Pelicans Rumors

Southwest Notes: Mirotic, Gasol, Spurs, Jackson Jr.

Pelicans forward Nikola Mirotic has regained his rhythm with the team, returning to the lineup this past week after missing 12 games with an ankle injury. He scored 26 combined points in his first two games back, draining a handful of threes as an off-ball threat.

“He was trying to get himself going early and I just kind of wanted to tell him to let it come to him,” Anthony Davis said of Mirotic following Wednesday’s win over Cleveland, according to Scott Kushner of The Advocate. “I think it was big for him to see his shot go in and from there he started making a bunch of shots.”

Mirotic wound up scoring 17 points against the Cavs, then scored nine points with a positive net rating against the Timberwolves on Saturday. He was acquired by the Pelicans in a trade last year, with the team bringing him on as a catch-and-shoot threat.

“AD said, ‘Take the first one. Don’t hesitate,’ ” Mirotic said. “So I said, ‘He’s right. If you have an open shot, take the open shot.’ Just play simple. That’s what I did. A couple of possessions after that, they went to double against AD and he passed it to me wide open, and I shot that corner in the second quarter. That was all. Playing simple.” 

The Pelicans are striving to make the postseason for the third time since drafting Davis. The team is reportedly active on the trade market, with the NBA’s annual deadline falling on February 7 this season.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies center Marc Gasol has denied that there’s any rift between him and teammate Joakim Noah, David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal writes. A video of Gasol brushing by Noah after the team’s win over the Spurs circulated on social media, with Gasol calling the insinuation “f——” unbelievable.” Noah also played with Marc’s brother, Pau Gasol, for two seasons in Chicago.
  • Patty Mills expects an emotional night when longtime Spurs guard Tony Parker returns to San Antonio on Monday, tweets Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. Parker signed a free-agent contract with the Hornets last summer, leaving the Spurs after 17 seasons. “I think he is going to get a very, very warm welcome,” Mills said. “The city loves him. They always have, and vice versa. Looking forward to a pretty cool reception from the fans.”
  • Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff explains his development plan for Jaren Jackson Jr., as relayed by Cobb in a story for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “There’s moments where it may look like we’re being tough on him,” Bickerstaff said. “But we have expectations of him being a franchise player, and your franchise player has to hold himself to those standards. And you only get one chance to coach him as a rookie.” Jackson Jr., the No. 4 pick in 2018, has averaged 13.4 points in 25.5 minutes per game this season, starting in 40 of 42 contests.

Free Agent Stock Watch 2019: Southwest Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Southwest Division:

DeAndre Jordan, Mavericks, 30, C (Up) – Signed to a one-year, $24.1MM deal in 2018
Jordan has pretty much done his usual thing in his first season with Dallas, ranking second in the league in rebounding and anchoring the defense. One troubling development is his penchant for turnovers — he’s averaging a career-worst 2.4 per game. The one other surprising development is a plus — the career 45.9% free throw shooter has drained 70.3% of his attempts. The always durable Jordan has also answered the bell every game. Early concerns about about “selfish” play have somewhat dissipated. Dallas may not re-sign him but someone will give him another big contract this summer.

Austin Rivers, Rockets, 26, SG (Up) – Signed to a one-year, $1.15MM deal in 2018
The above salary number doesn’t reflect what Rivers is actually making this season, as the Suns bought out his contract after he was traded from the Wizards. He had a $12.6MM salary in the final year of a four-season contract and only gave back $650K. The decision to hook on with the Rockets after he cleared waivers has been good for both parties. With Chris Paul sidelined, Rivers has averaged 12.3 PPG and 3.1 APG in 38.5 MPG in his first eight outings with a championship contender. Still in his prime, Rivers should be able to land a multi-year deal this summer.

Ivan Rabb, Grizzlies, 21, PF (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $2.3MM deal in 2017
An early second-rounder in 2017, Rabb has been a force in a handful of G League games, averaging 23.4 PPG and 10.2 RPG. That hasn’t translated into NBA playing time. He hasn’t played meaningful minutes in 14 games with the Grizzlies. Interior defensive issues and the lack of 3-point shot are the main reason why the athletic big man hasn’t carved out a role. Unless they’re convinced he can improve those areas, the Grizzlies will likely cut ties with him after the season.

