Austin Rivers shines in Summer League opener for the Pelicans

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LAS VEGAS — Austin Rivers hasn’t played in an NBA basketball game since March 4, after suffering a broken hand injury that ended his season.

You wouldn’t have known it in his first game with the Pelicans at the Las Vegas Summer League opener on Friday, as Rivers finished with 24 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in helping his team to a win over the Summer version of the New York Knicks.

It was far from a great rookie campaign for Rivers, who was the 10th overall pick in last summer’s draft. But he was finally starting to put together some solid performances, just as the injury set him back. He picked up where he left off in this one, showing an ability to run the offense, find his teammates, and score from both inside and out.

Rivers was just excited to finally get back onto the court in a game situation.

“It feels good just to play a game,” he said. “I haven’t played in so long since I got hurt. It was kind of a blessing in disguise. I got to work on my left, got to watch a lot of film, and see my weaknesses and how I need to change speeds instead of going 100 miles per hour. And it kind of showed today.”

As good as Rivers looked in his first outing back, and even if he continues to play this well, he’ll be hard-pressed to see many minutes in what’s become a crowded backcourt in New Orleans. The team made a draft night trade to acquire All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday from the Sixers, and went out and signed Tyreke Evans to a four-year deal in free agency. And, Eric Gordon is still on the roster.

But none of that seems to bother Rivers, at least on the surface.

“It doesn’t intimidate me at all,” Rivers said of the new roster additions. “At the end of the day I’ve just got to go out there and work. If I’m there and there are a lot of guards there, then that means I’ve got to work even harder. I love the city of New Orleans, and I know we’re just trying to get better. There are still things that can happen with our team, so who knows? My whole focus is to keep working and show up to training camp ready to go.”

Rivers will continue to focus on developing his game and attempting to create a problem for his coaches when they’re looking to divide the minutes up this season; his Summer League performance was an indication that he could earn playing time at either of the guard positions.

“You saw today that I can do both,” Rivers said, when asked if he’s more comfortable playing the point or the two-guard position.  “I really can do both. I’m a scorer but I can play the point and get people open. With Jrue there, he’s going to be the dominant point, so [this season] it’ll be a lot of [shooting guard]. But I can get extra minutes playing backup point for him, and that’s what my goal is right now.”

“I’m not really worried about who’s there,” Rivers said. “I’ve just got to show up to training camp ready to go — I expect to work and I expect to play.”

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.