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#pounditFriday, June 24, 2022

Basketball

Bruce Pearl takes swipe at top NBA draft prospect

Bruce Pearl coaching Auburn

Feb 8, 2022; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Bruce Pearl during the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas won 80-76. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to his take on this year’s NBA Draft, Bruce Pearl is saying it with his chest.

The Auburn head basketball coach made some headlines this week with his comments about ex-Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren, who is projected to be one of the top picks. Appearing on “McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning,” Pearl gave a very harsh opinion about the seven-footer Holmgren.

“Chet’s intriguing, but so was Shawn Bradley,” said Pearl, referencing the 7-foot-6 former NBA center who went No. 2 overall in 1993 but fell short of expectations. “The NBA stands for ‘No Boys Allowed.’ And that body [of Holmgren’s] scares me. It just does.

“He goes knee-to-knee with the wrong guy, and he could get broken in half,” Pearl added about Holmgren. “Therefore, at the very top of the draft, I think I got to go with what I know, not what could potentially … someday be.”

Pearl is not an entirely objective observer since one of his former players, All-SEC forward Jabari Smith Jr., is competing with Holmgren to go No. 1 overall. But Pearl’s comments actually came when he was asked whom he would select No. 2 overall after Smith. Pearl then proceeded to share his take on Holmgren before saying that he would draft ex-Duke star Paolo Banchero with the second pick instead.

Granted, Pearl is probably right that Holmgren’s slender 190-pound frame is concerning for NBA teams. But having just turned 20, Holmgren still has plenty of time to bulk up and is certainly not lacking in confidence either.

Deandre Ayton reportedly being pursued by 2 main teams

Deandre Ayton looks ahead

Jan 3, 2020; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) against the New York Knicks at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Rumors continue to intensify that Deandre Ayton will depart the Phoenix Suns this summer, and two teams appear to be emerging as possible favorites to sign him.

The Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons have both made Ayton a “highly sought after” target, according to Zach Harper of The Athletic. The Sacramento Kings have also checked in on Ayton, though their interest does not seem as overt at the moment.

Ayton is a restricted free agent, so the Suns would have to work with him in order to move him this offseason. That would either involve refusing to match an offer sheet or negotiating a sign-and-trade. The Hawks on paper have more pieces that Phoenix might want in a trade, but the Pistons freed up a lot of cap space on Wednesday that could be dedicated to Ayton.

There do seem to be growing hints that Ayton’s future is away from the Suns. Both sides might be open to making that happen, but where and how remain questions that are yet to be answered.

Rudy Gobert linked to very unlikely team

Rudy Gobert warming up

Feb 24, 2020; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) warms up before the game against the Phoenix Suns at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Garnett once famously said, “Anything’s possible.” It turns out that same quote could apply to Rudy Gobert’s future as well.

In an episode this week of “The Bill Simmons Podcast,” Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves have interest in Gobert. O’Connor also confirmed the report that Minnesota is eyeing another notable center as well.

While Karl-Anthony Towns is versatile enough offensively and defensively to accommodate another 5 in the starting lineup, Minnesota seems like an extremely surprising destination for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year Gobert. You might recall just a few months ago when Wolves players Patrick Beverley and Anthony Edwards trashed Gobert by name following a matchup against the Jazz. For Minnesota to now be considering giving up significant assets for Gobert, who is owed $170 million over the next four seasons, is a stunner.

Still, you can’t fault the Wolves front office for exploring any possible way to improve their team, past beefs be darned. After all, Beverley indicated that the organization was none too happy about the shots he took at Gobert.

Could notorious ex-teammate reunite with LeBron James on Lakers?

LeBron James looking on

Jan 21, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James has won four championships spread out with three different franchises during his NBA career. He has many former teammates, and different relationships with all of them.

But there is one former teammate more notorious than them all: Kyrie Irving.

James and Irving were teammates for three seasons on the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2014-2017. They reached the NBA Finals in each season together and won the championship in 2015-2016. Then Irving decided he no longer wanted to be teammates with James and forced a trade to Boston.

The two seemed to smooth things over in the time that passed since their breakup. Irving recognized the error of his ways.

Since they patched things up, there have been rumors of a possible reunion between the players on the Los Angeles Lakers. Those rumors are popping up once again.

Veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein has said that James and Irving have been in contact recently, possibly to talk about a reunion. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has identified the Lakers as the “most significant threat” to land Irving.

There is a big hurdle in Irving joining the Lakers, however. Irving has a player option for over $36 million. If he joined the Lakers, it would be for around $6 million. Losing $30 million would be a significant financial sacrifice for a guy who just sacrificed a huge amount of salary last season.

When it comes to Irving, you never know what he is thinking, and you can’t rule out anything.

Blazers land standout forward in trade with Eastern Conference team

Damian Lillard in a Blazers jersey

Dec 16, 2019; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard appears to be getting some reinforcements for next season.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported on Wednesday that the Portland Trail Blazers have acquired forward Jerami Grant in a trade with the Detroit Pistons. Portland will be sending a 2025 first-round pick (via the Milwaukee Bucks) to Detroit as part of the deal.

The two teams will also be swapping 2022 second-round picks. Additionally, Detroit will get the more favorable of two 2026 second-round picks between Portland and New Orleans (in exchange for sending a 2025 second-rounder back to Portland).

The 28-year-old Grant had averaged 20.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game over the last two seasons with the Pistons. He is only under contract for one more season, which may explain how Portland was able to land him without surrendering their No. 7 overall pick in this year’s draft.

