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New Orleans Pelicans finalizing deal with NBL’s Didi Louzada



The New Orleans Pelicans are finalizing a multi-year deal with Brazilian guard Didi Louzada, league sources told ESPN on Sunday.

The Pelicans acquired Louzada with the No. 35 pick in the 2019 NBA draft in the same draft-night deal that netted New Orleans center Jaxson Hayes and guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

Louzada has since been stashed with the Sydney Kings in Australia’s NBL as part of the league’s Next Stars program.

New Orleans has until April 27 to sign another player to their roster after letting Isaiah Thomas’ 10-day contract expire on Monday. Because of testing policies, Louzada’s contract could be finalized closer to that date.

Since Louzada is a draft pick of the Pelicans, his tax hit for this year would count as zero years of service which is important for a team trying to stay under the luxury tax this season.

Louzada played his final game in Sydney on Saturday against the Cairns Taipans; the Kings moving into fourth place on the NBL ladder, with 12 regular-season games still to play. He arrived in the United States on Sunday morning, sources said.

Louzada played two seasons with the Kings, averaging 8.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game over the course of his 2021 NBL campaign, shooting 38.9 percent from the field and 26.4 percent from the 3-point line. In one of Louzada’s most recent games, he put together a 28-point performance over the South East Melbourne Phoenix, shooting 6-of-7 from downtown.

Over his two years in Sydney, Louzada added nearly 40 pounds to his frame and was widely regarded as one of the NBL’s most reliable perimeter defenders.

The decision to bring Louzada over comes at a time where the Pelicans’ wing depth has been hit by injuries. Alexander-Walker (high ankle sprain) and Josh Hart (torn UCL in his right thumb) both should be out at least a few more weeks recovering from their injuries. New Orleans added James Nunnally on a 10-day contract to help with the depth there as well and released 2020 NBL Most Improved Player Will Magnay in order to do so.

Louzada’s move from the NBL to the NBA continues a trend for the Kings, a team run by former Memphis Grizzlies executive Chris Pongrass. Jae’Sean Tate was with the Sydney-based team during the 2019-20 NBL season before signing a multi-year deal with the Houston Rockets, joining his former Kings head coach, Will Weaver, who signed onto Stephen Silas’ coaching staff in the off-season.

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‘He’s still winning:’ Kobe Bryant inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame with Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett



Vanessa Bryant, the wife of the late Kobe Bryant, accepted her husband’s admission into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Saturday night on his behalf, saying that he’s still winning even after he’s gone.

“I used to always avoid praising my husband in public because I felt like he got enough praise from his fans around the world and someone had to bring him back to reality,” Vanessa Bryant said at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Saturday night. “Right now, I’m sure he’s laughing in heaven because I’m about to praise him in public for his accomplishments on one of the most public stages. I can see him now, arms folded, with a huge grin saying ‘Isn’t this some s—?’

“He’s still winning.”

The 2020 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class is one of the most star-studded of all-time, led by Bryant and fellow NBA legends Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan — a trio that LeBron James said earlier Saturday is better than any in the history of the institution.

“There has not been a better Big 3 to go in at the same time,” James said.

Still, the focus of the night, and the weekend, was understandably on the man who wasn’t there, in the wake of the tragic helicopter crash that saw Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others pass away on January 26, 2020.

Vanessa Bryant’s speech, given with Bryant’s idol, Michael Jordan, standing next to her as his presenter into the Hall of Fame, focused on her relationship with her husband, as well as his with his children.

“I don’t have a speech prepared by my husband because he winged every single speech,” she said. “He was intelligent, eloquent and gifted at many things, including public speaking. However, I do know that he would thank everyone that helped him get here, including the people that doubted him and the people that worked against him and told him that he couldn’t attain his goals.

“He would thank all of them for motivating him to be here. After all, he proved you wrong.”

Vanessa Bryant also spoke about his legendary determination and will to play through injuries, including when he made two free throws and walked off the court under his own power after tearing his Achilles tendon.

She said that feeling came from getting a chance to watch Jordan growing up, and following his example of trying to always put on a show for the one person who might only get to see him play that night, in that game.

“People don’t know this, but one of the reasons my husband played through injuries and pain was because he said he remembered being a little kid, sitting in the nosebleeds with his dad to watch his favorite player play,” she said, sneaking a look at Jordan while the crowd laughed. “He could recall the car ride, the convos and the excitement of being lucky enough to have a seat in the arena. Kobe didn’t want to disappoint his fans, especially the ones in the 300 section that saved up to watch him play, the kids with the same excitement he once had.

“I remember asking him why he just couldn’t sit a game out because he was hurting. He said, ‘What about the fans who saved up to watch me play just once?’ He never forgot about his fans. If he could help it, he would play every minute of every game. He loved you all so much.”

Ultimately, though, she said his favorite fans were his daughters, whom he doted on constantly and did his best to attend every one of their events.

“Thank you for being the best husband and father you could possibly be. Thank you for growing and learning from your own mistakes,” Vanessa Bryant said. “Thank you for always trying to be better. Thank you for never giving up on us. Thank you for all of your hard work. Thank you for our family. Thank you for our daughters: Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri. Thank you for working so tirelessly to provide for us and for giving us the most amazing life together. Thank you for waking up at 4 a.m. to train, for making it home to kiss me good morning and for dropping our girls off at school only to go to practice, come home and pick up our girls from school whenever you could.

“Thank you for never missing a birthday, a dance recital, a school awards show, show-and-tell or any games our daughters played in if your schedule permitted. Thank you for putting your love for our family first. Thank you for bringing so much joy to our lives and joy to people around the world. Thank you for inspiring us to be better than we were the day before. Thank you for teaching me, and all of us, to put someone else’s joy before our own.

“Thank you for being so selfless and loving with a heart of gold. Thank you for never taking yourself too seriously. Thank you for your sense of humor. Thank you for your wit. Thank you for never telling me no and always letting me have my way, most of the time. Thank you for being patient and easygoing. Thank you for letting me burst your bubble every chance I got. Thank you for graciously taking all my harsh comebacks. Thank you for dishing them back.”

And she finished by telling Bryant that his bet on himself, as he’d once told her he’d always was the best one to make, had paid off.

“Congratulations, baby. All of your hard work and sacrifice has paid off,” she said. “You once told me, if you’re going to bet on someone, bet on yourself. I’m glad you bet on yourself, you overachiever. You did it. You’re in the Hall of Fame now. You’re a true champ.

“You’re not just an MVP. You’re an all-time great. I’m so proud of you. I love you forever and always, Kobe. Bean. Bryant.”

While Vanessa Bryant’s speech was a fitting conclusion to the star-studded event, it was far from the only notable moment from a night that took far longer to arrive than initially planned due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

It was Garnett who led off the festivities Saturday evening — an honor he said he requested.

“I told them I wanted to go first,” the 15-time All-Star, 12-time All-Defensive Team and nine-time All-NBA selection said with a smile, “because I know we’ve got the OGs in here. I know y’all have got a bedtime in a minute. I wanted Bill Russell to hear my speech before y’all fell asleep.”

He then went on to thank the four players who jumped from high school to the pros in the 1970s — 20 years before Garnett became the first to do it in decades in 1995, when Minnesota drafted him fifth overall.

“It’s a big deal for me to pay homage to the ones that came before me,” Garnett said.

He also thanked Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, as well as Isiah Thomas, whom Garnett selected as his presenter for Saturday’s ceremony. Garnett then went on to say that it was Thomas, a fellow Chicago high school product who was running the Toronto Raptors at the time, who Garnett said gave him advice that helped convince him to officially make the jump from preps to pros in 1995.

“I think today,” Garnett said with a smile, “they would call that tampering.”

After thanking his mother, Shirley — whom he said was the one to blame for the passion and intensity with which he played throughout his 21-year career — his daughters and those who helped raise him in South Carolina and Chicago, Garnett went through and listed off thank yous to many of those he crossed paths with during his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets.

Some of them, like former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, Celtics teammate Paul Pierce and Minnesota Timberwolves teammate Sam Cassell, were in attendance for Saturday night’s festivities.

