Emeka Okafor

Pelicans Notes: Offseason, Rondo, Cousins, Okafor

While the Pelicans’ season came to an end on Tuesday night in Golden State, there’s reason for optimism in New Orleans going forward, writes Ron Higgins of The Times-Picayune. As Higgins details, head coach Alvin Gentry said after the game that he believes the Pelicans are “headed in the right direction as a franchise,” praising Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday as long-term anchors.

The 2017/18 season was also one of redemption for general manager Dell Demps, says Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune. Demps was believed to be on the hot seat a year ago, but kept his job and saw the roster he built blossom during the eighth year of his tenure in New Orleans.

Demps’ decision to sign Rajon Rondo to a one-year, $3.3MM deal last offseason was one of his best moves in recent memory, as Duncan notes. In Higgins’ view, re-signing Rondo to a new contract in the coming months should be at or near the top of Demps’ list of priorities. It’s imperative that the team bring back at least one – or both – of Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins in order to continue its uphill climb, Higgins contends.

Here’s more on the Pelicans as their offseason gets underway:

  • Asked after the game about whether he wants the Pelicans to re-sign Cousins, Gentry suggested it “goes without saying” that he’d want the big man back. “That’s something we’ll discuss,” Gentry said, per Ben Golliver of SI.com (video link). “The guy is averaging 26 points and 12 points, you’d like to have him on your team.”
  • The Cousins situation will be the biggest question for the Pelicans to answer this summer, ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) writes in his preview of the team’s offseason. As Marks outlines, letting Cousins walk wouldn’t open up cap space, and moving him in a sign-and-trade probably isn’t realistic, so the Pels should make a strong effort to re-sign him. However, New Orleans will also have to be careful not to overpay a player coming off a major Achilles injury, especially given the luxury-tax implications.
  • In his end-of-season look at New Orleans’ next moves, Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer suggests that a Cousins/Otto Porter trade would make sense for both the Pelicans and the Wizards. However, as Marks details in his article, a straight-up swap of the two wouldn’t work within CBA rules, so some maneuvering would be required.
  • Having returned to the NBA this season following a layoff of nearly five years, veteran center Emeka Okafor is eager to continue his career in 2018/19, per Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. “I want to play as long as I can,” Okafor said. “We’ll see with New Orleans. … It’s sports. You don’t know. I know my profession. I know anything can happen. But I am very happy to be here. I’m having a great time, and it feels like home.”

Emeka Okafor Received Multiyear Deal From Pelicans

After initially inking a pair of 10-day contracts with the Pelicans, veteran center Emeka Okafor signed a standard deal with the team last month. That agreement was reported as a rest-of-season contract, but according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, it could keep Okafor in New Orleans next season too.

As Marks details, Okafor’s new contract includes a non-guaranteed minimum salary for 2018/19. If the Pelicans keep the former No. 2 overall pick on their roster through the offseason, the deal would have trigger dates for a partial guarantee.

Based on Okafor’s performance so far with the Pelicans, the team’s decision to include a second year on his contract looks like a savvy one. New Orleans hasn’t lost since the 35-year-old entered the starting lineup, having posted a 7-0 record in Okafor’s starts. He has averaged a respectable 5.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 1.7 BPG in those games (15.9 MPG), holding his own in his first NBA action since 2013.

As Marks notes, the only downside of the Pelicans potentially keeping Okafor for a second season would be his $2,445,085 cap hit. The NBA covers a portion of a veteran player’s minimum salary if he signs a one-year deal, but doesn’t do so for multiyear agreements. That means that Okafor will count for nearly $1MM in extra salary for cap and tax purposes than he would if he were to re-sign with New Orleans on a one-year minimum deal. Still, if Okafor finishes the season strong, that modest investment could be worth it to keep him off the open market.

Pelicans Sign Emeka Okafor For Rest Of Season

6:30pm: The Pelicans have officially signed Okafor to a rest-of-season deal, the team announced today in a press release.

