Three Things to Know: Trae Young both lucky, good with latest game winner

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Trae Young is both lucky and good with game-winner against Milwaukee. Maybe it is better to be lucky than good, but in an ideal world you’d want to be both.

That’s what Atlanta’s Trae Young was on Sunday.

Young was not having a great night — 4-of-18 shooting for 10 points — but he and the Hawks had pushed a Bucks team resting everyone (Greek Freak, Middleton, Bledsoe all out) to overtime. In the extra period, the Hawks were down one, 135-134, with 1.1 seconds remaining, but Atlanta had the ball and time for one last inbounds play to get the win. Coach Lloyd Pierce ran a down screen to try to free Young moving toward the ball, but just as Young comes free inbounder, Kevin Huerter, decided he could lob the ball to John Collins at the rim for a dunk. However, Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez read it perfectly, deflected the lob, and… there’s Mr. Lucky, Young.

Give Young credit — the body control it takes to grab that in the air and get it back up on the rim is impressive. It is one of the best game-winners of the season.

It took a little bit of luck.

2) Night of ejections: DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Jokic, Gregg Popovich all get tossed from their games. What was in the Gatorade in NBA arenas Sunday? There seemed to be ejections everywhere.

Let’s start with Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. There was some history in this game between Jokic and Bobby Portis, they had been going back and forth all night, including Jokic getting a bloody nose on this play.

Through it all, Jokic felt he wasn’t getting the calls. Then in the fourth Jokic wanted a foul call on his putback bucket, didn’t get it and snapped.

That wasn’t the end of it, Jokic’s brother got into it with Bobby Portis and Jordan McRae after the game.

None of this is good, but let’s focus on Jokic’s ejection. He has lost his cool a couple times recently — remember the ejection vs. Indiana — where he lost his composure and in the process cost his team. Jokic cannot do that.

I get he was frustrated, but he is the best player on the Nuggets and the fulcrum of their offense, and in this case there was 3:47 left in a game where his team was down two. In a close game, the Nuggets need him on the court. He simply has to have more control than he has shown. Watch the video and you can see the referee gives him a quick tech, but then gives Jokic a chance to back off and move on to the next play. Jokic kept coming hard. He got tossed, and the Nuggets lost. Denver coach Mike Malone needs to sit Jokic down and get on him about his composure on the court. It matters.

Let’s move on.

DeMarcus Cousins also got ejected, although his was for a Flagrant 2 foul, an elbow to the head of Willy Hernangomez.

The NBA is quick with flagrant fouls for blows to the head, intentional or not. Was this worthy of a Flagrant 2 and an ejection? I don’t think so, I’d say Flagrant 1 and move on. But this is DeMarcus Cousins and he does not get the benefit of the doubt with officials.

Finally, watch Gregg Popovich lose his… um, cool (this is a family-friendly website) and get ejected. You don’t see this every day.

3) Duke is done, Zion Williamson is on to the NBA, and by the way, R.J. Barrett is not falling down draft boards. The next time you see Zion Williamson play, it will probably be in Las Vegas at the NBA Summer League.

(Or maybe the Utah or Sacramento pre-Vegas Summer Leagues, depending upon who drafts him.)

The NBA was buzzing about the same thing fans everywhere were on Sunday, that Duke got into one too many close games and screwed up your bracket (although those of us who picked Virginia to win it all feel pretty good today). This is a stacked Duke team with the presumptive No. 1 pick in Williamson and two other players — R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish —  who are expected to go in the top five or six. Michigan State earned the win. Duke had been living on the edge for a couple of games in a row, this time someone else stepped up with the big play and made the shot.

Zion Williamson will be the No. 1 pick and teams across the league are setting up altars and offering rum to Jobu in order to please the gods and land that pick — Williamson looks a franchise cornerstone player. The best prospect in the eyes of many scouts since Anthony Davis. Williamson is an insane athlete, already has an NBA body, can leap out of the building, shows a point guard’s feel for the game and can defend at the rim. But what some scouts like best is how hard he works and plays. He doesn’t just coast on all that natural talent.

In the Duke loss, Barrett was 7-of-17 with six assists but seven turnovers. Not a good outing on a huge stage. That, of course, led to overreaction from some on Twitter, people who have watched three of his games now saying “his draft stock is falling.”

No, it isn’t. Barrett likely goes No. 2 or 3 (depending on who gets the pick).

Scouts from interested team watched every game he played (most multiple times) and that team’s GM has now and/or will have seen many games also, on tape and in person — they have a much better and broader picture of the player. Teams with good scouting departments do not get swayed much by the NCAA Tournament or one game. They already know who the player is. That is certainly the case with Barrett, who has been seen as a top pick in this class for years.

Teams that like Barrett’s playmaking (which should look better in the NBA when there is more shooting around him). His decision making has improved over the course of the season, to the point that on this loaded roster Barrett became the guy Coach K trusted to run the offense through. He was incredibly efficient this season: He averaged better than 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists in a game. Whether he can make an All-Star level in the NBA is up for debate, but after Williamson there may not be a player of that level in this draft.

Barrett will be just fine. And get drafted very high, one off night or not.

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.