Opening night preview: Magic at Pelicans

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The third game on the opening night schedule won’t be nationally televised, and features two teams that are far less appealing to a broader audience at first glance.

But for League Pass junkies that will have two screens going for the 8 p.m. ET tip-off, there are a couple of compelling reasons to watch the Magic take on the Pelicans. And Anthony Davis is at the top of that list.

Though entering just his third season, many would make the case that Davis is already the league’s third best player. His length and athleticism are both elite, and he plays at an All-Star level on both ends of the floor. In addition to being one of only five players to average more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game last season, Davis led the league in blocked shots with an average of 2.8 per contest.

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The Pelicans got him some help on the defensive end of the floor with the offseason acquisition of Omer Asik, who was unhappy with his role coming off the bench in Houston once Dwight Howard came to the Rockets. He says he just wants to defend and rebound in New Orleans, which should pay immediate dividends for a team that ranked just 25th in defensive efficiency last season.

While the Pelicans should certainly be improved, they’re not without their issues. Head coach Monty Williams has been tinkering with his starting lineup all preseason long, trying to find an answer at the four. Ryan Anderson would be ideal there, but Williams seems to want to bring him off the bench, and with good reason. Depth is the biggest problem facing this New Orleans team, which would appear to be forced to play rotational roulette once you get past its top six players.

Without a legitimate option at small forward, Williams went with a three-guard lineup in the team’s final two preseason games. It may be matchup dependent, but as long as Anderson is being used with the second unit, that would seem to be the best option.

On Orlando’s side, they will miss the playmaking of Victor Oladipo, who’s expected to miss the first month of the season after undergoing surgery for a facial fracture. That opens the door for rookie Elfrid Payton to get plenty of time at point guard, while running the offense through Tobias Harris and the recently-rich Nikola Vucevic.

The Magic are still rebuilding, and the priority is to continue to develop talent. But they added Channing Frye, Ben Gordon and Luke Ridnour to give the team some sort of veteran presence, though Frye is out with an MCL sprain and the other two will likely be limited to contributing off the bench — if not on opening night, then almost certainly as the season progresses.

The oddsmakers like New Orleans by double digits in this one, and it’s difficult to disagree. With the improved defense on the Pelicans side and many more weapons offensively, this one feels like it could get ugly for the Magic before it’s ultimately finished.

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Orlando Magic

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: New Orleans Pelicans

James Harden wants Carmelo Anthony to get another chance in NBA

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The James Harden/Carmelo Anthony marriage in Houston (with Chris Paul as the third wheel) simply did not work out. It lasted 10 games and was more annulment than marriage, Anthony couldn’t/wouldn’t accept the role Houston needed him to fill.

The Rockets traded Anthony to Chicago on Tuesday, and after the Feb. 7 trade deadline the Bulls are expected to waive ‘Melo, making him a free agent.

There are questions around the league about where — and even if — Anthony will sign once he is a free agent. Plenty of fans don’t want their team to take him on, but ‘Melo has a supporter in former teammate Harden. Here is what the reigning MVP told ESPN’s Ian Bagley.

“I just want to see him hoop, see him happy, and I mean, he deserves it, honestly,” Harden said of Anthony on Tuesday. “Like, he’s put so much time and effort into this game that he should be able to hoop and still have fun playing the game of basketball.”

“Yeah, man. Melo is one of the best to ever hoop. He loves the game of basketball,” Harden said. “Some guys just do it just because they’re gifted or they’re athletic or they can shoot the basketball. There’s not that many players that like, love to hoop. … It kind of sucks that it didn’t work out. It is what it is. I just hope he finds somewhere where they can embrace him and he can still hoop. So he [gets to] make that decision that he’s done [playing].”

Probable lottery pick and injured Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland declares for NBA draft

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
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Vanderbilt freshman Darius Garland suffered a season-ending knee injury in November.

But that will actually accelerate his ascension toward the NBA.

Garland:

Garland still looks like a lottery pick. This draft is top-heavy, and a player as skilled as him likely won’t fall far.

The 6-foot-3 point guard is an excellent shooter. He also has the ball-handling, footwork and quick release to get his shot off against most defenses. He looks like he could become a prototypical lead guard in the modern NBA, a scorer who distributes enough.

Still, his torn meniscus hurts. Not only will teams want to know the status of his knee, he’s missing valuable developmental time during the college season. Garland still needs to refine his court vision, and it’d be nice if he clamped down defensively.

It was clear well before Garland enrolled at Vanderbilt he was on the one-and-done track. His injury allows him to drop the pretense of college basketball being a priority.

Report: Grizzlies will listen to trade offers for Marc Gasol, Mike Conley

Associated Press
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Last summer there was a lot of buzz around the league, the Memphis Grizzlies might finally end the grit ‘n grind era, trade their stars and embark on a needed rebuild. But then owner Robert Pera bought out two minority owners and the word quickly came down — forget a rebuild, this was a team that could win 50+ games and would make the playoffs.

After a fast 15-9 start to the season,  Grizzlies have lost six in a row and 12-of-13, having dropped to 14th in the West. Last week, those stars — Marc Gasol and Mike Conley — met with Pera face-to-face.

Now, Memphis considering trading Gasol and Conley, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

There will be interest from other teams, but getting a deal done in the 18 days before the trade deadline will be difficult. Especially considering both Gasol and Conley have huge salaries, and sources have said the Grizzlies have wanted to attach Chandler Parsons — who is owed $25.1 million next season and is almost unplayable — to any trade.

It’s very possible that these talks, especially around Conley, continue into this summer.

Gasol, who has seen his skills decline this season at age 34 (he has a 17.1 PER that is above average but the lowest since his rookie season, and his defense has not been nearly as good as it once was), is expected to opt out of this contract for next season, so any team that trades for him would want a wink-and-a-nod deal that they could re-sign him next summer. Big men are in demand, but will teams give up much for a potential rental?

Conley is a borderline All-Star point guard and a solid defender. Conley is averaging 19.8 points a game, 6.1 assists, is shooting 35.4 percent from three, and has a PER of 20.

Conley is making $30.5 million this season, has a fully guaranteed $32.5 million next season and an early termination option for 2020-21 at $34.5 million, and he will almost certainly not opt out and stay in the contract for that season. Not many teams can take on that much salary, no matter how good Conley is.

Former Kings executive pleads guilty to defrauding team out of $13.4 million

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A former top Sacramento Kings executive has pleaded guilty to siphoning $13.4 million from the team to buy Southern California beachfront properties, according to court records.

The records show former chief revenue officer Jeffrey David pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges of wire fraud and identity theft. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced April 15.

David was charged last year with forging the team president’s signature to divert sponsorship payments to a bank account he controlled.

Prosecutors say the scheme was uncovered soon after David left the Kings in June and accepted a similar post with the Miami Heat. The Heat said in September that the team and David parted ways..