Rockets Rumors

And-Ones: Nurse, Carmelo, Luxury Tax, First-Round Picks

Former Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is considering his options after reportedly taking his name out of the Bucks’ coaching search, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Nurse had interviews this week with the Sixers and Suns, and sources tell Pompey that he’s reviewing the jobs to determine which would be the best fit. A source refused to confirm to Pompey that Philadelphia has made a formal offer.

Pompey points out that Nurse has a long-time working relationship with Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, whom he worked with in Houston as head coach of the Rockets’ G League affiliate. Nurse built a reputation for developing talent during that time, winning two G League titles and sending 23 players to the NBA, Pompey adds.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • Before announcing his retirement this week, Carmelo Anthony received interest from a “high-level” European team, Marc Stein writes in a Substack column. However, Anthony decided he didn’t want to play in another league after spending 19 years in the NBA.
  • Nine teams finished the season in tax territory, Eric Pincus reveals in his updated luxury tax tracker on Sports Business Classroom. The Clippers had the highest team salary at $191,189,228 and will be assessed a $140,302,811 tax bill. The largest tax payment is $163,153,075 for the Warriors, who had $188,371,492 in salary. The Celtics, Nets, Mavericks, Nuggets, Lakers, Bucks and Suns are the other taxpaying teams. The other 21 franchises will receive about $15MM each through the tax, Pincus tweets.
  • NBA fans are anticipating an active summer trade market, but it could be limited by teams that have reduced their options due to past moves, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic. Hollinger notes that nine teams already owe unprotected future first-round picks, and others have lightly protected first-rounders on the move. Some executives at the draft combine suggested to Hollinger that front offices may become less likely to give up multiple first-rounders in the future, even when star players become available. Hollinger identifies the Hawks, Nets, Mavericks, Warriors, Clippers, Heat, Bucks, Timberwolves and Suns as teams that could be considered “stuck.”

2023 NBA Draft Picks By Team

Two of the biggest winners on draft lottery night last week were the Hornets and Pacers. Charlotte moved up two spots from the pre-lottery standings to claim the No. 2 overall pick. The Pacers, meanwhile, stayed put in the lottery, but because San Antonio leapfrogged Houston in the first round, Indiana moved up 18 spots from No. 50 to No. 32 in the second round due to a convoluted set of trade criteria.

The Hornets and Pacers have something else in common: Charlotte and Indiana are the only teams that control more than three picks in the 2023 NBA draft. In fact, the two clubs own five selections apiece, accounting for 10 of the 58 total picks in this year’s event.

Nine additional teams each have three 2023 picks, joining the Hornets and Pacers to control nearly two-thirds of the draft — those 11 teams hold 37 of this year’s 58 picks, leaving the other 19 clubs to divvy up the remaining 21 selections.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, three teams don’t own any 2023 draft picks. The Bulls, Knicks, and Sixers will sit out this year’s event unless they acquire a pick via trade.

To present a clearer picture of which teams are most – and least – stocked with picks for the 2023 NBA draft, we’ve rounded up all 58 selections by team in the space below. Let’s dive in…

Teams with more than two picks:

  • Charlotte Hornets (5): 2, 27, 34, 39, 41
  • Indiana Pacers (5): 7, 26, 29, 32, 55
  • San Antonio Spurs (3): 1, 33, 44
  • Portland Trail Blazers (3): 3, 23, 43
  • Orlando Magic (3): 6, 11, 36
  • Washington Wizards (3): 8, 42, 57
  • Utah Jazz (3): 9, 16, 28
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (3): 12, 37, 50
  • Brooklyn Nets (3): 21, 22, 51
  • Sacramento Kings (3): 24, 38, 54
  • Memphis Grizzlies (3): 25, 45, 56

Teams with two picks:

  • Houston Rockets: 4, 20
  • Detroit Pistons: 5, 31
  • Atlanta Hawks: 15, 46
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 17, 47
  • Los Angeles Clippers: 30, 48

Teams with one pick:

  • Dallas Mavericks: 10
  • Toronto Raptors: 13
  • New Orleans Pelicans: 14
  • Miami Heat: 18
  • Golden State Warriors: 19
  • Boston Celtics: 35
  • Denver Nuggets: 40
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: 49
  • Phoenix Suns: 52
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: 53
  • Milwaukee Bucks: 58

Teams with no picks:

  • Chicago Bulls
  • New York Knicks
  • Philadelphia 76ers

Sixers Notes: Harden, Embiid, Rivers, Offseason

As the rumors linking to James Harden to the Rockets persist, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggests it’s still an open question whether those leaks are primarily aimed at generating leverage for Harden in his talks with the Sixers. Appearing on Pardon The Interruption (video link) this week, Windhorst suggested that Philadelphia is reluctant to give Harden a maximum-salary contract, especially if no rival suitors are willing to do so.

