Dwight Howard signing just the beginning for Rockets

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Darryl Morey has done the hardest job, getting Dwight Howard to sign with the Rockets.

Now the Houston general manager has even more moves ahead.

The Rockets don’t have cap room to give Howard a max contract, so Morey must either convince Howard to take less money, arrange a sign-and-trade with the Lakers or change his roster.

Houston can waive Greg Smith, Patrick Beverley,Tim Ohlbrecht and James Anderson without a cap hit, and Ohlbrecht and Anderson seem destined to that fate. But Smith and Beverley are good players who don’t deserve to simply be cut.

Though he drew more attention for injuring Russell Westbrook, Beverly helped the Rockets successfully go small against the Thunder in their first-round playoff series. Beverly is a solid 3-pointer shooter and finisher at the rim, and his athleticism makes him an intriguing defender.

Smith has been very effective at every stop, starting with the D-League and extremely limited minutes with Houston two seasons ago. As a member of the Rockets’ regular rotation last season, he continued to fill his role well. He has a good frame for a power forward, and he rebounds like it. He deserves a chance to take more responsibility next year.

Beverley and Smith also stand out because they’re on minimum contracts, boosting their trade value even further.

Morey would certainly waive those two if that’s what it took to get Howard, but smart teams know that and will be calling Morey right now, first offering their congratulations and then trying to poach Beverley and/or Smith. Obviously, Houston would rather get a protected second rounder in return rather than losing either with no return.

But that alone wouldn’t clear room for Howard to get a max contract.

The Rockets could use the stretch provision on Royce White, and that along with losing the four unguaranteed contracts would do the trick, but trading White, Terrence Jonesand/or Donatas Motiejunas might be more appealing. Trading any one of the three without taking back salary would also work as the final piece of max-contract puzzle.

White’s trade value might have bottomed out at zero, but Jones and Motiejunas were recently first-round picks who at least showed flashes during their rookie years last season. I’d think either could get a second-round pick.

Houston could also look at bigger offers – a sign-and-trade, deals involving Jeremy Lin and/or Omer Aisk (and maybe Josh Smith), etc. But Morey will probably start small to make sure his ducks are in a row, ensuring Howard signs on the dotted line without complication.

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”