James Harden

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.

Rockets To File Official League Protest Over Spurs Loss

Sources have informed Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that the Rockets intend to file a league protest with the NBA over referees’ controversial ruling on a James Harden dunk in an eventual 135-133 double overtime loss to the Spurs Tuesday.

Harden slammed home the jam with 7:50 left in regulation and Houston still up by 13 points, but game officials ruled that the basket did not count when it popped out in front of the basket upon getting caught in the net. Had Harden’s dunk been tallied, it would have boosted the Rockets’ advantage to a 15 points. When the dust had settled, the team would go on to blow a 22-point lead in San Antonio.

Additionally, sources tell ESPN’s Tim MacMahon that the Rockets hope to have the final 7:50 of regulation be replayed in the future, with Houston up 104-89 and the dunk being counted for two points. Houston does not anticipate an automatically-rewarded win.

Replaying game action is not wholly unprecedented, though it is exceedingly rare. Due to this, the Rockets’ request faces an uphill battle for acceptance. The final 51.8 seconds of a HawksHeat game were replayed in 2008 during a subsequent meeting between both teams. Two other partial game replays over reversed rulings transpired in 1982 and 1979.

Both the Rockets and Spurs have five days to provide necessary evidence in support of their claims. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver then has five days after receiving all evidence to make a ruling.

And-Ones: LaMelo, MVP Votes, Warriors, Fratello

LaMelo Ball doesn’t mind a little campaigning in his effort to be the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft, writes Krysten Peek of Yahoo Sports. The buzz around Ball continues to grow as he strings together impressive performances in Australia’s National Basketball League. Over the weekend, he became the first NBL player since 2005 to post back-to-back triple doubles.

“Most definitely,” Ball responded when asked whether he thinks he should be the first pick. “I believe in myself and I’ve worked hard to get here. The other guys at the top of the draft, James [Wiseman] and Anthony [Edwards], are very talented too. But just in the way I believe in myself, I think I’m the top pick.”

Several scouts were in New Zealand recently to watch Ball go up against another projected lottery pick in R.J. Hampton. Many came away impressed, with one scout saying, “The fact that he’s putting up numbers like this in a league full of former NBA players is forcing every team to look at him as a potential No. 1 pick.” 

Ball addressed rumors that he might end his season early to protect his health for the draft. He insists he’s “committed to the whole season,” even though his team is off to a 3-9 start.

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

  • Roughly a quarter of the way into the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo is in good position to repeat as MVP, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN. In a poll of 101 media members, Antetokounmpo received 48 first-place votes and was the only player listed on all the ballots. LeBron James (29 first-place votes), Luka Doncic (14) and James Harden (nine) were next in line.
  • Declining ratings continue to be a concern, and the NBA has started taking action to address the problem. One solution is fewer national TV games for the Warriors, who have the NBA’s worst record after five years as its marquee team. Golden State’s next two scheduled ESPN games have been replaced, tweets Anthony Slater of The Athletic, who speculates that more are likely to be removed.
  • Former NBA coach and long-time broadcaster Mike Fratello will be back on the sidelines soon, according to Nicola Lupo of Sportando. Fratello will serve as head coach for USA Basketball in February’s qualifying games for the FIBA AmeriCup.
  • Commissioner Adam Silver addressed the China controversy today, saying a “culture clash” was almost inevitable, tweets Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic. NBA games haven’t returned to China Central Television, the main broadcaster in Mainland China, but they are back on Tencent, which Silver called a “thawing” in tensions (Twitter link).
  • Sources tell Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated that March 20 has been set for the debut of the NBA’s Basketball Africa League (Twitter link). The first game will take place in Dakar, Senegal.
  • The NBA will consider allowing corporate investors to hold passive minority stakes in more than one team, tweets Alex M. Silverman of MorningConsult. The measure will be part of the agenda at April’s Board of Governors meeting.

Chris Paul Was “Shocked” By Trade To Thunder

Chris Paul tells Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated that he was “shocked” at the trade that sent him to Oklahoma City this summer and insists Rockets general manager Daryl Morey promised him it wouldn’t happen.

After being knocked out of the playoffs by the Warriors for a second straight year, Houston jumped at the chance to shake up its roster by acquiring Russell Westbrook from the Thunder. That meant shipping out Paul and a parcel of draft picks.

“My initial reaction?” Paul said. “I was shocked. Truth be told, I just talked to Daryl a couple days before the trade and he said he wasn’t going to trade me (to Oklahoma City). That’s funny because that is going to be the alert that pops up on everybody’s phone because nobody knows that. But what the hell, I just said it.”

Morey refused to respond to Paul’s comment, but sources close to the team told Spears that the GM informed Paul there was a “slim chance” he might be included in a Westbrook deal. Morey was hoping to make it a three-team trade and send Paul to a playoff contender such as the Heat, but no one else was willing to get involved. He also thanked Paul for his contributions to the franchise.

