Lionel Hollins sends O.J. Mayo to the bench

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Forming and maintaining a rotation is a delicate process for any head coach, and there are myriad factors that need to be considered, evaluated, and balanced. It’s in no way a simple process, as even the subtlest of shuffles can give an entirely new feel to a team’s offensive or defensive flow.

In theory, that would make a team’s head coach — the person whose job is predicated on being more intimately familiar with team personnel than anyone else — enlightened enough to make such intensive decisions. In practice though, coaches are as likely to flub as anyone else. Though they arrive at their decisions armed with more available data than most (even if they choose to ignore it), they sometimes decide to make rotational adjustments by way of painfully obvious follies. Lionel Hollins is guilty of one such a mistake, as according to Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Hollins has decided to move standout shooting guard O.J. Mayo to the bench in favor of rookie Xavier Henry:

Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins shuffled his lineup for a second straight game. This time, discipline had nothing to do with it. Hollins said his decision Wednesday to take guard O.J. Mayo out of the starting lineup is designed to give the team’s struggling bench scoring punch. Rookie Xavier Henry will start at shooting guard for the foreseeable future, although Hollins insisted the change isn’t permanent. “It’s difficult when you make these kinds of decisions because everybody reads more into it than they should,” Hollins said. “I had a long talk with O.J. He’s fine and he’ll do well.”

Coming off the bench will allow Mayo to be featured more on offense, according to Hollins. Mayo won’t have to compete for shots with Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay or a more aggressive Mike Conley. Still, the move comes as Mayo is averaging a career-low 13.6 points on 39-percent shooting. Mayo acknowledged that the situation makes him unhappy because of his competitive nature. But the third-year guard said he’s prepared to put the team first. “I just want it to be a winning decision,” Mayo said. “I don’t think anybody would be happy. I’m uncomfortable. But I’m a basketball player. I’m a professional. If it’s what’s best for the team, honestly, I’m definitely all for it. The team and winning are the priorities. I can put my feelings aside for what’s best for the team.”

The Grizzlies have the 22nd-ranked offense in the league, and though Mayo has struggled this season, his rough times seem to be more of a temporary slump than a serious regression. Mayo needs to work his way out of these problems, but I’m not sure that assigning him to bench duty is good strategy or management to achieve that end. He’s a crucial part of the core the Grizzlies have assembled and are more or less locked into, which means that the Grizz should probably focus on better understanding how Mayo, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol can work together effectively.

Moving Mayo to the bench doesn’t necessarily preclude that from happening, but it’s certainly a roundabout way of shaping the current Grizz into a more competitive team.

On the bright side, Xavier Henry is an interesting prospect that could use further refinement, and throwing him into the mix as a starter could be something of a trial by fire. Still, is Memphis really in a position where they should risk alienating Mayo, much less bench one of their more talented two-way players? Hollins insisted that “everybody reads more into it than they should,” but Mayo doesn’t sound the part of a good soldier following every order with a salute. Mayo doesn’t seem to be the type for insolence, but the way to restoring his scoring proficiency probably isn’t through trying his patience. A happy scoring guard is a productive scoring guard, after all. Mayo may be neither at present, but Hollins seems to be attempting to solve both problems with one entirely foolish swoop.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.

 

Report: Lakers would have traded both first-round picks for Irving, Mitchell

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets
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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said at media day, pulling back the curtain a little on his thinking of trading two first-round picks. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That tracks with the consistent messaging out of Los Angeles all summer: The Lakers would only trade the only two first-round picks they fully control for the rest of this decade (2027 and 2029) for a deal that made them a contender.

That meant landing Kyrie Irving or Donovan Mitchell, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on The Hoop Collective Podcast.

“I’ve been told that had the Lakers been able to acquire, Kyrie Irving, or the Lakers been able to acquire Donovan Mitchell, either of those players, the Lakers were willing and able to move both those [first-round] picks to do it.”

The problem for the Lakers is the market price for elite talent has moved beyond two first-round picks. The Jazz got three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) plus the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) in the Mitchell trade, not to mention three players: Lauri Markkanen (who they will try to trade for another pick), Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji. The price for Kyrie Irving would have been at least as high, if the Nets really wanted to trade him.

The Lakers traded all of their young players and most of their picks to land Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, except for the ones they let walk away (Alex Caruso). Before he was judicious in making trades like he was this offseason, Pelinka made deals that backed him into this corner.

The Lakers likely could use both picks to acquire Buddy Hield and Myles Turner out of Indiana (sending Westbrook back), but that doesn’t make Los Angeles a contender (a playoff team, but not a title threat) and it messes with the plan to have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase a big name.

The Lakers you see in training camp are the Lakers you get. At least for now.