Taj Gibson

Atlantic Notes: Celtics, Walker, Irving, Toppin

After having three straight games postponed due to coronavirus issues, the Celtics will likely be able to return to the court Friday night, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press. All-Star forward Jayson Tatum will remain sidelined after testing positive last week, but four other players are expected to receive clearance in time for the game against Orlando.

“I don’t think there’s an easy answer here,” coach Brad Stevens said after today’s shootaround, which marked the first time his players have been on the court together since Sunday. “This is a difficult time around the country. This pandemic is as rampant as it’s ever been and obviously we’re feeling some of that despite the great precautions and great steps we’re taking not to.”

The NBA is dealing with its worst stretch of COVID-19 issues since the season began. Nine games have been postponed so far, with eight of those coming this week. The league is considering expanded testing that would provide same-day results on game days.

“We’re like everyone else,” Stevens said. “We appreciate the opportunity to gather. We appreciate the opportunity to be together. We appreciate the opportunity to play the game we love and when it’s taken away for a week or four months that’s hard. And the rest of the world’s dealing with that in every which way, so for us to complain about it … would be insensitive to everything else that’s going on in the world.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Celtics guard Kemba Walker is getting closer to making his season debut, tweets Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. Stevens said Walker, who has been sidelined by soreness in his left knee, went “full” in today’s session, which was focused on drills.
  • Just as coach Steve Nash did Wednesday, Nets general manager Sean Marks refused to get into specifics about Kyrie Irving‘s absence during a session with reporters today, tweets Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Irving is away from the team for personal reasons and there’s no set date for his return. “I don’t want to speculate and say why he’s out,” Marks said. “I’ve had conversations with him. I’ll continue to have conversations. … You also hope there is a more than adequate excuse as to why he needs personal time. He will address that without a doubt.”
  • Knicks rookie Obi Toppin returned Wednesday after missing three weeks with a strained left calf, but he only played 57 seconds, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. “I’m super excited to be back,” Toppin said before the game. “I’m a little rusty. But I’ll be ready when Coach calls my name.”
  • Knicks free agent addition Taj Gibson received a rest-of-season veteran’s minimum contract, Berman adds in the same story.

New York Notes: Durant, Irving, Toppin, Gibson

Star forward Kevin Durant has yet to play both halves of a back-to-back set this season, as the Nets have made an effort to ease him back into the regular season schedule following his year-long absence due to an Achilles tear.

However, after leading the team to a comeback victory over Denver on Tuesday night, Durant is prepared to play the Knicks in New York tonight, as Brian Lewis of The New York Post details.

“I plan on it,” he said.

As of Tuesday night, head coach Steve Nash wasn’t ready to fully commit to having Durant available on Wednesday, cautioning that the Nets have to “judge these things day-to-day and moment-to-moment.” However, the team listed the two-time Finals MVP as available on its latest injury report today.

Here’s more on the NBA’s two New York teams ahead of their game tonight:

  • There’s “real concern” around the league from people who know Kyrie Irving about his ongoing absence, says Joe Vardon of The Athletic. The Nets guard, who was spotted on a Zoom call for a Manhattan District Attorney candidate on Tuesday evening, will face a quarantine period when he returns, assuming the NBA finds he violated COVID-19 protocols by attending a large gathering to celebrate a family member’s birthday. Having previously reported that Irving isn’t expected back this week, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (video link) suggests the star guard may not be active next week either.
  • The Knicks have unexpectedly upgraded Obi Toppin (calf) to probable for Wednesday’s game (Twitter link). The rookie forward said he was just cleared for contact today and hasn’t yet practiced in full, tweets Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. It’s unclear whether or not he’ll actually see much – or any – action tonight, says Marc Berman of The New York Post (Twitter link).
  • Taj Gibson will be available for the Knicks on Wednesday night, as Berman writes for The New York Post. The recently-signed big man is reportedly in shape, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll play an immediate role.

