P.J. Tucker

Rockets Plan To Keep Spending, Add Another Top Player

The Rockets are planning to keep their starting five intact and “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.

P.J. Tucker Interested In Contract Extension

P.J. Tucker would “love” to discuss a contract extension with the Rockets this offseason, two people close to the veteran forward tell Kelly Iko of The Athletic. While it’s not clear if the Rockets are ready to get something done with two years still remaining on Tucker’s deal, both sides have talked about his long-term future, Iko writes.

As we detailed earlier today, Tucker appears to be very much available in trade talks, so it remains to be seen whether he’ll even be in Houston by the time the 2019/20 season gets underway. However, Iko says the Rockets would like to have Tucker retire with the team and perhaps even take on a role with the franchise after his playing days are over. A Tucker trade would elicit “strong disapproval” from James Harden and head coach Mike D’Antoni, Iko adds.

Although Tucker turned 34 years old last month, he continued to play a crucial role for the Rockets in 2018/19, starting all 82 games for the club and averaging 38.7 MPG in 11 playoff contests. His ability to knock down threes on offense (.377 3PT%), along with his versatility on the defensive end, makes him one of the club’s most valuable players.

He’s also on a team-friendly contract that runs through the 2020/21 season. That deal will pay him $8.35MM in 2019/20 before dipping to $7.97MM in its final year. That ’20/21 salary is also only partially guaranteed for about $2.57MM, per Basketball Insiders’ data.

While it’s hard to imagine the Rockets tacking too many more years onto Tucker’s contract (assuming they retain him), extending his deal by one or two seasons and guaranteeing his ’20/21 salary could make sense. The over-38 rule would complicate an extension longer than two years.

Eric Gordon will be another candidate for an extension if he remains on the Rockets’ roster, Iko notes. Gordon and Tucker will both become extension-eligible in July.

Stein’s Latest: Capela, Gordon, Tucker, Lakers, Wolves, Grizzlies

When ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week that the Rockets were making virtually everyone on their roster besides James Harden available in trade talks, it was presented as general manager Daryl Morey doing his due diligence and being open to all options. Morey and owner Tilman Fertitta later praised Houston’s starting five and predicted it would return intact next season.

In his latest newsletter, however, Marc Stein of The New York Times paints a different picture. According to Stein, the Rockets are “actively” exploring the trade market for possible deals involving Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and/or P.J. Tucker. One source with knowledge of the club’s thinking tells Stein that Houston is operating as if at least one of those three players won’t be on the roster next season.

Gordon, who has one year and $14MM left on his contract, and Tucker, who has about $16MM+ left over two years, may be easier for the Rockets to move than Capela, since they’re veterans capable of fitting in anywhere and wouldn’t require a long-term salary commitment. However, Capela’s four years of team control may appeal to a club that’s looking for an answer at center and hoping to avoid overpaying a free agent.

As we wait to see what Morey has up his sleeve, here are a few more minor items from Stein:

  • While the amount of years and money the Lakers were willing to offer Tyronn Lue contributed to negotiations breaking down, a disagreement over his staff was also a factor. According to Stein, general manager Rob Pelinka and advisor Kurt Rambis wanted to be able to select Lue’s assistants.
  • The Timberwolves are taking a similar approach under new head of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, according to Stein, who notes that Rosas brought back Ryan Saunders but dismissed his entire staff. Stein writes that Saunders wanted to hire Sidney Lowe as his lead assistant, but was rebuffed by management.
  • The Grizzlies, the only team still seeking a new head coach, are believed to be considering a new bench model. Memphis wants to have at least one of its assistant coaches hold a dual title that includes some personnel responsibilities, says Stein.

Rockets Gauge Market For Capela; CP3 Also Potentially Available

After a disappointing second-round exit to the Warriors in this year’s playoffs, general manager Daryl Morey and the Rockets are showing an aggressive desire to upgrade their roster in calls to front offices, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter).

According to Wojnarowski, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where James Harden gets traded, but the Rockets are making virtually all of their players and picks available in discussions. Even someone like Chris Paul could be moved in the right deal, Woj adds.

Meanwhile, Marc Stein of The New York Times reports (via Twitter) that Clint Capela is among the players whose market value the Rockets have been gauging in recent days.

