Ben McLemore

Texas Notes: New Rockets Backcourt, Doncic, McLemore, Stone

With the James Harden drama now in their rearview, the Rockets have a backcourt featuring two former All-Stars in John Wall and Victor Oladipo, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. That guard tandem, plus well-paid reserve Eric Gordon, will need to develop chemistry and coordinate how they divvy up shooting and ball-handling duties.

Feigen notes that Wall and Oladipo could be a better defensive pair than their predecessor duos of Harden and Russell Westbrook and Harden and Chris Paul, though injuries could be an impediment to that. Both Wall and Oladipo have lengthy injury histories, and Wall is currently out with knee issues.

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • Mavericks All-Star Luka Doncic and longtime head coach Rick Carlisle will have to move past the former’s noticeable frustration that the latter did not employ an available timeout during a pivotal late-game possession in Dallas’s eventual 112-109 defeat to the Bucks last Friday, as Tim MacMahon of ESPN details.
  • Backup Rockets guard Ben McLemore realizes that expectations for Houston may be lower than they were with Harden, but contends that the team has more than enough to compete, per Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston (Twitter video link). “We got guys that are gonna fight, that’s gonna compete, that’s dogs,” McLemore said.
  • Rockets GM Rafael Stone discussed the new-look club during a virtual media conference call today, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Stone explained his interest in ultimately making a trade with the Nets for James Harden. “What’s super exciting about this deal is that it gives us flexibility,” Stone said. “In the NBA, picks are the best currency. Everybody likes them, everybody values them.” Stone also mentioned that the club “will aggressively be trying to use” the $10.6MM trade exception it acquired in the transaction ahead of the 2020/21 season’s trade deadline in late March.

Rockets Notes: Wood, Harden, McLemore, Martin, House, More

New Rockets center Christian Wood has been a revelation on offense in Houston so far, but in order to maximize his overall impact, he needs to become a more consistently reliable rim protector, as Kelly Iko of The Athletic writes.

“For us to be a great defense, it’s all about protection in the paint, protecting that rim,” Eric Gordon said on Monday. “If guards come down and they have to think about scoring over Christian Wood, that’s gonna help us.”

According to Iko, rebounding is also an area the Rockets will need to improve. When the team was playing micro-ball last season, its poor rebounding numbers were understandable, but those struggles have carried over to the early part of 2020/21, even with Wood and other big men now part of the rotation. Houston currently ranks 29th in rebounding percentage.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • While James Harden has made it clear that he wants to be traded out of Houston, he still has to prove what sort of sacrifices he’s willing to make if he wants to win a championship, writes Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated. Some executives who spoke to Beck were skeptical that the former MVP would readily change his playing style to help a new team. “James is like Allen Iverson: He wants to win his way and put up historical numbers while he’s winning,” one veteran Eastern Conference executive said. “I would never question their desire to win, but they all want to win on their terms.”
  • Ben McLemore and KJ Martin, who were self-isolating after reportedly testing positive for COVID-19, have returned to the team but are focusing on improving their conditioning and aren’t traveling to Indiana for Wednesday’s game, says Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Danuel House, who continues to be nagged by a sore back, also won’t be with the club for that game.
  • In a separate article for The Houston Chronicle, Feigen takes a look at the strong start Sterling Brown has enjoyed after signing with the Rockets as a free agent in November.
  • Kelly Iko and Tim Cato of The Athletic revisit Stephen Silas‘ days as an assistant coach with the Mavericks and explore how that position helped prepare him for his first head coaching job in Houston.

Rockets Notes: Wall, Cousins, Harden, Hard Cap

John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon all practiced today for the first time since being forced to quarantine after an ill-fated haircut last week, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. The Rockets‘ Dec. 23 season opener was canceled because they didn’t have enough active players, and they were short-handed for the two games that followed.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Wall said. “All I did was get a haircut in my apartment. And one of the teammates tested positive and the next four or five tests I had all came back negative. So, I was like ‘Oh, it was me and three people can’t get a haircut.’ I’d rather get a haircut in my apartment than be in a barbershop somewhere where random people are coming in constantly. Even the barber tested negative. That was a frustrating thing.”

