Serge Ibaka

Lowe’s Latest: Butler, Nuggets, Wolves, Ibaka

Before they accepted the Timberwolves‘ offer for Jimmy Butler, the Bulls canvassed the league in search of a more appealing offer, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN.com.

Lowe writes in his latest piece for ESPN that the Bulls spoke to the Suns about a package centered around Eric Bledsoe and the No. 4 overall pick, but the two sides never really got close. Chicago also had discussions with the Nuggets and Celtics, but Denver drew the line at including Jamal Murray in any potential deal, and Boston wouldn’t include the No. 3 pick, according to Lowe.

As Lowe notes, teams like the Suns and Nuggets had to consider the fact that Butler may not have re-signed with them in free agency in 2019 if they acquired him. Although Butler’s contract would give teams an extra year of control over someone like Paul George, the star forward might still have ultimately been a rental if he didn’t love where he ended up. That cooled the market somewhat, as the Bulls explored potential trade scenarios.

Here’s more from Lowe’s latest piece:

  • The Bulls were never entirely comfortable with the idea of Butler as their foundational player, says Lowe. A source tells ESPN that Butler’s bristling at Fred Hoiberg‘s instructions made some people on the team uncomfortable. Lowe suggests that Hoiberg’s calm personality wasn’t a good match for Butler, who requires a coach more like Tom Thibodeau.
  • At one point, the Timberwolves were intrigued by the possibility of pursuing Serge Ibaka in free agency, but their interest “has faded a bit,” according to Lowe, who adds that most teams expect Ibaka to re-sign with the Raptors.
  • The Lakers were dangling a future unprotected first-round pick to teams with cap room recently in an effort to move the Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng contracts, per Lowe. The earliest first-round pick the Lakers could trade at this point is 2020’s selection, so it’s understandable that D’Angelo Russell appealed more to the Nets than a pick that far down the road.

Trade Rumors: Butler, Bledsoe, Hawks, Cavs

While the Bulls still aren’t close to moving Jimmy Butler, there appears to be more “organizational alignment” than there was last year on the idea that a rebuild is in the team’s best interest, reports K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. Chicago’s asking price for Butler hasn’t changed, according to Johnson, who says the team would be seeking starters or rotation players, along with multiple high draft picks.

Since the Bulls would like to land a high pick in Thursday’s draft if they move Butler, the Celtics (No. 3), Suns (No. 4), and Timberwolves (No. 7) would make sense as trade partners. However, as Johnson details, the Bulls have received the impression that Boston plans to use the third overall pick, and Minnesota’s seventh overall pick likely wouldn’t put Chicago in position to nab one of the top prospects they like, such as De’Aaron Fox or Josh Jackson.

Here are more trade rumors from around the league, including notes on Chicago’s other potential trade partner, the Suns:

  • The Suns have explored the possibility of trading their No. 4 overall pick in a deal for a star, having looked into players like Butler, Paul George, and Kristaps Porzingis, Adrian Wojnarowski noted during The Vertical’s live show on Wednesday night. Sources tell K.C. Johnson that Phoenix is also looking to include Eric Bledsoe, who has two years left on his contract, in any major trade package.
  • On The Vertical’s live show, Wojnarowski identified the Hawks as a team to watch on the trade market, suggesting that new GM Travis Schlenk may be looking to cut costs as he retools the roster. Kent Bazemore could be a trade candidate in Atlanta, per Wojnarowski.
  • Even without a GM in place, the Cavaliers continued to work “furiously” on Wednesday pursuing trade possibilities, writes Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. It appears the Cavs and Chauncey Billups are close to reach an agreement that would add him to their front office, but the team is more focused on working the trade market, and will continue trying to find a deal on Thursday.
  • Within a larger piece about the draft, Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun suggests the Raptors are confident about their chances to re-sign Serge Ibaka in free agency, which could make Jonas Valanciunas expendable in the right deal.

