Latest On Zion Williamson’s Recovery

Zion Williamson‘s NBA regular season debut is getting closer, but it’s still not imminent.

According to Kristen Ledlow of TNT (Twitter link), the Pelicans‘ much-hyped rookie “turned a corner” in his rehab process, but the club continues to err on the side of caution. As such, Williamson’s return will “definitely” come outside the initial six-to-eight-week window provided by the Pels.

A source tells Andrew Lopez of ESPN that Williamson has begun doing some on-court work, including “light walkthroughs” with the team, as well as spot shooting. In addition to needing to ramp up that on-court work and begin taking contact, the No. 1 overall pick will also have to reach certain conditioning benchmarks before he makes his debut, Lopez writes.

The Pelicans announced Williamson’s original six-to-eight-week timetable back on October 21, so the eight-week mark would fall on December 16. It’s safe to say we won’t see Williamson on the court before then, which means his earliest possible target date would be on December 17, when the Pelicans host Brooklyn.

There’s certainly no guarantee that Williamson will be back for that game against the Nets, but if he can make it back during that following week, it’d be good news for NBA fans. The Pelicans are participating in one of the NBA’s five Christmas Day games this year, and a healthy Zion would make that matchup vs. Denver a whole lot more interesting.

And-Ones: Scola, Aldridge, 2020 Draft, Delgado

Luis Scola, who continues to play overseas with Italy’s Olimpia Milano, hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2016/17 season and the 39-year-old sounds pretty confident that a comeback isn’t happening. As he explains to Marc Stein of The New York Times, even the younger version of himself would have a hard time keeping up in today’s version of the NBA, with its faster pace and lack of low-post play.

“The good teams, they have better players. The bad teams, they have younger players. I just don’t think I am at that level anymore,” Scola said. “I was there at some point. But the game changed also. It would be more difficult for me to play, even at my prime, in today’s NBA.”

“I got a little bit lucky,” he continued. “The big change happened right at the end of my career, and I was able to play until I was 37. The low-post game is not there anymore. The long two are not there. I would adjust a little bit and be a different player, but I think this would be a little bit more difficult. The game is faster. The players move faster. They’re more athletic, longer. And I’m not a very good athlete. Those things would be against me in today’s NBA.”

While Scola recognizes a return to the NBA isn’t in the cards, he’s pleased about Argentina’s performance at this year’s World Cup, which secured the team a spot in the 2020 Olympics. Participating in those Olympics had been a major goal for Scola, which is one reason he has pushed to continue his professional career, as he tells Stein.

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

  • Frank Urbina and Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype spoke to NBA executives to try to gauge what LaMarcus Aldridge‘s trade value might be if the Spurs decide to become sellers. Various execs identified the Trail Blazers, Nuggets, Suns, and Kings as possible fits.
  • The general feeling among NBA teams about the top of the 2020 draft class remains “lukewarm,” according to Jeremy Woo of SI.com, who explores how LaMelo’s stellar NBL play is becoming harder to ignore as teams consider next spring’s top prospects.
  • Former Seton Hall standout and Clippers two-way player Angel Delgado has signed Israeli team Hapoel Holon, as Emiliano Carchia of Sportando relays. Delgado, who appeared in two games for the Clips last season, spent time with the Beijing Royal Fighters earlier this year before being replaced by former NBA big man Jason Thompson.
  • Mike Conley is looking for the same kind of experience with the Jazz that his longtime Grizzlies teammate Marc Gasol had last season in Toronto, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic. Conley said he called Gasol on FaceTime shortly after the Raptors won the 2019 title. “Man, I watched every game and was rooting and hoping and praying,” Conley said. “… We were talking about that thing all our career, having an experience like that for himself is, just happy for him.”

NBA G League Assignments/Recalls: 12/3/19

Here are Tuesday’s G League assignments and recalls from across the NBA:

  • The Hawks assigned guard Tyrone Wallace and rookie big man Bruno Fernando to the G League today, the team announced (via Twitter). Both players subsequently started for the College Park Skyhawks in a blowout win over Greensboro, combining for 35 total points.
  • After playing for the Capital City Go-Go earlier in the day, Admiral Schofield and Justin Robinson were recalled to the NBA by the Wizards for the evening game, per the team (Twitter link). Schofield, in particular, got in a full day’s work, playing a game-high 38 minutes for the Wizards’ G League affiliate, then seven more minutes for the NBA squad.
  • Jonah Bolden, who has frequently bounced back and forth between the NBA and G League over the last several weeks, was sent back to the Delaware Blue Coats by the Sixers today, per the NBAGL’s assignment log.

Pau Gasol To Join Blazers’ Coaching Staff

After being waived last month by the Trail Blazers, Pau Gasol intends to join the team’s coaching staff, head coach Terry Stotts confirmed tonight to reporters, including Casey Holdahl (Twitter link). Gasol is currently in Spain, but when he returns, he’ll officially come aboard Stotts’ staff.

Gasol, who continues to rehab a foot injury, was released by the Blazers before appearing in a single game for the team. At the time of that move, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Portland and Gasol were working on a potential coaching role for the veteran big man.

Taking on a coaching role doesn’t necessarily mean Gasol has decided to retire as a player. However, between his foot issues and his age (39), the odds may be against an NBA comeback at this point. The six-time All-Star played 77 games for the Spurs in 2017/18, but was limited to 30 games last season due to injuries.

It’s not yet clear when Gasol will return from Spain, tweets Mark Medina of USA Today.

NBA Trade Candidate Watch: Pacific Division

Over the course of the 2019/20 NBA season, up until February’s trade deadline, we’re keeping an eye on potential trade candidates from around the NBA, monitoring their value and exploring the likelihood that they’ll be moved. Each of these looks at possible trade candidates focuses on a specific division, as we zero in on three players from that division.

Even as the Warriors have fallen off a cliff this season due to injuries and offseason roster changes, the Pacific has remained one of the more competitive divisions in basketball.

The Lakers and Clippers are among the NBA’s best teams and look like legit championship contenders. The Suns and Kings aren’t in that tier, but they’re currently neck-and-neck for the No. 8 seed in the West. It’s possible there could be as many as four buyers in the division at the trade deadline.

After having initially looked last month at three potential trade candidates in the Pacific, we’re singling out three more today. Let’s dive in…

Trevor Ariza, F
Sacramento Kings
$12.2MM cap hit; $1.8MM of $12.8MM salary guaranteed for 2020/21

Ariza has bounced around the league since leaving Houston during the 2018 offseason, playing for the Suns, Wizards, and Kings since then. None of those teams has been a perfect fit for the veteran forward, who has only logged 32 total minutes for Sacramento since November 8 due to a combination of personal reasons, a groin injury, and general ineffectiveness.

The Kings will have a crowded frontcourt rotation when Marvin Bagley III returns, so it’s unclear whether or not Ariza will have an opportunity to play regular, consistent minutes all season. That could make him expendable.

Since Sacramento is a young team pushing for a playoff team, the front office may decide it’s worth keeping Ariza around for his veteran leadership and for depth purposes — especially if he continues his up-and-down play and doesn’t have much value on the trade market. But it’s not a lock that he’s still on the Kings’ roster by February 7.

Willie Cauley-Stein, C
Golden State Warriors
$2.2MM cap hit; $2.3MM player option for 2020/21

Cauley-Stein could have received a more lucrative deal with another team, but opted to join the Warriors for a chance to play with a contender. Unfortunately, that plan has backfired, as Golden State’s 4-18 record puts the club in the running for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, not a title.

In addition to being a down year for the Warriors, it’s been a bit of a slow start for Cauley-Stein, whose scoring average is down to just 7.5 PPG. Still, he has started 18 games at center for the Warriors and is blocking a career-best 1.2 shots per contest. No contender would target him as a potential starter, but he could have some value as a backup option.

If the Warriors believe Cauley-Stein will likely opt out at season’s end and return to the open market, it makes sense to see if they can get anything for him this season. His minimum-salary contract can be dealt without taking any salary back and he could be replaced with a smaller minimum-salary cap hit, freeing up some much-needed flexibility for the Dubs under their hard cap.

