Trail Blazers’ Nassir Little Likely Done For Season

Trail Blazers forward Nassir Little has a labral tear in his left shoulder, the team announced in a press release. Little suffered the injury in the fourth quarter on Tuesday against Minnesota. An MRI taken Wednesday revealed the injury.

Portland said an update on his status would be provided when available, which is standard among NBA teams. However, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link) that Little is likely to miss the remainder of the 2021/22 season.

Little, who turns 22 in a couple weeks, in his third season in the league after being selected by the Blazers with the 25th overall pick of the 2019 draft. He was having the best season of his career to date, averaging 9.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 0.9 blocks on .460/.331/.734 shooting through 42 games. Little had been particularly effective in January, putting up 13.1 points and 5.7 rebounds on .454/.403/.727 shooting this month.

An athletic, energetic defensive presence, Little has blossomed into a rotation regular this season after receiving limited playing time during his first two seasons. He reportedly had a terrible bout with COVID-19 at the beginning of last season, losing 20 pounds and suffering grinding headaches, which impacted his development. However, he got back into shape and made a strong impression in the offseason, earning a huge minutes increase — going from 13.3 per game last season to 25.9 this season.

As a third-year former first round pick, Little is eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer. The injury might hurt his leverage in contract negotiations, but Portland has likely seen enough to know that his improvement is legitimate. The Blazers picked up their fourth-year team option on Little in October, a few weeks before the season started. He’ll make $4,171,548 in 2022/23.

Cavaliers Notes: DPE, Rubio, Love, Rebuild Over

The Cavaliers were granted a disabled player exception worth $8.9MM — half of Ricky Rubio‘s salary, for the season-ending torn ACL that Rubio suffered last month, sources tell Kelsey Russo of The Athletic (via Twitter).

A disabled player exception can be granted when a team has a player go down with an injury deemed to be season-ending (with the player more likely than not to be sidelined through June 15). The cap exception doesn’t open up an extra roster spot, but it gives the club some additional spending flexibility, functioning almost as a cross between a traded player exception and a mid-level exception.

We go into more detail on who qualifies for disabled player exceptions and how exactly they work in our glossary entry on the subject. But essentially, a DPE gives a team the opportunity to add an injury replacement by either signing a player to a one-year contract, trading for a player in the final year of his contract, or placing a waiver claim on a player in the final year of his contract.

The Cavs are currently only $3.5MM below the luxury tax threshold and already have a full roster, so they might not end up using the DPE by the March 10 deadline. Still, it’s another asset for the team to potentially utilize.

Here’s more from Cleveland:

  • Kevin Love is relishing his reserve role, according to Tom Withers of The Associated Press. Love has been on a rocky path the past couple of years, transitioning from four straight NBA Finals appearances to a full rebuild. However, he’s enjoying the ride with the ascendant Cavs this season. “We may be the ultimate share-the-wealth team,” Love said. “That’s beautiful. We really pay it forward for the next guy. We trust the extra pass. We trust guys to make the right plays out there and understand that they have great intention in everything that they do and we do. That allows guys to play free.” Love is in contention for the Sixth Man of the Year award, averaging 14.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists on .439/.408/.873 shooting in just 21.6 minutes per contest (41 games).
  • Jason Lloyd of The Athletic declares that the team’s rebuild is officially over and the Cavs are a team to be feared throughout the league after beating the defending champion Bucks 115-99 on Wednesday night. He notes that Cleveland is fourth in the league in net rating at plus-5.1, typically a hallmark of a contending team. Last season, the Cavs held a minus-8.3 net rating, a 13.4 turnaround. Lloyd believes GM Koby Altman and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff deserve a lot of credit for the year-to-year transformation and should be in the running for executive and coach of the year, respectively. Altman recently received a long-term contract extension and a promotion to president of basketball operations.
  • Along the same lines, Chris Fedor of writes that the Cavaliers have the perfect blend of talent and chemistry, with a real shot at becoming the first seed in the East. “This is not the Cleveland we knew in the past years,” reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said following Cleveland’s victory over Milwaukee Wednesday. “They’re a good team. They have a better record than us right now. It’s a team that we’ve got to be careful, we’ve got to scout better and make sure we respect them even more now. They’re a playoff team and they’re fighting for the title themselves.” The Cavs are currently in third place with a 30-19 record, one-and-a-half games back of the 31-17 Heat.

