Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Pacific Notes: LeBron, Durant, Suns, Shumpert

The Lakers will have the cap room to pursue a second star in free agency during the summer of 2019, but it remains to be seen whether any of next year’s truly elite free agents will jump at the chance to play with LeBron James, writes Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report. As Kevin Durant, 2019’s top free agent, tells Bucher, it’s probably easier for role players to fit alongside LeBron than it would be for another star.

“It depends on what kind of player you are,” Durant said. “If you’re Kyle Korver, then it makes sense. Because Kyle Korver in Atlanta was the bulk of the offense, and he’s not a No. 1 option at all, not even close. So his talents benefit more from a guy who can pass and penetrate and get him open.

“If you’re a younger player like a Kawhi [Leonard], trying to pair him with LeBron James doesn’t really make sense,” Durant continued. “Kawhi enjoys having the ball in his hands, controlling the offense, dictating the tempo with his post-ups; it’s how he plays the game. A lot of young players are developing that skill. They don’t need another guy.”

Veteran forward Trevor Ariza, who also spoke to Bucher, essentially expressed the same sentiment as Durant, noting that players who could benefit most from LeBron’s ball-dominant play-making would likely be more inclined to join the Lakers than a star who wants to be dominating the ball himself.

“If I was a free agent, I would have to consider everything,” Ariza said. “But my role is different than [Paul George] and Kawhi. They ask them to do different things than they ask of me. Guys similar to [LeBron], why would they want to play with somebody who does all the same things? I can see why they would want to play elsewhere.”

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • In other Lakers news, Joe Vardon of The Athletic outlines why LeBron is unlikely to start deferring to the team’s young, unproven players anytime soon, while head coach Luke Walton says he thinks the franchise is capable of winning a championship without acquiring a second star (Twitter link via Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times).
  • Within an in-depth look at the Suns‘ point guard options, Bob Young of The Athletic reports that the team nearly traded up in the 2018 draft using the extra first-round pick it owns from the Bucks, and would’ve selected Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in that scenario. However, owner Robert Sarver pushed instead for the deal that saw the Suns give up Miami’s 2021 first-rounder for Mikal Bridges, according to Young.
  • Iman Shumpert, who looked like an expendable veteran on an expiring contract coming into the season, has been a key part of the Kings‘ rotation and is having on positive impact on Sacramento’s young players, writes James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area.

And-Ones: USA Basketball, Haddadi, Goodwin, Douglas, Griffin

USA Basketball has secured a spot in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 event, Sportando relays. The USA team captured a berth with a 78-70 win over Uruguay on Sunday. Venezuela and Argentina were the other teams from the Americas who also qualified for the FIBA tournament.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Center Hamed Haddadi and shooting guard Archie Goodwin will continue their careers in China, according to a pair of Sportando posts. Haddadi, 33, reached an agreement with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. He last appeared in the NBA during the 2012/13 season with the Grizzlies and Suns. Goodwin, 24, signed with the Qingdao Eagles. He most recently played in the NBA during the 2016/17 season, when he saw action in a combined 15 games for the Nets and Pelicans.
  • Former NBA guard Toney Douglas has reached an agreement with the Turkish club Darussafaka, according to another Sportando report. Douglas previously played for another team in Turkey, Sakarya. Douglas, 32, most recently played in the NBA during the 2016/17 season with the Grizzlies when came off the bench for 24 games.
  • The blockbuster deal that sent Blake Griffin from the Clippers to the Pistons last winter has worked out surprisingly well for both sides, as Matt John of Basketball Insiders notes. Griffin has stayed healthy and played like an MVP candidate for the Pistons through the first 20 games this season, while Tobias Harris is the leading scorer for one of the league’s most prolific offenses, John continues. The draft pick the Clippers acquired was used on point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has displayed unusual poise as a rookie, John adds.

L.A. Notes: Stephenson, Walton, SGA, KCP

The offseason addition of Lance Stephenson is already paying off for the Lakers, who saw Stephenson put forth an impressive performance in Wednesday’s road victory against the Suns. He scored 23 points, dished out eight assists and grabbed eight boards in 25 minutes, shooting 10-14 from the floor.

“With [Rondo] being out, he’s our backup point guard pretty much right now, and he controlled the game,” LeBron James said of Stephenson, as relayed by Joey Ramirez of Lakers.com. “He had great pace and found guys.”

Stephenson, a former nemesis of James, did his work off the bench on Wednesday. Since leaving the Pacers in 2014, he’s grown accustomed to coming off the bench and providing depth for teams in the backcourt.

