Northwest Notes: Kanter, Morris, Exum, Lillard

For Enes Kanter, his decision in free agency came down to two teams: The Blazers and Lakers. Kanter, of course, chose to join the Blazers less than two weeks after being waived by the Knicks, labeling one major reason why he made his choice.

“I think it’s just the culture,” Kanter said, according to Casey Holdahl of NBA.com. “After I got released from the Knicks I got a lot of offers but I just wanted to wait. After Neil (Olshey) talked to me, I was like ‘You know what, I think Portland is the team that I want to go to because I already know their good culture from four years ago when they offered be the contract.’ I think it’s the best decision for me. Then Dame (Lillard) texted me and I was like ‘You know what, this is the best place that I can (be).’ Be with the team and go far.”

Kanter, a bruising center who holds career-averages of 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, is expected to provide depth off Portland’s bench as the postseason nears. He has an opportunity to prove his worth on a competitive team ahead of free agency, joining the Blazers as a locker room leader and veteran presence.

“It’s amazing, like a first year of school,” Kanter said. “I was actually nervous but I think they help me a lot. Amazing locker (room). From the first moment that I stepped in everybody was trying to help, talking to me about lots of stuff. It’s become very easy, I feel like I’ve been a part of this team for a long time from the first day.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division tonight:

  • New Thunder forward Markieff Morris was cleared two weeks ago and is “feeling great”, Royce Young of ESPN tweets. Morris officially signed with Oklahoma City this week, having being diagnosed with transient cervical neuropraxia in his neck early last month.
  • Dante Exum participated in his first practice with the Jazz on Thursday since suffering a left ankle sprain in January, Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News writes. “It was great,” teammate Rudy Gobert said about seeing Exum in practice, according to Woodyard. “I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot.” Exum was re-evaluated by the team and ruled out for Friday’s game against Oklahoma City, though his return date doesn’t appear to be far off. He’s missed 17 straight games with the injury.
  • Blazers star Damian Lillard explained why he’s stayed with the team throughout his career, appearing on the Posted Up podcast with Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes this week. “I’m not willing to sell myself out for championships,” Lillard said. Lillard, drafted by Portland in 2012 with the No. 6 overall pick, is currently in his seventh season with the franchise.

NBA G League Assignments/Recalls: 2/21/19

Here are Thursday’s assignments and recalls from around the NBA G League:

Ron Baker To Miss 4-6 Months With Torn Labrum

Free agent guard Ron Baker will miss four-to-six months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn right labrum, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). The surgery was performed by Dr. Neal Elattrache in Los Angeles.

Baker started the 2018/19 season with the Knicks, but the 25-year-old was waived after playing in just 11 games. He then signed with the Wizards for four contests and was released after two weeks.

Baker was also ruled out for the remainder of last season after suffering a torn labrum and dislocated shoulder, with that injury coming at the end of January. Baker’s estimated timeline could see him healthy by the start of free agency, which would allow him to sign with a team during the offseason or entering training camp in the fall.

Baker, who went unselected in the 2016 NBA Draft, holds career-averages of 3.1 points, 1.8 assists, 0.7 steals and 14.5 minutes per game.

Rockets To Sign Terrence Jones, Chris Chiozza On 10-Day Deals

The Rockets are signing G League forward Terrence Jones to a 10-day contract, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon (Twitter link). In addition to Jones, Houston will also sign rookie guard Chris Chiozza to a separate 10-day deal, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Both Jones and Chiozza will start their 10-day contracts with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers — G League affiliate of the Rockets — for evaluation purposes, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Jones, who holds five years of NBA experience, last played in the league with the Bucks and Pelicans during the 2016/17 season. He spent time with the Rockets during his first four professional seasons, quickly becoming a valuable rotation player for the team. Jones holds career-averages of 10.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 24 minutes per contest.

Chiozza, a University of Florida product, went undrafted in 2018 and joined the Wizards last fall for training camp. He’s played in the G League with the Capital City Go-Go throughout the 2018/19 season, averaging 13.1 points per game on 42% shooting from 3-point range as a point guard.

The Rockets had to sign two players in the next day to bring their roster count to 14 players, doing so in accordance with NBA rules. Houston (33-24) also got center Clint Capela back from injury for its game against the Lakers on Thursday night, prepping for the start of a final push ahead of the postseason.

Southwest Notes: Parsons, House, Mills, Capela

Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons is set to rejoin the rotation for the remainder of the season, David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal writes. Parsons has played just three games this season, mutually agreeing to separate from the team early last month as trade talks began to heat up.

“He’ll get minutes like everybody else,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of Parsons, according to Cobb. “Because of the layoff, he’ll probably have to play through some bumps. But the expectation is for him to contribute and help us win. Those are the guys I’ll always play.”

