The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Nikola Mirotic to Pelicans trade

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Nikola Mirotic was going to get moved at the trade deadline, the only questions were where, and would the Bulls get the first round pick they wanted?

Yes, they did — from a Pelicans team desperate to make the playoffs, battling a major injury and who needs both shooting and more big men. The Mirotic trade to the Big Easy was put together on Thursday and will be official soon.

As a reminder of how this trade shakes out:

Chicago receives: Omer Asik, Tony Allen, Jameer Nelson, a 2018 first-round pick (with a Nos. 1-5 protection this year, so it conveys unless the Pelicans miss the playoffs then land in the top three in the lottery) and the right to swap second-rounders with the Pelicans in 2021.

New Orleans receives: Nikola Mirotic and the Pelicans’ own 2018 second-round pick (New Orleans traded it to Chicago in the Quincy Pondexter salary dump last summer).

So how did everyone do in this deal? Let’s break it down Clint Eastwood style with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good: Nikola Mirotic. He got what he wanted most — the Pelicans agreed to pick up his $12.5 million contract option for next season. Yes, Mirotic wanted to get out of Chicago after the “Bobby Portis broke his face with a punch” incident (although the fallout from that seemed to have mellowed out), and yes he wanted the opportunity to show off his skills, but mostly he wanted the cash. It’s always about the money.

That said, he’s going to get a chance to shine in New Orleans and really help a team trying to hold on to a playoff spot. If the Pelicans sign Greg Monroe (bought out by the Suns) as expected, Mirotic will be the third big, the first off the bench, and they are going to lean on him to create looks and get shots with the second unit. Mirotic is not going to finish the season shooting 42.9 percent from three, that’s already started to slow down, but he can score the rock inside and out, and the Pelicans can use that with DeMarcus Cousins sitting in street clothes and a cast. (Alvin Gentry did a great job of staggering Anthony Davis and Cousins, now that second unit needs the boost.) Plus it means less Darius Miller at the four, which is a good thing.

What’s more, Mirotic may be the perfect guy at the four when Anthony Davis is at the five. That’s why we get to the next “good” part of this trade.

The Good: The New Orleans Pelicans (mostly). New Orleans prioritized making the playoffs this season (read: Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps like their jobs), and since Cousins went down with a torn Achilles the Pelicans have lost to the Clippers and at home to the Kings. It felt like they were about to spiral, but this move (and likely signing of Monroe) likely helps them hold on to a postseason berth.

The Pelicans are not as good as they were with Cousins — and they are locked into playing Mirotic next season — but they will be good enough (considering the Clippers probably take a step back). Also, having Mirotic on the roster next season is some insurance in case Cousins does leave via free agency (most people think he stays, but you never know).

Here may be the best part of the Mirotic trade: We can finally see some Pelicans’ lineups with Anthony Davis at the five and actual shooting around him. How about this lineup: Davis, Mirotic, E'Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday, and Darius Miller. That lineup has potential. (I just hope Gentry doesn’t screw it up and put Rondo in rather than Miller.)

The only downsides here for the Pelicans are giving up that first-round pick, and adding $1.2 million more in salary to the books next season (that’s how much more Mirotic will make compared to Asik). The Pelicans will be flirting with the luxury tax next season, the advantage is Mirotic will be a contributor to the team on the court, unlike Asik.

The Good: The Bulls “effort” to get a high draft pick. The Bulls will not use the word “tank,” but they should be closer to the bottom of the standings than they are. Chicago started poorly this season but has played well of late (gone 15-13 in their last 28) and if the draft lottery were today it would be seeded sixth (a 6.3 percent chance at the top spot and a 21.4 percent chance of landing in the top three). With this move the Bulls should lose a little more, and stand a better chance of sliding behind the Suns out West and maybe other teams to improve their lottery (and ultimately draft) position.

The Bad: The rest of this deal for Chicago. The Bulls did land the Pelicans first-round draft pick (likely in the high teens somewhere), and that has some value (as long as they learned their Jordan Bell lesson and don’t sell it). But to do that they gave up a strong trade asset in Mirotic, took on salary almost up to what Mirotic would have made had they had just picked up his option, and did they need to give the Pelicans their second-round pick back?

