Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens trying to escape loooong run of college coaches failing in NBA

13 Comments

In 1987, the New York Knicks hired a hotshot college coach who had just led Providence to the Final Four. The new coach was smart, energetic and extremely promising.

In his first year, he led the Knicks to a 38-44 finish. Although that record wasn’t great, it sure beat the 24, 23 and 24 games New York won the three prior seasons .

In year two, he took the Knicks even higher. They went 52-30, their best record in 16 years.

But, despite his success, the coach wasn’t totally happy in the pros, and he left for the University of Kentucky. NBA commissioner David Stern even chided him after he left, implying the coach couldn’t handle the challenges of the Association.

“He’s leaving the stress of the pros and all the traveling for what really is an easier job,” Stern said. “In the end, who wouldn’t do that?’”

That coach was Rick Pitino – perhaps the most famous example of a college coach failing to successfully jump to the NBA, but also arguably the most recent example of a coach who did it well.

Since Pitino left the Knicks with a 90-74 record, 13 NCAA Division I coaches have been hired to become NBA head coaches. Just two of them have had a winning record with the NBA team that plucked them from the college ranks.

New Celtics coach Brad Stevens, whom Boston hired from Butler, will do his best not to follow in those footsteps. Here’s the history he’s trying to escape:

Mike Dunlap

Hired by the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012 from St. John’s

Record: 21-61

Dunlap is a unique case, because he was a St. John’s assistant when the Bobcats hired him.

But the reasons he failed in his lone season were hardly unique for a former college coach. Associated Press:

Dunlap struggled at times with game management, transitioning from the college game to the NBA and handling professional athletes, often benching veteran players for weeks at a time after they’d irritated him in some way.

Reggie Theus

Hired by the Sacramento Kings in 2007 from New Mexico State

Record: 44-62

Strangely enough, Theus credited Pitino and Jerry Tarkanian, both whom will appear later on this list, for helping to get him the job. Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof sounded pretty excited on his own to get Theus despite his small-time accomplishments after his playing career ended. “He’s very well thought of and revered in Las Cruces,” Maloof said.

Ultimately, Theus clashed with the Maloofs – who exercised the type of oversight not often seen by college coaches – and was fired early in his second season.

“I was dead man walking before I even took the job,” Theus said. “I wish I had known that.”

Mike Montgomery

Hired by the Golden State Warriors in 2004 from Stanford

Record: 68-96

Montgomery was very mindful of the difference between the college and pro games when he was hired. Associated Press:

Coaching in the NBA has always been something Montgomery has considered as the next logical step. For several years now he has been talking to other coaches about the differences.

“Obviously there will be somewhat of a transition going from college to the NBA, but I’m prepared to meet those new demands and am confident in my abilities,” Montgomery said.

Perhaps, Montgomery overly compensated for those differences, though. Michael Deuser of Sporting News:

At Stanford, Montgomery built his program on tough defense and an offense based on tightly controlled half-court sets. Many of Monty’s point guards chafed under his direction, complaining that their creativity was squelched by a coach who called plays every time down the court. With Davis, Montgomery has behaved differently. He has given Davis free rein over the Warriors offense, allowing his All-Star to pass and shoot at his discretion. Somewhere along the line, Montgomery decided that the only way the Warriors could win was by letting Davis do his thing. In doing so, he has abandoned the discipline that made him a successful coach at the college level, and he has lost the respect of his players and control over his team in the process.

Mike Dunleavy Jr., in particular, has been vocal about the changes to the Warriors offense under Davis, telling reporters, “We can’t just go throw the ball out there and play street ball, and that’s what we rely on. You can’t just let your All-Stars, your best players, go one on one. As good as those guys are, the other guys are good, too. I’ve been trying to explain this to everybody since the first game of the season.”

Montgomery lasted just two seasons in the NBA before getting fired and retreating back to the Pac 10, where he took a job with Cal.

Lon Kruger

Hired by the Atlanta Hawks in 2000 from Illinois

Record: 69-122

The Hawks hired Kruger because they thought he could bring college sensibilities to the pro game. Unfortunately, they didn’t actually let him steer the ship like he could have in college. Michael Baldwin of The Oklahoman:

Kruger discovered one major difference between coaching in college and the NBA: He didn’t have the final say on personnel.

