P.J. Tucker

Rockets Notes: Harden, Tucker, Van Gundy, Bench

James Harden believes he’s taken for granted around the basketball world, as he told Rachel Nichols of ESPN (Twitter link). “I feel like I’m the best player,” said the former Most Valuable Player, who once again leads the league in scoring. “Throughout the course of the year, I don’t see double teams for anybody else. Usually, you’ll see a double team after a 50-point night or a 60-point night. I have an 18-point night, the next game I’m seeing a double-team.”

Harden also took a dig at Giannis Antetokounmpo, who joked while choosing his All-Star squad that he didn’t want Harden because he preferred someone who passed the ball. “I wish I could just go to the rim at 7-feet and just dunk,” Harden said. “That takes no skill at all.”

We have more on the Rockets:

  • P.J. Tucker has accepted his new role as the team’s middle man in its Microball lineup, Sam Amick of The Athletic reports. Tucker says it’s just part of the job description of a team player. “It’s not a choice,” he said. “It’s like when people ask me why I play so hard. Like, it’s not a choice to play hard. I don’t have a choice. That’s what you’ve got to do. Period.”
  • Broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy doled out praise to coach Mike D’Antoni and GM Daryl Morey for their willingness to take criticism by embracing unconventional lineups, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle relays. “I admire their basketball courage,” Van Gundy said. “They have true conviction. They don’t waffle. They believe in what they believe. And they are unafraid of the consequences or the criticism. That’s when you can coach freely and manage freely.”
  • The recent additions of Jeff Green and DeMarre Carroll have made the team’s bench much more formidable, Kelly Iko of The Athletic writes. Forward Danuel House is noticing the difference. “It makes your team a very dangerous team,” House said. “Especially with your starting five. If your starting five is capable of putting up points and your bench is capable of putting up points, the team can stay consistent. There are no highs or lows, so that’s really good for our team.”

Rockets Notes: House, Gordon, Tucker, Westbrook

The Rockets will have to sort out their starting lineup and bench rotation due to recent additions and subtractions and coach Mike D’Antoni will do a lot of experimenting, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes. The first order of business is to choose between forward Danuel House Jr. and guard Eric Gordon as the fifth starter in the team’s small-ball lineup. House started and played 19 minutes on Thursday against Golden State but Gordon was sidelined by a shin injury.

Gordon hopes that D’Antoni doesn’t waste too much time making up his mind.  “As a player, it’s a totally different mentality when you’re starting or coming off the bench,” he told Feigen. “We definitely have to get our roles set as we go on.”

We have more on the Rockets:

  • Golden State forward Draymond Green believes the Rockets’ small-ball look is working because of P.J. Tucker‘s unselfish play as a very undersized center, Feigen relays in another story. “They look good at it,” said Green, who has played a lot of center in small ball units with the Warriors. “And they have some guys that are good at it. It helps a lot having P.J. because he can anchor that lineup. If you throw another shooter, a guard out there, it’s not going to work. The person that makes it work is P.J.”
  • By trading center Clint Capela, the Rockets opened up more space for Westbrook to operate, as Kelly Iko of The Athletic details. Westbrook believes it has made a difference. “I just try to find ways to make an impact,” Westbrook said. “Obviously, with this style of playing, different guys on the floor have to be able to guard in a lot of space, which is to my advantage. See, internally, we don’t think it’s small ball. We just play our personnel and go compete, and that’s it.”
  • Westbrook becomes nearly as efficient a scorer as James Harden when there isn’t a true center on the floor, as Kelvin Pelton of ESPN details. His true shooting percentage in those lineups is the best in his entire career. Westbrook never developed pick-and-roll chemistry with Capela and he’s benefited from having help defenders pulled away from the basket since he’s surrounded by 3-point shooters, Pelton adds.

Western Notes: Leonard, Beasley, Chriss, Tucker

The All-Star Game provided a glimpse of how dominant the Lakers would have been if Kawhi Leonard had signed with them instead of the Clippers, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times notes. The trio of Leonard, LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 27 of Team LeBron’s first 30 points.

