If James Harden continues to play like he’s played in his first two games with the Rockets, the trade that brought him to Houston may eventually be seen as one of the most one-sided in NBA history.
It’s early, of course, and finances were the motivation in Oklahoma City, where Harden didn’t (and wouldn’t) have nearly the value he would on a team like the Rockes. In Houston, he could be the primary ball-handler and scoring option for a team that didn’t already have, say, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook taking up the bulk of those opportunities in the starting lineup.
Still, Harden has been fantastic in his first two starts, and his new career high of 45 points in Atlanta came on just 19 (!) field goal attempts.
Harden is in a perfect situation as a Rocket, playing alongside capable point guard Jeremy Lin, who put up 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out seven assists. Lin and Harden both played 40 minutes, which you’d think can’t be a regular occurrence over the course of an 82-game season, But early on, as the team is still forging its identity, why not?
Harden has the luxury of playing on or off the ball with Lin by his side, so when defenses eventually start throwing doubles at him to get the ball out of his hands, head coach Kevin McHale can design some sets to find other ways to get him the rock.
That’ll likely come sooner rather than later. For now, the Rockets went from a team that unconscionably blew up its competitive squad of a season ago to one that might be even better this year — and with Harden in the fold, a lot more fun to watch.
This not only changes the Kings dreams of making the playoffs in the West, it also alters the trade deadline and free agency.
Rudy Gay, the Kings wing and second-leading scorer, has been diagnosed with a torn left Achilles tendon, according to the team. During the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game against the Pacers, Gay drove out of the right corner and, untouched, fell to the floor hard. He had to be helped off the court by teammates.
Team doctors made the initial torn Achilles diagnosis, which will need to be confirmed by an MRI scheduled for Thursday. He would be out not only for this season but likely the start of the next one as well.
Without Gay, a lot more will fall on Matt Barnes and, once he returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks, Omri Casspi. However, those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings, and the team’s playoff chances have taken a serious hit (they are 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers).
Gay was not happy in Sacramento and had said planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone potentially traded before the deadline (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted that). Gay averaged 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds a game for the Kings, and while his game was a little old school — more isolation and midrange shots than teams prefer — he put up points. Enough that he was drawing trade interest heading toward the deadline from Oklahoma City and other squads.
That is all off the table now. At age 30, if Gay does still opt out of his contract for next season this will impact what he would make on the free market.
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76ers rookie forward Ben Simmons could make his much-anticipated NBA debut shortly after the All-Star break, league sources told ESPN.
Barring a setback in his recovery, sources say the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft has a chance to take the hardwood near March. There still remains the possibility Simmons sits the entire season, sources said, but his situation will continue to be thoroughly evaluated throughout his comeback quest.
76ers coach Brett Brown said there’s “no chance” Simmons plays in Philadelphia’s nationally televised game against the Rockets next week. Other than that, there isn’t much clarity.
It mostly sounds as if Simmons is still too far from returning to say something definitive.
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