Nikola Mirotic

And-Ones: Long, LiAngelo Ball, Spain

Ex-Sixers forward Shawn Long has signed a contract with New Zealand Breakers, according to a Sportando report. Long played 18 games with Philadelphia in 2016/2017, averaging 8.2 PPG and 4.7 RPG in 13 MPG. He toiled in the G League last season with the Delaware 87ers, averaging 14.6 PPG and 7.7 RPG in 33 games following a seven-game stint in China. The Timberwolves took a look at Long during a free agent mini-camp in June.

We have more from around the pro basketball world:

Pelicans Still In Need Of A Wing Player?

A bigger issue with the Pelicans this upcoming season may be the absence of a reliable player on the wing rather than the loss of Rajon Rondo or DeMarcus Cousins, as newcomers Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton are capable of replicating their production, at least in part, writes Scott Kushner of The Advocate.

Kushner opines that nobody on the Pelicans’ roster is capable of being a solid “3-and-D” player, as Solomon Hill has struggled to recover from a torn hamstring and E’Twaun Moore, limited by his 6’4” frame, has been asked to play against players much taller than him and seemingly taken out of his comfort zone as a result.

“If it was up to me — it doesn’t really matter as long as I stay on the floor and help my team win — but I would like to say that maybe I hopefully could be playing a little bit more guard (this season),” Moore said. “Last year, I was more of a wing, but it worked out well for the team because we played so fast. But it would be kind of cool to be going back to being a guard again.”

So, the Pelicans will now hold a three-man competition between Troy Williams, Garlon Green, and Kenrich Williams in order to find someone who may be able to crack the team’s wing rotation this season.

The Pelicans could also be active around midseason, as they were when they acquired Cousins in 2017 and Nikola Mirotic last season. But for now, they’ll rely on MVP-candidate Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Randle and Mirotic, which should be enough to keep them in the Western Conference playoff race.

Pelicans Notes: Cousins, Rondo, Randle, Payton

The Pelicans made a two-year, $40MM offer to DeMarcus Cousins between his Achilles injury in January and the end of the season, Marc Stein of The New York Times states in his latest newsletter. Cousins rejected the offer, and New Orleans’ front office responded by taking it off the table.

Cousins committed to Golden State last night, taking the Warriors’ MLE of $5.3MM for next season. The Lakers had an opportunity to get Cousins for a similar price, Stein adds, but once they passed, it was an easy decision for him to join the Warriors.

The Pelicans hadn’t given up hope of retaining Cousins when free agency began, but the door closed when they signed Julius Randle for $18MM over two years. Stein notes that Anthony Davis played an aggressive role in recruiting Randle to New Orleans.

There’s more Pelicans news to pass along:

  • The trade with the Kings that brought Cousins to New Orleans will be remembered as a mistake, according to Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune. The Pelicans gave up two first-round picks in Buddy Hield and a 2017 selection that turned out to be Zach Collins. In exchange, they got just 65 games out of Cousins.
  • Rajon Rondo and Cousins both made shrewd business decisions, Duncan adds in the same story. The Lakers gave Rondo more money than the Pelicans were offering, along with the chance to team up with LeBron James. Cousins found a low-stress environment to rehab his injured Achilles while getting an excellent chance to win a ring. The Pelicans also showed they’re not ready to pay the luxury tax, with Randle and Elfrid Payton providing cheaper alternatives to Cousins and Rondo.
  • The free agent drama in New Orleans could be repeated next summer, writes Scott Kushner of The Advocate. The Pelicans took a little bit of the sting out of losing Cousins and Rondo by agreeing to deals with Randle and Payton. However, Randle can opt out after one season and Payton is only signed for a year. Nikola Mirotic, who fit well alongside Davis after arriving from the Bulls in a midseason trade, will also be a free agent.

Pelicans Notes: Rondo, Mirotic, Cousins, Benson, Gentry

At 32 years old, Rajon Rondo is not a building block for an organization, but he’s an experienced and valuable veteran who plays well on the game’s biggest stage. Although Rondo’s future with the Pelicans is uncertain as he heads for unrestricted free agency this summer, the point guard spoke highly of the team in his exit press conference, William Guillory of The Times-Picayune writes.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Rondo said. “I love this group of guys. It’s a group of good guys. I love playing for coach (Alvin) Gentry. We’ll see how it goes. … This group of guys is special. I think we obviously went up against the defending champs. We played extremely well and we’ve got a lot to learn from. You play a team like that, you’ve got no option but to get better.”

