Russell Westbrook sat out against the Lakers on Thursday but the Rockets don’t anticipate him sitting out for long. Westbrook, who is dealing with a quad contusion, is expected to play Sunday against the Kings, coach Mike D’Antoni told Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link) and other media members. Fellow guard Eric Gordon, who hasn’t played in any games since the restart due to a sprained ankle, is expected to return sometime during the seeding round, MacMahon adds.
Lakers star LeBron James will sit out Thursday night’s game against the Rockets due to soreness in his groin, the team announced in this afternoon’s injury report (Twitter link via Bill Oram of The Athletic).
James’ groin ailment probably isn’t anything for Lakers fans to worry about. With the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference locked up, the team has little reason to ride its star players hard before the postseason begins on August 17. The Lakers were also in action on Wednesday, so LeBron will be sitting the second half of the back-to-back set.
Meanwhile, the Rockets may be without one of their stars on Thursday night as well. Russell Westbrook is listed as questionable due to a right quad contusion, with a source telling Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link) that the All-Star guard will likely sit out vs. the Lakers.
There’s no indication that Westbrook’s injury is serious either, though these last few seeding games are a little more important for Houston than they are for Los Angeles. The Rockets are currently the No. 6 seed in the West, but they’re tied with the fifth-seeded Thunder and a half-game behind the No. 4 Jazz.
The Rockets will have two days off before facing Sacramento on Sunday, so we’ll see if Westbrook is ready to roll by that point.
- With Eric Gordon being sidelined for two weeks with an ankle injury, Danuel House will be inserted into the Rockets’ starting lineup, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). This season, House has started in 47 games for Houston, while averaging 10.2 PPG and 4.2 RPG. He is also shooting 36.3 percent from three-point range.
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.”
A number of team owners around the NBA are feeling the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic, as Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com writes. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, for instance, has seen business fall off precipitously at his restaurants, hotels, and casinos, while Heat owner Micky Arison has had to temporarily shut down his Carnival Cruise Lines.
While some team owners have been hit harder than others by the effects of COVID-19, there’s an expectation that the pandemic will have a league-wide impact on spending this offseason, as Windhorst writes. Some teams may have to make difficult financial decisions that could result in unexpected player movement.
“With few exceptions, no one wants to make long-term commitments right now,” one general manager told ESPN. “You can already feel it coming.”
In addition to the teams that may feel pressure to dump pricey contracts or avoid expensive free agent commitments, some clubs may face financial constraints in the draft. Although selling second-round draft picks remains fairly common, no NBA team has sold a first-round pick since the Nuggets did so with the No. 27 selection in the 2013 draft, according to Windhorst. Some people around the league believe that teams will consider the possibility again in 2020.
“I suspect first-round picks will be for sale in this draft,” a team executive said. “We haven’t really seen that in a decade.”
Here are a few more noteworthy details and quotes from Windhorst’s examination of NBA teams’ finances:
- Warriors owner Joe Lacob has told his fellow owners that he’s exploring a deal with Goldman Sachs to raise up to $250MM to manage expenses, per Windhorst. Sources tell ESPN that other team owners are considering ways to raise capital as well, with some – including the Rockets – pursuing legal action against companies that have denied coronavirus-related insurance claims.
- Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta recently took out a $300MM loan and is more leveraged than many other owners, since he purchased the franchise fairly recently, but he continues to insist he’s not looking to sell any shares in the team. Brokers who have approached him representing potential bidders have been told the same, reports Windhorst.
- Nets owner Joseph Tsai recently sold about 25% of his shares in tech company Alibaba, according to Windhorst. Other owners might not have similar opportunities to raise capital. “I don’t know what will happen, but I may lose $50MM next season,” one owner told Windhorst. “If that happens, I have three options: I could borrow the money, I could sell part of the team or I could do a cash call and me and my partners would have to write checks.”
- NBA rules allow team owners to borrow $325MM against the equity in their franchises. A majority of NBA teams – including the Warriors – have maxed out that credit, sources tell Windhorst.
- Although the Buss family’s pockets aren’t as deep as some of their fellow owners, the Lakers bring in about $200MM annually from their local TV deal and aren’t expected to have any issues re-signing Anthony Davis, writes Windhorst.
Speaking today to reporters for the first time since reporting to the NBA’s campus and clearing quarantine, Rockets forward Luc Mbah a Moute confirmed that his arrival was delayed because he had contracted the coronavirus, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.
Mbah a Moute signed with the Rockets on July 7 as a substitute player replacing Thabo Sefolosha, but didn’t arrive in Orlando until last Wednesday. According to Feigen, Mbah a Moute said today that he dealt with “chills (and) body ache” while battling COVID-19, adding that the recovery was “tough.”
Meanwhile, Mbah a Moute’s teammate Austin Rivers hasn’t tested positive for the coronavirus, but remains quarantined in his hotel room after briefly leaving the Orlando campus last week. Rivers, who returned on Saturday, is scheduled to complete his four-day quarantine period on Tuesday and should be ready to go for the Rockets’ first seeding game this Friday vs. Dallas, Feigen writes for The Chronicle.
Rockets guard Austin Rivers is back on the Walt Disney World campus, two days after leaving for an “urgent family matter,” writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Rivers posted the news today on his Instagram account.
Players are permitted to leave the campus, but they must quarantine for four to 10 days once they return. Feigen notes that the four-day wait takes effect only if players test negative for the coronavirus for seven straight days before returning. Those tests can include the ones taken at the WDW complex if they’re away for fewer than seven days.
Rivers wasn’t present for last night’s scrimmage and will sit out Sunday’s contest with the Grizzlies, Feigen adds. His status for the final scrimmage on Tuesday and Houston’s first seeding game on Friday has yet to be determined.
Rivers was a valuable contributor off the bench in his first full season with the Rockets, averaging 8.5 points in 60 games while playing 23.4 minutes per night. He has a $2.4MM player option for 2020/21.
9:51am: Rivers expects to return to Orlando sometime this weekend, tweets Charania. Assuming he only requires a four-day quarantine period, Rivers should have a chance to be active for Houston’s first seeding game next Friday.
Based on the NBA’s protocols, Rivers will be subject to a quarantine period of at least four days when he returns to Orlando. He’ll have to remain quarantined for up to 10-14 days if he doesn’t return daily negative coronavirus tests for each day that he’s off campus (or each of the last seven days, if he’s away for more than a week).
Unless Rivers’ absence is brief, it seems unlikely he’ll be available for Houston’s first seeding game on July 31 vs. Dallas. However, he still has plenty of time to return and get back up to game speed before the playoffs begin (around August 17). The Rockets are hopeful he’ll be able to return soon, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.
Rivers is the fourth player known to have left the campus for a personal emergency. Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, Clippers center Montrezl Harrell, and Clippers guard Patrick Beverley have also done so.
James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Mbah a Moute didn’t initially travel with the Rockets to Orlando, but Harden and Westbrook have since arrived and started practicing with the club. Mbah a Moute will have to go through a brief quarantine period and return a pair of negative COVID-19 tests, but after that, Houston should be at relatively full strength.