Weekly Mailbag: 3/12/18 – 3/18/18

We have an opportunity for you to hit us up with your questions in this, our weekly mailbag feature. Have a question regarding player movement, the salary cap or the NBA draft? Drop us a line at HoopsRumorsMailbag@Gmail.com.

With the Spurs slowly declining due to their aging stars, will it be better for them to miss the playoffs and get a chance to draft a blue chip player?– Greg Dizon

The Spurs need to start preparing for the future, especially if they can’t reach an extension with Kawhi Leonard this summer, but it’s too late to count on any lottery help. Even if they go into a tailspin, the best they can realistically hope for is the 13th or 14th pick, which rarely brings a franchise-changing talent. The roster is heavily stocked with over-30 players and will have to be reconstructed at some point, but LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and even 40-year-old Manu Ginobili are all signed through next season. Rudy Gay and Danny Green both have player options, so most of the veteran corps will stick together for at least another year. San Antonio is better off testing its luck in the playoffs than the lottery.

Is Ernie Grunfeld going to move Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi to open up cap space for my Wizards to make a splash in free agency? — Jermaine, via Twitter

Washington may try to trade one of them this summer for cap relief, but it’s going to be a long time before the franchise can be a major bidder in free agency. The huge deals it handed out to John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter will tie up nearly all of the team’s cap room for the next two seasons — three if Porter opts in for nearly $28.5MM in 2020/21. The Wizards will be filling their roster with low-cost options for the foreseeable future and won’t be able to sign anyone of the caliber of Gortat or Mahinmi if they are dealt away. Any improvements they make won’t come on the free agent market.

Will the early exits from the NCAA Tournament hurt the draft status of players like DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr., Michael Porter Jr. and Trae Young? — Viktor, via Twitter

Scouts like to see how players perform in high-pressure situations, but the results of the games won’t carry much weight come draft time. NBA teams have been watching these college stars all season and they know what they’re capable of. Their performance at the combine, individual interviews with teams and the upcoming workouts will play a much larger role in determining who gets drafted where. Teams would prefer to see a long tournament run, particularly in the case of Porter, who barely played this season because of a back injury, but the NCAAs will be a distant memory by draft day.

Hornets’ Nicolas Batum Has Chronic Tendinitis

Hornets swingman Nicolas Batum has been diagnosed with chronic tendinitis in his left Achilles, tweets Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Batum has been ruled out of Monday’s game with the Sixers, and his status for the rest of the season will depend on how effective treatments are on the condition.

Batum was pulled from Saturday’s game after developing soreness in the Achilles. With the Hornets seven games out of the final playoff spot, they may decide to take the cautious approach and rest him for the remainder of the season.

Batum is under contract for $24MM next year and more than $25.5MM in 2019/20, along with a player option worth more than $27.1MM for the following season. He has been limited to 56 games this season and his numbers have dropped across the board to 11.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per night, his lowest totals in all three categories since coming to Charlotte three years ago.

Injury Update: Hayward, Irving, Smith Jr., Harris

Celtics‘ president of basketball operations Danny Ainge believes he gave the wrong impression this week when he said Gordon Hayward suffered a setback in his rehab, relays Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. Looking back, Ainge believes “setback” was too strong a term and created inaccurate headlines about Hayward’s progress.

“What happened is he went on the AlterG [anti-gravity treadmill] the first day and he felt some soreness,” Ainge explained. “It was the first day he tried the AlterG, a long time ago. He just wasn’t ready for it at that point. That’s all it was. So I think ‘setback’ is the wrong way to put it. I mis-phrased that. I’m not sure what the right word is, but he wasn’t ready for that. So we waited a couple of weeks before we started that again, and since we started that again it’s been great and he’s progressed along on the AlterG. That’s all. It wasn’t like he had an accident or anything like that.”

Despite Ainge’s clarification, the Celtics haven’t changed their opinion that Hayward won’t return to the court this season, which has their stance since he broke his ankle on opening night. Ainge said Hayward hasn’t done any “running or even jogging or real jumping” on the practice court and there’s not enough of the season left to make a comeback realistic.

Here are a few more injury-related updates from around the NBA:

  • The Celtics continue to be cautious with Kyrie Irving, who has been limited by a sore left knee, Bulpett adds in the same story. Irving was held out of tonight’s game, and coach Brad Stevens said he won’t play again until he feels 100 percent. Teammate Jaylen Brown remains in concussion protocol, but the Celtics plan to bring him on upcoming West Coast trip.
  • Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. is wearing a walking boot after turning his left ankle in Saturday’s game, but he’s confident about playing again this season, writes Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said the team “dodged a bullet” because Smith’s injury wasn’t more serious, but he has already been ruled out for Tuesday’s game.
  • An MRI conducted Friday on Nuggets‘ leading scorer Gary Harris showed he suffered a “sprain/strain” after landing awkwardly on his right leg, relays Gina Mizell of The Denver Post. Coach Michael Malone said Saturday that Harris could miss three or four games, but the team hopes to have him back before the end of its seven-game road trip.

Wolves Rumors: Butler, Bjelica, Gibson, Rose

Jimmy Butler offered an update on his medical condition at a press conference before tonight’s game. Butler, who had surgery last month for a torn right meniscus, said there’s no projected date for his return, but he hopes to play before the end of the regular season.

“I’m excited at my progression because I know how close I am to returning back to the floor with my guys,” he says in a video tweeted by KSTP Sports. “I have a little bit of [recovery] time left, but I know my guys are going to stick this thing out and do what they’ve been doing. Keep us in that race, and when I come back we’ll see what we have left in the tank.”

There’s more news out of Minnesota:

  • Butler’s injury has provided an opportunity for Nemanja Bjelica, who is increasing his value on the free agent market with his recent performance, writes Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune. Bjelica was averaging just nine minutes per game before the All-Star break, but has topped 40 minutes three times in March. “To be hon­est, I just try to play as good and hard as I can and at the end of the day, ev­er­y­bod­y will be fine,” Bjelica, who will be a restricted free agent, said about the possibility of staying in Minnesota. “I’m hap­py here. My fam­i­ly is hap­py. Some­times I hate Jan­u­ar­y be­cause it’s so cold, but I kind of got used to it.”
  • Also taking on a heavy workload is veteran forward Taj Gibson, Zgoda notes in a separate story. In his first season with the Wolves after signing as a free agent last summer, Gibson is averaging 33.5 minutes per night, roughly five minutes more than his career peak set four seasons ago. The 32-year-old said he doesn’t mind the extra work. “Life is too short to be holding back,” Gibson said. “I go out there and lay it on the line, just do what I got to do. When I come off the court, I don’t want to have any regrets when I go home. I don’t worry about minutes or how much I play.”
  • Historical trends are working against Derrick Rose ever being an effective player again, according to Zach Kram of The Ringer. His study finds that a small percentage of guards who have made an All-NBA team are ever able to raise their level of play after their first below-average season.

Pelicans Notes: Davis, Benson, Gentry, Jackson

Pelicans owner Tom Benson passed away earlier this week at 90 years old. Benson struggled for almost a  month with flu-like symptoms. He has been posthumously honored by many in the sports world and earned praise for his efforts to keep professional football and basketball in the state of New Orleans.

Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis was among those to speak highly of Benson. Davis sent out a tweet thanking Benson for all his contributions, both to him personally and the city of New Orleans, William Guillory of NOLA.com relays.

“Mr. Benson has meant so much to this city & to my career in NOLA,” Davis said in the tweet. “Mr. B & his wife Gayle treated me like family since I arrived & I’m forever indebted to them for their kindness & generosity.”

Check out more notes from the Pelicans below:

  • Following Tom Benson’s death, it was reported that his wife, Gayle Benson, would take over as the owner of the Pelicans. In a statement released to NBA.com, Benson promised to do her best to ensure future success for both the Saints and Pelicans. “I would like to assure you that we planned carefully for this day and, while my husband could never be replaced, I am blessed to be surrounded by a wonderful leadership team and staff and we will move forward successfully together,” Gayle said in the statement. “We cannot thank you enough for all of the joy you gave my husband and will continue to do everything within our power to make you proud of our teams and city.”
  • Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry has been fined $15K for critical comments of the officials in the team’s loss to the Rockets on Saturday, tweets Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports.
  • As we relayed yesterday, the Pelicans have given up on rookie Frank Jackson playing this season. Jackson suffered a foot fracture in August and despite a modest three to four-month recovery projection, Jackson did recover as hoped. The team has denied that any setbacks occurred.