8:31am: After his second 10-day deal with the Pelicans expired, Emeka Okafor will re-sign with the team, earning a rest-of-season contract, reports Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link).

Okafor, 35, entered this season having played his last NBA game during the 2012/13 campaign. However, after a solid G League showing with the Delaware 87ers, the former second overall pick was called up by the Pelicans earlier this month.

With DeMarcus Cousins sidelined due to a torn Achilles, Okafor has assumed the role of starting center in New Orleans. The big man hasn’t contributed much on offense, posting 3.7 PPG and a .346 FG% in six games (16.2 MPG). However, he remains a difference-maker on the defensive end, chipping in 6.3 RPG and 2.0 BPG. The Pelicans have won all four games he has started.

Once Okafor officially re-signs, he’ll become the second Pelicans player to parlay a pair of 10-day contracts into a rest-of-season deal — DeAndre Liggins also did so, as our 10-day tracker shows. New Orleans currently has 13 players on rest-of-season or multiyear NBA contracts, with Okafor poised to become the 14th. The 15th roster spot is occupied by Walter Lemon Jr., who is on a 10-day deal.

Assuming Okafor signs his new contract on Monday and it’s worth the minimum salary, it will count for approximately $374K on the Pelicans’ cap.

Southwest Notes: Leonard, Okafor, Benson, Grizzlies

The strange injury situation with the Spurs and superstar Kawhi Leonard took an unexpected turn earlier this week. Head coach Gregg Popovich said that it is unlikely that Leonard returns this season. A separate report indicated that Leonard — who has been medically cleared to resume his return — has personally made the decision to remain inactive.

Leonard, last year’s third-place finisher in MVP voting, has missed all but nine games this season. The Spurs have not missed much of a step without Leonard, wielding the third-best record in the Western Conference (35-24). Leonard’s longtime teammate and Spurs legend, Manu Ginobili, weighed in on the situation.

“Nobody is in his body,” Ginobili said, per Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News (via Twitter). “He feels the way he feels and we don’t know. Yeah, we know he has been cleared. But, again, if he is feeling pain, isn’t sure, he is not ready to come back, then he’s not.”

Check out other Southwest Division notes:

  • Emeka Okafor has fought his way back to the NBA and earned a pair of 10-day contracts with the Pelicans, Rod Walker of The New Orleans Advocate writes that Okafor, a former second overall pick, is glad to be back in the league. “It’s been an awesome ride so far,” Okafor said. ” I’m happy to be here trying to earn my way back in. Now that I’m back, it feels good and it feels natural. I’m going to keep on going until I’m told otherwise.”
  • Pelicans owner Tom Benson was recently admitted to a Louisiana medical facility after experiencing flu-like symptoms, according to the team’s Twitter feed. Benson, 90, is resting comfortably and is receiving top-notch care, per the statement.
  • The Grizzlies are finishing up a poor season that will not end in a postseason berth, but the team – led by veteran Marc Gasol and interim head coach J.B Bickerstaff – wants to finish the year well, Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal writes.

Pelicans Sign Emeka Okafor To Second 10-Day Deal

FEBRUARY 14: The Pelicans have officially signed Okafor to a second 10-day contract, the team announced today (via Twitter). Due to the All-Star break, it will run through February 25, technically making it a 12-day deal.

FEBRUARY 13: After earning his first NBA start since 2013 on Monday night, veteran center Emeka Okafor saw his 10-day contract with the Pelicans expire. However, the team won’t let him get away. According to Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link), New Orleans will re-sign Okafor to a second 10-day deal.

The second overall pick in the 2004 draft, Okafor hadn’t played an NBA regular season game since the 2012/13 season before he signed with the Pelicans earlier this month. In three contests, including last night’s start, the 35-year-old has held his own, averaging 5.0 PPG and 5.7 RPG in 14.3 MPG.

