Kendrick Nunn’s surprise arrival on the NBA scene is no surprise to Kendrick Nunn

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LOS ANGELES — Kendrick Nunn’s sudden arrival on the NBA scene seemed to catch everyone off guard.

It did the front offices of 30 NBA teams, who passed on him in the 2018 draft. It did — but not as much as you’d think — the Golden State Warriors, who had him in training camp a year ago but sent him to the G-League then did not sign him. It did the Grizzlies, Bucks, Timberwolves, and Hawks, who watched him rack up the most points through five games (112) of any rookie since Kevin Durant back in 2007.

Nunn surprised everyone.

Except himself.

“It’s not no surprise at all,” Nunn told NBC Sports. “I’ve known who I was since years before this happened. I envisioned it and wanted to make it come to life working hard every day. The results have shown.”

Nunn’s start, including 44 points in a preseason game, impressed coach Eric Spoelstra enough to move Nunn into the starting lineup, allowing Spoelstra to bring Goran Dragic off the bench as a weapon (ala Lou Williams with the Clippers). It’s worked for a Heat team off to a 6-3 start, a team defending well and outscoring opponents by 5.4 points per 100 possessions.

Nunn’s fast start has stalled out some the last four games — 9.3 points per game on 34.1 percent shooting overall and 19 percent from three — as defenses have stopped wondering who he is and started blitzing him more. He’s drawing a lot more defensive attention and having to learn how to adapt his fearless playing style to that reality.

That was evident against the Lakers last Friday, a team where Spoelstra (and Doc Rivers, and every coach that has faced them) has talked about their length. It bothered Nunn early. On the Heat’s first possessions of the game Nunn got Anthony Davis switched onto him out on the wing, Nunn fearlessly put the ball on the floor and drove and blew right past him. However, when Avery Bradley slid over to help and forced Nunn to make another move, Davis caught up and swatted Nunn’s shot. Meanwhile, Nunn didn’t see the open pass to Bam Adebayo along the baseline. It’s all a learning experience.

“Just watching film, see the mistakes that I made and try to learn from it,” Nunn said of how he grows after games like the last few. “Little mistakes, but I’ve got to correct them. Just watch the film.”

It’s that grinding, hard-working attitude that endears Nunn to Miami — he fits perfectly with the Heat culture. Overlooked but talented and willing to put in the work, it’s a mold that applies to the team’s marquee name in Jimmy Butler, and it applies to Nunn. It’s why Butler and Nunn have developed some quick chemistry.

“It’s easy because [Butler and the veterans] love my work ethic and the kind of player that I am, that I can do it on both ends of the floor,” Nunn said. “So you’d love to play with someone who plays defense and can score the ball.”

Nunn grew up where grit mattered, on Chicago’s South Side. He was high school teammates with Jabari Parker at Simeon High and won several state titles, and he impressed enough as a young player to get a scholarship to Illinois. However, Nunn was booted from that program after pleading guilty to a domestic violence misdemeanor battery charge, one where he was accused of hitting a woman in the head, pushing her, then pouring water on her. When you talk about why Nunn went undrafted, this was part of the reason — teams were concerned about his character.

Nunn bounced to Oakland University in Michigan, where he put up numbers — 25.9 points per game and shooting 39.4 percent from three — but teams are leery of guards who put up big numbers at smaller schools. Often, they and their games don’t translate. It was all enough for Nunn to get passed over in the draft.

The Golden State Warriors, a team known for finding diamonds in the rough, gave Nunn a chance at Summer League in 2018, and he impressed enough to get an invite to their training camp. That was a stacked, deep roster for Golden State looking to contend, so it’s no surprise he was waived then assigned to their G-League team in Santa Cruz, where he scored 19.3 points per game.

The character questions from college didn’t follow him to the G-League, where sources say he was mature, and a good leader in the locker room. On the court, he was draining threes but also was aggressive on straight-line drives to the basket.

Nunn impressed the scouts in Miami enough that in the final days of last season, they signed him to a non-guaranteed contract.

There now are a lot of questions from Golden State fans about how they let Nunn go — the Warriors could undoubtedly use another solid, scoring guard right now — but when you think about their roster in the final days of last season, still with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, a player like Nunn was just not a need. Not even on a 10-day contract. Plus, they were a luxury tax team, keeping him would have gotten very expensive fast. If Miami hadn’t snapped up Nunn, maybe the Warriors do sign him after Thompson went down with a torn ACL. We’ll never know because the Heat were the aggressors.

The rest is history in Miami, and Nunn said he feels like he found his home.

