P.J. Tucker

Lawrence’s Latest: Rockets, Butler, Stotts, Suns

The Timberwolves didn’t show much interest in the Rocketstrade offer for Jimmy Butler that featured four first-round picks along with Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss, Mitch Lawrence of The Sporting News confirms. According to Lawrence, Tom Thibodeau views Knight and Chriss as “dead weight” and would prefer a deal that includes Eric Gordon and/or P.J. Tucker.

Meanwhile, Lawrence is also the latest reporter to identify the Sixers as a potential dark horse in the Butler sweepstakes. Lawrence suggests Philadelphia had hoped to trade the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder in a deal for Kawhi Leonard and could offer that pick to the Timberwolves in a Butler package.

Here’s more from Lawrence:

  • According to Lawrence, league executives think that Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor will bring in someone with strong ties to the franchise to run the front office next year. Lawrence identifies Chauncey Billups as one possible candidate.
  • Although Terry Stotts appears safe as the Trail Blazers‘ head coach for now, there are rival GMs and scouts that view his position as “tenuous,” says Lawrence. Stotts, whose contract runs through 2019/20, sought an extension in the offseason but was turned down by owner Paul Allen, according to Lawrence. Allen has since passed away and his sister Jody has always been more involved with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks than the NBA club, resulting in speculation about a Blazers sale, Lawrence notes. That could create further uncertainty for Stotts.
  • One Western Conference president on the Suns, according to Lawrence: “The minority owners are furious that [owner Robert] Sarver decided on his own to fire [GM Ryan] McDonough.”
  • Lawrence echoes an earlier report, writing that the Wizards are showing no inclination to break up their team or to fire head coach Scott Brooks. However, one Eastern Conference executive cautions that could change. “Brooks’ seat could get hotter if they don’t win and management thinks the team is better than it really is,” the exec tells Lawrence.

Wolves Want Gordon, Tucker From Rockets For Butler

After their latest round of Jimmy Butler discussions with Miami came to a standstill over the weekend, the Timberwolves reached out to the Rockets again on Tuesday morning, a league source tells Stefano Fusaro of ESPN (Twitter link). According to Fusaro, talks between the Wolves and Rockets have yet to advance, since Minnesota wants both Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker in any deal, and Houston is unwilling to put Tucker on the table.

The Wolves’ asking price in negotiations with the Rockets doesn’t come as a surprise. With James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela sure to be unavailable, Gordon and Tucker are Houston’s next-best assets. Marc Stein of The New York Times suggested last week that the Rockets may have to package both veterans, along with at least one first-round pick, in order to have a real chance to land Butler.

On the other hand, it makes sense that the Rockets would balk at that request from Minnesota. Gordon and Tucker are crucial pieces in Houston’s lineup, and Tucker is an especially good fit in a system which values versatile players who can make three-pointers and defend multiple positions. Having already lost a pair of reliable veterans who fit that bill – Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – the Rockets presumably aren’t eager to part with another one, plus additional assets, even if it means acquiring Butler.

Fusaro’s report comes on the heels of a Tuesday story which quoted Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta speaking about Butler. Fertitta told SBNation that he and the Rockets would “love to have” the Houston native if the price is right, a comment that seems likely to earn the owner a tampering fine.

Meanwhile, in other Butler news, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN tweets that he has “zero sense” that Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor balked at a Heat offer that featured Josh Richardson, a first-round pick, and cap filler. Stein had reported on Tuesday that the Wolves turned down an offer of that nature from Miami.

Wolfson’s tweet doesn’t necessarily suggest that the Timberwolves didn’t receive an offer that included Richardson and a first-rounder — it may simply have been front office executives Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden – rather than Taylor – who passed on Miami’s proposal. Either way, Wolfson noted in a follow-up tweet that he’s not sure he has covered another story where the two sides’ versions differ so much.

While it’s clear the Wolves are still exploring trade options for Butler, the team is also said to be preparing to open the regular season with him still on the roster, as Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic detailed on Tuesday. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter), Butler was in the Timberwolves’ locker room this morning, though that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll join his teammates on the court.

Wojnarowski adds that the Heat are still pursuing a potential Butler trade.

Southwest Notes: Rockets, Kawhi, Grizzlies, Pelicans

While Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has deservedly received much of the praise for shaping Houston’s roster into a title contender, Morey credit his star guard James Harden for his ability as a recruiter and a pitchman, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com.