“He still goes one-on-one, and he’s really good at it [so] we’re not gonna take that away from him,” head coach Luke Walton said. “But he’s doing more of how we want him to do it. He’s sharing the ball.

“He danced a bit late in the game, but for the most part he’s playing within the style we want to play. And he’s competing on defense, and that’s why he’s winning so much favor with the [coaching] staff right now.”

There’s more from Los Angeles tonight:

  • Lakers coach Luke Walton was fined $15K (full release) for publicly criticizing the officiating after the team’s overtime loss against San Antonio on Monday.  Walton was upset with what he perceived as excessive flopping from the Spurs, coupled with the various missed calls for his own players.
  • Clippers guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has already become a rotation player that the team can depend on, writes Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times“He’s just a really good player,” coach Doc Rivers said of the rookie.
  • Just three games into his new contract, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has moved from a starting role with the Lakers to coming off the bench, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register writes. The impressive play from Josh Hart earned him a starting spot on Wednesday, forcing Caldwell-Pope to the second unit.

Pacific Notes: Divac, Clippers, Warriors, Gilgeous-Alexander

With young and promising players across the board, Kings chairman Vivek Ranadive is optimistic about his team’s future. In a span of two years, the club has managed to trade center DeMarcus Cousins, draft players such as De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III, as well as sign younger prospects.

Vlade [Divac] is a Sacramento legend, he’s a Kings legend and he’s just a great guy and right now, the way I see it, he’s put the team in a position to have some exciting times ahead of us,” Ranadive said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. “I’m very excited about the young players, our rookie (Bagley), the guys we got last year (in the draft), and I think it will be exciting to watch the team this year.”

Sacramento is likely to miss the playoffs this season, but the team is in great position to succeed in the future largely because of the moves made by Divac. The Kings are the sixth-youngest team in the league, guided by an experienced playoff-tested head coach in Dave Joerger.

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

Pacific Rumors: Ingram, Holmes, Looney, Gilgeous-Alexander

LeBron James continues to chat up Brandon Ingram as a budding superstar, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin relays. The Lakers small forward got a chance to play the point in the latest preseason game and racked up 31 points, nine rebounds and three steals. “His pace, his ability to play the point and play the wing, he’s a very special talent, and we’re definitely happy to have him on our side,” James said, adding, “I know what I see in him, and he’s looking for this opportunity to make this next jump in his third year.” Ingram is eligible for a rookie scale extension next offseason and James’ praise won’t hurt his cause.

We have more from around the Western Conference:

  • Richaun Holmes isn’t a scorer but his other attributes have made him a favorite with the Suns’ coaching staff, as Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic notes. The big man has earned a role with Phoenix with his energetic style. “He moves well, is a live body, good defender,” coach Igor Kokoskov said. “Very athletic. He’s got to help us defensively, protect the paint. Runs the floor and he fits in well with what we’re doing here.” Holmes was acquired from the Sixers for $1MM in July.
  • Warriors forward Kevon Looney drew lukewarm interest from a handful of teams in free agency, he revealed to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News. The Rockets, Timberwolves, Clippers, Sixers and Hawks made contact but “nobody really offered,” Looney said. He was an unrestricted free agent after Golden State declined to pick up his option last fall but he settled for a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal.
  • Lottery pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has earned significant playing time during training camp, according to Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times. The University of Kentucky product is averaging 11 PPG and 4.5 APG in 24.0 MPG for the Clippers in two preseason outings.

Pacific Notes: Booker, Bender, Gilgeous-Alexander, Lakers

Devin Booker is making rapid progress in his recovery from surgery on his right hand last month, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. The Suns‘ leading scorer was shooting with his right hand on Wednesday after having his splint removed. He had an operation September 10 to fix the fifth metacarpophalangeal joint on the hand.

However, Booker still hasn’t been cleared for contact and Phoenix isn’t sure if he’ll be ready in time for the season opener.

“We’re just following the steps,” said coach Igor Kokoskov. “That’s not my jurisdiction. I know nothing about when it comes to medical science. The medical staff, we have one of the best in the league. They’re going to tell us when the next steps are. We’re going to follow those steps being disciplined and wait for him to make the recovery and to play.”

