Jabari Smith

Rockets Notes: Green, Stone, Sengun, Smith

Jalen Green made a positive impression during his time scrimmaging against Team USA in Las Vegas, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Green helped the Select Team pick up an early victory in the competitions, and Grant Hill, managing director of USA Basketball, liked what he saw from the Rockets‘ young guard.

“He played well,” Hill said. “He was one of the few guys that I had not seen in person. I obviously had seen him in highlights and on videos, even going back to high school. He’s dynamic. He’s explosive. He’s very confident.”

Green has experienced individual success during his first two NBA seasons, averaging 17.3 and 22.1 points per game, but the rebuilding Rockets have been among the NBA’s worst teams. Houston aggressively upgraded its roster this summer, and Hill sees a brighter future for Green and the organization.

“He’s had a couple of seasons to really understand what the NBA is, and that’s important,” Hill said. “I like the moves the Rockets made this offseason bringing in veteran guys, guys who have been around the league, guys who have had success — Fred (VanVleet) has been a champion — but can still play. You bring in coach (Ime) Udoka, who brings in a level of accountability and teaching. All of that, for a guy like Jalen, is a great chance for him to really grow. I think he’s ready and that team is ready to take a step this season.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • NBA teams don’t have full control over whether their players take part in international competitions, but Rockets general manager Rafael Stone is happy to see so many of his players involved, Feigen adds. Australia’s Jock Landale and Canada’s Dillon Brooks will both participate in the FIBA World Cup. “If we were in a position to have more control, it would be a very player-by-player thing,” Stone said. “This summer, I’m really happy for our guys. They’re at points in their careers the additional reps are very valuable. … I can see where teams have concerns. In our case this summer, we’re comfortable, and we’re encouraging those guys not just to play but to play great and come back as better players.”
  • Another Rockets player getting international experience is center Alperen Sengun, who is on Turkey’s roster for an Olympics pre-qualifying tournament that begins Saturday, per Cesare Milanti of Eurohoops. The Turkish team will face Bulgaria, Iceland and Ukraine.
  • A survey conducted by Kelly Iko of The Athletic finds that fans are optimistic about the Rockets’ chances to improve and are expecting a breakout season from Jabari Smith Jr.

Rockets Notes: Brooks, Whitmore, Smith, Samuels

The Rockets were facing competition for Dillon Brooks on the free agent market, Kelly Iko of The Athletic writes in a mailbag column. Houston raised its offer beyond what was originally projected, eventually signing the defensive-minded swingman to a four-year contract that could pay him up to $90MM if he meets incentives.

The Mavericks were “seriously in the mix” for Brooks, sources tell Iko, and the Bucks were watching him closely in case they weren’t able to re-sign Khris Middleton. Brooks had a meeting with the Lakers, Iko adds, but L.A. didn’t have enough cap space to give him the kind of offer he wanted and wasn’t willing to arrange a complex sign-and-trade like Houston did.

Iko understands that many Rockets fans are surprised by the money they gave to Brooks, who landed a yearly salary close to what Bruce Brown did in free agency and now has a contract similar to Jordan Clarkson, Terry Rozier and Malcolm Brogdon. However, Iko points out that Houston had to overpay to get any significant free agent considering its dismal record over the past three years, and there’s hope that Brooks can transform his approach, especially on offense, while playing for a demanding coach like Ime Udoka.

There’s more from Houston:

  • Summer League MVP Cam Whitmore played mostly at small forward, which Iko expects to be his primary position during the upcoming season. Iko has the 20th overall pick listed behind Tari Eason as the backup small forward on his projected depth chart and says it’s hard to predict how much he’ll play as a rookie. Iko states that Whitmore has the talent to create a steady role for himself right away, but the Rockets don’t have to rush him with their revamped roster so he may be sent to the G League to get consistent minutes.
  • In a separate story, Iko talked to some of the league’s best defenders throughout the season about what Jabari Smith has to do to become elite in that area of the game. The Rockets were happy to land Smith with the third pick in the 2022 draft because of his defensive potential, combining the size of a center with the quickness to stay in front of smaller players. “Watch a lot of film,” advised Nets forward Royce O’Neale. “Try to study guys as much as you can. This league has a lot of great scorers and different guys like doing different things. Learn and watch other guys. Don’t be afraid to ask guys who are defenders how they guard certain people and little tips like that.”
  • Jermaine Samuels appears to be the most likely unsigned member of the Rockets’ Summer League team to get a training camp invitation, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Houston has two roster slots and a two-way spot open, and Feigen lists Nate Hinton, Matthew Mayer and current two-way player Trevor Hudgins as others who helped themselves in Las Vegas.

