James Harden

Southwest Notes: Leonard, Capela, Conley, Barnes

The Lakers might be the logical landing spot if the Spurs decide not to offer Kawhi Leonard a supermax deal or if he tells them he’ll walk after next season, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe speculates. Leonard can opt out of his deal next summer and the Spurs would want to acquire assets rather than wind up with nothing, as the Thunder experienced when Kevin Durant bolted, Washburn continues.  The Lakers have enough assets to make such a deal happen, but the Celtics would likely decline the Spurs’ advances if they were asked to give up Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and a first-rounder for him, Washburn adds.

In other news around the Southwest Division:

  • Clint Capela‘s value to the Rockets hasn’t gone unnoticed and should lead to a lucrative offseason for the impending restricted free agent, as Stefano Fusaro of The Undefeated notes. Houston went 42-3 this season when Capela, Chris Paul and James Harden were all in the lineup, and Paul told Fusaro it’s no coincidence. “Y’all know the record when we all play together, and I’ll tell you it’s not because of me and James,” Paul said. “Clint is really the X factor. He opens up so much for us.”
  • Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley anticipates playing a full season after his injury-marred 2017/18 campaign, the team’s PR department tweets. Conley opted for season-ending heel surgery in late January after appearing in just 12 games. “Thankfully I had the surgery early enough to where I have a full summer of work and getting my body ready for an 82-game season,” Conley told reporters.
  • Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes wants to play for the U.S. national team again, Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News reports. Barnes, who had a limited role in the 2016 Olympics, is one of 35 players USA Basketball has named as candidates to play in the 2019 World Championships and 2020 Olympics. “Everybody would love to play in a World Cup and the Olympics,” Barnes told Sefko. “Those are bucket-list experiences. If I could be included in that group, it would be really special.”

Central Notes: Booker, Green, Kilpatrick, Hoiberg, LeBron

Despite playing a limited role – only 16.0 minutes per game – the Pacers believe that recently-acquired forward Trevor Booker is an important piece of Indiana’s chances come playoff time, reports Mark Montieth of Pacers.com, especially with big man Domantas Sabonis missing six of the team’s last seven games with an ankle injury.

Booker was brought in to back-up Thaddeus Young at power forward, but has filled in admirably for the Pacers while Sabonis has been out.

“He brings a physicality to the floor,” Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said. “With these injuries and teams playing smaller fives, we’ve had to play him there some, and he’s done a good job for us. It allows us to make adjustments. He’s a power forward, but he plays bigger than that.”

“He’s a hard-nosed guy who’s going to go out and rebound the basketball,” says Young, the Pacers’ starting power forward who Booker backs up. “He has the ability to score on the block. To make a few jumpers here and there — not consistently, but he gives us the energy and the poise and the passion that we need. When he’s stepping out there with that second unit he does a really good job of carving out space and putting guys in the right place.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Jeff Green has been starting for the Cavaliers lately while the team has been dealing with injuries to Kevin LoveLarry Nance Jr., and Tristan Thompson, but Joe Vardon of The Plain Dealer wonders whether he has a place in the lineup once playoff time comes and the bench shortens.
  • Despite recently receiving a three-year, $6.2MM contract from the Bulls, guard Sean Kilpatrick still views every game in the NBA as an audition, writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “That’s how I looked at things, and that’s how I viewed things since I got into this league, and that’s why I think I’ve had some type of success in that area.” Kilpatrick said.
  • It appears as though the Bulls plan on keeping head coach Fred Hoiberg around for a fourth season, Cowley opines in another pieceI’ve gotten unbelievable support from everybody throughout the year, going back to what I thought was a great offseason and training camp,” Hoiberg said.
  • The Rockets’ James Harden is far and away the favorite to win MVP this season, but he wouldn’t get a vote from Cavaliers‘ superstar LeBron James, reports Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. Asked who he’d vote for, James unabashedly said himself. “I would vote for me. The body of work, how I’m doing it, what’s been happening with our team all year long, how we’ve got so many injuries and things of that nature, guys in and out, to be able to still keep this thing afloat, I definitely would vote me.”

Rockets Notes: Harden, D’Antoni, Anderson, James

In the midst of another MVP-worthy season, James Harden continues to impress people around the league, including his head coach, Mike D’Antoni. As Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports writes, after the Rockets defeated the Trail Blazers on Tuesday, D’Antoni labeled Harden as “the best offensive player I’ve ever seen.”