Knicks Notes: Gibson, Toppin, Ntilikina, Hayward

The Knicks signed Taj Gibson to a rest-of-season contract last Thursday, according to NBA.com’s official transactions log. However, the veteran big man hasn’t been able to play for the team yet due to COVID-19 protocols, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. It’s possible that Gibson will be able to join the club for Wednesday’s game against Brooklyn, Berman says.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Obi Toppin (calf) and Frank Ntilikina (knee) aren’t yet close to returning, according to Berman. Toppin hasn’t been cleared for contact, while Ntilikina may not be back at practice until next week.
  • Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau pushed to sign Gordon Hayward in free agency in November, but the team ultimately felt the price was too high, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. With the Knicks in Charlotte on Monday, Thibodeau acknowledged that Hayward was “rated pretty high on our (free agent) board,” while the Hornets forward said there was “a lot of interest on both sides.”
  • The Knicks aren’t as good as their 5-3 start suggested, but they seem refreshingly free of dysfunction this season, according to Chris Mannix of SI.com, who says the franchise finally seems to be building the right way with the right people.

New York Notes: T. Johnson, Durant, Randle, Gibson

Nets guard Tyler Johnson missed Thursday’s game against Philadelphia due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. According to Malika Andrews of ESPN (Twitter links), head coach Steve Nash said Johnson hasn’t tested positive for COVID-19 but is out due to contact tracing. In the early going of the 2020/21 season, contact tracing protocols have typically sidelined players for seven days, though Johnson’s exact timeline has yet to be confirmed.

Here’s more on the NBA’s two New York-based teams:

  • Nash told reporters on Thursday night that he thinks Nets star Kevin Durant (also out for contact tracing purposes) should be available to return on Sunday as long as he continues to test negative for the coronavirus (Twitter link via Andrews). Can’t wait for Sunday to come,” Nash said.
  • Entering the season, veteran Knicks big man Julius Randle looked like a prime candidate to be moved at the trade deadline. However, Randle’s All-Star caliber play so far (23.1 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 7.4 APG) may force the team to reevaluate its plans for him, says Steve Popper of Newsday.
  • Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype makes the case for why the Knicks signing Taj Gibson is a smart move. While Gibson will reportedly sign with the team, he’s still going through COVID-19 protocols and may not be on the roster in time to be activated for Friday night’s game vs. Oklahoma City, tweets Marc Berman of The New York Post.
  • In case you missed it last night, Kyrie Irving missed Thursday’s game for personal reasons and didn’t travel with the Nets to Memphis for Friday’s game.

Knicks Waive Omari Spellman, Sign Taj Gibson

9:59pm: The Knicks officially announced in a press release that they’ve waived Spellman. The signing of Gibson is also official, per NBA.com’s transactions log.

1:46 pm: The Knicks are waiving big man Omari Spellman to clear room to sign a veteran free agent, reports Ian Begley of SNY.tv (Twitter link). According to Shams Charania of The Athletic (via Twitter), the club plans to sign Taj Gibson to fill its newly-opened roster spot.

As we detailed earlier today, the Knicks were said to be one of many teams keeping an eye on Gibson, who reportedly worked out for seven clubs, including the Wizards. With Obi Toppin, Nerlens Noel, and Spellman all battling injuries, New York had been monitoring the free agent market for help in the frontcourt, eyeing Gibson and Tyson Chandler, among others.

While it’s not official yet, it sounds like the team will reunite with Gibson, who was a Knick in 2019/20 and has played for head coach Tom Thibodeau for much of his NBA career, including in both Chicago and Minnesota. It seems unlikely that Gibson’s new deal will be worth more than the minimum, but the Knicks – armed with $18MM in cap room – certainly have the flexibility to go higher.

Gibson, 35, started 56 of the 62 games he played for New York last season, averaging 6.1 PPG and 4.3 RPG in 16.5 minutes per contest. The club reportedly liked the job he did as a veteran mentor for young center Mitchell Robinson.

As for Spellman, the third-year big man came over from Minnesota in an offseason trade that sent Ed Davis to the Timberwolves. He was cited as a possible release candidate in December when the Knicks were mulling the possibility of retaining Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the regular season, and also had his fourth-year team option for 2021/22 declined last month, so it comes as no surprise that he’ll be the odd man out.

Spellman, a former first-round pick who has struggled with conditioning during his NBA career, will still receive his $1.99MM salary for 2020/21, since his contract is fully guaranteed. Having declined his fourth-year option, the Knicks won’t be on the hook for any money beyond this season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Knicks, Others Keeping Eye On Taj Gibson

10:06am: Gibson has worked out for seven teams, including the Wizards, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post.

