Nicolo Melli

Western Notes: Kings, Atkinson, Pelicans, Thunder

Pelicans general manager Trajan Langdon reportedly informed the Kings on Wednesday that he will not be involved in their search for a new head of basketball operations.

With Langdon pulling his name out of the Kings’ search, that leaves Sachin Gupta, Adam Simon, Calvin Booth, Monte McNair, and Wes Wilcox as potential replacements for Vlade Divac. Jason Jones of The Athletic looks at each candidate’s resume, exploring why they would make sense for Sacramento.

As Jones points out, the Kings head into the offseason with four picks in the 2020 NBA draft, including the 12th overall selection, but do not have a lot of cap space. Therefore, whoever Sacramento chooses will have a tall task ahead of them to break the team’s 14-year playoff drought.

Here’s more from across the Western Conference:

  • The Pelicans are one of the many teams looking for a brand new head coach after firing Alvin Gentry. One potential candidate who could be of interest to New Orleans is former Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson, according to William Guillory of The Athletic, who evaluates Atkinson’s fit in New Orleans. As Guillory details, Atkinson has a relationship with Langdon, who was the Nets’ assistant general manager, and could help further the development of New Orleans’ young roster like he did with Brooklyn.
  • After just missing out on the playoffs, the Pelicans hold the 13th overall selection in the 2020 NBA draft. But unlike the other teams in the lottery, New Orleans does not necessarily need its first-round pick and could use it to acquire veteran players. William Guillory of The Athletic draws up three trades that the Pelicans could execute to upgrade their roster. One trade Guillory created has the Nets giving up Taurean Prince and their 2020 first-rounder for Darius Miller, Nicolo Melli, and the No. 13 pick.
  • The Thunder will be looking for a new head coach after parting ways with Billy Donovan on Tuesday. Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman takes a deep dive into potential replacements, listing 50 possible candidates for OKC’s vacancy. Outside of the known options, Mussatto mentions multiple internal candidates, including Maurice Cheeks and Mark Daigneault.

David Griffin Talks NBA Shutdown, Zion Williamson, More

The NBA continues to be in wait-and-see mode with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the league to halt operations. Pelicans VP of basketball operations David Griffin joined the club’s local broadcast team to talk about the suspended season as well as share some insight about the on-court product in New Orleans, as the team relays on its website.

Griffin said he hopes that the league resumes soon but wouldn’t speculate on a definite timeline, as it’s impossible to accurately predict when the virus will be contained.

“With everything changing so quickly, everything is in a state of flux that I think it would be premature for the NBA to say what it ultimately looks like,” Griffin said. “I do know unequivocally that the league is very mindful of the idea of getting back to playing.

“The idea of canceling a season is not all on their minds, and we’re modeling every possible thing we can for how we can deliver a product to the fans. Quite frankly, we’re all going to need a diversion in the future. (But) until we can get to a point where we think we’ve got containment of (the coronavirus), we’re going to continue to stay locked down. Hopefully we’ll get to a point where we can come back sooner rather than later.”

During the 30-minute segment, Griffin also discussed the Pelicans’ roster, including the fit of Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball.

“A big part of it is the chemistry you see with Lonzo and Zion. They have a special connection,” Griffin said, while adding that Nicolo Melli has also proven to be a good on-court mate to Williamson.

“I think Nicolo Melli getting more minutes, and him starting to become a key part of the rotation has been essential as well,” the executive added. “Those three guys work incredibly well as a unit. Zion gives us another player who can create vertical thrust in the offense, and Lonzo can pick defenses apart with his passing.”

Southwest Notes: Kleiman, RoCo, Melli, Grizzlies

Grizzlies executive vice president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman spoke with select media on Monday about an exciting Memphis season. Part of the gathered scrum included Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“I think the secret’s out on the Grizzlies at this point,” Kleiman said. “Just watching them night in and night out, these guys really like playing with each other, and from our perspective, that’s great to see.”

