James Harden

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.

Southwest Notes: Rockets, Ingram, Curry, Lyles

While offseason reports of tension between James Harden and Chris Paul were viewed as one motivating factor for the Rockets‘ decision to acquire Russell Westbrook, general manager Daryl Morey has consistently denied that. Morey tells Sam Amick of The Athletic that Harden initially wanted to know if there was any way to acquire Westbrook without sending out CP3.

“Yeah, because I mean his mind is always (going) first to ‘How (can we be) completely stacked?’ So I had to sort of explain,” Morey said. “He gets it roughly, but obviously he leaves the details to us. Besides the high-level (talks) where he thought that Russ would be a great fit here, there’s not a ton of interaction after that point. He knows there’s a back and forth, just like we respect what he does I think he respects what we do and he sort of leaves the execution to us.”

While Morey spoke to Amick extensively about how that trade for Westbrook materialized and his first impressions of how the former MVP is fitting in with the Rockets, he declined to comment at all on the NBA/China controversy that was ignited by his tweet supporting Hong Kong protestors.

Here’s more out of the Southwest:

  • With Zion Williamson out to start the season, new Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram is prepared to carry more of the offensive burden, as he tells Mark Medina of USA Today. Ingram also views New Orleans as a better fit for him than the Lakers were. “I would say this is a better environment,” he said. “There are a lot of genuine people here that are pretty solid. No shame to the Lakers because they are a high-class organization. They do everything well and have a good fan base. But I like this spot.”
  • Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who had Seth Curry on his roster last season, views the sharpshooter as a “really good fit” for the Mavericks, writes Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News.
  • Trey Lyles, who as a child extensively studied film of Tim Duncan, is thrilled to get the chance to learn from the Spurs‘ new assistant coach this season, as Mike Finger of The San Antonio Express-News details. “I was definitely nervous,” Lyles said. “Somebody that you idolized growing up, and then you’re face to face with him, able to ask him whatever you want, whenever you want? It definitely helped settle me down, just to get the first question out.”
  • Chad Smith of Basketball Insiders explores which teams might make sense as a potential trade partner for the Grizzlies in an Andre Iguodala deal.

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: Anthony, Harden, Westbrook, Belinelli, Payton

Carmelo Anthony has not been on an NBA roster since last November when his Rockets tenure abruptly ended after a 10-game stint. Ever since then, Anthony has been searching for one more opportunity to prolong his Hall of Fame career — which has yet to arise.

In an in-depth feature, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes examines Anthony’s situation from the day he was cut to the present. Carmelo’s story is one of a declining star who has struggled to adjust from his usual role of a primary scorer to a role player.

Holmes also spoke to several team sources who noted that Anthony’s reputation exceeded his current abilities, which put Houston in a tough situation.

Check out more Southwest Division notes:

  • The Rockets‘ major storyline this season will be the reunion of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, as observers keep a close eye on how the two former MVPs play together. Harden says both superstars will need to rely on each other for the team to succeed, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes. “At the end of the day, we need each other,” Harden said. “This thing won’t work without each other.” 
  • In his second tour of duty with the Rockets, Ryan Anderson, primarily known as a long-range shooter, may see significant time at center, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes. “It’s definitely a role we talked about here,” Anderson said. “I think it’s something I can be really effective at. This team can play in a lot of different ways. I think center could be a good title now.”
  • Knicks point guard Elfrid Payton said the Pelicans were interested in bringing him back but the situation in New York fit him better, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes. “They asked me to come back,’’ Payton said. “I just felt this was a better situation. It was a better fit. [The acquisition of Lonzo Ball] had no effect. I’m not afraid of competition.’’
  • Spurs shooting guard Marco Belinelli misses former assistant coach Ettore Messina, who left San Antonio this past summer to become the head coach of Italian team Pallacanestro Olimpia Milano, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News writes. “For sure, I miss him. He was very happy here in San Antonio, but I am really happy for him,” Belinelli said.

Latest On NBA’s Morey/China Controversy

As we relayed on Sunday, the Chinese Basketball Association and other business in China have suspended their relations with the Rockets in the wake of a Daryl Morey tweet in which the Houston general manager expressed support for protestors in Hong Kong. Although Morey deleted the tweet and the Rockets and the NBA made efforts to walk it back, the league remains in a tenuous spot, writes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.