“It’s different, there’s no question about that,” Kruger said. “I was a little naive going into that situation. It was very much a learning experience, a very good experience other than the losing. The losing got old.”

Kruger had a couple losing seasons and was on his way to his third when Atlanta fired him.

Leonard Hamilton

Hired by the Washington Wizards in 2000 from Miami

Record: 19-63

Hamilton’s only pro season went so poorly, an assistant coach had to cover the standard postgame press conference following Washington’s final game, because Hamilton met with Michael Jordan immediately after the game about to end the coach’s tenure.

At least Hamilton looks back on the experience as a positive. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:

Career mistake, right?

“It was a decision that I made that I don’t regret,” Hamilton said.”It was a great experience for me. Sometimes, change is necessary and can be a good thing. It opened up my eyes to a lot of things.”

Actually it opened up his bank account to a lot of money.

This is when I realized why my “career mistake” question was so silly.

Hamilton may have only coached one season in the NBA, but he collected the entirety of the 5-year, $10 million contract he signed with the Wizards.

The FSU coach smiled when he saw the light go on in my head and he knew that I’d finally figured out why going to the NBA was actually a great career move. It gave him financial security for the rest of his life and he was still able to come back and get a good college job at Florida State.

“Now,” Hamilton said, “you’ve got the picture.”

Tim Floyd

Hired by the Chicago Bulls in 1998 from Iowa State

Record: 49-190

Floyd: The coach so bad he made Michael Jordan retire. College coaches must gain respect from NBA players, and Floyd had a particularly difficult time doing that. Associated Press:

Jordan has made no secret of his unwillingness to play for the 44-year-old Floyd, who has no NBA coaching experience and compiled a 243-130 career record with five NCAA tournament appearances. He has been at Iowa State for four years and his team went 12-18 last season – his only losing season in 12 as a college coach.

In his most recent public comments, Jordan reiterated that he won’t play for any coach but Jackson, who left at the end of the season after the team won its sixth championship.

Jordan said he wouldn’t announce a decision on his future with the Bulls until after the NBA’s lockout ends.

He has ridiculed Floyd by calling him “Pink” – as in the rock group Pink Floyd. Dennis Rodman also has called the possible hiring of Floyd “a joke.”

Floyd tried to control how injured Bulls dressed on the bench (this was before the league-wide dress code), and he clashed with Ron Artest and Charles Oakley.

“Every day has been hell,” Floyd said during his fourth season. “It hasn’t been fun.”

He resigned on Christmas Eve of that year.

Rick Pitino

Hired by the Boston Celtics in 1997 from Kentucky

Record: 102-146

This is the coach whom Stevens will be constantly compared to, because Pitino also coached in Boston.

After leaving the Knicks for Kentucky, Pitino made his triumphant return to the NBA with great fanfare, a 10-year, $50 million contract and the best chance to land the No. 1 pick and choose Tim Duncan in the upcoming  NBA Draft.

But lottery luck wasn’t in Boston’s favor, and Pitino said he would have never accepted the Celtics’ opening if he knew they wouldn’t get Duncan. NBA jobs are tough when you can’t pick your own players like in college.

Pitino’s style also didn’t really fit in the NBA. Mike Wise of The New York Times:

Pitino’s recipe for success at every level — constant pressing and trapping on defense and end-to-end transition on offense — often collided with the nouveau defensive-minded N.B.A. While more and more coaches stressed taking away options and cutting off areas of the court — using reams of videotape to show their players how to better defend their opponents — the Celtics kept running and pressing.

Pitino lasted longer with the Celtics than he did the Knicks, but now at Louisville, Pitino isn’t getting a third NBA opportunity anytime soon.

John Calipari

Hired by the New Jersey Nets in 1996 from Massachusetts

Record: 72-112

Calipari was a familiar trope: the overbearing college coach who tried to remain overbearing in the NBA. Chris Broussard of ESPN:

From day one, Calipari’s talk of “changing the culture” rubbed members of the organization the wrong way. Sure, he was right (after all, the Nets had won just 30 games in each of the previous two seasons), but the holdovers, who had essentially run the place like a mom-and-pop operation, took offense at the way the savvy young hotshot pooh-poohed their way of doing things. He was also demanding to the point of absurdity, driving secretaries and underlings crazy.

