Allen Berezovsky/WireImage

Pelicans emerge from gloomy end to Anthony Davis era with Zion Williamson, bright future

Leave a comment

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Pelicans hired a lead executive with a championship pedigree. They deftly handled a superstar trade request, securing a massive return. They made savvy additions through draft, trade and free agency.

But the very best thing to happen to New Orleans this offseason was the bounce of ping-pong balls.

Despite holding just a 6% chance, the Pelicans won the lottery. They of course used the No. 1 pick on Zion Williamson – a generational prospect whose potential, age and contract status makes him even more valuable than Anthony Davis, both generally and specifically to this team.

This is my third year, grading offseasons. Before this, I hadn’t reckoned with how to account for lottery results. The Kings have been big risers the previous two years. In 2017, they jumped five spots to the No. 3 pick, but because of a previous pick swap, had to move down closer to their original slot. Last year, Sacramento jumped to No. 2, but pick a player (Marvin Bagley III) I ranked lower, anyway.

This wild lottery demanded a judgment on whether to include the drawing.

Ultimately, I’m grading teams’ offseason results, not the teams’ offseason decision-making. So, I am including lottery results in the grade.

That’s a big reason the Pelicans perform so well. Their decision making was also excellent, though.

They secured maximum return from the Lakers for Davis. Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, the No. 4 pick, two future first-rounders (including a deferment right on one) and a first-round swap rights another year? That’s a dream package.

New Orleans compounded the return by flipping the No. 4 pick, a late second-rounder or two and Solomon Hill‘s burdensome contract to the Hawks for the Nos. 8, 17 and 35 picks and a potential future first-rounder. That’s such great value for the Pelicans.

No. 8 pick Jaxson Hayes and No. 17 pick Nickeil Alexander-Walker both looked good in summer league. (No. 35 Marcos Louzada Silva will spend next season overseas.)

New Orleans instantly formed a deep young group to grow around Williamson.

The Pelicans still have a prime Jrue Holiday, who I deemed worthy of All-NBA last season. If even a couple of the youngsters make a leap, New Orleans could compete for the playoffs next season.

To that end, New Orleans added a couple quality veterans. The Pelicans signed J.J. Redick to a two-year, $26.5 million contract. They also traded just a couple second-rounders for Derrick Favors, whose unguaranteed salary the Jazz had to unload.

Darius Miller re-signed for $7.25 million next season with a $7 million unguaranteed salary the following year. That’s a high number for him, but that contract could be more useful in a trade than if he were making less.

New Orleans is well-situated for the present and future with a variety of possible paths forward. That’s incredible considering the malaise Davis’ trade request instilled.

Getting Williamson changed everything. The Pelicans are doing their best to make the most of the addition.

Offseason grade: A

This Day in NBA History: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar becomes NBA’s all-time scoring leader

Leave a comment

It was fitting he did it with a skyhook.

On April 5, 1984, in a game against the Utah Jazz (played in a sold-out Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took a pass from Magic Johnson, swung left, and drained a hook shot that gave him career point No. 31,420, moving him past Wilt Chamberlain to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

The game stopped as the celebration ensued as Kareem’s teammates swarmed the captain. He was taken out of the game at that point, done for the night.

Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t done scoring, however. H retired five seasons later with 38,387 points, a record that stands to this day.

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t have home court, players forced to workout with what they have

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo is spending much of his time during the coronavirus-imposed hiatus working out, helping care for his newborn son and playing occasional video games.

What the reigning MVP isn’t doing very often is shooting baskets since the NBA has closed team practice facilities.

“I don’t have access to a hoop,” the Milwaukee Bucks forward said Friday during a conference call. “A lot of NBA players might have a court in their house or something, I don’t know, but now I just get my home workouts, (go) on the bike, treadmill, lift weights, stay sharp that way.”

The hiatus is forcing thousands of athletes, pro and otherwise, to work out from home as they try to keep in shape. Equipment varies from player to player, too.

“It all comes down to what they have and what they’re capable of doing,” Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “We can do a lot of body weight stuff. That’s how they stay ready. That’s the most I can offer as a coach for them to stay ready. I can’t say ‘Hey, can you find access to a gym?’ That would be bad management on my part.”

