Victor Oladipo

Central Notes: Oladipo, Pistons Rotation, Griffin

Victor Oladipo knew a breakout season was possible after speaking with Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard on the team’s private plane prior to his introductory press conference last summer, as Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated divulges in a feature story. Pritchard assured Oladipo that the club truly coveted his services, rather than just matching up salaries to facilitate the Paul George blockbuster with the Thunder. Indiana wanted to play faster this season. “This wasn’t a dump. We targeted you,” Pritchard told Oladipo, according to Jenkins. The All-Star shooting guard is averaging a career-high 24.4 PPG for the surprising Pacers.  “It was the first time in my career I felt like a team really believed in me,” Oladipo told Jenkins. “I was just thinking, Don’t mess this up.”

In other nuggets involving the Central Division:

  • Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy will likely go with a 10-man rotation once Reggie Jackson returns from his Grade 3 ankle sprain, according to Ansar Khan of MLive.com.  Jackson would join a starting unit of Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock. Ish Smith would return to his usual role as leader of the second unit with center Eric Moreland and forwards Anthony Tolliver and James Ennis getting steady minutes, Khan speculates. Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway would split time as the backup shooting guard, Khan adds.
  • Pistons owner Tom Gores invited Griffin and his business partners over to his California home immediately after the blockbuster deal with the Clippers, as Keith Langlois of Pistons.com details. Gores wanted to assure Griffin how badly the Pistons wanted him and address any concerns the five-time All-Star power forward might have, Langlois continues. The Pistons are 5-3 since Griffin joined their lineup. “We were very quickly on the same page with the same view of what we want to achieve and the approach to get there,” Gores told Langlois. “He’s definitely hit the ground running. It’s been great to see how his teammates, the whole organization and the fans have embraced him.”

Pacers Notes: Oladipo, Culture, Jefferson

The Pacers have been riding a wave of overachievement in the first half led by 2018 All-Star Victor Oladipo. With the departure of Paul George — who was dealt for Oladipo — the Pacers entered the season without a franchise star and dimmed playoff hopes. Thus far, the team is in playoff position and Oladipo is happy to be the leader, ESPN’s Mike Wells writes.

Ownership’s faith in the current roster was best demonstrated when the Pacers stood pat at the deadline. No moves were made the roster was given a vote of confidence to continue its mission. And, on this mission, the leader is a player who has developed into a possible franchise mainstay.

“After what we went through with somebody who didn’t want to be here, to have someone who really wants to be here is so rewarding and refreshing,” owner Herb Simon said to ESPN. “His whole spirit brought life into the whole team and the whole organization. So we love that.”

Check out other Pacers notes below:

  • General manager Kevin Pritchard was active on the phones during the deadline but a request from six Pacers players to not break up the roster swayed his opinion, NBA.com’s Mark Monteith writes. “Unless we knew we could really help the team I wanted to make sure there were no disruptions,” Pritchard said. “Our culture means everything.”
  • Al Jefferson is no longer the starting center who averages a near double-double, but he has an invaluable presence as a veteran on a young, overachieving team, Clifton Brown of the Indianapolis Star writes. Cory Joseph vouched for Jefferson’s ability and revealed a nickname he came up with for the veteran when he was in Utah. “Instant Buckets,” Joseph said. “That pump fake? When I was in San Antonio, we played Utah in the playoffs. I’d always be on the bench like, ‘Don’t jump.'”
  • In case you missed it yesterday, Hoops Rumors also caught up with Jefferson to discuss why he is happy to stay in Indiana and why the team “can do something special.”

Southeast Notes: Walker, Vucevic, Oladipo, Whiteside, Wizards

Kemba Walker is the Hornets‘ best and most popular player — which makes him the most desirable trade chip as the February 8 trade deadline approaches. There’s an anxiety over Walker’s future with Charlotte which will not subside until the deadline comes and goes, Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer writes.

At this juncture, a trade of Walker during the season seems unlikely. The Hornets sport a 20-27 record, good for 11th place in the Eastern Conference and five games back of the Pacers for the eighth seed. Team owner Michael Jordan recently downplayed the rumors of a Walker trade, instead suggesting the team’s disappointing season has led the team to discussions with multiple teams.

Walker has enjoyed another great season for Charlotte, averaging 21.9 PPG and 5.9 APG in 45 games. He would be an upgrade for several teams, including his hometown Knicks, who have been a rumored trade partner, but nothing is imminent.

