Kurt Helin

NBA Kid FIT Clinic with Alvin Gentry of the New Orleans Pelicans

Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry talks defense, faster play, more Anthony Davis

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In a deep and talented Western Conference, the New Orleans Pelicans are a team on the rise. They have one of the game’s elite players in Anthony Davis, and next season should have key contributors Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson finally healthy. They are not contenders yet, but they could get there in a few years.

Which is why Alvin Gentry was hired as coach.

He’s player friendly, the guy in charge of the Clippers then Warriors offenses the past two seasons, and a coach who just picked up a championship ring. He’s a fantastic hire by the Pelicans.

So how does he plan to get the Pelicans to the next level? Here is what he told John Schuhmann of NBA.com.

Defense first: “We’ve got to do something about (their bottom 10 defense). First of all, we’ve got to get better perimeter defense out front, so that we’re not getting penetration from perimeter players, which causes our bigs to be in rotation. That’s the first thing that we’ve got to do. Secondly, we’ve got to be better as a team, in our rotations, in our protection of the lane. The big thing is that you’ve got to take away dribble penetration.”

Just to be clear, defense is the training camp priority? “Sure it is. That’s how we won the championship last year, make no mistake about it. Our offense was good, because our defense was great.”

More Anthony Davis: I think we’ll try to expand (Davis’) game. He’s a good enough shooter where he can step out and make corner threes right now. The big thing is that we’ve got to have more possessions per 48 minutes. The way you do that is you’ve got to play with faster pace…. The thing that I saw was that he was very efficient in transition, as far as percentage. But he was extremely low as far as opportunities. So obviously, we have to get more opportunities for him.

Get the guards healthy: Having (Jrue) Holiday healthy, having Tyreke [Evans] healthy, Eric Gordon when healthy the whole season. Our goal is to get those guys healthy and see that unit play as a group.

One other thing mentioned — and it was pretty much a given with Gentry taking over — is to expect a much faster pace from the Pelicans. They were a bottom 10 teams in terms of pace last season. This season Davis and those guards will get out and run.

I expect an improvement, a nice jump in the level of play from the Pelicans this season. The problem is, they are in the West, and it’s hard to move up a lot of slots when the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Rockets are there, too. Still, look for this to be a year the Pelicans take a Davis-sized step forward.

After 17 seasons, Nazr Mohammed contemplating retirement

Philadelphia 76ers V Chicago Bulls
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Last season, Nazr Mohammed got on the court in just 23 games for the Chicago Bulls and played a total of 128 minutes. I’d swear Tom Thibodeu played Jimmy Butler that many minutes in one game (or at least would if he could). The season before Thibodeau had leaned on Mohammed’s defense off the bench, but last season he mostly just had a front-row seat for games.

Now Mohammed is faced with the question that eventually haunts all athletes: Is it time to retire?

Mohammed has played 17 NBA seasons, won a ring (2005 Spurs) and earned north of $65 million in salary. He’s had a full career. Yet virtually every player that walks away, regardless of when and why, misses the game and the camaraderie.

Mohammed was just far more honest and public about his concerns than most in a post on his blog.

I’m a free agent. After 17 seasons playing NBA basketball, I’m currently at a point where I’m trying to decide what I do next – continue playing basketball or pursue a post-playing career. There are a few factors in play that are making this decision kind of tough for me….

Years ago I decided that I was going to play until I couldn’t play anymore or until nobody else wanted me to play for them anymore – whichever came first. That way you know you have maximized your ability to compete as a professional athlete. And neither of those things has happened yet. It’s funny because I’ve found that over these last three or four years, so many times when I bump into a retired NBA player or even a guy who played overseas, they come up to me and say, “Hey, don’t stop playing. Keep playing until the wheels fall off!”…

But while I love playing basketball, I am considering moving on and taking advantage of some of the opportunities that are coming my way in the business of basketball. One of my goals is to one day become a general manager of an NBA team, and there are opportunities presenting themselves that will allow me to take a step in that direction and get my foot in the door. There are only so many jobs in the business of basketball and there are a lot of people that want them. So part of this for me is a fear of missing a good opportunity to get into a business that I definitely have a lot of passion for. On the other hand, while these specific opportunities will no longer be available to me in a year (if I decide to continue to play), there’s always the chance of new opportunities arising.

Mohammed also said he really enjoyed broadcasting after going through the union’s program designed to help players who want to transition over to the media.

Like a lot of veterans, Mohammed said he’s not willing to just play anywhere anymore, there are only “8 or 9” teams he would consider. And not all of those require his services.

Mohammed is the kind of player that may not have an offer he likes on the table right now, but as training camp opens and teams get a better sense of what their weaknesses are (or, someone gets injured) his phone could ring. Does he want to wait that out or move on into more of a front office role? Or try to find a broadcasting fit?

Where Mohammed has an advantage over a lot of athletes facing the end of their career, he has other options.

