Clippers’ Lawrence Frank Talks Roster, Offseason, More

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday for the annual postseason press conference, Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said the team will look to upgrade the roster this summer after a disappointing end to 2021/22, writes Mirjam Swanson of The Southern California News Group.

We’re going to have to look at areas of improvement,” Frank said. “We want to make sure that we maximize our opportunities and be able to do something that’s never been done in the history of this organization.”

The Clippers failed to advance to the playoffs after losing both of their play-in tournament games, partly due to the season-long absence of Kawhi Leonard (ACL recovery) and Paul George‘s elbow injury (and later his positive COVID-19 result the day of the second play-in loss). Frank said the team’s inability to win a championship with its star wings has shown “how fragile the difference between winning and losing is,” but will use the playoff absence as “fuel for a great offseason,” per Swanson.

Frank said he’s encouraged by Leonard’s recovery progress, but declined to give any timetables for a potential return.

Here’s more from Frank’s press conference, courtesy of Swanson:

  • L.A. holds the Bird rights to unrestricted free agent Robert Covington, who recently said he was intrigued by the idea of playing with Leonard and George. Frank said he was happy to hear that, because the team would like to bring him back. “RoCo was very, very good for us. I’m excited to hear that he likes it here. We look forward and we’d like to be able to keep him here.”
  • Isaiah Hartenstein, who’s also a free agent but the Clips only holds his Non-Bird rights, surpassed Frank’s expectations this season. “We actually recruited Isaiah … we put a lot of effort into it,” said Frank, who noted his qualities, including his play-making, paint protection, floater and chemistry with the team. “Now, did we think he was going to be able to deliver at this high a level? No.”
  • From a developmental perspective, the Frank said the season was a great success, according to Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times. “From a process standpoint [it] went better than expected,” Frank said, calling the development of the team’s young players a “huge silver lining.”
  • League sources tell Greif the team will look to add a point guard this summer, but Frank was coy when asked about the possibility. “The game now is played a little bit differently, there are some obviously elite point guards in the league, but a lot of teams are playing through their wings like we do,” Frank said. “So I look at it as do we have enough play initiators between Kawhi, PG, Norm [Norman Powell], Reggie [Jackson], Terance [Mann]? I don’t know; we’ll look at it. We’re not averse to it, but we’ll continue to evaluate and see if we have to address it.”
  • Frank is hopeful that Jason Preston (foot surgery) and Jay Scrubb (turf toe surgery) will be ready for Summer league, Greif relays.

Grizzlies Notes: Morant, Jones, Jenkins, Adams

Grizzlies star Ja Morant suffered a left thigh injury in the Game 2 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday, according to Nick Gray of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Morant was hit by a hip-check screen from Karl-Anthony Towns in the third quarter and went down in pain, but was able to return to action in the fourth quarter with his leg wrapped, Gray notes.

Morant finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists on 9-16 shooting in 30 minutes of action, recording a +24 plus/minus, tied for the highest in the game. It’s unclear if the injury will impact Morant’s availability going forward, but it’s definitely worth monitoring. Memphis evened the series at one game apiece with the 124-96 win.

Here’s more on the Grizzlies:

  • Backup point guard Tyus Jones has been a nice fit for Memphis as the Minnesota native returns home to face his former team, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. “He’s just a great connector out there. I love the spirit, leadership he plays with, the way he moves the ball,” head coach Taylor Jenkins said. “He’s improved defensively from the first two years we’ve been here. He’s taken ownership there. I love how he’s shooting the ball as well. Obviously when he’s played a bigger role, he’s filled those shoes brilliantly. He plays so well, plays great team basketball.” Jones averaged a career-high 8.7 PPG and shot a career-best 39% from three this season in addition to leading the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio for the fourth consecutive year. The 25-year-old is an unrestricted free agent this summer.
  • Jenkins’ “gut call” to pull Steven Adams for a smaller lineup paid off in Game 2, per Fred Katz of The Athletic. Adams played just under three minutes prior to picking up a couple of early fouls and sat out the remainder of the game. Xavier Tillman Sr. provided an energetic lift off the bench, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 21 minutes after not playing at all in Game 1. Tillman has been out of the team’s rotation for parts of 2021/22, appearing in 53 games with an average of just 13.2 minutes per contest during the regular season.
  • Morant’s adjustments to better control the flow of the action also proved crucial to the victory, Katz relays in the same article. Morant was especially lethal in the third quarter when the Grizzlies went on a big run, scoring 12 points and handing out three assists. “I felt like I balanced very well looking for my shot and also making the extra pass,” Morant said. “It got us some open looks, and the lead went up from there.”

