Report: 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie reneged on promise to release Andrei Kirilenko

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Update: Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This likely explains how the 76ers got an extra roster spot to acquire Jared Cunningham.

 

The Nets traded Andrei Kirilenko, because they didn’t want to pay him or the amount he increased their luxury-tax bill. The 76ers took him, because they’re far enough below the salary floor that his salary contributes to dollars they’d have to spend anyway, and they got a draft pick from Brooklyn for their trouble.

Those are the details, in simplest terms, that motivated the deal.

It has gotten much more complicated since.

A family issue has reportedly kept Kirilenko in the New York area. The 76ers want him to report, but he has yet to do so.

Some are blaming Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie for the stalemate.

Bob Ford of The Inquirer:

According to two sources with inside knowledge of the negotiations, the Sixers had agreed to release veteran forward Andrei Kirilenko after the trade was consummated, but did not follow through on that handshake deal. Kirilenko, who played only seven games with the Nets this season, remains on the Sixers roster but has refused to join the team despite a request to do so.

“He might have an IQ of 150, but [Hinkie] doesn’t seem to realize you have to deal with these people over and over,” one league source said.

Could Hinkie have misinterpreted or misunderstood the alleged agreement with the Nets, who wanted to satisfy the desire of Kirilenko – a favorite of Russian team owner Mikhail Prokhorov – to become a free agent?

“No,” said another source. “I think he started thinking he can just hold onto him and use him at the trade deadline in a package to get something.”

Nets general manager Billy King and Hinkie both declined to comment on the record for this story, but a Sixers team source disputed the allegation.

“We made the trade to get the draft pick and in hopes [Kirilenko] might play for us,” the Sixers source said. “[Releasing him] was not a condition of the trade, but I have no idea what was said to him on the other end.”

The 76ers waived a physical as condition of the trade, according to Ford, a clear sign they’re not too concerned about Kirilenko playing for them. That, and every other move Hinkie has made, indicates this trade was about the financials, not Kirilenko as a player.

Kirilenko’s contract could be useful to facilitating another deal before the deadline, and I can see why the 76ers would strategically want to hold it until then. Heck, there’s no reason they wouldn’t also hope Kirilenko plays, exceeds expectations and somehow fetches an asset for what he can do on the court.

I’m confused why anyone cares whether the 76ers release Kirilenko now. If a family matter is keeping Kirilenko in New York – before the trade, Kirilenko was available only for Nets home games – what is he going to do as a free agent? League rules prevent him from signing with the Nets. Does he want to sign with the Knicks? As Phil Jackson dismantles his team, what use would they have for a 33-year-old?

Kirilenko’s absence is reportedly due to his wife’s pregnancy, so I suppose he just wants to ensure he has his options open if he returns later in the season. But if the 76ers don’t flip Kirilenko, I can’t see why they wouldn’t be willing to release him after the trade deadline. And if a team trades for Kirilenko, it will either be:

  • for his contract to make salaries match, and that team can release him.
  • for his playing ability, and there probably aren’t any of those. But if there is, Kirilenko joining that squad wouldn’t be so bad on his end.

In the meantime, Kirilenko’s status with Philadelphia is unclear.

The 76ers’ trade for Jared Cunningham gave them 16 players. Though they waived Cunningham, they still temporarily exceed the typical limit of 15 players.

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said a hardship granted the 76ers the extra roster spot. Without four injured players who’ve missed three straight games (only Jason Richardson, Joel Embiid and Hollis Thompson have), Philadelphia wouldn’t have qualified through the method discussed here. It’s possible the 76ers or NBA has quietly suspended Kirilenko for failing to report, and if he’s on the suspended list, he wouldn’t count toward the active or inactive lists.

NBA by-laws also allow teams to exceed roster maximums in the event of “extreme hardship” if a majority of the Board of Governors allows it.

Given how people are talking about Hinkie, though, I doubt other teams are rushing to help the 76ers. Ford:

“General managers like to call each other and talk, but nobody wants to talk to Sam Hinkie. Nobody trusts this guy,” one source said.

There is a perception in some corners that Hinkie is unqualified to run a team, because he lacks the necessary interpersonal skills. It’s a fair concern, but I’m not qualified to say whether it’s fairly applied to Hinkie.

I like the rebuilding approach he has taken, and I think the 76ers have a bright future once they finish tanking. Hinkie deserves a chance to see this process through.

But as long as he remains general manager, these shots at him will continue. He’s a threat to the old guard that dislikes his analytical approach.

And like I said, the concern is fair. People skills are important to being a general manager.

But, in this case with Kirilenko, I don’t see enough evidence to convict Hinkie of wrongdoing.

Myles Turner says he’s staying focused, tuning out trade rumors

Minnesota Timberwolves v Indiana Pacers
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Myles Turner heard his name come up all summer in trade rumors, particularly to the Lakers in a massive Russell Westbrook swap. It never happened as the Lakers would not throw in two first-round picks to seal the deal. Since the season started, the trade rumors around Turner have not stopped, with the Clippers mentioned as having interest.

Turner is trying to ignore all of it.

That was especially difficult on a recent swing through Los Angeles, and Turner spoke to Law Murray from The Athletic about it.

“Nothing changes,” Turner told The Athletic.”Just go out there and focus on getting wins for this team. That’s just where my focus lies. You can’t pay attention to outside noise … doesn’t change anything, bro. All I can do is go out there and play my game.”

Every player says some version of that, but Turner has lived up to it. Able to play his natural spot at the five without Domantas Sabonis sharing the paint (Sabonis was sent to the Kings in a trade that brought back Tyrese Haliburton to Indiana), Turner is averaging a career-high 18 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, while shooting 39.7% from 3. Plus, Turner remains an elite rim-protector, averaging 2.6 blocks per game (second in the league).

Turner is playing the best basketball of his career, coincidentally as he heads into summer as a free agent.

Whatever team trades for him will have to pay him next summer impacts Turner’s trade market, as does the fact that the Pacers are a surprising 12-8 start — Indiana is reportedly not as eager to trade Turner. If a team wants to trade for him, they are going to have to overwhelm the Pacers.

Turner has hinted he likes the idea of a brighter spotlight than he has seen in recent years, but in the end money will talk. Turner has kept his head down and his play this season has earned him more of it.

Damian Lillard reportedly targeting Sunday for return from calf strain

Portland Trail Blazers v Cleveland Cavaliers
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How much the Portland Trail Blazers miss Damian Lillard was on clear display Tuesday night in maybe their ugliest loss of the season. The Trail Blazers led by 18 in the second half, Anfernee Simons was on his way to putting up 37, and they were facing a Clippers team without Kawhi Leonard or Paul George. Yet Portland came from ahead to lose. Their defense was bested by the unstoppable offensive weapon that is Nicholas Batum (32 points). Portland just let go of the rope in this one.

The Trail Blazers are now 1-4 with Lillard out with a strained calf (the second time this year). The good news for the Blazers is Lillard is targeting Sunday against the Pacers for a return, reports Chris Haynes of TNT.

Haynes is well connected with the Lillard camp, this is a report that can be trusted.

Portland is trying to keep its head above water and is now 11-10 on the season but has struggled this past week, with games at the Lakers and at the Jazz before Lillard’s targeted return.

Lillard is averaging 26.3 points and seven assists a game this season, showing the explosion we were used to seeing before he was slowed by an abdominal injury that required surgery.

Bulls extended coach Billy Donovan before season started

Denver Nuggets v Chicago Bulls
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Bulls’ fans are not thrilled with a 9-11 team sitting 11th in the East, outside the play-in.

Bulls’ management is not either, but they aren’t laying the blame at the feet of coach Billy Donovan — in fact, they extended him just before the season began, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic and since confirmed by Bulls’ media relations staff to K.C. Johnson NBC Sports Chicago.

Why the extension? Because Donovan and head of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas have a tight relationship, Johnson writes.

Karnišovas’ continued belief in Donovan centers on Donovan’s leadership and communication skills. The two men talk virtually daily and there’s never any misunderstanding in their shared, direct conversation — even when the subject matter becomes difficult.

And not everything has been or continues to be smooth sailing for the Bulls, who have played without Lonzo Ball since January and are off to a 9-11 start in a season with modest outside expectations.

No details about the length of the extension were made public.

This is a decision about stability. Donovan is a solid coach and the front office trusts him. That’s enough to get some extra years on your deal in Chicago.

