Report: Trail Blazers trading C.J. McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. to Pelicans

C.J. McCollum and Josh Hart in New Orleans Pelicans v Portland Trail Blazers
Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

David Griffin is back.

Will Zion Williamson follow?

Griffin, who helped build the Cavaliers’ 2016 championship team as Cleveland’s lead executive then secured a haul from the Lakers for Anthony Davis early in his Pelicans tenure, had been in a rut. The walls appeared to be closing in on Griffin in New Orleans. He looked desperate to save his job.

But an inspiring trade with the Trail Blazers that returns C.J. McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. for a fairly low cost brings hope. Not only that Williamson will return from his foot injury this season (the timeline Griffin gave the second time), but that Williamson will stay long-term.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Andrew Lopez of ESPN:

McCollum is good. He might be the best player moved before the deadline. The Knicks, Mavericks and Pacers were reportedly interested in him.

But he’s on the wrong side of 30 and due $69,135,802 the next two seasons. Nance (29) isn’t much younger, though he’s significantly cheaper ($9,672,727 next season).

They don’t neatly match the timeline of Williamson, 21.

The fear: The Pelicans are making the same mistakes with Williamson they made with Davis – spending significant capital to add veterans early, not winning enough at that stage then being less-equipped to win around him once he enters his prime.

But the cost of adding McCollum and Nance was so low, New Orleans is justified making this win-now trade.

McCollum brings much-needed shot creation from the perimeter. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was way overburdened in that role. Brandon Ingram can use the relief. A versatile defensive forward, Nance adds another helpful element.

Even if it takes until next season (hopefully not), the Pelicans have meaningfully upgraded their supporting cast around Williamson.

New Orleans isn’t just waiting for Williamson to return, though. After a rough start, the Pelicans (21-32) are 10th in the Western Conference – already on track to make the play-in tournament and now looking even stronger. This trade weakens their next-closest competition, Portland (21-33), and should help them hold off the Spurs (20-34) and Kings (20-35).

There is limited short-term upside. New Orleans is 4.5 game back of the ninth-place Lakers. If they remain 10th, the Pelicans would have to go 2-0 in road games in the play-in tournament to advance to the playoffs. Highly unlikely.

But merely making the play-in tournament isn’t nothing. Those games are high-stakes and competitive. A winning (or even less-losing) environment could help improve Williamson’s habits. New Orleans has made the postseason just twice in the previous decade. Another meaningful game would be enjoyable.

The Trail Blazers, on the other hand, have had enough early-postseason losses for the time being after years of competing with Damian Lillard.

Portland already traded Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Clippers. This deal supplements the Trail Blazers’ pivot into new direction. With Lillard injured and now looking increasingly likely to miss the rest of the season, Portland is accepting a lost year.

The Trail Blazers are now armed with the potential of a projected $30 million in cap space and two lottery picks – useful tools for building back up around Lillard.

Portland’s own lottery pick should land even higher after unloading so many productive players (tanking). New Orleans’ pick appears likely to convey this year in that 5-14 range. The Pelicans did well to top-four protect the pick (that was already sent to the Hornets in the Devonte' Graham sign-and-trade if it landed outside the lottery). That really limits the downside for New Orleans. However, the future protections if the pick doesn’t convey this year are unclear. Though unlikely to matter, those details could significantly swing the trade.

The Trail Blazers’ cap-space projection includes a cap hold for Anfernee Simons, whom they almost certainly want to keep in restricted free agency. The projection also includes waiving and stretching Eric Bledsoe (who has just a $3.9 million guarantee) and waiving Josh Hart (whose $12.96 million salary is unguaranteed). However, if nobody worth that much cap space is available, Portland could keep Hart, a gritty defensive wing and sometimes-capable 3-point shooter.

*A $60 million projection – which has been floated elsewhere – is unrealistic.

For perspective, if they trimmed their roster to just Damian Lillard, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson, the Trail Blazers would project to have less than $60 million in cap room.

Portland also has Alexander-Walker, Justise Winslow, Didi Louzada and Greg Brown with guaranteed salaries for next season and that partial guarantee for Bledsoe. Keeping Simons would further eat into the cap. Portland’s first-round picks count against the cap, too.

Of course, for that cap space to lead to winning, the Trail Blazers must use it. There have been rumors about Jody Allen selling the team ever since she took control. A teardown could be a prelude to a sale, offering a new owner a chance to start with a clean state. Whether Lillard gets an extension this summer could signal the franchise’s direction.