During the first two rounds of the postseason, Rondo averaged 10.3 PPG and 12.2 APG for the Pelicans, living up to the “Playoff Rondo” moniker he has earned during his career. Rondo was solid during the regular season as well, posting totals of 8.3 PPG and 8.2 APG. During his press conference with reporters, general manager Dell Demps said that re-signing Rondo will be a critical part of the offseason, given his leadership abilities, tweets Scott Kushner of The Advocate.

Check out more Pelicans notes down below:

  • Nikola Mirotic joined the Pelicans in a midseason trade from the Bulls and played well, averaging 14.6 PPG and 8.2 RPG in 30 games for New Orleans. He is only under contract for one more season, but hopes to remain with the Pelicans long-term, per William Guillory of The Times-Picayune. “No doubt,” Mirotic said. “This has been like a family to me and I’m looking forward. This is the place I want to be.”
  • In their respective pressers, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps both said they want to re-sign DeMarcus Cousins, who is recovering from a torn Achilles and will hit unrestricted free agency, tweets Scott Kushner of The Advocate. “In a perfect world we would like to have (Cousins) back,” Demps said.
  • Gentry’s option for 2018/19 was picked up by the Pelicans after the team defeated the Trail Blazers in the first round of the postseason. The head coach expressed his own desire to remain in New Orleans going forward, and advocated for new owner Gayle Benson, who took over after the death of her husband, Tom Benson. “Mrs. Benson is going to make this thing a success,” Gentry said (per Scott Kushner of The Advocate). “She’s 100% committed to doing everything we possibly can to making this a championship team. As long as that’s the case, I love being here.”

Pelicans Notes: Defense, Cousins, Mirotic

The Pelicans have the Trail Blazers against the ropes in their first-round playoff series thanks largely in part to their mid-season growth as a defensive force. The Pels have locked in on that side of the ball out of necessecity, William Guillory of The Times-Picayune writes.

Prior to the season-ending injury that sidelined DeMarcus Cousins, the Pelicans were an offense first team. Without the imposing superstar frontcourt, however, the team has had to find new ways to win.

The Pelicans have had the fourth best defensive rating in the NBA since February 1, not long after Cousins went down. Before that point, however, they ranked 23rd.

There’s more out of New Orleans:

  • Injured big man DeMarcus Cousins sat on the sidelines when the Pelicans beat the Trail Blazers in Game 3 of their first-round series yesterday. As Mike Triplett of ESPN writes, the center received a predictable standing ovation.
  • After coming over to the Pelicans in a mid-season trade, Nikola Mirotic is raising his game. “He’s just been locked in, our guys really have a lot of confidence in him,” head coach Alvin Gentry told William Guillory of The Times-Picayune. “I think he’s in a good place now. He’s well aware of where he fits in with this team and what he’s capable of doing. It’s not just him shooting the ball, he’s made a lot of really good plays and some nice cuts.
  • In three playoff games this spring, 32-year-old Rajon Rondo is averaging 12.7 points and 12.3 assists per game. This isn’t the first time the crafty point guard has thrived in the postseason, something that ESPN’s NBA Twitter account was happy to point out.

Pelicans Acquire Nikola Mirotic From Bulls

The Pelicans and Bulls have finalized a trade that sends forward Nikola Mirotic to New Orleans, with both clubs confirming via press releases that the deal is official. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link) first reported that the Pelicans and Bulls had reached an agreement in principle.Mirotic vertical

The two teams appeared to be on the verge of a trade earlier this week, but hit a roadblock in the form of Mirotic’s $12.5MM team option for 2018/19. The veteran forward, who had veto rights unless that option was exercised, wanted New Orleans to pick it up, but the Pelicans were initially unwilling to do so due to concerns about their ability to retain Mirotic and re-sign DeMarcus Cousins without going into luxury tax territory.

The Pelicans have now guaranteed Mirotic’s $12.5MM salary for next season, which clinched the deal, per Wojnarowski (via Twitter). Omer Asik and a future first-round pick are headed to Chicago, as was the case in the initial agreement.

New Orleans needed to include at least one more salary to stay under a hard cap, so Tony Allen heads to Chicago too, according to Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Allen will likely be waived by the Bulls, Woj tweets.

The Pelicans will open one extra roster spot by also adding Jameer Nelson to the trade, tweets K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. Nelson may also be cut, but it probably won’t happen immediately, per Johnson, who tweets that the point guard’s future is unclear. Paxson said that there is a week left until the trade deadline so the Bulls still have time to decide on waiving players, Johnson tweets.

In order to complete a three-for-one deal, the Bulls will have to open up a roster spot, since they currently only have a single opening. Quincy Pondexter looks like the strongest candidate to be waived.

[RELATED: Bulls to waive Pondexter]

Speaking of Pondexter, according to Johnson (Twitter link), the Bulls will also be returning the Pelicans’ own 2018 second-round pick to New Orleans after initially acquiring it in a September trade that landed Pondexter in Chicago. That pick served as an incentive to convince the Pelicans to exercise Mirotic’s second-year team option, Johnson notes (via Twitter).

The first-round pick the Bulls are getting in the swap will be the Pelicans’ 2018 first-rounder, and it will have “minimal” protections, tweets Wojnarowski. TNT’s David Aldridge clarifies (via Twitter) that it’ll be top-five protected this year, while Johnson tweets that it’ll be top-eight protected in 2019. Finally, Woj adds that there will be a pick-swapping option in the 2021 draft, with the Bulls having the opportunity to swap their second-round pick for the Pelicans’ second-rounder.

“The draft asset we acquired was far and away the best thing we had got (in talks),” Bulls executive vice president John Paxson said to reporters, including Johnson. “It’s consistent with the direction and plan we talked about this summer.”

Mirotic, who has been the subject of trade rumors throughout the 2017/18 campaign, was sidelined with facial injuries to start the season after being punched by teammate Bobby Portis during an altercation in practice. Mirotic’s camp reportedly issued an ultimatum in the fall in an effort to get the Bulls to trade either Mirotic or Portis, but the power forwards were willing to bury the hatchet and coexist on the court when Mirotic got healthy.

Since returning to action, Mirotic has enjoyed the most productive year of his NBA career, averaging 16.8 PPG and 6.4 RPG to go along with a .474/.429/.823 shooting line. All of those numbers are career highs. Despite his solid play and the club’s improved record, Mirotic was still said to prefer a trade out of Chicago, and was pulled out of action this week as the Bulls attempted to finalize a deal.

As the Bulls explored the market for Mirotic, the Jazz and Pistons were cited most frequently as potential trade partners. However, Detroit landed a bigger fish on Monday, acquiring Blake Griffin from the Clippers, and Utah was reportedly unwilling to include a first-round pick in an offer for the stretch four.

The Bulls, who were said to be seeking a first-rounder for Mirotic all along, will get that pick from the Pelicans, though they’ll have to give up a second-rounder and take on an unwanted contract in the process. Asik, a former Bull, is earning about $10.6MM this season, with a guaranteed salary worth $11.29MM in 2018/19. The veteran center has one more year on his deal in 2019/20, but it’s only partially guaranteed for $3MM. Allen and Nelson are on expiring minimum salaries, so they won’t have any impact on the cap beyond this season.

As for the Pelicans, they’re set to fill the lineup hole created when Cousins went down on Friday with a season-ending Achilles injury, and they may not be done adding frontcourt help. New Orleans has been strongly linked to Greg Monroe, who is being bought out by the Suns, and Scott Kushner of The Advocate tweets that the acquisition of Mirotic won’t adversely affect the club’s pursuit of Monroe. In fact, by clearing a little salary and opening up a pair of roster spots in this deal, adding Monroe may be even more viable for the Pelicans, who have room to add two players on minimum salaries, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link) — still, the team may not be able to offer him as significant a role with Mirotic now in the mix.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Grizzlies To Sit Tyreke Evans

7:36pm: Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer is reporting that multiple teams have already put a first-round pick on the table for Evans.

5:59pm: As trade discussions involving Grizzlies guard Tyreke Evans intensify, the team will sit him out until a deal is completed, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Evans will not play this evening in Indiana, as confirmed by Michael Wallace of Grind City Media, who reports that he witnessed the veteran guard leaving Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Wallace adds that Evans believes any potential deal would send him to a playoff team.

As we detailed earlier today, the Bulls are doing the same thing with trade candidate Nikola Mirotic, holding him out of games while pursuing potential trades. Bobby Marks of ESPN suggests both teams’ decisions, while unprecedented, are the right moves given that both the Grizzlies and Bulls have little chance of making the playoffs.

Marks also tweets that teams interested in trading for Evans are being cautious due in part to Evans not having either Bird or Early Bird Rights this offseason, meaning a team over the apron (i.e. the Cavaliers, who are reported to have interest) would be limited to offering Evans a starting salary in the range of about $5.4MM, the projected value of the taxpayer mid-level exception.

Earlier reports linked the Sixers, Celtics, Cavaliers, Pelicans, Thunder, Heat, and Rockets to Evans.