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • The early returns on the fit of new Rockets power forward Robert Covington are encouraging, at least to Covington and defensive coach Elston Turner, according to The Athletic’s Kelly Iko“Still getting comfortable with everything but I feel really confident and we’ve been playing well the past couple [of] games,” Covington said.
  • Rookie Pelicans forward Nicolo Melli will be joining his teammates Zion Williamson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker in tomorrow’s All-Star Rising Stars Game, according to an official NBA release. Melli will replace second-year Suns center Deandre Ayton, out with a sore ankle. Since Ayton was representing the World Team, his replacement had to come from that group as well.
  • With a 28-26 record heading into the All-Star break, the Grizzlies are rounding into form with a four-game lead for the West’s No. 8 seed, per Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. They have become one of the NBA’s best defensive teams this month. Their exciting youth movement will be well-represented in the All-Star weekend’s Rising Stars game.

Pelicans Notes: Williamson, Griffin, Offseason

Pelicans players, coaches and executives alike are trying to shield phenom Zion Williamson from as much of the pressure and spotlight that comes with being the most-hyped player since LeBron James that they can, but it may be a futile endeavor, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic.

Vardon admits it’s an admirable strategy, to try to create an environment in which Williamson matures into an adult naturally, to the degree that’s possible as a professional basketball player. But it’s hard to convince people that this is Jrue Holiday‘s team when everybody and their mother at media day only wants to hear from Zion, even if it meant waiting after the Pels purposely didn’t bring him out until later.

“He’s still 19, a very young 19,” Pelicans’ Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin said. “I think Zion is finding more comfort just with himself as a man, as a person. And that’s really important to us. We don’t have expectations that we are hoisting on him with the players. It’s really about finding himself, finding comfort with his teammates, finding his role and we’re blessed. All Zion wants to do is win.”

But whatever Griffin says, the NBA didn’t “put (the Pelicans) on national TV 30 times” because of anybody but Zion, and New Orleans knows this. So try as they might, the Pelicans probably won’t be able to protect Williamson from what’s coming at him this season.

There’s more news this evening from the Big Easy:

  • As training camp gets underway, William Guillory of The Athletic writes that the Pelicans’ uncertainty entering camp might be higher than it is with any other NBA franchise, as New Orleans only returns five of 20 players from last season’s roster – Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Darius Miller, Jahlil Okafor, and Frank Jackson.
  • Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com explores how Griffin was able to make good on his promise to bring multiple, accomplished NBA veterans to New Orleans when he took over in April. One example? Griffin managed to bring in J.J. Redick, Derrick Favors, and Nicolo Melli, a trio that boasts a combined 30-plus seasons of professional experience.
  • ICYMI, Luke Adams took a look at how New Orleans was able to successfully transition from one franchise player to another in the span of a few months, among other Pelicans’ related tidbits, as part of our 2019 Offseason in Review series.

Western Notes: Kerr, Clippers, Melli, Mavs

All the changes to the Warriors roster will make training camp “critical,” coach Steve Kerr told Anthony Slater of The Athletic. While in recent years the Warriors have only made tweaks to their scheme, this training camp will involve sorting out the rotation and finding the team’s strengths.

“This year, it’s totally different,” Kerr said. “Nobody really knows each other that well. We’re really going to have to examine our team in camp, the exhibition season, early in the season. Figure out the best way to play on both ends.”

Kerr sees the need to take more control of the offense.

“When you lose continuity, it’s more important to have sets and calls that you can rely on,” he said. “Random stuff gets more difficult if you don’t know each other well.”

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Sixth man Lou Williams was the Clippers’ closer the last couple of seasons, but the additions of superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George change that dynamic, as coach Doc Rivers explained to Jovan Buha of The Athletic. “Lou is always going to be a closer, but it’s more closing plays now than who the closer is,” Rivers said. “You know who the closers are. The fact that that’s plural is a very good thing. Now it’ll be the closing lineups, the closing sets, the closing formations.”
  • Pelicans forward Nicolo Melli has returned to the court after undergoing offseason knee surgery, Will Guillory of The Athletic tweets. Melli skipped the FIBA World Cup due to the injury. The 28-year-old signed a two-year, $8MM contract in July after playing professionally in Europe for over a decade.
  • The Mavericks have prioritized continuity on their roster, Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News notes. More than half of the players on the training camp roster have played at least half a season for Dallas, Townsend notes. The Mavs have also invested $320MM in guaranteed contracts over the next four seasons, Townsend adds.