While the Rockets would be reluctant to move someone like Paul, who has been a key contributor to their success over the last two years, it’s not clear how much value he’d even have on the trade market. The veteran point guard’s numbers slipped a little in 2018/19 (his 15.6 PPG and .419 FG% were career lows), he’s entering his age-34 season, and he’s owed $124MM over the next three years.

Capela’s career résumé isn’t as decorated as Paul’s, but he may be the more valuable asset at this point due to a more team-friendly contract. Having missed out on some incentives that were considered likely this season, Capela has a cap hit below $15MM in 2019/20, and is under contract through 2022/23, his age-28 season.

Outside of Harden, Paul, and Capela, the only two Rockets players with guaranteed contracts for 2019/20 are Eric Gordon ($14MM) and P.J. Tucker ($8.35MM), both of whom are good values. Nene may also pick up his $3.8MM player option, while Isaiah Hartenstein, Gary Clark, Chris Chiozza, and Michael Frazier all have non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed minimum-salary deals.

Of course, the Rockets have never been shy about making their draft picks available in trade talks. The club reportedly offered the Timberwolves four future first-rounders last fall for Jimmy Butler, but Minnesota passed on that offer.

Even if Houston doesn’t make any huge moves this offseason, the roster figures to undergo a good deal of change. Rotation players like Iman Shumpert, Gerald Green, Austin Rivers, and Kenneth Faried will all be unrestricted free agents, while Danuel House is up for a new contract via restricted free agency.

NBA Announces 2018/19 All-Defensive Teams

The NBA has officially announced its All-Defensive teams for the 2018/19 season, with Jazz center Rudy Gobert once again coming in as the leading vote-getter.

Gobert, a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, was listed on 99 of 100 ballots, with 97 of those ballots giving him a First Team vote, for a total of 196 points (two points per First Team vote; one point per Second Team vote). The All-Defensive nod ensures that the big man receives a $500K bonus, which had been considered likely since he was named to an All-Defensive team last season, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

Gobert was closely followed by fellow Defensive Player of the Year candidates Paul George (Thunder) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), who received 195 and 193 total points, respectively.

[RELATED: NBA Announces 2018/19 All-Rookie Teams]

Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday secured a $100K bonus by earning a spot on the All-Defensive Second Team, notes Marks (via Twitter). Like Davis, he was an All-Defensive player last season as well, so that bonus had been considered likely — his cap hits for this year or next won’t be impacted by him earning it.

Here are the full voting results for the All-Defensive First and Second Teams, with each player’s point total noted in parentheses:

First Team:

Second Team:

Raptors guard Danny Green actually totaled 66 points, including 19 First Team votes, while Clippers guard Patrick Beverley had 48 points (14 First Team votes). However, All-Defensive teams are determined by position, so they didn’t make the cut because they ranked fifth and sixth in voting among guards.

Pacers center Myles Turner (39 points), Rockets forward P.J. Tucker (38), Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (24), and Spurs guard Derrick White (15) were the other leading vote-getters.

You can find the full voting results right here.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rockets Owner Promises To Upgrade Roster

The Rockets have no plans to hit the restart button after their Game 6 flop at home against the Warriors. Owner Tilman Fertitta is intent on improving the roster to help the core group get over the hump in future playoffs, Tim MacMahon of ESPN reports.

“I’m very fortunate to have the starting five that I have, but if we can make this team better, we’re going to make this team better,” Fertitta said. “That’s just a fact. I have a great team. I love all five of my starting five, but it’s my job to make sure that we put the best team that we can put on the court next year.”

It’s one thing to say that upgrades are forthcoming. It’s another thing to pull that off when the team already has major salary cap issues. The combined salaries of James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker alone put Houston over the projected cap of $109MM for next season.

Harden isn’t going anywhere, so unless the Rockets could somehow unload Paul’s contract — he’s owed a whopping $124MM over the next three years — they’re not going to gain significant cap relief in a trade. The Rockets do have nine trade exceptions they can utilize but none are worth more than $3.62MM.

Houston’s bench is bound to look different because virtually all of its reserves become free agents or have non-guaranteed contracts for next season. The only exception is veteran big man Nene, who can exercise a $3,825,360 player option.

Both of their draft picks this June were traded away in previous deals, with the first-rounder being conveyed to the Cavaliers and the second-rounder going to the Knicks.

The only other major asset Houston will have at its disposal is the $5.7MM mid-level exception for a taxpaying team. Perhaps the Rockets can entice a quality player to sign for below-market value in order to join a contending team.

Otherwise, GM Daryl Morey will have his work cut out for him to create a deeper and more productive bench. Fertitta remains optimistic the Rockets will be champions in the near future.

“I can promise you, we’re going to win some championships with James Harden, because we are not going to sit here,” he said. “We will go to battle every year. We’re going to have a strong offseason, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to be a better team. We are not going to sit on our hands, I can promise you that.”

Rockets Notes: Tucker, Faried, Clark, Harden

Rockets point guard Chris Paul is openly campaigning for forward P.J. Tucker to make the league’s All-Defensive First Team, but Tucker isn’t looking for individual accolades, as he told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

“I don’t know why he’s doing that,” Tucker said. “I’m not one of those guys that’s going to make my case for making it, be mad and cry if I don’t. I don’t care. I want to win. I don’t care if somebody says I’m the best or the worst defender. I’m going to go out and do what I do every single night no matter what. I never got praise for anything I’ve done so I don’t look for it.”

Barring a trade, Tucker will remain the team’s perimeter stopper for at least one more season. Tucker’s $8,349,039 salary for next season is locked in, though his $8MM salary for the 2020/21 season is not guaranteed.

We have more on the Rockets:

  • Power forward Kenneth Faried is expected to return on Monday after missing five games with a sore hip and strained adductor, Feigen reports. Faried has posted 14.9 PPG and 9.4 RPG in 16 games since signing with Houston after he was waived by Brooklyn in January.
  • The salary protection for forward Gary Clark is locked in at $708,426 for the 2019/20 season, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. The Houston forward had a clause in his contract that would have guaranteed his full salary ($1.4MM) if he appeared in more than 36 games and either played in one playoff game or was waived by April 10. Clark has appeared in 41 games but 21 were played under his two-way deal, which didn’t count toward those 36 games. Clark did not play in Sunday’s win over Dallas.
  • James Harden‘s play has created a new way of evaluating players, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle to Feigen and other media members. “It’s a pretty remarkable phenomenon,” Carlisle said. “I don’t know if there’s ever been anything quite like this. They’re extremely effective. He’s extremely effective. It’s bringing new metrics into play and things like that. There’s a lot of people studying it, looking at it. … One I heard this year is there is now a statistic on stepback shots, which I had never heard of before this year.”

Rockets Notes: House, Ariza, LeBron

As the Rockets got off to a rough start, a big issue plaguing the team was a lack of depth, especially on the wing. With Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute departing in the offseason and Carmelo Anthony deemed too much of a negative to be part of the rotation, the Rockets were left with James Ennis and not much else.

That is where the emergence of Danuel House comes into play. As Jonathan Feigen writes for The Houston Chronicle, House has stepped up in recent games and provided a much-needed lift for the Rockets. House insists he is focused on hitting shots, playing solid defense and providing energy off the bench, especially as Ennis recently went down with an injury and Eric Gordon has been inserted into the starting lineup.

The Rockets have started to turn things around in recent games, with House providing an unexpected jolt off the bench just when the team needed one.

There’s more from the Rockets:

  • The Rockets have surely missed Ariza’s presence and leadership, which Tania Ganguli details for The Los Angeles Times. Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker are quoted on the value that Ariza can bring to a locker room, especially on the Rockets team that had high aspirations last season.
  • A brief but flashy storyline in the offseason was the potential that LeBron James would join his friend Chris Paul and defending MVP James Harden in Houston to form a new super team. Of course, that never happened and Dave McMenamin of ESPN reveals (via Twitter) that James didn’t give much thought to actually joining the Rockets.
  • The Rockets recently emerged as a potential suitor for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the 25-year-old shooting guard from the Lakers. Caldwell-Pope can provide defense and 3-point shooting, which the Rockets could use more of moving forward.