James Harden

Texas Notes: Westbrook, Hartenstein, Curry, Carroll

The Rockets believe Russell Westbrook‘s talents will overcome what could be an awkward fit alongside James Harden in their backcourt, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Houston and Oklahoma City agreed to terms on this offseason’s latest blockbuster Thursday night, swapping the spectacular but inefficient Westbrook for steady veteran Chris Paul.

Westbrook is only two years removed from an MVP season, but his explosiveness doesn’t always make up for poor perimeter shooting and questionable decisions in the open court. He has shot below 30% from 3-point range in four of the past five seasons and is joining a team that relies on the long ball more than anyone in league history. However, Rockets officials are confident that he can reach the 33% to 35% range because he’ll be surrounded by shooters who’ll spread the floor and will be playing with an elite passer in Harden.

Feigen adds that Harden has reportedly agreed to play off the ball more often to help Westbrook succeed. Harden will continue to operate as the point guard in many possessions, but Westbrook will also be allowed to run the offense, similar to their relationship in Oklahoma City.

There’s more tonight out of Texas:

  • Rockets center Isaiah Hartenstein has agreed to extend his guarantee date beyond Monday, tweets Kelly Iko of The Athletic. July 15 was the original deadline for his $1,416,852 deal for next season to become fully guaranteed.
  • Seth Curry said in a radio interview this week (transcribed by The Dallas Morning News) that familiarity and his respect for coach Rick Carlisle were factors in his decision to return to the Mavericks. Curry signed a four-year deal this week that brings him back to Dallas after two years away. “I played some of my best basketball when I was there a couple of years ago, so I’m excited to rejoin the team and help get them back to the playoffs,” Curry said. “… I wanted to get back to playing with guys like Luka (Doncic) and (Kristaps Porzingis). Unselfish guys. Luka’s one of the best passers in the league right now. … I’m excited about the opportunity.”
  • DeMarre Carroll talked with the Bucks before joining the Spurs, but Milwaukee’s cap situation limited what the team could offer, relays Jabari Young of The Athletic. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, a former assistant in San Antonio, highly recommended the organization to Carroll, as did Nets GM Sean Marks, a former Spurs executive.

Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Harden, Paul, More

In the wake of the blockbuster trade agreement that will send Russell Westbrook to Houston and Chris Paul to Oklahoma City, a Rockets source tells Jordan Schultz of ESPN (Twitter link) that the pre-existing friendship between Westbrook and James Harden gave the team the confidence to pull the trigger on the deal and pair them again. Sources tell Sam Amick of The Athletic that the former Thunder teammates began discussing the idea of playing together shortly after Paul George asked to be traded.

“They are motivated to play together,” said Schultz’s source.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe conveys a similar sentiment, relaying an anecdote about Harden offering a reminder to Rockets GM Daryl Morey during a conversation about Westbrook: “I know how to play with Russ and he knows how to play with me.” Westbrook is also enthusiastic about playing with Harden again, sources tell Lowe.

Of course, it was just two years ago that we heard similar things about Harden and Paul after CP3 chose to join the Rockets. While skeptics at that time questioned whether two ball-dominant guards like Harden and Paul could co-exist, the common refrain was that the two players pushed for the union and were confident they could make it work.

It mostly did, as the Rockets won a league-high 65 games in 2017/18 and were the Western Conference’s biggest threat to the Warriors over the last two seasons. However, the Paul-in-Houston era ultimately ended with rumors of discord between the two stars, and a trade that will send CP3 to Oklahoma City in exchange for a new star point guard.

As we wait to see whether this new pairing can help lead the Rockets to that elusive title, let’s round up a few more notes on Houston’s side of the trade:

  • Within his ESPN.com article cited above, Zach Lowe notes that Mike D’Antoni‘s experience coaching Westbrook on Team USA increased Houston’s comfort level in making the trade. Lowe also hears that the Rockets tried to push for the Thunder to take their 2020 first-round pick, but OKC insisted on picks further out — those 2024 and 2026 first-rounders aren’t as likely to fall in the late-20s, since Harden and Westbrook will be in their mid-30s by then.
  • According to Sam Amick, the contract extension D’Antoni had been seeking is no longer a priority for the Rockets’ head coach, who is now more focused on making his new-look backcourt work. Sources also tell Amick that the Rockets explored various iterations of a Westbrook deal – including ones that wouldn’t have involved Paul – before eventually settling on the reported terms.
  • The reported tension between Harden and Paul didn’t factor into the decision to make the Westbrook trade, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN, who tweets that the Rockets considered it “manageable” and not out of the ordinary for two alpha dogs. “That would not have driven us to do something we otherwise wouldn’t have done,” one team source said to MacMahon. While that tension may not have been the driving force behind the deal, I’m skeptical that it wasn’t a factor at all.
  • A league source who spoke to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports sounds even more skeptical. “James made this [expletive] happen,” that source told Goodwill. “He wanted Chris up out of there.” Still, Goodwill questions whether adding Westbrook to the mix makes basketball sense for the Rockets, referring to it as a “marriage of desperation.”
  • By acquiring Westbrook, the Rockets will become the first NBA team with two players on Designated Veteran Extensions (super-maxes), tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Although Paul’s deal looks nearly identical to Westbrook, it wasn’t technically a Designated Veteran contract, since CP3 signed it after he already had 10 years of NBA experience. Houston will now be prohibited from adding a third player on a Designated Veteran deal, though as Marks notes, that doesn’t seem likely to become an issue (the only other players on those contracts are Stephen Curry, John Wall, and Damian Lillard).
  • An ESPN.com panel – featuring Marks, Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, and others – breaks down the Rockets/Thunder blockbuster, exploring how each team made out in the trade and their initial reactions to the deal.

Charania’s Latest: CP3, Klay, Harris, RHJ, Randle, More

League sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic that Chris Paul never demanded a trade from the Rockets, but suggested at season’s end that he’d understand if the club decided to go in a different direction. According to Charania, Houston told Paul it remained committed to him, and he has reciprocated that commitment.

While Paul and James Harden haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, Charania hears that the two Rockets guards have been communicating since the season ended and had a positive conversation on Father’s Day.

Even if the Rockets wanted to move Paul, there would likely be no market for him, as the Rockets discovered when they quietly gauged his value in recent weeks, Charania writes.

Charania’s latest round-up at The Athletic includes several other noteworthy tidbits on 2019’s upcoming free agent period, so let’s pass along some highlights…

  • The Warriors and Klay Thompson will meet in Los Angeles at the start of free agency, per Charania. While Charania – like ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski – has heard that Thompson could speak to the Clippers if talks with Golden State break down, the Warriors and Thompson’s camp expect a quick agreement if the team puts a five-year, maximum-salary offer on the table.
  • After Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer named the Clippers as a possible suitor for Tobias Harris, Charania says the same thing, noting that the two sides still have a good relationship. Charania also adds the Pelicans – who now have significant cap room – to the list of teams expected to express interest in Harris.
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who didn’t receive a qualifying offer from Brooklyn, is expected to draw interest from the Suns, Timberwolves, and Rockets as an unrestricted free agent, reports Charania.
  • The Bulls, Knicks, and Nets are viewed as potential suitors for Julius Randle, sources tell Charania.
  • Teams in need of some help at the point guard spot – including the Suns, Bulls, Wizards, and Kings – have shown interest in Cory Joseph, says Charania.
  • If the Knicks miss out on their top free agent targets, they’ll plan on trying to sign “high-level rotation players” to one- or two-year deals, according to Charania, who suggests that Celtics RFA-to-be Terry Rozier may be one target.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Named League MVP

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was named the league’s Most Valuable Player on Monday. NBA commissioner Adam Silver made the announcement at the league’s annual awards show.

Last year’s winner, Rockets guard James Harden, and Thunder forward Paul George were the other finalists.

Antetokounmpo’s overall excellence while leading the Bucks to a 60-22 record was enough to beat out Harden’s big scoring numbers. The Greek Freak averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks. Harden averaged 36.1 points, the highest total since Michael Jordan averaged 37.1 during the 1986/87 season.

The voting wasn’t as close as expected. Antetokounmpo received 78 of the 101 first-place votes and was second on the other 23 ballots. Harden had the reverse, with 23 first-place votes and 78 second-place selections.

The Bucks dominated the awards ceremony, as Mike Budenholzer won Coach of the Year and GM Jon Horst was named Executive of the Year.

Harden was Hoops Rumors’ consensus choice.

Links to the other major awards handed out on Monday can be found below:

Rockets Expected To Pursue Jimmy Butler

The Rockets came up short in their pursuit of Jimmy Butler during the 2018/19 season when the standout forward was on the trade block, despite reportedly offering a package that featured four first-round picks. With Butler on track to reach free agency this summer, the Rockets are expected to once again aggressively go after the 29-year-old, according to Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter links), who reports that Butler’s name will be atop Houston’s offseason wish list.

