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New Orleans signs Darius Morris to compete for guard spot on roster

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The New Orleans Pelicans are looking for depth at the guard and wing spots, and at the wing they are doing and old-school tryout during training camp. At guard, New Orleans has a borderline All-Star in Jrue Holiday (they want to say he’s not the point, he’s the two guard, but are they going to want the ball in his hands or Elfrid Payton‘s?), after that it gets thin.

Now add Darius Morris is going to get his shot at a spot, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Morris last played in the NBA in 2015 in Brooklyn and may be best remembered for a couple of seasons with the Lakers at the start of this decade (they drafted him in the second round in 2011). The past couple of seasons he has primarily been in the G-League, but has played in China as well.

The Pelicans need guard depth. Behind Holiday there is Payton, Ian Clark, Frank Jackson and likely Tyronne Wallace (they put in an offer sheet on him the Clippers are unlikely to match). Rarely is there a lot of drama in NBA training camps, due to guaranteed contracts, but this season in New Orleans will be different — roster spots and minutes will be available. Should be interesting to watch.

New Orleans waives DeAndre Liggins

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Friday was the day to waive and stretch players for the upcoming season, and it’s the day a number of players have been let go from their contracts. While not ideal for the players, it’s better it happens now as opposed to when training camps have already started, this way players have a better chance of landing on the training camp roster of another team.

Enter DeAndre Liggins, who was waived by the Pelicans on Friday. He played in 23 games for them last season, starting three, but he still averaged just nine minutes a game.

He just got squeezed by the numbers. On the court, he would have been behind E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller, and Solomon Hill. Plus the Pelicans’ payroll is pushing the tax line and Liggins was owed $1.8 million, but could be bought out for $75,000.

Liggins likely will land on another training camp roster.

Warriors use big second quarter to pull away, rout Pelicans

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OAKLAND, Calif. —  Kevin Durant had 26 points and 13 rebounds, Draymond Green dazzled all over the floor with his fourth career postseason triple-double, and the Golden State Warriors thoroughly overmatched the New Orleans Pelicans for a 123-101 win in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinals Saturday night.

Green finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds, 11 assists, three steals and two blocks and just with his hustle and energy helped the defending champions pull away with a superb, decisive second quarter.

Now, they likely get Stephen Curry back for Game 2 on Tuesday night and all that he brings – even if in a limited role initially.

Anthony Davis had 21points and 10 rebounds, scoring 10 in the first quarter before having a tougher time generating shots the rest of the way to finish 9 for 20. Jrue Holiday was held to 4-for-14 shooting and 11 points.

Golden State again played without two-time MVP Curry, who has been sidelined since March 23 with a sprained left knee. Coach Steve Kerr called it “very likely” Curry would play Game 2 in the best-of-seven series.

Klay Thompson, who led Golden State with 27 points, hit back-to-back 3-pointers late in the first half that made it 76-48. But New Orleans ended the second on a 7-0 run and Darius Miller‘s 73-foot heave at the halftime buzzer counted after review, getting the Pelicans within 76-55 at the break. They hit another buzzer-beater to end the third but it was way too late.

Rajon Rondo had nine points and dished out 11 assists for New Orleans.

But once Golden State got going in transition, Oracle Arena started rocking and the Pelicans couldn’t keep pace – with tempo being something the Warriors know is key this series. They opened the second with a 13-5 burst and were on their way.

Davis, who averaged 33 points, 12 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in a first-round sweep of Portland, made 5 of 7 shots in the opening period.

Green has been brilliant on the boards as Golden State keeps taking its defense up a level. He had games of 19 and 18 rebounds in the final two matchups of a five-game series with San Antonio in the first round.

Nick Young started at forward for the Warriors while 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala remained in the starting lineup in place of Curry as Golden State won a franchise-record 13th straight postseason home game.

The Warriors swept the Pelicans in the only other playoff meeting between the franchises in the 2015 first round as Golden State went on to capture its first championship in 40 years.

 

 

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Nikola Mirotic to Pelicans trade

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Nikola Mirotic was going to get moved at the trade deadline, the only questions were where, and would the Bulls get the first round pick they wanted?

Yes, they did — from a Pelicans team desperate to make the playoffs, battling a major injury and who needs both shooting and more big men. The Mirotic trade to the Big Easy was put together on Thursday and will be official soon.

As a reminder of how this trade shakes out:

Chicago receives: Omer Asik, Tony Allen, Jameer Nelson, a 2018 first-round pick (with a Nos. 1-5 protection this year, so it conveys unless the Pelicans miss the playoffs then land in the top three in the lottery) and the right to swap second-rounders with the Pelicans in 2021.

New Orleans receives: Nikola Mirotic and the Pelicans’ own 2018 second-round pick (New Orleans traded it to Chicago in the Quincy Pondexter salary dump last summer).

