Anthony Davis, Pelicans recalibrate playoff push without Cousins

Getty Images
1 Comment

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The New Orleans Pelicans held the first practice of their new, more challenging reality Saturday – less than 24 hours after losing All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins for the rest of the season because of his Achilles tear.

The question now is: What happens to a team that has won seven of eight and was coalescing around its somewhat unconventional lineup featuring Cousins and fellow All-Star big man Anthony Davis?

“It changes for everyone, but that doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish what we set out to do,” coach Alvin Gentry said after practice. “And that’s to be a playoff team.”

The Pelicans’ offense has largely run through Cousins, who’ll miss his first game this season Sunday afternoon, when New Orleans hosts the Los Angeles Clippers.

“We have to obviously realign some things and rethink some things that we’ve done and probably add a few things and take away a few things,” Gentry said. “We have to adjust and figure out how we can best work with what we have now.”

Cousins, named an All-Star starter little more than a week ago, has averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. Cousins routinely dribbled up court after rebounds and initiated the offense, which is somewhat unusual for a center, as is his shooting range that extends beyond the 3-point line.

When the high-flying, 6-foot-10 Davis and powerful, 6-11 Cousins were on the court together, opponents trying to defend them both had tough choices to make. Meanwhile, New Orleans was looking increasingly comfortable with the scheme lately. That was evident in recent victories as well as in Cousins’ production; he registered two triple-doubles in New Orleans’ past three games, including 15 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in Friday night’s victory over Houston before his injury in the final 15 seconds of that game.

The Pelicans’ decision to attack with a tandem of dynamic post players ran counter to a trend in the NBA toward smaller lineups that rely on tempo, spacing and reliable perimeter shooting to create scoring opportunities. Even Gentry was a proponent of “small ball,” having served as a lead assistant for a Golden State squad that won a title with that style of play three seasons ago. Gentry took over in New Orleans with the intent of running a similar system – until the Pelicans seized the opportunity in a trade last February to pair Cousins with Davis in the front court.

For the final 34 games of this regular season, Davis said he expects the Pelicans to play more like they did before Cousins arrived. Davis added that he expects to play more at center and is prepared for that.

Davis also expressed optimism about the Pelicans’ playoff prospects, given a recent rise in production from guards Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore, as well as small forward Darius Miller, who hit six 3-pointers against Houston.

“Everybody’s playing well,” Davis said. “We’ve just got to carry that over to the rest of the season. Of course, missing one of our main guys is tough, but it just means guys have got to step up.”

Other players didn’t want to sell short what the Pelicans could still accomplish with Davis leading the way.

“There’s still only one Anthony Davis; no one can match that,” guard Rajon Rondo said. “We’ve got to continue to trust one another and it’s a team sport, so we’ll play team basketball.”

During their recent surge – which included victories over teams with the second- and third-best records in the NBA (the Rockets and Celtics) – the Pelicans climbed to sixth in the Western Conference and woke up Saturday just three-and-a-half behind third-place San Antonio.

But New Orleans also is only three games ahead of the ninth-place Clippers, who sat just outside the eight-team playoff structure.

A person familiar with the situation said New Orleans is aggressively trying to upgrade its roster before the Feb. 8 NBA trade deadline. The person said Cousins should have surgery within the next week, but that it’s too early to estimate how many months of rehabilitation he’ll need before he can play again. The person spoke to The Associated Press Saturday on condition of anonymity because the Pelicans do not typically disclose trade talks.

The Pelicans also hope veteran guard Tony Allen returns from a fractured fibula next week, and that former starting small forward Solomon Hill returns in late February from a hamstring tear. Both players worked with assistants on practice courts Saturday.

Cousins also was at team headquarters – on crutches – but did not speak with reporters.

“There’s a sadness for DeMarcus. He’s worked extremely hard to be where he is right now and to me he was having as good a year as anybody in the league,” Gentry said. “We’ve just got to regroup and recalibrate and say this is the new normal now.”

The 27-year-old Cousins, now in his last season under contract, never has played in a playoff game. This season provided his best chance yet. Instead, he heads toward free agency with questions about his health – and still no postseason experience.