Assuming no more setbacks, Wall will play his first game in more than two years on Thursday. He and Cousins, who responded to the quarantine with an online post of an angry emoji, will both make their debuts with the Rockets.

“It’s tough in general to be sitting around for seven days, no type of activity,” Cousins said. “It’s tough for any person, but especially for a professional athlete, sitting at home for seven days straight then jumping back in a full-speed practice or game. There’s not a lot of positive on that side.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • Head coach Stephen Silas said league protocol requires Ben McLemore and KJ Martin, who are believed to have tested positive for COVID-19, to remain in quarantine through the weekend, tweets Kelly Iko of The Athletic.
  • The Sixers are farther away from trying to acquire Rockets star James Harden than they were two weeks ago, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on today’s episode of “The Jump” (video link). With a 3-1 record and Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid playing well together, Philadelphia doesn’t feel any urgency to make a move. Windhorst believes Simmons gives the Sixers the best asset of any of the teams rumored to be involved in talks for Harden, but he doesn’t think either side is in a hurry to complete a deal.
  • The Rockets are currently $1.077M below the hard cap, which means they will be able to add a pro-rated 15th player to their roster starting February 9, tweets salary cap expert Albert Nahmad. Teams can begin signing players to 10-day contracts on February 23 (Twitter link).

Latest On Rockets’ Roster Situation For Opener

Half the Rockets‘ roster appears to be in jeopardy for the team’s opener against the Thunder, according to reports. As we relayed earlier today, James Harden may not be able to play tonight due to an apparent violation of the NBA’s coronavirus protocols, while several other players are caught up in contact tracing after KJ Martin returned a positive COVID-19 test.

As Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN explains (via Twitter), Martin tested positive and then returned a negative test in the last 24 hours. Martin and the Rockets are now awaiting the results of another test.

Several players that were in close contact with Martin have reportedly been sent home for contact tracing purposes as the team awaits the latest test results. Earlier today, we learned that group of players includes John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Jae’Sean Tate. Wojnarowski (Twitter link) adds two-way player Mason Jones to that list. However, there’s no indication that any of those players have tested positive.

In addition to the six players noted above, the Rockets are also missing Chris Clemons (torn Achilles) and Ben McLemore (self-isolating due to COVID-19). That would leave just eight players of the team’s 16-man squad available for tonight’s game — as Wojnarowski points out (via Twitter), that’s the minimum number of active players mandated by league rules.

Since this is the first instance of a potential positive test affecting an NBA regular season game since March 11, we’re in wait-and-see mode to see how the team and the league will handle it. If Martin returns another negative test and it’s determined that his positive test was a false positive, it would seemingly open the door for him – and those players in close contact with him – to be activated.

Meanwhile, Harden – who had COVID-19 over the summer prior to the restart, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon – tested negative on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, tweets Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

According to Shelburne, the league is still reviewing Harden’s situation and potential eligibility for tonight’s game. Harden, who was captured in a video that appears to show him partying at a Houston club this week – told investigators that he believed he was in compliance with the NBA’s healthy and safety protocols, Shelburne adds (via Twitter).

As Shelburne details, Harden told the league he attended a seated dinner for a friend who had been promoted at work and took a photo with her when he gave her a gift. He claimed he came in through a separate entrance and sat in a separate section of the venue with his security detail, then left after about 30 minutes (all Twitter links).

Several Rockets Could Miss Opener Due To Contact Tracing

12:51pm: KJ Martin is now listed on the Rockets’ injury report as self-isolating and not with the team, tweets MacMahon. The contact tracing is related to Martin’s test results, Wojnarowski confirms (via Twitter).

