Blazers Notes: Lillard, Offseason, Thybulle, Front Office

At 31-35, the Trail Blazers currently hold the 13th seed in the Western Conference, but star guard Damian Lillard remains bullish about the team’s chances of securing a playoff or play-in berth. Speaking to Chris Mannix of SI.com, Lillard pointed out that nine Western teams – including eight ahead of Portland the standings – have between 33 and 35 losses.

“So it looks like, ‘Oh, you know, trying to get a play-in spot,'” Lillard said. “But everybody’s playing each other and everybody’s in the same thing. We could end up fifth. In a perfect world, it’s possible. Right now, we just have to keep fighting and try to be one of those teams that comes out on the other side.”

While Lillard hasn’t given up hope on making some noise this spring, he recognizes that the coming offseason will be an important one for a Portland club that badly wants to take another step toward legitimate title contention.

If they miss the playoffs and the Knicks make it, the Blazers will control two first-round picks, including one in the lottery. Based on his comments to Mannix, it sounds like Lillard would like the front office to explore dangling those draft assets in a package for an impact player.

“That means we go into the offseason and we don’t come out the way we have in the past,” Lillard said of what he’d like to see this summer. “Where it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re going to try to do something,’ and then we watch other people capitalize on things that are out there, and we pass, pass, pass, pass and can’t get anything done and then it’s done. It’s like, ‘All right, well this is what we got going into the season with.’ And I think as far as execution, that means we go out there, we be aggressive and we try to actually get something done. Stepping out there and giving ourselves a chance to be one of those teams in the end.”

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • While Matisse Thybulle remains fond of Philadelphia, he admitted ahead of his return on Friday that he fell victim to some “more fear-based play” when he was a member of the Sixers and has felt rejuvenated since joining the Trail Blazers a month ago. “It’s been such a warm, welcoming reception from top to bottom, front office to coaching staff to players, a genuine one at that,” Thybulle said, per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (subscription required). “Like they are really happy to have me; teammates are excited to have my skill set on the floor with them. Coaches are excited to coach me. It’s been really nice to feel wanted in that capacity.”
  • In a separate story for The Inquirer, Pompey says that the Trail Blazers are considered likely to re-sign Thybulle when he becomes eligible for free agency this summer. “That’s the thought behind it,” Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups said of trading for Thybulle at February’s deadline. “He’s the type of guy that we like, that’s going to compete on the defensive end and is going to play a selfless game on the offensive end. And he’s just a winning spirit.”
  • Kevin Pelton of ESPN takes a look at the current and former WNBA stars who have roles in the Trail Blazers’ front office, including Tina Thompson, Asjha Jones, Sheri Sam, and Evina Westbrook. As Pelton writes, general manager Joe Cronin liked the idea of hiring WNBA players because many of them have diverse résumés as players, including time spent in overseas leagues during the WNBA offseasons.

And-Ones: Paul, Anthony, Title Contenders, Bold Predictions, WNBA

Suns guard Chris Paul is disappointed that longtime All-Star Carmelo Anthony remains unsigned, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News tweets.

“Somebody of that caliber, with that ability, with the heart that he has, and the stuff he’s done for the game – he should be able to walk off the court when he’s ready,” Paul said.

Anthony averaged 13.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 69 games with the Lakers last season.

We have more from the basketball world:

  • How could the Celtics, Bucks, Heat, Nuggets, Clippers and Grizzlies enhance their chances of winning the title? Cole Huff of The Athletic explores that topic, including a recommendation that Memphis should add another perimeter shooter.
  • The Nets will re-sign Kyrie Irving to a two-year contract and Sixers superstar Joel Embiid will demand a trade this summer. Those are some of the bold predictions made by The Ringer’s Michael Pina for 2023.
  • Rhonda Smith-Banchero – mother of top pick and Magic forward Paolo Banchero – played one season for the WNBA’s Sacramento Monarchs in 2000. Niele Ivey, mother of Pistons lottery pick Jaden Ivey, played four seasons in the WNBA. ESPN’s Jamal Collier takes a closer look at the increasing group of NBA players whose mothers also played ball professionally.

Sarver Reaches Agreement For Sale Of Suns, Mercury

6:15pm: Sarver has issued a statement, confirming that an agreement has been reached between him and brothers Mat and Justin Ishbia regarding the purchase of the majority stake in the Suns and WNBA’s Mercury, Charania tweets. The agreement values the Suns and Mercury at $4 billion.

The deal involves more than 50% ownership of the team, including all of Sarver’s interest, and a portion of the interest of minority partners. Mat Ishbia will serve as governor, while Justin Ishbia will serve as alternate governor, pending league approval.

