James Harden

Rockets Notes: D’Antoni, Travel Details, Tucker

69-year-old Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, who says he has cleared his medical screenings with Houston, has flown with the team to Orlando, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon (Twitter link). Though D’Antoni was granted no “formal NBA thumbs up,” as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets, the league also did not restrict D’Antoni’s campus attendance following the medical clearance.

D’Antoni is the league’s second-oldest head coach, after 71-year-old Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. The 40-24 Rockets are currently the No. 6 seed in the West, 1.5 games clear of the seventh-seeded Mavericks.

There’s more out of Houston:

  • D’Antoni and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey are relishing the opportunity for the team to practice together ahead of the league’s scheduled July 30 restart, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “Because we had a major change in the components of the team, we do think a second training camp benefits us,” Morey said. “Because when you’re integrating a starter onto a very good team, getting more time to drill… will allow us to integrate (Robert) Covington in, and I do think that slightly favors us.”
  • Rockets All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook did not travel with the rest of the team to Orlando today, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium (Twitter link). They are expected to arrive later this week. Newly-signed substitute player Luc Mbah a Moute and player development coach John Lucas also did not travel with the rest of the Rockets, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).
  • 35-year-old Rockets forward/center and defensive stalwart P.J. Tucker has indicated that he would like an extension on his current four-year contract, which expires after the 2020/21 season, per Fox 26 Houston’s Mark Berman (Twitter link). “I want to retire as a Houston Rocket,” Tucker said. “The fans, the city have embraced me since day one. So fingers crossed, I hope we can strike a deal and get it done.”

Rockets’ Morey Talks D’Antoni, Harden, Playoffs

The Rockets currently rank sixth in the Western Conference at 40-24, and have just a 1.5-game cushion on the seventh-place Mavericks. However, they’ll also have a chance to move up in the standings when play resumes, since they’re tied with the fifth-place Thunder and are only one game back of the fourth-place Jazz.

There has been a little uncertainty about whether head coach Mike D’Antoni will be on the sidelines when play resumes, since D’Antoni’s age (69) may put him at increased risk of suffering more serious symptoms – or even dying – if he contracts the coronavirus.

However, speaking to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey dismissed the idea that D’Antoni won’t be part of the NBA’s restart in Orlando. Morey also recently appeared on an episode of the Pomp Podcast with Anthony Pompliano (video link) and addressed a number of topics, including his perception of Rockets superstar James Harden and why he feels as though the NBA should play shorter postseason series.

Here, via MacMullan, Drew Shiller of NBC Bay Area, and the Pomp Podcast, are a few of Morey’s more interesting comments on those subjects:

On D’Antoni participating in the resumed season:

“Mike will be coaching our team. It would be such a huge disadvantage to lose him. We would never stand for that. In fairness to the league, they set up a process whereby everyone will have to submit a medical record. I’m sure the doctors told them that some people over a certain age shouldn’t go. But Mike is in great health. He’s in better shape than some 40-year-old coaches we have. Besides, I think his dad lived to be 108 or something.”

On the general perception of James Harden:

“I don’t think the media is super fair with him. … Part of it is he has a tight circle of people that he trusts. With those people who he knows have his best interest at heart and who he’s had a history with, he’s very gregarious, very open, very smart — just this great guy. And with everyone else, he’s not the opposite — he’s just reserved. He’s not someone who is going to be a big media guy or things like that. So, I think that hurts him a little bit. But I can I can tell you privately he’s like a basketball genius. He’s a great quality human being.”

On why Morey feels as if he hasn’t held up his end of the bargain with Harden:

“We’ve worked together for eight or nine years now and I couldn’t have a better partner to try and win a title with. And in fact, most days I wake up saying, ‘I’ve let him down because I haven’t gotten him the right players to win a title.'”

On why he thinks the NBA should have shorter playoff series:

“It’s the hardest to win a title in the NBA. There’s less variance. The favorites have a much bigger edge. … On an individual game basis, an NBA game is generally the most predictable of all the major sports. And just to make sure the right team wins, we play seven times. We should be one-and-done and the NFL should play seven times, for example, if you wanted to try to balance out the general variance.