As Woj explains (via Twitter), a group of Rockets players, including Martin, Wall, and Cousins, were away from the team facility at an apartment getting haircuts. Since Martin tested positive, contact tracing is required for others who were there – including Wall and Cousins – as the team waits for confirmation on Martin’s test result.

Wall and Cousins have both tested negative, Woj adds (Twitter link). Meanwhile, Jae’Sean Tate has also been sent home for contact tracing, tweets MacMahon.

12:25pm: Wall tested negative for the coronavirus but is among a group of Rockets sent home because a teammate tested positive, sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter links). Woj adds that Ben McLemore tested positive for COVID-19 a few days ago but has been in isolation and isn’t the player whose positive test initiated today’s contact tracing.

Meanwhile, Sam Amick of The Athletic clarifies (via Twitter) that the contact tracing isn’t tied to Harden, while Tim Bontemps of ESPN tweets that the Thunder haven’t received any communication from the NBA about the status of tonight’s game.

11:47am: Several Rockets players are expected to miss the season opener tonight because of COVID-19 contact tracing, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. Charania mentions John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and says other players could also be affected.

Although Charania doesn’t specify, the action could be related to an investigation into James Harden‘s apparent visit to a strip club. NBA officials are examining a video on social media to determine if it was recent, making it a violation of the league’s health and safety protocols.

Harden published – and later deleted – an Instagram story claiming that the video in question wasn’t from a strip club, but it would still be a violation of the NBA’s protocols, which prohibit players from visiting bars, lounges, and clubs, notes Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter links).

Information on who else will miss tonight’s game against the Thunder should become available later today, but the news delays a return for two players who have been sidelined with major injuries. Wall hasn’t played in two years because of a ruptured Achilles tendon, while Cousins sat out all of last season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Southwest Notes: Richardson, White, Harden, Green, McLemore

Mavericks guard Josh Richardson plans to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times. Richardson is eligible to sign an extension at any point this season but apparently doesn’t plan to take that path (Twitter links). The Sixers dealt Richardson to Dallas last month along with second-round pick Tyler Bey for Seth Curry. Richardson holds an $11.6MM option for the 2021/22 season, the final year of his current contract.

We have more from around the Southwest Division:

  • The Spurs signed guard Derrick White to a four-year, $73MM rookie scale extension prior to Monday’s deadline and White is brimming with optimism at the organization’s direction, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express News writes. “I’m excited with the direction we’re going,” White said. “I’m excited to keep getting better and improving and getting back to where the Spurs should be. I’m excited to be here for that process.”
  • James Harden dismissed a question about his future with the Rockets when he met with the media on Monday, Kristie Rieken of The Associated Press writes. Harden also downplayed his late arrival to training camp. “We keep talking about what I missed,” he said. “I think everybody, the entire league is in catch-up mode in a sense of we only had a short time for training camp, so everybody’s trying to get into game shape because obviously the season just ended a few months ago.” There’s reportedly tension between the disgruntled All-Star and his teammates as the season approaches.
  • The Rockets are hopeful are bringing back Gerald Green as a player or in another role, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Green was placed on waivers over the weekend due to cap constraints after he signed a non-guaranteed contract prior to camp. “He’s still going to be part of the family, obviously,” coach Stephen Silas said. “We’re going to figure out a way if he doesn’t get picked up by somebody else for him to be a Rocket, which he should be.”
  • Rockets guard Ben McLemore is not with the team because he’s self-isolating, according to the league’s injury report, Tim MacMahon of ESPN tweets. Houston hosts the Thunder on Wednesday.

Southwest Notes: Cousins, DeRozan, Johnson, McLemore

Rockets center DeMarcus Cousins is excited to be reunited with John Wall this season, a decade after the longtime friends were college teammates at Kentucky, as relayed by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

“Man, that’s incredible,” Cousins said. “That’s something we planned and dreamed about for a long time. I’m pretty sure he’s just as grateful for this moment as I am. I’m super excited. There’s obviously a chemistry between me and him from our college days. Not only were we teammates in college, we’ve known each other since we were 14 years old. He was actually one of the groomsmen in my wedding. That’s my brother for life.