“The 76ers have not shown an appetite to pay Harden the max,”Windhorst said (hat tip to Ky Carlin of Sixers Wire). “That’s why they asked him to take a pay cut last year. The Rockets have the cap space. Do they do it? You know, there’s been a very hard rumor out there in the NBA about Harden’s intent to go back to Houston, and it makes you wonder if it’s being sold a little bit too hard and that’s certainly something that people are considering.

“I guess we’re gonna wait and find out, but again… the Sixers are not really motivated to pay him that max salary if they don’t think anybody else is gonna do it.”

Based on current cap projections for 2023/24, a four-year maximum-salary contract for Harden in Philadelphia would be worth approximately $210MM. A five-year deal is essentially impossible due to the NBA’s over-38 rule.

Here’s more on the Sixers:

  • In a mailbag for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Keith Pompey writes that Joel Embiid is “untouchable” for now and opines that Nick Nurse would be the best head coaching candidate for the 76ers’ star center.
  • While opting to replace Doc Rivers after three years was a reasonable decision, Rivers didn’t do a bad job this postseason and there probably wasn’t a coach who would’ve put the Sixers over the top this year, Rich Hofmann of The Athletic says within a mailbag on the team’s approach to the offseason. Hofmann also discusses Embiid’s future in Philadelphia and the club’s salary cap outlook, among other topics.
  • In part two of his mailbag, Hofmann evaluates Tobias Harris‘ trade value and identifies some possible free agent targets for the Sixers in the event that Harden walks. Donte DiVincenzo, Bruce Brown, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, and Seth Curry are among the players that could be of interest to Philadelphia in free agency, in Hofmann’s view.
  • Each of the Sixers’ rumored head coaching candidates has their own set of baggage, according to Mike Sielski of The Philadelphia Inquirer (subscription required), who identifies the red flags for Mike Budenholzer and Nurse, among others.

Southwest Notes: Williams, Bufkin, Spurs, Rockets

Grizzlies reserve small forward Ziaire Williams, a lottery pick in 2021, finished the 2022/23 NBA season out of Memphis’ rotation. Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal writes that a preseason injury seemed to derail the 6’8″ swingman’s second year as a pro, and he failed to evolve as a shooter or playmaker.

Though Williams has been solid when it comes to converting his looks around the rack and in the mid-range, Cole opines that the wing’s shot diet is weighted too heavily toward his poor three-point shooting, which is impacting his overall efficiency on offense.

In his 37 games with Memphis last year, Williams averaged 5.7 PPG on .429/.258/.773 shooting.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Michigan combo guard Kobe Bufkin could be a perfect fit for the Pelicans with the No. 14 draft pick next month, opines Christian Clark of The athletic, positionally versatile lefty took a giant leap during his sophomore college season, and projects as a solid two-way contributor at the next level.
  • The Spurs have added San Antonio businesswoman Kimberly Lewis, founder of investment management group KSL Resources, to their ownership group, per Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “Kim Lewis’ business acumen and deep-rooted knowledge of our community brings immeasurable value to our organization,” managing partner Peter J. Holt said in a statement. “We look forward to learning from her as we strive to strengthen our organization and embark on our shared mission of enhancing community impact.”
  • Having likely missed out on the opportunity to select one of the consensus top three prospects in this year’s draft, the rebuilding Rockets may decide to expedite their rebuild and move on from their No. 4 pick in this year’s draft. Kelly Iko of The Athletic brainstorms some hypothetical deals that could benefit Houston. “The biggest thing is we now have certainty about the pick number,” general manager Rafael Stone told Iko. “This is a super busy month for us and the two times trades happen are around the trade deadline and the draft. We can start to evaluate various trade options, we can really think through free agency.” Iko considers deals for targets like Raptors swingman OG Anunoby and Hawks vets Dejounte Murray and John Collins, among others.

Southwest Notes: Morant, Mavs, Rockets, Beverley

Following a series of cryptic social media posts from Ja Morant, police in Tennessee visited the home of the Grizzlies star to check on him, a spokesperson for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office tells TMZ Sports.

Morant had published Instagram stories telling his mother, father, and daughter that he loved them, followed by one that was simply captioned, “Bye.” He deleted them a short time later.

The police spokesperson tells TMZ Sports that Morant is “fine” and that he told the officers who came to his home that he’s simply taking a break from social media.

