Pacific Notes: Bagley, Lakers, Fredette, Bibbs

The Kings have taken a lot of criticism for passing on Luka Doncic with the No. 2 pick last June and selecting Marvin Bagley III instead but coach Dave Joerger says the franchise made the right decision, Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee writes. “I think you look (at) — especially high picks — to me, just take the best player you can get, and I think we got the best player,” Joerger said. “I just think the sky’s the limit for Marvin, and I don’t know how high Luka’s (ceiling) is. I think he’s had a terrific season. I’ve enjoyed watching him, (but) we’re fired up about our guy. You talk about just scraping the tip of what he can do talent-wise. I think it’s going to be really fun to be around him for a long, long time.”

We have more from around the Pacific Division:

  • Many people believe the ill-fated pursuit of Anthony Davis wrecked the Lakers’ season but they blame injuries for their downfall, as Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register reports. “Throughout the whole season we just had bodies and bodies and bodies and bodies be down,” LeBron James said. “And it’s just hard for us to have any type of rhythm, any type of camraderie, and type of chemistry on the floor when (Coach Luke Walton) has to play with the lineups over and over and over and try to figure out different scenarios on the court to be successful.”
  • Jimmer Fredette‘s representatives had spoken with the Suns numerous times this season before they offered him a contract, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic reports. Fredette signed a contract last week for the remainder of the season with a team option for 2019/20. He played 43 games in China with the Shanghai Sharks, averaging a league-high 36.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.4 APG, and 2.6 SPG. “The Phoenix Suns were very interested,” he said. “Spoke with their (interim) GM (James Jones). Towards the end of the season, we wanted to make it happen.” 
  • Guard Justin Bibbs has yet to make his NBA debut but he’s thrilled about his opportunity with the Clippers, David Yapkowitz of Basketball Insiders writes. Bibbs signed a second 10-day contract with the club on Saturday but he’s been playing on their G League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario. “I’m happy that my play has been rewarded, that the organization believed in me enough to give me a 10-day. Its motivation for me to keep going,” Bibbs said.

McCollum To Miss At Least Four More Games

The Trail Blazers could be without their second-leading scorer, shooting guard CJ McCollum, for the rest of the regular season, according to an NBA.com report.

McCollum will not accompany the team on its upcoming four-game road trip, coach Terry Stotts told the media on Monday. He hasn’t played since suffering a left knee strain on March 16.

McCollum is averaging 21.3 points while shooting 46.3% from the field, including 38.0% from distance.

The Blazers won’t have another home game until April 3 against Memphis. There will only be a week left in the regular season from that point.

McCollum’s health is a major concern for a team that is trying to avert a second straight postseason flop. The Blazers were swept by New Orleans last season. McCollum has two years left on his four-year, $106.6MM contract and has often been the subject of trade rumors, which will intensify if Portland doesn’t advance in the playoffs this spring.

Bulls Notes: Blakeney, Tanking, Dunn, Valentine

Injuries to starting Bulls guards Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine give their backups a chance to improve their prospects of making the roster next season, Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago writes. Shaquille Harrison, Ryan Arcidiacono, Wayne Selden and Antonio Blakeney will get increased playing time. Arcidiacono started the season slowly but is shooting 52% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc since the All-Star break, Strotman notes. The club can make him a restricted free agent by extending a $1.82MM qualifying offer. Harrison, whose $1.59MM salary for next season is not guaranteed, is averaging 10.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 3.0 SPG while starting the last three games. Blakeney’s $1.59MM contract is guaranteed for next season but that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to be on the team next season, according to Strotman. He’s shooting just 42% from the field and averaging just 0.6 APG. The Bulls can make Selden a restricted free agent by extending him a $1.93MM qualifying offer.

We have more on the Bulls:

  • The team appears to be in full tank mode entering the final eight games this season but coach Jim Boylen denies it, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times writes. “We’re trying to build a competitive spirit, a team that’s going to honor that Bulls across their chest and play for the city,” Boylen said. “We don’t feel shutting people down is a way to build that.”
  • Dunn is unlikely to play on Tuesday due to a back injury. He tried to tough it out against Utah on Saturday and earned kudos from his coach, as K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune notes.  “I want to give Kris credit for playing,” Boylen said. “He had more kinesio tape on him than a mummy. He tried to play and give us what he could. I love the fact that he tried it.”
  • Not only do the Bulls want rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison to play on their summer league team, they’ll also ask Denzel Valentine if he’s interested in participating, Johnson reports in another article. Valentine has not played this season following surgery to reconstruct his left ankle. The Bulls have discussed playing in both the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and the Utah Jazz Summer League in Salt Lake City, Johnson adds.

