Pelicans Rumors

Jonas Valanciunas Has Career Night From Three-Point Range

  • Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas has been improving his three-point shot in recent years, but he’s never had a night like Monday when he went 7-for-7 from beyond the arc in the first half, notes Andrew Lopez of ESPN. Some of his teammates started calling him “Dirk Valanciunas” in honor of former Mavericks sharpshooter Dirk Nowitzki. “Everybody wants to be (Dirk). He’s one of the greatest big guys in the game,” said Valanciunas. “But I still gotta work a lot to be like him. I’m just taking what’s out there. If I have an open shot, I’ll take it. If I’m making it, I’ll keep taking it. It’s as simple as that.”

Examining Whether Zion Williamson Can Stabilize Pelicans; Herb Jones Making Defensive Impact

  • Andrew Lopez of ESPN examines whether the return of Zion Williamson can stabilize the Pelicans‘ season. Williamson (foot surgery rehab) has yet to play this season, leading to New Orleans accruing the third-worst record in the West at 7-18. In 61 games last season, he averaged 27 points, 7.2 rebounds and 33.2 minutes on 61% shooting.
  • Speaking of the Pelicans, second-round pick Herb Jones has become one of the league’s best young defenders, William Guillory of The Athletic opines. Jones was drafted by New Orleans in July after spending four seasons at Alabama. “To be great on defense, you have to really want it,” he explained. “You have to play with a different kind of aggression, a different kind of desire. I take pride in always being the guy who’s ready to lay it all out there for my teammates. That’s what I care about the most.”

Pelicans Sign Gary Clark To Non-Guaranteed Deal

December 3: The Pelicans have officially signed Clark, the team announced in a press release.

December 2: The Pelicans are signing forward Gary Clark to a non-guaranteed contract, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

New Orleans has a full 15-man roster, but will be able to move Didi Louzada to the suspended list now that he has served more than five games of his 25-game ban for violating the league’s anti-drug policy, as Christian Clark of confirms (via Twitter). When Louzada’s suspension ends, the Pelicans will have to get back down to 15 players by trading or waiving Clark or another player.

Clark, 27, has appeared in a total of 132 NBA regular season games since making his debut in 2018. Last season, he averaged 3.1 PPG and 2.9 RPG in 39 games (16.8 MPG) for the Magic, Nuggets, and Sixers. He’s known more for his defense, having put up very modest offensive numbers (3.2 PPG on .346/.311/.889 shooting) in his NBA career.

Clark had been playing for the Mexico City Capitanes in the G League this season, where he was averaging 14.4 PPG and 6.9 RPG with 1.5 SPG through eight games (31.3 MPG). While it’s a small sample, he has been letting it fly from beyond the three-point line in the NBA G League and has made 37.3% of 7.4 attempts per game so far.

Clark’s minimum-salary contract will pay him just over $9,900 per day.

Zion Williamson Experiences Setback In Rehab Process

Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who has yet to play a game this season due to offseason surgery on his right foot, experienced some soreness this week in that foot and his potential return has been delayed, tweets Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

According to Lopez, Williamson didn’t practice on Thursday and the plan is to dial him back for a few days. No re-imaging on his foot has been scheduled and the Pelicans expect the former No. 1 overall pick to ramp back up next week. The team views it as a “slight delay” in the rehab process, but nothing serious, per William Guillory of The Athletic (Twitter link).

We heard last week that Williamson had started playing in 4-on-4 scrimmages and had been cleared to practice and participate in full team activities. At that time, the expectation was that today would be Zion’s first opportunity to take part in a full practice. Clearly, that didn’t happen. He’ll revert to “low-impact” work before he ramps back up again, says Lopez (Twitter link).

While the Pelicans may be right that a slight delay in Williamson’s rehab shouldn’t be viewed as a major concern, the team is facing increased scrutiny, given the All-Star forward’s injury history. Williamson also missed a significant chunk of his rookie season due to a knee injury, far exceeding the recovery timeline the team initially provided at the time.

