Kevin Durant, James Harden

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.

Source: Other team pulled ‘better’ trade offer for DeMarcus Cousins due to agent’s threat

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The Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to the Pelicans for a first-round pick, a second-round pick, Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and Langston Gallowayshockingly little return for Sacramento’s franchise player.

“I had a better deal two days ago,” Kings general manager Vlade Divac said.

Um, what?

Divac made Sacramento look foolish with that quote, but according to a league source, the problem was more poor communication with the media — something Divac is no stranger to — than terrible trading.

According to the source, the potential trade partner made an offer only to pull it once Cousins’ camp threatened the star center wouldn’t re-sign in 2018. Cousins’ agent, Jarinn Akana, publicly said before the New Orleans deal was consummated that it was “highly unlikely” Cousins would re-sign with any team that trades for him.

The trade made Cousins ineligible to become a designated veteran player, costing him at least a projected $29.87 million on his next deal. So, Cousins had clear incentive to stay in Sacramento.

Another source involved in Cousins trade discussions confirmed Cousins’ camp attempted to dissuade teams from trading for him, though that source did not confirm a pulled offer.

It’s unclear whether the Kings could have completed the “better” offer before the other team pulled out. The offer was presented as available to Sacramento for a day or two, according to the first source, though the other team could have always backed away at any point as it received more information.

This situation isn’t unfamiliar to anyone who follows college recruiting, where there are differences between offers, Offers and committable offers and everyone has their own definitions of each term.

Divac has struggled as Sacramento’s general manager, and his track record opens him to the type of mocking he received in the wake of his “better offer” remarks. But, though there’s still some mystery in the Kings’ trade process, attacking Divac based solely on this comment is probably piling on too far.

There are already enough reason to believe Sacramento erred on this deal.

John Wall’s reaction to the Cousins’ trade is to have a drink (VIDEO)

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It was a strange situation in the “mix room” interview zone after the All-Star Game Sunday, the place the majority of players went for a post-game media obligation (MVP Anthony Davis, the coaches, and a few other players who had big games such as Russell Westbrook went to a different, larger room).

Strange because in the three hours or so the players had been away from their phones and social media accounts, the DeMarcus Cousins trade had gained steam and seemed destined to be done (the story the deal was done broke about 15-20 minutes later). The players walked in and had no idea what had happened — including Cousins.

But I loved John Wall‘s reaction.

When the news broke about the Cousins trade, it seemed everyone needed a drink. Wall had his recovery drink handy — notice the label was stripped off of the bottle, meaning it was not the NBA sponsor’s product — so he went with that.

Kyrie Irving on All-Star Game: ‘I would love to play in a competitive game’

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NEW ORLEANS — The NBA All-Star Game is supposed to be a star-studded exhibition, and not one necessarily aimed at the core of basketball fans. Sort of like the Super Bowl, the goal of the All-Star Game is to suck in the casual fan to watch both great athleticism and the show around it — The Roots, John Legend and on down the line. In the city the weekend of the event, it’s as much about showing league sponsors a good time as it is basketball.

Let’s be honest, the basketball itself isn’t good. From the Rising Stars challenge through the All-Star Game itself, there’s matador defense and cherry picking all game long. The defense was so bad Stephen Curry was literally laying down on the job.

Kyrie Irving would like to see that change, and he speaks for at least some players.

“For me, I would love to play in a competitive game,” Irving said. “I know we play in competitive games in the summer, pickup games, but I think going forward, the All-Star experience will probably get a little harder in terms of defense going forward.”

Will it? Guys are trying not to get hurt and — like the entire weekend itself — are focused on the fun off the court far more than anything on it.

“It’s all in good fun, but I definitely think that, if we want a competitive game, guys will probably have to talk about it before the game,” Irving said.

The onus to change this falls to the players, something. West coach Steve Kerr echoed.

“I think that in the past, at least generally in the fourth quarter, guys have picked it up. That’s what I was expecting. It didn’t happen (Sunday),” Kerr said. “I would like to see it more competitive. I’m not sure how to do it. It’s up to the players really.

“As a coach in the All-Star game, you ever seen that movie ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’? They might as well just bring a couple dead bodies on the sidelines. We’re not doing anything up there. Just prop us up.”

To get guys to play harder, the league is going to have to find an incentive to motivate the players. Currently, the winning team’s players get $50,000 each, the losing team $25,000 — while that extra $25K would make a big difference in your life or mine, for All-Stars with eight-figure annual salaries it doesn’t matter as much as staying healthy and getting some rest.

“It would be good to possibly incentivize the guys somehow, Kerr said. “I don’t know if you can maybe get their charities involved or winner-take-all type thing, but I think it’s possible to play a lot harder without taking a charge. We know what silly is out there, if you’re undercutting guys, but it’s almost gone too far the other way where there’s just no resistance at all. I think there’s a happy medium in there somewhere.”

There is, but until the NBA comes up with a new plan we’re not going to see it All-Star Weekend.

Kings announcer goes scorched earth on Twitter after DeMarcus Cousins trade

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DeMarcus Cousins is now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, but that hasn’t stopped members of the Sacramento Kings organization from taking shots at him as he walks out the door.

In the team press release announcing the trade on Monday Sacramento GM Vlade Divac said, “Winning begins with culture and character matters.”

Subtle.

Meanwhile, the team’s play-by-play announcer Grant Napear went scorched earth on Cousins minutes after the trade was announced. The Twitter thread is pretty dang straightforward:

Yikes.

There’s definitely a contingent of Kings fans that were fed up with Boogie’s attitude — 7 years is a long time to wait for your franchise center to not consistently get kicked out of games — but it’s not a good look to flame the dude on his way out.

Saying you don’t think they could win with him is one thing, but saying he’s a “dark cloud” and that most of his teammates hated him is borderline. Plus, coming from a team-affiliated it’s just a weird thing to do.

Napear has had his issues with Cousins in the past, so perhaps it’s understandable we see this reaction with the big man now in a new uniform.

Add this to Divac saying he had a better deal lined up two days ago, and the Kings look even moreso like an organization without a direction.