Harden posted 42 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in the win, just the latest standout performance in a season filled with them. For D’Antoni, who has coached the likes of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Carmelo Anthony, Harden offers an all-around skill set that is unmatched.

“He’s a hell of a player, first off,” D’Antoni said. “It’s a combination of everything. There are other players who might be better at this, or a little bit better at that. But when you put everything together, and the way he passes, the way he sees teammates, the way he can lob, the way he can fight through a foul. I mean even on an off night, he’s probably getting 30, 40 points, and I mean efficiently. And he doesn’t even have anything going. But he’s so efficient, and he gets other guys involved. … He’s got one flaw. He does get tired some. He’s mortal. And that’s it. Other than that …”

Harden is averaging 31.2 PPG, 8.7 APG, and 5.2 RPG for the Rockets. After finishing as the runner-up to Russell Westbrook in MVP voting one season ago, Harden looks like the clear-cut favorite this year’s award.

Check out more news and notes out of the Rockets organization:

  • Tyronn Lue took a leave from his coaching post with the Cavaliers due to health concerns, and D’Antoni understands how the rigors of the job can require someone to take a needed step back, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes. “Especially if you lose, you wonder what you could do differently. My first 20 years in coaching, even more, I couldn’t read books, for sure,” D’Antoni said. “I could read short articles, but I had a hard time escaping. I think I’ve gotten to a point I can read books and escape more than I used to. I try not to drive myself crazy.”
  • Ryan Anderson has seen a lot of time at center since he returned from injury and the Rockets anticipate him continuing to play the position going forward, Feigen writes in a separate story. “We’ll look at all possibilities, but he’ll play some five for sure,” D’Antoni said. “Then, we’ll see. Matchups, maybe in the playoffs, will be different here and there, but right now we’re going to look at this.”
  • LeBron James will be a free agent this offseason and his decision figures to be the NBA’s story of the summer. The Rockets are one of several teams that have been linked to James, prompting Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report to examine how the Rockets can add the four-time MVP without sacrificing Chris Paul and other assets.

Southwest Notes: Gasol, Harden, Mills, Powell

The Grizzlies are on a 10-game losing streak and Marc Gasol is admittedly highly frustrated, he tells Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal. As he sees it, the NBA is about winning, not about getting more repetitions for younger players or player development, which, in Gasol’s view, should be left to the G League. In a piece for Yahoo Sports, Chris Mannix adds that head coach J.B. Bickerstaff acknowledges the frustration that Gasol is experiencing.

“A guy as competitive as he is, and a guy who every day matters to him, whether it’s practice, drill work, three-on-three, he’s trying to win… A guy who is so unselfish, he doesn’t care how many points he scores. The only thing that matters to him are wins and losses. I think we all understand and appreciate guys who are that way. There’s no doubt about it, it’s frustrating for him.”

Despite the frustration, Gasol is trying to improve different areas of his game, says Bickerstaff.

“He’s working on different parts of his game. The way teams are playing, you don’t see a ton of post-up opportunities any more, (so) he’s working on his face-up game, he’s working on a different array of shots, in the paint, how he gets to those spots, things like that. Playing from the perimeter, being able to attack off the catch versus other big guys. Those things we’ve seen him be able to implement. He’s been able to implement them quick. As soon as he puts his mind to it, he can add it that night.”

There’s more news out of the Southwest Division:

  • The Rockets have the best record in the NBA and are currently one game ahead of second-place Golden State in the loss column. FiveThirtyEight gives them the best odds (40%) of winning the NBA title. And as MVP-favorite James Harden sees it, “this is (Houston’s) year”, reports Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.
  • Spurs guard Patty Mills has replaced incumbent Danny Green in the starting lineup for now, reports Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. As is typical for head coach Gregg Popovich, he wouldn’t elaborate on the change, but Mills appears to give the Spurs a bit more offensive firepower in the first unit, while Green improves the second-unit’s defensive presence.
  • Mavericks big man Dwight Powell is making a case to be the team’s primary center moving forward, opines Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. Averaging 14.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest over the last seven games, Powell excels at playing hard. “(T)he thing I like about Powell is you’re going to get unconditional, boundless energy and the highest of high-care factors when it comes to the team,” said head coach Rick Carlisle.