12;05pm: Mat Ishbia, a billionaire mortgage lender, is finalizing a deal to buy the Suns, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Ishbia will pay about $4 billion, according to Wojnarowski, which would be a record price for an NBA team. The WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury will also be part of the deal, Woj adds.

Ishbia is chairman and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, which is based in Michigan, and he has a net worth of $5.1 billion, per Forbes. He played college basketball at Michigan State from 1999 to 2002 and won a national championship in 2000. He was part of a group that tried to buy the NFL’s Denver Broncos earlier this year, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports.

Mat’s brother, Justin Ishiba, will be “a significant investor” as well and will serve as an alternate governor for the team, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Current Suns owner Robert Sarver decided to sell the team in September following a lengthy investigation into workplace conditions. The NBA suspended Sarver for a year and fined him $10MM for behavior that “clearly violated common workplace standards.”

The law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, which conducted the investigation, determined that Sarver had used racially insensitive language in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about female employees and treated workers in general in a “demeaning and harsh” manner.

In a statement issued when he decided to sell the Suns, Sarver said he “deeply” regrets the comments he made to employees and vowed to “work on becoming a better person.” He also expressed disappointment at not being able to return to running the team and “make amends” for his behavior.

Sarver purchased the Suns in 2004 for $401MM, so he will realize a huge profit from the sale. The current record price for an NBA team is $2.35 billion, which Joe Tsai paid for the Nets in 2019. As Wojnarowski notes, the Lakers sold a minority share based on a $5 billion valuation, but that deal only involved a small portion of the team’s ownership changing hands.

Although Sarver only owned about one-third of the Suns’ shares, he has the authority to sell the team in full as its managing partner, sources tell ESPN. Mat Ishbia will have to undergo a background check and his purchase of the franchise will be subject to a vote by the NBA’s Board of Governors, but that’s expected to be a formality, per Wojnarowski.

Luke Adams contributed to this story.

Robert Sarver To Seek Buyer For Suns

Suns owner Robert Sarver has begun the process of seeking a buyer for his NBA franchise, as well as the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, he announced today in a statement.

Following the recent conclusion of an investigation into allegations made by current and former Suns employees, Sarver received a one-year suspension and was fined $10MM for workplace misconduct, including racist and misogynistic comments.

In today’s statement, Sarver said that his remarks and actions, as described in that investigation, now overshadow the work he has done with the Suns, the Mercury, and professional basketball in Phoenix.

“I do not want to be a distraction to these two teams and the fine people who work so hard to bring the joy and excitement of basketball to fans around the world,” Sarver said. “I want what’s best for these two organizations, the players, the employees, the fans, the community, my fellow owners, the NBA and the WNBA. This is the best course of action for everyone.”

While Sarver claimed that he “deeply” regrets the comments he made to employees and plans to “work on becoming a better person,” the statement also paints him as a victim — he expressed disappointment that he wouldn’t be able to “make amends” and return to the Suns following his one-year ban.

“In our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible – that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past,” Sarver said. “For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury.”

The one-year suspension and $10MM fine levied against Sarver by the NBA was widely viewed as insufficient, with stars like LeBron James and Suns guard Chris Paul among those who expressed a belief that the league’s sanctions fell short. NBPA executive director Tamika Tremaglio subsequently stated that the players’ union felt as if Sarver should be banned from the league for life.

There was concern that imposing an indefinite ban on Sarver or attempting to force him out as the Suns’ owner would open the door to an ugly legal battle for the NBA. Sarver’s decision to willingly sell the franchise should bail out the league and his fellow owners, who would have had to vote to remove him if the NBA attempted to force him to sell.

Even if Sarver feels has no other choice but to sell, he stands to financially benefit in a major way. He bought the Suns for $401MM in 2004. Recent estimates from Forbes and Sportico projected the current value of the franchise at approximately $1.8-1.9 billion.

Those valuations have historically undershot a team’s true value, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Suns ultimately sell for $2 billion or more. As Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets, league executives have long felt that Phoenix – a warm-weather destination not far from the West Coast – could become a “monster” free agent destination with the right ownership group in place.

And-Ones: Schröder, Free Agents, Hammon, Noel, Paul

Free agent guard Dennis Schröder continues to make a case to NBA teams for a contract offer. He scored a team-high 26 points and added five assists until he got ejected in the late going of Germany’s 107-96 victory over Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greece in the EuroBasket quarterfinals, as Eurohoops.net relays.

Magic second-year forward Franz Wagner added 19 points for the victors. Antetokounmpo was ejected with five minutes remaining for committing his second unsportsmanlike foul.

There’s a “rising buzz” in league circles regarding Schröder’s job prospects, Marc Stein tweets.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Speaking of free agents, Eric Pincus notes in a Bleacher Report post that there are plenty of veterans still looking for jobs. Pincus takes a closer look at where players like Schröder, Eric Bledsoe, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin and others might land.
  • Becky Hammon is showing NBA teams what they’re missing after she wasn’t offered a head coaching position, Nancy Armour of USA Today opines. Hammon has the Las Vegas Aces on the verge of a WNBA championship with a more creative offense while maintaining a solid defense. The former Spurs assistant was passed over the Orlando and Portland head coaching jobs in 2021.
  • Nerlens Noel‘s $58MM lawsuit against Rich Paul and Klutch Sports Group has been dismissed, Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal tweets. As previously noted, the case is instead heading to NBPA arbitration. The judge ruled a “valid, enforceable agreement to arbitrate” existed between the parties.

Central Notes: Turner, Murphy, Cavs, Hammon, Marsh

Pacers center Myles Turner has been the subject of many trade rumors, but for now he’s still in Indiana. Turner told Marc J. Spears of Andscape that he’s got some things to prove next season as he enters a contract year.

“Whether that’s in [Pacers] training camp or whether that’s a training camp somewhere else, I’m going to go and be myself. And that’s all anybody, that’s all I can expect for myself,” Turner said. “It’s definitely a proving season for me. Just proving it to myself, what I’m capable of. “

Turner added that he’s “numb” to trade speculation at this point.

“This is my fifth offseason with trade rumors going on,” Turner said. “‘He’s going to land here; he’s going to do this. He going to do that.’ I am finally numb to it, in a sense.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Pistons general manager Troy Weaver was initially interested in hiring Rob Murphy as the head coach of the G League’s Motor City Cruise, according to The Athletic’s James Edwards III. Murphy instead became that team’s GM as well as assistant GM with the Pistons. Murphy believes the NBA team is now set up for long-term success. “Our books are in order. We have young talent,” he said. “I think we’re set up for success over the next 15 years if this all continues to grow and pans out how we think it will.”
  • The Cavaliers added depth via the draft and three free agent signings. They also signed star guard Darius Garland to an extension but there’s still two big items on the agenda, Kelsey Russo of The Athletic notes. Collin Sexton remains an unsigned restricted free agent and they must also decide whether to pursue an extension with Caris LeVert. Those two unresolved issues are intertwined, Russo adds.
  • Becky Hammon, the former Spurs assistant and current head coach of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, said former Pacers assistant Tyler Marsh has been an “invaluable” addition to her staff, she told Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files“He’s just another person who’s a rock-solid person, first and foremost,” Hammon said. “So it’s always nice to have those kind of people that you can fall back on as a coach. Because a lot of times you can feel exposed out there and those people that have your back, like Tyler and my other coaches, are something that’s really invaluable.”

Basketball Hall Of Fame Announces Full Class Of 2022

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has officially announced its 13 honorees for this year, including former players and coaches from the NBA, WNBA and NCAA, along with figures from different basketball committees.

As we previously relayed, Spurs legend Manu Ginobili and former Heat All-Star Tim Hardaway headline the class. They are joined by longtime NBA coach George Karl, former referee Hugh Evans and two-time NCAA National Coach of the Year Bob Huggins.

On the women’s side, three-time WNBA champion Lindsay Whalen, two-time Olympic gold medalist Swin Cash and former WNBA Coach of the Year Marianne Stanley will be inducted.

“Year after year, we are constantly reminded of the extraordinary and transcendent efforts of the remarkable men and women who have impacted the game of basketball from a global perspective,” Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame President and CEO John L. Doleva said in a statement.

“The Class of 2022 is ripe with individuals who have had a significant historical impact on the game we love. We congratulate and thank them for everything they’ve done to better the sport and look forward to honoring them during Enshrinement this fall.”

