Report: Andrea Bargnani “a lock to be moved”

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It sounds like the Toronto Raptors are finally ready to give up on Andrea Bargnani. The first pick of the 2006 draft has displayed tantalizing potential and has put together short bursts of production throughout his seven seasons in Toronto, but his deficiencies as a defender and a rebounder have become increasingly more difficult to overlook.

You can see why Toronto has stuck with Bargnani, even as he became the scapegoat for many of Toronto’s  recent failings. There are very few 7-footers in the world that possess the shooting stroke Bargnani has, and even though he made virtually no strides in other areas of the game, he did make marginal improvements as a scorer almost every season.

But that’s the problem with a one-dimensional talent like Bargnani. If that one thing abandons you, what are you left with? Bargnani’s connecting on just 39.8 percent of his shots this year — a dreadful number no matter how tall or small you are. Perhaps predictably, Toronto has become noticeably better defensively while Bargnani has sat out with an elbow injury, putting together a 6-2 record without him in the lineup.

Add everything up and Marc Stein’s report makes an awful lot of sense:

“One source close to the situation said Friday that Bargnani remains “a lock to be moved.” That naturally depends on finding a taker for the underachieving Italian forward, but (Kyle) Lowry’s contract shouldn’t be too hard to attach to a trade, valued at $5.8 million this season and with only $1 million guaranteed of the $6.2 million he’s owed next season.”

Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Bargnani has two years and $23 millions dollars left on his contract after this season. That’s a tough pill to swallow for any team, especially for a guy not playing at all right now, but getting Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon as a reward for taking on Bargnani’s contract might be enticing enough for some team out there.

Toronto, meanwhile, is in a weird spot. A glance at their roster would lead you to believe they’re primed for a rebuilding period if they could shed Bargnani’s contract, but Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo recently decided to pay the uninspiring wing combination of DeMar DeRozan and Landry Fields a combined $15 million dollars a year going forward. Add in that the Raptors likely won’t have their 2013 first round pick (the pick is top-3 protected) because of the Lowry deal with Houston, and it would seem that Colangelo clearly has no interest in rebuilding.

That’s what makes the Bargnani decision even more critical. The Raptors need a real player in any deal for Bargnani in order to contend, but they probably don’t want to lose Lowry for their future, or Calderon for their present. Selecting Bargnani number one overall instead of LaMarcus Aldridge set the franchise back, but forfeiting a valuable asset just to get rid of him would only seem to compound the mistake.

Toronto needs to look in the mirror more than anything else. Are they contending or rebuilding? Are they skewing young or rolling with veterans? Are they planning on improving in free agency or through the draft? Bargnani isn’t the star you can dream on, but trading him may provide Toronto the direction they so desperately need.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.