Carmelo Anthony texted Kristaps Porzingis after draft, introduced himself as “Me7o”

Carmelo Anthony
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Now that Kristaps Porzingis has played and impressed Summer League, everyone can have a little laugh about the draft-night boos that rained down when it was announced the Knicks had taken the Latvian big man. He’s in need of good player development, but Porzingis looks like guy who will fit in with the other elite bigs in this draft.

Porzingis himself never seemed worried.

He was relaxed and more than happy to joke about things that happened on draft night in an interview with the fantastic Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report.

Carmelo Anthony reached out to me after I got drafted. He said, “Congrats, welcome to the team.” I didn’t have his number, so I texted back, “Who’s this?” And then a few minutes later, he said, “This is Melo” with his No. 7 as the “l.” I met him actually when I came for my Knicks tryout for the first time. We’ve talked a couple of times since then.

How do you not love that that Anthony uses the text signature “Me7o”? This shouldn’t be a huge shock, he does use the hashtag #StayMe7o on Twitter and Instagram all the time. I’m sure it came from some marketing firm, but he has stuck with it.

As for Porzingis, speaking with him at Summer League you came across a player who was comfortable with the media and in his own skin, someone who got the game and seemed thoughtful. He could be fantastic for the Knicks in the community (if they don’t screw it up).

He had great stories, including about dealing with fans Kevin Garnett reaching out to him.

I would say 99 percent of the fans in Vegas have been positive. Fans are really nice when I see them, but then on social media it’s a little worse. I don’t read everything, but there are still fans who are like, “You’re going to be a bust.” Actually Kevin Garnett gave me advice about that this week. He came up to me after one of our practices when the Timberwolves were walking in.

He knew me a little bit from my interviews. He said, “Take that negative and turn it into energy.” He was telling me, “Just don’t listen to the outside and work as hard as you can.” I really love KG, and it was great having him tell me that advice.

Knicks fans are going to love Porzingis. We just need New Yorkers to be a little bit patient.

Report: Nuggets, Danilo Gallinari reach two-year contract extension

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets
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The Denver Nuggets have shipped Ty Lawson out the door for pennies on the dollar, However, some of the other guys rumored to be moved by the Nuggets are staying put. At least for now. For example, there is Wilson Chandler, who agreed to a contract extension with the team 10 days ago.

Now it’s Danilo Gallinari’s turn.

The Italian forward with a deft scoring touch — he averaged 12.4 points a game last season and improved in the second half — has reached a deal on a two-year contract extension with the team, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari is finalizing an agreement on a two-year extension worth an additional $34 million on his contract, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The deal is a restructuring that includes a $2.5 million increase on the $11.5 million owed to Gallinari as he enters the final year of his contract in 2015-16, sources said. Under the newly negotiated terms, Gallinari will make $14 million this season, the first of a deal that runs through the 2017-18 season, sources said. He will make $15.5 million in 2016-17 and has a player option worth $16.1 million for the third year of the deal and a full trade kicker, sources said.

I like the deal for Denver. If you think that’s too much for Gallinari, you are forgetting two things. First, the salary cap is about to spike by around $40 million, as it does this deal looks better and better. Second, Gallinari can score the rock. Once he got healthy and comfortable last season he was putting up numbers — he averaged 18.6 points per game and shot better than 40 percent from three after the All-Star break. He just got paid like a scorer.

The risk is that Gallinari has battled knee injuries. He got right last season, but is spending the summer playing for the Italian national team.

With this extension, Gallinari cannot be traded until January 21, 2016. Similarly, Chandler cannot be moved until next January either. While that allows time before the trade deadline (and the multiple years make it easier to trade those players because they are not rentals), it also gives new Nuggets coach Mike Malone time to see what he’s got. Can these veterans fit in as part of the Emmanuel Mudiay future in Denver? Also, it gives the Nuggets time to raise the players’ trade profile, should they decide to shop them anyway.

If one Nugget were likely to still get traded in the coming weeks or during training camp, it would be Kenneth Faried. The Nuggets will still listen to offers for him.

Report: Richard Jefferson changes course, near deal with Cleveland

Houston Rockets v Dallas Mavericks - Game Three
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After the shakeout following DeAndre Jordan’s change of heart, it was thought Richard Jefferson would re-sign with Dallas, likely on another one-year deal.

But the veteran swingman wants a ring, so he has done an about-face and is headed to Cleveland, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban was quick to say “don’t confuse this with what Jordan did.”

Also, don’t confuse this with Jordan because Jefferson will be playing for the league minimum in a limited role, he’s not a franchise changer. You can slot Jefferson and Mike Miller in the “guys who will get a few minutes when we sit LeBron” rotation.

Jefferson averaged 5.8 points a game in almost 17 minutes a night, and he did shoot 42 percent from three. He’s a respectable reserve if used in a limited role. He’s the kind of veteran LeBron likes to see on the bench.

But this does make you wonder about what is next for J.R. Smith, who was already lacking in leverage to get a deal he wants.