Storyline: Pistons Front Office

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The Thunder have been in this position before. For the fourth time in their 12 seasons, the Thunder have lost an assistant general manager to another team. It’s a testament to the sharp minds general manager Sam Presti has surrounded himself with in Oklahoma City. This time is a little different. Troy Weaver was different, from his eye for talent (documented by The Athletic’s James Edwards III) to his truth-telling style, from his storytelling to his trash-talking.

Weaver — the Thunder’s vice president of basketball operations for the last seven seasons — bridged the gap between executive and player better than any high-ranking front-office member in the Thunder’s history. It’s why so many players who’ve come through Oklahoma City were overjoyed when Weaver was named the general manager of the Detroit Pistons on June 18. When Thunder guard Chris Paul picked up his phone and saw Weaver was hired in Detroit, he called and congratulated him. Even before Weaver was hired — when there were reports Weaver was in the running for the Detroit GM job — Paul called then, too.

To wit: Weaver was the only candidate to interview with the Pistons’ owner, Tom Gores, according to a person familiar with the search who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. Beyond maximizing the Pistons’ forthcoming high draft pick and some newfound financial flexibility after the February moves to jettison Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, Weaver’s immediate challenges include learning his new terrain and meshing with the various voices in Detroit after spending the last 12 seasons in Oklahoma City. Gores leans heavily on Arn Tellem, the longtime power agent who serves as Detroit’s chairman, and Ed Stefanski, who will remain with the Pistons in his position as a senior adviser to Gores.

To wit: Weaver was the only candidate to interview with the Pistons’ owner, Tom Gores, according to a person familiar with the search who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. Beyond maximizing the Pistons’ forthcoming high draft pick and some newfound financial flexibility after the February moves to jettison Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, Weaver’s immediate challenges include learning his new terrain and meshing with the various voices in Detroit after spending the last 12 seasons in Oklahoma City. Gores leans heavily on Arn Tellem, the longtime power agent who serves as Detroit’s chairman, and Ed Stefanski, who will remain with the Pistons in his position as a senior adviser to Gores.

“You have two veteran big-time players that are looking to restore their careers: Blake Griffin, who is a perennial All-Star, and Derrick Rose. Both guys have had some injury history and they’re looking forward to building their careers back,” Weaver said. “That stood out and we’re excited to get them healthy and help us moving forward. “The second piece is the young players on the roster: Sekou (Doumbouya), (Luke) Kennard, Bruce Brown and Svi (Mykhailiuk) and (Christian) Wood. We feel like we have a good mixture of young guys with those two staples to start there.”

Weaver, Gores, Casey, Stefanski and Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem were all on the video conference Monday. “I always recognized Troy as one of the top talent evaluators – you just look at the finished products in OKC, he had a big part of doing that. Not only that, he’s a man of his word,” Casey said. “He’s genuine, he’s real, and I will say this, and in today’s time, with all the unrest, here’s an opportunity for an African American man to be named to this position, and I’m going to credit Tom and Arn and Ed for opening up the door for the opportunity for him to step in.”

After hiring a general manager, the front office will begin its search for an assistant. The goal is to find someone light on experience who could eventually grow into a larger role within the organization. The timing of the decision to fill one or both positions shows that the organization is committing to change. Per a source, the team is prioritizing diversity in both searches. Former Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince, who is currently the vice president of basketball affairs for the Memphis Grizzlies, is a candidate for the assistant GM job.

The Pistons are in the market for their first general manager since 2018, but it remains to be seen if the role will be filled for the 2020-21 season. Sources told The Athletic that while the team’s focus is on hiring for that job, Detroit could consider hiring multiple assistant general managers instead. The timing of the hires and what roles will be filled will be dependent upon how the search pans out, per a source. Assistant GM Malik Rose left the team earlier this week for a role with the NBA.

It appears the team would prefer an experienced candidate for the GM job, someone who can step in and make an immediate impact. With Detroit rebuilding and focusing on young talent, a decision-maker with an eye for player evaluation and drafting seems to be of the utmost importance. The Pistons are likely to hold high lottery picks for the foreseeable future, and building the organization through young, cost-friendly talent appears to be their best path back toward relevancy.

DFP: Going into trade season, what are you trying to get accomplished? Ed Stefanski: “We as a front office, we talk to the league on a regular basis, finding out from teams what their philosophy may be right now, but the thing is, it always changes. A lot of teams — trying to make the playoffs — will wait to see where they are at the trade deadline in February to discern whether they are buyers or sellers. The majority of teams are waiting. Teams that are struggling mightily may be sellers right now and if there’s a deal out there, they’ll pull the trigger, but like every year, more trades are going to occur closer to the deadline.”

