Rockets Notes: Harden, D’Antoni, Anderson, James

In the midst of another MVP-worthy season, James Harden continues to impress people around the league, including his head coach, Mike D’Antoni. As Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports writes, after the Rockets defeated the Trail Blazers on Tuesday, D’Antoni labeled Harden as “the best offensive player I’ve ever seen.”

Harden posted 42 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in the win, just the latest standout performance in a season filled with them. For D’Antoni, who has coached the likes of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Carmelo Anthony, Harden offers an all-around skill set that is unmatched.

“He’s a hell of a player, first off,” D’Antoni said. “It’s a combination of everything. There are other players who might be better at this, or a little bit better at that. But when you put everything together, and the way he passes, the way he sees teammates, the way he can lob, the way he can fight through a foul. I mean even on an off night, he’s probably getting 30, 40 points, and I mean efficiently. And he doesn’t even have anything going. But he’s so efficient, and he gets other guys involved. … He’s got one flaw. He does get tired some. He’s mortal. And that’s it. Other than that …”

Harden is averaging 31.2 PPG, 8.7 APG, and 5.2 RPG for the Rockets. After finishing as the runner-up to Russell Westbrook in MVP voting one season ago, Harden looks like the clear-cut favorite this year’s award.

Check out more news and notes out of the Rockets organization:

  • Tyronn Lue took a leave from his coaching post with the Cavaliers due to health concerns, and D’Antoni understands how the rigors of the job can require someone to take a needed step back, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes. “Especially if you lose, you wonder what you could do differently. My first 20 years in coaching, even more, I couldn’t read books, for sure,” D’Antoni said. “I could read short articles, but I had a hard time escaping. I think I’ve gotten to a point I can read books and escape more than I used to. I try not to drive myself crazy.”
  • Ryan Anderson has seen a lot of time at center since he returned from injury and the Rockets anticipate him continuing to play the position going forward, Feigen writes in a separate story. “We’ll look at all possibilities, but he’ll play some five for sure,” D’Antoni said. “Then, we’ll see. Matchups, maybe in the playoffs, will be different here and there, but right now we’re going to look at this.”
  • LeBron James will be a free agent this offseason and his decision figures to be the NBA’s story of the summer. The Rockets are one of several teams that have been linked to James, prompting Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report to examine how the Rockets can add the four-time MVP without sacrificing Chris Paul and other assets.

Will Barton Talks Nuggets, Free Agency, Future

Will Barton has steadily improved in each of his six NBA seasons and the 2017/18 campaign has been no different. The 27-year-old guard is averaging career-highs in PPG (15.0), APG (4.1), and MPG (32.6) for a Nuggets team that two games back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Barton will hit unrestricted free agency for the first in his career this summer. That gives the University of Memphis product a choice on where he can continue his career. If all goes according to plan, however, Barton will not leave the Mile High City and will continue his career with the Nuggets.

In an interview with Christopher Dempsey of Altitude Sports, Barton addressed his future and his plans for free agency. The veteran admits that he has become comfortable in Denver since being traded from the Trail Blazers to the Nuggets in February 2015, and does not want to leave the team and the city behind. Here are those comments and more from Barton:

On wanting to remain in Denver:

“My ultimate goal is to return to Denver. You know me, I’m a real loyal guy. I’m real big on that. They gave me a chance to really showcase what I could do. So, I would love to finish what I started here.”

Why he is comfortable with the Nuggets:

“I like Denver. It’s given me a good place to focus on my career, where I can just focus on basketball a lot. It’s great people there. A lot of food places, and it’s growing. Just like me, the city is growing. When I first got here it wasn’t that many people. Now, people are moving to Denver, so it’s cool.”

Where Barton has made the most significant improvement:

“You guys have watched my game really grow and evolve. And my playmaking ability, being able to now play multiple positions, (point guard) through (small forward). Just making better reads – everything just evolved.”

What he wants to improve on:

“Just to be more consistent on the defensive end, staying locked in. Staying disciplined on that end. And just keep being aggressive, keep being myself, knowing that teams are kind of game-planning and knowing my game. So, just reading defenses and seeing what they are giving me and making plays off of that.”

Pacific Notes: Curry, Warriors, Cook, Harrell

The Warriors have hit a rough patch with injuries as their four All-Stars – Stephen Curry (ankle), Klay Thompson (thumb), Kevin Durant (rib), and even Draymond Green (midsection) – have all been sidelined recently. From the trio of Curry, Durant, and Thompson, Curry is closest to returning, ESPN’s Chris Haynes writes.

