Pelicans Rumors

Southwest Notes: Pelicans, Ntilikina, Green

Following an exciting first-round playoff exit during the 2021/22 season, the Pelicans face an intriguing 2022/23. The team expects to get 2021 All-Star forward Zion Williamson back from the foot injury that kept him sidelined last year, and hopes to build on the chemistry its players exhibited in their hard-fought six-game postseason loss to the Suns.

In a new mailbag, Will Guillory of The Athletic addresses questions about the team’s willingness to add 33-year-old All-Star forward Kevin Durant in a trade package centered around draft picks and young star forward Brandon Ingram; guard CJ McCollum‘s standing as a scorer in the NBA; the breakout potential of second-year small forward Trey Murphy III, and more.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Mavericks reserve guard Frank Ntilikina will not suit up for France in the World Cup qualifiers or the 2022 EuroBasket competition due to lingering pain, per a statement from the French Federation of Basketball. Ntilikina showed off his defensive upside during his first season with Dallas, though he boasted relatively modest offensive numbers of 4.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG and 1.2 APG across 58 games.
  • In a new conversation with Andrei Felix of CNN Phillippines (YouTube video link) young Rockets shooting guard Jalen Green talked about the skills he’s been focused on developing during the 2022 offseason. Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic supplied the transcript (Twitter link). “I’ve been working on decision making, tightening up my handle, and knowing what shots I want to get on the floor,” Green said. “Getting comfortable getting to my spots and just rising up. Catch-and-shoot.” He also preached patience to Houston fans hoping for a return to deep postseason runs. “No matter if it’s 2 year, 3 years, next year, I just want every fan to be patient with us,” Green continued. “We’re working. We’re in the lab. We’re going to make sure this happens as soon as possible.” The second pick in the 2021 draft out of the G League Ignite, Green made the All-Rookie First Team while averaging 17.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG and 2.6 APG for a rebuilding 20-62 Rockets club.
  • In case you missed it, the Rockets signed veteran center Willie Cauley-Stein to a one-year deal, with a chance to compete for a roster spot in training camp.

Pelicans' Deep Backcourt Will Force Tough Rotation Decisions

Kevin Durant Notes: Pelicans, Nets, Standoff, League Reaction

After reasserting his desire to be dealt away from the Nets in a meeting with principle owner Joe Tsai last weekend, All-Star forward Kevin Durant would consider holding out of Brooklyn’s training camp in September if he’s still on the roster, a source tells Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News.

Winfield reports that, among the Nets’ potential trade partners, the Pelicans remain interested in Durant. Winfield suggests that New Orleans could put together a “compelling” package that includes 2020 All-Star forward Brandon Ingram, still just 24, along with intriguing young role players like Herbert Jones and Jose Alvarado, plus significant draft equity.

Here’s the latest Durant chatter:

  • After looking like surefire title contenders thanks to their 2021-era core of Durant, All-Star guard James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, the Nets have fallen back to earth. The New York Post’s Ian O’Connor writes that the franchise has devolved back into the kind of laughingstock it often was when still based in New Jersey. The team appears to be in total disarray following Durant’s reiterated trade request.
  • John Hollinger of The Athletic opines that the Nets still have a negotiating edge over Durant. Hollinger credits that to the fact that the 33-year-old’s four-year, maximum-salary extension is just beginning, and his advanced NBA age diminishes his trade value to some extent. Hollinger writes that, should Durant opt to not play for the start of the season, the Nets could try to miss the playoffs. The team owes a pick swap to the Rockets in 2023, but the Rockets still project to miss the postseason themselves, meaning Brooklyn could get a quality selection regardless.
  • Executives and coaches around the league are incensed at Durant’s request that Tsai either trade him or fire team president Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash, per Heavy.com’s Steve Bulpett. “Livid,” one team president told Bulpett in describing their emotional reaction to the news. “He and Kyrie basically told Sean they were coming [in 2019 free agency], and Sean did pretty much everything they wanted after that. Signing DeAndre Jordan for four years? That’s something Kyrie and KD wanted. Getting James Harden? Then getting a guy who should be a perfect complement to them [Ben Simmons] when Harden wanted out? Sean did all that… And now KD doesn’t like how it’s all worked out? There’s probably some other people he should talk to about that, maybe even a teammate.”

