Aaron Nelson

Western Notes: Zion, Lakers, Dunleavy, Livingston, Towns, Reid

It’s unlikely that Zion Williamson will be dealt by the Pelicans before the draft, according to The Athletic’s William Guillory. While the Pelicans are enamored with G League guard Scoot Henderson, they have not included Williamson in any formal offer to the teams holding the second and third picks (Hornets, Trail Blazers).

However, there is a disconnect between Williamson and the Pelicans organization. Some of that tension, according to Guillory, is due to a frayed relationship between Williamson’s camp and Aaron Nelson, who has been in charge of the medical/training staff. Nelson won’t be leading the medical staff next season.

The Pelicans have recently tried to smooth things over with Williamson. He met with top exec David Griffin and team governor Gayle Benson last week at team headquarters and it apparently went well, Guillory writes.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • The Lakers hosted a pre-draft workout for six prospects on Tuesday, Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times tweets. That group included Ben Sheppard (Belmont), Landers Nolley II (Cincinnati), Patrick Gardner (Marist), Omari Moore (San Jose State), Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite) and K.J. Williams (LSU).
  • Mike Dunleavy Jr. was one of the most unpopular players in Warriors’ history, so there’s naturally skepticism from fans about him becoming the top decision-maker in the organization, Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area writes.
  • Shaun Livingston has left the Warriors’ organization, Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area tweets. Livingston spent the last three seasons in the front office as director of players affairs and engagement. He wants to spend more time with his family.
  • While Karl-Anthony Towns has been one of the prominent names on the rumor mill, the Timberwolves brass believes improved health from Towns and Rudy Gobert will solve some of the team’s offensive problems, according to The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski. Owners Glen Taylor, Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez are on board with that approach. The owners are also hoping to re-sign backup big man Naz Reid, who will be an unrestricted free agent. Reid has been hanging around the team’s practice facility since the season ended, a positive sign that he’d like to stay with the club.

Pelicans Notes: Valanciunas, Draft Picks, Injuries, Nelson

Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas is entering the final year of his current contract with the club and will be eligible to sign an extension this summer. It remains to be seen whether New Orleans views the veteran big man as part of the team’s future, but Valanciunas tells Kestas Rimkus of 24sek.lt (hat tip to BasketNews.com) that he’d be interested in working out a new deal to stay with the Pelicans.

“We had some talks with (the Pelicans). I think this summer won’t be easy for them because they will have to make a few key decisions. Our season didn’t go as planned, so there will definitely be changes,” Valanciunas said. “… I would like to stay and extend my contract. Obviously, during the season, you try to help the team as much as possible, but when the summer comes, you try to take care of your own things – how to extend the contract and stuff.”

Valanciunas, who will earn approximately $15.4MM in 2023/24, started all 79 games he played for New Orleans in ’22/23. However, head coach Willie Green frequently opted to use Larry Nance Jr. at center during crunch-time minutes in the second half of the season, raising questions about Valanciunas’ role going forward.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • Christian Clark of NOLA.com takes a closer look at the first-round picks the Pelicans control in the coming years, observing that the team will be keeping a close eye on the Lakers and Bucks, since those teams still owe New Orleans draft assets from the Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday trades. The Pelicans control the Lakers’ 2024 first-rounder but have the option of acquiring the team’s 2025 pick instead — if LeBron James opts out of his deal with L.A. in 2024, deferring that first-rounder could be an intriguing option, Clark notes.
  • After another season affected by injuries, the Pelicans will restructure their player care and performance team, sources tell Clark. Star forwards Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram missed more games (90) than they played (74) in 2022/23.
  • Hiring Aaron Nelson away from Phoenix to run the club’s player care and performance department was one of David Griffin‘s first moves when he joined the Pelicans in 2019, according to Clark, who notes that Nelson “did not come cheaply” and that the team approved several of his requested changes to the practice facility. However, Nelson may not be back with the Pels at all next season — if he is, it won’t be in the same role, Clark writes. As Clark details, there have been complaints during Nelson’s tenure about his inflexibility, and he clashed with Williamson and former head coach Stan Van Gundy.