The timing for Okafor’s second 10-day contract remains unclear. New Orleans plays one more game before the All-Star break, facing the Lakers on Wednesday. If Okafor finalizes his new deal today or tomorrow, it would run through February 25, since 10-day contracts require a player to be with the team for at least three games. As such, the All-Star break could turn Okafor’s new deal into a 12- or 13-day contract, assuming the Pelicans don’t wait until after the break to finalize it.

Having created two open roster spots when they sent three players to the Bulls in exchange for Nikola Mirotic, the Pelicans signed DeAndre Liggins and Okafor to fill out their squad. However, the club created another opening by waiving Rashad Vaughn after the deadline. After re-signing Okafor, the Pels will be carrying 14 players on their 15-man NBA roster.

When Okafor’s new 10-day contract expires, the Pelicans will have to decide whether to part ways with him or lock him up for the rest of the season.

Pelicans Sign Emeka Okafor To 10-Day Contract

3:05pm: The Pelicans have officially signed Okafor to a 10-day deal, the team announced today in a press release.

9:22am: The Pelicans are finalizing a 10-day contract with former second overall pick Emeka Okafor, tweets Shams Charania of The Vertical.

Okafor, 35, last appeared in the NBA in 2012/13 with the Wizards. However, a herniated disc in Okafor’s neck caused him to miss the entire 2013/14 campaign and he had not reached the NBA since. This season, he has played with the G League Delaware 87ers, the affiliate of the Sixers. In 26 games with Delaware, Okafor averaged 6.8 PPG and 8.0 RPG in 19.9 minutes per contest.

In nine NBA seasons with the defunct Bobcats, Hornets, and Wizards, the 2005 Rookie of the Year averaged 12.3 PPG and 9,9 RPG in 590 games.

The Pelicans were finalizing a 10-day deal with Terrence Jones on Friday before changing course, electing to keep their roster spots open.

And-Ones: Ball Brothers, McDaniels, E. Okafor

Lithuanian team Prienu Vytautas made it official this week, announcing in a press release that they’ve signed LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball, and expect Lonzo Ball‘s younger brothers to report to the team in early January. However, it’s not a long-term agreement. As Nicola Lupo details for Sportando, the deal for the two American teenagers includes a team opt-out after the first month, so it could end up being a brief experiment.

Still, Vytautas director Adomas Kubilius admits that he’s intrigued by exposure the Ball brothers will bring to the franchise, not to mention the potential financial benefits (Twitter link via Lithuanian journalist Donatas Urbonas). The club didn’t speak directly with its new players during negotiations, having worked things out with agent Harrison Gaines, but Kubilius suggests that – outside of guaranteed playing time – the Ball brothers didn’t make any major requests (Twitter link via Urbonas). And for what it’s worth, LaVar Ball would also be “warmly welcomed” in Prienai, according to the team (Twitter link).

As we wait to see how LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball adjust to Lithuania, let’s round up a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world….

  • Veteran swingman K.J. McDaniels has signed a G League contract and been claimed off waivers by the Grand Rapids Drive, the Pistons‘ affiliate, tweets Chris Reichert of 2 Ways & 10 Days. McDaniels, who spent time with the Nets and Rockets in 2016/17 and was in camp this fall with the Raptors, has averaged 5.3 PPG and 2.2 RPG in 148 total NBA games.
  • Bobby Marks’ latest piece for ESPN Insider is packed with team-by-team details on trade restrictions and notes that will be relevant as the February deadline approaches. Among the info Marks passes along: Which teams can only send or receive limited amounts of cash, which players can veto trades, and which can’t be traded until certain special dates.
  • Sean Deveney of The Sporting News examines the job security for head coaches around the NBA, concluding that Frank Vogel (Magic), Mike Budenholzer (Hawks), Dave Joerger (Kings), and Fred Hoiberg (Bulls) are among those whose seats are hottest.
  • Former second overall pick Emeka Okafor continues to try to make it back to the NBA, with Blake Murphy taking an in-depth look at the big man’s comeback efforts in an excellent piece for Uproxx.com.

