To say the New Orleans Pelicans have fallen short of expectations since reaching the playoffs during the 2014-15 would be an understatement. If you’re looking to cast blame, you could easily point to their injury woes, head coaching change or roster upheavals.
The frustration of losing, especially in a smaller market, puts the microscope squarely on the Pelicans’ franchise player: Anthony Davis. The franchise has been here once before, during the Chris Paul era, and it ultimately led to a top-10 player forcing his way to Los Angeles.
So it’s perfectly natural, amidst all of the losses, that all eyes (and ears) are evaluating how Davis truly feels about his long-term future with the organization.
Earlier this week, Davis reiterated to The Vertical that he’s in it for the long haul and fully committed to seeing things through in New Orleans.
“My desire to win here is the same,” Davis told The Vertical. “I go out there and play. I don’t care what the record is. I just go out there and play. I have to lead this team and make sure my guys are always happy and high energy. I don’t care what people say about our team. They’re not in our locker room seeing us, not part of our group. That’s all white noise.
“I just try to control what I can: go out there and compete.”
Davis doubled down when asked if his commitment to the Pelicans has wavered as the losses continue to mount.
“No, no, never,” Davis said, according to the report.
These quotes, on the surface, should at the very least help Pelicans fans sleep a bit better at night, right? Well, if recent history involving some of the game’s biggest stars in a similar situation is any indication, the answer is a resounding no. More on this later.
Davis isn’t purposely being deceitful in his assessment of the current situation in New Orleans. In fact, these quotes are probably at the purest form with free agency for the big man nowhere in sight.
Here’s the deal…
Davis is in the first season of a five-year, $145 million contract extension signed in July 2015. The earliest he could become a free agent is the summer of 2020 by exercising a player option for the 2020-21 campaign. If there’s ever a time when you’d expect Davis to be locked in and fully invested in the franchise, it’s now. Period. Davis has no leverage in trade talks and publicly forcing one would damage his brand and he would instantly be criticized for bailing on a franchise prematurely.
Davis remaining committed to the process in New Orleans isn’t shocking given his lack of options and leverage. The important time for Davis to reiterate these feelings will be in 2018 or 2019 when his leverage grows with free agency looming.
We thought it would be a fun exercise to track down some early quotes from some of the league’s elite players that were once in Davis’ shoes… and then ultimately bolted in free agency. You will notice a similar theme play out.
LeBron James, free agency of 2010 (left Cleveland for Miami)
James was arguably the most sought after free agent in league history back in 2010 and his recruitment process, if we’re being honest, started years before the doors opened on July 1, 2010. Below are some of his quotes leading up to free agency and his commitment to staying the course in Cleveland.
June 2008 – Prior to Olympics (New York Daily News): “On draft day, I’m watching some of the younger guys coming into the league and they’re saying, ‘You know, teams are making trades (to sign) LeBron James in 2010.’ I just kind of laugh at that. I’m excited to be in Cleveland, and right now, I’m excited to be part of this Olympic team. It’s kind of funny to me.”
James signed a three-year extension worth $43 million in 2006 with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The deal included a player option for the 2010-11 campaign, which he ultimately exercised. Most expected him to opt out of the final year to test free agency, but the Cavaliers offered another contract extension during the 2008-09 campaign. No one expected James to truly sign the extension as it wasn’t a benefit for him financially to do so, but his public quotes indicate the deal could be in play at season’s end.
December 2008 – Regarding possible contract extension (ESPN): “You play out this season of course; I will consider it. The direction we are headed is everything I expected and more. I definitely want to keep an open mind, I will look at everything. [The extension] is a good point. I think me and my group have pretty much made good decisions so far and we’ll look at the options and go from there.”
The last quote comes one month before his free agency began in 2010. James told Larry King on CNN the Cavaliers were in the lead to re-sign him. We all know how that played out one month later as James departed to Miami.
June 2010 – One month prior to free agency (CNN): “Absolutely,” James said when asked if Cleveland had the edge entering free agency. “Because, you know, this city, these fans, I mean, have given me a lot in these seven years. And, you know, for me, it’s comfortable. So I’ve got a lot of memories here. And – and so it does have an edge.”
LaMarcus Aldridge, free agency 2015 (left Portland for San Antonio)
Two years prior to Aldridge’s free agency, back in 2013, there were persistent rumors about the forward’s desire to be traded or play elsewhere. However, heading into training camp everyone toed the company line.
September 2013 – During Portland’s annual media day festivities (Oregon Live)s: “I’m here, I’m happy, I’m looking forward to the season. This team looks really good. We have a better bench. We have (Robin) Lopez, who’s a true center. So I think this year should be good for us.”
Blazers general manager doubled down on his star player’s stance during the same event, challenging anyone regarding the validity of any potential Aldridge unhappiness.
September 2013 – Neil Olshey at media discussing LaMarcus Aldridge: “Oh, dear God — would you guys get over it? Show me a media report where LaMarcus Aldridge said anything other than, ‘I hope the team improves, I’m excited about what we did, I want to get better, I want to win.’ Then we can have a conversation. Until then, let’s move on. OK? Is that possible?”
Kevin Durant, free agency 2016 (left Oklahoma City for Golden State)
Durant shocked many this past summer by bolting Oklahoma City. But after his MVP acceptance speech two years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find many people who believed his heart wouldn’t be with the Thunder for the long haul – let alone for only the next two years.
May 2014 – Durant’s MVP acceptance speech: “I enjoy being a part of something like this, knowing that when we come into the arena, they’re going to love you no matter what. They’re going to always feel the same way about us. You don’t want to take that for granted, because the grass is not always greener on the other side and you need to learn to appreciate these wonderful people here.”
Dwight Howard, free agency drama of 2011-13 (focusing on his tenure with Orlando)
Howard would ultimately demand a trade from the Orlando Magic, but not before the situation turned into a daily circus of notable quotes. Here are a couple below. Keep in mind, the first comes with Howard having two seasons remaining on his deal before he could exercise his early termination option to become a free agent.
September 2010 – Howard responding to whether he would sign an early contract extension: “I plan on being here forever.. I love Orlando.”
When pressed on whether he would sign the extension from the team, Howard became vague but doubled up on his stance of not leaving.
“I can’t answer that,” Howard said. “I mean, I love Orlando. I don’t want to leave.”
A few short months later, Howard’s tone changed slightly as he became annoyed by constant questions.
February 2011 – Howard asked about signing an extension in Orlando: “Yeah, I am annoyed. I can’t sign a contract this year. I can’t sign anywhere this summer, so why keep bringing it up? Why are people talking about me going any other place right now? Right now is about this season. It’s not about L.A., New York or whatever. I’m really tired of it. I don’t wanna be talking about where I’m gonna be playing basketball next or people in Orlando asking me ‘Are you going to leave us?'”
Howard would ultimately move on to the Los Angeles Lakers before bolting to Houston in free agency after just one season in L.A.
Transitioning back to the future of Anthony Davis, it’s clearly too soon to tell whether his words of commitment will stand the test of time. It’s possible he truly means what he says, it’s just not the first time we’ve heard pledges of loyalty like this. If the departures of recent stars tell us anything, it’s that there’s a big difference in how the language changes once a player gets more leverage and can see the free agency period on the horizon.
How this will impact Davis as we get into 2018 and 2019 remains to be seen.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN