Houston Rockets going hard after Dwight Howard dream

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Rockets GM Daryl Morey is going all-in. He is pushing his chips in and trying to win the bracelet. Or in this case, the ring.

To win titles in the NBA you need to have a franchise anchor, a true superstar. Since 1980, one team has won a title without at least one of those kinds of players (2004 Pistons, and they had really good players). From Magic and Bird through Shaq up to LeBron James, you want a title you need a superstar.

Morey is going all out to get one in Dwight Howard. Even if it is just a one-year rental.

With the Nets out of the picture (for now), the Rockets are making their move to get Howard by being able to send Orlando picks, young players and to take back some terrible contracts from the Magic. On Friday the Rockets are expected to amnesty Luis Scola, clearing out more cap space. Chad Ford at ESPN lays out the offer the Rockets can then make the Magic.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Rockets, should they go ahead with their widely reported plans to release starting power forward Luis Scola via the NBA’s amnesty clause, are prepared to absorb the contracts of Jason Richardson, Glen Davis and Chris Duhon — in addition to sending Orlando multiple future first-round picks and recent draftees — to give the Magic an opportunity to wipe their payroll virtually clean for their post-Howard rebuilding effort….

Sources say that the Rockets would have to send Kevin Martin, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris and Chandler Parsons to the Magic from their current roster to make the salary-cap math work, as well the draft rights to Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones, all selected in last month’s first round.

The Rockets, in addition, would also have to waive a handful of players with non-guaranteed contracts (Shaun Livingston, Courtney Fortson, Josh Harrellson, Jerome Jordan, Jon Leuer, Diamon Simpson and Greg Smith) to clear sufficient cap space. But Houston, sources say, is also offering multiple first-round picks to the Magic, including a potential lottery pick acquired this week from Toronto in the Kyle Lowry deal.

All of that to get Howard, who has said he would not re-sign in Houston and would become a free agent. It likely is a rent-a-Howard situation.

And it’s a good move — the Rockets have been stuck in the NBA’s safe and comfortable middle ground and need to get out of it. If they get Howard and keep him, they have their star and can build around him. If they fall short or if he comes then leaves, they struggle for a couple years but get high draft picks (not the middle of the road ones they had) and they get a star that way. Either way, they break out of their rut.

The one thing that could throw a kink in the plans is Omer Asik.

The Rockets have committed to a four-year, $25 million offer sheet to Asik, one that has not yet been given him but will be soon. (To say they would extend and offer then not would have huge repercussions with agents who don’t want to deal with a team that won’t keep its word.) The Rockets are expected to sign Jeremy Lin to an offer sheet Friday, which the Knicks will match over the weekend.

Then they will do the Asik sheet, and the Bulls may or may not match. Coach Tom Thibodeau has pushed to keep him and the entire roster together. The Bulls are high on young Asik. But owner Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t want to be a regular tax payer and next summer they will have to extend or reach a new deal with Taj Gibson. And it’s a no brainer, if you have to choose between Asik and Gibson, Taj wins. So the Bulls could let Asik go to Chicago.

But clearly the Rockets don’t really want him anymore. They have set their targets on Dwight Howard and are doing everything they can to make an offer the Magic will take.

That will not happen over the weekend, reports are the Magic want to sit on it, but the Rockets are making their push.

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?

Kendall Marshall, Marshall Plumlee headline Team USA’s AmeriCup roster

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AmeriCup, previously called the FIBA Americas Championship, lost its luster when FIBA decided the continental tournament wouldn’t double as World Cup qualifying.

But the U.S. is still sending a team, coached by Jeff Van Gundy. The roster (team last season):

  • Billy Baron (UCAM Murcia, Spain)
  • Alec Brown (Windy City Bulls)
  • Larry Drew II (Sioux Falls Skyforce)
  • Reggie Hearn (Reno Bighorns)
  • Darrun Hilliard (Detroit Pistons)
  • Jonathan Holmes (Canton Charge);
  • Kendall Marshall (Reno Bighorns)
  • Xavier Munford (Greensboro Swarm)
  • Marshall Plumlee (New York Knicks)
  • Jameel Warney (Texas Legends)
  • C.J. Williams (Texas Legends)
  • Reggie Williams (Oklahoma City Blue)

The Americans should still be favored, though obviously not as overwhelming as they’d be with NBA players, in a field also comprised of Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Uruguay, Panama and U.S. Virgin Islands.

This will be a good benchmark, as the U.S. might take a similar roster into World Cup qualifying.

Report: Tampering investigation stems from Magic Johnson’s TV interview

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In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.

However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.

But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.

Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.