Zion Williamson

Southwest Notes: Morant, Zion, Valanciunas, Rockets

Don’t count on Grizzlies guard Ja Morant joining the list of NBA stars who have become disgruntled with their circumstances and sought a way out, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. As Vardon details, Morant is thrilled with his situation in Memphis, and all signs point to him signing a long-term maximum-salary extension once he becomes eligible in the summer of 2022.

“I love everything about it,” Morant said of playing for the Grizzlies and living in Memphis. “I feel like this is my home, from the front office down, the fans, the community. Everybody brought me in and made me feel like family, and me and my family couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Morant – who advocated for the Grizzlies to extend Jaren Jackson Jr. this offseason, per Vardon – believes the Grizzlies already have enough talent to become a viable championship contender. And the young point guard is looking forward to competing for a title in Memphis rather than jumping ship to do so elsewhere.

“Me, I’m not a big fan on the leaving,” Morant said.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report takes a deep dive into the Zion Williamson situation in New Orleans, noting that teams around the NBA will be keeping a close eye on the Pelicans‘ relationship with their star forward. Williamson’s weight and his reaction to potentially playing on a minutes limit when he returns from his foot injury will be worth monitoring, according to Fischer, who notes that the star forward “reached north of 300 pounds” during the offseason and bristled in his rookie year at playing in limited bursts following his return from a knee injury.
  • After signing a two-year contract extension with the Pelicans on Wednesday, center Jonas Valanciunas explained why he was willing to commit to the team before playing in a regular season game, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. “From a coaching standpoint, they understand me and what I do,” Valanciunas said. “My teammates, good teammates. They welcomed me. The organization was great talking to me and helping me out. They made it seem like I’ve been here a long time. I wanted to come back.”
  • Ahead of their regular season opener, the youthful Rockets were enthusiastic about embracing the challenge ahead, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Following a blowout loss in Minnesota on Wednesday, they have a better sense of what that challenge entails, Feigen writes. “It’s the NBA. It’s grown men,” rookie Jalen Green said of the physicality he experienced in his regular season debut. “I’m 19 years old. It’s not high school any more. It’s the real league, a man’s league.”

Southwest Notes: Jackson, Nwaba, Zion, Luka

The lucrative four-year, $105MM rookie extension that power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. signed this week with the Grizzlies is very much predicated on his ceiling. Evan Barnes of the Memphis Commercial Appeal details why he considers the agreement mutually beneficial to both sides in a new piece. A big reason: the contract will decrease in value every season once it kicks in, which will give Memphis room to further bolster the roster.

“I’m locked in, I’m blessed, I’m happy I get to be here and be around people I love,” the 6’11” big man said of the deal and his chemistry in Memphis. “It’s a good experience.”

Due to Jackson’s extensive injury history, the agreement contains injury protection related to his left knee, but it only applies to the last year of the deal (for 2025/26), a source informed John Hollinger of The Athletic.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Following two injury-plagued years, Rockets swingman David Nwaba is relishing his good health heading into the 2021/22 season, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Nwaba suffered an Achilles injury in December 2019, and then a right wrist injury in February of this year that ultimately required surgery. “Hopefully, just take care of my body for the length of this season,” Nwaba said of his hopes for the year. “I think we’ve had a lot of improvements on the defensive end.” All told, the 28-year-old has been healthy for just 50 of his past 144 games with Brooklyn and Houston.
  • Thanks to an uncertain recovery timeline for the injured foot of All-Star power forward Zion Williamson, the Pelicans have already proved frustrating to fans ahead of the 2021/22 season, opines Scott Kushner of the NOLA.com. Williamson and team president David Griffin made it seem like the former No. 1 pick could be back in time for the beginning of the year, but it appears that the team was either too hopeful or being deliberately disingenuous, Kushner says.
  • Mavericks All-Star point guard Luka Doncic expressed his excitement about the club’s development ahead of the 2021/22 season, according to Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News. “I think we’re playing great, sharing the ball,” Doncic said of the team’s 4-0 preseason showing. “Especially on the defensive end, we’ve been way better, and I think that’s the key for us.” 

Zion Williamson To Be Reevaluated In Two Weeks

The Pelicans will be without star forward Zion Williamson to start the regular season, executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin confirmed today to reporters.

Williamson, who is recovering from offseason foot surgery, underwent imaging on his right foot this week and doctors were happy with what they saw on those scans, per Will Guillory of The Athletic (Twitter links). However, while the former No. 1 overall pick has been cleared to begin running, he’s still not able to participate in physical activities against other players, Guillory notes.

There’s “no fixed timeline” for Williamson’s return to game action and he’ll undergo more scans in about two weeks, Griffin said (Twitter link via Andrew Lopez of ESPN).

When Griffin first revealed on Media Day last month that Williamson had undergone surgery on his foot in the offseason, he expressed optimism that the 21-year-old would be ready to go by opening night. That doesn’t mean Zion has suffered a setback – the Pelicans may just be exercising caution with their franchise player – but it’s still an ominous sign for a player who has dealt with leg injuries in the past.

Based on today’s announcement, it sounds as if there’s no chance of Williamson returning to action within the next two weeks, which means he’ll miss at least the first five games of New Orleans’ season. In his absence, the team will lean more heavily on forward Brandon Ingram and center Jonas Valanciunas to provide offensive punch in the frontcourt.

Injury Notes: Diakite, P. Williams, C. White, Zion, Lakers

Thunder forward Mamadi Diakite has been diagnosed with a left hip fracture and has been ruled out indefinitely, according to Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman (Twitter links). Diakite sustained the injury during Sunday’s preseason game against Milwaukee, Mussatto adds.

It’s an unfortunate turn of events for Diakite, who was claimed off waivers by the Thunder last month and was trying to prove he deserved a spot on the regular season roster. Only $100K of Diakite’s minimum-salary contract is guaranteed, making him a potential casualty of a roster crunch.

Although the Thunder haven’t revealed their plans for their 15-man regular season roster, they’re carrying 13 players on guaranteed contracts, and Kenrich Williams is a lock for the roster despite his non-guaranteed salary. That leaves just one available 15-man spot — if Diakite’s injury takes him out of the running, Gabriel Deck and D.J. Wilson would likely be the top contenders for it.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • Bulls forward Patrick Williams appears to be nearing a return. He participated fully in Wednesday’s practice and said his injured ankle “feels good,” per Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic (Twitter link). Meanwhile, Bulls guard Coby White, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, still isn’t close to being cleared for contact. Head coach Billy Donovan said on Wednesday the team is about three or four weeks away from determining the next step in White’s rehab process (Twitter link via Cody Westerlund of 670TheScore.com).
  • Pelicans head of basketball operations David Griffin said last month he thought Zion Williamson, who underwent offseason foot surgery, would be ready for opening night. However, head coach Willie Green confirmed on Monday that Williamson still isn’t running or participating in team activities, according to William Guillory of The Athletic, who says Zion’s uncertain status leaves New Orleans in limbo with the regular season around the corner.
  • Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is hopeful that Malik Monk (groin) and Kendrick Nunn (ankle) will be ready to go by opening night, per Kyle Goon of The Southern California News Group (Twitter links). However, veteran guard Wayne Ellington is dealing with a hamstring strain that makes him more of a question mark for the start of the season.

Pelicans Exercise Options For Williamson, Alexander-Walker, Hayes, Lewis

The Pelicans have picked up rookie-scale options on four players, including Zion Williamson, the top overall pick in 2019, the team announced in a press release. New Orleans exercised the fourth-year option for Williamson, guaranteeing his $13.5MM salary for the 2022/23 season.

[RELATED: Decisions On 2022/23 Rookie Scale Options]

It’s a routine move that sets the stage for next summer, when Williamson will be eligible for an extension that could tie him to the franchise for an additional five seasons. Although those offers are nearly always accepted, there have been rumblings that Williamson might consider turning it down because of pressure from family members to play elsewhere and an uneasy relationship with head of basketball operations David Griffin.

