WNBA

And-Ones: Rubin, LeBron, 2021 Draft, Roth

Michael Rubin, the founder of Fanatics and a current minority shareholder in the Sixers, is a good bet to take over majority control of an NBA team at some point, writes Jon Wertheim of SI.com. According to Wertheim, many people around the league believe it’s likely a matter of “when” – not “if” – Rubin will eventually own a franchise.

“Michael has all of the characteristics that we would look for in a team owner,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “He’s smart, innovative and passionate, wants to give back to his community and loves the game.”

If Rubin were to eventually buy a majority stake in another NBA franchise, he’d have to sell his shares of the 76ers.

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

  • In other team ownership news, LeBron James expressed interest (via Twitter) in putting together an ownership group to purchase the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA. The team is currently co-owned by Kelly Loeffler, who lost a run-off election for a Georgia Senate seat on Tuesday. A number of WNBA players have called for Loeffler to no longer be involved with the Dream, but the league has said it won’t force her to sell.
  • The NBA updated its mental health guidelines on Wednesday, urging its teams to increase their commitments to providing mental health resources to players and staffers, reports Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. The changes come in the wake of an ESPN report which suggested that many staffers are feeling overwhelmed with increased responsibilities due to all the new COVID-19 protocols in place this season.
  • Jeremy Woo of SI.com takes a look at some 2021 NBA draft storylines to watch, and explains why he believes the No. 1 spot is Cade Cunningham‘s to lose.
  • Former NBA player and coach Scott Roth, who was the head coach of the G League’s Iowa Wolves from 2017-19, has been hired as the head coach of the Tasmania JackJumpers, the team announced today in a press release. The JackJumpers are an expansion team in Australia’s National Basketball League and will play their inaugural season in 2021/22.

Straus Closing In On Purchase Of Timberwolves

An investment group headed by former Grizzlies minority owner Daniel Straus is in advanced talks to buy the Timberwolves, The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania report.

The WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx would also be part of the deal. However, there are still a number of issues to be resolved before the sides reach an agreement.

The initial report about Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor mulling the sale of the team surfaced on July 21.

While a group that included former Wolves superstar Kevin Garnett was reportedly interested, the Straus Group has shown serious interest from the start. Its representatives visited the Twin Cities two weeks ago for official meetings, toured the team facilities and reviewed financial documents, according to The Athletic duo.

It entered an exclusivity agreement that expired last week. That didn’t slow the talks, though a handful of other groups were also initially interested in purchasing the team.

Garnett has not had formal discussions with Taylor during the process. Their relationship deteriorated over the years. Garnett referred to Taylor as a “snake” as recently as this spring.

Taylor reportedly wanted assurances that the franchise will remain in Minneapolis and Straus has made that pledge, The Athletic duo adds.

New York Notes: Irving, T. Johnson, Knicks, Thibodeau

Nets guard Kyrie Irving isn’t participating in the NBA’s restart this summer, but he made headlines on Monday, announcing that he’s committing $1.5MM to supplement the income of WNBA players who choose not to take part in the 2020 season, as Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press details.

“Whether a person decided to fight for social justice, play basketball, focus on physical or mental health, or simply connect with their families, this initiative can hopefully support their priorities and decisions,” Irving said in a statement.

WNBA veterans such as Natasha Cloud and Renee Montgomery opted not to participate in the 2020 season for social reform reasons, while others – like LaToya Sanders – aren’t playing due to health concerns. Irving’s program will allow those players and others to apply for compensation by August 11, by recipients being notified by August 24, per Mahoney.

