Mike Conley

Mock NBA expansion draft
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Mock NBA expansion draft: Nuggets, Timberwolves, Thunder, Trail Blazers, Jazz

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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, and Pacific Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Northwest:

Denver Nuggets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: Denver had maybe the easiest protections decisions in the NBA. Two rotation players (Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee) are ineligible, so the Nuggets simply protect their other rotation players.

Keita Bates-Diop is the exact type of player an expansion team should snag. He’s shown some upside in limited minutes. Vlatko Cancar has the benefit of an additional year on his contract, and will be only 23 years old at the start of next season.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: The Wolves are keeping guys who might be a part of the future. Most were no-brainers. The decision point was Omari Spellman v.s Juancho Hernangomez. Keeping Hernangomez doesn’t mean Minnesota will definitely re-sign him, but he has more upside than Spellman.

After Spellman, the rest are take it or leave it. Also, the Timberwolves aren’t paying either expansion team to take James Johnson off their hands.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: If this was done before the season, there could have been an argument for the Thunder to expose both Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. Both have played far too well to chance that now. Steven Adams is overpaid, but not by enough to leave him unprotected. The rest of the players, led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, are young players with upside.

Abdel Nader has been a part of the rotation at times for OKC, but he’s not getting protected over a younger player. Deonte Burton and Mike Muscala were easy decisions due to their minimal roles for the Thunder.

Portland Trail Blazers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Portland is keeping its key veterans and younger players. The decision point was Wenyen Gabriel vs. the three unprotected veterans. In the end, the Trail Blazers chose to protect Gabriel, who they’ll likely renounce in free agency.

As for the three veterans, they all had strong cases against protecting them. Trevor Ariza is overpaid at this point his career. Rodney Hood is coming off a torn Achilles’. And Mario Hezonja just isn’t worth protecting, even despite his minimum salary.

Utah Jazz

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Utah’s first seven players were easy decisions. They are all rotation players. The decision point was keeping a non-guaranteed player (ultimately chose 2019 second-round pick Miye Oni) over either Mike Conley or Ed Davis.

The Jazz are leaving Conley and Davis unprotected because neither acquisition has worked out as hoped for. If Utah can clear Conley’s salary, that would be helpful for a team that is starting to get very expensive. Davis makes less than Conley, but the fit just doesn’t work. And of the minimum players, none have found a rotation role.

Three Things to Know: If NBA locker rooms are cleared for coronavirus, are arenas next?

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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) If NBA locker rooms are cleared for coronavirus, are arenas next? Everyone is trying to find a balance when it comes to Coronavirus/COVID-19 precautions… well, not everyone. We all know and see the panicked people raiding your local COSTCO because they envision this is the first step in the zombie apocalypse, or whatever.

The NBA doesn’t want to be the business equivalent of the hysterical surburbanite stocking up on toilet paper, bottled water, Purell, Lysol wipes, surgical masks, and more toilet paper (for some reason) as they prepare for the pandemic end times YouTube conspiracy-theory nuts have convinced them is coming.

The league doesn’t want to be whistling past the graveyard, either.

Monday the NBA — along with the NHL, MLB, and MLS — announced they were closing locker rooms to the media before and after games for the time being. The league has said this is a temporary step. “After consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, and given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice.”

Following that logic to its conclusion… it’s a health concern to have 20 or so extra people around a locker room for 45 minutes before a game, but it’s still okay to pack 20,000 people in a building for a few hours to watch a sporting event?

I’m not suggesting the NBA should start playing games in empty buildings, as has happened in Italian soccer (and elsewhere). The opposite, actually. I think that would be a dramatic overreaction. The CDC has said this should be a community-by-community decision. The canceling of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells — a big part of the tennis tour — makes some sense, that is an international event that descends upon a community where people go to retire (nearly 2/3 of the Indian Wells population is 65 or older, the people most at risk to the disease). I’ve been to that event multiple times, let me politely say the crowd there skews much older than your average sporting event.

NBA games do not skew older, and the cities where NBA games are played have seen some cases but not the kind of outbreaks that have hit places such as the Seattle area. We are not at the “close the arenas” place yet.