Lou Hudson (Veterans Committee), Theresa Shank-Grentz (Women’s Veterans Committee), Radivoj Korac (International Committee), Larry Costello (Contributor Committee) and Del Harris (Contributor Committee) will also be inducted. The full class will be enshrined on September 9 and 10 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Central Notes: LeVert, Marsh, Bey, Pistons

Cavaliers swingman Caris LeVert returned to action on Monday after a nine-game absence, Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer tweets. LeVert sprained his right foot last month. LeVert averaged 13.3 PPG and 3.8 APG in his first four games since he was traded from Indiana to Cleveland.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Pacers assistant Tyler Marsh will be joining Becky Hammon‘s staff with the Las Vegas Aces, the WNBA team tweets. Marsh will remain in Indiana until the end of the season, Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files tweets. Another Pacers assistant, Jenny Boucek, turned down a chance to join Hammon’s staff late last month.
  • Saddiq Bey is one of five players who have appeared in every game this season. The second-year Pistons forward has earned great respect from his coach for his toughness, Keith Langlois of Pistons.com writes. “I love him,” Dwane Casey said. “He’s an iron man. He plays with bumps and bruises. He plays with hangnails. Some guys are out with a hangnail, but Saddiq is there every night.”
  • The Pistons have been much more competitive since the All-Star break but they still need another top three pick to facilitate their rebuild, James Edwards III of The Athletic opines. The risk factor increases drastically outside of the top three in this year’s draft class, according to Edwards’ sources, and it’s possible for Detroit to wind up picking as low as sixth or seventh if the team doesn’t finish with the worst record. The Pistons currently have one more win than Houston and the same amount as Orlando.

Central Notes: Cunningham, Caruso, Boucek, Brogdon

Cade Cunningham got into early foul trouble the past two games and Pistons coach Dwane Casey says his prized rookie has to play smarter, Keith Langlois of Pistons.com writes. “We need him in the game. We don’t need cheap fouls, reaching fouls and fouling just to be fouling,” Casey said. “He’ll learn. We need his offense. We need his playmaking. We don’t need him sitting over there next to the coaches.” Cunningham has picked up four or more fouls in 19 games.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Alex Caruso is not close to coming back from wrist surgery, Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago tweets. Bulls coach Billy Donovan said Caruso is able to do some on-court work but needs to strengthen the affected area. Caruso can barely pass the ball with his right hand at this time and he won’t be cleared for contact for a couple more weeks.
  • Pacers assistant coach Jenny Boucek turned down a coaching job with the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, Scott Agness of FieldhouseFiles confirms. Marc Stein was the first to report the news regarding Boucek, a close friend of Becky Hammon, who is leaving the Spurs to become the Aces’ head coach.
  • The Pacers should look to trade Malcolm Brogdon this offseason after adding a young point guard in Tyrese Haliburton, Drew Maresca of Basketball News opines. He’ll turn 30 in December, so his timeline doesn’t align with Indiana’s rebuild. Brogdon signed a two-year, $45MM extension last offseason. The Knicks and Wizards are two teams that could have some interest in Brogdon, in Maresca’s view.

Spurs’ Becky Hammon Named Head Coach Of WNBA’s Aces

5:15pm: The Las Vegas Aces officially announced Hammon as their next head coach in a press release. “I am so excited to return to the WNBA and grateful for Mark Davis and Nikki Fargas having a vision for me to lead the Aces,” said Hammon. “This is where I come from, and I wouldn’t be me without the W. I’m thrilled to be able to give back and lead this next group of women.”

Becky has become an integral part of our program in every way, shape and form,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. “This is a great opportunity for her to highlight her many skills. Her intuitive feel for the game and ability to teach will serve the Aces very well as she institutes her system and culture.”

I have so many incredible memories and proud moments in San Antonio from my time with both the Stars and the Spurs,” added Hammon. “From the fans and players to coaches and staff, everyone in the organization has treated me so well for so many years and the entire experience has been amazing.

“I’m especially thankful to Pop, who only cared about my potential, not my gender. He saw something special in me and was willing to invest the time and energy to help teach and develop a young coach.”

Khristina Williams of Girls Talk Sports TV (Twitter link) reported earlier today that Hammon would also get the title of general manager in Las Vegas. That wasn’t mentioned in the Aces’ press release.

8:41am: Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon is nearing a “landmark” deal with the Las Vegas Aces that will make her the WNBA’s highest-paid coach, sources tell Shams Charania and Chantel Jennings of The Athletic. Hammon, who was also pursued by the New York Liberty, will replace Bill Laimbeer in Vegas.

According to an ESPN report, Hammon will receive a five-year deal from the Aces. She plans to finish the 2021/22 season with the Spurs before officially transitioning to her new job.

A six-time All-Star as a WNBA player from 1999-2014, Hammon joined the Spurs following her retirement as a player, becoming the first woman to be hired as a full-time NBA assistant coach.

Hammon has since interviewed for a handful of head coaching openings, including the Trail Blazers’ job this past offseason, and has long been considered the best bet to become the NBA’s first female head coach — perhaps even as Gregg Popovich‘s successor in San Antonio. However, her new deal with the Aces will take her out of the mix for NBA positions in the short term.