“In my opinion, we should have shorter series so there’s more variance injected, because right now it’s too deterministic. It’s why you’ll see teams win six times in eight years or three times in five years. … It’s rare that you just win one, because once you get a systemic edge – which has happened many times, it’s usually you have the best player in the league – you end up winning multiple times.”

Western Notes: Timberwolves, Harden, Holmes, Warriors

The Timberwolves could reap some benefits if they get a chance to play again this season, as Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune details. The team added several new players during the second half of the season, and every game and practice they get together will foster chemistry. Young players such as 2019 first-round draft pick Jarrett Culver and 2018 first-rounder Josh Okogie need as much playing time as they can get to continue their development, Hartman adds.

We have more Western Conference news:

  • Rockets superstar James Harden says once the league deems it safe to resume competition, he’s primed for action, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports. “If the league and public officials are confident that a single-site setup is safe for all players, staff and fans, then I’m ready to go,” he said. “I want to get back out there I just want to make sure we’re in a good position to so.”
  • Can Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley III co-exist in the Kings’ frontcourt? James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area explores the pros and cons of playing the two big men together. The biggest benefit, according to Ham, is that it would give the Kings one of the most athletic frontcourts in the league. They’re both high-motor players who can rebound, block shots and contribute offensively.
  • Anthony Slater of The Athletic examines the implications if the NBA leaves the Warriors out of its plans to resume the season. The biggest positive is that it would give the front office additional time to assess the financial landscape and direction they want to go before making any draft-night decisions.

Southwest Notes: Curry, Pelicans, Harden, Mavericks

Despite having multiple opportunities to join the Warriors and play with his brother to this point, Mavericks guard Seth Curry has decided he’d rather compete against Stephen Curry and has turned down those chances, as he explained on Uninterrupted’s “Go Off” with Austin Rivers.

“I thought about it,” Curry said, as relayed by DallasNews.com. “Earlier in my career, I had some opportunities to play on the Warriors and go there and, obviously, take on a much lesser role having teams stacked the way they’ve had them the last few years… I always turned him down, I never really wanted to play on the team, I wanted to play against him. I’m going to be compared to him in some way, in his shadow whether I’m on the team or not so it’s going to multiply if I were on the same team. I’d like to create my own path and doing my own thing…

“He wants me to stay on my path and do my thing. He knows the kind of pressure I get under when compared against him, playing against him and being on the same team. He knows what it will be like so he’s kind of pushed me the opposite direction of going my own separate way.”

Curry, 29, is coming off an impressive season with Dallas, averaging 12.6 points in 24.5 minutes per game. He shot 50% from the floor and 45% from deep, raising those marks from the previous season.

Curry also discussed what it’s like to play with Luka Doncic, his thoughts on the NBA returning to play and more in the video.

Here are some other notes from the Southwest Division:

  • William Guillory and Danny Leroux of The Athletic examine the futures of Derrick Favors and Jrue Holiday, with Favors on track to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and Holiday set to turn 30 next month. Despite Favors entering free agency, the Pelicans‘ top priority is still re-signing Brandon Ingram in restricted free agency.
  • Kelly Iko of The Athletic explores James Harden‘s boot camp, detailing how the Rockets star has stayed in shape throughout the NBA’s hiatus. “I’ve been doing a lot of cardio,” Harden said. “I’ve got treadmills in my houses, weights, and all that good stuff. It really hasn’t affected me like it’s affected a lot of other players.”
  • Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is making sure his players stay ready ahead of the NBA’s decision on whether to resume, as The Athletic’s David Aldridge writes. Dallas has yet to open its practice facility, with Mavericks players relying on virtual instructions, at-home workouts, yoga sessions and more since the league went on hiatus. “I don’t have any doubt that the players are very motivated to play, but (they’re) also, very smart guys, and they understand, I think, that we’re in a very serious part of our history, and things need to be handled the right way,” Carlisle said.

