Ben McLemore

Southwest Notes: Ingram, Mills, McLemore, Johnson

Pelicans All-Star forward Brandon Ingram said on Monday that New Orleans will number among his “top choices” in free agency during the 2020 offseason, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Ingram, 22, will be a restricted free agent this summer. Considering his growth with the team, whatever offer is tendered to Ingram by another club would almost certainly be matched by the Pelicans. Ingram hailed his current NBA home as a “special place with a lot of really, really good people.”

A 2-4 showing thus far in the NBA’s Orlando campus has doomed the 30-40 Pelicans to miss the playoffs this season, but with Ingram and promising rookie Zion Williamson established as the team’s two cornerstones, they look to be an attractive destination for free agent players.

Here’s more out of the NBA’s Southwest Division:

  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has addressed the fact that point guard Patty Mills has not played much during the NBA’s season restart in Orlando, according to Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News (Twitter link).  “Might as well stay whole and take a rest,” Popovich said of Mills. “(He’s) kind of like a humming bird. He plays at such a high level of competitiveness, I’d rather have him whole for next season.”
  • Rockets guard Ben McLemore, who has had a stellar showing for Houston during the team’s Orlando tenure, has just rejoined Klutch Sports for representation, per Ben DuBose of USA Today. McLemore’s previous agent was Jarinn Akana of Dynasty Sports Management. McLemore is currently signed to a two-year veteran’s minimum contract with a team option for the 2020/21 season. Given his recent play, it seems probable that Houston will retain him.
  • Spurs rookie forward Keldon Johnson has started to come into his own during the NBA’s Orlando seeding games, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. Johnson, drafted with the No. 29 pick in 2019 out of Kentucky, has emerged as a rotation player for San Antonio during the season restart. He notched career highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds in a crucial victory over the Rockets today. “He’s a high energy guy,” Popovich said of the rookie. “Very physical. Very competitive. Very coachable.”

Eric Gordon To Miss Time With Ankle Injury

Rockets guard Eric Gordon may be sidelined for up to two weeks after turning his left ankle in the team’s final scrimmage Tuesday night, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. X-rays were negative, and Gordon will be re-evaluated today.

The injury occurred late in the second quarter when Gordon landed awkwardly after jumping to make a pass. He was helped to the sidelines by teammates and wasn’t able to place much weight on the ankle.

“Hurts a little bit. He doesn’t really swell, so we won’t know until tomorrow the extent of it,” coach Mike D’Antoni told Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle after the game. “He’s going to be out a few days.”

D’Antoni moved Gordon into the starting lineup when the team reconvened in Orlando. The versatile guard has been through a difficult season since signing a four-year, $76MM extension in September. He missed six weeks after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in mid-November and struggled with his shot after returning. Gordon is averaging 14.5 PPG, the lowest in his four years in Houston, and is shooting a career-worst 37% from the field.

There was optimism that Gordon turned a corner during the hiatus, as he reported to Orlando 12 pounds lighter, which he credited to diet changes and alterations to his workouts. He is considered a vital cog for the Rockets to succeed with their extreme small-ball lineup.

“To me it just makes sense that you do it, because one, Eric is probably our best perimeter defender,” D’Antoni said in explaining the decision to start Gordon. “So when another team has a superstar in there, he has to guard that. Two, if you don’t start him, then he’s resting for 12 minutes when he is not tired to start the game or in the second half.”

D’Antoni hasn’t decided who will take Gordon’s place as a starter while he is out of action. Bontemps notes that Ben McLemore started the second half last night, but Danuel House, who started 47 games this season, is also an option.

“We’ll see,” D’Antoni said. “It’s an easier rotation because Danuel has to back up (Robert) Covington at the 4, but Danuel could probably start. We’ll see what happens.”

Free Agent Stock Watch 2020: Southwest Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we take a look at players from the Southwest Division:

Ben McLemore, Rockets, 27, SG (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $4.3MM deal in 2019
If you’re in the same backcourt as James Harden and Russell Westbrook, you’re not going to have many opportunities to shoot. And when you do, you’d better make them. McLemore is making them. In his last three games, McLemore has averaged 13.3 PPG and knocked down 11 of 18 3-point attempts. Houston has shuffled its roster over the past month but as long as McLemore remains a perimeter threat, he’ll remain in the rotation. Houston needs to guarantee his modest $2.28MM salary for next season prior to free agency. It will be a surprise if the Rockets turn down that bargain.

Jordan Bell, Grizzlies, 25, PF/C (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $1.62MM deal in 2019
Bell wasn’t much of a factor with Minnesota this season, even when Karl-Anthony Towns missed some games due to injury or suspension. He got traded to Houston, which quickly flipped him to Memphis for Bruno Caboclo. Bell has only appeared in two games with the Grizzlies but there is a glimmer of hope. With injuries to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke depleting the frontcourt, Bell could get an extended look in the next couple of weeks. He’ll have to show a lot more than he did in Minnesota in order for Memphis to extend a qualifying offer, which would make him a restricted free agent.

Jahlil Okafor, Pelicans, 24, PF/C (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $3.27MM deal in 2018
When the Pelicans were shorthanded last month in Detroit, Okafor erupted for 25 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. He never left the bench the next four games, which shows how little he figures in the organization’s plans. Okafor has played a total of 25 minutes since that game against the Pistons. Once Zion Williamson got healthy, Okafor’s already spotty playing time virtually evaporated. His ability to score in the low post has lost much of its value since he was taken with the third pick in the 2015 draft. He’ll be seeking another second-unit opportunity this summer.

Bryn Forbes, Spurs, 26, PG (Up) – Signed to two-year, $6MM deal in 2018
Undrafted despite playing for a major college (Michigan State), Forbes has fit well with the blue-collar Spurs. After Danny Green was traded during the 2018 offseason, Forbes became a starter in his third year in the league. He’s held onto that role this season and continues to provide a perimeter option on a team lacking in that area. Forbes has been on fire this month, draining 47.4% of his 3-point attempts. Forbes will enter unrestricted free agency this summer and should get a nice raise and a multiyear deal, perhaps without changing uniforms.

Willie Cauley-Stein, 27, PF/C (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $4.46MM deal in 2019
When Dwight Powell suffered a season-ending Achilles tear late last month, the Mavericks opted to trade with Golden State for Cauley-Stein. It seemed like a great opportunity for Cauley-Stein to pump up his value on a playoff contender. It hasn’t worked out that way. Cauley-Stein’s role has been limited since joining the Mavericks and he hasn’t played since the All-Star break due to undisclosed personal reasons. It’s a good thing for WCS that he has a $2.29MM option on his contract for next season. It should come in handy the way things are trending.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Southwest Notes: McLemore, Aldridge, Porzingis, DeRozan

Former lottery pick Ben McLemore has revitalized his career with the RocketsESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote an excellent profile piece examining the reemergence of McLemore in Houston.

On his third team in three years, McLemore seized his opportunity with the Rockets when injuries befell Eric Gordon and Gerald Green. McLemore has transformed himself into an effective catch-and-shoot option in Houston. For nine games starting on November 30th, McLemore averaged 14 PPG while shooting 39-of-85 from long range.

The first season of McLemore’s two-year, $4.4MM contract with the Rockets became fully guaranteed on January 10th. “I love Ben,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told Lowe. “All he was lacking was confidence and an opportunity.” The rangy, athletic McLemore is averaging 10.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, and 1.0 APG for the 26-12 Rockets. He is shooting 36.5% from long range on 6.7 attempts and 80% from the free-throw line.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • The trade market stock of 34-year-old Spurs center LaMarcus Aldridge is rising, writes San Antonio Express-News reporter Mike Finger. Finger postulates that Aldridge would have net more interest as a trade piece than fellow 30+ former All-Star big man, Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love, who has been very, very vocal about being unhappy in Cleveland. Aldridge has emerged as a moderate three-point shooting threat for the first time in his career, knocking down 45.5% of his 2.5 attempts per game, both career highs.
  • Mavericks big man Kristaps Porzingis was given a platelet-rich-plasma injection to treat the soreness in his right knee that has kept him in street clothes for two weeks, according to ESPN’s Tim McMahon. Porzingis is also grappling with an illness that has slowed his recovery process.
  • Polarizing, old-fashioned Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan returns to the team for whom he made four All-Star appearances today, the Raptors, as Josh Lewenberg of TSN reports. His former teammate, current Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry, reflected on his contributions to Toronto basketball. “I think he poured his heart into the city,” Lowry said. “He gave the city and lot and the city [saw] him grow from a boy to being a man.”

Southwest Notes: Spurs, DeRozan, McLemore, Pelicans

The Spurs have historically been averse to mid-season trades, having not completed a deal outside of the offseason since February 2014, when they sent Nando De Colo to Toronto in exchange for Austin Daye. However, as Mike Finger of The San Antonio Express-News writes, after a 9-15 start to the season, the organization will have to consider both the upside and potential downside of simply standing pat again.

Four-time All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan will have the ability to opt out of his contract during the summer of 2020, and while the Spurs seem unlikely to make a blockbuster deal by February 6, it might represent their last real opportunity to acquire something of value in exchange for DeRozan — if he opts for free agency and signs elsewhere, the club likely won’t have the cap flexibility to adequately replace him, Finger observes.

As San Antonio considers its options, let’s round up a few more notes from around the Southwest…

  • When the Spurs weigh what to do with DeRozan, they’ll attempt to determine what type of contract he might be able to command on the open market. Only rebuilding teams are projected to have cap room this summer, creating uncertainty about where a big payday for the veteran might come from, if not San Antonio. “I like DeRozan as my third option, and those type of players are not earning near max-type money,” one league executive tells ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link).
  • Kelly Iko of The Athletic takes an in-depth look at the renaissance of Ben McLemore, a former No. 7 overall pick whose days as an NBA rotation player appeared numbered before he bounced back with Houston this season. According to Iko, McLemore received a pair of guaranteed contract offers in the offseason, but chose the Rockets‘ partially guaranteed offer because they offered the best combination of playing for a contender and potentially earning a regular role.
  • Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said this week that this year’s team is one of the quietest he has been around during his time in the NBA, tweets Will Guillory of The Athletic. As Guillory notes, that’s one reason why New Orleans’ defensive communication has been an issue all season long.

Rockets Notes: Protest, McLemore, Westbrook, Clark

The Rockets have a challenging case to prove now that their protest of Tuesday’s game is official, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times. Houston must provide “clear evidence” that the outcome in San Antonio was affected by a James Harden dunk that was disallowed. Stein calls it a “high bar” to convince the league that a single basket with 7:50 left to play would have made the difference between winning and losing (Twitter link).

Harden scored on a breakaway that would have given Houston a 104-89 lead, but he dunked the ball so hard that it popped in front of the rim after going through the hoop, leading to confusion over whether it was a made shot. Officials disallowed the basket and refused to let Mike D’Antoni use a coach’s challenge because a 30-second time limit had expired. The Rockets lost in double overtime.

The team has five days to submit evidence after filing the protest, then commissioner Adam Silver has five days to issue a ruling, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press (Twitter link). The Rockets also had to pay a $10K protest fee that will be refunded if they are successful, notes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.

There’s more from Houston:

  • Ben McLemore has been effective as a starter, but he appears headed back to the bench now that Danuel House is healthier, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. McLemore has performed far better in the starting lineup, including a season-high 28 points Thursday night in Toronto, but D’Antoni prefers the defense and versatility that House brings. “He plays hard and he’s coachable,” D’Antoni said of McLemore, who is in his first season with the team. “He does have a nice shot. He needs confidence. He needs to play. He needs to feel wanted. Hopefully, he will continue to get better.”
  • Management isn’t concerned over Russell Westbrook‘s inconsistent play so far, states Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Westbrook’s shot has been misfiring and his win shares are at a career-low 0.7, but he has multiple dislocated fingers and is still being managed for knee pain. The team isn’t expecting Westbrook to fully be himself until after the All-Star break.
  • Gary Clark‘s surprising contributions at the start of last season were part of the reason the club moved on from Carmelo Anthony, but the second-year forward hasn’t been able to carve out a regular role, Iko adds in the same piece. Between Clark’s poor shooting and the Rockets’ deep rotation, it appears he’ll have to wait his turn for regular minutes, even though D’Antoni likes what he brings to the team.

Western Notes: O’Neale, Dirk, McLemore, Baynes

Royce O’Neale, who is the Jazz‘s most trusted perimeter defender, is aiming this season to improve the accuracy and volume of his three-point shot on the other end of the court.

As Aaron Falk of UtahJazz.com details, O’Neale three-point percentage is up to a career-best 47.9% this season, but he’s attempting just 3.1 per 36 minutes, the lowest rate of his career. That’s prompting his teammates and Jazz coaches to encourage him to look more for his shot.

“You have to shoot it,” Jazz point guard Mike Conley said. “I’m trying my best to tell him to shoot it every time. I get mad [when he doesn’t].”

It’s a big year for O’Neale, who will be eligible for restricted free agency during the summer of 2020. If he can continue to prove that he’s a reliable, consistent three-and-D option, the 26-year-old should be in line for a nice payday when his minimum-salary deal expires, whether or not he remains with the Jazz.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Just in case there was any doubt, longtime Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki confirmed that he won’t be following in the footsteps of fellow Dallas athlete Jason Witten by coming out of retirement after a year (Twitter link via Mark Medina of USA Today). Oh man. I wish,” said Nowitzki, who attended the Mavs’ Sunday win over the Lakers. “But my foot is not great. My health is not there anymore where it needs to be to compete and go up and down every day.
  • Ben McLemore, one of three Rockets players without a fully guaranteed 2019/20 salary, has taken on a crucial rotation role as of late, starting five of the club’s last nine games. While McLemore has been significantly better as a starter, he’s confident that his numbers as a reserve will come around if he returns to a full-time bench role. “It’s about keeping my game simple, especially with this team,” McLemore said, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. “I’m trying to do the best I can each and every night and be consistent. Things will shake out for me soon.”
  • Offseason acquisition Aron Baynes, who returned to the Suns‘ lineup on Friday after missing five games due to a hip injury, has quickly become a veteran leader and a major on-court contributor for his new team, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic.

Rockets Notes: Capela, Conditioning, Harden, Gordon, McLemore

Rockets center Clint Capela is off to a slow start compared to last season and a sore right shoulder is partially to blame, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon tweets. Capela injured the shoulder playing for the Swiss national team this summer and has been working to strengthen it. It has especially affected him when trying to dunk with one hand and reaching for rebounds, MacMahon adds. Capela is averaging 13.5 PPG and 7.1 RPG through the first eight games after averaging 16.6 PPG and 12.7 RPG last season.

We have more on the Rockets:

  • Coach Mike D’Antoni is second-guessing himself for taking it too easy on his players during camp, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets. Houston split its first six games before winning its last two outings. “I’m also kind of responsible. I was saving their legs in the preseason so that near the end of the year we’ll be fresher,” D’Antoni said. “I can’t also be crazy because they’re not quite in shape. We’re working on it.”
  • TV analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy believes James Harden should get more credit for resisting the load management strategy that many other teams are using for their stars, Feigen writes. “Everybody is so hypercritical of everything Harden does. He should be absolutely lauded [for wanting to play 82 games],” Van Gundy said. ” It’s like the Rolling Stones came through here and don’t bring Mick (Jagger.) It would be the same thing if Harden doesn’t show up.”
  • The team should be much more worried about Eric Gordon’s shooting woes rather than Harden’s early slump, John Hollinger of The Athletic opines. Gordon is having a harder time getting to and finishing at the rim and that raises concerns, However, the team’s biggest long-term issues are their lack of overall interior size on defense and the fact that Russell Westbrook is a downgrade from Chris Paul at that end, Hollinger adds.
  • Ben McLemore, who has taken all but three of his 38 shots this season from beyond the arc, has solidified his rotation spot, Feigen writes a separate story.

Rockets Notes: Harden, Westbrook, Wings, Chandler

The Rockets have faced some questions this offseason about how two high-usage players like James Harden and Russell Westbrook will complement one another. Executives, scouts, and coaches around the league are curious to see how the Rockets’ half-court offense functions when the two guards are playing together and Harden has the ball, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“That’s the billion-dollar question,” one Western executive said.

