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Zion Williamson and the Pelicans will be fun to watch, but are they good?

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New Orleans is already on everybody’s League Pass must-watch list — they are going to put on a fireworks show every night they step on the court. We see that already in team scrimmages.

Zion Williamson has generated excitement and has New Orleans buzzing — 10,000 people showed up to watch the team’s informal scrimmage over the weekend.

There is a wave of energy around this team that New Orleans fans are ready to ride.

The Pelicans will be fun, no doubt, but will they be any good?

Actually, yes.

Could they be in the mix for a playoff spot in the West?

That might be asking a lot — this was a 33-win team a season ago that made major roster changes and is banking on a lot of young players, plus they are playing in a West deep with quality teams. New Orleans is in the tier of teams that needs everything to go right this season to have a chance to be in the playoff mix. Maybe the best comparison is last-seasons League Pass darlings, the Sacramento Kings, who won 39 games and hung around the fringes of the playoffs until late in the season.

Make no mistake, however, the Pelicans are going to be respectably good, this is not a rebuilding team that is a nightly pushover. Teams are going to have to earn their wins against the Pelicans.

That’s in part because of a good mix of veterans. Jrue Holiday at the guard spot is a borderline All-Star player who averaged 21.2 points and 7.7 assists per game last season. J.J. Redick is in the mix at the guard spot and will be there to wear opponents down chasing him off screens, then draining the three anyway. The Pelicans added a solid big man in the paint in Derrick Favors, and they have guys like E’Twaun Moore coming off the bench.

This should be a lock-down, top-10 defensive team the Pelicans put out on the court. Holiday and Lonzo Ball form one of the better defensive backcourts in the NBA, Favors and Zion are good rim protectors, and while Brandon Ingram isn’t known for his defense he’s long, athletic, and can play within the system. Also remember, the Pelicans hired Jeff Bzdelik — the guy behind the Rockets defense when it was good the past couple of seasons — to be an assistant coach running that end of the floor.

New Orleans’ offense makes a lot of sense when the Pelicans get out in transition — and they will do that a lot. Last season the Pelicans played at the second-fastest pace in the league (103.9 possessions per game) but were 12th in percentage of offense in transition, in part because they just weren’t efficient finishing those plays (28th in the NBA in transition efficiency, stat via Cleaning the Glass).

Expect that to change this season — the Pelicans should be beasts in transition. Ball is at his best playing on instinct in the open court, and with Williamson and Ingram there are athletic finishers to close out plays. Holiday is very good in transition as well. This is when the Pelicans will be fun. Ball needs to finish better at the rim and develop a little floater to score in the paint, but in transition New Orleans will put on a show and be hard to stop.

In the halfcourt, the offense will be tougher to fit together. Ingram has been his best in isolation with the ball in his hands, but that’s not going to happen as much as he likely wants (he’s in a contract year and wants his numbers). Ball needs to hit shots to space the floor. With Redick and Holiday the Pelicans have shooting threats and veterans to run the offense, Favors can get them a solid 12 points a night, but it may take a while to find a rhythm when the game slows down.

The Pelicans bench was an issue in years past, but this season with payers such as Moore and Josh Hart, plus Redick probably comes off the bench, there is a lot more depth on this roster. Coach Alvin Gentry will have some room to experiment with lineups and rotations.

The Pelicans are going to be a nightly fireworks show on the court. They are going to be good and difficult to score against. Saying playoffs is probably jumping the gun, but this is the time to watch the Pelicans and get in on the ground floor of something that could be special.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: If Bucks underperform whether to re-sign “becomes a lot more difficult”

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Around the league, the consensus among team executives is Giannis Antetokounmpo is almost a lock to sign a super-max contract extension with the Milwaukee Bucks next summer.

Almost.

Which is why other teams are keeping an eye on the situation, just in case.

The Bucks are a contending team and the only home Antetokounmpo has known in the United States — the only place he has ever been able to live comfortably and happily with his family — but he keeps leaving the door just a little open. He did that at the end of last season. He did it again over the summer speaking a Harvard University professor who was researching the Bucks turnaround and the challenges of a small market team in the NBA. Via the Journal Sentinel.

“I want the Bucks to build a winning culture,” Antetokounmpo is quoted as saying. “So far, we have been doing great, and, if this lasts, there’s no other place I want to be. But if we’re underperforming in the NBA next year, deciding whether to sign becomes a lot more difficult.”

Define “underperforming.” Do the Bucks need to make the NBA Finals? What if they lose in a close seven-game Eastern Conference Finals to Philadelphia? Anything short of the conference finals — barring a major injury, of course — would be a disappointment. Is this Antetokounmpo just keeping pressure on the organization to spend and put together a winner?

