The Extra Pass: Gumbo and The Brow, and Tuesday night’s recap

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The New Orleans Pelicans roster was assembled with all the care of an inebriated person making gumbo. Three ball-dominant guards in addition to the ball-dominant guard we just drafted? Sure, that will work. A stretch 4 and a stretch 5? Toss ‘em in.

The individual pieces in New Orleans are talented, to be certain, but they don’t seem to complement each other all that well. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where the Pelicans would look great individually, but a disaster collectively.

But what do we know about gumbo? It’s all about the roux – it’s all about the base. The Pelicans’ roux is Anthony Davis.

Monty Williams has yet to find a lineup with Davis that hasn’t worked. Over the season, any combination with Davis on the floor that has played more than five total minutes together has yielded a positive net rating. So long as Davis is on the floor, the Pelicans are in business.

Problem is, the rest of the roster hasn’t completely caught on to that fact yet. Davis has the biggest catch radius in the league with his mobility and arms that go on forever, but you’ll see the Pelicans’ guards ignore him on rolls to the rim, or worse yet, not even put Davis in situations where he can roll to the rim.

A good example came in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s loss to the Golden State Warriors. Nemanja Nedovic, a 6-foot-4 guard, was switched on to Davis. No Pelicans player even looked Davis’ way, and the possession resulted in a traveling violation out on the perimeter.

Play-by-play man Joel Meyers summed up the sequence perfectly with one word: “Unbelievable.”

This sort of thing happens far too often. Part of that falls on Williams, who should be on the hot seat after New Orleans’ 6-8 start. Does that seem premature?

Maybe it is, but Williams has yet to live up to his side of the bargain and improve the defense, as the Pelicans have the 19th ranked defense in terms of efficiency and the 29th worst opponent field goal percentage so far this season.

The offense has been more reliable (8th in efficiency) but it typically comes and goes in relation to when Davis is featured. Perhaps predictably, Davis is just fourth on the team in usage percentage, behind Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday.

Of course, the return of Ryan Anderson just means that there are, to further beat the food analogy into the ground, more cooks in the kitchen. This is an issue, and it’s hard to see it going away without changes.

So what’s the solution? Williams has at least allowed this athletic group to get out and run more often, ending the slow crawl he usually prefers. The Pelicans are up to 14th in pace, compared to 29th last year and 30th the season before.

Maybe you’d like to see the Pelicans embrace an even quicker style to better leverage their athleticism on the perimeter.

New Orleans is the second best defensive rebounding team in the league, so perhaps there’s room to leak out a little more and get out in transition. Davis already runs the floor like a gazelle, Evans is a nightmare to stop in transition, and the thought of Ryan Anderson or Jason Smith trailing the play and spotting up around the perimeter is plenty enticing.

Davis has been flexible overall, but there’s a danger in letting the other players on the roster take advantage of that. According to the SportVU player tracking system, Davis is receiving less frontcourt touches per game than guys like Andrea Bargnani and Zaza Pachulia. That can’t happen.

Still, Davis has legitimately been one of the best players in the league this season. The only limit on his potential will come from outside forces, and New Orleans would do well to figure out exactly what those are.

Stats from NBA.com were used in this post. I was also very hungry.

—D.J. Foster

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Nets 102, Raptors 100: The Nets snapped a five-game losing streak to improve to 4-10 on the season, and it was a big win for the team considering it came without several key players. Deron Williams, Jason Terry and Brook Lopez all missed the game due to injury, and the third quarter woes which have plagued Brooklyn all season long were overcome in this one by the Nets actually winning the period, if only by a single point. The victory certainly wasn’t easy for the Nets, who led by 15 points with just over five minutes to play before surrendering a 14-0 run that made things sketchy over the game’s final few possessions. —Brett Pollakoff

Wizards 116, Lakers 111: The Lakers got a typically balanced effort with seven players finishing in double figures, but defense was the issue as they allowed John Wall and Nene to combine for 61 points. L.A. fought back from a nine-point deficit late to have a chance, and took the lead with under two minutes to play on a three-pointer from Pau Gasol. But Wall had seven points in the final 1:34 to seal it, sending the Lakers to a record of 7-8 on the season. —BP

