Goran Dragic

Heat guard Goran Dragic
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Heat’s Goran Dragic says he’s not going to Slovenia during layoff

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MIAMI — Goran Dragic of the Miami Heat said Tuesday that he is prepared to forgo his annual offseason move back to his native Slovenia if that is what the NBA schedule necessitates.

Dragic, his wife and their two children are in Miami and have no plans to leave for Slovenia amid the global coronavirus pandemic. His parents recently left Miami to return home, but the Heat guard says he’s staying.

“Three days ago they flew back home because they had to, the government said that all the Slovenian citizens needed to get back,” Dragic said, referring to his parents, adding that they wore masks and gloves on their not-very-full flight back to Slovenia. “But my situation is different. Here is my home. We have health insurance in America and we have a home to go to, so we’re going to stay here.”

Dragic and his family have gotten a firsthand global view of the pandemic.

He’s in Miami, and so is his uncle — who is staying in the U.S. because he cannot get back to his native Serbia because Dragic said that country has essentially locked its borders over health concerns. Dragic’s brother Zoran, a former Heat guard, was quarantined while playing in Spain, then returned to Slovenia recently and is under quarantine again, unable to leave his hotel room for a couple more weeks.

“It’s a really crazy situation over there,” Dragic said, detailing what his brother went through in Spain — one of the hardest-hit nations with more than 94,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 8,000 deaths attributed to the virus, the second-highest total worldwide behind only Italy. Slovenia has confirmed 802 cases through Tuesday, with 15 deaths.

In Miami, though, Dragic is trying to keep some sense of normalcy.

Dragic said the Heat are participating in a daily team workout on Zoom most mornings, those sessions often including strength and conditioning coach Eric Foran and Heat assistant coach Chris Quinn, among others.

“We try to work together, in isolation,” Dragic said.

Dragic has been working out individually as well at his waterfront home, trying to stay fit. He’s hopeful that the season resumes at some point, and said he hopes the league has teams play no more than a handful of games before starting the playoffs.

“I’m running around the house. I’m going to be in good shape,” Dragic said.

Dragic is averaging 16.1 points and 5.1 assists this season for the Heat, coming off the bench in all but one of his 54 games.

Without games, NBA players use social media to spread message of coronavirus safety

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Cleveland’s Kevin Love did his best to reassure a skittish and scared public.

Denver’s Jamal Murray sat at his piano and played theme songs.

Atlanta’s Trae Young shot balled-up socks into a trash can.

Miami’s Goran Dragic, in his native Slovenian, told people to stay inside.

This is the new NBA normal in a coronavirus-dominated world.

Even without games, the league is trying to engage and even encourage fans in these tough times.

So far, almost 20 current and former players have partnered with the NBA and WNBA for a new sort of public-service announcement as the world continues dealing with the coronavirus pandemic that is known to have struck about a quarter-million people worldwide, killed nearly 10,000 and has essentially shut down sports around the globe.

“We’re able to reach a number probably in the hundreds of millions, but as far as kids go, tens of millions of kids just by pressing send on an NBA PSA,” Love said. “So for me, it was considering that community aspect as well as, you know, thinking of young kids now being at home being homeschooled, at-risk youth being homeschooled … we have to reach them.”

Love’s PSA, released earlier this week, went for nearly three minutes and was a continuation of sorts of the conversation he’s been having publicly for some time about mental health. “Now more than ever, we have to practice compassion. … We need more of that,” Love said in his video.

Love went public two years ago about his struggles with depression and was one of the first NBA players to announce a donation to help arena employees who aren’t at work right now because of the shutdown. He gave $100,000 and has been raising money through his Kevin Love Fund to directly donate to mental health organizations working with high-risk children and teens who need help with their mental well-being.

Love didn’t hesitate before deciding whether to talk directly to fans.

“This is just incredibly anxiety-ridden, stressful, and I think the unknown is what really scares us,” Love said. “So, it’s completely normal to feel this way and what people are feeling is normal. And I think that just being isolated at your home, it’s tough to stay away from this 24-hour news cycle where all people are getting are things that will send them down a slippery slope and in a spiral because it just seems to be so negative.”

The league started these PSAs on March 13, two days after the NBA’s shutdown because of the virus went into effect. In less than a week across all platforms – NBA.com, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok – the videos collected more than 36 million views, or reaching, on average, 70 people every second.