Injury Notes: Barnes, R. Williams, Doncic, Murray, MPJ

Rookie of the Year finalist Scottie Barnes has been ruled out for Game 3 of the Raptors‘ series against Philadelphia on Wednesday, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports. However, head coach Nick Nurse said Barnes has made “very encouraging” progress and is hopeful he’ll be able to suit up for Game 4, per Blake Murphy of (Twitter link).

Barnes was previously listed as doubtful as he continues to deal with the left ankle sprain that he suffered in Game 1 on Saturday.

Here are some more postseason injury notes from around the NBA:

  • Celtics center Robert Williams III has been able to do some three-on-three in practice, but the team has been closely monitoring his knee to ensure he’s not experiencing swelling post-surgery. Head coach Ime Udoka again stated that the team is operating under the assumption that Williams will miss Boston’s series against Brooklyn (Twitter link via Jared Weiss of The Athletic).
  • Mavericks star Luka Doncic is officially listed as questionable for Game 3 against Utah on Thursday, the team’s PR department announced (via Twitter). As we relayed earlier today, Doncic was able to increase his activity at practice and if he and the team feel there’s little risk of aggravating his left calf strain, he might suit up.
  • Jamal Murray (ACL recovery) and Michael Porter Jr. (back surgery) have both been ruled out for Game 3 of the Nuggets‘ series against Golden State, according to Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports (Twitter link). Murray is considered doubtful to make his season debut in the series and he’s reportedly closer to action than Porter, although Porter is still optimistic about a potential first-round return.

Lakers Rumors: Westbrook, Wall, Monk, THT, Nunn, Vogel, James

Michael Scotto and Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype explore potential offseason moves for the Lakers in their latest podcast. Scotto asked three different league executives for their opinions regarding Russell Westbrook‘s trade value, with slightly different results.

One said he had no interest in acquiring Westbrook whatsoever. The second executive called Westbrook’s contract “terrible” and said it’s viewed very negatively around the league, and would only be dealt for multiple other salary dumps.

The third executive was a little more circumspect in his assessment, noting that Westbrook’s $47MM player option for 2022/23 is likely to be perceived as a negative asset, but certain teams might take it on in order to get rid of long-term contracts.

Gozlan doesn’t think the Lakers’ front office will consider using the waive-and-stretch provision on Westbrook, considering the team will finally be clear of Luol Deng‘s dead money cap hit ($5MM) this summer. Teams might be interested trading for Westbrook if he indicates he’d accept a buyout agreement for a slightly discounted rate — perhaps $5-10MM less — which Gozlan believes is the high-end of the range he might earn as a free agent.

Both Gozlan and Scotto think that the framework for a potential Westbrook/John Wall swap will be revisited this summer, with one GM telling Scotto that he thinks the Rockets guard can still be a high-level backup in the NBA, or even a fringe starter.

Here are some more Lakers rumors:

  • Scotto queried four executives to gauge the value of unrestricted free agent Malik Monk, and they projected his next deal to be in the range of the taxpayer mid-level exception ($6.4MM) to the non-taxpayer mid-level ($10MM). As of now, the most the Lakers can offer Monk is the taxpayer mid-level.
  • Expect Los Angeles to again dangle Talen Horton-Tucker ($10.26MM), Kendrick Nunn ($5.25MM) and draft compensation to improve the roster, says Scotto.
  • League executives agree that former coach Frank Vogel was the scapegoat for the team’s disastrous season, with one noting that the well-respected Vogel should “be able to pick his spot as a high-level assistant if that’s something he wants to do,” according to Scotto.
  • LeBron James‘ future in L.A. is the biggest story surrounding the franchise, writes Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. James is eligible for a two-year, $97MM extension in August, which could secure his place on the roster through 2025. However, sources at Klutch Sports say that the agency and James have yet to discuss the star’s future, per Pincus.