Pelicans Notes: Holiday, Melli, Projections

The Pelicans will look much different this season after trading away Anthony Davis over the summer. However, the vibe in New Orleans appears to be on the upswing with executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin leading the franchise.

“I feel like the whole vibe, the whole attitude in the facility and with the staff has just been different,” Jrue Holiday said (via Andrew Lopez of ESPN.com). “It definitely feels like people are ready and excited. It’s been like that ever since Griff has come into place.”

Here’s more from New Orleans:

  • Holiday (same piece) said that Griffin is “putting his money where his mouth is,” with the help of team ownership, referring to the upgrades the Pelicans made to their practice facility. Holiday added that he felt like he was walking into a brand new facility when he returned from offseason workouts in Los Angeles.
  • Nicolo Melli, who signed with the Pelicans after playing in Europe for over a decade, is expected to be a highly-valued glue guy in New Orleans, as Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com relays. “A guy like Nicolo, you can look at his stat line and be like, ‘I don’t understand the intrigue from the NBA for the last three years.’ But it’s what he brings – he’s a team-first guy, a winner. He’s highly motivated and a competitor,” GM Trajan Langdon said. “Those are the kind of people we want here, to be a part of the Pelicans organization. He’s another guy who’s going to make people better, on and off the court.”
  • FiveThirtyEight’s model indicates that the new-look Pelicans could live up to the hype, as Chris Herring passes along. Herring writes that it’s not a total long shot that New Orleans finds its way into the playoffs in year one post-Davis.

Pelicans Notes: Zion, Ball, Holiday, J. Johnson

Zion Williamson appeared to be fully healed from a bruised knee during a promotional appearance today in Harlem, according to Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. The first pick in this year’s draft performed two acrobatic dunks during the 15-minute session, delighting the crowd and a few fortunate youngsters who will appear alongside him in an ad for Air Jordans.

Williamson has been out of the spotlight since concerns about his knee ended his Summer League stint after one half. However, the Pelicans called it minor at the time, and Bondy said he looked to be 100% today as he soared to the hoop.

There’s more from New Orleans:

  • During his appearance this week on teammate Josh Hart‘s LightHarted Podcast, Lonzo Ball said he is looking forward to teaming with Jrue Holiday in the Pelicans’ backcourt (hat tip to Christian Rivas of Lonzo Wire). Ball and Holiday both finished in the top 10 in Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating last season, and both were among the top five in 2017/18. “Jrue is one of the most underrated players, in my opinion; I can’t wait to play with him on both sides of the court,” Ball said. “That’s going to be a lot of fun.”
  • Although the Pelicans could use another veteran presence, it’s unlikely that they’ll be the team to sign Joe Johnson, writes William Guillory of The Athletic. New Orleans already has 18 players under contract, including both two-way slots, plus reported deals with Jalen AdamsJavon Bess and Aubrey Dawkins. The team may get a Disabled Player Exception in the wake on an injury to Darius Miller, but Guillory expects his playing time to go to somebody already on the roster, such as Kenrich Williams or Nicolo Melli.
  • The Pelicans told Williamson and fellow rookie big man Jaxson Hayes to be careful about bulking up over the offseason, Guillory adds in the same piece. The organization believes both players, who are still only 19, may grow a few more inches and they don’t want extra weight to make them more susceptible to injuries in the future.

Western Notes: Miller, Howard, Warriors, Wiggins

The Pelicans will have a tough time replacing Darius Miller‘s skill set from the current list of replacements on the roster, as William Guillory of The Athletic details. Miller suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon and is expected to miss the season.

Miller provides defensive length and the ability to guard either forward spot while spacing the floor offensively, Guillory notes. The Pelicans might give Josh Hart and E’Twaun Moore more minutes at the wing spot but their options at backup power forward are newcomer Nicolo Melli and Kenrich Williams, who is limited as a shooter and defender against quicker forwards.

The contract that Miller signed this offseason — two years and $14.25MM with the second year non-guaranteed — becomes a less attractive trade piece for the Pelicans, Guillory adds.

