Associated Press

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.”

C.J. McCollum on his latest Warriors comments: ‘I’m happy stop making me look like a scorn man sheesh’

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Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum explained Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors with an analogy about getting jumped by a gang with your brothers then joining that gang and forgetting about your brothers. McCollum called stars passing through Golden State to win big before joining another team – a la DeMarcus Cousins – “disgusting.”

Those comments have predictably generated plenty of discussion. But McCollum dislikes how those discussions are being framed.

McCollum:

Not everything McCollum says is newsworthy. Nobody is ethically obligated to amplify every comment he makes in a lengthy interview. Everywhere I saw, McCollum’s quote was given clear context.

It’s not newsworthy McCollum called the Warriors great. We all know they’re great. That’s why their existence is controversial.

And McCollum didn’t say just that he would never join Golden State. He called it “disgusting” then elaborated many other players would have too much pride for that track. The rhetoric was sharp and wide-reaching.

I found McCollum’s comments interesting, and I’m happy he shared them. I didn’t necessarily agree, but I appreciate his perspective. The NBA is more fun when more players reveal their differing points of view.

So kudos to McCollum – and Andre Iguodala.

Iguodala:

McCollum:

McCollum totally forgot about Iguodala – but not incorrectly. Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson look like future Hall of Famers. Maybe Cousins gets there, too. But Iguodala doesn’t deserve it. He made only one All-Star game and mostly topped out at good-starter level. His Finals MVP – which should have gone to LeBron James or, if you insist on awarding a winning player, Curry – shouldn’t push Iguodala over the top.

The best part of McCollum’s Twitter defense today:

McCollum has won seven playoff games – including a series against the Clippers and a single game over the Warriors in 2016. He could have easily brought those up.

But “Im trying Jennifer” is a far more enjoyable response.

Report: Heat, Udonis Haslem nearing deal for him to return for 16th season

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Does this give us a hint about what Dwyane Wade is thinking?

Probably not. What it means is that the Heat want some depth along the front line and, more importantly, a quality presence in the locker room. They want to bring back one of the icons of the franchise.

Udonis Haslem is reportedly nearing a contract with the Miami Heat, reports Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.

Haslem played in just 14 games for the Heat last season, and 72 total minutes. He just turned 38 and the Heat could use that roster spot to develop a young player. But this is about loyalty, and it’s a move that will play well in the locker room and with the fan base.

Wade also will like it. Whether it is an omen of his decision remains to be seen.

LeBron James on top of MVP odds rankings

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The 2018-19 NBA MVP race feels more wide open than we have seen in years.

What kind of numbers will LeBron James put up with the Lakers and how far can he lift that team? Can James Harden repeat? Is Kawhi Leonard back in MVP form? Will a new coach in Mike Budenholzer lift Giannis Antetokounmpo up to a new level? Does Russell Westbrook put up MVP numbers again?

Online betting company Bovada released these odds for the 2019 MVP award.

LeBron James            10/3
Anthony Davis           4/1
Giannis Antetokounmpo   9/2
James Harden            11/2
Kevin Durant            9/1
Kawhi Leonard           11/1
Russell Westbrook       14/1
Stephen Curry           15/1
Joel Embiid             16/1
Kyrie Irving            16/1
Ben Simmons             35/1
Damian Lillard          45/1
Karl-Anthony Towns      50/1
DeMar DeRozan           80/1
John Wall               80/1
Donovan Mitchell        85/1
Jimmy Butler            100/1
Nikola Jokic            100/1
Victor Oladipo          100/1
Chris Paul              100/1
LaMarcus Aldridge       125/1
Paul George             125/1
DeMarcus Cousins        150/1
Gordon Hayward          150/1
Jayson Tatum            175/1
Blake Griffin           225/1
Devin Booker            275/1
Kristaps Porzingis      275/1
Kyle Lowry              325/1
Lonzo Ball              450/1

A few quick thoughts:

• If you’re betting on Porzingis to win the MVP this season, just donate that money to charity where it can do some good. He may not even play this season.

• If you believe Kawhi Leonard is healthy and back to form, 11-1 is a good betting value.

• Westbrook at 14-1 also seems a good value, if you think he and Paul George can lift the Thunder up to a new level.

• My preseason prediction for MVP is Anthony Davis. But that’s betting on him staying healthy.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey says LeBron is GOAT by a “pretty big margin”

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had it right — the GOAT argument is a comparison of different players with different teammates and different rules, it’s cannot be definitive. To use his Highlander analogy, “there doesn’t need to be only one.”

But if you ask Rockets GM Daryl Morey who is The Greatest, he is going with LeBron James. Something he said on the Dan Patrick Show Wednesday.

LeBron is the best of his generation, maybe the greatest athlete the NBA has ever seen, and he entered the league with a basketball IQ off the chart (remember when short-sighted people used to rip him for passing to the open player with the game on the line rather than taking the contested shots?).

Is he the GOAT? Fun discussion while sitting on a barstool with a Steady Brewing Unrefined hazy IPA in front of you, go at it in the comments, but there is no answer.

Unless you’re Morey.