The NBA issued a statement on Sunday, calling it “regrettable” that Morey’s tweet had offended “many of our friends and fans in China” and noting that Morey’s tweet didn’t represent the Rockets or the NBA. However, the league doesn’t intend to fine, suspend, or otherwise punish the Houston GM, sources tell Zillgitt.

Interestingly, the NBA’s statement also looked a little different in Chinese than it did in English, according to Yanan Wang of The Associated Press. In Chinese, the league referred to Morey’s tweet as “inappropriate,” a word that didn’t show up in the English statement. League spokesperson Mike Bass said today that the discrepancy wasn’t intentional (Twitter link via Zillgitt).

The NBA has to walk a fine line in this controversy, since the league typically hasn’t discouraged its coaches, players, and executives from speaking up about political and social justice causes that matter to them. In this case though, it’s clear that the NBA’s business interests in China’s massive market are influencing the league’s decision to distance itself from Morey’s initial comments and to placate its Chinese partners.

Here’s more on the controversy:

  • John Gonzalez of The Ringer cited league sources who claim that the Rockets have debated Morey’s employment status and whether to replace him. However, several reporters – including Sam Amick of USA Today, Jerome Solomon of The Houston Chronicle, and Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (all Twitter links) – have heard from sources that’s not the case and that Morey’s job isn’t in jeopardy.
  • Morey hasn’t apologized for his initial tweet, but issued a follow-up statement in which he stressed that he didn’t intend any offense and expressed his appreciation for “our Chinese fans and sponsors.”
  • Rockets star James Harden, who has participated in promotional tours in China in the past, was among those in damage-control mode this weekend, per an ESPN report. “We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there,” Harden said. “For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.”
  • New Nets owner Joe Tsai issued an open letter to fans (via Facebook) providing more context on the situation in Hong Kong and China and criticizing Morey for not being “as well informed as he should have been.” Tsai’s framing of the Hong Kong protests as a “separatist movement,” rather than a fight for civil rights and democracy, echoes language used by the Chinese government. It’s worth noting that no NBA owner is more invested in China than Tsai, the co-founder of Alibaba Group.
  • The Chinese Basketball Association has cancelled the G League exhibition games between the Rockets‘ and Mavericks‘ affiliates scheduled to take place in the country later this month, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).
  • For more analysis on the saga, be sure to check out pieces from Chris Mannix of SI.com, Daniel Victor of The New York Times, and Adam Zagoria of Forbes.

Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Harden, D’Antoni, More

Speaking today to reporters at the Rockets‘ Media Day, Russell Westbrook and James Harden expressed enthusiasm about teaming up in Houston this season. As Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com details, Westbrook said the pairing will be “scary” for the rest of the NBA, while Harden suggested the two former MVPs will have no problem sharing the ball on offense.

“If Russ got it going and Russ is having one of those games that we’ve all seen before, guess what I’m going to do: sit back and watch the show, and vice versa,” Harden said. “It’s just a part of basketball. So you can’t sit up here and say, ‘Oh, Russ is going to have the ball for the first half and I’m going to have the ball the second half.’ No, things happen through the course of the game that you just flow with and go with.

“All of us in this locker room and this front office has one goal, and that’s to win it. However that happens, it’s going to happen, and we’re just going to figure it out.”

Westbrook agreed with Harden that the two stars won’t have any trouble co-existing in the Rockets’ backcourt and will focus on what’s best for the team.

“I don’t have to have the ball to impact the game,” Westbrook said, per MacMahon. “I don’t have to score, I don’t have to do anything. I can defend, I can rebound, I can pass, I can lead. Our main goal, main focus, is to win. I can go be scoreless, and if we win, that’s the best thing that ever happened. That’s all I cared about, and that’s all I ever cared about.”

Westbrook, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery after the Thunder were eliminated from the postseason in the spring, was only recently cleared for five-on-five work, writes MacMahon. So the Rockets will proceed cautiously with the star point guard, who isn’t expected to participate in all of the club’s practices and preseason games.

