Russell Westbrook

Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Harden, D’Antoni, More

Speaking today to reporters at the Rockets‘ Media Day, Russell Westbrook and James Harden expressed enthusiasm about teaming up in Houston this season. As Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com details, Westbrook said the pairing will be “scary” for the rest of the NBA, while Harden suggested the two former MVPs will have no problem sharing the ball on offense.

“If Russ got it going and Russ is having one of those games that we’ve all seen before, guess what I’m going to do: sit back and watch the show, and vice versa,” Harden said. “It’s just a part of basketball. So you can’t sit up here and say, ‘Oh, Russ is going to have the ball for the first half and I’m going to have the ball the second half.’ No, things happen through the course of the game that you just flow with and go with.

“All of us in this locker room and this front office has one goal, and that’s to win it. However that happens, it’s going to happen, and we’re just going to figure it out.”

Westbrook agreed with Harden that the two stars won’t have any trouble co-existing in the Rockets’ backcourt and will focus on what’s best for the team.

“I don’t have to have the ball to impact the game,” Westbrook said, per MacMahon. “I don’t have to score, I don’t have to do anything. I can defend, I can rebound, I can pass, I can lead. Our main goal, main focus, is to win. I can go be scoreless, and if we win, that’s the best thing that ever happened. That’s all I cared about, and that’s all I ever cared about.”

Westbrook, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery after the Thunder were eliminated from the postseason in the spring, was only recently cleared for five-on-five work, writes MacMahon. So the Rockets will proceed cautiously with the star point guard, who isn’t expected to participate in all of the club’s practices and preseason games.

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • Harden and Westbrook both indicated today that they have interest in representing Team USA in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo (Twitter links via MacMahon and Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston).
  • Head coach Mike D’Antoni, GM Daryl Morey, and owner Tilman Fertitta all downplayed concerns about D’Antoni entering the final year of his contract without an extension and expressed confidence that he’ll stick with the Rockets beyond 2019/20, MacMahon notes in a pair of tweets. Everybody tells me that Mike is the right guy for this team. Mike appears to me to be the right guy for this team,” Fertitta said. “I think he’s a great coach. He’s one of the great offensive minds out there. I truly do not see Mike going anywhere.”
  • Ryan Anderson‘s new contract with the Rockets features a $250K partial guarantee, sources tell Alykhan Bijani and Kelly Iko of The Athletic (Twitter link). Anderson would receive another $250K, increasing the partial guarantee to $500K, if he makes the opening-night roster.
  • Jaron Blossomgame‘s non-guaranteed deal with Houston doesn’t feature an Exhibit 10 clause, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com hears. That may be a hint that the Rockets don’t expect Blossomgame to play for their G League team. His NBAGL rights are still held by the Canton Charge, the Cavaliers‘ affiliate.

Thunder Notes: CP3, Roberson, Maynor, KD

Asked today about how the team might approach a potential trade for Chris Paul, Thunder general manager Sam Presti declined to get into specifics, as Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman relays.

“Those are all case-by-case things,” Presti told reporters. “We’re not really focused on the hypotheticals.”

[RELATED: Chris Paul trade to Miami remains unlikely]

While there are whispers that Paul may want to join a contender rather than the spend the entire 2019/20 season in Oklahoma City, Presti said the veteran point guard is a “hooper” and “competitor” who just wants to play basketball. “I think this is a tremendous opportunity for both of us,” the Thunder’s GM said.

Here’s more out of OKC:

  • Andre Roberson, who hasn’t played in an NBA game since January 2018 due to leg injuries, is expected to be ready to go for training camp, Presti confirmed today, per Eric Horne of The Oklahoman. “We’re hopeful he’ll be seeing some preseason action as it gets closer,” Presti said. “We’ll obviously manage him closely because he hasn’t played competitive basketball in a while. He’s worked hard to get there.”
  • The Thunder have hired former point guard Eric Maynor as an assistant coach for their G League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue, Presti announced today (link via Lee of The Oklahoman). Maynor, who played for the Thunder between 2009-13, also spent multiple seasons overseas, which Presti believes “gave him a totally different perspective on the game.”
  • Responding today to critical comments made by Kevin Durant about the way he was treated by the Thunder and fans after he left OKC in 2016, Presti took the high road, telling reporters, “I have nothing but positive things to say about him and his tenure here” (link via Horne of The Oklahoman).
  • According to Royce Young of ESPN.com, Presti pushed back against Doc Rivers‘ recent assertion that the Clippers knew the Thunder were looking to “break up their team” before they negotiated a trade for Paul George“We all know that players like Paul George and Russell Westbrook are extremely hard to acquire in cities, in the smaller cities in the league, and when you have those players, you try to do everything you can to retain them,” Presti said. “… I think the thought pattern just doesn’t really line up if you just look at it logically. Probably that type of thing would have been done much earlier and it wouldn’t have resulted from a trade request from one of your best players.”
  • The Oklahoman’s basketball writers discussed a handful of Thunder-related topics in a roundtable, including whether Billy Donovan is on the hot seat, what the Thunder could realistically expect to acquire in a Chris Paul trade, and more.

Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Harden, Anthony, Mbah a Moute

Scouts and assistant coaches from rival teams are skeptical that the RocketsRussell WestbrookJames Harden backcourt pairing will work, Sean Deveney of Heavy.com reports. There is widespread doubt that the two stars will blend their games offensively since Westbrook is poor 3-point shooter and prefers to play at a different pace than Harden. Many of those interviewed also predicted the Rockets’ perimeter defense will decline.

“They’re both hardheaded guys and we know Harden’s history with other players there,” one scout told Deveney.

We have more on the Rockets:

  • Owner Tilman Fertitta said he never met Carmelo Anthony and was surprised that his staff decided to part ways with the longtime All-Star after just 10 games last season, he told Ian Begley of SNY. “Basketball ops decided to make a decision and, you know, it kind of surprised me too, as a fan of the Houston Rockets. But I know what I know and I know what I don’t know. And if my basketball ops thought that we should move on, then I sure wasn’t going to tell them not to, even though I thought that Melo’s one the greatest players to ever play the game.”
  • It isn’t out of the question that Luc Mbah a Moute will eventually sign with the Rockets, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Currently a free agent, Mbah a Moute decided not to attend a team mini-camp for veteran free agents in Las Vegas. The team had conversations with him over the summer about a possible return but there was lingering doubt about the health, Iko continues. Though the team subsequently signed Thabo Sefolosha, adding Mbah a Moute to shore up wing depth would be ideal, Iko adds.
  • The addition of Sefolosha became official on Monday. Get all the details here.

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.

Western Notes: Harden, Westbrook, Jenkins, Clippers, Dozier

Rockets star James Harden expressed confidence that he and Russell Westbrook will get adjusted to playing with each other quickly this season, sharing his thoughts in a recent interview with Alex Shultz of GQ.com.

“I don’t really do a lot of interviews, so I actually don’t answer it that much,” Harden said when asked if the questioned about him and Westbrook irritate him. “The questions are usually the same, though: How are you and Russ going to fit in? It’s like, yo, we’ll figure it out. Everything isn’t necessarily going to be smooth at first, there are going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of an 82-game season. Hopefully by the end of the season, we’ve caught a rhythm and everybody is on the same page going into the playoffs. That’s all you can ask for.”

Harden and Westbrook, known as two talented, ball-dominate players, will play in the same backcourt for the first time since the 2011/12 season with Oklahoma City. The duo is eager to prove they can co-exist, with both players still seeking their first NBA championships.

“We’ve formed into the players that we want to be, in terms of superstar status,” Harden said. “We had opportunities to be at the top, at the peak; he won an MVP and I won an MVP. And there were conversations before, when me and Chris [Paul] joined the same team about whether it was going to work. We ended up with the best record in the NBA and were a game away from the Finals.

“It’s not like me and Russ were just teammates in Oklahoma City for three years. We’ve known each other since we were 10 years old. There’s a different kind of relationship and communication that we have, a different type of excitement that we have for each other. We don’t really care or pay attention to what other people say or think.”

