- First-year coach Chauncey Billups says he’s not worried about the possibility of the Trail Blazers getting off to a slow start, Casey Holdahl of the team’s website writes. Billups is more concerned about the team’s growth under a new system. “This team has gotten to the playoffs forever and then those habits end up coming into play and it derails you from trying to extend your season,” he said. “So I’m more concerned with how we can change a lot of things that are really important for us on both ends of the ball. And when we actually do that, I just know how good of a team we can be.”
- Trail Blazers wing Tony Snell suffered a minor setback as he recovers from a right foot sprain that sidelined during the preseason, according to Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. “I think he’ll be on the court hopefully before two weeks but you can’t throw a guy back out there in a game,” Billups said. Snell joined the team in free agency on a one-year contract.
With the NBA regular season underway, most teams are taking full advantage of their ability to carry up to 17 players, including 15 on standard contracts and a pair on two-way deals. As our roster counts page shows, 23 of the league’s 30 teams have full 17-man squads.
Most of the teams not carrying a 15th player on a standard contract are either over the luxury tax line or are bumping up against it, and have opted for financial savings for now. Those clubs are all decent bets to add a 15th man by season’s end, but likely won’t be in any rush to do so unless they face depth issues.
Here are the teams that are currently carrying just 14 players on their standard rosters:
- Miami Heat
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Phoenix Suns
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Utah Jazz
Of these six teams, three – the Bucks, Blazers, and Jazz – project to be taxpayers, while the Heat and Wolves would go over the tax line if they were to add a 15th man. The Suns are the only team in this group with no pressing tax concerns.
Meanwhile, there are two teams with an open two-way contract slot:
- Orlando Magic
- Phoenix Suns
The Magic’s inclusion here is a little surprising. They’re a rebuilding team with their own G League affiliate — it seems as if they’d benefit from taking a shot on a young prospect with that spot, and perhaps they will soon.
It’s less surprising that Phoenix is on this list. The Suns sold their G League affiliate last year, so they don’t have their own NBAGL team where they could send two-way players. Phoenix’s lone two-way player, Chandler Hutchison, will essentially serve as the team’s de facto 15th man for the time being.
Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard acknowledged this week that he considered the possibility of leaving Portland this offseason after a disappointing playoff loss to Denver in the spring, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic. However, after deciding not to ask for a trade, Lillard remains committed to the franchise and has no intention of wavering even if the team gets off to a slow start this season.
“Everybody is saying what they think I’m thinking, and what they think I’m going to do, but like, I’m not leaving Portland, you know?” Lillard said.
As Quick details, a series of conversations over the summer with new head coach Chauncey Billups helped renew Lillard’s enthusiasm for remaining with the Blazers. Besides discussing basketball strategies and philosophies, the two men also talked about “family, life after basketball, and the qualities found in a winner,” according to Quick.
“I think a big part of (my change in mindset) was me and Chauncey’s conversations, and where we see things the same,” Lillard told The Athletic. “I’m not going to share details of our conversations, but it’s not often when I speak to people that they see what I see. Watching a game, observing people … there’s not many people who see what I see. But a lot of what I see, he sees. So that was very important to me. Like, that was a big deal.”
When Billups was hired by the team in June, he was aware Lillard was frustrated by how the 2020/21 season was played out and was weighing whether he wanted to remain in Portland for the long term. However, the first-time head coach didn’t feel pressure to push the six-time All-Star to stay with the team.
“I’ve never told Dame, or asked him, to stay. Nothing. I’ve never done that,” Billups said. “I felt like the biggest thing I wanted to do was share the things that were important to me. This is what I am. This is what I’m about. Then, it’s on him to decide: Is it worth it? Or should I punt?
“… It was all organic,” he added. “It wasn’t me putting pressure, not me asking this or that. It was a lot about family, about life, and about life after hoop was done. It was more than basketball. We have a great connection, and those healthy conversations are the type that allow one to make a conscious decision.”
Lillard has three more guaranteed years left on his contract with the Blazers, plus a player option for 2024/25, so it’s possible he’ll have a change of heart at some point before that deal expires. However, it sounds like the teams hoping he’ll ask for a trade shouldn’t count on that happening anytime soon. Lillard has bought into Billups’ vision for the franchise and is comfortable sticking with Portland for the foreseeable future.
“I don’t expect all times to be great times. Adversity is going to hit. There’s going to be some tough times,” Lillard said. “So if (this season) starts off rocky, or if it starts off in a struggle, I wouldn’t be happy about it. Nobody would. But I’m not going to jump ship or bail out when that happens. That’s an easy thing and popular thing to say, but it’s not going to happen.”
Now that all 30 regular season rosters have been set, 10 teams project to be taxpayers, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. The Warriors, Nets, Clippers, Lakers, Bucks, Jazz, Sixers, Celtics, Trail Blazers, and Raptors are currently over the luxury tax threshold.
Some of those teams are in better shape than others. While the Warriors ($159.9MM) and Nets ($110.4MM) project to have nine-figure tax bills, the Raptors are barely into tax territory and should be able to sneak below the line, perhaps by waiving one of their two players who have partially guaranteed deals.