Jazz Notes: House, Mitchell, Gobert, Barnes

Danuel House is playing on his second 10-day contract with Utah (the first was via a hardship exception, the current one is a standard deal, which expires Friday), and Sarah Todd of The Deseret News makes the case for the Jazz to keep him around. Utah could opt to re-sign House to a second standard 10-day contract which would expire February 8, two days ahead of the trade deadline, if it wants to prioritize roster flexibility.

The Jazz have two open roster spots and need high-energy wing defenders, which House has provided thus far, according to Todd. House says playing for Utah has been a great experience so far.

They welcomed me with open arms, accepted me, no one has ever turned me down, they always ask me if I need anything, they always make me comfortable,” House said. “So especially being a guy that has been accustomed to a certain way for years, and then you come over here and to be welcomed — it makes you really enjoy the process and everything.”

Through six games in a limited role with Utah (19.8 MPG), House is averaging a modest 6.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, and 1.7 APG. However, Todd writes that House’s impact goes beyond the standard stat sheet, creating deflections, hustling after loose balls and contesting shots. Coach Quin Synder likes what he’s seen from House thus far.

Just intensity and competitiveness,” Snyder said of House after the Jazz’s 115-109 loss to the Suns on Monday night. “I think playing hard is as much a skill as anything else and you saw a guy who’s hungry and played hard.”

Todd thinks it’s an easy decision for Utah to give House another 10-day contract and believes the Jazz should seriously consider signing him for the remainder of the season afterwards.

Here’s more on the Jazz:

  • Two-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell might return to action this weekend, Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune relays. Mitchell has been in the NBA’s concussion protocol after receiving an inadvertent elbow from Russell Westbrook on Jan. 17. He could suit up as soon as Friday at Memphis.
  • Within the same column, Walden says that Rudy Gobert‘s calf strain is still causing him problems. His recovery timeline remains murky, with Walden stating that Gobert could be sidelined for “several more games at the very least,” but that isn’t set in stone. The Jazz plan to be conservative with the injury, as calf strains can be tricky to recover from. He will be listed as day-to-day for the time being.
  • Count Harrison Barnes among the players Utah has shown interest in, per Sam Amick of The Athletic (hat tip to HoopsHype).

Lakers Sign Stanley Johnson To Two-Year Deal

JANUARY 27: The Lakers have officially signed Johnson, per a team press release.

JANUARY 26: The Lakers and forward Stanley Johnson have agreed to a two-year deal, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). The second year will be a team option, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who says (via Twitter) the contract is expected to be signed on Thursday.

Johnson has been with Los Angeles for the last month, having initially signed a hardship 10-day contract with the team on December 24. That was followed by two standard 10-day deals, the second of which will expire on Wednesday night.

Because a team can’t sign a player to more than two standard 10-day contracts in a season, the Lakers would’ve had to let Johnson walk if they weren’t prepared to give him a rest-of-season commitment.

However, Johnson has become a key part of Los Angeles’ rotation since his arrival, playing strong defense and averaging 6.4 PPG and 2.6 RPG on .516/.344/.789 shooting in 14 games (21.2 MPG). Letting him go wasn’t something L.A. wanted to do, even if it would’ve allowed the team to keep a 15-man roster spot open for added flexibility leading up to the February 10 trade deadline.

According to Wojnarowski (via Twitter), Johnson’s willingness to accept a team option for 2022/23 was a factor in the Lakers’ decision to commit its 15th roster spot to him, since that option will give the club some roster flexibility in the offseason.

Prior to signing with the Lakers last month, Johnson had been playing with the team’s G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers. The 25-year-old signed a 10-day hardship deal with the Bulls earlier in December, but entered the health and safety protocols before appearing in a game with the team, then joined L.A. after that deal expired and he was cleared from the protocols. The No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Johnson has also played for the Pistons, Pelicans, and Raptors since entering the NBA.

Assuming Johnson signs his contract on Thursday and it’s worth the veteran’s minimum, he’ll earn $888,616 for the rest of the season. The agreement will ultimately cost the Lakers more than that, since they’re well above the luxury tax line.