Check out other Southeast Division news and notes:

  • Magic center Nikola Vucevic recently made significant progress as he recovers from a fractured left hand, John Denton of NBA.com writes. Doctors have encouraged Vucevic to play more video games so that he get strength in the injured left hand. “They said anything where I’m using the hand – even playing video games – will be good for it, so I’m doing it,’’ Vucevic said.
  • Victor Oladipo is a 2018 NBA All-Star, which will haunt the Magic, a team that has lacked a true superstar talent, Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel writes. Oladipo enjoyed three solid seasons with Orlando before a 2016 deal sent him, along with the draft rights of Domantas Sabonis, to the Thunder for veteran Serge Ibaka.
  • After a disappointing performance where he committed seven turnovers, Heat big man Hassan Whiteside heard criticism from everyone, including head coach Erik Spoelstra. Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel writes that Spoelstra expects more from Whiteside.
  • The Wizards should be better than they have played with the trio of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter leading the pack. Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer writes that the time is now for Washington to make a trade deadline deal and make a playoff push.

Central Notes: Walker, Van Gundy, LaVine, Cavs

The case for the Pacers pursuing a trade for Hornets point guard Kemba Walker comes down to whether he’d mesh with another ball-dominant guard in Victor Oladipo, Jim Ayello of the Indianapolis Star opines. Indiana hasn’t been linked to Walker but needs a long-term solution at point guard, Ayello continues.  The Pacers could dangle rookie forward T.J. Leaf, a 2018 first-round pick and a handful of expiring and short-term contracts to interest the Hornets, Ayello notes. They also have some team-friendly contracts to trade if Charlotte wants to package a bad contract with Walker. Indiana needs another playmaker but Walker may not fit its scheme and he’s a subpar 3-point shooter, Ayello adds.

Also of note regarding the Central Division:

  • The Pistons have lost five straight and coach Stan Van Gundy admits he’s at a loss why the team’s effort and energy has sunk over the past month, as he told Hoops Rumors and other media members. Detroit suffered a one-point home loss Sunday to the Nets, a team they blew out 11 days earlier. “I don’t know what’s with us. We’re not playing hard enough consistently enough,” he said. “We played hard at times. … But we’re not consistent enough at the defensive end and that, I don’t understand.”
  • Zach LaVine is still trying to get back into top basketball shape, as the Bulls shooting guard admitted to Vince Goodwill of NBCSports.com. LaVine is averaging 11.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG and 2.5 APG in 19.2 MPG in four games since returning from knee surgery. “It was feeling good in practice but in games it’s seventy [percent],” LaVine said of his conditioning. “Playing defense, getting back, running the break, just getting used to it.” LaVine will be reevaluated on Wednesday and could soon see an uptick in minutes, Goodwill adds.
  • Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t plan on making a lineup change even though his team has lost 10 of its last 14, according to Associated Press report. Lue said that group has proven it can also turn things around. “We’ve got to play better, we’ve got to be sharper and that’s what we continue to keep working on,” he said. “It’s the same team that won 18 out of 19 and 13 in a row.”

Central Notes: Oladipo, Thomas, Contracts

Victor Oladipo will remain out of the lineup for Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee. The Pacers haven’t won a game since the shooting guard injured his knee against the Pistons last week and coach Nate McMillan understands why the team has struggled.

“He was doing a lot for us, as far as scoring and leading transition and bringing a kind of leadership role and energy that our guys feed off of,” McMillan said of Oladipo (via Jim Ayello of the Indianapolis Star. “You know, it’s not only the fans [he engerizes] with his playmaking.”

Oladipo, who’s in the first year of a four-year, $84MM deal, came to Indiana via the Paul George trade and he’s played at an All-Star level, helping the Pacers become playoff contenders. Despite losing the last four games, the franchise remains in the mix, entering the day with sole possession of the eighth seed in the conference with a record of 19-18.

Here’s more from the Central Division:

  • Isaiah Thomas will be a free agent at the end of the season and a front office executive tells Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that his potential earnings are hard to predict. Some teams may overlook his hip injury while others will scratch him off their list entirely because of it. O’Connor notes that a Kyle Lowry-level three-year, $100MM deal may be Thomas’ best case scenario while the worst case would be a lucrative one-year, prove it deal.
  • Another executive tells O’Connor (same piece) that Thomas’ best offer could come from a team looking to use the Washington product as a short-term bridge option at the point. The executive adds that the Bulls and Mavs are franchises that fit the mold.
  • The Cavaliers are planning on an initial 20-to-22 minute restriction for Thomas and the “flow of his comeback” will determine the amount of court time he will receive going forward, Shams Charania of The Vertical tweets. Thomas will make his debut for Cleveland tonight against Portland.

Central Notes: Dunn, LaVine, Oladipo

The Bulls have every reason to be pleased with the production they’ve gotten out of point guard Kris Dunn but that doesn’t mean that the second-year player is necessarily satisfied, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune writes.

My offensive game is getting there, but that can be polished,” Dunn said, noting that his top priority for improvement is on the defensive side. In 11 December games for the Bulls, Dunn has averaged 15.0 points, 7.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals per contest.

