Southwest Notes: Spurs Arena, Mavs’ WNBA Investment, Jackson Jr., Aldama

It’s no coincidence that the Spurs found a sponsor for their arena after winning the lottery and selecting Victor Wembanyama, Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News writes. The arena, previously named the AT&T Center, has been renamed Frost Bank Center. The agreement is expected to last for the duration of the team’s lease, which runs through the 2031/32 season.

The Spurs received about 4,000 new season-ticket deposits between the lottery and draft due to Wembanyama mania. That helped to convince Front Bank to become the new sponsor.

The AT&T Center’s marquee became available in 2021, when the telecommunications company decided not to renew its naming rights deal. The Spurs were unable to find a new partner at that time, so they extended their agreement with AT&T through last season.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Mavericks and the WNBA’s Dallas Wings have forged a business and philanthropic partnership, according to Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News. The Wings, who are independently owned, are now wearing a Mavericks-sponsored jersey patch featuring the logos of the Mavericks and GEM: Girls Empowered by Mavericks. The Mavericks have made a seven-figure investment in the WNBA club. “I’m unaware of any partnership to this extent, breadth and depth between NBA and WNBA teams that are not a shared ownership situation,” Wings president and CEO Greg Bibb said.
  • In a subscriber-only article, Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal details how the Grizzlies front office has been in contact with Team USA and Spain with regard to the minutes Jaren Jackson Jr. and Santi Aldama will play in the FIBA World Cup and is pleased with the communication from both national teams.
  • Aldama is looking forward to playing against top competition in the World Cup, the Grizzlies forward told Michael Wallace of the team’s website. “This is all just in general for my growth,” he said. “It’s just a learning opportunity. I need to put on some pounds, get bigger, quicker and stronger overall. I’ve got to get to the best version of myself and help my teammates in as many ways as possible, play multiple positions.”
  • The Rockets recently added two players to their training camp roster. Get the details here.

Atlantic Notes: Harden, Jokubaitis, Udofia, Andrade, Scrubb

A rift between James Harden and Sixers management stems from a disagreement over how his free agency was handled this summer, according to Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com. While Harden and his reps don’t appear to have any ill will toward his teammates, the rift with management could get even uglier.

The relationship between Harden and top executive Daryl Morey is “essentially fractured,” Shams Charania said on The Rally (Twitter link). Harden believes Philadelphia never had any intention to give him a long-term offer. Harden turned down a $47MM+ player option and took a $14MM+ pay cut last summer to help the Sixers make roster moves.

In terms of moving Harden, the front office is holding out for a package that will allow the Sixers to remain a serious contender in the East, according to Neubeck. If they can’t get a top player in return, they at least want to pick up enough assets to execute a separate trade for another high-level player.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Rokas Jokubaitis, a Lithuanian guard whose rights are held by the Knicks, had the option on his contract picked up by FC Barcelona, according to BasketNews.com. He played all 39 games in the EuroLeague last season and averaged 5.3 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. The Knicks made Jokubaitis a draft-and-stash second-round pick in 2021.
  • The G League’s Long Island Nets are hiring Mfon Udofia as the team’s head coach, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype tweets. Udofia previously coached with the Nigerian National Team and was on the staff of the G League’s Agua Caliente Clippers last season.
  • Former WNBA player Mery Andrade is spending the summer as a Celtics coaching intern and hopes to work her way up the NBA coaching ranks, she told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. She has been an assistant coach with Birmingham, the Pelicans’ G League affiliate, for the last four seasons. “I want after my career as a coach that people, when they talk about me, is how many lives I touched, how good of a coach I was without putting the label ‘woman,’” she said. “Yes I am a woman but I don’t say, ‘You are a really good male coach.’ You are just a really good coach. That’s my goal, to touch as many lives as I can.”
  • Jay Scrubb, who signed a two-way contract with the Celtics on Saturday, received the top grade in The Athletic’s Jared Weiss’ Summer League report card.

And-Ones: Waiters, Wade, Hernangomez, C. Brown

Speaking to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report after a workout for teams in Las Vegas this week, veteran guard Dion Waiters openly discussed the reasons he has been out of the NBA for the last three seasons and what he feels he needs to do to earn another shot. According to Waiters, he took his time in the NBA for granted, so his exit from the league has been a learning experience that he has been able to pass along to his son.

“I told him, ‘Bro, your dad is not [out of] the league because of talent. It was my attitude, my character, and not understanding that it’s bigger than me,'” Waiters said. “I feel like I had to go through this so I could explain that to my son, and that’s the dead truth.”