Checking In Again On Unsigned 2022 Draft Picks

We’re about a month-and-a-half removed from the 2022 NBA draft, and – as our tracker shows – 46 of the 58 players selected on June 23 have signed their first NBA contracts.

The 12 unsigned players are as follows:

  1. Toronto Raptors: Christian Koloko, F/C
  2. Detroit Pistons: Gabriele Procida, G
  3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Khalifa Diop, C
  4. New Orleans Pelicans: E.J. Liddell, F
  5. Denver Nuggets: Ismael Kamagate, C
  6. Indiana Pacers: Kendall Brown, F
  7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Matteo Spagnolo, G
  8. New Orleans Pelicans: Karlo Matkovic, F
  9. Washington Wizards: Yannick Nzosa, C
  10. Golden State Warriors: Gui Santos, F
  11. Cleveland Cavaliers: Luke Travers, G/F
  12. Milwaukee Bucks: Hugo Besson, G

Most of these prospects will likely spend the 2022/23 season playing in non-NBA leagues around the world. Procida, Diop, Kamagate, Spagnolo, Matkovic, Nzosa, Santos, Travers, and Besson are all good bets to be draft-and-stash players.

That essentially just leaves three 2022 draftees in limbo: Koloko, Liddell, and Brown.

A player selected within the first five picks of the second round, like Koloko was, virtually always receives a multiyear contract that includes at least a year or two of guaranteed money. It’s hard to imagine that won’t be the case for Koloko, despite the Raptors‘ roster crunch. Toronto already has 13 players on guaranteed contracts, with three players on partial guarantees vying for a regular season spot, so if Koloko signs, it would leave one fewer spot up for grabs.

It’s worth noting that once Koloko officially signs, he’ll be ineligible to be traded for 30 days, so it’s possible the Raptors are keeping their options open in case their Kevin Durant trade talks with the Nets get serious.

Toronto may also be mulling whether to use a portion of its mid-level exception to sign Koloko to a contract that spans three or four years. Taking that route, instead of signing him to a two-year, minimum-salary contract, would ensure he remains under team control for an extra season or two, but would hard-cap the Raptors for the 2022/23 season, since the club already used $6MM of its MLE to sign Otto Porter.

Liddell, meanwhile, suffered an unfortunate break to begin his professional career, tearing his ACL during the Las Vegas Summer League. Before he sustained that injury, the question was probably whether Liddell would receive a standard contract or a two-way deal. Now, the question is whether New Orleans still willing to sign him to a two-way contract or whether the team wants to use that slot on someone who could actually contribute on the court in 2022/23.

If they fill their two-way slots, the Pelicans would probably like to see Liddell sign a G League contract and spend the season rehabbing with the Birmingham Squadron before he signs his first NBA deal a year from now.

As for Brown, it remains to be seen whether he’ll begin the season on the Pacers‘ standard 15-man roster or on a two-way deal. For now, Indiana could go in either direction, but the club could be waiting to see whether there are any more trades to be made before training camp begins — if the Pacers were to complete a deal involving Myles Turner and/or Buddy Hield, the number of players they receive in that trade would have an impact on whether or not there’s room on the standard roster for Brown.

For example, if Indiana send Turner and Hield to the Lakers in exchange for Russell Westbrook and draft assets, then bought out Westbrook, it would open up two extra spots on the projected 15-man roster. In that scenario, signing Brown to a three- or four-year standard contract would make sense.

25 Of NBA’s 30 Teams Have Made At Least One Offseason Trade

Since the 2022 NBA offseason began, 26 trades have been made, as our tracker shows. A total of 25 teams have been involved in those 26 deals, with 15 clubs (half the league) completing multiple trades.

The Raptors, Heat, Bulls, Pelicans, and Clippers are the only teams that have not been part of at least one trade since their seasons ended this spring. While most of those clubs were pretty active in free agency, it has been an especially quiet offseason in New Orleans, where the Pelicans also haven’t made a single free agent signing.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Timberwolves have been the NBA’s most active team on the trade market this summer, with new president of basketball operations Tim Connelly putting his stamp on the franchise in his first few months on the job. After making four draft-night deals in June, Minnesota finalized the offseason’s biggest trade by acquiring Rudy Gobert from the Jazz just over a month ago.