DFP: Besides the obvious issue of creating a future problem to solve a current one, can you further explain the reluctance to create a better cap situation at all costs? Ed Stefanski: “We’re in cap restrictions right now. We were this past free agency and we will be again the next free agency. If we had to get off assets for cap relief, with our cap situation it really wouldn’t improve more than what we already have — the midlevel exception — for next year. We wouldn’t improve substantially so to use assets to get off some of the contracts you may want to get off — I’m not saying we want to — but to do something like that? It still wouldn’t create a lot of room.”

DFP: Has Blake Griffin exceeded expectations? Ed Stefanski: “I didn’t know what to expect from Blake. In talking to him this summer, he mentioned this is the first summer in a while he’d been totally healthy and I think it’s shown. He’s very difficult (to defend), he’s a force out there, he’s playing at an All-Star level. I enjoy watching how the other teams want to come out and play him. A lot of teams get physical with him, … teams bring double teams, teams bring triple teams and he’s been real good at finding the open man. … Most of this year he’s found the open man and we run a lot of our offense through him.”
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July 14, 2020 | 3:03 am EDT Update
Even with his upcoming supermax decision full of uncertainty, with the new realities of the league in effect following the pandemic, Milwaukee’s front office isn’t worried about opposing players trying to potentially recruit him. “Zero. We can only control what we can control. If it’s considered tampering or recruiting or whatever it is, in our league people talk, people are connected, people have relationships,” said Bucks GM Jon Horst. “At the end of the day, I have full confidence in my personal relationship, our league’s relationship, our coach’s relationship, his teammate’s relationship with Giannis in what we’re doing and what we’re about.
Storyline: Giannis Antetokounmpo Free Agency
Exactly one month before announcing he’s tested positive for COVID-19, Russell Westbrook was hanging poolside at Encore Beach Club at Wynn Las Vegas. Westbrook was with a group of friends, including former NFL running back Reggie Bush, fashion jeweler Greg Yuna, bodybuilders and trainers Mike Rashid and Valeriu Guto and Wynn club host Jai Shaun White at the outdoor dayclub on June 13. The group posed for a photo at one of the party space’s VIP bungalows.
Responding to a question asking if Westbrook had contracted the virus at the hotel, Wynn Las Vegas referred to company policy that it does not disclose personal information about guests. Generally, the statement read: “Any guest diagnosed with COVID-19 while visiting the resort is reported to the Southern Nevada Health District, which conducts community contact tracing. Our internal contact tracing determines who in the resort the guest has had contact with and what areas they visited; relevant contacts are informed for testing and the areas visited are thoroughly sanitized.
Denver Nuggets guard Troy Daniels posted two images of his meal to his Instagram story when he first arrived inside the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World last Tuesday. The post immediately went viral as social media jokes were made comparing the entrees to the meals “Fyre Fest” distributed. “It’s actually not that bad man, to be honest with you,” Daniels tells ClutchPoints from inside the bubble. “I think my picture that went viral really took everything out of context.” He then went on to explain how he really feels about the bubble. “You can tell the NBA put a lot of thought and a lot of money into it,” Daniels said. “Once you get out of the quarantine process, it’s really dope.”

Ben Simmons to play power forward?

Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown said Monday he has been playing All-Star Ben Simmons “exclusively” at power forward in practices inside the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World Resort and has been thrilled by what he’s seen. “He’s so dynamic,” Brown said on a conference call with reporters. “Let’s just talk about running. There’s nobody faster in the NBA. So to always have the ball and dribble it up against five guys … to do that dilutes some of his potent weapons. “So, watching him fly up the floor, watching him and Joel [Embiid] play off each other, has been a really good look. I think they’ve been fantastic together.”
Gratitude to be working during a time when he said “there’s not a lot of hope.” Gratitude for the opportunity to again inspire, playing the game he loves. Gratitude for his basketball career breathing another life. Gratitude for the opportunity to compete for a championship with the team that, just under three weeks away from the restart, owns the third-best record (44-20) and title odds in the league. “I feel really blessed to be in this situation. In September, I had a freak accident and cut my achilles,” Noah said, referencing an incident in which he sliced his achilles — crucially, not rupturing it — while carrying a steel ice tub, which required six-plus months of rehab. “And you know I told myself that’s just not how I wanted to end my career. So the day after the surgery I was in the gym working out, with the hope of making this team.”
“He looks great,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “I don’t know if this stoppage has helped any single player more than him, because he was not healthy when we signed him, and now he is. And so, you know, I think he’s gonna help us on the floor, but even if he doesn’t, he’s just gonna help us with his presence, and his voice. I think he’ll be invaluable for Zu(bac).”
For Conley, this latest round of training camp represents a polar opposite from his initial foray in a Utah Jazz uniform. He’s comfortable now. He knows what to expect from his coach, from his teammates, from the front office. It’s no secret that the season hasn’t been easy for him, especially when it came to adapting to a new system for the first time since matriculating from high school to Ohio State. But what seems to have been a painfully long integration now appears to be a thing of the past. “It feels like I’ve played a full season already,” Conley said. “I’ve had a chance to build chemistry with my coaches and with my teammates. I haven’t had any questions about plays or my role. I have a clear picture on what to expect.”
For the second straight media availability, head coach Doc Rivers was non-committal when asked about Leonard’s health status and the team’s plan with his injury management. “I don’t know that yet,” Rivers said of Leonard’s limitations with minutes and back-to-backs. “But no limits. Kawhi is healthy, for the most part. That still doesn’t mean that we don’t want to maintain him and get him through the first eight games and get ready for the playoffs. We want to be smart about this. Not just for Kawhi. It’s with everybody. “But having everybody healthy was more about training camp. I mean, we really did not have a great training camp because we didn’t have enough bodies and enough of our key guys practicing. We have a virtually new team so we needed our new guys to be on the floor, and we didn’t have that ability to do that. This time, for the most part, we’ll have everybody in.”
Storyline: Kawhi Leonard Injury

Knicks coaching job: Tom Thibodeau still the frontrunner

Tom Thibodeau remains the front-runner for the position, league sources have told The Athletic. The Knicks have 11 candidates in all, embarking on an exhaustive and wide-ranging search that might just land on the same man who has been thought to be their first choice all along. Rose told MSG Network last month that he expects a mid- to late-July conclusion to the search.
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The Bulls hired Eversley three weeks after vehement blowback from Black executives over not having any candidates for the open executive vice-president of basketball operations job. Former Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas got the top job, while Eversley was hired as the No. 2 man. Behind the scenes, there’s still skepticism about the Bulls. “I could just see people saying they hired him because they needed a Black face,” said one high-ranking African American team executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Storyline: Bulls Front Office
The NBA has given players the approval to express their frustrations with the inequalities Black people are enduring by allowing them to choose from 28 different social injustice statement options to wear on the back of their jerseys. Troy Daniels said he selected Black Lives Matter as his first choice and Say Her Name as his second. “It’s unprecedented times,” Daniels said. “It’s one of the biggest movements ever. So, I want to shed light on that. It’s very important to me.”
As NBA players arrive at games during resumed play in Orlando, they will have the freedom to wear clothing from their own wardrobes while walking from the team bus to the venue’s locker rooms, according to a league spokesperson. Initially, ESPN was misinformed by a league spokesperson that a “concrete” dress code protocol had been finalized last week, requiring players to fully dress for games in their hotel rooms and “be in uniform and warmups when they arrive” to the game venue.
Storyline: Orlando Bubble
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., suggested Monday he would support a subpoena of NBA commissioner Adam Silver to investigate the league’s relationship with China. Hawley expressed concern that the NBA is allowing players to wear preapproved social justice cause messages on their jerseys for causes such as Black Lives Matter but does not allow for messages relating to China or supporting law enforcement. He called a Senate Judiciary committee subpoena of Silver “a great idea.”
U.S. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, in a letter to NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Friday, wrote that the league’s policy on social injustice messages “appears to stop at the edge of your corporate sponsors’ sensibilities,” especially when it comes to matters involving China and support of the United States military and law enforcement personnel. In the letter, Hawley said Silver has been “deepening the NBA’s ties to the CCP [Chinese Communist Party]” since Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong in October.
5 hours ago via ESPN
Andrews is one of only 10 or so “Group 1” reporters who will be admitted to the NBA bubble, which started welcoming 22 teams last week to restart the suspended season by July 31. Andrews admits she thought twice about the assignment. Reporters must agree to stay inside the bubble for three months. They must undergo daily COVID-19 testing. They can only move between their hotel and the practice and competition venues. But Andrews seized on the chance to tell the story of the NBA comeback to millions of global basketball fans. “I’m not going to lie. I was nervous. I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. I have bouts with anxiety,” said Andrews. “But first and foremost, I cover sports. I love journalism first. And sports journalism is what I do. This is an incredible journalistic opportunity. There are only 10 reporters and a handful of other folks who are going to be able to experience this and document it first-hand. It’s documenting history.”
Storyline: Orlando Bubble
Harris remains saddened by the loss of Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January. “We talked different times over the years, but he was focused mainly at first just on him and what he could do to be the best. And for a while, he wasn’t the best teammate because he was, you know, in it to be the best. And he didn’t have patience for other players who couldn’t do what he could do. But he developed maturity later in his career. And he became such a man and did things for others,” said Harris. “And the shame of it all is that, at age 41, he was going to make an impact for years. He had a program all set up. But it’s a shame that he wasn’t able to continue on for another 20, 30 years and show just what kind of a man he turned out to be.”

Storyline: Orlando Bubble
July 13, 2020 | 9:55 pm EDT Update
July 13, 2020 | 9:36 pm EDT Update