This time around, comments made by Williamson and head of basketball operations David Griffin on Media Day strongly suggested the 23-year-old was targeting opening night for his return. Griffin later claimed that when he said Williamson would be ready for the season, he hadn’t meant the start of the season, but Zion himself was clearly aiming to be back for opening night. It’s a bit of a worrying sign that, for a second time in three years, New Orleans’ star player is missing far more time than initially projected.

Heat, Bulls Will Each Lose Second-Round Pick Due To Free Agency Violations

The Heat and Bulls will each forfeit their next available second-round pick as a result of the NBA’s investigation into the free agent acquisitions of Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball, the league announced today in a press release.

According to the NBA’s announcement, both clubs violated league rules governing the timing of free agency discussions, having jumped the gun on negotiations with Lowry and Ball.

It’s no secret that most teams are in touch with players’ agents before free agency officially begins, but the league determined that the Heat’s deal for Lowry and the Bulls’ acquisition of Ball were particularly egregious, since they were sign-and-trade agreements (which require the approval of two teams and at least one player) that were reported within the opening minutes of free agency.

The league told teams in a memo that the Bulls and Heat “fully cooperated with the investigations,” which was taken into account when determining the penalties, says ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Both clubs issued statements acknowledging the penalties and saying they’re moving on with their seasons — the Heat said in their statement that they disagreed with the league’s ruling.

A lost second-round pick is the same penalty the Bucks faced a year ago for jumping the gun in free agency with Bogdan Bogdanovic. In that case, Bogdanovic ended up in Atlanta rather than Milwaukee — the Heat and Bulls landed their respective free agent targets, so it’s a little surprising the two teams this time around didn’t face harsher punishments. However, we don’t know exactly what the NBA’s investigations turned up.

Both the Heat and Bulls have traded away many of their upcoming second-rounders, so it’s possible they won’t actually have to forfeit a pick for a few years. According to RealGM, Miami has traded all its second-round selections through 2027, though the 2024 pick is top-50 protected and could remain with the Heat. Chicago has traded all its second-rounders through 2025.

However, the Heat are on track to receive the less favorable of Philadelphia’s and Denver’s second-rounders in 2022, assuming they make the playoffs. The Bulls, meanwhile, will receive Denver’s 2023 second-rounder if it’s not in the top 46. The NBA’s announcement today didn’t explicitly say that Miami and Chicago will be required to surrender their own next available second-rounders, so those ’22 and ’23 picks from other teams could be the ones forfeited.

It appears the Raptors and Pelicans – who worked with Miami and Chicago, respectively, in the Lowry and Ball sign-and-trades – will face no punishment. While that’s not a major surprise, it’s still a relief for those two teams — especially for the Pelicans, who acquired Garrett Temple via sign-and-trade in the Ball deal.

Southwest Notes: M. Brown, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Wall

Mavericks fans have been clamoring for Moses Brown to get a longer look at center, but head coach Jason Kidd appears in no rush to insert the 22-year-old into the rotation, writes Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News.

Dwight Powell and Willie Cauley-Stein remain ahead of Brown on the depth chart, Boban Marjanovic is still in the mix, and Kidd also sounds interested in experimenting more with Maxi Kleber in the starting lineup, shifting Kristaps Porzingis to the five. As a result, the Mavericks’ head coach isn’t making any promises to the fans who want to see more of Brown.

“He could get a chance,” Kidd said, per Townsend. “I think for fans, or for anybody, if they look at our roster we have quite a few centers. So there’s a committee of centers. And at some point, maybe he [Brown] has an opportunity to play.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal takes a look at what’s next for the Grizzlies with Ja Morant sidelined due to a sprained knee. Morant has the league’s third-highest usage rate among point guards, so Memphis will try to replace him using a committee, with Tyus Jones, Desmond Bane, De’Anthony Melton, and Kyle Anderson all taking on added ball-handling responsibilities.
  • Jaxson Hayes opened the season as the Pelicans‘ primary backup center, but Willy Hernangomez has taken over that role in New Orleans’ last four games. Scott Kushner of writes that Hayes was handed his minutes, while Hernangomez – who re-signed with the team over the summer – has fought to earn his.
  • John Hollinger of The Athletic is confused about why John Wall and the Rockets are at an impasse over whether or not he starts. Hollinger thinks Houston should be open to putting Wall in the starting lineup, where he could make life easier for Jalen Green, but also believes Wall shouldn’t be too hung up on starting, since potential suitors aren’t going to view him any differently if he’s coming off the bench.