However, it feels like we are closer to that than people realize.

Of course, the league is going to be quicker to close locker rooms (the media does not make the teams money directly) compared to keeping out fans (who do generate income for the teams when they walk through the door), but they have started down the road to get there. The NBA is consulting with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as other experts on the course of action. Still, as the number of cases inevitably grows in urban centers — where teams are located — the NBA and its franchises will have to make some tough choices.

Can you imagine NBA games being played in empty arenas? It’s happened during major East Coast weather events before. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer can envision it.

NBA teams had to submit plans to the league today on steps to limit player/fan exposure at games, and for potential next steps. The conference call between the league and teams comes on Wednesday. After that, we should have some clarity, as much as anyone does with this disease right now.

2) Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic were putting up highlight plays in win over the shorthanded Bucks. Milwaukee, on the second night of a back-to-back (and third road game in four nights), sat just about everyone you can name on that roster Monday night: Giannis Antetokounmpo (sprained knee), Eric Bledsoe (knee), George Hill (leg), Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, and Donte DiVincenzo were all out.

The Bucks deserve credit for keeping it close, but the Nuggets got the 109-95 win. What was impressive for Denver wasn’t just the win, it was the highlights.

Jamal Murray had a Dunk of the Year candidate — until the bad call against him.

There is no way that is an offensive foul. The Bucks’ D.J. Wilson was moving, not vertical, not in the restricted area, and Murray did not use his off arm to create space.

Nikola Jokic’s football passes have become a thing and he did it again on Monday night.

Here is Murray to Jarami Grant — and the officials let this one count.

It’s a good win for Denver as they try to chase down the Clippers for the two seed in the West and hold off the Jazz (who are now two games back).

3) Toronto beats Utah and Rudy Gobert is a frustrated man. There were a lot of things the Raptors did right visiting the Jazz on Monday night. One was getting Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka going, both of them had 28 points on the night.

Another thing Toronto did right was isolating Rudy Gobert when the Jazz had the ball. Gobert finished the night with six points on four shots, Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley did a poor job of finding him in the flow of the offense.

Gobert wasn’t getting touches, then he got in a little tussle with OG Anuoby that somehow led to an ejection with less than a minute to go in the game (this is a soft ejection in my book).

Gobert was emotional and worked up after the game, saying in the future if he’s going to get ejected, he’s going to get his money’s worth (via ESPN).

“I don’t think it makes sense to me. But next time, I’ll do justice myself so the official can eject me for a reason,” Gobert told reporters…

Gobert said Anunoby “tried to elbow me in the face.”

“And the guy that’s getting paid to protect the other players didn’t do his job,” Gobert said, referring to the officials. “There was a little altercation, and we both got ejected when I didn’t do anything back, pretty much, which I don’t understand.”

Not sure I blame him.

Utah had righted the ship and won five in a row before this loss. They need all the wins they can get down the stretch, they sit as the Four seed in the West, now two games back of Denver for the three seed, but also just one game ahead of Oklahoma City and falling back to the five seed where they would start the playoffs on the road.

Soft double-ejection of Rudy Gobert, OG Anuoby leaves Gobert frustrated

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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It was not a good night for Rudy Gobert.

The Toronto Raptors did a pretty good job isolating him offensively — Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley did not do a good job finding him in the flow — so he had six points on four shots for the game.

Then he and Toronto’s OG Anuoby got ejected on a soft call (to my eye) with less than a minute left in the game.

After the game, Gobert was a frustrated man and said in the future if he’s going to get ejected, he’s going to get his money’s worth (via ESPN).

“I don’t think it makes sense to me. But next time, I’ll do justice myself so the official can eject me for a reason,” Gobert told reporters…

Gobert said Anunoby “tried to elbow me in the face.”

“And the guy that’s getting paid to protect the other players didn’t do his job,” Gobert said, referring to the officials. “There was a little altercation, and we both got ejected when I didn’t do anything back, pretty much, which I don’t understand.”

Toronto and Utah do not meet again this season.

