Zion Williamson

Western Notes: Williamson, Powell, Holmgren

Zion Williamson has spent more time at the Pelicans’ practice facility than in previous seasons, hoping to avoid the injuries that have plagued his NBA career, Andrew Lopez of ESPN said on Zach Lowe’s podcast (video link).

Williamson only appeared in 29 games last season, mainly due to a hamstring injury, after sitting out the previous season with foot ailments.

He’s been doing more with them than he has in the past but again, this is going to come down to health,” Lopez said. “They’ve been doing some different things. trying to get him ready. I know that’s been a focus for him and his family, getting his lower body ready to play more than 30 games in a season. … something he’s only done once in his NBA career.”

Ideally, Williamson would suit up in at least 65 games, which would make him eligible for postseason awards.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Mavericks big man Dwight Powell is proud of what Team Canada accomplished in the FIBA World Cup, he told Eddie Sefko of Mavs.com. Canada not only qualified for the Olympics, but received a bronze medal for beating Team USA in the third-place game. “We have a really good group of guys – more guys than went to the World Cup that played a big role in qualifying us for the World Cup and eventually the Olympics,” Powell said. “We had a really good, committed group of guys that had a lot of pride and got the job done. It was a long time coming. And then to be able to medal in the World Cup at the same time is huge. So it was a great summer.”
  • There’s plenty for the much improved Thunder to look forward to in the upcoming season, according to Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman, who lists 23 things for fans to get excited about. At the top of the list is Chet Holmgren‘s debut after missing last season with a foot injury.
  • The Mavericks are interested in Buddy Hield but there hasn’t been much movement in trade talks with the Pacers. Get the details here.

Pelicans’ Griffin: Player Health Has Been Offseason Focus

The Pelicans were vying for the top seed in the Western Conference during the first half of the 2022/23 campaign before injuries to forwards Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram derailed their season, which ended in a play-in tournament loss.

New Orleans didn’t make major changes to its roster this offseason, but head of basketball operations David Griffin said on Tuesday that the team didn’t want to just sit back and hope for better health luck going forward. Instead, the Pelicans proactively explored new strategies to try to keep their players off the injured list.

“What we tried to do this offseason was not sit there and say, ‘Wow, if we could just be healthy, we could be really good,'” Griffin said, per Christian Clark of NOLA.com. “Because hope is not a plan. But Mrs. (Gayle) Benson (the Pelicans’ team owner) gave us the financial bandwidth to address this in different ways. We came at it from the medical side. We did some very different things there.”

As Clark has previously reported, New Orleans’ sports and performance team will no longer be led by Aaron Nelson, who was let go this summer. The Pelicans have yet to formally announce the changes made to that team. However, according to Clark, Griffin said on Tuesday that the club has hired a physical therapist and that several players have stayed in town during the offseason to focus on entering the season in the best possible condition.

“I can tell you Zion Williamson has been in our gym more than he has in his entire career in the offseason,” Griffin said. “He has been in New Orleans virtually all offseason, which is different.”

Williamson has spoken this summer about dedicating more time and effort to his conditioning and maintaining healthy eating habits. Griffin’s comments on Tuesday suggested that he noticed a change in the commitment level of the former No. 1 overall pick.

“For us, we have certainly learned over the years what we think works and doesn’t work. But a huge part of that is incumbent on him. A huge part of that is, ‘Is he willing to do what it takes to be successful?’” Griffin said. “I think oftentimes, the people you put around a player are judged for their lack of effectiveness when in reality not everyone is giving the same amount. He has reached a point where he recognizes that and is embracing doing his part.”

As Clark observes, Williamson and Ingram have played just 93 games together since they became teammates in 2019, including only 12 last season. Significantly increasing that number in 2023/24 may be the key to contention for the Pelicans.

“We know we have a group that is talented enough,” Griffin said. “We have a group that has the ability. That has the bones of being a good team. What we also know is we haven’t found a way to put it all together. I think what we need to do is continue to work towards that. And if we get to a point where we’re not going to be able to move forward with the group we have, I feel like we are really blessed from an ownership standpoint. There won’t be an impediment to making us better.”

