The Beat

The Beat: Jon Krawczynski On The Timberwolves

Jon Krawczynski

Jon Krawczynski

Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with James Ham of CSN California and CSNBayArea.com about the Kings. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Timberwolves from Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press. You can follow Jon on Twitter at @APkrawczynski, and check out his stories here.

Hoops Rumors: You reported Kevin Martin‘s availability on the trade market about a month ago. Do you have a sense for how motivated the Timberwolves are to get a deal done?

Jon Krawczynski: The Wolves are definitely motivated to move Martin. They want to open up more playing time for Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad and Martin clearly would prefer to be on a team that is more competitive at this stage in his career, and one that has an offense that better suits his skill set. So far, the Wolves have not found a willing trade partner. One of the road blocks is that Martin has a player option on his contract next year. The Wolves have been told by several teams that they would like assurances from Martin that he will waive that option and become a free agent next summer. Corey Brewer made that gesture last year before he was traded to the Rockets, I believe. So far, Martin has not been willing to make that declarative statement, and understandably so. He’s struggled offensively this year so I think he wants to see if he can turn things around and increase his value before giving up a $7MM payday next year.

Hoops Rumors: The Wolves have fallen off sharply since their 8-8 start. Are they surprised they haven’t won a few more games, or was this strictly a developmental year all along?

Jon Krawczynski: This was a developmental year all along. No one in the organization — other than the players — entered the season believing the playoffs were a realistic goal for this season with this much youth. That said, they did show great flashes early in the season of being competitive, and the muddled state of the West from seeds 5-12 or so makes that 8 seed look more attainable to more teams than it has in years. That’s what has made this latest miserable stretch — a league-worst 5-23 since that 8-8 start — doubly frustrating for them. They knew they would go through their struggles. They knew young guys like Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, LaVine and Muhammad would hit bumps in the road along the way. But when you look at several of their losses — at Philly, home to Denver twice, home to Milwaukee, home to Portland twice, at New Orleans the other night — there are some glaring bad games. They have lost five games this year when leading by at least 17 points. A lot of that is youth. But youth can’t explain away all of their struggles. They have talent. Does the franchise believe it should they be 22-22 and in the thick of the race? Probably not. Should they be 13-31 with some of those bad losses? No.

Hoops Rumors: Is owner Glen Taylor committed to GM Milt Newton as the head of basketball operations for the long term, or do you think Newton is under pressure this season to make personnel moves that show he can handle the front office?

Jon Krawczynski: Taylor told Newton and Sam Mitchell at the beginning of the season that he would give both of them the year in these roles and then re-evaluate it at the end of the season. He wants to see how they both respond to the increased responsibility and the moves they make. Newton did play a major role in shaping the vision of the franchise, assembling the roster and evaluating talent while Flip Saunders was still around. So he’s done a lot of the work already. Now it’s his show. And it’s up to him to show Taylor, and the new minority ownership group that is negotiating to buy 30% of the team, that he is the right man for the job going forward for the foreseeable future. That he’s already had a hand in assembling a lot of the young talent on the roster will certainly work in his favor.

Hoops Rumors: Ricky Rubio has stayed healthy and his shooting numbers are up somewhat from last year’s abbreviated season, but what he is and what he isn’t seem pretty apparent at this point. Is what he is enough for the Timberwolves?

Jon Krawczynski: I’m a believer in Rubio. Is he the Russell Westbrook/Chris Paul who is capable of carrying an offense on his back? No. But I think if he is surrounded by athletes and shooters who can spread the floor and give him room to operate in the pick-and-roll, you can win a lot of games with him. He’s an elite passer, a very good defender and coming into Wednesday, he’d shot 42% from 3 over the previous 22 games, so he is showing that he can knock down open catch-and-shoot opportunities. Where he has to improve is scoring at the rim (44% this year), becoming more consistent midrange and shooting off the dribble. If you surround him with shooters and guys who can get out and run, he can absolutely be the answer, in my opinion. On a team with Wiggins, Towns, Muhammad and LaVine, all players who want to get their own shots, having a pass-first point guard is a good thing.

Hoops Rumors: The team is no doubt planning for Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns to co-exist for many years to come, so how effective have they been at building on-court chemistry with each other?

Jon Krawczynski: They seem to complement each other well. Wiggins is very quiet, not one to seek out the spotlight. Towns seems more comfortable in front of the cameras and acting as more of a spokesman and they appear to get along well. On the court, they are both dynamic in different ways. Wiggins right now prefers to attack the rim and elevate over defenders, though I think his game will evolve from there. Towns has shown a little more finesse and versatility early, being able to go inside and out. Going forward as they both grow their games the sky is the limit for these two.

Hoops Rumors: Has the idea that Saunders had to sign a veteran mentor for each position group — Kevin Garnett for the bigs, Tayshaun Prince for the wings, Andre Miller for the point guards — been a significant help to the team

Jon Krawczynski: I think they have been. Let’s face it, the group as a whole is struggling right now. It’s been a long stretch of futility. I think KG, Prince and Miller have helped the kids keep their eyes focused forward and on the big picture. Most of these young guys are not used to losing as much as they have here. It can be very difficult to deal with. But I think the older guys have made sure that these hard lessons aren’t going in one ear and out other. The plan was viewed with skepticism by some league observers, but I think Flip and Milt had the right idea by doing it and providing some insulation for the young guys. Hard to put a price tag on that.

The Beat: James Ham On The Kings

jameshamNobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post about the Heat. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Kings from James Ham of CSN California and CSNBayArea.com. You can follow James on Twitter at @James_Ham, on Facebook at facebook.com/JamesHamKings and on Instagram at instagram.com/james_ham15/. Check out his stories here.

Hoops Rumors: From DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors to the recent team meeting to reports of frustration with George Karl, the Kings organization has a reputation for turmoil. Are Vivek Ranadivé and Vlade Divac learning any lessons from all this about how to keep situations from getting out of hand?

James Ham: Ranadivé has had to learn on the fly over his two-plus years running the Kings. It hasn’t always been easy. He makes plenty of mistakes, but hopefully he has learned from them.