Ujiri: Not Realistic For Raptors To Re-Sign All FAs

Speaking to local reporters today at his end-of-season press conference, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri admitted that it’s not “realistic” for the team to retain all four of its key free agents this offseason (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050). In addition to Kyle Lowry, who confirmed on Monday that he’ll opt out of his contract, veteran Raptors forwards Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson are all eligible for free agency this offseason.

That admission from Ujiri isn’t surprising. Lowry appears to be in line for a max deal or something close to it, and Ibaka will get a big payday as well. Tucker and Patterson figure to land more reasonable deals, but they’ve positioned themselves for raises of their own. Add it all together, and the Raptors would be going way into tax territory to retain a roster of players who were bounced in the second round of this year’s playoffs.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders examined the Raptors’ free agency situation earlier today, suggesting that Tucker and Patterson may be the odd men out, despite the fact that Toronto would – in theory – like to re-sign them both. According to Kyler, the framework for a multiyear deal for Ibaka that starts around $20MM is “basically done,” though nothing is finalized yet and rival suitors could still attempt to pry away the big man.

Meanwhile, even though Ujiri didn’t sound optimistic about bringing back all the Raptors’ free agents, he had plenty of praise for Lowry, calling the veteran point guard “a huge part of our success here” and asserting that “we want him back” (Twitter link via Eric Koreen of The Athletic).

Ujiri also weighed in on several other subjects during his presser, so let’s dive in and round up some highlights…

  • The Raptors’ performance against the Cavaliers was eye-opening, according to Ujiri, who suggested that the franchise may need a bit of a “culture reset” (Twitter link via Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic). Ujiri also acknowledged that the question of how to evolve from a “good” team to an “elite” team will be at the forefront for him this summer (Twitter link via Koreen).
  • One of Ujiri’s primary talking points today revolved around his desire to evaluate and re-think the Raptors’ style of play. The Raps president said he has told head coach Dwane Casey the team may need to change its approach on the court, rather than continuing to change its players (Twitter links via Lewenberg). Ujiri also hammered home the need to keep thinking progressively rather than getting stagnant. “We’ve tried what we’ve done so many times and it hasn’t worked. That’s the simple answer.” Ujiri said. “It’s easy to defend one-on-one” (Twitter links via Murphy).
  • While Ujiri’s comments on the Raptors’ style of play weren’t necessarily a direct indictment of the club’s head coach, Lewenberg left the presser feeling that Casey’s job may be in jeopardy (Twitter link).
  • Ujiri said today that team ownership is fully on board with whatever direction he and the front office choose to go, whether that means going into the tax, rebuilding, or something in between (Twitter link via Lewenberg).
  • Although he didn’t want to use it as an excuse, Ujiri acknowledged that the Raptors – having acquired Ibaka and Tucker at the deadline – didn’t spend a lot of time together in their current form, which makes it tricky to evaluate how all the players fit together (Twitter link via Murphy).
  • Asked whether the Raptors need more from their small forward spot, Ujiri said they do, but expressed optimism that DeMarre Carroll, who has never really been fully healthy since arriving in Toronto, will have a big summer (Twitter link via Murphy).

Raptors Rumors: Ujiri, DeRozan, Tucker, Ibaka

The easiest way for Raptors GM Masai Ujiri to make a significant change is to fire coach Dwane Casey, Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated opines. Ujiri is in a position to rebuild the roster in the wake of the Cavaliers’ playoff sweep but his track record suggests he won’t take that approach, Golliver continues. In a best-case scenario, Ujiri will trade underperforming forward DeMarre Carroll and guard Cory Joseph while retaining his best perimeter defender, unrestricted free agent P.J. Tucker, Golliver adds.

