P.J. Tucker

Fertitta: No Plans To “Blow Up” Rockets’ Roster

The Rockets are undergoing some major changes this offseason, having parted ways with head coach Mike D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey since being eliminated from the playoffs in September. However, appearing today on CNBC (video link via Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston), team owner Tilman Fertitta indicated that he doesn’t expect those major offseason changes to extend to Houston’s roster.

“There’s no reason to blow up your roster. This is still our window, the next couple of years. James (Harden) and Russell (Westbrook) are in their early 30s. We’re not blowing up anything,” Fertitta said, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). “We plan on contending. … We’re going to do whatever we have to do to win.”

The Rockets’ roster and style of play in recent years has been significantly shaped by Morey and D’Antoni, who favored a fast-paced style of small-ball that featured plenty of three-point attempts. With both men leaving the organization this offseason, there has been some speculation that Houston will adjust its offensive philosophy and roster construction, which could pave the way for a trade involving a former MVP like Harden or Westbrook.

However, Houston’s new head of basketball operations Rafael Stone has been a Morey lieutenant for years, so it makes sense that his approach wouldn’t deviate too substantially from his longtime boss’. And Fertitta’s comments today suggest that the Rockets will enter the offseason looking to upgrade their roster around the edges in the hopes of making a deeper playoff run in 2021.

The Rockets’ situation is still worth keeping an eye on — if the team gets off to a disastrous start next season and reconsiders its stance on the state of its roster, it wouldn’t be just Harden and Westbrook who could become intriguing trade chips. P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington are valuable role players on team-friendly contracts who would draw leaguewide interest if they were made available.

Rockets Rumors: Green, Tucker, Nwaba, Coaching Search

Former Rockets swingman Gerald Green, who missed the entire 2019/20 season due to a broken foot, is training privately in Houston and is hoping to eventually reunite with the Rockets, league sources tell Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Green, 34, began the ’19/20 campaign with the Rockets, but didn’t suit up for any games, having undergone foot surgery on October before he was eventually traded and waived in February. A July report indicated that Green has since recovered from that procedure and received medical clearance, but decided not to seek a new deal until the fall for family reasons, including the expected birth of his child in August.

Green has signed three consecutive minimum-salary contracts with Houston since 2017, so it seems safe to assume that the team would remain interested in bringing him back at that price as long as he’s fully healthy and there’s a roster spot available.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • P.J. Tucker is still hoping to reach an agreement with the Rockets on a new contract that would extend his current deal beyond 2020/21, according to Iko. Both sides are believed to be “on the same page” when it comes to wanting Tucker in Houston beyond next season, says Iko. Because Tucker is earning below the NBA’s estimated average salary in ’20/21, his starting salary on an extension wouldn’t be able to exceed about $11.5MM for ’21/22.
  • Within his same story for The Athletic, Iko cites a source who says David Nwaba “looks good” as he continues to rehab his Achilles injury in the hopes of getting healthy for the start of the 2020/21 season. Nwaba is being viewed internally as a “key rotational piece” for next season, Iko adds.
  • Following up on a Wednesday report, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle says that David Vanterpool‘s interview for the Rockets’ head coaching job will actually take place on Friday.
  • Feigen confirms that Kenny Atkinson, Wes Unseld Jr., and Stephen Silas have interviewed for the position so far, with meetings still to come for Vanterpool, Tyronn Lue, and John Lucas. The early interviewees have been “impressive” but there’s no clear frontrunner yet, according to Feigen, who adds that Jeff Van Gundy and other potential candidates could still end up meeting with Houston about the job.

Dennis Schroder, P.J. Tucker Fined For Game 5 Scuffle

Thunder guard Dennis Schroder and Rockets forward P.J. Tucker have each been fined $25,000 for their involvement in a scuffle that occurred on Saturday, the NBA announced in a press release.

The incident occurred with 6:51 remaining in the third quarter of Game 5, with both players being ejected following the altercation. Schroder was fined for making contact to Tucker’s groin area, while Tucker was fined for approaching Schroder, making contact with him, and escalating the situation, the league said.

“It’s never that,” Schroder said on whether his blow was intentional, as relayed by Erik Horne of The Athletic (Twitter link). “We’re competitors. We go out there and compete as hard as we can, but for me, my family didn’t raise me that way to hurt somebody intentionally.”

Tucker was asked on Sunday whether he believes the statement and whether Schroder reached out after the incident, to which he replied, “No and no,” Mark Berman of Fox 26 tweets.

The Rockets ultimately routed the Thunder 114-80, taking a 3-2 series lead. Tucker finished with five points and two steals in 21 minutes, while Schroder recorded 19 points in 20 minutes of work. The two teams will meet for Game 6 on Monday night.

Rockets Notes: D’Antoni, Travel Details, Tucker

69-year-old Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, who says he has cleared his medical screenings with Houston, has flown with the team to Orlando, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon (Twitter link). Though D’Antoni was granted no “formal NBA thumbs up,” as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets, the league also did not restrict D’Antoni’s campus attendance following the medical clearance.

D’Antoni is the league’s second-oldest head coach, after 71-year-old Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. The 40-24 Rockets are currently the No. 6 seed in the West, 1.5 games clear of the seventh-seeded Mavericks.

There’s more out of Houston:

  • D’Antoni and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey are relishing the opportunity for the team to practice together ahead of the league’s scheduled July 30 restart, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “Because we had a major change in the components of the team, we do think a second training camp benefits us,” Morey said. “Because when you’re integrating a starter onto a very good team, getting more time to drill… will allow us to integrate (Robert) Covington in, and I do think that slightly favors us.”
  • Rockets All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook did not travel with the rest of the team to Orlando today, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium (Twitter link). They are expected to arrive later this week. Newly-signed substitute player Luc Mbah a Moute and player development coach John Lucas also did not travel with the rest of the Rockets, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).
  • 35-year-old Rockets forward/center and defensive stalwart P.J. Tucker has indicated that he would like an extension on his current four-year contract, which expires after the 2020/21 season, per Fox 26 Houston’s Mark Berman (Twitter link). “I want to retire as a Houston Rocket,” Tucker said. “The fans, the city have embraced me since day one. So fingers crossed, I hope we can strike a deal and get it done.”

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.