The addition of Divac has brought a calm to the franchise. From the outside looking in, Sacramento is chaotic and dysfunctional. But the issues are being worked through and Divac is making the best of a situation that very few general managers would even attempt to take on.

Divac has developed a tight bond with Cousins. There is trust between the two big men, which isn’t an easy thing to accomplish when it comes to the Kings All-Star center. The gamble Divac made of bringing in Rajon Rondo has given Cousins a mentor.

As crazy as it may seem, the Kings are in a much better place than most media reports would have you believe. With the backing of Ranadivé, Divac is giving the Rondo/Cousins pairing a real chance to succeed before buying into any narratives concocted from the outside. It may not be a perfect situation, but when you are an NBA outpost, you do what you can to build a winner.

Hoops Rumors: Caron Butler seems like he’s played an important role in the locker room this season, but now the Kings have reportedly promised to trade him so he can see more playing time. If that’s true, who’s next in line to inherit that leadership capacity?

James Ham: It sounds like the Kings will take care of Butler and find a better spot for him to finish out his career. While Butler has been a veteran presence, the Kings have plenty of other experienced players to turn to.

Rondo has quickly risen to the top of the team’s leadership hierarchy. Butler will be missed, but there is a large group of players on this team that are extremely close to one another. Divac added plenty of seasoned winners to the roster.

Hoops Rumors: Recent controversy aside, Rondo has looked so much better this season than he did last year. What’s made the difference for him?

James Ham: There are a couple of reasons for Rondo’s success. First and foremost, he is completely healthy for the first time in a while. You can see that he has his explosive first step back.

Rondo missed training camp the previous two seasons due to injury. When he showed up in San Diego for day one of Kings camp he instantly began to put his personal stamp on the team. That may make some cringe, but the Kings were looking for a floor general and Rondo is a coach both on and off the floor.

There is no question that Rondo has a big personality. When he was traded to Dallas mid-season last year, it didn’t work. He was surrounded by too many veterans. They were already a winning club and they weren’t looking for a leader as much as they were looking for a lead guard.

Rondo is getting a fresh start in Sacramento. For better or worse, this is his team. He has made mistakes, but he has also been a star on plenty of nights.

Hoops Rumors: We haven’t seen too much of Willie Cauley-Stein and Cousins on the court together, thanks to injuries that have kept them both out at different times. Still, how have they meshed when Karl has put them both on the floor at the same time?

James Ham: Cauley-Stein has a ton to learn about the pro game. He is a quick study, but the Kings have had to start from scratch with him. He had very little exposure to the weight room and according to him, he had never really studied film before being drafted to the Kings.

Injuries have kept these two from playing together for much of the season and that will likely continue with Cauley-Stein’s finger injury. This should be a good long-term fit, but the early returns are not great.

Cauley-Stein knows to stay out of Cousins’ way on the floor. On the defensive end he is active when healthy, but he needs to add strength to compete against NBA regulars.

Hoops Rumors: Speaking of tandems, can Rondo and Darren Collison effectively share the floor, and if not, what can the Kings do about it?

James Ham: This is a tough question. On paper, this should work. Collison spent plenty of time playing off the ball with Chris Paul in Los Angeles, but the transition to working with Rondo is an advanced statistics nightmare.

We have seen some developments on this front over the last week or so, but it is a work in progress. Last season, Collison was the man. This season, Rondo is garnering all the acclaim. The Kings need both players to succeed, especially with Karl’s penchant for running dual point guards.

Long term, I think it works. Collison’s early injury forced Rondo into 48-minute-a-night duty. The team became overly reliant on his style of play and when Collison returned from injury, he tried to fit in instead of being himself.

We are starting to see Collison come in and change the pace when he is leading the team and find his spots when Rondo is in charge. It’s a tough transition, but Collison is a quality NBA guard and a very good locker room guy. Chemistry may take a little more time, but this is an important combination for the Kings.

Hoops Rumors: Ben McLemore has looked sharp on occasion, and he’s shooting a higher percentage on 3-pointers, but his minutes, and thus many of his other numbers, are down this season from last year. What has to happen for him to start seeing more playing time and live up to his billing as last year’s No. 7 overall pick?

James Ham: McLemore is in a tough spot. For his first two seasons, the Kings were rudderless and he was given every opportunity to play major minutes. Maybe he wasn’t handled properly during this stretch, but now he is on a completely different team.

The Kings added 10 new faces during the offseason, including three guards. The addition of Rondo has pushed Collison to take time at the two. Marco Belinelli is a seasoned pro with an elite skill and he too needs time.

Karl has tried plenty of three guard sets against smaller clubs, but McLemore’s inconsistency has hurt him. He’s still only 22 years old, but he now finds himself on a veteran-laden team. He has to produce. There are no nights off or bad stretches of inefficient ball. If he wants to play, he has to develop as a defender, a playmaker and continue to play aggressively.

McLemore is a great kid and an extremely hard worker, but he’s fighting for minutes against players with years of experience both in the regular season and in the playoffs. The Kings are dedicated to his development, but they have made a commitment to winning as well. It is up to him show that he can help this team on a consistent basis. If not, Karl has plenty of other options.

The Beat: Jason Lieser On The Heat

Jason Lieser

Jason Lieser

Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area about the Warriors. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Heat from Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post. You can follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonLieser and the Post’s Heat coverage on Facebook, and check out his stories here and here.

Hoops Rumors: What has Dwyane Wade done differently this season to allow himself to play at such a high level, and did the Heat have any idea this was coming when they gave him his one-year, $20MM contract?

Jason Lieser: The misconception nationally over the past few years has been that Wade’s skills are in decline, when really it was a decline in health. Since the end of the 2013/14 season, however, there have been gradual improvements. Wade missed 20 games last year, but all of them were a direct result of something that happened on the court — not the ambiguous, lingering knee pain. As long as his knees are in reasonably good shape, he has reworked his game to remain one of the best scorers in the league and should be in the mix to earn an All-Star spot. That said, the upward trend in his health won’t last forever, and he turns 34 next month. As far as the return on that $20MM, that was probably over market value for him for the 2015/16 season, but not by much. Klay Thompson is making close to $16MM this season, and his offensive stats last year were comparable with Wade’s.