“James was everything,” Morey said in discussing the Rockets’ roster building and the addition of Chris Paul. “Not only is he a great player on the floor, but he’s someone who’s just focused on winning and is willing to do anything to make it happen, whether it be meet with people, call them, text them, whatever is required. He makes my job easy.”

As MacMahon details, Harden and Paul were both instrumental in convincing P.J. Tucker to sign with the Rockets last summer. The veteran forward turned down a larger offer from the Raptors in order to join Harden and Paul in Houston, and he showed on Wednesday night how valuable he can be for the Rockets. Tucker, who scored 20 points in his first game with the team last October, hadn’t reached that mark again until he poured in 22 against Golden State in Game 2.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

Texas Notes: Mbah a Moute, Tucker, Mavericks, Spurs

After missing the Rockets‘ first playoff series with a dislocated right shoulder, Luc Mbah a Moute hopes to be ready today when his team opens the Western Conference semifinals against the Jazz, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN. On Saturday, Mbah a Moute went through his first full practice since the injury and believes he will be able to play.

“I’m ready in my mind,” said Mbah a Moute, who also suffered a dislocated shoulder in December. “I’ve done this already, so I’m not used to it, but I pretty much know what to expect.”

Officially listed as questionable, Mbah a Moute has been an impact player since coming to Houston in free agency last summer. He averaged 7.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game and has the best defensive numbers among the Rockets’ rotation players.

There’s more news today out of Texas:

  • P.J. Tucker, Houston’s other key free agent addition, has a lot of similarities with former Rocket Mario Elie, notes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. A member of the city’s two championship teams of the 1990s, Elie was known for his toughness and versatility, two qualities that define Tucker. “I just love his demeanor,” Elie said. “He’s like me. He’s angry on the court and that’s how he should be. He has no friends out there. He just competes. And what I like about him, is he guards multiple positions. That what he does that I really like, just like I did.”
  • The Mavericks could be indirect beneficiaries of LeBron James‘ free agency, suggests Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. No matter where James ends up, a team will likely have to unload a significant salary, which Dallas is in position to absorb. The Mavericks could wind up with Clint Capela from the Rockets, Robert Covington from the Sixers or Julius Randle from the Lakers, or if James stays in Cleveland, Dallas could pursue Pelicans free agent DeMarcus Cousins.
  • The focus in San Antonio will be on Kawhi Leonard this summer, but the Spurs have plenty of free agent concerns, states Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. If Danny Green opts out, Deveney expects him to get offers of $12MM to $14MM per year for three to four seasons, which may be higher than the Spurs are willing to go. It’s also doubtful that they would commit to an expensive long-term deal for Rudy Gay if he opts out.

Southwest Notes: Pelicans Future, Spurs, Tucker, Grizzlies

The recent death of owner Tom Benson could eventually result in the Pelicans franchise leaving New Orleans, Tom Ziller of SB Nation discusses in a detailed column. The Pelicans signed a lease six years ago to stay in New Orleans until 2024, but it’s still possible that the franchise could try to break that lease.

Even if Benson’s widow Gayle decides against that, the team’s current arena is 19 years old and will require major renovations if it’s not replaced altogether, Ziller notes. Should the team struggle to get funding for a building upgrade, it could grease the skids for a move, Ziller adds.

In other developments around the Southwest Division:

  • The adversity that the Spurs have faced this season has brought the team closer together, coach Gregg Popovich told the media, including ESPN’s Michael C. Wright. The reserves have received more opportunities to play and team members are pulling for one another, according to Popovich. “It’s rewarding to see guys react to the minutes that they’re getting; some of these young guys that haven’t played much,” he said. “The way they reach out to each other and stay good teammates while the lineups have constantly changed, they’ve shown a lot of empathy and patience with each other in that regard. And I think that has allowed them to keep their heads up.”
  • Rockets forward P.J. Tucker has never been named to the All-Defensive team and coach Mike D’Antoni believes that should change this season. “It doesn’t get much better than him,” D’Antoni told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. The Rockets’ defense ranks third in the league since Tucker became a starter, Feigen notes.
  • Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace will be looking for better shooters during the offseason, as he told Michael Wallace from the team’s website during a Q&A session. Asked about the upcoming draft, Wallace spoke in general terms about what type of players he’d target. “As far as our team need, you can always use outside shooting in the NBA of 2018,” he said. “It’s such a premium placed on the three-point shot, you can never have enough guys who can shoot the three. We also have to get more and more athletic.”
  • Mavs guard Dennis Smith Jr. will miss at least the next two games with an ankle sprain, according to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News. The team will play it safe with its star rookie but have no plans to shut him down. “He’s going to be out for a while, but it’s not serious,” coach Rick Carlisle said.