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

  • Newly-signed Nets guard Tyler Johnson turned heads on Saturday during his first scrimmage with Brooklyn, per Zach Braziller of The New York Post. Johnson, who scored 17 points, said he felt better on Saturday than he had for a good portion of the season. “I’ve been very fortunate to come into an offense where everybody is looking to get everybody involved,” he said. “… I feel very confident that I can get in rhythm on this team.”
  • Now that the Knicks have made a decision on their new head coach, reaching a deal with Tom Thibodeau, it’s time for the team to start addressing its roster, writes Steve Popper of Newsday. As Popper observes, with eight veterans on track for potential free agency and no “can’t-miss” future star on the roster, the club has less talent to work with than either of Thibodeau’s previous squads.
  • Despite the underwhelming roster Thibodeau is inheriting, it looks as if the Knicks are more likely to try to compete for a playoff spot in 2020/21 than to tank, Marc Berman of The New York Post writes in a mailbag. Berman points out that if the franchise wanted an extended rebuild, it wouldn’t have hired Thibodeau over someone like Kenny Atkinson.

And-Ones: WNBA, Ball Brothers, Kyrie, FA Contracts

Like the NBA, the WNBA now has a plan in place to resume play in Florida next month. The WNBA announced today in a press release that it will play a 22-game regular season at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, beginning in July.

We will continue to consult with medical experts and public health officials as well as players, team owners and other stakeholders as we move forward with our execution plan,” commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. “And, despite the disruption caused by the global pandemic to our 2020 season, the WNBA and its Board of Governors believe strongly in supporting and valuing the elite women athletes who play in the WNBA and therefore, players will receive their full pay and benefits during the 2020 season.”

While the NBA was in the midst of its season when the pandemic forced a stoppage, the WNBA’s 2020 campaign had yet to tip off. The season, which would normally consist of 34 games, had originally been scheduled to begin on May 15, but was postponed indefinitely in April.

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

  • As expected, the Ball brothers – Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball, G League guard LiAngelo Ball, and projected 2020 lottery pick LaMelo Ball – have officially signed with Roc Nation Sports for representation, the agency announced today (Twitter link). An April report had indicated that the three brothers were joining Roc Nation together.
  • Although Kyrie Irving has taken plenty of flak for his stance on resuming the season, Michael Lee of The Athletic argues that Irving is just doing his job as an NBPA vice president, and isn’t being an agitator just for the sake of it. In Lee’s view, Irving isn’t trying to blow up the NBA’s restart plan, but is making sure that players’ concerns are heard and addressed.
  • Setting aside rookie contracts and maximum-salary deals, John Hollinger of The Athletic lists the 10 current free agent contracts that he feels represent the best value for teams. The Clippers‘ deal with Ivica Zubac, the Mavericks‘ with Dorian Finney-Smith, and the Celtics‘ with Marcus Smart top Hollinger’s list.

Restart Notes: Financial Concerns, Bubble, Tie-Breakers, WNBA

The trust between commissioner Adam Silver and players’ union president Chris Paul and their mutual friendship with Disney executive chairman Robert Iger were vital to reaching a plan to resume the NBA season, but the deal was driven primarily by monetary concerns, according to Marc Stein and Brooks Barnes of The New York Times.

Several team officials contacted by Stein and Barnes admitted the league has a strong financial incentive to finish the season. They spoke anonymously because the league doesn’t like public comments on its economic state, but the authors observe that getting games on TV again and making sure players get paid seemed more important to the process than the idea of crowning a champion. Many around the league considered it “financially unfeasible” to scrap the rest of the season.

Front offices and players understand the financial pressures the league is facing, Stein and Barnes write. Silver admitted in February that “hundreds of millions of dollars” were lost from the dispute with China, and the coronavirus has eliminated fan attendance at games, which accounts for roughly 40% of annual revenues.

Here’s more on the NBA restart:

  • The league is continuing negotiations with the National Basketball Players Association over restrictions that will be implemented to help keep the bubble atmosphere safe, Stein and Barnes add in the same story. A formal announcement isn’t expected until next week at the earliest, but we learned yesterday that the NBA’s list of health and safety protocols is expected to be more than 100 pages long.
  • The NBA clarified its tie-breaking procedure today, tweets Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Overall winning percentage will determine where each team finishes in the standings, which is important because teams will finish the season with an unequal number of games played. Traditional procedures will be used to break any ties that occur.
  • ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy tells Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News that the league is underestimating the amount of havoc that could be caused by a single positive COVID-19 test. “For the players on the guy’s team, for the players who have played against that team or will play against that team or that will play against that team,” Van Gundy said. “I’m not sure we know — because I know I don’t know, if that fear is going to be more than I expect, less than I expect.” 
  • The WNBA is hoping to begin play next month with an abbreviated season, according to David Waldstein of The New York Times. The league is looking at a single location, possibly IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, or MGM Resorts in Las Vegas. It hopes to start playing by late July and end the postseason in October.

And-Ones: China, Cunningham, WNBA, Miller

After a number of setbacks and false starts, the Chinese Basketball Association now intends to resume it season on June 20, the league announced this week. As ESPN’s Kevin Wang details, the CBA’s 20 teams will be divided into two groups and will play in empty arenas in a pair of cities (Qingdao and Dongguan). According to Wang, the plan is for the teams to finish the regular season by July 4.

The Chinese Basketball Association was the first international basketball league to suspend its season due to the coronavirus pandemic, doing so in January. The league had originally hoped to resume play by the start of April, but had to push that target date back multiple times. While it appears that the CBA is now set to move forward with its new June 20 resumption date, it’s not clear whether teams will get back all of their international players that left China during the hiatus, Wang writes.

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

  • Following an investigation into bribes accepted by a former coach, the NCAA has levied a series of penalties against the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team, including banning the program from the postseason for the 2020/21 season. That’s a major development, since potential 2021 No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham had committed to the program. As Jonathan Givony of ESPN tweets, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Cunningham now reevaluates his options for next season.
  • A series of ESPN panelists predicts which players will win this year’s major awards while also weighing in on which players should win those awards.
  • As Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com writes, the WNBA is proposing a 22-game regular season for 2020. Games would begin on July 24 and would be played at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, per Voepel. The plan is still tentative and would require players’ approval.
  • Former NBA forward Mike Miller, who has spent the last two years as an assistant coach for the Memphis Tigers, has parted ways with the program, he announced this week (via Twitter).

NBA Remains Optimistic About 2019/20 Season Even With Further Delay

The overwhelming majority of high-level executives remain encouraged and optimistic that the NBA will resume this season, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com.

Commissioner Adam Silver has maintained a strong relationship with the National Basketball Players Association as all parties aim to return to basketball. Still, there are many hurdles to overcome in order to resume the season.

Silver previously said that no decision will be made before May 1. That doesn’t mean the commissioner will be making any announcements on Friday, though there’s a bit of restlessness within the league to come to a decision sooner than later, Woj notes.

The MGM Grand in Las Vegas is one of several suitors pitching a plan to host the league. Vegas could potentially also host the WNBA by providing three adjacent hotels for teams to stay at. Disney World in Orlando, Florida remains an option that is gaining momentum. Another proposal would see games played in “pods” across different regions.

Having fans in the stands is probably out of the question. Having cameramen may not be needed either, as sources tell Wojnarowski that the teams could rely on robotic cameras with new, innovative angles of the contests.

TV analysts could potentially call games from remote locations. The current discussions have included keeping teams at a 30-to-35 person head count, including players.

There is some support for the 2020/21 season to begin in December and run through July or August, as a way of resuming the 2019/20 season without dramatically hindering the league’s ability to complete the full ’20/21 calendar. There’s also the understanding that the further the NBA pushes this season back, the higher the chances of having fans in the stands at some point.

The NBA is still sorting out scenarios, but Silver may have to push forward with a decision without the backing of everyone. One GM told Woj that “it’s hard to lead by consensus in a crisis.” Silver may have to simply act in what he feels are the best interests of all parties, even if there are some that have different preferences.

Testing for the coronavirus is another issue. Silver has insisted that he couldn’t allow for the NBA to utilize all the available tests and – according to Woj – has instituted a mandate stating that if a player wasn’t showing symptoms, he shouldn’t be tested. Woj reports that the league would have to reverse course on that and that it would take approximately 15,000 tests to complete the season. While the NBA can afford to pay a private company to make those tests, it would be problematic for the league if they’re not widely available to the American public.

It’s nearing two months since the league suspended its season and the urgency to come to a solution continues to rise.

