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Zion Williamson’s huge season wasn’t enough



With the New Orleans Pelicans eliminated from NBA playoff contention, Zion Williamson‘s standout season will end without him making his first appearance in the postseason. Williamson’s fractured left finger left him on the bench as the Pelicans failed in their final push to make the play-in tournament.

Williamson isn’t the first star to miss the playoffs and he certainly won’t be the last. But he is set to become the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 1992-93 to finish in the top 10 in scoring and field goal percentage and miss the playoffs. Charles Barkley actually did this twice — in 1987-88 and 1991-92.

ESPN Stats & Information researched some of the top seasons in NBA history for players who had excellent individual seasons but missed the playoffs. Here are some of the best:

Oscar Robertson (1960-61)

Robertson’s career started how you would imagine. He had a triple-double in his first NBA game and 26 for the season, which is still 14 more than any other rookie in league history. He fell 20 assists shy of averaging a triple-double for the season (30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists per game), was the All-Star Game MVP and was a first-team All-NBA selection. His Cincinnati Royals finished 33-46, though, missing the playoffs by one game in an eight-team league. — Doug Clawson

Wilt Chamberlain (1962-63)

The greatest season in NBA history without a playoff appearance belongs to Chamberlain, hands down. He averaged 44.8 points per game, the second-highest scoring average all time, behind the 50 he averaged the year prior. He had 30 50-point games, one shy of Michael Jordan’s career total, and added 24.3 rebounds per game for good measure. It wasn’t enough to make up for the loss of two Hall of Famers, though. Paul Arizin retired when the Warriors moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco before the season, and Tom Gola was traded at midseason. The Warriors finished 31-49, the only time Wilt missed the playoffs in his career. — Clawson

Tiny Archibald (1972-73)

In 1972-73, Nate “Tiny” Archibald averaged 34 points and 11.4 assists per game and became the first and only player in NBA history to win the scoring and assist titles in the same season. No player in the history of the league has amassed more points from scoring and assists than Archibald that season (4,539), and it came without the benefit of the 3-point line. However, his Kansas City Kings, with Bob Cousy as the head coach, finished just 36-46 and ranked last in the league in field goal percentage defense. — Vincent Johnson

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1975-76)

The 1975-76 season was a magnum opus in the illustrious career of Abdul-Jabbar. “Cap” finished the season with averages of 27.7 points, 16.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 4.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per game en route to winning the league’s MVP award in his first season with the Lakers. But despite leading the league in rebounding and blocks, the Lakers finished 40-42 in Abdul-Jabbar’s first act in purple and gold, as he missed the playoffs for just the second (and final) time in his 20-year career. This remains the only time in NBA history that the league MVP failed to make the postseason. — Jason Joseph

Shaquille O’Neal (1992-93)

O’Neal was an instant superstar. The 1992 No. 1 overall pick won NBA Player of the Week in his first week in the NBA, was named an All-Star Game starter in his first season, won Rookie of the Year — and broke two backboards along the way. His monstrous numbers (23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game) helped Orlando improve its win total by 20 games, but the Magic missed the playoffs after losing a tiebreaker with the Pacers. Shaq would go on to make the postseason in each of his next 15 seasons. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, his ’92-93 campaign was the last time a player missed the playoffs despite ranking in the top 10 in the league in points per game and field goal percentage … until Zion this year. Twenty-five players have ranked in the top 10 in both categories between Shaq and Zion, all making the playoffs. — Clawson

Tracy McGrady (2003-04)

Hopes were somewhat high for the 2003-04 Magic coming off three straight playoff appearances and looking to avenge a blown 3-1 lead against the Pistons in the first round of the 2003 playoffs, but that hope faded quickly. Grant Hill would miss the entire season with continued ankle issues and the team’s 1-10 start got coach Doc Rivers canned. Tracy McGrady carried a team that finished with the worst record in the NBA, leading the league in scoring for the second straight season, posting 28.0 PPG to go with 6.0 RPG and 5.5 APG. He finished nearly four points per game ahead of the second-best scorers (MVP Kevin Garnett and Peja Stojakovic, who had 24.2 PPG each) in what would be his final season in Orlando. — Joseph

LeBron James (2004-05)

James’ ascension to the upper echelon of the league accelerated in his second NBA season (27.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.2 APG). He improved across the board from his Rookie of the Year campaign, sharply increasing his points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. Cleveland entered the All-Star break 30-21, the third-best record in the East, but limped to a 12-19 mark the rest of the way, firing coach Paul Silas along the way. The Cavaliers lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Nets for the eighth seed and missed the playoffs for a franchise-record seventh straight year. — Johnson

Russell Westbrook (2014-15)

The legend of Westbrook was solidified in the 2014-15 season, when he led the league in scoring (28.1 PPG) and triple-doubles (11) despite missing the playoffs. Westbrook came back from a broken hand that sidelined him for 14 games in November. The Thunder were snakebit that season, as reigning MVP Kevin Durant would miss 55 games with foot issues. While Westbrook picked up the slack (30.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 9.1 assists and 2.1 steals per game in 40 games played without Durant), the Thunder finished 45-37 and lost a tiebreaker with the Pelicans for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The West was stacked that season as seven teams won 50 or more games. — Joseph

Bradley Beal (2019-20)

Last season, Beal became the first player in NBA history to average 30 points per game without making an All-Star team (minimum of 25 games). He earned that dubious distinction because of the lack of team success, as his Wizards finished just 25-47. Two days before he was left off the All-Star team, he scored 40 points in back-to-back games — but the Wizards lost both and gave up 150 points in each. Just four days after the All-Star break, he responded with 50 points in back-to-back games — and the Wizards lost both of those games too. — Johnson

Zion Williamson (2020-21)

Williamson was limited to just 24 games in his rookie season because of injuries and the pandemic-shortened season, but he made sure to make up for lost time in his sophomore campaign. Williamson averaged 27 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 61.1% from the floor. His 27.0 points per game are the most in NBA history for a player who shot better than 60%. Williamson has scored 2,187 points in his first 85 career games. In the past 40 seasons, only Michael Jordan scored more. Williamson averaged 20.3 points in the paint this season, the most since O’Neal in 1999-00. — Andrew Lopez

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Mike Conley staying with Utah Jazz on 3-year, $72.5 million deal, agents say



The Utah Jazz accomplished their primary offseason goal, getting point guard Mike Conley to agree to a three-year, $72.5 million deal to re-sign with the team, his agents Steve Heumann and Jess Holtz told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday.

Conley took to social media to announce his official return, writing: “Blessed to continue this journey with the @utahjazz !!!!! #takenote #nowaybutup.”

Conley’s contract, combined with the five-year extensions for Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell that kick in this season and are worth a combined $368 million, push the Jazz significantly into the luxury tax.

It’s a price new owner Ryan Smith is willing to pay to keep the Jazz’s window to contend open, although last week’s trade that sent backup center Derrick Favors and a future first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-rounder and cash considerations was in large part financially motivated.

Conley finally made his first All-Star appearance last season, his 14th in the NBA, thriving during his second campaign with the Jazz. He averaged 16.2 points and 6.0 assists per game with a career-best .552 effective field goal percentage for the team that had the league’s best record in the regular season.

However, the 33-year-old Conley’s two seasons in Utah have been hampered by hamstring issues. He missed extended stretches during both seasons due to hamstring strains or tightness, which also forced Conley to sit out the first five games of this year’s Western Conference semifinals, a series the Jazz lost to the LA Clippers in six games.

Conley spent his first 12 seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies after the franchise selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2007 draft. The five-year, $153 million deal Conley signed with Memphis in 2016 was briefly the largest contract in NBA history.

Conley was one of the faces of the Grizzlies’ “Grit ‘n Grind” era, joining Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to form the group known as the “Core Four.”

They made Memphis a perennial playoff team, peaking with a trip to the 2013 West finals. Shortly after the rebuilding Grizzlies traded Conley to the Jazz in 2019, Memphis owner Robert Pera announced that the franchise would retire Conley’s No. 11 and put it in the FedExForum rafters after his playing career ends.

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Chicago Bulls land Lonzo Ball in sign-and-trade agreement worth four years, $85 million; sign Alex Caruso for $37 million



The Chicago Bulls and point guard Lonzo Ball have agreed on a four-year, $85 million deal as part of a sign-and-trade agreement with the New Orleans Pelicans, Ball’s agent, Rich Paul, told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday.

The Bulls also reached an agreement on a four-year, $37 million pact with guard Alex Caruso, his agent, Greg Lawrence, told ESPN.

Ball slots in at a guard spot where he can grow with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic as Chicago tries to take the next step to be competitive in the Eastern Conference.

As New Orleans shifted more to allowing Zion Williamson to run the point position in the offense, Ball’s role for the Pelicans became that of an off-ball wing who could control the offense in the open court and cede duties to Williamson in the half court. He’ll have an opportunity to run the offense again with Chicago.

Ball, 23, has had an up-and-down four seasons since entering the league as the No. 2 overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017. He experienced some difficulty living up to the high expectations in L.A. but once he got to New Orleans, his game improved. Being among the players dealt in the Anthony Davis trade, Ball found a better shooting stroke with the Pelicans. After shooting 31.5% from deep and 43.7% from the line in his two seasons with the Lakers, Ball upped those numbers to 37.6% and 66.4% in New Orleans.

In 2020-21, he averaged career highs in 3-point percentage (.378), field goal percentage (.414), free throw percentage (.781), true shooting percentage (.551) and points per game (14.6).

He also protected the ball like never before with a career-low 14.5 turnover percentage, while his usage percentage was also at a career high (20.5).

Ball has struggled with injury issues throughout his young career and has yet to play a full season in the NBA. He missed 65 games in his first two seasons with the Lakers and a combined 26 in the past two years with the Pelicans.

The Bulls are sending Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple and a second-round pick back to the Pelicans in the deal, sources told ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. Temple is joining the Pelicans on a new 3-year, $15 million deal, sources told ESPN. The last year of that deal is not guaranteed, a source told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears.

Undrafted out of Texas A&M, Caruso is a poster child for using alternative avenues to find a home in the league — first playing in the G League and later latching onto the Lakers with a two-way contract — before signing a two-year deal with L.A. in the summer of 2019.

The 27-year-old wing showed off his versatility last season, playing minutes at shooting guard, small forward and point guard for the Lakers. He finished the season averaging 6.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 21 minutes per game and shot 40.1 percent from 3.

Caruso missed 14 games during the regular season because of health and safety protocols and various other injuries. He also had to exit the Lakers’ Game 6 series-ending loss to Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs with a left ankle strain.

L.A. expressed interest in re-signing Caruso, sources told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, but the Lakers’ offer as a cap conscious, repeat tax-paying team was not as enticing for the four-year veteran.

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Atlanta Hawks reach $207 million max extension with star point guard Trae Young



Atlanta Hawks All-Star point guard Trae Young has agreed to a five-year, $207 million designated rookie maximum extension, his agent Omar Wilkes of Klutch Sports told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The contract will kick in during the 2022-23 season and run through 2026-27.

Negotiations with Young over a max extension on his rookie deal weren’t too complicated after his brilliant playoff run for the Hawks, who advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after not making the playoffs each of the past three seasons.

Young was the driving force behind that success, leading the team to upset victories over the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers before pushing the Milwaukee Bucks to six games in the Eastern Conference finals, even as Young missed two games in that series with a bone bruise in his right foot and a sprained right ankle.

Young, who averaged 28.8 points and 9.5 assists during that playoff run, had previously established himself as one of the NBA’s elite young guards in his three seasons after Atlanta traded back to take him in the 2018 NBA draft as part of the deal that saw the Dallas Mavericks wind up with Luka Doncic.

While Young ultimately missed the All-Star team this season, he answered any lingering questions about his ability to impact winning during Atlanta’s postseason run.

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.

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