Rockets Notes: Ariza, Tucker, Green

Rockets forward Trevor Ariza is expected to miss the team’s four-game road trip because of a left hamstring injury, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets. He was injured during their game against the Suns on Sunday. With Ariza out, Luc Mbah a Moute will likely move into the starting lineup and Gerald Green will return to the rotation, Feigen adds“It’s always one thing and another,” guard Eric Gordon told Feigen about the team’s struggles with injuries this season. “The good thing about this team is we’re deep. Anybody to be replaced, we always do well.”

In other news involving the Rockets:

  • Forward P.J. Tucker has emerged as the team’s ironman, Feigen notes in a separate story. He has appeared in every game this season, averaging 5.3 PPG and 5.8 RPG in 26.8 MPG. Tucker, who signed a four-year, $32MM contract during free agency last July, has only missed one game over the past three seasons due to injury, Feigen adds. “I knock on wood every time I walk away from here,” Tucker told Feigen. “I don’t even think about it because I haven’t been injured. It doesn’t cross my mind.”
  • Green wasn’t upset about losing his rotation spot despite his hot shooting, as Feigen relays in yet another piece. Green has averaged 13.7 PPG and made 40.9% of his 3-point attempts in 12 games since the team signed him. But he had only played four minutes in three games until Ariza’s injury. “I’m blessed to have this type opportunity. I have a chance … to win a ring,” Green told Feigen. “Whatever role that I have on this team, I’m more than honored to have. Right now, I know my number is getting ready to be called. I’ve been in the gym working.”

Southwest Notes: Parker, Tucker, Powell

After seven months of inactivity, Tony Parker made his return to the Spurs lineup this week and the veteran’s presence was quickly felt. As ESPN’s Michael Wright reports, Parker’s return boosted the squad on an emotional level.

Big lift, especially emotionally more than anything,” Spurs shooting guard Danny Green said. “Just to see him warming up with us. I think everybody’s just happy for him, just to see him go through that process — the injury first, then taking that process of six to seven months of being out and not being able to play — and what he’s meant to us and this organization.”

Parker followed up his debut in the Spurs’ Monday night victory over Dallas with a 10-point, five-assist showing on Wednesday.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Rockets can use P.J. Tucker in the starting lineup or off the bench. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes that the versatile veteran will fill the same role regardless of how he’s utilized. “I’m going to go out and do my job,” Tucker said. “It doesn’t make a big deal. You’re going to play the same amount of minutes. And the way we play, it doesn’t really matter.
  • With an increased commitment to contributing in ways other than just scoring, Dwight Powell has found a way to ramp up his production for the Mavericks. As Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News writes, the 26-year-old’s rebounds, steals and blocks are all up this season despite playing a similar amount of minutes.
  • If the Mavericks are to ever become a coveted free agency destination, they’ll need to build themselves a young core, Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News writes. With Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes, they’re off to a good start.

Western Notes: Len, Gobert, Leonard, Rockets

Alex Len has become the odd man out in the Suns’ center rotation and he cannot hide his displeasure, Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic reports. Len signed a one-year, $4.2MM qualifying offer with Phoenix after failing to receive an offer sheet that he found acceptable as a restricted free agent over the summer. Len has not played in two of the three last games, as interim coach Jay Triano has decided to ride veterans Tyson Chandler and recently-acquired Greg Monroe“I put in the work hoping to show my skills on the court,” Len told Bordow. “So when you’re not able to help your team, it’s frustrating.” Len’s lack of playing time won’t help his cause when he enters the market again next summer, this time as an unrestricted free agent.

In other news around the Western Conference:

  • Jazz center Rudy Gobert is participating in on-court individual drills at practice, Eric Woodyard of The Deseret News tweets. This could be a sign that Gobert, who is recovering from a right knee injury, will return to action sooner than the four- to six-week timetable given on November 12th. Gobert injured the knee in a collision with Heat guard Dion Waiters.
  • Spurs All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard is making significant progress from the right quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out of action all season, coach Gregg Popovich told Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express News and other media members. Popovich, who jokingly scoffed at “Doctor” Tony Parker‘s estimation that Leonard could return in two or three weeks, said Leonard would soon participate in 5-on-5 practice drills. “He’s getting very close and making progress,” Popovich said. “He’s having contact now and hopefully we will get him back shortly.”
  • The Rockets are not experiencing chemistry issues because the veterans they acquired know how to blend in, according to Hunter Atkins of The Houston Chronicle. Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute know what it takes to work well with others and it shows now that the team is playing at full strength, Atkins adds.

