Otto Porter dominates 2014 summer league debut as Wizards ponder post-Trevor Ariza solution

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LAS VEGAS — After fizzling as a rookie, Wizards forward Otto Porter sizzled in his 2014 Las Vegas Summer League. Despite an irrelevant first NBA campaign, the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft remains a key part of Washington’s future along with John Wall and Bradley Beal.

With the news that free agent Trevor Ariza will sign with the Houston Rockets, Porter’s game needs to improve enough to help the Wizards in the present.

“I mean, hey, the door opens up,” Porter said on Saturday following Washington’s summer league opener. “(Trevor) had a tremendous year last year. … Now it’s time for people to step up and fill those shoes.”

If the former Georgetown star’s performance on Saturday in the Wizards 90-74 win over the Atlanta Hawks at the Thomas & Mack Center carries forward, Porter might become Washington’s best post-Ariza world solution.

Playing with confidence and aggression not seen since his college days, Porter led the Wizards with 25 points — including 14 in the third quarter — on 11-of-16 shooting from the field with seven rebounds. The deft mid-range that helped carry him to All-American honors in 2013 helped carry Washington to an easy win. Porter also shined as a passer and controlled the game along with fellow rising second-year wing Glen Rice Jr., who added 22 points.

“Glen and Otto have been working hard all summer,” Wizards summer league head coach Sam Cassell said. “It shows what hard work does. It pays off. … Second half, I told Otto I don’t care how many shots you miss. I just want you to put J’s up. He played well.”

Rarely did Porter play well as a rookie. Actually, he rarely played as a rookie after missing the opening weeks with a hip injury. In 37 games, Porter averaged 2.1 points, never reaching double digits in a single game. That came after hamstring woes kept Porter out for most of last year’s summer league.

The soft-spoken forward loudly dominated in his return to Las Vegas.

“That’s why Sam gave me control of the team. ‘Hey, this is your team. It falls on you and Glen. You’ve got to lead these guys to victory,’” Porter said of his leadership role.

The last time he scored at least 25 points, March 2, 2013. Against Rutgers. That season was also the last time Porter said he felt as comfortable on the court as he did Saturday.

“He took a whole year off last year,” Cassell said, referring to Porter’s limited role. “His mechanics (are) coming back, his fundamentals (are) coming back. Glen and Otto, they’re my least worries on this basketball team.”

Moments after the game, Porter learned that Ariza, a mentor last season, was no longer his teammate.

“He was one of my veteran guys,” Porter said. “I was kind of hoping he would (stay). But at the same time, hey, this is a business.”

Part of the reason why minutes were scarce last season stemmed from playing behind Ariza and Martell Webster. Now Ariza is gone and Webster is recovering from his third back surgery since 2010. Now might be time for Porter to show Washington’s front office that they don’t need to worry or add a notable player in free agency. The small forward solution already exists.

“To have (Trevor) gone – he taught me so much, especially on offense and defense,” Porter said. “Being there, showing me the right things, tricks ins and outs. Got to put them to work, put them to use.”

Hornets’ GM slips up, introduces Dwayne Bacon as Dwyane Wade

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It’s a slip that would have made Freud proud.

Charlotte had a good draft night. In the first round, Kentucky shooter Malik Monk fell to them at 11 and they grabbed him. In the second round, they took a smart risk with Florida State wing Dwayne Bacon.

Friday came the usual team press conference with the GM introducing his players and Charlotte GM Rich Cho made a mistake, introducing Bacon as “Dwyane Wade.”

I love Bacon’s reaction.

Cho instantly realized his mistake and laughed it off, then later said: “Actually, I think they have some similarities.” Hornets fans can only hope.

Kevin Durant trolls Westbrook, haters with cupcake hat — now topped with a ring

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Back when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were breaking into the NBA together and learning how to win together, one of their veteran mentors was tough guy Kendrick Perkins. When Perkins thought someone was acting soft, he called that player a “cupcake.”

When news broke on the Fourth of July last summer that Durant was leaving OKC for Golden State, the NBA world freaked out. Except for Westbrook. He just posted one Instagram photo that day — a tiered tray of red, white, and blue cupcakes. It was meant as a subtle jab at Durant, but when word got out (via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated) what it meant, Thunder fans embraced it and had cupcake signs and clothing made for Durant’s return to Oklahoma City.

Durant had the last laugh — he’s got a new hat with a cupcake on it, topped by a ring.

Well played Durant. Well played.

Another report Rockets “aggressively” trying to clear cap space to chase Chris Paul

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Daryl Morey is big game hunting. Again.