Latest On Nikola Mirotic

4:37pm: The Bulls will hold Mirotic out of games while they attempt to trade him, a source tells Goodwill (Twitter link). According to ESPN’s Nick Friedell (Twitter link), Mirotic won’t play until after the trade deadline or until Chicago completes a deal.

1:00pm: For a brief time on Tuesday, it appeared that the Pelicans and Bulls were about to finalize a deal that would send Nikola Mirotic to New Orleans. In fact, according to Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago, an agreement was so close that Mirotic was pulled off the Bulls’ practice floor and left the facility, believing that his time in Chicago was ending.

Instead, the trade hit a snag — or, more accurately, a pair of related snags. Until Mirotic’s $12.5MM team option for 2018/19 is exercised, he has the ability to block any trade that involves him, and as K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune tweets, the power forward is unwilling to approve a move to New Orleans without that option being picked up.

Conversely, the Pelicans like the idea of having flexibility with that ’18/19 option, since exercising it may complicate the team’s ability to sign DeMarcus Cousins to a new mega-deal. New Orleans would still have the ability to re-sign Cousins, but with both big men on board for next season, the team would likely go over the tax line, a threshold ownership has been reluctant to cross.

According to Johnson, neither Mirotic nor the Pelicans appear willing to change their stance on that $12.5MM option for now, so it’s not clear if the Bulls and Pels will be able to make a deal before the February 8 deadline. I’m somewhat surprised the option is a sticking point for New Orleans — given the way Mirotic has been playing, his $12.5MM expiring deal should be pretty tradable this July, if necessary. But perhaps the Pelicans don’t want take the risk of Mirotic suffering a major injury or having his value decline in the coming months.

With talks between the Bulls and Pelicans at an impasse, the Jazz have continued their pursuit of Mirotic, tweets Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune. However, the Jazz remain reluctant to include a first-round pick in their offer, according to Jones. Goodwill adds that the Bulls are “enamored with” Utah’s Rodney Hood, but says that the Jazz have been unwilling to part with Hood in a Mirotic deal thus far.

2018 Free Agent Stock Watch: Chicago Bulls

After navigating the drama of last season and coming out in a solid position, the Bulls will need to do everything they can to keep the momentum of their rebuild rolling.

The club has shown glimpses of being a competent squad at times this season, with a number of intriguing assets already on the roster. However, nobody would bat an eye if the Bulls end up bottoming out with a solid pick in the lottery.

Much of Chicago’s long-term success will come down to the eventual growth of players like Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, but don’t think that the forthcoming free agency period won’t represent its own opportunities for progress.

Zach LaVine, SG, 23 (Up) – Signed to a four-year, $9.6MM deal in 2014
It’s hard to believe that LaVine is still so young considering how long he’s been in the league. This summer he’ll hit the market as a restricted free agent following a torn ACL that sidelined him for parts of each of the past two seasons. That’s good news and bad news for Chicago. Like the rest of us, the Bulls are intrigued by LaVine’s ceiling and an abbreviated campaign isn’t enough to base such an important long-term decision on. That said, other teams will have even less to base a substantial offer on. Given the uncertainty around his health and even his ability to be a primary offensive weapon, it’s hard to imagine the Bulls offering a max contract but they’ve got enough cap flexibility to make him their highest-paid player in 2018/19 and beyond, assuming they like what they see out of him down the stretch.

Nikola Mirotic, PF, 27 (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $25MM deal in 2017Nikola Mirotic vertical
It’s hard to imagine that Mirotic will still be in a Bulls uniform come next summer considering that earlier today it seemed all but certain he would be traded to the Pelicans. Nonetheless, Mirotic’s contract situation will be similar wherever he lands up — his $12.5MM team option for 2018/19 is a bargain. Mirotic has shown that he’s capable of having a major impact on his ball club and any team that brings him on ahead of the February 8 trade deadline would be wise to lock him in at the discount. The open-ended contract buffs his value as a trade chip for Chicago but at the end of the day he’s a stretch four with no major red flags. That’s worth $12.5MM.

David Nwaba, SG, 25 (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $1.4MM deal in 2017
The Bulls are rebuilding their roster from the ground up, so players like Nwaba hold appeal even if they don’t necessarily scream team cornerstone. Nwaba is a respected perimeter defender that gels well with other, more offensively inclined weapons on the roster. There may be a few teams interested in poaching him for the intangibles that he brings to the court, just as Jonathon Simmons had suitors last summer, but a dearth of league-wide cap space may keep things in check. My guess is that the Bulls would be happy to cut Nwaba a check similar to Simmons’ (~$6MM per) so long as it’s on a short-term deal.