Southwest Rumors: Noel, Carmelo, Tucker, Pondexter

Mavs big man Nerlens Noel will likely come off the bench this season behind Dirk Nowitzki, coach Rick Carlisle told Tim MacMahon of ESPN and other media members. Noel started 12 of 22 games after being acquired from the 76ers in February. Carlisle informed Noel and agent Rich Paul of his plans over the weekend, MacMahon adds. “At this point in time, Dirk at the 5 position is probably the best scenario for Dirk and for our team, and I just don’t think that Dirk is a guy that’s going to come off the bench as long as I’m here,” Carlisle said. “So there’s a very good chance that Nerlens will come off the bench.” Noel had a tumultuous summer as a restricted free agent, changing agents and ultimately signing Dallas’ qualifying offer of $4.1MM when he didn’t get the contract offers he expected. Noel will an unrestricted free agent next summer.

In other developments around the Southwest Division:

  • The Rockets were never close to acquiring Carmelo Anthony before he was traded to the Thunder, according to a Houston Chronicle report. GM Daryl Morey said he wasn’t disappointed that he failed to work out something with the Knicks, the report adds. “We were involved in rumors in a situation he was very interested in coming here,” he said. “We had some interest if we could maybe work it out, but never did.”
  • Small forward P.J. Tucker will miss some of training camp because of a hamstring injury, according to another Chronicle report. Tucker suffered the injury during a recent workout but it’s not considered a major issue, the report adds. Tucker signed a four-year contract with the Rockets as a free agent this summer.
  • Former Pelicans forward Quincy Pondexter contracted a life-threatening infection while awaiting a third surgery on his problematic knee in January, he told Chris Haynes of ESPN. He required surgery to flush out the infection and spent a month in the hospital after the knee operation, Haynes continues. Pondexter was then dealt to the Bulls earlier this month. “It was a shock,” Pondexter told Haynes. “I was tired of letting the organization and fans down the last two years, and I wanted to do my best to help the Pelicans return to the playoffs. It was definitely a gut punch.” He also said he was never fined or missed an appointment during his knee rehab in 2015, refuted what coach Alvin Gentry claimed at the time.
  • Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge shrugged off the trade rumors this summer and came to camp with something to prove, Melissa Rohlin of the San Antonio Express-News reports. “I’m a guy who is never satisfied,” he told Rohlin. “I’m definitely going to show that I can play my game and I’m still good.”

Rockets Notes: Capela, Tax, Anderson, Gupta

While Rockets president of basketball operations Daryl Morey doesn’t want to be making roster decisions with one specific rival in mind, he acknowledges in a Q&A with Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle that it’s impossible not to consider the Warriors at this point when making signings and trades.

“We know we’re going to face them,” Morey said of the Dubs. “We obviously have to get through some extremely tough teams, the Spurs, Oklahoma City, Memphis, you name it. To get there. But if you know you are going to be facing a team if you’re having the season you want, and we want to be all the way to the championship, I think it does make sense to focus on that team.”

Morey pointed to the signings of Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker as moves that were made with the Warriors in mind. Both veteran forwards are strong defenders who would probably match up with the likes of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in a playoff series against Golden State.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • Asked by Feigen about the possibility of an extension for Clint Capela, Morey pointed out that contract extensions are getting trickier to pull off around the NBA, since the salary cap isn’t increasingly quite as quickly as initially anticipated, and long-term commitments are starting to add up for many teams across the league.
  • In Houston’s case, new deals for Capela, Chris Paul, and Trevor Ariza next summer would create luxury-tax issues for the club. While Morey didn’t comment specifically about new owner Tilman Fertitta‘s willingness to pay the tax, he told Feigen that Fertitta is “all about winning” and will do what it takes to win. Morey also noted that he has met with the Rockets’ incoming owner a couple times already.
  • Morey tells Feigen that he spoke to Ryan Anderson this week about the Knicks-related trade rumors that have been swirling around Anderson all offseason. “Players get frustrated,” Morey said. “It’s rare for a GM to get frustrated because we have to deal with it all the time, but this one has been frustrating because it’s lingering and not much is accurate out there.”
  • The Rockets announced today that Sachin Gupta has rejoined the team as a special advisor (link via Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston). Gupta was Morey’s first hire back in 2006, but left Houston to become a consultant for the Sixers during Sam Hinkie’s stint in Philadelphia.