And then there were the notable people Garnett did not mention: Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who he’s feuded with for years; Ray Allen, part of the Big Three with Boston that led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA title; and Deron Williams, whom he was traded to Brooklyn to play alongside in 2013.

“I played the game hard,” Garnett said, summing up his approach to the sport. “I played the game with a passion.”

He finished his speech by acknowledging Duncan, who he battled for the honor of being the best power forward in the sport for a decade, and Bryant.

“It was nothing but epic when we battled,” Garnett said to Duncan. “I look forward to all the battles. Seriously. And I thank you for taking me to another level, you and Rasheed [Wallace].”

Garnett was followed by longtime college coaches Barbara Stevens and Eddie Sutton, before WNBA legend Tamika Catchings took the stage.

Catchings has one of the best careers in women’s basketball history — 12 All-WNBA selections, five Defensive Player of the Year Awards, a WNBA MVP, a league champion and a four-time Olympic gold medalist — and did it while dealing with a hearing impairment.

“I am proof that [with] hard work, undying faith and a solid support system, dreams do come true,” Catchings said.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a village to make dreams come true. To all of the people who have been part of my village, thank you. We all have dreams and goals and whether you’re young or old, born with a disability, or have been told of the things you can’t accomplish, tonight I share the same words that my parents shared with me: What’s a choice? If anyone can do it, you can. Shoot for the stars, work hard, and catch your dream.”

Catchings also has the distinction of having spent part of her childhood in Italy with Kobe Bryant, when their fathers — Harvey Catchings and Joe Bryant, former teammates with the Philadelphia 76ers, were playing for rival teams in Italy.

“To Kobe and the Bryants,” she said, “this truly has been a basketball storybook ending.”

Catchings was followed by the late Patrick Baumann, the longtime FIBA Secretary General before passing away from a heart attack in 2018, two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich, and longtime college coach Kim Mulkey before Duncan took the stage ahead of Bryant and Jordan.

Accompanied by fellow Spurs legend David Robinson, and with his only coach, Gregg Popovich, in the audience after skipping Saturday afternoon’s game against the Phoenix Suns to watch Duncan go into the Hall, Duncan — whose famously stoic demeanor followed him constantly throughout what was one of the greatest careers in NBA history — admitted he’d never been more nervous than when he was Saturday.

“I will try to get through this,” the 15-time All-Star, 15-time All-Defensive Team and 15-time All-NBA selection said with a smile. “This is the most nervous I have ever been in my life. I’ve been through Finals, through Game 7s, and this officially is the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve been pacing in my room all day, so let’s see what we get.”

He began by thanking Robinson, who he won two of his five championships alongside with the Spurs, for showing him how to be a pro. Like Garnett, he also thanked his fellow NBA inductees for making him better along the way.

“People always ask, ‘What did he tell you? What did he show you?'” Duncan said of Robinson, before adding with a laugh. “I don’t remember one thing we sat down and talked about specifically.

“But what he did was he was a consummate pro, he was an incredible father, he was an incredible person, and he showed me how to be a good teammate, a great person to the community, all those things. Not by sitting there and telling me how to do it, but by being that.”

Duncan also thanked his parents, William and Ione, whom he joked had a combined “zero basketball knowledge” between them.

“But they taught me about the game more than anyone else,” Duncan said. “You heard the mantra that my mom instilled in me — good, better, best, never let it rest until your good is better and your better is your best — they told me, and made me, have pride in everything I did.”

He then went through his remarkable journey from not even picking up a basketball until he was 14 years old to earning a scholarship to Wake Forest by playing a pickup game at a random court near the hotel where his coach there, Dave Odom, came to stay.

“I have no idea how I played, but I played well enough that he offered me a scholarship,” Duncan said. “He saw something in me, and he took a chance on this kid from the Islands. Thank you, Coach O, thank you for seeing something in me that I didn’t see at the time.”

Duncan then went through his career, highlighting many of his teammates, before eventually settling on the two fixtures of so much of his time in San Antonio, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — both of whom were in attendance Saturday.

“To look to your left and look to your right and have the same guys there year in and year out is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a blessing beyond what I can put into words. Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, I can’t wait to see you guys up here and for me to not be up here. It was an honor sharing the court with you guys. Thank you for your friendship, thank you for your brotherhood, thank you for all of the experiences that we shared on that court.”

Then, after getting choked up talking about his wife and children, Duncan turned his attention, finally, to his only coach in the NBA, Gregg Popovich, whom Duncan joked would be angry he talked about at all.

“I don’t want to talk about him. He’s going to get mad at me if I talk about him,” Duncan said.

“The standard you set … you showed up after I got drafted, you came to my island, you sat with my friends, my family, you talked with my dad. I thought that was normal. It’s not. You’re an exceptional person.

“Thank you for teaching me about basketball but, beyond that, teaching me that it’s not all about basketball. It’s about what’s going on in the world, your family … just, for everything. Thank you for being the amazing human being that you are.”

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.

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The sports world reacts as Kobe Bryant is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame



On Saturday, Kobe Bryant was officially inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January, 2020, was presented by Michael Jordan before Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, made a moving speech honoring the former Laker.

In addition to Bryant, who won five NBA titles and was an 18-time All-Star, the Class of 2020 featured Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Eddie Sutton, Rudy Tomjanovich, Tamika Catchings, Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens and Patrick Baumann.

On social media, basketball legends and teams shared their support for the new Hall of Famer.

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Los Angeles Lakers win to keep top-6 hopes alive as LeBron James returns



Winners of four in a row and boasting a healthy roster for the first time in months, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers sound confident no matter how their repeat title bid begins, play-in tournament or not.

“Let the chips fall where they may,” LeBron James said after playing for the first time in nearly two weeks in a 122-115 win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. “As simple as that. We’re ready to go.”

James missed the previous six games while strengthening his right ankle after a brief two-game return following the longest injury-related absence of his career (20 games). He looked sharp Saturday, scoring 24 points on 11-of-22 shooting in 28 minutes, with eight assists and seven rebounds.

When L.A.’s 14-point fourth-quarter lead was cut to three, James went on a personal 7-2 scoring spurt to give the Lakers enough breathing room to hold on for the win.

“He’s LeBron James, so he’s definitely going to change our team dramatically,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve been without him for a long stretch, and the other guys have performed admirably. But having him back in there, it’s just a difference-maker — his I.Q., his ability to make plays in every way you can make a play — and helped us close the game out.”

The Lakers are hoping to close the regular season out with a win over the New Orleans Pelicans. That, combined with a Denver Nuggets win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, would give L.A the No. 6 seed, thus avoiding the play-in tournament.

Vogel would not commit to how much he would play his key pieces on the second leg of the back-to-back just yet. Anthony Davis was also returning from a one-game absence because of tightness in his groin, and Dennis Schroder played his first game in 15 days because of a stint in the health and safety protocols.

“We’ll meet with the medical team and see where everybody’s at, in terms of the guys coming back from injury,” he said. “And we’ll make a decision on who’s in and who’s not in tomorrow.”

Before the Pacers game, Vogel let it be known that he doesn’t intend to manipulate his lineup to end up with a lower seeding against a preferable opponent.

“My opinion is, win as many games as you can and let the seeds fall where they may and be unafraid of any matchup,” he said. “I believe in the Basketball Gods.”

Davis — who put up 28 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals — shared the same steely-eyed resolve, even though L.A. is just 13-16 since March 20, even with its current win streak.

“We’re ready to play whatever game,” he said.

While the Lakers’ confidence level was clear, Schroder’s situation is murkier. The point guard, who had 14 points on 3-for-9 shooting and four assists, was evasive when asked about his recent absence.

Schroder said he did not test positive for COVID-19 and revealed that he is the only player on the Lakers’ roster to have not received the coronavirus vaccine.

However, he also said that, after going through his second mandatory quarantine of the season (the first was because of contact tracing), he would not have to go through that again.

“At least I can’t get it no more in the playoffs,” he said. “So that’s probably the best thing.”

Another thing is certain when it comes to the Lakers: Having James on the court opens up all sorts of possibilities for the days and weeks to come.

“It will take a few games to get it all the way back,” James said, “but I like where I am today.”

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