Solomon Hill

Photo courtesy New Orleans Pelicans

Pelicans release veteran forward Josh Smith

Leave a comment

The Pelicans were desperate. They had lost Solomon Hill, Omer Asik, and Alexis Ajinca, Rajon Rondo and Frank Jackson to injury. The league granted New Orleans a hardship waiver to add another body to the roster, and needing help mostly up front the Pelicans signed Josh Smith.

But the plan was never to keep him long term, and on Friday Smith was let go after just 14 days with the team, reported Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Smith, 31, played just 12 minutes total across three games in garbage time for New Orleans (shooting 1-of-4). He was hoping to prove to teams that he still has something left in the tank and he would land another gig. I’m not sure he did that, but other teams may call coach Alvin Gentry and GM Dell Demps and ask as injuries eventually pile up for other teams.

 

Josh Smith cleared, signed with Pelicans today

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Josh Smith couldn’t find an NBA contract and played last season in China. As of today, he’s back in the Association.

The Pelicans, desperate for frontcourt help due to injuries to Solomon Hill, Omer Asik, and Alexis Ajinca — not to mention guards Rajon Rondo and Frank Jackson) — signed Smith today with the hardship waiver they were granted by the league. Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports broke the news.

Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated had more details.

The NBA veteran, who played in China last season, expects to be available to play against Cleveland tonight. “This is an opportunity I’ve been praying for. I’m elated. I really appreciate the Pelicans for giving me a second chance at something I love to do,” Smith told The Undefeated.

The Pelicans ultimately confirmed it.

This is a non-guaranteed deal, the Pelicans are bumping up against the luxury tax so they are not going to spend more than they need to.

Smith and Rajon Rondo were high school teammates who have always wanted to play together in the NBA. Now they finally may, if Rondo can get healthy.

Smith, 31, is really more of a four in today’s NBA. He thinks he has a quality jumper, but his last NBA season (split between the Clippers and Rockets) he shot just 27.1 percent from three (and took more than half his shots from beyond the arc). He’s not quick enough anymore to guard the three in the NBA.

But the Pelicans are desperate for help, so they are giving the veteran another chance.

NBA Power Rankings: Preseason rankings for every team from Warriors to Bulls

3 Comments

They’re back. The weekly NBA Power Rankings from NBC Sports have returned as the NBA season tips off. As always the defending champions start on top — and in the case of the Warriors, the question is will there be more than one week they are not ranked No. 1 this season? These first rankings are pure gut, with a little preseason influence thrown in (once we move 15+ games into the season we have a mathematical system to help guide us, then those figures get massaged by the eye test.

Quick note, these rankings come out on Tuesday to start the season, but starting next week and throughout the NBA season they will come out on Wednesday.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (last season 67-15). Thanks in part to Kevin Durant’s willingness to sacrifice for the team, Golden State not just brought back but also improved the best team in the NBA. They are going to spend a lot of weeks on top of these rankings. The only question to open the season is does the hangover/jet lag from the China trip still impact them the first couple weeks of the season.

Rockets small icon 2. Rockets (55-27). Adding Chris Paul to the James Harden show was a brilliant move, the Rockets will have one of the top three offenses in the NBA this season. However, what may really get this to the conference Finals is the additions of defenders such as Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker on the wing. They Rockets outscored teams by 21.9 points per 100 possessions in the preseason, an NBA best number (don’t read much into it, but it’s interesting).

Thunder small icon 3. Thunder (47-35).. I think they may be second in this ranking by the end of the season, I like their defense (which should be Top 5), but I’m going to need to see Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony do more than just talk about sacrifices to fully buy in (they looked good together in limited preseason minutes). With Westbrook committed to OKC, George will be asked about his free agency at every turn this season, how will he handle that pressure?

Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (51-31). By the end of the season I think they will be the team best positioned to knock off Golden State — Isaiah Thomas will be healthy (*knocking on wood*), the Cavs still have LeBron James, and they will get to come out of a soft East while the Warriors will have to battle their way out of a deep West. That said, they are not healthy now and will be experimenting with Kevin Love at center.

Spurs small icon 5. Spurs (61-21). No Kawhi Leonard in the opener and the question is now much more time will he miss with a lingering quad injury. While the Spurs looked like a mess in the playoffs without Leonard that was against the Warriors, in the regular season they are 14-4 the past two seasons with him sitting. LaMarcus Aldridge is the go-to guy while Leonard is out and he can handle the role.