In other developments regarding the Raptors:

  • With point guard Kyle Lowry and forwards Serge Ibaka and Patrick Patterson also heading into unrestricted free agency this summer, the club faces an uncertain future, as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun details.
  • Backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan throws his full support behind Lowry and his decision to opt out, Michael Grange of Rogers Sportsnet tweets. “I don’t want to hinder him or make anything more hectic than it’s going to be,” DeRozan told Grange.
  • DeRozan wants the team to acquire more shooters to complement his talents, Wolstat tweets.
  • Tucker will wait to see if Lowry remains with the club before he decides whether to return, Wolstat reports in another tweet. Tucker wants to play for a contender, Wolstat adds. Ibaka’s decision will be influenced by his daughter, he told Wolstat (Twitter link).
  • Casey says it “would be difficult” for the team to advance deeper in future playoffs without re-signing Lowry, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets.

Raptors Notes: Offseason Options, Rebuild

After suffering a humbling sweep at the hands of the reigning champion Cavaliers, the Raptors are in limbo heading into the offseason, Zach Lowe of ESPN writes. In front of them are several options ranging from full on teardown to attempted recovery.

One of the options Lowe lays out is letting Kyle Lowry sign elsewhere lest the Raptors get bogged down in a five-year, $200MM contract. If that happens, Lowe posits that there isn’t much point bringing Serge Ibaka back either.

Ultimately, he continues, it would only make sense to trade DeMar DeRozan as well and fully embrace a tank.

That said, the scribe notes that the franchise could choose to bite the bullet and sign Lowry to a lofty five-year deal and then let Ibaka walk with the intention of replacing him with cheaper, shorter term players.

At the end of the day, Lowe argues that retaining the current core in its entirety would put the club well over the luxury tax threshold, the only problem being that their on-court performance doesn’t necessarily warrant it.

Regardless of the path team president Masai Ujiri chooses to pursue, he’s built up enough goodwill and ownership trust to see it through.

There’s more from the Raptors:

  • In the same piece, Lowe wonders if making a coaching change and letting Dwane Casey go could help “unstick” Toronto’s notoriously disappointing postseason offense.
  • Amid talk of an uncertain summer, DeRozan said that tearing everything down would be difficult. “It’s hard to break down a team that won 50-plus games two years in a row,” he told the media, including Josh Lewenberg of TSN.
  • The Raptors were headed toward a full on rebuild before a late-season surge following the trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Kings in 2014 boosted them into Eastern Conference contention, Scott Stinson writes for the National Post.

Lowry ‘Doubtful’; Raptors Breakup Coming?

Still hobbled by a sprained left ankle, Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry describes himself as “probably doubtful” for Game 4 against the Cavaliers, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star.

Lowry made the assessment today as the team enjoyed a day off before Sunday’s contest. He suffered the ankle injury in Game 2 of the series and was forced to sit out Game 3.

“Hopefully some things change,” Lowry added, “but right now, I don’t think I’ll be able to play.”

Trailing 3-0, the Raptors could be just a few hours away from the end of their season and a significant summer shakeup. Lowry, who has spent the past five seasons in Toronto, is headed toward free agency. So is Patrick Patterson, who has been with the team since 2013, along with Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, who were both acquired at this year’s trade deadline.

Smith states that there’s “no way” all four will be re-signed, and cites a feeling of “change in the air” at team headquarters. Cap considerations will probably prove him correct, as the franchise has about $58MM tied up for next season among DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll. The Raptors will have about $21MM to spend, and all four free agents will be seeking hefty raises. Toronto management will have to decide how far over the cap it wants to go to keep the current team together when it can’t get past the Cavaliers.

Lowry, an All-Star the past three seasons, is all but certain to opt out of his $12MM salary for next year and seek a max deal. He averaged a career-best 22.4 points per game this season to go with 7.0 assists. Significant increases are probably also looming for Ibaka (who made $12.25MM this year), Patterson ($6.05MM) and Tucker ($5.3MM).

DeRozan said the team is doing its best to focus on the current series, rather than whatever changes may lie ahead.
“As long as you understand that you have an opportunity, you can focus in on that,” he said. “Whatever comes after that, then you dwell on whatever comes after that.”