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • Harden and Westbrook both indicated today that they have interest in representing Team USA in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo (Twitter links via MacMahon and Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston).
  • Head coach Mike D’Antoni, GM Daryl Morey, and owner Tilman Fertitta all downplayed concerns about D’Antoni entering the final year of his contract without an extension and expressed confidence that he’ll stick with the Rockets beyond 2019/20, MacMahon notes in a pair of tweets. Everybody tells me that Mike is the right guy for this team. Mike appears to me to be the right guy for this team,” Fertitta said. “I think he’s a great coach. He’s one of the great offensive minds out there. I truly do not see Mike going anywhere.”
  • Ryan Anderson‘s new contract with the Rockets features a $250K partial guarantee, sources tell Alykhan Bijani and Kelly Iko of The Athletic (Twitter link). Anderson would receive another $250K, increasing the partial guarantee to $500K, if he makes the opening-night roster.
  • Jaron Blossomgame‘s non-guaranteed deal with Houston doesn’t feature an Exhibit 10 clause, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com hears. That may be a hint that the Rockets don’t expect Blossomgame to play for their G League team. His NBAGL rights are still held by the Canton Charge, the Cavaliers‘ affiliate.

Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Harden, Anthony, Mbah a Moute

Scouts and assistant coaches from rival teams are skeptical that the RocketsRussell WestbrookJames Harden backcourt pairing will work, Sean Deveney of Heavy.com reports. There is widespread doubt that the two stars will blend their games offensively since Westbrook is poor 3-point shooter and prefers to play at a different pace than Harden. Many of those interviewed also predicted the Rockets’ perimeter defense will decline.

“They’re both hardheaded guys and we know Harden’s history with other players there,” one scout told Deveney.

We have more on the Rockets:

  • Owner Tilman Fertitta said he never met Carmelo Anthony and was surprised that his staff decided to part ways with the longtime All-Star after just 10 games last season, he told Ian Begley of SNY. “Basketball ops decided to make a decision and, you know, it kind of surprised me too, as a fan of the Houston Rockets. But I know what I know and I know what I don’t know. And if my basketball ops thought that we should move on, then I sure wasn’t going to tell them not to, even though I thought that Melo’s one the greatest players to ever play the game.”
  • It isn’t out of the question that Luc Mbah a Moute will eventually sign with the Rockets, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Currently a free agent, Mbah a Moute decided not to attend a team mini-camp for veteran free agents in Las Vegas. The team had conversations with him over the summer about a possible return but there was lingering doubt about the health, Iko continues. Though the team subsequently signed Thabo Sefolosha, adding Mbah a Moute to shore up wing depth would be ideal, Iko adds.
  • The addition of Sefolosha became official on Monday. Get all the details here.

Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Paul, Harden

Speaking to Sam Amick of The Athletic, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta discussed his fondness for incentive-based contracts (“I believe that when you perform well you should make more money”), the possibility of an extension for P.J. Tucker (“It hasn’t come to my desk”), and a handful of other topics.

One of Fertitta’s most interesting comments was about replacing Chris Paul with Russell Westbrook. While he didn’t come right out and say it, the Rockets’ owner suggested that Westbrook will help increase Houston’s pace and perhaps complement Harden better both on and off the court.

“We used to be one of the top transition teams (in the league), and we’ve slowed down the last few years,” Fertitta said, alluding to the fact that the Rockets ranked 27th in pace last season after placing in the top five as recently as 2016/17. “And James and Russ go back a long ways in California, so they can talk to each other like brothers, you know, instead of one (player) thinking that he’s the mentor.”

Fertitta went on to clarify that he thinks Paul still has plenty left in the tank and will have a great season in Oklahoma City, but that Westbrook is “just a little bit better fit” for the way the Rockets want to play.