Dunn credits Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg for putting the pressure on him to compete with Jerian Grant for the starting gig, a role that he didn’t formally take over until late November.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • There may finally be a timetable for the return of Zach LaVine. Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago tweets that the guard will try to make it through six consecutive Bulls practices after December 30. If he does so without issue, he’ll play.
  • The Cavaliers will tip off against the Warriors on Christmas Day but don’t get it twisted, LeBron James‘ favorite place to play after Santa Claus comes is a bit further south at the Staples Center, Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com writes. Queue another onslaught of LeBron-to-L.A. hype.
  • The trade that sent Victor Oladipo from the Thunder to the Pacers appears to have motivated the 25-year-old, even if he doesn’t say so himself. “He’s come into the season with confidence, I think, to prove himself,” head coach Nate McMillan told Buddy Grizzard of Basketball Insiders. “After a couple moves from Orlando to OKC and then to Indy, there was a lot of conversation out there that the Pacers didn’t get enough in that trade. I think he is proving to the league that he does have talent. We are still learning what he’s capable of.

Central Notes: LeBron, Oladipo, Osman

LeBron James is well on his way to another First Team All-NBA selection and perhaps a fifth MVP Award. And while the Cavaliers star will be the first to tell you that that he plays for team accomplishments, even he was able to admit how sweet it would be to add more personal hardware to his trophy case, reports Nick Friedell of ESPN. James also elaborated on what his continued excellence over time could mean for future NBA generations.

“Team success is always the No. 1, but along the way if you’re able accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel, and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation.”

“Hopefully I can break the mold, so when the next guy comes, he can still get $200 or $300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break. It’s not just about me, it’s for the next crew, as well … I’ll be 33 in 15 days. This is my 15th season, and this is the best I’ve felt in my career.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Despite the recent narrative that being traded to Indiana from Oklahoma City (and particularly away from Russell Westbrook) has generated a career season for Pacers guard Victor Oladipo, the opposite is actually true, reports Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. Oladipo himself specifically references how Westbrook’s level of play made him realize how much work it takes to become a star. “Going there and seeing (Westbrook) do that, just seeing his year overall last year definitely helped me realize that I gotta put in a lot of work to get on that level,” Oladipo said. “So, he definitely helped influence my growth both on and off the court. He was an amazing resource, especially last year, to learn from him. And I apply it to everyday life today.”
  • In a piece for the The Plain Dealer, Terry Pluto opines that this season’s Cavaliers team has so far had a much more encouraging regular season than last year’s team. Among other topics, Pluto analyzes the surprising fit of Jose Calderon and general manager Koby Altman’s decision to give him a fully-guaranteed contract, head coach Tyronn Lue’s relationship with newcomer Jeff Green, and how potential All-Star Kevin Love seems to be thriving in an environment without Kyrie Irving.
  • After being traded to Cleveland from Minnesota on draft night in 2015, Cavaliers swingman Cedi Osman had spent the last two seasons playing overseas in Turkey, waiting for his NBA break to come. And now that he’s in the NBA, Osman is looking to make the most of his opportunity, writes Chris Fedor of cleveland.com. In last night’s win against Utah, Osman scored a career high 10 points in 23 minutes (also a career high), with Lue opting to keep Osman in during crunch time in the fourth quarter.

Revisiting The Paul George Trade

Paul George is back in Indiana tonight for the first time since the blockbuster trade that sent him to Oklahoma City. The deal was supposed to signal the start of a rebuilding process for the Pacers and the creation of a title contender in Oklahoma City, but things haven’t worked out that way. Indiana enters tonight’s game 16-11 and in fifth place in the East, while the Thunder are a disappointing 12-14 and stuck in ninth place in the West.

George was shipped to OKC in early July in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, who are both putting up career-best numbers in Indiana. Oladipo is scoring 24.5 points per game, while Sabonis is averaging 12.1 points and 8.5 rebounds, both more than double his totals from last season.

Meeting with reporters today, George expressed joy in seeing the Pacers playing so well and said the reason he had his agent tell the team he was unlikely to re-sign after this season is so it could start preparing right away, according to Matthew VanTryon and Jim Ayello of The Indianapolis Star.

“When we reached out to the front office, to tell them our plans, our future plans, it was to help them along the way,” George said. “And it was bad at first, so to speak, that maybe this trade wasn’t going to pan out. But it obviously did. They got two great, young pieces.” 

