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Pelicans’ David Griffin: ‘The idea of canceling a season is not all on [the NBA’s] minds’

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Fox Sports New Orleans, like the local broadcasters for many NBA teams, is reshowing some older games from earlier this season. Something has to fill the airtime with the NBA shutdown.

This weekend, New Orleans streamed a live pregame show for its recorded game and brought in David Griffin, the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations (read: the guy with the hammer), to talk about the team.

Of course he was asked about play resuming, and while he didn’t pretend to have any answers (nobody does), he said the league was not talking about canceling the season. (Transcription via Jim Eichenhofer at Pelicans.com.)

“With everything changing so quickly, everything is in a state of flux that I think it would be premature for the NBA to say what it ultimately looks like. I do know unequivocally that the league is very mindful of the idea of getting back to playing. The idea of canceling a season is not all on their minds, and we’re modeling every possible thing we can for how we can deliver a product to the fans. Quite frankly, we’re all going to need a diversion in the future. (But) until we can get to a point where we think we’ve got containment of (the coronavirus), we’re going to continue to stay locked down. Hopefully we’ll get to a point where we can come back sooner rather than later.”

That is the optimistic viewpoint, and primarily what I hear talking to sources around the league — the NBA wants to play games and crown a champion, in whatever form that ultimately takes. There are financial and continuity reasons for this, but nobody wants a 1994 baseball year (although that World Series was lost to a players’ strike). There is a growing pessimism from some in the league, looking at the timelines of a potential coronavirus spread in the U.S., that the league may end up having to cancel. Ultimately, however, nobody knows.

Just don’t underestimate how much the NBA wants to get games played and have a Finals this year.

Also of interest in the pregame, Griffin talked about the connection between Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball on the court.

“A big part of it is the chemistry you see with Lonzo and Zion,” Griffin said. “They have a special connection. I think Nicolo Melli getting more minutes, and him starting to become a key part of the rotation has been essential as well. Those three guys work incredibly well as a unit. The two people who were most damaged by (Williamson’s) absence individually were probably Lonzo – because Zion gives us another player who can create vertical thrust in the offense – and Lonzo can pick defenses apart with his passing…

“Melli, when there is that dive thrust (by Williamson) toward the rim, (Melli) is going to be pulling bigs away from the basket,” Griffin said. “He is absolutely essential when Zion’s on the floor, from a spacing standpoint. When you see the relationship between those three growing, it just exponentially improves our team.”

Mock NBA expansion draft: Picking the Seattle SuperSonics and Flint Tropics

Celtics forward Gordon Hayward
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What if the NBA added two new teams this year?

The league’s hiatus gave us an opportunity to explore the possibility.

NBC Sports conducted a mock NBA expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

Keith Smith set protected lists for existing teams and explained his rationales:

Now, the Seattle SuperSonics (run by Kurt Helin) and Flint Tropics (run by Dan Feldman) make their selections.

Key rules for the expansion draft:

  • A coin flip determines who picks first. The winner’s choice is: Nos. 5 and 36 picks in the 2020 NBA draft/second choice in expansion draft or Nos. 6 and 35 picks in 2020 NBA draft/first choice in expansion draft.
  • Expansion teams alternate picks.
  • Expansion must select one player from each incumbent team. Exception: If the only players available from an incumbent team earn at least $10 million, the expansion teams can bypass selection from that team. Expansion teams can’t select more than one player from each incumbent team.
  • Expansion teams operate at 80% of the league-wide salary their first season and 90% of the league-wide salary cap their second season. The usual salary floor applies.
  • Expansion teams draft without regard to the salary cap.
  • Expansion teams can waive any selected player before the start of the season, and his salary doesn’t apply toward the salary cap and luxury tax. Essentially, expansion teams get unlimited amnesty provisions with selected players before the start of the season.
  • Incumbent teams can offer draft compensation to entice expansion teams to select certain players.

You can listen to a podcast of the expansion draft, which includes haggling over those enticements and other on-the-fly strategy.

Here’s a tracker of all unprotected players:

Mock NBA expansion draft

Flint won the coin toss and opted for the higher first-round pick in the 2020 NBA draft. That put Seattle up first in the expansion draft.