Maurice Harkless, F
Los Angeles Clippers
$11MM cap hit; UFA in 2020

Harkless, acquired by the Clippers in one of my favorite moves of the summer, has been starting games and playing consistent minutes for a title contender despite being viewed as a salary dump five months ago. It’s still hard to believe that the Clips were able to acquire a first-round pick in the deal that netted them Harkless, who is shooting a career-best 51.0% with a 37.9% three-point rate so far.

As a reliable three-and-D option for the Clippers, Harkless probably isn’t on the trade block. However, he’s also the only mid-level type player on the roster who would realistically be expendable if L.A. wanted to acquire another piece.

Lou Williams ($8MM) and Montrezl Harrell ($6MM) aren’t going anywhere, and it seems relatively safe to assume Patrick Beverley ($12.3MM) and Ivica Zubac ($6.5MM) aren’t either. That leaves Harkless as the only other player on the books with a cap hit between $5MM and 32MM. Throw in the fact that he’s on an expiring contract and he’s the most logical salary-matching piece the Clippers have.

Of course, there’s a decent chance the Clippers simply stand pat at the deadline and hope that possible reinforcements emerge in the following weeks on the buyout market. In that scenario, Harkless is a good bet to finish the season with the club.

Revisit the rest of our 2019/20 Trade Candidate series right here.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Injury Updates: Clarke, Lowry, D-Lo, Crabbe, More

Just three days after ruling out Ja Morant with a week-to-week injury, the Grizzlies have done the same with their other prized rookie. Forward Brandon Clarke aggravated a sore left oblique muscle during Sunday’s game and will be sidelined on a week-to-week basis, the team announced today in a press release.

The 6-14 Grizzlies are certainly lottery-bound, but Morant and Clarke have at least been two bright spots – and reasons to keep an eye on the young team in Memphis – so far this season. Clarke has averaged 11.8 PPG and 5.9 RPG with a .630 FG% in 18 games (21.2 MPG). In his absence, the club will presumably lean a little more heavily on bigs like Jaren Jackson Jr., Solomon Hill, and Bruno Caboclo.

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

  • Kyle Lowry, who has missed nearly a month with a left thumb injury, will return to the Raptors‘ starting lineup tonight. As Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca tweets, head coach Nick Nurse said he’d like to ease Lowry back in, but the veteran point guard won’t have a specific minutes cap.
  • Another star point guard who has been out with a thumb injury appears to be nearing a return as well. Anthony Slater of The Athletic tweets that D’Angelo Russell, who hasn’t played since November 15, has been upgraded to questionable for the Warriors‘ game in Charlotte on Wednesday.
  • Hawks wing Allen Crabbe underwent a non-surgical procedure on his right knee today, according to the team. The club didn’t provide a timeline for Crabbe’s recovery beyond saying he’ll miss Wednesday’s game vs. Brooklyn, but this is the same knee that gave him trouble earlier in the year.
  • A Thunder spokesman said on Tuesday that Andre Roberson will continue his injury rehab process in Los Angeles, away from the team, writes Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. Billy Donovan said the decision wasn’t related to a setback or another operation, but the head coach’s comments didn’t sound overly promising. “He can’t get himself back to play, and he just wants to try some other avenues to try to get himself back to play,” Donovan said of Roberson. “He’s gotten to a point, and he can’t get past that point.”
  • Clippers swingman Rodney McGruder remains sidelined with a right hamstring strain, and head coach Doc Rivers said earlier this week that he didn’t believe McGruder was close to returning (Twitter link via Jovan Buha of The Athletic).

Thomas Bryant Out At Least Three Weeks With Foot Injury

Wizards center Thomas Bryant is expected to be sidelined until at least Christmas, with the team announcing today in a press release that he has been diagnosed with a stress reaction in his right foot. According to the Wizards, Bryant will be re-evaluated in three weeks.

Bryant, 22, had a modest breakout season a year ago after being claimed off waivers from the Lakers by the Wizards. He had been building on last year’s success in the early going in 2019/20, averaging career bests in PPG (13.9), RPG (8.5), APG (2.7), and a handful of other categories through 18 games (all starts).

