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#pounditTuesday, January 25, 2022

Basketball

Zion Williamson, Pelicans disconnected over rehab?

Zion Williamson at a press conference

The three words to best describe Zion Williamson’s continued rehab process may very well be “Not great, Bob.”

The New Orleans Pelicans announced on Jan. 5 that Williamson, who has not played all season due to a foot injury, would be continuing his rehab away from the team. The press release stressed that Williamson would remain under the supervision of the Pelicans’ medical staff though.

Christian Clark of The New Orleans Advocate gave a somewhat worrisome report this week about Williamson’s rehab however. The report stated that Williamson has been rehabbing in Oregon, where Nike’s headquarters are located, and that he flew there on Pelicans owner Gayle Benson’s private jet. But Clark’s report also says that no Pelicans officials actually accompanied Williamson on the trip. Instead, Williamson has been working with Jasper Bibbs, an ex-LSU strength coach who was fired last August after less than two months at the university.

Clark’s report contains other details about Williamson’s rehab as well as about LSU’s firing of Bibbs. You can read it in its entirety here.

Nothing about the Williamson situation seems to be going well right now for the Pelicans. The former top pick has faced scrutiny over his weight and has reportedly been approaching his rehab with a lousy work ethic. Now the team appears to be disconnected from Williamson’s rehab process altogether, which is yet another concern.

Photo: Sep 27, 2021; New Orleans, LA, USA; Zion Williamson during a press conference at the New Orleans Pelicans Media Day. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Bradley Beal has endorsed key Wizards trade target

Bradley Beal

The Washington Wizards have long been eager to find the ideal star to pair with Bradley Beal. They now appear to be targeting a player that has Beal’s firm endorsement.

The Wizards are poised to be aggressive at the trade deadline and have made Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis their top trade target, according to former NBC Sports Washington reporter Quinton Mayo. Sabonis has reportedly received Beal’s “ringing endorsement” and there is a belief that the Pacers forward would fit the team’s system and pair well with Beal.

Sabonis will be expensive to trade for. Mayo believes Washington would have to part with one or both of Rui Hachimura or Deni Avdija to interest the Pacers, and draft picks would also be necessary. However, Sabonis would provide a clear No. 2 option behind Beal, along with the upside of his rebounding skills and ability to play in the frontcourt.

The Pacers have appeared willing to make significant trades before the Feb. 10 deadline, and Sabonis might want a move himself. He definitely appears to be available, but the Wizards will face stiff competition if they want to make a deal for him.

Photo: Jan 30, 2020; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) warms up before the game between the Washington Wizards and the Charlotte Hornets at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Celtics looking to trade one of their biggest names

Brad Stevens

Rev up those fryers because the Boston Celtics are open for business.

Jared Weiss of The Athletic reported on Wednesday that the Celtics are exploring a trade of big man Al Horford as they pursue another center.

A five-time All-Star and ex-All-NBA selection, Horford is one of the biggest names on Boston’s roster. But he is now 35 years old and is averaging just 10.8 points per game this season, Horford’s lowest since his rookie year. Weiss notes that Horford, though he has been an great defender for the Celtics, has failed to find a consistent offensive role as the team is not featuring him in the pick-and-roll game.

Horford is on his second stint in Boston with the Celtics having given up a first-round draft pick to reacquire him last offseason. He is under contract for $26.5 million next season but only about half of that is guaranteed.

The Celtics are back above .500, but that may not be enough to even make the play-in tournament in the East. A Horford trade would be a fairly major shake-up and is the latest potential move the team is rumored to be eyeing.

Heat willing to trade surprising player?

Pat Riley

The Miami Heat are one of the best teams in the East this season at 28-16, but even they may be ready to cause a bit of chaos on the trade market.

Matt Moore of The Action Network reported on Wednesday that there is a belief around the league that the Heat could be open to trading sweet-shooting swingman Duncan Robinson.

Robinson just signed a new five-year, $90 million contract with Miami this past offseason. He has also been a staple in the Heat lineup over the last few seasons, emerging as one of the league’s top three-point threats and striking fear into the hearts of opponents during Miami’s 2020 Finals run especially.

But Robinson has regressed to 34.8 percent shooting from deep this season. Even worse is that teammate Max Strus, himself shooting 41.4 percent from deep, has taken Robinson’s spot in the starting lineup lately.

With Tyler Herro locked in as Miami’s sixth man and other Heat wings like Caleb Martin and Kyle Guy making cases for more playing time, that leaves Robinson looking a bit expendable. Thus, we can add a potential Robinson trade to the list of Heat rumors as the Feb. 10 trade deadline approaches.

Photo: Steve Mitchell-USA Today Sports

Is Kurt Rambis undermining Frank Vogel on Lakers?

Kurt Rambis in a suit

Among the headwinds facing Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel right now may be the influence of executive Kurt Rambis.

Dan Woike of the LA Times examined the dynamics between Vogel and Lakers management in a feature this week. Woike reported that Rambis, who is the Lakers’ senior basketball advisor, personally attended the team’s pregame coaches meeting on Monday for the first time all season. Rambis had previously only done so virtually, Woike adds. The report also says that Rambis advocated for the Lakers to use larger lineups with Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan during the meeting.

Woike’s feature touches on many of the other issues affecting the Lakers right now, and you can read it in full here.

The Lakers were coming off one of their worst losses of the season Saturday, getting routed by the Denver Nuggets 133-96. They responded on Monday though with an excellent win over a tough Utah Jazz team. Howard started at center and played 22 minutes. Jordan did not play at all though.

Vogel has largely gone away from lineups that feature traditional centers, instead using LeBron James at the 5 for extended minutes. Howard has not played more than 23 minutes in a game since November, and Jordan (who had an incident with Vogel earlier this season) has only played 20 total minutes for the team since Dec. 23.

As for Rambis, he is a Lakers great who won four championships as part of the team’s “Showtime” era in the 1980s. He has also become one of the most influential voices in the team’s front office since returning to the Lakers in 2018. Rambis has even been described as the Lakers’ “shadow president.”

But Rambis was an unsuccessful head coach in the NBA, compiling an awful 72-173 (.294) record across three teams. One of the criticisms of Rambis as a coach was that he failed to evolve as the league did. Now his push for the Lakers to go old-school and use bigger lineups seems to directly contradict and undermine Vogel’s approach. That is worrisome, especially with the rumors that Vogel’s job may be in imminent danger.

Rambis and wife Linda are powerful figures in the Lakers’ front office. They even reportedly took the lead on some major decisions for the team before. On top of making sure that the Lakers win games, Vogel may now have to contend with the influence of Rambis on his day-to-day game plan as well.

Photo: Jan 25, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; New York Knicks associate head coach Kurt Rambis in the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Video: Kyrie Irving had profane response to heckler in his old city Cleveland

Kyrie Irving wearing his Nets uniform

Kyrie Irving received a less-than-warm welcome from the local fans as he returned to Cleveland this week.

The Brooklyn Nets guard was in town to face the Cavaliers on Monday night, a game that Irving was eligible to play in since it was a road contest. A video from the game went viral of Irving’s profane response to a courtside fan who was heckling him.

“Got y’all a championship and motherf—ers still ungrateful,” Irving said.

Here is the video, which was posted by Instagram user _willswish (but obviously beware of the bad language).

Irving ended up going for 27 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists on the evening, but the Cavaliers won 114-107. Cleveland is now just one game behind Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference standings.

The seven-time All-Star Irving was drafted No. 1 overall by the Cavs in 2011 and played his first six career seasons with them. He indeed played a major role in the franchise’s only NBA championship to date in 2016, hitting the series-winning shot in Game 7 of the Finals that year.

Granted, there are plenty who will argue that LeBron James, not Irving, was most responsible for the 2016 title. Irving probably cannot expect a hero’s welcome back either with the shots that he took at Cleveland after leaving.

Photo: Feb 1, 2020; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) during the second half against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Sixers turned down big Ben Simmons trade offer from East team

Ben Simmons

The Philadelphia 76ers are swinging for the fences as they try to trade Ben Simmons, and it turns out they may not even be willing to settle for a triple.

Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported on Tuesday that the Sixers rebuffed a big trade offer that they got for Simmons from the Detroit Pistons. The offer was Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey, Kelly Olynyk, and a first-round pick.

Fischer says the package was met with little enthusiasm from the Sixers, who are said to be looking for an All-Star-caliber partner for Joel Embiid.