A minimum-salary team option for Johnson for 2022/23 would be worth $2,351,521.

NBA Fines Mavs’ Porzingis, Hornets’ Washington, Raptors’ Champagnie

Three NBA players have been fined $15K apiece by the league for recent violations, according to a pair of press releases.

Mavericks big man Kristaps Porzingis received his $15K fine for kicking the game ball into the stands during the fourth quarter of his team’s blowout loss to Golden State on Tuesday. Porzingis received a technical foul and was ejected at the time of the incident — now he’ll face an additional penalty, though losing $15K of his $31.65MM salary is hardly an exorbitant punishment.

Meanwhile, Hornets forward P.J. Washington and Raptors forward Justin Champagnie were each fined $15K for their involvement in an on-court altercation during the first quarter of Tuesday’s game in Toronto.

As the league outlined in its announcement, Washington hip-checked Champagnie to the ground and the Raptors rookie retaliated by shoving Washington in the back. The Hornets forward escalated the incident by “forcefully shoving” Champagnie, according to the league. Both players received technical fouls and were ejected.

The penalties will sting a little more for Washington and especially Champagnie than for Porzingis. Washington has a $4.2MM salary this season, while Champagnie is a two-way player whose 2021/22 earnings can max out at about $752K.

Eastern Trade Rumors: Smart, Hawks, Collins, Siakam, Sabonis, More

Prior to sending Cam Reddish to New York, the Hawks discussed the framework of a trade with the Celtics that would’ve sent Reddish and Kevin Huerter to Boston in a deal for Marcus Smart, reports Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.

Huerter is one of 11 players affected this season by the poison pill provision, complicating salary-matching in any trade involving him, but the deal described by Fischer theoretically would’ve worked for both sides if Atlanta had included another minimum-salary player (likely Solomon Hill).

Smart ultimately stayed put, and Fischer says it would take “significant value” for the Celtics to move him in another deal in the next two weeks. According to Fischer, there’s a sense around the league that the Celtics will be better in the second half than they were in the first half, as long as they’re healthier and first-year head coach Ime Udoka gets more comfortable.

Here a few more trade notes and rumors from around the Eastern Conference:

  • One team contacted by the Hawks told Bleacher Report that Atlanta wanted a “valuable” first-round pick and a starting-caliber player in exchange for John Collins. Other teams think the Hawks could get even more than that for Collins, says Fischer.
  • According to Fischer, the Raptors and Pacers at least briefly discussed a trade involving Domantas Sabonis and Pascal Siakam, but those talks stalled. The concept makes some sense in theory, since it would allow Myles Turner to be the lone center in Indiana, and Toronto has long been in the market for a five.
  • Since Brook Lopez‘s recovery timeline remains up in the air, the Bucks are “poking around” the market for a center, with Suns big man Jalen Smith mentioned as a possible target, per Fischer. Semi Ojeleye is considered to be available and Milwaukee has received inquiries about Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo, Fischer adds.
  • A handful of teams have expressed some interest in Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman, including the Spurs, Hornets, Mavericks, and Bucks, writes Fischer.

Rockets’ Garuba Undergoes Wrist Surgery, Out 6-8 Weeks

JANUARY 27, 9:33am: Garuba underwent surgery today to repair a fracture in his left wrist, according to the Rockets, who confirmed in a press release that the rookie is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks.

JANUARY 26, 2:02pm: Garuba will undergo surgery on his injured wrist and is expected to miss about six-to-eight weeks, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

JANUARY 26, 10:12am: Rockets rookie forward Usman Garuba is dealing with a left wrist injury that is more serious than initially believed, head coach Stephen Silas said on Tuesday, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Garuba has been ruled out indefinitely.

Garuba had been on a G League assignment with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and last played with the team on Saturday. He showed up on the Rockets’ injury report two days later with what was only described as a “left wrist injury.”

“He fell,” Silas said on Tuesday, per Feigen. “I was talking to him about it. He was like, ‘Yeah, I fell, and I didn’t think it was that bad.’ But it turns out it’s pretty bad. He’s going to be out for a while. There is some talk about him needing surgery.”