The Rockets, with James Harden running Mike D’Antoni’s offense, made a leap up to the NBA’s second tier last season — then landed with a playoff thud. The team should be better the second season in the same system, but to get past the Warriors, the Rockets need more talent.

Hence the Rockets are going to chase Chris Paul. That’s not new news to anyone paying attention, but Chris Haynes laid it out in more detail in on SportsCenter.

The Rockets need talent and Chris Paul is unquestionably that. He and James Harden could figure out how to play together.

The problem is money. Chris Paul is going to demand max or near-max money, so close to $30 million. The Rockets enter the summer with about $10 million. The Rockets need to clear cap space and are ready to deal so long as they don’t take contracts back. Lou Williams will make $7 million next season, so even moving him and Patrick Beverley is not enough to land a Chris Paul or Paul Millsap. Moving Ryan Anderson ($19.6 million) or Eric Gordon ($12.9 million) helps much more.

That Morey is being aggressive isn’t the news, the question is can he find a willing partner to lower some money off his cap and give him a sense of what is to come. CP3 is going to meet with a lot of teams, but the Clippers do have advantages and are the favorites to retain him.

Jimmy Butler trade sets the stage for looming free agency

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(AP) — As draft night approached, some of the heavy hitters in the NBA – Cleveland, San Antonio, Houston, Boston, the Clippers among them – were jockeying, making calls and looking for deals to try to position themselves to make a run at the Golden State juggernaut.

The Warriors’ greatness has forced the rest of the league to do deep self-examination and be aggressive in upgrading their rosters if they’re even going to have a chance to compete. The Celtics and Cavaliers were looking hard at Pacers star Paul George and Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, the Rockets and Spurs were looking at clearing cap space to make a run at some big-name free agents next week and the Knicks were, well, the Knicks.

Draft night always lays the groundwork for what will happen when the circus (officially known as free agency) begins on July 1. And with all of those contenders looking to make a splash, the biggest move was made by … the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Wolves reunited Tom Thibodeau with Butler, giving up two promising young players in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick to land one of the best two-way players in the game. The move should jumpstart Minnesota’s pursuit of its first playoff spot since 2004 and, the Wolves hope, pave the way for success in free agency.

“I think it will (help) a lot,” Thibodeau said. “With players, they look around the league, they see the makeup of the team, they see how they play, play together. That’s the main thing. Both offensively and defensively.”

The Timberwolves have long had difficulty attracting free agents to a relatively small market that spends four months of the year covered in ice and snow. Landing a top-15 player like Butler to team with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins sends a sign of how aggressive the teams could be.

The Bulls plunged head-first into a rebuild with the decision, and now it’s up to the Pacers to decide if they want to do the same.

Much to the dismay of Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard, George let it be known last week that he did not plan to re-sign in Indiana when he becomes a free agent next summer. Most of the league assumes that he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, who appear to be in a tug-of-war with the rival Celtics for George’s attention.

“I’m confident we’ll get something,” Pritchard told reporters in Indianapolis on Friday.

One of the big markets affected on Thursday night was at point guard, the deepest position in the league. Philadelphia, the Lakers, Sacramento, New York and Dallas all drafted point guards in the top 10, which could diminish the options for veterans like Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Jeff Teague and Patty Mills.

The elite point guards available – Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry – should have no trouble finding significant contracts. With Tony Parker suffering a serious injury in the playoffs, the Spurs were reportedly trying to clear space to make a run at Paul, who is widely considered the best point guard in the league. Paul has spent the last six seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, but has yet to advance to the Western Conference finals.

The Clippers are trying to make a decision about retooling around the core of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but really it’s a decision that depends largely on Paul’s thinking. He has long struggled to win big in the postseason, and heading to San Antonio to join with Kawhi Leonard or Houston to team up with James Harden could prove to be more attractive.

Lowry figures to remain in Toronto with a Raptors franchise that he has helped put back on the map, but after that there will be few teams in the market for a high-priced starting point guard. Denver, Utah, New York and Indiana could wade into those waters. But if they look at themselves as still being a couple of year away, they might be hesitant to spend big bucks on a veteran.

Other big names available include Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and Andre Iguodala. And while some of the very biggest names like Kevin Durant and Steph Curry figure to stay put, it only ramps up the sense of urgency for teams that have big holes to fill.

The clock is ticking and Thursday night provided the first steps toward making big improvements to the roster.

The Timberwolves rocked the boat with Butler, but the waters were calm after that, which should only mean one thing: It’s about to get real choppy when the clock strikes midnight on July 1.