Magic 109, Hawks 92: Orlando isn’t going to compete for a playoff spot this season, even in the woeful Eastern Conference. But take them lightly and they will jump up to bite you on any given game day, and that’s what happened to the Hawks in this one. The Magic shot 50.6 percent from the field, crushed Atlanta in the paint by a 20-point margin, and outscored the Hawks 36-20 in the third quarter to put enough separation in place to cruise to the team’s fifth win of the season. —BP

Warriors 102, Pelicans 101: Without Andre Iguodala due to injury and with Andrew Bogut sidelined due to serving a suspension, this game was a lot closer than it should have been for the Warriors. But coming off of three straight losses, they needed the win and held on in the closing moments to secure it. Jermaine O’Neal filled in admirably in the starting center spot, and finished with 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go along with eight rebounds in just 26 minutes of action. —BP

Report: Warriors, Timberwolves, Thunder interested in Joakim Noah if he is bought out by Knicks

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Hand me the salt shaker, I’m going to need some extra for this rumor.

My skepticism aside, let’s pass this rumor along: If Joakim Noah can reach a buyout with the Knicks, at least three playoff-bound teams have interest in him, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

According to league sources, several playoff-bound teams are closely monitoring Noah’s situation in New York and would push to sign him if Noah becomes a free agent.

The Warriors, Timberwolves and Thunder are three such teams that believe Noah, who turns 33 on Sunday, could bolster their respective rosters for the postseason.

A few thoughts.

First, I don’t question that the well-connected Isola got this from a reputable source.

My question is who leaked it? Or, better yet, who benefits from leaking it? That would be the Knicks — they want Noah to agree to a low enough buyout number that it’s a real benefit to them. The idea that playoff teams — and the leading title contender at that — interested in Noah’s services helps the Knicks make a case that he has good options where he gets on the court if he agrees to the buyout terms. Leaking this is a way to ramp up a little public pressure.

That doesn’t mean it’s not true, either. It’s not hard to picture these teams having interest: Tom Thibodeau loves bringing back former players, and both the Warriors (who started JaVale McGee Thursday) and Thunder could use help on the front line. Do any of them think Noah can provide that help at this point? He has been a shell of his former self in recent years. Would those teams actually sign Noah? Who knows, and for the Knicks they don’t care.

Noah is owed $36.5 million for the two seasons after this one, which is why trading him is next to impossible. In a somewhat similar situation in Atlanta Dikembe Mutombo took about $10 million off his salary in a buyout, would Noah do that to get on a contender? That’s what the Knicks are hoping.

Lonzo Ball on college basketball: ‘Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid. Might as well make it legal’

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The logs of payment by Andy Miller’s former agency to high school and college basketball players leaked today.

That has sparked discussions about the entire system, and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has a thought.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Simply, I don’t believe Ball about not getting extra compensation at UCLA. That sounds like he caught himself going further then he wanted and attempting to backtrack.

I can see why Ball wouldn’t want to admit getting extra benefits. He still knows people at UCLA, and an NCAA inquiry based on his comments could hurt them – and his reputation at UCLA.

But NBA players should be outspoken on this issue. They have the power to apply pressure on the NCAA’s cartel system, in which schools collude to limit compensation to athletes. As long as that system remains, college players lose out, getting only under-the-table scraps, while coaches and administrators hoard the major money.

Good for Ball for pointing out the farce. It’s easy to stop caring once players reach the NBA and gets rich, but NBA players are uniquely equipped to shine a light on the NCAA’s problems.

Michele Roberts: Cap smoothing was ‘disgraceful request’ by NBA

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In 2016, new national TV contracts pushed the NBA’s salary cap from $70 million to $94.143 million – a larger jump than over the entire previous decade. Free agents cashed in majorly that summer.

But now, the cap is leveling off. It went up to just $99.093 million last year and is projected to reach only $101 million this year and $108 million next year. With so many lucrative long-term 2016 contracts still on the books, free agents the following few years haven’t gotten and won’t get comparable compensation.

The problem was predictable, and the NBA proposed a solution at the time – cap smoothing.

Players get 49%-51% of Basketball Related Income (BRI) each year, the precise amount determined by formula. The salary cap is set so teams’ payrolls collectively reach that range. (There are procedures if teams fall short or pay too much.)

With cap smoothing, the NBA would have set an artificially lower cap for 2016-17. Players would have gotten less than 49%-51% of BRI in salary, but presumably, the league would have distributed the difference to players after-the-fact. That way, all players – not just 2016 free agents – would cash in.

