“I still wish I didn’t get [vaccinated], to be honest with you,” Wiggins told FanSided.
At the start of the season, Wiggins said he was torn over the decision to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Had Wiggins not gotten vaccinated, he would’ve been in the same boat as Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving in only being able to play in some of his team’s games due to local ordinances.
Unlike Irving, Wiggins did get vaccinated before the start of the NBA season.
“I did it, and I was an All-Star this year and champion, so that was the good part, just not missing out on the year, the best year of my career,” Wiggins said. “But for my body, I just don’t like putting all that stuff in my body, so I didn’t like that and I didn’t like that it wasn’t my choice. I didn’t like that it was either get this or don’t play.”
Wiggins, 27, is heading into the final season of his $147 million rookie extension from 2017 with the Minnesota Timberwolves and is up for a contract extension before becoming a free agent next offseason.
“I would love to stay here,” Wiggins said at the Warriors’ exit interviews in June. “Being here, this is top-notch. The way they treat the players … we’re all one big family. I feel like a lot of places may say that, but they show it through their actions.”
NBA draft prospect Sidy Cissoko signs with G League Ignite program
Sidy Cissoko, the No. 25 prospect in the ESPN 2023 mock draft, told ESPN that he has signed with the NBA’s G League Ignite program.
“We explored several options with my agents and I was convinced G League Ignite was the best opportunity to achieve my goals,” Cissoko said Tuesday. “The ability of this program to maximize the potential of its players on and off the court convinced me. Even more, the tailor-made development program and opportunity to start my transition to the US game style, 3-point line and off-court life is a key asset. I felt during our conversations with the staff that I was a priority.”
The 18-year-old Cissoko, the No. 3-ranked prospect in his generation in Europe after fellow Frenchmen Victor Wembanyama and Rayan Rupert, continues an increasing shift that G League Ignite have made in prioritizing international players in the wake of name, image and likeness deals that have altered the landscape of American and college recruiting.
Cissoko will attempt to follow in the footsteps of Australian Dyson Daniels, who was similarly projected upon signing with Ignite a year ago but ended up boosting his draft stock dramatically and was selected No. 8 overall in this year’s draft by the New Orleans Pelicans.
“Dyson shows the ability of the G League to get international players drafted high,” Cissoko said. “It was interesting to see how he was used on the court, as we play the same position, even though our games are different. He had a great season and improved a lot during his year with Ignite. Improvements and hard work are what I am looking for.”
Cissoko joins projected 2023 draft No. 2 pick Scoot Henderson on Ignite’s roster for the 2022-23 season, as well as 6-foot-10 forward Leonard Miller from Canadian high school Fort Erie International Academy and Nigerian Efe Abogidi, who was recruited out of the NCAA transfer portal from Washington State.
Ignite is eyeing several additional international signings from Europe, the NBA Academy and the U.S. high school system, a source told ESPN. Ignite landed a commitment last month from Lithuanian wing Matas Buzelis, a rising high school senior who will join the program in a year’s time after a season with Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita.
Cissoko said Ignite’s success recruiting international players makes sense due to the focus it places on player development.
“This program is tailor-made to help us to achieve our objectives,” Sissoko said. “It provides a unique opportunity for on-court development which is ahead of its time compared to most other organizations worldwide with NBA-level coaching. The off-court development they offered was appealing as well with the focus on life skills, education, well-being and more. It gives an opportunity for international players to be involved in the NBA ecosystem, with NBA exposure, which is essential to promoting us.”
Cissoko, a 6-foot-7, long-armed guard, burst onto the NBA radar screens at last summer’s FIBA U18 European Championship in Tel Aviv, where he demonstrated his intriguing blend of strength, court vision and defensive potential. He had several eye-opening performances this past season playing for Euroleague team Baskonia’s second team in LEB Gold, scoring 16 points or more eight times against older professionals at just 17 years old.
Cissoko earned an invite to the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland this past April, where he had some ups and downs in practices, scrimmages and the official game, but overall looked like the World Select team’s second-best prospect alongside future Ignite teammate Leonard Miller.
Cissoko said the transition from the Spanish second division to the G League will provide a unique challenge.