Darius Miller, Pelicans, 28, SF (Down) — Signed to a two-year, $4.3MM deal in 2017
Miller receives lots of playing time but his offensive contributions boil down to an occasional 3-point attempt. To be fair, Miller is the No. 5 option when he’s on the floor and he’s an above-average long-range shooter (38.7 percent). His defensive metrics are subpar, which partially explains his paltry 8.42 PER, so the 3-and-D tag doesn’t necessarily fit. Miller’s 3-point shooting could be enough to land him a veteran’s minimum deal or something slightly higher next summer but there’s no big payday ahead.

Quincy Pondexter, Spurs, 30, SF (Down)– Signed to a one-year, $2.16MM deal in 2018
Pondexter remained on the roster past January 10th, fully guaranteeing his salary for this season. Pondexter, whose career has been sidetracked by knee injuries, has been praised as a positive locker room influence but he hasn’t contributed much on the court. He’s appeared in 31 games but averaged just 5.9 MPG with a majority of his playing time coming in blowouts. Pondexter will likely struggle to find another veteran’s minimum deal in the summer.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pelicans Notes: Schedule, Davis, Mirotic

The Pelicans will begin a five-game Western Conference road trip on Friday night, kicking off a 12-game stretch that represents a “make-or-break” segment of their schedule, writes Scott Kushner of The Advocate.

If the Pelicans perform well during those 12 games – which include matchups against Golden State, Portland, Oklahoma City, Houston, Denver, the Clippers, and San Antonio (twice) – it would send a clear message to ownership and management that the club can contend, says Kushner. The stretch ends on February 4, just ahead of this season’s February 7 trade deadline, so New Orleans should have a better idea by then of whether the team remains a buyer.

On the other hand, if the Pelicans struggle and slip further out of playoff contention during those few weeks, it would be “plainly irresponsible” for the team to trade another future first-round pick for short-term help, Kushner notes.

Here’s more on the Pelicans as they gear up for a crucial portion of their schedule:

  • Even if the Pelicans slump before the trade deadline, there are no plans to make Anthony Davis available during the season, Kushner confirms. Still, the big man’s future remains a popular topic of speculation. Davis himself spoke earlier this week with Joe Vardon of The Athletic about how he tunes out those rumors, whether his situation has been a distraction, and what he wants out of his NBA career.
  • In that conversation with Vardon, Davis also addressed a recent report that suggested money wouldn’t necessarily be a deciding factor when he weighs his future: “I never said money wasn’t important. Somebody asked me about money or your legacy. In that case, your legacy lasts forever. Your money comes and goes, but for me I want to build a legacy. In that case, if you have to choose between money or legacy, I think legacy wins every time, in my opinion. … I want winning to be a part of my legacy.”
  • In a recent, wide-ranging Q&A with Larry Holder of The Athletic, Pelicans owner Gayle Benson spoke about the need to give the team “more time” to gel and touched briefly on the subject of Anthony Davis. “I think [the Pelicans] are young, and we’re going to invest more money and get the big players and do everything we can to keep Anthony here,” Benson said. “I really like what we have in place. I really like Anthony, but if he wants to leave, you can’t hold him back.” Benson took over as the Pelicans’ controlling owner when her husband Tom Benson passed away last year.
  • The Pelicans’ lineup got on lift on Wednesday night when Nikola Mirotic returned from a month-long absence and looked healthy and productive in 22 minutes vs. Cleveland. However, after missing time due to his right ankle injury, Mirotic likely won’t cash in on any unlikely-incentive money for 2018/19. As ESPN’s Bobby Marks details (via Twitter), Mirotic has three separate $250K performance bonuses ($750K total) that all hinge on him playing at least 65 games. If he misses two more games this season, Mirotic will fall short of 65.