As Smith explains, the Rockets consider Butler an ideal fit on both ends of the court, viewing him as a piece that could push the team over the hump in the Western Conference. Per Smith, Houston’s ideal scenario would be to add Butler to its James Harden/Chris Paul pairing, despite rumors of significant discord between the two guards.

Smith’s report lines up with recent comments made by general manager Daryl Morey, who talked about the possibility of adding a third star to the Rockets’ roster this offseason.

Although the Rockets would love to add Butler and the Houston native may have interest in joining his hometown team, the club’s salary cap situation will make it difficult — especially since Butler has talked about expecting to sign a maximum-salary contract, which would start at about $32.7MM.

There’s no realistic way for the Rockets to create the cap room necessary to sign Butler to anything close to the max, so that’s likely not an option. That leaves two other potential pathways — a sign-and-trade or an opt-in-and-trade.

A sign-and-trade would require the Sixers to be on board, which means the Rockets would have to send some appealing assets Philadelphia’s way, including perhaps shooting guard Eric Gordon. Even then, salary-matching would be difficult and might require a third team to trade for Clint Capela or another Rocket. Houston would also be hard-capped in that scenario, significantly limiting the club’s flexibility.

[RELATED: Why NBA Sign-And-Trades Are Rare]

If Butler were to exercise his $19.84MM player option for 2019/20 instead of opting out as planned, it’d create a much cleaner path to a deal. The two teams could then negotiate a straight trade, like the Rockets and Clippers did two years ago when Paul wanted to play in Houston, though as with a sign-and-trade, the Sixers would have to sign off.

Additionally, Butler would presumably be reluctant to give up a longer-term, maximum-salary deal this summer unless he has assurances that such a deal would be waiting for him from the Rockets in 2020. That’s essentially what happened with Paul in 2017 — his payday was delayed until 2018, but there was never any doubt Houston would give it to him.

Of course, owner Tilman Fertitta has reportedly complained since day one about the team’s long-term investment in CP3, so it’s not clear if the club would be willing to make a similar wink-and-nod commitment to Butler.

The idea of the Rockets acquiring Butler still looks like a long shot at this point, but Morey has creatively completed deals in the past, and will certainly explore every avenue he can to do so again this time around.

Harden, Paul Relationship Described As “Unsalvageable”

4:54pm: Responding to today’s report, Morey said Paul and his reps haven’t asked for a trade, adding that the point guard will be on the Rockets next season, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). According to Morey, Paul and Harden don’t have issues with one another —  Morey says he has spoken to both players often this offseason about free agency plans, Feigen adds.

While Morey’s dismissal was expected, reports of a rift between the Rockets’ two stars are becoming increasingly frequent. We’ll have to wait and see if the team is actually willing to bring both players back in the fall.

3:46pm: The relationship between Rockets guards James Harden and Chris Paul has been described by sources as “unsalvageable,” according to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, who reports that the two stars no longer want to play alongside one another.

Sources tell Goodwill that Paul asked Rockets management for a trade, while Harden issued a “him or me” ultimatum after the team was eliminated from the playoffs this spring by Golden State.

The two players didn’t speak to one another for nearly two months during the season, according to Goodwill, who adds that Harden has rebuffed CP3’s repeated attempts to communicate so far this offseason.

“There’s no respect at all, on either side,” a source tells Goodwill. “They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.”

Goodwill’s story comes on the heels of a similar report from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, who suggested that the disconnect between Harden and Paul stemmed from their different preferred playing styles and personalities. Harden thrives in an isolation-heavy attack, while Paul prefers a style predicated on more ball movement.

Sources tell Goodwill that Paul would curse at head coach Mike D’Antoni, complaining about the offense bogging down when Harden replaced Paul in the second unit. MacMahon passed along similar anecdotes in his story, reporting that Paul would cherish the opportunity to play in that second unit without Harden and “barked” at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench as the NBA’s leading scorer lobbied to check back in.

MacMahon and Goodwill each provided details on the personality clash between the two All-Stars as well, with Goodwill indicating that Paul’s “grating personality” has irritated Harden. The former MVP snapped back at CP3 after the Rockets’ elimination last month, telling Paul that he didn’t always know best and talked too much, according to MacMahon.

“Chris has a personality where he just doesn’t let anything go,” a team source told MacMahon. “He just keeps pestering and pestering and pestering and pestering. Sometimes James has had enough — and not just him. That’s what makes [Paul] a winner and also what keeps him from being a big-time winner. He’s got to temper that.”