The Raptors beat the Jazz 101-92 behind 27 points each from Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam.

Mike Conley scores 25 points, Jazz beat Celtics 99-94

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BOSTON — Mike Conley made six 3-pointers and scored 25 points, Jordan Clarkson added 17and the Utah Jazz beat the Boston Celtics 99-94 on Friday night for their fourth straight victory.

Donovan Mitchell added 11 points, and Rudy Gobert had nine points, seven rebounds and three blocks. The Jazz won their third straight in Boston, capitalizing on the short-handed Celtics’ shooting woes. Boston has lost three of four and three straight at home.

The Celtics were without injured forwards Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward.

Marcus Smart led Boston with 29 points, but he was frustrated with the loss. Boston coach Brad Stevens praised his team’s effort postgame, but Smart disagreed. Strongly.

“I disagree. I thought [our effort] was s***” Smart said, via NBC Sports Boston.

“It’s on us. I don’t know what’s going on out there. It’s like we let other team’s pressure take us out of the game. When that happens, this is the outcome. We have to fix that. We have to be aggressive. We gotta punch first.”

Jayson Tatum added 18 points, Kemba Walker had 13 points and seven assists, and Daniel Theis finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.

Boston couldn’t overcome Utah’s torrid shooting that the Jazz rode to a 16-point lead in the second quarter. Utah made 17 of 45 3-pointers.

The Jazz led 62-49 at halftime after shooting 60.5 percent (23 for 38) in the first two quarters. Utah hit 13 of 21 3-pointers in the half, going 8 for 11 from long distance in the second quarter.

The Celtics opened the third quarter on an 11-3 run that got Boston right back in it, but only briefly. Tatum’s free throw after a technical foul on Mitchell pulled Boston to 66-61, but O’Neale answered with a 3-pointer – the first of the second half for the Jazz – and Utah quickly pushed the lead back up to double-figures, taking a 79-66 lead into the final period.

A three-point play by Wanamaker pulled Boston within 87-78 with 6:54 remaining, but Boston never threatened and a 3-pointer by Smart just before the final buzzer made the outcome seem closer than it was.

Report: Jazz tell team they’re benching Mike Conley, instead bench Joe Ingles

Jazz guard Mike Conley and forward Joe Ingles
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The Jazz have three locked starters: Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic.

That leaves two starting spots for: Mike Conley, Joe Ingles and Royce O'Neale.

Conley and Ingles are higher-paid and more experienced than O’Neale. So, a natural pecking order favors Conley and Ingles. But Conley and Ingles just haven’t meshed together. O’Neale’s defense and limited offensive game better complement the other Utah starters.

Here are the Jazz’s offensive/defensive/net ratings with Gobert, Mitchell and Bogdanovic on the court with:

  • Ingles and O’Neale: 118.3/102.0/+16.4 (537 minutes)
  • Conley and O’Neale: 114.3/100.2/+14.1 (281 minutes)
  • Conley and Ingles: 103.0/109.0/-6.0 (216 minutes)

So, what will Utah do?

Shams Charania and Tony Jones of The Athletic:

After telling players that they were making a starting lineup change, removing Mike Conley Jr. from the starting five, the Utah Jazz have now decided to instead remove Joe Ingles from the starting lineup beginning with Wednesday night’s game against Boston, league sources tell The Athletic.

The team was informed during shootaround on Wednesday that Conley would be removed from the starting lineup and Royce O’Neal would be put in his place, according to league sources. Later, the team was informed that it would be Joe Ingles who would be removed from the starting lineup instead, sources say.

There’s A LOT of potential for this situation to be ugly. How do the Jazz tell everyone Conley would go to the bench then not follow through?

Maybe Ingles volunteered for a reserve role out of kindness for Conley, a respected veteran. Conley has underwhelmed in Utah, and it’s hard to see the Jazz meeting their goals if he doesn’t get on track.

But Ingles also struggled coming off the bench earlier in the season. He took off only after becoming a starter – mainly with Conley out injured.

There was no easy answer for Utah here. But if politics clouded the choice, there’s even more room for destructive disruption.