ZION BACK: Yesterday, Pelicans GM David Griffin announced that 2019 No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson is, barring an unexpected setback, slated to return on Jan. 22 for New Orleans’ game against San Antonio. Griffin added that Williamson’s injury was a blessing in disguise, because it allowed the supersized forward to become an even healthier version of his previous self. If you remember, that “less healthy” version of Williamson tore it up in the preseason, averaging 23.3 points over four games while chipping in 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals. Oh, and he made over 71 percent of his shot attempts.
Just like that, the Pelicans have become appointment viewing as many expected prior to the season, including the league schedule-makers, who gave New Orleans 30 national television games this year (the most the franchise has ever received). League execs are excited about the news, with one telling Yahoo that Williamson may not be a max player right now, but even as a rookie, he’s already a max entertainer.
Williamson’s return is huge for the NBA, not just because he’s going to put up enormous numbers and throw down highlight dunks every night, but because it will allow the league to start marketing and branding one of the main players that will be among their next generation of superstars. Guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic have already started that process, but Williamson will be just as important for the future popularity of the league.
From a more near-sighted standpoint, it’s just going to be fun watching Zion do stuff like this in games. Jan. 22 can’t get here soon enough.
LAST NIGHT IN THE ASSOCIATION: The most important storyline from last night came out of Los Angeles, where the Magic pulled off a pretty huge upset against the Lakers, winning the contest 119-118. Even more noteworthy than the big win was the fact that Orlando was led by Markelle Fultz, who dropped 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, including this clutch bucket over LeBron James. Good for Markelle, who has slowly but steadily started to shed the ugly bust label this season.
In Houston, the Rockets lost the third game in their last four tries, dropping a 117-107 result against a pretty average Blazers team. James Harden attempted just 12 shots and dropped a season-low 13 points, while Carmelo Anthony, facing his former team, had 18 points and 12 rebounds. Houston is in a rut right now.
Oh, also: Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard faced off in that game, too, and still don’t care much for each other.
PHILLY NEEDS SHOOTING: We preview the 2020 trade deadline from a Philadelphia perspective, including their team needs, potential targets and the main trade candidates from the Sixers’ roster.
LOVE TRADE VALUE: Kevin Love trade scuttle has come to a halt over the last week, but one Western Conference executive says he doesn’t think the five-time All-Star has much value right now, which could explain the lack of progress on that front.
GIANNIS UPDATE: League sources tell The Athletic that the Bucks remain confident they’ll be able to retain Giannis Antetokounmpo when he hits free agency in 2021, but they’re aware the outcome of this season will play a huge part in the reigning MVP’s decision. Nervy times ahead in Milwaukee.
THE MAKING OF A SUPER TEAM: ESPN goes super behind-the-scenes on how Paul George and Kawhi Leonard ended up becoming teammates on the Clippers. A lot of crazy details in that piece, including George and Leonard having meetings at Drake’s L.A. home this offseason.
SOCIAL MEDIA BUZZ: This shouldn’t be too surprising, but small-market teams get hosed when it comes to Twitter buzz, both by top NBA Twitter influencers and the NBA’s official Twitter page itself. This hurts those smaller teams severely from a marketing perspective, which is way more important than you may think.
OH, KNICKS: Usually, when a fan hits a halfcourt shot during a break in the action at NBA games, they win a boatload of money or other awesome prizes. The Knicks, on the other hand, gave a fan who hit a halfcourt shot at one of their recent games… $1,000 worth of scratch-off tickets. That almost sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch.
BUILDING A WINNER: Trae Young talks about the Luka Doncic trade, wanting to win now and a variety of other topics. Interesting tidbit from that piece: Some agents think the Hawks could be a free-agent destination this summer.
KEEPING HIS FOOT ON THE GAS: Despite the poor luck with his most recent injury, Anthony Davis plans to stay aggressive when he returns. That’s probably a good idea.
RARE GM INTERVIEW: Timberwolves general manager Gersson Rosas discusses Minnesota’s disappointing season, the team’s roster construction, and, most interestingly, reports about Karl-Anthony Towns’ unhappiness with the franchise.
SALARY QUIZ: WHO’S THIS NBA PLAYER? 🤔
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