AP Photo/Max Becherer

Anthony Davis balancing two sides of New Orleans: All-Star fantasy and Pelicans’ reality

2 Comments

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Anthony Davis refused a question about playing with other All-Stars in the NBA’s annual mid-winter classic.

“I’m not going to talk about All-Star right now,” Davis said after his Pelicans lost to the Pistons earlier this month.

Instead, he wanted to talk only about the Pelicans’ task at hand. And in that respect, playing with other stars would have veered greatly from his desired conversation.

Basketball’s biggest names are descending upon New Orleans this weekend, creating a fantasy world for everyone, but especially Davis. He’ll take his home court with four All-Star teammates, and they’ll be thrilled to play with him. But then they’ll leave, some of them departing together back to the same team. And reality will once again set in for Davis.

By both traditional (27.7 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.5 blocks and 1.3 steals per game) and advanced (7.6 win shares, 27.3 PER, +4.25 real plus-minus) metrics, Davis is having another excellent year.

But his team is again not.

The Pelicans are 23-34, headed toward their fourth losing season in his five years. They have one playoff appearance and no playoff wins with Davis.

“He has a dedication to the city, and he wants to be in New Orleans, and he wants to win there, and he wants to be the reason that we win there,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “So, he’s not discouraged in that, if you ask him, does he want out? or any thing like that, no. I don’t think that’s the case.

“Management, they’ve got to do everything they can to try to get the right players around him. And we’ve got to put him in a situation as a coaching staff that they can be successful.”

Since entering the league in 2012, Davis, using win shares and New Orleans’ actual win totals, has individually accounted for 28.5% of the Pelicans’ victories. No player has produced a higher share of his team’s wins in that span. That’s especially remarkable considering Davis has missed 72 games due to injury. The leaderboard:

 

Since that game at Detroit, Davis has opened up about bigger-picture issues — his desire to stay in New Orleans, using All-Star Weekend to recruit. He’s beyond due for more help.

Davis has made four All-Star games without an All-Star teammate in his first five seasons. The only other players to do that were Michael Jordan and David Robinson.

Jordan made the All-Star game without another Bulls player in each of his first five seasons, but Chicago had already acquired Scottie Pippen, who became an All-Star in Jordan’s sixth season and developed into an All-Star mainstay. The Bulls eventually added Dennis Rodman, whose antics – not production – kept him from selection.

Robinson also made the All-Star game each of his first five seasons, though Sean Elliott accompanied him in his fourth (and later, seventh) season. Then, of course, the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan, who was briefly a great sidekick to Robinson and became a superstar as Robinson slid into a supporting role.

Where is Davis’ All-Star teammate coming from?

It’s doubtful that teammate is already on the roster.

The Pelicans’ second-best player is Jrue Holiday, who made an All-Star game with the 76ers. But that was four years ago, and Holiday hasn’t been healthy or productive enough since. Tyreke Evans falls even further short, and the rest of the previous core — Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson — plays for the Rockets.

New Orleans is also short on young talent after trading its first-round pick in the three years following drafting Davis. They dealt what became the No. 6 pick in 2013 and No. 10 pick in 2014 for Holiday and the No. 18 pick in 2015 for Omer Asik.

After bombing to 30-52 last season, New Orleans got a surprising extra crack at a high draft pick, No. 6. The Pelicans picked Buddy Hield, who’s having an up-and-down rookie year. But Hield is already 23 — older than every other 2016 first-round pick save Denzel Valentine and older than Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has already signed his rookie-scale contract extension. Hield’s window to show All-Star potential is shorter than his draft-class peers, and he has yet to do so.

New Orleans is on track to have max-level cap space next summer, though re-signing Holiday would exhaust it. The Pelicans are tied to Asik (three more years, $33,859,548) and Alexis Ajinca (two more years, $10,247,192), plodding centers who don’t fit Gentry’s system.

Last summer’s key signings — Solomon Hill (four years, $48 million), E’Twaun Moore (four years, $34 million) and Langston Galloway (two years, $10,634,000) — have collectively underwhelmed. Their long-term salaries make it difficult for general manager Dell Demps to pivot into another plan.

The Pelicans have their own first-round pick and the NBA’s eighth-worst record. It’d be disappointing to wind up back in the lottery for a second consecutive year after what appeared to be a breakthrough run to the 2015 playoffs. But that might be the best path forward.

