Ian Begley: Westchester Knicks announce they’ve acquired Festus Ezeli from the Available Player Pool: pic.twitter.com/nGa0vSAf28
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Marc Stein: Former NBA center Festus Ezeli is joining the Knicks’ G League team (Westchester Knicks), league sources say
Finally, Ezeli told himself, the time had come to contact teams in hopes of returning to the NBA. When the G League season starts next week at a bubble environment in Orlando, Ezeli will be part of a waiver pool that allows franchises to claim him. At any point over the following month or so, he could receive a call from someone asking him to pack his bags, board a flight to Florida and play his first pro game in nearly half a decade. At age 31 with an extensive injury history, Ezeli is an unlikely member of basketball’s striving class. In 2016, while with the Trail Blazers after the Warriors renounced his rights in order to sign Kevin Durant, he was diagnosed with a defect in the cartilage of his left knee. Doctors told Ezeli that he needed experimental surgery. His playing days almost certainly seemed over.
As Ezeli spent six months post-surgery confined to a wheelchair and relying on help to use the bathroom, he sank into a deep depression. Basketball had become fundamental to his identity. Without it, he felt lost. “Depression is an understatement,” Ezeli said of that dark period. “Until that point, I never understood the importance of mental health. … But not being able to walk on your own for half a year, you definitely become close friends with depression.”
One night, after watching her son break down in tears, Patricia Ezeli — a Nigerian immigrant and devout Christian — told Festus, “God gave you this mountain so you can show others it can be moved.” The message became a sort of rallying cry for Festus, who believes his life story is a testament to the meaning of the Nigerian first name on his birth certificate, Ifeanyi: “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Traditional centers like Ezeli were replaced by basketball unicorns: interior defenders who also can hit 3-pointers, pass and guard any position. Even Ezeli’s close friends and family encouraged him to consider other career options. Genial and articulate, Ezeli could find success in broadcasting. There also was the economics degree from Vanderbilt he had yet to use. But after having the sport he loves taken away in the heart of his prime, Ezeli knew he’d have regrets if he didn’t try again. As he eased back into basketball, he posted updates to Instagram with the hashtag #RebuildingTheBeast.
The Instagram page has nearly 3,000 followers. Ezeli plans to soon publish a “Rebuilding The Beast” podcast series, with interviews from people who’ve overcome personal challenges. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, whose father was assassinated in 1984 by two gunmen outside his office in Beirut, is one of Ezeli’s first guests. “I love his zest for life,” Kerr said of Ezeli. “His desire to play, his engagement in trying to make that happen. I love all of that, and I sure hope it happens for him.”
Overseas clubs recently inquired about signing Ezeli, but for now, he’s focused on the G League, from which 35 players were called up to the NBA last season. “My goal is to play in the NBA again,” Ezeli said. “Whatever I’ve got to do to get there, I’m willing to do. I don’t like to regret things, so I’m just going to leave it all on the table and see what happens.”
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April 17, 2021 | 1:45 am EDT Update
The pool of teams that will have the salary-cap space to make a run at Markkanen is limited, but multiple executives and scouts anticipate the San Antonio Spurs will make a strong offer this summer. Without LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio has a need for a stretch big with Markkanen’s size and skill set.
Warriors star Stephen Curry will be entering a contract year in 2021/22 if he doesn’t reach an extension agreement in the offseason with the team. However, he doesn’t sound like someone eager to test free agency. Asked by ESPN’s Rachel Nichols (video link) how much of a priority it is to spend his entire career in Golden State, Curry affirmed that’s his plan. “It’s always been a priority,” Curry said. “When you look at guys like Dirk (Nowitzki), Kobe (Bryant), that I played against and have heard them talk about what that’s meant, they don’t speak on it lightly. There’s a reverence for that club.
“You never know what can happen, obviously, but I feel like that’s always been something that would mean so much to me. You want to stay competitive, you want to stay in that fight where you’re winning championships. If I can accomplish both, that’s the ultimate goal.”
Convincing Zach LaVine the Bulls are building a playoff contender is important when you consider the 26-year-old’s “big focus” coming into the season was to get Chicago into the playoffs. That’s why rival executives anticipate the Bulls will try to lock up LaVine with a contract extension (he will make $19.5 million this season and next) but know he’ll likely let his deal lapse, become an unrestricted free agent and sign what will be a more lucrative multiyear max pact.
“That’s why them getting Vooch was a really big deal,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “Players want to get paid, just like we all do. But they also want to win, and guys like Zach have been around the block long enough to know they can’t win in this league by themselves. LeBron’s the best to do it, and he couldn’t win it all by himself. Even he needed help.” The exec added, “Them getting Vooch sent a clear message to Zach that yes, Chicago is serious about trying to put together a winner here and now.”
The patience has paid off to a relative degree, as now the Wizards are in position to possibly make the playoffs. Beal feels like he has been somewhat vindicated by the experience. “It speaks volumes. It’s always tough because when my name was buzzing, that’s all I heard early in the year is ‘trade Beal, trade Beal.’ It wasn’t anything other than that,” Beal said. “So, me knowing who I am and just sticking through it, that’s a testament to what we did as a team this year.”