CJ McCollum

Pelicans Notes: Valanciunas, Lewis, Ingram, Zion

The Pelicans explored changes at center during the offseason, but it appears Jonas Valanciunas has the starting job locked up heading into training camp, William Guillory of The Athletic writes in a mailbag column. Although defensive issues kept him off the court in late-game situations last season, Valanciunas still provides a reliable presence in the middle with only 11 total missed games over the past two years.

New Orleans reportedly reached out to the Cavaliers this summer about trading for Jarrett Allen, but there’s currently “little traction” on a deal between the teams, according to Guillory. The Pelicans also inquired about Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart, but also to no avail.

Valanciunas has an expiring $15.4MM contract, so he’s likely to be the subject of trade rumors until the February deadline. Guillory expects New Orleans to continue to seek upgrades at center by offering a package of Valanciunas, point guard Kira Lewis and draft picks.

There’s more from New Orleans:

  • An extension for Trey Murphy won’t take effect until the 2025/26 season, so Pelicans management has two more years to determine if the current core can contend for a title, Guillory observes in the same piece. That group, which also includes Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum and Herbert Jones, showed promised in 2021/22 but fell short of the playoffs last season. The front office will likely try to avoid the luxury tax again this year, Guillory states, but there’s a belief that this is the most talented group the franchise has ever assembled.
  • Pelicans fans shouldn’t be concerned about Ingram’s struggles with Team USA, Guillory adds. Ingram was recently replaced in the starting lineup because he has failed to mesh with the first unit. Guillory notes that Ingram has already proven his status as an elite player, but says it would help if he could show an ability to adjust to a complementary role because he may be in that position more often on a fully healthy Pelicans team.
  • Guillory tweeted workout photos of Williamson along with the statement, “Been hearing good things about the work Zion’s putting in this summer.” Guillory added that Williamson is “really focused” on getting ready for a long season and wrote, “Think he’s gonna come in with a chip on his shoulder.” Injuries limited the 23-year-old forward to 29 games last season, and his health is obviously crucial to the Pelicans’ playoff hopes.

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Knight, Williams, Wojciechowski

After Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard floated a few destinations that would hypothetically appeal to him if he were to ask for a trade, his longtime backcourt mate CJ McCollum spoke with ESPN’s Alan Hahn, Zach Lowe and Jay Williams on “Get Up” about what he considers the best future trajectory for the Portland All-Star (YouTube video link).

McCollum, now with the Pelicans, believes the Heat would have the edge if Lillard were to request a trade, but says the Nets might also be an appealing fit for his former teammate.

“I’m going to preface this by saying Dame is my guy and I know he wants to be in Portland,” McCollum said. “He’s always talking about his affinity for bringing a championship to Portland… The obvious answer here is that if something (i.e. a trade) were to occur… Miami’s in the Finals right now, right? They have great culture, they have obviously (head coach) Erik Spoelstra, they have a young core… they have a need for what he brings to the table.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Current Trail Blazers owner Jody Allen has turned down a second proposal by Nike head honcho Phil Knight and Dodgers minority owner Alan Smolinsky to purchase the team. Bill Oram of The Oregonian writes that Knight, a unique fixture in the Portland sports world, would represent a worthy successor to Allen’s late brother Paul Allen, known for his passion about the Trail Blazers and his NFL franchise, the Seattle Seahawks.
  • Thunder rookie swingman Jalen Williams intends to play in this year’s Summer League, per Daniel Bell of BSO (Twitter link). The All-Rookie First Teamer enjoyed a standout inaugural NBA season, averaging 14.1 PPG on .521/.356/.812 shooting splits, along with 4.5 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 1.4 SPG across 75 contests.
  • Former Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski is looking forward to his new pro ball opportunity, serving as the head coach of the Jazz‘s NBAGL affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, per Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. “I’ve spent two years in Park City, and during those two years, the Jazz organization — Justin (Zanik) and Danny (Ainge) and those guys, and (former head coach Quin Snyder), who’s a good friend of mine — were very generous with allowing me to observe and watch them work,” Wojciechowski said. “I want to do a great job of creating a culture that mirrors the Jazz (on the Stars).”

Southwest Notes: Rockets, Zion, McCollum, Irving, Grizzlies

Assuming Victor Wembanyama, Brandon Miller and Scoot Henderson will be the first three picks in the draft, who will the Rockets target at No. 4? Kelly Iko of The Athletic explores that question in his first installment of the team’s big board.