Four NBA Teams Have No 2022 Draft Picks

In a typical NBA draft, each team receives two picks — one in the first round and one in the second. However, as our pre-lottery draft order shows, only five NBA teams (the Knicks, Pistons, Hawks, Wizards, and Rockets) control exactly two picks in the 2022 draft. The other 25 clubs currently hold either more or less than that.

Two of the picks in the 2022 draft have been forfeited — Milwaukee and Miami lost second-rounders as penalties for jumping the gun in free agency.

Of the draft’s 58 remaining selections, 10 are controlled by the five teams noted above. Twelve more are owned by the Spurs, Timberwolves, and Thunder, who have four apiece. And 27 others are held by the Cavaliers, Pacers, Hornets, Magic, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Warriors, and Kings, who each have three.

That leaves nine picks for the league’s remaining 13 teams. The Celtics, Raptors, Bulls, Bucks, Heat, Mavericks, Nuggets, and Clippers each own one, while the final pick – No. 23 overall – will be controlled by either the Nets or Sixers. Philadelphia traded it to Brooklyn in the James Harden blockbuster, but the Nets have the option of letting the 76ers keep it and acquiring Philadelphia’s unprotected 2023 first-round pick instead.

Whichever team ends up not getting No. 23 will be one of four clubs that doesn’t currently have a draft pick in 2022. The other three? The Suns, Jazz, and Lakers.

Phoenix traded away its 2022 first-round pick two years ago for Chris Paul and its second-rounder earlier this year for Torrey Craig. Given that the Suns won 64 games and ensured those picks will land at No. 30 and No. 60, it’s safe to assume they have no regrets.

Like Phoenix, the Jazz used their 2022 first-rounder to acquire their current starting point guard (Mike Conley). The team gave up its second-rounder two years ago to land Elijah Hughes. Those trades may not have been quite as successful as the Suns’ deals, but the picks Utah surrendered landed in the bottom third of the draft order, at No. 22 and No. 52 — that’s not a huge loss.

The Lakers, who missed the playoffs, will have to surrender a lottery pick this year. We don’t know yet where exactly it will land, but the odds say it’ll probably be at least No. 8 or No. 9 — and it could end up as high as No. 1.

The Lakers can at least take solace in the fact that they gave up both of their 2022 draft picks in the Anthony Davis blockbuster, which helped them win a title in 2020. Still, of the teams without any ’22 draft selections, L.A. is the club that could most use one to inject its roster with some young, inexpensive talent. It will be interesting to see whether the Lakers find a way to get involved in this year’s draft, flexing their financial muscle by buying their way into the second round.

Paolo Banchero Enters 2022 NBA Draft

Duke power forward Paolo Banchero has opted to declare the 2022 NBA draft. Banchero confirmed his decision in a video posted to his Twitter account.

Banchero’s decision comes as no surprise, as he has long been viewed as one of the top prospects in the 2022 draft class and a legitimate candidate to be the first player selected on June 23. Currently, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz list the Blue Devils star as the No. 2 player on their big board, just behind Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and ahead of Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr.

A consensus second-team All-American as a freshman in 2021/22, Banchero averaged 17.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 3.2 APG and posted a .478/.338/.729 shooting line in 39 games (33.0 MPG). He earned a spot on the All-ACC first team and was the conference’s Rookie of the Year.

According to Schmitz, Banchero is the most polished of the top three prospects in this year’s draft and boasts an impressive, well-rounded offensive game, exhibiting “legitimate guard skills” and the ability to be a ball-handler in the pick and roll. However, he doesn’t have the same defensive upside as Holmgren or Smith.

