Al-Farouq Aminu

Orlando Magic
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Magic player tests positive for coronavirus

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The race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference keeps getting sadder. Somehow.

The Nets are decimated. The Wizards are missing their best players. And the Magic – who already have Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu sidelined – have complications with Markelle Fultz and another unnamed player.

Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel:

The Orlando Magic entered the NBA bubble Tuesday without an unidentified player who tested positive for COVID-19 and guard Markelle Fultz, whose entry was delayed due to a personal issue.

Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said during a videoconference with reporters on Tuesday that Fultz is dealing with a personal matter unrelated to the virus. His absence is excused and the league is aware of his situation, according to Weltman. He said Fultz is following all safety protocols and expects a “seamless transition” for the guard’s return, although Weltman did not have a specific timetable for when that will be.

It’s unclear whether the unnamed player was among the 25 players the NBA announced tested positive.

Fultz and the other player will have to follow protocols for players travelling to Disney World after their teams arrive.

The Magic have D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams at point guard if Fultz is unavailable. But I’ll take Weltman at his word that Fultz will return to the team smoothly.

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie done for the season after coronavirus diagnosis

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie
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No Kevin Durant. No Kyrie Irving. No DeAndre Jordan. No Wilson Chandler. No Nicolas Claxton.

And now the Nets will be without Spencer Dinwiddie, who has been battling a symptomatic case of coronavirus.

Spencer Dinwiddie:

The Eastern Conference playoff race is shaping up to be ugly. The Nets are decimated. The Wizards won’t have their best and second-best players, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans. The Magic will probably be without Jonathan Isaac (who looked so promising) and Al-Farouq Aminu.

I don’t know how Brooklyn will proceed. Tanking raises ethical questions in normal times. When sending players to an uncomfortable bubble in the midst of a pandemic, it’s especially troublesome.

But the Nets have a clear incentive: They’ll keep their first-round pick only if they miss the playoffs. Otherwise, it goes to the Timberwolves (via the Hawks from the Taurean Prince trade).

Presumably, Brooklyn – with a healthy Durant and Irving and maybe a third star – would convey a much later pick next season (when the pick is still lottery protected).

In the meantime, Caris LeVert can step up as lead guard with Irving and Dinwiddie sidelined. Chris Chiozza should get an opportunity at point guard. Garrett Temple can play a larger role. Tyler Johnson adds backcourt depth.

Jordan’s and Claxton’s absences leave Jarrett Allen as the Nets’ only option at center (which could be freeing after a season of having to look over his shoulder). But he could use a backup. Maybe Amir Johnson.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Johnson, 33, hasn’t played in the NBA this season. He spent the last couple seasons with the 76ers, becoming gradually less effective. But he’s a savvy veteran who should fit in quickly.

Spencer Dinwiddie will reportedly play for Nigerian Olympic team

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Josh Okogie. Al-Farouq Aminu. Chimezie Metu. Ekpe Udoh.

The Nigerian national basketball team has a number of current and former NBA players on it. It was good enough for the squad to finish 17th overall at the FIBA World Cup last summer, which qualified them to represent Africa in the Tokyo Olympics (now planned for July 2021).

Nigeria’s team just got even better.

Spencer Dinwiddie averaged 20.6 points and 6.8 assists a game for the Nets last season and would have been a leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year if injuries to Kyrie Irving didn’t force Dinwiddie into more of a starting role.

Nigeria started Ike Iroegbu — the former Washington State player who was with the Wizards’ G-League team last season and has played in Germany overseas — as their starting point guard at the World Cup. Dinwiddie is an upgrade.

It’s the kind of thing Okogie wants to see. During All-Star weekend in Chicago, he talked about how proud he was to represent Nigeria, but that he thinks the team can take a step forward.

“We definitely want to see some improvements,” said Okogie, who was part of the World Team for Rising Stars. “There are a lot of things we could have done better at the World Cup but I am just glad we got the Olympics place, too… I think we will just try to win one game at a time and see where that takes us.”

Nigeria hired Mike Brown as its new head coach. Brown is the former Cavaliers and Lakers head coach who now sits next to Steve Kerr on the bench in Golden State. He will bring a high level of basketball knowledge and discipline to the team.

NBA players’ participation in the Tokyo Olympics remains undecided. If the NBA plays out some version of the rest of this season and the playoffs, pushing into August and maybe September, it would force the next season to start late. If the NBA pushes back the calendar on next season — say a December start with the Finals in August — it would keep some, if not all, NBA players from the Tokyo Olympics. The opening ceremonies in Tokyo are scheduled for July 23, 2021. Based on the schedule they planned to use this year, USA Basketball would start its training camp in early July, before July 4.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Hawks, Hornets, Heat, Magic, Wizards

Mock NBA expansion draft
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division and Northwest Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southeast:

Atlanta Hawks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Hawks protections are very straightforward. Every player they are protecting is either a rotation player, under team control for a while or both. No hard decisions here.

That means that Atlanta is leaving their restricted free agents and Brandon Goodwin unprotected. No major concerns over losing any of the four.

Charlotte Hornets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Charlotte’s decisions were fairly easy. Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington are all core pieces. Despite his suspension, Malik Monk still has upside. And the three young forwards (Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels) are locked in on low salaries for a while.

Keeping the three minimum salary forwards meant leaving Dwayne Bacon unprotected. Bacon had been out of the rotation and sent to the G-League, so he’s out of the plans for now. As for Nic Batum or Cody Zeller, the Hornets would welcome getting either big salary off the books.

Miami Heat

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 1

Ineligible – 6

Analysis: Miami was really helped by having six players ineligible because they are unrestricted free agents this summer. That left just this decision point: Andre Iguodala vs KZ Okpala vs Kelly Olynyk.

Okpala is a minimum salary player, so that means he stays. Iguodala was just added and given an extension. He stays. That means Olynyk and his $13 million salary are left exposed.

Orlando Magic

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Orlando had seven fairly easy protections. Their five starters, sixth man, and their promising young big man in Mo Bamba.

That left Khem Birch vs Al-Farouq Aminu vs Wesley Iwundu. Aminu was left unprotected due to salary and coming off a knee injury. It’s unlikely he’ll be selected and the Magic will be happy to have him back. That means it came down to Birch vs Iwundu. It’s more likely Birch will be selected, given his low salary and skill as a big man, so Iwundu was left unprotected.

Washington Wizards

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

  • John Wall – $41,254,920
  • Isaac Bonga – $1,663,861 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Anzejs Pasecnicks – $1,517,981 ($250,000 Guaranteed)

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Wizards are taking a gamble. Most of the protections were pretty easy. Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant are key players. Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown, Mo Wagner and Jerome Robinson are all on their rookie scale deals.

Then things get interesting. Leaving John Wall unprotected may seem crazy, given he’s a former All-Star. But Wall is coming off two lost seasons due to injury and will be 30 years old at the start of next season. He’s also owed $133 million over the next three seasons. Ish Smith and Admiral Schofield stay and the Wizards throw caution to the wind. It’s unlikely Wall will be selected, but just the chance of clearing that salary off the books is a gamble worth taking for Washington.

Report: 76ers trading James Ennis to Magic

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Update: Shams Charania of The Athletic:

 

The 76ers are trading for Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks to upgrade their underwhelming bench.

James Ennis saw the writing on the wall.

Because he re-signed with Philadelphia on a 1+1 contract, Ennis could have blocked getting traded. Instead, he’s approving a deal to the Magic.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

With Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu injured, Ennis should play regularly in Orlando. The Magic are on track to make the playoffs. It’s worth being a little more competitive, especially when it requires just adding a minimum-salary player.

Ennis holds a $2,130,023 player option for next season. Considering their impending luxury-tax bill, the 76ers might appreciate getting off that possible salary.

Philadelphia must shed another player to complete its trade with the Warriors. So, there’s another trade or a waiver to be announced.