Hoops Rumors: The leaguewide trend is toward small-ball, but the Heat have two of the best big men in Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside. With Whiteside hitting free agency this summer, do you think the Heat have seen enough yet to be sold on the pairing for the long term, and is there any legitimacy to the idea that the Heat would trade him this season?

Jason Lieser: The Heat are absolutely sold on Bosh as a top-tier player at his position, and he is in the conversation among the best and most versatile defenders among big men. Whiteside is an interesting case because his value on the court is drastically disproportionate to his $981K contract. That basically makes him untradeable because it will be almost impossible to get good value in return given that salary has to match. I can’t envision Miami letting an asset like Whiteside walk out the door, so if there is no suitable trade I expect the Heat will pay whatever it takes to re-sign him.

Hoops Rumors: What can the Heat do to offset their lack of outside shooting?

Jason Lieser: They can start making more. That’s about it. They do not have the roster flexibility to add anyone at the moment unless they make a trade or flat out cut somebody. They can’t pluck a shooter out of the D-League and give him a shot. The Heat are third in the NBA in 2-point shooting percentage (50.9) and second-worst in 3-point accuracy (31.6%). This is on course to be their worst 3-point shooting season since 2002/03. Miami is never going to be the Warriors, but it is realistic to expect modest improvement. Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and Gerald Green are all shooting significantly below their career averages, and that should come close to balancing out by the end of the season.

Hoops Rumors: Have you noticed a significant difference in the way the Heat have played since the Mario Chalmers trade, or have they been able to go on more or less without skipping a beat?

Jason Lieser: This is difficult to assess at the moment because Tyler Johnson is dealing with an impingement in his shooting shoulder. He was out three games and tried to return Wednesday in Brooklyn, but it wasn’t going well and he quickly exited. In a small sample size, he averaged 10 points in 22.7 minutes per game while shooting 50.6% over the 12 games after Chalmers was dealt. That works fine offensively, plus he improved his outside shot over the offseason and is an above-average defender.

Hoops Rumors: Gerald Green seems back in the team’s good graces following his suspension, and he’s seeing more playing time than anyone on the bench except for Justise Winslow. What has Green done that’s given Erik Spoelstra such confidence in him?

Jason Lieser: The No. 1 factor in Green’s playing time is his defense, and few outside the organization anticipated such a dramatic improvement. He talked a lot about the impetus for such a change in this article, which has some numbers that illustrate his progress: Green is obviously an gifted scorer, and the Heat need that off their bench, but his defense is keeping him on the court and earning him significant minutes late in games.

Hoops Rumors: What’s kept the Heat from turning to Amar’e Stoudemire much at all?

Jason Lieser: Good luck getting a straight answer on this. Spoelstra keeps saying he is in “rehabilitative recovery” or on “a maintenance program,” but he won’t explain what that means. Stoudemire has played 27 minutes over three games so far. My best guess is that they intend to use him for a shortened season starting in January or February — they did that with Greg Oden a few years ago — and they use him only in emergency situations prior to that.

More from Jason Lieser

The Beat: Monte Poole On The Warriors

Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times about the Bucks. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Warriors from Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area. You can follow Monte on Twitter at @MontePooleCSN, and check out his stories right here.

Hoops Rumors: It’s stunning, really. No team had ever won more than 15 games in a row to start the season, and now here are the Warriors at 22-0. [We talked to Poole before Golden State’s win over the Pacers on Tuesday that sent the team to 23-0] What sets this team apart from everyone else?

Monte Poole: I think it’s a couple of things. One, the system that they put in last year really did two things. It made their offense open up a little bit, and it showed them the value of defense leading to offense. They really did a great job of it last year. This year, I think their defense has fallen off a little bit, but they know that they can find that defense in spurts, four of five minutes here, five or six minutes there, and turn games around. So, you have that, plus the fact that you have Steph Curry, the most creative scorer and distributor in the game today, and you’ve got a pretty good recipe. You have a deep team, and several guys who are pretty unique around the NBA in terms of what they can do, leading off again with Steph and Draymond Green.

Hoops Rumors: It’s early, but has Green already proven that the five-year, $82MM deal he signed in the offseason is a bargain for the Warriors?

Monte Poole: Well, it’s already proven that they didn’t overpay the guy, that he’s not going to rest on his laurels, because that’s not his makeup. He’s had to fight for everything he’s gotten. He came into the league as a second-round draft pick, and he will be the first to tell you that he heard a lot of rejection from other scouts, and teams told him he wasn’t good enough. They pointed to things that he couldn’t do and didn’t focus on the things that he can do. So, he came into the league believing that he had to prove to people that he deserved to be picked higher, he deserved to be more respected, and I would say that he’s gotten that. I like to say three years ago teams were looking at Draymond Green and saying, “Nah, we don’t think so,” and “No, we don’t think so,” “He can’t do this,” “He can’t do that,” and now, guess what they’re doing. They’re looking for the next Draymond Green.

And it’s heart. He’s got a tremendous competitive heart. He’s one of those guys that really sort of personifies the underdog, and actually Steph has some of that, too. Both of these guys know what it’s like to be told, “You’re not good enough.” You think about Steph, and how both of his parents went to Virginia Tech. And Virginia Tech [said to Steph], “Nah, we don’t think so. Thanks, but no thanks.” Now, generally speaking, when both your parents went to a school, you can kind of get in there without a problem, but they weren’t swayed. And Coach K at Duke [Mike Krzyzewski] never looked twice at him. And he says now, “Big mistake,” but if you’re Steph Curry, it doesn’t help you out to hear that. And so, you look at those two guys, the two leaders of this team, and both of them came into the league believing that they had to prove to people that they could play. And they take that attitude into each and every game, every night. And that’s what you see. You see a team that, really, they don’t just want to beat you. They want to kind of annihilate you. They want to show you that they can, despite being told that they can’t.

Hoops Rumors: What has interim coach Luke Walton done, or not done, that’s helped the team to its historic start?

Monte Poole: Luke will be the first to tell you that he is basically a product of the system installed by Steve Kerr. He’s a little bit different guy, of course, but what he’s been able to do is keep the system alive, keep it going, and he hasn’t lost the respect of the players. There was some concern going into the season that, “OK, Steve Kerr won’t be around, so will they treat Luke Walton like a substitute teacher?” And there are very little traces of that. For the most part, they understand him, they listen to him, they talk to him, they respect him — that’s huge. So, he has been able to get these guys most of the time at the level they can play at.

Now, I would say there may be one or two things that I think would be different if Steve were around, and one of those things is turnovers. That’s Steve Kerr’s pet peeve. And there have been games this year where the Warriors went over the 20 mark in turnovers, and that would drive Steve nuts. Luke is a little more willing to take it in stride because they’re winning, and he doesn’t want to change anything dramatically because it’s not his team to change. So, he’s going to let them get away with that a little bit as long as they’re winning, and they’ve done that. The other thing is that they don’t play as great a defense as they can for as long as they can. They were better on defense early last year than they are right now. I don’t think it’s a big deal, because, again, they know that they can play it, and that if it’s a close game, and they play their type of defense for five or six minutes, that they’ll a double-digit lead. So, you could say maybe that’s something that Luke is kind of letting slide a little bit, but, hell, he’s 22-0, so it’s kind of hard to criticize the guy.

Hoops Rumors: Harrison Barnes is taking more shots and scoring more points than ever before, and Andre Iguodala said that the team is trying to give him a boost, cognizant that it’s his contract year. Have you noticed Barnes’ teammates looking out for him more often on the court?

Monte Poole: I mean, it’s always been sporadic. Last year, same way. There were times when Harrison would be a focal point for a few minutes of the game. There were times when he would disappear. And I don’t think it’s been that much different this year. There have been times when he’s barely there, and there have been times when you say, “OK, my God, this guy is going full-flight right now.” So, I don’t think it’s a dramatic difference. I do think Andre, he talked last year about getting Klay Thompson paid, and now he wants to get Harrison paid. I think Harrison’s going to get paid no matter what. He will get paid. I don’t see, quote-on-quote, a conscious effort, because, let’s face it, Harrison is like the fourth option in their offense. He doesn’t do a lot of dribbling, a lot of ball-handling. He’s basically a stand-up shooter and occasionally gets to go one-on-one with somebody and tries to go to the hoop, and he’s good in transition. So, he’ll get most of his points off transition baskets and just catch-and-shoot. I don’t think that’s changed a whole lot.

I asked Bob Myers, the general manager, before the season started, and I asked Luke this, too: “Are you concerned at all that maybe Harrison, being in a contract year, might go out of his game a little bit and try to do a little too much?” And Luke said, “I’ve seen guys do that, but I don’t think that’s Harrison’s personality, I don’t think that’s our team’s personality. I’d be surprised if it happens.” I’ve got to say that I don’t think it’s really happened. Any more shots that he’s gotten that he wouldn’t have gotten last year I think are just a product of the team getting deeper into its offense, because last year they were probably at 60% of it, and now they’re probably at 70 or 80% of it.

[Myers] said exactly that. He looked at his roster, and said, “That’s one of the things that I can honestly say about this roster is that I don’t think there’s a guy in the locker room that would say, ‘It’s about me, it’s about what I need and what I’m going to do.'” I think he’s right. It’s a quality team with quality players that have positive attitudes. They’re not all the same, they’re not cookie-cutter, but at the same time, you don’t sense that anybody is ready to make his agenda bigger than that of the team. Harrison certainly falls into that category. He doesn’t do that. He keeps within the team. It’s only in spurts when he gets really aggressive, and they want to see that. They want to see the aggressive Harrison Barnes because he’s effective. So, Bob believes the same thing that Luke does, that it’s not a problem in terms of Harrison going too far and getting outside of his normal game.

Hoops Rumors: Festus Ezeli‘s minutes are up, but it’s clear that the Warriors are at their best when they don’t have a true center on the floor. What do the results of this season say about Ezeli’s value to the team?

He’s actually got pretty good numbers. The metrics on him are pretty good, and [the Warriors] tell him all the time, the message is that, “You play defense, you anchor the back line, you take care of the paint, and anything else you do for us is gravy.” Well, he’s been actually giving them a little bit of gravy this year. They know that Andrew Bogut is prone to injury. He may be 31, but you know, Bogut’s probably going to be playing three to four more years, and they know he’s not going to be around a whole lot longer. So, I think they do value Festus. They understand his value to the team. I think they want to keep him. He runs the floor very well. He’s still got upside, and you’re seeing it every day and every month. He’s better each year because he’s working at it. And assistant coach Ron Adams — who by the way was voted the top assistant coach in the NBA in a poll of general managers — has sort of taken Festus as his personal pet project. And both after practices and before games, you’ll see Ron and Festus off in the corner sometimes by themselves going over video, or going over post moves, or going over defensive tactics and so forth.

So, they are investing in him, and I think they mean to have him around for a long time. He’s the big that can actually run the court like the smalls, and there’s value in that, because there are certain teams that you will need a guy like him on the floor [against], guys that Bogut can’t keep up with maybe. And Festus does a better job of being a big who can run the floor. Yeah, the small team is their most effective team most of the time, but they can’t always rely on that, and there are going to be times when they know they need Festus — and Bogut, too — but Festus is a guy who’s younger, and a little more agile, and a guy who they believe can be a quality starting center in the league for years to come.

The Beat: Gery Woelfel On The Bucks

gerywoelfel

Gery Woelfel

Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune about the Jazz. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Bucks from Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times. You can follow Gery on Twitter at @GeryWoelfel, and check out his stories right here.

Hoops Rumors: Bucks officials seemed to do their best to temper the high expectations surrounding the team coming into the season, but I don’t think anyone expected a start this slow. What’s gone wrong?

