Houston Rockets v Miami Heat

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.

Karl-Anthony Towns beats out Isaiah Thomas to take Skills Challenge title

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 09:  Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves reacts after hitting a basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 9, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — In a new twist to the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the NBA made the decision this year to add big men to a competition that has traditionally focused on point guards. The new wrinkle created new layers of intrigue, an unusual amount of controversy and, ultimately, a new champion: Timberwolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns.

C.J. McCollum beat out Jordan Clarkson in the first round, and Isaiah Thomas took care of Emmanuel Mudiay. In something of an upset, Towns handled Draymond Green, who is the NBA’s leader in triple-doubles.

The other matchup in the first round came with some controversy: DeMarcus Cousins missed all three attempts at the chest pass into the ring but moved on in the obstacle course and ultimately defeated Anthony Davis. This led to widespread criticism on social media for Cousins being allowed to advance without completing all the drills.

But Towns beat out Cousins in the semifinals, thereby preventing a nightmare scenario where a winner might have to have an asterisk next to his title.

Thomas beat McCollum in the guards’ semifinals. McCollum lost his dribble early on in the round and never really recovered.

The final round between Towns and Thomas went down to the wire, but Towns’ three-pointer went down first, giving him the title.

 

Russell Westbrook on Lakers speculation: “Nah, I like where I am now”

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 08:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Thunder defeated the Suns 122-106.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — No matter what Russell Westbrook does, he cannot escape the rumors that have followed him for years. He grew up in Los Angeles and played college basketball at UCLA—so, it’s only logical that when he hits free agency in the summer of 2017, he’ll look to sign with the Lakers, right?

Westbrook did his best to shut that down on Saturday after practice with the Western Conference All-Stars.

“Nah,” Westbrook said. “I like where I am now. Oklahoma City is a great place for me.”

Westbrook admitted that he grew up a Lakers fan, but said he never thought of playing there as a kid.

“I never thought I’d play in the NBA,” he said. “I was just watching them.”

Westbrook has another full season to go before his contract with the Thunder is up, so it’s going to be a while before there’s any resolution here. A lot, of course, will depend on what Kevin Durant does this summer.

If Durant sticks around and the Thunder make another deep playoff run next season, it becomes more likely that Westbrook will stay. But if Durant goes somewhere else, there’s a good chance Westbrook follows suit. For now, all they can do is deflect the speculation that will be there no matter what they say.

Gregg Popovich says he thinks more about Warriors than any team he ever faced

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Gregg Popovich and his Spurs have gone up against some powerhouse teams in the past 17 years. There were the Shaq/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Steve Nash and the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, The Kobe/Pau Gasol Lakers, LeBron James‘ Miami Heat teams, and the list goes on.

But nobody has given him more to think about than Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

That’s what he said on ESPN Radio Friday, as reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.

“I’ve spent more time thinking about Golden State than I have any other team I’ve ever thought about in my whole career,” Popovich told ESPN Radio on Friday. “Because they are really fun. I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. And when I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.

“So I’m actually enjoying them very much. You try to solve them, but they’re in a sense unsolvable because it’s a particular mix of talent that they have. It’s not just that Steph [Curry] can make shots or that Klay can make shots or that Draymond Green is versatile. Everybody on the court can pass, catch and shoot. And they all get it.”

When you think about those legendary teams Popovich faced, they may have been a little less mentally taxing to gameplan for. The Shaq/Kobe Lakers ran the triangle (an offense Popovich was familiar with), but most of what made them great was exceptional talent — two future Hall of Famers at their peaks. The Spurs tried to bully the Suns, and then they developed a motion offense that eventually shredded the Heat.

The Warriors are different, and Popovich gets to a fundamental problem in defeating them:

“They’re talented. But they’re also very, very smart.”

That’s what’s hard to plan for — smart players and smart teams adjust, and the Warriors by design loaded their roster with high IQ guys. If you adjust, they counter. And for the last season-and-a-half, that has worked brilliantly.

LeBron James on Kevin Love trade rumors: “They’re false”

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TORONTO — The rumors were out there: the Boston Celtics were interested in Kevin Love and were talking trade with Cleveland.

LeBron James would have none of that.

“It’s false,” LeBron said of the rumors when speaking to the media after the Eastern Conference’s All-Star Game practice Saturday. “It’s the only thing I can look at it and say it’s false. That’s the last thing guys are worried about right now are trade talks from our team.”

That echoed what Carmelo Anthony said. The buzz around Toronto (where the NBA has gathered for All-Star Weekend) that there wasn’t a lot of to the talks and if there was any momentum has stalled out.

Still, there will be talks, and there will be plenty of Cavaliers trade rumors in the run-up to the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Cleveland could use some shooting from the wing and quality depth to provide versatility going up against Golden State or San Antonio in the Finals.

LeBron just wants to make sure the talks don’t impact the locker room.

“One thing about this business is you can only control what you can control. Things that you can’t control, you can’t let it bother you, and I’ve learned that over the years,” LeBron said. “There is so much that goes on in professional sports that if you just focus on what you can control, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Love rumors likely will continue to flare up this week, but they are not going to move him unless another team makes a Godfather offer.

The Cavaliers have been 10.1 points per 100 possessions better this season when Love is on the court compared to off it (and their defense does get marginally better when he plays). When Love, LeBron, and Kyrie Irving are on the court together the Cavaliers outscore opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions. Those are massive numbers.

The Cavaliers are a win-now team, if you’re going to break up part of that trio it has to be for something that makes the team demonstrably better. And that kind of superstar trade is rare at the February deadline anymore.