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NBA AM: Front Office Shake Ups Coming

With the NBA season coming to an end, so too may the tenure of several NBA front office personnel.

Steve Kyler

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Front Office Upheaval Coming?

With most NBA teams having less than 10 games remaining in their season, the inevitable is starting to take shape— for some teams, change in the front office is not only coming, but likely necessary.

Here are some teams to watch:

Sacramento Kings

Yesterday, both ESPN’s Marc Stein and Zach Lowe along with the Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Kings owner Vivek Randive was exploring the idea of adding more help to the Kings front office and had sought permission from the 76ers to speak with former general manager Sam Hinkie.

Within hours of those reports, the Kings issued a statement denying interest in Hinkie, despite numerous league sources saying the team had already spoken with Hinkie about a role with the team.

There has been a long-running narrative in NBA circles that the Kings front office was run rather loosely and that current general manager Vlade Divac was not nearly the day-to-day worker others in his position were. Both reports from yesterday paint a picture of Divac staying with the team with a more proven operator placed in a role above him, but that’s something the Kings statement disputed.

“The Kings are not hiring Sam Hinkie and have no plans to bring anyone in above Vlade,” the team said in the statement.

To make matters worse, there has also been a long-running narrative that there is a rift between many in the minority ownership group and Ranadive, and those minority owners have grown frustrated with how Ranadive has managed the team, specifically when it comes to the front office.

The Kings did hire Ken Catanella as assistant general manager last offseason. However, it does not seem to many that he is permitted to play the role many expected him to play under Divac.

The Kings have eight games remaining in their season and will enter their 11th consecutive offseason without a playoff appearance.

Orlando Magic

In what seems inevitable, the Orlando Magic seem poised to be moving on from general manager Rob Hennigan at season’s end, and the prevailing thought is the Magic may turn to former Magic player and executive on the rise, Pat Garrity.

Garrity, who is currently part of the Pistons organization, played 10 seasons in the NBA (including nine with the Magic) and was well regarded in his playing days as an active member of the NBA Players Association.

Garrity is currently an assistant general manager with the Detroit Pistons and widely regarded as one of the bright up and coming executives in basketball.

Magic sources have been quick to say that nothing has been decided yet on either the future of Hennigan or who would replace him if he is indeed replaced. However, it does seem like some initial groundwork has been laid.

League sources have said that many of the Magic’s lower level basketball executives have started gauging jobs elsewhere in the NBA, understanding that a front office change is likely.

New Orleans Pelicans

A few league sources peg the New Orleans Pelicans as a team that is going to make sweeping changes once their season ends in eight games.

The Pelicans have long been rumored to be the next stop for former Piston’s executive Joe Dumars, who is a Shreveport, Louisiana native and has close ties to the ownership and leadership of the Pelicans and Saints organization.

League sources said recently that Dumars has been active in the NBA front office circles, scouting players and reconnecting to the process.

The Pelicans will finish their seventh season under current general manager Dell Demps, having made the playoffs twice in that span.

It is also probable that current head coach Alvin Gentry, who signed a four-year deal in 2015, is let go, as well. Gentry has just one more fully-guaranteed year left on his contract, with the fourth year being at the team’s option.

The Pelicans made the bold trade at the All-Star break to land DeMarcus Cousins to push the team into the post-season, however that hasn’t worked as well as planned.

Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns will miss the postseason for a seventh straight season, and while current general manager Ryan McDonough has assembled an impressive roster of young talent, the Suns are again no closer to competing this year than they were a season ago.

Unlike many on this list, it’s possible current Suns ownership stays the course for another season, but there is a growing sense in NBA circles that owner Robert Sarver may go in another direction to get the Suns back into the playoff discussion.

McDonough is well regarded in NBA circles, and the results he has had influence over have been better than almost anyone on the proverbial hot seat. However, the NBA is a result-oriented business, and that puts the future of the Suns front office in doubt.

Executives in the NBA usually get a five-year runway, which means it wouldn’t be out of character for the Suns to give McDonough one more year. It is possible, after all, that the Suns could be one more offseason away from moving into the next tier.

Atlanta Hawks

Just after being sold to Antony Ressler, the Atlanta Hawks named Mike Budenholzer President of Basketball Operations and promoted Wes Wilcox to the role of general manager. While it’s unlikely either changes roles this offseason, there has been talk in NBA circles of the Hawks making some organizational changes and adding some new faces.

When the Hawks named Budenholzer to the post of team president, the new ownership group sought to make a stability statement for a team that had just won the Southeast Division title.