The Bulls’ issues are not because of Donovan, it’s more a roster that has a “playoff team but not much more” ceiling — a ceiling that is lower this season due to injuries forcing constantly shifting rotations. The Bulls are especially hamstrung without the defense and transition play of Lonzo Ball (still out after another knee surgery). Chicago has defended well this season without Ball (10th in the league), but the offense is bottom 10 and misses the easy buckets Ball helps get with his passing and transition (plus he can knock down some 3s). Donovan has done a respectable job with the players he has.

That is good enough in Chicago to get a few more years.

Three things to know: Luka Doncic looks like an MVP, but can he keep this up?

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Luka Doncic looks like an MVP, but can he keep this up?

Luka Doncic vs. Stephen Curry.

The schedule makers gave us a showdown of early-season MVP candidates but also two guys who have had to carry a massive load this season, waiting for their teams to come together around them. Curry has gotten more of that lately as Klay Thompson has started to find his legs and some rotation shifts have improved play off the bench.

Luka is still on a Brunson-sized island waiting for help. Tuesday night that island got smaller when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of the Warriors’ Jordan Poole.

That just meant more Doncic, and he reminded everyone why nobody wants to play the Mavericks in the playoffs with a 41-point triple-double (12 rebounds, 12 assists).

Doncic was a force of nature, although Curry had his chance in the final 10 seconds but got called for traveling (a call the Warriors disputed).

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas, but this was the Luka Doncic show.

Doncic has been asked to carry a massive load for Dallas this season. He has a usage rate of 38 through the first quarter of the season, a number that would rank in the top-10 all time (right around 1987 Michael Jordan and 2006 Kobe Bryant).

How long can Doncic do this without starting to wear down? Without risking injury? Sure those other players like Jordan and Kobe got through the entire season, but they also didn’t make the kind of playoff runs Dallas is hoping for. Coming off EuroBasket, Doncic entered this season in the best shape he has ever been in to tip-off an NBA campaign, but there have already been stretches where he has started to look worn down. Then there are nights like Tuesday when he carries the Mavericks to a win and looks unstoppable.

Doncic is young, but asking him to carry this load also puts a ceiling on how good this team can be. Curry is getting that help. Giannis Antetokounmpo is also putting up historic usage percentage numbers this season, but Khris Middleton will return to the Bucks and take on some of that load. The Mavericks touted Christian Wood as an answer, but he is coming off the bench and his defense does not have him in Jason Kidd’s good graces. It’s a one-man show more than ever in Dallas.

If the Mavs want to win in the postseason, it can’t just be the Luka show. But during the regular season, some nights that is enough. At least until he wears down.

2) Damian Lillard to return Sunday, not soon enough for Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers miss Damian Lillard (calf strain, his second this season) — they are 1-4 in the current five-game stretch without him, playing their worst defense of the season. The latest of those losses — a come-from-ahead loss to a Clippers team without Kawhi Leonard or Paul George — was maybe the team’s worst loss of the season. Anfernee Simons put up 37, the Trail Blazers led by 18 in the second half, and yet they collapsed against a team whose best offensive weapon was Nicholas Batum (32 points).

The good news for the Blazers is Lillard is due back on Sunday, reports Chris Haynes of TNT.

If you didn’t watch the late game on TNT, you missed a battle of two teams trying to keep their heads above water while their star (or stars) sit out injured.

Portland is still 11-10 on the season but has struggled this past week. What was ugly about Tuesday’s loss was the team just let go of the rope. This was a winnable game, but when it got tight they let go.

Powell scored 22 points in the fourth quarter and took over to get the 13-9 Clippers another win.

Los Angeles has done it against a soft schedule, but they keep finding ways to win until their stars return. Nobody is sure how good this team ultimately can be, but Tyronn Lue has got his squad defending and finding ways to win until everyone does get right. It’s an impressive coaching job.

3) Karl-Anthony Towns out weeks with calf strain (likely more than a month)

The MRI is in and Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports Towns likely will miss 4-6 weeks.

Not good, but it looked a lot worse when it happened.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his stats are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

The Timberwolves are not off to the start they thought they would be, and if they don’t figure out a way to win without Towns the next month this season could get sideways on them.