Gery Woelfel: I think it’s a combination of things. I don’t know that it’s one thing in particular. They lost some really quality veteran leadership in Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley. That’s affected them somewhat. … They’ve been perhaps, maybe a little too arrogant, for lack of a better word, coming off last season. They went from 15 wins the prior season to 41. Certainly, you can just look at the Eastern Conference as a whole … the rest of the East is pretty good, too.
Hoops Rumors: What has the net effect of the addition of Greg Monroe been for the Bucks so far? He seems to be producing pretty much the same numbers he did with the Pistons. Do you think he’s been a net positive for the Bucks?
Gery Woelfel: Yeah, I do. He’s done a couple of things. One, the Bucks have really needed a low-post scorer, and then secondly, if you followed the Bucks-and-Bulls series last year, one of the real shortcomings of the Bucks was their lack of rebounding, and there were a couple of games in which they just simply got annihilated on the boards. … They definitely shored up their interior game.
Hoops Rumors: Monroe is taking the most shots, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is the leading scorer so far. Is Antetokounmpo the best player on this team?
Gery Woelfel: I personally don’t believe he’s the best player on the team. Actually, I think that distinction right now goes to Greg Monroe. He’s basically a double-double machine. Everytime he catches the ball, he’s almost immediately double-teamed. Giannis’ upside is off the charts, I think everybody knows that. The same holds true for Jabari Parker. In fact, I was talking to a former NBA player the other day, and he really believes that the Bucks should just turn the team over to Jabari Parker. He’s that talented.
Hoops Rumors: The Bucks gave John Henson a four-year, $44MM extension this fall and he’s averaging only 15.4 minutes per game, even fewer than he did last year. Why pay eight-figure salaries to someone who doesn’t play all that much?
Gery Woelfel: The Bucks have been known to make some very, very baffling decisions over the years. … I like John Henson. I wouldn’t give him that amount. Unfortunately for John Henson, I’m not so sure he’s Jason Kidd‘s kind of player. He didn’t play a lot last year over the course of the season. He didn’t really see extensive minutes until late in the season and in the playoffs. In that matchup against the Bulls, he did quite well, and that’s sort of what bought the extension. The Bucks look at him an asset, too. If they want to, they can trade him, and I’m sure there will be a team more than happy to take him off their hands.
Hoops Rumors: Marc Lasry has indicated in the past that he gives Jason Kidd’s voice just as much weight as John Hammond‘s when it comes to player personnel decisions. Is that the case, and how well are Hammond and Kidd working together?
Gery Woelfel: I think it’s pretty apparent to people around the NBA that deal with the Bucks that Jason Kidd is calling all the shots. … He decided that he didn’t want to pay Brandon Knight going forward. It was a very controversial trade. At the time the Bucks were seven games over .500. After the trade they were seven games under .500 and now of course they’re several games under .500 again this year.
Hoops Rumors: Knight has looked really impressive for the Suns so far. Is it too early to say that the trade was a mistake?
Gery Woelfel: I thought it was a horrendous decision. I said at the time I didn’t like the trade and I like it even less than now. Brandon Knight is a player some people around the NBA thought was an All-Star-caliber player last year. Now he’s off to a terrific start in Phoenix. The numbers don’t tell the whole story about Brandon Knight. The guy is just incredibly competitive. His work ethic. He was one of the first guys there and one of the last guys there, and most importantly, guys like playing with him, because he plays so hard. He’s totally into the game. I think his teammates appreciated that. … That’s not to demean Michael Carter-Williams, because Michael Carter-Williams really comes to the table with his length and his defense. He’s very capable of being one of the best defensive point guards in the league, but unfortunately he doesn’t bring it on a consistent basis. He was the worst 3-point shooter in the NBA as a starting point guard last year. … At this point in the NBA, it’s all about the three ball. You’ve got to be able to shoot the three ball, and unfortunately for Michael Carter-Williams, he can’t do that at this point in his career.

The Beat: Tony Jones On The Jazz

tonyjones

Tony Jones

Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times about the Clippers. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Jazz from Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune. You can follow Tony on Twitter at @Tjonessltrib, and check out his stories right here.

Hoops Rumors: Just how good is Rudy Gobert? How valuable is he to the Jazz?

Tony Jones: He’s quite valuable. You know, the Jazz are a team that, if they miss one of their top four players for an extended player of time, it’s going to affect them greatly. So, if [Rodney] Hood goes out, or if Gobert goes out, or if [Derrick] Favors goes out, or if [Gordon] Hayward goes out, they’re going to be adversely affected by it. With that being said, I mean Gobert is, he’s very, very good, and he’s very valuable. He’s a great rim protector, but he’s really a great team defender. He’s a lot more than a rim protector. He’s a deterrent in the lane, he plays pick-and-roll coverages really well. He’s communicative in the back of the defense. So, he really does a lot. He’s just a lot more than somebody who blocks shots. I think that he’s very good. I actually think that he has a chance to be a generational-type defender, somebody like [Dikembe] Mutombo. So, he’s going to get better, and he’s going to continue to get better. He’s really young, but he’s certainly on his way.

Hoops Rumors: Did the Jazz know what they had in Gobert before the Kanter trade, or did they find out along with the rest of the league down the stretch last season?
Tony Jones: During the predraft workouts, they worked Gobert out, and Jerry Sloan just absolutely was blown away by him, blown away by his competitiveness. And that’s why they made the trade for him. Especially because they were able to buy the pick, basically, from the Denver Nuggets for a couple of million [dollars, plus the rights to Erick Green]. That being said, even though they really, really liked him, nobody knew what he was going to be. The rest of the NBA didn’t know, nobody who analyzed the draft. There was no projection that had him a Defensive Player of the Year-type player by year three. Nobody. And anybody who said they had that is probably not being truthful about it. The competitiveness that the Jazz really loved about him, he’s really taken that to the next level, and he’s turned out to be a real worker. So, he works on his game, he works on his craft, and he cares about the stuff, and he really likes basketball. That the big thing for a big like him. He really likes to play. So, he’s been a self-made player. You also have to give a lot of credit to Utah’s player development staff for what they’ve done to him. His improvement from year one to year two, I don’t think anybody could have projected that.
Hoops Rumors: Alec Burks and Rodney Hood look much improved this season. They’re both shooting guards, so can they co-exist on the floor?
Tony Jones: They have co-existed. With Dante Exum out, one of the things that Quin Snyder has done is played all three of his wing guys together, which is Rodney Hood, Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward. He’s played all those guys together, and they co-exist because they can all handle the ball and they all do different things. Hayward gives you a little bit of everything. Burks is really good at getting to the basket and playing pick-and-roll basketball, and Hood is a lot more cerebral than the first two. So, the short answer is yes, they can and they have been co-existing on the floor. And because Exum’s been out and that’s created the void at the point guard spot, that’s created room for Snyder to get all three of those guys minutes, because all three of those guys are starters in the NBA. It’s been good for Snyder to be able to get all those guys time and on the same floor.
Hoops Rumors: How well have the Jazz played during these stretches when they don’t have a point guard out there, and do you think they’re content to keep it this way rather than trade for an Exum replacement?
Tony Jones: The three-wing alignment plus Derrick Favors plus Rudy Gobert, statistically, has been by far their best five, and it’s not even close in terms of the net rating. All those guys are just long and athletic, and the one thing it allows Snyder to do is switch everything defensively, so that’s a big net gain for them. As long as the three wings can co-exist with each other, it’s going to allow the Jazz to tread water at the point guard spot waiting for Dante Exum to get back. The other thing that hasn’t really been talked about is how good Trey Burke has been this year. He’s been a guy that found his role. He’s not a starter at the NBA level, but he looks like he’s a guy that can be very effective as a backup who can come off the bench and just be a scorer for 20 or 25 minutes a night. I think that he’s having a career year in terms of his shooting splits, and he’s just looked really effective this year as opposed to his first two seasons. He’s looked more comfortable.
Hoops Rumors: With Favors already entrenched at power forward, where does Trey Lyles fit on this team for the long term?
Tony Jones: They ideally want him to be the stretch playmaking power forward that Snyder’s wanted in the offense. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. Trevor Booker‘s ahead of him on the depth chart. Booker’s in his contract year, so it’ll be interesting to see if they bring Booker back next season. If they don’t, then Lyles becomes the third big man, and the thing about Lyles is, he can play a couple of positions. The Jazz have played him at power forward, and they’ve played him at center in small-ball alignments so far, but he needs some development. He needs some time. He needs time to adjust to the NBA game. I don’t think that he’s completely ready yet to be rotational, but he’s a guy that has an intriguing skill set, because he can face up, he can make plays, he can handle the ball, he can pass the ball, he can shoot the ball out to three. He can do a lot of things. He’s just got to get a lot stronger. The NBA is a man’s game, and you can see the strength disparity that he needs to make up, not only this year but in the offseason.
Hoops Rumors: The Jazz have three guys with non-guaranteed contracts: Chris Johnson, Elijah Millsap and Jeff Withey. Which of them has made the best case to stick around?
Tony Jones: I think all of them have had their moments. I wouldn’t say of any of them have made the best case, per se, to stick around. Nobody’s really blown anybody away or anything like that, but they’ve all had their moments. Johnson is a shooter, and Snyder likes that. Millsap is a guy that will really get after you defensively for 10 minutes a night, and Snyder likes that. Withey is a guy who’s a rim protector. I don’t think you can ever have too many bigs at the NBA level. One thing is that they give the Jazz some flexibility, their contracts, and they’re all really good locker room guys. You can be in the locker room and not hear their voices for two weeks, because they’re just quiet guys, businesslike guys that go about what they do professionally. So, they’re good guys to have in the locker room if you need specialty guys on the floor, and they’re definitely good guys off the court and in the locker room.

The Beat: Ben Bolch On The Clippers

Ben Bolch

Ben Bolch

Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post about the Wizards. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Clippers from Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @latbbolch, and check out his stories right here.

Hoops Rumors: Have you noticed any changes in DeAndre Jordan or the way the team regards him in the wake of his near-defection to the Mavs this summer?

Ben Bolch: Jordan has seemed a touch more serious than in recent seasons, perhaps a sign of his maturity and increased leadership role. His offensive game seems about the same, though, and that’s fine because the Clippers don’t need him to score more than he does. He just needs to continue being the defensive captain and rebound-grabbing force that has made him one of the league’s most coveted big men. His rebounding is down a bit from recent seasons but it’s still too early in the season to think those numbers won’t go up.

Hoops Rumors: Lance Stephenson unexpectedly won a spot in the opening-night starting lineup. What has he done that’s impressed Doc Rivers?

Ben Bolch: Well, he lost that spot against the Pistons and it will be interesting to see whether he starts going forward once the entire roster is back intact. Rivers thought Stephenson was a better fit with the starters and it helped the second unit’s rhythm as well. I’m not sure that’s been the case through the season’s first few weeks. My take is that Stephenson is best with the ball in his hands and the floor spaced so he can attack the basket, something he can’t do with Blake Griffin and Jordan on the court. He might be best utilized with the second unit.

Hoops Rumors: Jamal Crawford‘s minutes are down, but he seems OK with it so far, even though he appeared to hint at dissatisfaction over the summer and is entering a contract year. How have the Clippers convinced him to stay engaged?

Ben Bolch: Crawford’s immense value was never clearer than in the game against the Pistons where he scored 37 points in a spot start. He’s done a great job of staying patient and professional amid the reduced playing time and will be an important part of whatever success the Clippers have this season. It was interesting to note that Crawford’s best game came with Stephenson barely playing — less than two minutes. One of the big questions coming into the season was whether Crawford and Stephenson could coexist as contributors and it hasn’t been answered.

Hoops Rumors: Paul Pierce was a locker room leader for the Wizards, but the Clippers have others to fill that role, Chris Paul in particular. What sort of approach is Pierce taking on this team?