There’s more out of the Western Conference today:

  • New Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins is eager to lead his young team into a promising future, Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com writes. “So, for me, it’s that mentality of defining each day who we are,” Jenkins said as part of a larger quote. “We’re naturally and organically going to grow and not just have this set plan for how we’re going to be from Game 1 to 82. That excites me, because organically, we’re going to get to a really good spot with everything we’ve laid down already. We’ve hit the ground running, and Oct. 1 (first training camp practice) is rapidly approaching.”
  • Jovan Buha of The Athletic examines what the other newcomers (not named Kawhi Leonard or Paul George) could bring to the Clippers this season. Buha discusses the talents of players such as Maurice Harkless, Rodney McGruder, Mfiondu Kabengele and more in his piece.
  • PJ Dozier hopes to make a strong impression with the Nuggets in training camp this fall, Alex Labidou of Nuggets.com writes. “I love the city [of Denver], it’s a beautiful city,” Dozier said. “[I want to] continue to show that I belong and that I belong for a reason. I feel like I have a lot to show for — a lot to bring to the table. It’s just all about getting the opportunity and being prepared for it.”

Rockets Notes: Nene, Westbrook, Harden, Clemons

The Rockets got creative with Nene‘s new contract, according to Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights, who reports (via Twitter) that the deal spans two years, with a non-guaranteed second season. Although Nene is only owed a minimum base salary in each of those two seasons, likely incentives increase the annual value of the contract to $10MM per year, per Siegel.

The criteria for Nene’s incentives will be fascinating, since it’s hard to imagine he’ll actually earn all $7MM+ in bonus money. The Rockets may be artificially inflating his cap hit using incentives that will be tricky to earn (even though they’re technically considered “likely”). A $10MM cap hit – made possible because Houston held Nene’s Bird rights – will make the veteran center one of Houston’s most valuable salary-matching pieces leading up to the February trade deadline.

According to Siegel, the trigger date for Nene’s 2020/21 salary is February 15, 2020 rather than next summer, which suggests there’s a real chance the big man could be released during the season, perhaps being traded and then bought out in early February.

As we wait for more specifics on Nene’s contract, let’s round up a few more items out of Houston…

Southwest Notes: Westbrook, Vasquez, Grizzlies

Following up on his recent report that Russell Westbrook amended the payment schedule on his contract upon being traded to the Rockets, Marc Stein of The New York Times provided some additional details in his newsletter this week.

According to Stein, Westbrook’s contract previously called for 25% of his $38.5MM salary to be paid on August 1 and again on October 1. As part of his trade to the Rockets, those installments were adjusted downward to 12.5% of his salary, meaning they’re now worth $4.8MM apiece instead of $9.6MM, Stein writes.

The changes will allow Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta to avoid paying half of Westbrook’s $38.5MM salary by October 1. Under Fertitta, the club has been averse to making significant upfront payments in a variety of transactions — when Houston traded cash in three separate deals during the 2018/19 league year, it always sent that cash in many installments, rather than in a single lump sum.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Former NBA point guard Greivis Vasquez, who played for six teams over the course of seven seasons from 2010-17, has been named the associate head coach of the Pelicans‘ new G League affiliate, the team announced today in a press release. Vasquez will work under Ryan Pannone, the head coach of the expansion Erie BayHawks.
  • New Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins spoke to Peter Edmiston of The Athletic about how he filled out his coaching staff and what traits he and the front office prioritized as they hired assistants. According to Jenkins, Brad Jones will be his lead assistant.
  • Boban Marjanovic had his best NBA season in 2018/19, averaging 7.3 PPG and 4.6 RPG in 58 games (11.7 MPG) for the Clippers and Sixers. Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News looks at what sort of role Marjanovic might have with the Mavericks after signing a two-year contract with the club.

Southwest Notes: Doncic, Roby, Ivey, Westbrook

Callie Caplan of SportsDay reports that 2018/19 NBA Rookie of the Year, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, is working his tail off this summer to become better conditioned as he becomes a focus night in and night out for Mavs’ opponents during the 2019/20 season.

Per Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, “it’s just a natural progression that every player needs to have going from Year 1 to Year 2, especially someone like Luka that had such a great first year. People are really going to be coming for him in his second year, and the continued work on body and conditioning and developing his game is going to keep moving him in the direction of becoming a really great player.”

Doncic, who is training in his native Slovenia this summer, has not yet returned to Dallas to join his Mavericks teammates, but Carlisle, assistant coach Jamahl Mosley and teammate Dwight Powell all visited him this offseason and liked what they saw. “I know he’s working his butt off this summer,” Carlisle added. “I know he’s very motivated for this (upcoming) season.”

