T.J. McConnell

Central Notes: Valentine, Kennard, Porter, McConnell

Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic analyzes why Bulls swingman Denzel Valentine, largely hampered by injuries so far in his NBA career, has yet to earn a role in the rotation during the 2019/20 campaign, his fourth season in the league after being taken in the lottery (14th overall) during the 2016 NBA Draft.

Mayberry notes that while Valentine has put up some large numbers in the G League for the Windy City Bulls, his defensive struggles during the preseason are likely keeping him from earning a rotation spot under head coach Jim Boylen, who says a strong showing down in the G League won’t help Valentine earn playing time in the NBA.

With additional insight on Valentine, Eric Woodyard of ESPN notes that when asked why the 25-year-old is out the rotation, the Bulls’ head coach told him, “Because I said so,” while Valentine told ESPN that he “feel(s) like (he) should play.” As such, Valentine’s role and his attitude toward that role will likely remain an interesting storyline to keep an eye on moving forward.

There’s more news out of the Central Division tonight:

  • The bevy of injuries that the Pistons had to deal with to start this season has a silver lining, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com, and it’s the way shooting guard Luke Kennard has responded to the team’s reliance on him. And while whether Kennard keeps starting remains to be seen, head coach Dwane Casey says he’s going to remain a focal point of the rotation either way. “He’s still going to get starter minutes… He brings value to the team. Luke’s a very valuable part of what we’re doing.”
  • The Bulls plan to keep Otto Porter Jr. on a minutes restriction whenever he returns from the soft-tissue injury in his left foot, writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Scott Agness of The Athletic points to the positive development of the team’s bench, and backup point guard T.J. McConnell in particular, as a key reason for the Pacers‘ turnaround after a disappointing 0-3 start to the season. “I think T.J. is leading that (second unit), and they’ve had a good rhythm,” head coach Nate McMillan said. “They’re starting to learn each other and build a chemistry. They’re coming out and playing hard.”

Pacers Sign T.J. McConnell

JULY 29: Nearly four weeks after agreeing to terms with him, the Pacers have officially signed McConnell, the team confirmed today (via Twitter).

JULY 3: The Pacers have reached an agreement to sign free agent point guard T.J. McConnell, a league source tells ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). According to Wojnarowski (via Twitter), it’ll be a two-year, $7MM deal.

McConnell, who went undrafted out of Arizona in 2015, caught on with the Sixers and spent his first four NBA seasons in Philadelphia before becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer.

In 2018/19, McConnell averaged 6.4 PPG, 3.4 APG, and 2.3 RPG while shooting a career-high 52.5% from the floor in 76 games (19.3 MPG). However, the 27-year-old fell out of Philadelphia’s rotation in the postseason, logging just 18 total minutes in the club’s seven-game series vs. Toronto.

With Darren Collison retiring and Cory Joseph heading to Sacramento this offseason, the Pacers have addressed the point guard position by agreeing to acquire Malcolm Brogdon in a sign-and-trade, coming to terms on a new deal with Edmond Sumner, and now reaching an agreement with McConnell. Last year’s first-round pick Aaron Holiday is also on track to return to help fill out the depth chart.

As ESPN’s Bobby Marks observes (via Twitter), the Pacers projected to have a little over $5MM available in cap room before their deal with McConnell. He could be signed using some of that space, or the team could wait and fit his contract into its $4.8MM room exception.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Kemba Walker Signs Four-Year Deal With Celtics

JULY 6: Walker’s new deal with the Celtics is official, according to a tweet from the team. Walker was among the first free agents to commit to his new team when free agency began last Sunday.

JUNE 30, 5:24pm: Walker and the Celtics are formally in agreement on a four-year max deal, tweets Wojnarowski. As we detailed in our story of the Hornets’ agreement with Rozier, Boston is working on adding Kemba via sign-and-trade.

