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Pacers Notes: Duarte, Jackson, Warren, Pierce

Pacers first-round pick Chris Duarte likely won’t be a starter to open the 2021/22 season, but the team is increasingly confident he’s capable of playing his way into that role, according to J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star.

Michael suggests that Duarte has already displayed an “it” factor that will be impossible to overlook and has exhibited the sort of leadership skills the Pacers were lacking in 2020/21. The 24-year-old, one of the oldest and most NBA-ready players in this year’s draft class, looks capable of making an impact and helping to improve Indiana’s defense right away, Michael writes.

Here’s more on the Pacers:

  • While Duarte has turned more heads so far, the Pacers are also high on their other first-round pick, Isaiah Jackson, Michael says in the same IndyStar story. As Michael writes, Indiana is eager to see how the shot-blocking Jackson looks alongside the team’s other rim protector, Myles Turner.
  • T.J. Warren has had a career year in his first season with the Pacers in 2019/20 (19.8 PPG on .536/.403/.819 shooting), but had a lost season in 2020/21, when foot surgery limited him to four games. Entering a contract year, Warren is in position to put himself in line for a huge payday if he can bounce back and recapture his ’19/20 form, writes Evan Sidery of BasketballNews.com.
  • Former Atlanta head coach Lloyd Pierce, recently hired by the Pacers as an assistant, spoke this week about what he’ll bring to Rick Carlisle‘s staff, including an ability to stay calm in the face of adversity, as Akeem Glaspie of The Indianapolis Star details. “I don’t stress and people that know me know that I don’t stress, this is just basketball,” Pierce said.
  • In case you missed it, Indiana signed undrafted rookie DeJon Jarreau to a two-way contract earlier in the week.

Atlantic Notes: Harden, Clifford, Knicks, Riller

Injuries limited the Nets‘ Big Three from the time James Harden joined Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in January, but Harden is optimistic that things will be different this season, writes Zach Braziller of The New York Post“At full strength, nobody can beat us,” Harden proclaimed.

The trio played just eight games together during the regular season, and the bad luck continued through the playoffs as Harden aggravated a strained hamstring in the second-round series with the Bucks and Irving missed the final three games after injuring his right ankle.

“So I want to make sure I’m completely healed and strong enough so I can go out there and completely be myself,” Harden said. “My rehab is going very, very well, and my getting my conditioning right is a big part of that.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Former Magic head coach Steve Clifford will be a consultant with the Nets this season, but his duties haven’t been fully defined, according to Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Clifford said he will help coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks with whatever they need. “Steve and I have had a few discussions about the best way for it to be structured. But basically I’ll be working for Steve and maybe in some instances for Sean on any area that they view I could be helpful with,” Clifford explained. “On any staff, staff chemistry is just like team chemistry. Steve’s the head coach, he’s already proven to be terrific at that; they have a veteran staff, a talented roster.”
  • The Knicks emphasized flexibility in nearly all their free agency moves, notes Ian Begley of SNY.tv. Contracts for Evan Fournier, Derrick Rose, Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel all have team options for the final season, while Taj Gibson‘s two-year deal is non-guaranteed for the second season. New York will have the chance to create some cap space in 2023, Begley adds.
  • Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice examines what new two-way player Grant Riller will bring to the Sixers.

Fischer’s Latest: Simmons, Lillard, Warriors, Ingles, Draft Deals, More

There has been little movement on the Ben Simmons situation, as none of the interested teams are offering an All-Star level player to the Sixers in return, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report. He adds that many observers believe president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is waiting for Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard to return from the Olympics to see if he makes a trade request.

The Cavaliers, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings and Raptors have all shown interest in trading for Simmons, sources tell Fischer. Executives from several of those teams said they view him as a play-making forward, rather than a point guard as he has been used in Philadelphia.

Simmons remains under contract for four more seasons, so there’s no urgency for the Sixers to make a move right away. Still, the “overwhelming expectation” across the league is that he will be traded during the offseason after struggling with his shot during the playoffs.