Southwest Notes: Brooks, Smart, Spurs, Player Participation

The Rockets and Grizzlies made some of the splashiest moves of the summer, with Houston inking Dillon Brooks to a four-year deal worth up to $90MM and Memphis trading for longtime Celtic Marcus Smart. The Athletic’s Kelly Iko takes a closer look at both team’s additions and what fans can expect from each player.

Brooks’ play in the first round of the playoffs left much to be desired, as he averaged 10.5 points on 31.2% shooting. That led to some questions surrounding the large sum of his contract, but the Rockets knew what they were getting in the veteran forward, according to Iko.

Houston’s defensive rating hasn’t ranked above 27th in the league in the past three seasons and Brooks, a talented perimeter defender, will help address that concern, Iko writes. Brooks’ stint with the Canadian National Team at the World Cup also showed glimpses of what he can be, and he could end up having success in isolation on offense, according to Iko.

As for Smart and the Grizzlies, Iko writes that it’s a match made in heaven in terms of approach and attitude, with Smart pairing nicely with the “grit and grind” mentality of Memphis. He’s a proven commodity on the defensive end and had a career year distributing the ball last year (6.3 APG) and should help fill the void left by Tyus Jones (traded) and Ja Morant (suspension).

Iko also takes a look at what he expects Memphis’ rotation to look like to begin the year, with Smart starting next to Desmond Bane, David Roddy, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Steven Adams in his exercise. Derrick Rose, Luke Kennard, John Konchar, Santi Aldama and Xavier Tillman would be the first five off the bench in that scenario.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • After waiving Cameron Payne, the Spurs have 17 players under guaranteed standard contracts, two over the regular season limit of 15. San Antonio Express-News’ Jeff McDonald is not expecting any more players to be waived before training camps begin, suggesting that the plan is to have all 17 compete for a spot (Twitter link). Cedi Osman, Khem Birch, Devonte’ Graham and Charles Bassey are among the players who could be the odd men out.
  • The NBA’s new rules on player participation and resting stars will greatly benefit fans who want to come see their favorite star players, writes Rod Walker of NOLA.com. Walker points to the fact that Golden State superstar Stephen Curry hasn’t played in Smoothie King Arena (the home of the Pelicans) since the end of the 2020/21 season, meaning Warriors fans in New Orleans haven’t been able to see their favorite players for several years. The star players affected by this policy must have been named to an All-Star Game or All-NBA Team in the last three seasons, meaning Zion Williamson is subject to the rule but Brandon Ingram is not. Ingram, or any other New Orleans player, would be affected if they were named to an All-Star Game this upcoming season.
  • In case you missed it, the Rockets are attempting to trade Kevin Porter Jr. before training camp.

Southwest Notes: Porter Jr., Murphy, Williamson

Kevin Porter Jr.‘s NBA career could be over, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Appearing on the NBA on ESPN show (YouTube video link), Wojnarowski noted that the serious allegations against the Rockets guard, plus his past issues, have put his career in jeopardy.

“There’s no question, Kevin Porter‘s future, not just with the Rockets, but in the NBA, is very much in peril,” he said. “These are extremely serious allegations.”

Porter was arrested in New York City on felony charges involving a domestic incident with his girlfriend. The alleged attack on his girlfriend left her with a fractured neck vertebra and a deep cut above her right eye.

The league could place him on administrative leave until its investigation into the incident is complete.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Sports injury expert Jeff Stotts believes the biggest issue regarding Trey Murphy‘s meniscus tear is the possibility of re-injury in the future, William Guillory of The Athletic writes. The Pelicans wing will now be at an increased risk for future meniscus problems, Stotts told Guillory in a Q&A season discussing the injury and the recovery process. Murphy underwent surgery for a partially torn left meniscus last week with a projected timeline of 10-12 weeks to return to action.
  • Zion Williamson‘s health will be the key to the Pelicans’ season, according to Shaun Powell of NBA.com. The team is built around him and another injury-riddled season could test New Orleans’ patience regarding its current franchise player.
  • In case you missed it, the Spurs waived Cameron Payne on Monday. Get the details here.

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.

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.”