There’s more this morning from the Pacific Division:

  • Dragan Bender‘s poor play continued in Wednesday’s exhibition game against New Zealand, Rankin adds in a separate story. The Suns didn’t use Bender until the fourth quarter and he committed a couple of costly mistakes, fouling a player shooting a 3-pointer and mishandling a pass. Richaun Holmes, who was acquired from the Sixers in an offseason deal, got more minutes than Bender did.
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a serious candidate for playing time in the Clippers‘ crowded backcourt, writes Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times. The rookie made a quick impact off the bench in the preseason opener with 10 points, four steals and four assists in 24 minutes of a win over Sydney. He was L.A.’s only young player to see significant time in the game. “I thought in the first half he was fantastic,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought in the second half he was still catching his breath from the first half. Good lesson for him because they don’t back off, teams keep coming.”
  • The Lakers aren’t a lock for the playoffs despite adding LeBron James, cautions Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post. He predicts L.A. will fail to reach the postseason, citing the number of good teams in the Western Conference, the Lakers’ shortcomings at center, defensive issues, injury concerns involving James and the possibility that some veterans will be unhappy with their playing time.

NBA GMs Weigh In On 2018/19 Season

NBA.com has completed its annual survey of NBA general managers, with John Schuhmann of NBA.com asking each of the league’s 30 GMs to answer an array of questions about the league’s top teams, players, and coaches. Unsurprisingly, the Warriors are once again viewed by the NBA’s general managers as the overwhelming favorites to be the last team standing, with 26 of 30 GMs (87%) picking Golden State to win the NBA championship for the fourth time in five years.

While there are many responses in the GM survey worth checking out, we’ll focus on rounding up some of the more noteworthy ones related to rosters and player movement. Let’s dive in…

  • LeBron James (30%) and Kevin Durant (27%) are viewed as the frontrunners for the 2018/19 MVP award, but two younger players led the voting for the player GMs would most want to build a franchise around starting today. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (30%) and Pelicans big man Anthony Davis (23%) led the way in that category. Interestingly, Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t receive a single vote this year after leading the way with 29% of the vote in 2017.
  • The Lakers‘ signing of James helped them earn 70% of the vote for the team that made the best overall moves this offseason. The Raptors, buoyed by their acquisition of Kawhi Leonard, finished second at 20%.
  • A ton of different signings and trade acquisitions received votes for the most underrated addition of the summer, with the Pacers‘ signing of Tyreke Evans barely leading the way with four votes. The Spurs‘ trade for DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls‘ signing of Jabari Parker, the Pelicans‘ addition of Julius Randle, and the Thunder‘s acquisition of Dennis Schroder received three votes apiece.
  • DeMarcus Cousins‘ decision to join the Warriors (35%) was considered the most surprising move of the offseason, followed by the Spurs/Raptors blockbuster trade (29%) and Paul George remaining with the Thunder (19%).
  • While Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is the strong frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, GMs expect Suns center Deandre Ayton and Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. to be the best players five years from now. Meanwhile, the Clippers‘ selection of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at No. 11 was viewed by the most GMs as the steal of the draft.
  • The Sixers (47%) and Celtics (33%) dominated voting for the teams with the most promising young cores.

Jimmy Butler Rumors: Dieng, Clippers, Bucks, More

The early trade market for Jimmy Butler is “confused and cool” as teams contemplate the risk of trading for the All-Star wing, according to Zach Lowe, who takes a deep dive into the Butler situation his his latest piece for ESPN.com. The 29-year-old’s reported desire for a five-year contract that could be worth in the neighborhood of $190MM may make some potential suitors back off, though those teams could also be posturing in the early going, Lowe notes.

One of the most interesting tidbits that Lowe passes along in his article is on the Timberwolves‘ desire to include Gorgui Dieng in a deal if they decide to move Butler. Lowe is skeptical that any prospective trade partners will be eager to take on Dieng, who still has three years and over $48MM left on his contract.

Here’s more from Lowe and others on Butler and the Wolves:

  • It would be “shocking” if the Clippers were willing to offer rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in any package for Butler, sources tell Lowe. In fact, there has been no indication that the Clips haven’t acted aggressively – or much at all – on Butler so far.
  • The Bucks placed a courtesy call to the Timberwolves asking to be kept in the loop if the team gets serious about moving Butler. Still, Lowe doesn’t view Milwaukee as a fit, observing that Khris Middleton would probably have to be included. The Bucks would likely have a better chance next summer to re-sign Middleton than Butler.
  • After reporting earlier today that the Timberwolves are telling teams Butler’s not available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has updated his story to suggest that opposing clubs believe the “fastest avenue” to negotiating a trade is to engage owner Glen Taylor, rather than Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau is less inclined to part with Butler, but Taylor has stepped in on this sort of matter in the past, overseeing trades involving Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love.
  • In the wake of Butler’s trade request, initial reports suggested his desire to leave Minnesota was motivated more by “contractual matters” than any discord with Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins. A source in Butler’s camp who spoke to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times disputes that notion, suggesting it was “manufactured” by “ownership mouthpieces” to make Butler look bad. “According to the source, this is about a philosophy in making an impact in the Western Conference,” Cowley writes. “In Butler’s mind you can’t run down a dynasty like Golden State when two of the so-called dogs in the pack are in fact kittens.” Presumably, that’s a reference to Towns and Wiggins.

