Tagged in: teams

Utah Jazz now willing to listen to Donovan Mitchell trade scenarios

After Utah earlier shut down inquiries about All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, rival teams say the Jazz are now showing a willingness to listen on possible trade scenarios, sources told ESPN on Tuesday.

The asking price appears to be steep, but in the wake of Utah’s recent Rudy Gobert blockbuster deal to Minnesota, the Jazz are no longer simply dismissing calls on Mitchell, sources said.

Jazz general manager Justin Zanik alluded to the possibility during a news conference Saturday when asked whether Mitchell was considered untouchable in trade discussions.

“Change is inevitable in the NBA,” Zanik said. “I’m not trying to be cryptic or anything else, but Donovan is on our roster and he’s a very, very important part of what we’re trying to do. Things evolve in the NBA, so I couldn’t sit here and say anybody is [untouchable]. We’re trying to build a championship team, but there’s no intent [to trade Mitchell], at all.”

The Jazz are open to trades across the entire roster, but Mitchell is indeed the organization’s most valuable and coveted player.

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Mitchell, 25, has averaged 23.9 points and 4.5 assists per game during his five-year career with the Jazz, and he has been an All-Star each of the past three seasons. He has four years and $134.9 million remaining on the maximum extension he signed during the 2020 offseason, but the final season is a player option for $37.1 million.

Utah has made the playoffs the past six campaigns, the longest current streak in the Western Conference, but the Jazz have not advanced past the second round during that span.

The organization has undergone major changes in the wake of this year’s first-round exit versus the Dallas Mavericks, including the resignation of coach Quin Snyder, the hiring of Will Hardy to replace him and trades of Gobert and starting forward Royce O’Neale.

“This season wasn’t very much fun this year,” Jazz CEO Danny Ainge said Saturday. “This draft wasn’t fun. Free agency wasn’t very much fun. You’re over the tax, no draft picks, and our team loses in the first round. It wasn’t fun for us. We want it to be fun for our fans and our players, but we just haven’t had much flexibility to do anything over the last little while.”

Ainge and Zanik agreed with Gobert’s assessment after he was traded to Minnesota that the win-now window in Utah had closed. The Jazz’s haul in that deal was headlined by four future first-round picks, as well as recent No. 22 overall pick Walker Kessler.

They received a 2023 first-round pick from the Brooklyn Nets in the O’Neale deal. “We fell short, so we need to recalibrate and try to go and open up the next window,” Zanik said. “Hopefully, it’s a long one. We’ve got work to do to start that.”

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New Orleans Saints name Ryan Nielsen and Kris Richard as co-defensive coordinators

The New Orleans Saints have promoted assistant coaches Ryan Nielsen and Kris Richard into the roles of co-defensive coordinators under new head coach Dennis Allen, the team revealed Wednesday.

Nielsen and Richard will continue to oversee the Saints’ defensive line and secondary units, respectively.

Allen previously served as New Orleans’ defensive coordinator under Sean Payton, while Nielsen was the assistant head coach/defensive line coach and Richard was the secondary coach.

Allen hinted at his introductory news conference that he will likely continue to call plays for the defense, though he hasn’t made that official yet.

The use of co-defensive coordinators is much more common in college than in the NFL. However, the Minnesota Vikings used co-defensive coordinators during their final two seasons under coach Mike Zimmer, and the New England Patriots have split duties on defense without naming anyone as their official coordinator over the past four campaigns.

Other teams have used passing game coordinators and run game coordinators. Richard served as a passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys from 2018 to 2019.

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Most likely, Allen wanted to find a way to promote both of his highly valued assistants to make sure to retain them on his staff.

Nielsen has been with the Saints since 2017, while Richard arrived in 2021.

The Saints ranked fourth in the NFL in points permitted last season and seventh in yards allowed. They have ranked fourth in both categories overall since 2019. And they became the first team to shut out Tom Brady in 15 years with a 9-0 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past December.

Nielsen and Richard, both 42, were teammates on USC’s defense in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Richard went on to play six NFL seasons for the Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders. Nielsen signed with the Philadelphia Eagles but never cracked a NFL roster.

Richard then became one of the architects of the Seahawks’ famed “Legion of Boom” secondary as a defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator from 2010 to 2017. He has had several head-coaching interviews in recent years and also interviewed for multiple defensive coordinator positions in the NFL this year.

Nielsen, meanwhile, has had multiple opportunities in recent years to become a college defensive coordinator. But the Saints didn’t want to let him go and promoted him to assistant head coach last year while keeping him away from nearby LSU.

The Saints have had the NFL’s No. 1 run defense since Nielsen arrived in 2017.

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Super Bowl preview: Rams-Bengals

When you think of a classic Super Bowl matchup, you think of two teams that have dominated their competition and run rampant through the playoffs. 

Rams vs. Bengals is not that matchup.

Both teams trailed in their respective conference championship matches as the fourth quarter started.

The Bengals needed a dramatic comeback and a spectacular self-destruction from the Chiefs to move on. The Rams blew a 24-point lead in the divisional round versus the Bucs and needed Jaquiski Tartt to drop a gift-wrapped interception to spur their win over the 49ers.

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And yet, both teams are here because their stars did star things. Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase made huge catches to set up game-winning field goals. 

Jessie Bates started the Titans game with an interception and sent the Chiefs’ offense to the sideline for the winter by creating another. Aaron Donald finished Jimmy Garoppolo’s 49ers career with a pressure to force a pick. Joe Burrow ducked through a sure sack to scramble for a critical first down.

These two teams have weapons on both sides of the ball that can single-handedly decide games. Winning this game, then, might come down to whichever team can diminish or even eliminate as many of those mismatches as possible.

The Bengals, helpless for most of the first half in the AFC title game, shut down Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and the entire Chiefs offense after the break.

The Rams limited the vaunted 49ers rushing attack to 50 yards on 20 carries. We know what these teams and their stars are capable of doing.

Whichever team stops more of those stars wins this game.

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Milwaukee Bucks stomp Golden State Warriors, keep ‘building good habits’ vs. elite teams

The Milwaukee Bucks delivered another statement victory Thursday night with a 118-99 thumping of the Golden State Warriors, continuing their trend of being at their best this season when matched up versus other likely title contenders.

The Bucks blitzed the Warriors from the start, jumping out to a 39-point halftime lead, Golden State’s largest halftime deficit since the franchise moved from Philadelphia.

In the past week, the Bucks have won handily against the Warriors and Brooklyn Nets — whom they also beat on opening night in Milwaukee — a pair of teams they could see on the path to attempt to repeat as NBA champions.

“I don’t know why we play well in big games, but at the end of the day we’ve got to just keep building good habits moving forward,” said Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with 30 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in 30 minutes.

“Big games with big excitement or even games nobody watches, nobody cares about, we have to keep building good habits, so we can be good in May and June.”

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Milwaukee had coach Mike Budenholzer back on the sideline after clearing health and safety protocols but was playing without guard Jrue Holiday, its best perimeter defender, who missed his fourth consecutive game with an ankle. Still, the Bucks were able to contain Warriors star Stephen Curry with a smothering defensive effort.

Curry was 4-of-11 shooting in the game (2 for 6 from 3) for 12 points. He has shot less than 50% from the field in eight consecutive games, the longest streak of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Golden State finished 3-for-14 from the field with three turnovers and seven points when the Bucks sent a double team at Curry.

“Milwaukee is a good team. They obviously have championship DNA now,” Curry said, “and present some challenges in terms of putting pressure on the interior end and spacing. We just got off to a terrible start where everything went wrong.”

The Warriors have dropped four of their past five games overall and Curry is mired in one of the worst shooting slumps of his career, but they were not panicking about their recent skid.

“To be honest, I’m not that concerned,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr stated after the game. “I know we just got our butts kicked. We’re just in a rough patch in our season. Happens to every team, every year pretty much, with very few exceptions. We’re in a little bit of a rut. We played a team that was ready and played great … And so we’re a little out of sorts, and we just got to get back on track.”

Golden State will play the Bulls in the second half of a back-to-back on Friday night in Chicago. Klay Thompson, who scored 11 points on 3 of 11 shooting in 21 minutes, is not expected to play as the Warriors ease him back into action after missing more than two years because of injuries.

