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.

Announcement: Pro Basketball Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $200,000 Fantasy Basketball league for October 29th’s games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $20,000. Starts at 7pm ET on October 29th. Here’s the FanDuel link.

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

Report: Rival teams expect Paul George to consider 1+1 contract with Thunder

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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Paul George has openly stated the appeal of playing for his hometown Lakers. He has also openly stated the appeal of staying with the Thunder.

That has created significant confusion about his upcoming free agency.

Could George find a compromise outcome?

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

More than one rival team has suggested to me that they expect George to strongly consider a two-year deal with the Thunder at $30.3 million next season and $32.7 million in 2019-20 that includes a player option to return to free agency next summer.

This makes sense on paper.

A 1+1 contract would give George more time to determine whether he and Russell Westbrook can win together in Oklahoma City without getting stuck there long-term if they can’t. The Thunder were starting to put it together when Andre Roberson got hurt. Perhaps, Roberson getting healthy would swing Oklahoma City’s fortunes.

George would also be eligible for a higher max salary in two years – 35% of the salary cap, up from 30% if he signs now. So, a short-term contract would allow him to maximize his potential earnings.

But George said he wanted to sign somewhere long-term this summer. He also suffered an extremely gruesome leg injury just a few years ago. He might not want to bypass guaranteed money to gamble for a little more later.

Are these rival teams just looking at the general outlook for a player in George’s position without considering his specific circumstances? Or do they know something? George could have informed teams he might become available in 2019 or 2020 so they should prepare.

I’m skeptical this is more than speculation by opposing teams. But the possibility that they’re basing their expectations on inside information makes this worth monitoring.

Heartbreaking: Watch Mikal Bridges explain joy of joining hometown 76ers while they trade him to Suns (video)

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Mikal Bridges‘ mom jumped up, pumped her fists and screamed “Yes!” through her giant grin.

The 76ers – the organization she works for in human resources – had just drafted her son No. 10 overall. Bridges, a Philadelphia native who played at Villanova, seemed as if he’d stay home for his pro career.

Bridges:

She’s very, very excited. She’s been wanting this. She’s probably more excited than I am. She was about to cry and all that. She said she didn’t want to ruin her makeup, so she’d try to hold it in. But no, she’s very excited. I’m her only son. I’m a little mama’s boy. Her son is right there around the corner again, and it’s just really cool.

Except, as Bridges was talking, the 76ers were trading him to the Suns for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder.

That extra pick carries major value. Even if you like Bridges much more than Smith – which I did, especially considering their fits in Philadelphia – that’s hard to pass up. The NBA is a business after all.

But it’s lamentable how this played out.

Kings GM Vlade Divac: ‘My team is a super team. Just young’

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Kings drafted Marvin Bagley No. 2 last night (seemingly for bad reasons, which doesn’t at all eliminate him from being the right pick but makes it less likely he is). He’ll join a young core also comprised of Bogdan Bogdanovic, De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles.

That group excite you?

Kings general manager Vlade Divac isn’t reducing expectations.

Lina Washington of ABC 10:

To be fair, in 2012, the Warriors were coming off a 23-43 season with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson already on the roster and had just drafted Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. Everyone would’ve laughed at calling Golden State a “super team, just young” then. But those four (plus Andre Iguodala) eventually led the Warriors to a championship.

But, really: Nah.

Entering the 2016-17 season, then-Knicks guard Derrick Rose said, “They’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams.” We mocked Rose relentlessly, and of course, the Warriors went 73-9 while New York finished just 32-50.

How long until Divac’s young super team reaches even 32-50?

Spurs GM still optimistic relationship with Kawhi Leonard can be salvaged

Associated Press
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — General manager R.C. Buford acknowledges star forward Kawhi Leonard is unhappy with the Spurs.

He remains optimistic the relationship can be salvaged.

Leonard has requested a trade from San Antonio because he is unhappy after missing most of last season with a right quadriceps injury. Buford would not comment on “speculation” of a trade demand, but agreed there is a fractured relationship between Leonard and the only franchise he has played for.

“Kawhi and his family mean a lot to the organization and to the community and while none of wish we are where we are, we’re going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him,” Buford said Thursday night as the Spurs made two late picks in the NBA Draft. “We’ll explore all of our options, but the first one would be to do what we can to keep Kawhi as part of our group.”

Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season but returned to play in nine games. He complained of discomfort and pain in the leg in his final game. Leonard sought an outside opinion after the Spurs cleared him to play, working with his own medical team in New York in an attempt to return to the court. The 6-foot-7 forward reportedly grew upset that the Spurs had questioned his rehabilitation process.

The Spurs listed him as out on their injury reports for much of the year citing “injury management.” While San Antonio was in the playoffs, losing in the first round to eventual repeat champion Golden State, Leonard was rehabbing in New York – which meant that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, when asked for the situation, deferred all comment to “Kawhi and his group.”

“I think all of us would wish that things would have gone differently,” Buford said.

The Spurs held a team meeting late in the season where veterans, led by Tony Parker, implored Leonard to return. Leonard said he was unable to due to the injury.

In the 2016-17 season, Leonard averaged a career-best 25.5 points and was third in the MVP voting. The 2014 NBA Finals MVP and two-time NBA defensive player of the year is due just over $20 million next season, and can become a free agent in the summer of 2019. He is eligible to sign a $220 million extension with San Antonio.

He is reportedly willing to walk away from that to play elsewhere, possibly in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know that timing is a factor in this from today … he’s under contract for another year, our goal is to keep him as part of our program for a long time,” Buford said.