WNBA Postpones Training Camps, 2020 Season

The WNBA announced today in a press release that it has postponed the opening of its training camps and the start of the 2020 season, which had been scheduled to tip off on May 15. Although the league didn’t make it official until today, the move was long expected due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans, and employees,” commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement.

Considering the NBA isn’t expected to have a chance to resume until June or July at the earliest, it’s safe to say the same is true of the WNBA. Like the NBA, the women’s league figures to explore experimental ideas and pragmatic solutions – including the possibility of playing behind closed doors – as it looks to salvage its season.

Despite the fact that the WNBA season has been delayed indefinitely, the league will move forward with its draft on April 17, two weeks from today. Instead of being an in-person event, the 2020 draft will be virtual, with prospects taking part remotely.

Depending on how the COVID-19 situation evolves in the coming months, it’s possible the NBA will have to take similar steps with its own draft, which is still tentatively scheduled for June 25.

And-Ones: Bogut, 2020 FAs, WNBA Draft, Curly Neal

Andrew Bogut, former Warriors center and current Sydney Kings center in Australia’s NBL, spoke with The Athletic’s Ethan Strauss about the NBL Grand Final series that was canceled mid-series due to the coronavrius, as well as the NBA’s prospects for a resumption of the 2019/20 season.

“We were one of the last leagues left in the world playing,” Bogut said of the NBL. “You know, we had players from other countries in our league, American players, as they were closing the borders? We had guys on the team who had sick relatives. Grandparents they might not see again because of the coronavirus.”

There’s more from around the basketball world:

  • Though the 2020 free agent class may not be as starry as 2019’s (or as 2021’s promises to be), there are plenty of big men who could abet a contender, as Danny Leroux of The Athletic details in an appraisal of the available power forwards and centers. Lakers All-Star center Anthony Davis may be the only maximum-salaried free agent option, but solid players like Davis Bertans, Montrezl Harrell, Derrick Favors, Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, and Christian Wood all could earn more than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($9.8MM) this summer.
  • The WNBA will hold a virtual draft on its originally scheduled date, April 17 (it will air live on ESPN), according to an official league press release. The novel coronavirus outbreak precludes the draft being held with in-person attendance.
  • Longtime Harlem Globetrotter Fred “Curly” Neal has passed away at the age of 77, according to the Globetrotters’ official Twitter account (link). Neal is just one of five Globetrotters to have their jersey numbers retired and aloft in the rafters of Madison Square Garden, as NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin noted.

And-Ones: Mannion, Beilein, WNBA, Pitino

Arizona point guard Nico Mannion, one of the top college players in the country, has not made a decision on whether or not his first season as a Wildcat will be his last, despite reports to the contrary, per Sam Vecenie of The Athletic (Twitter link).

“He will make that decision after the season,” the 19-year-old’s father Pace Mannion told Vecenie on March 8. With the NCAA season officially canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that determination may be coming up sooner than the Mannion family was anticipating.

There’s more from around the basketball world:

  • After resigning as Cavaliers head coach last month, John Beilein was hired as an analyst for the Big Ten Network studio team ahead of the anticipated start of the Big Ten Conference Tournament and March Madness, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. With the NCAA season canceled, Beilein may not have much to analyze for a while. Though Beilein is the winningest coach in Michigan basketball history, he struggled in the NBA, coaching the Cavaliers to a 14-40 record during 2019/20.
  • Rick Pitino will return to college coaching at Iona College, per Forbes’ Adam Zagoria.“My passion in basketball started in New York and will end there at Iona College,” Pitino said. Pitino has been coaching Greek EuroLeague club Panathinaikos since 2018. He last coached in the NCAA for the University of Louisville from 2001-2017.
  • WNBA executive director Terri Jackson spoke with Mark Medina of USA Today about the coronavirus and president Donald Trump’s travel ban precluding foreign nationals from traveling to the US from most European countries. Several WNBA players spend their offseasons overseas to supplement their earnings with more lucrative paydays from the international leagues. “Understanding [President Trump’s European] travel ban and understanding what came out of the White House is tough to grapple with,” Jackson told Medina.