Willie Green

And-Ones: Potential Coaching Changes, Wembanyama, France, Draft Odds

Head coaches Taylor Jenkins, Willie Green and Chauncey Billups could all be in danger of losing their jobs next season, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic, who discussed the topic with league personnel at the draft combine. Hollinger cites a belief that the Grizzlies, Pelicans and Trail Blazers will consider coaching changes if they get off to slow starts.

Jenkins has been mostly successful during his time in Memphis, finishing second in the 2022 Coach of the Year race, but he’s coming off a 27-win season as the Grizzlies were overwhelmed by injuries. Hollinger notes that the organization fired most of his staff prior to the combine, which could be a sign of trouble.

Green posted 49 wins this season, but New Orleans wasn’t competitive while being swept out of the playoffs in the first round by Oklahoma City. There’s been more scrutiny on Green’s offensive philosophies and player usage, especially at center, Hollinger adds.

Billups seems most likely to be replaced as he’s entering the final year of his contract and is reporting to a general manager who didn’t hire him. Portland also made changes involving its assistant coaches, and Hollinger states that Billups seemed to be trying to position himself for the Suns job before they hired Mike Budenholzer. Everyone that Hollinger spoke with expects Billups to be replaced by next offseason.

There’s more from around the basketball world:

  • In addition to trying to win a gold medal for France, Victor Wembanyama hopes to use the 2024 Olympics as a learning experience, per Johnny Askounis of Eurohoops. “I am here to learn from some of the best players in the history of the national team,” Wembanyama said. “I am not here to explain anything to players with five, six or seven international campaigns under their belts. For sure, I will have responsibilities, but they will be realistic. I will have as many as necessary.”
  • Alexandre Sarr, who hopes to follow Wembanyama as the second French player to be drafted No. 1 overall, is part of a wave of NBA talent from the nation, Hollinger writes in a separate story. Zaccharie Risacher will also get consideration as the top pick, as four players from France may be taken in the first round. Wembanyama and Bilal Coulibaly both went in the lottery last year, and Hollinger notes that Nolan Traore is likely to be selected early in 2025. “I think we got so much talent, it’s exciting,” French native Rudy Gobert said. “You go (back) 20 years ago, we had a few guys like (Tony Parker) and Boris Diaw and (Nicolas) Batum, and now you look and there’s so much talent every year coming in. Credit the French clubs and the French federation for being able to develop some of this talent and allowing them to play to their abilities.”
  • HoopsHype has released its annual draft predictor, charting the most likely players to be selected by each team. The list starts with Sarr, who is considered to have an 87.9% chance to be drafted by Atlanta.

Southwest Notes: Rockets, Green, Pelicans-Lakers, Popovich

The Rockets’ 2023/24 season, their first under new head coach Ime Udoka, is now in the books. Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle breaks down how the team showed plenty of promise en route to a 41-41 finish, diminished slightly by the lack of a playoff or play-in berth. The Rockets finished as the No. 11 seed in the Western Conference.

“Happy wouldn’t be the word,” Udoka said. “We are disappointed we didn’t meet our goal. When you are a few games behind, you think of all the tough … games we’ve given away, we understand where we could have been. The goal always was to make the playoffs and the play-in and have that experience for our guys.”

Center Alperen Sengun and shooting guard Jalen Green, who both enjoyed breakout seasons this year, are both set to be extension-eligible when the new league year begins in July.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans head coach Willie Green‘s contract was reportedly extended last year, per Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Sources inform Clark that New Orleans also extended the contracts of New Orleans executive executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin and general manager Trajan Langdon. Green, a former journeyman NBA guard as a player, is in his third season with New Orleans and boasts a 127-119 record with the club so far. He has led the Pelicans to three consecutive postseason appearances, though the team was eliminated in the play-in tournament a year ago.
  • The Pelicans struggled to do much of anything against the Lakers in a critical season finale matchup on Sunday, as Rod Walker of NOLA.com details. In falling 124-108 to Los Angeles, New Orleans fell into the play-in tournament with a 49-33 record — the Pels are the West’s No. 7 seed and have a rematch on tap with the eighth-seeded Lakers on Tuesday.
  • Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich suggested that he expects return to coach probable Rookie of the Year Victor Wembanyama for his second season, writes Tom Orbsorn of The San Antonio Express-News. The 75-year-old Popovich inked a five-year deal worth upwards of $80MM to stick with San Antonio last summer. “He made it very clear day one he cares about his guys as people first,” Wembanyama said. “He is there to poke on us sometimes or to correct us. But the way my teammates and I have responded to all the advice it’s just been great and the dynamic is very good.”

