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GM Dell Demps: Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton additions make Pelicans better

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Whether the Pelicans are better off with Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton than they were with DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo remains to be seen.

All general manager Dell Demps could do on Friday, as he sat between his two new players, was offer assurances that New Orleans All-Star Anthony Davis was an ardent advocate for signing Randle and suggest that the “two-way” abilities of Payton and Randle give the Pelicans a promising opportunity to build on a formula that served them well late last season.

“When we finished the season last year, we felt like found a rhythm, found an identity,” Demps said, alluding to the playoff push and first-round sweep of Portland that the Pelicans pulled off without Cousins, who was rehabilitating his torn left Achilles tendon.

“We feel like the team’s improved,” Demps said. “On paper, everything looks really good. But, obviously, we have to do it on the court.”

Before Cousins spurned New Orleans in favor of a one-year, reported $5.3 million deal to join defending champion Golden State this month, the Pelicans’ party line had been that they wanted Cousins back.

But with Cousins still recovering from a serious injury, the Pelicans would not offer the maximum allowable contract for NBA free agents who are eight-year veterans: Five years and around $177 million. They tried to negotiate a shorter deal instead, to no avail.

Cousins, who turns 28 next month, was named a 2018 All-Star before his injury in late January. He averaged 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds in 48 games last season. But Cousins also averaged five turnovers and regularly could be seen lingering near the basket after missed shots, expressing dissatisfaction with officiating while opponents raced five-on-four the other way.

After Cousins’ injury, the Pelicans improved defensively, played with a faster pace and went 21-13 to finish the regular season sixth in the Western Conference.

“Obviously we want to build off the success we had last year,” Demps said, emphasizing that Randle and Payton “are two-way players” who can “push the ball in transition.” In addition to talking up Randle’s and Payton’s defensive play, Demps highlighted their relative youth and repeatedly referred to them as “unselfish.”

The 6-foot-9 Randle, who turns 24 in November, averaged 16.1 points and eight rebounds in just 27 minutes per game with the Los Angeles Lakers last season. He also led Los Angeles in assists seven times.

Demps said he heard from Davis the moment word spread that the Lakers had decided to let Randle go after agreeing to terms with LeBron James.

“I was like, `Yeah, we’re on it,”‘ a grinning Demps recalled.

Randle said Davis also called him “like three times in a row to pretty much get the job done.”

Randle called Davis’ outreach a “very important” factor in his decision.

“It’s their star player,” Randle said of Davis, whom he also knew because they both played in college at Kentucky. “So for him to see me fit in well to that plan A and a part of their future means a lot.”

Randle also said he expects his game to improve alongside a dynamic front-court player like Davis, who Randle said will be “the best player in his prime that I’ve played with.”

Randle also played one full season with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles in 2015-16, but that was the last of Bryant’s 20 seasons.

Like Randle, the 23-year-old Payton is entering his fifth NBA season, having averaged 12.7 points and 6.2 assists last season Orlando and Phoenix.

Rondo, who will turn 33 next season, averaged 8.3 points and 8.2 rebounds last season. But his production spiked in the playoffs, when he averaged 10.3 points and 12.2 rebounds – and displayed a knack for finding Davis with lobs at the rim.

While the 6-4 Payton is a New Orleans native who played in college at Louisiana-Lafayette, he downplayed how much his Louisiana ties influenced his decision to sign with the Pelicans.

“It didn’t matter if this team was in – wherever,” Payton said. “I just felt like this was the best fit.

“I’m best in transition, when we’re pushing the ball,” Payton added. “It definitely fits my strengths.”

Demps said he had studied Payton since before the guard turned pro and “always felt like he was a great fit for our group, especially the way we want to play.”

Joel Embiid says Michael Jordan isn’t the GOAT (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid is a big man like we haven’t seen in some time. He’s both an interior force and a range shooter, and is one of the more talented 7-footers in recent NBA memory.

So it makes sense that the Philadelphia 76ers star leans toward former big men when it comes to discussing the greatest players in league history. While most are obsessed with the back-and-forth between Michael Jordan and LeBron James, Embiid told Jason Concepcion of the Ringer this week that he didn’t think either were the best player ever.