Berman adds that Tyson Chandler is among the free agent big men on the Knicks’ radar and that the team has had some internal discussions about bringing him back.

8:04am: The Knicks waived Taj Gibson back in November before his salary for the 2020/21 season could become fully guaranteed, but the two sides had mutual interest at that time in a possible reunion, writes Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Although the Knicks didn’t re-sign Gibson during the offseason, they’ve continued to keep an eye on the veteran big man and have recently touched base with him, sources tell SNY. According to Begley, New York is one of a handful of clubs keeping Gibson on its radar, as he’s being monitored by “a few contenders.”

Gibson, 35, started 56 of the 62 games he played for the Knicks in 2019/20, averaging 6.1 PPG and 4.3 RPG in 16.5 minutes per contest.

According to Begley, some people within the organization like the idea of bringing Gibson back in part because he was viewed as a good mentor for young center Mitchell Robinson — if he returns this season, he could also be a positive influence on rookie Obi Toppin. Of course, Gibson also has a history with Tom Thibodeau, having played for the Knicks’ new head coach in Chicago and Minnesota.

Although the Knicks are off to a surprisingly strong start this season, their frontcourt depth chart is somewhat thin, particularly with Toppin, Nerlens Noel, and Omari Spellman all battling injuries. According to Jonathan Macri of Knicks Film School (Twitter link), the club is eyeing a few other big men in addition to Gibson and may meet with some.

New York currently has a full 15-man roster and would have to waive a player to make room for Gibson or another free agent. Spellman, whose rookie scale option for 2021/22 was turned down last month, would probably be the most obvious release candidate in that scenario.

Free Agency Notes: Heat, Gibson, Beasley, Millsap

Heat president Pat Riley provided a major hint on his free agency plans during his post-draft availability on Wednesday night, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press, who tweets that Riley said he hopes to “run this thing back.”

The Heat can essentially go one of two directions this weekend. One direction is renouncing most of their own free agents and opening up cap room to pursue outside FAs. The other is remaining over the cap and making an effort to bring back several of their own free agents, starting with Jae Crowder and Goran Dragic. It sounds like Riley is prepared to take the latter path.

Here’s more on free agency:

  • Although the Knicks waived Taj Gibson and turned down Bobby Portis‘ option, Ian Begley of SNY.tv (Twitter link) hears that the team still has some mutual interest with both players, who could return on more modest salaries. Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News suggests (via Twitter) that the Suns, Clippers, and Warriors are among the other clubs to watch for Gibson.
  • Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said today during an appearance on The Chad Hartman Show in Minnesota that drafting Anthony Edwards doesn’t mean the team doesn’t plan to re-sign Malik Beasley. “We hope that relationship (with Beasley) continues,” Rosas said (Twitter link via Dane Moore of News Talk 830 WCCO). Wolfson (via Twitter) thinks that the Wolves and Beasley could work out a two-year deal.
  • Paul Millsap plans to weigh his options at the start of free agency and see what kind of market develops before making a decision, tweets Mike Singer of The Denver Post. No deal is imminent yet for Millsap, who is expected to receive interest from the Nuggets and Trail Blazers, among others.
  • Suns GM James Jones said on Wednesday night that his front office will be looking for “Suns fits” in free agency, as Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic writes. “I feel really good about our ability to build on the rest of our roster,” Jones said.

Knicks Waive Four Players, Decline Options For Portis, Pinson

12:40pm: The Knicks have confirmed all the roster moves detailed below and added that they’ve turned down their team option on Theo Pinson, whom they claimed off waivers in June. Pinson’s option had been worth $1.7MM, but he’ll become an unrestricted free agent instead of remaining with New York.

The team projects to enter free agency with upwards of $38-40MM in cap room.

12:06pm: The Knicks will waive Elfrid Payton and Kenny Wooten and have decided not to pick up Bobby Portis‘ option for next season, tweets Steve Popper of Newsday. In addition, the team won’t make a qualifying offer to Damyean Dotson, who becomes an unrestricted free agent.

New York will also waive veteran forward Taj Gibson, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link), and Wayne Ellington, tweets Marc Berman of The New York Post.