But the players union rejected the plan.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has looked back longingly, wishing the union approved. National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, um, has not.

Roberts, in a Q&A with Paul Flannery of SB Nation:

When the salary explosion happened and you rejected the smoothing idea that the NBA proposed, has anything that has happened in the last few years caused you to reconsider that stance?

No, in fact it’s completely confirmed the correctness of that position. I delight and the players delight in reading about some of these contracts because they know they absolutely deserve it.

There was going to be no smoothing of the owners’ profits at all. They were going to enjoy real money that reflected where we were financially as a game. Why in the world would players pretend that the game was not making as much money and therefore have smaller contracts?

It was an absurd suggestion, I thought personally. But what we did to make sure it wasn’t just Michele’s instinct was hire two separate economists to tell us whether this was something that was going to be of value to our players in the long run.

Independent of each other and not knowing what either of us felt, they both came almost saying, “Are you kidding? Why would you do this?”

I don’t have any regrets at all. I don’t think a single player does either.

Not a single owner came up to me and suggested that they thought we should do this. The league did. But I didn’t see any chorus of support from any of the owners. I thought it was a disgraceful request.

It’s impossible to evaluate whether Roberts was right without knowing the particulars of the NBA’s smoothing plan. That has not leaked.

She implies the league proposed artificially lowering the cap (which, again, is determined by formula based on revenue) for the first year or two of the new national TV deals without offering the players something in return. I find that hard to believe. At minimum, it seems likely the NBA would have distributed the rest of the 49%-51% of BRI to players not earned in traditional salary.

Not that that would have been enough for the players to favor cap smoothing.

Players’ salaries are sometimes based on their previous salaries under cap rules. If only a portion of players’ NBA-provided income was considered official salary, that could have debilitating long-term effects.

Perhaps, the NBA could have accounted for that. But it seems there was little negotiating here. The league made a proposal, and the union rejected it.

I’m not sure which side benefited, and evaluating that becomes even more difficult when dividing the sides into competing interests.

For argument’s sake, let’s say rejecting cap smoothing led to more money for players. That largely went to 2016 free agents. What about all the players still under contract that summer? They didn’t get to reap the rewards.

What’s a better measure – the amount of money players collectively gained by rejecting cap smoothing or the percentage of players who earned more money by rejecting cap smoothing? There’s no easy answer.

And there’s more than just money at stake. Most significantly, a lack of cap smoothing allowed the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant. How many players prefer that never would have been possible?

I’m just not as convinced as Roberts rejecting cap smoothing was the right call. At minimum, negotiating a cap-smoothing compromise could have worked.

Many players already under contract in the summer of 2016 have been waiting their turn for a huge payday. But wait until many of them find out their windfall wasn’t just delayed. It’s not coming. Then, some of Roberts’ constituents might question her insistence that rejecting cap smoothing was correct.

Paul George says he wants to sign with team for long haul

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Paul George is enjoying his time with the Thunder. He also likes the idea of playing near his hometown in Los Angeles.

How will George pick between the two in free agency?

One idea: Sign a short-term contract with Oklahoma City.

He’ll be eligible for a higher max-salary tier in two years (35% of the cap, up from 30%). He’d also get to play more with a prime Russell Westbrook while still having an out if the 29-year-old point guard drops off. George would likely remain with Carmelo Anthony next season, too, as Anthony likely opts in. That’d give the Thunder more time to jell and show what they can do.

It’d also give the Lakers’ young core time to develop. If a prolonged test run in Oklahoma City fizzles, the Lakers would probably look even more appealing in a couple years (provided they keep open or can create cap space).

But George doesn’t sound interested in such a plan.

George, via Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

“I’m not looking to bounce around and play for multiple teams throughout my career. The decision I make will ultimately be to build something,” he said. “The only way it’s going to be done. So, this next decision, whatever it is, is to make sure I’m there for a duration.”

George can always change his mind, and he isn’t bound to follow his public statements. But he’s quite open about revealing his thought process. I respect that.

This statement doesn’t hint at any particular team. He could sign long-term anywhere.

But it speaks to the stakes of his upcoming free agency. Any team that wants George better sign him this summer. He probably won’t be available again.