Rockets Rumors

Southwest Notes: McCollum, Murphy, Tate, Popovich

Pelicans star guard CJ McCollum reflected on his first calendar year spent with his new team, writes Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated.

“It’s been the most complex year of my life,” McCollum says. “It’s been a lot of character building, a lot of learning, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of meditation, therapy sessions with my therapist. And a lot of just heart-to-hearts with my family, with my wife, just trying to figure out next steps and what we want to accomplish in this life.”

As Beck notes, New Orleans finds itself at a crossroads, having slipped to fifth place in the West following long-term injuries to star forwards Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Ingram has returned to the Pelicans after a two-month absence. The 26-24 Pelicans are currently on a seven-game losing streak.

“It’s definitely been tough,” McCollum says of having a more featured role without the star forwards. “It’s been a unique challenge. And I’ve had conversations with [coach Willie Green] about it. And obviously there’s a different type of load, a different type of usage, when BI and Zion are playing.”

This season, McCollum is averaging 21.3 PPG, 5.8 APG, 4.5 RPG and 1.0 SPG across 45 contests for the Pelicans. He is posting a slash line of .431/.388/.783.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • The league has reportedly invited Pelicans forward Trey Murphy III to participate in this season’s All-Star game dunk contest, sources inform Andrew Lopez of ESPN (Twitter link). It is unclear as of this writing if Murphy has accepted the invitation.
  • Teams are inquiring about the availability of young Rockets swingman Jae’Sean Tate, Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports reveals on his podcast Please Don’t Aggregate This (h/t to HoopsHype for the transcription). “The Houston Rockets are a clear seller,” Fischer said. “Today I heard Jae’Sean Tate is a player that has has received a lot of incoming calls.” The 6’4″ forward is averaging 7.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.1 APG and 0.8 SPG in a reduced role this season. Tate, 27, is in the first-year of a three-season, $20.6MM deal he signed with Houston.
  • Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is making sure to keep his young players motivated despite the rebuilding team’s increasing loss tally, reports Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. “There are ups and downs in your life probably, and what do you do? You move on,” Popovich reflected. “You just go. I don’t pull out this piece of paper or this formula and go, ‘This is how I’m going to act because we didn’t make the playoffs.’”

Rockets Rumors: Collins, Turner, Gordon, Martin

The Rockets have some interest in Hawks forward John Collins, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Iko suggests that Houston hasn’t put a formal offer on the table for Collins, but that the two teams have talked as Atlanta gauges league-wide interest in the big man.

As Iko details, the Rockets have expressed interest in Collins in the past, including when they traded Clint Capela to Atlanta back at the 2020 deadline. Although they’re intrigued by the possibility of acquiring the 25-year-old, the Rockets would have to consider a number of factors, including Collins’ fit alongside young cornerstones Alperen Sengun and Jabari Smith, as well as his long-term contract.

According to Iko, the Rockets value the cap flexibility they have going forward. Collins’ contract would cut significantly into that flexibility — he’s owed $25.3MM next season and $26.6MM in 2024/25, with a $26.6MM player option for ’25/26. Before talks with the Hawks get serious, Houston would have to decide whether it’s worth sacrificing both current assets and future opportunities for Collins.

Here’s more from Iko on the Rockets:

  • Houston has interest in Pacers center Myles Turner, but he’d likely be a target in free agency rather than via trade, according to Iko. The Rockets would be reluctant to engage in a bidding war and surrender valuable assets for a player on an expiring deal.
  • Veteran shooting guard Eric Gordon remains a strong candidate to be traded before the February 9 deadline (and has privately expressed some frustration with his situation, per Iko), but the Rockets are also open to the idea of adding another veteran or two to their roster. As Iko explains, the team’s rebuild has perhaps left the roster perhaps too young, with 10 Houston players no older than 22. The front office may prefer a little more balance.
  • Team and league sources tell Iko that a few clubs around the league have floated the idea of offering a first-round pick for Kenyon Martin Jr., but the Rockets haven’t received any concrete offers. Houston wouldn’t be interested in trading Martin for a second-round pick, Iko adds.