Celtics small icon 6. Celtics (53-29). It’s going to be a circus — one with lots of boos — with Kyrie Irving and company opening on the road in Cleveland. No Marcus Morris the first week of the season with a knee injury, that means rookie Jayson Tatum likely gets the starts. That could add to the one big question about the Celtics — can they get enough stops?

Wizards small icon 7. Wizards (49-33). The Wizards looked good and their bench improved during the preseason, which is a nice sign but now they have to do it when it matters. That bench will be tested more early with Markieff Morris missing time due to a sports hernia (the Wizards lost very little time from their starters due to injury last season, that has changed already).

Raptors small icon 8. Raptors (51-31). The Raptors are trying to change who they are on offense, with less isolation and more threes — and it worked in the preseason, they scored 110.1 points per 100 possessions. Can they sustain that when the defenses get serious? And how much will they miss the depth that DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, and Patrick Patterson provided?

timberwolves small icon 9. Timberwolves (31-51). They added Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford to an already promising young team led by Karl-Anthony Towns — Minnesota is ready to make a leap. Well, if they can defend. They were 27th in defensive rating last season, and they need to get up to the middle of the NBA pack at least. Butler helps, but it’s Towns and Andrew Wiggins learning what to do and putting in the effort night in and night out that will make the biggest difference on that end.

Bucks small icon 10. Bucks (42-40). Is this too high a ranking for the Bucks? Maybe. I am betting on a lot of internal improvement with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker, Kris Middleton, and Malcolm Brogdon. However, the real key to the Bucks season is if Jason Kidd tweaks his gambling defensive system so the Bucks don’t get torched every time the ball swings sides, do that and this team can move into East’s top four.

Nuggets small icon 11. Nuggets (40-42). Denver looked good this preseason in the minutes that both Nicola Jokic and Paul Millsap shared the floor, but the questions are everyone around them. Gary Harris needs to live up to his lofty new contract, and Jamal Murray needs to start looking like the point guard the Nuggets thought they had at the end of last season. Also, is Denver going to defend well enough to make the playoffs?

Clippers small icon 12. Clippers (51-31). Talk about a changed roster, new to the Clippers are Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Willie Reed, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell. Everything still flows through Blake Griffin, and his three-point shot looks improved. The Clippers should be solid on both ends and play faster than they did in the Chris Paul era. This is a playoff team if they can stay healthy, but with this roster it’s a big if (they had their share of minor injuries in the preseason).

Blazers small icon 13. Trail Blazers (41-41). It’s just the preseason, but the facts that Portland went 5-0 and Evan Turner found his shooting stroke are both good signs. C.J. McCollum is suspended for the opener (you can’t leave the bench during an altercation, this isn’t a new rule) so look for Pat Connaughton to get the start.

Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (43-39). The Grizzlies are trying to change their style of play — they played at the fourth fastest pace of any team in the preseason (they were 19th overall in the NBA last season, which was up from previous years). We’ll see if the pace sticks. We’ll see how much the Grizzlies can get out of Chandler Parsons as well (he averaged 14 minutes a game and shot 33 percent in the preseason).

Heat small icon 15. Heat (41-41, LW 15). Erik Spoelstra will spend the first part of the season figuring out his rotations (Kelly Olynyk is starting now, James Johnson is coming off the bench), and he needs more of Goran Dragic than the two preseason games he played, but this is a deeper team that should get off to a faster start than last season (but not close the season as fast, either).

Jazz small icon 16. Jazz (51-31, LW 7). Utah went 5-0 in the preseason and its offense was the fifth most efficient in the NBA. That’s not going to last, but it’s a good sign that maybe the offense will be somewhat better than projected with Rodney Hood as the playmaker. The defense will be elite with DPOY candidate Rudy Gobert.

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (34-48). They have their big two — DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis — plus Jrue Holiday at the point, but the supporting cast is already banged up. Rajon Rondo will miss time with a sports hernia, and Solomon Hill may miss the entire season with a torn hamstring. This team remains one of the big question marks heading into the season, but if it goes sideways things could get ugly fast.

Sixers small icon 18. 76ers (28-54). Joel Embiid will start the season on a minutes restriction — Brett Brown said in the teens — and the big man doesn’t like it. Expect the Sixers to be cautious with him all season, we’ll see if he even gets to 55 games. My big question is how good the defense is with him off the court? After a strong preseason, Ben Simmons has moved to the top off everyone’s Rookie of the Year award prediction list.