Northwest Notes: Gobert, Stockton, Nurkic, Brewer

Rudy Gobert missed 26 games due to two knee injuries but he has been a focal point in the Jazz‘s recent nine-game winning streak. Gobert has always been praised for his defense and the Utah center said he deserves to be rewarded for it, Eric Woodyard of Desert News writes.

“To me, there’s no question right now,” Gobert said about whether or not he should be Defensive Player of the Year. “Like I said, my goal is to make my teammates better defensively and to make my team better, but yeah, there’s no question.”

Gobert has been a double-double machine for the Jazz, averaging 14.0 PPG and 10.7 RPG. While the team struggled in his absence, Gobert said the team needed to go through it to enjoy their current success.

“The team had to go through this kind of slump, and when I came back the second time, I felt I was better,” Gobert said. “I felt like it made everyone better. Everyone got better by going through this moment.”

Check out more notes from the Northwest Division:
  • David Stockton, who signed a 10-day contract with the Jazz this week, is excited for the opportunity to suit for the team where his father became an NBA legend, Woodyard writes in a separate article. However, he is not putting any pressure on himself. “I try not to think about it,” he said. “The statue has been there, and it’s kind of been the same old story my whole life as far as basketball and playing and having this name, so I try not to think about it, and I don’t think there’s too much pressure.”
  •  Jusuf Nurkic has been a solid player for the Trail Blazers since he was traded from the Nuggets. As he prepares to showcase his talent on the postseason stage, restricted free agency looms over him, but he tells Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype he is not worried about it. “I don’t even think about it. I’m really only focused on Portland and the playoffs right now,” he said. “In this league, business is business, but I just try to keep it simple: I’m going to hoop and let everybody else do their job.”
  • Corey Brewer joined the Thunder for the stretch run and he has played a vital role in a short time. His success can be attributed to his family, Brett Dawson of the Oklahoman writes.

Hornets Notes: Hernangomez, Front Office, Offseason

Willy Hernangomez has not played much since he was traded from the Knicks to the Hornets. Following a strong rookie season in New York, Hernangomez fell out of the rotation and rode the bench for the most the season. He has played fewer minutes in Charlotte and head coach Steve Clifford said there’s a reason for that, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes.

“Unfortunately, in the world the players live in, they don’t hear that,” Clifford said. “It’s the organization, it’s the coach, the assistant isn’t working with him right . . . No, come on. The reality is this: He wasn’t playing here for a reason. You know, he’s going to have to change things.”

Hernangomez, 23, has appeared in 10 games with the Hornets, averaging just 2.0 PPG and 2.4 RPG. The production and playing time has waned but Hernangomez said he likes the environment from Charlotte because of the blunt honesty on where he needs to improve.

“He tells you things that’s going on and what he wants,’’ Hernangomez said of Clifford. “He wants to you to improve if you want to play. It’s very clear. Here, everybody follows rules, defense and offense. Maybe in New York, it was a little freer, defense, offense. Here, everyone follows rules, everybody helps each other. I’m really surprised when I came here to see the difference.’’

Check out more Hornets notes below:

  • The Hornets promoted Fred Whitfield to president and vice Chairman, Pete Guelli to executive vice president and chief operating officer and James Jordan to executive vice president and chief administrative officer, the team announced in a press release.
  • Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer examines how the Hornets can escape the middle class of the NBA. The team is headed for another losing season but possesses too much talent to dwell among the league’s non-contenders. Sorensen writes that getting rid of high-priced guaranteed contracts on the payroll and targeting Miles Bridges, Mikal Bridges or Kevin Knox in the NBA Draft is a crucial first step.
  • Shane Rhodes of Basketball Insiders gives his take on how Charlotte can improve for the 2018/19 season. Rhodes writes that the Hornets need to accept their strengths (Kemba Walker) and acknowledge their weaknesses (lack of cap space) to make the right moves.

Atlantic Notes: Fultz, Hornacek, Rozier, Smart

Markelle Fultz has made progress in fixing his shot, but the Sixers are uncertain if he will play again this season, according to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Fultz is looking better in pre-game shootarounds and his release point is almost back to where it was in college and summer league. However, conditioning is a concern for a player who hasn’t appeared in a game since October.

