Kira Lewis

Pelicans Exercise Options For Williamson, Alexander-Walker, Hayes, Lewis

The Pelicans have picked up rookie-scale options on four players, including Zion Williamson, the top overall pick in 2019, the team announced in a press release. New Orleans exercised the fourth-year option for Williamson, guaranteeing his $13.5MM salary for the 2022/23 season.

[RELATED: Decisions On 2022/23 Rookie Scale Options]

It’s a routine move that sets the stage for next summer, when Williamson will be eligible for an extension that could tie him to the franchise for an additional five seasons. Although those offers are nearly always accepted, there have been rumblings that Williamson might consider turning it down because of pressure from family members to play elsewhere and an uneasy relationship with head of basketball operations David Griffin.

The Pelicans also exercised fourth-year options on guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker ($5MM) and center Jaxson Hayes ($6.8MM). Point guard Kira Lewis had his third-season option picked up, which will pay him $4MM for 2022/23.

Pelicans Notes: Hayes, Alexander-Walker, Valanciunas, Rotation Battles

Pelicans coach Willie Green seems to envision an expanded role for third-year center Jaxson Hayes.

I think Jaxson is going to be huge for us this season,” Green said, according to Christian Clark of NOLA.com.

Hayes has been in and out of the Pelicans’ rotation the past two seasons, showcasing rare athleticism for a big man, but questionable decision making. Clark notes that Hayes added muscle over the offseason, bulking up to 235 pounds from his listed weight of 220 last season. He’s also been working on his jump shot, and Clark says teammate Nickeil Alexander-Walker has taken notice.

It’s amazing how fast he is and how fast he gets up and down the floor,” Alexander-Walker said of Hayes. “Athletic. Shooting the ball really well. Added that to his game.

Clark adds that in an effort to put his legal troubles behind him, Hayes has been spending more time with family. His father, Jonathan, an ex-NFL player and coach, has temporarily moved in with Jaxson to provide stability and guidance.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • Alexander-Walker has matured his game in multiple ways this offseason, writes William Guillory of The Athletic in an excellent interview feature. Alexander-Walker says he’s changed his mental approach to cope with the ups and downs of life in the NBA: “You have to take everything and break it down. You’ve got to take it day-by-day. I got in trouble when I was trying to fast-forward my way through the process. It’s easy to get caught in that tornado, and you don’t know where it’s going to take you. But I had to learn about staying in the moment. Not getting caught up in anything that’s not about where are we right now. Beating yourself up over a bad shooting night isn’t how you get better. It’s about staying consistent in your process regardless of what comes at you.
  • Likely starting center Jonas Valanciunas has looked engaged thus far in the preseason, Clark writes in another piece. Clark notes the Pelicans lacked a mean streak and veteran leadership last season, and believes Valanciunas could help fill that void.
  • Guillory explored the team’s depth chart battles in another recent article. He believes that a supersized starting lineup of Alexander-Walker, Trey Murphy, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, and Valanciunas could be the team’s best bet for a combination of offense and defense, but thinks that offseason addition Devonte’ Graham will ultimately start alongside Alexander-Walker. He also thinks that Kira Lewis should have the upper hand over Tomas Satoransky for backup point guard duty, although admits that it could change from game to game. Hayes suffered a sprained ankle on Monday, according to Guillory, who believes that if Hayes is unavailable for the regular season opener, rookie Herb Jones will act as backup center due to his strong defensive play.

Pelicans Notes: Hart, Offseason Moves, Murphy, Summer League

Josh Hart‘s new three-year deal with the Pelicans includes some unique terms, according to ESPN’s Will Guillory and Bobby Marks (Twitter links). In an Instagram video, Marks provides a more in-depth breakdown of the agreement.

After earning a guaranteed $12MM salary in year one, Hart will have a $12.96MM non-guaranteed salary in year two, says Guillory. If the Pelicans want to avoid paying Hart that salary, they’ll have to waive him by June 25, meaning he’d get a head-start on finding a new team in free agency.