The Hawks and Knicks, with four deals apiece, have been the next most active teams on the trade market. A pair of Atlanta’s moves were minor, but the other two – acquiring Dejounte Murray and sending Kevin Huerter to Sacramento – will have a major impact on the team going forward. As for New York, most of Leon Rose‘s deals involved shuffling around draft picks and clearing cap room for the team’s free agent signings of Jalen Brunson and Isaiah Hartenstein.

Here are a few more details on this summer’s 26 trades:

  • The Pacers, Pistons, Nuggets, Grizzlies, and Kings have each made three trades. The other teams to make multiple deals are the Hornets, Thunder, Jazz, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Rockets, and Spurs, with two apiece.
  • That leaves the Sixers, Nets, Celtics, Cavaliers, Bucks, Magic, Wizards, Lakers, Warriors, and Suns as the clubs that have each completed just one trade.
  • All 26 of this offseason’s trades have consisted of just two teams, with no three- or four-team deals made so far. A draft-night agreement involving the Hornets, Knicks, and Pistons was originally reported as a three-team trade, but was ultimately completed as two separate deals.
  • Not a single player has been signed-and-traded so far during the 2022 offseason. That’s pretty surprising, since 27 free agents changed teams via sign-and-trade in the three years from 2019-21 and only four teams used cap room this offseason — sign-and-trades are typically more common in years when most clubs are operating over the cap.
  • Eight first round picks from the 2022 draft were traded this summer, and four of those were dealt twice: Jalen Duren (Charlotte to New York to Detroit); Walker Kessler (Memphis to Minnesota to Utah); Wendell Moore (Dallas to Houston to Minnesota); and TyTy Washington (Memphis to Minnesota to Houston).
  • Another dozen second round 2022 picks changed hands this offseason, including one that was on the move twice (No. 46 pick Ismael Kamagate from Detroit to Portland to Denver).
  • A total of 15 future round picks (2023 and beyond) were included in trades this summer, including a pair that changed hands twice. Six of those first round picks were unprotected, while nine included protections.
  • Another 19 future second round picks (2023 and beyond) were also traded, with two of those 19 dealt twice. All but one of those traded second rounders was unprotected.

Examining Whether Zion Williamson Can Fit In With New-Look Pelicans, More

  • William Guillory of The Athletic examines how Pelicans star Zion Williamson can fit in with the new-look team that emerged during his 2021/22 absence. Guillory explores how much we may see Williamson serve as the de facto point guard or small-ball center, and whether he can work together with co-star Brandon Ingram.

NBA Teams With Open Two-Way Contract Slots

A total of 18 NBA teams currently have both of their two-way contract slots filled, as our tracker shows.

That doesn’t mean those players will be locked into those slots for the rest of the 2022/23 season, or even until opening night, since two-way deals are low-cost contracts that don’t count against the salary cap, making them easy to replace. But it means those spots are unavailable for the time being.

That leaves 12 teams with at least one two-way slot available. Those teams are as follows:

  • Atlanta Hawks
  • Brooklyn Nets
  • Charlotte Hornets
  • Chicago Bulls
  • Dallas Mavericks
  • Houston Rockets
  • Indiana Pacers
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • New Orleans Pelicans
  • Portland Trail Blazers
  • San Antonio Spurs
  • Washington Wizards

The Hawks, Hornets, Mavericks, Rockets, Clippers, the Trail Blazers, and Wizards have fairly straightforward two-way situations at the moment — they’ve each filled one slot and have one open, with no reports indicating that any of those teams has reached an agreement on a two-way deal with a free agent or draftee.

The Nets and Bulls also have one two-way spot filled and one open, but each of them has a two-way qualifying offer out to a restricted free agent — David Duke for Brooklyn and Malcolm Hill for Chicago. If those players simply accept their QOs, neither the Nets nor the Bulls will have a two-way opening.