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • In a separate recent interview, Fertitta spoke about the Rockets’ championship window essentially being open for the next four years or so. Kelly Iko of The Athletic looks back at the club’s offseason and examines whether Houston can reasonably expect to contend for a title during the next four seasons.
  • The Rockets may shun the “load management” label, but team officials have a plan to take some of the scoring and play-making burden off of James Harden this season, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report. As Beck notes, Houston’s goal is to keep Harden as fresh as possible for the postseason to ensure he’s still performing at an elite level in the spring.
  • Within his feature on Harden, Beck spoke to the former MVP about the goals he still has for the rest of his NBA careers as he enters his 30s. “I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” Harden said. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game.”
  • Earlier today, we passed along word that the NBA is still reviewing Nene‘s contract with the Rockets. The league is said to be discussing internally whether it should disapprove of the incentives in the agreement.

Western Notes: Harden, Westbrook, Jenkins, Clippers, Dozier

Rockets star James Harden expressed confidence that he and Russell Westbrook will get adjusted to playing with each other quickly this season, sharing his thoughts in a recent interview with Alex Shultz of GQ.com.

“I don’t really do a lot of interviews, so I actually don’t answer it that much,” Harden said when asked if the questioned about him and Westbrook irritate him. “The questions are usually the same, though: How are you and Russ going to fit in? It’s like, yo, we’ll figure it out. Everything isn’t necessarily going to be smooth at first, there are going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of an 82-game season. Hopefully by the end of the season, we’ve caught a rhythm and everybody is on the same page going into the playoffs. That’s all you can ask for.”

Harden and Westbrook, known as two talented, ball-dominate players, will play in the same backcourt for the first time since the 2011/12 season with Oklahoma City. The duo is eager to prove they can co-exist, with both players still seeking their first NBA championships.

“We’ve formed into the players that we want to be, in terms of superstar status,” Harden said. “We had opportunities to be at the top, at the peak; he won an MVP and I won an MVP. And there were conversations before, when me and Chris [Paul] joined the same team about whether it was going to work. We ended up with the best record in the NBA and were a game away from the Finals.

“It’s not like me and Russ were just teammates in Oklahoma City for three years. We’ve known each other since we were 10 years old. There’s a different kind of relationship and communication that we have, a different type of excitement that we have for each other. We don’t really care or pay attention to what other people say or think.”

There’s more out of the Western Conference today:

  • New Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins is eager to lead his young team into a promising future, Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com writes. “So, for me, it’s that mentality of defining each day who we are,” Jenkins said as part of a larger quote. “We’re naturally and organically going to grow and not just have this set plan for how we’re going to be from Game 1 to 82. That excites me, because organically, we’re going to get to a really good spot with everything we’ve laid down already. We’ve hit the ground running, and Oct. 1 (first training camp practice) is rapidly approaching.”
  • Jovan Buha of The Athletic examines what the other newcomers (not named Kawhi Leonard or Paul George) could bring to the Clippers this season. Buha discusses the talents of players such as Maurice Harkless, Rodney McGruder, Mfiondu Kabengele and more in his piece.
  • PJ Dozier hopes to make a strong impression with the Nuggets in training camp this fall, Alex Labidou of Nuggets.com writes. “I love the city [of Denver], it’s a beautiful city,” Dozier said. “[I want to] continue to show that I belong and that I belong for a reason. I feel like I have a lot to show for — a lot to bring to the table. It’s just all about getting the opportunity and being prepared for it.”

Rockets Notes: Nene, Westbrook, Harden, Clemons

The Rockets got creative with Nene‘s new contract, according to Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights, who reports (via Twitter) that the deal spans two years, with a non-guaranteed second season. Although Nene is only owed a minimum base salary in each of those two seasons, likely incentives increase the annual value of the contract to $10MM per year, per Siegel.

The criteria for Nene’s incentives will be fascinating, since it’s hard to imagine he’ll actually earn all $7MM+ in bonus money. The Rockets may be artificially inflating his cap hit using incentives that will be tricky to earn (even though they’re technically considered “likely”). A $10MM cap hit – made possible because Houston held Nene’s Bird rights – will make the veteran center one of Houston’s most valuable salary-matching pieces leading up to the February trade deadline.

According to Siegel, the trigger date for Nene’s 2020/21 salary is February 15, 2020 rather than next summer, which suggests there’s a real chance the big man could be released during the season, perhaps being traded and then bought out in early February.

As we wait for more specifics on Nene’s contract, let’s round up a few more items out of Houston…