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Reports: 76ers-Pelicans Jahlil Okafor trade talks include New Orleans sending 2018 first-rounder, Alexis Ajinca

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The Pelicans are tied for the NBA’s fifth-worst record.

They might be even worse next year.

That also might be someone else’s problem.

So, the rumored Jahlil Okafor trade apparently focus on New Orleans sending the 76ers its 2018, not 2017, first-round pick.

 

Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders:

Justin Verrier of ESPN:

The 2017 draft is loaded. The Pelicans might dream of Okafor lifting them in the playoff race, but that seems far-fetched. So, it’d be foolish to deal that 2017 first-rounder, at least depending on the protections.

Trading a 2018 first-rounder becomes even more logical for New Orleans when you consider general manager Dell Demps’ seemingly shaky job security. Okafor could help the Pelicans become more respectable in the short term — and if the center doesn’t, Demps might be gone for the 2018 draft.

That’s why the protections on the pick, even if it won’t convey until 2018, will still be so crucial.

As lousy as this season has gone for New Orleans (19-32), next year could be even worse.

Anthony Davis has missed just four games this season. He has never missed fewer than 14 games over a full season. The top members of his supporting cast so far this year, Jrue Holiday and Terrence Jones, head into unrestricted free agency next summer. Meanwhile, underwhelming performers Solomon HillE'Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca are locked into long-term contracts. The Pelicans’ clearest path to even reasonable cap space involves Holiday leaving.

Dumping Ajinca (owed $10,247,192 over the next two years) would help New Orleans a bit. He holds negative value (though having him on the books would be less costly for the 76ers, who are under the salary floor and have more cap space in coming years than they know what to do with).

But there are still numerous viable paths to the Pelicans declining — even while adding Okafor. Okafor, a talented interior scorer with majorly concerning defensive limitations, does not justify an all-in move.

If you’re a New Orleans fan looking for good news, Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said Jahlil Okafor would start against the Pistons tonight. If the 76ers thought the trade were close, they’d probably sit Okafor until finalizing it.

Should Okafor escape tonight uninjured and these teams continue exploring the deal tomorrow, keep a close eye on the pick protections.

Salah Mejri kicks at Patty Mills as Mavericks and Spurs leave court for halftime (video)

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Mavericks center Salah Mejri has a history of agitating, including against the Spurs.

Two years ago, Mejri dunked while Dallas got blown out by San Antonio and yapped at the Spurs bench – drawing laughter from Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. Last season, Mejri had Trevor Ariza and other Rockets trying to confront him after reportedly saying something about Ariza’s family.

In the Mavericks’ win over the Spurs on Tuesday, Mejri got into it with Patty Mills.

Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com:

Mejri and Rudy Gay received double technical fouls, and Mejri went to the bench. Everything could have cooled down at halftime, but Mejri escalated tension

Watch the full sequence above, but the key moment:

giphy (2)

That’ll probably draw a fine.

NBA introducing 2-for-1 All-Star voting days

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
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The NBA changed its All-Star format this season from East vs. West to captain-picked teams (though still naming players equally from each conference).

That apparently wasn’t a big enough overhaul.

After including media and player votes last year, the league is making All-Star starter selection even more complex.

NBA release:

NBA All-Star Voting 2018 presented by Verizon will tip off with an early voting period exclusively on the NBA App and NBA.com beginning Thursday, Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. ET.

Voting via all other channels, including Amazon Alexa for the first time, will launch on Monday, Dec. 25 at 11 a.m.

Additionally, new for this season, five “2-for-1 Days” will allow fans to have their votes count twice on Dec. 31, Jan. 4, Jan. 11, Jan. 12 and Jan. 15 when voting through the NBA App and NBA.com, along with Sina Weibo and Tencent in China.  All “2-for-1 Days” will be designated 12 a.m. – 11:59 p.m. ET.

TNT will reveal the All-Star Game starters, including the two captains, on Thursday, Jan. 18 during TNT NBA Tip-Off

The network will announce the reserves, as selected by NBA head coaches, on Tuesday, Jan. 23 during TNT NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. ET. 

The team rosters for NBA All-Star Game 2018 in Los Angeles will be revealed on Thursday, Jan. 25 during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. ET.

I suppose this is to drum up interest on otherwise quiet voting days. After all, this is really just about the NBA selling itself.

But the All-Star voting process has always left something to be desired. I don’t see how this changes that.

Report: Lakers ‘longshot’ to sign LeBron James

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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Preeminent NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski called it “likelyLeBron James would sign with the Lakers or Clippers next summer. The Clippers have since been somewhat debunked as a LeBron destination. There’s circumstantial evidence linking LeBron to Los Angeles.

Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

So imagining James’ last act coming in purple and gold isn’t without basis. But as of now, it’s also a longshot, according to league sources.

Shelburne and Windhorst are highly credible. I doubt they’d report this without connected sources.

LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, and manager, Maverick Carter, have recently publicly downplayed the importance of Los Angeles to LeBron. That felt like a coordinated attack on the LeBron-Lakers rumors, and this fits as a continuation.

But why wage that campaign? To keep the Cavaliers focused while LeBron still plays for them, even if he might leave after the season? To lower expectations among the Lakers’ massive fan base, so as not alienate those people (potential customers of the many LeBron-connected brands) when LeBron inevitably signs elsewhere? Both could be true, but there’s obviously a difference between each driving LeBron’s camp.

DeMarcus Cousins barrels in for powerful putback dunk over Bucks (video)

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When DeMarcus Cousins builds up a head of steam like this… poor John Henson (and kind of Khris Middleton).

This helped the Pelicans pull away for a 115-108 win over the Bucks last night.