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After missing the playoffs again, what is next in store for the Pelicans?

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) Pelicans general manager Dell Demps has a vision of a prolonged Boogie-and-Brow era fostering basketball boom times in the Big Easy.

“We really set ourselves up for the future,” Demps said Thursday, referring to a February trade that paired DeMarcus Cousins with fellow front-court All-Star Anthony Davis. “I think DeMarcus is going to be an impact player here for a long time. And I think that him and Anthony paired together – it took a little time, but I think we started to see some of the potential.”

Whether Demps and the coach he hired two seasons ago, Alvin Gentry, are around to see how it turns out is another matter.

The Pelicans showed flashes of brilliance, but for a second straight season struggled to cope with roster instability and failed to make the playoffs. The optimism stemming from the potential of the a href(equals)’https://apnews.com/e82e6f05c4a348d0b15a3604d9677aa8/Pelicans’-Cousins:-He-and-Davis-can-‘wreak-havoc’-together’Davis-Cousins tandem/a in the front court is somewhat clouded by uncertainty over who’ll be steering the ship.

There was also the matter of whether New Orleans’ premier back court player, Jrue Holiday, would choose to remain a part of it or leave in free agency.

“We’re in evaluation mode,” Demps said. “We had a lot of challenges this year, but I do like the direction and the path that we’re headed.”

Some of the more pressing evaluations the Pelicans will have to make:

REGIME REVIEW: The future of Demps and Gentry could be tied together since it was Demps who hired the coach. Gentry came to New Orleans hoping to elevate the team Davis led to the 2015 playoffs. Instead, Gentry has overseen a roster plagued by prolonged injuries, illness, infections and even a a href(equals)’https://apnews.com/b352e3f65e434095ae68a9c876e236d5/Ex-soccer-star-Holiday-faces-tumor-with-husband-Jrue’s-help’delicate family matter/a that caused Holiday miss the past preseason and first 12 regular-season games. Gentry’s two-year record with New Orleans is 64-100. “I thought the team showed a lot of resilience and I think Alvin deserved a lot of credit for keeping the group together, because I know it’s tough coming into the season and not having the people that you thought you were going to have, then trying to figure it out on the fly,” Demps said.

ON HOLIDAY: Acquired by New Orleans in 2013, Holiday is coming off just his first healthy season with the club after missing most of his first two and parts of his third. However, he took leave last fall when his wife, former U.S. Soccer star Lauren Holiday, was diagnosed with a brain tumor while pregnant. Holiday has avoided questions about his plans for free agency and was not available on Thursday. But the Pelicans made it clear they want him back and hope the support they provided while he was on leave, combined with the fact that they can offer a contract one-year longer than any other team, keeps Holiday in New Orleans.

FRONT-COURT FORCE: With DeMarcus Cousins is under contract through next season, New Orleans should have training camp and the preseason to improve team chemistry with him in the lineup. They also want to get Cousins healthy. He played through pain in his right Achilles until New Orleans was eliminated from playoff contention. Cousins then sat out the last few games of the season, as did Davis. Both All-Star big men can shoot with range and dominate down low, but learning to play together wasn’t easy initially. But as they got comfortable, starting stringing together wins. Davis finished averaging 28 points and 11.8 rebounds, while Cousins averaged 27 and 11.

OUT OF SIGHT: Small forward Quincy Pondexter missed his second straight season with a href(equals)’https://apnews.com/c7fb2bd60813497099df4883b0f1174f/Pelicans’-Pondexter-has-procedure-on-troublesome-left-knee’complications related to knee surgery/a, but has been shooting on the club’s practice court in recent weeks. Demps said Pondexter has had a lot of “bad luck,” developing an infection from one of his surgeries. Demps said he hopes Pondexter, who played a key role in the Pelicans last playoff appearance, will return next season, his last under contract. Demps also hopes 7-foot center Omer Asik, who struggled to earn playing time early in the season, can get back in shape after his season ended early because of a stomach virus that caused him to drop weight.

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on LeBron James’ heavy workload: ‘Next, he might play 48 minutes’

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) Except for his backpedaling hairline, LeBron James shows no visible signs of age.

At 32, still in his prime, and still at the top of his game, he’s defying time.

“Benjamin Button,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue called him, referring to the fictional character who ages backward.

LeBenjamin?

Following a regular season in which he averaged more minutes per game (37.8) than any player, James logged 43.7 per game during Cleveland’s tougher-than-it-looked sweep over the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. And as James and the defending champions await either Toronto or Milwaukee in the second round, James is taking advantage of the down time.

Not that he might need it.

Lue spent much of the season defending his use of James, who in all honesty is really the one in control of when he sits or doesn’t. At this point, Lue has given up worrying about resting the superstar.

“I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of his minutes,” Lue said Wednesday. “He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games and then he had a week off again. So next he might play 48 minutes. … Bron today just said he feels worse when he doesn’t play.”

James wasn’t available for interviews as the team gathered for the first time in two days at Cleveland Clinic Courts, and it’s likely that he won’t speak to the media until the Cavs have a second-round opponent.

But as has been the case for months, James’ playing time was one of the prime topics presented to Lue, who believes that the four-time MVP’s heavy workload during the regular season is what enables him to play at such high levels in the postseason.

Consider that James averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists, shot 54 percent from the field, went 9 of 20 on 3-pointers and led the Cavaliers to the biggest second-half comeback in league history during the series against Indiana, and it’s easy to see why Lue wants to move past the minutes chatter.

“With him playing the minutes he played during the course of the regular season, it has helped him in the playoffs,” Lue said. “Now he is able to play those 42, 43 minutes. Because he’s used to it. His body can take it, so, I’m not worried about what outside people say.”