Pelicans Interested In Terrence Ross

  • New Orleans is another team that would move its first-round pick for immediate help, particularly at small forward, according to Deveney, who says the Pelicans have had some interest in Terrence Ross. As we’ve heard previously, the Magic have indicated they’d rather move Jonathon Simmons than Ross, but Ross would have more value. If Orlando keeps slipping further from the No. 8 seed in the East, the team might become more inclined to shop Ross.
  • The Trail Blazers would also be willing to part with their 2019 first-rounder for help in the backcourt or on the wing, per Deveney. Sources tell Deveney that Portland has expressed some interest in Hawks point guard Jeremy Lin, whom the Sixers and Pelicans have also inquired on. Getting a first-round pick in return for Lin might be challenging, but the veteran guard has boosted his value with a solid season so far in Atlanta.


Roster Notes: Wizards, Suns, Blazers, More

Early to mid January is a period of flux for a number of NBA rosters, as teams navigate two key deadlines.

[RELATED: NBA Dates, Deadlines To Watch In January]

All full-season contracts officially became guaranteed on Thursday, after a handful of clubs beat the deadline earlier this week and released players on non-guaranteed contracts to avoid having those cap hits lock in.

The next deadline arrives on January 15, which is the last day of the 2018/19 league year for teams to sign players to two-way contracts. After that day, teams can waive players on two-way deals, or convert them to standard contracts, but they can’t add anyone new on a two-way pact.

With those factors in mind, here are a few teams to keep an eye on within the next week or two:

Washington Wizards:

Having waived Ron Baker on Monday, the Wizards dipped down to 13 players on standard contracts. Teams are permitted to carry fewer than 14 players for up to two weeks at a time, so Washington will have until January 21 to sign or acquire a player to fill that slot.

It’s unlikely that the Wizards will guarantee that 14th player a rest-of-season contract, unless there’s someone they really love. A series of 10-day contracts is more likely, particularly before the February 7 trade deadline arrives.

Phoenix Suns:

The Suns are in a similar spot to the Wizards, with just 13 players on full-season standard contracts. However, Phoenix already filled its 14th roster slot by signing by signing Quincy Acy on Monday.

Still, Acy received a 10-day deal which will expire after next Wednesday, so the Suns are on track to have their roster count drop back to 13 players soon. They’ll have to eventually re-sign Acy or add someone new to the roster in order to get back to the league-mandated minimum of 14 players on standard deals.

Portland Trail Blazers:

In one of 2018/19’s under-the-radar roster oddities, the Trail Blazers have kept both of their two-way contract slots open all season. Portland doesn’t have its own G League affiliate, so perhaps the franchise views two-way players as unnecessary if they’re not contributing to the NBA team — so far, the club hasn’t been short-handed enough to need those extra contributions.

The club’s unsettled ownership situation could also be a factor here. Two-way players are very inexpensive in relative terms, but they still represent two more player salaries that need to be paid. Longtime Blazers owner Paul Allen passed away in 2018, so perhaps the front office hasn’t felt the need to ask ownership for the money for those two extra salaries.

Nonetheless, with Tuesday’s deadline for two-way signings fast approaching, it would be a surprise to see the Trail Blazers leave both spots open for the rest of the season. It could make sense for Portland to sign a player or two with some NBA experience, who could contribute down the stretch if necessary.

New York Knicks / New Orleans Pelicans:

The Knicks and Pelicans are currently the only two other NBA teams with two-way contract openings — they each have one. I’d expect both clubs to fill those slots by the January 15 deadline, though their priorities may be different.

The Pelicans – like Portland – don’t have their own affiliate and may prefer a player capable of helping out right away rather than a raw prospect, given their position in the standings. The Knicks, on the other hand, have their nearby Westchester affiliate at their disposal for developmental purposes. And given their current focus on developing prospects, even at the NBA level, it would be in the club’s best interests to bring aboard another young player for that two-way opening.

Pelicans Waive Andrew Harrison

The Pelicans have waived Andrew Harrison, the team announced via its website. The guard landed in New Orleans in early December via a two-way deal.

The franchise now has 16 players under contract. Trevon Bluiett is the only player on a two-way deal, so the Pelicans will have until January 15 to fill its open two-way slot.

