Pelicans win trade, land All-NBA player in Cousins, but move comes with risks

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Make no mistake, Pelicans GM Dell Demps pushed a big bet into the middle of the table Sunday trading for DeMarcus Cousins — he now needs some cards to fall his way.

He is betting that what Cousins just needed was a change of scenery. He is betting that Cousins wants to be coached and Alvin Gentry can reach him. He is betting that Anthony Davis can help keep a volatile personality in check. He bet that in an era of small ball the Pelicans can play two versatile bigs together and dominate, that the two will click together. He bet that he can now find guards and wings who can shoot the rock and help facilitate for those bigs. But more than anything, he bet the Pelicans can re-sign Cousins, either with an extension this summer or as a free agent in 2018.

It’s a lot of risk for the Pelicans.

It’s also a trade they had to make.

Not just because Demps’ job was considered in jeopardy around the league and this trade could help save it, although that factor plays in.

More so, this is the right move because the Pelicans needed to try to get more talent around Anthony Davis — the All-Star Game MVP — and they had struggled to do that through the draft, plus New Orleans is not a powerful free agent destination. Chances for any team — let alone a smaller market like New Orleans — to land a player as good as Cousins rarely come along, and when they do the teams need to be aggressive. The Pelicans were that, it was unquestionably the right move for them. Even if the experiment fails.

The Pelicans did not give up much in this trade — Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, New Orleans’ 2017 first-round pick plus a 2017 second-round pick.

That said, they need to find a guard rotation that works. They have Jrue Holiday, Tim Frazier, and E'Twaun Moore on the roster, but that’s not going to cut it. Maybe they could try to play Solomon Hill or the just acquired Omri Caspi more as a wing, but both of those guys are not fully suited to that role. Demps has some work to do, but most of it will have to come in the off-season — starting with re-signing Holiday, who is a free agent this summer.

Gentry also needs to see what works for his two bigs on both ends of the floor. While on paper you can say Davis is the four and Cousins the five, both can either step out to the arc and hit a three or score inside. Most teams are going to struggle with a big front line this athletic — watch teams try to deal with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the Clippers. The difference is Los Angeles has Chris Paul orchestrating the offense and keeping everyone happy with touches on the court (and in line off it). Holiday is a nice point guard, but he’s no CP3.

The Pelicans will have nightly mismatches up front, the question is will they be able to exploit it? Will their two bigs play well with each other and willingly share the rock, or will this become a battle for touches where Holiday is in a no-win situation? Demps and Pelicans fans believe in the former happening, but the latter is a possibility.

Defensively, Davis is a beast and a rim protector. Cousins can be a good defender when engaged, but much of this season he has not been — Gentry and the Pelicans need to get him to focus. If not, it will be hard for New Orleans to make up the ground they want.

The Pelicans made this trade in part to make a playoff push this season — they will return to play 2.5 games back of the eight-seed Nuggets. They can make up that ground, especially since they play the Nuggets three more times. But to make the playoffs means this experiment will have to come together quickly because the Pelicans will need to win at least 13 (and maybe 15 or 16) of their remaining 25 games to get to the postseason. And it will mean the defense came together.

In the long-term, the Pelicans need to re-sign Cousins, who will make at least $30 million less than if the Kings kept him and gave him a designated player contract. New Orleans is reportedly confident they can re-sign Cousins, maybe even to an extension this summer. Cousins agent said he didn’t see a reason to sign an extension that quickly, and it is possible now Cousins will want to test the free agent market in 2018. As much as anything with this deal, Demps bet on himself — that he and the organization will re-sign Cousins.

We’ll see if that’s enough to keep his job.

We’ll see if this move can change the trajectory of the organization in New Orleans.

What we do know now is this was the right move for the Pelicans to make. Without question.

The time Shaq peed in Suns teammate Lou Amundson’s shoes – and worse!

Suns players Lou Amundson and Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq)
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Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation as the NBA player who relieved himself in a teammate’s shoe (Wizards forward Andray Blatche’s).