“He would ask you to do something that can’t be done in three days and he’d want it done in three hours,” said one former member of the organization who was there for Calipari’s final season. “You’d tell him it can’t be done, and he was like, ‘Yeah, it [bleeping] can.'”

And, accustomed to being the kingpin on a college campus, Calipari would stick his head where it didn’t belong. He’d offer advice to those on the business side of the franchise, telling them a better way to do things. Pat Riley, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich can do that. But a 30-something pretty boy from the Atlantic 10?

His enemies within the organization began piling up.

Maybe Calipari could have overcome those issues if he had just drafted Kobe Bryant in 1996. Ian O’Connor of ESPN:

“John wanted to take Kobe Bryant in the [1996] draft,” John Nash, Calipari’s general manager at the time, said Thursday by phone. “And he got faked out.”

“Everybody knows I was talked out of that,” Calipari said of his desire to select Bryant

And Calipari had him. He had Kobe Bryant out of Lower Merion High School as much as he had John Wall last season and as much as he’ll have Michael Gilchrist next season.

Calipari worked out Bryant three times at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and three times came away mesmerized. “If you watched the workouts,” Calipari said, “you would say either this kid was taught to fool us in these workouts or he’s ridiculous.”

Or both. Nobody knew it at the time, but Bryant and his agent and sneaker benefactor were about to fool Calipari in a staggering way.

The night before the draft, Calipari and Nash had dinner with Bryant’s parents, Joe and Pam, at the Radisson in Secaucus, N.J. Kobe’s mother and father were thrilled that their son would be playing within commuting distance of their suburban Philly home.

Only Bryant wasn’t about to wait years for his liberation. He called Calipari after the coach’s lunch with Taub, and Bryant’s agent, Arn Tellem, called Nash. Prospect and agent declared they wanted no part of Jersey; Tellem even threatened that his client would play in Italy if the Nets ignored their wishes.

Nash met with a panicked Calipari and tried to calm the coach. The GM made some phone calls and figured out that the Lakers’ Jerry West had reached an agreement with Charlotte, holding the 13th pick, to trade Vlade Divac for Bryant; West was confident that Kobe would make it to No. 13 if the Nets passed at No. 8.

Sneaker maven Sonny Vaccaro would later admit he worked with his good friend, Tellem, to maneuver Bryant to a franchise that would maximize his marketing charms. But Nash thought the Nets should hold firm and call Bryant’s bluff.

“Kobe wasn’t going to play in Italy, and he had nowhere else to go,” Nash said. “But I firmly believe a call from [agent] David Falk, who was representing Kerry Kittles, made the difference.”

Nash said Falk leaned hard on Calipari to take his client. As coach and executive VP of basketball operations, Calipari had final say. About 90 minutes before the draft, he told his owners he would select Kittles at No. 8.

Nash lobbied his coach one last time. From his time running the Sixers, Nash had extensive connections in the Philly area, and he was hearing and seeing the same things West was hearing and seeing — Bryant might be a once-in-a-generation player.

“John, you’ve got a five-year deal,” Nash told Calipari. “If you miss on this kid, you’ll get a couple of more chances.”

Calipari wouldn’t take the risk of having his first draft blow up on him in his own building. He took Kittles

NBA players – with their armies of agents, advisers, “sneaker mavens,” etc. – come with different challenges than college players, but Calipari couldn’t understand that web at the time.

P.J. Carlesimo

Hired by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1994 from Seton Hall

Record: 137-109

Carlesimo is one of just two coaches on this list who had a winning record in an NBA job he took directly from coaching a college team, but he was still fired after just three seasons because he couldn’t get the Trail Blazers out of the first round of the playoffs.

At one point during his tenure, Carlesimo benched Rod Strickland for missing a flight, seemingly a reasonable punishment. But that just made their relationship worse, and Strickland demanded a trade. Typically, college players don’t (can’t) push back to discipline with that level of furor.

Immediately after firing Carlesimo, Trail Blazers president Bob Whitsitt said he wanted a coach with NBA experience.

Butch Beard

Hired by the New Jersey Nets in 1994 from Howard

Record: 60-104

Beard had been an NBA assistant for a while when he left the league to coach Howard, and he’d always had a reputation for being outspoken. But it’s doubtful his time at the relatively small-time school taught Beard how to defer in a players’ league. The Associated Press when the Nets fired Beard:

The outspoken Beard almost guaranteed his dismissal two weekends ago, criticizing his bosses and calling his team a bunch of “second-line players” who might never get better.

