At this time of year playoff teams are cautious with injuries — as much as you might need a player for key games now, you need him more for playoff games.
Which accounts for these two bigs of news:
Dwight Howard will be out for the Rockets for at least 10 days to rest a sore ankle.
Danny Granger of the Los Angeles Clippers will miss the next three games due to a hamstring injury.
That means both will be out Saturday night when Houston and Los Angeles have a big showdown game — the four seed Rockets are one game back of the three seed Clippers (it’s 3.5 games back to five seed Portland).
Earlier this month Howard had a cyst removed from his ankle and missed three games, apparently that did not solve all his problems with that joint. Howard’s ankle was bothering him enough that on Saturday he went to see a doctor, the recommendation was more rest, so Howard is out for Saturday, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
Then the Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler added this:
Omer Asik will start at center for the Rockets. However, not having Patrick Beverley (torn meniscus) or Howard hurts the Rockets depth and more importantly defense against an offensive juggernaut.
Part of that Clippers offense in recent games has been Danny Granger leading the way for the second unit. As he has gotten healthy and gotten his legs under him he has started to show how he could lead the Clippers bench — with Glen Davis — in the postseason. But he needs to be healthy and he is not, so he is getting rest, reports Madelyn Burke, host of Clippers TV.
If the Clippers can win on Saturday night, something more likely now, they will pretty much lock themselves into the three seed and the Rockets into the four spot.
The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.
Is a coaching change enough to fix them?
Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.
Marc Stein of The New York Times:
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.
So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.
Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.
All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.
Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.
But what about more marginal first-round prospects?
The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.
The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):
Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.
Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.
Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.
This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.
Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.
Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to leave the Spurs, but he’s at their whims.
This doesn’t mean Rudy Gay will depart San Antonio, but he’s taking control of his future.
Chris Haynes of ESPN:
Gay’s option-year salary was $8,826,300.
I doubt Gay, who turns 32 this summer, will draw such a high starting salary on his next contract – though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. He could likely get a multi-year deal with a higher total value.
Or he could chase a ring elsewhere.
Remember, Gay gave up money to leave the Kings last summer. No matter how much the Leonard situation should make us rethink the Spurs’ culture, San Antonio probably isn’t “basketball hell.” Still, the Spurs clearly don’t look as appealing as they once did, and Gay has shown how much he values team quality.
Gay is coming off a nice season, and San Antonio might try to re-sign him. Danny Green has a $10 million player option for next season, which will swing whether the Spurs have the flexibility for a bigger move this summer.
In 2014, LeBron James tweeted his fondness for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The Heat traded up to get Napier in the draft, but LeBron left for the Cavaliers that summer, anyway.
Could history repeat itself, this time in Cleveland?
LeBron has already talked up Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, but maybe LeBron and his camp want the Cavs to take a different point guard – Alabama’s Collin Sexton – with the No. 8 pick.
Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, via Jordan Zirm of ESPN Cleveland:
The Cavaliers should take the best prospect available. Worrying about what LeBron might want makes a mistake only more likely.
LeBron might stay in Cleveland, but as 2014 showed, it won’t be because of a draft pick. If he stays, it very well could be by opting into the final year of his contract. His player-option salary ($35,607,968) is slightly higher than his projected max salary as a free agent (about $35.35 million). If LeBron opts in, the best chance of keeping him long-term is building a better team around him.
That means taking the best prospect at No. 8 or trading the pick for someone who can help LeBron win now. If the top prospect is Sexton, that’s fine. But the Cavs are fare more likely to appease LeBron by getting the pick right in the long run rather than choosing the prospect he wants now.