And-Ones: Towns, Smith, George, Moneke

The President of the Dominican Basketball Federation, Rafael Uribe, says there’s a “90 percent” chance that Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns will play in this summer’s FIBA World Cup, Hoops Hype relays. The Dominican team also has several other NBA performers. Lester Quinones, Justin Minaya and Chris Duarte will be part of the Dominican squad that will play a warm-up match against the University of Memphis on August 2, Diamante Deportivo tweets.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Jabari Smith‘s scoring explosion was one of the notable developments in the Summer League, The Athletic’s John Hollinger writes in a recap of this month’s action. The Rockets’ second-year forward scored 71 points in his 64 summer minutes, signaling that he could be a breakout performer next season after struggling through his rookie campaign.
  • In a similar story, ESPN’s Insiders take a closer look at the Summer League’s surprises and disappointments. Kendra Andrews and Tim Bontemps both note that Jazz rookie Keyonte George, the 16th overall pick, was a standout.
  • Former NBA forward Chima Moneke has finalized a two-year agreement with Spain’s Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, according to BasketNews.com. Moneke played with AC Monaco last season after a stint with the Kings. Moneke appeared in two NBA games before Sacramento waived him in January.

Rockets’ Cam Whitmore Named Summer League MVP

Rockets forward Cam Whitmore has been named the Las Vegas Summer League Most Valuable Player, the NBA announced (via Twitter).

The NBA also announced its All-Summer League First and Second Teams, which are as follows (Twitter links):

First Team

Second Team

According to the NBA (Twitter link), Christie and Moon received the same amount of votes, which is why there is an additional backcourt player on the second team.

Whitmore, a projected lottery pick in last month’s draft who fell to Houston at No. 20, averaged 20.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.2 APG and 3.0 SPG on .465/.293/.625 shooting in his five Vegas Summer League games, per NBA.com.

Houston faces Cleveland at 8 p.m. CT tonight in the Summer League championship game. Both teams are undefeated, holding identical 5-0 records.

Southwest Notes: Lofton, GG Jackson, Prosper, Rockets

Kenneth Lofton Jr. is playing like he belongs in the Grizzlies‘ rotation, which may lead to some difficult decisions this fall, writes Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. The second-year power forward, who posted 24 points and 10 rebounds on Wednesday, is the team’s leading scorer in Summer League. He has also looked better on defense, which was a goal for the offseason.

Cole notes that Lofton changed the team’s plans with a strong Summer League performance last year. The undrafted rookie earned a two-way contract that was upgraded to a standard deal before the playoffs as the Grizzlies parted with Kennedy Chandler.

Memphis’ power rotation appears to be set, according to Cole, so any minutes Lofton earns will come at the expense of an established player. Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. are both expected to be healthy heading into training camp, while Santi Aldama and Xavier Tillman saw regular playing time last season. Coach Taylor Jenkins typically uses four big men, so Lofton will have to battle for a larger role.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Rookie forward GG Jackson has also impressed Jenkins during Summer League, Cole adds in a separate story. Jackson will likely spend most of the upcoming season in the G League, but he has displayed the potential that made him a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. “I’ve been super thrilled with what he’s shown,” Jenkins said. “You see the physical tools with the capability to make plays on both sides of the floor, defensively I’m loving his rebounding. … Each game he is making progress.”
  • Summer League coach Jared Dudley believes Olivier-Maxence Prosper could make an immediate impact with the Mavericks, tweets Mavs reporter Grant Afseth. Dudley said the rookie power forward understands the game and can score without having plays called for him. “I could see him easily playing for the Mavs this season just because of his defense and his aggressiveness,” Dudley said. “Anytime I tell him to do something, He does it automatically, and it’s no second-guessing it. He does it a hundred miles an hour, so I respect that.”
  • Jabari Smith and Tari Eason only appeared in two Summer League games, but Rockets officials were very happy with what they saw from both second-year players, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Smith was one of the best players in Las Vegas with a total of 71 points (35.5 PPG), while Eason averaged 23 PPG and looked comfortable at either forward position.

Southwest Notes: Wembanyama, Kyrie, Bane, Rockets, Liddell

Victor Wembanyama‘s Summer League experience is over after just two games, the Spurs confirmed on Monday (story via Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press). Wembanyama had an up-and-down debut on Friday, making just 2-of-13 shots from the floor, but showed on Sunday why he’s considered the best prospect to enter the NBA in years, racking up 27 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks in 27 minutes of action vs. Portland.

As Reynolds writes, shutting down Wembanyama at this point will give the Spurs an opportunity to evaluate other young players during the club’s remaining games in Vegas. It will also give the No. 1 overall pick a much-needed break — his season in France didn’t end until June, and he has had a demanding schedule of media obligations since arriving stateside last month.