Pincus’ Latest: VanVleet, Rozier, Russell, Conley, More

There’s a huge market for Fred VanVleet if the Raptors decide to trade him, according to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report.

The 28-year-old guard will be a free agent this summer if he turns down a $22.8MM player option, which Pincus says many league insiders expect to happen. VanVleet can negotiate an extension with Toronto through June 30, but the Raptors could try to move him before the deadline if they aren’t confident about reaching a new deal.

Pincus hears that the Heat, Lakers, Clippers, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Suns and Wizards would be among the most interested teams if VanVleet is made available. He also throws in the Magic, who are seeking an experienced lead guard to play alongside their young core.

The Raptors will want a premium price if they decide to part with VanVleet, Pincus adds, with some combination of young talent, draft assets and players on team-friendly contracts.

Pincus looks at a few other guards who could be changing teams before the deadline:

  • With the Hornets near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they may be willing to consider trading Terry Rozier, who has three more years and nearly $75MM left on his contract. Pincus notes that Charlotte discussed dealing Rozier to the Lakers last offseason and points out that Marc Stein recently identified the Suns as a possible suitor.
  • Pincus hears that the Heat, Suns, Mavericks and Clippers would all be interested in trading for D’Angelo Russell if the Timberwolves can’t reach an extension soon with the impending free agent.
  • Pincus lists the Lakers, Clippers and Timberwolves as teams in the market for Mike Conley if the Jazz decide to part with their veteran point guard. Conley has a $14.32MM guarantee on his $24.4MM salary for next season and would be much cheaper to acquire than Van Vleet.
  • Eric Gordon is attracting interest from the Suns, Lakers and Bucks, but Pincus believes the Rockets may not get the first-round pick they want in return. He suggests Houston might have to settle for a pick swap, using the 2023 first-rounder the team is owed from Milwaukee.
  • The Lakers haven’t given up trying to trade Russell Westbrook, but Pincus says they’re not willing to part with their two available first-round picks unless they get a star in return. He adds that L.A. may focus on smaller deals involving Patrick Beverley and Lonnie Walker in an effort to find wing depth or a backup big man.
  • The Hawks aren’t looking to move Trae Young now, but a source tells Pincus that it could be a consideration during the offseason. Young has clashed with coach Nate McMillan, and Atlanta’s overall turmoil may lead the team to seek a fresh start.

Wall Trashes Rockets Organization In Podcast

  • Clippers guard John Wall calls his time with the Rockets organization “beyond trash” after what he experienced there, Alex Kennedy of Basketball News relays. Wall described in detail his two years in Houston on the “Run Your Race” podcast. Wall sat out last season after the Rockets told him he would have a limited role. “The coach (Stephen Silas) was like, ‘Man, you don’t deserve that, you should be a starter, but this is what they want to do,'” Wall said. “Well, I’m not doing that. I said I’ll rehab, I’ll work out every day, I’ll stick around the team, I’ll come to meetings, I’ll fly with ya’ll and I’ll mentor the guys. So, that’s what I’m doing. Then, it got to the point where they were like, ‘Don’t come around.’ They didn’t want me around.”

Injury Updates: Booker, Paul, Metu, Green, Smith Jr., Ingram

Devin Booker isn’t close to returning from his groin injury, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic tweets. The Suns star, who was injured on Christmas Day, has been limited to non-contact drills, according to coach Monty Williams. There’s no firm date for Booker’s re-evaluation.

Suns point guard Chris Paul suited up on Sunday against Memphis after missing seven games due to a sore right hip, Rankin adds.

