ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: The New Orleans Pelicans

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Last season: New Orleans final season as the Hornets wasn’t pretty. Eric Gordon was out much of the year, Anthony Davis showed promise but looked like a rookie at times, Austin Rivers looked like a mistake, they blew a 25-point lead to the Lakers, and they ended the season with 27 wins without even a sniff of the playoffs. The brightest spot (outside the promise of Davis) was the play of Greivis Vasquez… so they traded him away. We’ll get to that.

Signature highlight from last season: How about Anthony Davis tipping in a game winner?

Key player changes: The word came down from owner Tom Benson — speed up the rebuilding process. And with that Dell Demps took some gambles and did about as well as could be expected. He swapped “he could develop into a good player someday” Nerlens Noel and turned him into All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. Them Demps signed Tyreke Evans to a big free agent deal (too big?). Also on their way in were Greg Steimsma and Anthony Morrow via free agency and the Pelicans drafted Jeff Withey.

Gone are a couple guys they will miss (Greivis Vasquez, Robin Lopez) and some guys they won’t (Roger Mason, Xavier Henry, Lou Amundson).

Keys to the Pelicans’ season:

1) Can Eric Gordon stay healthy? After missing most of the preseason following another ankle surgery Eric Gordon stepped on the court for the first time last week and reminded everyone why he was a max deal guy — he can flat out get buckets. He has averaged 18.7 points a game shooting 56.3 percent overall and 50 percent from three in just 23 minutes a game in the three preseason games he played. When he’s on the court the Pelicans are a much more dynamic offensive team, but in the past four years he’s missed about half his team’s games. Will he be able to stay healthy, remain explosive, finish better at the rim and cut down on the turnovers we saw last season?

If the answer to all that is yes, will the Pelicans try to trade him? Buzz around the league is they will, but with three years and $44 million left on the deal good luck.

2) Can they be a good, or at least decent, defensive team? Two seasons ago they were a top-10 defensive team (Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza on the perimeter, Emeka Okafor protecting the rim), but last season (after sweeping personnel changes) they fell to 28th in the league, allowing 107.6 points per 100 possessions. That has to improve dramatically if New Orleans’ playoff dreams are going to stay alive. Can a potentially undersized backcourt of Holiday/Gordon/Evans funnel perimeter players properly, and can  Davis protect the rim? Defense is the biggest key to the Pelican’s season.

3) How big a step forward can Anthony Davis take? This preseason he has shown the ability to get the ball, face up and attack the rim off the dribble (he’ll take the midrange jumper but that is a work in progress). Combine that with his fantastic finishing around the rim and he can put points — and he will do it efficiently (his true shooting percentage of 55.8 percent last year is amazing for a rookie). On the other end of the court he was a strong rebounder and shot blocker, but could improve as a man defender, particularly on the block.

The bottom line is Davis is a franchise big man, an anchor, a cornerstone. People who just saw highlights or looked at the numbers last year may not have been impressed with Davis’ play, but if you watched him you would be. He is going to be something special, the only question is how fast he gets there.

Why you should watch the Pelicans: They have potentially one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league with Holiday/Gordon/Evans. They could be a force of nature and pair well with Davis along the front line — and every one of them is under 25. This could be a young team of the future coming together, or the mix could just implode in the backcourt. Either way that’s just fun to watch.

Prediction: 43-39, which likely puts them in the mix for a playoff spot but just missing out on it. At least that’s the most likely outcome. But it is possible that they don’t defend that well, the Holiday/Gordon/Evans doesn’t blend well and the whole thing just blows up and costs coach Monty Williams his job.

Kings finally waive rights to 44-year-old European player they drafted in 1995

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Back in 1995 — while you were listening to Coolio rap “Gangster’s Paradise,” watching the O.J. Simpson trial, and using your cell phone to actually make calls — Sacramento Kings GM Geoff Petrie used a late second round pick on Dejan Bodiroga.

The Serbian point forward — who played for the Serbian national team with Vlade Divac — never came over to the NBA, despite multiple efforts by the Kings, and is still considered one of the better European players never to test the NBA waters. He was a Spanish and Greek league MVP and won multiple titles in European leagues.

Friday, the Kings finally renounced his draft rights.

He’s just 44 and hasn’t played professionally since 2007, are they sure he still couldn’t contribute? (Insert your own Jose Calderon joke here.)

Kings fans on Twitter were awesome.

 

Report: Kyrie Irving considered requesting a trade after Cavaliers’ championship season

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Kyrie Irving reportedly made his desire to leave the Cavaliers known during his first few years in Cleveland. Then, LeBron James returned and that talk quieted – for a while. This offseason, Irving renewed his trade request, reportedly before the draft then again to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert last week.