But Arenas’ tactic wasn’t unique.

Shaquille O’Neal got into a prank war with Suns teammate Lou Amundson during the 2008-09 season. It got intense as Phoenix, coached by Alvin Gentry, reached the final game of its season.

ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on “The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” local hour, hosted by Mike Ryan:

Shaq is the big prankster, the big joker. But if you do something against him, there’s no tit for tat. There’s tit for nuclear war.

He goes to Lou’s locker, grabs his sneakers, pees in them.

That’s the start, right? He then goes and let’s just say “messes with” some of Lou’s haircare devices, like his brush and his comb and stuff. Messes with them. Let me put it this way: Messes with them in a way that – I was comfortable telling you he peed in the shoes. I’m not comfortable telling you what he did to the hair stuff. And then this part, I will tell you: He tampers with Lou’s mouth guard.

He tampers with it.

He tampers with it.

Lou shows up at like 8 or whenever he usually shows up. And he’s skittish and nervous. And Suns.com is there like, “What do you think Shaq is going to do?” “I don’t know. I think he’s going to do something, though.”

So, I’ll never forget this. He’s sitting at the locker, and he opens – he starts to reach for the sneakers and then looks at them and says, “Nah, something doesn’t feel right.” Opens the door up, pulls out a fresh pair of sneakers for the last game of the year, right? Again, this is irregular behavior. Usually, you have a couple of sneakers. You break them in for the year, and you switch between two or three or three or four, whatever. So to break out a whole brand new pair … was weird.

Most of the time when you’re an NBA player, you don’t put on the mouth guard immediately. You have it in a case, and you give the case to the trainer. Then, you go out to the bench. Then, when you’re about to come into the game, that’s when you grab your mouthpiece.

There’s no funnier image than Alvin drawing up a play, kneeling down, coaches standing around him. Lou is sitting there, because now he’s in the game. The guys who are in the game are usually seated. Sitting there just staring at the clipboard, like, “OK, coach. I got you.” And everyone else is just staring at Lou. No one’s paying attention.

Puts the mouth guard in. One, two [sounds of disgust], takes the mouth guard out and flings it with tremendous accuracy at the bench. Everyone starts dying. I remember going back and watching the broadcast, “Oh, Suns bench seems to be getting a lot of fun.” They had no idea what’s happening.

What did Shaq do to Amundson’s mouth guard? My imagination is running WILD.

Elhassan also explains why Grant Hill took 25 shots – his most in four years – in that game. Hill needed to score 26 points to average 12 points per game for the season, which would trigger a large bonus in his shoe contract. Hill’s gunning got him 27 points.

It’s a good podcast with other fun anecdotes and worth a listen.

Magic: Mo Bamba out for playoffs, undergoing post-coronavirus evaluation

Magic center Mo Bamba
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Mo Bamba contracted coronavirus, fell out of shape, recovered, joined the Magic in the bubble then struggled to contribute on the court.

Now, he’s departing the bubble for good.

Magic:

The Magic are huge underdogs in their first-round series against the Bucks. This doesn’t really change the equation. Bamba had already fallen from the rotation, which is now comprised of Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch at center.

But it raises thorny long-term questions.

Bamba was the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Though he has underwhelmed so far, the Magic were still hoping he’d grow into a quality NBA player. Bamba at least improved from his rookie season.

His progress has obviously been halted. For how long? Will he face lasting effects?

Everyone is trying to get to the bottom of these difficult questions.

Reported Bulls coaching candidates: Kenny Atkinson, Stephen Silas, Darvin Ham, more

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The Bulls fired Jim Boylen. 76ers assistant Ime Udoka was reportedly frontrunner for the job, but Chicago will conduct a full search.

Who else is in the mix?

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

The broad search is expected to include former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas, Bucks assistant Darvin Ham and 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, among others, sources said.