Banchero is the second Duke underclassman to declare for this year’s draft, joining sophomore center Mark Williams.

Injury Notes: Doncic, Trent, Barnes, Capela

After Shams Charania of The Athletic reported on Tuesday that there was optimism about Luka Doncic returning from his left calf strain as early as Game 3, the Mavericks star increased his activity at Wednesday’s practice, as veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein tweets.

Following that practice, Doncic spoke to the media for the first time during the playoffs and said he’s “feeling good,” per Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link). However, he wasn’t prepared to say he’ll be active for Game 3 in Utah on Thursday.

Doncic told reporters that a risk of aggravating the injury will be something he and the Mavs have to consider as they map out his return (Twitter links via MacMahon).

I don’t know if I’m going to be 100 percent. I think that’s tough right now,” Doncic said. “But if I’m ready and there’s no risk of (aggravating the) injury, I’ll be out there.”

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

  • Raptors swingman Gary Trent Jr. (non-COVID illness) was initially listed as questionable for Game 3 on Wednesday vs. Philadelphia, but he’ll play and start, tweets Josh Lewenberg of The team will see how Trent feels in the first quarter before making a decision on how much he’ll play tonight, says Lewenberg.
  • Raptors forward Scottie Barnes, meanwhile, continues to be listed as doubtful for Game 3 due to a left ankle sprain, but the rookie is out of his walking boot, and head coach Nick Nurse didn’t rule out the possibility that he could play on Wednesday, per Lewenberg (Twitter links).
  • Providing an update on Clint Capela on Tuesday, Hawks head coach Nate McMillan said the injured big man remains limited to physical rehab work for now, per Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). As Spencer relays, Capela – who is recovering from a hyperextended right knee – was seen doing some light on-court work prior to Tuesday’s game (all video links).
  • In case you missed it, we passed along the latest news on Devin Booker (hamstring) and Ben Simmons (back) earlier today.

Devin Booker Unlikely To Play In Games 3, 4?

1:46pm: The results of the MRI on Booker’s hamstring are still being evaluated, but for now it appears unlikely that he’ll be able to play in Games 3 and 4 in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowksi of ESPN (Twitter link).

Wojnarowski adds (via Twitter) that Booker’s right hamstring strain is believed to be relatively mild and he’s not being ruled out for the series.

The Suns have put out their own update, confirming that Booker has been diagnosed with a mild right hamstring strain and announcing there’s no timetable for his return.

7:07am: After scoring 31 points in the first half of the Suns‘ Game 2 loss to New Orleans on Tuesday, All-Star guard Devin Booker left the game in the third quarter due to a hamstring injury and didn’t return.

Booker, who was ruled out for the rest of the night with what the team referred to as right hamstring tightness, is expected to undergo testing and treatment on the injury today, writes ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. Head coach Monty Williams said after the game that the team expects to have “more information” on Wednesday.

As Windhorst notes, Booker missed seven games earlier this season due to a hamstring strain that affected his left leg. He also played through a hamstring injury during last year’s NBA Finals and has dealt with a few other hamstring issues over the years, though none have been too significant — this year’s seven-game absence was his longest stretch on the sidelines.

The top-seeded Suns, who went 8-6 this season without Booker, will still be favored over the Pelicans even without their leading scorer, but they don’t have a huge margin for error as they head to New Orleans with the series tied at one game apiece.

Williams told reporters after Tuesday’s game that the club would be ready to play without Booker in Game 3 on Friday if necessary.

“We’ve played without Chris (Paul) and Book before,” he said. “If we have to play without Book, next man up. We’ve done that all year long.”

Game 4 Viewed As Realistic Target For Simmons’ Nets Debut

Game 4 of the Nets‘ series vs. Boston on Monday appears to be a “realistic target” for Ben Simmons to make his Brooklyn debut, sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter links).

As Wojnarowski explains, the possibility of Simmons returning for Game 3 on Saturday hasn’t been ruled out, but there may not be enough time for the three-time All-Star to clear all the hurdles he needs to by then. Based on his progress in practices this week and the expectation that he’ll continue to further accelerate his ramp-up process in the coming days, Game 4 is a more viable target date, Woj says.

