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Report: After DeMarcus Cousins’ injury, Pelicans trading for Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic

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The Pelicans and Bulls pulled a humpty dumpty and put the Nikola Mirotic trade together again.

The initial deal appeared to fall apart because Mirotic used his veto power that automatically comes with being on a one-year contract and having Bird Rights at the end of it. So, the teams nullified Mirotic’s veto power by turning his one-year deal into a two-year deal by exercising his $12.5 million team option for next season now.

With Mirotic powerless to stop it (and getting his desired salary guarantee next season), he’ll go to New Orleans – primarily for a first-round pick and Omer Asik‘s burdensome contract, but with Tony Allen, Jameer Nelson and other picks also changing teams.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Pelicans were down a starting-caliber big after DeMarcus Cousinsseason-ending injury, and Mirotic will fill that hole. New Orleans clearly values protecting its two-game cushion for playoff position, and – in what has become a near-annual tradition – will deal its first-round pick to improve the present.

Mirotic is having a nice year, and his shot making – particularly while spacing the floor beyond the 3-point arc – should make New Orleans’ offense even more dangerous.

By acquiring a power forward, this pushes Anthony Davis toward center, a position he doesn’t particularly like to play. The physical pounding at center is substantial, and this increases Davis’ injury risk.

That’s why the protections on the first-round pick are important. Even at 27-23 so far, the Pelicans’ floor is somewhat low this season. Not only are there injury concerns, this team must adjust on the fly while effectively swapping Cousins for Mirotic.

Mirotic will probably welcome the challenge. He wanted to leave Chicago after a preseason practice fight with teammate Bobby Portis left Mirotic hospitalized. Mirotic returned and played well while saying the right things, and the Bulls are living up to their end of the bargain by trading him.

Asik – guaranteed $10,595,505 this season, $11,286,516 next season and $3 million of $11,977,527 the follow season – carries significant negative value. Taking him is a burden that improved Chicago’s draft return.

To lesser degrees, the same applies for Allen and Nelson, veterans who serve little purpose on the tanking/rebuilding Bulls.

Allen has been hurt, and Nelson has been ineffective. Though both are on just minimum contracts, New Orleans is perilously close to the luxury-tax line and hard cap. Dumping their salaries and clearing roster spots helps the Pelicans.

If Allen gets healthy, his defense could help a better team down the stretch. Likewise, Nelson could provide decent depth on a team short a point guard. Quincy Pondexter is probably finished.

In addition to waiving those three, I believe the Bulls would technically exercise Mirotic’s team option before the trade. If he consents based on the belief the Pelicans will do it, there’s a non-zero chance they renege. Having the option exercised first is the only surefire way for Mirotic to get his desired security.

New Orleans initially hesitated to accept Mirotic with a guaranteed 2018-19 salary in fear that’d make re-signing Cousins too expensive. The Pelicans will still have Cousins’ full Bird Rights and the ability to pay him up to the max, but they could cross the luxury-tax line, probably a no-go for ownership. But the luxury tax won’t be assessed until the end of the regular season. The way Mirotic has been playing, New Orleans might even be able to flip him for value before next season’s trade deadline.

WNBA veteran Chasity Melvin joins Hornets’ G-League team coaching staff

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Chasity Melvin has been hired by the Charlotte Hornets’ G League team, the Greensboro Swarm, as an assistant coach.

She becomes the first female coach in Hornets and Swarm history.

The former North Carolina State standout was the 11th overall selection in the 1999 WNBA draft. She played 12 seasons in the WNBA and was an All-Star in 2001.

Melvin was part of the NBA Assistant Coaches Program, which prepares current and former NBA, WNBA and G League players for coaching careers. Former program participants include James Posey (Cavaliers), Jerry Stackhouse (Grizzlies) and Vin Baker (Bucks).

Her hire comes one day after Kristy Toliver became the first active WNBA player to become an NBA assistant when she joined the Washington Wizards.

Other female assistants in the NBA include Becky Hammon with the Spurs and Dallas’ Jenny Boucek.

 

Timberwolves fans boo Jimmy Butler, Tom Thibodeau at home opener

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How is Tom Thibodeau doing in Minnesota tonight?

Friday night is the Timberwolves home opener — a big production where every player is introduced and the crowd is hyped. How hyped? Derrick Rose got a surprising amount of love from the fans.

However, the reception for Jimmy Butlerwho has demanded a trade out of Minnesota, thrown a tirade during practice, and generally been disruptive — and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau (blamed by many for creating and dragging out this situation) both heard it from fans.

Watching the broadcast you could hear some boos, but the pumped-up in-arena entertainment noise on that feed made it hard to hear anything clearly. In the arena were a few cheers mixed in there for Butler, although mostly he was booed. Loudly.