Texas Notes: Harden, D’Antoni, Aldridge, Nowitzki

All-star guard James Harden believes the Rockets boosted their chances to win a title by adding free agents Joe Johnson and Brandan Wright, relays Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype. Both signed with Houston this week after reaching buyout agreements, adding depth to a roster that has the league’s best record at the break.

“Those are experienced vets who both have playoff experience,” Harden said. “And we all want to win – that’s what everyone on this roster has in common. We have a roster full of guys who are hungry and ready to compete at a high level. We have really good depth now. We have a roster of guys, from top to bottom, who can step in and really get the job done. That’s exciting, and it also means everyone’s minutes should go down, but our productivity [as a whole] should go up.”

He also addressed the compatibility concerns that were raised after the trade for Chris Paul last summer. Harden said he and Paul both adopted a team-first attitude that made blending their talents an easy transition.

There’s more NBA news from the Lone Star State:

  • After a lifetime in basketball, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has found the perfect team to fit his style, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. D’Antoni, an All-Star coach for the second time in his career, was happy as associate head coach in Philadelphia until Rockets owner Leslie Alexander offered him a job in the summer of 2016. Houston has given D’Antoni a roster filled with shooters to complement his philosophy on offense. “Some people accused me of being stubborn all those years I didn’t change,” he said. “I didn’t think I was being stubborn. I thought that was the way to do it. Why should I change if I know it’s the right thing to do?”
  • Returning to the All-Star Game after a one-year absence, LaMarcus Aldridge no longer feels out of place in San Antonio, according to Tom Orborne of The San Antonio Express-News. An offseason trade request led to a heart-to-heart talk with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and sparked a resurgence in Aldridge, who has increased his scoring average by five points per game and is topping 20 PPG for the first time since leaving Portland. “The Spurs have kind of learned who I am as a person and have let me be me,” Aldridge said. “They had Tim [Duncan], who was an introvert, kind of a private person, so now they understand me better.”
  • Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says he laughs any time another team brings up Dirk Nowitzki in a trade proposal, relays Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher Report. Nowitzki adds that Kobe Bryant once tried to convince him to sign with the Lakers, but he never seriously considered leaving Dallas.

Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green Suspended Two Games Each

The NBA is suspending Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green for “aggressively entering” the Clippers’ locker room earlier this week, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports (Twitter link).

Chris Paul and James Harden will face no discipline. Wojnarowski (Twitter links) adds that interviews with 20 people from the locker room incident were conducted. It was determined that Paul and Harden tried to be “peacemakers,” attempting to defuse the situation. The scribe also adds that Blake Griffin will not be suspended.

The pair of Rockets wings will miss the team’s games against the Wolves and Warriors this week. Golden State is the only team ahead of the Rockets in the Western Conference standings, while the Wolves own the fourth spot in the conference, sitting just three games behind Houston.

Ariza will lose approximately $103K as a result of the two-game suspension, while Green will lose roughly $19.K. The Rockets will receive a credit of slightly under $61K against the luxury tax, Bobby Marks of ESPN.com explains (Twitter link). The team now sits roughly $2.56MM below the luxury tax threshold.

James Harden, Derrick Rose On Track To Return Thursday

A former MVP and a former MVP runner-up are on track to return to their respective teams’ lineups on Thursday, according to reports.

The Rockets are planning to have James Harden, who has yet to appear in a game since the calendar turned to 2018, back on the court on Thursday, league sources tell Tim MacMahon of ESPN. While Harden is still listed as questionable for that contest against Minnesota, he’s expected to play as long as he doesn’t have any hamstring-related setbacks in practice before then, MacMahon says.

Of course, in order to play for the Rockets on Thursday night, Harden will also have to avoid a suspension stemming from a postgame incident in Los Angeles on Monday night. The NBA will likely announce disciplinary measures today or tomorrow for multiple players involved in that situation. The league’s investigation is said to be focusing on Trevor Ariza as an instigator, but Harden and other Rockets could also be penalized.

Meanwhile, point guard Derrick Rose is expected to return for the Cavaliers on Thursday night against the Magic, writes Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. Rose participated in practice and a scrimmage today, and said he believes he’ll be “a go” vs. the Magic.