Morant has been suspended indefinitely from all team activities by the Grizzlies after an Instagram Live video appeared to show him brandishing a gun. The NBA’s investigation into that video is ongoing — given that Morant was suspended during the season for a similar incident, there’s an expectation that he’ll be facing another suspension at the start of the 2023/24 season.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Tim Cato of The Athletic breaks down some reasons why the Mavericks should trade the No. 10 overall pick and some reasons why they’ll consider keeping it. In Cato’s view, Dallas is more likely to move the pick than to hang onto it, but it remains to be seen how valuable a trade asset it will be — there may be some higher lottery picks available on the trade market, and the first- and second-tier prospects in this year’s draft class will likely be gone by No. 10.
  • While much of the focus in Houston is on the No. 4 overall pick, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required) notes that the Rockets also control the No. 20 selection and considers which prospects could be on the team’s radar at that spot. Indiana’s Jalen Hood-Schifino and Ohio State’s Brice Sensabaugh are among the prospects in that range who get a look from Feigen.
  • Asked on his podcast about the possibility of reuniting with James Harden in Houston, where he spent five seasons earlier in his NBA career, free-agent-to-be Patrick Beverley expressed enthusiasm about the idea of joining the Rockets and called Ime Udoka a “great” coach (Twitter video link via Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston).

Coaching Rumors: Mazzulla, Bucks, Williams, Suns, Raptors, Nash

Celtics staffers, including president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, have shown “unwavering support” this season for head coach Joe Mazzulla, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, who says the sentiment as recently as last week was that Mazzulla would get plenty of runway to continue growing into the role he was thrust into following Ime Udoka‘s suspension last fall.

[RELATED: Joe Mazzulla In Jeopardy After Game 3 Loss?]

While it’s possible the Celtics could have a change of heart and decide to make a coaching change if the team is eliminated from the postseason in embarrassing fashion on Tuesday – or in the coming days – it would be a “stark change of direction” from the team’s original plan, Fischer writes.

While Fischer considers it unlikely that Mazzulla is replaced this offseason, he suggests that the Celtics’ coaching staff could undergo some significant changes, with multiple current assistants considered candidates to join Udoka with the Rockets. Frank Vogel and Stephen Silas are among the former head coaches who have been linked to the Celtics as possible assistant coach targets, Fischer notes.

Here’s more on the NBA’s coaching carousel from Fischer:

  • With the Bucks still focused on contending for championships with rosters built around Giannis Antetokounmpo, there’s some skepticism that Adrian Griffin – the only one of their three finalists without previous head coaching experience – will ultimately claim that job. However, Fischer acknowledges that Griffin has “certainly impressed” Bucks management during the interview process. Milwaukee’s search is expected to conclude this week, Fischer reports.
  • Many people around the league thought Monty Williams would be a serious candidate for the Bucks‘ coaching job and were surprised that he wasn’t a finalist in that process, per Fischer. The Pistons registered some interest in Williams, but he doesn’t appear to be in the mix for that job either and seems likely to take next season off, Fischer adds. James L. Edwards III of The Athletic also said Williams may not coach anywhere in 2023/24, which shouldn’t come as a surprise — he’s still owed $21MM by Phoenix, so it’s not as if he needs to rush into another position.
  • Former Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers is expected to receive consideration from the Suns, but Mike Budenholzer isn’t viewed as a likely candidate for Phoenix, Fischer writes.
  • The Raptors continue to take their time with their head coaching search, bringing back several candidates – including Kings assistant Jordi Fernandez and Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajakovic – for second interviews, says Fischer. Many of the team’s initial meetings took place on Zoom, according to Fischer, who identifies Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson as a name to watch in Toronto’s search.
  • Steve Nash, who interviewed for the Raptors’ vacancy, is “determined to learn from his shortcomings” following his first coaching stint in Brooklyn and has a strong desire to earn another head coaching job at some point, Fischer writes.

Rockets Rumors: No. 4 Pick, FA Targets, Coaching Staff, More

Multiple teams have already expressed some level of interest in acquiring the Rockets‘ No. 4 overall pick, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

It remains to be seen just how much value that pick will have and whether it would be enough to be the centerpiece of a deal for an impact player, Iko writes. Because the draft is perceived to have a drop-off after No. 3, Houston is also considering whether it would be possible to move up into the top three with a package centered around the Nos. 4 and 20 overall picks, league sources tell Iko.

If the Rockets keep their lottery pick and there are no surprises in the top three, Overtime Elite wing Amen Thompson could be the player atop Houston’s board, according to Iko, who says that several people within the organization are high on Thompson. Iko hears that both Amen and his twin brother Ausar Thompson had positive interviews with the team at last week’s combine.