Southwest Notes: Williamson, Pelicans, Clarke, Popovich

The Pelicans got a tasty matchup against the depleted Pistons on Sunday and Zion Williamson took full advantage. Williamson made all but one of his 14 field-goal attempts while racking up 36 points.

“He had it going tonight in the first quarter,” Pelicans head coach Willie Green told Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “He kind of got it going midway through. We wanted to let him go a little bit. That’s all that was.”

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr., who has passed through numerous franchises, is impressed by what New Orleans has established. The Pelicans are currently fifth in the Western Conference standings. “This is how you build a winning franchise,” he told Clark. “Those franchises that go from low wins to 60 wins, that’s not sustainable. You build a successful franchise, a successful roster, a successful team by steadily growing. Steady improvement. Keeping the core together. And really, being willing and able to play alongside each other. That’s what Denver did. That’s what Milwaukee had done. Golden State. You build. You start slow, and you build.” Nance is in the first year of a two-year, $21.6MM contract.
  • Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke is listed as doubtful to play against Denver on Monday, but that’s significant, as Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com tweets. Clarke has been rehabbing from a left Achilles tendon tear all season and this is the first time he’s been listed as something other than out this season. It means that Clarke is likely on track to return in the next game or two.
  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has urged his players to curtail their activity on social media, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express News writes. “I don’t follow them around day and all night, see how many minutes they’re spending on their phones,” he said. “But we’ve brought in people to talk to them about that so they understand there are ways they can spend their time a whole lot more efficiently and meaningfully. Hopefully, they are paying attention.”

Southwest Notes: Sengun, Mavs, LaVine, Zion, More

Alperen Sengun‘s growing importance to the Rockets has been on display during the first few weeks of the 2023/24 season, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required).

Sengun has averaged 19.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in 31.4 minutes per game while making 60.0% of his field goal tries through nine contests. Houston has a +10.7 net rating when the young center is on the court, compared to -5.1 when he sits. Sengun will be eligible for a rookie scale extension in the summer of 2024 and appears to be steadily increasing his value with his strong play in the middle for the Rockets.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Although the Mavericks have been linked to Zach LaVine in the past, a league source tells Marc Stein (Substack link) that Dallas is unlikely to pursue a trade for the Bulls guard at this time.
  • Rookie forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper believes he’s ready for an increased role if the Mavericks decide to lean on him a little more with Maxi Kleber sidelined, he tells Noah Weber of The Smoking Cuban. “I’ve put in the work. A lot of hours behind the scenes that nobody has seen,” Prosper said. “… Whatever my opportunity is, I’m going to come in and do what my role is; impact the game defensively, rebound, and knock down open shots. … I feel like I fit great [next to Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving]. Being a strong physical wing that can come in and help them defensively and on offense be able to knock down shots, cut, get to the rim, get fouled. I feel like I play great off of those two.”
  • After Zion Williamson referred earlier this week to taking a “back seat” in the Pelicans‘ new offense and doing his best “to buy in,” Christian Clark of NOLA.com notes that the stats don’t back up Williamson’s assertion — his usage rate is a career-high 30.6% and he’s taking more shots per 36 minutes than he has since his rookie year. Williamson’s remarks hint at bigger problems that he and the Pelicans will need to solve, opines Will Guillory of The Athletic.
  • Top Pelicans assistant James Borrego assumed head coaching duties on Tuesday vs. Dallas with Willie Green unavailable due to a non-COVID illness (Twitter link). Borrego earned a victory in his first game as head coach since being let go by Charlotte in 2022.

Pelicans’ Valanciunas Talks Trade Rumors, Zion, More

Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas had his name pop up in trade rumors multiple times this offseason. According to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, New Orleans explored the possibility of acquiring a more switchable center, inquiring on players like Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen and Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart. But with training camps just a few weeks away, Valanciunas remains on the roster.

Speaking to Fischer, Valanciunas expressed interest in staying in New Orleans beyond his current deal. And head of basketball operations David Griffin and head coach Willie Green were in Manila on Tuesday to watch the veteran big man play for Lithuania against Montenegro, tweets Donatas Urbonas of BasketNews.com (Griffin and Green will also visit with Team USA’s Brandon Ingram during their trip, Fischer notes).

But with lucrative new contracts for young frontcourt players like Zion Williamson and Herbert Jones on the team’s books beginning this season, extending Valanciunas at a rate anywhere near his current $15.4MM salary might be a long shot, Fischer writes.

If the 31-year-old doesn’t sign an extension with the Pelicans, he’ll likely remain a trade candidate throughout the 2023/24 season, since he’s on an expiring contract. However, he tells Fischer he’s not bothered by the fact that his future is uncertain.

“You can’t be safe all the time and sitting and know where you’re going to be the next day,” Valanciunas said. “You have to expect everything. There’s no hard feelings. Trades happen. It’s not like an unusual thing.”

