Eastern Notes: Brooks, Ntilikina, Lopez, Knicks

Wizards coach Scott Brooks recently finished his third season with Washington and 10th season as an NBA head coach, reaching a full decade in the position and achieving a goal that very few coaches have done today.

Brooks guided the Wizards through a tumultuous, injury-plagued season and finished with a 32-50 record, causing some around the league to question his future job security. Team owner Ted Leonsis has since decided to keep Brooks entering next season, but Brooks was non-committal on whether the rest of his staff would be joining him for another year.

“I’ve talked to Ted. I definitely talked Ted,” Brooks said, as relayed by Ben Standig of NBC Sports. “I have a lot of respect for our organization. I have to get better, first and foremost…Will the staff remain the same? Every year, staffs change. Every year staffs change. We’re probably going to make some changes. I don’t know if it’s for sure. Everything is still up in the air.”

Brooks shares a close relationship with former Rockets defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik, who was let go from Houston in a surprising move last week. Washington could wind up pursuing Bzdelik or lose some of their assistant coaches to other teams, Standig notes, such as Tony Brown. Brown was one of Brooks’ lead assistants this past season but is now a coaching free agent.

Regardless of which assistant coaches return for Washington, the team is still seeking a new president of basketball operations and recently offered their vacant position to Denver’s Tim Connelly, according to a report from The Athletic.

“Ted is going to make a [president of basketball operations] decision and I trust that I going to be the best for the program moving forward,” Brooks said. “As of right now, (interim GM Tommy Sheppard) is doing a great job leading the group. We all feel comfortable with what’s going on. Hopefully, things work out and we move forward as an organization. We all have to get better, myself included.”

Here are some other notes from around the Eastern Conference:

  • The Knicks will explore a trade centered around Frank Ntilikina with hopes of landing a late first-round or early second-round draft pick, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. New York explored moving Ntilikina during the regular season but ultimately opted to hold onto him past the NBA’s trade deadline. Ntilikina was drafted by the Knicks with the No. 8 pick in 2017.
  • Brook Lopez‘s big Game 1 showed once again why the Bucks’ decision to sign him was a steal last summer, Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes. Lopez, who’s on a one-year, $3.4MM deal, finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in Milwaukee’s Game 1 victory.
  • ESPN’s Bobby Marks previews the offseason for the Knicks, including potential free-agent targets, the draft, possible trades and future moves. New York is widely expected to pursue top-tier free agents such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker when free agency opens on the night of June 30.

Central Notes: Beilein, Pistons, Brogdon, Bulls

New Cavaliers coach John Beilein accepted a position with the team last week after spending 12 seasons at Michigan, a difficult decision for a coach who’s spent over 40 years at the collegiate level.

Beilein, who’s known for his high character and wealth of basketball knowledge, is being tasked with guiding a young Cavs team back to prominence after a difficult 2018/19 season. The opportunity to coach an NBA team was too good for Beilein to pass up despite having no experience in the league.

“There’s never a good time to leave,” he said last week, as relayed by Andrew Seligman of the Associated Press. “You can make a couple choices. You can leave too early or you can leave too late. You never know when to leave. This was an opportunity that has so much potential it was too difficult to pass up. It was the right thing to do.”

Beilein sees great potential in his new team, from veterans such as Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, younger players such as Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman, and the No. 5 overall selection in June’s draft. The team also hired a respected associate head coach in J.B. Bickerstaff on Sunday, who spent this past season with the Grizzlies.

“We have good young players,” Beilein said. “Kevin Love. We’ve got some guys with a lot of experience, especially with winning. I talked with all the players today. I feel a good karma right now. Last year, although it was difficult for all, we all learned a lot. Everybody’s gonna grow from it and attack next year with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of spirit, a lot of optimism.”

There’s more from the Central Division tonight:

  • Rod Beard of The Detroit News examines the Pistons’ roster needs, most notably through draft prospects and upcoming free agents. Detroit has the 15th pick in the NBA Draft and will likely be patient at the start of free agency, coming off a season that saw them go 41-41 with the No. 8 seed.
  • Aside from bolstering Milwaukee’s championship hopes, the return of Malcolm Brogdon also boosts his potential value during free agency this summer, Steve Aschburner of NBA.com writes. Since returning, Brogdon, who will reach unrestricted free agency in July, has averaged 13 points in three postseason wins off the Bucks’ bench. He averaged 15.6 points on 51% shooting from the floor, 43% from 3-point range and 93% from the charity stripe in 64 contests during the regular season.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune explores the potential options at point guard for the Bulls this summer, including Brogdon, Terry Rozier, Patrick Beverley and others. Chicago is said to be interested in upgrading its point guard position this offseason through the draft or free agency.

Rockets Open Extension Talks With Mike D’Antoni

The Rockets and head coach Mike D’Antoni have held preliminary discussions on a contract extension that would keep D’Antoni from entering the final season of his deal, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

“I’ve let (GM) Daryl (Morey) and (owner) Tilman (Fertitta) know that I’m energized to keep coaching — and believe that I can continue to do this at a high-level for at least another three years,” D’Antoni told ESPN. “I want be part of a championship here.”