Here are our selections and teams and analysis of each (listed salaries are for 2020-21):

I get Omari Spellman was an unlikely No. 1 pick, and it’s fair to question how much better the 22-year-old Spellman will get. But what I want on this team are bigs who can hit the three and play inside a little, and Spellman can do those things. I may be higher on him than most and see a future solid rotation guy, and if I can get that out of this draft, I will take it.

If all goes well, Gordon Hayward will be the face of the franchise. He’s still a good player who hasn’t necessarily left his prime despite health issues previously sidetracking him. Hayward should hold positive trade value on an expiring contract, even if his salary is high. That provides flexibility if the Tropics and/or Hayward want to pivot before the next trade deadline. Even if Hayward opts out this offseason, sign-and-trade possibilities exist. The worst-case scenario is Hayward immediately opting out and leaving Flint with no return. But even in that scenario, more than $34 million of salary relief is a silver lining.

This is a roll of the dice. Keita Bates-Diop has shown flashes of potential (while in Minnesota), he’s a good shooter on corner threes, and it’s worth the pick and a little bit of money to see if he can develop into a part of the Sonics’ future.

Isaac Bonga has the size, athleticism and raw talent to become a good NBA player. I’m not sold he’ll get there, but he’s trending in the right direction. The Tropics are happy to take a chance on the high-upside 20-year-old.

Another floor-spacing four, JaMychal Green fits into my “he can be a solid rotation player for us and we might be able to trade him to a playoff team/contender at the deadline” mold. He has a player option, so there is risk he just walks, but it’s a reasonable risk from my perspective.

I was high on Dennis Smith Jr. in the 2017 NBA draft. Frankly, he has nearly completely disappointed since – even while getting a change in environment. But Smith is still just 22, and point guards tend to develop later than other positions. So, he gets yet another opportunity to prove himself.

This is simply a bet that Kevon Looney can get and stay healthy. He has shown on the league’s biggest stage that he can play, that he is an athletic five who can play in the modern game, but he just has to stay healthy. The Sonics will be banking on their medical/training teams to keep him on the court.

Boban Marjanovic has produced at elite levels in limited minutes. No team has ever fully unleashed him. Maybe that’ll happen Flint. Maybe it’s too late for Marjanovic, now 31, to get that type of treatment. At minimum, he should bring joy to fans and teammates.

Seattle receives the Suns’ 2020 second-rounder (via Memphis) on condition of selecting Grayson Allen.

I liked Jontay Porter a lot in this draft, but there are legitimate health concerns for a player who has yet to step on an NBA court, so I took the Grizzlies’ offer of a high second-rounder, plus a guy in Grayson Allen who can shoot the rock and maybe he can become a rotation player. Mostly this was about the pick. But someday the Sonics may regret not grabbing Porter here.

Points guards came at a premium in free agency last summer. T.J. McConnell is a perfectly reasonable backup with a small salary. There will probably be a point guard-needy team happy to trade a pick for him. If not, he can fill a role on the Tropics.

A solid, trustworthy veteran point guard who has played on the league’s biggest stages, Patty Mills can get the ball to our multitude of forwards on the roster, be a veteran leader in the locker room, plus he is another guy I might be able to trade at the deadline.

Isaiah Hartenstein – a 7-foot center – has fit issues in the modern NBA. But he’s mobile enough to have a fighting chance. The 21-year-old scores well inside, and his size is useful on the glass and defending the paint.

Nicolo Melli has become a solid part of the New Orleans rotation as a 6’9” big who can shoot the three and space the floor. No team can have enough shooting, he fits that, and at this point in the draft that one skill was enough for me.

Flint receives a Pistons’ top-three-protected pick in 2020, 2021 or 2022 (becomes unprotected first-round pick in 2023 if not conveyed) on condition of selecting Blake Griffin.

Blake Griffin was an All-NBA third team forward just last season. Will the expensive and injury-prone 31-year-old return to stardom? Probably not. But there’s at least a chance. Far more importantly, that’s a PRIME draft asset incoming from Detroit. Griffin – with a $38,957,028 player option – has the Tropics’ only guaranteed salary for 2021-22. They can afford that.

Seattle receives a Cavaliers’ lottery-protected first-round pick in 2022 or 2023 (becomes two second-round picks if not conveyed) and a Bucks’ first-round pick top-10 protected in 2022, top-10 and 25-30 protected in 2023 and top-8 protected in 2024 (becomes two second-round picks if not conveyed) on condition of selecting Kevin Love.