“It’s tough not knowing what’s going to happen, how big you’re market is going to be, if teams are going to trust you, are you going to be the same coming back, especially with a major injury like that,” Davis said. “But I think he’s done enough in his career to show guys that he’s very solid.”

Bradley Beal says there were no teams in free agency where he could have contended

Washington Wizards v Charlotte Hornets
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
0 Comments

Bradley Beal got his bag this summer — a $215 million max contract that includes a no-trade clause.

That signing was expected, with the teams that could have made bold moves to land him getting the impression he was not going anywhere. Which makes Beal’s explanation of his decision on the “No Chill with Gilbert Arenas Podcast” interesting (hat tip TalkBasket).

“There were no teams in the market, free agency-wise. I’m just being frank. There was nowhere else for me to go where I can be like, ‘Oh, I can go win.’ It was teams that strategically wasn’t what I wanted. So realistically, I wouldn’t say my hand was forced, but this was my best decision and best option on the table at the time.”

That’s not how it works. Technically he is correct, the teams with cap space this past summer — the ones that could sign him outright, such as the Spurs — were not going to contend for anything with or without Beal.

But teams create cap space all the time to get players they want, via trades/waiving players or other moves (for example a sign-and-trade). If Beal and his agent had put the word out that he was leaving Washington and wanted to go to a contender, teams from Miami to Los Angeles would have been poised to do whatever it would have taken to land him. There are countless examples of this around the league over the years, but to stick with the Miami theme, remember the Heat had to dump the salaries of Hassan Whiteside (they got back Moe Harkless and flipped him) and Josh Richardson to create the space for a sign-and-trade to get Jimmy Butler (which hard capped the Heat for a season). Teams will do what it takes to land superstars, Beal had options if he wanted to leave.

He didn’t want to go anywhere. Beal has said before that he wants to win on his own terms in our nation’s capital and has backed that up with his actions. He talked up the Wizards on the same Gilbert Arenas podcast.

“Not everybody gives you a voice in the organization. I have a voice here. I never had a chance to fully play a year with [Kristaps Porzingis]. That enticed me. He’s probably the best big I’ve played with. I like [Kyle Kuzma’s] ability to be able to spread his wings a little bit more, develop into the player that we think he can be. I like the young core that we were developing. Rui [Hachimura] is really good, had an awesome summer. Deni’s [Avdija] just gonna continue to get better. And then Corey’s [Kispert] a knockdown shooter, who is a pro’s pro. We still need to get better. I’m not sitting here saying, ‘We’re gonna hold up the Larry. We’re going to beat Milwaukee tomorrow.’ No. But to have the pieces we have, we have enough to know that we can compete on a nightly basis with no BS.”

That’s an optimistic view of the Wizards, who are 11-12 and 19th in the league in both offense and defense. The Wizards can be good but their margin for error night-to-night is minimal — they have to play their best game every night to have a chance. It’s a lot to ask.

Beal got what he wanted and nobody should ever question him for making the most money he could (Washington could always offer more and more guaranteed years than any other team). If he does want to leave someday, with his no-trade clause Beal has complete control over where he would land. It’s all a good deal. Just don’t say there weren’t other options available last summer.

Floyd Mayweather says he’s trying to buy NBA team, has offered $2 billion

0 Comments

“Money” Floyd Mayweather lives up to his nickname — he was money in the ring and earned a lot of it as the greatest boxer of a generation.

Now the legend is willing to spend it to own an NBA team.

Mayweather said at a recent public event he was working to buy an NBA team and has made a $2 billion offer for one.

“I’ve been working on buying a NBA team outright. One of my other business partners, Brent Johnson, he’s here. So we’ve been working on the NBA team for a while now. It’s kinda, it’s rough…

“It could be the Vegas franchise. It could be the Seattle franchise or I could be buying a franchise that’s already up and running. So the first offer, we offered them a little over $2 billion for majority ownership. Do I have it? Absolutely, I have it, but it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s a lot when you have so many different businesses all around the world. It’s a lot.”