“The G League is way more athletic and physical than LEB Gold. G League players are extremely aggressive, and the game is faster,” he said. “Obviously, staying in Baskonia was an option as the Euroleague is the best league in the world after the NBA and the ACB, the best national league. I am convinced that I could have also continued to learn in these leagues.
“However, I felt that at this time the most important thing for my development was to embrace a project that is centered on my individual development and my transition to a different game style, while keeping the best of what I had learned in Europe.”
Cissoko is currently training with the French under-18 national team in its preparations for the FIBA U18 European Championship, which starts on July 30 in Izmir, Turkey. He’s slated to join Ignite at their new headquarters in Henderson, Nevada, after the event.
“I’m looking forward to meeting all the staff and my future teammates,” he said. “I will have different type of tests in the beginning to build my individual plan, and then the work will start. I discussed with the staff and we are on the same page, the next months are about hard work and improvement. My goal is to be drafted in the top 10 in 2023, and my work ethic has the ability to convince a franchise to pick me. I always fought to be an asset in everything I was involved in, it will remain the same next season.”
Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service utilized by NBA, NCAA and International teams.
But there was also a business lesson involved, too, for the young center as the contract initially came via a matched offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.
“This is a blessing,” Ayton told ESPN’s Andscape in a phone conversation after signing his contract. “This contract not only has generational impact for my family, but also with the way we are able to work in the Phoenix community and home in the Bahamas. That is the things that we go by …
“I’ve come to understand that this is a business. So, I was more anxious to know the end of the result so I could focus, move on and just get back to work. I just treated everything like a business. Just keep being professional, approach everything with professionalism and not looking too deep into it.”
The Suns could have offered Ayton a five-year deal paying $179.6 million on July 1, but did not. Instead, the “anxious” restricted free agent signed the four-year, $133 million max offer sheet with the Pacers on July 12. The Suns had until 11:59 ET on July 14 to match the largest offer sheet in NBA history, but ended up matching it as soon as they received it.
Phoenix general manager James Jones said he told Ayton through the entire free agency process that he planned to re-sign him, including during a videoconference on July 1. James also told ESPN’s Andscape that it was “important” and “critical” to match immediately.
“We wanted Deandre here,” Jones said in a phone interview. “He’s vital to what we do, at the core of everything that we do. And throughout this whole process it was, it rang true. We wanted to keep him here, and the moment we can come to an agreement, we would. So, waiting 24 hours, 48 hours, that wasn’t something we needed to do because going into it, we knew this is where he wanted to be and where we wanted him to be.
“I’m one to just be direct. And if you’re convicted, if you know what you want to do, you do it. But if there’s any doubt from anyone that we wanted him, I think that the matching did that. It was urgent for us. It was important. It was critical for us. So, we just wanted to make sure that we handled our business quickly.”
Ayton was enthusiastic about the possibility of pairing with talented young guard Tyrese Haliburton and becoming a centerpiece of the Pacers’ rebuild, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The Pacers were equally excited about the possibility of potentially adding Ayton and were open to a sign-and-trade deal, sources told ESPN’s Andscape.
Moreover, the Pacers showed their interest by clearing $4.7 million in cap space by making roster moves with four players to sign Ayton. But Phoenix showed no interest in a sign-and-trade deal with the Pacers, according to Wojnarowski. With this new contract, the Suns cannot trade Ayton until Jan. 15, and he also owns a no-trade clause for a year.
Ayton credited his agents, Bill Duffy and Nima Namakian, and client service representative, Bailey Williams, for keeping him “on the main focus and taking care of my side of the bargain” and views his roller-coaster free agency as “all in the past.”
“The shift in free agency brought a lot of uncertainty through the whole process,” Ayton said. “I got to give a lot of respect to the Pacers organization. They were aggressive from the start and showing a lot of love. And we agreed to a max offer sheet. The Suns matched. Now, I’m back in Phoenix as a Sun.
“I’m happy. The process is over. I put all this behind me and focus on chasing a championship this upcoming season with my brothers.”
Jones noted “negotiation” as the reason the Suns didn’t offer a maximum contract to Ayton. Phoenix saved roughly $43 million and an extra year of contract with the matched offer sheet.