JUNE 30, 2:14pm: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that while talks remain exploratory in nature, the Celtics have shown interest in a three-team sign-and-trade with Irving, Walker, and Rozier (to the Hornets). Per Woj, the Celtics are interested in having the MLE at their disposal as opposed to the room exception. Woj also adds that the Nets would likely command a first-round pick from Boston for agreeing to a S&T.

JUNE 29, 3:39pm: Free agent point guard Kemba Walker has conveyed to the Hornets that he intends to sign with the Celtics when the NBA’s new league year begins, multiple sources tell Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer (Twitter link).

Boston has been viewed as Walker’s likely landing spot in recent days, having emerged as the frontrunner for the All-NBA point guard earlier in the week.

Kemba intends to sign a four-year, maximum-salary contract (worth a projected $141MM), tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. He’ll be in Boston on Sunday night to finalize an agreement with the C’s, league sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link).

A three-time All-Star, Walker had perhaps the best year of his NBA carer in 2018/19, establishing a new career-high in PPG (25.6) while also contributing 5.9 APG and 4.4 RPG with a shooting line of .434/.356/.844.

Despite receiving little offensive help in Charlotte, Walker managed to keep the team in the playoff hunt for most of the season, though the Hornets ultimately fell short and finished in the lottery. If Walker had returned to Charlotte, the team would have been up against the luxury tax and would have had a hard time improving its roster around him, so the former UConn star will move on to a potential contender despite the fact that the Hornets could have offered him more money over more years.

Walker will join a Celtics roster that is set to feature Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart, so it will be fascinating to see what he can do in Boston without receiving quite as much attention from opposing defenses. The opportunity to play alongside those Celtics veterans and potentially go deep in the playoffs was a key factor in Walker’s decision, a source tells Jeff Goodman of Stadium (Twitter link).

The C’s are expecting to lose Al Horford and, of course, Kyrie Irving, who has been rumored to be focused on Brooklyn. With Walker heading to Boston to replace Irving, the Hornets are scouring the free agent market for possible point guard targets of their own, according to Wojnarowski, who tweets that Elfrid Payton, T.J. McConnell, Ish Smith, and Emmanuel Mudiay are among the options being considered by Charlotte.

Terry Rozier‘s name has also been linked to the Hornets, though it’s unlikely that he’d be a viable option unless Charlotte and Boston can work out some sort of sign-and-trade arrangement, which is a long shot. By withdrawing Rozier’s qualifying offer and renouncing his cap hold, the Celtics will have enough room to sign Walker outright to a max deal, even with Daniel Theis‘ QO still on their books.

In addition to Boston and Charlotte, the Mavericks and Knicks had also been considered potential contenders for Walker.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Free Agent Rumors: P. Gasol, Mavs, Wolves, Wright, More

Pau Gasol, whose contract with the Bucks is up, continues to recover from a procedure on his left foot, but he wants to continue his NBA career next season, he tells ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link).

“My recovery from surgery has been smooth and I expect to be fully cleared for basketball activities in early August,” Gasol said. “I cannot wait to start training again.”

Gasol, who is an unrestricted free agent, is the only one of Milwaukee’s free agents who has yet to reach an agreement this week. There has been no indication that the Bucks are seeking a reunion.

Here are a few more free agency notes and rumors:

  • The Mavericks are among the teams that have expressed “strong interest” in Delon Wright, league sources tell Ian Begley of SNY.tv (Twitter link). Darren Wolfson of SKOR North tweets that the Timberwolves have also inquired on Wright. Wright is a restricted free agent, so the Grizzlies would have the chance to match an offer sheet.
  • The Timberwolves continue to kick the tires on free agent point guard T.J. McConnell, according to Wolfson, who tweets that the Sixers, Heat, Lakers, Grizzlies, Suns, Wizards, and Pacers have also checked out McConnell. Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald (via Twitter) notes that McConnell could be a target for Miami if the team trades Goran Dragic.
  • The Thunder are among the teams that have expressed some interest in veteran guard Jodie Meeks, a league source tells Brett Dawson of The Athletic (Twitter link). Dawson’s report came shortly before Oklahoma City agreed to terms with Alec Burks, so it’s not clear if the club remains interested in Meeks.
  • In a text message to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated (Twitter link), Enes Kanter explains that he considered re-signing with the Trail Blazers, but didn’t feel as if they gave him enough time to make his decision. Kanter agreed to a two-year deal with Boston.