Unlike the regular season, when brutal travel schedules, back-to-backs and stretches of three games in four nights can wear players down, the postseason allows for recovery. Lue also thinks too many teams are allowing outside pressures to influence how they use players.

“Teams are suffering,” he said, “because they listen to what the media is saying about guys playing minutes” and “some teams should play some guys more minutes, and it would’ve been different (playoff) series.”

James has ramped up his minutes nearly every postseason. Now in his 12th playoffs, he averaged 39.1 minutes last year and has only twice averaged less than 40 per game.

Lue trusts that the three-time champion knows how far to push himself without reaching his breaking point.

“He knows his body better than anyone,” Lue said. “He said he feels great and he feels worse when he doesn’t play, so we’ll see how that works out.”

As for the rest of the Cavaliers, Wednesday included some competition in the team’s weight room on an aerobic conditioning machine while the team’s in-house DJ from Quicken Loans Arena spun music. After the vigorous workouts, yoga mats were dragged onto the court and the facility’s lights were dimmed for some stretching and decompression.

Namaste, NBA-style.

The Cavs had a similar, one-week break between the first and second rounds last season. Kyrie Irving said it’s imperative to make the most of it.

“The mental preparation and physical preparation starts now and hasn’t stopped,” he said. “Took a brief day off or two and now just get back to work and get ready for whichever team we’re getting ready for. The work never stops.”

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

NBA fines Rockets owner Leslie Alexander $100,000 for confronting referee

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Rockets owner Leslie Alexander got up from his courtside seat, walked down the sideline and talked to referee Bill Kennedy during Houston’s Game 5 win over the Thunder.

It took less than a day for an investigation to yield the predictable result.

NBA release:

Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has been fined $100,000 for confronting a referee during live game action, it was announced today by Byron Spruell, President, NBA League Operations.

The interaction occurred with 0:13 remaining in the first quarter of the Rockets’ 105-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 25 at Toyota Center.

Per Patricia Bender’s database, this is the NBA’s largest fine in nearly two years. The NBA fined the Clippers $250,000 in 2015 for setting up DeAndre Jordan with an endorsement deal while trying to lure him back in free agency.

The NBA rightfully keeps owners on a tight leash. Unlike players, coaches and referees, who have their own unions, the league office represents the owners. So when one crosses the line – Alexander trampled over it – the hammer comes down hard. It’s an example to keep everyone else in line, and owners know they come out way ahead in this arrangement. Alexander might not like the punishment, but he benefits from owning a share of a league that so strongly dissuades such behavior.

David Stern: ‘Shame on the Brooklyn Nets’

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Brooklyn rested Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker for its final game this season, which had huge playoff implications. Not for the Nets, of course. They were long eliminated from postseason contention.

But the Bulls beat Brooklyn to reach the playoffs over the Heat, who also won that night.

Miami fans were obviously ticked, and they have company in former NBA commissioner David Stern.

Stern, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“I have no idea what was in the mind of the executives of the Brooklyn Nets — none — when they rested their starting players,” Stern, who still holds the title of Commissioner Emeritus, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday on the NBA A to Z podcast. “If you’re playing in a game of consequence, that has an impact, which is as good as it gets (you should play your players). Here we are, the Brooklyn Nets are out of the running. They have the lowest record in the sport. But they have an opportunity to weigh in on the final game with respect to Chicago. And they sit their starters? Really? It’s inexcusable in my view. I don’t think the Commissioner maybe can, or even should, do anything about it. But shame on the Brooklyn Nets. They broke the (pact with fans).”

The resting dilemma takes slightly different forms when it involves a team like Brooklyn rather than a certain playoff team, but the underlying conflict remains the same:

The team is better off resting its players.

The NBA is worse off, at least in the short term.

The league was robbed of an important competitive game that could’ve drawn higher ratings. The Nets had just beaten Chicago a days prior, but that was with major contributions from Lopez and Lin. Without them, Brooklyn had little chance and lost by 39.

The Nets weren’t playing for anything, not even a higher draft pick. They owe their first-rounder to the Celtics and already clinched the worst record anyway. Brooklyn was better off resting those veterans at the end of a long regular season.

There’s no easy answer. If the NBA bans resting, teams will sit players and assign to minor or made-up injuries. If the league shortens the season, it will lose revenue.

The best solution is to improve at the margins – provide more rest days (which the league will do next season) and schedule nationally televised games outside of grueling stretches of the schedule. That’s obviously no silver bullet, though. Bulls-Nets wasn’t nationally televised, and Brooklyn had the day off before and the entire offseason off after.

Another potential solution: Shaming teams into playing their top players. Stern is giving that one a go.

NBA looking into Rockets’ owner interacting with referee during game

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Like every Rockets fan — and, let’s be honest, every fan of every team — Leslie Alexander is convinced the referees were screwing over his Rockets.

Except that Alexander is the owner of the Rockets.

And he approached a referee during game play.

The NBA is understandably investigating this, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

The NBA said an investigation “is underway” into Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander’s getting up from his courtside seat to have a few words with official Bill Kennedy in the first half.

Alexander appeared to say something to Kennedy during a Thunder possession before returning to his seat. Alexander declined to give any detail beyond he was “upset … really upset.” Rockets guard James Harden said he didn’t see his owner get up. “He did that?” a surprised Harden said after the game. “He’s the coolest guy. I would have helped him.”

The NBA doesn’t let players or coaches cross a line when talking to officials, but they are at least allowed to interact and discuss calls with a ref during a game. It’s something else entirely for an owner to get in the ear of an official during game play.

I’d expect Alexander will see a fine for this.

Whatever he thought of the officiating, the Rockets won to advance on to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.