Leaving Milwaukee would mean leaving a lot of money on the table — only the Bucks can re-sign Antetokounmpo to a five-year, $247 million supermax contract next summer. Bucks GM Jon Horst said Milwaukee will offer it (then got fined for saying they would offer it, even though it’s obvious). If Antetokounmpo doesn’t sign it, the Bucks will be forced to consider trading him (or lose him for nothing), or find a way to win him over before his contract ends in 2021.

Because of money, comfort level, and playing for a contender, most teams don’t think Antetokounmpo is going anywhere as a free agent next summer.

But they are watching. Just in case.

Jamal Crawford makes not-so-subtle pitch on Twitter for spot on Lakers roster

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The Lakers have made LeBron James their point guard this season, the shot creator with the ball in his hands.

That worked with limited success in a season-opening loss to the Clippers. LeBron tried to force-feed the ball to Anthony Davis much of the night (leading to five turnovers). The Clippers adjusted to defend LeBron/Davis actions as the game wore on — switching but having the big man stay back and daring LeBron to shoot or blow past the defender, neither of which he did well. When Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee was on the floor, the Lakers had no spacing, so the Clippers clogged the paint. In the end, LeBron and Davis combined to shoot 15-of-40 on the night, including 1-of-6 in the fourth quarter.

Laker coach Frank Vogel was stuck because he didn’t have another good playmaking option (his next best guys for that, Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma, are both out injured).

Free agent Jamal Crawford has an idea and voiced it on Twitter.

Crawford is one of the best veteran free agents available

And no, this is not going to happen.

The Lakers have 14 guaranteed contracts already and the one non-guaranteed they are carrying is Howard (teams can only carry 15 players). If the Lakers waived Howard they would need to replace him with another center. The Lakers could eat the contract of Troy Daniels or Jared Dudley to create a roster spot for a free agent, but they are nowhere near making that kind of move yet. Even if they were, Crawford might not be the guy, he creates shots more for himself than others.

Crawford could help the right team, the man can still get buckets off the bench. He averaged 7.9 points per game last season and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the end of last year. There are downsides — Crawford is 39, has slowed in recent years, and his defense is not good — but in the right role he can help.

Just not the Lakers.

Good try, though.

Draymond Green opens up about, takes blame for last season’s rift with Kevin Durant

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At the time last November, some wondered if Draymond Green‘s on-court, over-the-top argument with Kevin Durant — which extended into the locker room, where Green reportedly called Durant a “b****” and questioned his commitment to the Warriors because of KD’s pending free agency — would doom the Warriors down the line in the playoffs.

Green was more worried about what it would do to his friendship with Durant.

That’s what Green said on The Woj Pod with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, a  joint interview with Green and Warriors GM Bob Myers. Green also said the team suspending him for a game ultimately forced him to step back and think about the incident.

“I started to tell myself in my mind, ‘Wow, [Myers is] flipping on me,’ and it just felt like, ‘Wow, OK, is this not the guy I’ve known for all these years? Is he turning on me?’ And I started to tell myself all of these things, and then everybody’s like, ‘Oh my God, the Warriors sided with Kevin Durant.’…

“I just had to accept the fact that I was wrong. And once I was able to get over my stubbornness and accept the fact that I was wrong, I was able to move on. I lost [Durant’s] trust. How do I get that back? Not so we can win a championship or we can win some games … but I actually loved this guy, like that’s really my brother. And so not knowing what’s next in our relationship bothered me more.”

Green said he eventually apologized to Durant and he thought the relationship was repaired. However, Green added that Durant’s comments to the Wall Street Journal this summer that he never felt he fit in with the guys in Golden State really bothered him.

The Green and Durant incident ultimately did not cost the Warriors a title, worn-down ligaments and tendons that snapped did that (as well as an outstanding Raptors team).

Did what Green said push Durant out the door, ultimately to Brooklyn? Only Durant knows the answer to that, but it felt like KD was eyeing the door before Green got in his face.

As for their relationship, if Shaq and Kobe can get along now there’s no reason to worry about Durant and Green.

 

Pascal Siakam, Fred Van Vleet each go off for 34 points against Pelicans (VIDEO)

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Apparently lifting those insanely-large championship rings didn’t wear out Pascal Siakam‘s and Fred Van Vleet’s shooting arms.

Siakam looked like a guy ready to earn that new $130 million contract, and Van Vleet looked like the guy from the NBA Finals who just kept hitting shots and making plays. Each of them scored 34 points — Van Vleet did it on 12-of-18 shooting — helping left the Raptors to a 130-122 overtime win.

Check out the video of Siakam and Van Vleets buckets above.

We’ll see what the Raptors roster looks like after the trade deadline, but as assembled this is a pretty good team that’s going to win a lot of games in the East. Especially is Siakam can continue this level of play and take another step forward off of last season’s Most Improved Player campaign.