Wolves Rumors: Draft, Wiggins, McConnell, Harris

The Timberwolves had five players in their top tier for Thursday’s draft, and knew they had no shot at Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, or R.J. Barrett, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Darius Garland and Jarrett Culver were the other players in that group, according to Krawczynski, who says that Minnesota may have preferred Garland to Culver, but didn’t hesitate to nab the Texas Tech wing at No. 6 over Coby White and others.

According to Krawczynski, the Timberwolves might have had an opportunity to move up to No. 4 before the Pelicans made a deal with the Hawks, but Minnesota was seeking the No. 11 pick and Robert Covington and would’ve wanted to dump Solomon Hill‘s unwanted contract on the Wolves.

Even after moving up to select Culver at No. 6, the Timberwolves stayed active, according to Darren Wolfson and Danny Cunningham of Skor North, who report (via Twitter) that the team had discussions about the No. 12 pick with the Hornets. Those talks didn’t seem to get far, per Wolfson, adding that Sekou Doumbouya was the presumed target at that spot for Minnesota.

Here’s more on the Wolves:

  • The Timberwolves have been actively exploring options to move off Andrew Wiggins‘ contract, league sources tell Jake Fischer of SI.com (Twitter link). It’s not clear if Minnesota is just gauging the market or if the club will continue to pursue a Wiggins deal as the offseason progresses.
  • Wolfson (Twitter link) hears that Sixers veteran T.J. McConnell is among the free agent point guards on Minnesota’s radar.
  • John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link) has heard that free-agent-to-be Tobias Harris has interest in the Timberwolves. That looks like a very unlikely pairing though, since Minnesota has no path to cap room and the Sixers won’t be eager to accommodate a sign-and-trade.
  • Bryan Gates is the latest coach expected to join Ryan Saunders‘ staff as an assistant, tweets Krawczynski. Gates, who had a previous stint in Minnesota, has served as an assistant in Sacramento for the past few seasons.

Suns Eyeing Cory Joseph, Patrick Beverley, Others

Cory Joseph, Patrick Beverley, Darren Collison, and T.J. McConnell are among the free agent point guard targets worth keeping an eye on for the Suns this offseason, tweets John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7.

While Phoenix has long been on the lookout for a starting point guard, the team doesn’t project to have the cap room necessary to make a run at top free agents like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, or D’Angelo Russell. Barring cost-cutting moves to create room, the mid-level exception figures to be the best weapon at the Suns’ disposal in free agency, so the veterans identified by Gambadoro as potential targets make sense. The MLE is projected to be worth about $9.25MM in 2019/20.

Gambadoro also writes that the Suns aren’t shopping the No. 6 overall pick for a veteran point guard, seemingly contradicting a Monday report from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. However, Givony’s story indicated that the Suns had made it known that they’d be open to moving the pick for the right player, which isn’t quite the same as having actively shopped it. The apparent discrepancy between the two reports may simply be a matter of semantics.

In any case, it’s clear that filling their hole at point guard will be one of the Suns’ top priorities this offseason, whether that happens in the draft, in free agency, or via the trade market. If Phoenix plans on using its mid-level exception – or opening up cap space – to pursue a veteran point guard, it would allow the team to use the No. 6 pick on the best player available, regardless of position.

On the other hand, if the Suns draft a point guard at No. 6 or trade that pick (or other assets) for a veteran guard, the club could address another position in free agency. Julius Randle is one non-point-guard free agent who has been recently linked to Phoenix.

Pistons To Consider Derrick Rose In Free Agency?

