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

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The news was shocking β€” 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 β€” most guys who come back from an Achilles see a dip in production β€” 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: Jonathan Kuminga, top prospect for 2021 NBA Draft, to earn $500K in NBA minor league

Jonathan Kuminga
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Jonathan Kuminga didn’t crack our list of the top 50 players in five years last summer, but he drew consideration and rated as the top prospect in the 2021 high school class.

Now, he’s fast-tracking his ascent – turning pro by signing with the NBA’s minor league and positioning himself for the 2021 NBA Draft.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kuminga will join Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix in this professional-pathway program.

We’ll see how well this setup, run by Brian Shaw, prepares young players for the NBA. But the money is nice. Kuminga ($500,000), Green ($500,000), Todd ($250,000) and Nix ($300,000) have approximate salaries that wouldn’t be allowed by the NCAA cartel system.

Hopefully, the competition forces college basketball to treat its players more fairly.

Washington Mystics: We planned all along to pay Elena Delle Donne

Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne
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Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne – per a panel of doctors chosen by the WNBA and its union – doesn’t face elevated risk of severe symptoms if she contracts coronavirus. That meant the Mystics wouldn’t have to pay her if she sits out this season. Delle Donne has publicly argued her Lyme disease should have medically excused her from the WNBA season, allowing her to collect her full salary.

Like many people amid the pandemic, Delle Donne faced a hard decision: Work and risk exposure to coronavirus or miss out on money and stay safer.

The Mystics have solved her dilemma – agreeing to pay her while she remains away from the team.

Mystics general manager/coach Mike Thibault, via Tyler Byrum of NBC Sports Washington:

“She is being paid and is continuing to rehab from her offseason back surgery. If at some point later in the season, we are all comfortable – I mean all comfortable – enough with both her physical progress and the safety of joining the team in Florida, then we will make those arrangements. If we don’t feel that she will continue to do the workouts in D.C., and get herself ready for the following season.”

“We can do anything we want,” Thibault said. “We have intended to [pay her] from the start. She’s a major part of our team and she’s making every effort to do the rehab that she needs to do.”

“I have told her that there is not going to be pressure put on her to hurry back, I don’t want — I’m in this and she’s in this for the long haul,” Thibault said.

If the Mystics truly planned all along to pay Delle Donne, her public-relations campaign the last couple days seems excessive.

But it’s also possible the public pressure she raised contributed to this decision.

As reigning WNBA MVP, Delle Donne had leverage that other players don’t. That’s why I’m surprised this was up to the Mystics. Other WNBA teams don’t want to face increasing pressure to pay any players who want to sit out. That’s why the panel of doctors existed in the first place.

Perhaps, Delle Donne’s back injury gave Washington a workaround. That’s a reasonable excuse for Delle Donne not reporting while still getting paid. Is the WNBA really going to investigate the Mystics’ assessment of their own player’s physical health when the player agrees?

This is a good outcome for Delle Donne. She made herself so valuable to her employer that it’ll pay her not to work. That’s a heck of an accomplishment by her.

We’ll see how much, if any, of a precedent it sets.

Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox out at least 7-10 days with sprained ankle

De'Aaron Fox sprained ankle
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For a Sacramento team with playoff dreams, this is a punch to the gut: De'Aaron Fox is going to be sidelined until around the start of seeding games β€” 7-10 days at least β€” with a sprained ankle.

The Kings’ announced that their point guard sprained his left ankle in practice Wednesday. While he will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days, he could be out longer. This is the same ankle Fox sprained in November that caused him to miss 17 games.

The Kings’ first game is 16 days away against San Antonio.

Fox, arguably the fastest player in the league with the ball in his hands, averaged 20.4 points, and 6.8 assists this season, playing at a near All-star level once he came back from the sprained ankle. Fox is the engine of the Sacramento offense, it is 5.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he is off the court.

Sacramento comes into the restart in a virtual tie with Portland and New Orleans for the ninth seed in the West, 3.5 games back of Memphis. However, the Kings have not been able to get their stars on the court together: Harrison Barnes and Alex Len and remain in Sacramento, quarantining after testing positive for the coronavirus. Richaun Holmes is in quarantine on his Walt Disney World hotel room after leaving the confines of the NBA bubble to pick up a food delivery.

All of which combine to make it an even longer shot the Kings end their 14-year playoff drought this season. The sprained ankle for De’Aaron Fox, if it slows him at all, would be a serious blow to those chances.

 

Spurs: Trey Lyles out rest of season (appendectomy)

Spurs forward Trey Lyles
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The Spurs lost their top big in LaMarcus Aldridge.

Now, they’ll lose Trey Lyles, who often started at power forward next to Aldridge and also played behind Aldridge at center.

Spurs release:

Spurs forward Trey Lyles underwent an appendectomy earlier today in Orlando, Fla.

Lyles will miss the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

San Antonio’s last seeding game is scheduled for Aug. 13 – nearly a month away. Theoretically, Lyles could have tried to return by then.

The NBA dodges a complication with the Spurs ruling him out for the rest of the season.

Lyles left the NBA’s campus for his surgery. (Disney World is in Lake Buena Vista. He underwent surgery in Orlando.) That means he faced exposure in Florida, where coronavirus cases are surging. It would have been tricky bringing him back into the bubble safely while not punishing him for requiring medical attention.

The NBA will probably face this conundrum with someone else later. But the league avoids that situation for now.

San Antonio’s problems are more pressing.

Jakob Poeltl is now the Spurs’ top center, but he fits poorly with DeMar DeRozan because they’re both non-shooters from 3-point range. Rudy Gay should see plenty of time at power forward.

Behind them, options – newly signed Tyler Zeller, Drew Eubanks, Chimezie Metu and Luka Samanic – are uninspiring.

Gregg Popovich truly must muster some magic for San Antonio to extend its record playoff streak.