“In the past month, I think basketball wasn’t even 50% of my schedule,” Wembanyama said on Sunday. “I can’t stand it. I know it’s a special moment in my life, but I’m glad it’s over. Honestly. I just want to hoop. I just want to work out, lift because this is my life. Obviously, every first pick is going to go through this. And it just makes me better for the future.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Kyrie Irving‘s new three-year, $120MM+ contract with the Mavericks features a 15% trade kicker, per Michael Scotto of HoopsHype (Twitter link). There’s also a 15% trade kicker in Desmond Bane‘s five-year, $197MM+ extension with the Grizzlies, Hoops Rumors has learned.
  • New Houston forward Dillon Brooks sees similarities between his new team and his old one, suggesting that the Rockets are where the Grizzlies were a few years ago, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscriber link). “I feel like it’s almost the exact same team,” Brooks said. “Three, four years ago, we had almost the same type of players. Jalen Green (is) like Ja Morant. Jabari (Smith) is like Jaren (Jackson Jr.). Young guys that can expand their game to be among the best or the best in the league. I feel like those two guys are almost the same type of deal.”
  • After missing his entire rookie season due to an ACL tear, E.J. Liddell was thrilled to get a promotion from his two-way deal to the Pelicans‘ standard roster, as he tells William Guillory of The Athletic. “They told me how happy they were about my approach during the recovery process, and that meant everything to me,” said Liddell, whom New Orleans signed using a small slice of the mid-level exception. “I’m just going to keep embracing this opportunity. Keep showing up and doing what I’ve got to do everyday. I’ve just got to keep being me, and it’s great to know they appreciate me for being me. It means the world.”

Rockets Notes: Free Agency, Green, Lopez, Whitmore, Tate

The Rockets were the most active team on the free agent market this weekend — signing four players and jettisoning a significant amount of their young talent — but their future will still be built around the core they put together in the last three drafts, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

The big-money additions of Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks, along with smaller deals for Jock Landale and Jeff Green, are designed to complement Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith and Amen Thompson, according to Feigen. Kevin Porter Jr. should also be considered part of that group, Feigen adds, as he remains in the team’s long-term plans along with Tari Eason and Cam Whitmore.

All the new additions will have clear roles alongside those players, Feigen notes. VanVleet will run the offense for a team that often seemed disorganized during its three years of rebuilding. He also improves the defense with his ability to get steals and deflections and has shown that he can be effective while playing off the ball. Brooks will be the team’s best perimeter defender, while Landale and Green will back up Sengun and Smith.

There’s more from Houston:

  • Green’s new $6MM contract is small enough to be absorbed with the team’s $7.7MM room exception before the Brooks trade is completed, Feigen adds. However, he says the more likely scenario is that the team will keep the exception open and use it, along with roughly $4.5MM in remaining cap space, to see if it can sign anyone else.
  • The Rockets are surveying the market to find guard depth with the money they have left, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Iko states that a veteran who can handle either backcourt position would be ideal for the current roster.
  • Iko cites “genuine internal disappointment” among Rockets officials when center Brook Lopez opted to remain in Milwaukee instead of taking their offer, which was reported to be around $40MM for two years. Having Landale and Green on the roster instead of Lopez makes Sengun the clear starting center and should help with his development, Iko notes.
  • The roster additions mean the Rockets can afford to be patient with rookie Cam Whitmore, with Iko suggesting that the 20th overall pick could see some time in the G League.
  • Teams have asked about swingman Jae’Sean Tate during the offseason, but the Rockets still appear to view him as an important part of their future, Iko tweets.

Rockets Rumors: Core Players, Martin, Draft Picks, Thompson

In trade talks with rival teams so far this offseason, the Rockets have held firm on their position that they don’t intend to move anyone from their young core, says Kelly Iko of The Athletic. According to Iko, that core is made up of guard Jalen Green, forwards Jabari Smith and Tari Eason, and center Alperen Sengun.

Another young Rockets player, Kenyon Martin Jr., has been “deemed attainable internally” if the team receives a strong offer, per Iko, who says that Martin has continued to draw interest from potential trade partners as of late.

Houston will soon have to decide whether to exercise Martin’s minimum-salary team option for 2023/24, which would put him on track for unrestricted free agency in 2024. Declining the option would mean paying Martin a larger salary next season, but would allow the club to negotiate with him as a restricted free agent.