Rockets Notes: Harden, Tucker, Van Gundy, Bench

James Harden believes he’s taken for granted around the basketball world, as he told Rachel Nichols of ESPN (Twitter link). “I feel like I’m the best player,” said the former Most Valuable Player, who once again leads the league in scoring. “Throughout the course of the year, I don’t see double teams for anybody else. Usually, you’ll see a double team after a 50-point night or a 60-point night. I have an 18-point night, the next game I’m seeing a double-team.”

Harden also took a dig at Giannis Antetokounmpo, who joked while choosing his All-Star squad that he didn’t want Harden because he preferred someone who passed the ball. “I wish I could just go to the rim at 7-feet and just dunk,” Harden said. “That takes no skill at all.”

We have more on the Rockets:

  • P.J. Tucker has accepted his new role as the team’s middle man in its Microball lineup, Sam Amick of The Athletic reports. Tucker says it’s just part of the job description of a team player. “It’s not a choice,” he said. “It’s like when people ask me why I play so hard. Like, it’s not a choice to play hard. I don’t have a choice. That’s what you’ve got to do. Period.”
  • Broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy doled out praise to coach Mike D’Antoni and GM Daryl Morey for their willingness to take criticism by embracing unconventional lineups, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle relays. “I admire their basketball courage,” Van Gundy said. “They have true conviction. They don’t waffle. They believe in what they believe. And they are unafraid of the consequences or the criticism. That’s when you can coach freely and manage freely.”
  • The recent additions of Jeff Green and DeMarre Carroll have made the team’s bench much more formidable, Kelly Iko of The Athletic writes. Forward Danuel House is noticing the difference. “It makes your team a very dangerous team,” House said. “Especially with your starting five. If your starting five is capable of putting up points and your bench is capable of putting up points, the team can stay consistent. There are no highs or lows, so that’s really good for our team.”

Free Agent Stock Watch 2020: Southwest Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we take a look at players from the Southwest Division:

Ben McLemore, Rockets, 27, SG (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $4.3MM deal in 2019
If you’re in the same backcourt as James Harden and Russell Westbrook, you’re not going to have many opportunities to shoot. And when you do, you’d better make them. McLemore is making them. In his last three games, McLemore has averaged 13.3 PPG and knocked down 11 of 18 3-point attempts. Houston has shuffled its roster over the past month but as long as McLemore remains a perimeter threat, he’ll remain in the rotation. Houston needs to guarantee his modest $2.28MM salary for next season prior to free agency. It will be a surprise if the Rockets turn down that bargain.

Jordan Bell, Grizzlies, 25, PF/C (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $1.62MM deal in 2019
Bell wasn’t much of a factor with Minnesota this season, even when Karl-Anthony Towns missed some games due to injury or suspension. He got traded to Houston, which quickly flipped him to Memphis for Bruno Caboclo. Bell has only appeared in two games with the Grizzlies but there is a glimmer of hope. With injuries to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke depleting the frontcourt, Bell could get an extended look in the next couple of weeks. He’ll have to show a lot more than he did in Minnesota in order for Memphis to extend a qualifying offer, which would make him a restricted free agent.

Jahlil Okafor, Pelicans, 24, PF/C (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $3.27MM deal in 2018
When the Pelicans were shorthanded last month in Detroit, Okafor erupted for 25 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. He never left the bench the next four games, which shows how little he figures in the organization’s plans. Okafor has played a total of 25 minutes since that game against the Pistons. Once Zion Williamson got healthy, Okafor’s already spotty playing time virtually evaporated. His ability to score in the low post has lost much of its value since he was taken with the third pick in the 2015 draft. He’ll be seeking another second-unit opportunity this summer.

Bryn Forbes, Spurs, 26, PG (Up) – Signed to two-year, $6MM deal in 2018
Undrafted despite playing for a major college (Michigan State), Forbes has fit well with the blue-collar Spurs. After Danny Green was traded during the 2018 offseason, Forbes became a starter in his third year in the league. He’s held onto that role this season and continues to provide a perimeter option on a team lacking in that area. Forbes has been on fire this month, draining 47.4% of his 3-point attempts. Forbes will enter unrestricted free agency this summer and should get a nice raise and a multiyear deal, perhaps without changing uniforms.