“I didn’t really go there mentally,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “It was an All-Star game. It’s an exhibition. I had fun with that aspect of it, but I love my Lakers team.”

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Guard Malik Beasley has been rejuvenated by getting traded to the Timberwolves, Mike Singer of the Denver Post points out. Beasley was a victim of the Nuggets’ depth but he’s now getting steady minutes with Minnesota, which will pump up his value entering restricted free agency. “It’s good to see him have the opportunity and take advantage of it,” former teammate Jamal Murray said.
  • Reclamation projects such as Marquese Chriss are the types of players the Warriors will need to improve their roster, according to Marcus Thompson of The Athletic. Chriss can eventually complement the trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green by running the floor, finishing at the rim and rebounding, Thompson continues. Chriss has been especially productive since signing a two-year, $2.5MM deal and that’s significant, since the Warriors won’t have salary-cap space to upgrade their roster by many other methods for at least two more seasons, Thompson adds.
  • Former Rockets guard Chris Paul says Houston should give P.J. Tucker a contract extension, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle relays. Tucker, who will earn just under $8MM in the final year of his contract in 2020/21, will be extension-eligible during the offseason. He has been playing center in a very undersized lineup in recent games.

Rockets To Fully Guarantee Fourth Season Of P.J. Tucker’s Contract

The Rockets are planning to fully guarantee the fourth season of P.J. Tucker‘s contract, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Tucker’s salary of $7.97MM will now be completely guaranteed for the 2020/21 season, with the veteran forward accepting a larger role in Houston’s rotation following the trade deadline last week. Only $2.57MM was originally guaranteed.

Tucker, who turns 35 in May, will likely serve as the Rockets’ starting center going forward as they test a new variation of small-ball. He’s taken the challenging task head-on thus far, holding his ground in the middle despite being only 6-foot-5.

Tucker was drafted 35th overall back in 2006 and has established himself as one of the league’s most physical defenders. He appeared in all 82 games during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons for Houston, averaging 7.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and a career-high 34.9 minutes in 52 contests this year.

Houston has several of its key rotation players under contract with Tucker for next season, including James Harden ($40.8MM), Russell Westbrook ($41MM), Eric Gordon ($16.8MM) and Robert Covington ($12.1MM). The team is 6.5 games out of first place in the West at 33-19.

Rockets’ Daryl Morey Talks Tucker, Roster, Tax, More

We’ll have to wait a little longer to find out what Rockets general manager Daryl Morey thinks about the joint ruling made by the NBA and NBPA on Nene‘s incentive-heavy contract, a ruling which will reduce his trade value and essentially invalidate some creative cap work by Houston’s front office.

Before that ruling was reported though, Morey sat down with Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle to answer some other questions about the Rockets’ offseason and the upcoming 2019/20 season.

Feigen’s Q&A with the team’s top decision-maker is worth checking out in full, but here are a few of Morey’s most interesting comments from the discussion:

On whether Morey believes the Rockets will enter the season as the Western Conference favorites:

“Yes. We’re favorites. But as usual, there is some very tough competition: Clippers, Lakers, Utah. Then I’d say people are probably underrating Golden State still. We have a healthy respect for them. But we go in shooting for the No. 1 seed.”

On whether or not the Rockets have a “load management” plan in mind for their stars:

“I think there is a good chance you’ll see some guys resting when healthy. It all depends on the context of the season. If we start 7-11 again, I don’t think there’ll be a lot of resting. We’ll be battling for the playoffs. Everything is contextual. We need at all times to be looking at the ultimate goal of wining a title and what is the best decision. That’s why we don’t like to have any hard and fast rules. I don’t think that’s pragmatic.”

On whether the Rockets are interested in working out a contract extension with P.J. Tucker, who has two years left on his current deal:

“We’re open to the concept of extensions early. We have done it with players in the past. Normally, it’s the James Harden-type players. We’re open to it. That said, I have found you don’t really get to an agreement with what both sides are looking at to how the extension can work realistically until you are one year out. I wouldn’t expect any other extension from us this year, mostly because everyone is signed for multiple years.

On whether the Rockets, who have 18 players under contract, will make more additions:

“We’re going to have 20 going into camp. We can only keep 17 (including players on two-way contracts). Right now, we have nine fully guaranteed. I think we do have more roster opportunity than any team in the league at least for the back end of the rotation or guys that might come in if we take an injury.”

On whether Rockets ownership is willing to pay the tax:

“I’ve been authorized to do what it takes to win a title. … I would expect we’ll be over the tax at some point.”

Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Paul, Harden

Speaking to Sam Amick of The Athletic, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta discussed his fondness for incentive-based contracts (“I believe that when you perform well you should make more money”), the possibility of an extension for P.J. Tucker (“It hasn’t come to my desk”), and a handful of other topics.

One of Fertitta’s most interesting comments was about replacing Chris Paul with Russell Westbrook. While he didn’t come right out and say it, the Rockets’ owner suggested that Westbrook will help increase Houston’s pace and perhaps complement Harden better both on and off the court.

“We used to be one of the top transition teams (in the league), and we’ve slowed down the last few years,” Fertitta said, alluding to the fact that the Rockets ranked 27th in pace last season after placing in the top five as recently as 2016/17. “And James and Russ go back a long ways in California, so they can talk to each other like brothers, you know, instead of one (player) thinking that he’s the mentor.”

Fertitta went on to clarify that he thinks Paul still has plenty left in the tank and will have a great season in Oklahoma City, but that Westbrook is “just a little bit better fit” for the way the Rockets want to play.

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • In a separate recent interview, Fertitta spoke about the Rockets’ championship window essentially being open for the next four years or so. Kelly Iko of The Athletic looks back at the club’s offseason and examines whether Houston can reasonably expect to contend for a title during the next four seasons.
  • The Rockets may shun the “load management” label, but team officials have a plan to take some of the scoring and play-making burden off of James Harden this season, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report. As Beck notes, Houston’s goal is to keep Harden as fresh as possible for the postseason to ensure he’s still performing at an elite level in the spring.
  • Within his feature on Harden, Beck spoke to the former MVP about the goals he still has for the rest of his NBA careers as he enters his 30s. “I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” Harden said. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game.”
  • Earlier today, we passed along word that the NBA is still reviewing Nene‘s contract with the Rockets. The league is said to be discussing internally whether it should disapprove of the incentives in the agreement.

Southwest Notes: Gordon, Rockets, Wright, Langdon

After up-and-down stints in L.A. and New Orleans earlier in his career, Eric Gordon has found a long-term NBA home he likes in Houston. Speaking to Kelly Iko of The Athletic after signing a new four-year extension with the Rockets, Gordon explained why things have worked so well with his current team.

“There’s no perfect organization. But Houston has a good following, great fans — great city to play in,” Gordon said of the Rockets. “It makes it much easier, being on a winning team. I think since I’ve been here, we’ve never gone less than 54 wins. You definitely want to be a part of something like that, and it makes everything smoother. We’ve always had great coaches and good trainers; it makes the decision easier. Everyone wants to make the most money, but it makes it even better playing for a solid organization.”

Since arriving in Houston in 2016, Gordon has knocked down 36.4% of his three-point attempts, never topping 37.2% in a single season. However, he tells Iko that his goal for the 2019/20 season is to “shoot at a very high clip” from beyond the arc. Noting that scoring efficiently will be a priority for the Rockets this year, the veteran shooting guard said he’d love to see his three-point percentage “in the 40s.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights breaks down Gordon’s extension, suggesting that it should provide the Rockets with good value unless the veteran’s injury woes resurface or his game ages unexpectedly poorly. Siegel also explores the idea of a new extension for another Rocket, P.J. Tucker.
  • Delon Wright‘s new contract with the Mavericks features $1.05MM annually in unlikely incentives, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon and Bobby Marks (Twitter link). Wright would earn $350K for a spot on an All-Defensive team, $350K for an All-Star nod, and another $350K if he wins the league’s Most Improved Player award.
  • Although David Griffin is running the show in the Pelicans‘ front office, new general manager Trajan Langdon will play a key role too. Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com takes an in-depth look at what Langdon brings to the franchise.

