New Orleans Pelicans offseason a letdown

Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry in Phoenix Suns v Toronto Raptors
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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.

When announcing at media day that Zion Williamson hurt his foot several weeks earlier, Pelicans lead executive David Griffin preemptively tried to assuage concern the team and Williamson were once again not on the same page with an injury.

“Unfortunately, I know that’s going to be taken as a very-big negative for all of you,” Griffin said of the injury. “It’s really not for us, because we were dealing with it all offseason.”

It was an ironic assurance, because New Orleans’ offseason was defined by the team’s information deficit.

The Pelicans traded draft capital to create cap flexibility, implying they knew they could land a star… then struck out on the summer’s top free agents. Chris Paul didn’t take New Orleans’ money. Neither did Kyle Lowry.

It’s a key missed opportunity and depletion of assets as the Pelicans try to impress Williamson, who might have a wandering eye.

New Orleans acquired Devonte' Graham in a sign-and-trade with the Hornets. He’s solid. Signing-and-trading Lonzo Ball to the Bulls netted Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple. Satoransky is serviceable, and Temple should help in the locker room.

But I’d rather just have Ball than that trio, let alone have kept the first-round pick necessary to get Graham – a restricted free agent – from Charlotte.

Ball is three years younger than Graham and fit well with Point Zion. Plus, Williamson seemed to like Ball. The Pelicans had leverage with Ball’s matching rights.

That said, Ball didn’t always seem keen on New Orleans. Chemistry matters and is difficult to assess from afar.

Though it was somewhat surprising the Pelicans fired Stan Van Gundy after only one season, he wasn’t reaching his players. New coach Willie Green deserves a shot.

Acquired in the cap-clearing trade with the Grizzlies, Jonas Valanciunas should be an upgrade in both ability and fit from Steven Adams. But the selling point that Valanciunas is the stretch big who pairs well with Williamson falls flat. Valanciunas shoots better than Adams, a non-shooter. But Valanciunas still leaves New Orleans looking for an even better fit.

The Pelicans re-signed Josh Hart to a creative contract that gives him a higher salary and them more team control. That’s certainly better than him leaving or taking his qualifying offer.

Another 3-and-D type, No. 17 pick Trey Murphy was a solid choice (at least after trading down from No. 10). No. 35 pick Herb Jones has already drawn praise

Re-signed Willy Hernangomez and Didi Louzada round out a roster that will have to rely more on depth and internal development than the originally desired talent infusion.

Maybe the Pelicans took a reasonable risk by clearing cap space, and it just didn’t work out. Sometimes, wise bets don’t hit. Maybe New Orleans was a victim of an unfair system.

But it’s tough to believe the Pelicans did well enough gaining intel before free agency officially opened, and tampering is commonplace enough that teams must work around it/through it.

We’re grading outcomes, anyway.

Since that initial moment of hope, New Orleans’ offseason was one long bummer, right through the revelation Williamson is sidelined.

Offseason grade: D+

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
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This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.

Kyrie Irving has fan ejected during road loss to Hornets


Sunday was not a good day for the Mavericks and Kyrie Irving.

In addition to losing their second-straight game to the Hornets (and fourth straight overall) to fall out of even the play-in out West, Irving had a Hornets fan ejected from the game Sunday. Irving pointed the situation out to the referee, and soon arena security was involved and the man was escorted out.

It is unclear what the fan said to Irving, but more players in recent years have taken this step with fans they feel had crossed the line of common decency. Irving addressed the situation in his postgame press conference.

Irving and the Mavericks heard boos from their fans at home last Friday during a loss to these same Hornets, and Irving’s response that night was more defiant in tone.

“So what? Just the way I feel about it. I’ve been in New York City so I know what that’s like. You obviously want to play well, but there’s only five people on the court who can play for the Dallas Mavericks. If the fans wanna change places, then hey, be my guest. Got years of work ahead to be great enough to be on this level. But our focus isn’t necessarily on the boos, it should be on the performance.”

That performance has been lacking — the Mavericks have lost four in a row, 7-of-9, and if the postseason started today they would be fishing in Cabo. Irving hasn’t been the problem (the Mavericks are 4.5 per 100 possessions better when he is on the court), but he hasn’t been the solution, either. Irving is a free agent after this season and said he and Luka Dončić are still getting used to playing with one another.