MacMahon’s and Goodwill’s reports add more context to why the Rockets have apparently been exploring the trade market for Paul and other key players this spring. However, Paul has one of the league’s least team-friendly contracts, which will make him difficult to trade — that deal will pay the veteran point guard $38.5MM in 2019/20, and $124MM in total over the next three years.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has “grumbled” about the team’s investment in Paul and expressed regret to staffers about that signing, according to MacMahon, who adds that Fertitta has even griped about the deal in front of rival executives. Goodwill’s report lines up with MacMahon’s — sources tell Yahoo that Fertitta has complained about CP3’s contract since it was signed.

For what it’s worth, Rockets GM Daryl Morey has downplayed the tension within the organization and recently denied that Paul had asked to be traded. However, the situation in Houston looks increasingly untenable. We’ll see how the Rockets’ front office and players respond to the latest reports, but at this point it looks like a roster shake-up may be on the horizon.

Western Notes: Lakers, Barnes, Rockets, Belinelli

Two major factors related to the Anthony Davis deal will contribute to how much cap room the Lakers have available in free agency this summer. One is the timing of the trade’s completion, while the other is Davis’ trade bonus.

While we don’t yet have definitive word on when the Lakers and Pelicans will finalize the AD blockbuster, early reports suggest it will likely happen on July 6, which would cut into L.A.’s projected cap space by several million dollars. If Davis chooses not to waive his trade bonus, that would reduce the Lakers’ flexibility by about another $4MM, and ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne views that as the most likely scenario, as she said on The Jump on Monday (video link).

“My understanding is he doesn’t intend to waive that [bonus],” Shelburne said. “He’s due the $4MM and he’s going to keep it.”

Shelburne acknowledges that “things could change” before the deal is officially completed, but if the Lakers finalize the trade on July 6 and Davis gets his $4MM trade bonus, it would leave L.A. with about $23.7MM in cap room, not nearly enough for a maximum-salary contract.

Let’s round up a few more notes and updates from around the Western Conference…

  • While Harrison Barnes will turn down his $25MM+ player option for the 2019/20 season, the Kings are confident they’ll be able to keep Barnes in the mix with a new long-term contract, a source tells James Ham of NBC Sports California.
  • Kelly Iko of the Athletic examines and downplays the rumors of discord between Rockets stars James Harden and Chris Paul. “If it’s the middle of September and issues aren’t resolved, then that would be different, but it’s not,” a team source told Iko. “Chris and James want to win a championship.”
  • After Spurs assistant Ettore Messina accepted a job running Olimpia Milano as their president and head coach, veteran guard Marco Belinelli was asked if he’d consider joining Messina in Italy, as Emiliano Carchia of Sportando relays. Belinelli didn’t rule out the possibility down the road, but said he’d like to sign at least one more NBA contract after his deal with San Antonio expires in 2020.
  • Tony Jones and Omari Sankofa II of The Athletic dig into whether there’s a match for a Mike Conley trade between the Jazz and Grizzlies.

Rockets Plan To Keep Spending, Add Another Top Player

The Rockets are planning to keep their starting five intact and will attempt to “add a third star or a top mid-level player to our core,” GM Daryl Morey said in an ESPN Radio interview on Monday.

Reports surfaced late last month after the Rockets were eliminated by the Warriors during the conference semifinals that Morey had made available everyone on his roster with the possible exception of James Harden. Morey declared on the Golic & Wingo show that he plans to keep the core group of Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon intact while adding another impact player to the mix.

Morey says he’s been given the green light from owner Tilman Fertitta to upgrade the roster, despite major luxury tax issues. The salaries next season for the above five players alone add up to approximately $115MM.

He also believes that with significant injuries to Warriors’ stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and despite the pending trade of Anthony Davis to the Lakers, the Rockets should be considered the Western Conference’s premier team.

“We feel like we should be the favorite in the West, and we’re going to do moves to show people that we should be the favorite in the West, and that’s going to create a little tension when we do that,” Morey said. “But at the end of the day, we’re going to have at least our starting five back, which again most teams are scrambling to keep it together and we’re going to spend mid-level, we’re going to spend into the tax. We’re going to be one of the most expensive rosters, like we were last year and this year, and we’re going to be right there.”