Point guard will be an area of focus for the Pistons in free agency this summer, as backups Ish Smith and Jose Calderon are set to hit the open market. And a source with first-hand knowledge of the team’s thinking tells Vince Ellis of The Detroit Free Press that Derrick Rose is one potential target who will be “a subject of debate” within the front office.

Rose is unlikely to have to settle for the minimum salary again after enjoying an impressive bounce-back season in Minnesota, averaging 18.0 PPG and 4.3 APG on .482/.370/.856 shooting. However, he was limited to just 51 games due to more injuries, an ongoing issue which will likely keep his price tag in check. That means he could be an option for a team like the Pistons, who won’t have any cap room available this offseason.

Seth Curry is another free-agent-to-be who figures to be of interest to Detroit, according to Ellis, though he notes that there’s a belief head coach Dwane Casey will push for a true point guard. In that case, players like Ricky Rubio and Patrick Beverley may be on the club’s radar. The likes of T.J. McConnell or Isaiah Thomas could also be targets if the club pursues a lower-cost option, Ellis adds.

Of course, re-signing Smith will also be a scenario the Pistons could consider, but there was an “air of finality” to his end-of-season media session, according to Ellis, who writes that the team will explore upgrades at the position.

The 2019/20 mid-level exception is projected to be worth approximately $9.2MM, based on a $109MM cap, while the bi-annual exception would be worth about $3.6MM. Unless the Pistons shed significant salary, those will be the only two exceptions – besides the minimum – available to the team in free agency. Both exceptions can be used on a single player or split up among multiple free agents.

Atlantic Notes: Hezonja, McCaw, Sixers, Morris

Mario Hezonja is seeing fewer minutes on the court this season with the Knicks, but that hasn’t stopped the 23-year-old from enjoying his time in New York, Steve Popper of Newsday relays. Hezonja is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

“No, no, no. I love New York. As I said, this coaching staff, I wish I had them in my rookie year,” Hezonja said. “I’m not saying anything about what I had. It was just rough and unfortunate situation what happened to me. I wish they were my coaching staff in my rookie year. We’d be talking a different story right now. 

“Yeah, I’m happy to be around them. Even when I wasn’t playing, I just said, how important they were for me and how much room I still have for growth, for learning the game and all that stuff, so it’s big time for me. I love this team. I love everybody over here. I was surprised as soon as I came here. I’m focusing only on here. This is not a typical BS talk. ‘I’m only thinking about this, I don’t know what it’s gonna be.’ I know. This is it. I love this. I want to be in New York.”

Along with Hezonja, other Knicks players set to reach unrestricted free agency this summer include Enes KanterNoah Vonleh and Trey Burke. Hezonja is averaging 7.6 points and 17.8 minutes per game on the season, shooting 40% from the floor and an underwhelming 29% from 3-point range.

New York is reportedly exploring trades for several players ahead of the Feb. 7 deadline, but Hezonja’s name has yet to surface as a candidate.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division today:

  • Blake Murphy of The Athletic examines how the NBA’s roster rules brought the Raptors to sign Patrick McCaw as a free agent. The Cavaliers waived McCaw days after signing him in restricted free agency, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent and sign with any team. McCaw is expected to provide backcourt depth for the Raptors as they ready themselves for a deep postseason run.
  • The Sixers still hope to re-sign Jimmy Butler this summer despite the team’s recent drama, ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes. Lowe provided details on Butler’s comments to Brett Brown at a recent 76ers film session, with Butler reportedly speaking up for himself and teammate T.J. McConnell. McConnell, who’s averaging 20.7 minutes per game, also voiced his concerns during the session when Brown asked if anyone else had something to add, Lowe notes.
  • Celtics forward Marcus Morris relayed the importance of winning as his major long-term focus, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports. Morris, who’s making $5.3MM this season, is also set to become a free agent this summer. “That’s all I care about; winning,” Morris said. “That other stuff, the big-money contract, being in the conversation for All-Star, none of that happens if you’re not winning. So for me, that’s what all this is about, keeping finding ways to win.”

Dinwiddie Extension Good News For Rozier, Russell?