A former fourth overall pick, Waiters has appeared in 419 regular season games, but hasn’t played in the NBA since 2020. Still just 31, the former Syracuse standout tells Haynes that he feels like he still has “a lot left in the tank” and that he believes he can be a positive leader in the locker room in addition to helping a team on the court.

“I’m healthy. I just want that opportunity just to show I’m not who I once was. And I know a lot of people talk about that, but for me, I think it’s more about showing that I’ve changed,” Waiters said. “That’s why I’m here, man. I still got that love. I still got that itch.”

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Dwyane Wade, a 13-time NBA All-Star who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in August, has invested in the WNBA’s Chicago Sky and will become part of the team’s ownership group, writes Alexa Philippou of ESPN.com. “It’s a great opportunity to be a part of the league in its very early stages,” Wade said. “… Growth is going to happen, and so I want to be a part of the growth of this league.”
  • While there have been rumblings that Juancho Hernangomez may join brother Willy Hernangomez in signing with FC Barcelona, Juancho said in a conversation with Spanish outlet Marca that  “speculation is just speculation” and stressed that he remains focused on finding another NBA job, as Alessandro Maggi of Sportando relays.
  • Free agent guard Charlie Brown Jr. has been a standout for the Knicks at the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 17.3 PPG and 6.0 RPG in three games (28.4 MPG). Zach Braziller of The New York Post takes a closer look at the play of Brown, who is hoping that his performance in Vegas will inspire a team to sign him for training camp.
  • In an entertaining article for The Athletic, John Hollinger discusses the eight “nerdiest” things that happened in free agency, digging into the details of the Rockets’ sign-and-trade for Dillon Brooks, Paul Reed‘s offer sheet, and Oklahoma City becoming a dumping ground for unwanted contracts, among other moves.

Pacific Notes: Saric, Joseph, Duarte, Castleton, U’Ren

Adding Dario Saric was a high priority for the Warriors and new general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. snared the 6’10” Saric on a still unofficial one-year veteran’s minimum contract. Dunleavy believes Saric is a great fit, giving the club a big man who can space the floor, Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area writes.

“We’ve had a lot of success signing guys who probably should make more than the minimum and have been able to come in and help our team,” Dunleavy said.

Golden State may bring in another big man to fill another roster spot or on a two-way, Anthony Slater of The Athletic tweets.

The Warriors also added Cory Joseph on a one-year contract as a backup point guard to Stephen Curry and Chris Paul. Joseph spent the last few seasons with the Pistons.

“He’s a guy who’s going to be willing to come in and do whatever it takes each and every day. Chris and Steph will see a lot of the minutes at point guard, but Cory will always stay ready,” Dunleavy said. “He was excited to sign here and we’re excited to have him.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Chris Duarte said he was caught off guard when the Pacers traded him to the Kings, according to Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee. “I was surprised,” Duarte said. “I was at home with the family when I received a call. This is how the business works. … This is a great team, great franchise, great fan base. I’ve seen videos of how loud the fans get, so I love that.” The Kings gave up two second-round picks for Duarte, who battled an ankle injury last season.
  • Colin Castleton is making a good impression on the Lakers’ Summer League team, Sean Deveney of Heavy.com notes. Castleton, who had 21 points, 14 rebounds and three assists during their second game on Sunday against the Hornets, is on a two-way contract. “I wanted to develop my first year, learn from the best players in the world, which they have, a great organization from the front office to the coaches, everybody there is great,” the big man said.
  • The Warriors lost an executive to the WNBA. The Phoenix Mercury are hiring Nick U’Ren as their GM, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes. U’Ren had been Golden State’s executive director of basketball operations. He’ll begin his GM duties after the Mercury’s season ends.

Raptors Notes: VanVleet, Schroder, Anunoby, Coaching Staff

The Raptors and Rockets both increased their offers to Fred VanVleet Friday night before he decided to sign with Houston, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca.

Toronto had been hesitant to exceed $90MM over three years, with one source describing it to Grange as a “glass ceiling.” Although VanVleet is one of the most accomplished players in franchise history, he has missed 30 combined games due to injury over the last two years and he shot career lows both from the field and from three-point range last season. There were also concerns that going beyond that limit would inhibit the team’s ability to make other moves, such as re-signing center Jakob Poeltl.

The situation changed when rumors of James Harden returning to Houston died down and the Raptors realized that VanVleet had become the Rockets’ number one target. During a meeting with VanVleet shortly after the start of free agency, Raptors officials presented him with an expanded offer that brought it to $120MM for four seasons.

