- The Rockets have thrived under head coach Mike D’Antoni but for a while there, Hornets assistant Stephen Silas was in the running for the position. As Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle writes, the Charlotte coach still gets ribbed by friends and family when Houston, the best team in the NBA two months into the season, does something particularly impressive.
- Offseason acquisition Chris Paul seems to be enjoying his new role with the Rockets, as Tim MacMahon of ESPN breaks down in a recent feature. That, coupled with the fact that Houston is 12-0 with Paul on the floor this season, bodes well for the franchise ahead of the veteran’s free agency this summer.
For much of 2017, there have been rumblings about the possibility of LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers in the summer of 2018 to head west to Los Angeles. With the Cavs hosting the Lakers on Thursday night, it was as good a time as any for Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN to check in on James’ upcoming free agency, passing along a few notes and tidbits they’ve picked up from various sources. Here are some highlights from their piece:
- Despite the constant speculation and L.A.’s efforts to create massive cap room for 2018, the Lakers look a “long shot” to sign James for now, league sources tell Shelburne and Windhorst.
- According to ESPN’s report, when James reached free agency in 2014, his reps told contending teams to be prepared to offer a maximum salary contract, and not a penny less. It’s too early to lock anything in for 2018, but don’t expect James to take a Kevin Durant-esque discount on his next contract, per Shelburne and Windhorst. Sources tell the duo that James’ stance on max contracts hasn’t changed, meaning potential suitors will need to be able to offer a projected starting salary of approximately $35MM.
- A recent report cited the Rockets as a threat for James, and LeBron’s longtime friendship with Chris Paul is a reason to take Houston seriously, according to Shelburne and Windhorst. Still, league sources tell ESPN that the idea that James and Paul badly want to end up on the same team is an “overstated assumption.”
- While we’ll certainly hear plenty more about James’ free agency in the coming months, it’s unlikely that we’ll hear much from the man himself — or agent Rich Paul. “LeBron is focused on this season and winning a championship,” Paul told ESPN. “At the appropriate time, we will explore all the options. Now is not the time.”
The Rockets will be without forward Luc Mbah a Moute for two to three weeks following a shoulder injury sustained Wednesday night but, as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets, the results of an MRI conducted reveal that there are no significant issues.
Shortly after the game on Wednesday, head coach Mike D’Antoni speculated that the 31-year-old had dislocated his shoulder and Rockets fans braced for an extended stretch without a key rotation player.
In just over 25 minutes per game this season, Mbah a Moute has averaged 6.8 points and 3.4 rebounds for the Rockets while establishing himself as a defensive cornerstone.
“Luc is a key for us defensively,” center Clint Capela told Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle. “We’re going to have to be more focused on defense because without Luc, it’s not going to be easy.“
- Rockets center Clint Capela is putting together his best season as he heads toward restricted free agency next summer, relays Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Capela is averaging career highs in points [13.7] and rebounds [11.0] and leads the NBA in both field goal percentage [.677] and dunks , many as the pick-and-roll partner of James Harden. “I know exactly when to roll,” Capela said. “I know exactly how to make the big go on James and just get behind the big. I know the details of he goes quick. I just love it. I love it.”
- The Rockets can’t find enough minutes for veteran center Nene, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Going into the season, the team hoped to play him 19 minutes per game, but he has reached that total just once and is averaging 14.4 minutes. “I don’t know how important it is right now,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “The biggest thing is just to make sure he’s healthy going into the playoffs. That’s the biggest thing we want to do and getting his rhythm before that happens. But that’s a long time from now. I’m not worried about that right now.”
Houston should be added to the list of possible destinations for LeBron James, according to Sam Amick of USA Today. Rockets insiders possess “strong belief” that they’ll have a chance to land James in free agency, Amick writes, and several rival executives share that opinion.
James is expected to opt out of a salary of more than $35.6MM next summer and hit the open market once again. The Cavaliers star and four-time MVP tops our latest Free Agent Power Rankings.
The Lakers have been prominently mentioned as a landing spot if he decides to leave Cleveland, and the Sixers recently emerged as a possibility. Both teams are filled with young talent and cap flexibility, but Amick says James wants to keep winning and Houston offers a far better chance.
The Rockets, off to a league-best 19-4 start, feature an MVP candidate in James Harden and one of James’ best friends in Chris Paul. The team is known for its productive offense and has risen into the top five in defensive rating this season. GM Daryl Morey has an affinity for chasing stars, and new owner Tilmann Fertitta, who paid a record $2.2 billion for the team in September, would no doubt endorse the pursuit of James.
The tricky part for Houston is freeing up enough cap space to make a max offer. With the cap projected at $101MM for 2018/19, the Rockets already have more than $78MM in guaranteed salary, not counting the cost of re-signing Paul, whose Bird rights the team owns, or restricted free agent center Clint Capela.
Morey has displayed creativity with the cap in the past, and Amick suggests he probably has deals lined up involving Ryan Anderson [$20,421,546 salary next season] and others in case the chance to sign James arises. Amick adds that Paul might agree to take less than the max, similar to what Kevin Durant did with the Warriors last summer, to help bring James to Houston.
Rumors about James’ next move began shortly after the NBA Finals, but he doesn’t plan to consider his options until this season is done. If the Rockets keep their place among the league’s elite, their chances to land James in July may be as good as anyone’s.
- The Rockets have looked impressive with Chris Paul back in the lineup, not only on offense but on defense. Sam Amick of USA Today writes that Paul’s defensive presence – in addition to P.J. Tucker‘s and Luc Mbah a Moute‘s – has helped Houston make a name for itself with the fifth-best defensive rating in the league.
- Rockets guard Chris Paul and forward Luc Mbah a Moute will make their first trip back to Staples Center tomorrow since leaving the Clippers over the offseason, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Both say their emotions will be lessened because they are facing the Lakers instead of their former team.
- The Rockets can use P.J. Tucker in the starting lineup or off the bench. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes that the versatile veteran will fill the same role regardless of how he’s utilized. “I’m going to go out and do my job,” Tucker said. “It doesn’t make a big deal. You’re going to play the same amount of minutes. And the way we play, it doesn’t really matter.“
Here are Wednesday’s G League assignments and recalls from around the NBA:
- The Knicks sent Joakim Noah and Damyean Dotson to the G League today, then recalled them after the conclusion of the Westchester Knicks’ day game (Twitter links). Dotson scored 23 points in the loss to Maine, while Noah chipped in with nine points, five boards, and four assists.
- Troy Williams has been re-assigned to the G League by the Rockets, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). Williams figures to suit up tonight for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers against the Texas Legends.
- The Kings have assigned a trio of players – Georgios Papagiannis, Malachi Richardson, and Justin Jackson – to the G League, the team announced today in a press release. The Reno Bighorns don’t play again until Saturday, so it’s not clear if the three youngsters will stick around that long, or if they’re just on assignment for practice purposes.
- After helping the Delaware 87ers earn a win on Tuesday, rookie guard Furkan Korkmaz has been recalled to the NBA by the Sixers, per a press release from the team. Korkmaz had just 14 points on 3-of-12 shooting for Delaware last night, but was a team-best +19.
- The Pacers have sent rookie center Ike Anigbogu to the G League, the club announced today. Anigbogu has played just 17 total minutes for Indiana so far this season, so assignments to the G League give him an opportunity to get more reps.