With Bryant sidelined, the Wizards find themselves somewhat shorthanded at the five. Veteran big man Ian Mahinmi has been unable to take the court so far this season due to an Achilles injury, while Moritz Wagner missed Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and is out tonight as well.

Wagner should see heavy minutes at center when he’s ready to return. Until then, the team may rely more heavily smaller lineups, with forwards like Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura as the bigs. A roster move is also possible, though Washington doesn’t currently have an open spot.

Al Horford Discusses Last Season’s Celtics

Al Horford isn’t surprised that the Celtics are performing better this season than they did last year when he was was still on the team, as he tells Steve Bullpett of the Boston Herald.

“Well, with coach [Brad] Stevens it doesn’t surprise me,” said Horford, who signed a four-year deal with the Sixers last summer. “Coach, you know, he’s going to put everyone in position to be successful. I mean, even the year that we were there that Kyrie [Irving] and Gordon [Hayward] were missing and we had Shane Larkin starting or Semi [Ojeleye], he figured out how to do the most with what he had. So I’m not surprised by this.”

Horford added that last year’s squad simply had too much talent on it and not enough minutes – or basketballs – to go around, which he feels isn’t a sustainable model to win over the long-term.

“Last year was just too much,” Horford said. “There were too many guys for coach to satisfy everyone.” 

The Celtics enter the night with a record of 14-5, putting them slightly ahead of the 15-6 Sixers in the Eastern Conference standings.

Carmelo Anthony Was Prepared To Retire Before Portland Offer Arrived

Carmelo Anthony had spent over a year without a basketball team before the Trail Blazers gave him a call. The 10-time All-Star had been preparing himself for the retirement up until that point, as he told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols (link via Nick Friedell of ESPN.com).

“I was preparin’ myself,” Anthony said of the idea of having played his last NBA game. “And I had prepared myself to kinda just walk away from the game — if the right situation didn’t come about.”

Still, Anthony always knew that he could still contribute in the league. He simply needed the right opportunity.

“So if I were just to go to a team and to a situation just to be on the team and it didn’t work out, it was gonna come back on me anyway. Like, the blame is gonna be on me anyway. So a situation like Portland, where I could just come in and just play my game and have a group of guys that really want me, and the organization that want me,” Anthony explained.

“There’s no better feelin’ than when you feel wanted. And I think that’s what kinda keeps me motivated and understandin’, like, this situation is — it is and was the best situation for me.”

Melo was named Western Conference player of the week on Monday. He’s averaging 17.7 points per game and Portland is 3-3 since Anthony arrived.

I feel good,” Anthony said. “Just because I’m 35 years old and I’m supposed to be, you know, the book says you’re supposed to be about to retire around this time? Like — like, no, I’ve always been against all odds. … I just had a year off. … I had a year off restin’ my body.

“The most important part about that is I rested my mind right. I got my mind right. And I don’t think people understand how strong that is. When you’re able to get your mind right, everything else flows.”

Eastern Notes: Irving, Waiters, Jackson, Winslow

Kyrie Irving will miss at least two more games for the Nets as he recovers from a shoulder injury, Malika Andrews of ESPN.com reports. Head coach Kenny Atkinson isn’t concerned about Irving’s slow recovery and his lack of travel with the team.

“I think I used to get frustrated more,” Atkinson said of Irving’s slow recovery. “I’ve had my moments of frustration because I want him back so bad. But you hear our performance staff and then you talk to Kyrie and then you get your mind to a place where that’s the smartest thing to do.”

Here’s more from the Eastern Conference:

  • Head coach Erik Spoelstra said Dion Waiters will “probably” be active tonight for the Heat, Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel tweets. Waiters hasn’t played for Miami since he was suspended for eating an edible — or at all this season.
  • The Pistons‘ medical team evaluated Reggie Jackson‘s back today and the results showed positive signs of progress, as the team announces on Twitter. The point guard’s rehab from a stress reaction will continue and he’ll be re-evaluated in two weeks.
  • Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel wonders if Justise Winslow is more valuable to the Heat as a trade chip than a contributor. Winderman makes a case for the team to trade the former top-10 pick and gain additional help.