With the assistance of a high-ranking scout, Iko puts Amen Thompson at the top of the list. Thompson would make a great fit for Houston defensively, given its current talent level, though there are questions about the Overtime Elite guard offensively. Villanova forward Cam Whitmore follows him on Iko’s list, thanks to his explosiveness and athleticism in the open floor.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans guard CJ McCollum dispensed career advice to oft-injured Zion Williamson, RealGM relays. Speaking on the Ryen Russillo Show, McCollum said he and Larry Nance Jr. have engaged in multiple conversations with Williamson, whose toughness was questioned when he didn’t play after Jan. 2 due to a hamstring injury. “Your ceiling is unlike anything the NBA has ever seen,” McCollum said of his advice to Williamson. “But it’s up to you to take full advantage of whatever that is. I can’t want it for you. Mom can’t want it for you. Dad can’t want it for you. Staff can’t want it for you. So, it’s up to you to decide what that looks like. You’ve got to figure out what you want to do with this game, because this game will go where you take it.”
  • Following a report of a  “handshake deal” with the Mavericks, along with attending Lakers games during the postseason, Kyrie Irving indicated on Instagram he’ll control the narrative of his free agency (hat tip to RealGM).  “If you hear something about my career, it’s going to happen direct like this,” Irving said. “I am an independent agency. It’s just me.”
  • In a subscriber-only story, Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian details the lessons that the Grizzlies learned during their abbreviated playoff run. He opines they need to be patient with the team’s core and coach Taylor Jenkins but aggressively pursue ways to improve their postseason chances.

CJ McCollum Had Thumb Surgery, Won’t Require Shoulder Surgery

Pelicans guard CJ McCollum underwent successful right thumb surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament, the team announced in a press release.

According to the Pelicans, McCollum consulted with a specialist about the torn labrum in his right shoulder, but that injury will not require surgery. Instead, he will rehab the shoulder in the offseason in order to stabilize and strengthen it.

The 31-year-old is expected to fully recover from both injuries before training camp begins in the fall, per the team.

The news of the thumb surgery was expected, as McCollum had previously revealed that it was the most likely outcome. He had been playing through the injury for months, but he never seriously considered shutting it down during the season despite the thumb affecting nearly everything he did offensively.

The torn labrum was a more recent development. He reportedly played through it for the final seven games of the 2022/23 regular season and New Orleans’ loss in the play-in tournament.

It was a difficult season for the Pelicans, who were the top seed in the West in mid-December at 18-8, then went on a 10-game losing streak in January to drop below .500. A late-season surge saw the Pelicans rebound and make the play-in tournament, but they lost their matchup with the Thunder.

Several key players were injured throughout the season, including Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Zion Williamson, Larry Nance Jr., Jose Alvarado and McCollum. The veteran guard described ’22/23 as “the most difficult season I’ve been a part of physically and mentally.”

Despite dealing with the injuries, McCollum managed to play 75 games (35.3 MPG) and averaged over 20 points per game (20.9) for the eighth consecutive season. He also recorded 5.9 APG and 4.4 RPG along with a .437/.389/.769 shooting line.

Pelicans Notes: Valanciunas, McCollum, Murphy

If the Pelicans decide to shake things up this summer, Jonas Valanciunas could be on the move, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune writes. Valanciunas will have an expiring $15.435MM contract next season and the Pelicans’ coaching staff showed a lack of trust in the veteran center during high-leverage moments, Clark observes. He averaged 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

We have more on the Pelicans:

  • The fact that CJ McCollum played 37 games with a torn ligament in the thumb of his shooting hand shouldn’t be overlooked, Rod Walker of the Times-Picayune opines. By doing so, McCollum displayed the importance of leading by example, a role he embraces both on and off the court. Despite the injury, McCollum averaged 20.9 points and 5.7 assists in 75 games this season.
  • The growth of Trey Murphy in his second season was one of the few bright spots for the franchise in 2022/23, Clark writes in a separate story. Murphy raised his scoring average from 5.4 points per game as a rookie to 14.5 PPG this season. He has developed into a prolific shooter, averaging 48.4% from the field overall, 40.6% on 3-point attempts and 90.5% from the free throw line.
  • In case you missed it, top executive David Griffin said he didn’t anticipate making “huge moves” this offseason.

Pelicans Notes: McCollum, Zion, Daniels, Pannone

During an appearance on “Stephen A.’s World” Saturday afternoon (video link), CJ McCollum cited public “misconceptions” over how Zion Williamson is viewed by his teammates and Pelicans management. McCollum said the entire organization remains supportive of Williamson and wants him to find a way to stay healthy so he can get the most out of his talents.

Injuries limited Williamson to 29 games this season, marking the third time in four years that he has failed to reach 30. He played at an All-Star level when he was available, averaging 26.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 60.8% from the field, but a hamstring injury he suffered in early January kept him sidelined for the rest of the season.

“The moral of the story is we all want him out there on the court,” McCollum said. “We all understand the importance of the gravity he has, we understand the importance of the greatness that he possesses — and me personally, I want him to maximize that. I want him to maximize his talent, I want him to maximize his window, our window as a team, our window as an organization.”

Executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin addressed the same topic on Friday, telling reporters, including Andrew Lopez of ESPN, that the team will work to increase Williamson’s availability, but he has a role to play as well.

I think a big part is on him,” Griffin said. “I think there is a lot he can do better. And he would, I think, tell you that. I think we need to do a better job examining the whole situation top to bottom a little bit better. I think putting him in the best position to succeed is important. And I think his participation is a big part of that.”

There’s more from New Orleans:

  • McCollum, who will have surgery on his right thumb next week, wrote in his Andscape diary that “this was the most difficult season I’ve been a part of physically and mentally.” He cites the constant injuries that surrounded the team and “the roller coaster of emotions” that involved the fast start, followed by a 10-game losing streak and then rebounding to qualify for the play-in tournament.
  • Dyson Daniels plans to spend a lot of the offseason in New Orleans to work on his game, tweets William Guillory of The Athletic. The Australian rookie also expects to be part of the Pelicans’ Summer League team.
  • Assistant coach Ryan Pannone will join Nate Oats’ staff at the University of Alabama, according to Jonathan Givony of ESPN. Pannone, a former G League coach, spent one year on New Orleans’ staff under Willie Green.

Pelicans Notes: Williamson, McCollum, Temple, Liddell

If the Pelicans had advanced beyond the play-in, Zion Williamson might have had a chance to return from his hamstring injury this spring, but that was far from a lock. Executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin confirmed on Friday that Williamson hadn’t even begun participating in full-court 3-on-3 scrimmages, let alone 5-on-5 action (Twitter link via Andrew Lopez of ESPN).

Elsewhere on the Williamson front, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst (YouTube link) noted during a TV appearance that Zion’s maximum-salary extension, which will go into effect in 2023/24, features several benchmarks related to the forward’s weight, conditioning, and games played totals.

Portions of Williamson’s salary will become non-guaranteed if he doesn’t meet those thresholds, though the Pelicans would only be able to realize those savings by waiving him.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • Sources tell William Guillory of The Athletic (Twitter link) that CJ McCollum, who will undergo surgery on his injured thumb, was also dealing with a torn labrum in his shoulder for the final seven games of the regular season.
  • The Pelicans’ “big three” of Williamson, McCollum, and Brandon Ingram played just 10 games together this season, Guillory observes in a story for The Athletic. “If you would’ve told me we’d only play 10 games together this season, and we still won 42 games, I would’ve said that’s crazy,” McCollum said. “For us to be successful in the future – in the long-term – we’ve got to be able to play together. We need our best players on the court. We need to be able to play extended minutes together, especially in meaningful games, and showcase what we offer.”
  • Veteran wing Garrett Temple will turn 37 years old next month, but he hasn’t considered retiring and would like to remain in New Orleans in 2023/24, tweets Guillory. Although Temple is under contract for next season, his $5.4MM salary is non-guaranteed and I don’t expect the Pelicans to keep him at that price — they could be more open to a minimum-salary deal.
  • E.J. Liddell, a 2022 second-rounder who suffered a torn ACL last July at the Las Vegas Summer League, has progressed to playing 1-on-1 and is hoping to be able to play in this year’s Summer League, tweets Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Liddell’s two-way deal with New Orleans covers two seasons, so he’s under contract for 2023/24 and won’t need to be re-signed.
  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype previews the decisions facing the Pelicans this offseason, pointing out that Jaxson Hayes and Josh Richardson will be free agents, while Herb Jones will be among the players eligible for contract extensions.

Southwest Notes: Adams, Lofton, McCollum, Vogel, Borrego

Grizzlies center Steven Adams has slowly progressed during his recovery from a sprained right knee, which is why he’s likely to sit out the postseason, coach Taylor Jenkins told Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“We thought we were making headway with the process and all that, but each evaluation we had with the doctors kind of revealed it’s not progressing like we need it to. … No setbacks, no reinjuries, it was just not progressing to a level,” the Grizzlies’ head coach said. “Obviously some unfortunate news, but that’s why we’re going to try to do everything possible to try to get the best decision possible for him.”

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Due to Adams’ injury, the Grizzlies wound up signing G League Rookie of the Year Kenneth Lofton Jr. to a standard contract. It wasn’t a given, Cole tweets. Jenkins said the Grizzlies did their “due diligence” on bringing in a free agent big man for the playoffs, but ultimately decided to reward Lofton for how well he’s played and his knowledge of the system.
  • Pelicans guard CJ McCollum will undergo right thumb surgery next week, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune tweets. McCollum, who previously revealed the injury and the likelihood of surgery, said it’s been an issue for several months. McCollum also indicated his shoulder has bothered him in recent games and he’ll have it evaluated, Will Guillory of The Athletic adds in another tweet.
  • Frank Vogel, the Lakers’ head coach during their championship run in the Orlando bubble in 2020, was interviewed for the Rockets’ head coach position on Wednesday, Kelly Iko of The Athletic tweets. The Rockets are interviewing a number of former head coaches, as well as some prominent assistants, for the job.
  • In a separate piece, Iko takes a closer look at whether former Hornets coach James Borrego would be a good fit as the Rockets’ head coach. Iko spoke at length with former Hornets assistant Nick Friedman to get a better feel for Borrego’s coaching style.