To Embiid, Wilt Chamberlain is the true GOAT.

Via Twitter:

“He’s not the GOAT. To me, you got Wilt Chamberlain. I mean he has all the records. They’re never gonna be beaten. I don’t see anybody getting 100 points in a game. That’s it, he’s the GOAT.”

Chamberlain doesn’t seem to be brought up in the GOAT conversation much anymore, but his prowess was legendary and it’s mistaken to say that he only played against smaller, less athletic white players.

It’s sort of cool that Embiid decided to choose a different player as is greatest of all time. Whether or not that’s true — or whether Embiid truly believes in his choice — is another thing altogether.

LeBron James confirmed ‘Space Jam 2’ begins filming this summer (VIDEO)

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I’m not sure how excited I am to watch “Space Jam 2”. I think LeBron James is a slightly better actor than Michael Jordan, and the original “Space Jam” was nothing to shake a stick at. I’m the perfect age for Space Jam to have meant something to me, but having watched the film as an adult I can tell you it’s largely underwhelming.

Still, Space Jam 2 is set to film this summer and we finally have a confirmation of that fact from LeBron himself.

Speaking at All-Star Weekend, James told a crowd in Charlotte that they are indeed going to film once the season is over.

Via Twitter:

I think filmmaking has evolved, particularly animated filmmaking in the wake of things like Toy Story, Shrek, and other big franchises. There is no doubt that Space Jam 2 will be a better movie than the original. The director of the film certainly thinks so.

Kids will love it, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that James want to get involved in when he moved to the Los Angeles Lakers this summer.

I’m sure that basketball Twitter will have a steady stream of opinions when it comes out in theaters. Maybe I will catch it when it’s on at Netflix a month later.

Report: Celtics aren’t long-term destination for Anthony Davis

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Anthony Davis recently made mention that all 29 NBA teams other than the New Orleans Pelicans are on his list to land when he becomes trade eligible again this summer. Teams like the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Los Angeles Clippers will vie for his services with the best packages they have the to offer.

But which of these teams will be long-term solutions for Davis, whose current contract runs out in the summer of 2020?

That is likely to be where the conversation around Davis shifts as we move into the spring. In fact, according to Shams Charania, at least one interested team isn’t on Davis’ radar long term.

Via Twitter:

Davis and agent Rich Paul severely overplayed their hand when it came to negotiating a trade request with the Pelicans as they tried to steer Davis to the Lakers before the deadline.

New Orleans remains firmly in control of Davis and any offers for him, although it’s possible the player could retain some additional influence by making it known that he would not re-sign anywhere outside of his preferred destinations. According to Charania, that’s the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, and Bucks.

Still, a player’s status as a potential risk in free agency is affected by how good he is and how close to a championship the receiving team thinks they are. We saw a Toronto Raptors take a chance with Kawhi Leonard, who could very well leave this summer.

Might a team trade for Davis without the guarantee that he could leave in 2020? That seems possible, and I wouldn’t rule out anything wild happening in trade market come summer.

Pat Riley on LeBron leaving Miami: ‘I saw a dynasty fly out the window’ (VIDEO)

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LeBron James spent just four years with the Miami Heat, grabbing two championships with pals Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. LeBron then left South Beach to bring a title to his native Ohio with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James is now part of the Los Angeles Lakers, an organization that Miami Heat president Pat Riley is innately familiar with (Riley was on the coaching staff of the Lakers from 1979-90). Riley was famously upset when he took the podium in the summer of 2014 after James had informed him that he was not going to come back to Miami.

We are approaching the half-decade mark from that interaction, and Riley appears to have cooled off a little bit.

Speaking with ESPN’s Dan LeBatard, Riley said that he felt disappointed because of how long a tenure that Heat team could have had.

Via Twitter:

I’m not sure if it’s fair to say that Miami you would have been a “10-year team”. Chris Bosh last played in February of 2016, and Wade hasn’t been a starter-level player for some time.

Still, it’s true that if LeBron would have stayed in South Beach that the Heat would be a perennial Eastern Conference Finals team and perhaps a real dynastic challenger to the Golden State Warriors.