Memphis Grizzlies v Sacramento Kings

Memphis may not blow it up after Conley extension

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As we mentioned Friday night, Chris Broussard of ESPN reported Friday night that the Nuggets are not interested in the deal the Knicks were trying to put together which would land them Carmelo Anthony, with O.J. Mayo going to Denver. It’s a major sigh of relief for Grizzlies fans who would have been doubly-screwed in such a trade. They would have been used as a cash dump for the two teams, while trading Mayo solely so that owner Michael Heisley wouldn’t deal with criticism for not re-signing him when he becomes a restricted free agent in 2012.

It’s a close call because multiple sources in Memphis confirmed that Memphis GM Chris Wallace has long been interested in both J.R. Smith of Denver and Anthony Randolph of the Knicks. Both of those players could be disastrous in Memphis, as an Anthony Randolph-Hasheem Thabeet combination would resort in quite possibly the lowest basketball IQ between two players in the history of the league and bringing J.R. Smith to Memphis, Tennessee alongside Zach Randolph and Tony Allen would be like throwing a fire cracker down a mine shaft covered in nitroglycerin with live ammunition at the bottom, no matter how great a force in the community Randolph has been. (It should also be noted several reports have stated Randolph was the voice of reason in the Tony Allen-O.J. Mayo dispute and he’s had no issues since joining the Grizzlies. None.)

For New York, it’s back to holding the line, unwilling to give up too much of a playoff team to get Melo, knowing full well they may have the opportunity to simply snatch him up in free agency. It’s a hard bargain Donnie Walsh is trying to drive, but he knows he can’t get desperate. After all, that’s Billy King’s job, apparently.

Meanwhile, Alan Hahn of Newsday reports that the Grizzlies fully intend to match any offer for Marc Gasol in free agency. That sound you hear is the biggest sigh of relief ever from the Grizzlies contingent (and yes, they have fans, thanks). Keeping Gasol is far and away more important to the Grizzlies than keeping Mayo, despite Mayo’s upside and scoring punch. Gasol is a rising center in the league, already a borderline All-Star and with a bigger role without Zach Randolph potentially, could be an even bigger star if not asked to simply facilitate the offense, which he already does extremely well.

These two moves together could help Heisley to keep his promise that he would keep the core of the Grizzlies together, including Zach Randolph, should he decide to commit the money to this team. But for that to happen three things have to happen. One, the Grizzlies have to make the playoffs, to get the town to give a crap about them. Second, the fans have to start coming to the actual games. And finally, they have to not receive a better offer for Mayo. Because it’s clear they’re shopping him, despite what they say publicly. It’s a good not great core for the Grizzlies, but it’s got massive potential with Rudy Gay becoming a star and Mike Conley turning into a legit point guard. With some upgrades they could compete. But that’s if the team doesn’t detonate it first. These two reports give the fans hope that won’t happen.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.