Pelicans Notes: Williamson, Ingram, Alvarado, Lewis

William Guillory and John Hollinger of The Athletic take stock of where things stand for the Pelicans entering 2023/24, with both writers noting that it will be a critical season for the organization.

New Orleans doesn’t have much choice but to see whether or not a core of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram can be successful together, according to Hollinger, despite the duo only playing 12 games together over the past two seasons. However, he would seriously consider trading one of them next summer if the team has another disappointing season.

As Guillory points out, the Pelicans will be facing salary cap difficulties in both the short and long term, so the pressure entering ’23/24 will be much higher than in previous years. Finding a replacement at center for Jonas Valanciunas, who is entering the final year of his contract, should be a priority going forward if the team doesn’t plan to retain him, according to both authors.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • Technology company Ankr PBC has filed a civil lawsuit against Williamson, his stepfather and his mother, writes Brett Martel of The Associated Press. The lawsuit alleges Williamson and his family failed to pay back $1.8MM of a $2MM loan. Ankr had hoped Williamson would be a spokesperson for the company, with his stepfather, Lee Anderson, serving as his representative during negotiations, per Martel. Anderson is the person who requested the loan a couple years ago, the lawsuit states.
  • Jose Alvarado is still recovering from the stress reaction in his right tibia, which he sustained in February, and the injury will prevent him from representing Puerto Rico during the upcoming World Cup, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN. Pelicans sources tell Lopez that the move is precautionary, but it certainly seems somewhat problematic that a recent MRI indicated Alvarado’s tibia isn’t fully healed after five months. The point guard’s minimum-salary contract for 2023/24 is fully non-guaranteed, as we noted earlier today. That’s not to say he’s in any danger of being released — prior to going down with the leg injury, he was a regular part of the Pelicans’ rotation, averaging 9.0 points, 3.0 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 21.5 minutes per night (61 games).
  • Former lottery pick Kira Lewis remains a trade candidate worth monitoring, per Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, who notes that dumping Lewis’ salary would take New Orleans out of luxury tax territory. The 22-year-old returned from a torn ACL last season, averaging 4.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in limited action (9.4 minutes per night in 25 games).

Southwest Notes: Collins, Wembanyama, Green, Wood, Williamson

Spurs big man Zach Collins believes the team’s league-worst defense will instantly improve next season with the addition of Victor Wembanyama, he told Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. “If he was just that tall and he wasn’t good at basketball, we would be better defensively,” Collins said. “But the fact that he is obviously very smart on defense and uses his length really well, it’s going to be so much better for us.”

Wembanyama had eight blocks in the first two Spurs’ Summer League games. “I think it will give our guards so much more confidence to get up and pressure guys knowing we have him back there,” Collins said.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Mavericks are expected to engage in rookie scale contract extension talks with Josh Green, according to Marc Stein in a Substack article. The two sides had an agreement that they would begin talks later in free agency. Green will be a restricted free agent next summer if an extension is not reached.
  • In the same piece, Stein reports the Mavericks would have some interest in doing a sign-and-trade deal involving Christian Wood but only if they get a player they really want in return. They are already hard-capped and would be in some danger of surpassing the luxury tax threshold if they bring in another non-minimum player, which would give them pause regarding a Wood sign-and-trade.
  • Pelicans VP of basketball operations David Griffin claims his team never discussed a Zion Williamson trade this offseason. “We never had a single (trade) conversation that Zion was part of,” Griffin said on a SiriusXM NBA Radio interview (hat tip to RealGM). Griffin also said there’s no disconnect between Williamson and the franchise. “I would say that it’s as good as it’s ever been,” Griffin said of Williamson’s relationship with the team.

Southwest Notes: G. Williams, Curry, Zion, Green

Grant Williams is excited about his new start with the Mavericks, but he didn’t enjoy the process that got him there, writes Eddie Sefko of Mavs.com. As a restricted free agent, he had to wait for offers while many of his peers got their new contracts right away. The sign-and-trade that sent Williams from Boston to Dallas didn’t become official until Wednesday.