Kevin Love can still play, he’s averaging 17.6 points and 9.8 rebounds a game, and he still throws a mean outlet pass. He gives me a player from the Pacific Northwest the Sonics can sell to fans. However, the real reason for taking him is two first round picks. This was about adding to the stockpile.

Sterling Brown fills a limited role in the Bucks’ guard rotation. His toughness is endearing and gives him opportunities to grow as a defender and shooter. The Tropics would like to keep him at a low price.

Much like JaMychal Green above, Mike Scott is a veteran big man who can space the floor, he can play a role for us, and I might be able to flip him at the deadline to a team that needs a shooting big man.

Shaquille Harrison has quietly become an advanced-starts darling. His combination of athleticism and effort results in positive plays all over the floor. If he continues to progress as an outside shooter, he’ll be a keeper. Unfortunately, Flint will have to pay to keep the free agent before evaluating him further.

Garrett Temple is a solid, versatile guard who is not a great shooter but on my roster can give me respectable rotation minutes.

The theory of Skal Labissiere is nice – a big who can shoot 3-pointers and protect the rim. There are still major questions about his ability to handle the physicality of the NBA, though. Yet another player the Topics would like to keep at a low price.

There was no chance I was going to let the one Long Beach State player on the board not come to my team. James Ennis is also a solid wing player who can give me minutes this season.

Rayjon Tucker shined on the Bucks’ minor-league affiliate then hasn’t done much in Utah. He’s still just 22 and athletic. Maybe he needs more time to adjust to the NBA, though Flint certainly isn’t banking on anything.

Justin James is a guy the Kings’ like and has shown flashes of potential (a lot of Kings fans wanted to see him get more run). At this point in the draft, the pickings are slim and James’ potential separates him.

Jevon Carter is a dogged defender with no size to spare (6-foot-1). His offense looks far better when his 3-pointers are falling. The Tropics like him enough to pick him without the benefit of him being under contract, though that obviously creates uncertainty into him ever making the roster.

Abdel Nader has shown flashes in Oklahoma City and, in Seattle, he will get the opportunity to prove he can take advantage of more run. A late-draft roll of the dice.

Dwayne Bacon showed intriguing flashes last season then backslid this season. Maybe he just needs a fresh start outside Charlotte.

Mario Hezonja is a guy who everybody loves on paper but has never really put it together. He can have the ball in his hands more in Seattle, maybe that sparks something. With a player option, he could walk. Which would be fine, too.

Unlike the players drafted before and after him, Malcolm Miller is due no money. That’s the appeal. He’s unlikely to stick in Flint.

I was forced at this point in the draft to take Quinn Cook or Rajon Rondo, and I will take Cook, who could play in my rotation in Seattle, and if not he has just $1 million guaranteed.

 

Depth chart

  • Point guard: Patty Mills, Quinn Cook
  • Shooting guard: Grayson Allen, Garrett Temple
  • Small forward: James Ennis, Keita Bates-Diop, Mario Hezonja, Abdel Nader, Justin James
  • Power forward: Kevin Love, JaMychal Green, Mike Scott, Nicolo Melli
  • Center: Kevon Looney, Omari Spellman

Draft picks

  • Own: Nos. 6 and 35 in 2020
  • Extra: Future Bucks’ first-rounder, Future Cavaliers’ first-rounder, Suns’ second-rounder

Overall, what I was aiming for was a team with some young talent that could be part of what is being built in Seattle — not a superstar, there isn’t one of those available in this draft, but solid players — add a few picks, and get some veterans who can make the team competitive in the short term and potentially be traded to get prospects and picks down the line. Then, go hire a developmental coach — hello Kenny Atkinson — and use this draft as a foundation to build something over the next few years.

What I thought by the end of this was I didn’t get as much young talent as I had hoped, it got away from me a little bit. But I got a few players worth the gamble because of my team’s focus on development, some additional draft picks (a couple of first-rounders, if things break right), and a number of players I can trade during the season to bring back more prospects or picks. It’s a foundation we can build on.