If Hart plays out the first two years of his deal, his $12.96MM salary for 2023/24 would be non-guaranteed as well, but he also has a player option for that third year. It would essentially be a mutual option for Hart and the Pelicans. He’d have until June 24 to decide whether to exercise or decline his player option, then – if he opts in – New Orleans would have until June 25 to decide whether to guarantee his salary.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • Scouts and executives polled by Tim Bontemps of ESPN were critical of the Pelicans’ offseason, questioning the team’s decision to replace Lonzo Ball with Devonte’ Graham. “They’re a sinking ship and reaching for a life preserver that just isn’t going to help,” one Western Conference executive said. “I don’t understand how (Jonas Valanciunas) is going to fit. I don’t understand how Devonte’ is worth what they paid. It’s just weird.”
  • Sam Vecenie of The Athletic loved what he saw from the Pelicans and Trey Murphy at Las Vegas Summer League, noting that he talked to two separate scouts who thought Murphy was the best rookie in Vegas. Vecenie referred to New Orleans’ Summer League team as “juggernaut” on the defensive end, singling out Murphy, Naji Marshall, Herb Jones, and Kira Lewis for their performances.
  • Murphy was one of seven players named to the All-Summer League First Team, per the NBA, as he joined co-MVPs Davion Mitchell and Cameron Thomas, among others.

Western Notes: Hughes, Brooks, Rockets, Lewis Jr., Jones

Jazz guard Elijah Hughes is concentrating on his defense during the team’s summer league play this month, as relayed by Sarah Todd of the Deseret News. Hughes is in the midst of his first-ever summer league stint with the franchise.

“The typical Syracuse stigma is that guys don’t play defense and guys can’t guard, so I want to break that stigma,” Hughes explained. “Also I have a lot of pride. I want to hold my own. If people are trying to get me on switches, I want to be able to hold my own.”

Hughes, 23, was drafted with the No. 39 overall pick last December and is under contract entering next season. He appeared in 18 games this past season, albeit for a total of 64 minutes.

“Eli has a big body, and for him it’s learning to play angles defensively,” Jazz summer league coach Bryan Bailey said. “If he continues to learn to play angles and cut guys off with his size, he’ll be a good defender.”

Here are some other notes from the Western Conference tonight:

Pelicans Notes: Van Gundy, Griffin, Williamson, Weatherspoon, Vinson, Lottery

Pelicans officials determined that Stan Van Gundy’s style was not a match for the team’s young core and that contributed to the decision to fire the veteran head coach after just one season, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.

Executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin wanted Van Gundy to give more playing time to first-round picks Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kira Lewis, and Jaxson Hayes, but Van Gundy was more comfortable with veterans such as Eric Bledsoe, Fischer continues.

Parting ways with Van Gundy was also a means of currying favor with Zion Williamson, Fischer adds. Griffin had urged Van Gundy to make Williamson more of a lead ball-handler in the team’s offensive scheme.

We have more on the Pelicans:

  • While assistant coach Teresa Weatherspoon has been rumored to be a potential replacement for Van Gundy, Griffin downplayed that possibility, Will Guillory of The Athletic tweets. Griffin said her candidacy is “premature” and that people may have read too much into her being named the team’s Summer League coach, Guillory adds.
  • On the other hand, assistant Fred Vinson will get serious consideration for a promotion, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets. Vinson has been with the organization since 2010.
  • The Pelicans hit the jackpot when they won the 2019 lottery and selected Williamson. They’re hoping lightning strikes twice, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune writes.  The Pelicans enter next Tuesday’s drawing with a 4.5% chance of getting the top pick and a 20.3% chance of moving into the top four.
  • Getting rid of Van Gundy so quickly isn’t a good look for Griffin, Jeff Duncan of The Athletic writes. Next season will be pivotal for the franchise and they need to hit a home run with their next coaching hire to help convince Williamson to sign a long-term extension next summer. Zion didn’t demand Van Gundy’s ouster, Scott Kushner of the Times Picayune reports, but New Orleans’ franchise player has often expressed dissatisfaction and frustration with the team’s inability to be a consistent winner. Making a coaching change now is a way of excising the possibility of Williamson becoming discontented with the franchise.

