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Pelicans name Danny Ferry interim GM, still considering long-term options

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Much like when a team makes a young coach hire a proven veteran head coach as an assistant — a sign they want someone in place if things go sideways — so eyebrows around the NBA were raised a few years ago when the Pelicans hired former Hawks GM Danny Ferry to be a consultant to the New Orleans front office. It was like they were lining up a potential replacement.

Friday morning, the Pelicans fired Dell Demps as GM.

Now they have named Ferry as the interim GM the team announced.

Ferry will be in the mix long-term, but owner Gayle Benson wants a new structure in place in New Orleans. Demps reported to Micky Loomis, the NFL’s Saints executive, and in comments on the firing of Demps she said she wants to set up a more independent structure for the Pelicans.

“We will immediately begin the process of restructuring our basketball operations department,” Pelicans Owner Gayle Benson said in her statement. “This will include a comprehensive, but confidential, search aided by outside consultants to identify a new leader of our basketball operations, directly reporting to me…

“As difficult as these decisions are, my responsibility is to provide the leadership and resources necessary to deliver a winning team to our fans and community. I take that responsibility seriously and would like to assure our fans that I am prepared to provide any, and all, resources required to compete for championships. My expectations, and the expectations of our fans, are that this team will compete at a high level for the remainder of the season. While we still have many more critical decisions to make when this season comes to an end, I am focused on making sure we are properly positioned to succeed and that we are headed in the right direction.”

Ferry is in the big chair now and will be in the running for the main job. He reshaped the Hawks roster into a 60-win team without bottoming out and tanking, although the team could not sustain that level of play. He was let go in a messy situation where he relayed a racist scouting report comment about Luol Deng (he “had a little African in him”). Ferry may not have authored the remark but he didn’t edit it either and that understandably landed him in hot water. Add to that he was caught in the infighting of the Hawks’ ownership groups at the time (the team has since been sold) and Ferry was destined to lose his job.

Ferry is not the only big name being considered for the permanent gig, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

Griffin is the biggest name on the board, and if Benson is looking for someone who wants the control and knows how to organize a basketball operations side top to bottom he would be a great choice. (Part of the reason he did not get the Knicks job was Griffin wanted that control and couldn’t get it.)

Mike Zarren has been one of the assistant GMs most mentioned as getting a promotion for some time. The interesting thing there is Zarren works for the Celtics and would suddenly be the guy in charge of where Anthony Davis gets traded. And the Celtics want Davis. That doesn’t make it a done deal — Zarren is smart and would ask for the world — but NBA front office work is a relationship business and if someone has a preexisting relationship with another GM deals are more likely to come together.

Rumor: Kyrie Irving interested in teaming up with LeBron James in Los Angeles

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How about this “Big Three” for the Lakers: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kyrie Irving.

That is a long, long, long way from coming together, but the dreams of Lakers fans are rarely grounded in reality. And there is some fuel for this one. Davis — through his agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports (also LeBron’s agent) — is trying to force his way out of New Orleans and to Los Angeles. To the point of getting fined.

And according to Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report, Kyrie Irving would be good with joining those two in Los Angeles.

…a source close to the Celtics confirmed that Kyrie Irving is genuinely interested in reuniting with his former Cavaliers teammate. “That is for real,” the source said.

While Irving said publicly he would re-sign in Boston, the buzz around the league that he might not has grown throughout the season. The idea that he could join LeBron in Los Angeles, while seemingly farfetched, has had its own strange momentum.

The idea of a LeBron/Davis/Irving big three has been bounced around league circles as well.

Of course, there are a lot of complications here.

If (as expected) the Pelicans do not trade Davis by the Feb. 7 deadline and wait to see what Boston offers, things get complicated for the Lakers. Nearly every observer rates the Celtics’ package of players/picks better, and while Danny Ainge understands Irving may be restless, Ainge also knows if he lines up a trade for AD then Irving will stick around to play with him. That’s the plan (and he’s not worried about Davis’ “only in LA” threats). Ainge could have two of those Lakers’ big three in Celtics’ green.

Also, if the Celtics make a run to the NBA Finals with Irving as the team’s leader and star, is he going to leave? Davis or not?

Finally is a logistical issue: If the Pelicans decide to trade Davis to the Lakers at the deadline, even if the Lakers send out all their young stars and renounce others, Los Angeles will not have enough cap space to offer Irving a full max contract this summer (blame that Luol Deng stretch). It will be reasonably close, but is Irving willing to take a haircut to play with LeBron and Davis?

That’s a lot of things to get in the way of a new potential big three in Los Angeles. Don’t bet on it happening.

But Lakers fans (and maybe their front office) can dream.

Timberwolves in turmoil

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NBCSports.com’s 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 Timberwolves won 47 games and ended a 13-year playoff drought last season, and their core group returns. Few teams can match the 1-2 star power of Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson are strong complementary pieces, and Andrew Wiggins has the tools to excel.