We have more injury news:

  • Kings forward Chimezie Metu underwent an MRI on his left knee, which showed no structural damage, James Ham of TheKingsBeat.com tweets. Metu has a bone bruise and is listed as questionable for Monday’s game against Memphis.
  • Grizzlies shooting guard Danny Green continues to progress from the torn ACL in his left knee, which he suffered last May, Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com tweets. Green is playing 5-on-5 with no setbacks, but there’s no timetable on his return to action. The veteran wing was traded by Philadelphia in June.
  • Rockets rookie forward Jabari Smith Jr. is listed as questionable to play on Monday against Minnesota, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets. He missed Saturday’s game due to a right ankle sprain. Kevin Porter Jr. will sit out for the seventh straight game due to a foot injury.
  • Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram played 5-0n-5 in practice on Saturday, Andrew Lopez of ESPN tweets. Ingram has been sidelined since Nov. 25 due to a toe contusion.

Southwest Notes: Ingram, Zion, Tillman, Sengun, Porter

The Pelicans were able to survive for a while with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson both injured, but their current 3-8 stretch is raising concerns, writes William Guillory of The Athletic. New Orleans has fallen into fourth place in the West amid a prolonged January slump. The team ranks 22nd in the league in offensive rating and 24th in defensive rating during the month and is coming off three straight double-digit losses.

“We have to find our defensive identity. Right now, we’re not guarding the way we’re capable of,” coach Willie Green said. “Those are things that we can control. We can make a decision as a team that we want to guard better. We just haven’t been doing it.”

Green is hoping to see his team respond better without Ingram and Williamson because there’s no timetable for either of them to return. Ingram hasn’t played since November 25 because of a left big toe contusion, and a report this week suggested some members of the organization are becoming impatient with his long absence. Williamson has a strained right hamstring, and Guillory doubts that he’ll be back before February or possibly even the All-Star break.

“We have a ‘next man up’ mentality, but it’s always nice to have two All-Stars in the rotation,” Trey Murphy said. “That’s just the bottom line. You’re missing about 40 points on a very low night. You’re getting at least 40 from those two.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies power forward Xavier Tillman talks to Spencer Davies of Basketball News about how he tries to stay sharp despite limited playing time. Tillman is averaging 11.3 minutes in 27 games and usually isn’t part of the rotation unless somebody is hurt, so he’s been doing extra work in practice and asked the coaching staff to let him play in the G League. “Being in a (Memphis) Hustle game allowed me to just play and play in a real game,” Tillman said. “So when I got my opportunity called — like now due to injury — I was ready to go and ready to help the team in all ways.”
  • The Rockets are misusing second-year center Alperen Sengun on offense, which makes it difficult to judge his long-term value, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic states in a discussion with fellow Athletic writer Kelly Iko. Vecenie sees Sengun as an exceptional ball-handler and passer, but says the team’s guards frequently don’t get the ball to him when they should. That combined with his shortcomings on defense are limiting his effectiveness.
  • Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. missed his fifth straight game tonight with a left foot contusion. His condition will be reevaluated in about a week, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

Stein’s Latest: Gordon, Bucks, Jazz, Washington, Crowder, More

The Bucks, who surrendered four second-round pick for Nikola Mirotic at the 2019 trade deadline, are exploring a similar approach as they pursue Rockets wing Eric Gordon, Marc Stein reports in his latest Substack article. According to Stein, Milwaukee has pitched four second-rounders to Houston in various trade scenarios involving Gordon, but the Rockets remain focused on getting a first-rounder.

One report over a month ago suggested the Bucks were offering up four second-round picks in a three-team scenario that would send Gordon to Phoenix and Jae Crowder to Milwaukee, which makes more sense from a salary-matching perspective. Acquiring Gordon, whose cap hit is $19.57MM, would be tricky for a Bucks team that doesn’t have any highly paid trade candidates.

Milwaukee’s five players earning eight-digit salaries (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, and Bobby Portis) are crucial contributors, so any trade package would likely have to start with Grayson Allen, who is making $8.5MM.

Adding George Hill ($4MM) and Jordan Nwora ($3MM) to Allen would still leave the Bucks about $75K short of the outgoing salary required to take back Gordon, meaning they would have to get creative if they hope to land the veteran shooting guard.