Western Notes: Jazz, Lewis Jr., Oladipo, Kings

Despite opening the season with a red-hot start, the first-place Jazz aren’t satisfied with their situation and remain fully focused on winning the championship, Mark Medina of USA TODAY writes.

Utah owns the best record in the league at 21-5, having won six straight contests entering Saturday’s game against Miami. Prior to this, the team enjoyed an 11-game win streak and now has just one loss in its last 18 games. Outside of a tough road loss in Denver on January 31, the team hasn’t lost in over a month.

“We’re not going to put too much emphasis on it,” guard Donovan Mitchell said, as relayed by Medina. “It’s not like we’re saying this is a make-or-break stretch for us. We’re not playing to be ready by February. We’re playing to be ready in April, May, June, July, whatever. That’s when we want to have our best product.”

There’s more from the Western Conference today:

  • Christian Clark of NOLA.com examines how Pelicans rookie Kira Lewis Jr. is hurting opposing teams with his unique speed. Lewis, whose mother was also a college sprinter, is recognized as one of the quickest guards in the league. He was the No. 13 overall pick in the draft last year. “When I come in, I’m looking to push the pace, get into the paint, make the defense collapse and just make the right read,” Lewis said.
  • Rockets guard Victor Oladipo has been ruled out of the team’s game against New York on Saturday, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes. The team is listing him as out with a right foot strain, though the exact severity remains unclear. Oladipo has mostly struggled since joining Houston, averaging 18.4 points on 39% shooting from the floor and 30% from deep.
  • James Ham of NBC Sports examines why the Kings shouldn’t trade Harrison Barnes despite teams being interested in the 28-year-old. Barnes, in his ninth NBA season, is averaging 16.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game in 25 contests.

Southwest Notes: Lewis, Bey/Hinton, Stone, Porter

Rookie Pelicans point guard Kira Lewis Jr. has carved out further playing time with New Orleans, per Scott Kushner of the Times-Picayune. “He’s just so young,” head coach Stan Van Gundy said of the 19-year-old rookie, the No. 13 draft pick out of Alabama in 2020. “But he does so many good things. Trying to figure out how we throw him into that rotation is something we are definitely thinking about.”

Van Gundy expounded on his interest in exploring more time on the court for Lewis as the Pelicans’ 2020/21 season progresses: “Does that mean every single night? Does it mean 20 minutes a game? Does it mean 12 minutes a game? I can’t give you a definitive on that yet. But I do think I want him to play.”

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Two-way Mavericks rookies Tyler Bey and Nate Hinton have been sent to the NBA G League’s Long Island Nets to participate in the NBAGL 2021 season in Orlando, per an official team tweet.
  • Rockets GM Rafael Stone has exhibited an aptitude for being able to tinker with his roster quickly, Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle writes. Stone’s haul after trading away All-Star James Harden – led by wing Victor Oladipo – has impressed on the court. Houston is currently riding a six-game win streak to climb into the top eight teams within the competitive Western Conference.
  • The Grizzlies are sending forward Jontay Porter to the the club’s G League affiliate, the Memphis Hustle, for the 2021 NBAGL season in Orlando, according to a team press release.

Southwest Notes: Bledsoe, Kleber, White, Samanic

After a report Tuesday that the Pelicans are getting trade calls about guards Lonzo Ball and J.J. Redick, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst adds another name to the list. Appearing on “The Jump” today (video link), Windhorst said Eric Bledsoe is also available and that New Orleans is initiating trade talks with other teams.

With a 5-10 record, the Pelicans have been the most disappointing team in the West. Bledsoe has played a role in that as his numbers across the board are down from last season in Milwaukee. Acquired from the Bucks in the Jrue Holiday deal, Bledsoe is averaging 12.8 points per game, his lowest scoring average in eight years.