We rounded up a few more reactions as writers revisited the July deal:

  • The Pacers should receive an apology for the initial negative reaction to the trade, writes Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. The general feeling was that Indiana didn’t get enough in return for George, with Cavaliers owner Dan Snyder saying, “I will say [the Pacers] could’ve done better,” and the Oklahoma City police department tweeting about the theft of George. Deveney adds that the deal turned out to be better than some other offers the Pacers received, including Gary Harris and draft choices from the Nuggets, and Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and some non-lottery picks from the Celtics.
  • The Thunder had to take the gamble when a star like George became available, contends Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. Even if Oladipo turns out to be an All-Star, he wasn’t a good fit with Westbrook during his lone season with the Thunder, Tramel writes, with some observers contending he was out of shape and others saying he couldn’t adjust to Westbrook’s ball dominance. George can be a dominant player on both ends, and his acquisition may have been what inspired Westbrook to agree to a five-year extension in September.
  • The Pacers should be elated with the results of the deal, according to a consensus of writers on an NBA.com Blogtable. Indiana could be headed for a playoff spot, while George may be joining the Lakers next summer — if not earlier.

Central Notes: Oladipo, George, Nwaba, Bulls

The Pacers‘ acquisition of Victor Oladipo — along with Domantas Sabonis — in last summer’s Paul George trade was seen by many as a steal for the Thunder. Several months into the season, however, Oladipo’s play has elevated him to star status, Mark Montieth of NBA.com writes.

Through the Pacers’ first 25 games, Oladipo has posted a career-highs in PPG (24.5), RPG (5.3), field-goal percentage (.485%), and three-point shooting percentage (.444%). In his own words, Oladipo has put in all the work necessary to show that he’s a better player than he showed in his first four seasons with the Magic and Thunder.

“Y’all might be surprised,” Oladipo said. “I put in the work. I work every day. I have no limit to how hard I work. I’m trying to be great. There’s no in-between and I can’t settle for anything less.”

Oladipo, still just 25 years old, is also setting other career-highs, including a 47-point performance against the Nuggets over the weekend. The Pacers are also playing like a playoff caliber team, occupying fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a 16-11 record; Oladipo has been a major reason for that.

Check out other news around the Central Division:

  • George will make his first appearance as a visiting player on Wednesday when the Thunder visits the Pacers in Indiana. While George’s run with the team included plenty of success, his impending return is the subject of mixed emotions, Jim Ayello of USA Today writes. Former teammates such as Lance Stephenson and Thaddeus Young spoke glowingly of their former teammates while Myles Turner said George did not “leave on the best terms.”
  • David Nwaba was a mere waiver wire acquisition by the Bulls but he has become a vital part of the team, NBA.com’s Sam Smith writes“His skill is he goes out and plays harder than everybody else on the floor,” said Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg. As a reserve, Nwaba is averaging 8.3 PPG for the 6-20 Bulls.
  • While Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic‘s violent preseason scuffle that resulted in suspensions and facial surgery captured headlines, the duo’s recent on-court competition for the Bulls has been a pleasant change of pace, Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago.

And-Ones: Ayton, Thunder Trades, Wagering, Ball

Arizona freshman center DeAndre Ayton could be the No. 1 overall pick in June, according to Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders. The 7’1” Ayton has proven to be a highly productive for the otherwise disappointing Wildcats, averaging 20.4 PPG, 11.4 RPG and 1.4 BPG in his first eight college games. He has a 7-foot-5 wingspan and has shown a high basketball IQ, Brigham continues. At worst, Ayton should be a top-three lock, Brigham adds.

In other news involving the league:

  • The trade packages the Knicks and Pacers received from the Thunder in blockbuster deals this offseason have proven to be far better than expected, as ESPN’s Kevin Pelton notes. Center Enes Kanter, the best player the Knicks got back in the Carmelo Anthony trade, is a good fit as Kristaps Porzingis frontcourt partner, while Porzingis has thrived as a No. 1 option in Pelton’s analysis. Victor Oladipo has actually outperformed Paul George in his expanded role with Indiana, according to Pelton’s metrics. The other player the Pacers received in the deal, center Domantas Sabonis, has improved sharply while playing more often in the post than he did in Oklahoma City, Pelton adds.
  • The league and several owners have positioned themselves to cash in on expanded betting on its games, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst examines in an in-depth piece. The league would prefer changes in current federal laws and the creation of a unified commission to oversee the expanded betting operations, Windhorst continues. The Hornets’ Michael Jordan, the Wizards’ Ted Leonsis and the Mavs’ Mark Cuban have recently invested in a company focused on real-time data distribution, which would facilitate in-game wagering, Windhorst adds.
  • Lonzo Ball‘s younger brother LiAngelo Ball has no chance of being selected if he declares for next June’s draft, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. LiAngelo Ball would have trouble finding a spot in any professional league, including the G-League, Wojnarowski adds (Twitter links). UCLA announced on Monday that the younger Ball intends to leave the program, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic tweets. The freshman was arrested along with two teammates in China on shoplifting charges and suspended by the school after being allowed to return to the United States.
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