Though today marks another day of NBA games without a team in Seattle, we are closer than ever to having the NBA back in town. Our state-of-the-art arena has a name and is nearing completion, our legendary broadcaster is now a free agent, and the Sonics have been talked about more this year than at any point since 2008. The future is bright for Seattle basketball.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the local hoopers we’ll be rooting for as they jostle for a title in the NBA’s Orlando bubble.
Orlando Magic (8th in East)
Local Connections – Terrence Ross and Markelle Fultz
Two guards on the NBA Bubble’s “host” team will be very familiar to UW fans. Terrence Ross (2010-2012) and Markelle Fultz (2016-2017) both play substantial minutes for the Magic and will be key factors in determining how far Orlando goes in the Eastern Conference.
After Isaiah Thomas graduated in 2011, Terrence Ross moved into UW’s starting lineup and thrived, averaging 16.4 points per game in his lone season as a starter. The ultimate “heat check” guy, Ross netted a 51-point game in only his second NBA season. He also has a Slam Dunk contest title under his belt, winning the competition as a rookie in 2013.
Markelle Fultz is the only UW player to have been drafted 1st overall in an NBA draft (Kelsey Plum went #1 overall in the WNBA draft the same year). A highly-touted coming out of UW, Fultz’s struggles with the 76ers were well-documented. However, the trade to the Magic has turned his career around; Fultz now starts at point guard for Orlando and has been having a solid season, averaging 12 points and 5 assists per game.
Brooklyn Nets (7th in East)
Local Connections – Jamal Crawford and Joe Harris
Signed by the Nets several weeks ago to provide veteran leadership on their short-handed squad, Seattle legend Jamal Crawford is (FINALLY) back on an NBA roster. One of, if not the greatest basketball player in Seattle history, the 40-year-old Crawford is all set to play in his 20th NBA season. A 3-time NBA 6th Man of the Year Award winner, Crawford’s elite isolation skills put him in the same company as the best one-on-one scorers to ever play the game. His killer crossover and shake-and-bake shiftyness are staples of NBA highlight reels.
Not to be forgotten amidst the Crawford signing is Chelan native Joe Harris, one the the NBA’s elite perimeter shooters and 2019 Three Point Contest Champion. Harris starred at Lake Chelan high school from 2006-2010, winning Washington Mr. Basketball in 2010.
Philadelphia 76ers (6th in East)
Local Connection – Matisse Thybulle
Raised on Seattle’s Eastside, Matisse Thybulle is as Northwest as they come. A star at Skyline and Eastside Catholic High Schools, Thybulle commited to UW where he would become a 4-year starter. Thybulle quickly became renowned for his elite defense while playing for the Huskies. During his senior season, he broke Gary Payton’s longstanding PAC-10/12 record for career steals. He also took home the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award, beating out Duke’s Zion Williamson for the honor.
Thybulle has been among the best rookies in the NBA this year and it won’t be long before he reaches the upper eschalon of 3-and-D players. He is already considered one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders, is solid in transition and is coming into his own as a three-point shooter.
In addition to being a great basketball player, Matisse has proved to be a great vlogger as well – head over to YouTube and check out the videos he’s been sharing from inside the NBA Bubble.
Indiana Pacers (5th in East)
Local Connections – Nate McMillan, Justin Holiday, Domantas Sabonis
The Pacers boast several connections to local hoops, most notably Mr. Sonic himself. Nate McMillan is finishing up his fourth season at the helm of the Pacers and his 16th as a head coach in the NBA. As the Sonics Head Coach from 2000-2005, McMillan led the Sonics to 2 playoff births (2002 and 2005). A career Sonic during his playing days, he is one of only 6 Sonics that have had their numbers retired. McMillan still holds numerous team records from his his playing days, including dishing out an astounding 25 assists in a single game in 1987. With Pacers’ stars Victor Oladipo and Damontas Sabonis questionable/out due to health, McMillan’s coaching savvy is sure to be tested in the 2020 playoffs.
Pacers guard Justin Holdiay has put together a nice career, including an NBA title as a member of the 2015 Warriors. Holiday played at the University of Washington from 2007-2011 and was a solid starter his junior and senior years, sharing the backcourt with Isaiah Thomas. A journeyman early in his NBA career, Holiday eventually spent a few years as a starter before moving back to the bench this year for the Pacers where he’s averaged almost 9 points a game.
Unfortunatly, beloved Gonzaga forward Domantas Sabonis may not play at all in the Bubble due to a foot injury. The first-time All-Star made huge strides this year, refining his interior skills and continuing to build upon his outside game. His injury is a huge blow to Indiana’s chances in the Eastern Conference.
Miami Heat (4th in East)
Local Connection – Kelly Olynyk
You know him from his hair – but he’s a pretty damn good basketball player too. A Gonzaga legend in his seventh NBA season, Olynyk guided the 2013 Zags to a #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament with 18 points and 7 rebounds per game.
Coach Erik Spoelstra's Heat team is one of the deepest in the league and boasts a rotation that can easily go 12 deep without sacrificing much talent. Olynyk’s size and shooting ability will be critical in spotting Bam Adebayo off the bench as Miami prepares to try and take the Eastern Conference with sheer numbers.
Milwaukee Bucks (1st in East)
Local Connection – Marvin Williams
A McDonald’s All-American out of Bremerton and Bremerton High School, Marvin Williams has enjoyed a long and sucsessful NBA career. Currently wrapping up his 15th year in the league, Williams has carved out an important bench role for the title-favorite Bucks, averaging almost 19 minutes per game since being traded to Milwaukee in February.
Williams provides valuable veteran experience behind stars Giannis Antetekoumpo and Khris Middleton. The Bucks will need to draw upon this experience in order to jump from “good regular season team” to “championship team” in a tougher-than-usual Eastern Conference.
Phoenix Suns (13th in West)
Local Connection – Aron Baynes
A rough-and-tumble Aussie who spent 4 years at Washington State, Aron Baynes has emerged as one of Phoenix’s best players. During his 4 years in Pullman, Baynes worked his way up from limited minutes to the Cougars’ starting Center, averaging 13 points his senior season.
Though the Suns are on the outside of the playoffs looking in, the squad has a shot to make the Western Conference 8th seed if they’re able to rack up some wins. Along with All-Star Guard Devin Booker, Baynes will have to play the best ball of his career if he wants to add a second NBA championship to his resume (the first coming in 2014 with the Spurs).
San Antonio Spurs (12th in West)
Local Connection – Dejounte Murray
The starting point guard for San Antonio, Dejounte Murray is coming into his own as part of the next great Spurs backcourt. Born and raised in Seattle, Murray recognizes Jamal Crawford as one of his role models within the Seattle community and credits Crawford for helping him get to where he is today.
During his time at Rainier Beach, Murray led the Vikings to to three 3A state championships and was named Washington Mr. Basketball in 2015. Murray went on to star in his lone season at the University of Washington.
Though the Spurs may miss the playoffs this year for the first time since 1997, the squad is set up well for future success behind Murray and backcourmate Derrick White.
Portland Trail Blazers (9th in West)
Local Connections – Terry Stotts, Zach Collins, Damian Lillard
Finally healthy after a series of brutal injuries, Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, and the rest of the Trail Blazers are ready to make a playoff push under the guidance of Head Coach Terry Stotts. Stotts was an Assistant Coach under George Karl from 1992-1998 and a part of the some of the greatest teams in Sonics history.
Former Gonzaga star Zach Collins is back on the floor for Portland after missing much of the 2020 season. Collins, who helped lead the Zags to the National Championship game in 2017, is an elite shot-blocking big with the ability to stretch the floor on offense. Having him back in the fold is huge for the Blazers.
Damian Lillard gets a shoutout here on account of his “that was for Seattle” shot in the playoffs last year. Seattle appreciates you Dame!
Memphis Grizzlies (8th in West)
Local Connection – Brandon Clarke
Though he only played one year in Spokane, Brandon Clarke’s 2018-2019 season at Gonzaga was a memorable one. Clarke averaged 17/9 with 3 blocks per game. He and Rui Hachimura constituted college basketball’s best one-two punch.