Fischer shares more inside information from around the NBA:

  • The Warriors would like to swap their two lottery picks for veteran help, but president of basketball operations Bob Myers isn’t finding many impact players available on the trade market. The Jazz could emerge as a possibility, Fischer adds, as Utah is hoping to shed some salary before re-signing point guard Mike Conley. Joe Ingles might be moved in such a deal, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also possibilities.
  • The Kings, who hold the No. 9 pick in Thursday’s draft, may be the highest option for teams hoping to trade into the lottery. Sacramento and the Pelicans, who have the 10th selection, have been active in trade talks involving those picks, sources tell Fischer, as both teams are looking for veterans who will give them a better chance to make the playoffs next season. New Orleans, which is hoping to unload Eric Bledsoe‘s salary, has talked to the Grizzlies about a deal that would send the veteran guard and the No. 10 pick to Memphis in exchange for the 17th choice.
  • The Hornets at No. 11 and the Pacers at No. 13 may also make their picks available. Fischer confirms that Indiana has talked to the Rockets about a deal involving Eric Gordon and the 23rd pick, and Myles Turner is believed to be on the trade market as well.

Draft Notes: Giddey, Pro Days, Combine, G League Elite Camp

Potential lottery pick Josh Giddey isn’t expected to attend the NBA draft combine in Chicago or any pre-draft workouts, tweets Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report. Instead, scouts will get a look at Giddey later this month when his Australian team travels to Las Vegas for exhibition games with Team USA, Spain, Nigeria and Argentina.

The 6’8″ shooting guard has been moving up draft boards and ranks No. 13 on ESPN’s latest list of prospects. Giddey, 18, played this season with the Adelaide 36ers and averaged 10.9 points, 7.1 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game.

There’s more draft news to pass along:

Grizzlies Notes: Offseason, Jackson, Winslow, Roster

The Grizzlies‘ season came to an end on Wednesday night in Utah, as a 126-110 Jazz victory completed the first-round series in five games. However, the young squad was encouraged by having made the playoffs this season and is looking forward to continuing to make strides this summer, as Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal writes.

“The taste of the playoffs is on everybody’s mind and this offseason’s got to be a special offseason for every single one of my teammates,” Dillon Brooks said after Wednesday’s loss.

While much of the roster is under contract for 2021/22, Barnes suggests it won’t necessarily be a quiet few months in Memphis, since the team will want to add more shooting and more reliable bench scoring. Still, there’s a solid foundation in place to build upon, led by rising star Ja Morant.

“Now, we just need to grow,” said center Jonas Valanciunas, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “We have the right people — good people. It’s not going to happen overnight. But we are headed in the right direction.”

Here’s more on the Grizzlies:

  • Jaren Jackson Jr. appears to be the Grizzlies’ “biggest swing player,” Lowe writes within his deep dive into the situation in Memphis. If Jackson, who is extension-eligible this offseason, becomes an All-Star caliber player, it would increase the team’s ceiling significantly. But if he ends up being just a quality rotation piece, the path to contention would be much more difficult.
  • Josh Robbins of The Athletic and Bobby Marks of ESPN (Insider link) each preview the Grizzlies’ offseason, with Robbins reiterating the importance of adding outside shooting, while Marks takes a look at Jackson’s case for an extension and the looming decision on Justise Winslow‘s team option.
  • If the Grizzlies are going to acquire an impact player, it will almost certainly have to happen via trade, John Hollinger of The Athletic writes. The former Grizzlies executive points out that the team has a surplus of options at shooting guard and power forward and says the front office shouldn’t be afraid of giving up young players and draft picks if a good opportunity arises.

Rockets Notes: Wall, Cousins, Harden, Hard Cap

John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon all practiced today for the first time since being forced to quarantine after an ill-fated haircut last week, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. The Rockets‘ Dec. 23 season opener was canceled because they didn’t have enough active players, and they were short-handed for the two games that followed.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Wall said. “All I did was get a haircut in my apartment. And one of the teammates tested positive and the next four or five tests I had all came back negative. So, I was like ‘Oh, it was me and three people can’t get a haircut.’ I’d rather get a haircut in my apartment than be in a barbershop somewhere where random people are coming in constantly. Even the barber tested negative. That was a frustrating thing.”

Assuming no more setbacks, Wall will play his first game in more than two years on Thursday. He and Cousins, who responded to the quarantine with an online post of an angry emoji, will both make their debuts with the Rockets.