No matter what happens with the No. 4 pick, the Rockets intend to be aggressive in their pursuit of veterans this offseason, with a desire to improve their play-making, shooting, and defense, Iko adds. League sources tell The Athletic that James Harden is Houston’s top free agent target, with Brook Lopez, Dillon Brooks, Donte DiVincenzo, Jordan Clarkson, Cameron Johnson, and Austin Reaves among the other players the team may pursue.

Acquiring an established point guard will be a primary objective for Houston this summer, per Iko, so if they miss out on Harden, the Rockets could explore a trade for a veteran like Mike Conley or Chris Paul.

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • New Rockets head coach Ime Udoka recently traveled to Los Angeles to visit with Jalen Green, says Iko. That time spent with Green – which included workouts and a dinner – is part of Udoka’s efforts to get to know his new team before the fall. “I’ve gotten the chance to spend a lot of time with the players. Got some lunches, dinner, gym time with guys,” Udoka told Iko. “Also been busy putting together a staff, getting to know everybody, but the most important thing is to spend time with the guys, build a relationship with them, and I’ve done quite a bit of that.”
  • Speaking of Udoka’s staff, Iko reports that assistant coaches Lionel Hollins and Rick Higgins aren’t expected to be back with the Rockets next season. However, it’s unclear whether or not Mahmoud Abdelfattah – another assistant under Stephen Silas – will return. Abdelfattah was part of the Rockets’ contingent at last week’s combine and has frequently been at the club’s facility since the end of the season, sources tell The Athletic.
  • The Rockets could be the long-term winners of the blockbuster trade that sent Harden to Philadelphia and Ben Simmons to Brooklyn, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Houston controls the Nets’ first-round picks from 2024-27 (either outright or via swaps) and may be in position to steal Harden away from the Sixers this offseason.

Southwest Notes: Rockets, Mavs, Whitmore, Wembanyama, Pelicans

Rival NBA executives anticipate that both the Rockets (No. 4) and Mavericks (No. 10) will dangle their first-round picks in trade talks, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype reports within a post-lottery mock draft. Both clubs have playoff aspirations in 2023/24 after missing out this season.

Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News explores what a Mavericks trade involving the No. 10 pick might look like, speculating that Suns center Deandre Ayton and Raptors forwards OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam may be targets. While those players make some sense from Dallas’ perspective, I’d expect Toronto to seek a more substantial return for either of their forwards, while Phoenix likely won’t be prioritizing draft assets in an Ayton trade.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Which player might the Rockets select at No. 4 if they end up keeping their lottery pick? Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required) explores whether Villanova wing Cam Whitmore might be the choice, noting that adding the 18-year-old would make a young Houston roster even younger. Whitmore said at this week’s combine that he can envision himself playing alongside Rockets guards Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. “They’re athletic-type guards who can score offensively and are the type of people who can get guys involved, guards who can rotate one through five,” Whitmore said. “I think it’s a great fit with athletic-type young guys who can get the job done.”
  • In a column for The San Antonio Express-News, Mike Finger digs into the comparisons between former Spurs big man Tim Duncan and the team’s next franchise player, Victor Wembanyama. As Finger observes, even though Wembanyama has the potential to match what Duncan did on the court, it will be impossible in the social media era for him to stay out of the spotlight to the extent that Duncan and the Spurs did in the early 2000s.
  • Christian Clark of identifies five prospects who could be fits for the Pelicans with the No. 14 pick in the draft, including Kansas wing Gradey Dick, Duke big man Dereck Lively II, and Central Florida forward Taylor Hendricks.

Draft Notes: Miller, Podziemski, Vukcevic, Prosper, More

Based in part on the Hornets‘ roster needs, Jonathan Givony of ESPN believes Alabama wing Brandon Miller is slightly more likely than G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson to be the pick at No. 2, telling ESPN’s Zach Lowe on The Lowe Post podcast that he’d put the odds of Charlotte drafting Miller at 60%. However, according to Givony, Miller isn’t necessarily acing the pre-draft process so far.

“Every team in the NBA is looking for this type of player,” Givony said (hat tip to RealGM). “Six-nine, big guard, can handle the ball. Pass out of pick and roll. Make shots off the dribble. Defend multiple positions. Rebound. That’s what people are looking for. At the same time, he is not in great shape right now, so I don’t know how great his workout’s going to be. His interviews have not been great, I’ve been told — both publicly and privately with NBA teams.”