Here are a few more highlights from Valanciunas’ conversation with Fischer:

On his attempts to develop a three-point shot:

“I don’t want to be stretching out. I want to be a down-low player. My main game is going to be in the paint, always. Set screens, roll hard. Do damage inside on the low post. But when they’re plugging the paint, when they’re rotating, when they’re leaving you alone, being able to knock down a three-point shot, this is what I’m still working on.”

On how good Williamson can be when he’s healthy:

“He has the skill set and the first step, which I feel bad for people who’s guarding him. It’s unbelievable things. When you’re just watching him play, you feel like, ‘Wow, what the f–k is going on?’ His power, his highlights, talk for himself.”

On his post-retirement plans:

“I want to have a feel of basketball, no matter what. Playing, doing some other jobs. Coaching, front office. No matter what, I want to be connected to basketball. So that’s what my next step is gonna be.”

James Borrego To Be Pelicans’ Associate Head Coach

Former Hornets head coach James Borrego will join the Pelicans as associate head coach under Willie Green, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Borrego and Green have worked together before, notes Andrew Lopez of ESPN (Twitter link). Borrego was an assistant in New Orleans when Green played there in 2010/11, and he served as an assistant in Orlando during Green’s final season as an NBA player in 2014/15.

The 45-year-old Borrego was reportedly one of the leading contenders for the Rockets’ head coaching vacancy and was among the candidates the Bucks considered to replace Mike Budenholzer. He drew a lot of interest as an assistant coach as well, with Houston, Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Dallas among the teams that reportedly wanted him to join their staffs.

The Pelicans also considered Kevin Ollie, one of the finalists for the Pistons’ head coaching job, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Ollie is reportedly taking an assistant role on the Nets’ staff.

Jarron Collins, another top candidate for the Detroit vacancy, will also return to Green’s staff for next season, tweets Christian Clark of NOLA.

Borrego spent four years as head coach in Charlotte before being fired in 2022. He compiled a 138-163 record with the Hornets and took the team to two play-in appearances. He also went 10-20 as interim coach of the Magic in 2015.

Pelicans Notes: Injuries, Ingram, Marshall, Green

Injuries to Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson threatened to knock the Pelicans out of the race for the top seed in the West, but the team has found a way to stay competitive, writes William Guillory of The Athletic. New Orleans improved to 6-3 without its top two players after a dominant win in Washington Monday night.

Ingram hasn’t played since November 25 because of a toe injury, and Williamson is dealing with a hamstring strain that will sideline him for at least two more weeks. The injury list got longer Monday when Herbert Jones left the game in the first half with a lower back contusion. CJ McCollum said the team has learned how to be resilient, regardless of who is available.

“We figure it out. We’ve got a lot of injuries. A lot of teams are going through it … It’s the time of year when you feel more fatigued mentally and physically,” McCollum said. “But you go through that process of having to fight through it, having to really push and trust and work. I think we’ve done that all year. For us to be in this position after the injuries we’ve had, it’s a testament to our team, our staff and our development.”

There’s more on the Pelicans:

  • Ingram said over the weekend that he hopes to return sometime during the team’s current road trip, tweets Andrew Lopez of ESPN. New Orleans will be in Boston Wednesday, Detroit Friday and Cleveland next Monday, and it’s not clear which game Ingram is targeting. Coach Willie Green said Ingram hasn’t participated in a full practice since the injury, according to Christian Clark of NOLA.com (Twitter link).
  • Naji Marshall became a believer in Green after watching YouTube clips of his playing career shortly after he was hired as head coach in 2021, Clark notes in a full story. Their bond grew as the Pelicans’ Summer League team posted a 5-0 record, led by Marshall and Jose Alvarado. Even though they weren’t awarded the Summer League title because of point differential, the experience convinced Marshall that Green could produce a winner in New Orleans. “It was major,” Marshall said. “He (Green) was new. He had new players. Really just wanted to show them the way. Was trying to build a foundation of defense first. Playing as hard as you can. We was the champs that year. We weren’t congratulated like we should. But I think we punched everyone in the mouth that summer.”
  • Clark hands out midseason grades for the Pelicans, giving A’s to Marshall, Williamson, Alvarado, Larry Nance Jr. and Dyson Daniels.

Nets’ Vaughn, Pelicans’ Green Named Coaches Of The Month

The Nets Jacque Vaughn and Pelicans Willie Green were named as Coaches of the Month for their respective conferences, the league’s PR department tweets.

Vaughn earned Eastern Conference honors by guiding his club to a 12-1 record in December. Vaughn was named Brooklyn’s head coach on Nov. 9 after Steve Nash‘s early exit. Cleveland’s J.B. Bickerstaff, Indiana’s Rick Carlisle, Orlando’s Jamahl Mosley and Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers were the other nominees, the league’s PR department adds in a separate tweet.