Thunder Claim Jawun Evans Off Waivers

8:05pm: The transaction is official, according to a team press release.

4:39pm: The Thunder have claimed point guard Jawun Evans off waivers, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

This comes as a surprising development, as the Rockets were expected to claim Evans after the two-way player was waived by the Suns on Saturday. Oklahoma City, which has tumbled to sixth in the Western Conference standings, made a preemptive strike to prevent Evans from going to Houston. The Rockets are currently third in the West.

It’s a kind of homecoming for the 22-year-old Evans, who starred at Oklahoma State. He made seven brief appearances with Phoenix this season.

Oklahoma City had a two-way opening after converting Deonte Burton‘s two-way deal to a standard contract earlier this month. Two-way players are not eligible for the playoffs.

It’s unlikely Evans will get any significant playing time with Russell Westbrook, Dennis Schroder and Raymond Felton at point guard.

Houston was looking to fill a two-way slot after promoting Danuel House to its 15-man roster.

Evans spent a good portion of this season with Northern Arizona in the G League, posting a 15.1/3.8/5.8 line in 32 games.

The Clippers waived him in October just before the start of the regular season, although he had a guaranteed $1.378MM deal.

Jason Kidd: I’d Love To Coach LeBron

Jason Kidd would welcome the opportunity to coach LeBron James, according to an ESPN report. Kidd, whose name has surfaced as a possible candidate for the Lakers head coaching job if Luke Walton is dismissed after the season, made the comment on ESPN’s The Jump.

“When you talk about the best player in the world, you always are going to say yes because as a coach or as a teammate, he’s always going to make you better because you’re going to work,” Kidd said. “As a coach, X and Os, you got to be on point. And as a teammate, you’re going to work extremely hard because you know he’s going to need you to make that shot or come up with a defensive play. And so, that would be a great honor to coach any elite basketball player, and I’ve got that opportunity in Giannis (Antetokounmpo). And hopefully somewhere down the road, I can have another star.”

Kidd confirmed he’s actively seeking another head coaching position. He’s also considered a prime candidate to take over at his alma mater, California. Kidd, who was fired by the Bucks last season, said “it’s nice to be wanted.”

Kidd praised Walton for doing an “incredible job” through injuries and other issues. Kidd was understandably coy about whether he covets Walton’s job.

“We’ll wait until the season’s over to see what opportunities come about and hopefully, there’s one that fits,” he said.

Kidd’s coaching career began with the Nets. He was 139-152 with Milwaukee and took the team to the playoffs twice.

Gayle Benson Vows To Remain Pelicans’ Owner

Gayle Benson, the widow of long-time Pelicans owner Tom Benson, vowed on Monday that she’ll retain ownership in the franchise, according to a New Orleans Advocate report. Gayle Benson’s commitment to the franchise had been in doubt, particularly after superstar Anthony Davis made his trade demand this winter. She made her intentions clear at an NFL owners meeting. Benson also controls ownership of the Saints. “There is no way I’m going to sell that team (the Pelicans) ever,” Benson said. The Pelicans are valued at $1.2 billion according to Forbes’ most recent rankings, which is second-to-last in the league ahead of only the Grizzlies, the report notes. Their lease at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans runs through 2024.

We have more on Benson’s plans for the franchise:

  • Saints GM Mickey Loomis will focus exclusively on the football team going forward, Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune tweets.  He previously had oversight duties for both teams. Danny Ferry has been running the front office as the interim GM since Benson fired Dell Demps shortly after the February trade deadline. The new GM will oversee basketball operations and report directly to Benson, Duncan adds.
  • The outside consultant being used to conduct the GM search has recommended five or six candidates for the position, Duncan reports in another tweet. Benson and team president Dennis Lauscha will make the hire with Loomis also providing his input, Duncan adds.
  • Benson said there are no plans to relocate the Pelicans. Their lease at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans runs through 2024. “People are going to talk and there’s really nothing you can do about that,” Benson told Duncan in the report. “Time will take care of it. They’ll see that I’m sincere and I’m not going anywhere.”

Five Eastern FAs Who Have Significantly Boosted Their Value In 2018/19

For a star like Kevin Durant, the results of the 2018/19 season haven’t had much of an impact on his projected earnings in free agency. Heading into the season, the expectation was that Durant would land a maximum-salary contract; that hasn’t changed. In fact, barring a catastrophic injury, it’s hard to imagine what KD could have done this season that would’ve significantly impacted his stock as his free agency nears.

For most other NBA players in contract years though, their performance on the court this season will go a long way toward determining what sort of offers they’ll get this summer. There are several players around the league who have increased their value significantly with their on-court showings in 2018/19 and figure to do better than originally expected in free agency this year as a result.

Today, we’ll shine a spotlight on some of these players from the Eastern Conference, identifying six 2019 free-agents-to-be who have improved their stock with their play this season.

Let’s dive in…

  1. D’Angelo Russell, G, Nets (RFA): We’ve written repeatedly about Russell’s ascension this season, but it’s still worth reiterating how impressive it has been. It’s easy to forget now, but before Caris LeVert dislocated his foot in November, it was LeVert that looked like the Nets guard headed for a breakout year. Instead, Russell has emerged as The Man in Brooklyn, averaging 21.8 PPG, 7.4 APG, and 3.7 RPG on .436/.366/.792 shooting in the 60 games since that LeVert injury. Assuming the Nets can hold onto a playoff spot, D-Lo will have the opportunity to turn a few more heads in the postseason, positioning himself for an annual salary between $20MM and the max.
  2. Nikola Vucevic, C, Magic: To thrive in the modern NBA, a center generally needs to be able to shoot from outside or protect the rim — or both. Neither skill had ever been a huge part of Vucevic’s game, but he has proven he’s adaptable in recent years. In 72 games this season, the Magic center is putting up career highs in 3PT% (.366), total 3-pointers (74), and BPG (1.2). His 20.7 PPG and 12.1 RPG are also career bests, buoying him to his first career All-Star Game. At age 28, Vucevic may not be in line for a massive payday, but he appears set to get a nice raise on his current $12.75MM salary, which was hardly a lock heading into the season.
  3. Bojan Bogdanovic, G/F, Pacers: A sharpshooting role player prior to joining the Pacers, Bogdanovic has taken his game to another level this season — especially since Victor Oladipo suffered a season-ending quad injury in January. Having never averaged more than 14.3 PPG in a season, the 29-year-old has posted a blistering .509/.403/.794 shooting line in the 27 games since Oladipo went down, averaging a team-high 21.3 PPG in that stretch. Bogdanovic isn’t an elite defender, but any wing who can knock down threes at the rate he can will do well for himself in free agency.
  4. Danny Green, G, Raptors: While All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry and Most Improved Player candidate Pascal Siakam have – deservedly – received much of the credit for the Raptors‘ success this year, Green shouldn’t be overlooked. Viewed as almost a throw-in in the deal that sent Kawhi to Toronto, Green has had a terrific bounce-back season, knocking down a scorching 44.3% of his 3-point attempts. His on/off-court numbers exhibit his importance — the Raptors have a +12.2 net rating when he plays, compared to a -5.0 mark when he sits. An ideal three-and-D wing, Green should be in line for another lucrative multiyear deal this summer.
  5. Brook Lopez, C, Bucks: Like Vucevic, Lopez has avoided becoming an NBA relic by modernizing his game. Once a fixture in the low post, the 30-year-old can now frequently be found a few steps behind the arc, having earned the nickname Splash Mountain by knocking down threes and helping to space the Bucks‘ offense. Lopez is more of a role player than the core piece he was in Brooklyn, but his shooting (2.4 3PG, .371 3PT%) and rim protection (2.2 BPG) make him a valuable contributor. Milwaukee almost certainly won’t be able to bring him back at the same bargain-basement rate he agreed to in 2018 ($3.4MM).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raptors To Re-Sign Jodie Meeks

After letting Eric Moreland‘s 10-day contract expire over the weekend, the Raptors plan on filling one of their open roster spots by bringing back Jodie Meeks, per Shams Charania of The Athletic, who reports (via Twitter) that Toronto will sign Meeks to a rest-of-season contract.

Meeks, 31, appeared in 77 games in 2017/18 for the Wizards but saw his season come to an early end when he was suspended 25 games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy. Meeks was traded to Milwaukee in the offseason, where he served the rest of his suspension at the start of 2018/19 before being waived.

Since then, Meeks has signed just one NBA contract, inking a 10-day deal with Toronto after the All-Star break. Although he only got into a couple games with the Raptors, the veteran sharpshooter provided a spark off the bench, scoring 15 points and knocking down three 3-pointers in just 24 total minutes. The former Kentucky standout is a career 37.2% shooter from beyond the arc.