The decisions are designed to create cap flexibility, Popper adds (Twitter link). He notes that the team could opt to re-sign some of the players, but at lesser salaries than what they were scheduled to make (Twitter link).

Payton had a $1MM guarantee on his $8MM deal for next season. He started 36 of the 45 games he played last season, but the Knicks have indicated they want to find a new starting point guard. Gibson also had a $1MM guarantee on his $9.45MM contract, while Ellington receives $1MM of his $8MM deal. Wooten was on a two-way contract and didn’t appear in any NBA games.

The Knicks held a $15.75MM option for Portis, who averaged 10.1 points and 5.1 rebounds in 66 games last season, mostly as a reserve. Dotson, who got into 48 games off the bench and averaged 6.7 PPG, would have required a $2,023,150 QO.

NBA’s Bottom Eight Teams Gearing Up For Group Workouts

Monday, September 14 marks the first day of the three-week offseason workout window for the NBA’s bottom eight teams. The first phase of these de facto training camps will last for one week, through next Monday. During that time, activities will continue to be limited to individual workouts, as participants begin being tested daily for the coronavirus.

After one week, once participating players have returned multiple negative COVID-19 tests – or have been quarantined if they test positive – the second phase of the camps will take place in bubble-type environments. Group workouts, including practices and intra-squad scrimmages, will be permitted during the next two weeks as coronavirus testing continues.

The eight teams not invited to Orlando – the Warriors, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Hawks, Knicks, Pistons, Bulls, and Hornets – won’t congregate at a single site like the top 22 teams did at Walt Disney World. Their “bubbles” will be created in their respective markets.

[RELATED: Eight Teams Left Out Of Restart To Conduct Workouts At Home Sites]

For instance, as K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago writes, the Bulls will stay at a downtown hotel and will be transported back and forth between there and the Advocate Center. The Hawks, meanwhile, are working to secure their players a hotel that has not yet opened to help avoid any outside contact, per Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The other clubs will make similar arrangements.

These workouts – both the individual sessions this week and the group activities beginning next week – are entirely voluntary. However, since these players have been unable to take part in organized basketball activities with teammates since March and are likely itching to get back on the court, there’s an expectation that attendance will be robust for most clubs.

Chris Kirschner of The Athletic reports, for example, that the Hawks anticipate all their core players – including Clint Capela – will take part in the camp. Jeff Teague is one of the only players not expected to participate, per Spencer, who notes that the veteran point guard is ticketed for free agency.

The Pistons are in a similar situation — James L. Edwards III of The Athletic reports that free-agent-to-be Langston Galloway isn’t expected to be in attendance, but most of the rest of the team’s players will participate.

There are some cases where players who could reach free agency in the coming months will take part in workouts. For instance, Marc Berman of The New York Post says that Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson will likely be in attendance for the Knicks. Portis has a pricey team option for 2020/21, while only $1MM of Gibson’s $9.45MM salary is guaranteed, so both vets could be let go by the team this fall.

Berman does caution that some veteran Knicks players intend to participate in individual workouts but won’t join the rest of the club in the “bubble.”

Teams that want to fill gaps on their roster and make sure they have enough players to hold intra-squad scrimmages will be able to invite players who suited up for their G League affiliates this past season. For example, Lindell Wigginton and Canyon Barry of the Iowa Wolves will join Minnesota for the team’s mini-camp at Mayo Clinic Square, tweets Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News.

With these offseason camps set to end on October 6 and the NBA Finals likely to wrap up shortly thereafter, the next time clubs meet for organized activities will presumably be for training camps at the start of the 2020/21 season.

Eastern Notes: Mahinmi, Sabonis, Nunn, Knicks

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said on Wednesday that center Ian Mahinmi will not play in tomorrow’s regular-season finale against the Celtics, per Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington (Twitter link).

Since the Wizards landed in Orlando for the seeding games, Mahinmi has not played a single minute. This season, the 33-year-old center only played in 38 games, averaging 7.4 PPG and 5.7 RPG.

The Wizards were expecting Mahinmi to be their veteran rim protector when they signed him to a four-year, $64MM contract in the summer of 2016. However, that never came to fruition due to injuries. Over the last two seasons, Mahinmi has only played in 72 games. The veteran center is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Here’s more from across the Eastern Conference: