Draft Notes: Bryant, Couisnard, Garuba, Combine

A pair of South Carolina early entrants have opted to pull out of the 2021 NBA draft and will return to school. Junior forward Keyshawn Bryant and sophomore guard Jermaine Couisnard both announced their intentions on Twitter.

Bryant and Couisnard were the Gamecocks’ second- and third-leading scorers in 2020/21, with Bryant putting up 14.4 PPG and 5.4 RPG in 18 games (27.0 MPG), while Couisnard averaged 10.1 PPG and 3.2 APG, but struggled mightily with his shot (.302/.289/.580).

Their teammate A.J. Lawson, who was South Carolina’s top scorer this season, also entered the draft in April, announcing at the time that he’d be signing with an agent and going pro.

Here’s more on the 2021 draft:

  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer has published his first 2021 mock draft. While there are no major surprises at the very top of the draft, O’Connor’s mock has some interesting picks further down in the first round, starting with Baylor guard Davion Mitchell to Golden State at No. 6.
  • Sam Vecenie’s latest big board for The Athletic begins with the usual suspects, but also features Alperen Sengun, James Bouknight, and Josh Giddey in the top 10. Vecenie, who ranked Real Madrid’s Usman Garuba at No. 33 in his last update, moved the Spaniard up to No. 19 this time after talking to sources, referring to him as the draft’s “most impactful defensive player.”
  • Scrimmages will once again take place at this year’s draft combine in Chicago, Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report hears (Twitter link). Wasserman says those scrimmages will likely occur on June 24-25 following the initial workouts and drills.

Lakers Notes: Davis, LeBron, Schröder, Free Agents

Although Lakers big man Anthony Davis was cleared to return for Game 6 vs. Phoenix, he clearly wasn’t himself on Thursday night, leaving the game for good midway through the first quarter due to his strained groin. According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link), Davis’ injury didn’t get any worse on Thursday, but his pain intensified whenever his mobility was tested.

It never really felt good, but the competitive nature in me wanted to go out there and help the team as best as I could,” Davis said following the loss that ended the Lakers’ season (Twitter link via Mark Medina of USA Today). “My body didn’t agree.”

The Lakers’ loss on Thursday ended a season of “what ifs” for the franchise, according to Bill Oram of The Athletic. After flying out of the gates to a 21-6 start, the team dealt with lengthy injury absences to its two stars (Davis and LeBron James), while other key players were affected by COVID-19 (Marc Gasol and Dennis Schröder). Los Angeles never regained its early-season momentum. After winning 21 of its first 27 games, the club won just 21 of its next 45 to finish the regular season, then was eliminated in short order in the playoffs.

It was the first time in LeBron’s 18-year career that he has been knocked out in the first round of the postseason, and while the four-time MVP was disappointed with the loss, he’s looking forward to taking full advantage of a longer offseason. According to Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link), James suggested after Thursday’s game that he won’t participate in the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Dennis Schröder reportedly turned down a four-year extension worth over $80MM earlier this year, but he said on Thursday that his desire to remain with the Lakers remains strong and is “not even a question,” as Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times details. “It wasn’t about money, because everybody who knows me, it’s not about money either,” he said. “Of course, you want to be fair. But at the end of the day, not everything is about money — for me and my family. At the end of the day, if everything is good, we gonna come back and win a championship next year.”
  • Sources tell Ramona Shelburne of ESPN that some people in the organization were frustrated by Schröder’s play on the court this season, prompting the team to include him in trade talks for Kyle Lowry at March’s deadline.
  • The Lakers will have to determine which players are their top priorities in free agency, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link), who notes that Schröder is just one of several rotation players up for a new contract. Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker, Andre Drummond, and Markieff Morris are among those headed for unrestricted free agency, and Montrezl Harrell could join them by declining his $9.7MM player option.
  • The Lakers need to upgrade their supporting cast around LeBron James and Anthony Davis this offseason, but don’t have a ton of tools at their disposal to do so, says John Hollinger of The Athletic. The club projects to be over the cap and has already traded multiple future first-round picks.
  • Asked after Thursday’s loss about his history of injuries, Davis replied, “I don’t need to prove anything to anyone that’s outside this Lakers organization,” per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. However, Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times argues that Davis’ health and James’ age are growing concerns for the franchise.

Grizzlies Sign Zach Kleiman To Contract Extension

The Grizzlies have inked executive vice president of basketball operations and general manager Zach Kleiman to a long-term extension, according to an official team press release. The exact terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Kleiman has been Memphis’s lead front office decision maker since April 2019, when the club overhauled its basketball operations department and reassigned former GM Chris Wallace to the scouting department. As Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets, Kleiman played a big part in rebuilding the team from the “Grit and Grind” era to its current roster.

Kleiman traded longtime Grizzlies veterans Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, drafted rising star Ja Morant, and hired current head coach Taylor Jenkins. He’s also responsible for locking up players like Dillon Brooks, De’Anthony Melton, and Jonas Valanciunas to reasonably team-friendly multiyear contracts.

“Zach has proven to be a strong cultural leader in this organization, consistently demonstrating high-integrity, hard-work, humility and a drive for continuous improvement,” Grizzlies owner Robert Pera said in a statement. “We have confidence in our strategy and believe it will result in an elite organization over the long-term.”


Alex Kirschenbaum contributed to this story.

Celtics Notes: Allen, Stevens, Lawson/Hammon, Ainge

Current Celtics assistant coach Jerome Allen will interview for the vacancy left by Brad Stevens when the latter opted to step into a front office role with Boston, writes Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Allen has been an assistant on Stevens’ staff for the last six seasons. Stevens will be leading the search for his replacement.

Pompey notes that Allen had an opportunity to become an assistant coach with the Mavericks during the 2020 offseason, but opted to remain in Boston, hoping to one day become the next Celtics head coach.

“For six years, I either sat behind [Stevens] or next to him and watched him not only work, I watched him prepare,” Allen said. “I watched him show-in to other people. Watched how he operated.”

Pompey writes that Allen has developed strong relationships with current Celtics Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams, and Marcus Smart. Before transitioning to the NBA, Allen was previously the head coach at the University of Pennsylvania.

There’s more out of Boston:

  • In a new piece, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe details how Brad Stevens emerged as the replacement for departing Celtics team president Danny Ainge. Ainge officially informed Celtics ownership of his intentions after the March 2021 trade deadline. Upon hearing this, owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca approached then-head coach Stevens about transitioning into the team president role.
  • There are several viable female candidates who could become the Celtics’ next head coach, writes Steve Buckley of The Athletic. Buckley examines the potential fits of former Celtics assistant coach Kara Lawson, as well as longtime Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon.
  • Outgoing Celtics team president Ainge has outfitted the team with plenty of promising players, but new president Stevens will need to make some key adjustments to bring Boston back to title contention, writes Jay King of The Athletic“These last two years have been tough,” Ainge acknowledged. “In the [2020 NBA restart] bubble and all the rules and scrutiny and protocols that we had to go through has not made the job as much fun.” King notes that the 62-year-old Ainge may yet join another team’s front office in some capacity. Ainge drafted current Boston All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but Stevens will need to figure out how to navigate his way around the league’s luxury tax while improving the roster around the Celtics’ two best players, writes King.

Southwest Notes: Hayes, Pelicans, Grizzlies, Mavericks

Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes was ultimately able to benefit after head coach Stan Van Gundy made him the third-string center in February, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com.

“Just being benched,” Hayes said. “That’s what made things click. I got to make sure I come to work every day and make sure I’m professional about everything. Just make sure I’m getting it in every day, getting better and just only controlling the things I can control.”

As Clark writes, after Hayes returned to his role as chief reserve center behind starter Steven Adams in March, he went on to provide stellar defense while averaging 9.6 PPG (on 61.7% shooting from the floor), 4.8 RPG and 0.8 BPG across just 18.5 MPG.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • William Guillory of The Athletic estimates that there’s about a 40-50% chance of Lonzo Ball sticking with the Pelicans in restricted free agency. Guillory is more confident that Ball’s fellow RFA-to-be Josh Hart (60-70%) will be back
  • Now that their offseason has officially commenced, the Grizzlies could begin reshaping their roster around star point guard Ja Morant and promising big man  Jaren Jackson Jr., writes Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian. Morant took his play to the next level during Memphis’ series against Utah, averaging 30 PPG (on 49% field goal shooting), 8 APG, and 5 RPG. Though Morant is still honing his defense and outside shooting, he showed off his brilliance as a ball handler and interior scorer, Herrington contends. Assessing the long-term fits of Morant’s supporting cast, including Jackson, Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, Grayson Allen, De’Anthony Melton, and veteran center Jonas Valanciunas, Herrington suggests that Morant and Jackson may be the only two guaranteed mainstays on the roster.
  • Though the West’s fifth-seeded Mavericks have the fourth-seeded Clippers on the ropes with a 3-2 advantage in the two teams’ first-round rematch, the team is wary of celebrating too early, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News.

Anthony Davis To Return For Game 6

8:33pm: Lakers team doctors have medically cleared Davis ahead of the team’s must-win Game 6 against the Suns this evening, tweets Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.


7:54pm: Lakers head coach Frank Vogel has clarified that Davis wants to play through his groin strain if given the green light by team doctors ahead of Game 6, tweets Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register.


7:37pm: All-Star Lakers big man Anthony Davis hopes to return to the floor for LA ahead of the club’s must-win Game 6 in its first-round playoff series tonight against the Suns, per John Gambardo of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register cautions (via Twitter) that Davis’ return has yet to be medically cleared by a team doctor.

Davis hopes to start tonight should he complete his warm-ups without any issue, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Davis did not play in Game 5 after suffering a groin strain in Game 4. The Lakers lost both contests, and are now down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.

Power forward Markieff Morris started in Davis’s stead for Game 5, a 115-85 Lakers loss. Across 10 minutes of game action, Morris notched four points, a rebound and an assist. Morris, a valuable floor-spacing reserve during L.A.’s title run last season, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

In comments made on Wednesday, Davis indicated that his groin injury was in part a result of a hyperextended knee he incurred in Game 3. “[Team doctors] told me everything is connected and that’s exactly what happened,” Davis said. “The groin happened because of the tightness in the knee from the hyperextension.”

Mild Right Hamstring Strain Leaves Mike Conley Day-To-Day

All-Star Jazz point guard Mike Conley left the fifth and final game in Utah’s first-round series against the Grizzlies after having played just 12 minutes with what was described as right hamstring soreness.

Following an MRI today, the team has determined that Conley suffered a mild right hamstring strain, tweets Tony Jones of The Athletic. Jones says that Conley is day-to-day with the injury, and the top-seeded club will reassess his status ahead of the first game of the team’s Western Conference semifinals series against the winner of the Clippers-Mavericks series.

The 33-year-old Conley will be an unrestricted free agent this season. He has expressed a desire to remain with the Jazz for his next contract, but is sure to have a variety of suitors as he enters free agency.

The 6’1″ veteran has enjoyed a stellar 2020/21 season with the Jazz when healthy, averaging 16.2 PPG, 6.0 APG and 3.5 RPG in just 29.4 MPG across 51 regular season games, while posting a shooting line of .444/.412/.852. Conley has proven to be an excellent backcourt mate for All-Star Jazz shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz are one of the West’s deepest playoff clubs, and before Conley’s injury had been one of its healthiest.

Pat Riley Talks Free Agency, 2021 Rookies, Bam, Oladipo, Future

Heat team president Pat Riley addressed the club’s present and future during his yearly season-ending press conference today, as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald details.

Following a surprising NBA Finals run within the 2020 restart season’s Orlando “bubble” campus last year, expectations were high for Miami this season. However, many of the team’s key players battled injuries and COVID-19 exposure, and the Heat suffered a first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Bucks. The loss of forward Jae Crowder in free agency, plus some compensatory signing missteps, also contributed to a disappointing 2020/21 season.

When asked about how he wants to build around the team’s two best players, wing Jimmy Butler and big man Bam Adebayo, this summer, Riley kept things fairly open-ended.

“We’ll see,” he said. “We are going to have a lot of [cap] room if we want to use it. You can’t continue to defer your room… We like our core.”