But it feels like Minnesota was decimated by a meteorite this offseason.

Butler’s unsatisfied trade request casts a shadow over the upcoming season. It has shined a spotlight on the discord permeating through this organization in so many directions – Butler and Wiggins, Butler and Towns, Towns and Tom Thibodeau, Tom Thibodeau and Glen Taylor.

Maybe Butler and Thibodeau can thrive in this chaotic, energetic, intense environment. It seems the weight of it could crush everyone else, though.

This all reflects terribly on Thibodeau, who let the Butler situation linger over the summer. Chemistry matters, and an unhappy Butler trying to torment Towns and Wiggins into playing with more fire could just burn everyone involved. It was bad enough last year when the young players thought Butler could be there a while. If they expect him to leave next summer in free agency, will they just tune him out until then? If that happens, will Butler become even harder on them? This could get ugly in a hurry.

That said, it’s not as if Minnesota had great chemistry last season, either. This is still such a talented team. Heck, even if the Timberwolves trade Butler by the trade deadline, he might first help them stack enough wins to make the playoffs. Hope isn’t lost.

Most importantly, Minnesota locked up Towns to a long-term extension. No matter what happens with Butler, the 22-year-old star is staying a while.

The Timberwolves also did tinkering to help over the summer. Signing Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, two ex-Bulls, will generate plenty of laughs, but those two for the minimum is fine. So was drafting Josh Okogie No. 20 and Keita Bates-Diop No. 48.

Minnesota’s biggest signing was Anthony Tolliver for one year, $5.75 million – which, to stay under the luxury-tax line, required letting Nemanja Bjelica go. I considered Tolliver an upgrade as the Timberwolves’ stretch four, though part of that calculation considered Tolliver’s positive effect in the locker room.

In that area, it might be too little, too late.

Offseason grade: D   

No discount, but Knicks finally buyout, waive Joakim Noah today anyway

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We knew how this was going to end. It was going to be as big a surprise as the ending of “First Man.” (Hint: The Americans make it to the moon, it wasn’t faked.)

Saturday it finally happened: The New York Knicks have waived and stretched the contract of Joakim Noah, the team announced Saturday. It’s the end of the disastrous four-year, $72.6 million contract that Phil Jackson signed Noah to, which ended up being an anchor on the Knicks rebuilding efforts. In the pantheon of horrible Summer of 2016 contracts — Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, so many others — Noah stood out as the worst, the biggest train wreck of them all.

The Knicks were hoping for a discount from Noah to get out of his contract (as Deng did, for example). However, with no NBA prospects out there (as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski among many others), Noah had no incentive to offer a break to the Knicks. So he didn’t.

Because of the timing of this waive and stretch (as the Knicks planned), Noah will get his full $18.5 million for this season, it is his final season of $19.3 million that will be stretched out over the next three years. Bobby Marks of ESPN broke it down:

New York will incur an $18.5M cap hit in 2018-19 that will be reduced by $522,252 if the center signs a 1 year $2.4M (minimum exception) guaranteed contract with a new team. For the next 3 seasons (2019-20 to 2021-22), New York will be charged $6.4M on the $19.3M amount owed to Noah. If the Knicks do not give Kristaps Porzingis a max rookie extension by Oct.15, New York projects to have $31M in room next summer. The room will increase to $38M if Lance Thomas is waived.

That’s enough cap room to chase a max salary player such as Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving (not that they are coming to NYC, relax people, they are merely free agent max players next summer used as an example). There was some thought the Knicks would hold off and use him as salary ballast in a trade (or maybe another team would want him, so he would take a buyout discount), but the contract was unmovable, so they just decided to bite the bullet now.

Noah is now an unrestricted free agent.

However, there is little to no traction for him with other NBA teams. Noah has battled injuries and played in just 53 games over two seasons with the Knicks, and when he has gotten on the court he has looked like a shell of the former Defensive Player of the Year. Father time has won the race. Maybe midseason a team takes a flier on Noah, but I wouldn’t bet on it (teams taking a flier on a big usually prefer a younger player they might develop into a long-term player for them).

League sends out updated salary cap projections, jump coming in future years

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The past two seasons, the free agency market has been tight. Following the drunken-level spending spree of 2016 — the year that gave us the Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and so many more anchor contracts — teams were cautious and out of money.

That’s about to change, because the salary cap is about to jump next summer, and some of those terrible contracts are starting to come off the books. This week the NBA updated its salary cap projections to teams, and Shams Charania of The Vertical got ahold of the memo.

For comparison, the cap is at $101.9 million, with the luxury tax is at $123.7 million.

With nearly half the players in the NBA as free agents next summer — did you notice all the one-year contracts this summer? — and the jump in cap space, about 20 of the NBA’s 30 teams could have cap space for a max player. Next summer is going to be wild.