Pelicans’ Alexis Ajinca, caught in Jahlil Okafor rumors, open to trade if it means playing
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca -- in the middle of Jahlil Okafor trade rumors -- says he’d welcome a trade if it resulted in more playing time.
Any time on the court would be more at this point.
When Ajinca spoke in New Orleans’ locker room before Monday night’s game against Phoenix, he had not played in 11 straight games and had played only once - for three minutes - in the previous 19 contests.
“I don’t care where I’m going, as long as I’m playing,” said the 29-year-old Ajinca, who is in the second season of a four-year, $20.2 million contract with New Orleans. “The contract is good, but at the end of the day, I’m a competitor and I just want to play and be able to bring what I can to a team. If it’s here, it would be great. But if it’s not, then I just go somewhere else.”
The 7-foot-2 Frenchman, who has played in the NBA since 2008-09, said he has not been told by Pelicans management that he’d be traded, but said he was aware of reports that New Orleans has been exploring trade possibilities for him as the Feb. 23 NBA trade deadline approaches.
“I’m ready for whatever,” Ajinca said.
The Pelicans brought back Ajinca after he helped them make the 2015 NBA playoffs as a regular reserve, averaging 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He started eight games and was productive when he played significant minutes that season, scoring 24 points in a victory over Miami and 22 in a win over Toronto that season.
This season, however, Ajinca and fellow 7-footer Omer Asik have been stuck on the bench since second-year coach Alvin Gentry decided to go with smaller, up-tempo lineups with Anthony Davis at center.
Asik, whose guaranteed contract pays him about $11 million annually through the 2018-19 season, will be exceedingly difficult to trade.
Ajinca, with a much lower contract, is a more moveable asset if another team sees the ninth-year NBA veteran as a better fit.
In the meantime, Ajinca said he is focused on supporting his current teammates and not allowing his frustration over not playing to get the best of him.
“I’m just being professional, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Ajinca said, noting that he’d gone through his usual pre-game routine on the court. “If I play today, maybe I won’t have to run after the game. If I don’t play, then I will have to run after the game and get my lift in.
“I can’t control what (the Pelicans) want to do,” Ajinca said. “I only care about what I can control - my health and the fact that I can stay in shape.”