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What the Rockets should do if the lockout ends

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It’s official — after years of half-seasons and broken hopes, the Yao Ming era is officially over in Houston. The Rockets have been essentially playing without Yao for a while now, so it won’t be a huge transition for them, but at least they now know that they won’t b building around Yao going forward. In Yao’s absence, Daryl Morey has built a team of fast, sweet-shooting offensive players that don’t play defense terribly well, and while the team was over .500 last season, it wasn’t able to grab the final playoff spot in the West. Here’s what Morey and Co. should focus on if the lockout ends:

1. Play Defense.

The Rockets were 6th in offensive efficiency and 18th in defensive efficiency last season. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where they need to make their biggest improvements. Morey has been described as “bringing the Moneyball” philosophy to basketball, and two of his best players, Kevin Martin and Luis Scola, fit that mold — they weren’t big college stars, they’re not great athletes, but they’re both superlative offensive players because of their uniquely polished offensive games. (In fact, I even compared Kevin Martin to former SABRmetric darling Adam Dunn a few years back.)

The problem is that while baseball position players’ defense isn’t nearly as important as their hitting, basketball players have to play both ways in order to be successful. Scola isn’t a great defender by any stretch of the imagination, and Martin is horrifyingly inept defensively, which will make defensive success tough for Houston.

(Of course, Morey was lauded as a “Moneyball” GM for embracing +/- stats and players like Shane Battier — players who don’t have great stats, but impact the game in positive ways by taking smart shots, playing good defense, and having good intangibles. In other words, Morey was compared to Billy Beane for valuing the exact opposite kind of players that Beane did in Lewis’ book. What I’m saying here is that I’m not all that thrilled about the return of “Moneyball” as a buzzword.

Maybe the answer can be former defensive phenom and#2 pick Hasheem Thabeet, who is still young and can block just about anything. If he can find some way to play serviceable NBA basketball and take pressure off Scola defensively, the Rockets would really benefit. Then again, Hasheem Thabeet is not good at basketball, which is an issue the Rockets will have to deal with. In fact, forget I wrote this paragraph unless Thabeet miraculously finds his game. If that happens, disregard these last few sentences.

2. Find a way to run the ball.

The Rockets have some serious weapons in transition. Kyle Lowry is a lightning-quick bowling ball of a point guard, Chase Budinger can run the floor, soar through the air, and stretch the floor, and Martin is deadly trailing the break and shooting those threes. The Rockets also have a lot of other quality athletes on their roster who haven’t quite put it all together in terms of their skills, and a more open game could work well for them.

Basically, the Rockets are a team with a lot of solid role players, some serious defensive issues, a few semi-stars, and no true star. They can be dangerous, but unless they find a way to miraculously turn themselves into a defensive powerhouse or find a two-way superstar, I don’t see them making it out of the first round of the loaded Western Conference.

Report: Veteran big man Jason Thompson agrees to deal in China

BEIJING, CHINA - OCTOBER 15:  Jason Thompson # 34 of Sacramento Kings in action during the 2014 NBA Global Games match between the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings at MasterCard Center on October 15, 2014 in Beijing, China. 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 Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Until this season, Jason Thompson had never been to the playoffs. He spent seven seasons in Sacramento before getting traded to the Warriors last offseason, and then signing with the Raptors midseason when Golden State waived him to make room on the roster for Anderson Varejao. His NBA days appear over, at least for now. International basketball reporter David Pick reports that Thompson has agreed to a deal to play in China.

Since the CBA’s season ends in March, Thompson could theoretically join an NBA team for the stretch run next year. But he didn’t appear to have much interest on the free-agent market this summer.

Report: Veteran big man Kevin Seraphin working out for Pacers, getting pursued by Barcelona

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 01:  Kevin Seraphin #1 of the New York Knicks reacts after he is called for a foul in the second half against the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden on April 1, 2016 in New York City. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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After five years in Washington, French forward Kevin Seraphin signed a one-year deal in New York last offseason. He played 48 games for the Knicks, averaging 3.9 points and 2.6 rebounds in 11 minutes per game and wasn’t a big part of their rotation. Now, as a free agent, he’s looking for a new NBA home, and Yann Ohnona of L’Equipe reports that he’s worked out for the Indiana Pacers and has interest from the Spanish club FC Barcelona.

The translation of that tweet reads:

Kévin Seraphin, always courted by Barcelona, is in the United States for a trial with the Pacers of Indiana

With Barcelona in pursuit, Seraphin appears to have a solid fallback option if he can’t land a spot on an NBA team. He can be useful as a fourth or fifth big, it’s just a matter of a team having room.

Lakers’ Julius Randle out 14 days after receiving stitches on right hand

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 06:  Julius Randle #30 of the the Los Angeles Lakers dribbles upcourt during a basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on April 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Lakers forward Julius Randle has suffered a minor setback in his summer workouts. The team announced he received stitches on his right hand and will be sidelined for two weeks.

Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a laceration to his right hand (webbing between middle and ring fingers) yesterday while practicing. He received seven stitches and will be re-evaluated in approximately 14 days.

That sounds painful, but the timing works out such that the two weeks will be up and he’ll have plenty of time to get back into things before training camp kicks off the last week of September.

Evan Fournier “hated” being left off the French national team

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 11:  Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic sets up the offense during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Amway Center on November 11, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  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 Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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One of the most surprising developments of the summer came when Evan Fournier, coming off an excellent year with the Magic, was left off the French national team that went to Rio to compete in the Olympics. Fournier himself doesn’t have a good answer for why he wasn’t included, according to an interview with the French magazine L’Equipe (translation via EuroHoops.net).

“I hated not being in the Olympic Games,” he said. “I had suspected that I won’t make the cut a week before I was informed about it. I was reading interviews where only Rudy (Gobert) was mentioned among the players who didn’t play in the OQT but would go to Rio. In the end, I received a voicemail by Vincent Collet that briefly explained the reasons I was left out.”

Fournier said he didn’t have much communication with the national team, except for when head coach Vincent Collet asked him for tickets to a Magic game.

“The only time I’ve heard from the Federation this year was during a visit from Patrick Beesley (French NT technical director) in Orlando where he told me the dates of the qualifying tournament and Olympics. He didn’t tell me ‘If you do not come in Manila, then you do not come in Rio’. The second time was from an sms by Vincent Collet. It was our only contact outside competitions in the last three years. He was asking me for tickets to a game for his friends. I never closed the door to the French national team but these events sent me a clear message. That i’m not in the project. It’s that simple and it hurts.”

It’s a little bizarre that Fournier, at 23 years old and one of the better basketball players from France, isn’t on the team and a clear reason hasn’t been given. But it sounds like that isn’t going to change anytime soon.