For instance, Pierce said Hawks guard Kevin Huerter has access to a gym in New York and guard Jeff Teague owns a gym in Indiana.

Other players face different situations.

“I’ve seen LeBron’s Instagram,” Pierce said of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. “LeBron has a house with a full weight room and he has an outdoor court. He’s got a different reality right now that gives him a little more access to continue the normal. (Hawks rookie) Cam Reddish lives in an apartment and it’s probably a two-bedroom apartment. He can’t go in the apartment weight room because it’s a public facility. So he’s limited in all things.”

Bucks coach Mike Budenhlolzer said he wanted his players to focus on keeping their bodies in shape and conceded that logistics surrounding the pandemic would make it tougher for them to do any basketball-specific activities.

The Bucks are still finding ways to stay sharp.

Bucks players said team officials have made sure they all have the necessary exercise equipment. Antetokounmpo noted the Bucks also had a catering company bring food to make sure they maintain a proper diet. Center Brook Lopez said workout plans have been sent to them via a phone app.

“They’ve done a really good job of getting everything taken care of and still having tailored workouts for each individual player despite the situation,” Lopez said.

But it’s difficult for them to work on their shooting without access to a court.

“Since the practice facility is closed down, I don’t have any access to a basketball goal unless I go to one of my neighbors’ houses and shoot outside,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “There’s really no basketball for me. It’s basically like Giannis said. Treadmill, jump rope, some weights and that’s it. I have a couple of basketballs I can dribble in my house or outside, but no actual goal to shoot on.”

Pierce noted that Huerter recently asked him when players would be able to get back into the Hawks’ practice facility.

“I told him, ‘I’ll tell you when we won’t,” Pierce said. “We won’t in April.”

Rumor: If there aren’t big changes to Chicago’s plan, Lauri Markkanen ready to move on

Steven Ryan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC Sports Chicago recently reached out to members of the media — myself included — as well as doing a fan poll asking a simple question: Which young Bull has the highest upside?

My answer fell in with the majority (of both media and fans) in picking Coby White, but it was difficult not to select Lauri Markkanen. Seven-footers who move well and can shoot the three like Markkanen are incredibly valuable and hard to find, but this past season he often seemed a combination of lost and passive in Jim Boylen’s offense. Markkanen has regressed under Boylen.

Markkanen apparently felt the same way. If there are not significant changes and a better use of his skills, Markkanen would be happier somewhere else, reports Joe Cowley at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Make no mistake about it, third-year big man Lauri Markkanen was one unhappy camper before the coronavirus put the NBA on hiatus. Unhappy enough that if the direction of the organization was going to stay unchanged, he’d rather be elsewhere.

Change is coming to the windy city, the question is will that be enough change, or at least enough to find a better way to use Markkanen? Chicago just started its search for a new person to head up their basketball operations, with several deserving executives expected to be interviewed. The questions become: Will the person hired have the power to make real changes to the Bulls culture? Is Boylen safe or will there be a new coach? Change is coming to Chicago, but how much change?

The Bulls still control Markkanen’s rights. This was Markkanen’s third season with the Bulls, he is technically eligible for a contract extension this summer but that seems unlikely. More likely is he plays one more year with the Bulls before going to restricted free agency. Or, the new head of basketball operations thinks he can trade Markkanen and get back players that fit whatever style the team is going to play.

There are more questions than answers about what is next in Chicago, including if Markkanen will be part of that future.

ESPN plans televised H-O-R-S-E competition between isolated NBA players

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Friday night started ESPN’s broadcast of an NBA 2K tournament between NBA players. The network also has bumped up the release date of its much-anticipated Michael Jordan documentary.

Next up on its quest to find content in a locked-down sports world:

A televised H-O-R-S-E competition, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Discussions have been ongoing among the NBA, NBPA and ESPN about a competition among several players in isolation — presumably using home gyms — that would include them competing shot for shot in the traditional playground game, sources said.

Details — including a schedule and specific player involvement — are still being finalized.

What else have we got to do, re-watch Tiger King? Let’s make this happen, people.

There have been some rumblings about trying to spice up All-Star Saturday night with a H-O-R-S-E competition to go with the Dunk Contest and the rest, but it has not become a reality. With no other sports programming to put on its multiple channels, this seems like a good gamble by ESPN.