Team USA Notes: Fox, White, Mitchell, Tucker

Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com was surprised when De’Aaron Fox pulled out of international competition, as he explains in a collaborate piece with ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. Leading up to Fox’s departure, many reports had him as one of the best players at Team USA’s functions and Windhorst writes that Fox would have been a lock to make the team.

Here’s more from the ESPN piece as well as other notes concerning Team USA:

  • Did Fox leave because he was worried that coach Gregg Popovich would select Spurs guard Derrick White over him? Windhorst doesn’t believe so. White may make the team but it’ll be because of his exceptional play rather than any preferential treatment.
  • Donovan Mitchell has been the most impressive player at USA Basketball functions, Youngmisuk contends (same piece). Mitchell is treating the FIBA World Cup as not just an opportunity to win the tournament but to advance his game and position himself for a roster spot on next year’s Olympics team.
  • P.J. Tucker, who recently dropped out of competition for USA Basketball, was a near-lock to make the roster, as Kelly Iko of The Athletic relays. Team USA Teammate Khris Middleton was surprised that the veteran decided to leave the team. “Yeah, we were very surprised,” Middleton said. “But, you know, P.J. is a great player. A tough guy, a vet, that’s been around this league, been around this world, and is experienced. He’s a tough player.”

P.J. Tucker “Optimistic” About Receiving Extension

Forward P.J. Tucker is “optimistic” about reaching an extension agreement with the Rockets, Kelly Iko of The Athletic reports.

The upcoming campaign is the last fully guaranteed season on his four-year, $32MM contract that was signed in 2016. He’ll receive $8.35MM in 2019/20 before dropping to $7.97MM in its final year. That ’20/21 salary is also only partially guaranteed for approximately $2.57MM, per Basketball Insiders’ data.

Tucker believes something must happen sooner rather than later.

“It’s time for my extension right now, so we’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. I’m optimistic, we’ll see.”

Tucker, 34, played a crucial role for the Rockets in 2018/19, starting all 82 games for the club and averaging 7.3 PPG and 5.8 RPG in 34.2 MPG. He averaged 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.

Tucker was considered a safe bet to make Team USA’s World Cup roster before he withdrew due to an ankle injury suffered in practice. He expressed his desire for a contract extension earlier this summer but his latest comments point to mutual interest in getting something done.

Extending his deal by one or two seasons and guaranteeing his ’20/21 salary would be the most logical course of action. The over-38 rule would complicate an extension longer than two years.

P.J. Tucker Withdraws From Team USA Due To Ankle Injury

Another veteran has withdrawn from Team USA’s World Cup roster, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, who reports (via Twitter) that an ankle injury will sideline P.J. Tucker. The Rockets forward will focus on getting healthy and preparing for training camp, per Charania.

Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle notes (via Twitter) that Tucker turned his left ankle in a practice on Thursday and has been diagnosed with a mild sprain. The 34-year-old had been “extremely enthusiastic” about participating in the World Cup, so he’ll be disappointed to miss it, Feigen adds.

It was less than a week ago that USA Basketball announced 17 finalists for its World Cup roster. Since then, Tucker, Kyle Lowry, and Marvin Bagley have all pulled out, leaving 14 contenders for the final 12-man roster.

Harrison Barnes, Jaylen BrownDe’Aaron FoxJoe HarrisKyle KuzmaBrook Lopez, Khris MiddletonDonovan MitchellMason PlumleeMarcus SmartJayson Tatum, Myles TurnerKemba Walker, and Derrick White remain in the mix to represents Team USA in China. The 2019 World Cup will get underway on August 31.