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Source — Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers opts out of contract

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Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers has decided to opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent, a source told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears.

After four years with the LA Clippers, Rivers spent short stints with the Wizards and Suns before finding a home with the Rockets. Rivers, 28, settled into a bench role there, averaging 8.8 points in 23.4 minutes per game for Houston last season.

The No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Rivers never lived up to his billing as a top prospect heading into his rookie year.

But the son of Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers has turned himself into a capable pick-and-roll ball handler and proved especially useful in Houston as a third option behind James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

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Judge’s ruling favors Zion Williamson, voids New Orleans Pelicans star’s marketing agreement with Gina Ford

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A federal judge in North Carolina has granted Zion Williamson partial judgment in his lawsuit against a former marketing agent who sued the New Orleans Pelicans star for $100 million in damages claiming breach of contract.

In Wednesday’s ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta C. Biggs voided Williamson’s marketing agreement with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing because it didn’t meet the requirements of North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agents Act.

Specifically, Biggs ruled that Williamson was a student-athlete at Duke at the time he signed the marketing agreement with Ford’s company; he had not been declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA; Ford was not a certified agent in North Carolina; the agreement did not include the required warnings under the law; and Williamson and his family communicated to Ford that they were terminating and voiding the contract.

“Having considered the pleadings, viewed in the light most favorable to Defendants and drawing all reasonable inferences in Defendants’ favor, the Court concludes that Plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of whether the Agreement is void,” Biggs wrote in her ruling.

Williamson, who played one season at Duke before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, sued Ford and Prime Sports in June 2019 in an attempt to terminate his marketing agreement with her company.

The same month, Ford and Prime Sports Marketing sued Williamson, Creative Artists Agency and two CAA employees in a Florida court, alleging that CAA interfered with Prime Sports’ deal with Williamson and that he breached their five-year contract.

Biggs also denied Ford’s motion to supplement an earlier response with alleged evidence that suggested Williamson wasn’t eligible under NCAA rules when he played at Duke because his family and others had accepted improper benefits.

“Defendants’ affirmative defenses and counterclaims that Plaintiff was not a student-athlete do not rely on material allegations of fact, rather a conclusion of law that flies in the face of their own pleadings as well as attachments to their pleadings,” Biggs wrote. “Although Defendants assert that their pleadings make clear that they contest Plaintiff’s status as a student-athlete at the time that the Agreement was entered, this assertion is in direct conflict with their admission that Plaintiff was actively engaging in an intercollegiate sport — namely, men’s basketball — which is one of the ways the UAAA provides that an individual can be deemed a student-athlete. The Court is not required to assume the truth of legal allegations or conclusions because they are packaged in the form of factual allegations.”

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Chicago Bulls’ Chandler Hutchison, Tomas Satoransky on track to play after COVID-19 positives

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A couple of familiar faces returned to the Chicago Bulls practice facility Wednesday with their health intact.

Chandler Hutchison and Tomas Satoransky rejoined the Bulls for practice after recovering from COVID-19 and are on track to play against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, according to Bulls coach Billy Donovan.

They haven’t played since Chicago’s 115-107 win in Washington on Dec. 29.

“Obviously, when I knew that I’m positive, it was beyond frustration. It was a difficult moment,” Satoransky said. “I was fine going into the isolation on my own, but I was kind of worried about my family. Fortunately, they all tested negative.”

Due to health and safety protocols, Hutchison stayed at a hotel in Washington for 10 days throughout his self-isolation process, with a hotel assistant on call to tend to anything he needed. Once he cleared protocols, he hopped on a commercial flight back to the Windy City.

“It got pretty bad there for a couple days, but I don’t think I got to a point where it was too tough to where I couldn’t stay where I was in the hotel room,” Hutchison said. “Just trying to rest and get a lot of water and hydrate and just stay in communication with our training staff here and our health and medical staff. It didn’t quite get to the point where I felt like I had to go to the hospital.”

Satoransky, who didn’t have any serious symptoms of COVID-19, said it was mentally tough to be away from the team. This was Satoransky’s second absence due to COVID-19 this season. In December, he missed time because of a mandated nine-day quarantine for having close contact with former Bulls forward Noah Vonleh, who tested positive during the preseason.

Chicago has had a list of other incidents as well, including Garrett Temple testing positive in November, Lauri Markkanen and Ryan Arcidiacono being out nearly two weeks under the health and safety protocols despite not testing positive, and four members of the coaching staff missing a Dec. 26 game against the Indiana Pacers.

Now that the squad is back intact, it’s business as usual when they step on the hardwood. They knew this would be a possibility when they agreed to play this season.

“Without a bubble-type scenario, it was kind of an expected thing that this was going to be something that was going to circulate. You see kind of how the different teams are being affected with it now throughout the season,” Hutchison said. “I think that it was never something that we were — when they looked at the return to play, they said that it was just going to completely go away.

“There’s too many factors that play into it that you can’t control, and so I think this was kind of an expected thing. It was how it was going to hit and how we respond from it.”

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NBA to enforce rules forbidding hugs, handshakes with midcourt security

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After witnessing some opposing players disregarding new league rules against unnecessary contact on game nights, the NBA is moving team security into the midcourt area to dissuade violations that include hugging and handshakes, according to a league memo obtained by ESPN on Wednesday.

As coronavirus infections increased amid a darkening pandemic, the NBA recently tightened regulations on players and staffs, including several meant to lessen the possibility of on-court transmissions.

Despite those changes, there were still instances of traditional players’ contact in postgame scenarios, which led the NBA to issue a memo Wednesday reaffirming the rules that require teams to remain on their half of the court in pregame and halftime warm-ups, and limits to physical contact that include only elbow or fist bumps. High-fives, hugs and handshakes aren’t allowed, nor are extended postgame conversations.

The NBA postponed its 16th regular-season game Tuesday — the Memphis Grizzlies at the Portland Trail Blazers. This time, the reason was because of ongoing contact tracing within the Grizzlies.

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