Quincy Pondexter, SF, 30 (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $14MM deal in 2014
It’s impressive enough that Pondexter is back on the court after his years-long battle with injuries and illness. This year, his first with the Bulls after coming over in a salary clearing trade from the Pelicans, is the last of a four-year contract extension that’s basically felt like 12. It’s hard to envision Pondexter back in Chicago once the deal expires, but he could stick around the league if he can prove to other teams that he’s healthy enough to play the role of veteran gunner. He’s certainly earned the opportunity, at least.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pelicans’ Deal For Nikola Mirotic Falls Apart For Now

1:40pm: In his full report on the story, Wojnarowski suggests that Mirotic’s 2018/19 option is the primary source of the stalemate. Mirotic appears unwilling to sign off on the deal if his option isn’t exercised, and the Pelicans are reluctant to commit to that option due to concerns about next season’s payroll.Nikola Mirotic vertical

12:59pm: Goodwill classifies the trade as having hit a “snag,” while Johnson says the two teams remain in “advanced discussions” (Twitter links). So while nothing is officially done yet, it sounds like the deal isn’t dead either.

12:48pm: The Pelicans and Bulls had a deal in place for Mirotic, but it has fallen apart for now, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter). ESPN’s Bobby Marks notes (via Twitter) that the Pelicans’ proximity to a hard cap prevented the team from trading Asik straight up for Mirotic.

If the Pelicans include another player for cap purposes, the deal could still happen, tweets K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. However, New Orleans hadn’t yet agreed to pick up Mirotic’s team option, so a trade would also require his OK, assuming the Pelicans don’t relent and agree to exercise that option.

12:40pm: The Pelicans and Bulls have reached an agreement on a trade that would send power forward Nikola Mirotic to New Orleans, according to Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago (Twitter link). Goodwill reports that the Bulls will receive Omer Asik and a first-round pick in exchange for Mirotic.

There have been no further reports or official announcements confirming the move so far, but it’s possible the two teams are working out details related to Mirotic’s contract. His deal gives him the ability to veto trades unless his 2018/19 team option is exercised, though there was a belief that he’d give his approval to a deal if the Bulls found an offer they liked.

Mirotic, who has been the subject of trade rumors throughout the 2017/18 campaign, was sidelined with facial injuries to start the season after being punched by teammate Bobby Portis during an altercation in practice. Mirotic’s camp reportedly issued an ultimatum in the fall in an effort to get the Bulls to trade either Mirotic or Portis, but the power forwards were willing to bury the hatchet and coexist on the court when Mirotic got healthy.

Since returning to action, Mirotic has enjoyed the most productive year of his NBA career, averaging 16.8 PPG and 6.4 RPG to go along with a .474/.429/.823 shooting line. All of those numbers are career highs. Despite his solid play and the club’s improved record, Mirotic was still said to prefer a trade out of Chicago.

As the Bulls explored the market for Mirotic, the Jazz and Pistons were cited most frequently as potential trade partners. However, Detroit landed a bigger fish on Monday, acquiring Blake Griffin from the Clippers, and Utah was reportedly unwilling to include a first-round pick in an offer for the stretch four.

The Bulls, who were said to be seeking a first-rounder for Mirotic all along, appear poised to get that pick from the Pelicans, though they’ll have to take on an unwanted contract in the process. Asik, a former Bull, is earning about $10.6MM this season, with a guaranteed salary worth $11.29MM in 2018/19. The veteran center has one more year on his deal in 2019/20, but it’s only partially guaranteed for $3MM. By comparison, Mirotic will earn $12.5MM this season and has a $12.5MM team option for ’18/19.

While the Bulls did well to find a first-round pick for a player whose value looked to be on the decline just a few months ago, it’s worth questioning why the team is willing to take on a toxic contract like Asik’s to make it happen, just seven months after selling a high second-round pick to the Warriors for a mere $3.5MM.

As for the Pelicans, they’re set to fill the lineup hole created when DeMarcus Cousins went down on Friday with a season-ending Achilles injury. The move signals that New Orleans still fully intends to make a playoff push this season, pairing Mirotic with Anthony Davis in the frontcourt. The club will also have the financial flexibility to retain Mirotic on his team option next season, since it’ll only cost about $1.2MM than Asik’s guaranteed salary would have. The ability to retain Mirotic is solid insurance in the event that Cousins leaves in free agency — if Cousins re-signs, it’d be interesting to see if the Pelicans would want to carry all three players on next year’s roster.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.