“Chris got us as close to winning a title as we’ve been since Hakeem Olajuwon,” Morey said. “He was a great Rocket. I wish him the best going forward. I am a big fan of Chris. I have nothing but love for him.”

Paul said his time in Houston marked two of the best seasons of his career. However, they ended in an apparent falling out with James Harden during last season’s playoffs that had many believing a breakup was coming. Paul admits he and Harden “haven’t really talked” since the trade was completed.

“It’s life. It happens,” Paul said. “It is what it is. But I wish him nothing but the best.”

The next question for Paul is how long he will be with the Thunder, who are off to an 8-11 start and appear ready to rebuild after trading Westbrook and Paul George. Although the market will open up December 15 when most of the free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded, Paul’s contract remains a major impediment. He makes $38.5MM this season at age 34 and is owed roughly $85.5MM over the following two seasons. Spears notes that many teams are already trying to save cap space for the next loaded free agent class in 2021.

“I try to control what I can control,” Paul said. “And for me, that is preparing to play every night. Doing my workout. Doing my training. Hooping.”

Western Notes: Harden, Paul, Popovich, Jokic

James Harden has been logging heavy minutes and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t sure how to reduce his workload, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle relays. Harden had played a league-high 38.9 MPG in the seven games since Eric Gordon suffered a knee injury that required surgery. “You always have concerns,” D’Antoni said. “He’s been shouldering a lot of responsibility, played a lot of minutes. We’ve had guys hurt and Eric can’t spell him. He’s got to shoulder the load of scoring all the time. So, yeah, you worry about it. I don’t have a solution (for) it.”

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Thunder guard Chris Paul has developed strong relationships with young players Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. “I think Chris is just a huge kid, and that’s what it is,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “So, he likes hanging out with guys like me and Baze, goof around a lot, make fun of each other, and it’s all fun and games.”
  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich thinks it will be a while before a NBA team names a woman as its head coach, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington writes. “It’s a process and it doesn’t happen quickly. But I think the more women there are [in the game] and as it becomes more commonplace and more the rule, it will then depend on an organization realizing there are women that can do this,” he said. Every woman can’t, every man can’t. But the point is there gotta be enough to choose from and it’s gotta be pretty commonplace before I think somebody’s gonna pull the trigger.”
  • Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has taken some heat on social media for his physique and weight but he shrugs it off, Mike Singer of the Denver Post reports. “It doesn’t bother me,” Jokic said. The max player’s statistics are down virtually across the board. He’s averaging four points less than last season (16.1 PPG) while shooting a career-low 46.7 percent from the field.

Poll: Will James Harden Average 40 PPG?

James Harden might make NBA history this season, the kind of history that only one all-time luminary has ever achieved before. James Harden might average at least 40 points a game.

The 30 year-old Rockets guard may scale a height only heretofore reached by the Big Dipper himself, Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt the Stilt averaged 50.4 PPG in 1961/62 for the then-Philadelphia Warriors. He reached a similarly insane 44.8 PPG the next season, after the team had relocated and rebranded itself the San Francisco Warriors. Keep in mind, the three-point line did not exist in the NBA until the 1979/80 season.

Harden is currently averaging an eyeball-popping 39.5 PPG in 2019/20, to go along with 7.8 APG and 5.6 RPG. Yes, it might just be a scorching hot start, just 13 games into this young season. But the reason Harden might really hit the big 4-0 is fairly simple: he actually is not shooting that well yet.

His 39.5 PPG tally is being achieved while he shoots 41.7% from the field and 33.2% from behind the three-point line. He is shooting 14.6 long-range attempts a night. For his career, Harden is connecting on 44.2% of his field goals and 36.4% of his three-point tries. That efficiency was not abetted by the 49 points Harden scored when the Rockets beat the Timberwolves 125-105 on November 15th. He connected on just 16 of a career-high 41 field goal attempts.

Harden was named his conference’s Player of the Week for his phenomenal offensive work last week (he received the same honor the week prior). His highest scoring average prior to this season was a league-leading 36.1 PPG, achieved last year.

Outside of the obvious big personnel change this season, why is Harden scoring so much? As was mentioned in today’s edition of the Brian Windhorst and the Hoop Collective Podcast on ESPN, a pace change has been key. In replacing half-court specialist Chris Paul with speed demon Russell Westbrook, the Rockets ramped up their pace, which has translated into more possessions, and thus more opportunities for Harden to score. Houston has transitioned from the 26th-fastest team in the NBA last season to the third-fastest so far this year.

Harden’s scoring has helped his Rockets keep pace in the chippy Western Conference as they battle through injuries to several core pieces. The team has won its last seven games in a row after starting out the season 3-3. They currently sit second in the West. Houston will try to strengthen its record when the Trail Blazers come to town tonight.

So will The Beard average 40 points a game in a season? Will he at least come close to that lofty number? Weigh in with our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Trade Rumors app users, click here to vote.

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.