“I believe his game speaks for itself. He’s an incredible talent. That’s a given. The combination of him and James (Harden), that’s tough for any team to match up with.”

Houston acquired Wall, along with a 2023 protected first-round pick, in exchange for Russell Westbrook in a trade with the Wizards last week. The team has reloaded with hopes of contending this season, surrounding Harden with Wall, Cousins, Christian Wood, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and others.

Here are some other notes from the Southwest Division tonight:

  • Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan is prepared to buy into the team’s current situation, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News writes. DeRozan, 31, is set to enter his third season with San Antonio, a team that has a mixture of young players and veterans, after picking up a $27.7MM player option to return to the club last month. “That was one of my main reasons for coming back,” DeRozan said, “The faith and the confidence I had in those young guys and wanting to be a part of what we started in the bubble.”
  • Mavericks forward James Johnson has yet to practice due to a strained MCL, coach Rick Carlisle said, as relayed by Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News (Twitter link). Johnson is on track to be involved in some activity by Tuesday or Wednesday, Caplan adds.
  • Rockets guard Ben McLemore hopes to improve on his best NBA season to date with the team, returning with hopes of establishing himself as a better player in his second campaign, Jonathan Feigen writes in a separate article for the Houston Chronicle. McLemore, 27, averaged 10.1 points in 22.8 minutes per game last season, shooting 44% from the floor and 40% from behind the arc.

Mitchell Robinson, Ben McLemore Receive Salary Guarantees

In moves that were little more than formalities, two more players have had their contracts fully guaranteed ahead of the 2020/21 season.

Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports tweets that Knicks center Mitchell Robinson has had his third-year, $1,663,861 contract guaranteed. Meanwhile, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports that Rockets shooting guard Ben McLemore has seen his $2,283,034 contract guaranteed after a solid 2019/20 performance in Houston.

Since being drafted with the 36th pick in 2018, the springy 7′ Robinson has quickly become a core piece for a rebuilding Knicks club. Robinson posted averages of 9.7 PPG and 7.0 RPG over 61 games for New York during his sophomore pro season, while connecting on a stellar 74.2% of his field goals.

The 27-year-old McLemore enjoyed a terrific year in Houston over the 2019/20 season, proving his mettle as a reliable 3-and-D role player for a competitive playoff club. McLemore averaged 10.1 PPG and 2.2 RPG for the Rockets. He also posted a solid shooting line of .444/.400/.746. Over 71 games for the club, he averaged 22.8 minutes a night.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Playoff Edition

Throughout the season, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents this off-season. With the playoffs ongoing at the Orlando campus, it’s time to examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors.

Enes Kanter, Celtics, 28, C (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $9.77MM deal in 2019

It’s difficult to pump up your value when you’re glued to the bench. That’s the dilemma for Kanter, who has dropped out of the Celtics’ big man rotation. Kanter averaged 15 MPG in the opening round against Philadelphia but coach Brad Stevens has gone with Daniel Theis and Robert Williams III during the second-round series against Toronto. Save for a four-minute cameo on Thursday, Kanter has been a spectator. He has a $5MM player option for next season and the benching might compel him to take the guaranteed money and force the front office’s hands.

Goran Dragic, Heat, 34, PG (Up) – Signed to a five-year, $85MM deal in 2015

Perhaps we all forgot how good this guy can be. Dragic is getting a little long in the tooth and has battled injury issues, but he’s been fantastic on the Orlando campus. He’s been the most consistent offensive force for the surprising Heat, averaging 22.8 PPG and 5.0 APG against Indiana in the first-round sweep and 25.0 PPG and 4.5 APG in Games 1 and 2 against Milwaukee. Dragic could provide a major jolt for any playoff-caliber club and his price tag keeps rising.

Ben McLemore, Rockets, 27, SG (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $4.3MM deal in 2019

McLemore got off to a strong start in Orlando, including back-to-back 20-point games during the seeding round. As the playoffs have moved along, McLemore has seen his playing time diminish. He received 10 or fewer minutes in the last three games against Oklahoma City, as Russell Westbrook’s return affected his role. McLemore’s $2.3MM for next season isn’t guaranteed. The contract is cheap enough for the Rockets to retain him, but if that happens, there’s no guarantee he’ll be a rotation player.

Evan Fournier, Magic, 27, SG (Down) – Signed to a five-year, $85MM deal in 2016

Fournier has a $17.15MM option on his contract for next season. It seemed likely prior to the stoppage of play in March that he’d opt out and test a weak free agent market. His career year hit a snag during the restart, as he battled a non-COVID related illness and then was generally a non-factor in the first-round series against Milwaukee. He shot 35.7% from the field, compared to 44.9% shooting during the regular season. With all the uncertainty surrounding next season, Fournier has more incentive to take the guaranteed money.

Noah Vonleh, Nuggets, 25, PF (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $2MM deal in 2019

A lottery pick in 2014, Vonleh has already played for six organizations. It looks like he’ll be adding a seventh to his resume next season, provided he can find another NBA home. Vonleh made three brief appearances in the seeding round but his only action during the playoffs was a three-minute stint during a 37-point loss to Utah. It’s easy to forget that Vonleh started 57 games for the Knicks last season. There won’t be any teams valuing him as a starter this offseason; he’ll be fortunate to get another veteran’s minimum deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Green, D’Antoni, Paul

Nearly everything went right for the Rockets on Tuesday as they dominated their playoff opener without Russell Westbrook, who is sidelined with a strained right quadriceps. Before the game, coach Mike D’Antoni offered a medical update on the star guard, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN, saying the injury is healing, but there’s no set date for his return.

“Can’t rule anything out, but don’t rule anything in,” D’Antoni told reporters.

Westbrook was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Tuesday to check on his progress, but the results haven’t been made public. A late arrival to the Disney World campus after contracting the coronavirus, Westbrook began feeling soreness in his right quadriceps after an August 4 game. He rested the next two games before playing 28 minutes last Tuesday. An MRI later that day revealed the strained muscle.

There’s more Rockets news to pass along:

  • Ben McLemore and Jeff Green both made huge contributions off the bench in the playoff opener, notes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. McLemore hit four 3-pointers in his first career playoff game, while Green, who was signed in late February, contributed 22 points, six rebounds and four assists. “We’re just trying to put the defense on their heels, giving them a different look,” Green said. “We know that all the focus is going to be on James (Harden), so it’s just another opportunity for us to take the pressure off him with Russell out … for everybody to get involved.”
  • In a separate story, MacMahon examines D’Antoni’s belief in small-ball, which dates back to when he was in Phoenix more than 15 years ago. The Rockets fully committed to the concept when they shipped out starting center Clint Capela at February’s trade deadline. “If you think something’s right and the numbers prove it’s right, then go all-in,” D’Antoni said. “You can’t muddy the waters. You can’t just go halfway.”
  • Chris Paul, who is facing his former team in his first playoff series since being traded last summer, addressed his relationship with Harden, his ex-backcourt partner (video link from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports). “We don’t talk or communicate or nothing like that, but that’s all good and well,” Paul said. “I wish him the best in anything and everything he does. That’s one thing I think people fail to realize, sometimes, in these situations. Sometimes you have teammates, and it is for that period of time. But that’s okay. You can wish each other well going forward. It doesn’t mean you have to be kumbaya, and it doesn’t mean you have to be enemies. At the end of the day, everybody’s got a life to live.”