According to Windhorst, New Orleans wants to clear away its veteran guards to create more playing time for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and rookie Kira Lewis, who was the 13th pick in last year’s draft. Coach Stan Van Gundy talked to Ball and Redick today about the situation, tweets Will Guillory of The Athletic, and said the players realize that trade rumors are part of life in the NBA.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Maxi Kleber, one of five Mavericks players who were quarantined, has been cleared and has started individual workouts, tweets Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. Coach Rick Carlisle said Kleber won’t be available for Friday’s game against the Jazz, but may return this weekend. “His clock is ticking at a different rate because his episode was longer,” Carlisle said. “He certainly won’t play in either of these two games (at Utah). Saturday I suppose could be a possibility, but I don’t know.” (Twitter link)
  • Spurs guard Derrick White is close to returning from a fractured toe and could be back in the lineup this weekend, according to Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News (Twitter link). White, who has played just one game this season, had surgery on the toe in August and reinjured it on New Year’s Day.
  • The Spurs have sent second-year forward Luka Samanic to the G League bubble in Orlando, tweets Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. Samanic has seen limited playing time in four games this season.

Pelicans Sign Kira Lewis Jr. To Rookie Contract

The Pelicans have officially signed first-round pick Kira Lewis Jr. to his rookie contract, the team announced today in a press release.

A sophomore at Alabama in 2019/20, Lewis averaged a team-high 18.5 PPG to go along with 5.2 APG, 4.8 RPG, and 1.8 SPG in 31 games (37.6 MPG). After leaving the Crimson Tide to enter the draft pool, Lewis became a lottery pick, going 13th overall to New Orleans.

Lewis will join a solid group of Pelicans point guards that also includes Eric Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball. As the No. 13 pick, he’ll be in line for a four-year contract worth over $17MM, including a first-year salary of $3.64MM.

Nineteen of the 30 players drafted in the first round on November 18 have now signed their rookie contracts, as our tracker shows.

Southwest Notes: Doncic, Pelicans, Lewis Jr., Mavericks

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently compared Luka Doncic‘s style of play and charisma to that of one the most entertaining and successful point guards in league history — Magic Johnson.

Doncic, 21, is coming off a breakout season that saw him average 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists on 46% shooting. He also led his team to the seventh-best record in the West at 43-32, losing to the Clippers 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

“He [Doncic] can pass the ball, see from the top, get where he wants from the court. Knows how to pass to guys on time and on target,” Cuban said in an appearance on the Danger Show (as relayed by Dan Cancian of Newsweek.com).

“Clutch player in crunch time. [He] will take on responsibility against anybody, anytime. Great teammate. Fun Kid. Magic will light things up with a smile, Luka’s the same way for the Mavs. He’s got that charisma that Magic has.”

Here are some other notes from the Southwest Division tonight:

  • William Guillory of The Athletic explores how much spacing could be a concern for the Pelicans this year. New Orleans has transformed its roster ahead of the 2020/21 season, hiring head coach Stan Van Gundy and his staff, inking Brandon Ingram to a multi-year extension and acquiring Steven Adams to bolster the frontcourt. The team possesses the talent needed to reach the playoffs next season, though it remains unclear whether it has enough shooting to be a legitimate contender.
  • Pelicans rookie Kira Lewis Jr. is a student of the game at just 19 years old, Christian Clark of Nola.com writes. Lewis was drafted by the team with the No. 13 pick this month, having spent the past two seasons at Alabama. “He’s a student of the game,” former AAU coach Cory Underwood said. “That’s why he’s going to find a way to succeed in the NBA somehow, someway. He’s been doing things like that since he was young. A lot of guys now, you’ll find NBA guys. The Anthony Edwards thing was a big thing. He said he doesn’t watch basketball. A lot of kids don’t watch basketball. Kira Lewis watches basketball.” 
  • Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News examines the five biggest issues the Mavericks will face entering training camp, beginning with a pair of questions related to Kristaps Porzingis. The team still doesn’t have a concrete timetable for Porzingis’ return from injury, with team president Donnie Nelson recently giving an early-January target range for the 25-year-old. The club must also determine whether he’ll primarily play power forward or center this season.