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Anthony Davis’ last chance at $24 million contract boost

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AUBURN HILLS, Michigan – Anthony Davis – not yet showered and with a horde of media waiting to interview him – sat patiently while a trainer wrapped ice around his leg in the post-game locker room. As Davis rose to handle his obligations at hand, a Pelicans staffer announced the team’s first bus would leave the arena shortly.

“Oh, I’m on that,” Davis said.

“No, you’re not,” the staffer quickly retorted.

The Anthony Davis bandwagon hasn’t surged forward quite as quickly as many hoped.

A season that began with MVP talk and playoff plans has devolved into reduced expectations for Davis and New Orleans. The postseason appears to be little more than a pipedream for the 22-33 Pelicans. But an important question remains for Davis: Will he make an All-NBA team, triggering the Derrick Rose Rule and an additional $24 million in salary?

When Davis signed his contract extension last summer, it seemed inevitable. Most outlets, including this one, simply described his extension as worth $145 million. Even today, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports called him “the $145 million man.” But for Davis to earn that much, he’d have to meet one of the Rose-rule conditions during his first four seasons:

  • Win MVP
  • Get voted starter of two All-Star games
  • Make two All-NBA teams (first, second or third)

Davis cruised to the latter two honors last season, his third in the leauge. He led Western Conference frontcourt players in All-Star votes, finishing third overall – closer to first-place Stephen Curry than fourth-place Kobe Bryant. Davis also made the All-NBA first team, receiving first-team votes on 119 of 129 ballots and second-team votes on the other 10.

It seems a little silly that alone didn’t qualify Davis for the Rose rule, but the categories run independently. Checking one in each box doesn’t satisfy the requirement. It’s two voted All-Star starts or two All-NBA teams, not one of each.

With the Pelicans off to a slow start, Davis received fewer than a third of the All-Star votes he got last season. He finished ninth in Western Conference frontcourt voting – behind Zaza Pachulia and Enes Kanter.

That gives Davis one final chance to trigger the Rose rule: Make an All-NBA team this season.* If he doesn’t, his salary projects to fall by more than $4 million next season and more than $24 million over the five-year extension.

*Davis could win MVP, but he obviously won’t do that without an All-NBA selection.

“All this stuff that everybody’s talking about, money-wise and contracts – I just go out there and play,” Davis said. “That’s not my M.O. ‘If I don’t make this team or don’t do this then I lose money.’ I mean, if you do what you’re supposed to do, all that stuff will take care of itself.”

Undoubtedly, Davis has played well this season, averaging 23.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals per game.  His 59-point, 20-rebound game yesterday – the one that had so much media waiting to speak to him in the Pistons’ visiting locker room – acted as a re-coming-out party. Davis answered question after question, smiling after his historic performance long after the first bus departed.

But Davis still suffers from outsized expectations. What he’s doing, as great as it is, often doesn’t seem like enough.

That’s not fair one bit.

Davis’ All-NBA chances shouldn’t be judged against by his prior seasons, but against his peers this season. And in that regard, Davis gets a boost for his chances, because he has plenty of peers.

Though Davis has started 53 of 55 games at power forward, he has spent 55% of his minutes at center (defined as playing without Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca or Kendrick Perkins). So, Davis reasonably could make an All-NBA team at either forward or center, increasing his chances of landing on one.

How does he stack up? Here are a few all-in-one numbers for a baseline:

Win shares

Forwards:

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Centers:

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PER-based Estimated Wins Added

Forwards:

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Centers:

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Real Plus-Minus Wins

Forwards:

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Centers:

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To recap these “catch-all” stats: Davis ranks ninth, third and 12th among forwards; fourth, first and seventh among centers. He must finish top-six among forwards or top-three among centers in All-NBA voting to trigger the Rose rule.

It’s difficult to see Davis passing Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Draymond Green at forward, but that still leaves two spots up for grabs. Davis could also top all centers, though DeMarcus Cousins leads a fairly open field that could bump down Davis.

For what it’s worth, I’d place Davis fifth at forward (behind Durant, LeBron, Leonard and Green) or first at center right now, though Davis is probably closer to securing a spot at forward than center on my mythical ballot. Center is just that wide open with Cousins, DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond. There’s plenty of time for Davis to rise or fall in the rankings.

The Pelicans haven’t made it any easier on him.

They’ve lost 159 player-games to injury this season – third most in the NBA, behind only Washington and Denver, according to Man-Games Lost. That’s a key reason they followed last year’s 45-37 record and their first playoff appearance in four years with a 1-11 start.

Just as the season got underway, New Orleans had fallen out of mind.

“If we were having a good year as a team, not being decimated by the injuries, I think there would be talk of him being the MVP,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of Davis.

The nature of New Orleans’ injuries have particularly harmed Davis. Nate Robinson, Ish Smith, Norris Cole, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday have started at point guard. Evans is now out for the season, and Holiday has mostly come off the bench and is just starting to play more than limited minutes. The upheaval and lack of talent at point guard matters greatly to Davis, who – for a player of his caliber – still struggles to create his own shot.

Davis has had 73.8% of his field goals assisted this season, by far the most among the dozen players averaging at least 22 points per game:

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The other end of New Orleans’ lineup hasn’t done Davis any favors, either.

The slender Davis gets worn down guarding bigger centers, so he has played considerable minutes with Omer Asik or Kendrick Perkins. But those two centers clog the paint offensively, making it much more difficult for Davis to score.

“He’s always playing against two guys,” Gentry said. “I’d like to see him guarded by one guy and not being double-teamed, but that’s not the case.”

Gentry has gotten Davis more one-on-one matchups by pairing him with Ryan Anderson, a stretch four. But Anderson struggles defensively, putting more pressure on Davis on that end.

