Tilman Fertitta

Western Notes: Smith, Cuban, Fertitta, Daniels, Clarke

The Lakers are unlikely to sign shooting guard J.R. Smith once he clears waivers, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets. The Cavaliers cut Smith loose on Monday after failing to find a trade partner. The lack of interest shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the Lakers have signed shooting guards Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Troy Daniels in free agency.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been fined $50K by the league for leaking information from the Board of Governors meeting, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reports. Cuban revealed the vote to allow coaches to challenge an official’s ruling next season.
  • The league has also fined Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta $25K for making public comments about the Russell WestbrookChris Paul swap before it was officially completed, Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets.
  • Troy Daniels chose the Lakers over the Warriors and Thunder, Dave McMenamin of ESPN tweets. Daniels was wooed by Anthony Davis during the decision-making process. Daniels signed a one-year, minimum salary contract.
  • Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke, the 21st player selected in the draft, has been named the Las Vegas Summer League MVP, David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal relays. Clarke averaged 14.7 PPG and 9.8 RPG in 22.0 MPG over six games.

Harden, Paul Relationship Described As “Unsalvageable”

4:54pm: Responding to today’s report, Morey said Paul and his reps haven’t asked for a trade, adding that the point guard will be on the Rockets next season, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). According to Morey, Paul and Harden don’t have issues with one another —  Morey says he has spoken to both players often this offseason about free agency plans, Feigen adds.

While Morey’s dismissal was expected, reports of a rift between the Rockets’ two stars are becoming increasingly frequent. We’ll have to wait and see if the team is actually willing to bring both players back in the fall.

3:46pm: The relationship between Rockets guards James Harden and Chris Paul has been described by sources as “unsalvageable,” according to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, who reports that the two stars no longer want to play alongside one another.

Sources tell Goodwill that Paul asked Rockets management for a trade, while Harden issued a “him or me” ultimatum after the team was eliminated from the playoffs this spring by Golden State.

The two players didn’t speak to one another for nearly two months during the season, according to Goodwill, who adds that Harden has rebuffed CP3’s repeated attempts to communicate so far this offseason.

“There’s no respect at all, on either side,” a source tells Goodwill. “They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.”

Goodwill’s story comes on the heels of a similar report from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, who suggested that the disconnect between Harden and Paul stemmed from their different preferred playing styles and personalities. Harden thrives in an isolation-heavy attack, while Paul prefers a style predicated on more ball movement.

Sources tell Goodwill that Paul would curse at head coach Mike D’Antoni, complaining about the offense bogging down when Harden replaced Paul in the second unit. MacMahon passed along similar anecdotes in his story, reporting that Paul would cherish the opportunity to play in that second unit without Harden and “barked” at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench as the NBA’s leading scorer lobbied to check back in.

MacMahon and Goodwill each provided details on the personality clash between the two All-Stars as well, with Goodwill indicating that Paul’s “grating personality” has irritated Harden. The former MVP snapped back at CP3 after the Rockets’ elimination last month, telling Paul that he didn’t always know best and talked too much, according to MacMahon.

“Chris has a personality where he just doesn’t let anything go,” a team source told MacMahon. “He just keeps pestering and pestering and pestering and pestering. Sometimes James has had enough — and not just him. That’s what makes [Paul] a winner and also what keeps him from being a big-time winner. He’s got to temper that.”

MacMahon’s and Goodwill’s reports add more context to why the Rockets have apparently been exploring the trade market for Paul and other key players this spring. However, Paul has one of the league’s least team-friendly contracts, which will make him difficult to trade — that deal will pay the veteran point guard $38.5MM in 2019/20, and $124MM in total over the next three years.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has “grumbled” about the team’s investment in Paul and expressed regret to staffers about that signing, according to MacMahon, who adds that Fertitta has even griped about the deal in front of rival executives. Goodwill’s report lines up with MacMahon’s — sources tell Yahoo that Fertitta has complained about CP3’s contract since it was signed.

For what it’s worth, Rockets GM Daryl Morey has downplayed the tension within the organization and recently denied that Paul had asked to be traded. However, the situation in Houston looks increasingly untenable. We’ll see how the Rockets’ front office and players respond to the latest reports, but at this point it looks like a roster shake-up may be on the horizon.

Rockets Plan To Keep Spending, Add Another Top Player

The Rockets are planning to keep their starting five intact and will attempt to “add a third star or a top mid-level player to our core,” GM Daryl Morey said in an ESPN Radio interview on Monday.

Reports surfaced late last month after the Rockets were eliminated by the Warriors during the conference semifinals that Morey had made available everyone on his roster with the possible exception of James Harden. Morey declared on the Golic & Wingo show that he plans to keep the core group of Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon intact while adding another impact player to the mix.

Morey says he’s been given the green light from owner Tilman Fertitta to upgrade the roster, despite major luxury tax issues. The salaries next season for the above five players alone add up to approximately $115MM.

He also believes that with significant injuries to Warriors’ stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and despite the pending trade of Anthony Davis to the Lakers, the Rockets should be considered the Western Conference’s premier team.

“We feel like we should be the favorite in the West, and we’re going to do moves to show people that we should be the favorite in the West, and that’s going to create a little tension when we do that,” Morey said. “But at the end of the day, we’re going to have at least our starting five back, which again most teams are scrambling to keep it together and we’re going to spend mid-level, we’re going to spend into the tax. We’re going to be one of the most expensive rosters, like we were last year and this year, and we’re going to be right there.”

Morey also addressed a few other issues:

  • He downplayed any disconnect between his superstar guards. An in-depth story from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon detailed the turmoil within the organization, including the tension between their two best players due to the differences in their preferred playing styles and personalities. “Two competitive superstars at that level, there’s going to be times when they are extremely competitive, extremely focused on how do we get to that next level, and when we don’t there’s going to be frustration,” Morey said.
  • He expressed optimism that the organization will reach a contract extension agreement with coach Mike D’Antoni, who is entering the final year of his deal. D’Antoni’s agent indicated a week ago that there was a lack of progress. “He’s going to be our coach next year. We’re hoping to work things out for the future right now; if we don’t, we’re going to work it out after next season,” Morey said.
  • He insisted that Paul had not asked for a trade, though his contract would be tough to move anyway. Paul has three years and approximately $124MM remaining on his deal, which includes a player option in the final season.

Mike D’Antoni’s Agent Denies Progress Toward Extension

The Rockets and head coach Mike D’Antoni may not be as close to an extension agreement as yesterday’s report indicated, tweets Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston. Warren LeGarie, D’Antoni’s agent, confirms that owner Tilman Fertitta and GM Daryl Morey met with the coach at his West Virginia home, but paints a different picture of negotiations.

“It’s not exactly representing the situation,” LeGarie said. “When they met with Mike … they had presented essentially what they considered (was) a new offer, even though for us it’s the same, it’s the same one that we’re not willing to do. They’ve taken (out) the $2.5MM buyout and made that a $5MM deal. It’s still not Mike’s market (value).”

D’Antoni listened to the offer from Fertitta and Morey, but didn’t engage in negotiations, telling them to present the deal to his agent.

“They’re never talked to me since,” LeGarie said. “So it’s not moving. It’s a little bit disingenuous what is being reported. They believe by going there and bypassing (me) that will somehow get it done. It won’t. … We have not been talking and we’re not closer to a deal.”

D’Antoni has one year left on his contract at $4.5MM. He has been the Rockets’ coach for the past three seasons, compiling a 173-73 record.

Rockets, D’Antoni Close To Extension Agreement

The Rockets have re-engaged contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni and are close to an agreement, Tim MacMahon of ESPN tweets.

Houston owner Tilman Fertitta has removed the buyout language that was the sticking point when talks previously broke down, MacMahon adds.

D’Antoni is entering the final year of his contract and is due $4.5MM next season. D’Antoni and his agent had broken off negotiations late last month.

Before the breakdown, the Rockets reportedly offered D’Antoni a one-year, $5MM extension which could have increased in value based on Houston’s performance in the playoffs. However, D’Antoni’s agent Warren LeGarie said at the time D’Antoni’s $1MM bonuses for postseason advancement wouldn’t have kicked in until the second round, and that he wouldn’t have earned his full $5MM base salary if he had been fired or if the Rockets failed to make the playoffs.

