Zion Williamson

Western Notes: Griffin, Williamson, Morant, Grizzlies, Wolves

Pelicans star Zion Williamson is eligible to sign a contract extension with the team this summer, but executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin admitted that negotiations could be challenging, as relayed by Christian Clark of NOLA.com.

“Obviously, that conversation is going to be one that will be a challenge,” Griffin said. “When it’s time to have that, we’ll have it. And right now what we’re focused on is him being healthy, and (being in) kind of elite condition to play basketball, and we’ll start there.”

Clark explores what Griffin could’ve meant by using the word “challenge”, noting that Williamson has dealt with multiple injuries since being drafted. Williamson expressed optimism about staying in New Orleans last month, but he’s only appeared in 85 games across three seasons with the team.

Here are some other notes from the Western Conference:

  • Speaking of contract extensions, Grizzlies star Ja Morant is eager to sign one with the team this offseason, as shared by Evan Barnes of the Memphis Commercial Appeal (video link). Morant is coming off a career-best season, averaging 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game. “I’m definitely happy to be here. Memphis is my home,” Morant said, later offering a “hell yeah” to whether he wants to stay longterm.
  • Morant is also hoping to avoid offseason surgery on his knee, as relayed by the Memphis Commerical Appeal. The 22-year-old suffered a bone bruise in Game 3 of the team’s second-round series against Golden State. He didn’t play for the rest of the series.
  • The Timberwolves have hired Steve Senior as assistant general manager, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Minnesota declined to pick up the option in former assistant GM Gianluca Pascucci‘s contract. Senior previously worked in the Grizzlies’ front office.

Southwest Notes: Hardaway, Brunson, Zion, Grizzlies

Mavericks swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to recover from the surgically repaired fractured left foot that caused him to miss nearly half of the 2021/22 regular season and all of Dallas’ first-round 4-2 defeat of the Jazz. It certainly doesn’t sound like Hardaway will return in time for these playoffs — he has yet to be cleared to run, per Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News (Twitter link).

“He’s shooting the ball, but from my eye, he hasn’t done any running or anything yet,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said in discussing Hardaway’s progress. “So that’s more of a medical question, but right now he’s out.” 

Dallas has officially announced (Twitter link) that Hardaway will miss the first game of the Mavericks’ second-round matchup against the Suns. Across 42 healthy contests for the Dallas, the 6’5″ shooting guard out of Michigan averaged 14.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG and 2.2 APG this season, on .394/.336/.757 shooting splits.

There’s more out of the Southwest:

  • A left calf strain to Mavericks All-Star Luka Doncic allowed his starting backcourt mate Jalen Brunson to step up his own offensive game, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News. Brunson has earned rave reviews from his former Villanova teammate Mikal Bridges, whose Suns will face off against Brunson’s Mavericks in their upcoming second-round matchup starting Monday. “He’s been hooping all year,” Bridges enthused. “When Luka went out and he had to step up, he was ready for it. “I’m watching games and I could . . . just tell. I know what shots he’s going to make. I just know. I know how talented he is and how hard he works and how much of a dog he is.” While with Villanova, Bridges and Brunson won two NCAA titles.
  • Pelicans team president David Griffin acknowledged that forthcoming contract extension discussions with 2021 All-Star forward Zion Williamson may not be easy, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. The Pelicans will have the ability to offer Williamson a maximum extension worth up to 25% of the salary cap, with 8% yearly raises. “Obviously, that conversation is going to be one that will be a challenge,” Griffin said. “When it’s time to have that, we’ll have it. And right now what we’re focused on is him being healthy, and (being in) kind of elite condition to play basketball and we’ll start there.” Williamson recently indicated he hoped to remain with the Pelicans and get a deal done. Injuries have limited Williamson to just 85 healthy games across his three seasons of NBA action. The No. 1 overall pick out of Duke in 2019 has been quite productive when available, with career averages of 25.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 3.2 APG and 0.9 APG.
  • The Grizzlies, currently in the midst of their first playoff game against the Warriors in a 2-3 second-round matchup, might have a “death lineup” of their own, writes Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian. All-Star point guard Ja Morant, breakout second-year shooting guard Desmond Bane, swingman Dillon Brooks, forward Brandon Clarke, and big man Jaren Jackson Jr. could give the Warriors’ ultra-small, shooting-heavy lineups plenty of trouble in their first-round matchup.