Parsons’ tenure with the Grizzlies has been tumultuous, originally joining the franchise on a maximum-salary deal in the summer of 2016. Despite his future looking murky before the trade deadline, Parsons insists he had no interest in leaving the team in a trade.

“Honestly, no,” Parsons said. “This is just as new a start as going to a new team, except that I’m familiar with the city, familiar with the coaching staff, the defensive terminology. I wanted to play. I’ve wanted to play since I was cleared two months ago. That hasn’t changed. I chose to come here, and I still want to be here. I wasn’t going to just stay in L.A. and watch my team play for the last six weeks of the season. I was going to come, and that’s that.”

Parsons was sidelined to start the season with knee soreness, but has worked his way back to game shape after several months away from the court. The Grizzlies own the second-worst record in the Western Conference at 23-36.

There’s more from the Southwest Division tonight:

  • Danuel House is hopeful to return to the Rockets this season, he stated in an interview with David Yapkowitz of Basketball Insiders. “Hopefully I can go back to Houston and compete for a title,” he said. “There’s nothing like learning from James [Harden] and Chris Paul, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and those guys. And now with the additions of [Iman] Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, I’m just excited to hopefully get something done so I can be out there and competing with those guys.” House was unable to agree on a new contract with the Rockets last month, currently playing for the team’s G League affiliate in Rio Grande.
  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News details how Patty Mills became the heart and soul of the Spurs, labeling his leadership, commitment and selfless style of play with the franchise over the past eight seasons. “It’s much bigger than me, much bigger than what all of us here today are,” Mills said. “It’s about the past, and about the future. I think it’s really important for the new guys to understand that.”
  • The Rockets are excited about the return of Clint Capela, who missed 15 straight games following thumb surgery and is set to return on Thursday against the Lakers, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes. “We’re excited to get Clint back,” teammate P.J. Tucker said. “Clint is a huge piece to our team and he makes a lot of other people’s jobs a lot easier. He makes our defense be able to switch on to guards and be able to guard guards and protect the rim as well, changes the dynamic for us.”

Pacific Notes: Chandler, Mbah a Moute, LeBron, Kings, Lakers

As the Clippers prepare to make a final push for the playoffs, the team is expecting forwards Wilson Chandler (right quad strain) and Luc Mbah a Moute (sore left knee) to make their returns soon, according to Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times.

Both players are likely to practice in the near future, coach Doc Rivers said, with their eventual returns adding to an already deep Los Angeles team. Rivers did not give a specific timeline for either player.

“Being an eighth seed or seventh seed or sixth seed is not our goal in the long run,” Rivers said earlier this month, according to Greif. “We want to be champions.”

Several players have been linked to the Clippers in recent months, including the recently traded Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis added the Clippers to a handful of preferred trade destinations before being moved out of New York, Marc Stein of The New York Times reported.

The team could pursue the likes of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and DeMarcus Cousins in free agency this summer, preaching a well-rounded, competitive roster that currently owns the eighth best record in the West at 32-27.

Zion Williamson Day-To-Day With Grade 1 Knee Sprain

February 21st, 5:06pm: Duke star Zion Williamson sustained a Grade 1 right knee sprain and will be listed as day-to-day moving forward, the school announced. The injury news comes as a sigh of relief for Williamson, who exited the game shortly after suffering the injury on Wednesday.

February 20th, 10:30pm: Duke — along with several NBA teams — received a scare when star forward Zion Williamson left tonight’s game with an injury in the opening minute. However, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the consensus No. 1 pick has been diagnosed with only a mild knee sprain, tweets AP basketball writer Tim Reynolds. He added that doctors found the knee to be stable, and more news is expected Thursday.

“We’re very concerned about Zion,” Krzyzewski said in a tweet sent out by the university. “It’s a mild knee sprain. We will know about length of time tomorrow. It’s stable. Obviously it has an impact. You lose the (National Player of the Year) on the first play.”

Williamson was hurt 36 seconds into a marquee matchup with North Carolina when his left shoe tore open, causing him to lose his balance. He left the court under his own power, but remained in the locker room for the rest of the game.

Several NBA players posted messages of support for Williamson on social media, relays ESPN. LeBron James and Spencer Dinwiddie both said they hoped Williamson would be OK, while Donovan Mitchell made a case that college athletes should be paid in a tweet that was supported by Trae Young.

Puma posted a message blaming the injury on Williamson’s Nike shoes, but later took it down (Twitter link from The Sporting News).

NBA Submits Proposal To Lower Draft Age

The NBA has submitted an official proposal to the National Basketball Players Association that would lower the draft-eligible age from 19 to 18, according to a report from Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports.

The NBPA and executive director Michele Roberts planned to review the proposal on Monday at a post-All-Star break meeting, Amick adds.