 

Depth chart

  • Point guard: Dennis Smith Jr., T.J. McConnell
  • Shooting guard: Rayjon Tucker
  • Small forward: Gordon Hayward, Isaac Bonga
  • Power forward: Blake Griffin
  • Center: Boban Marjanovic, Isaiah Hartenstein

Draft picks

  • Own: Nos. 5 and 36 in 2020
  • Extra: Pistons’ first-rounder

Free agents

  • Sterling Brown, Shaquille Harrison, Skal Labissiere, Jevon Carter, Dwayne Bacon, Malcolm Miller

Only the longshot chance of Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin remaining healthy and playing like stars will prevent the Tropics from being bad next season. The core of this team will be the No. 5 pick and Detroit’s first-rounder.

Hopefully, one of the young players selected in the expansion draft (Isaac Bonga, Dennis Smith Jr., Isaiah Hartenstein, Rayjon Tucker) hits. It’s tough to count on that. This will likely be a several-year buildup. The goal is striking the right balance between being entertaining and trading veterans for picks.

After selecting so many free agents in the expansion draft, Flint must still fill a third of its roster in free agency – on an extremely limited budget. The Tropics hope to retain as many of those free agents as possible (besides Malcolm Miller), though that’s easier said than done.

The big thing to watch this offseason: Griffin’s health. If he still looks significantly hampered, the Tropics could waive him during their de facto amnesty window prior to the season. Though they’d still have to pay him and liquidity can be an issue after posting the expansion fee, that’d free considerable salary-cap flexibility. Most likely, Flint keeps Griffin and hopes for the best.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division, Northwest Division and Southeast Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southwest:

Dallas Mavericks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Seven of Dallas’ protections were easy calls. They’re all players locked up long-term. That left deciding between Tim Hardaway Jr, who has been a starter for the Mavericks but has a player option, and several other useful players.

Ultimately, the Mavs can’t afford to lose Hardaway, who has rediscovered his solid offensive play from his Hawks years. That leaves Justin Jackson and three big men in Dwight Powell (coming off a torn Achilles’) and Boban Marjanovic and Willie-Cauley-Stein (both backups for Dallas). The most likely to be selected player is probably Jackson, but that’s a risk Dallas has to take.

Houston Rockets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: No decision points for the Rockets. Houston is protecting the entirety of their eight-man rotation.

Chris Clemons could make for an interesting expansion pick because his scoring ability at guard. Isaiah Hartenstein has shown some flashes in the G-League as well.

Memphis Grizzlies

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Just how hard the Grizzlies’ protection decision were is a testament to how well their rebuild has gone. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton were all locks. Justise Winslow was just acquired at the trade deadline as the centerpiece of a deal. Tyus Jones is the ideal backup point guard behind Morant, so he stays as well. That left Jonas Valanciunas vs Kyle Anderson for the final protected spot. Valanciunas’ presence allows Jackson to play power forward, so the big man gets the final spot.

Memphis is gambling that Anderson’s slow-mo style of play and $9.5 million salary isn’t what an expansion team is looking for. Jontay Porter is another risk, but he’s got a lengthy injury history of his own. The Grizzlies will hope one of the other three is selected and might be willing to offer a small incentive to make it happen.

New Orleans Pelicans

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: New Orleans’ protections are cut and dry. Every player protected, minus Brandon Ingram, is signed for at least one more season. This includes several players on rookie scale contracts. Ingram will most assuredly be re-signed this summer, so that decision was easy as well.

The only gamble among the unprotected players is Nicolo Melli. He’s become a rotation player for the Pelicans, but he’s not as valuable as the younger players. The other three players are mostly out of the New Orleans’ rotation and not anyone the team will worry about if they are selected.

San Antonio Spurs

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Spurs are banking on keeping DeMar DeRozan this summer. He either opts in or re-signs in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge is an easy decision as well. Dejounte Murray will start his extension this coming season. Everyone else is on their rookie scale contract, minus Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is a restricted free agent that the Spurs hope to retain this offseason.

San Antonio is gambling that the big salaries of Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will keep them from being selected. That exposes Trey Lyles, who has a relatively small guarantee, and young big man Chimezie Metu. The Spurs would like to keep both, but not at the expense of losing a rookie scale player.

Second-year Luka Doncic sets Mavericks’ career triple-double record (video)

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DALLAS — Luka Doncic scored 30 points and broke Dallas’ career triple-double record with his 22nd, helping the Mavericks hold off the New Orleans Pelicans 127-123 in overtime Wednesday night.

Doncic added 17 rebounds and 10 assists, and Kristaps Porzingis had 34 points and 12 rebounds in the nationally televised matchup between young stars Doncic and Zion Williamson. Williamson scored 21 points in 35 minutes in the first back-to-back of his NBA career.