On paper, that is a very competitive offer for a player like Simmons, who is far from a truly elite player and whom everybody knows wants to be traded. Grant is a 20-point-per-game scorer who hits threes and plays great defense. Bey is one of Detroit’s best young talents at 22 years old and made the All-Rookie First Team last year. Olynyk is a solid veteran big who can space the floor and anchor a second unit offensively. Throw in a first-round pick on top of it, and that makes for an objectively excellent package for Simmons.

The Sixers are stubborn though, and a recent report detailed the unrealistic expectations they appear to have for a Simmons trade. The Simmons drama has already bled over into 2022. If not even an offer like the Detroit one can get the Sixers to budge, the saga might just last into 2023 as well.

Photo: Jan 30, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) talks to fans before a game against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Jazz open to a Rudy Gobert trade?

Rudy Gobert holding a basketball

Would the Utah Jazz actually trade away their three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert? One report says they are open to it.

The NBA trade deadline is approaching on Feb. 10. The Jazz are doing well at 29-15 and have a winning percentage over .600 for the fifth time in the last six seasons. But they’re also looking to upgrade their roster.

According to former Salt Lake City radio host Tim Montemayor, the Jazz are open to trading everyone on the team, except for Donovan Mitchell.

Montemayor says the Jazz are not actively shopping Gobert, but are open to trading him for the right price.

Mitchell reportedly is their only player who is off limits.

Mitchell being off limits makes sense. The 25-year-old guard is among the top scorers in the league and set to make the All-Star team for the third straight season. He’s a star player and one you build around. Gobert is also the type of player you build around. However, there has been some speculation lately that the tension between Mitchell and Gobert has heated up again.

Utah would be best off if Mitchell and Gobert can work together as teammates.

Photo: 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

LeBron James explains why he ducked media after recent loss

LeBron James yells during a game

LeBron James is explaining why he snuck out the back door instead of speaking to the media after his team’s most recent loss.

The Los Angeles Lakers got smoked by the Denver Nuggets on the weekend, losing in a 133-96 blowout. James left without doing a postgame press conference, which is a rare occurrence for him.

On Monday, James explained why he did not stick around for reporters.

“I didn’t like what was going to come out of my mouth,” the former MVP said, per Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll. “I understand that things that I say can be everywhere, so I didn’t want to do that to my teammates at that point in time.”

James is known for handling losing poorly. It sounds like he stopped himself before saying something that he would regret, such as potentially throwing his teammates under the bus.

The Lakers responded to the thrashing by Denver with their best win of the season, beating the Utah Jazz on Monday 101-95. But the team remains .500 on the year, and there are signs that they are still skating on very thin ice.

Photo: Nov 28, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) reacts against the Detroit Pistons in the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo disses Heat over bubble run

Giannis Antetokounmpo warms up

Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t explicitly say that the Miami Heat won a Mickey Mouse conference title in 2020, but that seems to be what he thinks.

The Milwaukee Bucks star was interviewed this week by The Athletic’s Eric Nehm. In the interview, Antetokounmpo spoke on the 2020 Orlando bubble and dissed the Heat, who beat the Bucks in the second round that year.

“Year 7. Ended with Miami,” he said. “I don’t make excuses as an athlete, but it wasn’t a satisfying year for me because I felt like if it was a normal situation, it wouldn’t end up like that. But at the end of the day, I felt like Miami was built to be an NBA bubble team, you know?”

The Bucks lost to the Heat in five games during the bubble in what was a massive disappointment for Milwaukee. Miami then went on to win the East. The two teams met again during last year’s playoffs with the Bucks sweeping the Heat in the first round and eventually winning it all. This season, Miami is 28-16 while Milwaukee is not too far behind at 27-19.

Antetokounmpo can blame the bubble all he wants, but the Bucks were not championship material in 2020. They had a number of holes on their roster, which they were able to plug during the offseason. Milwaukee added players like Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, and PJ Tucker, all of whom ended up being massive contributors to their eventual 2021 title. They got their revenge on the Heat in the process, but Miami was hobbled by their extremely short offseason at the time.

This is not the first time the Heat have faced questions over the legitimacy of their Finals run, and they have offered a response to their doubters. Perhaps a rubber match against Milwaukee in this year’s playoffs would be the best way to settle the rivalry once and for all.

Photo: Oct 23, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) warms up before the game against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports