Thabo Sefolosha

Rockets Notes: Harden, Westbrook, Wings, Chandler

The Rockets have faced some questions this offseason about how two high-usage players like James Harden and Russell Westbrook will complement one another. Executives, scouts, and coaches around the league are curious to see how the Rockets’ half-court offense functions when the two guards are playing together and Harden has the ball, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“That’s the billion-dollar question,” one Western executive said.

Despite some skepticism from outside observers, it doesn’t sound like head coach Mike D’Antoni has spent many sleepless nights poring over X’s and O’s to make sure the Harden/Westbrook combo will succeed, as MacMahon writes.

“We’re not going to make it too complicated,” D’Antoni said of his backcourt. “They’re MVPs. They’ll put up MVP numbers. I don’t have to interject how smart I am. That’ll just screw it up. They’re really f—ing good.”

D’Antoni does have a tentative plan for how to stagger his two star guards though, as MacMahon details. According to the Rockets’ head coach, Harden and Westbrook will likely only share the court for about 19 minutes per game if he sticks to his plan. That approach will give the club the best chance to avoid scenarios in which neither player is on the court.

As we look forward to the Rockets’ opener tonight, let’s round up a few more notes out of Houston…

  • Despite concern that Gerald Green will be out for the season, the Rockets aren’t currently pursuing another wing player, per Kelly Iko and Shams Charania of The Athletic. “We don’t feel as though we’re short of wing shooters,” a team executive said. “We have multiple guys who are interesting.” According to Iko, that exec pointed to Ben McLemore and Thabo Sefolosha as two veteran offseason additions who could contribute.
  • McLemore will have his partial guarantee increase from $50K to $500K later today, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweets.
  • Iko reports in the same story that the Rockets discussed a trade this month that ultimately fell through. According to Iko, another team was interested in giving Houston an asset to take on a player’s contract (likely a small contract, given the Rockets’ cap and tax situation), but eventually pulled back.
  • Although the Rockets made some changes to their roster this summer, they brought back all of their core veteran players. That has helped Tyson Chandler make a smooth adjustment to his new team, as Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle writes. “It helps big-time because you understand your role,” Chandler said. “As a young player, you’re trying to figure yourself out. You don’t know what your role is. You’re trying to create your niche. As an older player, you already know.”

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 Sign Thabo Sefolosha

SEPTEMBER 23: The Rockets have officially signed Sefolosha, per a tweet from GM Daryl Morey.

SEPTEMBER 20: Thabo Sefolosha will sign with the Rockets, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times. The veteran swingman is participating in a mini-camp with Houston players and other unsigned veterans this week in Las Vegas.

Sefolosha’s contract will be fully guaranteed, tweets Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic, who adds that the 35-year-old had an impressive performance at Houston’s mini-camp.

Sefolosha spent the past two seasons in Utah, where injuries limited him to a combined 88 games. He appeared in 50 games last season, averaging 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in about 12 minutes per night. He has also played for the Bulls, Thunder and Hawks during his 13 years in the NBA.

The defensive specialist has plenty of ties to the Rockets organization, notes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). He was a former teammate of James Harden and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, and coach Mike D’Antoni was hoping to bring him to Phoenix in the 2006 draft.

Sefolosha will sign for one year at the veteran’s minimum, according to Feigen (Twitter link). With just 10 guaranteed contracts heading into training camp, the Rockets have been looking for veteran help to fill out their roster.

Sefolosha, Brewer, Felton, Others To Attend Rockets’ Mini-Camp

1:41pm: Mbah a Moute, in a change of plans, won’t be attending the Rockets’ mini-camp in Vegas after all, tweets Iko.

12:13pm: A handful of the most noteworthy veteran free agents on the market will take part in the Rockets‘ upcoming mini-camp in Las Vegas, according to multiple reports. In a series of tweets, Kelly Iko and Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic reported that the following players will participate in the mini-camp:

With the exception of Jones, who has spent six seasons in the NBA, all of these players have more than a decade of NBA experience under their belts, which could make them good fits for a veteran Rockets team seeking depth as it looks to make a championship run this season.

[RELATED: Iman Shumpert turns down Rockets’ contract offer]

Although there’s some positional variety among the free agents who are participating in the Rockets’ mini-camp, it appears the team’s primary focus is on wings. Brewer, Mbah a Moute, Sefolosha, and Young all fit that bill. Mbah a Moute and Sefolosha, in particular, could be nice fits in Houston if they’re healthy, given their three-and-D abilities.

None of these veterans are currently under contract with the Rockets, who are carrying 18 players on their offseason roster. However, a strong showing at this week’s mini-camp could very well result in training camp invites for one or two of these veterans. Houston could bring even more of these players to camp if the team is willing to cut any of its current players to create extra spots on the 20-man roster.

No NBA team has fewer players on fully guaranteed deals than the Rockets, so a couple of the team’s regular season roster spots figure to be up for grabs in the preseason.

Free Agency Notes: Raptors, Stephenson, Kyrie, Sefolosha

The defending-champion Raptors will be a different team in 2019/20, with Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and starting shooting guard Danny Green off to Los Angeles. In the wake of Leonard agreeing to join the Clippers and Green committing to the Lakers, Toronto president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri issued a statement thanking the two former Spurs for their contributions to this year’s title team.

“We are very thankful for the year that Kawhi and Danny played with us here in Toronto, and I know the city and the entire country of Canada are grateful for everything they did to help us to win our first NBA Championship,” Ujiri said. “On behalf of the Raptors, I say a very heartfelt thank you to Kawhi and to Danny, and we send them and their families nothing but good wishes. As an organization, the Raptors will focus on the future and continue our pursuit of a second championship.”

After losing two All-NBA caliber defenders in Leonard and Green, the Raptors seem to be seeking out a certain archetype as they peruse the free agent market, writes Blake Murphy of The Athletic. As Murphy points out, new additions Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are both versatile forwards with size who should help Toronto maintain its identity as a strong defensive club.

Here’s more on free agency:

  • It doesn’t appear there’s anything brewing at the moment for free agent guard Lance Stephenson, tweets Scott Agness of The Athletic. According to Agness, Stephenson continues to seek a new contract and may have to settle for a minimum-salary deal.
  • While we already know that Kawhi Leonard reached out to Kevin Durant and Paul George before making his free agency decision, ESPN’s Zach Lowe adds Kyrie Irving to the list of players Leonard explored recruiting. Durant and Irving were set on heading to Brooklyn, so those discussions likely didn’t go far.
  • The Jazz haven’t completed closed the door on the idea of a reunion with free agent wing Thabo Sefolosha, tweets Tony Jones of The Athletic.
  • Speaking to Mark Medina of The Mercury News about his decision to join the Timberwolves, Jordan Bell said he was looking for a team that would give him playing time, rather than seeking out the most lucrative offer available. “An opportunity just to play,” Bell said when asked what he prioritized. “Money wasn’t really the issue.” The former second-round pick is getting a one-year, minimum-salary deal from Minnesota.

Free Agent Rumors: Clippers, Nets, Knicks, Kyrie, KD, More

While the Clippers are generally grouped together with the rest of the Los Angeles and New York teams leading up to free agency as the big-market franchises looking to make a major splash on the free agent market, the Clips’ plans may look a little different than what those other clubs have in mind, writes Jovan Buha of The Athletic.

As Buha explains, the Clippers are unlikely to pursue top point guards like Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker due to their “steadfast belief” in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has been considered untouchable in trade talks.

Additionally, the Clippers likely won’t attempt to sign a second- or third-tier free agent like Khris Middleton or Tobias Harris unless it’s on a short-term deal, according to Buha, who points out that the team traded away Harris because it didn’t want to cap the roster’s ceiling at “good” instead of “great.”

Instead, the Clippers will focus on the top two free agents in this year’s free agent class – Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard – as well as top trade candidate Anthony Davis. If L.A. is unable to land one of those superstars, the organization figures to remain patient, avoiding a reactionary signing or trade and instead shifting its attention to re-signing its own free agents and making smaller moves, says Buha.

As we wait to see how that plan plays out, let’s round up a few more rumors and notes related to free agency:

  • Within his full report on Kyrie Irving‘s agent change, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski shares some intriguing tidbits on two of this summer’s top free agents. Sources tell Wojnarowski that Irving remains “intensely interested” in the Nets, with the Knicks expected to remain competitive for the star point guard. Both New York teams are still interested in signing Irving and Kevin Durant together, even after KD’s Achilles tear, according to Woj.
  • There’s a feeling in both NBA circles and in the Nets‘ front office that Brooklyn will land at least one star free agent this offseason, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post.
  • Marc Berman of The New York Post explores some potential Plan Bs for the Knicks in the event that they miss out on Durant or back off their pursuit of the two-time Finals MVP at all following his Achilles injury.
  • The Jazz appear likely to lose veterans Ekpe Udoh and Thabo Sefolosha in free agency, according to Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune, who examines the impact the duo had on Utah’s locker room over the last couple seasons.

Jazz Notes: Favors, Ingles, Sefolosha, Udoh

The Jazz have until July 6 to decide whether to keep Derrick Favors for another season, but the 27-year-old power forward is certain that he wants to stay in Utah, writes Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. The Jazz hold a team option on Favors’ $17.65MM salary for next season and will have close to a week to examine the free agent market before making a final decision.

“I have a team option; I need that option picked up! I would prefer to come back here,” Favors told Walden. “The grass is not always greener on the other side. … I’m happy in the situation that I’m in, in the position that I’m in — I think it’s good for me and the organization.”

Utah can open enough cap room to make a maximum offer by letting Favors go. While that’s enticing, several Jazz players are lobbying for the team to keep Favors, and GM Dennis Lindsey admits that he has enormous value.

There’d be no playoffs this season without Derrick, no playoff advancement the two previous years,” Lindsey said. “I get it, I get it — obviously, Jae [Crowder] comes in and we have some more mobility and spacing. … [But] Derrick Favors isn’t part of the problem, he’s part of the solution.”

There’s more today from Utah:

  • After winning 50, 48 and 51 games the past three seasons, it’s time for the Jazz to take some chances to reach the next level, contends Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. That may mean parting with Favors, along with Kyle Korver and Royce O’Neale, who also have non-guaranteed contracts, and letting unrestricted free agents Ricky Rubio and Raul Neto move on. Deveney suggests finding a Rubio replacement by resuming talks with the Grizzlies about Mike Conley or targeting Nets restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell. While Tobias Harris would fit perfectly, Deveney believes he will stay with the Sixers and sees the Bucks’ Malcolm Brogdon as a possible alternative.
  • Joe Ingles could be switched to a sixth-man role if the Jazz are able to make an upgrade at the wing this summer, according to Mike Sorensen of The Deseret News. Ingles improved as a playmaker this year and his durability makes him valuable however the team decides to use him.
  • As free agents over the age of 30, Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh both face uncertain futures in Utah, Sorensen adds in a separate story“I’m going to keep my options open and see what makes sense,” Sefolosha said. “Like I say, I had a great experience here for two years and I think it would be great if I can come back and keep working with this group and keep evolving.”

Jazz Point Guards Rubio, Exum To Miss Time

3:19pm: Today’s MRIs for Rubio and Sefolosha came back clean, sources tell Shams Charania and Tony Jones of The Athletic (Twitter link). However, Rubio is still expected to miss about two weeks, while Sefolosha will likely be sidelined for 10-12 days.

9:17am: The injury bug is hitting the Jazz, with league sources telling Tony Jones of The Athletic that backup point guard Dante Exum is expected to miss “a few weeks” after badly spraining his left ankle on Saturday.

After straining a hamstring in that same game, Thabo Sefolosha is scheduled for a Tuesday morning MRI, according to Jones, who reports that there’s “some optimism within the organization” that Sefolosha could return to the rotation within a few weeks.

On top of those two injuries, starting point guard Ricky Rubio suffered a strained hamstring of his own on Monday night and will also have an MRI today, Jones notes. The Jazz are hoping Rubio’s injury isn’t serious, but it appears they’ll enter Wednesday’s game against Orlando with Raul Neto as their only healthy point guard. While Neto’s role will increase substantially, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles also figure to take on more of ball-handling and play-making responsibilities in that game, Jones writes.

At 20-21, Utah is outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference at the season’s halfway mark. The Jazz can’t afford to slip any further back in the standings, so it will be interesting to see if they turn to the trade market for possible point guard help if Rubio has to miss more than just a game or two, tweets Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports.

Signing a player to a 10-day contract would also be an option for the Jazz, though they don’t have an open roster spot to accommodate a new addition. The club also has until January 15 to replace one of its two-way players, if it so chooses.

Northwest Notes: Wolves, Butler, Morris, Sefolosha

The Timberwolves‘ roller coaster season took a new turn on Friday, with the team suffering a 30-point loss to the Bucks in front of their home crowd. Minnesota has been rocked by trade rumors centered around Jimmy Butler, who remains on the roster nearly six weeks after his trade request went public.

Despite the constant, sometimes nagging attention from media and fans, Wolves players have tried to keep their focus on handling business and business only.

“Me personally, I don’t care,” Gorgui Dieng said, according to Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “If they trade Jimmy, then they’re trading him. If they keep him here, then they keep him here. It’s not my decision, it’s not something that I have a voice [in]. Most important is just what’s important for the team, and what I can do to help this basketball team.”

The Wolves have opened the 2018/19 season with a 2-4 record, and discussions to trade Butler are ongoing. Butler scored just four points on 2-11 shooting in Friday’s game.

“No team is ever going to go through a perfect season unscathed,” Taj Gibson said. “Everybody has a story at the end of the year sometimes of triumph and sometimes falling down. We’re in a crazy situation, kind of difficult, but we have to push through it. That’s why we’re professionals.

“We have to go into every practice, into every game with a smile on your face and push yourself.”

Here are some other notes from the Northwest Division:

  • Andrew Wiggins discussed his relationship with Jimmy Butler last week, stating that he and Butler “have always been cool,” according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports (Twitter link). Wiggins also claims the infamous practice where Butler stormed the court and took on the Wolves’ starters was overblown (Twitter link).
  • The emergence of second-year player Monte Morris has greatly helped the Nuggets, who have jumped out to a 4-1 record this season, Mike Singer of The Denver Post contends. Morris is averaging 9.4 points in five games, providing depth in the backcourt with Isaiah Thomas still out to injury.
  • Jazz guard Thabo Sefolosha will be available to play Sunday against the Mavericks, according to Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News. Sefolosha served a five-game suspension this season for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy in April, and played just 38 games with the team last year.

Northwest Notes: Udoh, Thunder, Tolliver, Blazers

The Jazz have been relatively generous during free agency so far this summer compared to most teams, handing out a two-year, $36MM contract to forward Derrick Favors, agreeing to a three-year, $33MM deal with backup guard Dante Exum, and reaching terms on a two-year, $4MM pact with seldom-used guard Raul Neto.

Furthermore, Utah has already guaranteed the 2018/19 salary of Thabo Sefolosha, who was limited to only 39 games last season. As such, it would appear that the Jazz are intent on sticking with their 2017/18 roster for now, which means that both Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh can be cautiously optimistic while waiting for their 2018/19 salary to become guaranteed.

Udoh in particular, who averaged 2.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 63 games for the Jazz last season, and whose $3.36MM salary becomes fully guaranteed if he remains on Utah’s roster past July 9, is trying to remain positive while awaiting Utah’s decision on his future, writes Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News.

“You know, we’ll see what happens,” Udoh told the Deseret News. “I’m grateful. I’m getting great workouts at the facility. I’ve been here pretty much since the season has been over outside of a couple trips, but I’ve just been getting in good work.”

Per Woodyard, Udoh is excited and prepared to return in a Jazz uniform next season, but also understands the business-like nature of the NBA.

“It’s gonna be a fun season,” Udoh said. “The West has gotten better but we’ve gotten better and we’re gonna be the same team next year. Starting last year, you didn’t know what you were going to get with so many new pieces, but now we’ll be ready from the beginning.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes that although Paul George did in fact want to be a Laker at this time last year, he is now happy in Oklahoma City after signing a four-year, $137MM max contract with the Thunder on the eve of free agency.
  • According to Jerry Zgoda of the Star TribuneTimberwolves’ free-agent signee forward Anthony Tolliver chose a return to Minnesota over four other pursuing teams because of the familiarity he has for the franchise – he played for the Wolves from 2010 to 2012 – and because “(he) want(s) to win.”
  • While it’s probably a bit bold to get too excited about the free agent signing of a backup, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes that the addition of 24 year-old center Nerlens Noel on a minimum-salary deal is a low-risk, high-reward move by the Thunder.
  • Per Joe Freeman of The Oregonian, a couple of key subplots have emerged for the Trail Blazers during the team’s summer league minicamp. First, it’s an opportunity for Portland to get a first-hand look at rookies Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. in an NBA practice. Moreover, both Wade Baldwin and Georgios Papagiannis are fighting for their NBA lives while Jake Layman looks to secure a more prominent role for next season.