Jerry Tarkanian

Hired by the San Antonio Spurs in 1992 from UNLV

Record: 9-11

Oh, boy. This one ended nearly as quickly as it began, because Tarkanian just could not make the transition. Robert McG. Thomas, Jr. of The New York Times:

A professional coaching career that began with the jitters and included bouts with chest pains, team dissension and unaccustomed underachievement came to an abrupt end yesterday afternoon when Jerry Tarkanian was dismissed as coach of the San Antonio Spurs hours before the team’s 21st game of the season, against Dallas at home.

The 62-year-old Tarkanian, hailed for his coaching achievements as Tark the Shark during 19 tumultous seasons at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, had seemed to be a fish out of water almost from the moment he joined the Spurs this year after his rancorous departure from the college ranks.

Tarkanian acknowledged preseason jitters at the prospect of making the often treacherous transition from college to the pros and had every reason to be concerned.

There were injuries to Willie Anderson and Terry Cummings, plus the defection of Rod Strickland to Portland, which left the Spurs without a first-rate point guard. Tarkanian was forced to resort to a makeshift lineup that included the use of rookie forward Lloyd Daniels in the backcourt.

By the end of November, the pressure on Tarkanian was so intense that he was hospitalized briefly while suffering from chest pains, and by early this month some of his players, in particular Dale Ellis, were in open rebellion, complaining publicly about Tarkanian’s tactics.

Tarkanian may have actually brought about his own dismissal with a letter he sent to [Spurs owner Red] McCombs on Monday urging the acquisition of a point guard and arguing that the team could simply not win without one. “All I wanted was a point guard,” he said.

What fantastic last words. “All I wanted was a point guard.” If only he could have recruited one.

Paul Westhead

Hired by the Denver Nuggets in 1990 from Loyola Marymount

Record: 44-120

Westhead successfully brought his high-scoring offense from Loyola to the Nuggets. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize his team would  also need to play defense to win in the NBA.

In Westhead’s first season, the Nuggets scored a league-best 119.9 points per game. But they still lost three quarters of their games, because they allowed a league-worst 130.8 points per game. That is incredible.

Larry Brown Hired by the San Antonio Spurs in 1988 from Kansas Record: 153-131

If Brown were a college coach when the Spurs hired him, it was in name only. He was a true professional coach. Before leading Kansas to the 1988 NCAA title, Brown had already won more games in the NBA and ABA than everyone else on this list combined entering their college-to-NBA job.

Stevens isn’t really like Brown in that sense. The new Celtics coach has absolutely no NBA experience.

Really, Stevens isn’t exactly like any coach on this list. He deserves a chance to blaze his own trail, an opportunity to rise or fall on his own merits.

But there are several lessons in these examples Stevens should heed so he won’t follow his NCAA-to-NBA predecessors lengthy track record of failing.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Leave a comment

I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.

Paul Pierce: Clippers are a super team

PLAYA VISTA, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  L-R; Paul Pierce #34, Austin Rivers #25, DeAndre Jordan #6, J.J. Redick #4, head coach Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin #32, Jamal Crawford #11, Luc Mbah A Moute #12 and Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers pose for a photo during media day at the Los Angeles Clippers Training Center on September 26, 2016 in Playa Vista, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
1 Comment

Derrick Rose opened the super-team floodgates by declaring the Knicks one.

Paul Pierce is trying to get the Clippers into the conversation.

Pierce, via Jesse Dougherty of the Los Angeles Times:

“To me, I think we have a super team here,” Pierce stated at Clippers media day on Monday. “You look at Chris Paul who’s been first-team all-NBA … Blake Griffin first-team … DeAndre Jordan currently first-team All-NBA.

“I mean how many teams can currently say that? You have the best three-point shooter in the NBA (J.J. Redick). You have the Sixth Man of the Year (Jamal Crawford). I mean why is this not a super team? What defines super team? When you look at those stats and you hear when I’m saying, this could very well easily be what’s considered a super team.”

If the Knicks are a super team, so are the Clippers – and Cavaliers and Spurs and Grizzlies and Bulls and…

But New York can’t be the standard.