Ben Bolch: He’s been vocal. Doc Rivers said he’s entered the locker room on several occasions to find Pierce addressing the team and saying things that Rivers had planned to say. That’s a big boost for the coaching staff and the players to have that voice of someone who has won a championship. Paul said he welcomes it.

Hoops Rumors: Josh Smith is the only big man off the bench in the rotation thus far, but even he hasn’t seen that many minutes. Have the Clippers had success with all their small ball lineups, or are they just trying to keep up with what their opponents are doing?

Ben Bolch: The Clippers’ second unit has been hit and miss. They have tried to match up at times and tried to exert their own will at others. The small-ball lineups haven’t terrorized opponents as some thought before the season, but they have been moderately effective in stretches. Wesley Johnson and Smith have been effective at times playing alongside Austin Rivers, Crawford and Pierce. It just hasn’t all come together yet.

Hoops Rumors: The Clippers haven’t gone with a traditional point guard to back up Chris Paul too much this year, either. How well has Austin Rivers handled those duties so far?

Ben Bolch: He’s been solid defensively but a little erratic offensively, especially with the jump shot that he worked so hard to improve during the summer. He hit a big 3-pointer late in the game against Detroit, though, so maybe things are starting to turn in a better direction for him. Austin is usually at his best attacking the basket, something the Clippers hope he does more than becoming largely a jump shooter.

The Beat: Jorge Castillo On The Wizards

jorgecastillo

Jorge Castillo

Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star about the Pacers. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Wizards from Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post. You can follow Jorge on Twitter at @jorgeccastillo, and check out his stories right here.

Hoops Rumors: Kevin Durant‘s visit to Washington this week has reignited all the talk about the potential that he’ll sign with the Wizards in the summer. Durant is guarding against the rumors becoming a distraction for him, but what, if anything, are the Wizards doing to make sure their plans for the future don’t detract from what they’re doing this season?

Jorge Castillo: Every personnel decision the Wizards have made over the last two years was to improve the roster in the short-term while ensuring they’ll have the salary cap space to make a run at Durant in 2016. The strategy included not offering Paul Pierce a multi-year deal; adding Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson and Gary Neal on one-year commitments; resigning Drew Gooden III on one-year deal; and waiting to give Bradley Beal a max contract until July. With a core of Beal, John Wall, and Marcin Gortat, the Wizards believe they are a top Eastern Conference contender and would become a championship favorite with Durant.

Hoops Rumors: Are the Wizards at all worried that Beal will seek a short-term offer sheet or sign his qualifying offer, or are they fully confident that he’ll be willing to re-sign with them on a long-term max deal next summer?

Jorge Castillo: No, they’re not [worried]. The two sides mutually agreed to table contract discussions until next summer because a max contract signed next summer makes sense for both sides: The Wizards will have roughly an additional $7MM in cap space because Beal’s cap hold will be $14MM instead of $20.9 million and Beal will be able to sign a five-year deal instead of a four-year extension of his rookie contract because he’ll become a restricted free agent.

Hoops Rumors: Nene‘s name surfaced in trade rumors during the offseason, and the Wizards have removed him from the starting lineup in favor of Kris Humphries. How is Nene approaching this season, the last on his contract?

Jorge Castillo: It’s been a transition for Nene. He’s been a starter for most of his career and the Wizards as late as early last season were very dependent on him. But he accepted the decision and the Wizards hope he will be an anchor for the second unit as the backup center.

Hoops Rumors: How well has the rest of the team taken to coach Randy Wittman‘s new, more perimeter-oriented attack? Has the adjustment been fairly seamless, or have some trouble spots emerged?

Jorge Castillo: Most of the players love the idea and understand why they’re doing it: Wall and Beal are their best players and the style suits their skill sets. But the adjustment has been bumpy. They’ve turned over the ball at a drastically higher rate than last season — they combined for 50 turnovers in losses to the Celtics and Hawks — and the defense, which ranked in the top 10 each of the last seasons, has declined. It’s early in the season, though, and the team believes the operation will improve with time.

Hoops Rumors: Otto Porter is the team’s third leading scorer so far, and it seems like he keeps getting better. How good do the Wizards think he’ll eventually become?

Jorge Castillo: The Wizards believe Porter can become a very good player and the perfect complement to the team’s stars because he’s a versatile defender who doesn’t need the basketball in his hands to be a factor at the other end. He has become an effective spot-up 3-point shooter and his cutting ability is maximized in the new spacial offense. He’s only 22 so there’s plenty of room to grow.

Hoops Rumors: The Wizards spent most of their mid-level exception on Alan Anderson, who’s still yet to play for them as he continues to recover from a pair of surgeries on his left ankle. How close is he to returning, and with plenty of other rotation-caliber wing players on the roster, what role does the team envision for him when he gets back?

Jorge Castillo: Anderson likely won’t be back until December. He’ll fit into the rotation at the two and three, likely taking the minutes that are being allocated to Garrett Temple and rookie Kelly Oubre Jr. Wing depth was one of the Wizards’ weaknesses last season so they stockpiled on them during the offseason to maximize versatility in preparation for the new offense. And his defensive ability will be a welcomed addition.

The Beat: Candace Buckner On The Pacers

candacebuckner

Candace Buckner

Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com about the Rockets. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Pacers from Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star. You can follow Candace on Twitter at @CandaceDBuckner, and check out her stories right here.

Hoops Rumors: The Pacers had a ton of success with two traditional big men and a slow-it-down approach before Paul George‘s injury. What made this offseason the right time to change gears and adopt small ball and a faster pace?

Candace Buckner: The change started at the top with Larry Bird believing the team needed to score more points. The previous style was more focused on the defensive end and naturally, made the offensive game a slow slog. I believe Bird thought it was the right time because the “smash mouth” style had reached its peak plus the team could only go so far with a slow, plodding center in Roy Hibbert. With Hibbert and David West both near the end of their contracts, it made sense to switch gears and try something new.

Hoops Rumors: Some of George’s most recent comments indicate that he’s warmed to the idea of playing power forward. Where does he stand on the idea now, and how concerned was the organization when he expressed his reluctance to the position switch?