With ownership more in control and settled, there is a growing sense that some changes may be in order, especially as the team starts to remake itself after losing Al Horford to free agency last offseason and faces the possibility of losing Paul Millsap this offseason.

A league source said it’s unlikely the Hawks change either role at the top, but adding more options to the staff seems more likely than not.

Making changes to a team front office is never an easy decision because teams usually have to go backward before they can take meaningful steps forward, so teams with a glimmer of hope usually cling to it, even if it seems likely that change is needed. That’s usually why teams hang on to an executive a season longer than maybe they should, but that’s why making a change at the top is never an easy or quick decision.

There are some dates to keep in mind that drive some of the decision making on teams facing playoff elimination.

The NBA regular season ends on April 12. The annual Portsmouth Invitational is April 12 to April 15 and will feature college seniors who are draft hopefuls. April 23 is the NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline for all underclassmen who wish to declare for the 2017 NBA Draft. The 2017 NBA Draft Combine is set for May 9 to May 14 in Chicago. The 2017 NBA Draft Lottery will be May 16, with the actual draft itself set for June 22 in New York.

If a team is going to make a change, doing so quickly becomes important, especially with the NBA draft playing a big role in the team’s future.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers, and @Ben__Nadeau .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA

NBA AM: Paul Millsap’s Injury Derails Denver

With Paul Millsap injured, the Nuggets hopes to become a contender take a hit.

Lang Greene

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After missing the playoffs for the past four seasons, the Denver Nuggets are a team on the rise. The team won 30 games in 2015, 33 in 2016, 40 in 2017 and are currently on pace to record 48 victories this season, which would be their most since 2013.

The squad features six players averaging more than 10 points per contest, not including two veterans in Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler, both of whom are career double-digit scorers. The Nuggets also boast one of the youngest teams in the league with only three players over the age of 30 (Paul Millsap, Chandler and Richard Jefferson).

But the team was dealt a huge blow this week when it was learned that four-time All-Star forward Paul Millsap will be out the next three to four months after suffering a torn ligament in his wrist.

Millsap was extremely durable during his first 11 seasons in the league, missing 10 games just once (2017). This injury marks the first time in Millsap’s career where he will miss significant time while roaming the sideline in designer suits.

Millsap signed a three-year, $90 million deal this past summer and his acquisition was viewed as the next step in bringing the team back into the realm of the playoffs.

After an early season adjustment period, Denver (10-7) has rattled off seven victories in their last 10 games. For the team, Millsap’s injury news couldn’t have come at a worst time.  The veteran was averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds through 16 contests. The points are his lowest since 2013 and the rebounding output is his lowest since 2010, but Millsap’s presence has helped stabilize the young Nuggets on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

The Nuggets do have a plethora of power forwards on the depth chart. Veteran Kenneth Faried has started 366 contests for the franchise since being drafted in 2011. Faried’s future with the franchise has come into question in recent years as his playing time and role in the rotation has consistently diminished. The signing of Millsap likely solidified that fate, however, by not dealing Faried, the Nuggets were able to keep an insurance policy in the fold.

Third-year forward and former lottery pick Trey Lyles is another candidate for an increased workload. Lyles is currently averaging 6.8 minutes in 12 appearances but is shooting a career high from the field (52 percent) and three-point range (42 percent) in his limited court time. Another like candidate for more playing time is second-year big man Juan Hernangomez, who has currently appeared in just six contests.

Offensively, the Nuggets will be able to absorb his loss. Guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray score the ball efficiently while swingman Will Barton provides pop off the bench. The team will also likely ride the back of their franchise player Nikola Jokic a bit more as well, with the big man averaging just 11.6 shot attempts per game—third on the team.

Perhaps the biggest area the Nuggets will have to adjust is on the defensive end.

According to ESPN’s real defensive plus-minus (DPM), Millsap ranks 31st overall in the league (1.62). He ranks seventh among power forwards with at least 10 games played this season. Last season, Millsap was fifth among power forward and 14th overall in DPM.

The veteran’s track of improving a team’s prowess on the defensive end is proven and it’s exactly the type of “silent” attribute the Nuggets needed on a loaded young team still learning how to play on that side of the ball.

                              Paul Millsap – Real Defensive Plus-Minus
Season DPM League Overall Rank Power Forward Rank
2013-14 2.06                 63                   12
2014-15 2.22                 43                    8
2015-16 3.26                 12                    2
2016-17 3.35                 14                   5
2017-18 1..62                 31                  9

 

The Nuggets will be tested immediately without Millsap in the fold. The team travels to Houston (November 22) and will play nine of their next 13 games are on the road. This includes a six-game road trip from December 4 to December 13.