“Just a reminder to make sure you guys wash your hands, avoid large crowds and if you might be sick, quarantine yourself,” Portland guard Damian Lillard said in his PSA. “This is only a virus that we can beat together.”

Toronto coach Nick Nurse was one of many who spoke about the need to listen to medical professionals and wash hands frequently; the official guideline is 20 seconds, Nurse suggested raising the bar to 24 seconds in a nod to the NBA shot clock.

“This is one time we don’t mind a shot clock violation,” Nurse said.

Other NBA players are making sure to keep their social-media contact with fans up in different ways. Phoenix’s Frank Kaminsky and New Orleans’ JJ Redick are among the players who have dropped podcasts this week, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James took his enormous following inside his home for a 45-minute live video Thursday night while he played cards with his family.

James talked about such things as the Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals when he led Miami to a season-saving road win at Boston – “if we lose, Pat Riley may break us all up,” he said, recalling what his mindset was that night – to his favorite wines and sneakers, to how he hopes to remain with the Lakers for the rest of his career.

“I might do this more often, man,” James said shortly before he ended the live broadcast. “Going to be quarantined for the next 12, 13 days.”

More PSAs are coming from the NBA and some will be geared toward the league’s international fan base. Slovenian star Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks is part of a PSA, as is Spanish legend Pau Gasol. Ricky Rubio of Spain, Danilo Gallinari of Italy, Rui Hachimura of Japan and Buddy Hield of the Bahamas have ones scheduled to be released soon.

Plus, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell – Utah Jazz All-Star teammates and the first two players in the NBA to have positive tests for COVID-19 – taped PSAs in the opening days of the initiative.

All the messages are different, but to Love, the theme is the same: The virus is affecting virtually everyone on the planet. And if NBA players talk about their angst, maybe fans won’t find their own angst to be so troubling.

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

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
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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.

Jae Crowder on Miami: ‘I really want to make this my home’

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Jae Crowder‘s world hit pause this week, just like every NBA player (and a lot of fans).

However, at some point — maybe not July 1 as he expected, but eventually — the veteran forward will become an unrestricted free agent. A lot of teams could use a playoff-tested veteran like him, who has averaged 11.9 points a game and shot 39.3 percent since being traded from Memphis to Miami this season. Crowder is going to have options.

Crowder knows what he wants to do: Stay in Miami. That’s what he told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

“I really want to make this my home,” said Crowder…

“I feel comfortable here, feel comfortable with the whole organization top to bottom. If everything goes as we plan, I’m sure everybody would like to stay together and build off what we’re doing this year and go into next year with the same mind-set.”

Miami will have a lot of cap space this summer when big contracts such as Goran Dragic and Solomon Hill come off the books. The question is what will they do with that cash — they are one of the franchises holding that cap space in case Giannis Antetokounmpo decides to become a free agent in 2021 (or becomes available on the trade market before that). It’s a smart plan, Antetokounmpo is an MVP about to enter his prime, if you can get him you do it.

However, if as expected Antetokounmpo takes the supermax money and re-signs in Milwaukee this summer, then Miami has money to spend. Re-signing Crowder would be a smart use of some of it (so would re-signing Dragic, just at far less than the $19.2 million he is making this year). Crowder has fit well with the Heat both on the court and in terms of culture.

With Jimmy Butler in the fold, the Heat feel just one player away from being a threat to the Bucks and Celtics at the top of the East in the coming years. Around the stars the Heat will need quality role players. Crowder could — and should — be one of those guys. It all just comes down to money.

It will be good to focus on free agency and player moves soon, and not tracking a virus.

 

 

Three Things to Know: Looking at odds to win MVP, Rookie of Year, more

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) What are the odds? Examining the betting line for MVP, Rookie of the Year, more. With a little more than 20 games to go in the NBA season, the attention is shifting to the races for the NBA’s end-of-season awards…

Except some of them aren’t much of a race anymore. That includes MVP.

Let’s take a look at the current betting odds for the top races, with the odds coming via Draft Kings.

MVP
Giannis Antetokounmpo -670
Luka Doncic +800
LeBron James +900
James Harden +1200
Anthony Davis +5000
Nikola Jokic +5000
Kawhi Leonard +5000
Damian Lillard +5000

It’s Antetokounmpo and then everyone else in the odds, which reflects the attitude of voters I have spoken with. These odds also seem a little dated, the guy with the best chance to catch the Greek Freak right now — maybe the only guy — is LeBron (and he will need some luck, but he has the “carrying Kobe’s team” narrative). Doncic’s missed time due to injuries has knocked him down the board a little. Just a word of advice to people actually betting this: Don’t be tempted by the big potential payouts for Jokic or Davis, both have been good enough to make the top five, but if the bet is to win that’s not going to pay off.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Ja Morant -400
Zion Williamson +250
Kendrick Nunn +5000

This is a two man race, and it might not even be that. Yes, Zion Williamson is tearing up the league. Yes, Zion is the best player of this rookie class right now and (barring injury) will be the best in this class three years from now. Yes, we all love to watch him play.

But “availability is the best ability” and Zion can play, at most, 37 games (ultimately, he likely plays in a couple fewer than that). Morant — averaging 17.7 points and seven assists a game, leading a team expected to be one of the worst in the league to a potential playoff berth — can play in as many as 76 games, although that likely ends a few lower as well. If Morant plays 35 more games, he is the Rookie of the Year.

Matt Moore at the Action Network did a straw poll of 12 likely voters and only four said that maybe Zion could do something to catch Morant at this point. Much like when Joel Embiid didn’t win ROY because he only played in 31 games, Zion just missed too many games (and Morant has been very good).

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Anthony Davis -152
Giannis Antetokounmpo +275
Rudy Gobert +350
Brook Lopez +5000
Joel Embiid +5000

A month ago I might have said Rudy Gobert was well on his way to a three-peat, and he still might be, but the Jazz stumbling on defense of late has opened this race up. The Greek Freak and AD have legitimate chances to win it.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
Dennis Schroder +130
Lou Williams +175
Montrezl Harrell +200
Derrick Rose +1000

Another race that seems wide open, especially if the two Clippers players split the vote. That could open the door for Schroder, who has gained a lot of momentum as people realize it’s not just Chris Paul having an impressive season for the surprisingly good Thunder. There is a sentimentality behind Derrick Rose and his best season in a long time, but how bad the Timberwolves have been does not help his cause.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Brandon Ingram +150
Bam Adebayo +300
Jayson Tatum +450
Luka Doncic +500
Devonte’ Graham +1000

Graham was running away with this award early, but he has come back to earth and the race is now wide open. With everyone tuning in to see Zion, people are realizing how good Ingram has been this season. Boston’s surge may help Tatum, and both he and Adebayo surged to become All-Stars this season. Our own Dan Feldman has made the case for Doncic.

Not listed in the odds was Coach of the Year, but my sense talking to voters and people around the league is Toronto’s Nick Nurse has a narrow lead in what is a very crowded field.

2) Miami Heat defense holds Giannis Antetokounmpo to 13 points, Heat upset Bucks. Milwaukee entered Monday night having win six in a row and on pace to win 70+ games. They had lost twice in their last 20 games.

Miami just shut them down. Bam Adebayo had a fantastic defensive game, leading Miami’s ability to take away the Greek Freak’s favorite moves and make him uncomfortable. The sharpshooting Bucks also went ice cold from three for the night, shooting 7-of-34 (20.6 percent), meaning the Heat did not pay for their attention to Antetokounmpo.

Miami had its usual balanced attack. Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder each had 18 points, Goran Dragic 15, and Adebayo had 14 points and 13 boards to go with his stellar defense.

The most talked about sequence in this game came late. First, Miami’s Dragic went up for a shot knee first and caught George Hill right in the, er, groin. Hill was down for a bit. On the next trip down the court Antetokounmpo gave Goran a check from behind, just to balance the scales.

3) Knicks get physical with small-ball Rockets and pick up win. From the first day the Rockets went all-in on small ball the counter-reaction has been “just go big” and bully them. Utah tried to do that, but the Jazz are slumping, Rudy Gobert seemed off (or was thrown off by the style of play), and the red-hot Rockets handled the Jazz with little trouble.

The first team to use size to bully the Rockets? The Knicks.

In the first game under new team president Leon Rose, the Knicks were physical and took the Rockets out of their game, ultimately leading to a 125-123 New York win. That ended Houston’s six-game winning streak. RJ Barrett led the way wtih 27 points.

The Knicks got 16 points and 16 boards from Julius Randle.

James Harden had 35 points and eight assists but shot 3-of-13 from three. Russell Westbrook had 24 points and nine rebounds but missed a mid-range shot that could have sent the game to overtime.

It was a good win for the Knicks, the question is can other teams follow the same model for success against these Rockets?