Davis just hasn’t lifted his team like he did then.

New Orleans has played between a 22- and 33-win pace with him off the court each season of his career. But their win pace with him on the court has ranged from just 29 to 38 — with the exception of 2014-15, when they played like a 55-win team with on the floor.

“These guys follow my lead, and I know that,” Davis said. “I try to get these guys ready to play every night.”

New Orleans’ struggles and Davis’ injuries led to him not being voted an All-Star starter or to an All-NBA team last season — costing him $19,683,908 over four years ($25,434,263 if you count the fifth season of the contract, which follows a player option he’s likely to decline) he would’ve received through the Derrick Rose rule.

He’ll have a chance to earn another major pay bump by making an All-NBA team or two in coming seasons. The numbers are always murky that far out, but if Davis qualifies as a veteran designated player, a new contract beginning in 2020 projects to be worth about $231 million over five years

Not bad for someone who keeps saying he wants to stay with the Pelicans anyway.

Maybe this weekend will help convince another star to join him. In the meantime, once the 23 others All-Stars fly out and leave him in New Orleans, Davis will return to the Pelicans’ reality.

“I’m going to keep fighting,” Davis said.

 

 

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

Leave a comment

There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
2 Comments

Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.

On Mamba Day (8/24), former Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti talks about what made Kobe great

4 Comments

Kobe Bryant’s work ethic is legend.

It takes talent to become an MVP, 15-time All-NBA, 18-time All-Star, and lock future Hall of Famer. However, it was how Kobe got the most out of his talent that separated him from his peers. Long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti retired a couple of years ago and will soon publish an autobiography, “32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science.”

Vitti joined Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, and he talked about Kobe (hat tip to CNBC).

“He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn’t the most talented guy out there? I’m telling you, and I’ve had them all, there’s nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he’s a big guy, but he’s not that big. He was quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s fast, he wasn’t that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn’t that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?…

“He was tough in the sense that he took ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it. Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it’s what you do with your talent.”

Nobody in NBA history did as much with the talent they had as Kobe.

On Mamba Day, enjoy his ultimate mixtape highlights above and remember what it took for Kobe to get there.

 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: ‘I am not Russell Westbrook. I’m just going to try to be myself.’

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
8 Comments

Thunder fans are going to love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Clippers did not want to give him up in the Paul George trade but had no real choice — Gilgeous-Alexander was a prize get for OKC. As a rookie last season he started 73 games, averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 assists per game for a 48-win playoff team. Playing the most difficult position to learn in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander grew as the season wore on and has a promising future.

But he is taking over for Russell Westbrook as the point guard for the Thunder, so the comparisons are inevitable. Even though they have radically different games. Gilgeous-Alexander handled the question well when asked, as reported by Erik Horne at The Oklahoman.

Gilgeous-Alexander smiled and said he could compete with Westbrook’s fashion sense. He also deflected any notion of pressure to live up to the legacy of the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. “He set the bar pretty high,” Gilgeous-Alexander said…

“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with no malice. “I do not have the same name, same body type, stuff like that. So, I’m just going to try to be myself and be the best me and everything else will take care of itself.

“I’m just a basketball player. Regardless of the situation, I’m going to continue to work hard and play my game. I know that eventually it will come out. I don’t worry about starting. I’m not worried about accolades or things like that. I just work hard, keep my head down and (stay) true to who I am.”

That attitude is part of why Thunder fans will love him. Gilgeous-Alexander is confident but not cocky, and he knows his game.

That game is more traditional point guard, more game manager, than the dynamic and explosive Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander learned for a season under a smart, player-friendly coach in Doc Rivers, who built his point guard’s confidence up as the season wore on. Rivers showed the rookie how to be a professional, how to prepare, and most of all trusted Gilgeous-Alexander — and that trust included being matched up on Stephen Curry in a playoff series. Through it all, Gilgeous-Alexander showed real promise.

Whatever is next in Oklahoma City — and there is a lot of rebuilding to do with that roster, a lot of picks to be made still — Gilgeous-Alexander can help lead it. He will be at the heart of what is next for the Thunder.

Just don’t expect him to be Westbrook. There is only one of those.