As David Aldridge of The Athletic writes, teams meeting with Miller will have questions about his connection to the death of Jamea Jonae Harris in Tuscaloosa. Miller brought former Alabama teammate Darius Miles the gun that was used in the killing, though he has insisted that he didn’t know the gun was in the car. The 20-year-old wasn’t charged with a crime and executives who spoke to Aldridge don’t think it will materially affect Miller’s draft stock.

“I don’t believe there will be any impact unless he lies in his interviews,” one exec said. “Integrity is more relevant than criminal friends; one we can fix, the other, we can’t.”

Here are more notes on the NBA draft:

  • Santa Clara sophomore guard Brandin Podziemski has opted to keep his name in the 2023 NBA draft, formally announcing his decision on Twitter. Podziemski is the No. 31 prospect on ESPN’s big board and has reportedly had a strong showing at the combine, per Givony (Twitter link), so he’s a legitimate first-round candidate.
  • After performing well in Wednesday’s scrimmages at the draft combine, Serbian big man Tristan Vukcevic and Marquette wing Olivier-Maxence Prosper withdrew from Thursday’s scrimmages, tweets Jeremy Woo of Michael Grange of takes a more in-depth look at Prosper, who had 21 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes during Wednesday’s scrimmage.
  • In addition to working out for Atlanta, Princeton forward Tosan Evbuomwan had workouts with the Spurs, Pistons, and Celtics prior to the draft combine, tweets Adam Zagoria of Evbuomwan was initially only invited to the G League Elite Camp, but earned a spot at the combine after making a strong impression last weekend.
  • John Hollinger of The Athletic considers which lottery picks might be in play on the trade market, starting with the Trail Blazers‘ and Rockets‘ selections at Nos. 3 and 4.

Rockets Reportedly Expect To Land James Harden

The Rockets expect to reunite with James Harden this offseason, sources tell Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

According to Pompey, the belief among executives across the NBA is that Harden will return to Houston. Sources tell The Inquirer that the 33-year-old’s interest in rejoining the Rockets is genuine and not a negotiating tactic to get a bigger contract out of the Sixers. Houston has the cap room necessary to offer him a maximum-salary deal.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta “loves” Harden, according to Pompey, who hears that coaching candidates during Houston’s search for Stephen Silas‘ replacement were asked during their interviews about their thoughts on coaching Harden.

For his part, the veteran guard still has family and business ventures in the city, where he spent eight-and-a-half years of his NBA career. He also visited Houston multiple times this past season when time permitted, says Pompey.

Very little from Pompey’s report is new information.

Word of a possible reunion between the Rockets and Harden first broke on Christmas Day and was corroborated a couple months later. Jake Fischer reported last week that Harden’s name came up frequently during the Rockets’ interviews of head coaching candidates, while Adrian Wojnarowski said the draft lottery outcome wouldn’t affect Houston’s level of interest in the former MVP. Earlier this week, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon and Zach Lowe agreed in a podcast that the Rockets “think he’s coming.”

Still, even if Pompey’s report isn’t surprising, it’s noteworthy to see a Philadelphia beat writer state in such strong terms that a return to Houston is the expected outcome for Harden.

The Rockets have been one of the NBA’s worst teams since trading Harden to Brooklyn in January 2021, but they’re motivated to turn things around in 2023/24 since they’ll send their ’24 first-round pick to Oklahoma City if it lands outside of the top four. Multiple reports have indicated that the organization wants to acquire veteran talent this summer.

Although Harden missed out on All-Star honors this year for the first time since 2012, he still posted strong numbers during the regular season, averaging 21.0 points, a league-leading 10.7 assists, and 6.1 rebounds per game with a .441/.385/.867 shooting line in 58 appearances (36.8 MPG).

His playoff production was inconsistent — his overall averages of 20.3 PPG, 8.3 APG, and 6.2 RPG were solid, but he shot just 39.3% from the field during the postseason and averaged only 12.5 PPG in four losses to Boston in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

We still have nearly a month-and-a-half before free agency officially begins, so even if Harden declines his 2023/24 player option with the Sixers, as he reportedly will, things could change in the next six weeks.

Philadelphia will have the ability to offer him more money than the Rockets, though Houston can afford to be aggressive, with the ability to create approximately $60MM in cap space. Harden’s projected maximum salary will be $46.9MM.

Given that the Rockets have the cap room necessary to sign a Harden outright, they’d have little incentive to negotiate a sign-and-trade deal with Philadelphia. The 76ers, meanwhile, wouldn’t be in position to create meaningful cap room if Harden left in free agency, so they could be left in a tough spot in that scenario.

As Pompey notes, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey told reporters this week that the team’s priority is re-signing Harden.

“Scenario A would be to bring James back,” Morey said. “Scenario B, if he’s not back, we’ll have to get creative.”