With lower-than-expected salary cap, will Rockets and Pelicans still complete Omer Asik trade?

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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has his hands full.

He must decide whether or not to match the Mavericks’ offer sheet for Parsons, convince Chris Bosh to accept less than a max contract and arrange trades for dump other players (including Jeremy Lin).

And he has fewer than 72 hours to do it.

I don’t want to pile on, but he might have one more responsibility that previously seemed completed: Trading Omer Asik.

Houston reportedly agreed before the draft to trade Asik to the Pelicans for a future first-round pick. The deal was slated to become official after the July moratorium, which ended last night.

At the time the trade was agreed upon, it wasn’t exactly clear how New Orleans would clear the cap space to absorb Asik, who has a cap number of $8,374,646. It seemed simple enough, though.

The Pelicans could waive the unguaranteed contracts of Melvin Ely and Luke Babbitt, use the stretch provision on Austin Rivers

, Alexis Ajinca and Jeff Withey (even after his salary became $100,000 guaranteed July 6) and renounce all their free agents, and they’d have enough room based on the projected salary cap to take Asik – with $32,772 to spare below their post-trade team-salary limit ($100,00 above the salary cap).

Maybe New Orleans didn’t want to dump Rivers, Ajinca and Withey for no return. But the Pelicans could, theoretically, at least assure Houston they’d take such measures if no trades emerged.

However, the actual salary cap came in $135,000 lower than the projected salary cap. Suddenly, that $32,772 room for error is gone.

Now, that set of transactions leaves New Orleans $102,228 shy of having enough room for the trade.

Unless they stretch one of their top-five players – Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson – the Pelicans can’t unilaterally create enough cap space to trade a first-round pick for Asik.

Safe to say, they’re not stretching those valuable players. That means a New Orleans player must get added to the Houston trade or dealt elsewhere.

Trading one of the big five could clear room, but again, I can’t see the Pelicans going that route unless they had something lined up independent of the Asik trade.

Much more likely: New Orleans trades Ajinca or Rivers. Dumping either would clear enough room to add Asik.

Ajinca, due $981,084 next season, is a decent backup center. He averaged 5.9 points on 54.6 percent shooting and 4.9 rebounds in 17.0 minutes per game for the Pelicans last season.

Rivers has struggled to shoot efficiently in the NBA, but he was the No. 10 overall pick just two seasons ago. His 2014-15 salary is $2,439,840, and he has a $3,110,796 2015-16 team option that must be decided by Oct. 31.

These players are movable. It’s even possible New Orleans already has contingencies in place to complete the Asik trade.

But the NBA didn’t release the actual salary cap until yesterday, and the league’s estimates tend to be conservative. This is the rare official NBA cap estimate that overestimated reality. I’m not totally convinced the Pelicans and Rockets were ready for it.

At this point, dealing Ajinca or Rivers might be somewhat cumbersome. If teams know why New Orleans must shed salary – or even if they don’t – they might demand a second-round pick to take on Ajinca or Rivers. So many teams are trying to maximize cap space, even these small guaranteed salaries could get in the way.

Trading a first-rounder for Asik was already costly. If New Orleans must add another pick to dump Ajinca or Rivers, the value of the deal drops for the Pelicans.

A simple answer would be dealing Ajinca or Rivers to Houston as part of the Asik trade. But the Rockets are already likely asking Bosh to sacrifice salary. Adding another guaranteed salary would certainly reduce the effectiveness of trading Asik to trim salary, even if just a small amount.

When the margin for error is so slim, it’s easy to look back at previous moves and wonder what could have been.

Why did the Pelicans keep Withey past July 5? That triggered a $100,000 guarantee, and though that amount alone doesn’t alter the feasibility of the Asik trade, it’s a hindrance.

Why did New Orleans give Ajinca, who hadn’t played in the NBA in two years, a guaranteed two-season contract when signing him in December? If that second year were unguaranteed, a reasonable stipulation for a player of Ajinca’s caliber, this problem would have been avoided.

The Pelicans can’t undo these previous decisions, and they’ll have to deal with the fallout. But their problem is now Morey’s problem.

On the clock with Parsons, Morey must address this if he hasn’t already.

The Pelicans also face a time crunch to address this. Barring a much bigger move, they can’t feasibly trade for Asik after using the mid-level exception. That means free agents are picking other destinations as New Orleans handles this issue.

I still expect Asik will be traded to the Pelicans (though I wouldn’t be shocked if the deal falls apart). It will just be a little more complicated now.

However, I’m not sure those complications will be sorted out before Parsons’ deadline or before New Orleans’ top MLE target signs elsewhere.

Report: Celtics reach out to former assistant Larranaga about joining Mazzulla’s staff

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The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.

Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.

The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.

For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.

“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”

Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.