Pacific Notes: Lakers, Bridges, Labissiere, Clippers

The Lakers ensured themselves a successful offseason when they signed LeBron James, but they still need to fill a vacancy at center, writes Matt John of Basketball Insiders. The addition of free agent JaVale McGee doesn’t really solidify the position, and the only other choices on the roster are rookie Moe Wagner and Ivica Zubac.

With David West and Brandan Wright as the best free agents left on the market, John identifies several potential trade targets, including Tristan Thompson, James’ former teammate in Cleveland. Thompson is a physical rebounder and defender with whom James had a good rapport. However, John notes that he may not be available unless Cleveland decides to rebuild.

Other possibilities include the Bismack Biyombo, who finds himself in a center logjam after being traded to Charlotte, the Bucks’ John Henson, the Bulls’ Robin Lopez, the Magic’s Nikola Vucevic and the Hawks’ Dewayne Dedmon.

There’s more news from the Pacific Division:

  • Suns rookie swingman Mikal Bridges was a little disappointed he didn’t play more in the summer league, James Blancarte of Basketeball Insiders reports. “It’s tough you know. Coming in mentally, you don’t know what the coach is going to do and how they are going to play you,” Bridges told Blancarte. “Couple of games, not playing as much as I thought I was going to be [playing]. Just staying mentally [tough], going through that.” Bridges averaged 6.2 PPG and 2.6 RPG in 20 MPG during five Las Vegas outings. He will also likely have wait his turn during his rookie campaign but Phoenix thought enough of him to swing a draft-night trade with the Sixers, Blancarte notes.
  • Kings big man Skal Labissiere is looking to improve his durability during his offseason workouts, Jason Wise of the team’s website relays. Memphis-area trainer Raheem Shabazz has made Instagram posts showing the work Labissiere is putting in as he prepares for his third NBA season.
  • Clippers lottery picks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson showed flashes of potential in summer league games but they were far from perfect, according to Keith Smith of RealGM. Gilgeous-Alexander has a solid all-around game but needs lot of work with his shot. Robinson has to focus more on the defensive end, Smith continues, while undrafted big man Angel Delgado struggled on the perimeter. However, Delgado displayed strong rebounding instincts and toughness on the interior, Smith adds.

And-Ones: Age Limit, Summer League, Hibbert, Toupane

As we’ve relayed previously, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced during an NBA Board of Governors meetings in Las Vegas last week that the NBA is ready to make changes to its age limit, thereby potentially allowing high school seniors the opportunity to jump straight to the NBA once again.

However, according to Jonathan Givony of ESPN, teams have been told privately by league officials not to expect a change to the age limit until the 2022 NBA Draft at the earliest.

Assuming the 2022 NBA Draft allows high school players to jump directly to the NBA, players entering their freshman year of high school this fall will be the first ones to benefit from this potential rule change.

As for any trades that could be affected by this, no team has as yet traded an unprotected 2022 first-rounder, and the only one that could potentially change hands at this point was sent by the Mavericks to the Hawks in order to move up in this year’s draft and select Luka Doncic.

It will be interesting to see whether teams will be wary of trading draft picks in 2022 and beyond before a final ruling is made on this issue.

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

  • In a Q&A piece for ESPN, several different writers spoke about who they believed to be the standouts and disappointments from this year’s NBA Summer League. Wendell Carter, Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Deandre Ayton were among the rookies recognized, while John Collins and Josh Hart were two players who were mentioned as probably too good to have even played in this year’s summer league.
  • In an interview with TMZ Sports, former NBA player Roy Hibbert says that he is done playing professional basketball, explaining that “It’s just time to move on.” Hibbert, 31, was named an All-Star as recently as 2014, but saw his impact dwindle over his last few years in the league as he got older and the game got smaller and quicker.
  • French forward Axel Toupane, who appeared in 25 total NBA regular season games in 2016 and 2017, has signed with EuroLeague club Olympiacos B.C. after helping lead Zalgiris Kaunas to the EuroLeague Final Four last season, reports Emiliano Carchia of Sportando.