So how did everyone do in this deal? Let’s break it down Clint Eastwood style with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good: Nikola Mirotic. He got what he wanted most — the Pelicans agreed to pick up his $12.5 million contract option for next season. Yes, Mirotic wanted to get out of Chicago after the “Bobby Portis broke his face with a punch” incident (although the fallout from that seemed to have mellowed out), and yes he wanted the opportunity to show off his skills, but mostly he wanted the cash. It’s always about the money.

That said, he’s going to get a chance to shine in New Orleans and really help a team trying to hold on to a playoff spot. If the Pelicans sign Greg Monroe (bought out by the Suns) as expected, Mirotic will be the third big, the first off the bench, and they are going to lean on him to create looks and get shots with the second unit. Mirotic is not going to finish the season shooting 42.9 percent from three, that’s already started to slow down, but he can score the rock inside and out, and the Pelicans can use that with DeMarcus Cousins sitting in street clothes and a cast. (Alvin Gentry did a great job of staggering Anthony Davis and Cousins, now that second unit needs the boost.) Plus it means less Darius Miller at the four, which is a good thing.

What’s more, Mirotic may be the perfect guy at the four when Anthony Davis is at the five. That’s why we get to the next “good” part of this trade.

The Good: The New Orleans Pelicans (mostly). New Orleans prioritized making the playoffs this season (read: Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps like their jobs), and since Cousins went down with a torn Achilles the Pelicans have lost to the Clippers and at home to the Kings. It felt like they were about to spiral, but this move (and likely signing of Monroe) likely helps them hold on to a postseason berth.

The Pelicans are not as good as they were with Cousins — and they are locked into playing Mirotic next season — but they will be good enough (considering the Clippers probably take a step back). Also, having Mirotic on the roster next season is some insurance in case Cousins does leave via free agency (most people think he stays, but you never know).

Here may be the best part of the Mirotic trade: We can finally see some Pelicans’ lineups with Anthony Davis at the five and actual shooting around him. How about this lineup: Davis, Mirotic, E'Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday, and Darius Miller. That lineup has potential. (I just hope Gentry doesn’t screw it up and put Rondo in rather than Miller.)

The only downsides here for the Pelicans are giving up that first-round pick, and adding $1.2 million more in salary to the books next season (that’s how much more Mirotic will make compared to Asik). The Pelicans will be flirting with the luxury tax next season, the advantage is Mirotic will be a contributor to the team on the court, unlike Asik.

The Good: The Bulls “effort” to get a high draft pick. The Bulls will not use the word “tank,” but they should be closer to the bottom of the standings than they are. Chicago started poorly this season but has played well of late (gone 15-13 in their last 28) and if the draft lottery were today it would be seeded sixth (a 6.3 percent chance at the top spot and a 21.4 percent chance of landing in the top three). With this move the Bulls should lose a little more, and stand a better chance of sliding behind the Suns out West and maybe other teams to improve their lottery (and ultimately draft) position.

The Bad: The rest of this deal for Chicago. The Bulls did land the Pelicans first-round draft pick (likely in the high teens somewhere), and that has some value (as long as they learned their Jordan Bell lesson and don’t sell it). But to do that they gave up a strong trade asset in Mirotic, took on salary almost up to what Mirotic would have made had they had just picked up his option, and did they need to give the Pelicans their second-round pick back?

I don’t hate this deal, it’s not selling the Jordan Bell pick bad (or giving up the No. 16 pick in the Jimmy Butler deal), but it’s not great.

The Bad: Anyone who thought the Pelicans would try to trade Anthony Davis this summer. Most non-crazy Celtics fans realized that if New Orleans comes to the realization it has to move Davis or lose him, they won’t do it until the summer of 2019. Go ahead and try to rationalize the “they will get more for him now” arguments if you want, but the reality in New Orleans is far more straightforward: They are not going to see a player like Davis come through for a long time so they need to do everything they can to keep him. Davis isn’t just a No. 1 pick, he’s a top-five NBA player who brings it on both ends, a first-team All-NBA level player, and he is just entering his prime. You don’t trade a guy like that unless you have to.

The Pelicans are going to try to make this all work. Maybe it doesn’t and Danny Ainge can swoop in from the vulture’s perch he’s sitting on and pick the carcass clean, but that’s not happening for more than a year.

The Ugly: The playoff dreams of the Utah Jazz. It was going to be a longshot for the Jazz to make the postseason anyway, they probably need to go at least 21-9 or better the rest of the way to make the cut. However, with the Cousins injury and the Blake Griffin trade from the Clippers, it may have felt in Salt Lake City like the door to the postseason was opening a crack.

This trade to get Mirotic to New Orleans pretty much slams that door shut. It will stop the bleeding in the Big Easy. Sorry Jazz fans, hopefully next year the core can just stay healthy.