Thibodeau didn’t get even that much love.

Timberwolves fans were indiscriminate and were ready to boo anyone who ever pissed them off — enter Kevin Love.

The boos for Butler subsided as the game went on.

The coach and star player getting booed maybe motivate owner Glen Taylor to step in and force the situation, but probably not. At this point how much more embarrassing is it going to get? If the Timberwolves get off to a slow start this season because of the chemistry, that might be the tipping point.

Right now, Butler trade talks are dormant. This — and these boos — are the status quo.

But everything is fine.

Mike D’Antoni on Rockets’ defense: “I don’t see it like falling so far off. I don’t see it.”

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Last season the Houston Rockets’ defense allowed 105.7 points per 100 possessions, seventh best in the NBA. After the All-Star break they allowed just 103.8 per 100, fourth best during that stretch. By the end of the season, the Rockets switched every screen on- and off-ball (something they felt they needed to handle the Warriors in the playoffs) and leaned on defensive minded role players such as Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. It got them within a game — within a half, really, the Rockets led at half of Games 6 and 7 vs the Warriors — of reaching the NBA Finals and almost certainly bringing home a title.

This season, the conventional wisdom was the Rockets would take a big step back defensively. Ariza and Mbah a Moute left as free agents, replaced on some level by James Ennis (a quality defender), Carmelo Anthony (not so much) and Michael Carter-Williams. Defensive-focused assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik retired, adding to the losses.

That narrative was fed opening night when Anthony Davis did whatever he wanted on his way to 32 points, Elfird Payton (yes, Elfrid Payton) put up a triple-double, and the Pelicans scored at a 124.8 points per 100 pace in blowing the Rockets out.

Mike D’Antoni doesn’t see the season going that way. Speaking to  Sam Amick of The Athletic he defended the team’s defense this season.

I think we’re even deeper this year, so we can have fresher guys on the floor… Trevor and Mbah a Moute were big parts of (Houston’s switching defense), but it’ll be taken up by Michael Carter-Williams. He’s a very good defensive player. James Ennis, who has energy and can play defense, and has all kinds of energy, to Eric Gordon, who will play with Chris and James a little bit more. So I don’t see it like falling so far off. I don’t see it. ‘Melo and the guys are smart enough (to know that) by switching it helps them too. They don’t have to fight through screens and all that. We’re just switching everything to try to keep guys in front. We have a nice philosophy, I think, where players understand what we’re trying to do.

The only thing that’s really changed is that (assistant coach) Roy (Rogers) has the (defensive) voice, in film sessions, talking to them, and (former assistant) Jeff (Bzdelik) had the voice (last season, before unexpectedly leaving during the summer). We all sat down to figure out what we wanted to do defensively, what were the best matchups, talking to Chris and James and PJ about, ‘OK, who you guarding tonight, and what do you think?’ And they’ll figure it out. But at the end of the day, the information still flows exactly the same.”

While the system may be the same, the players executing it are not. Carter-Williams was just lost and a mess defensively in the opener. Anthony will be better than some think as a team defender during the regular season (not good, but not a complete dumpster fire), but he can be exploited in a playoff series (Utah hunted him out in the first round last season, and it worked). P.J. Tucker is a fantastic defender, as is Chris Paul, but both are a year older and not getting faster.

Opening night was an aberration — the Rockets are not that bad on either end of the floor. It’s just one game and every team will have a few clunkers over the course of 82. The Rockets will play better against the Lakers in LeBron James‘ home opener Saturday night (that will not be an easy game for Houston by any measure).

Right now it feels like the Rockets are headed for a step back defensively this season, and with that their margins against the Warriors get even smaller. We’ll see over time if D’Antoni knows best.

Russell Westbrook out vs. Clippers Friday night, second game he’s missed

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The Thunder offense struggled on opening night, scoring less than a point per possession (96.2 per 100 possessions, to be specific). While the Thunder got out and ran a decent amount, 18.6 percent of their possessions started in transition, they scored just 0.88 points per possession on those chances (stats via Cleaning the Glass). On spot-up jump shots, they shot scored just 0.67 points per possession (via Synergy Sports) and they shot 27.8 percent from three in the part of the game that mattered.

How much of that was the Thunder offense missing their engine in Russell Westbrook, and how much of that was going against the solid defense and length of the Golden State Warriors?

We may find out Friday night because Westbrook is out again, still recovering from arthroscopic surgery on right knee back on Sept. 12. Royce Young of ESPN broke the news.

That means again most of the offense will flow through Paul George, which worked reasonably well but he needs more help from other players. The Clippers’ defense was fairly good opening night, and they played Denver close, but couldn’t score enough and lost a lead down the stretch, dropping their season opener.

What really matters is this gives us another chance to watch Westbrook try to sneak-snack on the bench.