We have more from around the Western Conference:

  • Dwight Howard will be a role player with the Lakers for the first time in his career if everything goes as planned. New coach Frank Vogel spoke of his plans for the veteran player, who signed with Los Angeles after passing through waivers, to Spectrum SportNet (hat tip to the Sporting News). “He’s going to serve a different role,” Vogel said. “It’s going to be more of a role-player type of role, as opposed to being the lead. He understands that. He’s excited about playing that type of role on this team and what we can accomplish as a group.”
  • Ryan Atkinson has been named GM of the Warriors’ G League affiliate in Santa Cruz, according to a team press release. Atkinson, 34, had been the G League team’s assistant GM for the last three seasons. Previous GM Kent Lacob has been named the Warriors’ director of team development.
  • The Timberwolves haven’t come close to trading Andrew Wiggins, mainly because they never received an offer that was worth serious consideration, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic reports. The Timberwolves are hoping he can come closer to realizing his potential, which would also boost his trade value. Getting Wiggins to make a bigger impact at both ends of the floor is also the best way for the team to become more of a factor in the Western Conference.

Southwest Notes: Mavericks, Iguodala, Melli

After years of whiffing in free agency, Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer writes that the Mavericks may have finally got it right this summer despite not signing rumored targets Kemba Walker or Al Horford.

The difference this time around? The Mavericks already had their stars in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, so supporting cast acquisitions like Delon Wright and Seth Curry made more sense than finally signing the big free agent fish.

And, with the NBA beginning to highlight more twosomes as opposed to threesomes like what the Heat did back in the early 2010s, Doncic (20) and Porzingis (24) could have the brightest future of any pairings because of their youth.

There’s more notes to pass along from the Southwest Division:

  • Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian opines that the Dwight Howard buyout with the Grizzlies may have set a baseline amount for a potential Andre Iguodala buyout sometime before or during the 2019/20 season.
  • In a player profile piece for the upcoming season, Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News highlights how the aforementioned Wright could fit nicely alongside Doncic for the Mavericks.
  • Speaking to Italian newspaper il Resto del Carlino (h/t to Sportando), Pelicans rookie forward Nicolo Melli spoke about his decision to leave Europe to come to the NBA. “(M)y agent Matteo Comellini sent me a message with the proposal made by the Pelicans. I felt a strong vibration. The same I had two years ago the first time I spoke with coach (Zeljko) Obradovic.” Melli says the choice to come to the NBA was never about money.

International Notes: Morris, Melli, Delgado

Former Lakers and Nets guard Darius Morris was in camp with the Pelicans last fall and generated some in-season interest from the Suns, but 2018/19 represented his fourth straight season out of the NBA. It appears that streak will continue in 2019/20, as a source tells Emiliano Carchia of Sportando that Morris has signed a “lucrative” contract with Enisey Krasnoyarsk in Russia.

Morris, who appeared in 132 total NBA games after being selected in the second round of the 2011 draft, is still just 28 years old, as so an eventual NBA comeback is possible. For now though, he’ll continue his professional career in Russia after spending his last few seasons in China and the G League.

Here are a few more basketball odds and ends from around the globe:

  • Nicolo Melli, who signed with the Pelicans this summer as a free agent, won’t play for Team Italy in the 2019 World Cup due to a knee injury, the Italian Basketball Federation confirmed today in a press release. As far as we know, Melli is still expected to be ready to go for training camp with New Orleans this fall.
  • Former Clippers big man Angel Delgado, who signed a lucrative one-year contract with the Beijing Royal Fighters, spoke to Jerry Carino of Asbury Park Press about making the move to the Chinese Basketball Association. “I had opportunities to stay in the NBA, but I’m doing what’s best for me,” Delgado said. “I’m excited about the experience I’m going to get in the CBA, and the people I’m going to get in touch with out there. I’m really excited and really motivated to give everyone a show every night. I want to give them what they want — a championship.”
  • Previously-reported international deals for Alan Williams (in Russia) and Omri Casspi (in Israel) are now official, with Lokomotiv Kuban and Maccabi Tel Aviv formally announcing the signings today.