Zion Williamson

Southwest Notes: Williamson, Mavs, Spurs, Miller

Pelicans star Zion Williamson is ready to continue his impressive rookie season when the NBA resumes in Orlando this month, explaining his thoughts on the team’s mindset in a media availability posted on NBA.com.

“That’s a simple answer – we’re trying to make a playoff push, and we’re trying to get back into our full game condition within those eight [seeding] games,” Williamson said.

Williamson played just 19 games before the NBA suspended its season in mid-March, averaging 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 29.7 minutes per contest. He’s since taken a leadership role with the club, recognizing the importance of being successful both on the court and off.

“I’m preparing by bonding with my teammates once again,” Williamson said. “Talking to them, saying ‘We’re going to get through this,’ and we’re just going to battle the [mental challenges surrounding this]. As far as me also getting ready for that, it’s just conditioning and honing my skills.”

New Orleans is tied for the 10th best record in the Western Conference with Sacramento at 28-36, trailing the No. 8 seed Grizzlies by 3.5 games. The team’s first game in Orlando will commence on July 30 against Utah.

Here are some other notes from the Southwest Division today:

  • Mavericks big man Kristaps Porzingis is confident the team can surprise people during the NBA’s resumed season, Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News writes. Porzingis is holding per-game averages of 19.2 points and 9.5 rebounds after taking a full year off to rehab from a torn ACL.
  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News explores how the Spurs are mentally preparing themselves for the rest of the season. San Antonio owns the third-worst record of all 22 teams heading to Orlando, going 27-36 through 63 games on the season. “I think we’re all aware of the risk [of resuming play],” Spurs center Jakob Poeltl said. “Everybody individually had to really think about the situation. From what I’m hearing, the NBA is going above and beyond to create the safest possible environment for us. I’m hearing that possibly it’s going to be safer for us to be in that bubble than maybe even being at home. But it’s definitely still a risk.”
  • Pelicans forward Darius Miller is unsure if he’ll be able to play in Orlando due to COVID-19, Will Guillory of The Athletic tweets. Miller has been unable to play 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 due to the virus. He suffered an Achilles tear in the summer of 2019, last appearing in an NBA game during the 2018/19 season.

Western Notes: Mitchell, Thunder, Williamson, Burke

Jazz teammates Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert appear to be patching up their relationship, Sarah Todd of the Deseret News writes. “Right now we’re good,” Mitchell said in a Zoom conference with the media. “We’re going out there ready to hoop.” In the wake of his positive test for COVID-19 in March, Mitchell was said to be frustrated with Gobert. the first NBA player to test positive. The situation reportedly remained tense even after Mitchell recovered from the virus.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • While 25 players around the NBA have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since June 23, there have been no positive tests among Thunder players and staff members, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman reports. All players have returned to Oklahoma City for mandatory individual workouts and the team will fly to Orlando next week.
  • Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is confident rookie star Zion Williamson will continue to make a big impact once plays resumes, he indicated in a interview with William Guillory of The Athletic. “I think he’s worked extremely hard during the time away,” Gentry said. “I think, to some degree, you’ll see everybody a little rusty when we come back because we’ve been away for so long. But he’ll get himself right, and I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t pick up right where he left off. “
  • The Mavericks felt they had enough depth up front to replace Willie Cauley-Stein, which is why they signed point guard Trey Burke as a substitute player, according to Eddie Sefko of Mavs.com. Dallas also had a need in the backcourt with Jalen Brunson and Courtney Lee injured. “As we looked at the profile of the team, we felt there was more of a need at that backup (guard spot), scoring off the bench,” president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. Cauley-Stein was one of the players who opted out of the restart.

Pelicans-Jazz Begins NBA Restart On July 30

The Pelicans and rookie star Zion Williamson will face the Jazz on July 30 at 6:30 p.m. ET in the first game of the NBA’s restart, the league announced on Friday.

There will be 88 “seeding” games from July 30 to August 14 prior to the postseason.

The Clippers will square off against the Lakers in the second game on July 30 at 9 p.m. ET. The first two games will be broadcast by TNT.

It will get very busy the next day with six games scheduled, highlighted by Celtics vs. Bucks and Rockets vs. Mavericks. There will be a maximum of seven games per day, with start times ranging from 12-9 p.m.

At the conclusion of the seeding games, the seven teams in each conference with the highest combined winning percentages across regular-season games and seeding games will be the first through seventh seeds for the conference playoffs.  If the team with the eighth-best combined winning percentage (regular-season games and seeding games) in a conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined winning percentage in the same conference, then the team with the eighth-best winning percentage would be the No. 8 seed.

If the team with the eighth-best combined winning percentage in a conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined winning percentage in the same conference, then those two teams would compete in a play-in tournament to determine the No. 8 playoff seed in the conference.  The play-in tournament will be double elimination for the eighth-place team and single elimination for the ninth-place team.

Much of the intrigue regarding the seeding games concerns the final Western Conference spot. The Grizzlies, currently eighth, hold a 3 1/2-game lead over the Trail Blazers, Pelicans and Kings, a four-game lead over the Spurs and a six-game advantage on the Suns.

Memphis will face the Blazers, Spurs, Pelicans, Jazz, Thunder, Raptors, Celtics and Bucks during the seeding round. Among the Grizzlies’ pursuers, the Pelicans appear to have the weakest schedule. After opening against the Jazz, they’ll face the Clippers, Grizzlies, Kings (twice), Wizards, Spurs and Magic.

The Nets and Magic need only to hold off the Wizards in the East to claim the final two spots in their conference. Washington trails Brooklyn by six games and Orlando by 5 1/2 games.

The breakdown of each team’s seeding schedule can be found here. The day-by-day schedule and national TV schedule can be found here.

Southwest Notes: Zion, Grizzlies, Cauley-Stein, Holiday

Pelicans rookie forward Zion Williamson has been frequenting the team’s New Orleans facility – the Ochsner Sports Performance Center – during the NBA hiatus, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps and Andrew Lopez. The Pelicans organization is hopeful that the prized 2019 No. 1 draft pick, now fully rehabilitated from an injury that cost him much of the season, will be able to help catapult the squad to a playoff berth.

The Pelicans, currently occupying the No. 10 Western Conference playoff seed with a 28-36 record, are 3.5 games behind the 32-33 Grizzlies, the present No. 8 seed.

“Those reps against the best players on a bigger stage will be meaningful for Zion certainly as a 19-year-old,” Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said noted. “I think it’s important for those guys to play some meaningful-slash-playoff basketball.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Due to soft attendance numbers during the 2019/20 season, the Grizzlies may be able to exercise an “early termination” option in the team’s lease on its publicly-funded home arena, the FedEx Forum, according to Geoff Calkins of the Daily Memphian. Team owner Robert Pera and local municipalities are anticipated to begin appraising various possible courses of action.
  • Since Willie Cauley-Stein opted out of the NBA season restart in Orlando, the Mavericks‘ depth at center has taken a hit, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News. With the athletic center out of commission, Maxi Kleber will soak up most of the minutes as the prime backup for Kristaps Porzingis. 7’4″ Boban Marjonovic may seem some additional run. The team agreed to a deal with Trey Burke, a point guard, in Cauley-Stein’s stead.
  • Stalwart Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, a two-time NBA All-Defensive First-Teamer with the club, signed a controversially large five-year, $126MM contract with New Orleans as an unrestricted free agent in 2017. William Guillory of The Athletic looks back on the negotiations between the two sides on that mammoth deal.

Southwest Notes: Zion, Rivers, Mavs, Hardy

Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson continues to grapple with a $100MM civil suit from attorneys representing his former marketing manager Gina Ford and her company Prime Sports Marketing, per Mark Schlabach of ESPN. Per Schlabach, the suit alleges that Williamson’s parents may have been given “improper benefits” preceding or during Williamson’s blockbuster one-season Duke tenure.

However, Williamson got some positive news on the case this week, as a Florida state appeals court has granted him a full stay. This will allow the star forward to avoid answering questions about the suit until the resolution of a federal case covering the same issues.

Here’s more from around the Southwest Division:

  • Rockets backup guard Austin Rivers spoke with The Athletic’s Kelly Iko at length about a variety of issues, including the league’s Orlando restart. “They’re saying we’ll be in Orlando for at least a period of time, anywhere between 30 to 40 days without seeing our family,” Rivers said. “And I don’t want to do it. Nobody wants to do it, but we all have to sacrifice if you want to have the season, resume and that’s what we have to do.” Rivers inked a veteran’s minimum contract with Houston in the hopes of winning a title, despite apparently fielding heftier offers from non-contenders.
  • Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has indicated that team stars Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are set to return to Dallas within the week, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times (Twitter link). Doncic, a second-year guard, has been having a breakout season in Dallas. Voted an All-Star starter in the competitive West, Doncic is averaging 28.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG, and 8.7 APG on the 40-27 Mavericks.
  • In case you missed it earlier today, Spurs assistant Will Hardy reportedly ranks among the coaching candidates who will interview for the Knicks’ head job. The 32-year-old Hardy has been with the Spurs in some capacity since 2010, when he got his start with the team as a basketball operations intern. He became an assistant coach in 2016.

Western Notes: Thompson, Miller, Brunson, Williamson

It’s been nearly a year since Warriors guard Klay Thompson suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during last year’s Finals. However, GM Bob Myers isn’t sure if Thompson can be listed as fully recovered until he tests the knee in 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 situations, Mark Medina of USA Today tweets. Myers added, “He’s recovering fine; he hasn’t had any setback.”

Myers is also unsure whether the Warriors will be big players in the free agent and trade markets this summer, Anthony Slater of The Athletic tweets“Depending on the economics, we have to be pragmatic and smart…I have no idea what the future holds, but we have an ownership group that’s aggressive and pushes the limits,” Myers said.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • It’s possible Pelicans forward Darius Miller could return to action this summer after suffering a torn right Achilles tendon last August, ESPN’s Andrew Lopez tweets. Miller has continued his rehab throughout quarantine and his status will be determined during the team’s training camp prior to heading to Orlando. If he can’t go, a two-way player will likely fill his roster spot, Lopez adds.
  • The Mavericks still don’t plan on guard Jalen Brunson returning this season, Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News tweets. Brunson underwent right shoulder surgery this same week that play was halted. He hasn’t played since February 22.
  • A Florida judge ruled last week that Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson must answer questions regarding alleged benefits he received before and during his one season at Duke, Mark Schlabach of ESPN reports. Williamson is being sued for $100MM for alleged breach of a marketing agreement. A Florida appeals court subsequently granted a temporary stay and paused proceedings in the lawsuit from Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford, whose attorneys must respond within 10 days, according to an Associated Press report.

Notes On Proposed Formats For NBA’s Return

Although a resumption of the 2019/20 season appears likely, there’s still no clarity on what form the NBA will take upon its return. A potential playoff format has been the subject of much discussion and debate this week, with the league still believed to be considering bringing back anywhere from 16 to 30 teams.

Among other issues, the league must decide whether or not to play any regular season games, whether a play-in pool or play-in tournament makes sense, and whether or not to reseed its playoff teams regardless of conference.

[RELATED: Community Shootaround: Play-In Pool Format]

As the NBA continues to weigh all those questions, a number of notable basketball writers are sharing their input on the potential format of a return to play. Here are some highlights:

  • In a deep dive, ESPN’s Zach Lowe explores various playoff formats for the NBA’s return, suggesting that a seven-team play-in tournament for the final three postseason spots (currently held by the Grizzlies, Nets, and Magic) could be one solution. No Eastern lottery teams would be involved in such a tournament, but the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, and Spurs would be.
  • John Hollinger of The Athletic contends that most of the experimental postseason proposals are unnecessarily complicated or have dangerous downsides. In Hollinger’s view, the NBA should just keep it simple, bringing back its 16 current playoff teams and play a “normal” postseason. It’s worth noting that Hollinger’s former team, the eighth-seeded Grizzlies, would undoubtedly favor that solution, which forgoes a play-in tournament.
  • In a podcast, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said that some people around the NBA believe the league’s inclination to have more than 16 teams return this summer is directly related to a desire to have Pelicans star Zion Williamson involved in any return to play (hat tip to RealGM). New Orleans currently ranks 10th in the West and 18th overall in the NBA standings.
  • Danny Leroux of The Athletic makes a case for allowing the NBA’s top teams to pick their playoff opponents, regardless of the format the league chooses.
  • If the NBA decides to bring back all 30 teams, the league ought to freeze the draft lottery order based on the current standings in order to avoid a potential tank-fest, says Marc Berman of The New York Post.
  • Chris Mannix of SI.com questions whether the NBA should even be prioritizing crowning a champion in 2020, and whether that champ will be viewed as legitimate.

Pelicans Notes: Facility, Gentry, Zion, K. Williams

As we relayed earlier today, the Pelicans have joined the growing list of NBA teams that have reopened their practice facilities.

Addressing that subject on a call with reporters this afternoon, head of basketball operations David Griffin said that only seven of the club’s players are still in the area and will use the facility — the rest of the Pelicans are finding other ways to work out (Twitter link via Andrew Lopez of ESPN).

Griffin added that he’s not asking players who are out of market to travel back to New Orleans at this time, since he would rather wait until it’s safer and more necessary, according to Lopez.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • Alvin Gentry, 65, falls in an age bracket at risk of being seriously affected by COVID-19. However, the Pelicans’ head coach tells Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter links) that that increased vulnerability will “not stop me from doing my job one bit” when play resumes. “I’m going to approach it with caution,” Gentry said. “But I will be immersed in it totally from a competitive standpoint and everything else.”
  • Speaking today to reporters, Griffin admitted he’d embrace the idea of starting the NBA season later, since it would help the Pelicans gain more of a foothold in their market (Twitter link via Lopez). The NFL’s Saints are New Orleans’ most popular professional sports team, so reducing the NBA’s overlap with the football season could be good news for the Pels.
  • Even before the Pelicans reopened their facility today for individual workouts, a couple of players had been permitted in the building for rehab purposes. According to Griffin, Zion Williamson and Kenrich Williams were getting regular treatment there over the last several weeks (Twitter links via William Guillory of The Athletic). Williams, sidelined since January 6 due to a back injury, will be ready to practice in full when teams reconvene, says Griffin.
  • Guillory and Sam Vecenie of The Athletic examine what the Pelicans got right – and wrong – in the 2019 draft, which saw the team select three players besides Williamson.

And-Ones: Game Ball, Mo Williams, Zion, Kobe

The NBA will be making a change to its on-court product starting in 2021/22 that figures to be felt by players — even if it’s hardly noticed by fans. According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the NBA’s long-standing relationship with Spalding is coming to an end, as the two sides have mutually agreed to part ways. The league has reached a deal with Wilson to produce the NBA’s official game ball, starting in ’21/22.

As Haynes details, the NBA has been using Spalding balls since 1983, though Wilson manufactured the league’s game balls before that. Wilson, which will also begin producing balls for the WNBA and G League, is already the official game ball of the NCAA tournament.

According to Haynes, the NBA and NBPA will have a significant amount of input on the new game ball, and the leather and product specifications will remain unchanged, which should go a long way toward creating a smooth transition from Spalding to Wilson.

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

  • Former NBA guard Mo Williams has been hired by Alabama State as the school’s new men’s basketball head coach, according to a press release from the program. Williams, who had previously been an assistant coach at California State University at Northridge (CSUN), had a 13-year NBA career, earning an All-Star spot in 2009 and a championship in 2016, his final season.
  • The legal battle between Pelicans forward Zion Williamson and his former marketing representative – Prime Sports Marketing president Gina Ford – took another interesting step forward this week, as Ford’s attorneys are pushing to get Williamson to admit he accepted unauthorized benefits at Duke. Dana O’Neil and Diamond Leung of The Athletic and Michael McCann of SI.com have shared informative breakdowns explaining what to make of the latest developments in the case.
  • The facility previously known as the Mamba Sports Academy is dropping the “Mamba” moniker, announcing that it will retire that part of the name and “raise it to the rafters” in honor of the late Kobe Bryant. After initially stating that the decision was made out of respect for Kobe’s legacy, Sports Academy later clarified that “it was a mutual agreement made in accordance with the wishes of (Bryant’s) estate.”

Zion Williamson May Have Minutes Restriction

The Pelicans will consider a minutes restriction for rookie forward Zion Williamson if their season resumes, head coach Alvin Gentry said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

Williamson was one of the most eagerly anticipated rookies in years, but he played just 19 games before the hiatus because of a knee injury that delayed his debut until late January. He was placed on a minutes restriction at the time, but it was removed after a few games. Gentry said the team’s medical staff will re-evaluate Williamson and several other players if a restart date is announced for the season.

“It will be something that we talk about when we do resume and as far as how it looks for Zion from a minute standpoint, and we’ll do that really with some of the other players,” Gentry said. “This is unprecedented, really. You play in a basketball game, you play 60 games and then all of a sudden the season ends, and then now it’s going to start back up. So, this is going to be something that is different for every single player that has ever played in the NBA or is playing in the NBA now.”

Although fans in New Orleans only got a brief look at Williamson, he lived up to expectations by averaging 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per night while shooting 58.9% from the field. He helped the Pelicans overcome a slow start and inch their way toward playoff contention by the time the season was halted.

“I still think that in all the years that I’ve been in the league, I’ve never seen anyone that has a second jump like this kid,” Gentry added. “It’s amazing how he can hit the ground and be back up before anyone is really reacting to the first move that he had. I would say that’s been a pleasant surprise in those areas right there. I think what we found out is that he’s an excellent passer, also. I think as he gets more comfortable handling a basketball, that’s going to be an area that everyone sees that he can be an elite guy from the position that he’s playing right there.

“He’s such a good guy, just from a teammate standpoint, that I knew our guys would be pulling for him. Our guys have embraced the fact that he’s a guy that we can finish games with, he’s a guy that we can go to when we need a basket, and he’ll make the right play.”