The Spurs also have one two-way player signed and one spot open, though a Shams Charania report last month indicated that undrafted rookie Jordan Hall will sign a two-way contract with San Antonio. If and when that happens, the Spurs will join the list of teams with both of their two-way slots occupied.

The Pacers and Pelicans are currently the only two teams that don’t have a single player on a two-way contract. A Charania report way back in June suggested that Dereon Seabron would sign a two-way deal with New Orleans, but it hasn’t officially happened yet.

The best candidate for a two-way contract with Indiana, meanwhile, could be 48th overall pick Kendall Brown, who is one of a handful of 2022 draftees still unsigned. Even if Seabron and Brown sign two-way pacts, the Pacers and Pelicans would still each have one slot available.

Southwest Notes: KPJ, Bane, McCollum, Nance

Rockets point guard Kevin Porter Jr. appears to have earned a long-term look with the franchise. Houston and Porter have had initial discussions about the future of the extension-eligible 22-year-old, prompting Kelly Iko and Danny Leroux of The Athletic take a deep dive into what a new deal might look like for the fourth-year guard.

Leroux projects an annual number in the range of $10-15MM for Porter. Should the Rockets opt to not extend Porter and instead let him reach restricted free agency in the summer of 2023, Leroux notes that the market for the 6’4″ guard’s services could be dampened. Currently, just seven NBA clubs, including the Rockets, project to have cap space available to sign Porter for more than the mid-level exception.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Third-year Grizzlies shooting guard Desmond Bane has evolved into a reliable locker-room leader, despite his relative greenness, writes Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal“I’ve always been a vet [in terms of personal comportment], but now I’m a vet for real,” Bane said. “I don’t really think that too much has to change. I’ve always been the guy to lead by example, put my best foot in front of the other. That’s half of leadership right there.”
  • Pelicans veteran players CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr., new additions to the team at the 2022 trade deadline, are extension-eligible this summer. Will Guillory and Danny Leroux of The Athletic consider potential extension contracts for both New Orleans players. Christian Clark of NOLA.com writes that McCollum contributed as a versatile scorer and consistent ball-handler, while Nance helped the team in the less-glamorous role of flexible bench big. Clark notes that both players have shown interest in sticking around long term with an exciting young Pelicans club hot off its first playoff appearance in four years.
  • In case you missed it, the lucrative new extension inked by Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson includes a caveat that requires him to get consistent weigh-ins by New Orleans. Should the total of his body fat percentage and weight exceed 295, the team will be able to reduce the guaranteed portion of his salary.

Analytics Expert Could Join Pelicans

  • In the same Substack article, Stein indicates that the Pelicans are making a hard push to hire Pistons analytics expert Sammy Gelfand. Gelfand and Pelicans coach Willie Green previously worked together with the Warriors.

Zion Williamson’s New Extension Includes Conditioning Clause

New details have arrived on the five-year maximum contract extension signed earlier this month by Pelicans star power forward Zion Williamson.

The 2020 All-Star, who has famously struggled to maintain his weight since arriving in the NBA as the top draft pick out of Duke in 2019, will be required to undergo regular weigh-ins, reports Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

According to Clark, if the sum of Williamson’s weight and body fat percentage does not come in below 295, New Orleans will have the ability to reduce the guarantee on his salary.

Clark notes that Williamson’s deal could pay him as much as $231MM, should he qualify for a 2023 All-NBA Team or be named the Defensive Player of the Year or MVP next season. If he doesn’t meet the Rose Rule criteria, it will be worth $193MM. Those figures are based on current cap projections for 2023/24, which is when Zion’s new deal will go into effect.

Clark adds that Williamson’s body weight and overall consistent fitness have been an issue for the Pelicans throughout his three-year NBA tenure.

The former No. 1 overall pick entered the NBA weighing a listed 284 pounds in 2019. After fracturing the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in the summer of 2021, Williamson’s conditioning was impacted, and he checked into team training camp at a figure beyond 300 pounds. He did not suit up for a single game during the 2021/22 season.

As Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report notes (Twitter link), a hypothetical decrease in Williamson’s guaranteed salary would only be relevant if the Pelicans eventually decide to waive him or trade him (for salary-matching purposes). As long as he plays out his full five-year contract without being cut, he’ll still earn his full salary for all five seasons.