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.

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”