The team is currently 7-2 at home and just 3-5 away from the Pepsi center.

They will, for sure, be tested without Millsap.

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PODCAST: Lonzo’s Shot, How To Cut Luol Deng and More

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA writer and salary cap guru Eric Pincus talk about Lonzo Ball and the unreasonable expectations some have had about his rookie campaign, what the Lakers could do with Luol Deng, teams that have cap exceptions and could likely use them, which teams are for real and more.

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Johnson Is Leading By Example In Philadelphia

Amir Johnson may not be a star player, but his impact on the locker room is a constant in Philadelphia.

Dennis Chambers

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After every home win, the Philadelphia 76ers have a miniature liberty bell in their locker room that gets rung by a selected player, usually the who had the biggest impact on the game.

On Monday night, Amir Johnson got to the ring the bell after the Sixers beat the Utah Jazz 107-86 to secure their ninth win of the season. Johnson turned in his best performance since joining Philadelphia this offseason, with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes of playing time as Joel Embiid’s substitute.

Up until about 45 minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, Embiid’s status was unclear due to knee soreness. Johnson would’ve been tasked with the starting role had his teammate been unable to perform. Instead, he fulfilled his backup role to perfection, which has been the status quo for Johnson so far this season.

When the Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year $11 million deal in July, it was for the purpose of shaping a young roster with some veteran leadership. Management wanted to ensure there would be a professional in the locker room to help navigate the likes of Embiid and Ben Simmons through a full NBA season, with hopes of making it to the playoffs.

“When we looked to build our roster and sort of identify people we started talking about Amir Johnson,” Brett Brown said. “And Bryan was way more familiar with Amir — this is to Bryan’s credit — than I was, because of his Toronto background. And I started digging in and calling his teammates. I’ve been in the league for a long time, so you follow him, and you speak to people like Evan Turner. You know, tell me about Amir when you were in Boston and so on.”

While Brown was doing his research on Johnson, he came across an impressive level of continuity when it came to how others viewed the center.

“It’s amazing to a man how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said of Johnson. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game and now worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots? It isn’t ever on my mind with Amir.”

The Sixers’ head coach seems honest in his assessment, and Johnson’s fluctuating level of productivity and use reflects that. Prior to his big night against Utah, Johnson logged a combined 21 minutes over the team’s previous four games — including two DNP’s, both coming against the Golden State Warriors.

Still, just barely over a month into this new season, the Sixers are trying to iron out the kinks in their lineup. With injuries to Richaun Holmes, Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and Justin Anderson over the course of the season so far, finding a set group of guys and defining their roles has been a tricky situation to maneuver.

Last season, Johnson started 77 games for the Boston Celtics during their campaign that ran all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. His one start in 14 games this season, with a cut in minutes per game, is a far cry from the level of use Johnson experienced just one year ago. But coming into this season, that was known. Johnson’s role would be to help guide his junior counterparts and chip in where he could.

So far, the deal is paying dividends on both ends.

“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”

In a game that featured the absence of Jazz star center Rudy Gobert, Johnson was able to make his presence more prevalent during his reserve minutes. Along with his four blocks, Johnson had a game-high 15 contested two-point shots. As a team, Utah shot just 35.3 percent from the field.

Backing up a superstar in the making in Embiid, Johnson has limited time to let it be known that he’s still around. That situation is magnified on nights that Holmes is seeing extended run as well. But in his 13th season in the league, Johnson knows a thing or two about finding ways to be effective and efficient.

“Finding my way on the floor, knowing the amount of time I have, just finding ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “I watch a lot of film. Just for me to find open spots, set screens, and the biggest part that I can help this team out, is just play defense and grabbing rebounds.”

On the nights where Johnson doesn’t get his number called — a la games against the Warriors and other small-ball teams — the veteran just continues to do what he was brought in to do in the first place, lead by example.

“Just sticking to my routine,” Johnson said. “Being mentally prepared, getting my teammates ready, just being a professional, doing all kind of things to prepare for a game.”

After being around the come up in Boston, Johnson knows there are bigger things at stake for the Sixers than a few minutes here and there on the court. To him, winning is the only thing that matters.

“When you don’t play and you win, man it’s like and that’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “We’re here to try and do one goal, and that’s win games and make the playoffs, and go from there on.”

Whether he’s on the bench waving a towel, or on the court making a play, Johnson will continue to lead a young group of talented players by example, hopefully culminating in a trip to the playoffs.

“He is a legitimate pro, on and off the court,” Brown said. “He’s a wonderful teammate.”

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