Brandon Costner Highlights Top Performers In D-League Showcase’s First Day

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The NBA Development League Showcase has 16 games scheduled over the next four days in Reno, Nev., but as the name implies, the entire point of the D-League’s annual affair is for players to showcase themselves in front of the plethora of NBA decision makers in attendance. As Brandon Costner and the Los Angeles D-Fenders showed Monday, however, playing well and winning can happily coincide with each other.

Costner scored 29 points on 12 field goal attempts as his D-Fenders breezed to a 97-82 victory over the Springfield Armor in the second game of the day. The 6-foot-9 forward out of North Carolina State was originally invited to training camp with the Chicago Bulls last month, but was caught in a numbers game before ever being able to report to the team — a frustrating outcome, but one he seemingly took out on the Armor while helping his team post a tally in the win column.

“Coach Musselman had us really prepared for today. We wanted to come to the Showcase and stay hot so we came in focused and got a win,” Costner told Pro Basketball Talk after the game. “It’s always good to win while allowing the whole team to be successful so everybody can be seen in a positive light. It’s not too beneficial when you’re the leading scorer on a sub-.500 team. Nobody wants to see that, but when you’re playing well and playing together, everyone in attendance can see the camaraderie and that helps the whole team out.”

Costner isn’t mentioned in most circles as a call-up candidate, but the sweet-shooting big man — he made four of his seven attempts from beyond the arc on Monday — is certainly going to open some eyes if he’s able to post impressive numbers in the D-Fenders’ games this week. The stocky power forward doesn’t do a lot of his work down low, but there aren’t many players out there with his combination of size and range — something he’s hoping to take advantage of during his second D-League season.

“I came back to try and achieve my dream — The dream of playing in the league,” Costner said.  “Honestly, I feel like this is the second-best level of competition in the world. I’ve played overseas, but there aren’t any other places that are top to bottom as good as the D-League and that competition drives me. This is the best league available and I like try and play well against the best so that’s what keeps me coming back.”

Other notable performances in the first day of D-League Showcase action included:

  • Walker Russell led the Fort Wayne Mad Ants out of a 19-2 deficit to open Monday’s matinee game all the way back to a 100-96 victory over the Bakersfield Jam. Russell, playing in his fifth D-League season, scored 19 points to go with 19 (yes, NINETEEN) assists as he helped teammates Darnell Lazare, Jarrid Famous, Sadiel Rojah and Cameron Jones score in double figures on the way to the comeback win.
  • Mike James, the veteran point guard who’s played for nine different NBA teams, has acclimated himself to the D-League quite well. In just his second game with the New York Knicks owned Erie BayHawks, James led his team to victory with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists while showing he was in game shape by logging over 41 minutes of playing time in the 103-101 victory.
  • In the nightcap, Andre Emmett gave the hometown fans something to cheer about as he scored 15 points in the first quarter on the way to 36 totals points and five steals in a blowout over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Emmett’s point guard, Blake Ahearn, was perhaps even more impressive as he scored 26 points and dished 12 assists while turning the ball over just two times in 38 minutes of action.

D-League Showcase coverage will continue on Pro Basketball Talk on Tuesday so be sure to check it out as Greg Ostertag and Ricky Davis make their Reno debuts!

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.