Pelicans Notes: Ingram, Zion, Murphy, Succession Plan

As he prepares to play for his third head coach in the past three seasons, Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram is looking for more stability under Willie Green, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Ingram has added some muscle mass to his lean frame, and he thinks it will help him be more efficient around the rim.

I thought it would help my game out a lot, just the way I’m playing,” Ingram said. “Driving to the basket. Taking a lot of contact. I wanted to be able to deliver the blows. Being able to finish. Being in good, low positions. And being able to finish. It was something I just wanted to work on this summer.

Ingram has also taken on a leadership role for the Pelicans, Clark notes, helping to organize voluntary workouts in Phoenix over the summer. Green believes the key to Ingram’s new role as a team leader is to be himself.

I’m looking forward to seeing him lead in his way. I think that’s the key for Brandon. Not to try to do something that is not him. I can see that early with who he is and what his personality is. He’s been great all summer.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • William Guillory of The Athletic recently spoke to Jeff Stotts, a certified athletic trainer who runs a website tracking injuries and how they affect NBA players, about whether Zion Williamson‘s injury might be a cause for long-term concern. Stotts says that Williamson’s fractured fifth metatarsal on his right foot has a relatively high re-injury rate, and can be especially problematic for larger players, noting that Kevin Durant, Brook Lopez, and Glen Davis all suffered setbacks with similar injuries. Guillory adds that this is the third injury to Zion’s right leg since 2019, which is certainly worrisome. However, Stotts says that Pelicans head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson is elite, as his teams have consistently been in the top tier for fewest games missed due to injury or illness, and Robin Lopez had a successful recovery from the same injury while under Nelson’s care in Phoenix.
  • Rookie Trey Murphy is “one of many” players in the running for a starting roster spot, Clark writes for NOLA.com. Clark thinks Murphy’s ability to space the floor and make quick reads could be a nice complement for stars Ingram and Williamson.
  • Pelicans owner Gayle Benson recently revealed the franchise’s long-term succession plan, per Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com, with the primary goal to keep the team in New Orleans.

Pelicans Notes: Celtics Trade, Knox, Gentry, Trainer

The Celtics’ flameout in the postseason may have reduced the possibility of the Pelicans trading Anthony Davis to Boston, according to Scott Kushner of The New Orleans Advocate. A package of forward Jayson Tatum and a handful of the Celtics’ first-round draft picks would have been considered a fair return for Davis, who can become a free agent after next season. However, Tatum regressed in his second season and struggled during the postseason, Kushner continues. Boston’s incentive to acquire Davis has diminished with the likely departure of Kyrie Irving and the lack of enough quality pieces around Davis after a potential trade to make a championship run, Kushner adds.

We have more on the Pelicans:

  • The team’s front office has quietly gathered intelligence on the Knicks’ first-round pick, forward Kevin Knox, Ian Begley of SNY TV reports. Knox averaged 12.8 PPG in his rookie campaign and improved his shooting percentage as the season went along. If the Knicks win the lottery, that pick plus Knox and other assets could be attractive to New Orleans. However, there’s no consensus within the Knicks organization about trading that pick, even for a shot at Davis, Begley adds.
  • Alvin Gentry’s personality is the main reason why new VP of basketball operations David Griffin retained him, Kushner reveals in a separate story. Gentry’s lighthearted, professional and charismatic persona held the locker room together after Davis’ trade request, and Gentry also deftly handled the situation in the media, Kushner continues. Gentry and Griffin developed a longstanding friendship when they worked together with the Suns, Kushner adds.
  • Griffin said new athletic trainer Aaron Nelson changed the way he approached scouting, as he detailed to The Athletic’s William Guillory. Griffin poached Nelson from the Suns staff. They have been friends since 1993. “As I watched Aaron and his staff do what they were doing, it changed the way I scouted players,” Griffin said. “It changed what I looked for in players. My devotion to what they were doing in terms of changing player bio-mechanics was really complete. It literally impacted every part of my career after that.”