The Pelicans also exercised fourth-year options on guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker ($5MM) and center Jaxson Hayes ($6.8MM). Point guard Kira Lewis had his third-season option picked up, which will pay him $4MM for 2022/23.

Southwest Notes: Zion, Exum, Grizzlies, Terry

Pelicans star Zion Williamson continued his effort to quell speculation that he’s unhappy in New Orleans during an interview Friday with SiriusXM NBA Radio (Twitter link). Williamson expressed his fondness for the city and indicated that he sees a long-term future with the team.

“I love it here,” he said. “Anybody that knows me … they know that I love New Orleans. This is the city for me.”

The comments echoed a statement that Williamson made on media day in the wake of reports that some family members are urging him to seek a more successful team in a larger market and that he might have a shaky relationship with head of basketball operations David Griffin. Williamson will be eligible for a rookie scale extension next summer.

During the same interview, Williamson discussed improvements that he made to his game during the offseason, including an expanded use of floaters and midrange shots (hat tip to Oleh Kosel of TheBirdWrites.com). He also expressed a determination to reach the playoffs after missing them in his first two NBA seasons.

“It was a sickening feeling,” Williamson said. “We weren’t in the playoffs — and I’m watching the playoffs — I’m like, man, we can be there. Like I know we can be there this year. Man, something just took over me and I was like, yeah, it’s not happening again. It’s not happening no more. When I started training, everything, from every rep, everything just felt personal. Everything was like, nah, nothing this year is going to stop us from getting into the playoffs. Like, we’re going to do this. I’m going to make sure I do my part and more, to make sure my teammates see me working.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Rockets guard Dante Exum had an impressive showing in the Olympics and wants to carry it over to the NBA, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Injuries have hampered Exum’s career over the past six years and he played only six games last season, all with Cleveland before being traded in January. However, Exum is only 26 and is determined to show the league what he can do. “I feel great,” he said. “I feel probably the best I felt since I’ve gotten into the league. I feel strong, healthy, ready to take on 82 games.”
  • The Grizzlies have made moves over the past two offseasons to upgrade at the wing, but Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian contends the position is already in good hands with Dillon Brooks and Kyle Anderson.
  • Mavericks guard Tyrell Terry is away from the team temporarily to attend to a family matter, tweets Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. There’s not a set time for Terry to return.

Pelicans Notes: Ingram, Zion, Murphy, Succession Plan

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

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

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

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

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

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

Southwest Notes: Zion, Vaccinations, Temple, Harrison, Brooks

Addressing reporters at the Pelicans‘ Media Day on Monday, star forward Zion Williamson expressed a desire to remain with the franchise for the foreseeable future.

I love it here. I love the city of New Orleans,” Williamson said, per Andrew Lopez of ESPN (Twitter link). “I don’t wanna be anywhere else.”

An offseason report suggested that some of Williamson’s family members want him out of New Orleans, while a more recent story suggested he and Pelicans head of basketball operations David Griffin aren’t on particularly great terms. However, after dismissing the idea that he wants to leave the Pelicans, Williamson also downplayed the idea that there’s any frostiness between him and Griffin.

It’s all love with me and Griff,” Williamson said. “… We’re both competitors, we both want to win. Do we disagree on some things? Yes. But no one agrees on everything.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Griffin said today that there are one or two players left on the Pelicans‘ roster who remain unvaccinated, while Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said his team is 100% vaccinated (Twitter links via William Guillory of The Athletic and Mike Finger of The San Antonio Express-News). Meanwhile, Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd estimated that his players are about 90% vaccinated, adding that the goal is to get that number to 100% by opening night (Twitter links via Callie Caplan and Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News).
  • Veteran Pelicans guard Garrett Temple said he’s interested in getting into coaching or front office work after he retires, tweets Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Temple added that his preference would likely be a front office role, since coaching can be “finicky.”
  • Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News shares an in-depth profile of new Mavericks president of basketball operations Nico Harrison, detailing the long path Harrison took to becoming Dallas’ lead basketball decision-maker.
  • Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks will be a full participant in training camp, head of basketball operations Zach Kleiman said today (Twitter link via Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian). Brooks was out for eight weeks this summer after breaking his hand in two spots, tweets Drew Hill of The Daily Memphian.

Zion Williamson Recovering From Offseason Foot Surgery

Pelicans star Zion Williamson underwent surgery on his right foot this offseason, executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin told reporters today (video link).

According to Griffin, Williamson fractured his foot while working out prior to Summer League (Twitter links via Andrew Lopez of ESPN). The former No. 1 overall pick broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot.

Griffin added that he doesn’t think it’s “terribly likely” that Williamson will play in preseason games, but said the team has been working closely with him during his recovery and believes he’ll be ready for opening night next month.

While it’s a bit ominous that Williamson – who has dealt with leg injuries in the past – is on the mend again, and that the Pelicans waited until now to announce it, it may not have a major impact on the team if the prognosis presented by Griffin is accurate and Zion doesn’t miss time during the regular season.

Still, that’s a big “if” and it’s probably safe to assume the Pelicans will be cautious with their franchise player — he may not play both games of back-to-back sets right away, for instance, or he may be eased back into action on a minutes limit. His recovery will be worth watching closely in the coming weeks.

Pelicans Rumors: Williamson, Griffin, Coaches, Front Office

There hasn’t been much noise surrounding Zion Williamson since a June report suggested some of his family members want him out of New Orleans, but the 2021/22 season will be crucial for the Pelicans and their long-term relationship with the former No. 1 overall pick.

Williamson will be eligible for a rookie scale extension, and while no player has ever turned down a maximum-salary rookie scale extension, New Orleans will want to take a major step toward contention this season to reduce the risk of Zion becoming the first.

In a deep dive into the situation in New Orleans, Christian Clark of NOLA.com suggests Williamson grew frustrated back in the Pelicans back in his rookie season when they handled his return from a preseason knee injury with extreme caution, extending his recovery timeline and then having him play in short “bursts” when he returned. Williamson detested those “burst” limits, according to Clark, who says there was significant tension between the star forward and the team’ medical staff that season.

Additionally, while executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin tried to forge a bond with Williamson during his rookie season, Zion’s relationship with the head of the team’s front office had “begun to sour” by the end of the year, says Clark. The two men don’t communicate frequently now, Clark adds.

Here’s more from Clark’s report, which includes several interesting tidbits and is worth checking out in full:

  • Griffin isn’t particularly popular among a segment of Pelicans employees, who referred to him in a group chat last year as “Griff Krause” while ‘The Last Dance’ was airing, according to Clark. The moniker was a reference to former Bulls GM Jerry Krause, whom the ESPN documentary portrayed as disliked by the team’s stars and head coach.
  • Although many people in the Pelicans’ organization believed the team needed to replace head coach Alvin Gentry in 2020, some didn’t like the way the change was handled. According to Clark, Griffin blamed Gentry for the Pelicans’ poor start that season, telling one person, “I give Alvin all the answers to the test, and he still fails.”
  • Tyronn Lue was believed to be the Pelicans’ top choice when they replaced Gentry, but Lue opted to join the Clippers. When Griffin pivoted to Stan Van Gundy, some people in the organization raised concerns that the fit would be awkward, Clark writes, but the Pelicans hired him anyway. The team dismissed Van Gundy this spring after just one season.
  • While J.J. Redick‘s public criticism of the Pelicans’ front office earlier this year placed Griffin and his group under a microscope, Jrue Holiday praised the team for sending him to a contender after he quietly asked to be traded, and several prominent agents – including Mark Bartelstein – told Clark that their interactions with New Orleans’ head of basketball operations have been positive.