Besides Golden State and Brooklyn, the Clippers, Lakers, Bucks, and Jazz all have projected tax bills exceeding $33MM, according to Marks. The Sixers, Celtics, Blazers, and Raptors would owe less than $8MM each based on the current numbers.
Of course, these numbers can and will change over the course of the season as teams make roster moves, since tax bills are determined by the team’s year-end salary. For now though, the 20 non-taxpayers project to receive year-end payments of $12.7MM, Marks notes.
Here are a few more cap- and contract-related notes from around the NBA:
- Grayson Allen‘s two-year extension with the Bucks features a base value of $17MM ($8.5MM per year) in guaranteed money, plus incentives, tweets Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. The exact value of the incentives is $1.275MM annually, Hoops Rumors has learned. Currently, those are a mix of likely and unlikely bonuses, but since the deal doesn’t begin until 2022/23, those likely/unlikely designations will ultimately be based on what happens this coming season.
- Wendell Carter Jr.‘s four-year extension with the Magic has a descending structure, Scotto tweets. It starts at $14.15MM in year one and dips to $10.85MM by year four. The deal is fully guaranteed, with no options.
- In addition to having a team option on its fourth year, Landry Shamet‘s extension with the Suns has a non-guaranteed salary in year three, Hoops Rumors has learned. The last two years both have June 29 trigger dates, in 2024 and 2025. Only $19.75MM of Shamet’s $42.5MM deal is fully guaranteed for now.
- Daniel Gafford‘s three-year extension with the Wizards doesn’t include any options or incentives, tweets John Hollinger of The Athletic.
No rookie scale extension is expected for Anfernee Simons before today’s deadline, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic (Twitter link), who says the Trail Blazers want to see more from the fourth-year guard before committing to him beyond the 2021/22 season. The club believes Simons can be more consistent and productive under new head coach Chauncey Billups, Quick adds.
Simons hit 42.6% of his three-pointers last season for the Trail Blazers, but played a fairly modest role off the bench, with 7.8 PPG and 2.2 RPG in 64 games (17.3 MPG). He’ll be eligible for restricted free agency in 2022.
Here’s more from around the Northwest:
- Chris Hine of The Star Tribune takes an in-depth look at the philosophy new Timberwolves head of basketball operations Sachin Gupta is bringing to the role. Despite not having any assurances that he’ll keep the job long-term, Gupta insists he doesn’t feel pressure to impress ownership by making a major move. “I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said. “I don’t view it as like, ‘Oh I’ve got this for a time. I’ve got to try and prove myself and I’ve got to make a splash quickly and try to save the job.'”
- Speaking to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns compared staying in Minnesota to sticking with the Dominican Republic national team rather than reclassifying to play for Team USA. “I like taking the hard route. I like going the more rewarding route,” Towns said. “I love being with the Dominican Republic national team. There’s a lot of things they haven’t done, and I’m able to possibly change that. The challenge is what I’ve always strived for.”
- Thunder guard Vit Krejci, who had been dealing with visa issues, has been cleared to practice and play with the team, head coach Mark Daigneault said this weekend (Twitter link via Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman). Krejci is expected to spend a good chunk of time this season with the Oklahoma City Blue in the G League.
The Trail Blazers entered training camp with 13 players on fully guaranteed contracts, and they’re unlikely to carry a 15th man on a permanent basis for luxury-tax reasons. That left Smith competing with Marquese Chriss, Quinn Cook, and Patrick Patterson for what may just be one available roster spot, and he has impressed the team so far this fall.
“There have been some behind-closed-doors practices and games where some of the other guys have stood out or played well, too,” Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said on Monday after Smith put up 18 points and seven assists against Sacramento. “But, you know, you can’t hide what you saw today. I mean, (Smith) was really good.”
After returning to Philadelphia on Monday, Sixers star Ben Simmons took his required physical and met with the team’s brass on Tuesday, per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. That meeting included president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and general manager Elton Brand, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, who says sources described it only as “brief.”
Both Pompey and Shelburne indicate that Simmons won’t be cleared to participate in any team-related activities until at least Friday, due to the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols. As Brian Windhorst observed during an appearance on ESPN’s Get Up (video link) on Wednesday, that timeline suggests Simmons may not yet be fully vaccinated, since the league requires fully vaccinated players to register just one negative PCR test in order to interact with other players. Players who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated require at least four negative tests upon reporting to the team, according to ESPN.
We don’t know yet whether Simmons actually intends to return to the court and play for the 76ers following his holdout, but for what it’s worth, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report says the 25-year-old’s physical showed no signs that he isn’t healthy. Simmons will be able to begin conducting individual workouts with the assistance of Sixers coaches on Wednesday, Fischer notes.
As we wait to see what the next steps are for the Sixers and Simmons, there’s no indication that the team is anywhere close to making a trade. Both Fischer and Sam Amick of The Athletic have heard that Philadelphia continues to hold out hope that a star like Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal will become dissatisfied with his situation and ask for a trade, but that remains a long shot unless the Trail Blazers or Wizards get off to a really disastrous start this season.
