Thunder trade James Harden to the Rockets

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Well, this was unexpected.

After contract talks broke down, with the Thunder failing to come through with a max contract extension offer for last season’s Sixth Man of the Year in James Harden, Oklahoma City’s GM Sam Presti decided to pull the plug altogether, and has traded Harden to the Houston Rockets.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has the details:

The Rockets sent Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and future draft considerations to the Thunder for Harden, sources told Y! Sports. Along with Harden, the Thunder will send Cole Aldridge, Lazar Hayward and Daequan Cook to the Rockets.

Houston also sent two 2013 first-round picks (from Dallas and Toronto) to Oklahoma City, sources told Y! Sports, as well as a 2013 second-round pick (via Charlotte). The Thunder will receive the Toronto pick this year if it’s slotted Nos. 4-14. That pick also is top-three protected in 2014, top-two protected in 2015 and top-one protected in 2016.

This trade is now official.

CSNHouston.com Daryl Morey spoke with CSNHouston.com about the trade.

“We think James is a guy we can build our team around,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said on Comcast SportsNet Saturday night…

“Yeah, we’re very excited,” Morey said. “He’s an All-Star caliber player we’ve been looking to add to the team. Obviously, on the recent Dream Team, youngest player on that team.

Let’s break down the gravity of this deal, shall we? Just four days before the season is set to tip off, the reigning Western Conference champions have traded away a crucial member of the team’s core contributors.

On the surface, this seems like an unnecessary turn of events. There were still a few days left to continue the negotiation process, and even after Harden turned down a $52 million extension, with the team creeping its offer up to a reported $53 or $54 million, the sides appeared to be coming together.

But as we discussed earlier, Harden wanted a max deal — period. If Presti knew that the team absolutely wouldn’t close the gap, then pulling the trigger on a deal this quickly might have made some sense.

Then again … I just don’t see it. Worst case scenario, you decide not to extend Harden by the Oct. 31 deadline, and you play out the season with him in place, making another run at the Finals with last year’s core firmly intact. Now, you lose Harden, and have to integrate a new piece in Kevin Martin into that role — a player who has been known for his efficiency in scoring and getting to the free throw line, but one who isn’t nearly the all-around playmaker that Harden has proven to be.

On the Rockets’ side, this deal validates Houston GM Daryl Morey, who blew up a team that was competitive last year in hopes of clearing enough salary cap space and draft picks to acquire one of the league’s stars. He’s done that now by dealing for Harden, who will now immediately move from the third best player on the Thunder to the number one option in Houston.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

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This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

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The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?

 

 

 

Pelicans’ Tony Allen out 3-4 weeks with fibula fracture

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The injuries just keep hitting the Pelicans. Guys like Solomon Hill and Alexis Ajinca are out for extended periods of time. Anthony Davis has missed four of the team’s last six games and is questionable for Wednesday night due to a left adductor injury.

Now comes the news that reserve guard Tony Allen will be out three to four weeks due to a nondisplaced left proximal fibula fracture, the team announced Tuesday. This is the part of the bone near the ankle.

Allen has played a limited role for New Orleans off the bench this season, averaging 12.4 minutes a game, and averaging 4.7 points. His reputation is that of a defensive stopper, and when he is on the court this season the Pelicans’ defense has been 5.6 points per 100 possessions better. However, father time has started to catch up with him and he is not the defender he once was.

Expect the minutes to bump up for Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore with this injury, which is not a bad thing as they have played well (they were knocking down threes against the Rockets Monday like they were named Curry), plus Ian Clark could get a little more run.