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.

Sixers’ Robert Covington to miss at least one game after crashing into stands

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NBA fans love hustle from their players, but sometimes things go awry.

That’s what happened on Saturday night after Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington dove into the stands to try to save a loose ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The play came in the fourth quarter with under two minutes left and the Sixers down by just one point. Covington leapt into the far sideline just near the Cavaliers bench. He appeared to turn his ankle and land awkwardly on his back. The Cleveland floor has a small lip after the first row of seats that may have played a part in the injury.

Cleveland would go on to score on the play, and Covington had to be helped off the floor. The Cavaliers went on to win, 105-98.

Meanwhile, the 76ers will play Sunday in New Orleans against the Pelicans. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia, Covington will miss the game with a lower back contusion.

Via NBCSN Philadelphia:

X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is with the team in New Orleans and is doubtful for Tuesday’s game in Minnesota.

Covington tumbled out of bounds and over courtside seats while he tried to save a possession during a Sixers comeback attempt. There is an approximate four-to-five inch drop between the court and the area where Covington landed. Many of his teammates were unaware of Covington’s injury at first because it was out of their vision.

“It’s scary to see your teammate like that,” guard JJ Redick said. “They said he fell on his back. I wanted to make sure he’s walking and not in too much pain. But I just wish the best for him and hope he’s OK.”

Back injuries can be a complete hassle to recover from, especially when you’re deep in the middle of the season. Let’s hope the Sixers get Covington back soon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunked all over Rudy Gobert (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks a lot. The Milwaukee Bucks forward is big, strong, and aggressive when it comes to attacking the rim.

But he doesn’t typically dunk this hard or this emphatically over perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates like Rudy Gobert.

That’s what made this one special.

As time was winding down in Milwaukee’s eventual 117-100 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, Antetokounmpo put the exclamation point at the end of the sentence for the Bucks.

Gobert took the brunt of it. Via Twitter:

Goodness.

Gordon Hayward on playing this season: “It’s definitely in the back of my mind”

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Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has been going through some grueling physical therapy to aid his recovery from a horrible leg injury he suffered during his first game with the team back in October. Hayward wound up breaking his ankle, likely putting him out for the season.

Meanwhile, whether Hayward plays or not during the 2017-18 campaign is still up for debate. Hayward is making progress in his recovery — he recently was able to take his walking boot off and go for a smaller ankle brace.

For his part, Hayward has said that he is still thinking about the possibility of returning this season to the Celtics, who have earned themselves the top spot in the Eastern Conference in his absence.

Speaking to Adam Himmelsbach over at the Boston Globe, Hayward detailed not only his recovery routine but his thinking when it came to planning his return.

Via The Boston Globe:

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Hayward said. “I’m definitely pushing to get back as fast as I can, while making sure that I still have a lot of good years of basketball in me. And coming back early and hurting something else is not part of that plan. So I’m making sure that if I come back, I’m 1,000 percent confident in myself and my leg. I hope more than anything I can play this season. That would be awesome. But that’s not something I’m stressing about. I’m stressing about what I can do today to help myself get better.”

That’s smart thinking on Hayward’s part. Too often it seems like guys are jonesing to come back, and when they do it’s cause for concern that they’re damaging their long-term playing health.

Hayward is making some real progress — the Globe story details him doing tasks like picking up marbles with his toes and shooting baskets from a chair as part of his PT — but whether he’ll be ready this season is doubtful.

It doesn’t sound like Hayward wants to rush things, but you never know. His agent did say that his return this year is unlikely, but another report has said that his earliest return would be March. Just in time to make a run for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers?

We’ll have to wait and see.

EDIT: Shortly after this story and the Boston Globe one was published on Sunday morning, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the team isn’t planning for Hayward to come back. The plot thickens!

Kobe Bryant’s advice to Lonzo Ball, young Lakers: “push, push, push, get better now”

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Kobe Bryant was never a patient man.

Veteran Lakers of that era tell stories of Kobe entering Lakers practices at age 18 and wanting to take on the older players in games of one-on-one after practice, and trying to dominate them. He wanted to establish his credentials early and never backed off. He pushed himself, his teammates, everyone around him, and that was part of his success.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that in an interview on the Lakers’ cable channel in Los Angeles, Spectrum SportsNet, Kobe’s advice to Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and the rest of the young Lakers was to push themselves. Hard. (Hat tip Bleacher Report.)

“We never thought, ‘OK, we’re gonna win four years from now.’ We really thought, ‘This is our year. We’re gonna get this done. We’re gonna push, push, push, push, push, get better now.’ And in the process of having that kind of impatience, you develop. If you’re just patiently going about it, you’ll never get there. For players, it’s a kind of patient impatience.”

Kobe entered the league in a very different situation, an NBA team that had Shaquille O’Neal at his peak in the post, quality veteran role players around him, a team that was nearly ready to contend. Still, it took them four years — and a lot of pushing and maturing from Kobe — to win a title.

However, Kobe would never look at it that way. He would want to push hard and push through. And that’s what he’s telling the young Lakers now.

The Lakers are taking little steps forward — Brandon Ingram’s confidence and game are turning a corner and he is impressing of late, Lonzo Ball’s decision making is getting better (the game seems to be slowing down for him a little), and Kyle Kuzma has been one of the league’s best rookies this season. But there is a long way to go. Kobe knows that, and is telling them to not let up. Which is what you’d expect him to say and what fans want.

But those fans need to be patient, too. This is a process in Los Angeles, and a long one.