Daryl Morey believes Rockets were “close” to trading for Dwight Howard

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The Rockets made plenty of personnel moves this summer, but it’s hard to argue that any of them were geared toward making the team better in the immediate future. The plan was to acquire multiple lottery picks and clear cap space in the hopes of trading for a superstar that the franchise could finally build a legitimate contender around, and Dwight Howard just happened to be on the trading block.

Howard landed with the Lakers, of course, and the Rockets ended up with a team that’ll be hard-pressed to even compete for a playoff spot. But it was close — at least that’s what Rockets GM Daryl Morey was selling to local sports talk radio listeners in Houston today (via Sports Radio Interviews).

Whether he feels the Rockets ever got close to getting a deal done for Dwight Howard:

“I do, yeah. I do feel like it was close but they did their diligence and they were searching for something they thought they liked even more and they liked this trade better than anything we could offer. I promise you Rob knows what he’s doing and he thought this was best for Orlando and I think people will see over time that he’s a very good executive.”

Morey clearly did everything he could to assemble an attractive package for Orlando. So while the jokes about “things Morey also may believe were close to happening” practically write themselves, the fact is that he’s likely correct in his assertion.

Here’s the problem: There didn’t appear to be a backup plan in place.

Like the Rockets, the Nets tried everything to trade for Howard, and with Deron WIlliams already in the fold and a new arena opening this fall, you could hardly blame them. But when reality set in that the Magic weren’t going to deal Howard to Brooklyn, they made other moves to compete — including trading for offensive firepower in Joe Johnson, and re-signing center Brook Lopez to a max contract once he became a restricted free agent.

By contrast, Houston blew up a team that was competitive last season and elected to start from scratch. Starting point guard Kyle Lowry was traded to Houston for a future first round lottery pick, and backup point guard Goran Dragic was allowed to leave in free agency. Marcus Camby was traded to New York for young players and future second round draft picks. Luis Scola, who was more than solid in Houston but carried with him a less-than-desirable contract, was amnestied simply to get him off the books.

The Rockets did grab Jeremy Lin from the Knicks and Omer Asik from the Bulls in restricted free agency, but neither are likely to be franchise cornerstones. And the rest of that (21-players-deep) roster is loaded with nothing more than rookies, unproven talent, and guys who may, possibly, have some upside someday in the semi-distant future.

The plan in Houston was to acquire Dwight Howard, and sure, the Rockets may have been close to making it happen. But since that dream has now died, Morey appears to be content to stay in rebuilding mode until the opportunity to acquire another superstar comes along.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?