Green, in his second season as head coach, took Western Conference honors by leading New Orleans to a 10-5 record last month. Memphis’ Taylor Jenkins, Dallas’ Jason Kidd and Denver’s Michael Malone were the other Western Conference nominees.

Southwest Notes: Williamson, Popovich, Pelicans, Jackson Jr.

Zion Williamson suffered a right hamstring strain in the second half of the Pelicans’ loss to Philadelphia on Monday. Williamson, who scored 26 points before departing, will undergo some additional evaluation to determine the severity, according to Willie Green, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune tweets.

“That was extremely difficult,” the Pelicans head coach said. “It was at a pivotal moment during the game. We’ll get some imaging and look at him. Hopefully, he’s OK. Tough loss for us.”

Williamson has appeared in 29 Pelicans games this season after sitting out last season with a foot injury.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich says he’ll knows it’s time to retire when he loses his enthusiasm for coaching his team to play the right way, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News tweets. “I think a little voice in my head will tell me, ‘That’s enough.’ If I’m tired of telling somebody, ‘Why are you getting beat back door so much? Can you please stay in front of somebody?’…When I stop wanting to do that, I will know,” he said.
  • Not only do Memphis fans consider their team the real deal, the rest of the league now considers the Grizzlies a true threat, Mark Giannotto of the Memphis Commercial Appeal opines. They emerged from their toughest nine-game stretch of the schedule thus far with a 5-4 record, with those victories coming by double digit margins.
  • Continuing with that storyline, The Athletic’s John Hollinger notes that the Grizzlies’ defense has been top-notch since Jaren Jackson Jr. returned to action. Jackson is blocking 5.8 shots per 100 possessions this season, by far the best in the league, and has been a force on both the perimeter and the paint in coverages.

International Notes: Brown, Basketball Without Borders, World Cup

Former NBA wing Anthony Brown has agreed to terms on a deal with Russian club Unics Kazan, writes Alessandro Maggi of Sportando. A former EuroLeague club, Unics Kazan now competes in the VTB United League.

After being selected with the No. 34 pick by the Lakers in 2015 out of Stanford, Brown bounced the NBA and G League for several seasons. He suited up for the Lakers and their NBAGL affiliate, at the time called the Los Angeles D-Fenders (now the South Bay Lakers), the Magic and their affiliate team the Erie BayHawks/Lakeland Magic, the Timberwolves and their NBAGL club the Iowa Wolves, and the Pelicans. In 41 total NBA games, the 29-year-old has averaged 3.9 PPG and 2.5 RPG across 18.6 MPG.

Brown first headed overseas in 2018, and has since suited up for teams in Serbia, France, Spain, Turkey and Israel. While playing for Maccabi Rishon LeZion in Israel Super League competition last season, the 6’7″ swingman posted averages of 16.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.4 APG and 1.0 SPG, with a shooting line of .465/.396/.821.

Here are more international basketball odds and ends:

  • Several NBA players and coaches will head overseas to take part in a Basketball Without Borders camp set for Cairo, Egypt, per a league press release. The event will run from this Sunday, August 28, through next Wednesday, August 31. Sixty-four of the best boys and girls hailing from 26 African nations, aged 18 and under, will travel to the camp. Jazz center Udoka Azubuike, Magic center Mohamed Bamba, Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon and forward Grant Williams, and retired Hall of Fame center Dikembe Mutombo will be among the camp’s coaches, with Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups, Pelicans head coach Willie Green, Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr., Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch, Bucks associate head coach Charles Lee, and Hornets athletic trainer Quinton Sawyer also participating. The camp’s roster of directors will be pretty star-studded as well, led by Raptors president Masai Ujiri, Cavaliers GM Mike Gansey, and Clippers scout Lance Blanks.
  • With almost exactly one year to go before the 2023 FIBA World Cup tips off, Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press checks in on USA Basketball as the organization ramps up its preparation for the event. The first games in next year’s competition are scheduled to be played on August 25, 2023. Fielding a lineup that features G League and international-caliber American players, Team USA currently has a 6-1 record in the World Cup qualifiers. Next year, Steve Kerr will coach Team USA, featuring a likely-star studded roster. This year, that task falls to former Bulls head coach Jim Boylen. “We’re learning a lot because the NBA game has changed over the last seven or eight years, too,” Sean Ford, the U.S. men’s national team director, said. “There’s much more shotmaking. It’s just unbelievable, incredible the amount of 3-point shots that are taken, the freedom of movement, the flow of the game. But the international game has stayed the physical way.” 
  • Former Thunder swingman Terrance Ferguson has made the jump to overseas play, signing on with Polish team GTK Gliwice. Get full details here.