But this has apparently been percolating throughout Irving’s time in Cleveland – even at the Cavaliers’ peak.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

When Irving signed his deal, he expected to be the franchise player for the foreseeable future. But about two weeks later, James arrived from Miami. The sudden change of situation rocked Irving, and he has vacillated at times over the past three years about working as a secondary star to James and the original plan of having his own team.

He discussed the challenge during last month’s NBA Finals.

“Having just a tremendously great player like that come to your team, and you see yourself being one of those great players eventually, and then he ends up joining it, and then now you have to almost take a step back and observe,” Irving said. “Finding that balance is one of the toughest things to do because you have so much belief and confidence in yourself. … Selfishly, I always wanted to just show everyone in the whole entire world exactly who I was every single time.”

With this in mind, Irving considered requesting a trade after the Cavs’ championship last year but decided against it, sources said.

Irving is catching a lot of heat for wanting to ditch LeBron and the consensus second-best team in the NBA. Imagine if Irving requested a trade immediately after a title!

This is yet another example of winning curing all ills. Irving clearly sees playing a supporting role as suboptimal, but he was willing to do it when Cleveland was winning a championship. Now that the Cavs title chances have slipped (hello, Kevin Durant-boosted Warriors) – even just to second-best in the entire league – Irving has prioritized his exit.

We’ll see how this affects Irving’s image. That’s important for such a prominent endorser. But it’s safe to say a trade request last summer would have gone over far worse with the public.

Report: Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns recruiting Kyrie Irving to Minnesota

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When Draymond Green and other members of the Warriors spent time recruiting Kevin Durant to come to Golden State it made sense — he was about to be a free agent who could make his own choices. Watching players such as C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard recruit Carmelo Anthony to Portland makes sense — ‘Melo has a no-trade clause so he needs to waive it to go anywhere, so recruiting makes sense.

This one makes less sense, but it is happening — Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns are recruiting Kyrie Irving to come play in Minnesota. Brian Windhorst of ESPN has the reporting.

League sources told ESPN that both Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns have been doing their part to recruit Irving on the idea of playing alongside them in Minnesota, and they’ve made it known to Wolves management that they want to add the Cavs star to the mix. Butler and Irving became tight in their time playing for USA Basketball together. Towns’ father, Karl Towns Sr., and Irving’s father, Drederick Irving, are connected through the basketball scene in northern New Jersey, where they both reside.

This could happen, but just about anything could happen the door is wide open with Irving to a lot of teams. That said, here are my two thoughts.

First, recruiting Irving is nice, but he has zero say in where he gets traded. Irving does not have a no-trade clause, he is not a free agent, he has two years left on his deal and the Cavaliers will/should send him to the team that gives them the best return. What Irving wants is irrelevant (although teams trying to get and keep him may take it into consideration).

Second, Minnesota could put together an interesting package, but there would be hurdles. It would likely involve one or both of Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague. Wiggins can be extended this summer, but that salary would not count toward the salary in this trade so someone such as Cole Aldrich would need to be thrown in (and it would take more than that, there would need to be picks). More likely, it would take Jeff Teague and his $19 million salary to get a deal done — except the Timberwolves signed him this summer so Teague cannot be traded until Dec. 15.

If the Cavaliers can’t find a deal they like this summer, they can step back and look at their options, then decide to wait out the market and bring Irving back to start the season. At that point, a deal with the Timberwolves makes more sense.

In the short term, Butler and KAT can recruit all they want.

Report: Kyrie Irving initially requested trade before draft – to Bulls

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Kyrie Irving reportedly asked Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert last week for a trade.

But that apparently wasn’t the first time Irving approached Cleveland about a trade this offseason.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Another league source said that Irving made his initial trade request before last month’s Draft, in hopes of being traded to Chicago and playing with All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler.

That’s around the time Irving reportedly told former Team USA teammates – who include Butler – that he might be interested in a trade and was keen on the Bulls. It seemed that was in preparation for LeBron James leaving in 2018, but Irving’s timeline might have been accelerated.

Irving and Butler are close, but the Cavs went the other way with that information – trying to line up a trade for Butler. Cleveland obviously didn’t pull of a deal, as Chicago dealt Butler to the Timberwolves.

Beyond Butler, the Bulls lacked the assets to trade for Irving. Yes, LeBron and Dwyane Wade are friends. No, Wade’s value is not anywhere remotely near Irving’s. And remember, without a no-trade clause and contracted for two more years before a player option, Irving has minimal leverage to pick his destination.

This report also negates the idea that Irving hurt the Cavaliers and his own likelihood of getting dealt by not requesting a trade before players like Chris Paul and Paul George were settled. Maybe Irving could have been more insistent earlier, but he at least gave a full offseason of notice that he was ready to move on.