Sources tell Grange that VanVleet next met with the Rockets, who also added a year to their offer, increasing it to three years at nearly $129MM. After nearly three hours of waiting, the Raptors learned that they were losing their starting point guard.

There’s more from Toronto:

  • Lakers players will miss Dennis Schröder, whom the Raptors quickly signed as VanVleet’s replacement, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Austin Reaves called Schroder “one of the best teammates I’ve met” and said his commitment to winning over everything else made him stand out.
  • Before OG Anunoby finalized a change in his representation, he told prospective agents that he wants a situation with more ball-handling and playmaking responsibilities when he signs his next contract, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. VanVleet’s departure and the addition of Darko Rajakovic as head coach might provide that opportunity for Anunoby in Toronto, Fischer suggests.
  • James Wade is the latest addition to Rajakovic’s coaching staff, tweets James Kay of TheNextHoops. Wade had been the general manager and head coach of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky.

Raptors Taking Broad Approach To Head Coaching Search

The Raptors have been granted permission to interviews a number of prominent assistant coaches for their head coaching job, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.

Toronto parted ways with Nick Nurse, who coached them to a championship, after the season. The Warriors Kenny Atkinson, Bucks Charles Lee, Suns Kevin Young, Spurs Mitch Johnson, Kings Jordi Fernandez, Grizzlies Darko Rajakovic and Heat‘s Chris Quinn are among the assistant they plan to interview. However, that list could expand.

Lee is one of the top candidates for the Pistons’ head coaching vacancy. Atkinson, of course, was previously the Nets’ head coach.

The Raptors will also look at ex-NBA head coaches, as well as NCAA and WNBA coaches. Regarding the latter, they have gained permission to speak with former Spurs assistant and current Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon. She led the Aces to last year’s WNBA championship.

As previously reported, they are also expected to interview current assistant coach Adrian Griffin.

And-Ones: More CBA Notes, Sportsmanship Award, A. Johnson

One major reason the one-and-done rule for draft prospects wasn’t changed in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was that neither the NBA nor the NBPA was particularly gung-ho about adjusting it and both sides wanted the other to give something up in exchange for scrapping it, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on his Woj Pod. According to Wojnarowski, one idea the league proposed during the one-and-done discussions was to tack a year onto rookie scale contracts for first-round picks.

“I think the league wanted the rookie scale to go another year so it would be another year before players could get their rookie extension or restricted free agency,” Woj said (hat tip to RealGM). “That was something that obviously they didn’t get in talks, but I think was tied a little bit to one-and-done.”

Current rookie scale contracts cover four seasons and give players the ability to sign extensions after three years, so it sounds like the NBA proposed the idea of bumping those numbers to five and four years, respectively.

Later on his podcast, Wojnarowski said that he views the new rule requiring postseason award winners to have played at least 65 games as a “ceremonial” one designed to make it look as if the NBA is doing something to reduce load management.

“I don’t know that this is going to change much behavior,” he said (hat tip to RealGM). “… I’m rolling my eyes a little bit at that one… I just don’t see this impacting star players playing in any more or less games than they would have before.”

Wojnarowski’s ESPN colleagues Bobby Marks and Tim Bontemps also questioned the rule, with Marks pointing out that teams – not players – are generally the ones dictating load management plans, while Bontemps observed that most players who suit up for fewer than 65 games are doing so because of actual injuries, not load management.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press (Twitter links) provides some more information on the investment opportunities that NBA players will have in the new CBA, clarifying that individual players won’t be able to directly invest in NBA teams — the NBPA will have the ability to passively invest in teams on behalf of all players. Individual players will have the ability to directly invest in WNBA teams, but there will be restrictions: They can’t invest in WNBA teams that an NBA owner controls a stake in, an individual player can’t own more than 4% of a franchise, and players can’t collectively control more than 8% of a franchise.
  • The NBA has announced six finalists – one from each division – for its 2022/23 Sportsmanship Award (Twitter link). Those players are Heat big man Bam Adebayo, Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, Cavaliers guard Darius Garland, Kings forward Harrison Barnes, Timberwolves guard Mike Conley, and Rockets big man Boban Marjanovic.
  • Big man Alize Johnson, who has been an NBA free agent since being waived by the Spurs in December, has new representation. He has signed with agent Bernie Lee of Thread Sports Management, according to HoopsHype (Twitter link). Johnson joined the Austin Spurs of the G League following his short stint with San Antonio, then was dealt to the Wisconsin Herd in January.

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.