Morey also addressed a few other issues:

  • He downplayed any disconnect between his superstar guards. An in-depth story from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon detailed the turmoil within the organization, including the tension between their two best players due to the differences in their preferred playing styles and personalities. “Two competitive superstars at that level, there’s going to be times when they are extremely competitive, extremely focused on how do we get to that next level, and when we don’t there’s going to be frustration,” Morey said.
  • He expressed optimism that the organization will reach a contract extension agreement with coach Mike D’Antoni, who is entering the final year of his deal. D’Antoni’s agent indicated a week ago that there was a lack of progress. “He’s going to be our coach next year. We’re hoping to work things out for the future right now; if we don’t, we’re going to work it out after next season,” Morey said.
  • He insisted that Paul had not asked for a trade, though his contract would be tough to move anyway. Paul has three years and approximately $124MM remaining on his deal, which includes a player option in the final season.

Team USA Announces 20-Player Camp Roster For World Cup

USA Basketball has officially announced the group of 20 players that will participate in training camp this summer in advance of the 2019 FIBA World Cup. The camp will take place from August 5-9, and will be used to select the 12-man roster for this year’s World Cup in China.

The 20-man training camp roster is as follows:

  1. Harrison Barnes (Kings)
  2. Bradley Beal (Wizards)
  3. Anthony Davis (Pelicans)
  4. Andre Drummond (Pistons)
  5. Eric Gordon (Rockets)
  6. James Harden (Rockets)
  7. Tobias Harris (Sixers / FA)
  8. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)
  9. Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)
  10. Brook Lopez (Bucks / FA)
  11. Kevin Love (Cavaliers)
  12. Kyle Lowry (Raptors)
  13. CJ McCollum (Trail Blazers)
  14. Khris Middleton (Bucks)
  15. Paul Millsap (Nuggets)
  16. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
  17. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
  18. Myles Turner (Pacers)
  19. P.J. Tucker (Rockets)
  20. Kemba Walker (Hornets / FA)

“I am excited about getting to training camp in August and working with all of the players that have been selected to attend the USA National Team training camp in Las Vegas,” Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich said in a statement. “We’ve got an excellent cross-section of veteran USA Basketball and NBA players, as well as some exciting younger players who possess amazing versatility.

“I’m appreciative of commitment that our National Team players continue to make, and the eagerness of the new players to become involved,” Popovich continued. “Selecting a 12-man team will be extremely difficult.”

It will be an eventful summer for many of the players on the 20-man Team USA training camp roster. Besides Harris, Lopez, and Walker, who are all headed for unrestricted free agency and could be on new teams by August, players like Barnes, Middleton, and Millsap could reach the open market if their player or team options are declined. Others – including Davis, Gordon, Kuzma, Tatum, and Tucker – have been mentioned in trade rumors.

Kuzma and Mitchell are the only players on the roster who haven’t played internationally for Team USA in the past. Five player on the roster (Barnes, Davis, Harden, Love, and Lowry) have won gold medals for USA Basketball at the 2012 or 2016 Olympics, while two others (Drummond and Gordon) have taken home gold at previous World Cups.

Previous reports indicated that Zion Williamson, John Collins, and Marvin Bagley are expected to be among the players named to a 10-man select team that will scrimmage with Team USA’s 20-man roster at the training camp in August.

More Names Revealed For Team USA World Cup Tryouts

Team USA’s training camp roster for the FIBA World Cup will be announced next week, but four players have already been confirmed, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times.

Anthony Davis, James Harden, Donovan Mitchell and Kemba Walker will definitely be part of the team, while the other 14 slots are still being worked out. The roster will be trimmed to 12 when the players gather in Las Vegas in early August to prepare for the tournament, which takes place from August 31 to September 15 in China.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski drops a few more names in a full story on the World Cup tryouts, which sources tell him are also expected to include Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Bradley Beal and Kevin Love. Others planning to be part of the camp include Eric Gordon, Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Drummond and Kyle Kuzma.

P.J. Tucker will attend training camp as well, tweets ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, and league sources tell Woj that Paul Millsap also plans to be there. Other names leaked for the camp are Tobias Harris (Twitter link from Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer) and Myles Turner (Twitter link from Scott Agness of the Athletic).

Zion Williamson, expected to be the first pick in the draft later this month, has been invited to camp as part of the 10-man select team that will scrimmage against the 18-man roster, Stein tweets. Williamson will be given a chance to play his way onto the final roster if he has a standout performance in that role, according to USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo (Twitter link).

The select team will also include John Collins and Marvin Bagley, tweets Tim Bomtemps of ESPN.

The camp will be held from August 5-8, with exhibition games to follow before the start of World Cup play. Gregg Popovich will serve as head coach.