Both the NBA and the NBPA have held extensive discussions on lowering the age throughout the season, but two significant hurdles remain in the way: Commissioner Adam Silver wanting player-agents to provide medical information on prospects for NBA teams, and the league wanting to mandate that players attend and give some form of participation during the pre-draft combine, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports. To this point, the NBPA has pushed back against both of these ideas.

In the present day, players must attend college for one season before declaring for the NBA Draft. Prospects such as Duke’s Zion Williamson have raised questions about the legitimacy of this rule, with Williamson widely regarded as being NBA-ready before his collegiate season began.

Should the NBA and NBPA mutually agree on a proposal to lower the draft age, the league wants to give teams significant time before putting the rule into effect, according to Amick. The earliest draft with an altered minimum-age would likely be the 2022 NBA Draft, or three years from June.

Poll: Second-Best Team In West

After some up-and-down play in the early going this season, the Warriors have looked like their old selves over the last several weeks, winning 18 of their last 21 games to cement their spot atop the Western Conference. While there was never any doubt that Golden State would be the team to beat in the West, it remains unclear which conference rival will be the Dubs’ biggest threat this spring.

The Nuggets and Thunder currently have comfortable holds on the second and third seeds in the West and are in good position to capture home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs. However, both squads are unproven in the playoffs — Oklahoma City hasn’t won a postseason series since Kevin Durant‘s departure in 2016, and Denver hasn’t even made the postseason since 2013. Led by a pair of MVP candidates in Nikola Jokic and Paul George, the Nuggets and Thunder are formidable, but neither team looks like a lock to advance to the Western Finals.

Like the Thunder, the fourth-seeded Trail Blazers were quickly dispatched in the first round of last year’s postseason and still have to prove that they can make a deep playoff run. The Rockets (fifth) and the Jazz (seventh) were considered two of Golden State’s most dangerous challengers coming into the season, but have endured some bumps along the road and have had to re-establish themselves as legit threats to win multiple postseason series.

The Spurs don’t appear to be the legit title contenders they’ve been in most seasons under Gregg Popovich, but they’ve still played well enough to rank sixth in the conference and have a number of impressive wins on their 2018/19 résumé. The Lakers, meanwhile, are under .500 and out of the playoff picture for now, but could be a scary first-round matchup if they sneak into the top eight — after all, LeBron James hasn’t watched the NBA Finals from home since 2010.

What do you think? Which of the non-Warriors teams in the West poses the biggest threat to Golden State in the postseason? Which team do you expect to make it through two rounds to face the Dubs in the Western Conference Finals this spring?

Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Trade Rumors app users, click here to vote.

Latest Notes On Zion Williamson

As we wait for word on how long Zion Williamson‘s knee injury – described last night as a “mild” sprain – might sideline him, players around the NBA have been wishing him well and weighing in with their thoughts on the situation.

Of those players, DeMarcus Cousins had some of the strongest views, telling reporters, including Anthony Slater of The Athletic (video link), that he’d advise Williamson to shut it down for the season and turn his attention to the NBA.

“Knowing what I know, college basketball is bulls–t,” Cousins said. “My advice to him is do what’s best for you and your family. Obviously, college does nothing for you at this point. You’ve proven you’re the No. 1 pick, you’ve proven your talent. You’re ready for the next level.”

Here are several more Zion-related links in the wake of Wednesday night’s injury scare:

  • According to Darren Rovell of Action Network (Twitter link), Williamson has an $8MM loss-of-value insurance policy to protect himself against a major injury. However, he’d have to slip out of the top 16 in the draft to start collecting, per Rovell. It’s hard to imagine that even a more significant injury would result in that precipitous a drop in his stock.
  • After Williamson’s injury occurred in a game that cost thousands of dollars for many fans to attend, critics of the college basketball model have taken the opportunity to slam the NCAA for not paying its players. Dan Wolken of USA Today pushes back on that narrative to some extent, arguing that playing for the Blue Devils has benefited Williamson tremendously, since he wasn’t considered the consensus top prospect in the draft before this season. While that’s true, it’s hard to make a case that the relationship hasn’t more significantly benefited Duke.
  • Before Wednesday’s game, Williamson told Andy Katz (video link) that he would have wanted to play college basketball even if the NBA’s one-and-done rule didn’t exist, as Adam Zagoria of Forbes.com relays. “I always knew I would go to college,” Williamson said. “Even if they would’ve had the NBA rule, I still would’ve came to college. You’re never going to get this experience again. Once you go to the league it’s grown men, kids, families, it’s not just teenagers having fun. It’s business then.”
  • While scouts didn’t get a real look at Williamson during Wednesday’s ACC showdown, ESPN’s Mike Schmitz (Insider link) takes a look at how several of the other top NBA prospects involved in the game fared.