The Bucks, meanwhile, have continued to roll against some of the stiffest competition in the league because of dominant performances by Antetokounmpo.

On Thursday, Antetokounmpo finished a perfect 9-for-9 inside the restricted area with four dunks. He scored on four different primary defenders, (including 4-for-4 against Andre Iguodala) and hit all seven of his wide-open shots.

Even when the Warriors forced him into a pass, he routinely made the right read — the Bucks shot 11 of 16 (30 points) off Antetokounmpo’s passes, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.

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DeRozan leads Bulls over Lakers 115-110 in team’s return

DeMar DeRozan scored 38 points after missing two weeks in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, leading the Chicago Bulls to a 115-110 triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.

Nikola Vucevic had 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Lonzo Ball added 19 points as the Bulls snapped a two-game losing streak. It was Chicago’s first match since Dec. 11 after two were postponed.

LeBron James had 31 points, Carmelo Anthony added 21 and Russell Westbrook 20 as Los Angeles dropped its second straight.

With the Bulls trailing by a point in the final minute, DeRozan hit an 18-footer for a 111-110 lead with 52 seconds remaining. Following a Lakers miss, DeRozan missed a shot but then was fouled with 15.6 seconds left after Ball grabbed the offensive rebound. DeRozan then hit both free throws for a 113-110 edge.

Like much of the first two months of the season, the Bulls turned to DeRozan in crunch time and he delivered.

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“It’s an honor to be trusted in those moments,” he said. “I never take it for granted. It’s an adrenaline rush that you can’t duplicate, so you try to make the most of it every time you’re put in that position. There’s nothing like it. You’ve got to take the good with the bad, and I’m willing to take both.”

Before having two matches postponed last week due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the Bulls had 10 players in the health and safety protocols. That number is down to four right now, including All-Star Zach LaVine.

Although the Lakers haven’t had any games postponed, they currently have six players — Kent Bazemore, Avery Bradley, Talen Horton-Tucker. Dwight Howard, Malik Monk and Austin Reaves — and coach Frank Vogel in the health and safety protocols.

Assistant David Fizdale served as coach on Sunday.

It also was Los Angeles’ first match since forward Anthony Davis sprained his left knee on Friday. He is expected to miss four weeks.

“Obviously we’re doing things on the fly, figuring out how to play with the lineups we have and the people we have available,” Westbrook said. “New guys are stepping in here, so we’ve got to do what we can. That’s it. You’ve just got to play hard and let the rest take care of itself.”

Chicago led nearly the entire first half and by as much as 10 points before taking a 61-59 halftime lead. The Lakers went ahead 65-64 early in the third quarter on a floater by Isaiah Thomas.

The teams traded baskets and leads for the remainder of the quarter before Los Angeles took an 84-83 advantage into the fourth.

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Nets edge Knicks 112-110 on James Johnson’s free throws

Kevin Durant and James Harden took turns putting on a show in front of the largest crowd ever to see a Nets match in Brooklyn, one that was split between fans of New York’s two teams.

In the end, the Nets were celebrating and the Knicks were fuming.

In its 10th season, the matchup between teams just a few miles apart looked like a real rivalry.

“Being here two years now, it doesn’t matter who’s on that team or who’s on this team, I think the energy’s always going to be there,” Harden said. “… Whether it’s here or at MSG, the fans are going to be cheering for their respective teams and it’s going to be a good game every time, and tonight we’re just happy to come out with the win.”

They got it after James Johnson made two free throws with 2.2 seconds left to give the Nets a 112-110 triumph Tuesday night.

Harden had 34 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, and Durant heated up after a slow start to finish with 27 points and nine assists. He had 11 points in the final 5:45, but the Knicks sent a second defender to force him to give the ball up on the last possession — as Durant suspected might happen.

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“But it’s risky to do that in the fourth, I mean the last shot of the game,” he said. “And yeah, I was prepared for it coming out of the timeout.”

The ball went to Johnson, who was fouled in the lane and made the free throws for the final points of an entertaining, nationally televised undercard to the Warriors-Suns main event.

Alec Burks scored a season-high 25 points in his new role as the Knicks’ starting point guard.

Julius Randle added 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. But he took only two free throws and was hit with a late technical foul for complaining about not getting calls.

“As aggressive as I play, attacking the paint, I can’t be penalized for just being stronger than people and that’s the answer that I got today,” Randle said.

The teams traded leads throughout the fourth quarter in front of an announced crowd of 18,081.

The Nets had highlight plays all over the floor to open the second half, with Harden’s soaring follow slam and DeAndre’ Bembry’s swatted shot into the seats coming during a 14-0 spurt that turned a one-point halftime deficit into a 74-61 lead.

Brooklyn had the lead up to 16 with 4 minutes left in the third period, but the Knicks whittled it down to 88-84 heading to the fourth. The lead was never bigger than that in the final 12 minutes.

But the Knicks didn’t do enough in a game where the Nets shot 25 free throws to their 12. “I want to take a look at the film. There’s a big discrepancy in free throws. I can tell you that,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said angrily. “Julius is driving the ball, and he gets two free throws.”

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Chicago Bulls exercise contract options on Coby White, Patrick Williams

The Bulls have exercised a pair of rookie scale team options, locking in guard Coby White and forward Patrick Williams for the 2022/23 campaign, the team revealed wednesday in a press release.

While decisions on standard team options are typically due right before free agency begins, teams have to make their decisions on rookie scale team options a year in advance.

By October 31, clubs must either exercise or decline third-year options for first-round picks from 2020 and fourth-year options for 2019’s first-rounders.

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White was a starter for the Bulls this past season, but figures to come off the bench following the team’s acquisition of Lonzo Ball in free agency.

The 21-year-old averaged 15.1 PPG, 4.8 APG, and 4.1 RPG on .416/.359/.901 shooting in 69 games (31.2 MPG) in 2020/21. His ’21/22 debut may be delayed, since he’s coming off left shoulder surgery.

Williams, the No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft, was also a full-time starter last season as a 19-year-old rookie.

His role for 2021/22 stays unclear, but the former Florida State standout looks like a key part of Chicago’s long-term plans. He put up 9.2 PPG and 4.6 RPG on .483/.391/.728 shooting in 71 games (27.9 MPG) last season. White’s fourth-year option for 2022/23 is worth $7,413,955.

He’ll now be extension-eligible during the 2022 offseason and would be eligible for restricted free agency in 2023 if he doesn’t sign a new contract next year.

Williams’ third-year option for ’22/23 will pay him $7,775,400. The Bulls will have to decide on his fourth-year option for 2023/24 by October 31, 2022.

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Pittsburgh Steelers acquire CB Ahkello Witherspoon from Seattle Seahawks

After an initial 53-man roster that was short on cornerbacks, the Steelers have fortified the position by obtaining Ahkello Witherspoon in a trade with the Seahawks for a 2023 fifth-round pick, the teams revealed.

Witherspoon, 26, signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Seahawks in March and was expected to compete for the starting job at left cornerback, but Seattle moved D.J. Reed over to the left side and Tre Flowers into the starting role at right cornerback, making Witherspoon a trade candidate. A day earlier, Seattle traded a 2022 sixth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Sidney Jones.

Witherspoon was unsatisfied by being relegated to a backup role, a source told ESPN’s Brady Henderson. The Steelers will take on $1.5 million of Witherspoon’s salary, while the Seahawks save that amount against their cap. However, Seattle is still on the hook for $1.25 million in dead money in 2021 and 2022 from his signing bonus.

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Witherspoon was taken in the third round by San Francisco in 2017 and started 33 of 47 career games with the 49ers in four seasons. He recorded 116 tackles and four interceptions and had 24 passes defended.

The Steelers initially had just four cornerbacks on the 53-man roster following cuts: Cam Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne and Joe Haden. They added one more a day later, signing Arthur Maulet after moving three other players to injured reserve.

Before adding Maulet, defensive coordinator Keith Butler expressed apprehension about entering the season with so few cornerbacks.

“I don’t think anybody’s comfortable with four cornerbacks,” Butler said. “We’ve got guys who can play different positions. Cam can play different positions. He can play the nickel. Forty-two [Pierre] has shown that he can play in preseason.

“We think we’re OK right now to play them in different positions. If somebody becomes available out there in never-never land, we’ll see what happens.”

Witherspoon gives the Steelers depth at cornerback behind veterans Haden and Sutton, who emerged late in training camp as the likely slot cornerback after Mike Hilton’s departure. With Sutton in the slot, undrafted free agent Pierre was slated to be the outside cornerback opposite Haden.

The outside cornerback depth is young and relatively unproven, and Witherspoon’s experience elevates the position group.

The Steelers released defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux to make room on the roster for Witherspoon.

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Detroit Pistons, Blake Griffin agree to contract buyout

Six-time NBA All-Star Blake Griffin has agreed to a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons and will become an unrestricted free agent, the team revealed Friday.

The Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers are expected to be among the teams Griffin will be considering for his next stop, sources tell ESPN.

Griffin, 31, is expected to make a decision on his next team after conversations with prospective teams, sources said.

“Blake has been a great representative for our franchise and for the city of Detroit,” owner Tom Gores said in a statement Friday. “His work ethic and his approach to the game contributed a lot to our culture. He has been a consummate pro and we wish him continued success.

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“I’m grateful for everything he did for our team and for our community.”

Finding a trade for Griffin — who was owed a remaining $36.6 million this campaign and $39 million in 2021-22 prior to the buyout — was an insurmountable challenge for the Pistons.

Detroit concluded a reduction in his remaining salary to gain free agency with Griffin’s agent, Sam Goldfeder of Excel Sports, since the sides mutually agreed he would leave the active roster on Feb. 15 awaiting a trade or buyout.

“I thank the Pistons organization for working together on an outcome that benefits all involved and I wish the franchise success in the future,” Griffin said in a statement released by the team.

Detroit has entered a full-fledged rebuild under first-year general manager Troy Weaver, and the chance to play the franchise’s younger players has taken precedence for the Pistons.

Injuries have dramatically altered Griffin’s game, eliminating the high-flying rim attacks that marked his All-Star career. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists for Detroit this season.

Griffin was traded less than a season into a five-year, $171 million max deal with the LA Clippers, arriving in Detroit in late January 2018.

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Le’Veon Bell released by New York Jets

The New York Jets’ rocky relationship with Le’Veon Bell came to a sudden end on Tuesday when the Jets informed they had released the running back.

It ended a 19-month tenure that was filled with disappointment and broken promises. Bell, who arrived as a marquee free agent in 2019, never clicked with coach Adam Gase, who opposed the signing from the outset.

“After having conversations with Le’Veon and his agent and exploring potential trade options over the past couple of days, we have made the decision to release Le’Veon,” the team said in a statement.

“The Jets organization appreciates Le’Veon’s efforts during his time here and we know he worked hard to make significant contributions to this team. We believe this decision is in the best interests of both parties and wish him future success.”

As a vested veteran, Bell is not subject to waivers. He will be a free agent at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday.

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Frustrated by his lack of participation in the offense, Bell met with Gase and general manager Joe Douglas on Monday, a source said. They told Bell they would explore a trade, and they gave his agent authorization to speak with other teams.

The Jets contacted every team but found the contract was difficult to move.

They were willing to eat some of the $6 million remaining on his 2020 base salary, but the sticking point was an $8 million injury guarantee in 2021, a source said. No team wanted to take on that much risk, fearing a serious injury this campaign.

In the end, neither did the Jets. They could’ve continued to shop him until the Nov. 3 trading deadline, hoping to recoup a late-round pick, but they too were wary of the injury guarantee, knowing they were planning to cut him in the offseason.

The Jets are responsible for the remaining $6 million on Bell’s 2020 base pay, but there’s an offset clause that will defray it by the amount of the salary on a new contract with his next team.

Bell returned to the lineup on Sunday and carried the ball 13 times for 60 yards. He was targeted only once in the passing game.

On several occasions, Gase talked about getting Bell more involved as a receiver. On Sunday, rookie running back La’Mical Perine saw no action.

Bell’s departure should create playing time for Perine, who will share the workload with the 37-year-old Gore.

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