There’s more news from around the Southwest Division this afternoon:

  • Newy Scruggs of NBC5 Dallas-Fort Worth (h/t to SportsDay) suggests that although the $1.5MM first-year salary for rookie Isaiah Roby may seem high, it was not an overpay by the Mavericks because of the lack of guaranteed salary in years three and four. Moreover, at least one source told Scruggs that Roby has Kyle Kuzma-type potential. If so, his contract will be a steal.
  • Niele Ivey, the first female assistant coach in Grizzlies history, believes that outside of being a head coach, a move to the NBA was the next step in her professional career, writes David Cobb of The Commercial Appeal. “I was like, ‘you know what? I felt like I’ve worked really hard and I’m at a great point in my career now and — outside of being a head coach — this would be next level for me.'”
  • As we noted yesterday, Rockets point guard Russell Westbrook agreed to alter his payout dates when he was traded from Oklahoma City in order to ease the initial/upfront financial burden on Houston ownership.

Southwest Notes: Pelicans, Murray, Westbrook, Hartenstein

Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma expects big things from three ex-teammates who were shipped to the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis trade, relays Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, both former No. 2 picks, were sent to New Orleans along with Josh Hart in the deal to get another star to pair with LeBron James. Kuzma thinks the freedom of a new environment should benefit all three players.

“They were excited,” Kuzma said. “It’s a little bit less pressure. They didn’t (actually) say that. But obviously being in L.A., there’s more pressure. They can be themselves now. They can go to New Orleans and develop into the superstars they were supposed to be.”

There had been rumors for months that the Lakers were willing to part with young talent, including Kuzma, to acquire Davis. Kuzma said management told the players they weren’t eager to give up so much of their young core, but everyone understands that Davis is a rare talent.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Injured Spurs guard Dejounte Murray tweeted today that he has received medical clearance to continue his summer workouts. It’s the latest encouraging sign for Murray as he tries to work his way back from a torn right ACL he suffered during a preseason game last October. Murray was coming off a promising 2017/18 campaign in which he earned second-team All-Defense honors while posting an 8.1/5.7/2.9 line in 81 games. He is eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer.
  • As part of his trade from the Thunder to the Rockets, Russell Westbrook agreed to alter his contract, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times. The changes will make his deal “more team-friendly and less front-loaded,” sources tell Stein.
  • Isaiah Hartenstein and Michael Frazier are trying to seize opportunities with the Rockets through extensive offseason workouts that are heavy on 3-point shooting, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Both players will come to camp next month without fully guaranteed deals. Hartenstein has a 50% guarantee on his $1,416,852 contract for this season, while Frazier has the same salary with no guarantee.

Northwest Notes: Nuggets, Bird, Westbrook, Presti

Keeping his young core group together is enough to make the Nuggets a prime Western Conference contender, general manager Arturas Karnisovas told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on “The Woj Pod” (hat tip to the Denver Post’s Mike Singer).

“Definitely we’re banking on our continuity,” the Nuggets GM said. “A lot of teams that made changes and added huge pieces and stars, they’re still dealing in hypotheticals. We’ve watched this group show us last year, take us to a 54-28 season, having the best home record, 34-7, so this group is (established) and they’re still the third youngest group in the league.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Longtime WNBA star Sue Bird has a wide variety of duties as a basketball operations associate with the Nuggets during her league’s offseason, as Alex Coffey of The Athletic details. She observes games and practices, sits in on front office meetings, watches film and helps scouting college and international players. She also provided advice to point guard Monte Morris, which he found insightful. “She helped me stay encouraged when things were getting tough,” Morris said. “She would tell me things she noticed in how I played. It wasn’t always positive. There were times when she was like, ‘This guy’s guarding you this way. Try to counter him this way.’ Just little things like that.”
  • The Thunder have lost superstars before but the trade of Russell Westbrook to the Rockets has left a void, as Brett Dawson of The Athletic details. The bond between Westbrook and the city was stronger than any other star player.
  • Thunder GM Sam Presti remains hopeful the team can be fairly competitive next season despite trading away Westbrook and Paul George, Nick Gallo of the team’s website writes. “It’s going to be a different iteration of Thunder team than we’ve seen over the last several years,” Presti said. “The way we were able to pivot has given us the opportunity to have a much brighter future going forward and still have a team coming back this season that we feel good about.”