Zion Williamson

Pelicans Notes: Lowry, Playoffs, Griffin, Williamson

Now that the dust has settled on Monday’s Grizzlies-Pelicans trade, William Guillory of The Athletic takes a look at why the Pelicans made the move, what it means for the future, and the man assumed to be at the center of the sudden push for cap space: Kyle Lowry.

After getting off of the contracts for Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams, the Pelicans project to have about $22MM in cap space, and if they renounce Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and their remaining free agents, that number could climb to $36MM, more than enough to make a competitive offer to Lowry.

But despite the obvious on-court and leadership appeal of Lowry, Guillory preaches caution when thinking that Lowry could have the same impact that, say, Chris Paul had on the Suns. Lowry, while a great player in his own right, has been limited by injuries the last three seasons, and doesn’t have quite the same track record of raising a team’s expectations as Paul.

Guillory also points out that because of the reported interest in Lowry from teams like the Sixers, Heat and Lakers, it’s likely that New Orleans, which is not a prime free agent destination, would have to overpay for the 35-year-old guard.

We have more news from the Pelicans:

  • New head coach Willie Green just finished a miracle run to the Finals with the Suns, and he’s looking to see a similar leap with the Pelicans next year, writes ESPN’s Andrew Lopez. “We’re really close to taking the next step,” Green said. “I believe going into next season that’s our goal, that’s our mindset. That’s what makes us a sleeping giant. We have two young All-Stars. Putting a lot of talent around those guys and really just making this team go.”
  • Within the same piece from Lopez, executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin lays out what he considered his vision for the offseason: “What we hope we’re able to do in the coming weeks in the offseason and heading up through the following years is build a sustainable winner that’s rooted in that gratitude and joyfulness led by Willie Green and the players… that leadership voice, that shooting we need to put around our great young stars. We’re heading towards that.”
  • While gameplans and racking up wins may be part of Green’s agenda, one priority stands out above all others, writes ESPN’s Brian Windhorst: ensuring Zion Williamson wants to stay in New Orleans long-term. Green has the reputation of creating deep bonds with his players, but this will be a new challenge as a first-time coach of a superstar in a small market. Williamson reportedly had some concerns with former head coach Stan Van Gundy, making Green’s ability to be a player’s coach even more crucial.

Pelicans Rumors: Griffin, Vaughn, S. Mitchell, Vinson, Hayes

Before the Pelicans decided to hire Willie Green as their new head coach, they were looking hard at Nets assistant Jacque Vaughn, who ultimately removed his name from consideration.

At the time, Vaughn’s desire to spend more time with his family in Brooklyn was cited as the motivating factor for his decision to withdraw, but Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report suggests that Vaughn’s discussions with Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin also played a part. During those conversations, Griffin conveyed that he intended to be involved in determining the team’s rotation, planning players’ skill development, and filling out Vaughn’s coaching staff.

“He wants to have some level of involvement in every decision,” one Pelicans source said of Griffin, per Fischer.

Here’s more out of New Orleans:

  • After Vaughn withdrew from the Pelicans’ coaching search, the team expanded its list of candidates, according to Fischer, who says NBA TV broadcaster and former Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell was among those to receive a call. Mitchell is expected to receive consideration for a spot on Green’s staff, Fischer adds.
  • Pelicans assistant Fred Vinson, who interviewed for the head coaching position, is considered likely to remain in his current role. Sources tell Bleacher Report that Vinson’s interview with New Orleans lasted over four hours and was “exemplary.” Vinson and fellow Pelicans assistant Teresa Weatherspoon are said to have good relationships with Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, per Fischer.
  • During the interview process, the Pelicans wanted to know how each head coaching candidate would scheme their offense around Williamson and Ingram, and asked them to present development plans for the team’s other young players, writes Fischer.
  • Fischer refers to center Jaxson Hayes as “a personal favorite” of Griffin’s.
  • In case you missed it, the Pelicans are reportedly likely to trade at least one of Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams this offseason and may go after Kyle Lowry in free agency.