Alexis Ajinca is New Orleans’ only other big who’s a somewhat reasonable complement to Davis on both ends of the floor. But the 7-foot-2 center center has never played more than 17.0 minutes per game in a season (12.2 this year). It just doesn’t seem he can handle a heavy workload at his size.

To be fair, it’s also difficult to find players who can both defend big centers and space the floor. That skill set puts a player on a fast track to stardom, and stars don’t come easy.

New Orleans’ record will also likely hurt him in the eyes of All-NBA voters, who often – somewhat logically, somewhat as a crutch – rely on team success when assessing individual accolades.

Whether due to injuries or roster construction, the Pelicans just haven’t positioned Davis to succeed at peak levels this season. On a superficial level, that works against Davis. But consider another point of view: He’s still incredibly productive despite these setbacks. Imagine how well he’d play in a better situation.

But Davis insists he’s thinking about none of this – the shortcomings around him, potential politicking for postseason honors or the massive payoff that could come soon.

“If you go out there and do what you’re supposed to do,” Davis said, “everything will find a way to work out.”

Report: Bulls likely to keep Jim Boylen as coach for financial reasons

Bulls coach Jim Boylen
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The Bulls appeared ready to fire Jim Boylen. After all, Chicago just hired a new team president in Arturas Karnisovas who’d want to pick his own coach. That was unlikely to be Boylen, whose tenure had been defined by players disliking him, ill-timed timeouts and losing.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

But as the Sun-Times learned this week, even if Karnisovas didn’t like what he would have seen from Boylen he would likely be handcuffed from making a change.

According to several sources, there is strong growing momentum that financial concerns the Reinsdorfs have about the 2020-21 NBA season will keep Boylen in his current seat, as well as most of the coaching staff.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has earned a reputation for his frugality. However, the economic downturn surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has caused many teams to tighten their belts. The financial consequences will likely continue into next season.

But this puts Chicago at a disadvantage.

Boylen has looked like one of the NBA’s worst coaches. Though Bulls ownership is more optimistic than most on Boylen and he could exceed expectations, it’s telling that Chicago probably wouldn’t have kept him based on merit. This is about saving money and hoping for the best.

That’s obviously great news for Boylen. He has improved significantly since taking over last season. More time on the job could allow him to grow into it. That said, improving from a near-mutiny in his early days doesn’t exactly mean he’s in an acceptable place now. Boylen still has a long way to go, and it could be more difficult if players are tired of him.

Nets fined $25K for injury-reporting violation

Brooklyn Nets
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Earlier this season, Kyrie Irving missed several weeks with a shoulder injury. Throughout the absence, the Nets provided few details and no clear timeline. Eventually, a report said Irving could miss 2-3 additional weeks with bursitis. The Nets denied it. Later, Irving confirmed he had bursitis then returned nearly three weeks after the report.

Finally, Brooklyn caught the league’s ire.

NBA release:

The NBA today announced that the Brooklyn Nets have been fined $25,000 for failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting.

It’s unclear what specifically caused this violation. Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Jamal Crawford and Rodions Kurucs have all appeared on the Nets’ injury report during the resumption. As 19-point underdog, Brooklyn pulled a historic upset of the Bucks. Remember, public injury disclosures are primarily about preserving gambling integrity.

For the NBA not to reveal even basic details while fining the Nets for their lack of transparency is ironic. It’s also ironic this fine comes amid a restart that featured the NBA being highly secretive about player heath.

The Clippers got fined $50,000 earlier this season for saying Kawhi Leonard was healthy. What did Brooklyn do that was less egregious but still worth of a fine?

LeBron James says Lakers have off-court issues, out vs. Rockets (groin)

Lakers star LeBron James
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The Lakers’ offense has stumbled so far in the bubble.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

LeBron gave a weird answer about this. He agreed that he and the Lakers were looking for a rhythm on offense. And then he said: “It’s just some things that you can’t control that’s here, that I really don’t want to talk about, that’s off the floor.”

Mike Trudell of the Lakers:

Was LeBron referring to his groin injury? I wouldn’t call that an off-court issue, but maybe he would.

LeBron knows how to work the media. This subtle comment will draw attention and sets up LeBron to look better if he leads the Lakers through this mysterious issue.

Without more context, it’s easy for imaginations to wander – especially about a team with Dwight Howard, Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith. The Lakers could be facing a major hurdle. Or a minor nuisance. Who knows? But the unknown is scary.

It’ll be difficult to detect the Lakers’ progress during remaining seeding games. The Lakers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and without a home-court advantage in the NBA Finals, there’s no reason to chase the NBA’s best overall record. That’s why LeBron missing tonight’s game against the Rockets could be mostly precautionary.

76ers: Ben Simmons suffered subluxation of knee cap, considering treatment options

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Ben Simmons injured his knee during the 76ers’ win over the Wizards yesterday.

The diagnosis is in, and the prognosis sounds worrisome.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

How quickly will Simmons recover? Once he recovers, will he face elevated risk of re-injury?

These questions now haunt Simmons and Philadelphia.

Simmons is a young star who’ll begin a max contract extension next season. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons opened Philadelphia’s championship window, and now rain is drizzling through. Philadelphia can’t reach it ceiling without Simmons healthy and providing value.

Even more modest goals in a disjointed season will be more difficult to reach.

The 76ers were just adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward. Now, they must again re-configure their plan – maybe for a significant chunk of the remainder of the season.

Even more burden falls onto Embiid, who has been shouldering so much with this mismatched roster. Simmons plays across the positional spectrum, so any number of 76ers could fill in while he’s out. Many of those lesser players will complement Embiid more smoothly than Simmons did. But the talent deficit without Simmons can’t be offset.

That’s the scary issue for now – and maybe a while.