Atkinson is the only former head coach on that list. Like Tyronn Lue for win-now teams, Atkinson is the top available coach for rebuilding teams. (If fired by the 76ers, Brett Brown could supplant Atkinson.) Atkinson had a strong record of player development before Brooklyn shifted priorities.

The Bulls – with Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and a high first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft – could use someone like him.

But Atkinson could have options, and Chicago might not be the most desirable opening.

Udoka, Silas, Ham and Unseld are all rising assistants who have earned head-coaching consideration. Interviews should help determine whether they’re ready for that step.

PBT NBA All-Bubble Awards

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and Rockets star James Harden
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The NBA will announce seeding-game awards tomorrow.

But the play-in is already set. Other playoff matchups are already set. The final seeding games today are just glorified scrimmages.

So, why wait to name the top performers in the bubble?

Here are our picks using the same format as the league – a Most Valuable Player, two five-player teams (no positions) and a coach:

Bubble MVP

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

Kurt Helin: It isn’t simply that Damian Lillard led the bubble in scoring at 37.6 points per game. It wasn’t how he got those points, with ridiculously deep threes and driving layups. It was when he did it that makes him bubble MVP: When the Trail Blazers had a rough outing (as did Lillard) and looked like they might fade from postseason contention, he came back next game and dropped 61. Then 51 the game after that. Then 42 in the final bubble game with the playoffs on the line. Lillard was the ultimate leader and willed his team to the play-in series, and that’s what makes him MVP of the seeding games.
Dan Feldman: James Harden was more consistently good and even sometimes great. But nobody hit higher levels than Lillard, who stepped up in the biggest moments to lead Portland into the play-in with the eighth-place advantage. Lillard set an emotional tone for a team constantly vulnerable of falling from the playoff race, and he delivered on the court with brilliant offense. He wasn’t perfect, but he went to great lengths to ensure the Trail Blazers met their goal. That’s the bubble MVP.

All-Bubble teams

First team

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)
Devin Booker (Suns) James Harden (Rockets)
T.J. Warren (Pacers) Devin Booker (Suns)
Luka Doncic (Mavericks) T.J. Warren (Pacers)
James Harden (Rockets) Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

Second team

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Jayson Tatum (Celtics) Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks) Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)
Kawhi Leonard (Clippers) Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
DeMar DeRozan (Spurs) Paul George (Clippers)
Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks) Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks)

Kurt Helin: It was difficult leaving Antetokounmpo off the first team, he played brilliantly but his team was in cruise control (plus he took himself out of the last game by headbutting Moe Wagner). A few players such as Fred VanVleet and Michael Porter Jr. also almost made the cut.

Dan Feldman: Lillard, Harden, Booker and Warren were first-team locks. Antetokounmpo was absolutely dominant when he wanted to be, which was limited with the Bucks locking up the No. 1 seed early. Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, Chris Paul, Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet were among the contenders for the final second-team spots.

Coach of the Bubble

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Monty William (Suns) Monty William (Suns)

Kurt Helin: Every young team talked about it heading into the restart (and developing teams not invited to the restart begged for the same opportunity): Using the bubble games as a chance for a young core to grow and take a step forward. Except teams like Sacramento and New Orleans didn’t do that. Phoenix, behind Monty Williams did — they became the story of the bubble at 8-0. Devin Booker exploded and got himself in MVP talk, Deandre Ayton played brilliantly, and the Suns came from six-games back of Memphis to almost make the playoffs. Williams set the Suns up to be a playoff team in the West next season.

Dan Feldman: Phoenix went 8-0! That alone is pretty darned impressive, and the context reflects even more favorably on Williams. The Suns entered the bubble with the lowest playoff odds among the continuing 22 teams. Needing to make up 2.5 games and – more significantly – jump four (!) teams, Phoenix could have easily arrived unmotivated and ripe for distraction. Instead, Williams had the Suns playing fearlessly, cohesively and joyously. Williams even leaned heavily on his young players rather than his veterans, taking excellent advantage of a player-development opportunity and positioning Phoenix to ascend next season.