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Pelicans head into summer facing big Boogie Cousins, Rondo questions

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This Pelicans team had no quit. Not early in the season when the pieces weren’t quite fitting together, and not after most people wrote their season off when DeMarcus Cousins returned from an Achilles injury. With Anthony Davis playing like an MVP, Jrue Holiday finding his groove, and the addition of Nikola Mirotic to help space the floor, the Pelicans not only made it to the postseason, they swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.

While they eventually couldn’t climb the Mt. Everest that is Golden State, the Pelicans have something real to build on.

But now they also face some tough questions in a Western Conference that has little margin for error:

• Do the Pelicans bring back DeMarcus Cousins? If so at what price and for how many years?

• Do the Pelicans bring back Rajon Rondo?

• Can the Pelicans add a scorer on the wing to balance the roster?

None of those questions have easy answers.

The Pelicans do want Cousins back — they were the No. 4 seed and playing well when he went down. Coach Alvin Gentry put it this way:

Is Cousins still a 26 and 12 guy coming off a torn Achilles? Probably not. But he still has value.

More importantly for the Pelicans, after this playoff run, the Pelicans don’t “need” Cousins back to win, and they know it. That gives the Pelicans leverage when the sides sits down. If Cousins walks they will struggle to get anyone as good in (they are capped out still), and they will have burned a good pick to get him, but this team just reached the second round of the playoffs without him.

On the other side of the table, it’s going to be hard for Cousins, who was going to get offered a five-year max contract from the Pelicans ($176 million over the course of it) before the injury. Now he’s not going to get a max starting at just north of $30 million a season, likely he lands more in the $22 million to $25 million range. However, the bigger issue being discussed around the league is the years — no team is comfortable being locked into four (or for the Pelicans five) years with him. Cousins’ best bet is two years and a player option for year three. If he wants to go that long.

Last summer, Rudy Gay was coming off a torn Achilles and got a two-year, $17.6 million contract with a player option the second year. While the money would be higher for Cousins, maybe he would bet on himself and take a one-plus-one deal knowing he could get paid next summer if he is healthy and shows he can still dominate. Or, the two sides could go with a longer deal that has some protections built in or performance goals, although that is far less likely to come together.

The advantage the Pelicans have: No other team is going to come in big now, either. Before the injury Cousins had options (just with one fewer guaranteed year and a little less money), now those teams — Lakers, Mavericks, others — will be cautious like New Orleans. There is nobody ready to throw max money cash or long contracts at Cousins.

Which is why he likely strikes a short deal with the Pelicans and tries to prove himself — and boost that value.

If Cousins remains a Pelican it limits what the team can pay Rajon Rondo.

New Orleans got him with what was a very good deal — one year at $3.3 million — for this season. Despite the flaws in his game, his price is going up, and the Pelicans want to keep him. New Orleans loves his impact on the locker room, and having Rondo at the point allows Holiday to focus more as a pure scorer sometimes working off the ball, a role he has thrived in.

Rondo is an unrestricted free agent. The most the Pelicans can offer him as a raise is $3.9 million, which will not be enough to keep him. New Orleans can use their $5.2 million taxpayer midlevel exception on him (which jumps to $8.6 if Cousins leaves because they go below the tax line). If another team comes in above $5.2 million, there is nothing the Pelicans can do.

What’s more, use that exception on Rondo and they lose an option to bring in a needed wing scorer. Mirotic helped fill that role, but the Pelicans could use some athleticism and defense on the wing to help round out an improving roster.

The Pelicans look like a team on the rise in the West, but they also could look different by the time summer is over.

 

Report: Cavaliers players played songs like ‘Thuggish Ruggish Bone’ around John Beilein

Cavaliers coach John Beilein
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While coaching the Cavaliers, John Beilein called his players “thugs.” He said it was a simple case of mispronouncing the word “slugs” while speaking too quickly.

Of the six Cleveland players who publicly addressed the issue the following day, only Tristan Thompson didn’t offer clear support of his coach. The Cavs kept Beilein.

But with Beilein resigning, a fuller picture is emerging.

Shams Charania, Jason Lloyd and Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

a number of the players never really embraced his explanation. In fact, some of them thought it was an insult to their intelligence, one player told The Athletic.

“There was no coming back from that,” he said.

Instead, multiple players began playing songs that included the word “thug” whenever Beilein was within earshot, sources said: Bone Thugz-n-Harmony’s “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” and Tupac’s “Thugz Mansion” among them. As the team boarded the bus a few days after the incident, one player was intentionally playing Trick Daddy’s “I’m a Thug” with Beilein a few feet away. Other players blasted songs with the word “thug” loudly during workouts in the facility. Players did this to make light of a very tough situation, according to one team source.

“The worst part to me was not owning that he said it,” one player told The Athletic.