Hornets small icon 19. Hornets (36-46). The Nicolas Batum injury to start the season is a blow. First, they were already thin on the wing and needed his defense, and second the Hornets toughest stretch of the schedule is the first month, so they could get in a hole that’s tough to dig out of. No Batum means rookie Malik Monk gets more run. A lot of people will tune in to see the Dwight Howard redemption project version 3.0, but stay to watch Kemba Walker — he is one of the most entertaining players to watch in the NBA.

Pistons small icon 20. Pistons (37-45. . How did the Pistons’ starting five look in the preseason? Don’t know, they didn’t play a minute together. What we do know is Reggie Jackson — the lynchpin for this team’s playoff chances this season — struggled, like he did much of last season. One thing of note, Andre Drummond was 16-of-20 on free throws in the preseason, if he is knocking those down he just got a lot more dangerous at the end of games.

Mavericks small icon 21. Mavericks (33-49). We need to savor having another season of Dirk Nowitzki in the NBA, he remains an all-time great. This season is about developing Dennis Smith Jr. and have him develop chemistry with Harrison Barnes (who was underrated as an isolation scorer last season but now needs to learn to be a playmaker. The Mavericks start out with a tough schedule the first couple of months that puts them in a hole they can’t dig out of.

Lakers small icon 22. Lakers (26-56, LW 29). It’s the Lonzo Ball show in Los Angeles, as he brings a buzz on and off the court to this team. Well, unless Kyle Kuzma steals the show again (the Lakers are overloaded at the four thanks to him). Ball will get a boost playing with Brook Lopez on offense. The bigger concern is Brandon Ingram, who shot 37.7 percent in preseason (25 percent from three) and likes to face up in isolation but doesn’t execute that well yet.

Kings small icon 23. Kings (32-50). So much to watch development wise with this team. How does De’Aaron Fox come along running the offense (he will come off the bench behind George Hill to start the season)? Can Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein form an impressive front line? Is Buddy Hield going to be a starting two guard in the NBA or is he a future gunner sixth man? Also, how will coach Dave Joerger balance minutes for the young players and the veterans on his roster such as Zach Randolph?

Magic small icon 24. Magic (29-53). This may be too low for the Magic, who have a lot of talent on paper. Aaron Gordon is back at the four, where he should be, and he looked good this preseason. Jonathon Simmons also looked good and helped the team’s defense this preseason. The pieces still are an odd fit on this team, but Frank Vogel is trying to find rotations that work.

Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (31-51 LW 26). Carmelo Anthony is gone but the Knicks biggest problem persists — this is going to be a bad defensive team. With the full triangle offense having been exiled with Phil Jackson, coach Jeff Hornacek wants to run, but to run well a team has to get stops. Is Kristaps Porzingis ready for the load about to be put on his shoulders?

Pacers small icon 26. Pacers (42-40, LW 16). This is Myles Turner’s team now, but he will miss having Glenn Robinson III’s floor spacing around him (Robinson’s ankle injury has him out until 2018). On the bright side T.J. Leaf looked better in preseason than he did in Summer League, he will get some run. This team will put the ball in Lance Stephenson’s hands, which is always entertaining.

Nets small icon 27. Nets (20-62). They have an interesting backcourt with Jeremy Lin — the undrafted guard who has worked hard on his game and scrapped his way to a solid NBA career — and D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 pick whose work ethic frustrated the Lakers and they were willing to move on from (he was the sweetener in dumping Timofey Mozgov’s salary). Soft start to the schedule gives them the chance at a decent start.

Hawks small icon 28. Hawks (43-39). It’s all about Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore creating shots and Mike Budenholzer’s team playing solid defense. This is a rebuilding team (Al Horford and Paul Millsap left in successive summers) and their string of making the playoffs 10 years in a row will end, but they should play hard and be in games, just not able to close them out. They start the season with a five-game road trip.

Suns small icon 29. Suns (24-58). They have some interesting young talent in Phoenix with Devin Booker and now rookie Josh Jackson (14 points per game and shot 42 percent from three in the preseason). With Eric Bledsoe running the point the Suns should be able to put up some points, but will the young team get enough stops?

Bulls small icon 30. Bulls (41-41, LW 13). Chicago has finally, fully embraced the rebuild. Lauri Markkanen will be the guy to watch this season, he was up-and-down during preseason (1-of-9 in debut, good game against Toronto to close it out) but how does he develop over the course of the season. Rough first week of the season with the Raptors, Spurs, and Cavaliers.

Three coaches on the hot seat this season

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
2 Comments

The NBA is in the midst of unprecedented coaching stability.