Southwest Notes: Nene, Pelicans, Gay, Guards

Nene didn’t play in the Rockets first four playoff games but he saw action in the team’s closeout win over the Jazz and Game 1 loss to the Warriors, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes.

“It’s a man’s game and he’s a man,” coach Mike D’Antoni said of Nene’s play. “He’s effective for limited minutes. We have to be careful with him because we like for him to last the whole time. But he was good.”

Nene only suited up in 42 games for the Rockets this season. He’s made all six of his attempts over the past two playoff games, giving Houston 22 minutes of solid play.

Here’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Pelicans have poached athletic trainer Aaron Nelson from the Suns, Marc Stein of the New York Times reports (Twitter link). Vice president of basketball operations David Griffin worked with Nelson while the two were in Phoenix together.
  • Rudy Gay is the only free agent of “significance” in San Antonio, Sean Deveney of Sporting News writes in his Spurs offseason preview, adding that Gay would like to stay with the Spurs on a “team-friendly” deal. The combo forward made slightly over $10MM this past season.
  • The Spurs could look to trade either Bryn Forbes of Marco Belinelli, Deveney contends in the same piece. The team has a logjam at their guard spots and both Dejounte Murray and Derrick White have too much upside for Spurs to think about moving either of them. Deveney also adds that coach Gregg Popovich, who’s expected to sign a new deal with San Antonio, values Patty Mills as a leader, making his departure unlikely.

Western Notes: Dieng, George, Nelson, Williams

In an interesting pierce regarding former head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau‘s tenure with the Timberwolves, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic shares a story involving how the relegation of forward Gorgui Dieng to the bench was just one example of Thibodeau’s inability to effectively communicate and integrate with others in the organization.

Dieng, a starter for all 82 games in Minnesota during the 2016/17 season, Thibodeau’s first, showed up for training camp in 2017 expecting to continue starting, or at least have an opportunity to compete for a starting position with newly-signed Taj Gibson, a stalwart for Thibodeau during his days in Chicago coaching the Bulls. After all, Dieng had just signed a four-year, $62.8MM contract extension with the Timberwolves the previous summer.

However, before the first practice of camp, and without any communication of any kind from Thibodeau or any representative thereof, Dieng was relegated to the second unit by discovering a second-unit jersey hanging in his locker. Per Krawczynski, Dieng took the lack of communication as a sign of disrespect, one which he seemingly never got over during the course of Thibodeau’s tenure with the Timberwolves.

Rather, Dieng’s play suffered, as did his playing time, going from 10.0 points and 7.9 rebounds in 32.4 minutes per game in 2016/17 to averages of 5.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 16.9 MPG, with zero starts, during the 2017/18 campaign. With two seasons left on his current contract, Dieng, now 29, will look to return to the form he displayed during the 2016/17 season, as Gibson enters this offseason as an unrestricted free agent, his future with the Timberwolves still unknown.

There’s more news from the Western Conference this afternoon:

  • It’s clear from his decision to sign a long-term deal with the Thunder this summer that Paul George wants to be in Oklahoma City, but the question now becomes whether or not George is able and willing to overtake Russell Westbrook as the franchise’s marquee player, which Brett Dawson of The Athletic writes may be necessary if the Thunder ever want to reach their full potential with the team’s current core.
  • Pelicans‘ new general manager David Griffin is prioritizing hiring highly-respected trainer Aaron Nelson, currently the Suns’ Senior Vice President of Athlete Health & Performance, away from Phoenix, reports Marc Stein of The New York Times. As his profile on the National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association states, Nelson and his staff have built the Suns into an industry leader with a reputation for prolonging the careers of some of the game’s best players.
  • In other Suns’ news, 76ers’ assistant coach Monty Williams, a highly-regard head-coaching candidate this offseason for both Phoenix and the Lakers, had a “very positive” meeting with Suns’ brass on Friday (story). Williams, the first candidate to meet with the Suns’ front office since Igor Kokoskov‘s firing on Monday, is a top contender to be James Jones‘ pick for the team’s next head coach.