Despite some skepticism from outside observers, it doesn’t sound like head coach Mike D’Antoni has spent many sleepless nights poring over X’s and O’s to make sure the Harden/Westbrook combo will succeed, as MacMahon writes.

“We’re not going to make it too complicated,” D’Antoni said of his backcourt. “They’re MVPs. They’ll put up MVP numbers. I don’t have to interject how smart I am. That’ll just screw it up. They’re really f—ing good.”

D’Antoni does have a tentative plan for how to stagger his two star guards though, as MacMahon details. According to the Rockets’ head coach, Harden and Westbrook will likely only share the court for about 19 minutes per game if he sticks to his plan. That approach will give the club the best chance to avoid scenarios in which neither player is on the court.

As we look forward to the Rockets’ opener tonight, let’s round up a few more notes out of Houston…

  • Despite concern that Gerald Green will be out for the season, the Rockets aren’t currently pursuing another wing player, per Kelly Iko and Shams Charania of The Athletic. “We don’t feel as though we’re short of wing shooters,” a team executive said. “We have multiple guys who are interesting.” According to Iko, that exec pointed to Ben McLemore and Thabo Sefolosha as two veteran offseason additions who could contribute.
  • McLemore will have his partial guarantee increase from $50K to $500K later today, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweets.
  • Iko reports in the same story that the Rockets discussed a trade this month that ultimately fell through. According to Iko, another team was interested in giving Houston an asset to take on a player’s contract (likely a small contract, given the Rockets’ cap and tax situation), but eventually pulled back.
  • Although the Rockets made some changes to their roster this summer, they brought back all of their core veteran players. That has helped Tyson Chandler make a smooth adjustment to his new team, as Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle writes. “It helps big-time because you understand your role,” Chandler said. “As a young player, you’re trying to figure yourself out. You don’t know what your role is. You’re trying to create your niche. As an older player, you already know.”

Southwest Notes: T. Jones, Rockets, Nowitzki, Ingram

After carving out a role as a valuable reserve during his four years in Minnesota, Tyus Jones tells David Cobb of The Commercial Appeal that he’s looking forward to a fresh start with the Grizzlies. The Timberwolves elected not to match Jones’ three-year, $24MM offer sheet, sending him to a new organization for the first time in his NBA career.

“The thing that impresses me is everyone knows the goal, and that’s we’re one team trying to improve and trying to win a lot of games this year,” Jones said. “Everyone has the best interest of the guy next to them and everyone is looking out for the guy next to them. That’s what it takes to be a great team.”

Part of the point guard’s duties will be to serve as a mentor to rookie Ja Morant, the second selection in this year’s draft. It may seem like an unusual responsibility for a 23-year-old, but Jones virtually qualifies as an elder statesman on the rebuilding Grizzlies.

“It’s weird when you look at it in the grand picture, in the grand scheme of things,” Jones said. “I’m 23, but I’m one of the older guys on the team. We have at lot of younger guys just in terms of the NBA years. But that’s what you get when you come into the league at 19.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Rockets‘ addition of Thabo Sefolosha could come at the cost of Ben McLemore or Michael Frazier, tweets salary cap expert Albert Nahmad. Even though GM Daryl Morey has said he has the freedom to pay the luxury tax, Nahmad cautions that he won’t do it to keep an average player. Nahmad expects Houston to either start the season with the minimum of 14 players on its roster or possibly keep 15 with the intention to make a salary-cutting trade by the February deadline (Twitter link).
  • Mark Cuban plans to talk with recently retired star Dirk Nowitzki about joining the Mavericks‘ ownership group, relays Dalton Trigg of DallasBasketball. “I’ll have the convo with Dirk in the future,” Cuban said. “There is a lot of things involved to make it all work. But it would be awesome.”
  • The Pelicans should take a cautious approach toward an extension for Brandon Ingram, contends Bryan Toporek of Forbes. Although Ingram has been a full participant in offseason workouts, Toporek believes his health concerns make him too much of a risk unless he agrees to a discount somewhere in the neighborhood of the three-year, $52MM deal that Caris LeVert accepted with the Nets.