Fri Jun 21 8:50pm ET
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer
BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 20: Zion Williamson celebrates as he is drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans with the No. 1 overall pick during the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20, 2019 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Ashlee Espinal/NBAE via Getty Images)
METAIRIE, La. (AP) Zion Williamson and his family were met with applause and traditional New Orleans jazz as they walked into the Pelicans' headquarters.
The practice gym was filled with team employees and executives eager to welcome the player who has infused the franchise with so much more promise than it appeared to have when six-time All-Star Anthony Davis requested a trade five months ago.
Williamson, who was in New York a night earlier when the Pelicans made him the NBA's top overall draft choice, smiled and looked relaxed in his blue suit and white designer sneakers. When the music was turned down and it was time for Williamson to address the gathering, he spoke with an easy manor and kept his comments short and simple. He promised maximum effort and flexibility, but stopped short of forecasting the type of greatness for himself that so many others have predicted.
''I look at things from a realistic point of view,'' Williamson began during his formal introduction to his first professional home on Friday evening. He called the praise being showered upon him ''a bit much,'' and reminded everyone that he is still a couple weeks short of his 19th birthday.
''I haven't played one (NBA) game yet, so I look at it just like that,'' Williamson said. ''I'm just trying to contribute to the team.''
The 6-foot-7, 285-pound forward will probably do a lot more than that, given the force of nature he was in his one season at Duke. He averaged 22.6 points for the Blue Devils and was voted to the ACC's All-Defensive Team. He also averaged 8.9 rebounds, 2.12 steals and 1.8 blocked shots.
Pelicans new executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin has sought to temper expectations by asserting that Williamson is ''not the savior'' of the small market franchise that was won two playoff series since relocating from Charlotte in 2002. Griffin also has stated repeatedly that veteran guard Jrue Holiday is the unquestioned leader of the team - which didn't seem to bother Williamson at all.
Williamson visited New Orleans for just a day of meetings before the draft and had dinner at renowned Uptown restaurant Commanders Palace.
This second trip is expected to span at least the weekend, and dinner at a downtown steak place was on tap Friday night, followed by his first community service event at a playground in eastern New Orleans on Saturday. His parents and siblings also have made the trip, and they were expected to help the Pelicans' newest star look for a place to live.
Williamson said he enjoyed the televised images of fans in New Orleans celebrating wildly in a downtown street upon his selection.
''I didn't think I deserved all that,'' he said with a smile, ''but it was just passion for the team.''
Even Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry and owner Gayle Benson struggled to contain their enthusiasm for Williamson's arrival.
''To receive the No. 1 pick in the draft is a prize any sports team would covet; this one is different,'' Benson said. ''We could not have asked for a better player with more potential on the court. More importantly, we could not have hoped for a better person to represent and help lead our franchise into this new chapter.''
Added Gentry, ''You don't get to coach guys like this very often. When you're lucky enough to have a generational player like that that you're going to be able to coach, you relish just the honor of being able to coach a guy like that.''
''You have to have the talent, but you have to have people that have the character that he has. It's going to be enjoyable to see the style of basketball that we're going to play. He more than fits into it. It's going to be exciting to watch.''
Williamson said it is easy for him to take such comments - and superstar treatment from fans - in stride.
''The thing that keeps me grounded is, I just always think about the times when, like, it was just me, my stepdad and a basketball on an outdoor court,'' he said.
The Pelicans had the right to draft Williamson first overall after an unlikely victory in the NBA's draft lottery last month. Before the lottery, odds were that Williamson would wind up in one of the NBA's largest markets with the New York Knicks. Instead, he'll be in one of the smallest. But his stepfather, Lee Anderson, said New Orleans was exactly where he was hoping his stepson would go.
''I am so thankful,'' Anderson said. ''I thought this city would be a great place to go, and God worked it out.''
Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin (knee) says that he has fully recovered from his surgery. In January, Griffin underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, but is ready to play whenever the NBA resumes play. "Im ready to go whenever things pick back up. Im just working out and trying to stay ready and stay sane," says Griffin. It's unclear if the Pistons will clear him to play right away. The team is in rebuild mode and is likely going to shop Griffin this offseason with Christian Wood expected to take over at power forward. Trading Griffin would be great for Wood's fantasy value, but we'll have to wait and see what happens this offseason.
Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (knee) could be ready to suit up once the NBA resumes play, according to Duane Rankin. It's been roughly two months since Oubre underwent right knee surgery. He appears to be making great progress and recently posted a video of him working out. The Suns begin voluntary workouts at their practice facility on May 16, so we'll see how Oubre progresses during those. In mid-April, Suns GM James Jones said that Oubre was pretty much ready to go. It sounds like the Suns are going to have Oubre back on the court when the season resumes.
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (Achilles) is not expected to suit up for the team during the 2019-2020 season. Nets GM Sean Marks has not ruled out the idea of Durant returning, but it sounds unlikely at the moment. Kevin Durants not coming back to the Nets this year, says ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The expectation is that Durant will come back for the 2020-2021 season. That would give him roughly 18 months of recovery time. He should be nearly 100 percent ready to play by the time training camp rolls around next season.
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said that he originally didn't want the organization to draft him. Instead, Tatum wanted the Phoenix Suns to take him during the 2017 NBA Draft. He mentioned that it worked out in the end, but he didn't feel like there would be enough shots for him in Boston. Tatum was averaging 27.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.0 blocks during his last 23 games before the league went on hiatus. It appears that Tatum is finally reaching his full potential and could be a first round pick in standard drafts next season.
Denver Nuggets forward Jerami Grant is not expected to pick up his player option for the 2020-2021 season. He has a $9 million option for next season, but is expected to test his worth on the free agent market. Grant has made improvements on the offensive side each of the last two seasons. He's already known for playing reliable defense, so he should be a coveted option in the free agent market. His fantasy value will be dependent on where he ends up, but Grant should have a significant role on whichever organization he picks.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Dylan Windler (leg) says that he is around 70 or 80 percent healthy after having surgery in January. Its been a little over three months right now and I think the docs saying maybe a month or a month and a half before Im able to play live basketball again, Windler said. He played well during the Summer League, but he was never able to take the court this season due to his leg injury. Kevin Porter Jr. has been playing well, which means Windler is likely going to be behind him in the rotation. He might work his way into the rotation next season, but it depends on what the Cavs do in the offseason.
Orlando Magic guard Michael Carter-Williams says that he feels like he is in a good spot with his new organization. He mentioned that he doubted himself after being released by the Houston Rockets. "I didnt know if I was going to be back in the league or not," he said. Carter-Williams has put together some nice moments with the Magic this season. It sounds like he's interested in staying with the team this summer. However, he won't have reliable fantasy value while Markelle Fultz and D.J. Augustin are healthy. Carter-Williams does offer some deep league value, but can be avoided in most formats.
Atlanta Hawks guard Kevin Huerter has been hindered by a knee issue basically all season long. He says part of the reason that his knee has been bothering him is a bad diet. He went gluten-free near the start of the 2019-2020 season. "I didnt want to deal with the injury anymore, and I felt like the diet was helping," he said. Huerter has top-100 value, assuming he can actually stay on the court. His shooting percentage and free throw percentage have been on the rise. However, Huerter is going to battle with Cam Reddish for playing time. Having to split up playing time at the shooting guard spot is going to hurt Huerter's value the most.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2021. The Golden State Warriors have reportedly been "preparing for years" to sign Antetokounmpo. There's rumors that Antetokounmpo could leave Milwaukee if he loses faith in the organization's ability to win a championship. It sounds like he is currently on good terms with Milwaukee, but nobody knows how the future will play out. The Warriors are definitely interested in Antetokounmpo, but so should every other organization in the league.
Cleveland Cavaliers center Larry Nance Jr. says that he plans to work out at the Cavs facilities on Friday. The Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, and Cavs are all opening their doors to the facilities on Friday. It's the first step towards getting the NBA season back on track. Nance could potentially have a significant role on the Cavs next season if center Andre Drummond decides to sign elsewhere. Nance's fantasy value has been dependent on the absence of either Drummond or Kevin Love. It appears he's ready to take the next step in his career, but is stuck in a backup role in Cleveland.