The No. 17 pick in the 2019 draft, Alexander-Walker has shown promise. But the guard has really struggled this season. It’s unclear how much the Trail Blazers value him as a prospect. He might have just been matching salary.

Didi Louzada is less likely to help Portland. He has shown little since getting drafted No. 35 in 2019, got suspended 25 games for steroids then recently underwent surgery for a torn meniscus. Tomas Satoransky was almost certainly included just for his matching salary on an expiring contract.

Spoestra’s biggest Heat adjustment for Game 2? Play with more ‘toughness and resolve’


DENVER — The days between NBA Finals are filled with talk of adjustments. After an ugly Game 1, much of that falls on the Heat — what can Erik Spoelstra draw up to get Jimmy Butler better lanes to attack? How must the Heat adjust their defense on Nikola Jokick?

Spoelstra sees it a little differently.

“Scheme is not going to save us,” he said.

His point is straightforward, the team’s best adjustment is simply to play better. More effort, more resolve. The trio of Max Strus, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson must do better than 2-of-23 from 3. The Heat can’t settle for jumpers like they did in Game 1, they have to attack the rim and draw some fouls, getting to the line (the Heat had just two free throws in Game 1). Their halfcourt defensive decisions have to be sharper. Those are not scheme-related things.

The Heat saw some of that in the second half, but Spoelstra made it clear the better last 24 minutes (particularly the last 12) was more about effort than the adjustments they made (such as playing more Haywood Highsmith and putting him on Jokić for a while).

“I never point to the scheme. Scheme is not going to save us,” Spoelstra said. “It’s going to be the toughness and resolve, collective resolve. That’s us at our finest, when we rally around each other and commit to doing incredibly tough things. That’s what our group loves to do more than anything, to compete, to get out there and do things that people think can’t be done.

“The efforts made that work in the second half, but we’re proving that we can do that with our man defense, too.”

Among the things many people don’t think can be done is the Heat coming back in this series. But Spoelstra is right, proving people wrong is what the Heat have done all playoffs.


Phoenix Suns reportedly to hire Frank Vogel as new head coach


Frank Vogel won a title coaching two stars — LeBron James and Anthony Davis — in Los Angeles.

Now he will get the chance to coach two more stars with title aspirations, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker in Phoenix. The Suns are finalizing a deal to make Vogel their new head coach, according to multiple reports. This is reportedly a five-year, $31 million deal.

New Suns owner Mat Ishbia — who took over in early February and immediately pushed for the Durant trade — reportedly has been the man at the helm of basketball operations since his arrival, making this primarily his choice. Doc Rivers and Suns assistant Kevin Young also were in the mix for the job.

Vogel may not be the sexiest hire on the board — and it’s fair to ask how much of an upgrade he is over Monty Williams — but it is a solid one. The Suns can win with.

Vogel is a defense-first coach who has had success in both Indiana — where he led the Paul George Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals twice — as well as with LeBron’s Lakers (Vogel struggled in Orlando, but that was more about the roster than coaching).

Vogel is a good coach for superstars because he is relatively egoless, low-key, and a strong communicator — this is not a big personality with a hard-line attitude. Instead, he works to get buy-in from his guys and gives his stars plenty of freedom on the offensive end. Durant and Booker will have their say in what the offense looks like, but Vogel will demand defensive accountability.

There is a “good chance” Kevin Young — the top assistant under Monty Williams who had the endorsement of Devin Booker for the head coaching job — will stay on as Vogel’s lead assistant, reports John Gambadoro, the well-connected host on 98.7 FM radio in Phoenix. If true, that be a coup for the Suns, who would keep a player favorite coach to be more of an offensive coordinator. It is also possible that Young and other assistant coaches (such as Jarrett Jack) will follow Williams to Detroit, where he was just hired (on a massive deal).

Nick Nurse doesn’t ‘vibrate on the frequency of the past,’ talks winning with 76ers, Harden


In his first day on the job, Nick Nurse didn’t shy away from the hard topics and high expectations — he embraced them.

Nurse is the new 76ers head coach — and Doc Rivers is out — because the team was bounced in the second round. Again. Nurse said at his introductory press conference that he doesn’t see the way past this is to ignore the problem (from NBC Sports Philadelphia).