While Meeks is unlikely to play much of a role for Toronto in the postseason, he figures to see some action in the club’s final regular season games. Still, it’s not clear when the Raptors will officially sign Meeks, since they’re over the tax line and aren’t under pressure to add a 14th man right away.

When he does sign, Meeks will earn $12,295 per day for the rest of the regular season, with the contract counting against the Raps’ cap at a rate of $8,546 per day. The team will still have one more open roster spot once Meeks is back on board.

And-Ones: Nogueira, Draft, Reese, Bosh

Lucas Nogueira, who appeared in 141 games for the Raptors over the course of four NBA seasons from 2014-18, recently spoke to Gustavo Faldon of ESPN Brazil about his battles with depression and alcohol. Nogueira, who returned to Spain – where he began his professional career – last year when his contract with Toronto expired, said he has been sober for three months, but admitted that his drinking habits were a problem earlier in his career.

“I went out a lot,” Nogueira said. “In Spain, we had one game per week. You’re young, you have some money and no limits. You would eventually find the party. It’s Europe. I had no work ethic whatsoever. When I went to the U.S. I saw that a 15-year-old kid had more discipline than I did. It is a cultural thing.”

Having returned to his home country of Brazil, Nogueira is currently training in Sao Paulo in the hopes of staying in shape and eventually earning tryouts with NBA teams.

“If you asked me the same question four months ago, I’d say I didn’t know,” Nogueira said when asked about a potential NBA comeback. “Now I say I will be back. What makes me so confident is my training and my attitude. I’m ready for the challenge like I’ve never been.”

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • With all but 16 teams eliminated from 2019’s NCAA tournament, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz (Insider link) took a look at which players’ stocks increased or decreased over the last week. Besides obvious standouts like Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, the ESPN duo highlights impressive performances from Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga), Nassir Little (UNC), and Mfiondu Kabengele (FSU).
  • Former Canisius guard Isaiah Reese, who was suspended by the program in February for conduct detrimental to the team, informed the school that he’ll withdraw to seek representation and go pro (Twitter link). Reese tested the waters a year ago, but appears set to keep his name in the 2019 NBA draft class.
  • Chris Bosh will have his jersey retired this week with the Heat and is giving up on the idea of returning to the NBA as a player. He also has no plans to transition to a front office role in Miami – or for any other NBA team – anytime soon, as Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel details.
  • USA Basketball issued a press release today announcing the 12-man World Team roster for next month’s Nike Hoop Summit, which pits top high school prospects against one another. Josh Green and Nico Mannion, two of the top eight players on the ESPN100, headline the roster.

Wade Says He’d Be Able To Play 2-3 More Years

Despite ongoing efforts from friends, opponents, and fans to change his mind, Dwyane Wade is sticking to his plan to retire from the NBA at the end of the 2018/19 season. However, that’s not to say he doesn’t believe he could keep playing if he wanted to. Speaking to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Wade said the thinks he could play “a solid two more years,” at least.

“Especially in this role that I’m in now, I can play another two, three years, definitely,” Wade said. “People around me want me to keep playing. But I made the decision to say this was my last season and I wanted to walk away the way I’m walking away now and have no regrets about it.”

Wade, who turned 37 in January, set new career lows in minutes and points per game last season, but has reversed that trend this year, averaging 14.3 PPG, 4.0 APG, and 3.8 RPG in 63 games (25.6 MPG) for the Heat. The 13-time All-Star has played particularly well lately as Miami pushes to secure a playoff spot, scoring 15.5 PPG with a .462 FG% and a .340 3PT% over his last 18 games.

Still, Wade acknowledges that it has been difficult at times to figure out how much he can – and should – do on the court, as he looks to pass the baton to some of his younger teammates.

“It’s a tough balance, man. I know I can’t do what I used to do. I know I can keep playing,” Wade told Charania. “… There are moments where I want to get involved, but my number may not be called so I stay out of the way. The competitor in you wants to go, but you also understand where you’re at. There are other guys that they have to get their game going, and coach has to make sure their number is called. I’m trying to enjoy this process. We’re fighting for the playoffs here late in my career, so it’s been amazing.”

As for his retirement decision, Wade appreciates that many people around him would like to see him keep playing, but is confident that he’s making the right call.

“A decision like that has to be on you. It has to be a you thing,” Wade said. “People want you to keep going for selfish reasons. No one knows what you’re dealing with. I’ve always had support from people around me. Even now, you hear from people. Everyone wanting you to keep playing. But you have to understand yourself, understand your body.”