Detroit Pistons forward Christian Wood is set to become a free agent after next season. There is a 70 percent chance that the Pistons re-sign Wood, according to James Edwards III. The organization has his Early Bird rights, so they should have a great chance at keeping Wood in Detroit. Wood should continue to have fantasy value in Detroit despite Blake Griffin still being under contract. It sounds like the Pistons are going to find a way to keep both players involved.
San Antonio Spurs guard Marco Belinelli wants to re-sign in the NBA this summer, but hasn't ruled out other options. The 34-year-old veteran might consider playing in Europe if the current NBA season is lost. The 13-year veteran is averaging only 13 minutes per game this season with the Spurs. He likely won't have significant fantasy value on another NBA roster. Belinelli had some nice moments in the league, but his days of playing over 25 minutes per game are likely over in the NBA. Heading elsewhere to play might be his best chance to see significant playing time.
Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (back) will be ready to play when the league resumes, according to general manager Elton Brand. Sadly, Simmons has been unable to do more work because of the league being shutdown. He has been given plenty of time to rest and recover, but isn't able to get on the court and actually get in the needed work. Despite being unable to practice, the Sixers feel that Simmons will be ready to play when the league returns.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and center Rudy Gobert are going to work out their differences and move forward, according to Jazz VP Dennis Lindsey. Mitchell was not pleased with how Gobert acted before the NBA went on hiatus. However, both players are going to move forward in the best interest of the team. There were some rumors that Gobert could be on the move, but it sounds like neither player is going anywhere. Hopefully both players can put their differences aside and focus on winning basketball games.
Washington Wizards point guard John Wall believes that the organization needs to upgrade at the small forward position. "With me and Brad [Beal], who is a great cornerstone, and you have Rui Hachimura who is a rookie that's in there, but I feel like we definitely need a three that's a dog, that can knock down shots and compete and create for us," Wall said. Washington also has Troy Brown who is only 20 years old and has plenty of potential. However, this sounds like Wall asking some organization to make some win-now moves this offseason. Whether or not the team makes those deals remains to be seen, but Wall sounds like he's ready to win.
Portland Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony says that he hit rock bottom before the organization gave him a chance. "I hit rock bottom emotionally, and I had to build myself back upbasically by myselfto get here where I'm at today to be able to tell this story," says Anthony. The 35-year-old is averaging 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.4 triples with the Blazers this season. However, he could lose some playing time with Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic returning from injury. Regardless, the Melo rebound story was a success and hopefully he'll continue to succeed until he's ready to call it a career.
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (shoulder) could be sidelined up to six months, according to Dr. John Kelly IV. He underwent arthroscopic surgery back on March 3, so Irving is expected to return in September. Any stability surgery requires at least four months of rehab with an expectation of six months more realistic," says Kelly. It appears Irving is done for the rest of the 2019-2020 season. It's unclear when or if the NBA is going to return this season. However, it sounds like Irving will be ready to get back on the court for the 2020-2021 campaign.
Detroit Pistons guard Luke Kennard (knee) would've been back in action on March 14 if the NBA didn't get suspended. He has been out of action since December 21 with patellar tendinitis in both knees. The organization has been trying to figure out a way to prevent this issue from happening again. Kennard has made a name for himself in the league already and is averaging a career-high 4.1 assists this season. He'll be entering the final year of his rookie contract next season, so the Pistons might need to begin extension talks soon.
Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris (ankle) says that he has fully recovered from the injury he suffered March 11. So I was going to be out a month, no matter what, and then [the NBA shutdown] went down literally the next day, Harris said. He has been able to use the training facility during the hiatus because of his injury. It's unclear when the NBA is going to return, but it sounds like Harris is ready to play. Harris has been playing well this season and has carved out a significant role for himself in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (Achilles) could return before the end of the season, according to GM Sean Marks. It sounds like the organization is leaving it up to Durant to decide when to come back. They believe he knows his body better than anybody else and he'll decide when the timing is right. Durant reportedly looked good before the NBA went on hiatus. It wouldn't be shocking if Durant does take the court during the 2019-2020 season, especially if the playoffs start right away.