“We’re going to hit that head-on,” he said… “We know we’re judged on how we play in the playoffs. It was the same in Toronto. We hadn’t played that well (in the playoffs) and certain players hadn’t played that well, and all those kinds of things. So the reality is that’s the truth. I would imagine that from Day 1, we’re going to talk about that and we’re going to try to attack that. We’re going to have to face it and we’re going to have to rise to it.”

Nurse stuck with that theme through multiple questions about the past and what he will do differently. Nurse talked about the players being open-minded to trying new things, some of which may not work, but the goal is to get a lot of different things on the table.

He also talked about this 76ers team being championship-level and not getting hung up on that past.

“My first thought on that is this team could be playing tonight (in the Finals), along with some others in the Eastern Conference that wish they were getting ready to throw the ball up tonight… And as far as the rest of it, I look at it this way: I don’t really vibrate on the frequency of the past. To me, when we get a chance to start and dig into this thing a little bit, it’s going to be only focused on what we’re trying to do going forward. … Whatever’s happened for the last however many years doesn’t matter to me.”

The other big question in the room is the future of potential free agent James Harden.

Harden has a $35.6 million player option for next season he is widely expected to opt out of, making him a free agent. While rumors of a Harden reunion in Houston run rampant across the league, the 76ers want to bring him back and Nurse said his sales pitch is winning.

“Listen, I think that winning is always the sell,” he said. “Can we be good enough to win it all? That’s got to be a goal of his. And if it is, then he should stay here and play for us, because I think there’s a possibility of that.”

Whatever the roster looks like around MVP Joel Embiid, the 76ers should be title contenders. Nurse has to start laying the groundwork this summer, but his ultimate tests will come next May, not before.

Silver: Ja Morant investigation results, possible suspension to come down after Finals

Dallas Mavericks v Memphis Grizzlies
Justin Ford/Getty Images

DENVER — The NBA has nearly concluded its investigation into the latest incident of Ja Morant apparently waiving a gun on social media, however, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league plans to “park” the report and any announcement of a possible punishment until after the NBA Finals, so as not to distract from the games.

“We’ve uncovered a fair amount of additional information, I think, since I was first asked about the situation,” Silver said in a press conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals. “I will say we probably could have brought it to a head now, but we made the decision, and I believe the Players Association agrees with us, that it would be unfair to these players and these teams in the middle of the series to announce the results of that investigation.

“Given that we’re, of course, in the offseason, he has now been suspended by the Memphis Grizzlies indefinitely, so nothing would have changed anyway in the next few weeks. It seemed better to park that at the moment, at least any public announcement, and my sense now is that shortly after the conclusion of the Finals we will announce the outcome of that investigation.”

That statement hints at a long suspension for Morant — Silver believes the announcement will be big enough news to draw headlines over the NBA Finals. That only happens if it’s something significant. Silver would not divulge any potential punishment, but the expectation in league circles is for him to come down much harder on Morant this time. While Morant did not break any laws, this is a serious image issue for the NBA (one that reverberates through decades of the league).

The Grizzlies suspended Morant after he appeared to flash a handgun on friend Davonte Pack’s Instagram account. Morant has since released a statement taking responsibility for his actions, but otherwise staying out of the spotlight.

That came months after Morant was suspended eight games after another video of him flashing a gun in a Denver area club was posted on Instagram Live.

After that first incident, Morant spent time away from the team to seek counseling, and he met with Silver about what had happened. Morant admitted after the No. 2 seed Grizzlies were eliminated in the first round by the Lakers his actions were part of the distractions that threw off the Grizzlies.

Silver was asked if he had come down harder on Morant after the first incident — his suspension was seen as player-friendly — if things would have been different.

“I’ve thought about that, and Joe Dumars [VP of basketball operations with the NBA], who is here, was in the room with me when we met with Ja, and he’s known Ja longer than I have, Silver said. “For me at the time, an eight-game suspension seemed very serious, and the conversation we had, and Tamika Tremaglio from the Players Association was there, as well, felt heartfelt and serious. But I think he understood that it wasn’t about his words. It was going to be about his future conduct.

“I guess in hindsight, I don’t know. If it had been a 12-game suspension instead of an eight-game suspension, would that have mattered?”

Morant lost about $669,000 in salary with the last suspension, although the real hit was his missing games and the team stumbling after this incident, giving voters a reason to keep him off an All-NBA team — that cost him $39 million on his contract extension that kicks in next season (he is not eligible for the Rose Rule max).