If they didn’t sing the lyrics as:

  • “It’s the Sluggish Ruggish Bone”
  • “So right before I sleep, dear God, what I’m askin’ / Remember this face, save me a place, in slug’s mansion”
  • “Baby, ‘cause I’m a slug”

…they did it wrong.

For what it’s worth, Beilein did own that he said “thugs.” He just claimed he meant to say “slugs.”

Want to question which word he intended to use? Suspicious about what in his mind led “thugs” to come out even if he meant to say “slugs”? That’s totally fair.

But either “slugs” or “thugs” was entirely plausible in that context. Nobody outside Beilein can know what he was thinking.

Cavaliers players just didn’t want to give benefit of the doubt to a coach they already loathed. I wouldn’t be surprised if some within the organization showed faux outrage about thugs-slugs just because they wanted Beilein gone.

The NBA has levels of pettiness Beilein never experienced in college. It can be jarring, and Beilein seemingly never got comfortable at this level. Put another way:

Slug passion got you tremblin’ like Death on the Row

Rumor: The Cavaliers might try to flip Andre Drummond in trade at draft, or in July

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When J.B. Bickerstaff takes over as the new coach in Cleveland today, he will inherit a big, slow frontcourt of Kevin Love and Andre Drummond that will make a combined $60 million next season.

Will he still have that frontcourt when training camp opens next fall?

We know the Cavaliers tried to trade Love at the deadline but the remaining three years, $91 million on his contract after this season made that difficult. Instead, Cleveland surprised the league when it added Drummond at the trade deadline.

Now comes a rumor from Greg Swartz at Bleacher Report where an anonymous former GM says he thinks once Drummond picks up the $28.8 million option on his contract — something expected around the league — the Cavs will try to trade him, too.

“I don’t think [Drummond and the Cavs] will last long,” one former NBA general manager said. “I could see them trading him to a team this summer if he agrees to pick up his option. They could also do a sign-and-trade if he agrees to a new long-term deal. I don’t think he’ll be in Cleveland for long.”

For the record, the Cavaliers deny that is the case. GM Koby Altman said as much.

“Absolutely, we consider him a potential long-term play,” Altman said. “Obviously, he has a player option that if he picks up, we think we’re in good shape in terms of our cap space. There’s no better money spent than on Andre Drummond if he picks up his option.”

There could be interest in Drummond as an expiring contract next season because teams are trying to clear up cap space for a deep summer of 2021 free agent class (particularly if Giannis Antetokounmpo does not sign the $254 million supermax contract the Bucks will offer this summer). There may be teams interested in the 26-year-old Drummond longer term — he is averaging 17.7 points and 15.8 rebounds a game as a traditional big — just not at anywhere near his current salary.

Expect a lot of Cavaliers trade rumors around the draft and into July as they try to add talent. Don’t be surprised if Drummond is in some of those rumors; the Cavaliers should explore everything.

Also, don’t be surprised if Love and Drummond are the starting 4/5 for the Cavaliers when the season tips off next October.

 

Counter-report: John Beilein will receive some of remaining salary from Cavaliers

Cavaliers coach John Beilein
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Initial reporting suggested John Beilein will walk away from the rest of his contract with the Cavaliers.

But apparently he’ll get a payout.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Beilein and the Cavaliers negotiated a financial settlement that will pay him a portion of the remaining money on his 2019-20 contract, league sources said. He left the University of Michigan and signed a five-year contract with Cleveland that included a team option for the final season, a deal that paid him more than $4 million a season, league sources said.

That doesn’t sound like a substantial settlement (relatively).

But Beilein had some leverage. Because he did so poorly, it seemed the Cavs might just fire him at the end of the season. While it appears to be his choice to walk away now, everyone seemed ready to move on soon enough.

There could have been more of a fired-or-quit standoff. But Beilein was so done, he left a lot of money on the table. That’s still the story, even if he’ll walk away with some.

Kevin Durant not close to return, but his jumper still looks wet

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Kevin Durant will not play an NBA game this season.

His jumper, however, looks to be in midseason form. Following All-Star Weekend, a video surfaced on Instagram of Durant working out at UCLA, and his shot remains a thing of beauty. His pull-up works, too.

There’s some debate around the league about just how good 31-year-old Durant will be when he returns.

When he left he was the best player on the planet, an unstoppable scorer who could defend LeBron James in the clutch of a game, KD was a two-time defending Finals MVP at the peak of his game. Suffering a torn Achilles means he’s not going to have the same level of explosiveness, but when you’re pushing 7-foot tall (in shoes), have a high release over your head, can hit from anywhere, and have a deadly fade away, does it matter if you lose half-a-step?

With Kyrie Irving possibly done for the season in Brooklyn, these videos provide a little hope to Nets fans. Get this roster healthy next season and they can hang with anyone in the East.