Thunder have no problem with Rockets in James Harden’s return to OKC

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James Harden returned to Oklahoma City as a member of the the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, his first time doing so since the Thunder traded him out of town due to a failure to agree on a contract extension prior to the start of the season.

While the fans gave Harden a warm welcome during pregame introductions, his former teammates seemed hell-bent on making sure that his time spent playing the actual game would be nothing short of miserable.

The Thunder focused their efforts defensively in shutting Harden down, and were successful in doing so on the way to a 120-98 home victory over the Rockets.

Houston was without starting forward Chandler Parsons due to a shoulder injury, which just meant that the scoring burden would fall on Harden’s shoulders even more than usual. Playing against his former team, whose players not only knew that but also knew Harden’s tendencies, he didn’t have much of a chance, and his numbers on the night showed it.

Harden was clearly pressing in the first half, and whether trying to prove something to his former teammates or simply trying to ignite a spark for his current team, the result was a failed one all the same. He had just three points at intermission, which all came on free throws, after missing all eight of his attempts from the field, while committing two turnovers.

Harden had two of his first half shot attempts blocked viciously by Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, both of whom made sure to put a little extra on their defensive plays as a gift to their former teammate.

Harden got his first bucket of the game on a fast break layup with under a minute gone in the third, but finished just 3-of-16 from the field. He did manage 17 points thanks to two of his made shots being from three-point distance, to go along with his nine made free throws. But with no other reliable offensive threat on the floor for the Rockets to speak of, Harden faced various forms of double-teams all night long, with predictably dismal results.

OKC got a superstar performance from Kevin Durant, who finished with 37 points on 13-of-22 shooting, while playing almost 43 minutes. The man Harden was traded for, Kevin Martin, finished with 17 points in 28 minutes off the bench.

It was an unusually long and draining day for the Rockets, even by NBA standards. The team spent the first part of the day attending the funeral of Sasha McHale in Minnesota, who was the daughter of the team’s head coach Kevin McHale that passed away tragically over the weekend. The Rockets didn’t even arrive in Oklahoma City until late afternoon on Wednesday, which is highly unusual for any team playing a game in another city that very same night.

Harden’s performance should not be judged too harshly in this one, for a variety of reasons. The unusual travel circumstances, combined with the fact that his new team is simply not as good as the Thunder from a talent standpoint have to be weighed heavily when critiquing his game on this night.

Houston (and Harden) need to think of this in terms of the big picture.

Harden moved on to a better situation for himself in Houston. He got the max contract that he wanted, and he got the opportunity to be the number one option offensively as a member of his new team’s starting lineup.

Houston may not yet be able to play at the level that the Thunder can right now, but dealing for Harden was the first step in a process that the team hopes will be a successful one in making that a reality at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Rumor: LeBron James would ‘never’ join Clippers

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The Clippers hired Jerry West, in part, to help lure LeBron James.

But even with LeBron-to-Los Angeles (Clippers or Lakers) rumors swirling, that plan might not even get off the ground.

Mike Wise of The Undefeated on Freddie and Fritz:

I’m going to give you something on this show, and this is breaking news. Nobody else is going to have it.

I got from a very good authority – a very good authority – that LeBron James will never be a Clipper. I can’t tell you who, but I’m going to tell you it’s somebody that knows, and LeBron James will never be a Clipper. I don’t know if that’s because he remembers what the Clippers used to be, or he just doesn’t want to put his lot in there, or he thinks Steve Ballmer is just too animated on the sideline.

He’s never going to be a Clipper. I’m just telling people right now, for your edification. I’m breaking this on the Freddie Coleman and Fitz show.

I don’t believe in “never” in situations like this. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, teams are just laundry. The Clippers can change owners, general managers, coaches, players. LeBron would remain absolutely opposed to joining?

Maybe, but I won’t go that far without knowing his reason for resisting the Clippers. A lot can change between now and 2018, when LeBron can opt out.

One of the Clippers’ biggest selling points was always going to be Chris Paul, LeBron’s close friend. Reading the tea leaves, maybe this is a sign Paul will leave this summer – for the Spurs, Rockets or somewhere else.

Hornets’ Malik Monk expected to miss Summer League with sprained ankle

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Malik Monk‘s game is a perfect fit for Summer League: The tempo is up, the guards have the ball in their hands, the plays are basic, and the defense is inconsistent (to be kind). Monk’s ability to create shots for himself, score in transition off pull-ups or attacking the rim, and his ability to score on spot-up chances coming off screens means he would put up numbers in the glorified pick-up games of Summer League.

Except we’re not going to get to see it this year. Monk will miss Summer League due to a sprained ankle suffered during the pre-draft workout process, the Charlotte Hornets announced. The team says his rehab process is 2-4 weeks, but they are not going to push their new player just to get him in some meaningless Summer League games.

Charlotte was lucky Monk fell down the draft board to them at 11, he was rated higher than that on most boards. He can score at the NBA level, how far his career goes will depend on his ability to do other things, particularly defend. His style of game is similar to Lou Williams or Monta Ellis, both of whom have had long NBA careers because they can just get buckets.

That would have been fun to see in Summer League, but maybe next year.

La La Anthony: I’m staying in New York, and Carmelo Anthony prioritizes staying close to our son

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Self-serving Knicks president Phil Jackson said Carmelo Anthonywould be better off somewhere else.”

Anthony’s wife, La La Anthony, revealed a different point of view when asked whether she’d divorce the star forward and about trade rumors involving him.

La La on The Wendy Williams Show:

Not right now. I’m not. You know, marriages are tough. And you know that. We all know that. It’s filled with ups and downs. And we’re just going through a time right now.

But him and I are the best of friends, and our number one commitment is to our son, Kiyan. We have to set an example to Kiyan, and that’s what’s most important to me. So, I would absolutely never say a bad thing about my husband. That is my son’s father, and he is an amazing dad. I could not ask for a better dad.

Every day, I see a different team. That’s for sure.

The most important thing with just that is to stay close to Kiyan. That’s my priority. That’s his priority.

So, wherever he ends up, of course we want him to be happy.

I am hood, and I want to stay close to the hood. So, New York is definitely where I’m at and where I’m staying.

The Knicks are lousy, and working for Jackson is no treat. Carmelo knows all that.

But this might reveal why Anthony hasn’t – and, according to Jackson, still won’t – waive his no-trade clause to approve a deal from New York. There are things that matter more than basketball.

Danilo Gallinari: Nuggets aren’t my first choice in free agency

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Pending free agents almost always express loyalty to their current team, whether or not they actually plan to re-sign.

That’s what makes Danilo Gallinari‘s comments stand out.

Gallinari, via Premium Sport, as translated by E. Carchia of Sportando:

“Nuggets are not my first choice but they are exactly at the same level of the other teams. Denver’s advantage is that they can offer me a five-year contract while other franchises can offer me a four-year deal. Nuggets are at the same level of the others” Gallinari said.

One way to look at this: If a player stating a desire to return to his team – even if he plans to leave – is the baseline, Gallinari is definitely gone from Denver.

Another: Gallinari is being exceedingly honest, and we should just take his comments at face value.