“I think Steph is closer to playing than KD and Klay,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “…We’re going to be cautious with all of them. … This is not like a timetable of two to three days. It’s just more of a feel thing.”

Golden State owns second place in the Western Conference, four games behind the Rockets. With a postseason spot wrapped up, the Warriors by all indications will focus on getting their core players healthy rather than push for the first seed.

Check out more notes from the Pacific Division below:

  • Battling injuries, the Warriors have relied on their bench to shoulder the load. Undrafted point guard Quinn Cook, who has bounced around the league the last few seasons, has been a pleasant surprise for Golden State. In his last three games, Cook has finished with 20+ points. Cook hopes to remain with the team long-term and the interest is mutual, Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area tweets. “I would love to be with this team for the next 10 years of my career,” Cook said.
  • Cook has also received help from Curry via a text message at halftime during the Warriors‘ matchup against the Suns last Saturday, Melissa Rohlin of The Mercury News relays. Cook struggled in the first half, but a text from the two-time MVP helped him finish with a career-high 28 points.“I don’t care if you go zero-for-25, that 26th shot you better not hesitate,” Curry said in the text, per Cook.
  • Clippers forward Montrezl Harrel has been a steady presence for the team this season, averaging a career-high 10.4 PPG and 4.0 RPG in 64 games. Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype writes that Harrell has been one of the most efficient scorers in the entire NBA in the 16.2 minutes per game he averages. Harrell is set to hit restricted free agency this summer.

NBA G League Assignments/Recalls: 3/21/18

Here are Wednesday’s G League assignments and recalls from around the NBA:

  • The Magic recalled 10-day contract recipient Rodney Purvis to their G League affiliate, the Lakeland Magic, per an official tweet from the team. Purvis, 24, has averaged 20.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 3.6 APG in 37 G League games this season.
  • Lakers rookie big man Thomas Bryant has been recalled from the South Bay Lakers, the team announced today. Bryant, 20, has averaged 19.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 2.1 APG in 34 G League games this season.
  • The Warriors have assigned Damian Jones to the Santa Cruz Warriors, tweets Mark Medina of The Mercury News. The center has averaged 15.0 points and 8.0 boards in 43 games with the affiliate. Also, two-way forward Chris Boucher has also been assigned to Santa Cruz. He appeared in one game with the Warriors.

Hawks Sign Jaylen Morris For Rest Of Season

MARCH 21: The Hawks officially signed Morris to a multi-year deal on Wednesday, tweets Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

MARCH 17: Rookie shooting guard Jaylen Morris will sign with the Hawks for the remainder of the season, according to a tweet from his agency, RZA Sports.

Morris inked a pair of 10-day deals with Atlanta, with the latest one due to expire Wednesday. He is currently sidelined by a sprained ankle that he suffered Sunday and is projected to miss another week. He appeared in six games before the injury, averaging 4.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in about 16 minutes of playing time.

Morris went undrafted last summer out of Division II Molloy College. He spent most of this season with the Hawks’ G League affiliate in Erie, where he averaged 12.6 points in 39 games.

New York Notes: Hornacek, Hicks, Crabbe

The Knicks will conclude their fourth consecutive 45+ loss season next month and the future of the team remains unclear. Outside of Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis — who is recovering from a torn ACL — it appears there are no locks for the roster or coaching staff after this season.

As Marc Stein of the New York Times writes in his newsletter (via CBS Sports), it’s likely that head coach Jeff Hornacek does not return next season despite having one year left on his deal. The organization has moved swiftly to distance itself from almost anything related to former president Phil Jackson, which could include Hornacek.

“It’s difficult to fault Hornacek for much of the chaos that has engulfed the Knicks during his two seasons in charge,” Stein writes. “But there’s no avoiding the fact he was a Phil Jackson selection, which could well doom him now that the organization seems intent on cutting every non-Porzingian tie to the Phil era as possible.”

The Knicks have gone 57-96 under Hornacek since last season, but injuries, poor roster creation, and a rebuilding effort hindered both the head coach and the team from being competitive. Early possible candidates to replace Hornacek are Mark Jackson and David Blatt, Stein notes.