According to Amick, Simmons’ camp hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a trade to the Nets, but sources with knowledge of the situation tell The Athletic that the Sixers have exhibited zero interest in pursuing a deal involving Kyrie Irving.
Fischer names the Cavaliers, Pistons, Rockets, Pacers, Timberwolves, Blazers, Kings, Spurs, and Raptors as the nine teams that have remained at least somewhat engaged with Philadelphia, and adds that a “mystery” 10th club has also had “substantive” discussions with the Sixers as of late. Not even Klutch Sports is certain of the identity of that 10th team, per Fischer, who cautions that the mystery suitor still hasn’t come close to meeting Morey’s asking price.
Here’s more on Simmons:
- Sources tell Fischer that the Sixers have informed potential trade partners whose offers would be heavy on draft picks that their best bet would be a three-team structure in which Philadelphia lands at least one impact player, since Morey and his front office are interested in win-now pieces rather than future assets.
- Although the Timberwolves still have interest in Simmons following their front office shake-up, new head of basketball operations Sachin Gupta isn’t believed to be pursuing the three-time All-Star as aggressively as Gersson Rosas did, according to Fischer.
- The Kings remain unwilling to discuss either De’Aaron Fox or Tyrese Haliburton in a potential Simmons deal, while the Sixers appear unmoved by the idea of acquiring Dejounte Murray and/or Lonnie Walker from the Spurs, sources tell Bleacher Report. Fischer adds that there’s a belief the Pistons would entertain trading Jerami Grant in a deal for Simmons.
- Improving the relationship between Simmons and head coach Doc Rivers is believed to be a priority for the Sixers if Simmons is going to stick around for a little while, according to Fischer, who says the two men never seemed to build a strong rapport last season. Sources tell Bleacher Report that during an offseason meeting at agent Rich Paul‘s home, when the Sixers confirmed they intended to fine Simmons for not complying with the terms of his deal, Rivers shouted, “It’s in your f–king contract” to report to training camp and play for the team.
The Hornets have engaged in discussions about a possible rookie scale contract extension for forward Miles Bridges, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Bridges is one of 18 players who remains eligible for a rookie extension up until the October 18 deadline.
Scotto says that some people around the NBA believe $20MM per year would be the floor for Bridges on a new deal. That’s the same price that has been frequently projected for another Bridges with a similar skill set: Mikal Bridges of the Suns.
Here are a few updates from Scotto on possible rookie scale extensions:
- The Suns and sharpshooter Landry Shamet have been having ongoing conversations about a possible extension, with one source suggesting that the odds of the two sides reaching a deal are about 50-50, says Scotto. Shamet has yet to appear in a regular season game for his new team, but Phoenix had reportedly coveted him for a while.
- Scotto suggests that Hawks wing Kevin Huerter could get “Joe Harris type of money,” adding that some people around the league think Huerter’s value is in the neighborhood of $18MM annually. Harris signed a four-year, $72MM contract with Brooklyn during the 2020 offseason.
- The Wizards and Aaron Holiday aren’t discussing an extension, but Washington likes the 25-year-old and will likely evaluate him over the course of the 2021/22 season, according to Scotto.
- Extensions for Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons and Bulls swingman Troy Brown appear unlikely, per Scotto.
Nassir Little is working to shake off a rough preseason game with the Blazers last Monday, Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian writes. Little finished with just three points in 24 minutes, shooting 1-of-9 from the floor with five turnovers. He also registered a team-worst minus-16 net rating.
“I was a little anxious,” Little admitted. “I was super excited to play.”
Portland next plays on Monday against Sacramento, giving Little and the team a full week to re-focus. The 21-year-old is one of the youngest players on the team’s preseason roster, having been drafted No. 25 overall by the club in 2019.
“There’s a lot of stuff that we’re all learning,” he said. “A lot of new stuff is being put in, so just being able to take advantage of this time to practice is going to be huge for me and the entire team.”
Here are some other notes from the Northwest Division tonight:
- Speaking of the Trail Blazers, center Cody Zeller underwent successful surgery on Friday to repair a broken nose, according to Fentress (Twitter link). The team has yet to offer a timeline for Zeller’s return.
- Mike Singer of The Denver Post examines multiple Nuggets-related topics in his latest mailbag, including a possible extension for PJ Dozier. Dozier, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, is coming off the best season of his four-year career, having averaged 7.7 points per game in 50 contests.
- In a separate article for the Denver Post, Singer also examined the development of Bol Bol, who was acquired by the Nuggets on the night of the 2019 NBA Draft. Singer notes that Bol appears to be more engaged with the team during the preseason. The big man has only appeared in 39 NBA games to date.
Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups recently sat down for an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio (Twitter link), and he says he’s not going to be preaching “stay here” to star point guard Damian Lillard.
Billups adds that he won’t be constantly discussing whether or not Lillard wants to stay with the team with his star player, saying he has a responsibility to coach the rest of the players. However, he definitely wants him to stay, and believes Lillard when he says he’s “all in” for the upcoming season with the Trail Blazers.