“It’s tough in general to be sitting around for seven days, no type of activity,” Cousins said. “It’s tough for any person, but especially for a professional athlete, sitting at home for seven days straight then jumping back in a full-speed practice or game. There’s not a lot of positive on that side.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • Head coach Stephen Silas said league protocol requires Ben McLemore and KJ Martin, who are believed to have tested positive for COVID-19, to remain in quarantine through the weekend, tweets Kelly Iko of The Athletic.
  • The Sixers are farther away from trying to acquire Rockets star James Harden than they were two weeks ago, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on today’s episode of “The Jump” (video link). With a 3-1 record and Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid playing well together, Philadelphia doesn’t feel any urgency to make a move. Windhorst believes Simmons gives the Sixers the best asset of any of the teams rumored to be involved in talks for Harden, but he doesn’t think either side is in a hurry to complete a deal.
  • The Rockets are currently $1.077M below the hard cap, which means they will be able to add a pro-rated 15th player to their roster starting February 9, tweets salary cap expert Albert Nahmad. Teams can begin signing players to 10-day contracts on February 23 (Twitter link).

Draft Notes: Achiuwa, Jones, Hampton, Terry

Potential top-10 selection Precious Achiuwa has interviewed with a number of lottery teams, Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype tweets. Achiuwa, a power forward who averaged 15.8 PPG and 10.8 MPG as a Memphis freshman last season, has talked to the Kings, Wizards, Knicks, Nets, Cavaliers, Suns, Spurs, Pistons and Thunder, among others. He’s currently listed at No. 10 overall on ESPN’s list of this year’s top 100 prospects.

We have more on the draft:

  • Duke point guard Tre Jones has spoken with the Bucks, Suns, Thunder and Timberwolves, among others, according to Kennedy (Twitter link). Jones had an interview lined up with the Bulls, but it was postponed due to their coaching change. Jones anticipates he’ll be a mid- to late-first round pick. He’s currently listed at No. 34 overall by ESPN.
  • Combo guard RJ Hampton, who played last season in Australia’s NBL, has talked to the Wizards, Kings, Thunder, Pistons, Suns, Trail Blazers, Knicks and Bulls, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington tweets. He posted modest stats in 15 NBL games before suffering a hip flexor injury and returning the U.S. Hampton is currently ranked No. 13 by ESPN and Hughes speculates he could be a late lottery steal like Michael Porter Jr., who sat out for a year after getting drafted by the Nuggets.
  • Stanford point guard Tyrell Terry has interviewed with the Suns, Thunder, 76ers, Raptors, Knicks, Nets, WarriorsTimberwolves and Bulls, Kennedy tweets. He’s pegged at No. 42 in ESPN’s rankings. He averaged 14.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG and 3.2 APG as a freshman.

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Injury Updates: Doncic, Beverley, Westbrook, Harris, Green

The Mavericks are listing star guard Luka Doncic as questionable for Game 4 against the Clippers, tweets Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. In today’s session with reporters, coach Rick Carlisle said Doncic, who left Friday night’s contest with a sprained left ankle, might be a “game-time decision” for Sunday.

“I wish I knew right now, but I don’t,” Carlisle said. “We have good depth to play without him, but he’s one of the best players in the world, so if we have to play without him, it’s a big loss.”

Doncic was scheduled to have an MRI on the ankle today, but the test was delayed because of an issue with the machine. He briefly returned to Game 3 after suffering the injury in the third quarter, but was removed again after about three minutes.

“I could run,” he told reporters, “but I couldn’t push off my left leg.”

There’s more injury news to pass along:

  • Clippers guard Patrick Beverley is listed as doubtful for Sunday, according to a tweet from the team. If he can’t play, it would mark the eighth game in the past nine that Beverley has missed with a strained left calf.
  • Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni continues to cite improvement from Russell Westbrook as he recovers from a strained quadriceps muscle, but hasn’t speculated on when he might return, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Westbrook’s running has been limited to an alter-G device that restricts how much of a player’s weight is placed on the treadmill. D’Antoni said Westbrook is “doing better, as expected. Every day he does a little bit more.”
  • Nuggets shooting guard Gary Harris has been upgraded to doubtful for Game 4, raising hopes that he might soon be ready to play for the first time in five months, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. A right hip strain has kept Harris out of action since the team arrived in Orlando.
  • The Celtics announced that small forward Javonte Green will miss his second straight game Sunday with a sprained right knee (Twitter link). Green’s court time in the playoffs has been limited to a brief appearance in Game 2.