleans, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News tweets. He suffered a non-displaced fracture of his fibula earlier this month.

11 Players Affected By Poison Pill Provision In 2022/23

The term “poison pill” doesn’t actually show up in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, but it’s used colloquially to refer to a provision in the CBA that affects players who recently signed rookie scale contract extensions.

As we explain in our glossary entry, the so-called poison pill provision applies when a player who signed a rookie scale extension is traded before the extension takes effect.

In that scenario, the player’s incoming value for the receiving team for matching purposes is determined by averaging his current-year salary and the salaries in each year of his new extension. His current team, on the other hand, simply treats his current-year salary as the outgoing figure for matching purposes.

For instance, Heat guard Tyler Herro is earning a $5,722,116 salary in 2022/23, but signed a four-year, $120MM extension that will begin in ’23/24. Therefore, if Miami wanted to trade Herro this season, his outgoing value for salary-matching purposes would be $5,722,116 (this year’s salary), while his incoming value for the team acquiring him would be $25,144,423 (this year’s salary, plus the $120MM extension, divided by five years).

[RELATED: 2022 NBA Rookie Scale Extension Recap]

Most of the players who signed rookie scale extensions aren’t candidates to be traded anytime soon. But even in the event that a team does want to look into trading one of these recently extended players, the gap between the player’s incoming trade value and outgoing trade value could make it a real challenge to find a deal that works for both sides.

The “poison pill” provision applies to 11 players who signed rookie scale extensions in 2022. Here are those players, along with their outgoing salaries and incoming salaries for trade purposes:

Player Team Outgoing trade value Incoming trade value
Zion Williamson NOP $13,534,817 $34,639,136
Ja Morant MEM $12,119,440 $34,403,240
RJ Barrett NYK $10,900,635 $23,580,127
De’Andre Hunter ATL $9,835,881 $19,967,176
Darius Garland CLE $8,920,795 $33,870,133
Tyler Herro MIA $5,722,116 $25,144,423
Brandon Clarke MEM $4,343,920 $10,868,784
Nassir Little POR $4,171,548 $6,434,310
Jordan Poole GSW $3,901,399 $26,380,280
Keldon Johnson SAS $3,873,025 $15,574,605
Kevin Porter Jr. HOU $3,217,631 $15,234,726

Once the 2023/24 league year begins, the poison pill provision will no longer apply to these players. At that time, the player’s ’23/24 salary would represent both his outgoing and incoming value.

Until then though, the gap between those outgoing and incoming figures will make it tricky for these players to be moved, with one or two exceptions.

The small difference between Little’s incoming and outgoing trade figures, for instance, wouldn’t be very problematic if the Blazers wanted to trade him. But the much larger divide between Poole’s incoming and outgoing numbers means there’s virtually no chance he could be moved to an over-the-cap team in 2022/23, even if the Warriors wanted to.

Popovich OK After Missing Sunday's Game

  • Gregg Popovich didn’t coach the Spurs on Sunday after meeting with the press prior to the game. Brett Brown filled in after Popovich felt ill, but doctors who examined him in the locker room pronounced him OK, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News tweets.

Trade Rumors: Collins, Jazz, Clarkson, Fournier, Robinson, More

Many around the NBA thought it was a foregone conclusion that John Collins would be moved ahead of the draft this past summer, and Marc Stein writes in his latest Substack article that the Hawks power forward was “very nearly” dealt to the Kings in June.

Sources tell Stein that there’s “momentum building on all sides” for Collins to be traded during the 2022/23 season, so his name should be “right at the top of the list” of players most likely to be dealt before the February 9 deadline.

Stein confirms that the Jazz have shown interest in Collins, and that’s a noteworthy pivot for a team that many believed would be tanking and a frontrunner for a top lottery pick after dealing away Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and other veterans.

Speaking of Utah, a rival executive tells Stein that he thinks the Jazz are more likely to extend Jordan Clarkson‘s contract than trade him. Michael Scotto of HoopsHype hears similarly, saying there’s “palpable buzz” about a potential Clarkson extension.

Here are a few more trade rumors from Scotto, who takes a look at the top trade candidates for each NBA team:

  • The Knicks are reluctant to part with a first-round pick to move off Evan Fournier‘s contract, sources tell Scotto. Fournier has fallen out of New York’s rotation after a prolonged shooting slump and is owed $18MM this season and $18.9MM in 2023/24. In addition to Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley, rival executives also believe that second-year guard Miles McBride is available due to the team’s backcourt logjam, per Scotto.
  • The Heat have made Duncan Robinson available in trade talks, sources tell Scotto. That’s hardly surprising since Robinson, like Fournier, has struggled and fallen out of the rotation at times in ’22/23. The problem is Miami would almost certainly have to attach assets to deal Robinson, who is owed $57.5MM over the next three seasons, and it remains to be seen whether the Heat are willing to do so.
  • Echoing a previous report, Scotto writes that the Lakers were trying to offload Russell Westbrook to the Spurs for Doug McDermott and Josh Richardson before the season started. While LJ Ellis of SpursTalk.com stated that the Lakers were only willing to attach two second-round picks to Westbrook’s enormous expiring contract, Scotto hears the Lakers offered a lottery-protected first-rounder and the Spurs wanted that pick to be unprotected, which caused the talks to stall.
  • Center Nerlens Noel is not expected to finish the ’22/23 season with the Pistons, according to Scotto. It’s unclear if Scotto means he’ll be bought out at some point or moved in a trade, since Noel’s $9.2MM contract doesn’t have positive value given how many injuries he’s dealt with the past couple seasons.