Pelicans Notes: Nance, Griffin, McCollum, Zion

Larry Nance Jr. hasn’t enjoyed much stability in his seven-year NBA career, but he hopes to find it with the Pelicans, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Nance was a perfect fit in New Orleans after being acquired from the Trail Blazers in February, and with one year left on his contract, he’s hoping for an extension.

Willie (Green) is my eighth head coach,” Nance said. “I have had seven different general managers. I am so tired of it. This organization has been incredible since I got here. The people are great. The fan base is incredible. I would love to make this a permanent stay. But again, that’s not up to me.”

The first order of business for Nance after the trade was arthroscopic surgery to fix his right knee, which kept him sidelined until late March. Clark notes that Nance was much more explosive when he resumed playing.

“The little piece of meniscus in my knee was bothering me for the past few years,” Nance said. “I didn’t even realize it. Getting that cleaned up and cleaned out and getting to play that last stretch of games was fully healthy was great. I still feel great. My body is in a great place right now.”

There’s more from New Orleans:

  • The Pelicans have 14 players under contract for next season, but there are some important decisions to make this offseason, Clark adds. CJ McCollum, who came to New Orleans in the same deal as Nance, will also be eligible for an extension, and the team has to figure out whether to make a maximum extension offer to Zion Williamson. Executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said those situations will be addressed and called it “a real blessing” that all three players want to remain with the Pelicans.
  • McCollum attracted headlines at the All-Star break when he said that he hadn’t been able to speak with Williamson, who was working out away from the team. On Friday, Williamson offered an explanation, tweets Andrew Lopez of ESPN. “Honestly, I was focused on rehabbing around that time,” he said. “I texted CJ shortly after to apologize about that. Like I said, I was mentally not in a good space. Mr. McCollum, he was cool about it.”
  • Williamson’s comments at Friday’s media session that he still wants a future in New Orleans were exactly what the organization needed to hear, contends Rod Walker of NOLA.com, as Williamson did his best to silence persistent speculation that he would rather be in a bigger market. “I can’t control rumors and how people feel about certain things,” Williamson said. “I said this in my interview with (Pelicans TV announcer) Antonio (Daniels). Anybody who knows me, knows I want to be here. If they feel otherwise, I can’t help that. But if you know me, you know I want to be here.”

Zion Williamson Enthusiastic About Potential Extension With Pelicans

Asked during his end-of-season media session on Friday about the possibility of signing a rookie scale extension with the Pelicans when he becomes eligible this offseason, forward Zion Williamson expressed enthusiasm, tweets William Guillory of The Athletic.

Of course,” Williamson said. “I couldn’t sign it fast enough.”

[RELATED: Players Eligible For Rookie Scale Extensions In 2022]

There are a couple caveats worth noting here. For one, it’s not uncommon for a player speaking to reporters to express platitudes about wanting to sign a contract extension with a team and for that deal not to ultimately materialize.

It also seems likely that Williamson is talking about a maximum-salary contract offer, or something close to the max, rather than suggesting he’d accept any offer the Pelicans put in front of him.

No player eligible for a rookie scale extension has ever turned down a maximum-salary offer, but given that Zion missed the entire 2021/22 season due to a foot injury and has appeared in just 85 games since entering the league in 2019, putting a max deal on the table won’t be an automatic decision for the Pelicans.

Still, Williamson’s comment is noteworthy since there has been ongoing speculation about whether or not he’s committed to New Orleans for the long term. This is a promising sign that he’s not looking for an exit ramp.

As we noted earlier today, the Pelicans’ impressive second-half performance and tough playoff battle with the NBA-best Suns will strengthen their case when they enter negotiations with Williamson this summer — adding the former Duke star to the mix would make New Orleans one of the most intriguing teams in the West.

According to Andrew Lopez of ESPN (Twitter link), Williamson said today that he felt like he could’ve returned from his foot injury and played at the end of the season, but the coaching staff and front office ultimately decided that holding him out of action was the right call for the sake of his career longevity.