And-Ones: Free Agents, D-League, Bennett, Oden

Several under-the-radar players who will be free agents this summer are improving their bargaining position with their performance in the playoffs, writes Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype. He identifies six players, starting with Golden State big man JaVale McGee, who is averaging 8.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks through five games despite playing just 11.8 minutes per night. McGee signed a non-guaranteed deal with the Warriors for the veteran’s minimum and could be in line for a huge pay raise in July. The others that Kennedy singles out are Serge Ibaka of the Raptors, Joe Ingles of the Jazz, Nene of the Rockets, Andre Roberson of the Thunder and Deron Williams of the Cavaliers.

There’s more news from around the basketball world:

  • The Texas Legends, the Mavericks‘ affiliate in the D-League, have given coach Bob MacKinnon a two-year extension, tweets D-League Digest. The D-League veteran is in his first season with the Legends.
  • Invitations have been issued for the D-League’s Elite Mini Camp, which will be held May 8-9 in Chicago, relays Chris Reichert of FanSided. Many players have used this showcase to earn spots on summer league rosters, with alumni such as Jonathon Simmons, Hollis Thompson and DeAndre Liggins. Among the best-known names at this year’s camp will be Russ Smith, JaKarr Sampson, Ray McCallum and Cliff Alexander.
  • Former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, who played 23 games for the Nets this season, has been replaced on his Fenerbahce team in Turkey, according to Bugra Uzar of Eurohoops. Taking his spot on the roster is Pero Antic, who played for the Hawks from 2013 to 2015. Bennett will remain with the club and is expected to be part of the upcoming EuroLeague Final Four.
  • Greg Oden, another former No. 1 pick, is hoping to be part of The Basketball Tournament this summer on ESPN, relays Alysha Tsuji of USA Today. Oden’s team is called Scarlet and Gray and is made up of Ohio State alumni. “We think we’re a team that can win it,” he said. “We look at the talent we’ve had here in the last 10 years or so, and we can match up with anybody. We want the state of Ohio supporting us. We’re called Scarlet and Gray, but this team is a representation of the whole state.”

Northwest Notes: Gibson, Roberson, Favors

Taj Gibson helped the Thunder with both his offense and defense since arriving in Oklahoma City and he’s already earned the respect of his teammates, Cliff Brunt of USA Today writes.

“They see I’m in here late nights, early mornings, just constantly working with my teammates, constantly putting work in,” Gibson said. “The confidence is going to be there because they understand you do the work, but I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help my team.”

Gibson will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He’s making $8.95MM this season in the last year of a four year deal.

Here’s more from the Northwest:

  • Andre Roberson has done a great job on the defensive end in the Thunder’s first three playoff games, as Erik Horne of The Oklahoman details. Roberson will be a restricted free agent this summer.
  • Derrick Favors, who has one season and $12MM left on his contract after this season, is seeing extended playing time for the Jazz while Rudy Gobert recovers from a knee injury. Favors didn’t play particularly well on the defensive end, but coach Quin Synder understands that the struggles are a result of playing too many minutes, as Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News relays. “You don’t have to look any further than the guy played 38 minutes and he hasn’t played that many minutes all year,” Snyder said. “He’s battling. He’s competing, playing hard, and we’re asking a lot of him right now. We’re going to keep doing that, and he’s going to give us everything he has.”
  • Improving on the defensive end will be a top priority for the Nuggets and the team may look to the free agent market this summer to find upgrades, Nick Kosmider of The Denver Post speculates in his latest mailbag. The scribe names Gibson, Blake Griffin, and Serge Ibaka among the players who could help the team improve on that end of the floor.

Mavs Notes: Curry, Noel, Hammons, Harris, Cuban

On the heels of a 33-49 season, the Mavericks will focus on improving their roster via free agency and the draft. Eddie Sefko of Dallas Morning News suggested two veteran FAs to provide an immediate boost: Serge Ibaka and J.J. Redick. Sefko explains that Ibaka is a “big-time rebounder” who is still relatively young, while Redick would help shore up the team’s mediocre shooting.