“He understands where the team is at, and he understands where the NBA is pretty tough in March and the race to the playoffs is real,” coach Brett Brown said. “I think whenever the decision comes out, we will act accordingly. I can tell you personally, I do look forward to coaching him.”

Fultz hasn’t been a full participant at practice since he was first injured and has done his work mainly in three-on-three scrimmages with teammates. Brown expects the decision to be made soon, and Fultz will have input on whether he plays or not.

  • Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek has been going along with the rebuilding plan in New York, even though it has resulted in a won-loss record that might cost him his job, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. Hornacek hasn’t talked to anyone in the front office about his future with the team, but he knows that conversation will happen soon. “At the end of the season I’m sure we’ll sit down with [president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry] and figure out what we’re doing,” he said. “As a coach you’d like to know if you’re going to be here next year. But our job right now is take the guys that we have on this team and try to get them better.”
  • Celtics guard Terry Rozier is hoping Marcus Smart can return in the playoffs and promises to help convince him to stay in Boston this summer, relays Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. Smart is expected to miss about six weeks after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb and could return for a second-round series. He will be a restricted free agent this summer. “If I’m part of the plan in recruiting Marcus to stay here, then that’s what I’m going to have to do,” Rozier said.
  • In a St. Patrick’s Day column, A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston examines the ways that good luck that has touched the Celtics in recent years. Examples include the emergence of Rozier, the availability of Kyrie Irving and the Hornets’ refusal to accept a parcel of draft picks in exchange for their ninth selection in 2015 when team president Danny Ainge wanted to draft Justise Winslow.

Blazers Sign Papagiannis Through 2018/19 Season

MARCH 18, 12:54pm: The Blazers have reached an agreement with Papagiannis that will run through 2018/19, the team announced on its website.

MARCH 17, 7:00pm: The Trail Blazers will sign center Georgios Papagiannis for the remainder of the regular season, tweets Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The 20-year-old signed a 10-day contract with Portland last week that was set to expire. The Blazers could have made another 10-day offer to the seven-footer, but are choosing to keep him on the roster throughout the season.

Papagiannis was the 13th player taken in the 2016 draft, but he had a lackluster rookie season with the Kings, appearing in just 22 games and averaging 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per night. He played 16 more games for Sacramento this season before being waived at the trade deadline to open a roster space.

Papagiannis hasn’t seen any playing time since joining the Trail Blazers.

Cavaliers Notes: Lue, White, Calderon, LeBron

For the third time this season, an undisclosed illness has kept Tyronn Lue from coaching, writes Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. Lue remained in the locker room after halftime of Saturday’s win over the Bulls as chief assistant Larry Drew ran the team. LeBron James called Lue’s condition one more distraction in a season filled with them.

“I mean he’s the captain of the ship, so absolutely,” James said. “We worry about his health, obviously. That’s way more important than this game of basketball. We know he’s been doing everything he needs to do to stay healthy — [maybe he should] take even more measures to get himself right. Everything that’s been going on with our year, it’s just another one.”

There’s more news out of Cleveland:

  • Between salary and tax penalties, today’s signing of Okaro White will cost Cleveland about $400K, Vardon tweets. The 10-day contract for the former Heat forward was necessitated by a league rule that allows teams to drop their roster to 13 players for just two weeks at a time.
  • Veteran point guard Jose Calderon continues to be a steady, if often overlooked, producer for the Cavs, notes Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. With Kyle Korver tending to a family emergency and Rodney Hood sidelined with back issues, Calderon posted nine points, six assists and seven rebounds Saturday while playing a season-high 36 minutes. Cleveland is 18-8 this year when he starts and 21-10 when he plays at least 10 minutes. “I know everything lately is about stats, but it’s more than that,” said Calderon, who will be a free agent this summer. “Just for me, like I always say since Day 1, my job is to be ready, to help these guys in whatever situation they need.”
  • James, who has a chance to play all 82 games for the first time in his career, seems to be healthier than ever at age 33, relays Jason Lloyd of The Athletic. He no longer takes anti-inflammatory injections for his back and he has gotten past the knee pain that used to force him to take time off during the season. “I’m having a heck of a time playing the game right now no matter who’s in the lineup for us,” James said. “We’re not winning as much as we would like, but we’re still figuring out ways to get wins, which is very tough in this league. We already know that. But the joy of the game is very high for me right now.”