D’Antoni is entering the fourth and final year of a $16MM contract he signed with the team back in the summer of 2016. He’s guided the Rockets to deep runs in each of his three seasons as coach, accruing a 173-73 record over that span.

For Houston, it’s unclear how much of a commitment the team would make to D’Antoni in a potential extension, Wojnarowski notes. He is a two-time NBA Coach of the Year.

D’Antoni has held head coaching stints with Denver, Phoenix, New York, the L.A. Lakers and Houston across 15 seasons. The Rockets made it to the Western Conference Finals earlier this month but lost to the Warriors in six games, a disappointing end to the campaign.

Atlantic Notes: Knicks, King, Hernandez, Raptors

Knicks president Steve Mills broke his silence last week but declined to address whether the team will look to trade its lottery pick in a deal for disgruntled New Orleans star Anthony Davis, as relayed by Marc Berman of the New York Post.

The Knicks were awarded the No. 3 pick from the NBA’s Draft Lottery, something many fans saw as a bitter disappointment. The fans of New York, Mills says, should still be excited about where the team is positioned entering this summer.

“We’re excited about where we are,’’ Mills said Friday at the NBA draft combine, according to Berman. “We know we’ll get a good player at 3. So it’s something we’re excited about and look forward to.’’

With the Pelicans locked into Zion Williamson and Grizzlies reportedly focused on Ja Morant, the leading candidate for the Knicks could be Duke standout R.J. Barrett. In addition to the third pick, New York is starting to prepare for a pivotal free agency period — one that could shape the team’s future for better or worse.

“We want to build this team the right way,’’ Mills said. “We’ve always said we’re going to continue to work hard during the draft process. We believe we’re a team that can draft well and this is all part of our plan and growing our team.’’

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division tonight:

Pacific Notes: Durant, Kings, Lakers, Franklin

The notion that the Warriors are a better team without Kevin Durant is silly and shouldn’t be taken seriously, Sam Amick writes for The Athletic.

Durant has missed Golden State’s last four games — all of which were wins — leading some to question how much better he truly makes the team. His absence has allowed Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and most notably Draymond Green to operate more with their surrounding cast, playing more up-tempo without their most talented player.

“We’re confident we can win (every time out), but we would much rather have (Durant) playing,” Curry said after Game 2, according to Amick. “So we’re going to hold the fort down till he gets back and go win another championship with our full squad. You know, him and DeMarcus (Cousins, who could return from his quad injury in this series), as well. We understand how great of players they are and how they raise our ceiling even higher.”

Multiple Warriors players have labeled Durant as being the best talent on the team this season. The all-out recruitment of Durant, led by Green and others in 2016, kicked off because the team wanted another go-to scorer and all-around superstar on the wing.

Before suffering his strained calf against the Rockets, Durant was averaging a scorching 34.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game in the playoffs. He shot 51% from the field and 42% from deep during those 11 contests.

There’s more today from the Pacific Division:

Draft Notes: Bol, Williams, Herro, Smart

With the 2019 NBA Draft Combine now over, ESPN’s Mike Schmitz and Kevin Pelton discuss the 2019 NBA Draft prospects whose stock rose or fell over the weekend, beginning with Croatian forward Luka Samanic, whose performance in his first game at the combine was good enough for him to shut himself down and put his name squarely within the first-round conversation.

The other players who impressed scouts and improved their stock include Florida State’s Terance Mann, Georgia’s Nicolas Claxton, Nebraska’s Isaiah Roby, and LSU’s Tremont Waters. Pelton was particularly impressed by Waters’ ability to knock down the NBA-three-pointer from off the dribble, an important skill in today’s NBA for a point guard.

As for those prospects who may have lowered their value, the list begins with two very productive, All-American college big men – Tennessee’s Grant Williams and Kansas’ Dedric Lawson. Per the ESPN scribes, both may have put too much emphasis on their developing outside games during 5-on-5 action.

Additionally, Western Kentucky big man Charles Bassey and Utah State big man Neemias Queta both underwhelmed, with Schmitz saying both need improvement in different areas of the game (e.g. skill, fluidity, motor) before being ready to contribute at the NBA level.

There’s more from the lead-up to this year’s NBA Draft this afternoon:

  • If the Wizards are interested in a high risk-high reward option with their No. 9-overall selection, Oregon’s Bol Bol may be an intriguing selection, writes Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington.
  • Despite struggling at the combine, Williams does not regret playing in the 5-on-5 sessions, telling Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer that he’s “not just trying to show I can shoot, I’m showing I can defend… Be out there and be that guy who was there to win, and cheering on his teammates… I know that defensively I could have been a little better contesting shots. Being analytical — like I normally am — I play different guys certain ways, and that bit me a little bit.” Williams was dinged a bit for only measuring in at 6’6” and potentially being caught up in the “tweener” label.
  • The Celtics have three first-round picks, and while they may not end up keeping all of them, one prospect to keep an eye on for one of their selections is Kentucky guard Tyler Herro. Herro spoke with Boston brass at the combine and said they will be among the handful of teams he will workout for leading up to the draft, per A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.
  • LSU freshman guard Javonte Smart is withdrawing his name from the 2019 NBA Draft and returning for his sophomore season in Baton Rouge, tweets Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports.

Pelicans Hire Trajan Langdon As GM

3:33pm: The hiring of Langdon is official, per a release from the Pelicans.

10:40am: Assistant GM Trajan Langdon will leave the Nets to become the new GM in New Orleans, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. The move completes a front office makeover for the Pelicans, who hired David Griffin last month as executive vice president of basketball operations.

Langdon impressed Pelicans officials when he interviewed for the top job in the organization, and the team was happy to be able to secure both men, according to Fred Katz of The Athletic (Twitter link).

He has prior experience working with Griffin, serving as director of player administration and basketball operations for Cleveland during the 2015/16 season, notes Andrew Lopez of The New Orleans Times-Picayune (Twitter link).

Langdon has been with Brooklyn’s front office since 2016. He was drafted by the Cavaliers in 1999 and played three seasons in Cleveland, but spent most of his career overseas.

Cavaliers Hire J.B. Bickerstaff As Associate Head Coach

The Cavaliers have hired J.B. Bickerstaff as associate head coach, league sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. A target of multiple franchises this offseason for a coaching role (including the Sixers, Celtics, Lakers and Kings), Bickerstaff will be tasked with helping new head coach John Beilein make the transition to the NBA.

Bickerstaff, who will now be one of the league’s top paid assistant coaches, is a former head coach of both the Rockets (interim) and Grizzlies. He is also the son of former NBA coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who now serves as a Senior Basketball Advisor for the Cavaliers.

As we relayed last week, the Cavaliers also still plan to hire at least one other person to join Beilein’s staff, potentially from the pool of other candidates that interviewed for the head coaching position, including Alex Jensen (Utah), Jamahl Mosley (Dallas), Jordi Fernandez (Denver), and Nate Tibbetts (Portland).

MRI Negative On Andre Iguodala’s Left Calf

1:23pm: Per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the results of Andre Iguodala’s MRI came back negative. He is questionable for Game 4 in Portland, adds Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

9:02am: The Warriors could have a third member of their rotation sidelined as they try to wrap up a fifth straight Western Conference title, according to Nick Friedell of ESPN. Andre Iguodala will have an MRI today on an injured left calf that limited him to 17 minutes last night and caused him to miss the entire fourth quarter.

“He was sore,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters after the Game 3 victory. “Lower leg, just had some soreness. He’s going to get an MRI tomorrow. We didn’t want to risk anything and put him back in the game. So, when we took him out mid-third, trainer said that’ll be it for him. We’ll know more tomorrow.”

Iguodala was pulled from the game in the first quarter to have the leg examined. He was able to return for a while before the Warriors decided to sit him for the rest of the night. Iguodala was favoring the leg somewhat after the game, Friedell adds, but didn’t seem worried about the injury

The 35-year-old swingman has started nine of the Warriors’ 15 games this postseason and is averaging 30.2 minutes per night. He is posting a 10.6/4.2/4.1 line and is taking on the toughest defensive matchups. Kerr limited him to a career-low 23.2 minutes per game during the regular season to make sure he was rested heading into the playoffs.

Golden State has a chance to sweep the series with Portland tomorrow, which would create a nine-day window for Iguodala, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins to recover before the start of the NBA Finals.

“We won’t talk about anything other than Game 4,” Kerr said. “What’s after that doesn’t matter, maybe game 5, maybe game 6. So, we just focus on the next game ahead of us. We’ve got some guys banged up, but we’ve done a really good job. I’m really proud of this group for playing through a number of injuries we’ve had. It’s a remarkable group to continue to press and play at this level without so many key guys, so I’m very proud of them.”

Nets Face Management Makeover

Trajan Langdon’s decision to become the new GM in New Orleans represents the third major off-court loss for Brooklyn since the season ended, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post.

Langdon, the Nets’ former assistant GM and the reigning G League Executive of the Year, has been a popular candidate to move up the management ranks. He recently interviewed for jobs with the Timberwolves and Wizards, as well as the Pelicans.

The time Langdon spent as a player in Europe only adds to his value, Lewis notes. He has wide-ranging contacts throughout the continent and speaks five languages. He also has a scouting background with the Spurs and was responsible for assembling the Nets’ draft board.

Lewis sees Gianluca Pascucci, who serves as the Nets’ director of global scouting, as the leading choice to step into Langdon’s role. However, he is also reportedly a candidate to become GM at Olimpia Milano in the EuroLeague.

Brooklyn’s other offseason losses were  G League coach Will Weaver, who left for a job with Sydney in the Australian League after leading Long Island to the championship game, and Chris Fleming, who left the Nets’ coaching staff to become the lead assistant to Jim Boylen in Chicago.

Lewis mentions ex-Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek as a possibility to replace Fleming. Hornacek joined the Nets for training camp, practices and some road trips and may be interested in taking an official position with the team.