Check out more notes coming out of New York:

  • Whether or not Hornacek is the head coach next season, he feels the Knicks should seek depth at small forward, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News writes. Sources tell Bondy that the Knicks have scouted both Miles Bridges and Mikal Bridges as possible draft targets, which would echo Hornacek’s suggestion. “I think if you look around at the top teams that are in the league they have multiple guys that are in the 6’7″, 6’8″ range with length. We had a lot of guys that are in the 6’5″ ish range,” Hornacek said. “I think the longer guys you get, it gives you more opportunities to switch on defense, which if you look at the league today, the best teams are switching all the time.”
  • With the Knicks eliminated from playoff contention, the goal for the rest of the season will be auditioning young talent, which includes 23-year-old Isaiah Hicks. In nine games, Hicks is averaging just 4.4 PPG and 2.6 RPG, but he has impressed with his basketball IQ and athleticism, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes. Hicks is on a two-way deal and the Knicks will have to decide whether they want to re-sign him.
  • The Nets‘ record has hovered near the bottom of the league in recent seasons, but the organization has bought into the mantra of building a positive culture with promising talent. Allen Crabbe, who is finishing up a strong first season in Brooklyn, said he is willing to recruit free agents this offseason, Bryan Fonseca and Net Income of NetsDaily relay. “Oh yeah. Whatever I can do, just getting guys on board and looking at the vision that Sean Marks and coach (Kenny) Atkinson have for this organization moving forward, I think guys will buy in,” Crabbe said.

And-Ones: Playoff Format, Billups, Future Power Rankings

Don’t expect LeBron James to be among those lobbying on behalf of a potential play-in tournament for a postseason berth. The NBA has reportedly kicked the idea around in a couple different variations, but James said today that he’s not a fan of the concept, as Dave McMenamin of details.

“No, no, no,” James said. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

While there’s a belief in some league circles that a play-in tournament at the end of the regular season to determine the seventh and eighth seeds in each conference would generate some drama, James is a firm believer that the eight teams with the best records in each conference deserve to make the playoffs.

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Appearing on ESPN’s The Jump on Tuesday, Chauncey Billups called a report about the Pistons expressing interest in him for a front office role “100% false,” per Rod Beard of The Detroit News. “I haven’t spoken to anybody with the organization about the possibility,” Billups said. Still, this isn’t the first time Billups has been linked to a front office job — if the former NBA guard does land somewhere as an executive, former Pistons assistant GM George David would be a candidate to potentially join him, tweets Vince Ellis of The Detroit Free Press.
  • Nine NBA teams have been officially eliminated from the postseason. While the 2017/18 season has been a fairly forgettable one for those clubs, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer highlights some silver linings worth mentioning.
  • Over at (Insider link), Kevin Pelton and Bobby Marks have updated their future NBA power rankings, which consider each team’s outlook through the 2020/21 season. Unsurprisingly, the Warriors, Celtics, and Rockets still top their list, with the Sixers and Raptors jumping into the top five.

Community Shootaround: Nuggets’ Short-, Long-Term Outlook

The Nuggets have played reasonably well since the start of February, posting a 12-8 record in their last 20 contests. However, Denver’s spot in the Western Conference standings has slipped since then, as the team now finds itself in the No. 9 seed. While the Nuggets are still within three games of four Western playoff teams, they trail the eighth-place Jazz by two full games, and face an uphill battle for a postseason berth.

In addition to having to play catch-up, the Nuggets also have one of the most difficult remaining schedules in the NBA, per After facing the Bulls on Wednesday night, the Nuggets will have 10 more games on their schedule, including six on the road — that stretch includes nine games vs. playoff teams and one in L.A. vs. the Clippers, who are right on Denver’s heels for the No. 9 seed.

There are other Western contenders with difficult schedules going forward. The remaining slates for the Thunder, Spurs, Pelicans, Clippers, and Jazz also rank among the 10 toughest in the league, according to Tankathon. Still, while Denver’s playoff hopes remain alive for now, that could change quickly. With a stretch of road games in Washington, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Oklahoma City on tap in the next nine days, the Nuggets’ shot at the postseason could be on life support by the end of the month. FiveThirtyEight’s playoffs odds already only give Denver a 12% chance to make it.

Although the Nuggets didn’t enter the season expected to be a title contender, they were a popular pick to make big strides after adding Paul Millsap in free agency. Denver hadn’t won more than 40 games or made the playoffs for four seasons, but this was the year that was expected to change. Instead, Millsap has appeared in just 27 games due to a wrist injury, and the Nuggets are on the verge of a fifth straight lottery appearance.

