After Achilles tear, what’s next for DeMarcus Cousins? Pelicans?

Associated Press
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The news was shocking — with less than 10 seconds remaining in New Orleans biggest win of the season (an upset of the Houston Rockets), All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins went down with what is known to be a torn left Achilles. He is done for the season and surgery is next, followed by a rehab that will stretch all summer and possibly into the start of next season.

The first reaction around the league was an outpouring of support for Boogie (this is just a small sample).

This was quickly followed by the “what’s next” questions, which focused on two fronts: How does this impact the Pelicans’ pursuit of the playoffs this season? And what does this mean for Cousins free agency this summer?

After the win, fivethirtyeight.com had the 27-21 Pelicans as almost a lock to make the postseason, at 89 percent. The Pelicans have won four in a row and 8-of-10, though they have not been blowing teams out (+4.4 per 100 in that stretch), the Pelicans have a top-10 offense and defense in those games. Now the question is that cushion enough? They are just 3.5 games ahead of the ninth-seed Clippers, and it looks like the eighth seed in the West will need to be .500 or a little above to get in. Can the Pelicans go 15-19 to close out the season and finish 42-40 and have a real chance? It’s going to be close.

On the positive side, Anthony Davis is having another All-NBA season (maybe first team again) and the Pelicans are +6.9 per 100 possessions this season when Davis is on the court and Cousins is off. While that number is a skewed some by poor opponent three-point shooting, the fact is the Pelicans are still a good team with Davis on the court. The problem is Gentry was able to stagger Davis and Cousins so one of them was almost always on the court, and a lot of the data we have with both of them out comes from meaningless garbage time. The Pelicans bench needs to step up now, and that has not been their strength this season. The team should get Solomon Hill back from hamstring surgery next month and they will need him to find his footing fast and contribute as a big, because the Pelicans look like a thin team now.

What happens this summer gets more complicated.

The first question is will GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry still have their jobs. They needed to make the playoffs and show this team had the potential to do more than just slip in to keep their jobs. How this injury impacts the decisions by ownership and upper management remain to be seen. Every move the Pelicans make right now has to be viewed through the “will this help us keep Anthony Davis in a few years?” lens.

Before the injury, it was expected around the league that the Pelicans would max out (or near max out, if they could) Cousins to keep him. Teams such as the Mavericks and Lakers might come calling, but if the Pelicans went in big he would stay in a city where he likes it and the team is winning. Now all of that is off. It’s unknown if other teams will come calling for Cousins with serious offers.

The max for Cousins next season will likely be just north of $30 million a season (the final number will depend on the salary cap), with raises it would have been a five-year, $175 million deal with the Pelicans, and four-years, $130 if he left.

New Orleans now will likely want to get Cousins back now at a small discount, maybe both in terms of money and years. Cousins will most likely be a little bit less of a player after this — most guys who come back from an Achilles see a dip in production — but he is so unique and dominant he will still be an excellent player. The Pelicans have gone all-in on the Davis/Cousins combo and have been active in trade discussions (according to other teams) looking for shooting and good players to put around their stars. Even if a new front office comes in, the two bigs plan likely stays just because of how big a step back it would be if Cousins leaves. Could the Pelicans now get Cousins on a shorter deal that lines up more with Davis (a free agent in 2020)?

There are no easy answers here. The Pelicans may still make the playoffs, but whatever happens, Cousins will still be in demand. He’s still going to get paid. It likely will not still be the max offer he was expecting.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.

Highlights from Clippers preseason win fueled by Luke Kennard

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No Kawhi Leonard. Or Paul George. Or John Wall, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum. The Clippers decided to rest six key rotation players in their preseason opener in Seattle against Maccabi Ra’anana, a game played in Seattle.

All those guys are expected to suit up Monday when the Clippers play the Portland Trail Blazers in a preseason game also in Seattle, the first NBA exhibition game played in the city since 2018.

Against Maccabi, it was the Luke Kennard show as he had 16 points.

The Clippers also got 14 points and 13 boards from Moses Brown. As a team, the Clippers cruised and put up a few highlights.

The Clippers have great depth, which should allow them to survive a season where both Leonard and George are expected to get their share of load management nights off. Leonard missed all of last season coming off a torn ACL, and George played in just 31 games due to a few injuries, including a shoulder issue. Still, the Clippers finished eighth in the West with a 42-40 record and had a top 10 defense in the league.

Adding Leonard and George to that mix is why the Clippers are considered title contenders out West. Monday night against the Blazers we should get our first look at the real Clippers team for this season. But Los Angeles is 1-0 this preseason.

Report: Udoka used ‘crude language’ with female subordinate prior to improper relationship

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The Boston Celtics handled the Ime Udoka investigation and suspension by the corporate handbook: They kept the woman’s name out of the news, kept details confidential (not even telling the players much for legal reasons), and acted swiftly and decisively.

But as the team on the court starts defending its Eastern Conference title, there has been a concern that details leaking out about the investigations — and responses to those leaks — could turn this into a season-long drama and distraction for the team. That first started on Friday when Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported this:

The independent law firm probe into Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate prior to the start of an improper workplace relationship with the woman, an element that significantly factored into the severity of his one-year suspension, sources told ESPN.

Those investigative findings — which described verbiage on Udoka’s part that was deemed especially concerning coming from a workplace superior — contribute to what is likely a difficult pathway back to his reinstatement as Celtics coach in 2023, sources told ESPN.

A few thoughts here.

• “Crude language” is just part of a more detailed and damning report, league sources have told NBC Sports. There is much more uncovered by the independent investigation, including about the power dynamic in play. It was enough that the Celtics thought the best move was to suspend for an entire season a coach loved by players who led the team to the NBA Finals (it’s not something the Celtics organization did lightly).

• As Wojnarowski and others have noted, it’s increasingly unlikely Udoka returns to coach the Celtics next season, even if that is not yet official.

• While some pundits and people around the league have said Udoka is “done,” the NBA has seen unexpected turnarounds before. Never say never in this league.

• About the only sure thing is that this story is not over.