“Just being in this organization where I fit in and I love everything about it is an honor,” Nunn said. “Everything is good — Miami, the organization, the culture, where I live…

“It’s a lot warmer (than Chicago), I don’t like the cold.”

Nunn, however, likely will be back in Chicago in February — All-Star weekend, for the Rising Stars Game on Friday night with teams of rookies and second-year guys. Those rosters are not yet chosen, but Nunn seems a very likely inclusion.

The rookie is pumped about the idea, and he can handle the cold weather.

“I’m looking forward to that for sure, just for a couple days, though,” Nunn said.

He wants to get back to Miami. It’s warmer. And he knows where he fits, where his home is now.

Lakers question coming in August: Extend Anthony Davis, or wait?

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers
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Anthony Davis had an incredible playoff run: 22.6 points and 14.1 rebounds a game while looking like the best defender in the league. It was a reminder of why he has a championship ring and what he is capable of when healthy.

Coming off that, should the Lakers offer him a contract extension?

Davis is under contract for $40.6 million next season, with an early termination option (essentially a player option) for the 2024-25 season for $43.2 million. Come August, the Lakers can offer Davis an extension of up to three years, $167 million (approximately, it would depend on the official salary cap numbers).

Should the Lakers? ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported on Get Up that locking Davis up so he can’t test free agency in 2024 will be a priority and they will extend him. However, on Sedano and Kap on ESPNLA, ESPN’s Lakers beat writer Dave McMenamin was more cautious. (Hat tip Real GM.)

“Certainly, the Lakers’ thinking ever since they acquired Anthony Davis is that it’s an Anthony Davis, LeBron James combo deal. With LeBron James only under contract for sure for another year with a player option the following year., and with him openly contemplating retirement at this stage of his career… But you just don’t do it. You play out this year with him. You see where things stand with him and LeBron. Obviously, then you risk the second year he has left, he can opt-out and leave as a free agent…

“You hope Anthony Davis stays healthy and you get the best out of him next year. But I don’t think they’re going to be in a position to be interested in a long-term extension for him this summer.”

At its core, this comes down to LeBron James and his future. If he retires, leaves, or in whatever way is not on the Lakers after the summer of 2024, as great as Davis can be, he is not the No. 1 option the Lakers would want to rebuild around. At that point, the Lakers would want to move on, although trading Davis (or completing a sign-and-trade) would be the Lakers’ preferred option, bringing back pick and young players to help jumpstart whatever comes next.

If LeBron is still a Laker in 2024-25, the Lakers would want Davis on the roster.

It’s not an easy decision for the Lakers, but with an increasingly strict CBA looming, it’s understandable if the Lakers want to wait and see how this season plays out before committing to Davis.

James Harden reportedly “torn” over Philadelphia vs. Houston

2023 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers
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Reports of James Harden strongly considering a Houston reunion have grown stronger throughout the season, with reporting on it here at NBC Sports and across the NBA media universe.

But would Harden really leave a contending team in Philadelphia to go to a rebuilding Houston team? He appears torn on his decision, Shams Charania of The Athletic said on The Ryen Russillo Podcast (hat tip Real GM).

“We’re less than a month out from free agency starting. I really think he’s torn with the prospect of staying in Philadelphia or moving on to Houston potentially and returning back to his home. That’s where his roots are and his family there of course. They’ve got upwards of $60 million [in cap space]. They can make even more money available. Close to $70 million in cap space. They’re going to have a ton of money and I think this is a team in Houston where I do believe they are going to be aggressive in the marketplace…

“My sense right now is this is someone that is torn. I think whichever way it goes, it’s going to be relatively close. That’s why as we get closer to July 1, June 30th, those conversations that he’s going to have, as he becomes a free agent, with Nick Nurse [the new 76ers coach] and with Daryl Morey, what their vision is for him, what their vision is for that team, what that offer ultimately is going to be versus comparing it to whatever Houston comes with on June 30th or July 1, those are all very important factors. This is a guy that you would assume would sit down with both teams. Philadelphia is going to have a window earlier, potentially going in and scheduling meetings. This is a situation now where we’re going to see which way it lands.”

Both league sources NBC Sports has spoken with and other media members traveling with the NBA Finals — Harden has been a topic of conversation over meals — think Houston is the frontrunner. There is almost an expectation in league circles that Harden will be a Rocket next season, though nobody feels anything is decided.

Is that the right move for the Rockets? They have an interesting young core with whoever they draft at No.4 plus Jalen Green, Alperen Şengün, Kevin Porter Jr., Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and others, but it’s not got a group ready to win a lot of games on the NBA level yet. The Rockets have been through three years of a rebuild and the reports are ownership wants to start seeing wins and a playoffs trip. Harden gets them closer to that now, but at what cost to building a long-term winner and culture?