And-Ones: E. Okafor, Perkins, S. Brown, Wood

Two NBA veterans have been among the most impressive G League standouts early in the season, writes Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders. Emeka Okafor, 35, has spent the past four years recovering from surgery on a herniated disc in his neck. He joined the Sixers for training camp and opted to stay with the organization’s affiliate in Delaware. He is averaging 14.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game and is shooting better than 60% from the field.

Kendrick Perkins was the Cavaliers’ final roster cut and went to Cleveland’s affiliate in Canton. He is averaging 13.0 points and 10.3 rebounds through three games. He has dropped weight and may still be able to help an NBA team at age 33.

There’s more news from the NBA and the G League:

  • Today is an important day for four players who were claimed off waivers during the offseason, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN. The BullsDavid Nwaba and Kay Felder, the HawksNicolas Brussino and the BucksDeAndre Liggins are all now eligible to be traded.
  • The Sixers used the remainder of this year’s cap space for the renegotiation/extension with Robert Covington, leaving just eight teams with cap room, according to Marks (Twitter link). They are the Bulls [$15.1MM], Mavericks [$12.5MM], Suns [$8.9MM], Pacers [$6.1MM], Kings [$4.3MM], Nets [$3.4MM], Hawks [$589K] and Magic [$549K].
  • Veteran guard Shannon Brown has been claimed from the G League player pool by the Wisconsin Herd, tweets Chris Reichert of 2 Ways and 10 Days. The 31-year-old last played in the NBA in 2014, when he appeared in five games with the Heat.
  • Christian Wood has joined the Delaware 87ers as a returning player, according to Reichert (Twitter link). He played 13 games for the Hornets last year and ended the season in the G League.
  • International stars are having a greater impact on the NBA than ever before, writes Tom Ziller of SB Nation. Many of the league’s best young players hail from overseas, such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis, both considered early-season MVP candidates, along with Ben SimmonsAndrew WigginsJoel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. Ziller credits former commissioner David Stern for his focus on expanding the league to overseas markets. That strategy not only created more revenue, it exposed the NBA to an international audience and created a new reservoir of players.

Emeka Okafor To Play For Sixers’ G League Team

Former second overall pick Emeka Okafor has opted to join the Sixers’ G League team, the Delaware 87ers, after being cut today by Philadelphia, tweets Ian Begley of ESPN.com. According to Begley, Okafor will look to boost his value with his G League play, in the hopes of signing with an NBA team at some point this season.

Okafor last played in the NBA during the 2012/13 campaign, making 77 starts at center for the Wizards that season. However, injury issues – including a herniated disc in his neck – derailed Okafor’s career. The 35-year-old center indicated earlier this summer that he had been medically cleared and hoped to make it back to the NBA, but he wasn’t able to break camp with the 76ers.

Because Okafor has never played in the G League before, the Sixers have the opportunity to make him one of their affiliate players. Teams can assign up to four players they’ve waived to their G League affiliate, assuming those players sign G League contracts. Okafor figures to be joined in Delaware by James Blackmon, Andrew Andrews, and Marc Loving.

Sixers Waive Kris Humphries, Two Others

OCTOBER 14: The Sixers have officially waived Humphries, Okafor, and Blackmon, the team announced today in a press release.

OCTOBER 13: The Sixers have released a pair of veteran big men hoping to extend their NBA careers, as well as an undrafted rookie. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that the team has informed Kris Humphries, Emeka Okafor and James Blackmon that they will not remain with the club.

Humphries, a 32-year-old veteran of 11 NBA seasons, last played for the Hawks in 2016/17 and could still plausibly end up on yet another NBA roster before the season is through.

Okafor, a distant cousin of Philadelphia backup center Jahlil Okafor, was hoping to return to the court for the first time since 2012/13 at 35 years of age.

While the veterans will likely seek NBA opportunities elsewhere, Blackmon could end up with the team’s G League squad as an affiliate player. The guard strung together three impressive seasons at Indiana before declaring for the draft as an early entrant.