The only NBA team publicly known to be for sale is the Phoenix Suns and the sale price for that will be well above $2 billion (some estimates suggest double that number). Portland is not currently for sale but is expected to be available in the coming years, and other franchises may pop up on the market as well, but the price for any of those may be above $2 billion. As for potential expansion teams (which are likely headed to Seattle and Las Vegas), those are years away according to league sources, with the vote to approve them a few years out at least, followed by a couple of years of ramp-up. Also, the entry price to get into those is going to be well above $2 billion.

Mayweather says he has the money. He said a year ago his net worth was above $1.2 billion, but there is no formal tracking for these things, it could be higher or lower. Either way, with the price of NBA franchises today, he likely needs to bring in other investors as $2 billion will be on the low end of a sale price.

How the controversies of Mayweather’s past — including domestic violence and homophobic comments — play out in his ownership bid is another unknown. We know the NBA vets its owners and considers such things.

It may be a long shot, but Mayweather wants to buy an NBA team, which could be very entertaining for fans.

Watch Rudy Gobert get ejected for tripping Thunder’s Williams

0 Comments

Already without Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves were without their second twin tower for most of Saturday night after Rudy Gobert got ejected for kicking and tripping the Thunder’s Kenrich Williams.

Early in the second quarter, Williams was driving to the rim and Gobert was there to contest it, and with the contact Williams went to the ground, then Gobert tripped over him and fell. As Williams started to get back up and try to get down the court, Gobert kicked Williams’ legs out from under him, tripping Williams. A brief scuffle followed.

The referees reviewed the play (it didn’t take long) and ultimately Gobert was given a flagrant 2 and ejected, while Williams got a technical. The refs got that one right.

The game was chippy the whole way through, but going against a smaller Timberwolves front line the Thunder picked up a 135-128 win behind 33 from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Watch Simons puts up career-best 45, carry Portland past Utah

0 Comments

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) —  Anfernee Simons scored a career-high 45 points and blocked a potential 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds left to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a 116-111 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.

“I wanted to be aggressive and set the tone for my teammates,” Simons said. “Early on, let them know that we are in this game and I’m going to do whatever it takes for us to win it.”

The Jazz led 111-110 after Kelly Olynyk‘s twisting jumper and then had a chance to tie it at 114, but Simons swiped the ball from Jordan Clarkson as he rose for a 3-point attempt from the right angle.

“I just tried to catch him before he went up. … Kind of a risky play, but I’m glad I got it,” Simons said with a chuckle.

The Trail Blazers had lost seven of their last eight games before winning this thriller as Damian Lillard missed his seventh game with a lower right leg injury.

Portland’s Jerami Grant scored 13 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter as the Jazz swarmed Simons.

Jusuf Nurkic had 15 points and 14 rebounds and Trendon Watford finished with a career-high 14 rebounds, too.

The Jazz held Simons to just one field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, but he hit two free throws with 29.2 seconds to play, giving Portland a 112-111 lead. Grant added four free throws in the final 6.4 seconds for the final margin.

“Ant got it going early and we just kind of rode him, rode him, rode him. And then obviously Jerami was going,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said.

Clarkson had 24 points, and Lauri Markkanen added 21 for the Jazz, but committed two turnovers in the final 35.7 seconds. Collin Sexton scored 19 points and Jarred Vanderbilt had a season-high 16 for Utah.

Portland led 107-101 on Grant’s 3-pointer with 4:12 to play, but Sexton scored five quick points in 10-3 run that was highlighted by Markkanen’s block of Simon’s drive in the final minute.

Simons scored 23 points in the first quarter – a season high for Simons, as well as any Blazers player in any quarter. Simons had 22 in the third quarter against Denver on Oct. 24.

By halftime, Simons had 33 points and the Blazers led 69-60.

“You have to come out in the very beginning and try to set the tone. Doesn’t matter that it’s the second night of a back-to-back. They came out with an aggressiveness and a physicality that we didn’t (have),” Utah coach Will Hardy said.

Simons became the third Trail Blazer in the last decade to score 45 points, joining Lillard and CJ McCollum. He wanted more.

“In the back of my mind, I wanted 50. But there’s going to be plenty of opportunities for that. It’s all right, because we got the win,” Simons said.