The Nuggets have posted a respectable 38-33 record so far, and if Millsap had stayed healthy, they may have added a few more wins to that total. But missing the playoffs would be a disappointing outcome, and could kickstart a discussion about the job security of Michael Malone, who is in his third year as Denver’s head coach.

A lottery appearance would also make for an even more interesting offseason for the Nuggets, who don’t have the cap flexibility to make another splash in free agency like they did with Millsap. If Wilson Chandler and Darrell Arthur pick up their player options for 2018/19, the Nuggets will have about $106MM in guaranteed money on their cap for next season, and that’s without considering a possible raise for Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets will have to either make Jokic a restricted free agent this summer and give him a long-term deal, or exercise his inexpensive team option, which would put him on track for unrestricted free agency in 2019 and would increase the risk of him leaving Denver. If Jokic gets a new contract this summer, the Nuggets may end up in tax territory without making any real changes to this year’s squad.

It’s not an ideal situation for the Nuggets, who will need a late-season run to salvage their playoff chances for this spring, and will face an offseason of tough decisions whether or not they make the postseason.

What do you think? Can the Nuggets still make the playoffs this year? Will Malone be back if they don’t? What moves could they make this offseason to improve their long-term outlook?

Jump into the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Latest On Kawhi Leonard

Despite some rumblings that Kawhi Leonard would return to action last week, the Spurs star remains sidelined due to the quadriceps injury that has plagued him all season. While Leonard hasn’t been ruled out for the season, his Spurs teammates say they’re operating as if he won’t be back, per Michael C. Wright of

“He is not coming back,” Manu Ginobili said of Leonard. “For me, he’s not coming back because it’s not helping [to think Leonard is returning]. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys made us fall for it. But we have to think that he’s not coming back; that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him. That shouldn’t be changing, at least until he is ready for the jungle.”

Ginobili isn’t breaking any news here — he’s simply expressing the sort of mindset that the Spurs need for their last 11 games as they push for a spot in the playoffs. Patty Mills expressed a similar sentiment, suggesting that while the Spurs “obviously hope to get [Leonard] back” but have “got to move on” from thinking about it.

As Wright notes, Gregg Popovich and sources within the Spurs organization have maintained that the team will err on the side of the caution with Leonard, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we won’t see the veteran forward again this season. San Antonio is expected to offer Leonard a lucrative extension this offseason, so his long-term health is the club’s top priority. Still, a source tells Wright that Leonard is feeling “much better” and there’s still optimism that he’ll return to the court down the stretch.

Given how tight-lipped the Spurs have been on Leonard’s situation, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if Leonard played within the next game or two, but it also wouldn’t be a shock if he doesn’t return until 2018/19. For now, as Ginobili and Mills explained, the Spurs will prepare for each game as if Leonard won’t be available.

Northwest Notes: Harris, Blazers, Nurkic, Rose

The Nuggets are targeting Monday’s game in Philadelphia or Tuesday’s game in Toronto as possible return dates for Gary Harris‘ return from a knee injury, tweets Gina Mizell of The Denver Post. Harris, a key part of Denver’s lineup, has already been sidelined for the club’s last two games – both losses – and appears set to miss at least two more this week.

While the Nuggets would love to get Harris back for the start of next week, head coach Michael Malone said today that the 23-year-old hasn’t been able to do much running yet. Ally Sturm of Altitude TV adds (via Twitter) that Malone referred to a Monday or Tuesday return for Harris as a “best-case scenario,” which means he may end up missing those games too.

As Denver looks to pick up some wins in Harris’ absence, let’s round up a few more notes from around the Northwest division…

  • Speaking to Chris Haynes of ESPN, Trail Blazers guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum discussed several topics, including the team’s performance this season, how best to deal with trade rumors, and even LeBron James‘ upcoming free agency.
  • Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports takes a deep dive on the Trail Blazers, suggesting that Jusuf Nurkic‘s development – or lack thereof – could go a long way toward determining the ceiling for the franchise.
  • Many observers viewed Derrick Rose as a questionable fit for the Timberwolves, given his inability to consistently make outside shots. However, since signing with the team two weeks ago, Rose has given Tom Thibodeau the flexibility to experiment with some new backcourt combinations, as Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune writes. The Wolves’ head coach said he likes having Rose play alongside Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague (or Tyus Jones) to put pressure on opposing defenses, and also praised the former MVP’s play on the other side of the ball. “He’s playing great defense,” Thibodeau said. “I don’t think people see it. He did in the Washington game. But we need everyone playing well.”