With four players who made an All-NBA team last year – Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson – the Warriors are the undisputed super team.

Relative to Golden State, the Clippers don’t hold up.

All four All-NBA Warriors are expected to remain elite. Paul is 31 and coming off injury, and Griffin had an injury/suspension-ravaged season that kept him from making All-NBA last year.

Jordan made All-NBA at center, where a bevvy of players have cycled through in recent years. None of the All-NBA Warriors relied on that wide-open position to make it.

Golden State has two players – Curry and Durant – better than any Clipper.

Redick is one of the NBA’s most underrated players, but he’s not a star, leaving the Clippers with just three to the Warriors’ four. Crawford’s Sixth Man of the Year award last year was dubious, and I’d rather have Golden State reserve Andre Iguodala.

With three All-NBA players in or near their prime, the Clippers might have been a super team in a different era. They stack up reasonably well in stature with Pierce’s 2008 Celtics, who also had Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.

But the Warriors have pushed the bounds of what a super team can be so far, I’d consider them the league’s only super team now.

At least Pierce’s claim sparks discussion of the term and his team’s credentials – unlike the response Rose inspired: laughter.

Cavaliers keep re-watching their Game 7 victory over the Warriors

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots a three-point basket against the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
1 Comment

The Cavaliers’ win over the Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA Finals was an all-timer.

LeBron James bringing a championship to title-starved Cleveland, the Cavs topping the 73-win defending champions who’d built a 3-1 lead, Kyrie Irving‘s shot, Kevin Love‘s defensive stand – the game had it all.

The Cavaliers obviously enjoyed it. And enjoyed it, and enjoyed it and…

LeBron James, via Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

“I’ve seen it a few times,” James said. “It was on NBA TV throughout the summer. I watch it from a fan’s perspective. I see what we could’ve done better, but I also watch it for enjoyment, to see those three zeros on the clock.”

Irving, via Windhorst:

“I was rewatching the games and talking to my teammates about it, sending them snapchats of me watching,” Irving said. “I got chills. My stomach was dropping knowing the ball is going in but knowing exactly, emotionally how I felt at the time. It still gets me excited thinking about it. It’s such a huge moment for not only Cleveland but our team, our families, our friends.”

Iman Shumpert, via Windhorst:

“I’ve watched it over and over,” Iman Shumpert said. “Oh, it was enjoyable.”

At some point, the Cavs have to refocus on the upcoming season. Maybe they already have.

But I’m not going to tell them to stop reliving Game 7. It was a big deal. Enjoy it.

This can even be healthy if it motivates them to chase that euphoric feeling again.

And if it just distracts them from their goal of repeating? There are worse things – like being stuck on a Game 7 loss.

Report: Rockets give Gary Payton II fully guaranteed salary

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Gary Payton II #0 of the Houston Rockets poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images
2 Comments

The Rockets scooped up undrafted point guard Gary Payton II shortly after the draft ended.

How did they do it?

Fully guaranteeing his deal, according to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders.

I rated Payton a borderline first-rounder coming out of Oregon State, but he went undrafted. Perhaps, the league just deemed him unworthy. Or maybe the teams that liked him most weren’t positioned to draft him. Or maybe teams opted for lesser players in the second round who were willing to spend a year overseas or in the D-League.

Houston guaranteeing his deal certainly points to a robust market for the point guard. It could also indicate the Rockets plan to keep him into the regular season.

Payton gives the Rockets 15 players with guaranteed salaries plus restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas, who has an outstanding qualifying offer and seems likely to return. There’s no obvious candidate for Houston to waive to reach the regular-season roster limit of 15 – and it could be Payton. This could just be a (more expensive than usual) way of getting Payton onto the Rockets’ D-League affiliate. They won’t be the only team to eat a guaranteed salary this season.

With James Harden (yup), Patrick Beverley, Pablo Prigioni and Tyler Ennis at point guard, Houston doesn’t have a pressing need for Payton. But Ennis, who has accomplished little in two NBA seasons, should be on notice. That Houston values Payton so highly could mean Ennis is the odd man out. Both players, and everyone else, will have the preseason to prove themselves.

Payton, son of the former SuperSonics guard, has major defensive potential. Running an NBA offense will be a tall order, but he has enough raw skills to offer intrigue on that end. He’ll need his defense to buy him time.