League executives at last week’s G League Showcase in Las Vegas were “raving” about the Nets‘ deal to lock up Spencer Dinwiddie to a three-year, $34.3MM extension, comparing it to the Clippers‘ three-year, $24MM agreement with Lou Williams, writes ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider-only link).

According to Marks, two teams he spoke to in Vegas had Dinwiddie ranked as the third-best point guard in the 2019 free agent class before he signed his extension, placing him behind only Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker. That would have put Dinwiddie ahead of younger players like Terry Rozier (Celtics) and D’Angelo Russell (Nets), both of whom are on track for restricted free agency.

Rozier and Russell should benefit from Dinwiddie’s deal, since it takes one of 2019’s top FA point guards off the board and could create additional competition for their services. According to Marks, league execs in Vegas last week identified the Magic and Suns as probable suitors for Rozier and Russell, though the Celtics and Nets will have the upper hand until an offer sheet is on the table.

Here’s more from Marks:

  • Teams are monitoring Markelle Fultz, not just to keep an eye on his health and future, but also to see how Fultz’s status will impact Sixers teammate T.J. McConnell, according to Marks. McConnell is headed for unrestricted free agency and is unlikely to get an in-season extension if Philadelphia intends to maximize its 2019 cap room. McConnell could command a salary in the $5-7MM range, Marks notes.
  • Teams around the NBA believe there could be a strong group of buyout candidates available later this season. According to Marks, the veteran players that clubs are keeping an eye on include Carmelo Anthony, Robin Lopez, Zach Randolph, Anthony Tolliver, Enes Kanter, Kenneth Faried, Jerryd Bayless, Iman Shumpert, Kosta Koufos, Alec Burks, J.R. Smith, and Jabari Parker. Some of those vets may be traded and some figure to remain with their current teams, but I could definitely see several of them ending up on the buyout market.

Atlantic Notes: Ntilikina, McConnell, Celtics, Burke

As Frank Ntilikina has fallen out of the Knicks‘ rotation, a handful of other teams around the NBA have been linked to the second-year guard, with the Magic, Suns, and Grizzlies among the clubs said to have shown some interest in Ntilikina.

Ian Begley of ESPN.com added another name to that list over the weekend, reporting (via Twitter) that the Nets have also expressed interest in the Knicks guard. Brooklyn already has a pair of solid point guards – Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell – in its backcourt, but both players will be free agents at season’s end, while Ntilikina remains under team control through 2021.

However, if the Nets did inquire on Ntilikina, it sounds like they were just doing its due diligence — a team source tells Brian Lewis of The New York Post that Brooklyn has no interest in acquiring the former eighth overall pick from the crosstown Knicks.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Appearing last week on The Russillo Show, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski mentioned that he’s “very confident” the Sixers could have acquired a first-round pick in exchange for T.J. McConnell within the last few weeks, as Dan Feldman of NBC Sports relays. Wojnarowski had previously reported that the 76ers weren’t looking to move McConnell. Woj is obviously more plugged in than any other NBA reporter, so it’s hard to doubt his intel, but I’d have to think that there’s a catch here — perhaps the pick would have been heavily protected, or the Sixers would have had to take on some salary.
  • In an Insider-only article for ESPN.com, Kevin Pelton explores the Sixers‘ options with Markelle Fultz, writing that the team doesn’t have to make a decision on the former No. 1 overall pick right away, with the trade deadline still two months off.
  • While the Celtics still have an enviable collection of assets to put in play if they take a big swing on the trade market, the value of some of those assets has depreciated a little this season, as Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report details. Boston’s first-round picks from the Kings, Clippers, and Grizzlies may not be as valuable as initially anticipated, given how those teams have performed, and Jaylen Brown has taken a step back in his development so far.
  • Trey Burke sustained a mild MCL sprain on Saturday and will be re-evaluated sometime this weekend, the Knicks announced today (via Twitter). Earlier today, we passed along some comments Burke made about his upcoming free agency.