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.

 

Patrick Beverley reportedly gloated to LeBron James about Kawhi Leonard signing

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The NBA has decided to change how they regulate tampering. Whether those harsher rules will lead to real change or simply to different circumvention is still yet to be seen.

Meanwhile, we have heard all the stories about how the Los Angeles Clippers landed both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Leonard was of course a major Los Angeles Lakers target, and it was disappointing for those in Lakerland that they didn’t land him.

Of course, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley was probably pretty happy about how things went, and now we have a story to back that up.

Speaking on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast this week, Brian Windhorst relate a story that he heard about Beverly celebrating around LeBron James after his team snagged Leonard.

As Windhorst tells the story, there were several groups of NBA players in private dining rooms at a restaurant in Las Vegas during summer league. Paul George was in one room, and James was in another. After hearing the news that the Clippers landed Leonard, Beverley walked into several rooms containing NBA players to gloat.

Via Woj Pod:

And so the deal actually gets done. [Adrian Wojnarowski reports] that Kawhi has not only agreed to sign with the Clippers, but the Clippers are trading half their future for Paul George, it’s a stunning development. And it all goes down while those players are at the same restaurant in various private rooms.

The story that I heard was that Patrick was making a beeline down the hallway of private rooms — sticking his head into all the rooms gloating about the Clippers’ giant haul — including into LeBron’s room.

This feels like it’s right on brand for Beverley.

Now the Clippers will need to prove they’re better than the Lakers on the court (and not just on paper).

Collin Sexton says he’s going to wear fan-designed shoes this season

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Cleveland Cavaliers second-year point guard Collin Sexton is already a fan-favorite in northeastern Ohio. This year, it appears that Sexton is trying to deepen that connection.

In a message posted to Twitter on Sunday, Sexton reached out to his followers to design a new set of shoes for him this year. The Cavaliers sophomore said that he will take the top five designs that fans submit and then wear them throughout the course of the upcoming 2019-20 NBA season.

Via Twitter:

This is a pretty cool idea, and a great way to have a direct link between fans and players. Social media is in an era of extreme personal branding, and even if this is a thinly-veiled Nike marketing thing, it at least has a twinge of genuineness to it.

The only thing left now is to see what designs people submit, and whether Sexton’s taste is any good.

James Harden plays in Rico Hines games at UCLA and destroys people

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Elite NBA defenders, with a team and a game plan behind them, can’t slow down James Harden.

So imagine what happens when he shows up for an open run.

One spot a lot of NBA players head in the summer to get some games in is Rico Hines’ games at UCLA. Harden showed up and, well, you know what comes next. Via Ball is Life.

The man is so smooth, so under control, and just able to get buckets however he wants. It’s just fun to watch. Unless you’re an opposing coach.

Could Kevin Durant return from torn Achilles, play for Nets this season? Maybe…

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Every case is different, but many players return from a torn Achilles in about nine to 10 months. Kobe Bryant pushed and did it in eight. Other players will take a full year.

If Kevin Durant returned in nine months it would be March, enough time to get in game shape and be ready for the Nets’ playoff run.

There’s a growing sense from teams we could see just that scenario, and Spencer Dinwiddie talked about it with Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Though Nets GM Sean Marks refused to rule Durant out for the season, the feeling within the league is trending toward him potentially playing this season.

“I know KD is taking the rehab process ultra-serious. He wants to come back as soon as it’s appropriate, and healthy and the right decision for him, and then also subsequently that would also be the right decision for,” said Dinwiddie, who points out that even a slightly-diminished Durant could still be a superstar.

“The beautiful part about this is, the man is 7-foot and one of the best shooters of all time. At worst you get Dirk [Nowitzki], and Dirk was a monster. So we’re ready for him to come back whenever he wants to and whenever he’s ready to do so, and we know that he’s going to be a phenomenal major piece of our roster.”

Durant is an intense competitor who wants to get back on the court. He pushed to get back from a calf injury and play in the NBA Finals only to suffer the Achilles tear. He’s smart enough to be sure he’s all the way back before he steps on the court, if that means he sits out a full season so be it. However, he absolutely could return this season.

If he’s back, the Nets go from interesting team to potential threat to the Bucks and Sixers at the top of the conference. Durant was the best player in the world the past couple of years and he could return to that status quickly, and lift Brooklyn up with him.