Willie Cauley-Stein, 27, PF/C (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $4.46MM deal in 2019
When Dwight Powell suffered a season-ending Achilles tear late last month, the Mavericks opted to trade with Golden State for Cauley-Stein. It seemed like a great opportunity for Cauley-Stein to pump up his value on a playoff contender. It hasn’t worked out that way. Cauley-Stein’s role has been limited since joining the Mavericks and he hasn’t played since the All-Star break due to undisclosed personal reasons. It’s a good thing for WCS that he has a $2.29MM option on his contract for next season. It should come in handy the way things are trending.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

USA Basketball Announces 44 Finalists For 2020 Olympic Roster

USA Basketball has formally announced a preliminary group of 44 players who are candidates to be part of the program’s roster for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The final roster will only consist of 12 players, so most of these finalists won’t actually play for Team USA at the Olympics. Some will likely withdraw from consideration, while others simply won’t make the final cut. However, these players have all expressed interest in being involved in the process.

“This is the first step in USA Basketball identifying the 12 players who will represent the United States as members of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team in Tokyo,” said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo.

“… Over the course of the remainder of the NBA season we’ll continue to monitor all of the athletes. Selecting the 12-man USA roster will obviously be an extremely challenging and difficult process, and we will again attempt to select the very best team possible to represent our country and who we hope will be successful in our difficult mission of repeating as Olympic champions for a fourth consecutive Olympics.”

Although the U.S. men’s team has won three consecutive Olympic gold medals, the program had a disappointing showing at last year’s World Cup, finishing in seventh place. Team USA will be looking for a bounce-back performance in Tokyo this summer, with many players from that World Cup squad among the 44 finalists announced today.

Here’s the full list of players who are candidates to play for Team USA at the 2020 Olympics:

  1. Bam Adebayo (Heat)
  2. LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs)
  3. Harrison Barnes (Kings)
  4. Bradley Beal (Wizards)
  5. Devin Booker (Suns)
  6. Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers)
  7. Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
  8. Jimmy Butler (Heat)
  9. Mike Conley (Jazz)
  10. Stephen Curry (Warriors)
  11. Anthony Davis (Lakers)
  12. DeMar DeRozan (Spurs)
  13. Andre Drummond (Cavaliers)
  14. Kevin Durant (Nets)
  15. Paul George (Clippers)
  16. Draymond Green (Warriors)
  17. James Harden (Rockets)
  18. Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)
  19. Joe Harris (Nets)
  20. Tobias Harris (76ers)
  21. Gordon Hayward (Celtics)
  22. Dwight Howard (Lakers)
  23. Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)
  24. Kyrie Irving (Nets)
  25. LeBron James (Lakers)
  26. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)
  27. Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
  28. Damian Lillard (Blazers)
  29. Brook Lopez (Bucks)
  30. Kevin Love (Cavaliers)
  31. Kyle Lowry (Raptors)
  32. JaVale McGee (Lakers)
  33. Khris Middleton (Bucks)
  34. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
  35. Victor Oladipo (Pacers)
  36. Chris Paul (Thunder)
  37. Mason Plumlee (Nuggets)
  38. Marcus Smart (Celtics)
  39. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
  40. Klay Thompson (Warriors)
  41. Myles Turner (Pacers)
  42. Kemba Walker (Celtics)
  43. Russell Westbrook (Rockets)
  44. Derrick White (Spurs)

Charania’s Latest: Rockets, Mavs, Drummond, Pelicans

Although James Harden is in his eighth year with the Rockets, it has been newcomer Russell Westbrook who has “taken the initiative within the locker room” as of late, writes Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Sources tell Charania that Westbrook has delivered “several passionate messages” to the team and has emerged as a leader. There’s no indication that’s been a problem for Harden, with Charania suggesting there’s a “renewed closeness” between the Rockets’ two star guards.

“Russell’s a good leader, and we’ve needed the motivation,” a Rockets source told The Athletic, referring to the team’s up-and-down recent play.

With the trade deadline approaching, the Rockets continue to explore the trade market in search of upgrades. Sources tell Charania that Houston is specifically looking for a wing and continues to make future draft picks available in discussions.