I don’t hate this deal, it’s not selling the Jordan Bell pick bad (or giving up the No. 16 pick in the Jimmy Butler deal), but it’s not great.

The Bad: Anyone who thought the Pelicans would try to trade Anthony Davis this summer. Most non-crazy Celtics fans realized that if New Orleans comes to the realization it has to move Davis or lose him, they won’t do it until the summer of 2019. Go ahead and try to rationalize the “they will get more for him now” arguments if you want, but the reality in New Orleans is far more straightforward: They are not going to see a player like Davis come through for a long time so they need to do everything they can to keep him. Davis isn’t just a No. 1 pick, he’s a top-five NBA player who brings it on both ends, a first-team All-NBA level player, and he is just entering his prime. You don’t trade a guy like that unless you have to.

The Pelicans are going to try to make this all work. Maybe it doesn’t and Danny Ainge can swoop in from the vulture’s perch he’s sitting on and pick the carcass clean, but that’s not happening for more than a year.

The Ugly: The playoff dreams of the Utah Jazz. It was going to be a longshot for the Jazz to make the postseason anyway, they probably need to go at least 21-9 or better the rest of the way to make the cut. However, with the Cousins injury and the Blake Griffin trade from the Clippers, it may have felt in Salt Lake City like the door to the postseason was opening a crack.

This trade to get Mirotic to New Orleans pretty much slams that door shut. It will stop the bleeding in the Big Easy. Sorry Jazz fans, hopefully next year the core can just stay healthy.

Pelicans Trey Murphy III reportedly invited to participate in Dunk Contest

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We knew three participants invited to the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest: G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Portland Trail Blazers Shaedon Sharpe and the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin.

The fourth slot in that event will go to the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

No doubt Murphy can throw it down with the best of them.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena (soon to be the Delta Center again). The event will be broadcast on TNT.

The Dunk Contest is the Saturday night headline event, but it has fallen flat in recent years. Adding a G-League dunker and young, bouncy athletes such as Murphy, Martin and Sharpe could make this one entertaining. However, what fans really want to see — what made the Dunk Contest must-watch back in the day when Jordan, Kobe, and Vince Carter were doing it — is the stars. There will be no Ja Morant, no Zion Williamson, and no Anthony Edwards in this contest.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 30 at Nets
Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 4 at the New Orleans Pelicans.

However, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the record fall when LeBron returns to Los Angeles on Feb. 7 or Feb. 9.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.

LeBron livid over no foul call at end of regulation, Lakers fall to Celtics in OT

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“The best player on earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham made that comment out of frustration after another game where the Lakers felt robbed at the end. He wasn’t the only Laker.

LeBron James was once again brilliant — 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists — but with the game tied against the Celtics and 4.1 seconds on the clock, he drove the lane and didn’t get the foul call when it clearly looked like Jayson Tatum hit him on the arm as he shot.

After the game, referee crew chief Eric Lewis admitted the officials missed the call:

There was contact. At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”

Patrick Beverley picked up a technical foul for bringing a photographer’s camera over to the referee to show evidence of the foul.

These losses are a punch to the gut for a Laker team with little margin for error and trying to make up ground in the West (at 23-27 they sit 13th in the conference). But LeBron sees a pattern — he is scoring 30.2 points per game (sixth in the league) but is getting to the line just 4.9 times per game, fewer than anyone else in the top nine in the league in scoring.

“I don’t get it. I’m attacking the paint, just as much as any of the guys in this league that’s shooting double-digit free throws a night, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it,” James said postgame in Boston.

The other Lakers were a little more direct.

Boston pulled away in overtime to get the 125-121 win, snapping their own three-game losing streak.

LeBron finished with 41, Anthony Davis 16 (on 6-of-15 shooting off the bench) and Beverley had 15 including a key putback dunk. Jaylen Brown scored 37 for Boston, Tatum 30 and Malcolm Brogdon had 26 off the bench.

There are no moral victories for these Lakers more than halfway into the season, playing the team with the best record in the NBA close and almost winning does not count. Time is running out on LeBron and his team, they need to string together some wins. They felt they should have gotten the chance to win this one.