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Veteran big man Melvin Ely returns to NBA after 3-year absence as D-League call-up by Pelicans

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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Erie Bayhawks' CJ Leslie, left, has his shot blocked by Texas Legends' Melvin Ely, right, during a Dec. 21, 2013, …

The New Orleans Pelicans waived reserve center Greg Stiemsma on Monday, jettisoning the 6-foot-11 shot-blocker with just two games left in the regular season. Stiemsma was coming to the end of the one-year, $2.7 million deal he signed in free agency back in July, and he wasn't an especially productive player for the disappointing Pelicans — his most notable moments this season included being headbutted by Hasheem Thabeet and hit in the throat by O.J. Mayo — so it's not necessarily stunning that New Orleans would want to move on without him, but it was a little surprising for the hammer to drop before the end of the regular season. (Especially, it seems, for Stiemsma.)

Despite the surprising timing, though, the Pelicans requesting waivers on Stiemsma represents the kind of minor transaction that doesn't really move the needle much for a team hurtling headlong toward a long offseason and, if a little bit of ping-pong-ball luck is with New Orleans, another lottery selection. There is one interesting element to it, though — the guy the Pelicans tapped to take Stiemsma's spot on the roster.

After waiving Stiemsma, the Pelicans signed center Melvin Ely for the remainder of the season. Ely, an eight-year NBA veteran who hasn't played in the league since the spring of 2011, has spent the last two seasons with the D-League's Texas Legends. Now, he'll get the chance to return to the show to play mop-up minutes in the middle along with the likes of Alexis Ajinca and rookie Jeff Withey in season-concluding contests against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday and the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.

It represents something of a homecoming for the 35-year-old Ely, a physical post player who made 83 appearances during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons for the then-New Orleans Hornets, and played a small role off the bench for the Chris Paul-led '07-'08 team that took the San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals. Just getting his new employer's name right is one of Ely's first challenges.

“You try your hardest not to say ‘Hornets,’" he told Jim Eichenhofer of the Pelicans' official website. "I’ve slipped already."

Ely was taken out of Fresno State in the first round of the 2002 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, and spent two years in L.A. before being shipped with guard Eddie House to the Charlotte Bobcats for a pair of future second-round picks. He spent two and a half seasons in North Carolina before being sent to the San Antonio Spurs before the 2007 trade deadline in exchange for Eric Williams, cash considerations and a future second-round draft pick; he played just 65 minutes for Gregg Popovich's crew, but still walked away with an NBA championship ring. The next season, he was battling with his former teammates in the playoffs as a member of the Hornets.

After his two-year deal with the Hornets lapsed, he briefly caught on with the Sacramento Kings, but was waived before the start of the 2009-10 season; after a year away, he signed with the Denver Nuggets, making 30 appearances in a limited reserve role for George Karl's squad. When the lockout began in the summer of 2011, Ely, like many other NBA players, sought employment overseas, plying his trade in Puerto Rico for a season. When he came back to the States, though, he found precious few NBA opportunities. The Charlotte Bobcats brought him in as a practice body for a week and a half before letting him go in the winter of 2011; the Dallas Mavericks kept him around for all of a day in the fall of 2012; the Memphis Grizzlies gave him a full training camp look-see, but wound up letting him go just before the start of the 2013-14 season.

With NBA gigs scarce, Ely's been left to ply his trade in the D-League and just keep grinding away while he waited and hoped for another chance. He earned 2014 D-League All-Star honors, averaging just under 16 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in 41 appearances for the Legends, and performed well at January's D-League Showcase, where he told an interviewer that he was motivated to try to get back to the league to prove to his 13-year-old son that he could still play at an NBA-level, and that he'd "probably cry as soon as I heard" that he'd been called up by an NBA team:

We're not sure if Ely shed any tears upon getting the call this weekend, but he sure sounded happy to be back in the big leagues on Monday. From Nakia Hogan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Ely said he was ecstatic to be back in the NBA after playing in the NBADL, even if it's just for two games.
"I had a long year in the D-League and I had an opportunity to play back in the NBA, even though it's only for a few days, you take the opportunity and you do your best," Ely said after Monday morning's shootaround.
"For me it's all about the opportunity. The games are a plus in my book. To fight back after a couple long years I had to wait and to be able to get this chance you just have to be thankful."

And if you can show your 13-year-old that the old man's still got it, so much the better. Big up yourself, Melvin.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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