Solomon Hill

Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr.
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Report: Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. tests positive for COVID-19

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Living in a world with coronavirus, NBA players are contracting coronavirus. The league has ramped up testing in advance of resuming at Disney World, with several players testing positive:

Add Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. to the list.

Barry Jackson and Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald:

Miami Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. tested positive for COVID-19, a league source told the Miami Herald.

Jones, 23, has been asymptomatic and still expects to participate in the resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. He was tested Tuesday, when mandatory COVID-19 testing for NBA players and staff began to be issued on a regular basis.

Hopefully, Jones recovers as quickly as he desires.

The reigning dunk-contest champion, Jones is a helpful member of Miami’s rotation. He’d be a notable loss for a team with a chance to make a deep playoff run.

At least the Heat loaded up at forward just before the trade deadline, acquiring Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill.

Jones faces far more uncertainty. Approaching unrestricted free agency this offseason, the undrafted player has a chance at his first relatively lucrative contract.

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.

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.

 

 

Timberwolves win first road game in 52 days, top Heat (video)

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MIAMI — Jordan McLaughlin’s layup with just under nine seconds left put Minnesota ahead for good, D’Angelo Russell led all scorers with 27 points and the Timberwolves added to Miami’s late-season stagger by beating the Heat 129-126 on Wednesday night.

Malik Beasley scored 21 points, Juancho Hernangomez tied a season-high with 17 and McLaughlin added 13 for Minnesota. The Timberwolves were down by 12 with 3:59 left, then closed on a 20-5 run to get just their second victory in 20 games.

Jimmy Butler’s two free throws with 13.8 seconds left put Miami up 126-125, but McLaughlin’s layup on the next Minnesota possession put the Timberwolves on top to stay. Butler’s layup with 3.2 seconds left got blocked by Russell, and the Wolves held on.

Minnesota snapped a nine-game road losing streak, getting its first road victory since beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 5.

Kendrick Nunn led Miami with 24 points. Bam Adebayo had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Butler — back after a two-game absence for personal reasons — had 18 for Miami. The Heat fell to 23-4 at home and have dropped seven of their last nine overall.

The Heat stayed a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Philadelphia lost in Cleveland earlier Wednesday, a game where 76ers star Joel Embiid departed early because of a shoulder injury.

The Heat have had major trouble closing games of late — a 22-point lead late in the third quarter against Cleveland on Monday was frittered away in what probably was the worst loss of the season, until now anyway — and a long film session and meeting on Tuesday clearly didn’t solve the issue.

They were up 121-109 with 3:59 left, and 123-112 after a layup by Butler 24 seconds later.

And Minnesota — a team that came into the night with one win in a span of 48 days — still wasn’t finished off. The Timberwolves scored the next 11 points to tie the game, getting five of those points from Beasley and a tying free throw from McLaughlin with 46 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Minnesota’s 27 attempts from 3-point range in the first two quarters was a first-half franchise record. … The Wolves are 4-0 in road games against Southeast Division teams this season, and 6-19 in all other road contests.

Heat: Adebayo played through a sprained right ankle, pushing his consecutive-game streak to 144 — extending the fourth-longest such streak in team history. … Goran Dragic’s first basket was a 3-pointer, and that pushed him one point past Grant Long (5,473) for 10th on the Heat career scoring list. … Nunn got his third consecutive rookie of the month trophy in a brief halftime ceremony.

JOHNSON RETURNS

Wednesday marked James Johnson’s first game back in Miami since the trade that sent him to Minnesota earlier this month, a move that sent Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to Miami from Memphis. “I think Minnesota is seeing what kind of versatility he can bring to the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

LOOKING AHEAD

A large contingent of fans from Slovenia were in attendance Wednesday — and more are coming Friday, when the Heat play host to the Dallas Mavericks. At last season’s Dallas-at-Miami game, more than 2,000 Slovenians were in attendance to watch their nation’s two best NBA players, Dragic and Dallas star Luka Doncic, go head-to-head.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: At Orlando on Friday night.

Heat: Host Dallas on Friday night.

Pat Riley says Andre Iguodala is still ‘elite’

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MIAMI — In deciding whether to pursue a trade for Andre Iguodala, the Miami Heat went all-in on research. They talked to people who knew Iguodala. They watched what he did last season. They took a deep dive into the analytics.

And they came to a determination.

“He’s elite,” Heat President Pat Riley said.

Simple as that. That’s why Iguodala is now in Heat colors, and a team that wasn’t even good enough to make the playoffs last season is thinking big as it gears up for a run at the 2020 postseason. Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill all joined the team for a game-day shootaround practice in Sacramento on Friday to get their first taste of what life with the Heat is like.

“He’s an elite defender, an elite team defender, elite assist-to-turnover percentage, he ranks up into the top of those areas that are real tangible,” Riley said. “You don’t lose that in seven months. And probably it was a blessing in disguise that he didn’t play for seven months.

Iguodala last played an NBA game in June, when he scored 22 points in the last game of last season’s NBA Finals. He was traded by Golden State to Memphis in early July, and never played for the Grizzlies while waiting to be moved elsewhere – that start of what became a seven-month process.

“I still like I feel like I still have a lot of time left,” the 36-year-old Iguodala told reporters in Sacramento after the shootaround. “I surprised myself just taking the time off and seeing how bouncy my legs got to be. Once the body started recovering a little bit better. Now it’s just about finding NBA game shape. It’s hard to really practice that. It shouldn’t take too much time.”

Iguodala was the 2015 NBA Finals MVP and went to each of the last five title series as part of the Golden State Warriors. The Heat haven’t been to the finals since 2014, missed the playoffs in three of the last five years and went into this past offseason without a retired Dwyane Wade and with no cap space to sign free agents.

That didn’t stop them. They landed Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade with Philadelphia, hit on their assessments of rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro, watched Bam Adebayo develop into an All-Star, are getting Sixth Man of the Year-level contributions from Goran Dragic in his new off-the-bench role, and saw immense improvement from Derrick Jones Jr. and Duncan Robinson – beneficiaries of the team’s constant commitment to development.

And now they add Iguodala to a team that’s already off to a 34-16 start, firmly in the race for home-court in the first round of the playoffs.

“I think what it says is that we really feel that this group has earned the right to really make this all about now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And we’re bringing in three veteran players that have a lot of experience. Andre obviously bringing championship pedigree, somebody who has played in so many big moments … that championship experience is invaluable. You can’t put a price on it.”

Crowder said he noticed how the Heat were playing on opening night, when Memphis lost to Miami. He didn’t like the outcome so much, though liked what he saw.

“It just feels like they’re having fun with it,” Crowder said in Sacramento. “They’re playing very hard, a very competitive group. I just want to add on to that. I’m a competitor. I like to win. I like to do whatever it takes to win. I’m here to have fun and get some wins.”

Hill said it’s no secret what the Heat are shooting at.

“They have championship inspirations,” Hill said. “You’re talking about a prestigious franchise that has done it. And the leadership of this ship has done it multiple times.”

The leader of that ship is Riley, a nine-time champion overall and a three-time titlist with the Heat. He makes no secret about it: the trade was done with eyes on getting closer to contending for yet another ring. The Heat got some cap room in this trade as well, which opens up the buyout market this season. They’ll have more money than expected this coming summer, then enough to add a max player to the mix in 2021.

They are trending the right way again.

“A lot of good things have happened,” Riley said. “And we hope they continue to happen.”