Grant was already being linked to Portland over the last several weeks. Now the Blazers have officially gotten their guy, a potent secondary scorer and defender to flank Lillard with. That could also mean Portland is out of the running for another big name they had reportedly been targeting.

Suns could acquire ex-Chris Paul teammate?

Chris Paul in a Suns jersey

Apr 26, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) against the New Orleans Pelicans during game five of the first round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A reunion with one of his old battalion mates may be nearing for Chris Paul.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported this week that the Phoenix Suns are interested in trading for Houston Rockets veteran guard Eric Gordon. Windhorst mentions the Philadelphia 76ers as a team with interest in Gordon as well.

Gordon, 33, is under contract for $19.6 million next season and has a non-guaranteed deal for 2023-24. He played with the Suns star Paul in Houston for two seasons from 2017 to 2019, making a couple of quality playoff runs together. Additionally, Gordon played for Suns head coach Monty Williams in New Orleans from 2011 to 2015.

As an older player on a rebuilding Rockets team, Gordon appears to be very gettable. He also remains a productive player, averaging 13.4 points on 41.2 percent shooting from deep last season. That gives Gordon some appeal as a potential deadeye off the bench for the Suns. But Gordon is just one of many upgrades Phoenix is eyeing following their implosion in this year’s playoffs.

Zion Williamson looking ripped in new photos, video

Zion Williamson holds a ball

Mar 4, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) laughs while warming up before the game against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

There have been a lot of rumors surrounding Zion Williamson suggesting that the New Orleans Pelicans forward is overweight and out of shape. Williamson’s weight is frequently a subject of ridicule for the big man. But Williamson no longer appears to be the least bit out of shape. Far from it.

A photo of Williamson supposedly from Tuesday night drew attention on Wednesday. Williamson looks buff and to be in good shape.

Then Williamson released a workout video surrounding his new shoe release. He looks huge — but in a muscular way.

Williamson appears to be in good shape for when next season begins.

The 2018 No. 1 overall pick has only played in 85 career games over three seasons due to multiple injuries. When he has played, he has averaged 25.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists during his career.

Williamson is eligible for a rookie extension. His contract status has been a big topic for New Orleans.

Report: Nets have big fear about Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant with a hood on

May 8, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) warms up before game against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets seem to be at a crossroads regarding their future.

Kyrie Irving has a $36.5 million player option for next season. The sides need to figure out whether Irving will pick up his option or whether the sides will agree to a new deal. There is talk they could end up in a split.

But the Nets have a big fear about what an Irving exit could mean.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nets are worried that if Irving doesn’t return to the team, Kevin Durant could want out. Other teams around the NBA supposedly are even cheering for Kyrie to leave so that Durant ends up on the trade block.

This is a tough spot for the Nets, but it’s of their own doing. They knew when they signed Durant prior to the 2019-2020 season that they were reluctantly getting Irving in a package deal. Irving is flaky, unmotivated, injury-prone and bad for team chemistry. But the choices for Brooklyn at this point are to bring Irving back so they can retain Durant, or blow up the whole thing.

The Nets went 48-24 and lost to the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks in the conference semifinals two seasons ago. They could be optimistic and hope that if they retain their core, they could have another season of similar success in 2022-2023.

Dwyane Wade’s son lands workout with prominent NBA team

Zaire Wade warming up

Dec 7, 2019; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Sierra Canyon School guard Zaire Wade during the 2019 Hoophall West basketball tournament at Chaparral High School. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It may not be long before we see another Wade in the NBA.

Retired Miami Heat great Dwyane Wade revealed to Instagram this week that son Zaire had landed his first workout with an NBA team — the San Antonio Spurs. Dwyane posted a picture of Zaire in a Spurs jersey while also joking about the 2014 championship that the Spurs defeated the Heat for.

The 20-year-old Zaire, a 6-foot-2 guard, played in the NBA G League last season. He averaged 1.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per game in 12 total appearances for the Salt Lake City Stars.

There was some controversy over how Zaire landed in the G League in the first place. But he now appears to be one step closer to his ultimate goal of landing in the NBA.

Report: Hornets have put former All-Star on trade block

Michael Jordan in a suit

Dec 21, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan unveils the new Charlotte Hornets logo at halftime during the game against the Utah Jazz at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets know there is a possibility that they could lose Miles Bridges this offseason, but they are reluctant to see that happen. They may be looking to move some salary around in order to free up some money for Bridges.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the Hornets have put Gordon Hayward on the trade block. Hayward has two years and $61 million left on his 4-year, $120 million deal he signed in Nov. 2020.

Hayward played in 49 games last season and 44 the year before. He averaged 15.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals per game last season. Now 32, Hayward has not been the same player since his All-Star season with Utah in 2016-2017. Hayward left Utah after that season and broke his leg in his first game with Boston. He is still a good player, but it might be tough for Charlotte to find someone willing to take Hayward and his $30 million a year salary.

The Hornets have two picks in the first round for this year’s draft. They have pick Nos. 13 and 15 and would be willing to attach one of the picks in a trade of Hayward.

Moving the $30 million Hayward is owed per season would give Charlotte the money to retain Bridges, who is a restricted free agent. They also need to be able to afford LaMelo Ball when he becomes extension-eligible.

Beyond Hayward, the Hornets’ next highest-paid player is Terry Rozier, who is making $21 million next season. The team’s salary figures are going to start changing once they get Ball and Bridges signed to long-term deals, if they’re able to do so.