Wednesday’s NBA: Bulls sign former Piston, two-time All-Star center Andre Drummond

Detroit News
Brett Martel |  Associated Press

Chicago — The Chicago Bulls signed former Pistons center Andre Drummond on Wednesday, adding a two-time All-Star and four-time rebounding champion.

The team also re-signed backup forward Derrick Jones Jr.

The 28-year-old Drummond has averaged 13.8 points and 13.3 rebounds over 10 seasons with Detroit, Cleveland, the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. He figures to back up Nikola Vucevic.

Drummond had a strong second half for Brooklyn last season after being traded in the deal that sent James Harden to Philadelphia, averaging 11.8 points and 10.3 rebounds in 24 games for the Nets. Drummond has averaged 13.8 points and 13.3 rebounds over 10 seasons with Detroit, Cleveland, the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

Jones averaged 5.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 51 games last season – his first in Chicago and sixth in the league.

The Bulls won 46 games and enjoyed their best record in seven years with DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine leading the way. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2017, losing to Milwaukee in five games.

Chicago has a five-year maximum deal worth about $215 million in place with LaVine as well as a one-year, $2.9 million agreement with veteran guard Goran Dragic, people familiar with the situations have told The Associated Press. The team had not announced those deals as of Wednesday night.

Zion aims to end ‘negative’ narratives

A few months after Zion Williamson was left entirely out of Pelicans promotional maerial regarding ticket renewals, the injury-riddled star forward was back to being celebrated Wednesday as a supremely influential figure in New Orleans’ future.

“The last few months were a roller-coaster of emotions,” Williamson said. “The world just ran with narratives, and so when my family was going out in public, they’re getting harassed by people about why we don’t like New Orleans or why we don’t want to be here, when that’s not the case at all.

“I wasn’t able to play because my foot was broke,” Williamson continued. “Every time I checked my phone it’s always something negative. Even when you’re trying to make positive of the situation, it was very tough.”

So the Pelicans used the occasion of Williamson signing a $193 million, five-year contract extension – which could be worth up to $231 million if the explosive, 6-foot-6, 280-pounder lives up to the potential he’s displayed when healthy – to try to dispel past notions of distrust and start a new narrative.

“This is a really momentous occasion for all of us,” said David Griffin, the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations. “This is an opportunity for us as an organization to really put to bed a lot of things that were said.

“So many things that are talked about are just words,” Griffin continued as Williamson nodded in agreement beside him. “What Zion Williamson did today is express his commitment to this team and to this city and to this community. … So the noise that’s on the periphery of all of that is completely irrelevant.”

Williamson appears healthy now, cleared by the club to engage in basketball activities without restrictions. Recently, he and his stepfather, Lee Anderson, have been running basketball camps for kids at a New Orleans YMCA, where Williamson formally signed his contract while campers stood behind him and applauded.

It also was Williamson’s 22nd birthday, and he commented, while grabbing Griffin’s shoulder and smiling, that it was his best birthday yet.

“Thank y’all for really sticking with me the past year,” Williamson said to the Pelicans’ brass. “It was a tough year, and then for the Pelicans to come give this birthday gift, I’m not going to let ‘em down. I’m not going to let the city down, I’m not going to let my family down, and most of all, I’m not going to let myself down.”

Now the 2019 No. 1 overall draft choice out of Duke, who has played in just 85 games in his first three seasons, is primed to see how much his return could help a squad that improved dramatically late last season and made a surprisingly competitive playoff showing without him.

Griffin, meanwhile, sees his vision for building a young team set up for sustained success coming together under Detroit native Willie Green, who in his first season as an NBA head coach shepherded the team from a 1-12 start to postseason qualification, two play-in victories and two more victories in a first-round series against top-seeded Phoenix.

“We feel like with the team we have assembled, with Zion as an enormous part of that, coach Green and his staff are going to be able to put together an incredible run,” Griffin said. “We’re young, we’re talented and most importantly we are very hungry.”

Williamson played in just 24 games as a rookie because of a preseason right knee injury (lateral meniscus). In his second season, he played in 61 of 72 games, averaging a team-high 27 points and becoming a first-time All-Star during what was his lone NBA campaign not mostly or entirely wiped out by injuries.

“Zion is a huge part of what we want to accomplish,” Green said, noting that Williamson will periodically initiate the offense handling the ball as he did successfully in is second season. “It’s not necessarily him fitting in. He can do that with any team in the league. It’s about maximizing the group that we have when we had him to it. And, frankly, I think it’s going to be scary for the rest of the NBA.”

Williamson said he is focused on adopting strategies meant to preserve his health and promote career longevity – but cutting down on vigorous, high-flying dunks in favor of lower-impact layups probably won’t be one of them.