Currently wrapping up his rookie season with the Memphis Grizzlies, Clarke has been the clear second-best rookie in the NBA behind teamate Ja Morant. A defensive monster with incredible bounce, Clarke has mixed in servicible shooting and elite rim rolling. The young Grizzlies are poised to snatch the Western Conference 8th seed and a date with the Lakers (or Clippers) in the first round of the playoffs.
Dallas Mavericks (7th in West)
Local Connection – Mark Cuban
Mark Cuban was the only NBA owner (other than the late great Paul Allen) to vote against the Sonics' relocation in 2008. For that, the Shark Tank star deserves some love.
Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks enter the NBA Bubble looking forward to their first playoff run in the post-Dirk Nowitzki era, behind the exciting duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
Houston Rockets (6th in West)
Local Connection – Jeff Green
With Kevin Durant sitting out the season due to injury, Jeff Green stands alone as the only former Sonics player on an NBA active roster. The veteran forward spent his rookie season (2007-2008) in Seattle and averaged 10½ points per game.
Acquired by the Rockets in February, Green has provided points off the bench and perimeter length in Houston’s run-and-gun, small-ball attack. Behind the elite backcourt of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Houston is ready to make another run at a title, this time without the Warriors in their way.
Utah Jazz (4th in West)
Local Connection – Nigel Willimas-Goss
Well-known by college basketball fans around the state on account of his time at UW and Gonzaga, Williams-Goss has played a few minutes this season for the Utah Jazz. Most known for being the best player on the 2017 Gonzaga team that reached the National Championship, Williams-Goss averaged an impressive 17/6/5 during the Zag’s title run.
While Williams-Goss hasn’t seen the court much for the Jazz this year, it’s not out of the question he’ll find some minutes in the bubble. Already down starter Bojan Bogdanovich, the Jazz could need help if injuries befall their guards or Mike Conley continues to struggle.
Denver Nuggets (3rd in West)
Local Connection – Michael Porter Jr
Michael Porter Jr’s lone season at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle (under coach Brandon Roy) was the most memorable in recent high school history. Porter Jr. averaged 36.2 points and 13.6 rebounds per game for the Raiders while leading them to a perfect 29-0 record and state championship title. He was also crowned Washington Mr. Basketball in 2017.
As a younger player on a deep and savvy Nuggets team, Porter’s full capabilities have yet to be unleashed. However, he has flashed moments of brilliance this year in his 14 mpg off the bench. A legit 7-footer with the quickness and shooting ability of a guard, Porter can get you a bucket from anywhere on the court. Porter is a valuable asset for Denver and has the big-man ball-handling abilities spot star Point forward Nikola Jokic off the bench.
Washington Wizards (9th in East)
Local Connections – Rui Hachimura, Gary Payton II, Jonathan Williams
An afterthought in the bubble, the Wizards have little chance at reaching the playoffs but their invitation gives them a chance to get their younger players some run. Perhaps most exciting is the chance to see Gonzaga star Rui Hachimura in extended minutes against quality competition. A fixture on the great Zags teams of the last few years, Hachimura missed time early this season with an injury. With Bradley Beal sitting out, expect Rui to get some practice initiating offense.
Another name on this list will jump out at Seattle fans. Gary Payton II (nicknamed “The Mitten”) may not see much time for Washington but his paternal ties make him worth mentioning. Finally, on the fringe of Washington’s roster is Jonathan Williams, another forward from Gonzaga’s title-run team. And for what it's worth, Wizards Head Coach Scott Brooks was an Assistant for the Sonics in 2007-08.
Shoutout to our active NBA guys outside the bubble
Played for the Sonics – Kevin Durant (BKN)
Coached for the Sonics – Dwane Casey (DET)
Native Seattleites/Tacomans – Isaiah Thomas (someone sign this guy), Avery Bradley (LAL), Zach LaVine (CHI), Jaylen Nowell (MIN), Jalen McDaniels (CHA), Kevin Porter Jr (CLE), Alonzo Trier
Dawgs – Marquese Chriss (GS)
Cougs – Klay Thompson (GS)
Shop Sonics here: https://www.simplyseattle.com/collections/sonics