“I’m not going to go into the inner details,” Jones said. “I just look forward. We had some really robust and good conversations. It ultimately led to him getting a max offer sheet that we matched.”
Ayton was the No. 1 pick of the renowned 2018 NBA draft that also included Luka Doncic (third), Jaren Jackson Jr. (fourth), Trae Young (fifth) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th). Ayton has averaged 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds with Phoenix through the first four seasons of his career. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder played a key role in the Suns advancing to the 2021 NBA Finals.
Jones said he was elated for Ayton, his family and the Suns to have him back. Jones and Suns owner Robert Sarver were on hand when Ayton signed his contract from the franchise’s practice facility in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“I just told him, I’m happy for him,” Jones said. “I’m proud of him for how he handled it and how he approached it. I’m just excited for what his next steps look like. He’s motivated to continue to improve, and we’re motivated to help him reach that level.
“And if he can reach that level, we’re a great team, an even better team. We’re already a good team. We’re already a great team, but we’re even better.”
Suns coach Monty Williams added he was ecstatic Ayton was back as his starting center, and he knew all along “we were going to match any offer.”
“James and myself, we talk a lot and he’ll let me know what’s going on with the contract and ask for my opinion,” Williams said to ESPN’s Andscape. “I try to stay out of persuading him when it comes to him making decisions. But we knew any offer that he got, we were going to match.
“… I’m happy for Deandre just because I know this is what he wanted. He wants to be in that class of players that’s regarded in this way. So, from that standpoint, I think as a competitor, that’s what you want. When you see a guy working for that, that part is pretty cool.”
The Suns won an NBA-best 64 regular-season games last season, earned the Western Conference’s top playoff seed and had expectations of returning to the NBA Finals. Phoenix, however, struggled at the end of the regular season and in the postseason before being eliminated in the second round with a blowout Game 7 loss at home to the Dallas Mavericks.
Ayton was benched for most of the second half by Williams after they engaged in a verbal spat on the bench. Looking back, Williams described that Game 7 loss as a “bad day.”
“I didn’t feel like I had to say anything. I was just doing my job,” Williams said. “We had a bad day, but we had an unbelievable season. Unfortunately, in sports and even in society, we focus on the one bad thing. It hurt like crazy, and it still hurts. It was embarrassing to play that way, but as the dust settles and I look at the season from a holistic perspective, I look at all the good stuff that happened.
“This team is a new standard in Suns basketball and it’s part of a process. The one thing I understand is when I first got there, the team wasn’t winning many games and so nobody was talking about anything that was going on. And there was stuff going on because it’s a team and you’re dealing with people. Now that you’re winning and having some success, things are talked about, and that’s a good thing in my opinion. You may not like what everybody talking about, but nonetheless, we’re a team that has expectations and so it just goes with the territory.”
Ayton made his first comments since that Game 7 he described as “in the past.” He also said he and Williams are on good terms and described their relationship as “calm.”
“Game 7 was an anomaly. We let that get away from us as a team. That is all in the past. We’re going to look forward. We are going to move on,” Ayton said without going into detail.
The core of the Suns includes Ayton, All-Stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker, and Mikal Bridges, who made the NBA All-Defensive team last season. All are currently under contract through at least the 2024-25 season. Williams said the lack of contractual issues will reduce the distractions around the team.
“When you’re a coach or a player in this league, you do it because you love it, but you also do it because you get paid a lot of money,” Williams said. “People always want to say it’s not about the money. That’s a lie. It is about the money. I’m a coach. I’m a head coach in this league. I bet that I could go find a high school job in every state in the country and probably have a lot more fun and less stress. But all of us are in this position, one, we love the NBA, we love the league, we love the game, but we get paid a lot of money and you have a short window to do it.
“So, I just kind of laugh at all these people that say, ‘Oh, it’s not about the money.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, it is.’ Once you identify that, then you can kind of move on past it because if you keep whining about it, it’s just a distraction and people know it’s about the money. And so, I think, yeah, it is less of a distraction.”
Ayton plans to celebrate his new contract and his 24th birthday on Saturday with his family back home in Nassau. He said he spent a month and a half “focusing on himself” at P3 Applied Sports Science in Santa Barbara, California, shortly after last season to prepare for the 2022-23 campaign.
Ayton eventually will be back in Arizona, where has largely resided since 2015 after playing for Phoenix Hillcrest Academy and the University of Arizona.
“I want to keep doing what I’m doing being the face of my family and sharing,” Ayton said. “We notice the things going around us in the community and we are willing to help in any way we can possible. That is one of the things my mom kept me on and that’s what I stand by.”
“I had conversations with [team president] Daryl [Morey], and it was explained how we could get better and what the market value was for certain players. I told Daryl to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever is left over,” Harden told Yahoo Sports. “This is how bad I want to win. I want to compete for a championship. That’s all that matters to me at this stage. I’m willing to take less to put us in position to accomplish that.”
Harden was traded to the 76ers by the Brooklyn Nets in February, teaming up with Joel Embiid. But injuries to Embiid and diminished effectiveness from Harden contributed to Philadelphia’s second-round exit in the playoffs.
After the series loss to the Miami Heat, Embiid said the Sixers needed a player with toughness like the Heat’s P.J. Tucker. Philadelphia went out and signed Tucker to a three-year deal this offseason, and added Danuel House and De’Anthony Melton in an effort to improve the team’s depth. Harden, meanwhile, declined his $47.3 million option to become a free agent, but he has only been focused on staying in Philadelphia.
“I think we have a much deeper team,” Harden said. “That’s something we wanted to address. If you look at our team now, we’re positioned to go a lot further. I like how we stack up with the rest of the top teams.”
Harden pointed to his partnership with Embiid as a driving force for the 76ers.
“I talk with Joel frequently and we have meetings about how we’re going to play and what we need to do to help our team win a championship,” Harden said. “When you have two of the top players at their positions on the same team, that’s a great building block. We’re going to grow together and try to lead this team to the top. I believe we can do it together.”
Harden has a Hall of Fame-worthy résumé that includes an MVP award and three scoring titles to go along with 10 All-Star selections; however, he is still chasing a championship. He has reached the NBA Finals just once, in 2012 while with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Bucks acquired Ibaka while starting center Brook Lopez was still recovering from a back injury that required surgery and caused him to play just 13 regular-season games this past season. Ibaka’s playing time diminished after Lopez returned.
Milwaukee sent guard Donte DiVincenzo to the Sacramento Kings and forwards Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye to the LA Clippers in the deal that brought them Ibaka as well as a pair of second-round draft picks and cash.
Ibaka averaged 6.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 35 games with the Clippers before getting traded.
The three-time All-Defensive first-team selection led the NBA in total blocks four straight seasons while playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He led the league in blocks per game in 2011-12 and 2012-13. His 1,752 career blocks rank him second among all active players, behind only Dwight Howard.
“I’ve had the pleasure of attending The ESPYS but never imagined I’d have the privilege of hosting this special event,” Curry said in a statement. “As someone who loves the intersection of sports and entertainment, I look forward to delivering an exciting show for the fans while we celebrate the athletes who created the top moments of the year.”
Curry is the ninth athlete to host the award show.
But he isn’t the only NBA player with interesting offseason activities. From star-studded nuptials to surprise Drew League showings and more, players around the association have been quite busy this summer.
James returned to The Drew League, a pro-am summer basketball league based in Los Angeles, for the first time in 11 years.
He posted a stat line of 42 points, 16 rebounds and 4 steals in the MMV Cheaters’ 104-102 win.
On June 24, “Rise,” an original film that documents his family’s journey, was released on Disney+.
The premiere was also a family affair. Brothers Francis, Thanasis and Kostas were alongside the six-time All-Star.
The player from Southern California, a Drew League staple, scored 39 points in his debut for the summer pro-am league and later joined James on the MMV Cheaters.
In one of the more niche activities, the 6-foot-11 center built a life-size Lego statue of himself as Darth Vader from Star Wars. Turner went viral for his hobby in March.
Love tied the knot with Canadian model Kate Bock, and teammates present and past were in attendance.
Paul was back in New Orleans, where he was drafted in 2005, to attend the Essence Festival. The NBA vet and HBCU advocate discussed Season 3 of the ESPN+ series Why Not Us, which premieres Aug. 11 and will follow the Southern University Fabulous Dancing Dolls.