“I’m a competitor, so when I’m on the court, I’m not thinking about, ”Let me lay this ball in; hopefully my career will last longer,’” Williamson asserted with a playful grin. “No, I’m thinking about putting that person through the rim. So, as far as me dunking, that’s going to always happen. That’s going to stay happening, no matter what (team trainers and management) are talking about. I’m always dunking. Come on, man!”

Gobert arrives in Minnesota

Rudy Gobert reads Twitter comments, so he’s aware that Minnesota fans didn’t like him very much during his first nine NBA seasons. And he also heard Timberwolves coach Chris Finch complain regularly about the way he sets screens.

Those perspectives are probably going to change.

“Now we’re on the same side, so I’m excited,” Gobert said.

So is Minnesota, with good reason. The Timberwolves announced the acquisition of Gobert at a news conference in Minneapolis on Wednesday, when the trade that they agreed to make with the Utah Jazz last week could finally become official.

It took four players, five first-round picks – including one made last month – and the option of swapping another pick to get the French center to Minnesota, and the Timberwolves still feel like they got the better of the deal.

“We think that he fits perfectly inside of what we already do,” Finch said.

In a league that has become increasingly positionless, where small-ball reigns at times, the Timberwolves now have two of the league’s very best big men in the same lineup with a three-time defensive player of the year in Gobert playing alongside All-NBA performer Karl-Anthony Towns.

“He doesn’t inhibit anything we have presently,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said. “He makes it better. He augments what we have presently. So, when we look at fit, it’s not just about talent. It’s about kind of developing the team … and he’s going to make it better.”

The Utah-Minnesota trade was executed shortly after the NBA’s moratorium on most offseason player movement and contract signings was lifted on Wednesday.

Many of the deals, such as Memphis’ Ja Morant and New Orleans’ Zion Williamson getting rookie extensions worth at least $193 million over a five-season span from 2023-24 through 2027-28 – both now official – were agreed to last week, but couldn’t be completed until that moratorium ended.

Also now signed: Bradley Beal’s new deal in Washington, a five-year contract worth $251 million for the Wizards’ franchise player.

“Today represents such a special moment in my life,” Beal said.

Williamson signed his extension on his 22nd birthday.

“Just want to say thank you all for believing in me, just giving a kid like me a chance to showcase my abilities and help bring the team hopefully multiple championships,” said Williamson, who has missed most of his first three NBA seasons with injuries but got a max extension anyway. “Most of all, I thank you all for really sticking with me the past year.”

The final agreement in the Utah-Minnesota deal was this: Gobert to the Timberwolves for Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Leandro Bolmaro, the rights to newly drafted Walker Kessler, Minnesota’s 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 first-round picks and a 2026 first-round pick swap.

Jazz owner Ryan Smith said Gobert “will forever be a part of us.”

“Rudy Gobert had a huge impact on this franchise and the entire state of Utah during his nine seasons with the Jazz,” Smith said. “One of the greatest defensive players in NBA history, Rudy will forever be considered one of the most significant players to wear a Jazz uniform. His love for and impact on this community are impossible to overstate.”

The Jazz saw coach Quin Snyder step down last month after eight seasons and hired former San Antonio and Boston assistant Will Hardy to replace him. Then came the Gobert trade, ending an era in Utah. No team in the Western Conference has won more regular season games over the last six seasons than the Jazz, but the success never carried over into the postseason. Utah made the playoffs in each of those six years, not getting past the second round.

“The window for winning is not always big,” Gobert said. “For us in Utah, that’s kind of what happened. I think the organization felt like that. We had maybe passed that window that we had over the last few years. I think it’s still going to be a very competitive team. It just felt like with all the assets that they could get for me, it was better for them to go that way.”

The Timberwolves might be the opposite. They haven’t seen the second round in nearly two decades, and are betting that Towns, Gobert, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell can become a core to change all that.

“The goal is to win a championship,” Gobert said. “I came here for that. I didn’t come here just to be a good team. I came here to try to take this team to the finals and accomplish that.”

Heat, Martin agree on 3-year deal

Caleb Martin is coming off the best season of his career, and the Miami Heat are giving him three more years as a reward.

Martin agreed to a three-year contract on Wednesday, one that will start with the forward making $6.5 million this coming season and be worth $20.4 million over the full three years, a person with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the Heat had not yet announced the signing of the deal.

Martin is coming off his third NBA season, his first in Miami, and set career bests in a slew of categories. He averaged 9.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 60 games with the Heat, shooting 51% from the floor.

The Heat were 8-4 in games Martin started this past season, when Miami finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference and made the East finals.

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