Beno Udrih Announces Retirement

Former NBA guard Beno Udrih has officially announced his retirement, according to EuroHoops.

It was mostly a formality, as the 39-year-old guard hasn’t played in three years and has been a player development coach on the Pelicans‘ staff since last November. However, he hadn’t made a formal announcement until today when he shared the news on an Instagram post.

“They say professional athletes die two deaths – the first being when you’re unable to play the sport any longer,” Udrih wrote. “It has taken me 2 long years to accept and announce my retirement from playing basketball. Coming from a small village in Slovenia to playing 13 consecutive years in the NBA and winning 2 championships, is more than I could have dreamed of and I loved every minute of it.

“Basketball has been a part of my life professionally since I was 16 years old and is something I hope I never have to give up. I now want to be a coach just as badly as I wanted to be a professional player back when I was a kid. I hope to share my knowledge and guide the next generation, just as many coaches did for me.”

Udrih played seven seasons overseas before the Spurs drafted him with the 28th pick in 2004. He spent three seasons with San Antonio, winning two NBA titles, before signing as a free agent with the Kings. After four years in Sacramento, Udrih became a journeyman, making brief stops with the Bucks, Magic, Knicks, Grizzlies, Heat and Pistons. He played 831 career games, averaging 8.4 points and 3.4 assists per night.

Zion Williamson Cleared To Practice, Participate In Full Team Activities

Pelicans star Zion Williamson has been cleared to practice and participate in full team activities, the team announced (Twitter link). The club also stated that Williamson played full court 4-on-4 today.

Zion, an All-Star last season, has been recovering from a broken right foot which required surgery over the summer. He played 1-on-1 and 3-on-3 earlier this week, but was awaiting medical clearance on foot scans before being able to practice fully.

There is still no timetable for his return to games, but being cleared to participate in full is a good sign that he’ll be able to build up his stamina over the coming weeks.

Andrew Lopez of ESPN tweets that based on the team’s schedule, Zion should participate in his first full practice on December 2.

Although there’s no firm timetable for a return to games, Christian Clark of speculates that Williamson could make his season debut at some point in December.

The Pelicans have struggled mightily in his absence — they sit with a 4-16 record through 20 games, ahead of only the 2-16 Rockets in the West.

Alexis Ajinca Announces Retirement

Former NBA center Alexis Ajinca has formally announced his retirement as a player, publishing a tweet today confirming the decision.

Ajinca, 33, was the 20th overall pick in the 2008 draft. The 7’2″ Frenchman began his NBA career in Charlotte before making stops in Dallas, Toronto, and New Orleans over the course of seven seasons. He last appeared in the NBA in 2017 with the Pelicans and also played professionally in France from 2006-08, 2011-13, and 2018-19.

In 293 total NBA regular season games, Ajinca averaged 5.3 PPG and 3.9 RPG with a .503 FG% in 13.3 minutes per contest. His best years came in New Orleans, where he was a rotation regular from 2013-17, appearing in 222 games and starting 70 of them. His lone playoff appearance came with the Pelicans in 2015.

In France, Ajinca won the French Cup in 2007 and was named to the LNB Pro A All-Star team in 2013. He was also a member of the France team that won gold in the 2013 FIBA EuroBasket championship.

Pelicans Waiting For Results From The Latest Scans On Zion Williamson

  • The Pelicans are waiting for a foot specialist to process the latest scans on Zion Williamson, tweets Christian Clark of Williamson has been playing 1-on-1 and 3-on-3 games, but hasn’t been cleared to participate in practice. The team expects the results to be available within a few days.