Here’s more from Stein:

  • There’s a “rising belief” around the NBA that the Jazz will be open to listening on any players on their roster besides Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler at the trade deadline, says Stein. Previous reports, including one from Stein, have indicated Utah would be hesitant to move Jordan Clarkson.
  • The Hornets‘ interest in re-signing restricted free-agent-to-be P.J. Washington appears to have risen significantly since last summer, according to Stein. Miles Bridges‘ uncertain NBA future following an alleged domestic violence incident presumably factors into Charlotte’s increased interest in Washington, Stein notes.
  • Given that Jae Crowder‘s time away from the Suns is approaching the four-month mark, his potential trade suitors have questions about how long it would take him to get acclimated and to get his conditioning back to 100% if he eventually reports to a team this season, Stein writes.
  • Stein also confirms a couple previously reported rumors, writing that Spurs center Jakob Poeltl is expected to seek approximately $20MM per year in free agency this summer and noting that the Heat are among the possible trade suitors for Knicks forward Cam Reddish. Shams Charania of The Athletic cited $20MM as a number to watch for Poeltl, while Ian Begley of SNY.tv has mentioned Miami’s interest in Reddish.

Kevin Porter Jr. Gets Foot Checked By Specialist

  • Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. visited a specialist on Friday to further evaluate the left foot contusion that has caused him to miss the last four games, tweets Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Porter and rookie forward Jabari Smith Jr., who sprained his right ankle on Wednesday, have both already been ruled out for Saturday’s game in Minnesota, notes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).

And-Ones: Bronny, Western Contenders, Top Trade Candidates

LeBron James‘ son Bronny James was a standout performer at this month’s Hoophall Classic, cementing his place as one of the best two-way prospects in high school basketball, according to Jonathan Givony of ESPN (Insider link).

As Givony outlines, the younger James’ strong frame and long wingspan fits the mold of what NBA teams are looking for, and he has continued to make strides as both an offensive and defensive player. Bronny looks like a legitimate five-star recruit and a one-and-done candidate, Givony adds, writing that the youngster will receive “strong consideration” for a spot in the first round of ESPN’s upcoming 2024 mock draft.

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

  • A team that finishes outside of the top three in the Western Conference during the regular season hasn’t made the NBA Finals since 1995, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic, who notes that the long track record of success for top-three seeds indicates we could be headed for a new conference winner this season. The Nuggets and Grizzlies currently hold the top two spots in the West by a comfortable margin, with the Kings and Pelicans tied for third.
  • Pacers center Myles Turner, Hawks forward John Collins, and Pistons forward Bojan Bogdanovic top The Athletic’s trade deadline big board, which ranks players based on several factors, including the likelihood that they’ll be dealt and the impact they could have for a new team.
  • In Bobby Marks’ Western Conference trade deadline preview at ESPN (Insider link), the Spurs and Suns get scores of 10 on the “trade meter,” meaning they’re the teams most likely to make deals on or before February 9. The Nuggets (with a score of 3) and Grizzlies (4) are on the other end of the spectrum and have far less urgency to make a move.
  • Kelly Iko, Eric Nehm, and Doug Haller of The Athletic take a shot at constructing a three-team trade involving the Suns, Bucks, and Rockets that sends Jae Crowder to Milwaukee and Eric Gordon to Phoenix and would be acceptable for all sides. One proposed structure discussed by the three reporters has Kenyon Martin Jr. joining Crowder en route to Milwaukee, Grayson Allen headed to Phoenix along with Gordon, and the Rockets getting several pieces, including MarJon Beauchamp from the Bucks and a first-round pick from the Suns.

Stephen Silas Responds To John Wall's Criticism

  • Responding to John Wall‘s criticism of the Rockets and their culture, head coach Stephen Silas said he understood the veteran’s frustration about how his time in Houston played out, but pushed back against the notion that the team let its young prospects get away with too much, per Danielle Lerner of The Houston Chronicle. “As far as holding them accountable, some of it is learning from mistakes, learning through adversity, and learning from film sessions,” Silas said. “It’s important for me to lay out what the expectations are. But to expect young kids not to make mistakes is unrealistic.”