Here’s more from Charania’s most recent article:

  • Rival teams believe the Mavericks are looking to open up a spot on their 15-man roster for added flexibility, according to Charania, who reiterates that Dallas is in the market for a wing and/or a big man. The Mavs could go the free agent route to acquire a big, Charania adds.
  • The Pistons don’t appear to have any momentum toward an Andre Drummond trade. We previously heard that the Hawks and Knicks have pulled out of the Drummond sweepstakes, and Charania suggests that’s the case for the Celtics too. Sources tell The Athletic that no teams have made the Pistons a quality offer that meets their asking price of a first-round pick or a good young player.
  • The Pelicans are telling teams they want to evaluate their current core for a longer period of time now that everyone is healthy, per Charania. It’s unclear if New Orleans will reconsider that stance at all before the February 6 trade deadline.

Southwest Notes: Hardaway, Pelicans, White, Rockets

Tim Hardaway Jr. struggled as a sixth man option for the Mavericks at the beginning of the 2019/20 season, as Eddie Sefko of Mavs.com details.

“I knew that wasn’t my game,” Hardaway said. “An opportunity [to start] presented itself. I tried to make the most of it. And here we are today.” Hardaway has improved since moving to the Mavericks’ starting five on November 20, averaging 16.5 PPG and shooting 43.1% from long range.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • The Pelicans will be getting their No. 1 draft pick, Zion Williamson, back from a knee injury on January 22 against the Spurs. In the meantime, recent losses to the Jazz and Clippers have taught the team some valuable lessons about competing at a playoff level, according to William Guillory of The Athletic.
  • Spurs guard Derrick White‘s adeptness at drawing charges from opponents stems in part from his father Richard, who played high school basketball in DeKalb, Georgia, according to Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. “He’d say, ‘I used to foul people out with charges,’ “ White said. “That’s where it all kind of started from.”
  • After losing three out of four games last week, the Rockets had an emotional postgame airing of grievances on January 15, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon“Everybody’s their own person and feels some type of way about whatever’s going on, individually and as a unit,” said Rockets star James Harden. “So you speak about it and get it off your chest.” The Rockets would go on to lose their next game, a 124-115 defeat to the Lakers.

Southwest Notes: Harden, Self, Ingram, Luka

After Russell Westbrook joined James Harden in the backcourt for the new-look 2019/20 Rockets, the team’s offense struggled with counters against half-court double team Harden traps from smart teams like the Nuggets, The Athletic’s Kelly Iko writes.

Iko details how coach Mike D’Antoni, Harden, Westbrook, and their Rockets teammates devised clever solutions to counter the traps. “We figured out a way it’s going to work for us,” wing Danuel House told Iko. “All we gotta do is be ready to knock … shots down or make the right reads. If we don’t have the shot, pass it or drive to get someone else a shot.”

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Kansas head coach Bill Self responded to chatter from ESPN’s Seth Greenberg and The Athletic’s Sam Amick and John Hollinger that he is being considered to replace Spurs coach Gregg Popovich when the five-time NBA champion eventually retires. “There’s absolutely zero truth to that,” Self said, according to The Kansas City Star’s Gary Bedore. “The thing that cracks me up about some media types is the more outlandish things you can say … what it was, was [Greenberg’s] ‘Bold Predictions for 2020 [segment].’ You grab something or throw something against the wall and hope something sticks.”
  • Pelicans star forward Brandon Ingram has been having a breakout season in New Orleans, averaging 25.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 3.8 APG this year. Andrew Lopez of ESPN takes a look at how Ingram, in the final season of his rookie contract, has carved out a place for himself on his new team. The 22-year-old, who will be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2020, was just named the NBA’s Western Conference Player of the Week.
  • Clippers consultant Jerry West has very high praise for rising Mavericks star Luka DoncicKevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News reports. “One player has transformed them into a playoff team,” West said. “[Doncic] will be the best player Dallas has ever had… I have great respect for [Dirk] Nowitzki, but Dirk is not him.” West has won nine titles as a player and executive in a storied Hall-of-Fame career.