A left ankle injury has sidelined Rose for most of his first season in Cleveland, keeping him out of action for longer than initially anticipated — he hasn’t played since November 7. The latest injury in a long line of health problems for Rose had the former MVP evaluating his NBA future away from the Cavs in the fall. However, he ultimately decided to report back to the team and continue his career.

With Isaiah Thomas back for Cleveland, it’s not clear yet how Rose will fit into the team’s rotation.

NBA’s Clippers/Rockets Probe Focusing On Ariza

The NBA’s investigation into the postgame incident between the Rockets and Clippers in Los Angeles on Monday night is focused on Trevor Ariza, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. According to Wojnarowski, Ariza has been “isolated as the person most responsible” for the Rockets’ attempt to get into the Clippers’ locker room.

Ariza, who got into it with Blake Griffin during the game, resulting in ejections for both players, was waiting on Griffin after the game, a Rockets source told Lee Jenkins of SI.com. A source also told Jenkins that teammates James Harden, Chris Paul, and Gerald Green were holding Ariza back when he attempted to get into the Clippers’ locker room to confront Griffin and Austin Rivers.

Wojnarowski hears similar rumblings, writing that Paul and Harden are “increasingly described” as having attempted to cool down Ariza. However, Woj does note that some sources on the Clippers’ side insist that Paul “eagerly entered” the home locker room through the back entrance, as we detailed on Tuesday.

The NBA interviewed several executives, coaches, players, and security personnel during the 24 hours following the incident, and those discussions are expected to continue today, league sources tell Wojnarowski. It remains to be seen whether fines and/or suspensions will be announced before the Clippers host Denver on Wednesday night. The Rockets’ next game takes place on Thursday night in Houston.

NBA Investigating Rockets/Clippers Incident

10:09am: There will be “no shortage of punished individuals” as a result of the NBA’s investigation into last night’s incident in Los Angeles, tweets Wojnarowski. That investigation began late last night and continues into today.

8:26am: Chris Paul‘s return to Los Angeles took an unexpected turn on Monday night after the Clippers beat the Rockets in a testy contest that featured multiple ejections. As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports, tensions boiled over after game, with a handful of Rockets players looking to confront Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin in the Clippers’ locker room.

According to Wojnarowski, Paul, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, and Gerald Green walked through a back hallway to reach the Clippers’ locker room, where several L.A. players “dared the Rockets to come farther into the room.” However, security and team officials quickly stepped in and pushed the Rockets back toward their locker room, per Wojnarowski.

Sources tell Wojnarowski that the Rockets were upset with Rivers, who was described as “especially belligerent” during the late stages of the Clippers’ win, despite standing on the sideline in street clothes (he’s still recovering from an ankle injury). Griffin was also involved in confrontations with Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni and Ariza during the game, leading to his ejection.

While the details of Wojnarowski’s report are bizarre and fascinating, it appears the locker-room incident didn’t escalate beyond some shouting. “It was classic NBA,” one Clipper witness told Woj. “None of these guys were going to fight.”

Nonetheless, the NBA intends to investigate the matter and will begin to gather information on Tuesday, Wojnarowski writes. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the league announces fines and/or suspensions at some point this week, with the Rockets seemingly likely to be hit with harsher penalties.

Injury Notes: Turner, Harden, Leuer, Ball

Pacers center Myles Turner has missed his club’s last three games and has already been ruled out of the remaining four contests on Indiana’s current road trip, the team announced today in a press release. Turner won’t require surgery, but he has been diagnosed with a ligament sprain and muscle strain in that troublesome elbow, and isn’t close to returning. Following the Pacers’ current road trip, Turner will be considered week to week, according to the team.

Here are a few more injury updates from across the NBA:

  • Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni hopes that James Harden will be able to return from his hamstring injury before the end of this week, as Tim MacMahon of ESPN details. “It could be Thursday or Saturday, I don’t know,” D’Antoni said on Sunday. “He’s got to get better. We’ll see. Whenever he’s ready.” Harden would presumably like to be back on the court for those showdowns later this week against Minnesota (Thursday) and Golden State (Saturday).
  • Jon Leuer continues to battle ankle issues, having recently received a second injection in his ankle, according to Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy (Twitter link via Rod Beard of The Detroit News). Season-ending surgery looks like an increasingly likely possibility for the veteran big man.
  • After undergoing an MRI, Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball was diagnosed with minor left knee sprain, the Lakers announced last night (via Twitter). It’s not viewed as a significant injury.