Harrison appeared in six games for the Pelicans, seeing just 6.3 minutes per contest. The former Kentucky Wildcat has previously had NBA stops in Memphis and Cleveland.

Lakers Notes: Ingram, Ball, George, Robinson

The Lakers are wasting an opportunity to prove they can be successful without LeBron James and may be getting a clearer picture of the value of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, writes Bill Oram of The Athletic. 1-4 since James suffered a strained left groin, and the team learned Friday that he won’t be re-evaluated for another week.

The most troubling game in that stretch was last night’s loss to the Knicks, who have been near the bottom of the East all season. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Oram writes, Ingram became a one-dimensional player, making just one of five shots, while Ball tried to force passes and committed a couple of key turnovers.

“Brandon and Lonzo right now are our primary ballhandlers,” coach Luke Walton said, “and I think they led us in turnovers tonight. I’m not putting the blame on them, but that’s part of the responsibility of being a point guard, or being a primary ballhandler-slash-playmaker, is taking care of the ball and getting guys going, getting other guys easy looks.”

There’s more Lakers news to pass along:

  • Ingram may be the next young talent sacrificed in the quest to build a super team in L.A., suggests Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. The Lakers have already parted with D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle to clear cap room, and it may become necessary to do the same with Ingram to have a shot at Anthony Davis. If the Pelicans hang onto Davis and he becomes a free agent in 2020, the Lakers can’t afford the $21.8MM cap hold Ingram would have as a restricted free agent. However, he could turn out to be a valuable trade piece if Davis turns down a supermax offer and New Orleans feels compelled to move him this summer.
  • Paul George got an unfriendly reception from Lakers fans this week, but he explained that he made a business decision to stay in Oklahoma City, relays Brett Dawson of The Athletic. There was hope last season that George might return to his native Southern California in free agency, but he decided he had a better situation with the Thunder. “The Lakers is one of the best, most historical franchises in the world,” George said. “It is what it is. I’m with another great organization.”
  • The Lakers gave strong consideration to taking Mitchell Robinson with their first-round pick last summer, but the rookie center believes he’s better off with the Knicks, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. With L.A. hoping to make the playoffs, Robinson thinks he might have spent much of the season in the G League rather than as an NBA starter.

Five Non-Guaranteed Contract Situations To Watch

While non-guaranteed NBA contracts don’t technically become fully guaranteed until next Thursday, Monday is really the day to watch. Because players have to clear waivers before January 10 to avoid having their salaries locked in for the rest of 2018/19, a team will have to release a player by January 7 at the latest to avoid guaranteeing his contract.

As our list of non-guaranteed contracts by team shows, there are a number of players around the NBA who don’t have fully guaranteed deals, though many are in no danger of being waived by Monday. It’s not as if the Sixers are seriously considering whether or not to guarantee T.J. McConnell‘s minimum salary. Ditto for the Jazz and Royce O’Neale, and several others players on that list.

However, there are at least a handful of players worth keeping an eye on as Monday’s deadline nears. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of them:

  1. Michael Carter-Williams, PG (Rockets): Most criticism of the Rockets‘ offseason moves has focused on Carmelo Anthony, but signing Carter-Williams hasn’t worked out for the team either. The former Rookie of the Year has fallen out of the rotation and looks like a potential trade candidate, as David Weiner of recently observed (via Twitter). His minimum salary only has a partial guarantee of $1.2MM, but the Rockets would have to eat that amount if they waive him — and would be on the hook for the associated tax penalty. By trading him and including some cash in the deal, Houston could eliminate his cap hit and reduce its projected tax bill, saving a little money. A trade partner would only be on the hook for about $500K of MCW’s salary if he’s waived immediately, and could more than make up that amount with the cash the Rockets sent their way.
  2. Patrick McCaw, SG (Cavaliers): I don’t expect the Cavaliers to waive McCaw. He’s a young wing who has some upside, and Cleveland can afford to take a long look at him this season before making a decision on his non-guaranteed 2019/20 salary. Still, when the Cavs finalized his offer sheet last week, they also elected to make his first-year salary non-guaranteed, so they have an exit door for a few more days if they want it.
  3. James Nunnally, G/F (Timberwolves): After thriving as a three-point marksmen in Europe, Nunnally appeared poised to contribute right away for a Timberwolves team in need of shooting. Instead, he has played just 61 total minutes for the club, primarily in garbage time. Nunnally is the only one of Minnesota’s 15 players on a non-guaranteed contract, so if the club wants to open up a roster spot for potential 10-day signings, he’d probably be the odd man out.
  4. The Pelicans’ non-guaranteed players: No team has more players on non-guaranteed contracts than the Pelicans, who have yet to lock in full-season salaries for Jahlil Okafor, Tim Frazier, and Kenrich Williams. Okafor has played a regular role recently and Frazier was a frequent starter with Elfrid Payton sidelined, so Williams may be the player most at risk here. Since the Pelicans will likely try to be active on the trade market, opening a spot on their 15-man roster by waiving one of these three would create some added flexibility in those discussions.
  5. The Wizards’ non-guaranteed players: With John Wall out for the season, the Wizards currently have two guards – Ron Baker and Chasson Randle – on non-guaranteed deals, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of them is cut by Monday. Although they’re carrying an NBA-minimum 14 players, the Wizards are allowed to dip down to 13 for up to two weeks at a time and did so earlier in 2018/19 to help keep their projected tax bill in check. It’s possible they’ll do so again now.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Stein’s Predictions: Davis, Leonard, Durant, Cousins

Anthony Davis will turn down a “supermax” extension from the Pelicans, setting up a frenzied competition between the Lakers and Celtics to pull off a trade, predicts Marc Stein of the New York Times in his latest newsletter. It’s one of several prognostications the veteran basketball writer offers up in a New Year’s Day column, but it’s the most explosive and one that will dominate NBA headlines throughout the summer if it comes true.

Davis could short-circuit the story by accepting the offer from New Orleans, which would pay him close to $240MM. But Stein expects Davis to value a shot at winning over money and look to join a loaded lineup in either Los Angeles or Boston. Stein also predicts the Lakers will be aggressive in trying to talk the Pelicans into a deal before the February 7 deadline while there’s not another strong suitor in sight. The Celtics can’t trade for Davis until Kyrie Irving opts out of his current deal because of an NBA rule prohibiting a team from acquiring two players currently on designated rookie extensions through trade.

Stein offers a few more significant personnel-related predictions:

  • Despite Kawhi Leonard‘s success in Toronto, Stein expects him to sign with the Clippers in July. He adds that the Raptors will likely need to win a title to keep their new star from heading home to Southern California in free agency and predicts Toronto will start rebuilding if Leonard leaves, including a trade of Kyle Lowry.
  • Kevin Durant may spend one more season with the Warriors before looking to move on in free agency. Stein admits there’s a lot of chatter about Durant joining the Knicks, but he believes the allure of playing in the new Chase Center will keep him him around for another year.
  • A “wise insider” tells Stein that DeMarcus Cousins will consider returning to the Warriors for another season, although they can only offer a modest raise on his $5.3MM salary. Stein expects other prominent free agents, such as Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson, to stay where they are.
  • Carmelo Anthony, currently in limbo on the Rockets‘ roster while looking for his next NBA opportunity, may have played his last game. It has been nearly two months since Anthony was last on the court and it doesn’t appear anyone is willing to take a chance on him, even at a minimum salary.
  • Kevin Love trade talks will heat up soon, and Stein believes the Nuggets should get involved as they try to hold onto the top spot in the West. Love is projected to return from toe surgery this month and will become eligible to be dealt on January 24, a little more than two weeks before the deadline.

Elfrid Payton Returns From Broken Finger

  • The Pelicans had Elfrid Payton in their starting lineup tonight for the first time in more than six weeks. The free agent addition broke his left pinky finger last month and hasn’t played since November 16. Coach Alvin Gentry plans to limit his minutes until he gets back into game shape, tweets Jim Eichenhofer of