Here’s more from the presser:

  • It sounds like Riley fully expects to replicate the success the club has enjoyed in recent seasons when scouring the market for undrafted rookies. The Heat traded away their first-round draft pick for 2021. “We will get a couple good players out of this year’s draft, I’m sure,” Riley said.
  • Riley was questioned about Adebayo potentially rounding out his offensive game by developing three-point range soon. “It doesn’t need to happen quickly,” he said. “[Head coach Erik Spoelstra] likes to use Bam with a stretch five or four. You might have to change. You might have to think about what’s next thing in the NBA to require you to stay with that kind of play. I’ll leave that to Spo and we will talk about it.”
  • New Heat guard Victor Oladipo, an unrestricted free agent this offseason, had an underwhelming tenure with the team, appearing in just four games after being acquired from the Rockets at the trade deadline. He was felled by a quadriceps injury that required season-ending surgery. “When we made the trade, we knew there was a risk,” Riley acknowledged. “He’s like any other free agent on the team who sustained an injury; he will be rehabbing with us until he’s healthy enough to get out of that cast. … We will monitor him, work with him, and then see what happens in August when we sit down to talk to him.”
  • The 76-year-old Riley would not address his long-term outlook with the club as team president beyond the upcoming season. “I’m getting ready for the [draft combine] and then the summer league,” Riley said. “I’m ready to move forward and try to make this team better. For all of our fans out there, it was so great to see the place packed and I’m really disappointed our fans didn’t get to see what the Heat really are like.” Riley is one of the most decorated personalities in NBA history, having won once as a player, once as an assistant coach, five times as a head coach, and three times as an executive.

Pistons Notes: Diallo, Polinsky, Beilein, Jersey Sponsor

The Pistons traded for 22-year old Hamidou Diallo two weeks before this season’s trade deadline, and it appears they liked what they saw from the athletic wing in his 20 games in Detroit. Pistons GM Troy Weaver helped draft Diallo during his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and, as NBA.com’s Keith Langlois writes, Weaver still has sky-high expectations for Diallo.

Hami, he fits what we’re trying to do here,” Weaver said. “Tremendous mindset, tremendous competitor. Defensive mindset, athletic and he brings it. You can never have too many guys that have that mindset and that competitiveness.

Diallo, one of the better rebounding guards in the league, with an improving jump shot and a limitless supply of energy, is set to hit restricted free agency this summer, but Weaver seems to expect he’ll be back in Detroit next season.

Here’s more on the Pistons:

  • The Pistons and senior director of player personnel Gregg Polinsky have agreed to part ways, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks, despite the success of recent draftees Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. This comes as part of a larger shake-up within the team’s development staff.
  • Keith Langlois writes about how the hiring of ex-Michigan head coach John Beilein as senior advisor of player development points to a larger trend for the Pistons. Between head coach Dwayne Casey, assistant coach Tim Grgurich and the new addition of Beilein, Weaver and team owner Tom Gores have prioritized building a robust and experienced development staff as the team enters a rebuilding period. “With the age of our core group, I wanted to add to our excellent developmental staff,” Casey said in a statement issued by the Pistons. “John is a basketball lifer with a passion to help young players get better, especially in the area of shooting. We have an excellent group of young development coaches who have done a good job with our young core.”
  • The Pistons have announced a new jersey sponsor: United Wholesale Mortgage. The Pistons’ previous uniform patch sponsor was Flagstar Bank.

Damian Lillard Wins Teammate Of The Year Award

Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has been named the winner of the 2020/2021 Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award, the league announced today.

A panel of league executives selected 12 candidates, six from each conference, and current NBA players selected the winner from the list of 12 choices. The award is given to the player “deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and commitment and dedication to team.”

More than 300 players voted this year, with Lillard receiving 40 first-place votes. Other nominees included Suns guard Chris Paul, Nets forward Joe Harris, 76ers forward Tobias Harris, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, and Heat forward Udonis Haslem.

Paul, the runner-up, actually received more first-place votes (47), but Lillard’s 1,012 total points narrowly edged CP3’s 1,001.

Lillard averaged 28.8 points and 7.5 assists this season while leading the Blazers to a six seed in the Western Conference. He was also named to his sixth All Star game. Lillard received his third NBA Cares Community Assist Award presented by Kaiser Permanente in April for his work empowering the youth of Portland, and has previously won the 2018/19 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for outstanding service and dedication to his community.

The Trail Blazers are currently down 3-2 in their first round playoff series against the Nuggets, in which Lillard is averaging a playoff career high 35.6 points a night to go with 9.6 assists. They’ll look to extend their season tonight.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.