Acquired in February’s James Harden blockbuster, Simmons has yet to suit up for the Nets, largely due to a herniated disk in his back. But he has been making steady forward progress in his recovery from that injury since receiving an epidural last month, and participated in a 4-on-4 scrimmage this week for the first time since becoming a Net.

Head coach Steve Nash has consistently stressed that there’s no timeline for Simmons’ return and repeatedly told reporters that the 25-year-old still has to go through several stages of the ramp-up process before being cleared. However, while he reiterated on Wednesday that the team doesn’t have a set timeline for Simmons, Nash shifted his tone a little and hinted that a return could be close.

“There’s no other way than him to say, ‘I’m ready,'” Nash said when asked about a timetable, per Nick Friedell of ESPN. “Especially after an absence this long. So whenever he is ready, it’s going to have to be on him to say, ‘I feel comfortable. I feel ready to go. I want to play and I want to contribute.’

“We can’t push him places when you have been out this long. It’s got to be something where he is definitely comfortable and ready to play.”

Before arriving in Brooklyn, Simmons sat out the entire season as a Sixer due to mental health issues and a desire to be traded. He hasn’t played since last June when Philadelphia was eliminated by Atlanta in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. If he returns during the Nets/Celtics series, Simmons will almost certainly play a more limited role than he did with the 76ers.

Draft Notes: Cockburn, Bernard, McCormack, Green, Gibson

Illinois junior center Kofi Cockburn is once again entering his name in the NBA draft, according to Jonathan Givony of ESPN. Because he previously tested the draft waters in 2020 and 2021, Cockburn won’t be permitted to withdraw from the draft this time around, so he’ll forgo his remaining NCAA eligibility.

“I’m 100% in now,” Cockburn told ESPN. “I’m not going back to college. I’m signing with agent Todd Ramasar. I’ve tested the waters enough, I’m 100% dedicated to going all the way.”

The No. 89 prospect on ESPN’s top-100 list, Cockburn was a consensus first-team All-American and was the only college player to average 20+ points and 10+ rebounds per game in 2021/22, says Givony.

The 22-year-old put up 20.9 PPG, 10.6 RPG, and 1.0 BPG in 28 appearances (30.7 MPG) for the Fighting Illini, but acknowledges that he’ll have to tweak his college game – which was heavy on back-to-the-basket, low-post scoring – to succeed in the NBA.

“The NBA values players like Steven Adams and Jonas Valanciunas — guys who set great screens, who know the pick and roll game, how to slip and seal, how to be a physical defender and rebounder who blocks shots,” Cockburn said. “My size can be a major advantage in the NBA. I don’t need the ball to be happy.”

Here are a few more updates on early entrants declaring for the 2022 NBA draft:

  • UCLA senior wing Jules Bernard will go through the draft process while maintaining his college eligibility, he announced on Instagram. Bernard, the Bruins’ third-leading scorer with 12.8 PPG in 2021/22, joins teammate Peyton Watson among UCLA players in the draft pool.
  • Kansas senior power forward David McCormack is entering the 2022 draft and appears prepared to go pro, forging his final year of NCAA eligibility, he announced on Instagram. After earning Big 12 Most Improved Player honors in 2021, McCormack had another strong season for the eventual champs, averaging 10.6 PPG and 7.0 RPG in 40 games (21.9 MPG).
  • Northern Iowa junior guard AJ Green has decided to enter the draft while maintaining his college eligibility and entering the transfer portal, he announced on Twitter. The two-time Player of the Year in the Missouri Valley Conference has averaged 19.4 PPG with a .390 3PT% in 65 contests (35.7 MPG) since the start of the 2019/20 season.
  • Oklahoma senior guard Umoja Gibson will test the draft waters, he announced on Twitter. Gibson, who has spent the last two years at Oklahoma after transferring from North Texas, averaged 13.3 PPG on .435/.390/.871 shooting in 35 games (32.1 MPG) in his senior year.