Stan Van Gundy: “Zion’s No Coach Killer”

Stan Van Gundy only lasted one season with the Pelicans, but he doesn’t blame any of his players for his early departure, writes Andrew Lopez of ESPN. Commenting publicly on the situation for the first time during an appearance on the “Stupodity” podcast, Van Gundy said players are often targeted undeservedly when there’s a coaching change.

“I hate when it gets put on players that players are getting coaches fired and things like that. I think that makes players look bad and I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “Players certainly have the right to express their opinion to people and things like that but front offices and owners make decisions and they are the ones who make decisions to fire people. That should never be placed on players.

“I know this, regardless of what happened in that regard, (Zion Williamson)’s no coach killer. He’s a guy who is gonna help you win a lot of games. He plays the game the right way. One of the things I’ll miss is the opportunity to continue to coach him. He’s so unique in the way that he plays the game and the things that he can do, it really gets your mind spinning as a coach and you have a lot of possibilities in what you can do with him. That was fun to explore. I’m happy with what we did with Zion. I think we helped him. How anyone else felt about that would be up to them.”

Van Gundy was hired last year in an attempt to bring veteran leadership to a roster stocked with young talent. However, the Pelicans got off to a slow start and finished at 31-41, two games out of the final play-in spot. As the season wore on, there were reports that Williamson’s family was upset with how he was being used and was urging him to find a way out of New Orleans.

“I don’t know anything about that,” Van Gundy said. “In my mind, I liked coaching Zion. I had a good relationship with him. I had no problem. I think we elevated his platform that we gave him. We put him in different situations, had him handling the ball a lot, playing a lot of point guard. I think we did some good things with him.

“If they were unhappy, I didn’t hear about it. Zion was unhappy with us not winning more games, but Zion never expressed to me any of that. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t unhappy, it’s possible that they were unhappy with me and that’s what led to the change.”

Van Gundy also scoffed at how his departure was portrayed. In a press release announcing the move, the Pelicans framed it as a mutual decision, but Van Gundy says that’s not completely accurate. Executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin has cited “philosophical differences,” and Van Gundy admitted that he and the front office looked at coaching “totally different.”

“I would say it was joint in this sense: I think you can understand this, I don’t want to be somewhere they don’t want me. And they didn’t want me. I wasn’t at that point going to fight to try to stay there,” he said. “When I left Detroit, my owner there who I really liked Tom Gores, also said it was a mutual decision. I said yeah, ‘Tom asked me to leave so I left.’ I guess that’s mutual.”

Van Gundy defended the job he did with the Pelicans, noting that the team showed improvement on defense throughout the season, rising from 29th in defensive efficiency before the All-Star break to seventh afterward. He also endorsed assistant coach Fred Vinson as the best choice to replace him.

Van Gundy said he will miss the chance to further develop Williamson and believes he will eventually be one of the NBA’s top stars.

“Over the next five, six, seven years, this guy’s gonna have incredible growth,” Van Gundy said. Now where he really needs to make progress if he wants to win is at the defensive end. … He’s just a phenomenal talent and has great competitiveness. And you literally just cannot keep him from getting to the rim. There’s no way to play him to keep him from getting to the rim. Even when you know that’s where he’s going every time.”

Western Notes: Lue, Green, Williamson, Mavericks

Various members of the Clippers praised head coach Tyronn Lue after the team beat the Jazz in a six-game series last round, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times writes.

Among many things, Lue made the decision to insert Terance Mann into the starting lineup once Kawhi Leonard got injured. Mann responded by putting forth a 39-point performance in Game 6 to help win the series.

“T. Lue,” Paul George said in response to a reporter wondering how the team got to this point. “T. Lue.”

Veteran Nicolas Batum also showed support for Lue, noting his presence has a calming effect on the group. “He always find a way to talk to us so we don’t panic,” Batum said. “We stay calm. We stay cool.”

Here are some other notes from the Western Conference:

  • Suns lead assistant Willie Green is garnering interest around the NBA as a head coaching candidate, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic writes. Head coach Monty Williams indicated last week that Green, who played 12 NBA seasons, was talking to teams about the possibility.
  • Zion Williamson‘s frustration with the Pelicans should fuel the team’s future internal growth, Scott Kushner of The Times-Picayune writes. New Orleans parted ways with head coach Stan Van Gundy last week after missing the playoffs with just a 31-41 record. For his part, Williamson averaged 27 points and 7.2 rebounds per game on the season.
  • Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News explores whether the Mavericks‘ week of upheaval could turn out to be a good thing. While the team no longer has a general manager or head coach, it does have a special advisor in Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki committed to help the franchise last week after Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle‘s departures. Mark Cuban approached me about a role as special advisor and I am happy to support my Mavs,” Nowitzki said. “Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle were both mentors and played huge roles in my career and the success of this franchise, and I am going to miss them. It is important for me now to join Mark and contribute as much as I can as we move forward.”

Zion Williamson’s Family Reportedly Wants Him Out Of New Orleans

The coaching change in New Orleans is only a small part of the situation facing the Pelicans, according to Shams Charania, Joe Vardon and William Guillory of The Athletic. Sources tell the authors that some members of Zion Williamson‘s family are extremely critical of the organization and want to see him on another team.

Wednesday’s decision to part ways with head coach Stan Van Gundy after just one season was part of the effort to make Williamson happier. Charania, Vardon and Guillory cite a “growing unease” between Van Gundy and his players, as well as between the coach and the front office.

The Pelicans have missed the playoffs in each of Williamson’s first two NBA seasons, and numerous sources spoke about family members who would like to see him in a better situation. Williamson seemed to exhibit his own frustration at an end-of-season press conference.

“It’s disappointing. I’d be lying to you if I said anything else,” he said. “It’s very disappointing. But the best thing we can do is regroup, come together as a team, come together as coaches this offseason, talk and do what we need to do to be better next year. It’s not much to it, we just gotta be better.”

Even if Williamson does want to go elsewhere, getting there won’t be easy. He will be under team control for the next three seasons and will almost certainly be offered a maximum-salary rookie scale extension next summer. Even if he turns that down and opts for restricted free agency, the Pelicans will be able to match any offer he receives.

Accepting a qualifying offer could get him to unrestricted free agency after his fifth season, but that’d be an unprecedented move for a player of Williamson’s caliber.

The team has already made changes to accommodate Zion, the authors add, reworking its support staff during the offseason. Even so, family members have remained critical of the organization, with Van Gundy as a frequent target. The family saw Van Gundy as too “rigid and demanding” and believed the Pelicans didn’t treat Williamson like a typical NBA star.

Williamson was also reportedly upset with a March trade that sent J.J. Redick to the Mavericks. Citing family concerns, Redick had asked to either be traded before the season or stay with the team until the season was done. Williamson had become close with Redick, who blasted the organization on his way out. His comments were believed to have affected Zion’s view of the team.

Pelicans Notes: Van Gundy, Griffin, Williamson, Weatherspoon, Vinson, Lottery

Pelicans officials determined that Stan Van Gundy’s style was not a match for the team’s young core and that contributed to the decision to fire the veteran head coach after just one season, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.

Executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin wanted Van Gundy to give more playing time to first-round picks Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kira Lewis, and Jaxson Hayes, but Van Gundy was more comfortable with veterans such as Eric Bledsoe, Fischer continues.

Parting ways with Van Gundy was also a means of currying favor with Zion Williamson, Fischer adds. Griffin had urged Van Gundy to make Williamson more of a lead ball-handler in the team’s offensive scheme.

We have more on the Pelicans:

  • While assistant coach Teresa Weatherspoon has been rumored to be a potential replacement for Van Gundy, Griffin downplayed that possibility, Will Guillory of The Athletic tweets. Griffin said her candidacy is “premature” and that people may have read too much into her being named the team’s Summer League coach, Guillory adds.
  • On the other hand, assistant Fred Vinson will get serious consideration for a promotion, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets. Vinson has been with the organization since 2010.
  • The Pelicans hit the jackpot when they won the 2019 lottery and selected Williamson. They’re hoping lightning strikes twice, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune writes.  The Pelicans enter next Tuesday’s drawing with a 4.5% chance of getting the top pick and a 20.3% chance of moving into the top four.
  • Getting rid of Van Gundy so quickly isn’t a good look for Griffin, Jeff Duncan of The Athletic writes. Next season will be pivotal for the franchise and they need to hit a home run with their next coaching hire to help convince Williamson to sign a long-term extension next summer. Zion didn’t demand Van Gundy’s ouster, Scott Kushner of the Times Picayune reports, but New Orleans’ franchise player has often expressed dissatisfaction and frustration with the team’s inability to be a consistent winner. Making a coaching change now is a way of excising the possibility of Williamson becoming discontented with the franchise.

NBA Announces 2020/2021 All-NBA Teams

The NBA has officially announced the All-NBA First, Second, and Third Teams for the 2020/21 season, with Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way as the lone unanimous selection for the First Team.

Antetokounmpo and Nuggets‘ MVP Nikola Jokic were the two top vote-getters, combining for 998 out of a possible 1,000 points, with Warriors guard Stephen Curry following shortly behind. Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard and Mavericks guard Luka Doncic rounding out the top five.

The full All-NBA teams are listed below, with their vote totals in parentheses. Players received five points for a First Team vote, three points for a Second Team vote, and one point for a Third Team vote, so Giannis scored a perfect 500 — First Team nods from all 100 voters.

All-NBA First Team

All-NBA Second Team

All-NBA Third Team

Among the players who just missed the cut were Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (69), Wizards guard Russell Westbrook (44), Nets guard James Harden (41), Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (37) and Heat center Bam Adebayo (32). A total of 12 other players received votes. The full results can be found here.

Today’s announcement has major financial implications across the league. Tatum, who received more votes than Kyrie Irving but still fell 20 votes short of a final forward spot, will lose out on a projected $32.6MM on his rookie scale extension, as his next deal will start at 25% of the cap instead of the 30% he would have received if he’d been named to an All-NBA team. Likewise, Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, Kings guard De’Aaron Fox and Adebayo will all receive starting salaries worth 25% of the cap on their respective extensions as a result of missing out on All-NBA honors.

Doncic, having been named to his second consecutive All-NBA First Team, will be eligible for a 30% extension that would be worth a projected $201MM+ and is almost certain to be offered this summer. Doncic has previously made clear his intentions to sign the extension when offered. It will go into effect for the 2022/23 season.

Embiid is now eligible for a super-max contract extension, which would run for four years, starting in 2023/24, and would be worth a projected $191MM, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. It’s unclear whether the Sixers will immediately put this extension on the table this offseason.

Bradley Beal‘s deal will not change with his first career All-NBA selection, as he is already eligible for a 35% contract extension on his next deal. Jokic, having been named MVP previously this week, also sees no change in his possible future super-max extension, which will be worth approximately $241MM.

Hoops Rumors readers accurately picked 12 of this season’s 15 All-NBA players in our poll. Devin Booker, Adebayo, and Tatum were your picks who didn’t make the official list.

Southwest Notes: Williamson, Doncic, Melli, Olynyk

Zion Williamson will be eligible for a rookie scale extension next summer, which makes the next 12 months critical for the Pelicans, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Although he has been hampered by injuries during his first two NBA seasons, Williamson has been brilliant when he’s been on the court, averaging 25.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 85 combined games. He provides a foundation for New Orleans to build around, but the Pelicans will need him to accept a long-term deal.

No player on a rookie scale contract has turned down a maximum-salary extension during the past decade, but Clark notes that Williamson’s circumstances are unusual. He’s already an All-Star at age 20 and he came into the NBA with a reported $75MM deal with Jordan Brand. He may not mind giving up a little bit of money to get to a larger market or a contending team. New Orleans is a combined 61-83 since adding Williamson and has missed the playoffs both years.

“My stepfather taught me different,” Williamson said at his exit interview. “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is kind of insane. So I’m not going to sit here and say we’re close. The reality of it is it was very disappointing not to be a part of the play-in tournament and stuff. We just have to come in and be better. That’s just me being real.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Luka Doncic is listed as questionable for today’s Game 4, but the Mavericks expect him to be available, according to Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News. Doncic has a cervical strain and was feeling pain in his neck and left arm during Friday’s game. “I think he’s going to play, but we’ll see tomorrow,” coach Rick Carlisle told reporters Saturday. “Questionable, generally, from what I’ve seen this year with other teams and our team is more likely to play than not, in most cases.”
  • Olimpia Milano has interest in signing Mavericks big man Nicolò Melli after the playoffs, relays Dario Skerletic of Sportando. The original report came from Daniele Dallera of Corriere della Sera, who says Olimpia coach Ettore Messina has reached out to Melli’s agent several times. Melli spent five seasons with the team earlier in his career.
  • Kelly Olynyk exceeded expectations as a scorer and playmaker after the Rockets acquired him from Miami in March, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Olynyk will be an unrestricted free agent, but Houston has his Bird rights and a strong interest in keeping him on the roster.

And-Ones: G League, Olympics, NBA Africa, COVID-19

As the league mulls the possibility of a midseason tournament at the NBA level, G League officials are making progress toward finalizing an in-season tournament of their own for the 2021/22 season, sources tell Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.

According to Fischer, the plan is for the G League’s tournament to be an enhanced version of the event that took place at the league’s annual showcase in 2019. Teams would play a series of 12 or 14 round-robin games leading up to the showcase, then the top four teams would compete in a prize-money tournament at the showcase, while the rest of the NBAGL’s clubs participate in the annual event as usual.

The G League is still working to finalize the format and the reward of its potential fall/winter tournament, which would be labeled as some type of “Cup,” sources tell Fischer.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Team USA officials aren’t counting on any players who participate in the NBA Finals – or even the conference finals – to be available for the Tokyo Olympics this summer, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. That means getting commitments from certain players whose teams didn’t make the postseason will be a priority for the program, according to Vardon, who points to Warriors guard Stephen Curry and Pelicans forward Zion Williamson as two top targets for USA Basketball.
  • The NBA has announced the formation of NBA Africa, a new business investment entity that will oversee the league’s business endeavors in Africa, writes Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. Former NBA stars such as Dikembe Mutombo and Grant Hill are among the investors, as the league tries to expand its presence in key African markets.
  • While the worst of COVID-19’s impact on the NBA may be in the rear view, the league isn’t taking anything for granted during its non-bubble postseason, writes Marc Stein of The New York Times. “We’re optimistic that what we’ve been doing will work, but we certainly can’t relax because it’s the playoffs,” said David Weiss, the NBA’s senior VP of player matters. “We have to emphasize that it’s important to keep following the protocols and getting vaccinated.”

Pelicans Notes: Hernangomez, Van Gundy, 3-Point Shooting

Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin would like to re-sign reserve center and unrestricted free agent Willy Hernangomez after the Summer Olympics, Christian Clark of NOLA.com reports. Hernangomez is a member of the Spanish national team.

“Willy is going to play meaningful basketball games,” Griffin said. “He’s going to go there, and even though we can’t sign him officially necessarily before he leaves for Spain, he’s going to go there identifying himself as a Pelican, and that’s important for us.”

Hernangomez started nine of New Orleans’ final 10 games and averaged 12.3 PPG and 10.4 RPG.

We have more on the Pelicans:

  • There was tension at times between coach Stan Van Gundy and his players during the season, Scott Kushner of NOLA.com reports. However, Van Gundy was thrust into the role of ‘bad guy’ who held players accountable, since the team’s young stars didn’t do that. It’s crucial that accountability shifts from Van Gundy to Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram in order for the defense and late-game execution to improve, Kushner adds.
  • The team sank to the bottom five in the league in 3-point shooting this season and Griffin said he’ll upgrade the roster in that area, Clark writes in a separate story. With extra first-round picks at his disposal, Griffin has the assets to trade for a perimeter threat or two. He could even deal this year’s lottery pick for proven talent, Clark adds. “We’re in a situation where there is a world of optionality to us,” Griffin said. “The pick assets we have give us incredible flexibility.”
  • Why could Tuesday turn out to be a pivotal day for the Pelicans organization? Get the details here.