It’s kind of been a foregone conclusion since a month into the season that the Thunder would be the top seed in the West and that all roads to the finals were going through Oklahoma City.
But that road may have a detour now through San Antonio.
The Spurs have now won 10 in a row and you combine that with the Thunder’s three-game losing streak and you have two teams tied on top of the Western Conference. But the Spurs are a game ahead in the loss column (and have played two fewer games, they have 13 remaining.
If the teams keep playing as they have the past couple weeks the Spurs will win West — while San Antonio is playing better than anyone the Thunder are stumbling. But the Thunder have an advantage in the schedule.
The Thunder have 11 games left but only four are against likely playoff teams (two against the Clippers). Of their 13 games the Spurs have six against likely playoff teams, including three against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Of course, the Spurs were the top seed last year and got bounced in the first round by the Grizzlies (the team once again nobody in the West wants to face in the first round). I still think they could struggle against a team like that or the Lakers that gets a lot of its scoring out of its front line. However, Tiago Splitter is playing well this year and could prove me wrong.
These Spurs are younger, deeper and have been getting amazing play all season from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — things they didn’t get last year. Younger role players like Gary Neal and Danny Green are stepping up. Plus “old man” Tim Duncan has averaged a double-double (16 and 10) over the last 10 games. They have been getting those wins while still resting guys, also. Finally, they can play on the road — this is an NBA record 15th consecutive year the Spurs will have had a winning record on the road. If they have home court throughout you have to mention them with the other contenders in the NBA.
Chris Paul is as competitive a guy as there is in the NBA — he and James Harden are not the smoothest fit next to one another, but he would rather team with another star and go hard at the Warriors juggernaut than sit back and collect a check.
That’s why CP3 wanted to go to the Rockets as part of the trade reported Wednesday.
But before he left, he wanted to say thank you to Clippers fans.
Paul is committed to his charity causes, he’s not giving those up. He’s likely keeping his home in Los Angeles, too — L.A. is the unofficial off-season home of the NBA anyway.
While everyone was rightfully raving about the move by the Houston Rockets to trade for Chris Paul — you have to love a team not cowering from the Warriors but willing to take them on Game of Thrones style — there was one little catch. The trade, as first announced, didn’t pencil out.
Because the Rockets were over the cap, this trade needs to be a salary match. The Clippers were getting back nice young players in Sam Decker and Montrezl Harrell, plus a first-round pick, but the salaries still didn’t match up. Then a string of small cash deals for expiring contracts started rolling in.
All those deals are official — and led to one of the funniest tweets of the year.
All three of those players will head to the Clippers as part of the official trade, but then be waived by the Clippers so they don’t actually pay them.
Also of note, by staying above the salary cap line (as opposed to diving below it to absorb CP3’s contract) the Rockets will keep their mid-level exception, giving them a full $8.4 million to spend in free agency to get a role player to help fill out the roster in Houston.
The Rockets are not done big game hunting, GM Daryl Morey is reportedly going after Paul George and maybe free agents such as Paul Millsap. Carmelo Anthony reportedly would like a buyout so he can get to Houston now, but with Phil Jackson gone and $55 million owed over the next few years that seems more up in the air. Regardless, expect the Rockets to keep making small moves to set up big ones.
If you’re going to go toe-to-toe with the Golden State Warriors, you can’t have enough elite talent on the roster. Which is turning the Western Conference into a Game of Thrones.
Houston has James Harden and just added Chris Paul — and GM Daryl Morey is not done, he’s targeting Paul George and other stars. That according to multiple reports from ESPN, starting with Jeff Goodman.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey not done yet, source told ESPN. Harden and CP3. Will try to add a third star to compete with Warriors.
The logistics of this would be difficult, but not impossible. The Pacers want a first-round pick, which the Rockets can include if the Pacers will wait until 2020 (the Rockets 2018 pick goes to the Clippers, 1-3 protected, which means they can’t trade 2019). With Sam Decker traded to LA, the Rockets may not have a young player of interest outside of Clint Capella (the Pacers have Myles Turner at center), but the Rockets have made a series of cash deals for non-guaranteed contracts to make this work with the Clippers and pave the way for future deals.
Also possible, the Rockets look for a way to land Paul Millsap (or maybe a lesser version, like Serge Ibaka) in free agency.
The Rockets also could target guys such as Carmelo Anthony or Dwyane Wade, if they are bought out. Anthony is rumored to want a buyout to go to Houston now, but with Phil Jackson out and being owed $55 million over a couple years, that may not happen.
The point is the Rockets are going all in — they see the window as now and, unlike much of the rest of the West and the NBA, they are not going to wait and hope for the Warriors to wilt in a few years.
When the Knicks hired Phil Jackson, he was a beacon of hope for an organization that had seen dark days. Jackson was going to keep owner James Dolan out of basketball decisions (he did that) and provide a direction for the franchise (he failed to do that).
Now, three year’s later, Jackson is out as president of the Knicks.
That had Knicks fans celebrating on social media.
That’s just a small sampling. So all is good with the Knicks now, right?