Report: Rockets planning all-out push for LeBron James

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Bill Simmons’ quasi-reported the Rockets would pursue LeBron James if he terminates his contract with the Heat.

Now, LeBron joining Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston is gaining momentum – and credibility?

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.

There are rumblings that James will start weighing his options this weekend. One rival executive pegged his chances of leaving Miami at 40 percent.

Beck lists a four-point plan he says would give Houston about $19 million in cap room

  • Trade Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin – who are each owed nearly $15 million in actual salary next season – without returning salary
  • Trade Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan without returning salary
  • Waive a few players with non-guaranteed deals
  • Decline team option Chandler Parsons and re-sign him as a restricted free agent after LeBron signs

The Rockets say they can deal Asik and Lin without taking back salary, so we’ll take their word on that for now.

Motiejunas and Canaan are good enough and cheap enough that someone would probably take them if offered.

As far as the non-guaranteed deals, Beck is presumably referring to Omri Casspi, Robert Covington and Troy Daniels (who actually has a team option, which requires a decision by June 30, meaning Houston would have to drop him before ever legally speaking to LeBron). Patrick Beverley also has a non-guaranteed contract, but Beck names him a starter alongside LeBron in this scenario, so he obviously wouldn’t get waived.

Declining Parsons’ team option would actually increase the amount he counts against the cap, and he could always get impatient and sign an offer sheet elsewhere before Houston signs LeBron. But apparently that’s the plan, so I’m just rolling with the report.

Do all that, and the Rockets would be $17,265,007 below the projected salary cap – not the $19 million Beck says.

Signing into the cap space Beck’s plan would actually create would cost LeBron more than $14 million over four years relative to what he could get in a max deal with any team outside Miami. It would also be $45 million less than he could get on a five-year max deal by re-signing with the Heat.

By comparison, LeBron gave up less than $14 million below his max deal when signing with the Heat in 2010 – and loss was spread over six years rather than four.

Back then, he organized a sign-and-trade to get a higher salary, but it doesn’t work that way anymore. Whether or not the Rockets land LeBron in a sign-and-trade or an outright signing, they can offer him the same salary.

LeBron might take a pay cut to join Houston, but let’s not pretend it’s a trivial reduction.

The Rockets could create more cap room by convincing Francisco Garcia to opt out or trade him if he doesn’t (Beck doesn’t mention him). They could also waive or trade Beverly and/or Terrence Jones, another player Beck names as holding role in Houston.

Picking up Parsons’ team option would also add cap room, but good luck walking back the offer to give Parsons a raise this year rather than next year. In the name of LeBron, it’s probably worth upsetting Parsons, but that’s just one of many complications.

Mainly, LeBron probably wants to stay with the Heat.

But at the same time, he and the Rockets can use each other.

LeBron can show interest in Houston to persuade Micky Arison to spend more. The Rockets can parlay LeBron’s intrigue into a perception Houston is a desirable markets for superstars. Howard and Harden help, but LeBron carries more weight than anyone.

Heck, the Rockets don’t even need LeBron to actually show interest. Reports like Beck’s already help establish their credibility.

As for Bosh and Melo, are they just supposed to wait while LeBron talks to Houston?

Bosh faces the same salary situation as LeBron. Plus, if LeBron rejects the Rockets to re-sign in Miami, Bosh very likely follows him back.

And I’ll say it until I’m red in the face, unless the cap comes in higher than projected, the Rockets could trim their roster to just Howard and Harden and still couldn’t offer Melo a max contract. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it’s a roadblock.

There are a lot of roadblock in this whole plan.

Daryl Morey has big ambitions, which is good for the Rockets. But we need to acknowledge this one is pretty unlikely to come to fruition.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.

After two lopsided losses to OKC, Kevin Durant leads Warriors rout

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant’s pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third – when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George’s 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant’s hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22.

Draymond Green added 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He picked up his 15th technical of the season with 1:04 left in the first half, moving him within one of an automatic suspension. That came after Durant and Carmelo Anthony pushed, shoved, yelled from close range and had to be separated, receiving double technicals.

It was a testy rematch after the Warriors received five technical fouls in the previous meeting. That prompted general manager Bob Myers to address the importance of keeping poised.

Durant announced his decision to join the Warriors and leave OKC on July 4, 2016, making him an instant villain in his former city.

He scored 33 in the Feb. 6 meeting but got plenty of help this time.

Earlier this month against the Thunder, Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 11 of 27 from the floor and 4 for 15 on 3-pointers as the Warriors lost for the third time in four games. Thompson had 11 points Saturday, shooting just 1 for 11 from deep.

The Warriors on Saturday improved to 8-1 this season in the next game against an opponent after losing the previous meeting.

After Shaun Livingston‘s jumper at the 8:47 mark of the second quarter, Golden State went nearly five minutes without scoring before Curry’s basket at 4:51 started a 7-0 burst.

The Thunder grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the opening quarter to score 10 second-chance points, with Westbrook getting eight boards and George five. But Oklahoma City went 2 for 11 on 3s in the initial 12 minutes – Anthony, George and Westbrook a combined 1 of 8.