Logically, it’s only a matter until that gets upended.

But, team by team, it’s hard to find situations ripe for change. Still, here are the coaches on the hottest seats entering the 2017-18 season:

Alvin Gentry (Pelicans)

The list must start here. Gentry is coaching a mismanaged Pelicans team with undue expectations. He’s far closer to getting fired than anyone else in the league.

In fact, it’s surprising Gentry has lasted this long.

Monty Williams got fired immediately after leading New Orleans to its first playoff appearance in four years. Gentry’s two Pelicans teams haven’t come particularly close to reaching the postseason.

Now, the pressure intensifies. DeMarcus Cousins is entering a contract year. The clock is always ticking until Anthony Davis becomes an unrestricted free agent. And, of course, the West is incredibly strong.

Gentry doesn’t have much to work with considering the circumstances. Davis and Cousins are excellent players, but they prevent Gentry from implementing his preferred up-tempo style. Jrue Holiday is a fine third wheel, but roster-construction issues shift him to less-than-optimal shooting guard. Those problems are particularly evident at small forward, where Dante Cunningham (ideally a power forward) and Tony Allen (ideally a shooting guard) will split time with Solomon Hill injured.

Gentry’s boss, general manager Dell Demps, also appears on thin ice. If/when things go poorly will Demps fire Gentry to shift blame? Or will the Pelicans clean house completely?

Gentry faces an uphill climb to make those questions irrelevant.

Jeff Hornacek (Knicks)

A whopping 10 (!) coaches work for front-office heads who didn’t hire them: Jeff Hornacek (Knicks), Mike Budenholzer (Hawks), Brett Brown (76ers), Frank Vogel (Magic), Luke Walton (Lakers), Tyronn Lue (Cavaliers), Jason Kidd (Bucks), Doc Rivers (Clippers), Nate McMillan (Pacers) and Dwane Casey (Raptors).

Take your pick of which has the hottest seat. The internal politics at play can be far from evident.

Brown, Kidd and Walton face higher expectations than last season. Lue faces the highest expectations this side of Golden State. Rivers, McMillan and Casey have downgraded teams that have not given up hope of winning. Hornacek, Budenholzer and Vogel oversee teams that seem OK with losing in the short term, but poor records always hasten dismissals regardless of context.

The nod for hottest seat goes to Hornacek, who’s stuck in James Dolan’s top-down chaotic franchise. Patience never lasts in New York, and there are already rumors about Hornacek’s replacement and poor relationship with franchise player Kristaps Porzingis.

Fred Hoiberg (Bulls)

Again, you could easily pick one of the nine other coaches from the above section (except maybe Kidd, who might hold power over general manager Jon Horst). In the interest of variety, let’s mention Hoiberg.

The Bulls are a quagmire, knowingly entering a rebuilding stage but with the Gar Forman/John Paxson under increased scrutiny. Does Chicago actually have the appetite for sustained losing?

Hoiberg has already appeared in over his head connecting with established veterans. Maybe teaching young players will better suit the former college coach, but the NBA is still a different animal. If Hoiberg stumbles in this task, what reason will there be to keep him around?

Forman not wanting to admit firing Tom Thibodeau for Hoiberg was a mistake? Maybe. The pesky storyline that Hoiberg hasn’t had his type of players? Few NBA coaches are afforded that luxury.

Otherwise, it’s getting late early for Hoiberg, who’s entering his third season.

The Bulls just hired former coach Doug Collins as an advisor. If I were Hornacek, I wouldn’t feel great about that.

Report: Dante Cunningham re-signing with Pelicans

AP Photo/David Goldman
1 Comment

An intriguing battle emerged late in free agency over Dante Cunningham.

The Pelicans and Timberwolves were desperate at small forward, and Cunningham rare contributor at the position still available. New Orleans even traded a second-rounder and cash to dump Quincy Pondexter and get far enough below the hard cap to take advantage of Cunningham’s Bird Rights.

That’ll pay off.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

It’s not the $3,106,500 Cunningham opted out of, but a $2.3 million salary beats his minimum ($2,106,470), which is all Minnesota could’ve offered.

That’s a great rate on someone who might be the Pelicans’ starting small forward, considering Solomon Hill‘s injury. Even if he plays behind Tony Allen on a team that starts small on the perimeter, Cunningham will reduce the time New Orleans must rely on also-rans.

Cunningham is probably better at power forward, but he can defend either position. He also has become a good enough 3-point shooter to credibly play small forward.

For the Pelicans, he’s a huge upgrade at a bargain price.