The Rockets’ brass has made significant changes to D’Antoni staff since the club was eliminated by Golden State in the conference semifinals, parting ways with Jeff BdzelikRoy RogersMitch Vanya, and Irv Roland.

Rockets Rumors: D’Antoni, Offseason, Paul

After head coach Mike D’Antoni ended contract extension negotiations with the Rockets on Thursday, details about the offer that Houston made to D’Antoni began to trickle out.

According to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle, team owner Tilman Fertitta claimed that the Rockets offered D’Antoni a one-year, $5MM extension which could have increased in value based on Houston’s performance in the playoffs. As Fertitta described it, the deal – which would’ve been a raise on D’Antoni’s current $4.5MM salary – would’ve paid the head coach an extra $1MM for every series the Rockets won.

“We didn’t end extension talks,” Fertitta said. “Agents’ jobs are to play hardball. I made Mike a great extension offer. It was one of the better base salaries in basketball but also had the highest incentives in basketball. Mike could make $4MM in incentives. Business is business. I’m a very incentive-based guy. If you perform, I want you to do unbelievable.”

However, addressing that offer today, D’Antoni’s agent Warren LeGarie portrayed it a little differently. As Feigen relays, LeGarie said that D’Antoni’s $1MM bonuses wouldn’t have started until the second round, and that he wouldn’t have earned his full $5MM base salary if he had been fired or if the Rockets failed to make the playoffs.

“The reported $5MM is really $2.5MM because it comes with contingencies,” LeGarie said. “One, it’s only $5MM if he makes the playoffs and two, if he is coaching the team at the end of the year. If they decide to fire Mike in the proverbial change of direction, he gets $2.5MM. If there is an injury or a change in the roster construction, of which Mike has no control, he nonetheless would become a victim of it.”

LeGarie emphasized that D’Antoni wasn’t “insulted” by the offer, but said it didn’t make sense for their side, based on the current market for coaches of D’Antoni’s stature.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • Despite rumors that the Rockets are making virtually everyone except for James Harden available on the trade market, Fertitta and general manager Daryl Morey praised the club’s starting five and predicted it would return next season, per Feigen.
  • According to Feigen, Morey said he hopes to use the Rockets’ mid-level exception to add a “high-quality” player to the roster, signaling that he’ll try to use it on a single player rather than multiple pieces.
  • More from Morey, via Feigen: “Whatever it takes to get over that final hump to get a championship, that’s what we’re going to do. On the coaching front, I … recommended we make some changes. If there’s a trade out there that helps us, great, we’ll do that as well. Our starting five this year I would put up there with anyone. If there’s a trade out there that helps, we’ll do that. We’re going to keep all of our key people.”
  • As Sean Deveney of Sporting News details, executives around the NBA still like Chris Paul as a player, but view his contract as one that would be hard for Houston to move in a trade. “It will have to be a salary dump,” one front-office executive said. “You might get back a decent player and a draft pick. But mostly, it is getting that contract off your books for the next three years. … If you’re Houston, you’re happy just to move him along and let someone else pay him. But you’re going to have to take back a bad contract in the bargain.”

Rockets Rumors: D’Antoni, Luxury Tax, Gordon

After promising in the wake of the Rockets‘ elimination from the postseason last weekend to upgrade the team’s roster this summer, owner Tilman Fertitta addressed the upcoming offseason more extensively in a conversation with Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle this week.

Before digging into Houston’s roster or offseason plans, Fertitta made it clear that Mike D’Antoni will return for the 2019/20 season, which will represent the last year of his four-year contract with the club. Typically, an NBA team will sign its head coach to an extension rather than let him enter the final year of his deal as a “lame duck.” Fertitta tells Feigen that while he’s not beholden to that concept, he’s certainly not opposed to the idea and plans to meet with D’Antoni in the coming weeks.

“He’s not a lame duck to me. That’s just a media term. That’s just a media buzzword,” Fertitta said. “Mike is going to be 69 years old (next May) and Mike doesn’t know totally what he wants to do, yet. We’ll sit down with Mike in the next few weeks and talk with him.

“We’re more concerned with making our team better next year. Mike will be here. I like Mike. I think he’s a very good coach. Players like playing for him. I keep being told, free agents want to know who the owner is and they want to know who the coach is. Mike and I do well together. Hopefully, we’ll continue to win and Mike will be here for a long time.”

Here’s more from Fertitta on the Rockets:

  • While Fertitta indicates that he’d welcome back the Rockets’ starting lineup, he’s also open to a more “dramatic retooling” and likely won’t enter the offseason with a run-it-back mentality, writes Feigen. “I’ve directed my people to get better next year — anything we can do, from ownership to conditioning and training, all the way to that level,” Fertitta said. “If we can make our team better player-wise, we’re going to make our team better. If we can make our team better coaching-wise, we’ll make our team better.”
  • Fertitta made it clear that he has high expectations for the franchise: “We’re here to win. We’re not here to be just OK and make it to the playoffs. We’re going to do whatever it takes to be a championship style team every year. I will make moves to always extend our runway. I’m not a rebuilding guy to go collapse for three years to get draft picks. I want to keep us at as high a level as we can. I have a good management team. We’re in the City of Houston, which is soon to be the third-largest city in the United States so we should always attract our good share of free agents.”
  • The Rockets’ owner strongly pushed back against the idea that he directed the team to get out of luxury-tax territory in 2018/19, calling it an “accident” and telling Feigen that he’s “still trying to figure out” how they got under the tax line. “I spend more money on little things than anybody else,” Fertitta said. “I just bought us a brand-new 767 that we’re re-fitting right now. Everybody else just rents planes. I want our players on our plane. And it’s not a 757; it’s a 767. Anybody can have an opinion. You can say I’m a lousy owner. But don’t make a statement when you don’t have any (…) idea what you’re talking about.” Despite Fertitta’s fervent denials, it’s hard to see why the Rockets’ front office would make multiple cost-cutting moves if team ownership was entirely unconcerned with ending up in the tax.
  • Fertitta would have interest in signing Eric Gordon to a long-term extension this summer, Feigen writes.
  • More from Fertitta on his vision for the organization, via Feigen: “I want us to be tough. I never want to be soft. I don’t like soft ownership and I don’t like soft teams. That’s not my culture. I do want my players scrambling for a loose ball. I’ll set a hard pick in business. I’ll scramble on the floor for a ball in business. I expect them to do it on the court. I’m not saying they don’t. I have a very hard-playing team. But we’re never going to be soft.”

Rockets Owner Promises To Upgrade Roster

The Rockets have no plans to hit the restart button after their Game 6 flop at home against the Warriors. Owner Tilman Fertitta is intent on improving the roster to help the core group get over the hump in future playoffs, Tim MacMahon of ESPN reports.

“I’m very fortunate to have the starting five that I have, but if we can make this team better, we’re going to make this team better,” Fertitta said. “That’s just a fact. I have a great team. I love all five of my starting five, but it’s my job to make sure that we put the best team that we can put on the court next year.”

It’s one thing to say that upgrades are forthcoming. It’s another thing to pull that off when the team already has major salary cap issues. The combined salaries of James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker alone put Houston over the projected cap of $109MM for next season.

Harden isn’t going anywhere, so unless the Rockets could somehow unload Paul’s contract — he’s owed a whopping $124MM over the next three years — they’re not going to gain significant cap relief in a trade. The Rockets do have nine trade exceptions they can utilize but none are worth more than $3.62MM.

Houston’s bench is bound to look different because virtually all of its reserves become free agents or have non-guaranteed contracts for next season. The only exception is veteran big man Nene, who can exercise a $3,825,360 player option.

Both of their draft picks this June were traded away in previous deals, with the first-rounder being conveyed to the Cavaliers and the second-rounder going to the Knicks.

The only other major asset Houston will have at its disposal is the $5.7MM mid-level exception for a taxpaying team. Perhaps the Rockets can entice a quality player to sign for below-market value in order to join a contending team.

Otherwise, GM Daryl Morey will have his work cut out for him to create a deeper and more productive bench. Fertitta remains optimistic the Rockets will be champions in the near future.

“I can promise you, we’re going to win some championships with James Harden, because we are not going to sit here,” he said. “We will go to battle every year. We’re going to have a strong offseason, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to be a better team. We are not going to sit on our hands, I can promise you that.”

Rockets Trade Stauskas, Baldwin To Pacers

10:00pm: The Pacers have officially completed their trade with the Rockets, acquiring Stauskas, Baldwin, Milwaukee’s 2021 second-round pick and the rights to Maarty Leunen for cash considerations, the team announced.

Indiana also waived Anigbogu to make the agreement official.

1:05pm: The Pacers are waiving second-year center Ike Anigbogu to make room for their incoming players, tweets Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

12:16pm: A day after acquiring Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin, the Rockets have reached an agreement to send them to the Pacers, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Houston will also ship a second-round pick to Indiana, Woj adds, and the Pacers plan to waive both players (Twitter link).

The Pacers only have one roster opening, so they will have to get rid of someone before they can take on Stauskas and Baldwin, notes Keith Smith of Real GM (Twitter link). The Rockets are making the deal for tax purposes, so it’s unlikely they will be getting anyone in return.

A flurry of trades over the past two days has put Houston $634K under the luxury tax, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link). The Rockets are down to 12 players, two below the league minimum, but are expected to be active on the buyout market. They will have two weeks to get their roster back to at least 14. Owner Tilman Fertitta has been saying that he wanted to get under the tax this season to avoid repeater penalties in the future, relays Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).

Indiana will drop down to 13 players once if it follows through with plans to waive Stauskas and Baldwin and will also have two weeks to get back to the 14-player minimum.

The Rockets acquired both players last night in a three-team deal that also brought them Iman Shumpert. Houston had to take both players from the Cavaliers to help Cleveland stay below the luxury tax. This is the third trade in four days for Stauskas and Baldwin, who were also sent from the Trail Blazers to the Cavs in the Rodney Hood swap.

Rockets Notes: Carmelo, MCW, Paul, Bzdelik

While there has been no resolution yet to the Carmelo Anthony situation in Houston, the uncertainty surrounding the 10-time All-Star hasn’t been a distraction for the rest of the Rockets, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

“In this league, man, you’ve seen it all, especially the vets,” forward P.J. Tucker said. “You see all kinds of crazy situations. There’s different things going on. You’re a professional. You go out. You play the other team. The situation is unfortunate, but in this league, you got to say, ‘Who’s up next,’ get ready to play and go out and play your (butt) off.”

As Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com relays, league sources still believe that Anthony has played his last game with the Rockets.

As we wait to see what happens with Carmelo, let’s round up a few more items on the Rockets…

  • Within his look at the Rockets’ offseason changes, MacMahon observes that Michael Carter-Williams has been just as disappointing as Anthony, with Houston having been outscored by 45 points during his 97 minutes on the court. James Ennis has been better, but a hamstring issue has prevented him from developing chemistry with his new teammates. “I don’t think they’re all on the same page,” a Western Conference scout told MacMahon last week. “I think that’ll come. I think they’ll get it. It’s still a long season, still remains to be seen. They’ll figure it out and be fine.”
  • When the Rockets re-signed Chris Paul to a four-year deal this summer, they knew that the fourth year, worth $44.21MM, probably wouldn’t provide good value, writes MacMahon. However, they do expect more from Paul this season, with the veteran point guard off to a slow start. “That’s a lot to do with it,” Paul told ESPN. “I look at myself first in this situation. I know I’ve got to play better, and that’ll help us play better.”
  • One scout who spoke to MacMahon believes Paul looks “a step slow,” but CP3 points out that he’s having no problem creating shots — just making them. MacMahon also suggests that some people believe the Rockets are dealing with a “hangover” from last season in the early going this year. “We didn’t win,” Paul said. “So we can’t have a hangover.”
  • Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta personally recruited defensive specialist Jeff Bzdelik to get him to rejoin the team, offering a significant raise and making him one of the NBA’s highest-paid assistants, according to MacMahon. Bzdelik won’t be back with the organization on a full-time basis until after Thanksgiving, MacMahon adds.