Southwest Notes: McCollum, Kyrie, Sochan, Porter

In his latest diary entry for Andscape, Pelicans guard CJ McCollum discussed a handful of topics, including injured teammates Zion Williamson and Jose Alvarado and his expectations for the home stretch of the season. Perhaps most notably, he confirmed that his own right thumb injury will require surgery during the offseason.

“I knew the final outcome would probably be surgery, and I was notified that that’s what it’s going to have to be,” McCollum wrote. “It’s my shooting hand, so you’re always a little nervous. So, I’ve just been checking in with a hand specialist out of New York and just making sure things are progressing and continue to get images every couple weeks to track the progress as to what type of surgery I may need, what’s the process going to look like and I’m comfortable with what I’ve been hearing so far, so I’ll be all right.”

McCollum acknowledged that it hasn’t been ideal playing through the thumb injury, which has “affected how I dribble, shoot, pass, (and) absorb passes.” However, he said that shutting it down for the season has never been an option he seriously considered, since he believes he can still be effective.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Dallas is just 7-12 since Kyrie Irving made his Mavericks debut and has slipped out of the top 10 in the West, but Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link) has heard only positive things about the guard’s professionalism and locker room presence since last month’s trade. Blaming Irving for Luka Doncic‘s recent frustration wouldn’t be “fair or accurate,” MacMahon adds.
  • A nagging right knee injury will sideline Spurs forward Jeremy Sochan on Sunday for the seventh time in his last 11 games. However, the rookie has downplayed the issue as “nothing serious” and head coach Gregg Popovich said the team “probably” won’t shut down Sochan for the season, per Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News (subscription required). It sounds like there’s no concern that the knee problem will turn into a major injury, and the Spurs want to give Sochan all the reps they can before his first NBA season ends.
  • Despite the way in which his time in Cleveland ended, Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. still values the time he spent with the Cavaliers and said he’s looking forward to playing in Cleveland on Sunday, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required). “I would say that’s the first time I learned about the business of the NBA,” Porter said of the trade that sent him to Houston following a locker-room incident with the Cavs. “But we’re all still close, still. Those relationships are still there and very valuable to me, and (to) the other side, too. Definitely, a lot of people would say it was bad, a bad (ending). It was (for) the best for both of us.”

Pelicans Notes: Ingram, Zion, McCollum, Hayes

The Pelicans may not have either of their star forwards available as they begin what could be the most important stretch of their season, writes Christian Clark of NOLA. Zion Williamson will be sidelined until at least March 22 with a strained right hamstring, and Brandon Ingram is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game after spraining his right ankle on Wednesday.

“(Ingram’s) done some pool work today,” coach Willie Green said Friday. “He’s done some work on the floor. He’ll be questionable tomorrow.”

Currently 10th in the West at 32-34, the Pelicans will play three games in the next four days against teams close to them in the standings. After hosting the Thunder tonight, New Orleans will face the Trail Blazers on Sunday and the Lakers on Tuesday.

There’s more on the Pelicans:

  • While Ingram and Williamson have both missed more games than they’re played this season, CJ McCollum‘s durability has helped New Orleans stay afloat, Clark adds. McCollum has fought through multiple illnesses and recently began wearing a splint because of an injured right thumb, but he has appeared in 59 of the Pelicans’ 66 games. “CJ has been a warrior for us all season,” Green said. “Like you said, he has played through being sick. Playing through the thumb injury, which we know. He understands the magnitude of our games coming up. We’re leaning on him a ton.”
  • Williamson hasn’t played since January 2, but a source close to the situation tells Sam Amick of The Athletic that the team still expects him to return before the regular season ends. Williamson was averaging 26 points per game before the injury, and his presence could have a major impact on the playoff race.
  • A sprained ankle that sidelined Larry Nance Jr. has created more playing time for Jaxson Hayes, Clark notes in another NOLA story. Hayes hasn’t become the player the Pelicans thought he would when they selected him with the eighth pick in the 2019 draft, but he sometimes shows why the team was so high on him. He had 14 points in 24 minutes in Wednesday’s win over the Mavericks, making all six of his shots and closing down the lane against Dallas on defense. New Orleans considered trades involving Hayes before last month’s deadline, according to Clark, but opted to hold onto him in his contract year.