Just five days after his 21st birthday, Doncic broke Jason Kidd’s record for triple-doubles.

Neither team led by more than three points throughout the fourth quarter or overtime until Doncic fed Porzingis for a dunk with 49 seconds left to give Dallas a four-point lead. Doncic had hit a 3 to snap a 118-118 tie with 1:10 to play.

Williamson held up well in his first back-to-back since making his NBA debut Jan. 22. He has scored double figures in all 16 games he’s played in and has 20 points or more in his last 13.

Brandon Ingram led New Orleans with 27 points, but fouled out in overtime. Lonzo Ball added 25.

The Pelicans’ Nicolo Melli sent the game to overtime with a tying 3 with 7.4 seconds left after missing his first six 3s of the game.

The Mavericks led by as many as 11 in the first half, but New Orleans kept it close. Dallas led by two at the end of each of the first three quarters.

Williamson gave New Orleans its first lead at 75-73 when he drew contact with Maxi Kleber, who fell to the ground without a call, giving the Pelicans rookie a clear path for a dunk.

While both coaches insisted that the matchup was greater than the two young stars, both showed flashes in the opening quarter. Williamson bulled his way to the basket on two drives, while Doncic drained a 3 with the Pelicans rookie in his face at the other end.

TIP-INS

Pelicans: G J.J. Redick remains out with a left hamstring strain.

Mavericks: Coach Rick Carlisle said there is no timetable for the return of G Jalen Brunson, who missed his sixth game in a row with a right shoulder sprain. The Mavericks also played without G J.J. Barea, who was out with right ankle soreness.

BLOCK PARTY

The Mavericks set a franchise record with 11 blocks in the first half, three of those at Williamson’s expense. After Kleber swatted away one of his shots, Williamson crashed to the floor and got up shaking his head.

Dallas’ previous high was 10 blocks in a half against Philadelphia on Jan. 29, 2005.

UP NEXT

Pelicans: Host Miami on Friday night.

Mavericks: Host Memphis on Friday night.

LeBron James scores season-high 40, leads Lakers past Zion Williamson, Pelicans

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James had 40 points and eight rebounds in his first career meeting with Zion Williamson while leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their sixth straight victory, 118-109 over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.

Anthony Davis had 21 points and 14 rebounds to remain unbeaten in his three meetings with his former team this season.

In the Lakers’ first game after an emotional memorial service for Kobe Bryant at Staples Center on Monday, James opened up a close contest with back-to-back buckets at the rim with about three minutes left. Danny Green sealed it for Los Angeles with his fifth 3-pointer with 51 seconds to play.

Williamson had 29 points and six rebounds in his first career showdown with James and Davis, his predecessor as the Pelicans’ centerpiece. In his 13th NBA game, Williamson scored at least 20 points for the ninth consecutive time, but managed only one field goal in the fourth quarter.

Brandon Ingram had 34 points against his former team, but just six in the final period as New Orleans lost for only the second time in seven games.

Williamson was still injured for the Pelicans’ first two meetings of the season with the Lakers, but the No. 1 overall pick’s delayed debut in Hollywood was as entertaining as everyone hoped. Williamson had several impressive dunks in his usual fearsome floor game, and only six missed free throws kept him from surpassing his career high of 32 points.

Davis is the leading scorer and rebounder in New Orleans franchise history, making six All-Star teams during his tenure. He went just 6 for 21 from the field in this meeting, failing to score 40 points against the Pelicans for the first time.

Lonzo Ball had 10 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, and Josh Hart scored three points in their second return to face the Lakers, who traded them to New Orleans along with Ingram last July for Davis.

The Pelicans also got three first-round draft picks in their princely haul for Davis, who had requested a trade. Davis has been just as good as the Lakers hoped in propelling them back to NBA championship contention, while the Pelicans are getting an All-Star season from Ingram alongside Williamson in an increasingly potent core.

James scored 11 points in less than two minutes early in the third quarter to stretch the Lakers’ lead to 14 points, but Ingram scored 10 in the period to keep it close.

Alex Caruso provided the Lakers with his usual injection of energy in the fourth quarter, particularly with a stunning block of Ball’s shot at the rim that left Ball flat on his back. Caruso finished with eight points and eight assists.