“Very difficult. Restricted free agency is terrible,” Williams said. “Unrestricted, you have a good understanding of where you want to go, but restricted, you’re pretty much in a waiting game. You want to make sure you understand what the offers are, but also understand that teams might match or a team might be asking for more than another team is willing to give. It’s definitely an interesting process. I still think free agency is a little bit fun, but also a little bit nerve-wracking.”

Williams has been spending the last few days meeting his new coaches and teammates and getting an idea of what they expect from him this season. He’s close to getting the splint off his left hand after having surgery in June for a torn ligament.

“It’s going great,” he said of his recovery. “I should be out of it (the protective splint) in four days, five days. So pretty much back to the court and moving from then on.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Seth Curry‘s new contract with the Mavericks is non-guaranteed in the second season, tweets Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Dallas used its mid-level exception to sign Curry, who will have cap hits of $4MM in each season, instead of its $4.5MM bi-annual exception as originally anticipated, adds Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype (Twitter link). That leaves the Mavs with the bi-annual exception still intact and $5.4MM of their MLE remaining, according to Gozlan.
  • Zion Williamson‘s statements about accountability during a recent podcast appearance with Gilbert Arenas are an encouraging sign for the Pelicans, observes Rod Walker of NOLA. He notes that Williamson is only 23 and still has time to establish himself as a reliable player.
  • Jalen Green has been through a lot of losing during his first two years with the Rockets, but he believes the team is headed for a turnaround after its offseason moves, writes Michael Shapiro of The Houston Chronicle. Houston started the offseason with a coaching change, landed two projected lottery players in the draft and then upgraded its defense and experience with a series of moves in free agency. “I’m excited about what’s going to happen with us,” Green said. “We got Ime (Udoka), we got a whole bunch of vets, we got young talent. The sky’s the limit right now.” 

Southwest Notes: Cissoko, Spurs, Zion, Griffin, Rockets

No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama has understandably drawn much of the attention in San Antonio, but fellow Spurs rookie Sidy Cissoko has been impressive in Summer League as well, writes Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News (subscriber link).

The young French forward was the 44th overall pick of last month’s draft and isn’t known as a top scorer, but he knows he can still impact the game.

I know I am a rookie and a second-round pick, so I know I won’t get 20 shots a game,” he said. “I am just trying to do my best with my defense and try to help the team in other ways. I know my role. I know what to do.”

At 6’7″ and 225 pounds, the 19-year-old can be a real deterrent defensively, according to Orsborn, and he’s also a creative play-maker. Cissoko averaged 12.8 points, 3.5 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.0 block on .457/.304/.645 shooting in 28 games last season with the G League Ignite (29.3 minutes).

I just try to help the team first with my defense,” Cissoko added. “You can get minutes playing defense. When you play defense, the offense will come along.”

Here’s more from the Southwest:

  • The Spurs are contemplating building a new arena in downtown San Antonio in order to showcase Wembanyama, sources tell Greg Jefferson and Madison Iszler of The San Antonio Express-News (subscription required). As the two writers detail, the Spurs’ lease on their current arena, the AT&T Center, expires in 2032. However, it needs renovations and there’s belief that a downtown arena would generate revenue for the county, though it would also leave the current arena vacant. The Holt family owns the Spurs, and it also owns a stake in the San Antonio Missions, a Double-A baseball team. The idea would be to put a potential new stadium for the Missions next to the Spurs’, with bars surrounding both, according to The Express-News.
  • Top Pelicans executive David Griffin is hopeful Zion Williamson is on the right track this summer after being plagued with injuries over his first four seasons, according to Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com. “I think first of all he’s trying to do the right things,” Griffin said. “I think when you start from that place, that’s good. He’s got incredible potential to be sort of game-changing for even the league as a whole. But at the same time the volatility around the injury situation has been really severe. So at this point it’s going to be a function of how can we get him in the best place to succeed, and what’s he willing to do to ensure that happens? And I think right now his head’s in the right place, and we’ll just have to hope for the best.” Griffin also discussed the team’s offseason moves, among other topics.
  • The Clippers recently acquired Kenyon Martin Jr. in a trade with the Rockets, and he had nothing but good things to say about his time in Houston in a thank you message on Twitter.