Pelicans Notes: Offseason, Jones, Murphy, Alvarado, Zion

When the Pelicans got off to a 1-12 start this season, it looked like the team was headed for another lottery finish and some difficult offseason questions. Instead, New Orleans managed to turn things around, earned a playoff berth via the play-in tournament, and gave the NBA-best Suns all they could handle in the first round of the playoffs.

“To get to the playoffs, we continued to believe in ourselves. Continued to get better, believing in this organization,” Brandon Ingram said after Thursday’s Game 6 loss, according to Will Guillory of The Athletic. “New coach. New players. Figuring it out so fast. You don’t think about it in the moment because we just lost, but we definitely came a long way from the beginning of the season.”

As Guillory writes, the first-round loss to Phoenix was a tough one, given how competitive the Pelicans made the series (they were outscored by a total margin of 668-659 across six games). But after laying a strong foundation of young talent, the franchise looks poised to remain competitive and continue improving in the coming years.

There are still some pressing offseason questions facing the Pelicans, with both Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes eligible for rookie scale extensions, but all of the team’s young players are under contract for 2022/23, Guillory notes. And while there has been plenty of speculation about Williamson’s long-term commitment to New Orleans, the team couldn’t have done much more this spring to make him want to be part of the future.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • The Pelicans wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did this season without the contributions they received from a trio of unheralded rookies, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN, who spotlights Herbert Jones, Trey Murphy, and Jose Alvarado. Jones emerged as a legitimate All-Defensive candidate, Murphy knocked down 38.2% of his three-point attempts, and Alvarado provided energy and hustle plays off the bench. All three players are under contract for multiple years going forward.
  • In his Pelicans offseason preview, ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) examines the big decision the team must make on a potential Williamson extension and points out that veterans like CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. will be extension-eligible this summer as well.
  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype also looks ahead to the Williamson contract negotiations and the other key roster decisions facing the Pelicans this summer. As Gozlan writes, New Orleans doesn’t have much breathing room below the projected luxury tax line, which will affect the club’s ability to make full use of its mid-level exception.

Southwest Notes: McCollum, Pelicans, Spurs, Rockets

The Pelicans still have to win one more game in Los Angeles on Friday night in order to secure a playoff spot, but veteran guard CJ McCollum expressed confidence after New Orleans’ first play-in win over San Antonio on Wednesday that the team is pointed in the right direction in both the short- and long-term.

“This is the start of something special, for sure,” McCollum said, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN. “You see the energy. Feel the energy. My mother is in town; I have some family in town. When we go out to eat, you can feel the city is excited about basketball, as they should [be]. There’s a lot of talent here. We’re playing the game the right way. It’s going to be a lot of winning in our future.”

If the Pelicans can clinch the No. 8 seed, they’d be significant underdogs against the NBA-best Suns, with Zion Williamson still not expected to be available, so their playoff run could be brief. Still, McCollum is optimistic about what the future holds, according to Lopez, who writes that the 30-year-old says he plans to visit Williamson and other teammates at their houses this offseason to get to know them better.

“I think that’s how you build chemistry,” McCollum said. “That’s how you build cohesiveness.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Herbert Jones may not get any Rookie of the Year votes, but the first-year Pelicans forward helped spark a defensive turnaround in New Orleans this season, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com.
  • In his latest Substack article, Marc Stein says his best read on the Spurs‘ coaching situation is that Celtics assistant Will Hardy – who was formerly an assistant in San Antonio – could be at the front of the line to succeed Gregg Popovich if the longtime Spurs coach decides to step down this offseason.
  • After being named the G League MVP for 2021/22, Rockets two-way player Trevelin Queen also took home the Finals MVP award, averaging 34.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and 3.5 APG on 56.1% shooting in a pair of Rio Grande Valley Vipers victories over the Delaware Blue Coats. Danielle Lerner of The Houston Chronicle takes a closer look at Queen’s path to the NBA and explores what’s next for him. “I got emotional (signing a two-way contract earlier this season) because I’ve been waiting my whole life, but I just know there’s more work to do,” Queen said. “I know I can do more than the two-way, so I just want to let them know.”
  • In a mailbag for The Athletic, Kelly Iko answers readers’ questions about the Rockets‘ long-term view of a Jalen Green/Kevin Porter Jr. backcourt, the prospects Houston should target with Brooklyn’s first-round pick, and which free agents might be of interest to the team.

Zion Williamson Wouldn’t Be Ready For First-Round Series

The Pelicans won’t have Zion Williamson available if they advance to Friday’s play-in game or even a first-round series against the Suns, the team told Cassidy Hubbarth of ESPN (hat tip to RealGM).

Williamson hasn’t been ruled out for the season, but a Pelicans spokesperson informed Hubbarth that “a return to play is not imminent.”

Williamson, who hasn’t played since having offseason surgery on a fracture in his right foot, raised some eyebrows with a 360 dunk during warm-ups before tonight’s game (video link). Although he looked as explosive as ever, the Pelicans don’t believe he’s ready for game action.

The No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft has advanced to the point in rehab where he can participate in controlled scrimmages with teammates and assistant coaches. There has been hope among Pelicans fans that he could return to boost the team’s playoff chances, but tonight’s report makes that seem unlikely unless New Orleans can somehow win a series or two.

Pelicans Notes: McCollum, Zion, Valanciunas, Ingram

New Pelicans lead guard CJ McCollum is looking to elevate his own game and help facilitate a bigger transition in the team’s overall mentality, per Will Guillory of The Athletic.

“They needed more leadership, more guidance,” McCollum said about the state of his New Orleans teammates once he arrived on the team via trade in February. “But they also needed a guy who can really hoop. I thought I could be the perfect fit… It was kind of a blessing in disguise. I could come to a place where I was needed, but it was also a place where I could show everything I have to offer.”

McCollum, who has emerged as the club’s lead ball-handler, is averaging 24.3 PPG, 5.8 APG and 4.5 RPG across his 26 regular season games for the Pelicans this season. Guillory notes that McCollum is scoring at an efficient clip, connecting on 49.3% of his field goals and 39.4% of his three-point attempts.

“I think it’s about shifting the culture here,” McCollum said of his leadership role with the club. “I think the way New Orleans is viewed is a certain way, and when I leave it’ll be different… When my time is up and I walk away, people will view this place differently and they’ll view me differently.”

There’s more out of New Orleans:

  • If Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson, who has missed the entire 2021/22 season with a right foot fracture, can return to the floor for New Orleans during 2022/23, the team would boast one of the best starting lineups in its history, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Starting point guard CJ McCollum would be joined by current rookie Herbert Jones on the wing, 2020 All-Star Brandon Ingram at small forward, Williamson at power forward and big man Jonas Valanciunas.
  • All-Star guard Dejounte Murray and the Spurs consider Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas to be a significant cause of concern for Wednesday’s play-in game, writes Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. “He’s a monster,” Murray said. “I’m actually a big fan of his.” Orsborn notes that Valanciunas proved a formidable foe during the 2021 play-in tournament, when he scored 23 points and pulled down 23 rebounds with the Grizzlies as part of a 120-116 win over the Spurs. “He’s a big, smart, talented guy. You don’t just plan for (McCollum and Ingram), you’ve got to plan for him as well.”
  • High-scoring Pelicans wing Brandon Ingram is looking to prioritize team success over his individual numbers on the eve of the team’s play-in contest against the Spurs, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. “It’s not an individual game,” Ingram said. “I know San Antonio is going to know everything that we’re going to be doing. We’re going to game plan for them. It’s going to be a physical game — emotional — but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Southwest Notes: Morant, Williamson, Pelicans, LeBron

Ja Morant got the pre-playoff tuneup he wanted tonight, playing 27 minutes as the Grizzlies raced past the Pelicans, writes Drew Hill of The Daily Memphian. After missing more than three weeks with soreness in his right knee, the dynamic guard showed little sign of rust as he put up 21 points, nine assists and four rebounds with a few highlight plays mixed in.

“It’s something I’ve been waiting on since March 18,” Morant said. “… I had a lot of fun. I’m just preparing for this stretch we are about to go on in the playoffs. I feel like I needed a game or two to get my legs back under and get a game feel.”

Morant didn’t shy away from contact, Hill adds, as he repeatedly drove into the heart of the New Orleans defense. That’s something coach Taylor Jenkins wanted to see after Morant spent so much time away from NBA conditions.

“There’s nothing comparable (to game action),” Jenkins said. “You can’t fill out. It’s hard to get 10 NBA bodies out there to simulate games for him (in practice). The physicality, the speed, it’s a great tuneup. It’s your natural ramp up, one-on-zero, one-on-one, three-on-three, five-on-five, but nothing replaces NBA games.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Zion Williamson was able to take part in what Pelicans coach Willie Green called a “controlled scrimmage” on Thursday, but his prospects of returning remain uncertain, per Andrew Lopez of ESPN. After ending the regular season Sunday night, New Orleans will be in Wednesday’s 9-10 play-in game and will need to defeat the Spurs to avoid elimination, so the time for Williamson to come back is running short. “The beauty of it is that it’s good to see him on the floor,” Green said. “I think he’s feeling more normal, the fact that he gets to play basketball. That’s what he wants to do. That’s what he loves to do. We just want him to get as healthy as he can and continue to progress in that way.”
  • The Lakers‘ late-season slide has increased the chances that the Pelicans will receive their first-round pick, tweets Christian Clark of NOLA.com. There’s now a 99.6% chance that the selection will fall in the top 10 and be conveyed to New Orleans. The pick would go to the Grizzlies if it lands outside the top 10.
  • The chances of LeBron James leaving the Lakers to team up with Luka Doncic on the Mavericks down the road should be considered remote but not impossible, contends Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News.

Southwest Notes: Alvarado, Ingram, Zion, Bates-Diop, Spurs Picks

Jose Alvarado has had an eventful rookie season for the Pelicans. He started his NBA career undrafted after four seasons at Georgia Tech, then signed a two-way deal with New Orleans.

The 23-year-old rarely played in the first few months of the season, but made a significant impact when he did, so coach Willie Green started playing him more and the front office took notice — Alvarado was promoted to a four-year, $6.5MM contract last week, with the final two seasons being non-guaranteed.

Alvarado recently spoke to William Guillory of The Athletic about a number of topics. Here are a couple highlights from the interview.

On his new contract:

“It’s amazing. When I found out the deal was happening and I’m officially signing, it was like another dream come true. It was another step for me as I’m continuing to go after my dreams. It was something you can’t really picture or put words to because it’s all you’ve ever dreamed of doing your whole life. When it did happen, all I could do was sit back and thank God. It just felt like something out of a movie.”

On his incredible steals numbers (if he qualified, he’d lead the league in steal percentage and steals per 36 minutes):

“I’ve always felt like defense is 90 percent heart. The other 10 percent you get from developing skill, having length, all that other stuff. With me, I just take every possession personal. I’m not the guy they bring up when they talk about great defensive players, but I’m gonna make sure I am soon enough. It’s more about the mindset.

“I’m not sure I’m eligible for NBA All-Defense or anything like that, but I want to be in that category. I feel like I’m in that category as one of those best defenders, even though I’m a rookie.”

It’s an interesting read and worth checking out in full if you’re an Athletic subscriber.

Here’s more from the Southwest:

  • The Pelicans guaranteed themselves a spot in the play-in tournament by beating the Kings on Tuesday night, Guillory writes in a separate article. Brandon Ingram is excited for what the team can show once they get Zion Williamson back in action. “When you look at it on paper, it’s exciting. It’s like, ‘OK, we added CJ (McCollum). If you throw the big fella in there, it’s going to be serious,'” Ingram told The Athletic. “We’re just monitoring him as he continues to go through his rehab and do more work. It’s good to have him back. It looks like he’s having fun around the guys. It’s good to have him around.”
  • After defeating the Nuggets on Tuesday, the Spurs are also guaranteed a spot in the play-in, and Keita Bates-Diop‘s versatility has proven to be valuable, according to Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “I am big and long enough to play most positions and I know how to play,” Bates-Diop said. “It’s not just the size. It’s knowing the coverages, knowing one through five. I am knowledgeable about a bunch of different things, so they trust me out there at the five.”
  • The Raptors have earned a playoff berth, which means the Spurs now hold three first-round picks in the 2022 draft, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link). The Spurs acquired the lottery-protected pick in the deal that sent Thaddeus Young to the Raptors. The Spurs own Toronto’s pick, Boston’s pick (via the Derrick White trade), and their own.