Sefko cautions against hoping for a point guard improvement through the draft. Unless the Mavs “get lucky” and secure one of the top two picks, they’re unlikely to obtain a top-shelf guard. In the event Dallas winds up with the 8, 9, or 10 pick, Sefko cites Jonathan Isaac, Miles Bridges, and Lauri Markkanen as potential fits.

More from Dallas…

  • Seth Curry, who missed the season’s final seven games due to a left shoulder injury, hopes to avoid undergoing surgery over the offseason. “It’s still a possibility, but I don’t think it’s necessary at this point,” Curry told Tim MacMahon of ESPN.
  • Former Purdue Boilermaker A.J. Hammons got his feet wet in the NBA this past season, scoring 43 points with 36 rebounds over 22 games. While Hammons’ contract is guaranteed over the next two seasons, Eddie Sefko of Dallas Morning News is skeptical of his role on the team in 2017/18. “I like the big guy, but I haven’t seen a passion for wanting to improve,” Sefko writes. “He loves to sit out there and launch jump shots. But I think his calling in this league has to be as a strong rebounder and rim protector. My bottom line: doubtful that he is here next season.”
  • While he appears set to enter the market as a restricted free agent, Nerlens Noel‘s recent remarks to Brad Townsend of Dallas Morning News imply he’d like another season in Dallas. “I love Dallas,” Noel said. “In my short time here, I’ve really enjoyed it. With the pieces that we have, and the opportunities we’ll be seeing in the near-future, I think there’s a lot to be excited for.” 
  • While Devin Harris isn’t a lock to start next season with Dallas, one thing is certain: the 34-year-old isn’t retiring. “Definitely not retiring,” Harris told Adam Grosbard of Dallas Morning News. The Mavs are unsure whether they will exercise Harris’ $4.4MM option for 2017/18. Harris averaged 16/7 minutes in 2016/17; the lowest total since his rookie season. “Ball’s in their court. I just let the chips fall where they may and try to make the best decision possible with the information that I have.”
  • In a 109-91 loss to the Nuggets- the Mavs’ penultimate game of the season- coach Rick Carlisle gave six players 25-years-old or younger significant playing time. Mark Cuban spoke to Adam Grosbard of Dallas Morning News, explaining the strategy of giving younger players minutes down the stretch. “When we were playing for it, we obviously had some bad games but it’s obvious our young guys are getting better. And that’s all you can ask for,” Cuban said. Dirk Nowtizki seconded Cuban’s remarks, adding “It’s been fun to watch these kids.”

Atlantic Notes: Embiid, Lowry, Hornacek

The Sixers are near the top of our Reverse Standings, owning a record of 28-52. The team is optimistic that it can climb the real NBA standings next season and Joel Embiid is a major reason why there’s hope, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes.

“The thing I get most excited about with Joel is he has such a long ways to go,” coach Brett Brown said. “He is just scratching the surface of what ultimately he’s going to be.”

Embiid remains out as he recovers from knee surgery, but the organization expects him to resume basketball activities this summer.

Here’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Raptors are still working to incorporate all their new players, Frank Zicarelli of the Toronto Sun details. The scribe notes that Kyle Lowry, who recently returned to the lineup following a wrist injury, hasn’t yet found a comfort level with new addition Serge Ibaka.
  • Coach Jeff Hornacek admits that the all-in switch to the triangle mid-season may not have been the best move for the Knicks, Al Iannazzone of Newsday relays. “It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal,” Hornacek said. “But from the players’ side they probably thought it was too big a change. We’ll figure what’s best for us, what everybody wants to do and try to go from day one and leave it like that.”
  • If the Celtics are going to make a deep postseason run, they must rediscover their 3-point shot, A. Sherrod Blakely of Comcast Sportsnet argues. Marcus Smart, who will be eligible for a rookie extension this offseason, is among the team’s bench players who have struggled from behind the arc since the All-Star break.
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