Based on Silas’ comments, it sounds like the Rockets and Garuba are still evaluating their options for how to treat the injury. If he undergoes surgery, we likely won’t see him for at least several weeks, if not months. His recovery timeline would depend on the nature of the injury.

The 23rd overall pick in the 2021 draft, Garuba had played sparingly for Houston so far, averaging 1.3 PPG and 2.3 RPG in 15 games (7.0 MPG). The 19-year-old likely would’ve seen more action at the G League level than in the NBA during the second half of the season, so his absence won’t have an impact on the Rockets’ rotation. Still, it’s a disappointing setback for a young prospect who is part of the team’s long-term plans — Garuba’s developmental process will be slowed until his wrist heals.

Western Trade Rumors: Kings, Pelicans, D. White, Mavs, More

The Kings are still expected to make some sort of major move ahead of this year’s trade deadline in an effort to strengthen their roster for a postseason push, writes Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report. Sacramento has expressed interest in both Pacers centers, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, but Fischer hears that Indiana’s asking price has been much higher than what teams are willing to give up for either player.

According to Fischer, who says the Pelicans also have interest in Sabonis, Turner is still the more likely trade candidate of the two Indiana centers, but only if the Pacers are willing to drop their asking price a little, since teams are concerned about Turner’s injury recovery timeline and his ability to help a team this season. If the price remains high, Turner may stay in Indiana until the offseason.

One team to watch on the Turner front is the Trail Blazers, who gained some momentum in discussions with the Pacers prior to the big man’s injury, according to Fischer. If Portland is focused more on next season than this season, acquiring Turner would make some sense, but the Blazers still hold a play-in spot in the West, so they probably aren’t prepared to just throw in the towel.

Here are a few more trade rumors from around the West:

  • Kings center Tristan Thompson is considered to be available in exchange for a second-round pick, says Fischer. I’m a little skeptical that Sacramento will be able to get positive value for Thompson by himself.
  • The Spurs received a call from the Hawks about guard Derrick White, Fischer reports. It doesn’t sound like those discussions gained any traction, but Fischer points out that San Antonio has been viewed since 2020 as a potential suitor for Atlanta big man John Collins.
  • As previously relayed, rival executives think the Mavericks may trade one of Jalen Brunson or Dorian Finney-Smith by February 10. Both players will be unrestricted free agents this summer, so there will be nothing stopping them from signing elsewhere, and if the Mavs do re-sign both, they’ll likely be taxpayers. However, Dallas has expressed confidence in its ability to re-sign both players, according to Fischer, who adds that there’s a belief Finney-Smith will seek $15MM annually on his next deal.
  • The Thunder‘s asking price in any trade for forward Kenrich Williams is believed to be a first-round pick, per Fischer.

Rockets Rumors: Gordon, Wood, Theis

A report earlier this week stated that the Rockets appear increasingly likely to hang onto Eric Gordon through this season’s trade deadline, but Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report hears that Houston – in discussions with rival teams – has conveyed confidence about receiving a first-round pick in exchange for Gordon.

Unless the pick is heavily protected or they’d have to take a really bad contract or two back in return, it’s hard to imagine the Rockets would turn down the opportunity to acquire a first-rounder for the 33-year-old guard, who doesn’t fit the their rebuild timeline.

While there may have been some truth to The Athletic’s report about the Rockets’ desire to keep Gordon for his leadership abilities, I suspect the team is posturing at least to some extent in an effort to get teams to increase their offers.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • An earlier report on Christian Wood linked him to the Heat, stating that Miami has been one of the most “persistent” teams engaging with Houston in conversations about Wood. Fischer confirms the Heat have been frequently mentioned recently as a potential suitor for the big man.
  • According to Fischer, word of a possible Wood/Duncan Robinson framework has circulated around the league, but the Rockets would certainly require a far greater return for their leading scorer, rebounder, and shot-blocker, who is on a very team-friendly contract (Wood will earn $13.7MM this season and $14.3MM in 2022/23).
  • Rockets center Daniel Theis has been generating significant interest, Fischer reports, naming the Hornets, Bucks, and Raptors as teams that have inquired on the big man. Fischer also confirms that the Celtics have checked in on Theis, as previously reported by Michael Scotto of HoopsHype.