ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: New Orleans Pelicans

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Last season: In their first year as the Pelicans, New Orleans spent big to bring in Tyreke Evans and traded for Jrue Holiday. On paper, they should have been a playoff team, with a deep backcourt and a franchise centerpiece in Anthony Davis who is rightly viewed as the heir to the LeBron/Durant “best player in the world/destroyer of the universe” mantle. But Holiday went down partway through the season with a knee injury, Ryan Anderson had back surgery, and Davis and Eric Gordon both missed some time. With that many injuries, their playoff hopes were doomed, and the Pelicans finished 34-48.

Signature highlight from last season: Davis got faked out by Deron Williams’ crossover and still recovered in time to block his shot and finish a fast-break dunk in about three seconds.

Key player changes: The Pelicans traded a bunch of non-guaranteed contracts for Omer Asik, finally giving them an actual center to put next to Davis. They also signed Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Keys to the Pelicans’ season:

Will Davis take the next step defensively? The Brow is going to win multiple MVP awards during his career, and probably multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards too. Going into his third year and coming off a gold-medal run with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup, this should be the year he blows up. The addition of Asik will be huge for him on the defensive end, as Davis won’t have to guard centers anymore. He’s a shot-blocking monster, but he gets bullied by more physical big men. He’s bulked up this offseason. Hopefully that helps. Either way, he’s a terror.

Can everyone stay healthy? The Pelicans were done in by injuries last season, with Gordon, Holiday, Davis and Anderson all missing time. Their playoff hopes start and end with their most important players’ ability to stay on the floor. The health of Holiday and Gordon is especially important, because if they can’t play Evans at small forward, their starting three is John Salmons, which is…not ideal.

Is Monty Williams a good coach? If the Pelicans struggle early on, Williams is a good candidate to be one of the first coaches on the hot seat. The last few years, he’s had the cover of dealing with a badly injured roster, but there are real questions about his rotation management and X’s and O’s acumen.

Why you should watch the Pelicans: Again, Anthony Davis is pretty good at this. Here are some more highlights:

Prediction: 46-36. Assuming their injury luck isn’t as bad as it was last year, the Pelicans will at least be in the running for a playoff spot in the West. Whether they have enough to actually get there is a different discussion, and it’s hard to point to one team out of last year’s playoff crop that’s likely to fall out. But if Davis is as good as he’s going to be and everyone else stays relatively healthy, they’ve got a chance.

 

How a single computer folder and dogged HR official exposed former Kings executive’s $13.4M embezzlement scheme

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Just how close did Jeff David come to getting away with embezzling $13.4 million from the Kings while working for them? He already secured a new job with the Heat and was in the process of moving from Sacramento to Miami.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

On this Monday, walking through the Davids’ new front door is a dizzying procession of cable guys, utility workers and movers. Amid all of this, Jeff receives a phone call from a former co-worker with the Kings. Her name is Stacy Wegzyn, and she works in HR. Jeff last remembers sitting in her office in Sacramento just months earlier, being told that the Kings were going to eliminate his position. After a few pleasantries, she gets down to business. She tells Jeff she’s been going through his old files, and in doing so she found one labeled “TurboTax” that references an entity called Sacramento Sports Partners.

“I was just curious what that is and if those are documents that should go to somebody else,” Wegzyn says.

It’s a seemingly innocuous inquiry from an HR lifer. But it’s one that will dictate the rest of Jeff David’s life. If he knows that — or senses it — he doesn’t let on.

“No, no, no,” Jeff responds. “That was a … man, this is taking me back. Maybe 2015?”

Wegzyn presses on. She asks Jeff whether the documents contain anything that anyone with the Kings needs to see. Jeff assures her they can trash them because the entity isn’t around anymore. A few minutes after he hangs up, his mother-in-law, Nancy, is standing at the front door when an FBI investigator appears, asking to speak to Jeff.

If you like the NBA or true crime – let alone both – I HIGHLY recommend reading Arnovitz’s full piece. It’s riveting!

Warriors Kevon Looney cleared for on-court basketball work, will return soon

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At least someone on the Warriors is getting healthy.

Big man Kevon Looney, who played opening night and has since been sidelined with a sore hamstring and neuropathy (what the team described as “nerve-related symptoms”), has been cleared to return to on-court basketball activities, the team announced Tuesday. From the official press release:

He will participate in select practice sessions with the Santa Cruz Warriors this week and will re-join the Golden State Warriors over the weekend. We will continue to monitor his progress and will provide another update on his status on Sunday.

Looney has already been officially assigned to Santa Cruz.

This is good news for the Warriors, who have been starting Willie Cauley-Stein but desperately need more shot blocking and depth up front.

Anyone getting healthy is good news for a Warriors team that is 2-12 and has the worst net rating in the NBA (-10.4).

Carmelo Anthony to start first game for Portland, apparently thinks he’s wearing number infinity

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Carmelo Anthony will wear No. 00 with the Trail Blazers.

Why?

Apparently because 00 kind of looks like ∞.

Anthony:

Somewhere, Kyrie Irving is nodding in support.

In terms of numbers that make sense…

Marc J. Spears of ESPN:

That’s a sizable role for a 35-year-old in his first game in more than a year. But Portland needs scoring with Damian Lillard sidelined, and – at last check (though, again, a while ago), Anthony was accustomed to big minutes.

Besides, we all want ample opportunity to see Anthony back on the court after his lengthy absence.

David Fizdale: Knicks owner Jim Dolan gives me ‘vote of confidence’ at every game

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Knicks coach David Fizdale is on thin ice.

New York is 4-10. Knicks president Steve Mills is reportedly laying the groundwork to fire Fizdale. Mills and general manager Scott Perry addressed the media after a recent game and sounded as if they were at least partially blaming Fizdale.

But does Fizdale have a key supporter at the very top of the organization?

Fizdale, via Ian Begley of SNY:

“Every game, every game. Jim Dolan comes in and gives me a vote of confidence, a pat on my back and really has just been incredibly encouraging over the last year and a half or whatever it’s been,” Fizdale said. “All we talk about is just sticking to the process of making these guys better and building for a future of sustainable winning.”

A common synonym for “vote of confidence:” “dreaded vote of confidence.” Just how bad are near-nightly votes of confidence?

This will convince nobody that Fizdale’s job is safe. Someone will likely take the fall if the Knicks’ struggles continue. It might be Fizdale. It might be Mills. But Mills – who preceded and succeeded Phil Jackson in running the front office – knows his way around Madison Square Garden. And even if Mills gets demoted or fired, a new lead executive would likely want his own coach.