Here’s more from Iko on the Rockets:

  • Once viewed as a decision between Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore, the Rockets’ No. 4 pick now appears likelier to come down to Amen and Ausar Thompson, sources tell The Athletic. Iko is among the reporters who has heard rumblings about Whitmore’s stock slipping as the draft nears, and says his sources are becoming “increasingly confident” that Houston will keep the No. 4 pick and draft Amen Thompson.
  • Although the Rockets talked to Charlotte and Portland about moving up from No. 4, that’s unlikely to happen, Iko writes. Houston remains open to moving its lottery pick, but it would take a significant offer to get the team to seriously consider it. That sort of offer hasn’t been put on the table so far, though the Rockets have been offered good “starter-level” players, according to Iko.
  • The more research the Rockets’ front office has done on this draft class, the more impressed they’ve been with the talent available, says Iko, adding that the club now seems more likely to keep its No. 20 pick than to trade it. That’s still very much up in the air though — according to Iko, Houston has talked about trading up into the 10-18 range. If a deal to move up doesn’t materialize and the Rockets’ preferred targets aren’t available at No. 20, trading the pick would still be an option.

Rockets Notes: Smith, Henderson, Thompson, Free Agency

Rockets forward Jabari Smith understands why he wasn’t a first-team selection on the All-Rookie Team, but he plans to use it as motivation for next season, writes Dionysis Aravantinos of HoopsHype. It took Smith a while to adjust to the NBA, especially in terms of his outside shot, but he improved as the season progressed. He said all five first-team members deserve their spots, but he’s disappointed to miss out on a preseason goal.

Smith was considered the favorite to be taken No. 1 for most of last year’s pre-draft process, but the Magic made a late switch to Paolo Banchero and the Thunder picked Chet Holmgren second. Smith said he’s not bitter about slipping to Houston at third.

“I definitely use it as extra motivation, but as far as a disappointment … no,” he said. “Still the best day of my life up to this point. I was mad at the moment, but looking back on it, it’s nothing to feel bad about. It’s a business, stuff that goes into it, and that’s the decision they made.”

Smith also discussed the rumors that James Harden is interested in returning to the Rockets in free agency. He said his sales pitch to Harden would be to “come back home” and believes Houston could be competitive with Harden joining Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun and himself.

“I feel like the sky’s the limit with a lineup like that,” Smith said. “The challenge is there, but it’d be on us to put it all together.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • The Rockets tried to convince Scoot Henderson to work out in Houston, but haven’t had success so far, a source tells Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. Henderson has stated that he only plans to audition for the Hornets and Trail Blazers, which he has already done. Fischer points out that Houston’s interest in Henderson doesn’t fit with the rumors about Harden, who would become the lead guard if he joins the team. Fischer adds that the Rockets don’t have enough veteran talent on their roster to trade up to No. 2 or 3 to improve their chances of landing the G League Ignite star.
  • Amen Thompson had an impressive workout for the Rockets this week, Kelly Iko states in the latest mock draft from The Athletic. Thompson showcased his athleticism and playmaking skills during the session, and Iko sees him as a great fit alongside Green and Smith.
  • Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle examines potential free agent targets for Houston, which could have roughly $60MM to spend when the market opens.

Southwest Notes: Udoka, Ivey, Spurs, Mavericks

Ime Udoka understands that the Rockets hired him as their head coach to help the team become competitive again. In an interview with Kelly Iko of The Athletic, Udoka talks about how Houston can take the next step in its development, going from a team of highly rated prospects to a cohesive unit capable of contending for a playoff spot.

Udoka discusses the possibility of using Jalen Green and Jabari Smith in setups similar to what he did with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Boston. He also repeats a message that he emphasized at his introductory press conference — youth won’t be an excuse for failure.

“I want guys that can catch on quickly but also adapt to what we’re trying to do,” Udoka said. “I’m not gonna hold anything back defensively or schematically because we’re a young group, that’d be going against what I’m saying. I want guys to get up to speed quickly, have smart, cerebral players that can do a lot of different things.”

The Rockets will have nearly $60MM in cap space to try to improve their roster this summer, and there have been persistent rumors that James Harden is interested in returning. Udoka said he expects the front office to target free agents who will mix well with the young core already on hand.

“You want to add veterans that aren’t just a voice only, you want them to be out there, play and push the guys,” he said. “But, as I’ve said, regardless of free agency and the draft, we still have a group of guys we want to grow, and we’re looking for internal growth. More so than necessarily looking for an outside guy to try to save the day.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Nets assistant Royal Ivey will join the Rockets‘ coaching staff, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Ivey is the first assistant coach to be added since Udoka was hired last month.
  • The Spurs are reaping the financial benefits of winning the draft lottery, writes David Rumsey of Front Office Sports. San Antonio fans are thrilled at the prospect of adding Victor Wembanyama, and team employees worked well past midnight Tuesday to handle new season ticket requests.
  • The Mavericks are ready to make a “meaningful overhaul” to their roster after missing the playoffs, team sources tell Fred Katz and Tim Cato of The Athletic. Dallas was relieved to keep its first-round pick, which will be 10th overall, in Tuesday’s lottery. The pick remains top-10 protected for the next two years, leaving Dallas with only its 2027 first-rounder to use as a trade asset. The Mavericks were one number away from moving up to fourth in the draft, according to Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News.