The ball is in Harden’s court. The only real questions are, has he decided, and how much would the Rockets offer? (The max is four years, $201 million, but do they want to pay him $50 million a season for four years with where his skills are currently and are trending?)

Miami thrives in adversity. How will Denver respond to adversity in Game 3?


MIAMI —We know how the Miami Heat handle adversity. Their ability to deal with it is why we’re still watching them play.

“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team evened the NBA Finals at 1-1. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the changes lineups. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want.”

The question heading into Sunday is how will the Nuggets handle adversity? Denver was the No. 1 seed for most of the season, has been up in every series 2-0 entering Game 3, and only lost three games in the West playoffs. While Denver has faced challenges during the season it had a very different path to this point than Miami.

“What I know about our group is for years now we’ve handled adversity very well,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I have no doubt that tomorrow night will be a much more disciplined, urgent team for 48 minutes.”

“Discipline” was one of the buzzwords around the Nuggets on Tuesday, heading into Game 3. The Heat players sounded like themselves, focused but a little looser, a little more comfortable at home in a familiar environment.

“This is who we are,” Kevin Love said. “Obviously when it’s time to get down to business, our focus is all the way there during our prep, during our film session… But when we’re working we still like to have fun and keep it loose. It keeps us loose out there on the court starting the game and throughout 48 minutes. But it’s not without intention and the willingness to do whatever it takes.”

A change in tone was more evident among the Nuggets. To a man they talked about urgency, discipline and communication.

The Nuggets also had a straightforward, honest film session out of Game 2.

“I showed 17 clips this morning,” Malone said. “Every clip was a discipline clip, if you will, where our discipline, whether it was game plan, whether it was personnel, whether it was defending without fouling, whatever it may be, 17 clips added up to over 40 points in Game 2.

“That, to me, is staggering. What we can do better is just be a lot more disciplined in terms of the game plan, who I’m guarding. Most of that stems from communication.”

Actually, the Nuggets may need to watch their communication during the game.

“We probably could communicate a little bit better and also just be more aware of the actions they are running,” Michael Porter Jr. said. “But also they are playing off of our coverages, they are hearing what we are communicating to each other and they’re doing the opposite. If we say ‘switch,’ they are slipping out for open threes and if we don’t say ‘switch,’ they are actually going to set the screen.

“So they do a really good job of playing off of what our game plan is. So that’s what this film session was about this morning, fixing that. So hopefully they won’t get as many open shots.”

Malone called out his players after Game 2, although he was quick to say it was more them calling themselves out.

Denver has been challenged, by their coach and Miami. How will it respond to this adversity?

“Yeah, we’re probably going to see tomorrow, are we going to respond well or not,” Nikola Jokić said. “That’s the answer.”

Coach, front office updates from around NBA: Fizdale headed to Suns bench


Things continue to move and settle around the NBA as teams find coaches (well, except Toronto) and some front office personnel move around. Here is the latest around the league.

• Former Grizzlies and Knicks head coach David Fizdale, an associate general manager with the Jazz last season, is returning to the bench as an assistant on Frank Vogel’s staff in Phoenix, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Fizdale and Vogel are tight, remember Fizdale was in the bubble on Vogel’s staff when the Lakers won a ring. Give new owner Mat Ishbia credit for spending, he made Kevin Young the highest-paid assistant coach in the league to stay with the team and has now hired a former head coach to be a top assistant. That’s a lot of coaching firepower, now the Suns just need to fill out the roster with some firepower around Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.

• If you want to become a general manager in the NBA, the best way is to be an assistant GM for Sam Presti in Oklahoma City. Apparently. Presti has had five different assistant GMs under him and now all five have gone on to be general managers elsewhere.

The latest is Will Dawkins, who will be the GM and No. 2 in the power structure in Washington under new team president (and former Clippers GM) Michael Winger, reports Josh Robbins and David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Also in the front office in Washington is former Hawks GM Travis Schlenk. That’s a lot of brain power and good hires. The question remains how much freedom owner Ted Leonsis — a guy who demanded his team do whatever it took just to make the playoffs every year — will give Winger, Dawkins and company. The team has big decisions this summer with Kyle Kuzma as a free agent and Kristaps Porzingis expected to opt out.

• The Milwaukee Bucks finally made the hiring of Adrian Griffin as their head coach official.

“Adrian is a widely-respected coach and former player, who brings great leadership and experience to our team,” Bucks General Manager Jon Horst said in a statement. “His championship-level coaching pedigree, character, basketball acumen and ability to connect with and develop players make him the ideal choice to lead our team. He has earned this opportunity.”