Candace Buckner: George hasn’t played a ton of true fours this season and won’t have to defend the real power forwards of the league. So his concerns about the position have cooled. I doubt the organization had any real concerns about his thoughts.

Hoops Rumors: The team invested more heavily in Monta Ellis than anyone else this summer, committing nearly $44MM over four years to him. What is it about him that appealed to the Pacers, and what drew him to Indiana?

Candace Buckner: The Pacers liked his speed and scoring ability. Monta Ellis was believed to be the perfect counterpart to George, to help take the offensive responsibility off of him. Ellis has shown to not only score and get his own looks from mid-range and closer to the rim, but also create for others. We’ve already seen the ball in his hands a lot in the fourth quarter and two years ago when George was healthy, he had that role.

Hoops Rumors: What are the expectations for Myles Turner this season? How quickly do the Pacers think their lottery pick can contribute?

Candace Buckner: Indiana has lofty expectations in Myles Turner, in that the team is relying on him as the backup center already. I don’t know if he will usurp Ian Mahinmi as the starter but he’s definitely a rotational guy who’s minutes are only going to progress. However, Turner has dealt with a myriad of small ailments already and so the team can only trust in him so much. Once he gets healthier, I see him playing an even larger role.

Hoops Rumors: The Pacers signed three players this summer who were drafted in the top half of the second round within the last two years — Rakeem Christmas, Glenn Robinson III and Joe Young. Which one of them most excites the front office?

Candace Buckner: Glenn Robinson III seems to be the early favorite. Another guy that Bird truly likes. He can defend, has worked on his shooting and has tremendous athletic ability. He’s similar to a young and raw Paul George. He has dealt with a shoulder injury so he’s only played in one game, but he’s already broken into the 10-man rotation.

Hoops Rumors: Chase Budinger is the fifth most highly paid player on the Pacers this season. What sort of contribution does the team envision from him?

Candace Buckner: Budinger needs to stay healthy — which he hasn’t done through his career — to be a big contributor. They like his running and spacing ability for the spread offense. In small ball, he can play the four or the three and mostly he’ll be spotting up from beyond the arc.

The Beat: Calvin Watkins On The Rockets

Calvin Watkins

Calvin Watkins

Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News about the Lakers. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Rockets from Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com. You can follow Calvin on Twitter at @calvinwatkins, and check out his stories right here.

Hoops Rumors: Both Ty Lawson and Patrick Beverley are averaging fewer points and assists than they did last season on separate teams. It’s early, but is it too early for concern about whether they can successfully co-exist?

Calvin Watkins: Too early right now. Lawson was being passive-aggressive in some situations until recently when James Harden told him to become more aggressive. Lawson just needs to find a comfort level within the offense and do what he normally does. Against Oklahoma City, Lawson had 11 assists and made six of 10 shots from the floor. When he’s playing aggressive, passing and taking open looks, he’s an excellent point guard to watch. Beverley’s numbers are going to go down just because he’s going to defer to Lawson when the duo is on the floor. There is one area that will increase, the number of 3-point attempts for Beverley. He will get more open looks because of Lawson and even to a certain degree what Harden is going to do, that’s become a passer. It’s too early to worry about them right now.

Hoops Rumors: Dwight Howard seemingly has a lot to prove this year after he missed half of last season with injury, especially since he can opt out next summer. Is he taking a different approach to this season?

Calvin Watkins: Howard isn’t going to participate in many back-to-backs, at least early in the season. The Rockets are taking a cautious approach with him because he had some back stiffness after the first preseason game. The Rockets don’t want to push Howard too much for fear they will lose him again. Remember he played in a career-low 41 games last season due to an assortment of injuries. I think Kevin McHale wants to use him more, especially in the early going, but as the season moves along, Howard will gain more minutes.

Hoops Rumors: Were you surprised at all that the Rockets didn’t sign either Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas to extensions before the deadline Monday?

Calvin Watkins: Not really. I think the Rockets value both players but let’s be honest, Jones has endured too many health issues the last few years and while he’s very athletic and has tremendous upside, in just the last two seasons he’s had nerve damage to his leg, a collapsed lung, bruised ribs, a concussion and a lacerated eyelid. I don’t believe he’s injury-prone, but he’s got some bad luck. Motiejunas is coming off back surgery and like with Howard, the Rockets are being cautious. His return is uncertain but when he does play, he’s almost as talented as Jones. Rockets have to wait on the health of Motiejunas more than anything else before deciding on whether he’s worth a long-term deal. Having a back problem can be a dicey situation.

Hoops Rumors: Speaking of Motiejunas, his absence seems to have opened some minutes for Montrezl Harrell so far, though Sam Dekker has mostly been stuck on the bench. What does the team expect from the two rookies this season?

Calvin Watkins: Harrell is a surprise. He plays with hustle and he has some good post moves. The Rockets have been short-handed at the forward/center spot, so Harrell is getting his chance to play more. He needs to improve on his defensive rotations and that comes with more playing time. Dekker is just behind Trevor Ariza at small forward and is still trying to figure out how to get his own shot. He’s going to be awhile in terms of getting playing time.

Hoops Rumors: The Rockets re-signed K.J. McDaniels this summer, but he still isn’t seeing much playing time. What has to happen for that to change?

Calvin Watkins: Injuries. McDaniels is very talented, athletic, a little out of control, but has upside. Rockets have too many shooters ahead of him. If someone gets hurt, like Ariza, Harden or Corey Brewer, then you might see that change. For now, he’s stuck on the bench.

Hoops Rumors: The Rockets reportedly persuaded Brewer to decline his $4.905MM player option when they traded for him last year, and yet they re-signed him this summer to a deal with an average annual value of almost $7.807MM, a nearly $3MM difference. What did Brewer do that made such a positive impression on the team?

Calvin Watkins: McHale loves veteran players who play hard on both ends. That’s Brewer. The fact he’s won a title also gives him value in the Rockets locker room. He’s instant offense on the break off the bench and he’s a pretty good defender. Plus, he’s good friends with Lawson and that can only help the point guard in his growing process from the issues he endured in the last several months.

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