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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.

Luka Doncic says he’ll definitely play for Slovenia in Olympic Qualifying Tournament

Luka Doncic
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Slovenia won the last EuroBasket, in 2017.

But in a stacked European region, Slovenia hasn’t even qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Mavericks star Luka Doncic will try to change that.

Donatas Urbonas:

Slovenia got a tough draw, landing in host Lithuania’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Only one team from each OQT will reach the Olympics. Even Poland in the group stage will be no pushover.

But Doncic is obviously a difference-maker. Not only is he one of the world’s best players, he’s also comfortable with international style of play.

Slovenia needs him after Goran Dragic retired from the national team following the 2017 European basketball championship.

Slovenia’s first OQT game is June 24 against Angola. Dallas seems bound for a first-round loss. So, that should work. But if the Mavericks make a surprising run deep in the playoffs, Doncic could always reconsider – though he sounds quite certain now.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on playing with brothers: ‘Milwaukee, L.A., wherever – that’d be awesome’

Giannis Antetokounmpo in Bucks-Lakers
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Giannis Antetokounmpo – on the elite Bucks and nearing his super-max decision – has the NBA by the tail.

Teams are trying to impress the family-oriented superstar. Milwaukee signed his brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo. The Lakers added another brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo. (The Knicks drafted Thanasis, but Thanasis’ tenure in New York reportedly left a sour taste in Giannis’ mouth.)

Now, Giannis – who once said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles – is singing a slightly different tune

USA Today:

Antetokounmpo:

I think that would be amazing. Obviously, we’d spend more time together, and I’m 100 percent sure my mom would love that. But if we could team up on a team – Milwaukee, L.A., wherever – that’d be awesome.

Maybe Antetokounmpo is just paying lip service to the Lakers, because they added Kostas. But at this point, that’s progress for Los Angeles.

Considering Giannis’ agent just said “everything is open,” it seems Giannis could be planting the seeds for leaving Milwaukee. He could definitely stay. But by at least mentioning other possibilities, he’d soften the blow if he chooses to depart.

Giannis’ views on loyalty have always been more complex than people realized. Tastes change. It sounds as if Giannis isn’t quite as averse to Los Angeles as he once was.

Of course, there’s a huge difference between that and actually joining the Lakers. Giannis hasn’t suddenly transformed into a totally different person.

But this quote will keep the candle of hope burning in Los Angeles.

Report: All-Star fourth quarter featured more than 15 minutes of gameplay

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One overlooked feature of the NBA’s new All-Star game format: It seemed designed to shorten the game.

Sure, the league wanted to add an interesting wrinkle to a game that had grown stale. The exact details were tweaked to honor Kobe Bryant.

But – in the era of load management – shaving a few minutes off the exhibition game should be taken as a feature, not a bug.

This year’s game ended when a team scored 24 more points than the leading team had entering the fourth quarter. The last time a team had scored 24 or fewer in All-Star quarter: 2010, when the East scored just 23 in the fourth quarter.  In the decade since – including the first three quarters Sunday – All-Star teams averaged 24 points every seven minutes.

But Sunday’s fourth quarter took a while longer than the standard 12 minutes for LeBron James‘ team to outscore Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s team, 33-22.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

Defenses really turned up in the fourth quarter. Here’s how the teams’ shooting percentages changed from the first three quarters to the fourth quarter:

  • 2-pointers: 73% to 46%
  • 3-pointers: 34% to 23%

More shots being contested also led to more fouls. After attempting just 13 free throws in the first three quarters, the teams took 26 free throws in the fourth quarter.

In The Basketball Tournament, which first introduced the Elam Ending, the target score is eight more points than the leading team has at the first whistle inside four minutes. By turning off the game clock later, there’s less room for variance in gameplay length.

I suspect the NBA would have also turned off the clock later if not using the target score to honor Bryant. Because Bryant wore No. 24 last, the league has generally used that – not his other number, No. 8 – in tributes, including the All-Star jerseys.

With All-Star MVP now named for Bryant – a perfectly fitting lasting tribute – the league can alter the ending format next year.

The concept is sound. The exact execution just needs tweaking.

Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn may be out for season with knee injury

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Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn missed the last four games before the All-Star break with a sprained knee.

He could miss a lot more — like the rest of the season.

From K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

But sources said there’s a growing belief that Dunn will miss the remainder of the season with the injury, which occurred when Thaddeus Young took a charge and inadvertently crashed into Dunn’s knee on the first possession of a Jan. 31 road game against the Nets. When Dunn suffered a similar injury last season, he missed 23 games…

“Dunn still has some swelling in that knee,” coach Jim Boylen said before the Bulls lost to the Wizards on Feb. 11 in Washington, their final game before the break. “Once his swelling goes down, he will get re-scanned and re-evaluated.  But he had a lot of swelling.”

That’s less than ideal for Dunn as he heads into restricted free agency. He has averaged 7.3 points and  3.6 rebounds per game, however, his most significant contribution has been quality defense for Chicago this season.

This is the latest in a string of injuries for the Bulls. Otto Porter has only played nine games due to a broken foot. Big men Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are currently sidelined due to injuries, although Carter could return after the All-Star break and Markkanen by early next month. Now Dunn.